The Dream of the Golden Mountains: Remembering the 1930s, by Malcolm Cowley. New York: Bantam Books. 328 pp. $9.95.
Imagine a galaxy of American writers in 1980 coming out before the November election with a statement like this: ''We believe that the only effective way to protest against the chaos, the appalling wastefulness, and the indescribable misery inherent in the present economic system is to vote for the Communist candidates.''
What drew so many of the best and the brightest toward communism during the Great Depression, and why, as in Mr. Cowley's case, communism finally failed to satisfy them, comes crystal clear in this fascinating memoir. Cowley brings back a sense of the national ordeal that prompted him and other writers to want to do something, and reminds one of how different today's worried America is from yesterday's desperate America - and how far the ugly actuality of communism remains from the comradely promise those '30s writers briefly saw in it.