You Had To Be There

A legacy besmirched: an ill-informed portrait of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

Issue: Winter 1999-2000

Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books, 1999).

The Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) was founded at a big public meeting of intellectuals in Berlin, in the summer of 1950. Appropriately, the event coincided exactly with the outbreak of the Korean War--appropriately, because its establishment was the American response to an earlier Soviet initiative--in Wroclaw, Poland--to mobilize European writers, artists and intellectuals in its Cold War effort. (It was at Wroclaw on that occasion that the Stalinist apparatchik, Alexander Fadeyev, displaying his credentials as a literary critic, observed that if hyenas and jackals could write they would do so in the style of T.S. Eliot and Jean-Paul Sartre.) Given the political circumstances of the time, the sense of an urgent need for such a response was widespread: most of Eastern Europe had just been folded into the Soviet empire, the communists had triumphed in China, there were huge communist parties in France and Italy, and a large segment of Western intellectual opinion--perhaps the preponderant part--either favored the Soviet position or was neutral between it and the American one.

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