Granville Hicks and the dilemma of American radicalism

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John W. Crowley


Granville Hicks, Communism, Nonsectarian radicalism

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Granville Hicks is a prominent literary figure of the thirties who adopted Marxism and, eventually, Communism in an attempt to precipitate the revolution that would eradicate gross social inequalities created by an irrational capitalism. His literary criticism aimed at exposing the bankruptcy of bourgeois literature, as many writers and intellectuals were unable to come to terms with the complex industrial civilization that was radically altering social life. At the peak of his Communist career, however, Hicks resigned from the Communist Party; explored the possibility of a non-sectarian left in utopian fiction; wrote novels that examined life in small towns, arguing for a decentralized, Jeffersonian democracy; became convinced that Communism was a threat to peace, and joined in the campaign to eradicate it from public life; and finally succumbed to an uncharacteristic pessimism in the late sixties and seventies.

While Hicks was driven by a deep religious instinct for human emancipation, he remained entrapped in the culture he sought to change. He was unable to commit himself to the authoritarian structure of the Communist Party, nor could he transcend the conformity that McCarthyism imposed on a large portion of intellectuals. The failure of revolutionary ideology to effectively alter entrenched social practices is not simply engineered by oppressive apparatuses and a sophisticated mode of surveillance; it often stumbles upon a tradition, a "core belief" that is maintained and perpetuated by a variety of symbols. A re-articulation of American tradition, therefore, becomes a powerful strategy in the quest for radical, progressive change.

While Hicks's resignation from the Communist Party is a justifiable indictment of Communist dogmatism, his repudiation of Marxism not only indicates his bending to the pressure of patriotism during the Cold War, but also attests to the dilemma of ex-Communists who resist committing themselves fully to unenlightened conservatism. For as Hicks himself would say in his later years, a non-sectarian American radical has no place to go. The choice, then, seems to be between an indigenous discourse and the still distant awakening of caring people.


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