From The Archives-Founding Conference of the Fourth International-1938
So they had time for remembrances back to the days in the early 1970s when they had first met and had caught the tail-end of the big splash 1960s political and social explosion that stirred significant elements of their generation, “the generation of ’68” so-called by Sam’s friend from New York City Fritz Jasper although neither of them had been involved in any of the cataclysmic events that had occurred in America (and the world) that year. Sam had that year fitfully been trying to start his own small printing business after working for a few years for Mr. Snyder the premier printer in town and he was knee-deep in trying to mop up on the silk-screen craze for posters and tee shirts and had even hired his old friend from high school Jack Callahan who had gone to the Massachusetts School of Art as his chief silk-screen designer, and later when he moved off the dime politically his acting manager as well. Ralph’s excuse was simpler, simplicity itself for he was knee-deep in the big muddy in the Central Highlands of Vietnam trying to keep body and soul together against that damn Charlie who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Occasionally over the years Ralph would come to Boston on trips at Sam’s invitation and they almost always would go have a few at Jack Higgin’s during his stay talking mainly family matters before Ralph would head back to Troy and his family but more frequently of late they would go back over the ground of their youth, would go over more that ground more than one time to see if something they could have done, or something they did not do, would have made a difference when the “counter-revolution,” when the conservative push-back reared its head, when the cultural wars began in earnest with the ebbing of that big good night 1960s explosion. Sam would return the favor by going out to Albany, or more frequently to Saratoga Springs where he, they could see who from the old days, Utah Phillips before he passed away, Rosalie Sorrels before she left the road, Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger before they passed but you get the picture, the old folk minute of the early 1960s that Sam had been very interested in when he started to hang around Cambridge later in that decade, were still alive enough to be playing at the famous coffeehouse still going from the 1960s, the Café Lena, although minus founder Lena for quite a while now. Sam had never lost the bug, never lost that longing for the lost folk minute that in his mind connected in with him hanging around the Hayes-Bickford in Harvard Square on lonesome weekends nights seeing what was to be seen. Sam had dragged Ralph, who despite living on about less than an hour away had never heard of the Café Lena since he had been tuned to the AM stations playing the awful stuff that got air time after the classic period of rock went into decline and before rock became acid-tinged, along with him and he had developed a pretty fair appreciation for the music as well.
The conversation that night in 2014 got going after the usual few whiskey and sodas used to fortify them for the night talkfest had begun to take effect had been pushed in the direction of what ever happened to that socialist vision that had driven some of their early radical political work together (in the old days both of them in these midnight gabfest would have fortified themselves with in succession grass, cocaine, speed and watch the sun come up and still be talking. These days about midnight would be the end point, maybe earlier.). The specific reason for that question coming up that night had been that Sam had asked Ralph a few weeks before to write up a little remembrance of when he had first heard the socialist-anarchist-communist-radical labor militant international working class anthem, the Internationale, for Fritz Jasper’s blog, American Protest Music.
Sam had noted that Ralph had with a certain sorrow stated that he no longer had occasion to sing the song. Moreover one of the reasons for that absence was that despite his and Sam’s continued “good old cause” left-wing political activism socialism as a solution to humankind’s impasses was deeply out of favor (that activism as Ralph mentioned to Sam on more than one occasion these days considerably shortened from the old frenzied 24/7 desperate struggles around trying unsuccessfully end the Vietnam War from the American side by getting the government to stop the damn thing although the Vietnamese liberation forces in the end and at great cost had had no trouble doing so).
People, intellectuals and working stiffs alike, no longer for the most part had that socialist vision goal that had driven several generations, or the best parts of those generations, since the mid-19th century to put their efforts into, did not have that goal on their radar, didn’t see a way out of the malaise through that route. Had moreover backed off considerably from that prospective since the demise of the Soviet Union and its satellites in the early 1990s if not before despite the obvious failure of capitalism to any longer put a dent in the vast inequalities and injustices, their suffered inequalities and injustices, in the world. Sam had had to agree to that sad statement, had had to agree that they, in effect, too had abandoned that goal in their own lives for all practical purposes even though they had been driven by that vision for a while once they got “religion” in the old days in the early 1970s, once they saw that the anti-war struggle that animated their first efforts was not going to get the war-makers to stop making war.
Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was growing older and more reflective, maybe it was that Ralph’s comments had stirred up some sense of guilt for losing the hard edge of their youthful dreams but that night Sam wanted to press the issue of what that socialist prospective meant, what they thought it was all about (both agreed in passing, almost as an afterthought that what had happened, what passed for socialism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere was NOT what they were dreaming of although they gave third world liberation struggles against imperialism like in Vietnam dependent on Soviet aid plenty of wiggle room to make mistakes and still retain their support).
Both men during the course of their conversation commented on the fact that no way, no way in hell, if it had not been for the explosive events of the 1960s, of the war and later a bunch of social issue questions, mainly third world liberation struggles internationally and the black liberation question at home they would not even be having the conversation they were having (both also chuckling a little at using the old time terms, especially the use of “struggle” and “question,” for example the black, gay, woman question since lately they had noticed that younger activists no longer spoke in such terms but used more ephemeral “white privilege,” “patriarchy,” “gender” terms reflecting the identity politics that have been in fashion for a long time, since the ebb flow of the 1960s).
