Saturday, December 14, 2013

From The Marxist Archives -The Revolutionary History Journal-The Socialist League (Great Britain)

...sometimes it is hard to figure out among the many groups that have historically claimed kinship with the efforts of the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in his efforts to save the Russian Revolution and the international one as well who was serious and who was merely posturing. No question the degeneration of the Russian Revolution under Stalin left many sincere leftists rudderless but as Trotsky found out, and a situation that had him scratching his head, or worse, putting together a cadre organization in those days was tough, tough (and deadly) work.   


Click below to link to the Revolutionary History Journal index.

Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:


This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.

Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.

The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.

Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the worthwhile from the chaff.

The Socialist League

Reg Groves, born in 1908, joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in the mid-1920s and was a member of the Balham Group, a number of CPGB members critical of the party leadership in the early 1930s. Contacting the Trotskyist movement in 1931, Groves was expelled from the CPGB in 1932 and was subsequently, a member of the Communist League and the Marxist League. In the meantime he wrote material for the Socialist League and was elected to its executive in 1936. After its dissolution Groves stood as the Labour candidate in the 1938 Aylesbury by-election – a story, in itself! His account of his break from Stalinism appears in his book The Balham Group, London, 1974. The following article was intended to be the preface to a collection of Socialist League documents, which, however, was not published.

