Saturday, November 04, 2017
From The Gals And Guys Who Know The Face Of War Up Close And Personal-The Iraq And Afghan War Veterans Against The War (IVAW)
As The 100th Anniversary Of World War I Continues -The Anti-War Resistance Builds –The Russian Revolution Breaks The Logjam
History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk
THE DEMOCRATIC CONFERENCE
DIFFICULTIES AT THE FRONT AND THE REAR.
At the front the position of affairs was going from bad to worse. A cold autumn, wet and muddy, was drawing near. There was the prospect of a fourth winter campaign. The food Supply was becoming worse every day. In the rear they had forgotten about the front. There were no reliefs, no reinforcements, and no warm clothing. The number of deserters was increasing daily. The old army committees, elected at the beginning of the Revolution, still remained in their places and supported Kerensky’s policy Re-elections were prohibited. An abyss was formed between the army committees and the masses of the army, and finally the soldiers began to detest the committees. Again and again delegates from the trenches would arrive at Petrograd and ask point-blank, at the sittings of the Soviet “What are we to do now? Who will end the war, and how shall it be done? Why is the Petrograd Soviet silent?”
THE INEVITABLE STRUGGLE FOR POWER.
It was absurd to fight for the authority of the Soviets six or eight weeks before the, meeting of the Constituent Assembly – so we were told by the friends on the Right. But we were not in the least infected by this fetichism of the Constituent Assembly. In the first place, there were no guarantees that it would really be summoned. The break-up of the army, the wholesale desertions, the disorganization of the food supply, the agrarian revolution – all went to create an atmosphere but little favourable to the holding of elections to the Assembly. Moreover, the possible surrender of Petrograd to the Germans threatened to make such elections altogether impossible. In the second place, even if the Constituent Assembly were to be summoned under the direction of the old parties, on the old party lists, it could only become a protection for, and a confirmation of, the coalition principle of government. Neither the Socialist Revolutionaries nor the Mensheviks were capable of assuming authority without the help of the bourgeoisie. Only a revolutionary class Could break the vicious circle in which the Revolution was floundering and disintegrating. It was essential that the authority should be snatched from the hands of those elements which directly or indirectly were serving the interests of the bourgeoisie and used the Government machinery for obstructing the revolutionary demands of the people.
THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOVIET CONGRESS.
THE CONFLICT OVER THE PETROGRAD GARRISON.
But this was not known in the middle of October, and our suspicions were met by a storm of patriotic indignation. The military Staff tried to hurry us on, and Kerensky was impatient, as the ground beneath his feet was fast becoming too hot for him. We, however, did not hurry to answer. Certainly, Petrograd was in danger, and the terrible question of the defence of the capital exercised us greatly. But after the experience of the Korniloff days, after Rodzianko’s words regarding salvation by a German occupation of Petrograd, how could we be assured that Petrograd would not be wilfully surrendered to the Germans as a punishment for its rebellious spirit? The Executive Committee refused to give its signature to the demand for the removal of two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison without examination. We declared that we must have proof of the reality of the military need which dictated the demand, and for that purpose some organization to examine the question must be created. Thus arose the idea of establishing, side by side with the Soldiers’ Section of the Soviets, that is, with the political representation of the garrison, a purely operative organ in the form of the Military Revolutionary Committee which ultimately acquired enormous power and became practically the instrument of the November Revolution.
Undoubtedly, already at that time, when we were proposing the Creation of an organ to concentrate in its hands all the threads of the purely military direction of the Petrograd garrison, we were clearly realizing that this organ might become an invaluable revolutionary weapon. We were already at that time deliberately and openly steering for a rising and organizing ourselves for it. The opening of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets was fixed, as we said before, for November 7th, and there could be no longer any doubt that it would declare in favour of the assumption of supreme authority by the Soviets. But such a decision would have to be carried out at once, otherwise it would simply become a worthless platonic demonstration. It would have been in accord with the logic of the situation if we had fixed our rising for November 7th. The bourgeois Press, indeed, took this for granted. But the fate of the Congress depended, in the first instance, on the Petrograd garrison. Would it allow Kerensky to surround the Congress and to break it up with the help of a few hundreds or thousands of ensigns, cadets, and members of shock battalions? The very attempt to get the garrison out of Petrograd – did it not signify that the Government was preparing to break up the Congress of the Soviets? It would have been strange indeed if it were not, seeing that we were mobilizing quite openly, in face of the whole country, all the strength of the Soviets for the purpose of dealing the Coalition Government a mortal blow.
