In the latest issue:

Boris Johnson’s First Year

Ferdinand Mount

Short Cuts: In the Bunker

Thomas Jones

Theban Power

James Romm

What can the WHO do?

James Meek

At the Type Archive

Alice Spawls

Where the Poor Lived

Alison Light

At the Movies: ‘Da 5 Bloods’

Michael Wood

Cultural Pillaging

Neal Ascherson

Jenny Offill

Adam Mars-Jones

Shakespeare v. the English

Michael Dobson

Poem: ‘Now Is the Cool of the Day’

Maureen N. McLane

Tativille

David Trotter

Consider the Hare

Katherine Rundell

How Should I Refer to You?

Amia Srinivasan

Poem: ‘Field Crickets (Gryllus campestris)’

Fiona Benson

Diary: In Mali

Rahmane Idrissa

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?Edward Said
Close
Close
Vol. 21 No. 19 · 30 September 1999

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said

3361 words
Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
Show More
Show More

E.P. Thompson called it the ‘Natopolitan’ world: that is, not just Nato plus all the Cold War military and political institutions that were integral to it, but also a mentality whose web extended over a lot more activity and thought, even in the minds of individuals, than anyone at the time had suspected. Of course there were the revelations in the mid-Sixties about Encounter and the CIA, and later in the US and Britain a stream of disclosures about covert counter-insurgency in every form, from secretly underwritten academic research to assassinations and mass killings. Yet it still gives me an eerie feeling to read about people like George Orwell, Stephen Spender and Raymond Aron, to say nothing of less admirable characters of the Melvin Lasky stripe, taking part in surreptitiously subsidised anti-Communist ventures – magazines, symphony orchestras, art exhibitions – or in the setting up of foundations in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ against Soviet totalitarianism.

One of the rare dissenters, Charles Burton Marshall, is quoted here as saying that this bizarre operation to ‘counter Communism’ by trying ‘to break down ... doctrinaire thought patterns’ and anti-American attitudes throughout the world was ‘just about as totalitarian as one can get’. Marshall belonged to an Orwellian US Government agency called the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) and his kind of common-sense voice, commenting on the enterprise from within, isn’t ever heard from again. On the other hand, Frances Stonor Saunders’s gripping book is stuffed with names of individuals, organisations and publications, whose sleazy history she gives in painstaking detail.

Unfortunately, not all of her information is fully accurate or complete. It is, for example, careless to place the artist Frank Stella in a travelling delegation of grown men when he would have been about ten years old, and to quote from books without supplying page numbers or publication history. The chapter on CIA infiltration of the art world is riddled with howlers (that John Hay Whitney had his ‘own’ museum is one among several mistakes of this sort), but the gist of her argument about Abstract Expressionism and its uses as propaganda is correct, if not wholly original.

Who Paid the Piper? is even so a major work of investigative history, an extremely valuable contribution to the all-important post-World War Two record. The dispiriting truth it reveals, or confirms, is that few of ‘our’ major intellectual and cultural figures resisted the blandishments of the CIA, whether in the form of cushy foreign jaunts, under the table subsidies – Partisan Review, Commentary, Sewanee Review, Kenyon Review were its beneficiaries, in addition to Encounter, and all its French, German, Italian and even Arabic and Indian offshoots – or contracts for organisations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Ford Foundation, which seemed at first to exist for scarcely any purpose other than to further US foreign policy and provide cover for the CIA’s machinations. Ford’s present reputation and munificence in Asia, Africa and Latin America are still tainted by this highly political history.

Saunders sets out her themes very ably in the introduction, which situates the covert projection of US policy objectives in the context of the Marshall Plan, the postwar reconstruction of Europe (especially Germany) in competition with the Soviet Union, and the creation of a massive apparatus of cultural propaganda, one of whose main purposes ‘was to advance the claim that it did not exist’.

