A Better World
Stalinism and the American Intellectuals
This book chronicles the struggle among non-Communist leftists and liberals over American relations with the Soviet Union from 1939 through the 1950s. Few now care as passionately and as violently as people did then about Soviet-American relations. It was a time when friends became enemies, and others forged strange alliances, all in the name of commitments that today seem remote. A Better World evokes those times and their choices, and explains why these long-ago battles still arouse such deep feelings today—and should.
Americans who were pro-Soviet without being members of the Communist party—“progressives” as they called themselves—had a large emotional investment in the Soviet Union. From 1935 to 1939 literally millions joined the “Popular Front” of pro-Soviet organizations. O’Neill takes us through the shock of the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939, through the revival of the Popular Front spurred by government and business support after Russia entered the war against Hitler. He traces the isolation of the anti-Stalinists, the rise and fall of Henry Wallace, and the eclipse of progressivism. And he explores the shifting allegiances of intellectuals as they struggled, often with each other, to influence the course of public debate, with long-lasting consequences for American intellect, culture, and morals.
As O’Neill observes in his introduction, “More than any of my other books A Better World inspired correspondents to send me probing or reflective letters.” It was this response, along with the extraordinary critical debate spurred by initial publication of this volume, that makes the book’s continuing importance clear. The dream of achieving a better world through radical violence never dies, and the willingness of apologists to cling to utopian visions persists. As long as it does, the lessons of this book need to be available to us.
“This is a welcome book—a careful, systematic study of the struggle between those American intellectuals who supported or apologized for Stalinism and their adversaries, from the period of the New Deal on . . . A formidable work; it stands against an entire literature in which American Communists and their allies have been depicted as wholly innocent victims of a sinister right-wing inquisition abetted by cowardly liberals . . . [It] makes an important contribution both to scholarship and to the cause of political honesty.”
—The New Leader
“A well researched and wonderfully readable book . . . O’Neill can take credit for marrying good writing and research into great history.”
—The Denver Post