And so the whole conflict in Petrograd was coming to an issue over the question of the fate of its garrison. In the first place, of course, it affected the soldiers, but the workers, too, evinced the liveliest interest in it, as they feared that on the removal of the troops they might be crushed by the military cadets and Cossacks. The conflict was thus assuming a very acute character, and the question over which it was tending to an issue was very unfavourable to the Kerensky Government.
Parallel with this struggle over the garrison was also going on the previously mentioned struggle for the summoning of the Soviet Congress, in connection with which we were proclaiming openly, in the name of the Petrograd Soviet and the conference of the Soviets of the Northern District, that the second Soviet Congress must dismiss the Kerensky Government and become the real master of Russia. Practically the rising was already proceeding, and was developing in the face of the whole country.
During October the question of the rising played also an important part in the internal life of our party. Lenin, who was in hiding in Finland, wrote numerous letters insisting on more energetic tactics. Amongst the rank and file there was great fermentation and growing discontent, because the Bolshevik Party, now in a majority in the Soviets, was not putting its own battle-cries into practice. On October 28th a secret meeting of the Central Committee of our party took place, at which Lenin was present. On the order of the day was the question of the rising. With only two dissentients it was unanimously decided that the only means of saving the Revolution and the country from complete destruction was an armed rising, which must have for its object the conquest of supreme government authority by the Soviets.
THE DEMOCRATIC COUNCIL AND THE PROVISIONAL PARLIAMENT.
THE SOCIALIST REVOLUTIONARIES AND THE MENSHEVIKS.
In the centre stood the traditional leader of the party, Tchernoff, an experienced writer, well read in Socialist literature, an old hand in party struggles, he was the invariable leader of the party at the time when the party’s life concentrated in refugees’ circles abroad. The Revolution, which, in its first indiscriminate onward rush, had raised the Socialist Revolutionaries to a tremendous height, automatically also raised Tchernoff, but only to show his complete incapability even among the leading political personages of the first period. Those minor qualifications which secured for Tchernoff a preponderance in the foreign circles of the party proved to be far too light in the scales of the Revolution. He confined himself to abstaining from all responsible decisions, to avoiding and evading all critical issues, to waiting upon events, and to refraining from all positive activity. Such tactics secured to him, for the time being, the position of a centre between the two flanks of the party, the distance between which was growing ever wider and wider. But the unity of the party could no longer be maintained. Savinkoff, the erstwhile terrorist, had taken part in the Korniloff plot, was on most cordial terms with the counterrevolutionary circles of the Cossack officers, and was preparing a crushing blow for the Petrograd workers and soldiers, amongst whom were not a few Socialist Revolutionaries of the Left. As a sop to this left wing, the Centre expelled Savinkoff from the party, but it dared not raise its hand against Kerensky.
In the Provisional Parliament the party showed itself to be hopelessly divided. The three groups acted independently of one another, although all were marching under the same party banner. At the same time none of these groups had any clear idea as to what it wanted. The formal predominance of this party in the Constituent Assembly would only have meant the continuation of the same political sterility and impotence.
THE VOICE OF THE FRONT.
In the meantime the conflict regarding the evacuation of the Petrograd garrison was proceeding apace. There were almost daily meetings of the garrison, consisting of company, regimental, and other committees. The influence of our party in the garrison became absolute and quite undivided. The Staff of the Petrograd military district was in a state of extreme confusion. At one time they would try to enter into regular relations with us; at other times, urged on by the leaders of the Central Executive Committee, they would threaten us with repression.
THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE MILITARY
The regiments of the Petrograd garrison, indeed, had had their Commissioners before this, but they used to be appointed by the Central Executive Committee. We have already mentioned that after the June Congress of the Soviets, and particularly after the demonstration of July 1st, which showed the growing strength of the Bolsheviks, the Coalitionist parties had almost entirely shut out the Petrograd Soviet from all practical influence on the course of events m the revolutionary capital. The direction of the affairs of the Petrograd garrison was concentrated in the hands of the Central Executive Committee. Now the question was how to install Soviet Commissioners everywhere. This was only accomplished thanks to the energetic co-operation of the masses of the soldiers. Regiment after regiment would declare, at the end of meetings addressed by speakers from various parties, that they would only recognize the Commissioners appointed by the Petrograd Soviet, and would do nothing without their sanction.
In the appointment of these Commissioners the military organization of the Bolsheviks played a very important part. Already before the July days this organization had done a great deal of propaganda work. On July 18th the cycling battalion, brought into Petrograd by Kerensky, had sacked the villa of Mlle. Krzeszinska, where the military organization of our party was located. The majority of its leaders and many of the rank and file were arrested, the papers were suppressed, and the printing machinery was destroyed. Only very slowly did the party again set up its press, but this time underground. Its military organization embraced only a few hundred men of the Petrograd garrison, but they included many determined and absolutely devoted revolutionary soldiers, young officers, and, principally, ensigns who had been imprisoned by Kerensky during July and August. All these now placed themselves at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee and were appointed to the most responsible militant posts.
It will not be out of place, however, to note here that it was exactly the members of the military organization of our party who, in November, adopted an attitude of extreme caution and even of some scepticism towards the idea of an immediate rising. The exclusive character of the organization and its avowedly military character involuntarily inclined its leaders to overestimate the importance of the purely technical means of an insurrection, and from this point of view we were undoubtedly very weak. Our strength lay in the revolutionary spirit of the masses and in their readiness to fight under our banner.
THE SWELLING TIDE
The Military Staff of the district entered into negotiations with us and proposed a compromise. In order to get an idea of the strength of resistance of our foe we entered into pourparlers. But the nerves of the Staff were all on edge. Now they would admonish, then they would threaten us, and even declared that our Commissioners were illegal – which ban, of course, did not in the least interfere with their work. The Central Executive Committee, in agreement with the Military Staff, appointed Staff Captain Malevsky to be Chief Commissioner for the Petrograd military district, and generously consented to recognize our Commissioners, provided they were subordinated to their Chief Commissioner. This proposal was rejected and the negotiations were broken off.
Prominent Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries would come to us as mediators, reason with and threaten us, foretelling our doom and the doom of the Revolution.
THE PETROGRAD SOVIET DAY
November 4th became the day of the review of the forces of the proletarian army. It went off splendidly in all respects. In spite of the warnings emanating from the Right that rivers of blood would flow in the streets of Petrograd on that day, the masses of the people poured out into the streets in huge waves to take part in the meetings of the Soviet. All our oratorical strength was made full use of; all public places were packed; meetings went on continuously for hours. These were addressed by speakers from our party; by delegates who had come from different parts of the country to take part in the Congress of Soviets; by speakers from the front, from the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and from the Anarchists. The halls were simply overwhelmed by the masses of workers and soldiers. There had been few such meetings in Petrograd even during the Revolution.
A considerable section of the lower middle class was greatly disturbed – not so much actually frightened as made uneasy by the warnings and slanders of the bourgeois Press. Tens of thousands of people beat in huge waves against the walls of the People’s Palace, overflowed into the corridors, and filled the halls. From the columns enormous garlands of human heads, hands, and feet were hanging down like bunches of grapes. The air seemed impregnated with an electric current, such as is fclt at the most critical moments of a revolution. “Down with Kerensky’s Government!” “Down with the war!” “All authority to the Soviets!” Not one of the representatives of the former Soviet parties dared step forward before this colossal gathering with a word of opposition. The triumph of the Petrograd Soviet was unique and undivided. The campaign was in reality already won. All that remained was to deal the phantom Government a final military blow.
THE GAINING OVER OF THE WAVERING UNITS
The central military basis of Petrograd is the Peter and Paul Fortress. We appointed as its commandant a young ensign who soon proved himself to be almost born for the place and in a few hours became complete master of the situation. The “lawful” military authorities stepped aside to wait and see what might happen.