The main vehicle for all of this was the Congress for Cultural Freedom, ‘run by CIA agent Michael Josselson from 1950 till 1967’. My first encounter (pun unintended) with the Congress was through The God that Failed, a compendium of confessions by well-known former Communists (and/or sympathisers) that included Gide, Silone and Koestler; it was edited by Richard Crossman and the Congress distributed it. Carefully negotiating my way through a maze of booksellers’ wares laid out on the pavement alongside Ezbekieh Gardens in Cairo in late 1957, I was brought up short by a large pile of TGTFs stacked in front of one of the vociferous peddlers. His attention perhaps caught by my Western suit and non-Egyptian appearance, he called out to me shrilly: ‘Hey, Mister, you want dirty book? Five piastres only.’ In those days five piastres would buy at least three falafels. I stopped to pick up one of the little paperback volumes and, leafing through it, said contemptuously: ‘Five piastres for this?’ ‘No,’ came the quick reply, ‘take them all for five piastres.’ I ended up with a copy for half a piastre, and realised when speaking with my father about the publisher, Franklin Publications, that the enterprise had something to do with the US Embassy, which was dumping untold numbers of gratis copies all over Cairo. I had eluded the grasp of one rapacious merchant, only to fall prey to another. The book struck me as tedious, certainly not dirty in any obvious way, and massively self-important. In those unpolitical days of mine, I had no idea what I had really bought: a fruit of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and one of its many subsidiaries.

A few years later, when I got my first job at Columbia University in 1963, I met many of Saunders’s cast of characters at social events on Morningside Heights: Diana and Lionel Trilling, Daniel Bell, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald – all of them brilliant, feisty, friendly and endlessly voluble. Some of their hangers-on were third-rate intellectual goons like Arnold Beichmann (former Communist, rabid anti-Communist, now an aged relic of the Hoover Institution). No one then called them the New York intellectuals, as they have since become, and no one, except the dashing and iconoclastic Fred Dupee (who had their number quite early on), even hinted to me that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was in effect a part of the CIA. I published my first literary and philosophical essays in the Partisan and Kenyon Reviews (corresponding in the latter case with Robie Macauley, who, Saunders says, was a CIA agent pure and simple), and generally felt OK about a world that seemed concerned with ideas and high Modernism, even though it is now obvious that it was only tangentially concerned with those things.

When the revelations about Encounter came, they were almost immediately overtaken by the 1968 student revolution at Columbia, the anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements, the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, all of which seemed to matter a great deal more. For my part, I found that, with the exception of a few people like Chomsky and the late Eqbal Ahmad, no one in ‘the movement’ wanted anything to do with me or my interest in violations of Palestinian rights as a result of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Martin Peretz and Michael Walzer wrote their ‘Israel Is Not Vietnam’ article, Ramparts was closed, and soon the American ‘Left’, with Walzer and Irving Howe leading the vociferously pro-Israel shift, turned sharply to the right, and from there to neo-liberalism. (Saunders doesn’t consider the role played in Cold War politics by Israel’s post-1967 supporters: a pity since it explains many of the shifts and retractions she comments on.) Several faculty members (including Daniel Bell and Peter Gay) left Columbia because of the student uprising and the generally benign faculty response to it, while the Congress for Cultural Freedom sputtered on for I don’t know how long. Most of the ‘liberal anti-Communists’ of the Fifties and Sixties soon became neo-conservatives and Reaganites, principal among them Sidney Hook and the egregious Irving Kristol, whose role in Saunders’s narrative is positively Rasputinlike; even Partisan Review, famously Trotskyite in its origins, joined the neo-cons in the Eighties.

Saunders’s account of Partisan and its editor, the insufferably pretentious William Phillips – in a chapter she calls ‘Cultural Nato’ – is devastating. Far from being independent, PR was on the CIA payroll via front organisations like the Farfield Foundation. Before that, it had been carried financially by none other than Henry Luce (the owner/editor of Time-Life), whose ideological position was quite the opposite of Partisan’s at the time; in return for this largesse PR apparently restrained itself and said nothing about big corporations. Later Allen Dulles (CIA chief and brother of the more famous John Foster) kept the magazine afloat, and even got it tax-exempt status. And as the tide changed in the Reagan period, Phillips, perpetually in command, changed accordingly. As Sidney Hook said of his pal, ‘Phillips will go to any lengths to get help for PR.’

