[Marxism] Living with differences

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Apr 6 12:08:18 MDT 2013


(Forwarded from Paul Buhle)

The local appearance in Madison of the young author of TRUTH AND 
REVOLUTION, the history of the Sojourner Truth Organization, has an 
interesting back story: the author happened upon a print shop in Chicago 
where he happened upon leader of the extinguished mini-organization 
influenced by CLR James among others, and set about to do the research 
and write the history. A lot of pages for a small and marginal group but 
so what: there’s some insight and I was glad to write a review note and 
include the book in the new edition of MARXISM IN THE UNITED STATES.

This story reminds me of other young people looking around, trying to 
figure out what they can use from vanished movements. And of those my 
age, like Lou, looking back upon experiences good and bad, the 
experiences insights and illusions of those Marxists yet older 
–experiences in the decades when considerable working class movements 
had radical influences and some stability--and now long gone, with those 
movements.

My contribution, like the interviews lodged in the Oral History of the 
American Left at Tamiment Library, NYU, and my magazine RADICAL AMERICA, 
is so eclectic as to escape the usual categories of Communist, 
Trotskyist, etc., and are often usefully about the ethnic working class 
milieux that English-language Marxists depended upon but didn’t 
understand or appreciate sufficiently.

But let me make a few relevant comments.

First, having interviewed around 1976-83 the participants of 1920s CPUSA 
factionalism, and having lived through the factional smash-up of SDS in 
1968-69, I confirmed what I suspected: most people, the overwhelming 
majority, joined the factions led by their friends and shopmates, 
sometimes also lovers. Arguing was done mostly after the decision was 
made to “choose sides.” It was to a great relief of most that the 
arguing stopped, although of course that meant the limited democracy 
(mostly arguments about leaders anyway) had ended.

Second, and this time in relation to those who became Trotskyists and 
I’m especially thinking about Marty Glaberman but also a range of other 
oldtimers, like the contributor to a Yiddish Trotskyist newspaper that 
barely appeared before disappearing. It was a commonplace at least in 
retrospect that Trotskyists lacked the self-confidence to organize, 
recruit, etc., in the vast majority of industrial cities where Communist 
regulars had no organization or none above ground; until wartime, they 
gathered or sent groups into plants, neighborhoods, etc., where the CP 
was present, thinking the task was to win over disillusioned CPers, a 
hopeless task from the beginning and worse then hopeless in many ways. 
They spent more time arguing than organizing, and often arguing among 
themselves.

An elderly erstwhile Musteite (one of the “Musteite girls” from Vassar) 
observed, “in the thirties we had activity, in the forties we had 
theory,” which obviously applied mainly to the followers of CLR James 
but gives pause, lots of exceptions notwithstanding. Organizing outside 
of a few places might not be successful, never was successful, thinking 
might be. But mainly directed toward men and women who were already 
leaning toward Marxism, not really toward much of the working class. And 
mainly, with success, toward lower-middle class Jewish young people who 
were committed to revolution but also aspired to theory.

Third, and I close here, there was a real ruthlessness toward anything, 
anyone, likely to stay on the Left but not likely to be recruited. A few 
years after the explusion from the Socialist Party, one of the 
Trotskyist leaders remarked that even if they had gained few members 
(Marty used to say he was practically the only former YPSL who stayed in 
industry), they had removed “an obstacle,” i.e., fairly demolished the 
SP itself. Consider that small industrial towns in Wisconsin, 
Pennsylvania and a few other places were still electing local socialist 
officials and drawing some young people to themselves. The Popular Front 
and the Democratic Party fairly overwhelmed most third party efforts. 
But a lot remained, large ethnic in background and largely middle aged 
but real. The joy at demoralizing the SP pointed up the nastiness of 
which Marxists can be capable, and the stupidity of this kind of behavior.

What lessons to learn? To live with differences, that is live with each 
other as Marxists, and to try to convey the best of our useful 
experiences to the next generation. Nothing more complicated than that. 
The material offered in the new sections of MARXISM IN THE US goes in 
this direction.

I’m happy to see any comments, although I probably will not be 
responding to them.






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