24 SEPTEMBER 1948, Page 15



SIR,—It is only too easy for those who attended the Cultural Congress for Peace held at Wroclaw, to appreciate the reasons for the disgruntled

tone in which Julian Huxley wrote about it in your issue of Septem- ber 10th; but the proceedings seemed to me also to offer a temperate hope that a basis may be found for more constructive discussions between representatives of the two viewpoints which are now claiming man's allegiance. Admittedly, most of the speeches did not rise much above the appallingly low intellectual level to which political controversy has sunk in recent years. The " Western " representatives had once again to put up with hearing the word " imperialism " applied to anything from British colonial policy in the mid-nineteenth century to the Marshall Plan, and " Fascism " used to refer to American treatment of negroes, as well as the Italian movement to which it rightly belongs. But it is as well to remember that the Russians may have been equally cliggrined to hair a solemn American thinker propound the thesis that the only escape from the danger of war is for everyone to be psycho-analysed. The import,of the Congress lay, in my opinion, not in this rather puerile surface, but in the feelings and attitudes which one thought to discern behind it.

Even the conventional Marxist phraseology, which seems to us so turgid and vituperative, could not conceal the fact that the Eastern European peoples feel that in getting rid of their old semi-feudal social systems they have taken a step forward which is as important for human evolution as was the Renaissance in the West. At least as regards their own coun- tries, this feeling is almost certainly justified. A walk through the ruins of Wroclaw or Warsaw is sufficient to convince one that, even if there were no other reason for Socialism, the sheer physical problem of recon- struction is on a scale which can only be tackled by a united community working as a whole ; just as the magnitude of the task of developing atomic energy makes nonsense of the idea that, whatever our political wishes, we can in future entrust major creative enterprise to private individuals. It is not easy for the British, with their ingrained preference for a tentative and empirical approach, to keep continually before their mind's eye a sympathetic realisation of the exuberance, and also the - insecurity, of those who believe themselves in the middle of a revolution. But without such a realisation, there is not the slightest chance of under- standing anything the Eastern Europeans are trying to convey.

As the conference proceeded, it seemed to emerge more and more clearly that the Russians (and still more the Poles and some of the other Eastern European countries) do not feel happy in carrying on their revolution in isolation. This first appeared in the opening Russian speech by Fadieev. His intense and undiscriminating suspiciousness of all Western political activities, and his blunderbuss -denunciation of all present-day British and American culture as either egocentric and unsocial or vapid and demoralising, was really a plea to the non- Communist Westerners to climb on to the Marxist band-wagon. It looked at first as though this emotional outburst would set the tone for the subsequent proceedings, and some of us began thinking of the journey home. But, probably wisely, Britain countered this straight left to the heart by an equally jolting right hook to the head—the voice of the purest Liberalism, in the person of A. J. P. Taylor, representing the extremist non-Communist opinion available at Wroclaw, demanding intellectual rigour and honesty. This made it clear to the Russians that we were not proposing to discuss the number of American aircraft in the Middle East or of Russian tanks near Berlin, about which we knew very little ; and also that we were not attracted by the over of a backsesa on the Marxist omnibus.

It is in the Russian response to this check that some slight encourage- ment for the future can, I think, be found. The four hundred Marxists could so easily have steam-rollered over the couple of dozen non- Communists, and enjoyed the pleasure of denouncing Western tat- co-operativeness. But instead, llya Ehrenburg came on to allow the political side to recede out of the centre of the limelight to something like its correct place (it obviously cannot be neglected entirely even in such a Congress) and "to heal the cultural breath." In doing the latter, he went even too far, maintaining not only that both Eastern and Western Europe had produced, and were continuing to produce, works of great value, but arguing that European culture is one and inseparable. This thesis neglects the differences in historical development in what may be called Roman and Byzantine Europe ; but it is snore important that it is capable of two very different interpretations under present circumstances: either it implies that Western Europe, equally with Eastern, has in the Russian view a major contribution to make to the civilisation of the future, or it might mean that the Russians think that their post- revolutionary culture alone carries forward the general European tradition and is due to supplant completely the decaying remnants of the capitalist culture of the West. In the context of the rest of Ehrenburg's speech, I suspect that his real opinion is somewhere between these two possibilities.

At least one got the impression that the Russians had sufficient respect. for Western culture to provide a basis for further discussion of what it can

contribute. It is significant that in the last Russian speech Zaslavsky remarked that, although we had spoken some hard words to one another, could one imagine a controversy between intellectuals in which no hard words were spoken, and had each not also said something which the other could understand ?

Some days after the conference, in a hotel lobby in Warsaw, I asked Ehrenburg whether the Russians were satisfied with the conference.

He replied, yes, because they thought it had shown that they could make contact with men of good-will in the Western countries. It is possible, of course, to suppose that all he meant was that they were satisfied with the tactical success of bamboozling a number of Western intellectuals into signing a common resolution with them. But if that is all the Russians had wished for, there were plenty of Western Communists present who would have signed something much more extreme. I formed the opinion, which I admit may be mistaken, that the Russians were feeling their way towards emerging from their hitherto complete intel- lectual isolationism. At least it seems worth giving that more optimistic interpretation a trial. To Ehrenburg's question of what the British thought of the conference, I replied that " satisfied " would be too final a word, but that I thought a step had been taken which made it possible to consider holding another conference, much smaller and more down- to-earth,. at which the incipient cultural cleavage, which really threatens between East and West, could be discussed with some hope of mutual understanding and some attempt at a new synthesis.

Modern warfare is a mass activity. It cannot be carried on unless whole populations can be brought to believe that they have a characteristic way of life which is threatened by some other population which has a different one. At the present time, looming behind the day-to-day political frictions in Berlin and elsewhere, is the massive danger that the peoples of the West will be driven into seeing themselves as fanatical defenders of one aspect of man's nature—his value as an isolated and self-sufficient individual—while those of the East become, even more than they are already, crusaders for the other aspect—man as a 'product of, and a unit within, the culture which has nurtured him. It may be that the pendulum, which swung from a social to an individual emphasis in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, is now swinging back again and will again go too far on the other side. But surely, it should be possible to obtain a general recognition that man's nature involves both aspects, and to discuss how they may be brought into harmony. I gained the impression at Wroclaw that the Russians and other Eastern Europeans might take part in such a discussion in a not too uncompromising frame of mind ; and if they could be persuaded to do so, I suggest that that Would be as valuable a step towards peace as can be taken within the

King's Buildings, West Mains Road, Edinburgh, a.