The Socialist League held its inaugural meeting on Sunday 2 October 1932 at the Co-operative Hall, Leicester, on the day before the Labour Party’s annual Conference opened in the same town.
It was at Leicester, too, nearly five years later, that the Socialist League held its final Conference, and brought its short life to an end. Its brief existence had begun in the wake of world depression, and the ignominious fall of Britain’s Labour Government, and its life had spanned years of momentous events, uncertainty and confusion; years that saw German and Italian Fascism and Japanese militarism advancing triumphantly, saw the most powerful of Europe’s social democratic and communist parties routed and crushed without serious resistance, saw the causes of democracy and socialism everywhere in retreat. And, adding to the perplexities and discomforts of the time, saw an already repressive regime in Russia embarking on a series of government and ruling party purges, imprisonments, trials and executions accompanied by the vilification of revolutionaries and of revolutionary ideas and traditions not only in Russia but in every place where Russian-controlled communist parties operated.
The scale and pace of events – so cumulatively ominous in what was portended – may explain why some who helped to found the SL to promote a socialism based firmly on the needs, struggles and aspirations of the working people, free from obligations to, or entanglements with, capitalist parties, institutions and beliefs, and committed to a reaffirmation of the internationalism of the common peoples, should wilfully destroy the organisation they had created and go on to become champions of alliance and coalition with capitalist parties, and advocates of minor reform instead of socialist revolution.
Explain it, maybe, but not excuse it. Regarded by many then and since as merely another unsuccessful attempt to convert the British Labour Party to a leftwing policy, some of us looked upon the SL differently; and saw its dissolution as yet one more defeat for groups struggling for the survival and rehabilitation of revolutionary socialist ideas and ideals.
For the bureaucrats of social democracy and communism could on occasion be at one at least in this – the determination to rid themselves of the Marxist and social democrat left. Not that such groups were numerically important, but they did echo, though feebly, hopes and ideals deeply rooted in the thoughts and affections of labouring peoples everywhere, and inimical to all that official social democracy and communism had come to represent. To some of us, therefore, it seemed useful to renovate and restate these beliefs, before the flood waters of world war engulfed all and the last landmarks were washed away. The dissolution of the Socialist League can be regarded then, as an act of immolation on the altar of the “United Front”, or as an of murder. Judgement on this will depend upon the estimate made of the SL at the time when it was sidled by its leaders into the Unity Campaign – was it in process of becoming a group of revolutionary socialists or was it no more than a small, left-wing section of the Labour Party?
Towards the making of an accurate assessment, these documents and notes are offered. The limitations of the collection will be clear to everyone – it is a personal one, accumulated day-by-day at the time, and put together in haphazard fashion for use and reference in current campaigns and controversies; it is too factional, and here and there too local, too much of one area. It may, however, catch up the mood of the time all the better because of such limitations, and for this reason everything in the box has been included. For greater clarity and completeness, some missing key documents have been replaced by copies.
To understand the genesis of the SL it will help to know something of the structure of the British Labour Party, and a little of its history.
From its foundation in 1900 (as the Labour Representation Committee) the Labour Party was a federation of trade unions and socialist societies, allied to promote labour representation and legislation in Parliament and on municipal bodies.
Its organisation was made up of a yearly conference, a national executive and local committees, all consisting of representatives from the affiliated unions and societies. Not until 1918 were individual LP membership sections established, as part of the party’s organisation in the Parliamentary electoral districts. But local and national control of the party continued to be by local councils of delegates, by a national delegate conference, and by executive committees and officials elected or appointed by these bodies. The affiliated trade union members outnumbered the individual members by around six to one – union votes (in the hands of union leaders) controlled the annual. conference decisions, the policy of the party, the, elections to the executive committee; union money constituted the major part of the party’s funds.
The individual membership sections were organised primarily in wards, that is, electoral sub-districts; and were often little more than fund-raising, subscription-collecting, vote-canvassing groups. Active political life was to be found mostly in the socialist societies affiliated to the Labour Party, by far the largest and most important of which was the Independent Labour Party, founded in 1893 and chief promoter of the socialist-trade union alliance that brought the Labour Party into existence.
As the active partner in the political life of the movement, the ILP stimulated debate and discussion in the movement, and its addiction to, the promotion of specific policies brought frequent clashes with the Parliamentary and trade union leaders.
With Labour’s electoral victory in 1929, when, with 287 seats won it became the largest single party in the House of Commons, and took office though without an absolute majority over the two other parties, conflict between the LP leaders and the ILP grew. As industrial stagnation spread with world depression, and unemployment in Britain rose to two million, then to nearly three; and, as the Labour Cabinet and most of its MPs clung to the economic orthodoxies of the very capitalism that was in collapse, and retreated abjectly from even minor reforms and relief measures, the more intransigent ILPers in the House, and a few rebel Labour MPs, spoke and voted against the Government, and were roundly abused and denounced for it by all the Cabinet Ministers and almost all the Labour MPs.
Financial crisis, manufactured and manipulated by the very people the Government were trying to placate, and connived at or acquiesced to by Prime Minister MacDonald and Chancellor of the Exchequer Snowden, split the Cabinet, with more than half the Ministers still prepared to abase themselves before capital and enforce the cuts in living standards and social services demanded by British and foreign financiers, and Liberal and Conservative politicians. In August 1931, the Labour Government ended with barely a whimper, when MacDonald and Snowden and a few others formed a coalition government with the two other parties to enforce the cuts.
An apologetic, confused, and hopelessly compromised Labour Party met a crushing defeat at the polls in October, its MPs reduced to 46. Five ILPers only were returned, all intransigents, and these rejected attempts to curtail their right to speak and vote freely, particularly as these attempts were made by the very men who had supported and applauded the MacDonald administration, and who were now trying to refurbish their reputations by bawling abuse at the renegade leaders. At its conference held in 1932, the ILP decided by 255 votes to 120 to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The dissenting minority seceded from the ILP, determined to remain in the LP.
What had been wrong, they argued, was the MacDonald leadership and its policy of slow, piece-by-piece reform – then known as “gradualism”, though some called it “MacDonaldism”, thereby diverting criticism and blame from themselves and their colleagues on to the departed leaders. What was needed to make certain that gradualism had departed with MacDonald was a campaign to win over the LP to a detailed, socialist policy for every public problem and every economic and financial eventuality, and so commit any future Labour Government in advance to a socialist programme. Socialism was, of course, variously interpreted, but to most of those urging such policies on the labour movement it meant State control and planning in varying proportions; and at that time planners, with their import boards, export boards, investment boards, public corporations and the rest, were finding encouragement in the reported successes of Russia’s Five Year Plan, and were to find further support for then arguments in Roosevelt’s New Deal Middle class socialists, holding such views. wanted an organisation in the LP to fill the gap left by the departed ILP.
Suitable organisations seemed to be at hand, ready made for the situation: the New Fabian Research Bureau, to research and present discussion material on policy, with Clement Attlee as Chairman; and the Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda, with powerful trade union chief Ernest Bevin as Chairman, to disseminate in pamphlet and lecture form the results of such material through local branches, had been founded in the winter of 1930/31 by GDH Cole and others. By not sponsoring or nominating Parliamentary candidates nor putting critical resolutions to LP Conference, Cole and his colleagues hoped that the SSIP would avoid the conflict with authority that had driven the ILP from the LP.
Cole’s own account is relevant here: “A section of the ILP which desired to remain inside the Labour Party called on the SSIP to abandon the NFRB to join them in making a new inclusive socialist society, affiliated to the Labour Party, to replace the ILP … The NFRB … refusing to become involved in ‘politics’ outside the sphere of research, maintained its separate existence … SSIP, on the other hand, being a propagandist body with branches, was placed in a difficulty, for it either had to come to terms with the ex-ILP group or to enter into rivalry with them in a field in which there could hardly be room for both to do good work. SSIP accordingly agreed to negotiate; but difficulties at once arose. The ex-ILP group was determined on having a body which would be affiliated to the Labour Party and free to engage in Parliamentary activities; and it was also determined not to accept Ernest Bevin as Chairman of any combined body, and to insist on Frank Wise … I regarded it as indispensable to carry Bevin into the new body … I accordingly voted against the fusion of SSIP with the Wise group; but I was outvoted and agreed to go with the majority – a yielding of which I was soon to repent … At the time, however, I tried to make the best of a bad business by giving full support to the Socialist League; I spoke hopefully at its inaugural Conference at Leicester and for a year served on the Executive. By the end of the year a number of us had become convinced that it was heading for disaster very like that which had befallen the ILP by putting forward a programme of its own in opposition to that of the Labour Party, instead of trying to work for improving the official Labour Party programme. I resigned …”
The day after the inauguration of the SL, the LP Conference opened. Sorties by members of the new organisation brought modest successes.
Sir Charles Trevelyan, who had resigned from the Labour Government in protest at its supineness, persuaded the Conference to decide “that the leaders of the next Labour Government and the Parliamentary Labour Party be instructed by the National Conference that, on assuming office, either with or without power, definite socialist legislation must be immediately promulgated, and that the party should stand or fall in the House of Commons on the principles in which it has faith”.
A policy report from the Executive on currency and finance, moved by Hugh Dalton, recommended public ownership of the Bank of England, but omitted reference to joint stock banks. Frank Wise moved an amendment that joint stock banks be nationalised as well. Seconded by Stafford Cripps, this was carried by a narrow majority. Reports on the “socialisation” of transport and power were withdrawn by the Executive for further consideration after protests from delegates that no provision had been made in the plans for workers’ representation on the governing boards.
