This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Remembrances Of Things Past-With Jeff Higgins’ Class Of 1964 In Mind
From The Pen Of Bart Webber
There was always something, some damn thing to remind Jeff Higgins, Class of 1964, a fateful year in his life and not just because that was the year that he graduated from North Quincy High School down in the Southeastern corner of Massachusetts. He had recently (2014, and if you did the math you would know that represented the fiftieth anniversary of the his graduation) gone through something of a serious traumatic experience which left him numb every time something came up about that year, some remembrance. If you knew Jeff, with his three divorces and several affairs along with scads of children and grandchildren now from the marriages not the affairs, you would know that it was about a woman, always about a woman, he eternally afflicted as old as he was.
About a woman this time, this eternal time named Elizabeth Drury (not Liz or Betty no way she was not anything but a proper Elizabeth-type, who held maybe Queen Elizabeth I as her model, even in high school) whom he had had a brief puff of air affair with in that same 2014 but which had seemingly vanished in his dust of memory until he went up in the attic to clean up some stuff, get rid of most of it in anticipation of selling his house and moving to a more manageable condo, down-sizing they call it in the real estate trade, and found a faded tattered copy of his class’ remembrance card. You know those time vault cards that card companies like Hallmark, the source of this one, put out so that people, or this case the whole class by some tabulations, can put down favorite films, people, records, who was President, and other momentous events from some important year like a graduation to be looked at in later years and ahhed over. That yellowed sheet brought back not just memories of that faded long ago year but of Elizabeth in the not so faded past. So, yes, it was always some damn thing.
But maybe we had better take you back to the beginning, back to how 1964 and Elizabeth Drury had been giving one Jeffery Higgins late of North Quincy nothing but pains. Jeff had been for many, many years agnostic about attending class reunions, had early on after graduation decided that he needed to show his back to the whole high school experience and to the town. A lot of that teenage angst having to do with his humble beginnings as a son of a “bogger,” a father who worked in the cranberry bogs when there was work for which the town was then famous and which represented the low-end of North Quincy society. The low-end which others in the town including his fellow classmates in high school who were as socially class conscious as any Mayfair swells made him feel like a nobody and a nothing for no known reason except that he was the son of a bogger which after all he could not help. (Of course those social exclusions played themselves out under the veil of his not dressing cool, living off the leavings of his older brothers, living off of Bargain Center rejected materials not even cool when purchased, you know, white shirts with stripes when that was not cool, black chinos with cuffs like some farmer, ditto, dinky Thom McAn shoes with buckles for Chrissake, just as his younger brothers lived off his in that tight budget world of the desperate working poor, of his not having money for dates even with fellow bogger’s daughters, and hanging corner dough-less, girl-less corners with fellow odd-ball bogger outcasts). So Jeff had no trouble drifting away from that milieu, had no trouble putting dust on his shoes to get out and head west when the doings out west were drawing every iterant youth to the flame, to the summers of love.
And there things stood in Jeff’s North Quincy consciousness for many years until maybe 2012, 2013 when very conscious that a hallmark 50th class reunion would be in the works and with more time on his hands as he had cut back on the day to day operation of his small law practice in Cambridge he decided that he would check out the preparations, and perhaps offer his help to organize the event. He had received notification of his class’ fortieth reunion (which he had dismissed out of hand only wondering how the reunion committee had gotten his address for while he was not hiding from anything he was also not out there publicly since he did not have clients other than other lawyers whom he wrote motions, briefs, appeals and the like for, until he realized that as a member of the Massachusetts bar he would have that kind of information on his bar profile page) so via the marvels of modern day technology through the Internet he was able to get hold of Donna Marlowe (married name Rossi) who had set up a Facebook page to advertise the event.
That connection led to Jeff drafting himself onto the reunion committee and lead directly to the big bang of pain that he would subsequently feel. Naturally in a world filled with social media and networking those from the class who either knew Donna or the other members of the committee or were Internet savvy joined the class’ Facebook page and then were directed to a class website (as he found out later his generation unlike later ones was on the borderline of entering the “information superhighway” and so not all classmates, those still alive anyway, were savvy that way). On that website set up by tech savvy Donna (she had worked in the computer industry at IBM during her working career) each classmate who joined the site had the ability to put up a personal profile next to their class photograph like many other such sites and that is where Sam saw Elizabeth Drury’s profile and a flood of memories and blushes.
In high school Jeff had been smitten by Elizabeth, daughter of a couple of school teachers who worked in Marshfield and therefore stationed well above the boggery of the town. But in things of the heart things like class distinctions, especially in democratically-etched America, are forgotten and sometime make one foolhardy. That had almost happened to Jeff, except his corner boy Jack Callahan put him wise. Jeff and Elizabeth had several classes together senior year and sat across from each other in English class and since both loved literature and were school-recognized as such they had certain interests in common. So they talked, talked in what Jeff thought was very friendly and somewhat flirty manner (or as he thought later after the flame had burned out maybe he just hoped that was the case) and he formed an intention to ask her out even if only to Doc’s Drugstore for an after school soda and a listen to the latest platters on Doc’s jukebox which had all the good stuff that kids were dancing to in those days. He figured from there he could work up to a real date. But sometimes the bumps and bruises of the bogger life left a little sense and so before making attempts at such a conquest Jeff consulted with Jack Callahan to see if Elizabeth was “spoken for” (Jeff’s term if you can believe that). See Jack, a star football player even if a bogger’s son got something of an exemption from the rigid routine of the social structure of the Senior class just by being able to run through defensive lines on any given granite grey autumn afternoon and had excellent “intelligence” on the whole school system’s social network, in other words who was, or was not, spoken for. (By the way that “grapevine” any high school grapevine, maybe middle school too would put the poor technicians at the CIA and the spooks at NSA to shame with the accuracy of the information. It had to be that resourceful otherwise fists would fly.) The word on Elizabeth, forget it, off-limits, an “ice queen.” So Jeff saved himself plenty of anguish and he moved on with his small little high school life.
