Street, radio, and university professor, Part II

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Wed Mar 7 08:51:43 MST 2001

{ Part II ]

My first book appeared in 1944, getting reviews in the NY Times Sunday
Book Section and just about everywhere else one could want one.  My
second, in 1946, not only got the same treatment, but was one of the
first two volumes ever used as a text on the USSR in American higher

In 1947 I was invited to take up a fellowship at post-doctoral level
at Stanford's Hoover Institution, but Truman proclaimed the Cold War
in his Fulton, Missouri, speech, with Winston Churchill on the
platform, in a matter of weeks. Here the relationship to community and
social movements became front and center. In those years when a
B.A. got you an assistant professorship, an M.A. an associate, and a
Ph.D. a full, it was just not the done thing for someone with faculty
status to write in a student newspaper. I wrote a documented slashing
attack on the Cold War in the Stanford Daily, and spoke at a meeting
in the Palo Alto Public Library, called by a new liberal veterans'
organization.  The Stanford Daily article brought a response from a
Baltic fascist, a term I always use with extreme circumspection,
because fascism is too serious a matter to cry wolf about. The public
lecture was the first occasion in my experience when police went
around noting the license plates of the cars parked in the
vicinity. McCarthyism was just around the corner.

I banged away at the Cold War in public lectures, conferences at least
one of which was reported in the press with my remarks turned into
their opposite, and academic gatherings.

Hoover Institution fellowships are frequently lifetime posts. Mine was
not renewed, on the grounds of lack of funds, although the director,
best defined as a Lincoln Republican, actually offered me retention of
my large private office and unlimited access to the extraordinary
archive (which Condoleeza Rice, in one of her last acts as Stanford
Provost before becoming National Security Advisor, ordered dispersed
for reasons of economy!). I had acted as his teaching assistant on
occasion when he was away. These were graduate students, all war
veterans, some of whom went on to distinguished academic careers. But
at a faculty and administration reception I was not at, someone asked
the director belligerently: "What is Mandel doing here?" One of my
students told me the next morning that the response was: "He knows
more about the USSR than anyone else in the United States."

For the record, that cannot be said of me or of any individual today
or for the past third of a century, i.e., since the enormous focus on
Sovietology produced several thousand Ph.Ds on every detail of that
country's economy, government, history, language, and military. At the
time that remark was made, there were no more than a few dozen of us.

While at Stanford, I spent as much time as possible an hour north at
the California Labor School in San Francisco. Although it was
identical to the New York Workers' School and the later Jefferson
School there in having been founded by the Communist Party, the
extraordinary autonomy and unity of organized labor in San Francisco
thanks to the longshoremen-led general strike of 1934 won it a legal
status difficult to believe today. It was actually accredited by the
government as a school World War II veterans could attend and receive
their GI Bill financial support for. For me personally, it was the
place where I, an Easterner, made my first acquaintance with Mexican
and Chicano culture, particularly dance. At my HUAC hearing in 1960, a
question posed to me was: "Did you lecture at the California Labor
School in 1947?" My response pleased the audience: "I did. It was on
Shostakovich' oratorio 'Song of the Forest.' Whaddaya know about

The long night of Truman-McCarthyism closed in for me after the Hoover
appointment, and it was 27 years before I again had a paid association
with higher education. It was also18 before a publisher would touch me
again, although prior to that I had had four book contracts with
advances in four years. My teaching returned to that sponsored by the
Far Left. I gave courses in the Jefferson School in New York, an
organization sponsored by the Communist Party but staffed by faculty
with all the proper letters after their names who had been fired
primarily during the period of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact
of 1939-41.

Again, my lack of academic snobbery stood me in good stead. I was now
in my thirties, with books and a distinguished appointment in my
background, but it never occurred to me that that should cause me to
hesitate to take a course in Negro literature taught by Lorraine
Hansberry, then I think about 19 and not yet the famous playwright of
"Raisin in the Sun." She and I stood in line for unemployment
insurance together in our Washington Heights neighborhood. Years later
I had the sad experience of bringing to her husband, for her, a
Berkeley Free Speech Movement pin, on the day before she died.

By the same token, I did not hesitate to attend a course on the Soviet
Union taught by the just-returned Daily Worker correspondent in
Moscow, only to find that the textbook in his hand was my A GUIDE TO
THE SOVIET UNION, a volume in use at Yale, Stanford, and elsewhere.