At its first National Conference, held in Derby at Whitsun, 1933, the SL began shaping its constitution and rules, and its programme for the campaign in the LP. At Hastings, in October, SL spokesmen secured support among the delegates to the LP Conference for a number of its proposals. One theme, discussed at the SL’s Conference, and dealt with frequently by Stafford Cripps in lectures and publications, was brought forward by him at the LP Conference – the next Labour Government was instructed to proceed at once to abolish the House of Lords, and to pass into law an Emergency Powers Act, giving it authority to “takeover or regulate the financial machine, and to put into force any measures that the situation may require for the immediate control or socialisation of industry and for the safeguarding of the food supply and other necessities”; to revise Parliamentary procedure “so that a rapid transition to socialism may be carried through constitutionally, and dictatorship avoided”; and “an economic plan for industry, finance and foreign trade designed rapidly to end the present system and thus to abolish unemployment and poverty”.
This was not opposed directly by the Executive, nor was it rejected by the Conference. It, and a whole series of other resolutions – for collaboration “with Russia and other socialist Governments in order to form a nucleus for international socialist co-operation”; that, “in the event of a Parliamentary Labour majority, the Government should immediately proceed to bring into operation the socialist programme on which it has been elected”; that the Executive should prepare for the next General Election, “a concise declaration of the measures which a Labour Government will endeavour to place on the Statute Book” and “produce at once a short and readable publication for popular use outlining the definite party policy in plain and unmistakeable terms” – were referred to the Executive for them to act upon. If it was plain that the labour movement was determined to commit its leaders to definite policies, it was also plain that the Executive and the leaders of the party were playing for time. It should be noted that in the electoral holocaust of October 1931, practically all the party leaders and members of the former Government had lost their seats – Cripps, Attlee and the aged Lansbury alone survived to lead the tiny group of Labour MPs against the National Government.
In the months that followed, the Nazis consolidated their power in Germany; Japanese militarism continued its expansionist activities unchecked; and in Vienna, Austrian social democratic workers went down fighting against the forces of the Austrian dictator Dolfüss, and stirred their fellow workers in the rest of Europe as no other event had done for years. In July 1934, French socialists and communists agreed to form a United Front; the Spanish parties followed suit in September. In Britain, proposals from the Communist Party for a United Front were rejected by the LP; but an uneasy agreement for united action on specific issues was reached between the ILP and the CP with the CP still applying the old tactic of “the United Front from below”, making plain its determination to split away as many ILP members as it could. (Not for some months did the British communists succeed in adjusting themselves adequately to the changes in Russian policy to United Fronts with anyone and everyone and at any price. Pollitt’s Report of January 1935, to the Central Committee probably marks the beginning, of complete change-over.)
Unemployment, and the treatment of the unemployed, remained a major issue, but in the struggle against the “National” Government’s treatment of the unemployed, LP leaders and trade union chiefs played little or no part – it took place in the streets, and it was rank-and-file socialists and trade unionists of all sections or of none who waged the war against poverty and unemployment, and against the provocative parades of Mosley's Fascists.
Cripps, Chairman of the SL following the death in November 1933, of Frank Wise, told the SL’s 1934 Whitsun Conference at Leeds, that the League’s function was now “to concentrate upon the general direction and tempo of policy rather than the detailed steps that may be necessary to achieve it” and the Conference went on to discuss, amend and approve the SL’s programme statement, Forward to Socialism. Its position now more coherently stated, its membership beginning to rise – it had reached 2,000 in the previous year – the SL prepared to make its most formidable assault of all on the policy of gradualism at the Labour Party Conference, being held at Southport in October 1934.
No less than 75 amendments (reduced at Conference to 12 composite ones) were tabled to the Executive Committee’s “comprehensive and concise statement of policy”, For Socialism and Peace. The party leaders – all former followers of MacDonald – had regained their confidence, and were now firmly in control of the Party apparatus, the big unions were backing them with votes, and the SL amendments were overwhelmingly defeated. Of key policy amendments, the one on Labour–s Aims went down by 2,146,000 to 206,000; the one on international policy, put to the vote without discussion, and defeated on a show of hands, would have been as heavily beaten had a card vote been taken; and an amendment concerned with compensation to owners of industries taken over by the State was defeated by 2,118,000 to 149,000. Labour’s policy, if now more specific, was in essence unchanged. MacDonald had departed but in the ranks of Labour his soul went marching on.
It was in the country that the Government met resistance; and new Government plans for dealing with the long-term unemployed, due to come into operation on 5 January 1935, met with such a fury of protest and so widespread a public outcry that they were withdrawn after a few weeks. While most of Labour’s leaders looked on, or disapproved, local socialists, communists, co-operators and trade unionists, together with the unemployed, led the protests; like many others, the SL members were busy in all this, and learning at least some of their revolutionary socialism in action; inside the SL’s organisation, at branch discussions, in public debate, and at its National Conference, the SL was defining its political attitude with increasing certainty.
At the SL’s 1935 Whitsun Conference, held at Bristol, the major debate was on the darkening international situation, and the growing danger of war, though time was spent also on SL policies for and activities in the trade unions, the labour parties, the co-operatives and trades councils, and among the youth. During 1934, the Russian Government had abandoned its hostility to the League of Nations. and had joined it, seeking allies and supporters among governments and public opinion in the non-fascist countries. The SL policy resolution, published subsequently as Forward Against War, whilst urging the widest possible support for Russia, distinguished quite specifically between the policy that might be right for the Russian Government, and the policy to be pursued by the workers in capitalist countries. This distinction (made even more sharply at the SL’s Conference the following year) had much relevance to subsequent events.
The SL had decided on a series of conferences and public meetings at places all over the country to arouse the labour movement to awareness of the dangers of the international situation; and to win support for SL policy of resistance to capitalist war. As Italy’s threats to Abyssinia grew more menacing, the conferences assumed an additional urgency, and were everywhere well attended. The response in London was startling – due partly to the London Trades Council’s decision to support the conference, but mainly to the urgency of the situation, for the London Trades Council’s subsequent withdrawal of its support appeared to make no difference at all to the attendance. Over 1,500 delegates from union branches, co-operative guilds, labour parties and socialist societies, packed the large Memorial Hall, and two ‘overflow’ halls, scores being turned away, unable to gain admission. Main opposition to SL policy on war resistance and on the Abyssinian crisis was led by the CP, which, in obedience to the shift in Russian Government policy, was now in favour of the League of Nations’ collective action against Italy.
So was the Labour Party. At the Brighton Labour Party Conference in October, Hugh Dalton moved the official resolution on the crisis. It called on the Government, “in co-operation with other nations represented at the Council and Assembly of the League to use all the necessary measures provided by the Covenant to prevent Italy’s unjust and rapacious attack upon the territory of a fellow member of the League” and pledged Labour’s support of such measures. It meant support for the Government, even to the point of war, and ultimately meant acceptance of increased armaments for Britain.
Opposition to it was voiced by Lord Ponsonby, who had resigned as party leader in the House of Lords, by the aged George Lansbury, who was about to resign as party leader in the House of Commons, and by Cripps, who had resigned from the party Executive in order to speak against Executive policy. Lansbury and Ponsonby opposed on pacifist argument, Cripps on the lines of SL policy. He pleaded with the delegates ”not to ordain that the labour movement shall join without power in the responsibility for capitalist and imperialist war that sanctions may entail” but to achieving “the defeat of that very capitalism and imperialism which is represented in this country by our class-enemies masquerading under the title of a ‘National’ Government”. Mellor, too, spoke for SL policy, closing his speech with the words: “there are times when it is well to remember that the positive action of fighting your enemy at home is greater in value than the negative disaster of defending your home enemy abroad. Our enemy is here.”
In the event, the critics were amply justified. A few days later, Italian invasion of Abyssinia began: Labour pressed the Government to secure League of Nations action. The Government went through the motions of doing so, whilst in reality conniving at Italian victory. In November, virtuously parading as champions of collective security, the Government went to the country, and emerged from the election with a substantial majority in Parliament. By May 1936, Mussolini had completed the conquest and annexation of Abyssinia.
Discussions and agitations over the war were by no means all, or even the greater part, of SL members’ activities at the time. They were busy during the General Election, and in local and national campaigns over a score of good causes, including unemployment, and the claim of the miners for a pay rise. In the movement itself, the SL can be seen in its records discussing such matters as the need for more democracy in the London Labour Party, the role of trades councils in the struggle for socialism, and the need to create a socialist youth movement. At the 1936 Whitsun Conference at Hanley, a much-strengthened statement of SL policy on war was overwhelmingly supported by the delegates, against CP-style amendments and arguments for peace fronts and Popular Fronts and all the latest trappings of communist policy. A National Council resolution noted “the significant change in the immediate policy of the Communist Party of Great Britain” towards the Labour Party as a strong argument for “the unification of all the forces of the working class”. The increasingly independent role of the SL in the struggles of the time was the subject of another very important resolution.
In July the Spanish Civil War broke out and it was soon clear that General Franco’s forces were being helped by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany; and that the Spanish Republican Government was being refused the right to buy arms.
A policy of “non-intervention” was proposed by the French “Popular Front” Government, led by the socialist Leon Blum, and by the British Government, in which Eden was Foreign Secretary. Supposedly aimed at preventing the Fascist powers from sending arms, plans, equipment and men to Franco, instead it stopped supplies only to the Spanish Government. Protests grew.
A resolution denouncing this policy was discussed at the SL Executive Committee. Cripps, returning from a meeting with Government Ministers, surprised everyone by supporting non-intervention. It would, he thought, stop supplies reaching Franco’s forces. “I have Eden’s word on it”, he added. The other members of the EC did not share Cripps’ faith in Eden’s word and the resolution was carried. (The two draft resolutions, one by Horrabin, the other by Groves, were presented on different occasions, but cannot be accurately dated. Both represent a fair approximation of the general view in the SL). At this or another EC meeting, Groves presented a draft for a leaflet on Spain, A Workers’ or a Fascist Spain?, which was distributed in large numbers throughout the country. One vital amendment only was made in the draft-lines 7 ,8 and 9 in paragraph seven read originally: “… smash the militarists so that they and their fellows may rule Spain. The defeat of the militarists is a necessary part of the struggle to win full economic and political power for the Spanish workers and peasants.” The words “afterwards” and “a necessary preliminary” give a different tone indeed to the passage – and indicate a difference of policy that was the subject of bitter controversy in Spain and elsewhere in subsequent months.