Seeing her name and profile though that many years later made him curious, made him wonder what had happened to her and since he was now “single” he decided he would write her a private e-mail to her profile page something which the website was set up to perform and which the reunion committee was recommending alumnus to do. That “single” a condition that he now considered the best course after three shifts of alimony, child support and college tuitions made him realize that it was infinitely cheaper to just live with a woman and be done with it. Jeff wrote a short message asking whether she remembered him and she replied that she very well did remember him and their “great” (her term) conversations about Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway and Edith Wharton. That short message and reply “sparked” something and they began a flurry of e-mails giving outlines of their subsequent history, including the still important one to Sam whether she was “spoken for.” She was not having had two divorces although no kids in her career as a professor at the State University. Somehow these messages led Jeff to tell her about his talk with Jack Callahan. And she laughed not at the “intelligence” which was correct but not for the reasons that Jack gave (her father was an abusive “asshole,” her term for her standoffishness and reputation as an “ice queen”). She laughed because despite her being flirty, at least that was what she thought she was attempting to do because she certainly was interested when they would talk Jeff had never asked her out and then one day just stopped talking to her for no known reason. Damn.
They say, or at least Thomas Wolfe did in the title of one of his novels-you can’t go home again but neither Jeff nor Elizabeth after that last exchange of e-mails about the fateful missing chance would heed the message. They decided to meet in Cambridge one night to see if that unspoken truth had any substance. They did meet, got along great, had many stories to exchange and it turned out many of the same interests (except golf a sport which relaxed Jeff when he was all wound up but which Elizabeth’s second husband had tried to teach her to no avail). And so their little affair started, started with great big bursts of flames but wound up after a few months smoldering out and being blown away like so much dust in the wind once Elizabeth started talking about marriage. Jeff was willing to listen to living together but his own strange marital orbit had made him very strongly again any more marriages. So this pair could not go home again, not at all, and after some acrimonious moments they parted.
Jeff knew that was the best course, knew he had to break it off but it still hurt enough that any reference to 1964 made him sad. As he took a look at the sentiment expressed in that tattered yellowed document he had a moment reprieve as he ahh-ed over the information presented. Had he really forgotten that there was not Vice-Presidential succession then when Lyndon Johnson became President after the assassination of home state Irish Jack Kennedy. That My Fair Lady was popular then as now. That the Beatles had appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Show and done a film, that Chapel of Love had been a hit that year as well. That 1964 was the year the Mustang that he would have died for came out into the world. That gas was only about thirty cent a gallon, and that another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor, married one Richard Burton for the first time (although not the last). And on the note he put the yellowed tattered document in the tr
John Brown’s Body Lies A Moldering In The Grave-With The Massachusetts 54th Black Volunteer Regiment In Mind.
Every time I pass the frieze honoring the heroic Massachusetts 54th Black Volunteer Regiment across from the State House on Beacon Street in Boston, a unit that fought in the American Civil War, a war which we have just finished commemorating the 150th anniversary of its formal ending (April 1865) I am struck by one figure who I will discuss in a minute. For those who do not know the 54th Regiment the unit had been recruited and made up of all volunteers, former slaves, freedmen, maybe a current fugitive slave snuck in there, those were such times for such unheralded personal valor, the recruitment a task that the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, himself an ex-slave had been central in promoting (including two of his sons). All knew, or soon became aware that if they did not fight to the finish they would not be treated as prisoners of war but captured chattel subject to re-enslavement or death.The regiment fought with ferocious valor before Fort Wagner down in South Carolina and other hot spots where an armed black man, in uniform or out, brought red flashes of deep venom, if venom is red, but hellfire hatred in any case to the Southern plantation owners and their hangers-on (that armed black men acting in self-defense of themselves and theirs still bringing hellfire hatred among some whites to this day, no question).
I almost automatically focus in on that old hard-bitten grizzled erect bearded soldier who is just beneath the head of the horse being ridden by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the white commander of the regiment who from a family of ardent abolitionists fell with his men before Fort Wagner and was buried with them, an honor. (See above) I do not know the details of the model Saint-Gauden’s used when he worked that section (I am sure that specific information can be found although it is not necessary to this sketch) but as I grow older I appreciate that old man soldier even more, as old men are supposed to leave the arduous duty of fighting for just causes, arms in hand, to the young.
I like to think that that old grizzled brother who aside from color looks like me when he heard the call from Massachusetts wherever he was, maybe had read about the plea in some abolitionist newspaper, had maybe even gotten the message from Frederick Douglass himself through his newspaper, The North Star, calling Sable Brother to Arms or on out the stump once Lincoln unleashed him to recruit his black brothers for whatever reason although depleting Union ranks reduced by bloody fight after bloody fight as is the nature of civil war when the societal norms are brokenas was at least one cause, he picked up stakes leaving some small farm or trade and family behind and volunteered forthwith. Maybe he had been born, like Douglass, in slavery and somehow, manumission, flight, something, following the Northern Star, got to the North. Maybe learned a skill, a useful skill, got a little education to be able to read and write and advance himself and had in his own way prospered.
But something was gnawing at him, something about the times, something about tow-headed white farm boys, all awkward and ignorant from the heartland of the Midwest, sullen Irish and other ethnic immigrants from the cities where it turned out the streets were not paved with gold and so took the bounty for Army duty, took some draft-dodger’s place for pay, hell, even high-blown Harvard boys were being armed to defend the Union (and the endless names of the fallen and endless battles sites on Memorial Hall at Harvard a graphic testament to that solemn sense of duty then. And more frequently as the days and months passed about the increasing number of white folk who hated, hated with a red-hot passion, slavery and if that passion meant anything what was he a strong black man going to do about it, do about breaking the hundreds of years chains. Maybe he still had kindred under the yolk down South in some sweated plantation, poorly fed, ill-treated, left to fester and die when not productive anymore, the women, young and old subject to Mister’s lustful appetites and he had to do something.
