Twilight Struggles, Then and Now: a Review of The Party Line
Bruce Bawer, PJMedia
[The Party Line] is, in short, a highly ambitious concoction. And - unlike the future that Lincoln Steffens thought he had experienced on his 1919 visit to the Soviet Union - it works. It is, in fact, a wonderfully conceived and strangely moving creation that I am extremely eager to see performed on a stage.
At the play’s center are two colorful, remarkable, larger-than-life men who actually existed. One of them is Walter Duranty (1884-1957), the British-born journalist who served as the New York Times‘s Moscow correspondent from 1922 to 1936. In his heyday a much-heralded figure (he won the Times a Pulitzer), Duranty lived to see his star fall when it became increasingly clear that during his tenure in Moscow he’d been nothing but a lying Kremlin mouthpiece - one who was so utterly lacking in conscience that he strove to cover up the Ukrainian famine and to smear his worthier colleagues who strove to get out the truth. Like Quisling’s name, Duranty’s has entered the lexicon, becoming a byword for fraudulent journalism about totalitarian governments. Among current practitioners of his profession, Duranty is the very symbol of the kind of corruption they should consider themselves honor-bound to avoid.
The other real-life member of the play’s dramatis personae is Pim Fortuyn (1948-2002), the liberal Dutch sociologist-turned-politician who, over a brief period in the 1990s, rose to prominence and popularity in his country as an outspoken critic of its Islamization and who, at the time of his assassination by a radical environmentalist, was in all probability on the verge of becoming prime minister. Like Duranty, Fortuyn has become a symbol - in his case, of valor and nobility of spirit, and, alas, of what can seem, in today’s Europe, like a lost cause, namely the hope of rescuing European liberty from the onslaught of Islam.
It is around the figures of Duranty and Fortuyn that The Party Line pivots. There are superficial similarities between them: both were writers; both prized their creature comforts; both were hedonists, sexual adventurers (one straight, one gay) of whose private lives the play gives us a glimpse. But otherwise they were opposites. Duranty - who, in Stalinist Moscow, led a life of capitalist luxury - was, as much in his personal life as in his professional life, utterly indifferent to the fate of others; among other things, he was, as the play illustrates, quick to abandon the Russian woman he had lived with for years and the son she bore him. Fortuyn, by contrast, had a deep-seated sense of responsibility to others, both personally and in the larger world, and it was this that motivated him to risk life, limb, and love to preserve for all Dutchmen the freedom he so prized himself.
The life stories of Duranty and Fortuyn are both about party lines. Duranty chose to toe the Soviet line in exchange for a couple of decades of luxury, honor, and reward - and, as the play shows, a pathetic, disgraced senescence, and an afterlife of obloquy. Fortuyn emphatically rejected the multicultural line, for which he reaped in his lifetime the scorn of the Dutch and the international media (which demonized him, obscenely, as a fascist) and for which he ultimately gave his life - and won a glorious posthumous reputation among his countrymen, who in a poll taken two years after his death named him the greatest Dutchman of all time.
The playwrights’point in linking Duranty and Fortuyn by means of so many different threads is clear. Today’s jihadist Islam, like Stalinism, is a form of totalitarianism. Now, as then, many people in the West vigorously deny this and cling to the party line - the views that count as received opinions among the bien pensant….
No other dramatic work with which I am familiar, either on stage or on screen, has summed up the salient truths of our time as effectively as The Party Line does. It is nothing less than a profound statement about the lessons of the last century - and about the failure of so many people to learn them. Yet what makes it so powerful is that it does not come across as remotely preachy. On the contrary, it is a deeply human story that - one hopes - will speak to a wide range of audiences, opening their eyes to realities that are right in front of their noses, but from which they have been trained to look away..
Puppet: A new play makes Walter Duranty’s mendacity relevant to our own time
The Party Line sharply illuminates the ways in which twentieth-century fellow-travelers convinced themselves that a mass murderer was actually a conscientious and inspired leaderand how twenty-first-century naifs put on blinders to avoid an examination of Islamic terrorism. It’s fitting that Duranty, who thought he could talk his way into any power group, courted producer/director Cecil B. DeMilleonly to find that DeMille confused him with Jimmy Durante. But all that came later, when the damage was already done.
As The Party Line implies, it’s impossible to tell whether a similar obscurity awaits today’s enablers of totalitarianismor if Fortuyn’s haunting message will continue to fall on deaf ears in Europe and America: “In my beloved liberal Netherlands, I must hear that Allah is great, which is perfectly fine, but that I am a dirty pig and that you are a Christian dog. That is what they say and our politicians think that is okay. They accept being walked over, but I cannot be silent and let that happen anymore. . . . So I speak up and confront people. . . . You say it is dangerous and you are right. So then, I will be finished off. Maybe so. But the problems will remain. They will remain.”