Melvin J. Lasky

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Melvin Jonah Lasky
Lasky melvin.jpg
Born January 15, 1920
New York, NY, USA
Died May 19, 2004
Berlin, Germany
Nationality Polish-American
Alma mater University of Michigan
Occupation editor, journalist, author
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Brigitte (Newiger) Lasky, Helga Hegewisch
Children Vivienne Lasky, Oliver Lasky

Melvin Jonah Lasky (15 January 1920 – 19 May 2004) was an American journalist, intellectual, and member of the anti-Communist left. He founded the German journal Der Monat in 1948 and edited the British journal Encounter from 1958 to 1991.

For decades, these publications received funding from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Lasky did admit to knowing about the CIA's role; however, rumors that he was actually a CIA agent were never substantiated.[1] In 1947, Lasky wrote an influential document that made the case for a cultural Cold War intended to win over European intellectuals.

He was the older brother of Floria Lasky, an influential entertainment lawyer, and Joyce Lasky Reed, the President and founder of the Fabergé Arts Foundation and former Director of European Affairs at the American Enterprise Institute.

Early life and World War II[edit]

Lasky was born in The Bronx of New York City and schooled at City College of New York. He continued his education at University of Michigan and Columbia University.[2] He briefly considered himself a Trotskyist but at 22 moved away from communism entirely because of disgust with Stalin.[3] He began working for the New Leader in New York and was editor from 1942–1943.[4] Lasky wrote an editorial during this time criticizing the Allies for failing to address The Holocaust directly in their World War II efforts.[5]

He served in World War II as a combat historian for the 7th Army. Lasky remained in Germany after the war, making his home in Berlin, where he worked for American military governor Lucius D. Clay. During this time, Lasky was an outspoken critic of the United States' earlier reluctance to intervene to stop the genocide of European Jews.

Germany and Der Monat[edit]

After Lasky left the Army, he became a German correspondent for the New Leader and for the Partisan Review.[6] In 1947, Lasky sent a message to General Lucius D. Clay which became known as "The Melvin Lasky Proposal". In this document, Lasky argued for a more aggressive campaign of cultural and psychological operations to combat the Soviet Union in the Cold War.[2] It reads:

The time-honored U.S. formula of 'shed light and the people will find their own way' exaggerated the possibilities in Germany (and in Europe) for an easy conversion . . . It would be foolish to expect to wean a primitive savage away from his conviction in mysterious jungle-herbs simply by the dissemination of modern scientific and medical information . . . We have not succeeded in combatting the variety of factors—political, psychological, cultural—which work against U.S. foreign policy, and in particular against the success of the Marshall Plan in Europe.[7]

Soon after, Lasky received Marshall Plan funding to create the German-language journal Der Monat ("The Month"), airlifted into Berlin during the 1948 Soviet blockade. Its purpose was to support U.S. foreign policy and win over German intellectuals views that were socially progressive but anti-communist.[8] Der Monat continued as a prominent highbrow Germanophone journal, incorporating essays and articles from many Western European and North America intellectuals as well as dissidents from the Eastern Bloc. Contributors included George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Franz Borkenau, Thomas Mann, Arthur Koestler, Raymond Aron, Ignazio Silone, Heinrich Böll, Hans Sahl, Max Frisch, T. S. Eliot, Saul Bellow, Milovan Djilas, Richard Löwenthal, Peter de Mendelssohn, Hilde Spiel, Hermann Kesten. The journal also received funding from the Ford Foundation and the CIA.[9]

Lasky helped to found the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) at a 1950 conference he organized in West Berlin. Frank Wisner, of the CIA's Office of Policy Coordination, criticized Lasky for making American sponsorship of the conference too obvious.[10] Although temporarily expelled from the CCF by Wisner, Lasky was included again in 1953 as a member of the "Tri-Magazine Editorial Committee", which established policies and topics for Der Monat, Preuves, and Encounter.[11] As part of this committee, Lasky argued that these magazines must express some dissent against the American government or risk being perceived as propaganda.[12]

Der Monat was sold to Die Zeit and temporarily ceased publication in 1971. From 1978 until 1987, Der Monat (now titled Der Monat (Neue Folge) or simply Der Monat (N. F.)) re-surfaced as a Die Zeit quarterly without Lasky's involvement as editor-in-chief, but Lasky remained publisher along with his German wife Helga Hegewisch, while the journal's new editor-in-chief was SPD politician and later German Minister of Culture Michael Naumann. A new economy & marketing publication called Der Monat appearing in Germany since 1997 has nothing to do with the former journal's socio-political concept and design.

Encounter[edit]

In the Anglosphere, Lasky was best known for his role as Editor-in-Chief of Encounter. He succeeded Irving Kristol, the original editor and founder, in 1958 and helped turn the young magazine into one of the most highly regarded periodicals in Europe. Lasky steered Encounter to represented the point of view of the anti-Communist, anti-Totalitarian Left, and reportedly favored the journal's political side over its more purely cultural endeavors.[13] He remained at Encounter until the magazine folded in 1991.