Then the call came, Governor Andrews of Massachusetts was raising a “sable” armed regiment (Douglass’ word) to be headed by a volunteer Harvard boy urged on by his high abolitionist parents, Colonel Shaw, the question of black military leadership of their own to be left to another day, another day long in the future as it turned out but what was he to know of that, and he shut down his small shop or farm, said good-bye to kin and neighbors and went to Boston to join freedom’s fight. I wonder if my old bearded soldier fell before Fort Wagner fight down in heated rebel country, or maybe fell in some other engagement less famous but just as important to the concept of disciplined armed black men fighting freedom’s fight. I like to think thought that the grizzled old man used every bit of wit and skill he had and survived to march into Charleston, South Carolina, the fire-breathing heart of the Confederacy, then subdued at the end of war with his fellows in the 54th stepping off to the tune of John Brown’s Body Lies A-Moldering In The Grave. A fitting tribute to Captain Brown and his band of brother, black and white, at Harper’s Ferry fight and to an old grizzled bearded man’s honor.
From The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive Website- The Alba Blog
Click below to link to the Abraham Lincoln BrigadeArchive blog page for all kinds of interesting information about that important historic grouping in the International Brigades that fought for our side, the side of the people in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39.
As everybody probably knows by now who has following this blog for a time Ralph Morris and I, Sam Eaton, met down in Washington, D.C. on May Day 1971 on the football field at then RFK Stadium while being held by the D.C. police (although Ralph was picked off by a National Guard soldier who transferred him to D.C. hands as the division of labor played out that day) for having tried to shut down the government if it did not shut down the war, that war being the Vietnam War that tore our generation, our nation asunder. I had gone down to Washington that weekend before May Day with a group of radicals from Cambridge who were part of an larger affinity group which had planned to “capture” the White House and Ralph had joined a group of anti-war Vietnam veterans who had planned to surround the Pentagon, a less exciting but more possible task.
Inevitably we had been arrested well before achieving either of our objectives along with thousands of others who were outraged by that endless war and committed to shutting it down, shutting it down some damn way so don’t smirk when you read this (“endless war,” sound familiar?). Ralph had noticed me wearing a button on my shirt indicating that I was a supporter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and had asked me if I had served in Vietnam. Having been exempted from military service by a hardship deferment due to my being the sole surviving supporter of my mother and four much younger sisters after my father had died of a massive heart attack in 1965 I rather sheepishly told Ralph the story of how my best buddy, my closest “corner boy,” Jeff Mullins, had been blown away in some God forsaken village up in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and that had spurred me who had been really indifferent to the war before to get involved as an anti-war activist a couple of years before doing civil disobedience actions leading up to the big action in D.C. in 1971. Ralph that afternoon (and late into the night since we wound up being held for three days before we figured that some side exits were unguarded and scooted out of the place) had told me his story of how he had come out of the Army after serving eighteen months with a unit up in that same Central Highlands where Jeff had been blown away and had been so angry at the government for making him and his Army buddies what he called “animals” that on discharge he had lined up with VVAW (through a fellow soldier in him in whom he had kept in touch with while stationed at Fort Devens in Massachusetts before he time was up).
After many hours of talking and getting a feel for each other we thereafter joined forces, did a number of actions later over the next couple of years until the high tide of the 1960s ebbed and faded. We have remained friends throughout, although some years sporadically,and up until 2003 with the big invasion of Iraq would “do our duty” when some anti-war or social justice issue hit us between the eyes. Since then we have been on a steady diet of fighting the endless wars the last two American governments have immersed the country in without being any closer to the end than when we started.
After May Day 1971, and for a while after the high tide ebbed through about 1976 I think (and Ralph thinks that is about the right time frame as well) he and I would attend various study groups run by radicals and “reds” to find out about the earlier history of the left-wing movement in America and internationally to see if we could learn any lessons that might help us in our social struggles. The whole summer of 1972 was spent in one such group when I was living in a commune in Cambridge and invited Ralph to stay with me and get involved in one of the “red collective” study groups that were sprouting up then as people despaired over the old strategies and tactics that had ground us to a standstill.
One of the big events that we studied which held us in thrall, especially since neither of us were history buffs or knew much from our high school history classes was the fierce battle between the fascists and republicans in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. Particularly the exploits of the International Brigades and the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade that fought valiantly if forlornly on the Republican side. Many a night we would ask ourselves the question of whether we would have fought, fought honorably in Spain (assuming that the Stalinists who controlled entry, controlled the “politically reliable elements” that they vetted into the Abraham Lincoln would have let us in). We hoped we would have. As Ralph and I have been fighting the good fight against the endless wars this time around (everyone will agree that over a dozen years and counting with no end in sight qualifies for such a designation) we have taken advantage of the Internet to see what other organizations and individuals have been up to. One day when I was Googling I came up upon this Abraham Lincoln Brigade website and was intrigued by its offerings. I made some comments about it and about Spain in the 1930s on the site. Here is what I had to say (I wrote this but Ralph put in his fair share of ideas so it is a two person commentary):
This blog had gotten my attention for two reasons: those rank and filers who fought to defend democracy, fight the fascists and fight for socialism in Spain for the most part, political opponents or not, were kindred spirits; and, those with first-hand knowledge of those times over seventy years ago are dwindling down to a precious few and so we had better listen to their stories while they are around to tell it. Viva La Quince Brigada!
I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since I was in my twenties. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.
Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat (okay, okay working class) certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class revolutions after the Russian revolution of 1917 Spain showed the most promise of success. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky who had helped lead the successful October revolution and then led the military fight to defend the gains against the Whites arms in hands noted that the political class consciousness of the Spanish proletariat at that time was higher than that of the Russian proletariat in 1917. Yet it failed in Spain. Trotsky's writings on this period represent a provocative and thoughtful approach to an understanding of the causes of that failure. Moreover, with all proper historical proportions considered, his analysis has continuing value as the international working class struggles against the seemingly one-sided class war being waged by the international bourgeoisie today.
