In 1963, Encounter issued a commemorative anthology entitled Encounters to mark its tenth year of publication. I reviewed this in the New Statesman. My review may be found in my book, Writers and Politics. In the review I questioned certain rash assertions made by Sir Denis Brogan in his preface to this anthology, in, which he claimed that Encounter, ‘from its foundation, has been, a journal de combat, an organ of protest against the trahison des dens’. I pointed out that the political side of Encounter was consistently designed to support the policy of the United States Government: ‘One of the basic things about Encounter is supposed to be its love of liberty; it was love of liberty that brought together, we are told, the people who, in the Congress of Cultural Freedom, sponsored Encounter. Love of whose liberty? This is conditioned—as it would be for a communist, but in reverse—by the overall political conflict. Great vigilance is shown about oppression in the communist world; apathy and inconsequence largely prevail where the oppression is non-communist or anti-communist. This generalization needs to be qualified. Silence about oppression has been, if possible, total where the oppressors were believed to be identified with the interests of the United States. Thus the sufferings of Cubans under Batista evoked no comment at the time from the organ of those lovers of liberty, well informed though they undoubtedly are. For Nicaragua, Guatemala, South Vietnam and South Korea the same held good. The Negro problem—that is, the problem of the oppression of Negroes in large areas of the United States today—was consistently played down until quite recently, when the news made it impossible to play it down in the old way.’
At the time I wrote this review, I knew nothing of any connection between the cia and Encounter. This is significant at the present stage, because the present line of defence of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Encounter is that, though indeed—as they now admit—they
On April 27th, 1966, the New York Times, in the course of its series of articles on the Central Intelligence Agency, stated that the cia ‘has supported anti-communist but liberal organizations, such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and some of their newspapers and magazines. Encounter magazine was for a long time, though it is not now, one of the indirect beneficiaries of cia funds.’
There followed a letter, signed by four people, including Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., paying tribute to the ‘independence’ of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and implying, without explicitly saying so, that it was highly improbable that this paragon of independence could have been supported by the cia. Mr Schlesinger has subsequently admitted, in the course of a television debate with me on April 30th, that he knew when he was in the Government that the cia was subsidizing the Congress. The letter which he signed, following the New York Times story, was designed to give the contrary impression and to mislead the public. Messrs. Stephen Spender, Irving Kristol and Melvyn Lasky also wrote to the New York Times declaring that they had no knowledge of any indirect benefactions. Mr Lasky has recently been quoted as admitting that he knew of these benefactions in 1963. It follows that in signing this letter he, like Mr Schlesinger, was seeking to mislead the public.
The New York Times did not withdraw its original statement, but said that it had implied no reflection on the independence, etc, of those concerned.
In my Homer Watt lecture to the alumni of New York University on May 19th, 1966, on the subject of The Writer and the Power Structure, I mentioned the New York Times revelations and made some further comments on Encounter, including the following: ‘In a skilfullyexecuted politico-cultural operation of the Encounter type, the writing specifically required by the power structure was done by people who, as writers, were of the third or fourth rank but who were, as the Belgians used to say about Moise Tshombe, compréhensifs, that is, they could take a hint. But the beauty of the operation, in every sense, was that writers of the first rank, who had no interest at all in serving the power structure, were induced to do so unwittingly. Over the years the magazine, shrewdly edited, adequately financed and efficiently distributed, attracted many writers who hardly noticed, or did not think it
Excerpts from this lecture, including the passages about Encounter, were published In Book Week, copies of which were distributed to the delegates to the pen Congress in July. In this way delegates from countries where the New York Times does not normally circulate, were made aware for the first time of what the New York Times said.