This pamphlet contains the answers to a political questionnaire issued by the poet and activist Nancy Cunard in 1937. The questionnaire asked writers to state their position regarding the civil war in Spain, which was seen as crucial opportunity to stop the advance of fascism in Europe. 148 writers, among them T S Eliot, Ezra Pound, W H Auden, Rebecca West, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Samuel Beckett sent their replies, a few of which are reproduced here. ‘Authors Take Sides’ has since become one of the most quoted documents in assessments of the political sympathies of many of the most renowned British writers of the 1930s.
‘The Ivory Tower…will no longer do’
Cunard’s call for contributions asked writers to take a stand in a struggle that was starkly depicted as one between fascism and democracy:
It is clear to many of us throughout the whole world that now, as certainly never before, we are determined or compelled, to take sides. The equivocal attitude, the Ivory Tower, the paradoxical, the ironic detachment, will no longer do.
The answers to the survey were classified as follows: ‘For the Republic, against Franco and Fascism: 127. Neutral: 16. Pro-Franco and Pro-Fascism: 5’. The responses were overwhelmingly in support of the Spanish Republic, evidencing the strong anti-fascist sentiment prevalent among writers and artists. Some authors, however, did not agree with being forced to ‘take sides’. Eliot replied that he was ‘convinced that it is best that at least a few men of letters should remain isolated, and take no part in these collective activities’.
Answers differed in length and style: from Aldous Huxley’s lengthy response advocating pacifism, to Beckett’s famously concise contribution, ‘¡UPTHEREPUBLIC!’ – which continues to divide critics, undecided whether to interpret it as passionate or ironic.