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 has been the subject of innumerable works from every possible political and military perspective possible. A fair number of such treatises, especially from those responsible for the military and political policies on the Republican side, are merely alibis for the disastrous policies that led to defeat. Trotsky's complication of articles, letters, pamphlets, etc. which were made into a volume for publication is an exception. Trotsky was actively trying to intervene in the unfolding events in order to present a program of socialist revolution that most of the active forces on the Republican side were fighting, or believed they were fighting for. Thus, Trotsky's analysis brings a breath of fresh air to the historical debate. That in the end Trotsky could not organize the necessary cadres to carry out his program or meaningfully impact the unfolding events in Spain is one of the ultimate tragedies of that revolution. Nevertheless, Trotsky had a damn good idea of what forces were acting as a roadblock to revolution. He also had a strategic conception of the road to victory. And that most definitely was not through the Popular Front.
The central question Trotsky addresses throughout the whole period under review here was the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the proletarian forces. That premise entailed, in short, a view that the objective conditions for the success of a socialist program for society had ripened. Nevertheless, until that time, despite several revolutionary upheavals elsewhere, the international working class had not been successful anywhere except in backward Russia. Trotsky thus argued that it was necessary to focus on the question of forging the missing element of revolutionary leadership that would assure victory or at least put up a fight to the finish.
This underlying premise was the continuation of an analysis that Trotsky developed in earnest in his struggle to fight the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the mid-1920's. The need to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution and to extend that revolution internationally was thus not a merely a theoretical question for Trotsky. Spain, moreover, represented a struggle where the best of the various leftist forces were in confusion about how to move forward. Those forces could have profitably heeded Trotsky's advice. I further note that the question of the crisis of revolutionary leadership still remains to be resolved by the international working class.
Trotsky's polemics in that volume are highlighted by the article ‘The Lessons of Spain-Last Warning’, his definitive assessment of the Spanish situation in the wake of the defeat of the Barcelona uprising in May 1937. Those polemics center on the failure of the Party of Marxist Unification (hereafter, POUM) to provide revolutionary leadership. That party, partially created by cadre formerly associated with Trotsky in the Spanish Left Opposition, failed on virtually every count. Those conscious mistakes included, but were not limited to, the creation of an unprincipled bloc between the former Left Oppositionists and the former Right Oppositionists (Bukharinites) of Maurin to form the POUM an organization which almost consciously limited itself to organizing in vanguard Catalonia in 1935; political support to the Popular Front including entry into the government coalition by its leader; creation of its own small trade union federation instead of entry in the anarchist led-CNT; creation of its own militia units reflecting a hands-off attitude toward political struggle with other parties; and, fatally, an at best equivocal role in the Barcelona uprising of 1937.
Trotsky had no illusions about the roadblock to revolution of the policies carried out by the old-time Anarchist, Socialist and Communist Parties. Unfortunately the POUM did. Moreover, despite being the most honest revolutionary party in Spain it failed to keep up an intransigent struggle to push the revolution forward. The Trotsky - Andreas Nin (key leader of the POUM and former Left Oppositionist) correspondence in the Appendix makes that problem painfully clear.
The most compelling example of this failure - As a result of the failure of the Communist Party of Germany to oppose the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the subsequent decapitation and the defeat of the Austrian working class in 1934 the European workers, especially the younger workers, of the traditional Socialist Parties started to move left. Trotsky observed this situation and told his supporters to intersect that development by an entry, called the ‘French turn,’ into those parties. Nin and the Spanish Left Opposition, and later the POUM failed to do that. As a result the Socialist Party youth were recruited to the Communist Party en masse. This accretion formed the basis for its expansion as a party and the key cadre of its notorious security apparatus that would, after the Barcelona uprising, suppress the more left-wing organizations like the POUM, the left-anarchists around Durrutti and so on. For more such examples of the results of the crisis of leadership in the Spanish Revolution read this book which is available on-line at the Leon Trotsky Archives section of the Marxist Internet Archives for the year 1939.
"Viva La Quince Brigada"- The Abraham Lincoln Battalion In The Spanish Civil War (2006)
THE ODYSSEY OF THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE: AMERICANS IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, Peter N. Carroll, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1994.I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 since I was in my twenties. My first paper for a study group presentation sponsored by one of the “red collectives” that were sprouting forth in the early 1970s as disoriented and disheartened radicals and “reds” were seriously and studiously searching for ways to fight the American monster government after years of failure was on this subject. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.
Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class uprisings after the Russian revolution Spain showed the most promise of success. Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky noted in one of his writings on Spain that the Spanish proletariat at the start of its revolutionary period had a higher political consciousness than the Russian proletariat in 1917. That calls into question the strategies put forth by the parties of the Popular Front, including the Spanish Communist Party- defeat Franco first, and then make the social transformation of society. Mr. Carroll’s book while not directly addressing that issue nevertheless demonstrates through the story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion how the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and through it the policy of the Communist International in calling for international brigades to fight in Spain aided in the defeat of that promising revolution.
Mr. Carroll chronicles anecdotally how individual militants were recruited, transported, fought and died as ‘premature anti-fascists’ in that struggle. No militant today, or ever, can deny the heroic qualities of the volunteers and their commitment to defeat fascism- the number one issue for militants of that generation-despite the fatal policy of the various party leaderships. Such individuals were desperately needed then, as now, if revolutionary struggle is to succeed. However, to truly honor their sacrifice we must learn the lessons of that defeat through mistaken strategy as we fight today. Interestingly, as chronicled here, and elsewhere in the memoirs of some veterans, many of the surviving militants of that struggle continued to believe that it was necessary to defeat Franco first, and then fight for socialism. This was most dramatically evoked by the Lincolns' negative response to the Barcelona uprising of 1937-the last time a flat out fight for leadership of the revolution could have galvanized the demoralized workers and peasants for a desperate struggle against Franco.
