Late in 1935, the artist Mary Oppen and her husband, George, a poet, made a decision. The young couple had recently returned to New York after several years abroad. In Europe, they had read the signs. Jews were fleeing Germany; in Italy, Mussolini was an object of worship. Back in the United States, which they had left in 1929, they were startled by the changes wrought by the Depression. At stoplights, “grown men, respectable men—our fathers—stepped forward to ask for a nickel, rag in hand to wipe our windshield,” Mary recalls in her memoir, “Meaning a Life,” which was published in 1978. Though they had always been leftists, Mary and George now wanted to find an organization with which they could ally themselves. They spoke with the son of the founder of the Socialist Labor Party. They listened to Trotskyites. And then, at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, the Communist Party proclaimed a Popular Front against Fascism. This, for George and Mary, was a turning point. “We said to each other, ‘Let’s work with the unemployed and leave our interest in the arts for a later time,’ ” Mary writes.
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Postscript: Fidel Castro, 1926-2016
When the Oppens Gave Up Art to Fight Fascism