Cole: You have a PhD. What was your dissertation?Wolfe: My dissertation was on the League of American Writers. The subtitle was "Communist Activity Among American Writers, 1927 to '42."This was a very dangerous dissertation to do. We're talking about the late fifties now. I got my degree in 1957, which was still known as the McCarthy period. And many people advised me not to even undertake this. As a result, if anyone ever had the bad fortune of having to read it, it's written as if it's by a man from Mars who has arrived in a strange land and these things are happening.
For example, I would refer to Ernest Hemingway as "E. Hemingway, a novelist of the period," to make it absolutely remote in terms of objectivity. I was intrigued with sociology. The dissertation was a sociological study of the makeup of the literary world, complete with the usual statistical data.Cole: What impelled you to choose that subject?Wolfe: I did a paper in graduate school about the first American Writers' Congress. Why was I interested in that? I honestly don't remember, In the stacks at Yale, I remember coming across volumes of the New Masses, which was a Communist publication--quite well done, incidentally.This first American Writers' Congress was held in 1935 . It was an attempt by the Communist Party to remove the red glare in the coloring of their cultural movement--in the arts, movies, literature--and to focus on the anti-Nazi, anti-fascist cause.In fact, it was the Communist Party that invented the word fascist to apply to the Nazis. The fascists were only in Italy, members of a socialist party known as the Fascisti. The word was never used in Germany. The Communists wanted to obscure the fact that the Nazis and the Fascisti were, like themselves, national socialists. The acronym NAZI stands for the National Socialist Workers Party. So, was Soviet communism national socialism? Absolutely. Communists the world over never did a thing that wasn't for the defense or the advance of the Soviet Union.Cole: This is when Hitler and Stalin were getting ready to sign the nonaggression pact.Wolfe: Actually, it was before then. They started in 1935 and they were going great guns. If you look at the roster of the League of American Writers, which was a front, it includes most of the well-known writers of that period because it was presented to them strictly as an antifascist organization. Then in 1939, you get the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact. And that destroyed the whole movement.To this day, the fact that National Socialism in Germany and so-called International Communism in the Soviet Union led to exactly the same results really never has registered among intellectuals who still look at Communists as liberals in a hurry.