Probably the most important part of Mr. Carroll’s book is tracing the trials and tribulations of the volunteers after their withdrawal from Spain in late 1938. Their organization-the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade- was constantly harassed and monitored by the United States government for many years as a Communist “front” group. Individuals also faced prosecution and discrimination for their past association with the Brigades. He also traces the aging and death of that cadre. In short, this book is a labor of love for the subjects of his treatment. Whatever else this writer certainly does not disagree with that purpose. If you want to read about what a heroic part of the vanguard of the international working class looked like in the 1930’s, look here. Viva la Quince Brigada!!
starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker,
here is the riddle, a woman’s very serious riddle where she has to do whatever is
necessary under the circumstances to save her man, to keep him from being her ex-man,
from being RIP. The answers aren’t always pretty in life, or as here, in the
movies in the film Jeopardy which is
a good enough word for the title of this black and white exposition on
situational morality. Barbara thinks she made the right choice, and let the
church-based moralists be damned.
call her Barbara since she is going to have to stand the gaff from those
frowning neighbors when she gets back home, gets back home with her man, her very
much alive man Barry. Yeah, let’s call him Barry because not only is he going
to have to defend his wife against the witches but he is going to also wonder
how lucky he was to get a wife who went the distance for him, although you know
as well as I do that there will always be a little doubt, nothing big, but
still a thought in the air about what really happened back at the abandoned
hacienda. Back where Barbara got that unexpected help from Ralph, a guy not
known for the goodness of his heart if you must know, yeah, let’s run the table
and call him Ralph because, well, just because.
set-up. Barbara and Barry and their son Johnny, a totally respectable red scare
Cold War night middle class white picket fence family although without the dog
that usually completes this picture, decided to go to the Baja, the Baja down
Mexico way, on a family outing, a camping trip to get away from the nine to
five routine, to get away from that white picket fence existence. Great idea, a
little sweaty sun, a little spraying ocean, some fishing, maybe a little
boating, a little bonding with Johnny who Barry has kind of neglected in his rush
to get ahead in the world, maybe a little bonding of another kind with Barbara
now that he is not all keyed up and notices her charms. Nice, a nice family picture,
whole thing kind of unwinds, some ill-fated wind coming out of the Baja to snag
the gringos’ mal suerte (their bad luck) and the necessity for Barbara hard-bitten
choices. Blame it on Johnny if you don’t want to blame it on luck, or an act of
God, or the fellahin of the world but Johnny is the direct cause of the dilemma.
See once they get to the campsite and investigate the surroundings bonehead
Johnny decided to check out the rotting pier not far from their campsite.
Wouldn’t you know though that Johnny would get his foot caught in one of the
decaying boardwalk slats. And Barry being Barry went to rescue his son like any
good father. But as the old saying goes no good turn goes unpunished and so
Barry wound up being trapped by a collapsing portion of the pier. Normally no problem
if the collapse had occurred closer to shore but as it turned out it was too
far out-and the tide was coming in.
too, would have to admit that Barbara and Johnny moved heaven and earth at that
moment to get Barry unhinged from his dilemma. No go, nada nunca nada. They came
up with an idea thought involving the lever principle of a plank as a wedge to
pluck Barry out by using the car as the power to move the plank. Problem: no rope
to tie the plank to the power of the car. But there was an half abandoned hacienda
back up the road on which they came and maybe some rope could be found there.
So Barbara went back on that fateful journey to see about getting some, or some
Well, after speeding
back to the hacienda because that tide is really coming Barbara does find the rope-and
Ralph. Ralph however is not nature’s nobleman and he wants the car to aid in his
getaway since he is a stone-cold killer who has just escaped from the federales.
And they are looking for him intensely, looking for a three time loser who really
did have nothing to lose. So Barbara began what would become the dance of the
seven veils to get Ralph to help her. Nothing worked through a whole series of
incidents on the way back toward where Barry and Johnny. Nothing worked until
desperate Barbara, knowing that Ralph had not been with a woman for a while made
her fateful decision. Now this was a 1950s film so the Barbara’s compromise,
her proposition was not shown but everybody over the age of twelve could figure out she let him at her because in the very
next scene Ralph and Barbara are rocketing back to save Barry. You have to say
this for Ralph he might not have been nature’s nobleman but whatever promise he
made to Barbara for her favors, as the old saying went, he kept to it. Did
yeoman’s work to get Barry out before the sea swallowed him up. Then had to hightail
it since the federales had picked up his trail. And Barbara? On some very cold
nights when Barry is back to work and back to the old nine to five routine she
must wonder if she did the right thing. On other hotter nights she might lie
awake wondering about Ralph’s fate. Yeah, jeopardy is the right word.
*****The Big Sur Café- With The “King Of The Beats” Jeanbon Kerouac In Mind
From The Pen Of Zack James
Josh Breslin, as he drove in the pitch black night up California Highway 156 to connect with U.S. 101 and the San Francisco Airport back to Boston. On arrival there then from there up to his old hometown of Olde Saco to which he had recently returned after long years of what he called “shaking the dust of the old town” off his shoes like many a guy before him, and after too, thought that it had been a long time since he had gotten up this early to head, well, to head anywhere. He had in an excess of caution decided to leave at three o’clock in the morning from the hotel he had been staying at in downtown Monterrey near famous Cannery Row (romantically and literarily famous as a scene in some of John Steinbeck’s novels from the 1920s and 1930s, as a site of some of the stop-off 1950s “beat” stuff if for no other reason than the bus stopped there before you took a taxi to Big Sur or thumbed depending on your finances and as famed 1960s Pops musical locale where the likes of Jimi Hendricks and Janis Joplin roe to the cream on top although now just another tourist magnet complete with Steinbeck this and that for sullen shoppers and diners who found their way east of Eden) and head up to the airport in order to avoid the traffic jams that he had inevitably encountered on previous trips around farm country Gilroy (the garlic or onion capital of the world, maybe both, but you got that strong smell in any case), and high tech Silicon Valley where the workers are as wedded to their automobiles as any other place in America which he would pass on the way up.
