[Marxism] Paul Buhle reflects on the passing of Martin J. Sklar

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 12 09:36:28 MDT 2014

The Story of a Non-Party, 45 Years Later

          The passing of Martin J. Sklar, some months after that of his 
sometime political-intellectual colleague Saul Landau, nearly closes out 
the inner circle of intellectuals at Studies On the Left (1959-66). Only 
James O’Connor, who went on to found the eco-journal Capitalism Nature 
Socialism remains, of that notable, early New Left venture centered 
first in Madison, Wisconsin, then New York City. Some of the saga is 
offered up in History and the New Left, Madison Wisconsin 1950-70, and 
my biography (in collaboration with Edward Rice-Maximin) of historian 
William Appleman Williams, who the Studies crowd admired so greatly. But 
I’m thinking now of a Mothers Day Weekend, 1969, and the “pre-party” 
discussions among a group of high-powered intellectuals mostly from the 
Studies circle, intended to cap the New Left experience with a mass 
movement for an American version of socialism.

          The event was called by James Weinstein, a financial resource 
and central figure in Studies, who had himself written The Decline of 
Socialism in America, one of the best analyses of US socilaists’ success 
(especially at the local level) and ultimate failure. He had already set 
in motion, more or less, the formation of a new radical journal, and 
mulled the prospect of a political movement to go with it.

          The idea of a new, truly popular socialist movement was not as 
far-fetched as it now must seem. Radical impulses, rebellious 
expressions, could be found on all sides in those days, from GI coffee 
houses to African American urban neighborhoods, campuses to emerging 
counter-culture communities. The idea of a “party,” as in a movement 
that set out to elect leftwingers at various levels, had already spread, 
and in places like Madison, Wisconsin, had blocs of power within city 
councils, supporting local peace movements, restraining police assaults 
were possible, defeating massive Urban Renewal projects and moving 
towards the kinds of coalitions that would soon come to power locally 
from campus towns to heavily black cities and some Chicano localities as 

          The thinkers invited to the Chicago event had impressive 
intellectual credentials if fewer political credentials in the sense of 
current involvements. They included famed slavery scholar Eugene 
Genovese, cultural historian Warren Susman, filmmaker and activist Saul 
Landau, Gramsci biographer John Cammett, “History from the Bottom Up” 
historian Jesse Lemisch (the meeting was actually held at his apartment, 
with Naomi Weinstein coming in and out, busy with campus chores and her 
laboratory work) and Sklar, who had been regarded as one of the deepest 
thinkers of the Studies group. Mari Jo Buhle and I, in our middle 20s, 
were easily the youngest people in the room and the only ones close in 
age to the generations then most active on campus. (We were active in 
the circle around the journal that I’d founded in the wake of Studies’ 
demise: Radical America.)

          It was a bad sign that Mario Savio, hero of the Berkeley Free 
Speech Movement, had actually flown to Chicago from the West Coast, felt 
ill and go back on a plane without leaving Ohare. Then again, he seemed 
already a figure from the (recent) past. There was the problem in a 
larger nutshell.

          We talked and talked through Saturday. There were lots of good 
ideas about how badly the activist New Left needed to think through the 
next stage of activities, how to consolidate energies, build 
organizations, challenge Democrats (and Republicans). The generation gap 
yawned, mainly because the political experiences of the later 1940s or 
early, the experiences of most of the people in the room before the Red 
Scare had shut down activities, were so unlike those of the 1960s.  Nor 
were there notable civil rights activists in the room, nor feminists 
(with a couple of exceptions!).

          A non-event? No, not really, because the journal Socialist 
Revolution did get born, and more than that, the New American Movement 
took the field in 1971, with several thousand members.  This little 
meeting could be claimed to have figured things out that far.

          Was there somewhere further to go with the intellectual 
resources at hand? It’s an imponderable, and yet one cannot help, so 
many Mothers Days later, to ponder.

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