Likewise, in my own course, I invited to lecture the one truly Soviet
Communist available, although he was a Black American. His mother, a
Communist, had been fired from her job as a New York City
schoolteacher for trying to organize a union, years before its
extremely powerful union was built, largely by Communists. She went to
Moscow and became the English voice of Radio Moscow. The son, Neil
Burroughs, was five when taken there, and spoke English with a heavy
Russian accent when he returned at the end of World War II.

He was deeply hurt by the fact that, while in Moscow he had been a
student of literature at Moscow University, and an essay of his on
Turgenev appeared in a Pocket Book here of that classical author's
work, back home in America he could only get a job on a radio assembly
line. Later, when his Russian got him another in the one New York
bookstore then selling Soviet books, he was kept in the basement,
because a Black face serving customers on Fifth Avenue in the late
1940s was unthinkable.

When I left the Communist Party in 1957 over its refusal to take
policy positions independent of those of the Soviet Union, and
particularly with respect to that country (Khrushchev had made his
"secret speech" denouncing Stalin's crimes), there was no more
teaching for me at places under its control. We moved to Berkeley,
and, within a month, although I was not sympathetic to Trotskyism, the
Socialist Workers' Party invited me, and I accepted, teaching a course
on the USSR. The Berkeley Left was sensible. The Black editor-to-be of
the Communist Party's PEOPLE'S VOICE, then already a member of that
organization, attended. So did graduate student Bogdan Denitch,
bitterly anti-Soviet and a social-democrat, who is now a well-known
professor emeritus of City College in New York. Another student was a
Trotskyist who later became a lifetime figure in academic labor
education. Years afterward he wrote me that my testimony before the
House Un-American Activities Committee in San Francisco in 1960 had
determined him to face jail, if necessary, if a similar subpoena ever
befell him.

For me, the HUAC subpoena was a wonderful break. The '60s mood had
just arisen among students, they thought my words -- as of this year
used in six documentary films and probably a dozen TV specials -- were
inspiring, and in consequence, when the Free Speech Movement arose in
1964, they put me on its executive committee. As I drafted this very
presentation, I received an approving e-mail on a speech this past
week-end, from a colleague of that time, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor
of Tikkun.

I took a very direct, if at this point informal, in education at the
university. When I gave the first of six lectures outdoors in Lower
Sproul Plaza, 600 students were waiting when I got there. On another
occasion, I was asked to debate the Jerry Falwell of that day, Fred
Schwarz, an Australian M.D. who headed the Christian Anti-Communism
Crusade. The crowd filled Wheeler Auditorium and two overflow halls to
which the event was piped, and the Fire Department had to close the
doors for safety. I treasure a photo of the ineffable David Horowitz
applauding me like crazy in the standing ovation at the end.

The students wanted a better education than the university was
giving. They established a Free University, at which I taught. I was
not the least bit surprised that attendance, although comparable to
that in others of its courses, dropped off. I was teaching about the
Soviet Union, and they were looking for a Utopia. I didn't believe in
any, any more. But I did my best to improve the education they were
getting at UC Berkeley, because I knew that their expressed contempt
for it would not withstand their desire and need for degrees. I
detailed my view on this in what amounted to a valedictory speech at
the last meeting of the FSM Executive Committee, which I titled "The
Free University or Freeing THE University."

I also wrote a detailed department-by-department analysis, "The
Whiteness of the University," front-paged in two consecutive issues of
the Berkeley Barb, the first great alternative newspaper, which at one
point reached 100,000 circulation nationwide. I pointed out how white
students were losing by the absence of the perspective of Black
professors in all sorts of courses, from Agriculture and Architecture
through the alphabet. To the best of my knowledge, that was the first
such analysis, by anyone of either race, of the meaning of the absence
of Black faculty in American higher education. Within one year,
without acknowledging my contribution, UC Berkeley had taken its first
steps to improve that situation.