Jack Winocour’s article in the October Socialist defined the Spanish situation from a revolutionary standpoint. Its appearance there; other articles such as the ones Fabianism and the Class Struggle and Workers of the World Unite; the more agitational, more rank-and-file and trade union orientation of the paper, as compared with its predecessor The Socialist Leaguer; the policies expounded in the paper and on public platforms, are evidence of the extent to which the SL was fast growing into a consciously revolutionary socialist group, along the lines laid down in the Resolution on the Present Situation in the Labour Movement and the Role of the Socialist League at the SL Conference earlier in the year at Hanley. It was at this time, too, that the SL’s National Council established contact with the International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity, and gave support to the Bureau's call for an independent investigation into the Moscow Trials.
Enthusiastic demonstrations were held during the late summer in support of the Spanish Republican Government and the Spanish workers. But, despite the support for the Spanish people’s cause shown by the mass of Labour supporters, the Trades Union Congress, in September, voted in favour of the pro-Franco policy of non-intervention, by 3,029,006; to 51,000; and at the Edinburgh Labour Party Conference in October, 1,836,000 votes were cast for non-intervention and only 519,000 against.
It may have been the shock of these votes-together with the defeat of a resolution calling for acceptance of the CP’s latest application for affiliation to the Labour Party, by 1,728,000 to 592,000,and of another asking for a meeting of “representatives of all working class bodies to bring about a United Front” by 1,805,000 to 435,000 – that led to the talks between the ILP, CP, and SL on a joint national campaign for unity in the labour movement.
The evidence is contradictory. Michael Foot dates the talks as commencing “soon after the (Edinburgh) Conference was over”; Ralph Miliband and R.E. Dowse place them as commencing “early in 1936” but give no sources for the statement; ILP Secretary John McNair offers no date at all; and when Cripps and Mellor first reported the negotiations to the governing bodies of the SL, they spoke of negotiations having “followed the Edinburgh Conference”. It is more likely that informal conversations had been going on for some months before Edinburgh, and that the decisions of the Conference had given impetus and urgency to the talks.
In the preliminary talks, some of which were attended by Aneurin Bevan, Cripps and Mellor represented the SL, Maxton and Brockway the ILP, and Pollitt and Dutt the CP. The meetings took place, says McNair, in Cripps’ chambers in the Middle Temple, at which “there were frequently serious differences between the ILP and the CP which were only surmounted by the pertinacity and legal skill of Cripps. They were not finally solved but were at least smoothed over …
Serious differences existed, too, between the SL and the CP. In acting as arbitrator to the conflicting parties, Cripps jettisoned the policy of the SL; as in his legal practice, he passed from one brief to another, from a brief for revolutionary socialism to a new brief for the United Front, without any noticeable difficulty. But it was not just the interests of clients involved here – but principles and policies affecting many people. The price paid for putting expediency above principle was high, the return for the socialist cause, nil. The SL became involved in the erection of an unreal façade of unity, behind which the brutal realities of Russian Government policy operated unseen and unchecked; and the SL found itself recruited into a conspiracy of silence about the misdoings of the Russian Government in which had already been enlisted an impressive array of British intellectuals – writers, publishers, academics and politicians.
In this connection, the documents of the Unity Campaign, with their “addendums of explication” are most revealing. It should be remembered that these were seen only by the Executives of the three organisations. Members and supporters and the public, would see only the Unity Manifesto with its deceptions and ambiguities.
The negotiations on the Unity Campaign were kept from the SL membership and governing committees until almost complete agreement had been reached. Executive and National Council members were swiftly embroiled in hurried, amending discussions of the unity document, and any consideration of the campaign as a whole or its implications and consequences for the SL was brushed aside. The procedure at the National Council meeting of 7 and 8 November 1936, provided a good example of this. There were initial protests from provincial members at the failure of the Executive to secure Council approval for the campaign before commencing negotiations. These were heard, then the meeting went on to examine the unity document. No discussion took place at all on the merits of the campaign, nor on its likely consequences for the SL. Cripps argued his new brief, Mellor, Brailsford, Mitchinson, Horrabin and others of the Executive supported him. The provincial members were almost all uneasy about the proposed campaign, but were manoeuvred into a detailed discussion of the unity agreement, and so into an implied approval of the campaign itself.
As the members of the National Council sat debating the Unity Campaign and other matters, outside in the streets some 2,000 Hunger Marchers from Scotland, Wales and the North of England were walking in several processions, accompanied by supporters, bands, and banners dark against the winter sky, to Hyde Park. 200,000 Londoners were there to greet the cloth-capped, shabby, cheerful ghosts, comrades of a decade and a half of struggle for bread and work and dignity. Some found ironic humour in the sight of Clem Atlee, Labour’s Parliamentary leader, speaking to the vast crowd from the same platform as Wal Hannington, the communist leader of the unemployed; in the fact that the official London Trades Council organised the reception for the marchers, and that in the Park and the procession, the banners of labour parties, co-operatives, trade unions and SL branches mingled with those of the CP and ILP.
A false impression of unanimity on the SL’s governing bodies given to branches by circulars from the centre brought belated resistance – the secrecy imposed had prevented earlier revolt. An unofficial resistance committee emerged in London; and Groves sent the circular to all branches that made it known that there was not unanimity, and that the more serious problems of the proposed Unity Campaign remained undebated.
When the Special SL Conference on the Unity Campaign assembled in London on 17 January 1937, it was already certain that if it endorsed the unity proposals, the League would be disaffiliated from the LP, and membership of the SL made incompatible with LP membership. It was becoming clear, too, that should this happen, Cripps and others had decided that they would urge the dissolution of the SL. What was not known then, nor in the months up to the final Whitsun Conference, was that the proposal for the dissolution of the SL had originated with the CP, and pressed by that organisation as being in the best interests of the Unity Campaign, Had that been known, there can be no doubt at all that many more Executive and National Council members would have stood out against the Cripps policy, and that the National Conference would have voted it down.
As it was, the policy was approved by only a minority of the Conference delegates, 56 voting for it, 35 against, with 23 abstentions. The typewritten leaflet issued to delegates by the Balham and Tooting Branch contained a suggestion whereby the campaign could go on, and the SL survive. Brushed aside by the. leadership, this was to be the policy adopted a few months later, to save the individual SL members from expulsion from the Labour Party – but that was after the CP had achieved their purpose, and shut down the SL.
The rest of the story told in the documents, can be briefly summarised. On 18 January 1937, the day after the SL’s Special Conference, the Unity Campaign was launched. On 27 January the SL was disaffiliated by the LP Executive. In March, the LP declared membership of the SL incompatible with membership of the Labour Party. The SL now had either to retreat from the Unity Campaign, or face the wholesale expulsion of its members from the LP. It now announced its dissolution, a decision that was endorsed at the final SL conference in Leicester, at Whitsun, 1937.
When the LP then forbade its members on pain of expulsion to take part in the Unity Campaign as individuals, the CP suggested that the former SL members should continue working within the LP, and withdraw from public participation in the Unity Campaign. The national and area Unity Campaign Committees would be dissolved; the ILP and CP would go their separate ways once more. This could have been done in January, and the SL saved. But the CP wanted to be rid of the SL, with its dangerous potential as a centre for revolutionary socialist ideas, and it had succeeded. The CP, and many of the prominent supporters of the United Front of working class organisations were now abandoning that United Front in favour of a Popular Front of communist, socialist and bourgeois politicians, with a policy moderate enough to accommodate almost everyone.
By the following year, the CP and its allies were urging people to vote Liberal rather than Labour in some of the Parliamentary by-elections taking place; and Cripps and others who had founded the SL to attack gradualist and reformist policies, were advocating coalition with capitalist as well as Communist politicians for collective action abroad against the Fascist powers and for moderate reform at home.
William Mellor, who with Cripps and several others, had founded Tribune as a socialist weekly and had been its editor since its beginning in January 1937, did not go along on these policies with the others. According to Michael Foot: “More wary or doctrinaire than they about the idea of combination with Communist or capitalist allies, he could not support the Popular Front strategy … But there was another cause of the quarrel. The Tribune board had decided on a much closer association with the Left Book Club and both Cripps and the controllers of the Left Book Club were agreed that a different editor was required to make Tribune’s fortunes prosper in the new circumstances. So Mellor was fired by Cripps in a brusque manner that left many hard feelings … Thereafter, until the signature of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, Tribune became much more uncritically pro-communist in its political line than it had ever been previously or was ever again afterwards.”
John McNair has since revealed that in the privacy of the Unity Campaign Committee, Mellor at first opposed the proposal to dissolve the SL, saying that the dissolution of the League would be a victory for the right wing of the LP, who wanted to be rid of separately organised left organisations. “Time showed how right he was,” wrote McNair. “At that moment, however, a united Communist Party and a divided League, decided the issue and subsequently the Council of the League decided to dissolve … The extinction of the League was a severe blow to the forces working for socialism in the labour movement.”
Had Mellor opposed dissolution in the SL itself, his great influence would have swung sufficient opinion against it to have saved the organisation. But he did not, and the SL went out of existence. “Many were to regret that decision in later years,” wrote Michael Foot, one of the younger SL members at the time of dissolution, “when the left in the party, robbed by their own act of any effective organisation, found themselves hopelessly pitted as individuals against the Executive machine. But Cripps, with the full support of Bevan and Mellor, dominated the League and got his way. Even in the short run, the policy had no success …”
Michael Foot is unique among the prominent survivors of the SL in having remained on the Left. Others like Cripps, Mitchinson, Barbara Castle, trod the path to high office and power, in an LP bereft of an organised left wing. But there was more to the SL at the time of its obliteration than it being a left group inside the LP; and had it survived it might have maintained and renewed the ideas and ideals of revolutionary socialism into the post-war world, and passed its flag on to the new generations, the wandering, questing children of protest.
Reg Groves

