Biography for Max Eastman
Author and editor Max Forrester Eastman was an intellectual leader of radical left-wing opinion in the United States during the first quarter of the 20th century. Eastman was born on January 4, 1883 in Canandaigua, New York. After graduating from Williams College in 1905, he continued his studies at Columbia University, where he completed the qualifications for, but declined to accept, a Ph.D. When he left Columbia in 1911, Eastman moved to Greenwich Village in lower New York City and quickly became the unofficial leader of the group of radical intellectuals intent upon combining socialist political beliefs with artistic passion. Their goal was economic liberation for the masses and personal liberation for themselves. In 1913, Eastman published Enjoyment of Poetry, in which he aimed to apply psychology to poetry criticism. In 1913, Eastman agreed to become the editor of a defunct left-wing magazine, The Masses. He obtained the money to resurrect the publication from wealthy donors and recruited an excellent staff. For the next three years, the provocative, superbly edited journal became the most influential socialist publication in America. Because of the fierce opposition to American involvement in World War I expressed in the text and cartoons of The Masses, the U.S. government suppressed the magazine in 1917. Eastman and two other members of the staff were tried twice in 1918 under the Sedition Act for "conspiring to promote insubordination and mutiny in the military . . . and obstructing recruiting and enlistment to the injury of the service." Juries refused to convict them of the charges in both cases, and the indictments were finally dropped. In 1918, Eastman and his sister, Crystal Fuller, a woman suffrage and peace activist who strongly influenced him, founded and for five years coedited a "less rambunctious" successor to The Masses called The Liberator, which Eastman described as more "acceptable to the postmaster general." At the same time, he became infatuated with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in the Soviet Union. He was certain that this revolution would hasten the advent of socialism in Europe and the United States. He supported efforts to establish a Communist Party in the United States, and in 1922, he went to the Soviet Union to experience a communist society firsthand. During three years there, he married the daughter of a high revolutionary official and became a member of Leon Trotsky's inner circle. The power struggle he witnessed in the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin that enabled Stalin to become dictator so disillusioned him that he fled the Soviet Union for France. Having returned to the United States in 1927, Eastman divulged in Since Lenin Died (1925) that Lenin on his deathbed had warned his followers about Stalin. Though rejected and isolated by the American Communist Party community, Eastman refused to compromise his perspective that communism was not the panacea many in the radical left believed it to be. He dealt with his sense of rejection and the betrayal of the promise of Marxism in the Soviet Union several times in later books: Artists In Uniform (1934), The End of Socialism in Russia (1937), Marxism: Is It Science? (1940), and Reflections on the Failure of Socialism (1955). By the 1950s, Eastman styled himself a political conservative. As his views veered to the right, he joined the staff of the National Review and defended the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Despite his preoccupation with politics, Eastman maintained his literary and psychological interests. In addition to Enjoyment of Poetry, he published numerous books of his own verse; an anti-Freudian study of the psychology of humor, Enjoyment of Laughter (1936); and two autobiographical books: Enjoyment of Living (1948) and Love and Revolution (1964). For 12 years, he earned a living as a lecturer and then, after 1941, as a roving editor for Reader's Digest. Eastman died on March 25, 1969.