This excess of caution not a mere expression of an old man who is mired in a whole cycle of cautions from doctors to lawyers to ex-wives to current flame (Lana Malloy by name) since his flight was not to leave to fly Boston until about noon and even giving the most unusual hold-ups and delays in processing at the airport he would not need to arrive there to return his rented car until about ten. So getting up some seven hours plus early on a trip of about one hundred miles or so and normally without traffic snarls about a two hour drive did seem an excess of caution.
But something else was going on in Josh’s mind that pitch black night (complete with a period of dense fog about thirty miles up as he hit a seashore belt and the fog just rolled in without warnings) for he had had the opportunity to have avoided both getting up early and getting snarled in hideous California highway traffic by the expedient of heading to the airport the previous day and taken refuge in a motel that was within a short distance of the airport, maybe five miles when he checked on his loyalty program hotel site. Josh though had gone down to Monterey after a writers’ conference in San Francisco which had ended a couple of days before in order travel to Big Sur and some ancient memories there had stirred something in him that he did not want to leave the area until the last possible moment so he had decided to stay in Monterrey and leave early in the morning for the airport.
That scheduled departure plan set Josh then got an idea in his head, an idea that had driven him many times before when he had first gone out to California in the summer of love, 1967 version, that he would dash to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun came up and then head to the airport. He had to laugh, as he threw an aspirin down his throat and then some water to wash the tablet down in order to ward off a coming migraine headache that the trip, that this little trip to Big Sur that he had finished the day before, the first time in maybe forty years he had been there had him acting like a young wild kid again.
Funny as well that only a few days before he had been tired, very tired a condition that came on him more often of late as one of the six billion “growing old sucks” symptoms of that process, after the conference. Now he was blazing trails again, at least in his mind. The conference on the fate of post-modern writing in the age of the Internet with the usual crowd of literary critics and other hangers-on in tow to drink the free liquor and eat the free food had been sponsored by a major publishing company, The Globe Group. He had written articles for The Blazing Sun when the original operation had started out as a shoestring alternative magazine in the Village in about 1968, had started out as an alternative to Time, Life, Newsweek, Look, an alternative to all the safe subscription magazines delivered to leafy suburban homes and available at urban newsstands for the nine to fivers of the old world for those who, by choice, had no home, leafy or otherwise, and no serious work history.
Or rather the audience pitched to had no fixed abode, since the brethren were living some vicarious existences out of a knapsack just like Josh and his friends whom he collected along the way had been doing when he joined Captain Crunch’s merry pranksters (small case to distinguish them from the more famous Ken Kesey mad monk Merry Pranksters written about in their time by Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson) the first time he came out and found himself on Russian Hill in Frisco town looking for dope and finding this giant old time yellow brick road converted school bus parked in a small park there and made himself at home, after they made him welcome (including providing some sweet baby James dope that he had been searching for since the minute he hit town).
Still the iterant, the travelling nation hippie itinerants of the time to draw a big distinction from the winos, drunks, hoboes, bums and tramps who populated the “jungle” camps along railroad tracks, arroyos, river beds and under bridges who had no use for magazines or newspapers except as pillows against a hard night’s sleep along a river or on those unfriendly chairs at the Greyhound bus station needed, wanted to know what was going on in other parts of “youth nation,” wanted to know what new madness was up, wanted to know where to get decent dope, and who was performing and where in the acid-rock etched night (groups like the Dead, the Doors, the Airplane leading the pack then). That magazine had long ago turned the corner back to Time/Life/Look/Newsweek land but the publisher Mac McDowell who still sported mutton chop whiskers as he had in the old days although these days he has them trimmed by his stylist, Marcus, at a very steep price at his mansion up in Marin County always invited him out, and paid his expenses, whenever there was a conference about some facet of the 1960s that the younger “post-modernist” writers in his stable (guys like Kenny Johnson the author of the bests-seller Thrillwere asking about. So Mac would bring out wirey, wiley old veterans like Josh to spice up what after all would be just another academic conference and to make Mac look like some kind of hipster rather than the balding “sell-out that he had become (which Josh had mentioned in his conference presentation but which Mac just laughed at, laughed at as long as he can keep that Marin mansion. Still Josh felt he provided some useful background stuff now that you can find lots of information about that 1960s “golden age” (Mac’s term not his) to whet your appetite on Wikipedia or more fruitfully by going on YouTube where almost all the music of the time and other ephemera can be watched with some benefit.
Despite Josh’s tiredness, and a bit of crankiness as well when the young kid writers wanted to neglect the political side, the Vietnam War side, the rebellion against parents side of what the 1960s had been about for the lowdown on the rock festival, summer of love, Golden Gate Park at sunset loaded with dope and lack of hubris side, he decided to take a few days to go down to see Big Sur once again. He figured who knew when he would get another chance and at the age of seventy-two the actuarial tables were calling his number, or wanted to. He would have preferred to have taken the trip down with Lana, a hometown woman, whom he had finally settled in with up in Olde Saco after three, count them, failed marriages, a parcel of kids most of whom turned out okay, plenty of college tuitions and child support after living in Watertown just outside of Boston for many years.
Lana a bit younger than he and not having been “washed clean” as Josh liked to express the matter in the hectic 1960s and not wanting to wait around a hotel room reading a book or walking around Frisco alone while he attended the conference had begged off on the trip, probably wisely although once he determined to go to Big Sur and told her where he was heading she got sort of wistful. She had just recently read with extreme interest about Big Sur through her reading of Jack Kerouac’s 1960s book of the same name and had asked Josh several times before that if they went to California on a vacation other than San Diego they would go there. The long and short of that conversation was a promise by Josh to take her the next time, if there was a next time (although he did not put the proposition in exactly those terms).
Immediately after the conference Josh headed south along U.S. 101 toward Monterrey where he would stay and which would be his final destination that day since he would by then be tired and it would be nighttime coming early as the November days got shorter. He did not want to traverse the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1 for the natives) at night since he had forgotten his distance glasses, another one of those six billion reasons why getting out sucks. Had moreover not liked to do that trip along those hairpin turns which the section heading toward Big Sur entailed riding the guardrails even back in his youth since one time having been completely stoned on some high-grade Panama Red he had almost sent a Volkswagen bus over the top when he missed a second hairpin turn after traversing the first one successfully. So he would head to Monterrey and make the obligatory walk to Cannery Row for dinner and in order to channel John Steinbeck and the later “beats” who would stop there before heading to fallout Big Sur.