Give Chelsea Manning the gift she deserves

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Bradley Manning Support Network

Give Chelsea Manning the gift she deserves

Friends, we are facing a challenge, and we need your help.

This year, while people everywhere prepare to spend holidays with their families, taking much-needed breaks from work and everyday life, a humanist and a hero remains imprisoned.
As supporters of Army whistleblower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, you have impressed us for three years with your dedication, and the hope it’s given to Chelsea and those closest to her. Next Tuesday, December 17, marks Chelsea’s fourth birthday in prison, and we are asking you now to help us give her the support she deserves this holiday season. For a limited time only, your donations will be matched by a generous anonymous donor – this means that if you give $100 today, then $200 will go to her Defense Fund.
While young, Chelsea has faced many life-altering challenges. She suffered a violent and dysfunctional home environment, bullying for being gay, and even a period of homelessness prior to joining the army at the age of 19. Through all these obstacles, she remained committed to educating herself, asking hard questions, and taking risks in the name of helping other people. That is why upon witnessing injustices in the Iraq War, she felt compelled to show the public the truth about government actions in the Middle East and elsewhere.
She now faces up to 35 years in prison for her actions, and was it not for your support, Chelsea might have to face this challenge alone.
Your year-end tax-deductible contribution will help Chelsea to:
  • Receive more visits from her mother and aunt, who are themselves of limited financial means
  • Pursue all legal avenues for possible reductions in sentence including clemency applications and appeals based on prosecutor misconduct
  • Enroll in college courses and pursue a degree
  • Receive medically appropriate treatment for her gender dysphoria, in particular Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and a legal name change, things which she has desired for some time and which doctors believe would help her to lead a happier and more fulfilling life

We have raised $26,000 so far of the $40,000 needed to sustain these projects. As we approach both her birthday and the holidays, we would love nothing more than to be able to tell Chelsea that these projects were fully-funded. We know that many of you have given before, and we are grateful for that; but we are asking you to give what you can today to help us meet our goal, and give Chelsea some good news this holiday. She has sacrificed much in our interest, and we think it’s the least we can do.
Help Support the Defense Fund. For a limited time, donations will be doubled by a matching grant!
And if you agree that 35 years is far too long a sentence for showing the public the truth, please share this message widely with your friends!
**Out Of The Golden Age Of Electric Blues Harp Night- “Blues Harp”-A CD Review

A YouTube film clip of Sonny Boy Williamson (number II but that is a long blues story).

Blues Harp, various artists, Ace Records, 1999

Recently in a CD review of “Harmonica Blues: Great Harmonica Performances Of The 1920s And 1930s” I noted that the great harmonica players of that period were hamstrung (at least out in the country) by the lack of electricity in the Saturday juke joints and so the sound was somewhat tinny. However I also noted that the basic configurations produced in that period would be transformed by later harp greats into magic by electrification. And the album under review, Blues Harp, is proof positive of that assertion.

No question the post-World War II (and before too) black migration north to the cities and city industrial jobs (especially during the war) changed the slow back country beat music in profound ways. The electric “juice” provided at urban Saturday night (and Sunday morning, Sunday morning before repentance, okay) played a great role in bringing the harmonica (through close mouth association with the microphone) to its central place in the great golden age of the electric blues (part one) before rock and roll blew everyone away (for a while, and then we hungered back again for roots music, for that primordial connection with ancient times, and ancient lusts).

And they are all here, or almost all, the great ones that is, although the classic one that I keep coming back to is Howlin’ Wolf fooling around with “How Many More Year” down at early years Newport Folk Festival when he practically inhales the harmonica. Wow. Crank up YouTube for that one. In the meantime the cast here will give you the role of honor in the golden age night, Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Snooky Pryor, the Wolf Man, of course, and some others who history had previously left in the shadows, How many more years, indeed.
***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II…


…and memories of that girl (or guy you fill it in but I, male, am telling this story) who got away, the one that you spied in the hallway in school, who kind of looked, well, interesting, and then you, relying on your boys’ lav Monday morning before school talkfest about what did or did not happen that previous weekend found out that she was “spoken for,” unapproachable anyway, and you let it go at that. Moved on to the next furtive glance and then put that in the back of your mind. Always wistful though when you saw her down that now forlorn corridor, wishing that she could be your friend what with what lay ahead as the war clouds of the world were gathering and you knew you had do something about it, about stopping the night of the long knives.

