Irving Howe

American writer, literary and social critic and socialist activist

Irving Howe (/haʊ/; June 11, 1920 – May 5, 1993) was an American literary and social critic and a prominent figure of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Irving Howe



Introduction to Echoes of Revolt: The Masses, 1911-1917 by William L. O'Neill (1989)

  • For a brief time, roughly between 1912 and 1918, The Masses became the rallying center-as sometimes also a combination of circus, nursery, and boxing ring-for almost everything that was then alive and irreverent in American culture. In its pages you could find brilliant artists and cartoonists, like John Sloan, Stuart Davis, and Art Young; one of the best journalists in our history, John Reed (journalist), a writer full of an indignation against American injustice that was itself utterly American; a shrewd and caustic propagandist like Max Eastman; some gifted writers of fiction, like Sherwood Anderson; and one of the few serious theoretical minds American socialism has produced, William English Walling. All joined in a rumpus of revolt, tearing to shreds the genteel tradition that had been dominant in American culture, poking fun at moral prudishness and literary timidity, mocking the deceits of bourgeois individualism, and preaching a peculiarly uncomplicated version of the class struggle. There has never been, and probably never will again be, another radical magazine in the U. S. quite like The Masses, with its slapdash gathering of energy, youth, hope.
  • Behind them still throbbed the tradition of nineteenth-century American radicalism, the un-ambiguous nay-saying of Thoreau and the Abolitionists. This tradition implied that the individual person was still able to square off against the authority of the state; it signified a stance-one could not quite speak of it as a politics-of individual defiance and rectitude, little concerned because little involved with the complexities of society. The radicalism of nineteenth-century New England had been a radicalism of individual declaration far more than of collective action; and while Eastman and his friends were indeed connected with a movement, the Socialist party of Debs, in essential spirit they were intellectual freebooters, more concerned with speaking out than speaking to. They swore by Marx, but behind them could still be heard the voices of Thoreau and Wendell Phillips-and it was a good thing.
  • As one looks back across the shambles of the intervening decades, it is hard not to envy them: the fierce young Reed making his prose into a lyric of revolt, the handsome young Eastman mediating among a raucus of opinions, the cherubic Art Young drawing his revolutionary cartoons with the other worldly aplomb of a Bronson Alcott. History cannot be recalled, but in this instance at least, nostalgia seems a part of realism. For who among us, if enabled by some feat of imagination, would not change places with the men of The Masses in their days of glory?

Quotes about Irving Howe

  • One explanation for the neglect of women's part in shaping The Masses and its content may lie in an image of the magazine constructed by its chroniclers. Indeed, the extent to which historians have neglected discussion of Masses women is quite remarkable. Daniel Aaron, in his Writers on the Left (1961), devotes some twenty pages to The Masses. He deals with Eastman, Dell, and Reed at considerable length, while mentioning the founding members Inez Haynes Irwin and Mary Heaton Vorse in a single line. Even more remarkable is Irving Howe's introduction to William L. O'Neill's 1966 Masses anthology, Echoes of Revolt. While O'Neill himself does include a representative selection of work by Masses women in the anthology, Howe achieves the remarkable feat of writing his entire introduction without mentioning a single female contributor. Howe concludes resoundingly: "For who among us... would not change places with the men of The Masses in their days of glory?" More recent histories redress the balance somewhat-notably Judith Schwartz's study of women of the Greenwich Village Heterodoxy club, many of whose members had ties with The Masses, and Art for The Masses, Rebecca Zurier's 1987 anthology of the work of Masses artists. Nancy Cott's frequent allusions to Masses women in The Grounding of Modern Feminism (1987) indicate how very central to that grounding, to the shaping of turn-of-the-century feminist discourse, Masses women were. But in many imaginations, The Masses remains the project of Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, John Reed (journalist), Art Young, and Charles Winter.
    • Margaret C. Jones Heretics and Hellraisers: Women Contributors to The Masses, 1911-1917 (1993)
  • the translation of Yiddish literature into English by the -- beginning with Irving Howe, totally erased women, so it was even worse in English than it actually was in Yiddish.
  • In 1954 Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg defined and popularized yidishe veltlekhe kultur/"worldly" or secular Yiddish culture for English readers through their extensive introduction and selections in A Treasury of Yiddish Stories. This culture intellectual dialogues, arts, and history appeared to be devoid of women and women's concerns, except as depicted and interpreted by men...By 1976, this tradition was an accepted historical fact which informed and titled Howe's massive history World of Our Fathers. Both Dawidowicz and Howe understood the complexity and richness of yidishe veltlekhe kultur with its probing intellectual controversies, bitter political debates and artistic expression. Yet their histories, distorted by their omissions, have been perpetuated by other scholars and translators. Until now, English readers non-Jews and Jews - have had little access to women's individual and collective roles and achievements in Yiddish-speaking communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
    • Irena Klepfisz "Queens Of Contradiction: A Feminist Introduction to Yiddish Women Writers" (1995)
  • Radical Jews of the 1960s and 1970s were the most bitter critics of Jewish suburbia. Irving Howe contended that assimilation there had extinguished some of the most distinctive qualities of the Jewish spirit: "an eager restlessness, a moral anxiety, an openness to novelty, a hunger for dialectic, a refusal of contentment, an ironic criticism of all fixed opinion." Certainly, these qualities describe the Jewish women activists in this book.
    • Debra L. Schultz Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (2002)
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