[Marxism] Living with differences
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
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
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
I’m happy to see any comments, although I probably will not be
responding to them.
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