Or still dreaming about that night when another she, a she from work downtown all beautiful and alluring, who kept making glances your way, especially after you got your number picked and were getting ready to head out, but who was also very married, married to a guy, a guy your brother hung out with, whose number had already been picked and was on his way to Europe, told you in no uncertain terms that you were her choice to keep the morale of the boys at home up and took you around the world. You then slogging it out in some basic training hellhole getting, ah, funny feelings thinking about that and about whether she would still be interested in keeping morale up when you get leave before shipping off to that same Europe.       

Or try this- you were married to another and yet another she, maybe alluring, maybe not, but available could be coaxed into doing her “duty” to keep the morale of the boys waiting for their numbers to be called and meeting in a crowded bar, a little drunk, a little flirty and not particularly worried about marital status what with the shortage of men around kind of led you to that room and showed you like that beautiful and alluring fluff what was what.

Or maybe story-book Hollywood bill of fare all misty and good that girl next store who would not give you a tumble but would talk to you for hours, go to the dances with you, share a soda, drop nickels in the jukebox but who, drunk sober, or in between would not do her duty although if you came back alive them, well, we will see buster.

Or one of a thousand other reasons for parting, some good, some bad but in misty future time regret, after accounts were settled and the world, your world anyway, got back to jukeboxes and furtive glances, regretted for that maybe first love, she of the hallway school looks, she of the alluring downtown look, she of the coax-able disposition she of the frosty no, and why things hadn’t worked out. Thus this song to get one by on that cold, lonely remembrance night.          

Friday, December 13, 2013

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin- After You’re Gone


As readers know Tyrone Fallon, the son of the late famous Southern California private operative, Michael Philip Marlin (Tyrone used his mother’s maiden name for obvious reasons), and private eye in his own right told my old friend Peter Paul Markin’s friend Joshua Lawrence Breslin some stories that his illustrious father told him. Here’s one such story.  

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler

You don’t exactly meet the nicest people in the crime detection business, private eye variety. Sure once in a while some forlorn housewife uses her pin money to search for a wayward husband, maybe he is a machine- operator or something like that, who had gone on a toot, or had just gone, and she wanted him back. But even that dear forlorn housewife has only limited resources to expend on   

that useless search and would cry uncle before she spends all that money she was saving for a fur, or something, on that damn deadbeat. No sleuth could make a living, maybe could not even pay office rent if that housewife and her brethren were the main source of income. So every detective from high-profile shamus to keyhole peeper, including one Michael Philip Marlin, depends on is that the rich have wild children or wives. That, or that some well-heeled gangster has a job that his normal hit man can’t handle and calls in for some private service at a daily rate plus expense. That is what Marlin thought he had agreed to when Steve Silver showed up at his door one day looking for his old sweetie, Lorna Reed. 

Now the reason that Steve had rapped on Marlin’s office door was that Lance had been had been instrumental in sending Steve up to the Q for a dime’s worth on a bank robbery that he had done solo. That time Marlin had been working, working hard since a twenty-five thousand dollar reward came with any recovery from the Consolidated Bank Association and picked up the change when Steve made the mistake of showing at the Club Paris one night, spending big, with no known source of income. Now this Steve was built, built big, rugged and strong so when he coped a plea saying he had done the job solo nobody argued the point. And in some ways, in the matter of women especially, this Steve was soft, soft as mush and so it was really not that weird Steve would go into Marlin’s office looking for help. Let by-gones be by-gones he said as he practically broke Marlin’s hand with his handshake.

Of course Steve had been out of circulation for eight years (he drew two years off for good time) and so this Lorna Reed could have been anyway, or nowhere. He hadn’t heard from her in six (which raised Marlin’s eyebrows more than a little) and he had had no success, none, trying to trace her at their old haunts. Yes, times change, change fast in places like L.A. and so when he went over to the Club Paris all he found was a vacant lot with construction of high-rise apartments scheduled to go on that site. See Lorna had been a warbler, a singer, a torch-singer at that old club and Steve, when he was working for Marty Walsh and his gang, had hung out there. He and Lorna had met between sets and that was that.

That was that since no one would dare to go near Lorna once she was his “girl” and Lorna sensing that no good would come of trying to avoid Steve when he had his wanting habits on played along with him while he was in the dough. Since he was clueless about where to find her he thought of Marlin and his skills at finding people. Besides you do not say no to a giant, a giant who may or may not squeeze the life out of you if you decide the wrong way. So Marlin had a client, a client in a missing person’s case.

After Steve left the office and Marlin thought about how he was going to proceed with finding Lorna he began to think about certain things. Certain things like how he had been tipped, tipped anonymously that night at the Club Paris when he collared Steve and got his big reward. Hell, it might very well have been Lorna looking to dump Steve. Probably the only way she knew how to do so. Yeah called him although the voice he heard had obviously been disguised. More importantly he began to think about an eight year cold trail and how somebody, almost any ordinary joe or jill, who wanted to be unfound had all the best of it. But what really scared Marlin, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it, was that he did not want to go up against Marty Walsh and his organization in order to the elusive Lorna.    

The picture of Lorna that Steve had provided (and which he had  apparently kept on his cell wall since it was in pretty rough shape) could have been any of a hundred warblers, starlets, party girls; long legs, good shape, big brown eyes, long brown hair and ruby red lips that he would not mind taking a run at himself. The streets of Hollywood, the studio lots and the cafes, were filled with such types, some prettier, some just willing to do more to get ahead in that wicked old world of Hollywood in the 1930s. Well it was Steve’s dime.           

The first thing Marlin did was to trace some personal (non-Marty Walsh and his associates personal) who had worked the club back then, and who knew Lorna. He worked that angle for a while without success until his friend on the L.A. Police Department, Sam Sloan, cobbled up some information for him (on the QT) about the guy who managed the club, Phil Foner. He gave Marlin an address, an address that he knew for a couple of other capers that was in the seedy part of town. He went there, found out from his wife that Phil Foner had been dead for five years, and after going out and buying a big jug of low-shelf Scotch got this wife to bring out some old professional photographs of the girls (broads she called them) and right in the center of the pile was a very much better photo of Lorna Reed (working under the name Lorna Sweet). Mrs. Foner, half-loaded by that point, said she did not have a clue where this Lorna was but Marlin by her manner took it that she was lying.

Then Marlin got his big break, although maybe it wasn’t such a big break after all when the shooting was over. He took the picture around to a talent agent that he knew, Larry Levine, to see if he could help. Jesus could Larry help him he said where had Marlin  been the last couple of years, that was Lorna Lavin the talk of the Frisco town night club circuit who was getting ready to break out big nationally any day now. Any day that Marty Walsh, her lover/ manager would unchain her talent for the national radio audience. Marty said in more than one interview that he wanted the right moment. And Marlin as he made plans to head up to Frisco to interview Lorna thought he was in a no- win situation once Larry sprung Lorna’s new life on him.     