The next morning Josh left on the early side not being very hungry after an excellent fish dinner at Morley’s a place that had been nothing but a hash house diner in the old days where you could get serviceable food cheap because the place catered to the shore workers and sardine factory workers who made Cannery Row famous, or infamous, when it was a working Row. He had first gone there after reading about the place in something Jack Kerouac wrote and was surprised that the place actually existed, had liked the food and the prices and so had gone there a number of times when his merry pranksters and other road companions were making the obligatory Frisco-L.A. runs up and down the coast. These days Morley’s still had excellent food but perhaps you should bring a credit card with you to insure you can handle the payment and avoid “diving for pearls” as a dish-washer to pay off your debts.
As Josh started up the engine of his rented Acura, starting up on some of the newer cars these days being a matter of stepping on the brake and then pushing a button where the key used to go in this keyless age, keyless maybe a metaphor of the age as well, he had had to ask the attendant at the airport how to start the thing since his own car was a keyed-up Toyota of ancient age, he began to think back to the old days when he would make this upcoming run almost blind-folded. That term maybe a metaphor for that age. He headed south to catch the Pacific Coast Highway north of Carmel and thought he would stop at Point Lobos, the place he had first encountered the serious beauty of the Pacific Coast rocks and ocean wave splash reminding him of back East in Olde Saco, although more spectacular. Also the place when he had first met Moonbeam Sadie.
He had had to laugh when he thought about that name and that woman since a lot of what the old days, the 1960s had been about were tied up with his relationship to that woman, the first absolutely chemically pure version of a “hippie chick” that he had encountered. At that time Josh had been on the Captain Crunch merry prankster yellow brick road bus for a month or so and a couple of days before they had started heading south from Frisco to Los Angeles to meet up with a couple of other yellow brick road buses where Captain Crunch knew some kindred. As they meandered down the Pacific Coast Highway they would stop at various places to take in the beauty of the ocean since several of the “passengers” had never seen the ocean or like Josh had never seen the Pacific in all its splendor.
In those days, unlike now when the park closes at dusk as Josh found out, you could park your vehicle overnight and take in the sunset and endlessly listen to the surf splashing up to rocky shorelines until you fell asleep. So when their bus pulled into the lot reserved for larger vehicles there were a couple of other clearly “freak” buses already there. One of them had Moonbeam as a “passenger” whom he would meet later that evening when all of “youth nation” in the park decided to have a dope- strewn party. Half of the reason for joining up on bus was for a way to travel, for a place to hang your hat but it was also the easiest way to get on the dope trail since somebody, usually more than one somebody was “holding.” And so that night they partied, partied hard.
About ten o’clock Josh high as a kite from some primo hash saw a young woman, tall, sort of skinny (he would find out later she had not been so slim previously except the vagaries of the road food and a steady diet of “speed” had taken their toll), long, long brown hair, a straw hat on her head, a long “granny” dress and barefooted the very picture of what Time/Life/Look would have used as their female “hippie” poster child to titillate their middle-class audiences coming out of one of the buses. She had apparently just awoken, although that seemed impossible given the noise level from the collective sound systems and the surf, and was looking for some dope to level her off and headed straight to Josh. Josh had at that time long hair tied in a ponytail, at least that night, a full beard, wearing a cowboy hat on his head, a leather jacket against the night’s cold, denim blue jeans and a pair of moccasins not far from what Time/Life/Look would have used as their male “hippie” poster child to titillate their middle-class audiences so Moonbeam’s heading Josh’s way was not so strange. Moreover Josh was holding a nice stash of hashish. Without saying a word Josh passed the hash pipe to Moonbeam and by that mere action started a “hippie” romance that would last for the next several months until Moonbeam decided she was not cut out for the road, couldn’t take the life, and headed back to Lima, Ohio to sort out her life.
But while they were on their “fling” Moonbeam taught “Cowboy Jim,” her new name for him many things. Josh thought it was funny thinking back how wedded to the idea of changing their lives they were back then including taking new names, monikers, as if doing so would create the new world by osmosis or something. He would have several other monikers like the “Prince of Love,” the Be-Bop Kid (for his love of jazz and blues), and Sidewalk Slim (for always writing something in chalk wherever he had sidewalk to do so) before he left the road a few years later and stayed steady with his journalism after that high, wide, wild life lost it allure as the high tide of the 1960s ebbed and people drifted back to their old ways. But Cowboy Jim was what she called Josh and he never minded her saying that.
See Moonbeam really was trying to seek the newer age, trying to find herself as they all were more or less, but also let her better nature come forth. And she did in almost every way from her serious study of Buddhism, her yoga (well before that was fashionable among the young), and her poetry writing. But most of all in the kind, gentle almost Quaker way that she dealt with people, on or off drugs, the way she treated her Cowboy. Josh had never had such a gentle lover, never had such a woman who not only tried to understand herself but to understand him. More than once after she left the bus (she had joined the Captain Crunch when the bus left Point Lobos a few days later now that she was Cowboy’s sweetheart) he had thought about heading to Lima and try to work something out but he was still seeking something out on the Coast that held him back until her memory faded a bit and he lost the thread of her).
Yeah, Point Lobos held some ancient memories and that day the surf was up and Mother Nature was showing one and all who cared to watch just how relentless she could be against the defenseless rocks and shoreline. If he was to get to Big Sur though he could not dally since he did not want to be taking that hairpin stretch at night. So off he went. Nothing untoward happened on the road to Big Sur, naturally he had to stop at the Bixby Bridge to marvel at the vista but also at the man-made marvel of traversing that canyon below with this bridge in 1932. Josh though later that it was not exactly correct that nothing untoward happened on the road to Big Sur but that was not exactly true for he was white-knuckled driving for that several mile stretch where the road goes up mostly and there are many hairpin turns with no guardrail and the ocean is a long way down. He thought he really was becoming an old man in his driving so cautiously that he had veer off to the side of the road to let faster cars pass by. In the old days he would drive the freaking big ass yellow brick road school bus along that same path and think nothing of it except for a time after that Volkswagen almost mishap. Maybe he was dope-brave then but it was disconcerting to think how timid he had become.