As for those gifted rebels around PR, like Mary McCarthy, they don’t look so good seen through Saunders’s unsentimental eyes. Here is McCarthy writing to Hannah Arendt about a lavishly subsidised event in Venice in July 1960 (others in attendance were Moravia, Iris Murdoch and Herbert Read):

The main event, from the point of view of sheer scandal, was a series of furious clashes between Mr Shils and William [Phillips], on the subject of mass culture, naturally. I swear Shils is Dr Pangloss reborn and without Dr Pangloss’s charm and innocence. I said so, in almost as many words, when I got into the fight myself. Another feature of the Congress was [Robert] Oppenheimer, who took me out to dinner and is, I discovered, completely and perhaps even dangerously mad. Paranoid megalomania and sense of divine mission ... [Oppenheimer] turned to Nicholas Nabokoff [sic]... and said the Congress was being run ‘without love’. After he had repeated this several times, I remarked that I thought the word ‘love’ should be reserved for the relation between the sexes ... George Kennan was there and gave a very good and stirring closing address (which ought to have crushed Mr Shils and all his Luciferian camp for ever) but the rumour was that he was crazy too, though only partly crazy.

Today the American Left is pretty much in tatters. A few small weeklies or monthlies such as the Nation or the Progressive can still be called left-wing, but the contemporary cultural climate in the United States is dominated by the corporate-government nexus, which no longer lurks in shadowy organisations or behind the front foundations that Saunders inventories with compelling tenacity. Everything is now quite open, sanitised and corporatised: what the CIA did covertly forty years ago is done openly by the Moral Majority, Pat Robertson and the National Rifle Association, and even they are only a very tiny part of an immense, palpitating hulk of profligate, ideologically discolouring squid.

In the first years after World War Two there were principals who pulled strings, drafted intellectuals, passed the money, organised conferences and trips – men like Josselson, Lasky, Tom Braden (later a TV personality), Denis de Rougemont, Cord Meyer, John Hunt, Nicolas Nabokov (a minor composer, Vladimir’s cousin) – and dozens of willing operatives, engaged, as Braden saw it, in the battle against ‘ignoramuses, or, to put it more politely, people who just don’t understand’. An impressive apparatus of former World War Two intelligence officers like the afore-mentioned Macauley, Arthur Schlesinger, Cass Canfield, Malcolm Muggeridge, Victor Rothschild played along happily, according to Saunders, who interviewed many of them for her book. There were also the ambiguously situated onlookers (maybe participants too?) like Isaiah Berlin and one or two others, in addition to some of the people now gathered around the New York Review of Books. What is remarkable about the list of names she spools out is not only their number and even distinction (Robert Lowell, Jackson Pollock, Spender), but how little the revelations of their being subsidised by the CIA affected their prestige. Huge sums were spent setting up radio stations, concerts, travelling exhibitions, academic and intellectual conferences. Stravinsky, Samuel Barber, Arthur Honegger, among others, participated. Prizes and awards were distributed, only occasionally earning the well-deserved anger of mavericks like Pierre Boulez, who denounced Nabokov and his fellow conspirators with healthy insults about their dishonesty and mediocrity.

Saunders estimates that $200 million were spent in the effort, wherever possible, to buy intellectual support for the US, to get critical voices to soften their attacks on the US and its policies, to promote the country’s values and, simultaneously, vilify those of the Soviet Union. She quotes Senator William Fulbright:

The effect of the anti-Communist ideology was to spare us the task of taking cognisance of the specific facts of specific situations. Our ‘faith’ liberated us, like the believers of old, from the requirements of empirical thinking ... Like medieval theologians, we had a philosophy that explained everything to us in advance, and everything that did not fit could be readily identified as a fraud or a lie or an illusion.

The ‘perniciousness’ of anti-Communist orthodoxy, Fulbright went on, ‘arises not from any patent falsehood but from its distortion and simplification of reality, from its universalisation and its elevation to the status of a revealed truth’. Another exception was the late Andrew Kopkind, whom she also quotes, a first-rate radical journalist and intellectual whose ‘deeper sense of moral disillusionment’ had to do, he said, with the fact that

the distance between the rhetoric of the open society and the reality of control was greater than anyone thought ... Everyone who went abroad for an American organisation was, in one way or another, a witness to the theory that the world was torn between Communism and democracy, and anything in between was treason. The illusion of dissent was maintained: the CIA supported socialist cold warriors, Fascist cold warriors, black and white cold warriors. The catholicity and flexibility of CIA operations were major advantages. But it was a sham pluralism and it was utterly corrupting.

