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On the Shelf

ILYA EHRENBURG'S "AMERICA"; a series of six articles by the Russian journalist, reprinted in the December issue of Harper's Magazine after appearing originally in "Lzveatia" official government organ in the Soviet Union.


The Soviets chose wisely when they delegated Hya Ehrenburg for a mission of good will and report-age in the United States. Ehrenburg is a brilliant pamphleteer and propagandist extraordinaire. Throughout the war his talents, more popular than scholarly, were employed in pouring out some of the most effective anti-Nazi word weapons that the Allies produced anywhere. In his "Izvestia" articles, Ehrenburg is once again on the home field, giving America the treatment it must continue to expect from the Russian press, with the bite of dogmatism this time tempered by the author's individual and uncollectivized analytical abilities.

It is typical of contemporary Soviet journalism that Ehrenburg, the propagandist, spends nearly half of the article of an emotional treatment of the southern problem. He is neither objective nor accurate. The author is apparently one visitor from the land of millennial equality who stumbles onto the back alley of America and peers into an ignored and white-washed rotten area that seems to bother no one around. The great intolerance of orthodox Stalinism is then demonstrated in the author's Legree treatment of anyone south of the Ohio river--an intolerance of human beings who attempt to solve their problems a little less violently if a little less rapidly.

Ehrenburg is all out of sympathy with any solution less than the abrupt "struggle for equality" which he predicts. While full of understanding for the exploited, he has none for the problem itself, and no answer but the one which he repeats with a certain mechanical frequency reminiscent of the prayerwheel spinners. Most conspicuous is the handling of the history of the southern problem, which is handled not at all. Readers of "Izvestia" now stand convinced that America has been indicted of crimes it ignores with true capitalistic brutality and neglects to remedy in the manner of courtiers at old St. Petersburg. Logically, the Russians must conclude that the only salvation lies in overthrow al and the consignment of white southerners to American Siberias. It is not Mr. Ehrenburg's treatment of the Negro that is amiss, but his branding of the southerner, and thus, in the manner of a good dialectician, the American government, that is so inaccurate and destructive to mutual understanding.

What is left of the article, after the south has been disposed of, might well be informative reading to alert Americans. While admiring American skyscrapers, washing machines and personal vitality, Ehrenburg is vexed by the lack of tradition, midwestern Babbittism and political naivete of the people. Ehrenburg is offended by the adolescent anties of Lions' Club cheerfests, by the arbitrary morality of the film industry, by the provincial view of culture and the arts, which, he fears, are secondary in the American mind to drug stores and efficient plumbing. These views are not original; Kipling and Dickens and expatriates of the '20's said the same thing of a young country still occupied with pioncering its last stretch of geographic (and cultural) frontiers.

Americans might profit from this intelligent, if unoriginal, view of their cultural well-being. But the Soviets who must rely on "Lzvestia" for all contact with America will not be benefited by this pre-occupation with its maladies and Ehrenburg's textbook remedies. And if friends of peace left that the visit of the Russian writer ushered in a a period of greater understanding, the articles in "Izvestia" will cause a cold shower of disappointment.

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