Finally in Big Sur territory though nothing really untoward happen as he traversed those hairpin roads until they finally began to straighten out near Molera State Park and thereafter Pfeiffer Beach. Funny in the old days there had been no creek to ford at Molera but the river had done its work over forty years through drought and downpour so in order to get to the ocean about a mile’s walk away Josh had to take off his running shoes and shoes to get across the thirty or forty feet of rocks and pebbles to the other side (and of course the same coming back a pain in the ass which he would have taken in stride back then when he shoe of the day was the sandal easily slipped off and on) but well worth the effort even if annoying since the majestic beauty of that rock-strewn beach was breath-taking a much used word and mostly inappropriate but not this day. Maybe global warming or maybe just the relentless crush of the seas on a timid waiting shoreline but most of the beach was un-walkable across the mountain of stones piled up and so he took the cliff trail part of the way before heading back the mile to his car in the parking lot to get to Pfeiffer Beach before too long.
Pfeiffer Beach is another one of those natural beauties that you have to do some work to get, almost as much work as getting to Todo El Mundo further up the road when he and his corner boys from Olde Saco had stayed for a month after they had come out to join him on the bus once he informed them that they needed to get to the West fast because all the world was changing out there. This work entailed not walking to the beach but by navigating a big car down the narrow one lane rutted dirt road two miles to the bottom of the canyon and the parking lot since now the place had been turned into a park site as well. The road was a white-knuckles experience although not as bad as the hairpins on the Pacific Coast Highway but as with Molera worth the effort, maybe more so since Josh could walk that wind-swept beach although some of the cross-currents were fierce when the ocean tide slammed the defenseless beach and rock formation. A couple of the rocks had been ground down so by the oceans that donut holes had been carved in them.
Here Josh put down a blanket on a rock so that he could think back to the days when he had stayed here, really at Todo el Mundo but there was no beach there just some ancient eroded cliff dwellings where they had camped out and not be botheredso everybody would climb on the bus which they would park by the side of the road on Big Sur Highway and walk down to Pfeiffer Beach those easy then two miles bringing the day’s rations of food, alcohol and drugs (not necessarily in that order) in rucksacks and think thing nothing of the walk and if they were too “wasted” (meaning drunk or high) they would find a cave and sleep there. That was the way the times were, nothing unusual then although the sign at the park entrance like at Point Lobos (and Molera) said overnight parking and camping were prohibited. But that is the way these times are.
Josh had his full share of ancient dreams come back to him that afternoon. The life on the bus, the parties, the literary lights who came by who had known Jack Kerouac , Allan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the remnant of beats who had put the place on the map as a cool stopping point close enough to Frisco to get to in a day but ten thousand miles from city cares and woes, the women whom he had loved and who maybe loved him back although he/they never stayed together long enough to form any close relationship except for Butterfly Swirl and that was a strange scene. Strange because Butterfly was a surfer girl who was “slumming” on the hippie scene for a while and they had connected on the bus except she finally decided that the road was not for her just like Moonbeam, as almost everybody including Josh figured out in the end, and went back to her perfect wave surfer boy down in La Jolla after a few months.
After an afternoon of such memories Josh was ready to head back having done what he had set out to which was to come and dream about the old days when he thought about the reasons for why he had gone to Big Sur later that evening back at the hotel. He was feeling a little hungry and after again traversing that narrow rutted dirt road going back up the canyon he decided if he didn’t stop here the nearest place would be around Carmel about twenty-five miles away. So he stopped at Henry’s Café. The café next to the Chevron gas station and the Big Sur library heading back toward Carmel (he had to laugh given all the literary figures who had passed through this town that the library was no bigger than the one he would read at on hot summer days in elementary school with maybe fewer books in stock). Of course the place no longer was named Henry’s since he had died long ago but except for a few coats of paint on the walls and a few paintings of the cabins out back that were still being rented out the place was the same. Henry’s had prided itself on the best hamburgers in Big Sur and that was still true as Josh found out.
But good hamburgers (and excellent potato soup not too watery) are not what Josh will remember about the café or about Big Sur that day. It will be the person, the young woman about thirty who was serving them off the arm, was the wait person at the joint. As he entered she was talking on a mile a minute in a slang he recognized, the language of his 1960s, you know, “right on,” “cool,” “no hassle,” “wasted,” the language of the laid-back hippie life. When she came to take his order he was curious, what was her name and how did she pick up that lingo which outside of Big Sur and except among the, well, now elderly, in places like Soho, Frisco, Harvard Square, is like a dead language, like Latin or Greek.
She replied with a wicked smile that her name was Morning Blossom, didn’t he like that name. [Yes.] She had been born and raised in Big Sur and planned to stay there because she couldn’t stand the hassles (her term) of the cities, places like San Francisco where she had gone to school for a while at San Francisco State. Josh thought to himself that he knew what was coming next although he let Morning Blossom have her say. Her parents had moved to Big Sur in 1969 and had started home-steading up in the hills. They have been part of a commune before she was born but that was all over with by the time she was born and so her parents struggled on the land alone. They never left, and never wanted to leave. Seldom left Big Sur and still did not.
Josh said to himself, after saying wow, he had finally found one of the lost tribes that wandered out into the wilderness back in the 1960s and were never heard from again. And here they were still plugging away at whatever dream drove them back then. He and others who had chronicled in some way the 1960s had finally found a clue to what had happened. But as he got up from the counter, paid his bill, and left a hefty tip, he though he still had that trip out here next time with Lana to get through. He was looking forward to it though.