No, nothing in the sweet young lives of Samuel Eaton to the Carver cranberry bog capital of world in Carver (then) working-class born (his father a “bogger” himself when they needed extra help) and Ralph Morris, Junior to the Troy General Electric plants-dominated working- class born would have in say 1967, maybe later, projected that almost fifty years later they would be fitfully and regretfully speaking about the their visions of socialism and it demise as a world driving force for social change.
Ralph and Sam had imbibed all the standard identifiable working-class prejudices against reds, some of those prejudices more widespread among the general population of the times, you know, like the big red scare Cold War “your mommy is a commie, turn her in,” “the Russians are coming get under the desk and hold onto your head,” anybody to the left of Grandpa Ike, maybe even him, communist dupes of Joe Stalin and his progeny who pulled the strings from Moscow and made everybody jumpy; against blacks (Ralph had stood there right next to his father, Ralph, Sr., when he led the physical opposition to blacks moving into the Tappan Street section of town and had nothing, along with his corner boys at Van Patten’s Drugstore, but the “n” word to call black people, sometimes to their faces and Sam’s father was not much better, a southerner from hillbilly country down in Appalachia who had been stationed in Hingham at the end of World War II and stayed, who never could until his dying breathe call blacks anything but the “n” word); against gays and lesbians (Ralph and his boys mercilessly fag and dyke baiting them whenever the guys and he went to Saratoga Springs where those creeps spent their summers doing whatever nasty things they did to each other and Sam likewise down in Provincetown with his boys, he helping, beating up some poor guy in a back alley after one of them had made a fake pass at the guy, Jesus; against uppity woman, servile, domestic child-producing women like their good old mothers and sisters and wanna-bes were okay as were “easy” girls ready to toot their whistles, attitudes which they had only gotten beaten out of them when they ran into their respective future wives who had both been influenced by the women’s liberation movement although truth to tell they were not especially political, but rather artistic. Native Americans didn’t even rate a nod since they were not on the radar, were written off in any case as fodder for cowboys and soldiers in blue. But mainly they had been red, white and blue American patriotic guys who really did have ice picks in their eyes for anybody who thought they would like to tread on old Uncle Sam (who had been “invented” around Ralph’s hometown way).
That same apprehensive attitude had prevailed when after about three meetings they began to study what the group leader, Jeremy, called classic Marxism, the line from Marx and Engels to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A couple of the early classes dealt with the American Civil War and its relationship to the class struggle in America, and Marx’s views on what was happening, why it was necessary for all progressives to side with the North and the end of slavery, and why despite his personal flaws and attitudes toward blacks Abraham Lincoln was a figure to admire all of which both men knew little about except the battles and military leaders in American History classes. What caused the most fears and consternation was the need for revolution worked out in practice during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. They could see that it was necessary in Russia during those times but America in the 1970s was a different question, not to speak of the beating that they had taken for being “uppity” in the streets in Washington, D.C. in 1971 when they didn’t think about revolution (maybe others had such ideas but if so they kept them to themselves) and the state came crashing down on them.
Several years ago, when the question of an international, a new workers international, a fifth international, was broached by the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), faintly echoing the call issued during the presidency of the late Venezuelan caudillo, Hugo Chavez, I got to thinking a little bit more on the subject. Moreover, it must have been something in the air at the time (maybe caused by these global climatic changes that are hazarding our collective future) because I had also seen a spade of then recent commentary on the need to go back to something that looked very much like Karl Marx’s one-size-fits-all First International. Of course in the 21st century, after over one hundred and fifty years of attempts to create adequate international working-class organizations, just what the doctor by all means, be my guest, but only if the shades of Proudhon and Bakunin can join. Boys and girls that First International was disbanded in the wake of the demise of the Paris Commune for a reason, okay. Mixing political banners (Marxism and fifty-seven varieties of anarchism) was appropriate to a united front, not a hell-bent revolutionary International fighting, and fighting hard, for our communist future. Forward
With that caveat in mind this month, the September American Labor Day month, but more importantly the month in 1938 that the ill-fated Fourth International was founded I am posting some documents around the history of that formation, and its program, the program known by the shorthand, Transitional Program. If you want to call for a fifth, sixth, seventh, what have you, revolutionary international, and you are serious about it beyond the "mail-drop" potential, then you have to look seriously into that organization's origins, and the world-class Bolshevik revolutionary who inspired it. Forward.
Organize the South-this low wage area, this consciously low-wage area, where many industries land before heading off-shore to even lower wage places cries out for organizing, especially among black and Hispanic workers who form the bulk of this industrial workforce. A corollary to organizing the South is obviously to organize internationally to keep the “race to the bottom” from continually occurring short of being resolved in favor of an international commonwealth of workers’ governments. Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy.
Defend the right of public and private workers to unionize. Simple-No more defeats like in Wisconsin in 2011, no more attacks on collective bargaining the hallmark of a union contract. No reliance on labor boards, arbitration, courts or bourgeois recall elections either. Unions must keep their independent from government interference. Period.