Both Encounter and Der Monat had long received funding from the CIA-sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). Lasky denied knowledge of CIA funding in a 1966 letter (written jointly with Irving Kristol and Stephen Spender) to the New York Times.[14] However, Lasky confessed privately to Frank Kermode (recruited as editor in 1965) that he had known about CIA funding for some years.[15] In 1967, Ramparts and other publications revealed the CIA's relationship to the CCF and its publications, embarrassing many who were involved.[16]

Other activities and private life[edit]

Lasky's grave in Berlin

Lasky was the author of many books including Utopia and Revolution, Voices in the Revolution, On the Barricades and Off, and The Language of Journalism. He was married twice, to Brigitte Lasky (née Newiger) with whom he had two children, Vivienne Lasky and Oliver Lasky, and to German novelist Helga Hegewisch.

Lasky died in May 2004 of a heart ailment. In an obituary in the Guardian from Andrew Roth, he was described as "a very vocal poseur" in 1930s New York and at a later encounter, "he had grown thinner on top and thicker about the middle, but what never altered was his sardonic half-sneer and nasal whine. "[4] A portion of Lasky's unpublished memoirs appears in News from the Republic of Letters, as well as in The Berlin Journal, Spring, 2007.

The Lasky Center for Transatlantic Studies[edit]

In October 2010, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich opened the Lasky Center for Transatlantic Studies, a research center associated with the university's American Studies department. The Lasky Center is home to Lasky's personal library and papers. Its director is Christof Mauch.[17]

Notes[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 44. "And what of Melvin Lasky? Was he not an ideal candidate to join the swelling ranks of the CIA? It would later be alleged that Lasky had become an agent. This he consistently denied. Like Thaxter in [Saul Bellow's novel] Humboldt's Gift, the rumour 'greatly added to his mysteriousness.' His constant presence at the forefront of the CIA's cultural Cold War for the next two decades would not go unnoticed."
  2. ^ a b Lasky, Melvin (21 May 2004). "Melvin Lasky". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  3. ^ Botsford, Keith (Fall–Winter 2004). "François Bondy & Melvin J. Lasky". Republic of Letters (14/15). Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Roth, Andrew (21 May 2004). "Melvin Lasky: Cold warrior who edited the CIA-funded Encounter magazine". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Medoff, Rachel (23 January 2006). "Letters They Wouldn't Publish". New York Times. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  6. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 28.
  7. ^ quoted in: Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 29.
  8. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 30. "The result was Der Monat, a monthly magazine designed to construct an ideological bridge between German and American intellectuals and, as explicitly set forth by Lasky, to ease the passage of American foreign policy interests by supporting 'the general objectives of U.S. policy in Germany and Europe. Set up with General Clay's backing on 1 October 1948, under Lasky's editorship, it was printed initially into Munich and airlifted into Berlin aboard the allied cargo planes on which the city depended during the blockade."
  9. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 30. "Across the years, Der Monat was financed through 'confidential funds' of the Marshall Plan, then from the coffers of the Central Intelligence Agency, then with Ford Foundation money, and then again with CIA dollars. For its financing alone, the magazine was absolutely a product—and an exemplar of—American Cold War strategies in the cultural field."
  10. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 85. "Wisner returned to the problem of Melvin Lasky, whose peacock presence throughout the Berlin conference had so infuriated him. His earlier command to have Lasky removed from centre-stage having been so blatantly ignored, he wrote an angry internal memo, 'Berlin Congress for Cultural Freedom: Activities of Melvin Lasky,' stating that Lasky's visibility was 'a major blunder and was recognized as such by our best friends in the State Department . . .'"
  11. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 217."
  12. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 218"
  13. ^ Bagnall, Nicholas (17 March 2003). "Nil desperandum: Articles of Faith: the story of British intellectual journalism". New Statesman. Retrieved 17 September 2012. . . . nor the deliberate philistinism of Encounter's editor Melvin Lasky, whom Berry reports as having described Stephen Spender's bookish part in that magazine as 'Elizabeth Bowen and all that crap'. 
  14. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 378. "Spender added his signature to that of Kristol and Lasky in a letter to the New York Times, dated 10 May 1966, which stated: 'We know of no "indirect" benefactions. . . we are our own masters and part of nobody's propaganda,' and defended the 'independent record of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in defending writers and artists in both East and West against misdemeanors of all governments including that of the US."
  15. ^ Saunders, Cultural Cold War (1999), p. 384. "This was the moment of Lasky's soi-disant confession: he admitted to Kermode that he had known of CIA support for some years now, but that he could not possibly say this publicly."
  16. ^ Stern, Sol (Winter 2010). "The Ramparts I Watched". City Journal. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  17. ^ "Lsky Center for Transatlantic Studies". LMU Munich. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 

Bibliography[edit]

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