Evidence for the devastating correctness of this view is found in Saunders’s chapters on the Rosenberg case and the emergence of Senator McCarthy. Men and women who knew better, or who could at least have encouraged dissent from the hysteria of McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee, simply went along with the whole thing, became incensed onlookers (like Leslie Fiedler), or just kept quiet as their friends were tarred and feathered, ostracised and sacked from their jobs.

Saunders is very good on the connections between the Wasp establishment (a sort of consortium) and the CIA, and on how important, socially prominent businessmen, lawyers, academics, theologians and philanthropists lent their names and institutions to a massive underhand operation, involving shady payments to agents and (perhaps) unwitting American stooges all over the world. To American readers this is a relatively familiar story, first mapped out by C. Wright Mills and Vance Packard, then in books like Chomsky’s American Power and the New Mandarins, Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest about the making of the Vietnam catastrophe, more recently in biographies of Reinhold Niebuhr, McGeorge and William Bundy, John McCloy and George Kennan, among others.

To many people (myself included) Niebuhr, for instance, was a serious theologian, a great preacher, a powerful intellectual presence. Certainly compared to Billy Graham, who unofficially took over from him as the senior theological figure and consultant to Presidents, Niebuhr was somebody of genuine gravity. Yet, according to Saunders, he was an ‘honorary patron of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and a Cold War “realist” ’. He believed in the importance of a ‘calculated balance of power’ and in foreign policy as ‘the exclusive responsibility of an élite authority’. He contributed greatly to the force of the proposition, advanced by Whittaker Chambers, that the future would be decided ‘between the two great camps of men – those who reject and those who worship God’. And, as Saunders adds, he ‘served up liberal helpings of theology to Time-Life readers, winning Sidney Hook’s approval for successfully reviving the doctrine of original sin as a political tool, and making “God an instrument of national policy” ’. This capacity to reduce ‘the complexity of world relations to a struggle between the powers of light and darkness meant that the rhetoric of American foreign policy had come to rest on distinctions which resisted the processes of logic or rationality.’ Robert McNamara’s various attempts to apologise for his role in the Vietnam War should qualify him for the list of offenders, not least because his self-serving, self-promoting message – ‘it was all an honest mistake’ – needs to be regularly trotted out and mocked for the drivel that it is.

Saunders catches precisely the sublime confidence of former preppies and Ivy Leaguers who thought they were entitled to rule the world, and whose ideas (if that’s what they are) still pound excitedly through Madeleine Albright’s feverish speeches about American indispensability and supremacy. But she should have gone into greater detail about the appearance of the ‘three-worlds’ concept, which was an essential part of the story she tells; more might have been made of the struggle between East and West over influential post-colonial countries like Ghana, Egypt, Indonesia and India. CIA tactics of the kind Saunders describes were often employed well beyond Europe, creating the ‘Third World’ and, with it, the tiers-mondisme which in time became associated with a kultur-kampf when V.S. Naipaul, Pascal Bruckner (The Tears of the White Man), Conor Cruise O’Brien and others withdrew their earlier support for national liberation movements and what was once the Non-Aligned Movement.

The other subject she doesn’t fully broach is directly entailed by what she digs up about the complicity between power and intellectuals. For a time during the Fifties and Sixties, entire disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, area studies and political science, as well as innocuous fields like languages and comparative literature, were heavily infiltrated by the American Government for geopolitical ends. Today the part played by ‘policy intellectuals’ and those who use them – the various Washington think-tanks, Political Action Committees and the military-industrial complex – has reopened the question of how free individual researchers, even those protected by university tenure, really are. In the softer academic fields of cultural studies, literature, ethnic research, feminism, the tension between advocacy and what used to be called the ‘liberal humanities’ is quite fierce.

No one now can confidently say where the humanities begin and end, and where interest-created fields of knowledge pick them up or overlap with them. I tried to deal with these issues when I studied Orientalism twenty-five years ago. Reading Saunders took me back into the problems I confronted then and rekindled my interest in them, as all around me in the university, large corporations, mega-donors like Bill Gates and his kind, as well as the defence industries, openly buy up professors’ time (they can be hired for research into smart weapons, for example, or Islamic terrorism). Is there any role, or any possibility of a role in the post-Cold War era of globalisation for what Foucault and Chomsky, each in their different ways, called intellectual resistance and even freedom?