Marlin needed not to have bothered because the cards were being dealt differently behind his back. This Steve maybe having been in stir too long, maybe just because he was a guy who thought nothing of holding up a major bank on a main street in daylight was also working his own way around the case. He had found Mrs. Foner and beaten her within an inch of her life until she told what she knew (she knew as Marlin surmised where Lorna was, was in fact receiving checks monthly from Lorna, or Marty, to keep quiet). She spilled the beans about her whereabouts at the Hi-Hat Club in Frisco and he had headed that way, headed there a day before Marlin got there, got there too late.

Steve in his frenzy to get his Lorna back had busted in the closed club, confronted a Walsh henchman, shot him point blank, and proceeded to Marty’s office.  As bad luck would have it Lorna was there with Marty, alone. Steve, as cool as a cucumber, just said “hi babe, long time no see.” Lorna just smiled, smiled the kiss of death and said “Steve, I’m sorry I called copper on you but I didn’t know any other way to get you out of my life once Marty made his play for me.”

Steve, again cool, just said “that was the way I had it figured, but let’s get out of here and go have a couple.” Marty saw that he had no choice but to waste this guy, put him down in the ground hard, very hard pulled out a gun, and shot Steve four times. Steve still standing although already starting to slump put two right through Marty’s heart and he crumbled. After that Steve dropped to the ground mortally wounded and as Lorna came over to him to see if she could do anything he said “you were going with me, weren’t you?” Lorna lied, “sure Steve, sure I had just been waiting for you to show up.”  Steve smiled, or maybe half-smiled and then died. Marlin, although too late by about three hours, when he heard the just said “damn, damn it, some guys really have it bad for a dame no matter what”        



Michael James : Back to Uptown, 1965-1966
Two men, Uptown Chicago, 1966. Photos by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.
Pictures from the Long Haul:
Back to Uptown: Bye-bye California, 
Chicago here I come, 1965-1966
I was glad to be back in Uptown, progressing along my path with another left turn and a big step into America.
By Michael James / The Rag Blog / December 9, 2013

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about -- and inspired by -- those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.]

The West Oakland organizing project over, I planned to leave Berkeley. But in the late fall of 1965 I was still there. I had classes. I was thinking about conflict, and how you could bring conflicting groups together. I met others who were already doing community organizing, including Mike Miller who is still at it in 2013, and Mike Sharon with whom I’ve lost contact. I was going to be a community organizer, either in Newark or Chicago.

That fall I lived with friends, for a time with John Williams, who taught me a lot about cooking and politics, and then at Julie Miller’s. Julie was a politically active student friend from Los Angeles. I studied and took in doses of politics and culture. In addition to sociology classes with Nathan Glazer and Hebert Blumer (a renowned academic who had played football at the University of Chicago and then professionally with the old Chicago Cardinals), I went to talks, rallies, demonstrations, films, and musical events.

The playwright and poet LeRoi Jones had become Amiri Baraka. He came to campus and his anti-white rap shook me up. My more knowledgeable pals Davy Wellman and Joe Blum helped me to understand Black Nationalism. A few years later Black Panther leader Bobby Seale would distinguish between revolutionary and reactionary nationalism. “You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water, and you don’t fight racism with more racism, you fight racism with solidarity.”

Simply put: dig yourself and others.

There were large marches into Oakland, against the Vietnam War and against the racist Oakland Tribune and its rightwing Republican owner, former Senator Bill Knowland. I saw the great guitarist John Fahey along with Country Joe and the Fish at the Finnish Hall. On Telegraph Avenue I bought and listened (over and over) to Joe’s EP Section 43. And I began going to concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.

Also in San Francisco I took in a movie I’d read about, Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour, a flick about gay men in prison and their fantasies. The article in Studies on the Left reported on the SF Police Department’s harassment of a theater showing the film. This was all new to me; I didn’t have much consciousness about gays at the time.

I liked the film; it featured a black prisoner and a white one, breathing and whispering through a straw between their neighboring cells. I found it pleasant and sensual; it sure bumped up my learning curve on such matters.

I visited what I now considered my second home, the Williams compound in the Carmel Highlands. From there I explored down the coast. I climbed foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and went to a rodeo in the old mission town San Juan Bautista. The rodeo was different than my early rodeo experience in Madison Square Garden -- this one was small, outdoors, and heavily influenced by Mexican culture.

Charlie Mingus, Monterrey, California, 1965.
And I went to the Monterey Jazz Festival. A jazz fan since my mid-teens, I’d been to shows and concerts in Greenwich Village and NYC’s Town Hall. I was at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1961, and went to many sets in Chicago. The Monterey Jazz Festival was my first jazz event on the West Coast. I took some pictures of Charlie Mingus hanging out in the concession area before his short set.

At Christmas time I went home to Connecticut. My brother and I, in a tradition started accidentally by our Dad years earlier, went to get a tree late on Christmas Eve; as usual the tree seller had long gone. My Dad returned to the lot to pay the next day, but no one was there. In subsequent years Beau and I didn’t even make that much effort, so later in my life when I sold trees at the Heartland Café, I never got too upset if some went missing and unaccounted for. Karma.

I’ll always remember that particular Christmas, especially for the warm vibes I felt while listening to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, over and over. I suddenly appreciated them, and saw both them and the Remains at the Chicago Amphitheater the following year.

After Christmas I went to Newark, New Jersey, to visit Tom Hayden and others who worked in the Newark Community Union Project, in a black community. Then I went to Chicago and visited the National Office of Students for a Democratic Society, which was located at 63rd and Cottage Grove.

While in Chicago I visited a snow-covered, gray, and very cold Uptown, where I met with two JOIN Community Union organizers, Peter and Stevie Friedman, working in what was then a predominantly Southern white community. Next I headed down to the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana, where SDS was holding one of its conventions. My only recollection of that meeting is of when I leapt off a table to break up an altercation between a black community person from the Newark Project and Bob Speck, a Navy vet from the Austin SDS chapter.

At the end of winter break I rode with fellow SDS members from Chicago to Los Angeles, and made my way back to Berkeley. Early in the New Year of ‘66 I was at a SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) benefit at the Fillmore, featuring Grateful Dead, Quick Silver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, and comedian Richard Pryor.

In the back of the hall I met and talked with Stokeley Carmichael (Kwame Ture) who was then head of SNCC. I shared with him my intention to leave Cal and go into a community, either Newark or Chicago. He told me in no uncertain terms to “Work with whites, we’ve got plenty going on in the Black community. We need more support from within the white community."

California girls. Carmel, California, 1965.
That was it. Bye-bye California. Chicago here I come.

But it took a while longer.

I had a graduate paper to write on organizing the poor. I was comparing three efforts: the Saul Alinsky model from his Industrial Areas Foundation, the conflicting and self-constricting efforts of the Government’s War on Poverty, and the “be one with the people” and “let the people decide” projects of SDS and ERAP. My research findings of course declared the SDS efforts best, and I spent the winter of 1966 in the Highlands writing about poverty and organizing.

While there I battled a raccoon that raided the bird feeder every night. Laying in wait, I was inside writing with a baseball bat nearby. I attached bells to the feeder and when they jingled I leapt into action. I went for the animal with a mighty swing, missing as the raccoon jumped free ahead of the bat.

Back up in the Bay Area I ran into someone at a Paul Butterfield concert who said, “I thought you left for Chicago.” I replied: “Soon -- I’m finishing a paper.” I was. I was also having a real fine time in my final weeks as a California resident.