The students demanded a say in naming those who taught them.
Sociology professors of national reputation went to bat to get me an
appointment in that department. In the light of my having held a
post-doctoral appointment a quarter-century earlier, and the fact that
I had by now published three books, most recently SOVIET WOMEN,
written specifically to serve the new feminist movement, all in use in
higher education (the last quite widely), I asked for full-professor
salary, pro-rated down to the level of my duties. My sponsors
compromised on the associate-professor level. The evaluations by my
students were excellent, but Gov. Ronald Reagan said publicly that the
professors had better watch out who they appointed, or he would oppose
any raises by the legislature. So they did not re-appoint me at UC
Berkeley, and dropped Angela Davis at UCLA. Matters were not helped by
the fact that I had, as a matter of conscience, taken my course off
campus during the Third-World Strike which occurred that quarter, and
had been very visible during the period of martial law in Berkeley
over the building of a People's Park by street people and
students. This was on land that the university wished to make yet
another parking structure. At one point National Guard bayonets were
just a couple of feet from my chest as I called upon the students not
to run but to retreat slowly, facing the military.

There were educational satisfactions nonetheless. A superb high-school
and junior-college teacher of government, Virginia Franklin, winner of
many awards, herself never to the left of the New Deal wing of the
Democratic Party, would assign my mid-sixties book, RUSSIA
RE-EXAMINED, to her classes so they would have to think through their
attitudes to the competing systems. When a Black female student of
her's at Merritt College, then a ghetto institution, wrote nearly 20
very thoughtful pages in a report on my book, I was thrilled almost to

While Virginia always invited me to address her classes, I would often
be invited by others. A Black teacher once invited me to Oakland Tech,
another ghetto school, and the students were so stimulated that they
wrote an imitation radio program presenting the ideas and views that
had batted back and forth in consequence.

The teaching at informal educational institutions continued. Only two
years after arriving in Berkeley my broadcasts on Pacifica's original
and then only station, KPFA, brought me an invitation from the
American Friends Service Committee to be part of the tiny "faculty" at
its annual high-school department camp at Lake Tahoe. Another member
was the wonderful old longshoreman, seaman, and veteran of the Abraham
Lincoln Battalion in Spain, Bill Bailey, whose "dese, dem, and dose"
Hoboken English gave the kids in attendance a sense of the
workingclass that nothing short of a factory job could have
provided. It is my belief, which a musicologist might investigate,
that what came to be known as the San Francisco sound arose among the
kids there that summer, one of whom was Joan Baez.

No sooner had the Sixties ended than an entirely new and different
issue brought me to teach again. Angela Davis was tried for murder.
Ghetto people became active on her behalf. Under the auspices of her
defense committee, I taught a class in Oakland on how to read the
newspaper, not in the sense of literacy but in dealing with such
problems as reporting on the Attica, New York, massacre of prisoners
by guards after an uprising provoked by intolerable conditions.

The 1970s were tough. A teaching offer from the Economics Department
at San Francisco State University, in which ten of 13 faculty voted in
my favor, was vetoed by someone high in the administration, probably
President Hayakawa. The faculty had just gone through a long strike,
and confessed frankly that they were simply too fatigued to undertake
another battle.

The Associated Students at San Jose State University hired me at
pro-rated full-professor salary, and the president there cancelled the
Philosophy Department's offer of credit for the course. The chair was
on the verge of tendering his resignation, but I convinced him that
the university needed precisely professors such as he, so he
compromised by taking a year's sabbatical.

In 1975 a student activist of the Sixties, now at the Law School of
Golden Gate University in San Francisco, highly regarded for the crop
of working lawyers it had produced over the years, proposed and got
them to engage me to teach a course in Soviet law. I still treasure
the term papers turned in. But the steam had gone out of the student
movement, and that was my last formal appointment.

>From then until 1995 my teaching took the form of my broadcasts over
KPFA, in which the question-answer phone-in period was the most

Lstener mail volunteered such thoughts as that my program was "like a
postgraduate course." Here, too, of course, there was the most direct
relationship to social movements. I was finally dropped because I
undertook to defend affirmative action against a popular and actually
liberal columnist who thought that a policy of color-blindness would
suffice. Station management, now essentially desiring that there be no
criticism of Bill Clinton from the left, did not want the subject
aired, although the manager was an African-American woman.

When KPFA let me go, a station near Stanford offered me a weekly hour,
and Free Radio Berkeley, an unlicensed lower-power FM station, gave me
all the time I desired. When the latter was driven off the air by
federal court injunction, I offered to go to jail as a test case in
1999, but the matter became moot. Today I broadcast on its successor,
Berkeley Liberation Radio, and on a web station run by an
extraordinary man with severe cerebral palsy, My
program is titled "Thinking Out Loud With Bill Mandel," and it is
essentially a running treatment of the subject of this session.

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