The prospects are not very encouraging, if the muddy past churned up by Who Paid the Piper? is anything to go on. I find it invigorating that Saunders, who is in her thirties, has taken up the challenges all over again, and if she doesn’t really say what ought to be done now, the energy and determination of her research, to say nothing of the scepticism that nurtured it, are important signs of stirring intellectual restlessness and even of a kind of incitement, which is what is needed most of all.

Fin-de-siècle globalisation is, however, a stickier, more encompassing element for the intellectual to function in than the Cold War. For the individual critical consciousness the pursuit of freedom is rather like Yeats’s ‘struggle of the fly in marmalade’, a daunting, perhaps impossible aspiration, especially for those humanists or literary intellectuals who no longer feel they can retreat to a privileged Arnoldian sanctuary, or take strength from a grand narrative of enlightenment and emancipation. The task is to provide as much material as can be assembled from alternative sources (today’s mainstream media being nearly useless for that purpose) and to apply universal norms of justice to overweening power and unchecked market economics. In this, I think, personal witness and effort must bear a disproportionate share of the work. A growing library on the insidious intellectual abuses of American power is greatly enhanced by Saunders’s excellent book.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 22 No. 5 · 2 March 2000

In his review of Frances Stonor Saunders’s Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (LRB, 30 September 1999), Edward Said has maligned me and Partisan Review. Among other things, Said reports that ‘Saunders’s account of Partisan and its editor, the insufferably pretentious William Phillips … is devastating’; that the magazine was on the CIA payroll; and ‘had been carried financially by Henry Luce’, the owner/editor of Time-Life – just because Daniel Bell, who was a friend of ours, arranged for a one-time gift of $10,000. Said also implies that, later on, Allen Dulles – chief of the CIA – kept the magazine afloat. When answering Saunders’s questions, I told her that I did not know why the Luce organisation was interested in making a contribution to Partisan Review, but that literary magazines have always lost money and needed financial help from like-
minded people. (Said, who at the time also wrote for Partisan Review, must have been aware of that fact.) Yes, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom allowed contributions to the magazine to be exempted from tax after the IRS ruled that our exemption should be revoked – because we sold copies on news-stands. Yes, we once received $2500 from the Farfield Foundation which, as we found out much later, did funnel some CIA funds. But, according to Jack Thompson, then director of the Foundation, whom I recently contacted, this money came from a private donor. Moreover, when asked by Saunders why we hadn’t sued when others implied that we had been funded by the CIA, the editor, Edith Kurzweil, told her that unfortunately little magazines did not have the money for it. Said knows that too. Moreover, the sums Saunders claimed we received at most would have covered between 5 and 10 per cent of one year’s budget.

William Phillips
Partisan Review, New York

Vol. 21 No. 21 · 28 October 1999

Edward Said (LRB, 30 September) ignores the fact that Encounter, even if it was subsidised by the CIA, enriched the cultural life of this country, and no doubt others, from the Fifties to the Eighties to an unrivalled degree. The breadth and depth of its coverage of politics, literature, film and theatre were unique. It had plenty of left-wing contributors, and it was a wonderful read.

The Marshall Plan, pace Said, succeeded in salvaging much of Europe from wartime devastation. The Soviet Union managed to delay the recovery of Eastern Europe by half a century; in the end, mercifully, it failed. Heaven knows, the CIA made many appalling mistakes in many parts of the world. Subsidising Encounter was emphatically not one of them.

John Jolliffe
Shepton Mallet, Somerset

Vol. 22 No. 9 · 27 April 2000

Attacking Edward Said has become such common sport that it is almost achieving vulgarity. Now, William Phillips (Letters, 2 March) has descended from the Olympian heights to join the game. A pity, then, that he never gets off the sidelines.

Phillips likes to pretend he is taking issue with Said’s account of my book, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, whereas in fact his dispute is with the book itself. Said’s précis of my claims regarding Partisan Review – that it received some money from the CIA, that it was at one point carried financially by Henry Luce, and that Allen Dulles had an interest in helping to keep the magazine afloat – is a fair summary. There is nothing ‘malign’ in these claims, or in Said’s reporting of them. It is Phillips who abbreviates the issues raised in my book to the point of misrepresenting them. They are as follows.