But bye-bye California and hello Chicago did come to be. One Sunday in early April, JOIN organizer Burt Steck and I began heading east in my 1957 Ford convertible, to the heart of the nation.

On Monday night we stopped on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona and slept on the ground beside the Ford ragtop. In the morning we found that we had actually slept very close to the edge of Canyon de Chelly. Driving on a dirt road we stopped to pick up a hitchhiking Navajo kid. His mom came running out from the bushes and they both got into the car.

The small woman had a blanket she was bringing to a trading post. I just happened to have with me a box of broken abalone shells I had literally thought about “trading to the Indians.” They made great buttons. When we reached the trading post I gave them to the mom. She smiled. Inside I arranged for the trader to send me a buckskin, which I later traded to Austin SDS friend Bob Pardun for a very nice cowboy shirt.

Over a thousand miles and 20 hours later, Wednesday morning found us parked and asleep in front of the U.S. Farmers Association (USFA) office in Des Moines, Iowa. Two policemen tapped on the window and woke us up. We engaged in friendly and humorous conversation about Berkeley, the FSM, and heading to Chicago to organize the poor. They did ask about marijuana; I shared that I had tried it, but assured them we didn’t have any.

We were in Des Moines because a new SDS friend from the University of Nebraska, Carl Davidson, had told me about a radical farmer named Fred Stover. Stover had been a Department of Agriculture official in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, had supported the progressive, Henry Wallace, in the 1948 presidential campaign, and opposed the Korean War. He had been accused of being a member of the Communist Party in his youth and had been forced out of the leadership of the National Farmers Union (NFU). That led to his founding of the USFA, a progressive offshoot of the NFU.

When Fred arrived he took us out to eat, treating us ravenous boys to a big Iowa breakfast. We had a good talk. I really liked Stover. I myself had been a member of the 4H Club (“Head, Heart, Hands, and Health”), and have always liked agriculture and farmers, particularly those on the progressive side of the political equation.

By mid-afternoon Burt and I were in Chicago in Uptown. I immediately became involved in a small demonstration at the Price-Rite TV Repair Shop on Argyle. Mrs. Hinton, an East Indian on welfare and a JOIN member, had tried to return a broken used TV set she had purchased from Price’s. They refused. JOIN organizers and community folks were picketing out front. One of the Price brothers and I got into some macho posturing and arguing. Eventually Mrs. Hinton got her just due. The Price brothers were from Appalachia; eventually they would become JOIN supporters themselves.

It was a good day. I was glad to be back in Uptown, progressing along my path with another left turn and a big step into America.

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago's Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

Harry Targ : My Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.
My Nelson Mandela
Real historic figures get lionized, sanitized, and most importantly redefined as defenders of the ongoing order rather than activists who committed their lives to revolutionary changes...
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 10, 2013

One of the ironies of 21st century historical discourse is that despite significantly increased access to information, historical narratives are shaped by economic and political interest and ideology more than ever before.

Widely distributed accounts about iconic political figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King stun those of us who are knowledgeable about the times in which these figures lived. Real historic figures get lionized, sanitized, and most importantly redefined as defenders of the ongoing order rather than activists who committed their lives to revolutionary changes in the economic and political structures that exploit and oppress people.

Most of the media reviews of the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela fit this model.

However, most of my remembrances of Nelson Mandela are different.

First, he committed his life to the cause of creating an economic and political system in his homeland that would provide justice for all people.

Second, Nelson Mandela was part of the great wave of revolutionary anti-colonial leaders who participated in the mass movements for change in the Global South in the 20th century. These movements for independence led to the achievement of liberation for two-thirds of the world’s population from harsh, inhumane white minority rule. The campaign against apartheid in South Africa was part of this anti-colonial struggle.

Mandela shared the vision of such figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharial Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Amical Cabral, Franz Fanon, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara. These leaders were spokespersons for mass struggles that transformed the world in the 20th century.

Third, Nelson Mandela gave voice and inspiration to young people in the Global North who sought peace and justice in their own societies. Mandela inspired movements that went beyond the struggle against racism and imperialism to address sexism and homophobia as well.

Nelson Mandela, c.1950. Photo by Apic/Getty Images.
Fourth, Mandela made it clear to many of us (despite sanitized media frames) that he saw himself as part of the movements of people who themselves make history. He worked with all those who shared his vision of a just society: grassroots movements, the South African Communist Party (SACP), the South African labor movement (COSATU), the Black Consciousness Movement, and progressives from faith communities.

To quote from Mandela’s first speech upon release from prison on February 11, 1990:
On this day of my release, I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release.

I send special greetings to the people of Cape Town, this city which has been my home for three decades. Your mass marches and other forms of struggle have served as a constant source of strength to all political prisoners.

I salute the African National Congress. It has fulfilled our every expectation in its role as leader of the great march to freedom.

I salute our President, Comrade Oliver Tambo, for leading the ANC even under the most difficult circumstances.

I salute the rank and file members of the ANC. You have sacrificed life and limb in the pursuit of the noble cause of our struggle.

I salute combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe...who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom of all South Africans.

I salute the South African Communist Party for its sterling contribution to the struggle for democracy. You have survived 40 years of unrelenting persecution.

I salute General Secretary Joe Slovo, one of our finest patriots. We are heartened by the fact that the alliance between ourselves and the Party remains as strong as it always was.

I salute the United Democratic Front, the National Education Crisis Committee, the South African Youth Congress, the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses and COSATU and the many other formations of the Mass Democratic Movement.

I also salute the Black Sash and the National Union of South African Students. We note with pride that you have acted as the conscience of white South Africa. Even during the darkest days in the history of our struggle you held the flag of liberty high. The large-scale mass mobilisation of the past few years is one of the key factors which led to the opening of the final chapter of our struggle.

I extend my greetings to the working class of our country. Your organised strength is the pride of our movement. You remain the most dependable force in the struggle to end exploitation and oppression...

I pay tribute to the many religious communities who carried the campaign for justice forward when the organisations for our people were silenced...

I pay tribute to the endless heroism of youth, you, the young lions. You, the young lions, have energised our entire struggle.

I pay tribute to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation. You are the rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else.

On this occasion, we thank the world community for their great contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. Without your support our struggle would not have reached this advanced stage. The sacrifice of the frontline states will be remembered by South Africans forever.
Finally, Nelson Mandela inspired many of us in our own ways to commit to the historical march of people to make a better world. That commitment is powerfully described by a friend, Willie Williamson, a retired teacher from Chicago:
As a young man I learned about Nelson Mandela serving time in prison in South Africa. At that time I was politically ignorant about international affairs, but became curious about the Apartheid racial system because it reminded me so much of the small Mississippi town that I grew up in.

Already angered, after completing a stint in the Vietnam War, I became outraged and somewhat withdrawn. But it was the fight to free Mandela that brought me around to understanding that I had to become a part of a movement with justice at its core. I have Mandela to thank for my understanding of how to relieve an unjust power of its stranglehold. The fight must always be for justice throughout the world!
[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on the Rag Blog