On the 74th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Stalin, Novelist Howard Fast was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize (value about $25,000 tax-free) for 1953 the highest honor," he called it, "that can be conferred on any person in these times." New York City-born Author Fast, (Citizen Tom Paine, Freedom Road) commended himself to the Kremlin by his judgments on the Communist Party ("No nobler, no finer product of man's existence") and the mid-century U.S. ("Only one virtue remains betrayal and the only measure of human worth is the measure of a pimp"). Beyond these words his deeds included a three months jail sentence in 1950 for contempt of Congress, and an emotional message to the leaders of Red China who were battling U.S. troops during the Korean war: "My heart is with you in the mighty struggle..."
The Apology. In Manhattan's Daily Worker last week Communist Fast not only executed a timely party-line flip but wound up looking Nikita Khrushchev straight in the eye in a way that might well give Khrushchev pause about the forces he has let loose in the party. Khrushchev's "secret" speech (TIME, March 26 et seq. ), wrote Fast, "is a strange and awful document... It itemizes a record of barbarism and paranoiac blood lust that will be a lasting and shameful memory to civilized man... Mr. Khrushchev led men of good will to understand that the document itself would be a warning of the monstrous dangers inherent in secret and dictatorial government. I for one looked hopefully but vainly... for a pledge that the last execution had taken place on Soviet soil. I looked for a pledge of civil rights, for the sacred right of habeas corpus, of public appeal to higher courts, of final judgment by one's peers. Instead I learned that three more executions had been announced from the Soviet Union, and my stomach turned over..."
As for himself, Communist Fast regretted that he had not criticized the Soviet Union as he had criticized the U.S., which he now called "a land I love so deeply and which has given me so much." He admitted: "I failed miserably... I failed to see that to win socialism and to abandon the holy right of man to his own conscience, his own dignity, his right to say what he pleases when he pleases... is no victory at all... I knew that the death penalty existed in the Soviet Union... I knew there were prisons... I accepted the fact that Jewish culture had been wiped out in Russia; I knew that writers and artists and scientists were intimidated... but I accepted this as a necessity of socialism. This I can never accept again, and never again can I accept as a just practice under socialism that which I know to be unjust."
"Never Again." Fast still had praise for Soviet glories that in his view transcended Stalin, e.g., "the achievements of socialism, the destruction of the Nazi madmen, the goodness and humanism of the Soviet people, the building and rebuilding of the great Soviet land, the leadership of the struggle for peace and the good right hand stretched out to colonial people and oppressed people everywhere. But I must say that if Russia has in me a friend, it also has a severe and implacable critic. Never again will I remain silent when I can recognize injustice regardless of how that injustice may be wrapped in the dirty linen of expediency or necessity. Never again will I fail to question, to demand proof. Never again will I accept the 'clever' rationale, which appears to make sense but under scrutiny does not."
Such breast-beating had a hollow sound when matched against the agonies of anti-Communists and ex-Communists who have for years tried to warn the world against Communism, only to be smeared by slaves like Fast. But it was Fast's last-line reassertion of his rights as an individual that perhaps held the deepest implications for world Communism: "All this," he wrote, "has been written very personally, and it must be; for it is only what I have been thinking, and I must take the total responsibility for saying it."