In 1952, Partisan Review was on the brink of folding, in part because the US Treasury was threatening to remove its tax-exempt status. While efforts were made to convince the State Department that Partisan Review was a crucial vehicle for ‘combating Communist ideology abroad’ (Sidney Hook), Daniel Bell took a separate initiative, acting as an ‘intermediary’ in discussions with Henry Luce, who subsequently gave the magazine $10,000. (In his letter to me of 5 August 1998, Phillips wrote: ‘So far as I recall, the sum was $5,000, not $10,000.’ He now appears to accept that the sum was indeed $10,000.) The Luce grant was never publicly disclosed. The contributors were not informed; nor were some of Partisan Review’s associate editors.

As Phillips says, ‘literary magazines have always lost money and needed financial help from like-minded people.’ Whether Phillips knew it or not, and whether he likes it or not, certain individuals in the CIA saw themselves as ‘like-minded people’ who could ease Partisan Review’s financial difficulties. In early 1953, the magazine received a subsidy of $2500 from the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. The money came from the Farfield Foundation, a dummy front or ‘pass-through’ set up by the CIA in 1953 to provide the cashflow to its Congress for Cultural Freedom, of which the American Committee was a subsidiary. At the time this grant was made to Partisan Review, its co-editor William Phillips was cultural secretary of the American Committee. In the same letter to me Phillips wrote: ‘I don’t recall any grant of $2500 from the American Committee, and I don’t believe there was one.’ He thought that ‘no contributions to Partisan Review could have been received without my knowledge.’ The statement of disbursements of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom for the year ending 1953 clearly shows the grant was made.

Previously, Phillips was also unable to recall ‘ever receiving any grants from the Farfield Foundation’. His memory restored perhaps by seeing some of the documentation I sent him, he now acknowledges that the magazine did once receive a direct grant from the Farfield Foundation, though he disputes its CIA provenance. According to Phillips, Jack Thompson, the former director of the Farfield Foundation, has recently vouched that this particular grant was made by a ‘private sponsor’. In 1964, Stephen Spender asked Jack Thompson whether there was any truth to the rumour that the Farfield Foundation was backing Encounter magazine with CIA funds. He received an unequivocal denial. Within three years, however, the Encounter scandal had broken. Certainly, the financial reports of the Farfield Foundation which I have do not list any ‘private sponsor’ against the grant to Partisan Review. Perhaps Phillips should ask Jack Thompson to make public the relevant accounts of the Foundation (which was, after all, funded by the American taxpayer, courtesy of the finance department of the CIA).

Still, as I point out in my book, in the life of a magazine harried by financial crises, these grants hardly amount to much (Phillips’s own estimate is 5 to 10 per cent of one year’s budget). But in 1956, the question of PR’s tax-exempt status had again been raised at the Internal Revenue Service: not only did the magazine stand to lose this benefit in the future, but there was also talk of making all contributions to PR during and since 1954 retroactively taxable. By 1958, a solution was forthcoming: with (and only with) the CIA’s approval, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, which had been suspended in January 1957, was revived for the sole purpose of ‘posing’ as official publisher of Partisan Review, an arrangement which allowed the magazine to benefit from the Committee’s tax-exempt status. Behind the scenes, the CIA chief Allen Dulles was a key figure in making this arrangement.

Partisan Review also received support from the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom, in the form of subscriptions bought for individuals overseas who received the magazine free. From 1960, this arrangement boosted the magazine’s sales figures by 3000 copies a year, which were distributed outside of the US.

In May 1961, Phillips requested a grant from the Congress for Cultural Freedom to cover his travel expenses for a planned trip to Europe. This, despite his later concession that during the 1950s he had been ‘inclined to question’ the Congress’s ‘bureaucratic make-up and what was patently its secret control from the top’. In 1990, he wrote of those personalities who dominated the Congress for Cultural Freedom as ‘breezy, rootless, freewheeling, cynically anti-Communist orgmen’. He claimed to be ‘shocked by – and perhaps envious of – the nouveau riche look of the whole operation, by the posh apartments of the Congress officials, the seemingly inexhaustible funds for travel, the big-time expense accounts, and all the other perks usually associated with the executives of large corporations. After all, Partisan Review was always trying to make ends meet, and my experience had led me to believe that poverty was the normal condition for serious political outfits and literary magazines. As for secret funding,’ he continued, ‘it seems to me to violate the very nature of a free intellectual enterprise, particularly when the financing is by a well-organised arm of the Government, with its own political agenda.’

Frances Stonor Saunders
London W11

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences