Cochran on US Labor

Hunter Gray HUNTERBEAR at
Sun Jan 21 11:26:54 MST 2001

George:  I read Cochran's book, Labor and Communism:  The Conflict That
Shaped American Labor, Princeton, 1977, a couple of times many years ago.
Essentially, I found it commendably even-handed, though a bit dry, and
focused more on  Eastern urban/industrial settings ( auto and electric) and
less on rural Western issues and struggles  in metal mining, agriculture,
and lumber (my personal areas of strong experiential interest and
commitment.)  He certainly dealt with the basic currents -- e.g.,
international and national winds, CIO/CP shifts -- much more than
adequately.  If I recall correctly, there is a very brief mention of "a lone
Trotskyist" at an auto workers' meeting -- and that was obviously Cochran's
wry reference to himself -- but, although I'm not the absolutely  last word
in  lab analyses of ideological chemistry, I certainly didn't pick up a tilt
toward historical Trotskyism nor did I detect any  contemporary shift to the
right on Cochran's part.  The role of the CPUSA in building industrial
unionism and combating racism and blazing good and worthy trails is secure
in History.  But, in time -- as most of our List discussants and readers are
aware -- the Party, under extraordinarily intensive witch-hunting pressures
and entangled always in the  shifting cadences and vagaries of Moscow music,
and  increasingly wounded by Bill Foster's penchant for hatchet-jobs,
obviously floundered and collapsed.  The one historically consistent common
denominator vis-a-vis American labor and the CP -- courageous and gifted
Communist individuals (e.g., Maurice Travis of Mine-Mill) -- were able to
continue their good work long after the Party began to lose its way, as Joe
Starobin put it, in "incoherence and agony."  Cochran's work doesn't deal
with the individual piece of it and that's a very important story to be
told.  But this work of his gives, in my opinion, a solid overview of the
stormy geography, with many of the creeks and rivers and hills -- and
swamps -- clearly set forth.  I liked the book, loaned it to a friend of
mine who at that point was still in the CPUSA -- and he liked it so well
that I never saw it again.  Anyway, I like Cochran.  Hunter Gray
Hunter Gray

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