For reasons given above, the Cyclist Regiment was considered by us a very unreliable unit. On November 5th I went to the fortress at about two o’clock in the afternoon. In the courtyard a meeting was being held. The speakers of the Right wing were most cautious and evasive, carefully avoiding any question about Kerensky, whose name, even in soldiers’ circles, always gave rise to cries of protest and indignation. They, however, listened to us and adhered to us. At four o’clock the cyclists held a battalion meeting in a neighbouring place, in the Modern Circus. Amongst the speakers was the Quartermaster-General Paradeloff. He, too, spoke very, very cautiously. Far gone were the days when the official and semi-official orators never spoke of the workers’ party otherwise than as a band of traitors and hirelings of the German Kaiser. The Assistant-Chief of the Staff came up to me and said: “Let us, for goodness’ sake, come to some understanding.” But it was now too late. Against only thirty votes, the battalion declared itself, after a debate, in favour of the assumption of authority by the Soviets.
THE BEGINNING OF THE INSURRECTION
The Military Revolutionary Committee appointed Commissioners to all the railway stations. They kept all in-coming and out-going trains under close observation, and particularly watched all movements of troops. A continuous telephonic and motor connection was set up with all neighbouring towns and their garrisons. It was the duty of all the Soviets in agreement with the Petrograd Soviet to see to it that no counterrevolutionary troops, or rather troops deceived by the Government, entered Petrograd. The lower ranks of the railway servants at the stations and railway workers gave ready recognition to our Commissioners.
On November 6th a difficulty arose at the Telephone Exchange. We were refused connection. The cadets had entrenched themselves at the Central Telephone Exchange, and under their protection the telephone girls came out in opposition to the Soviet. This was the first manifestation of the future sabotage of the officials and civil servants. The Military Revolutionary Committee sent a detachment to the Telephone Exchange and put two small guns at the entrance. So began thc seizure of the administrative offices. Sailors and Red Guards were stationed in small detachments at the Telegraph Office, at the Post Office, and other public offices, and measures were taken to gain possession of the State Bank. The Soviet Centre, the Smolny Institute, was converted into a fortress. In the attic there we still had, as a legacy from the Central Executive Committee, a score or so of machine guns, but they had been neglected, and the men in charge of them had lost all discipline. We summoned to the Smolny an additional machine-gun detachment, and early in the morning the soldiers were loudly wheeling their machine guns along the long stone Corridors of the Smolny Institute. Some Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, who, were still at the Institute, would now and then put their heads out of the doors with astonished or frightened faces. The Soviet and also the garrison held daily meetings at the Institute.
On the third floor, in a small corner room, the Military Revolutionary Committee was in permanent session. Hither flowed all information regarding the movements of troops, the frame of mind of soldiers and workers, the progress of propaganda in the barracks, the doings of the hooligans, the conferences held by the bourgeois politicians, life in the Winter Palace, and the intentions of the former Soviet parties. Our informants came from every quarter, and included workers, officers, house porters, Socialist cadets, servants, and fashionable ladies. Many brought only ridiculous nonsense; others, however, gave us very valuable information. The decisive moment was drawing near. It was clear that there could be no turning back.
On November 6th, in the evening, Kerensky came to the Provisional Parliament and demanded its approval of repressive measures against the Bolsheviks – but the Provisional Parliament was in a pitiful state of confusion and well-nigh dissolution. The Cadets were urging the Right Socialist Revolutionaries to accept a vote of confidence; the Right Socialist Revolutionaries were exerting pressure on the Centre; the Centre wavered; and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries were carrying on a policy of Parliamentary opposition. After a number of conferences, discussions and hesitations, the resolution of the Left wing was adopted, condemning the seditious movement of the Soviet, but placing the responsibility for this on the anti-democratic policy of the Government. At the same time, we were daily receiving by post letters informing us of the numberless death sentences passed on us, of infernal machines, of the imminent blowing up of the Smolny Institute, etc. The bourgeois Press was savage with hatred and fear. Gorki, completely forgetting his own Song of the Falcon, continued to prophesy in his paper, the Novaya Zhizn, the coming end of the world.
The members of the Military Revolutionary Committee had not left the Smolny Institute for the last week. They slept in snatches on sofas, constantly wakened by couriers, scouts, cyclists, telegraphists, and telephone bells. The most anxious night was that of November 6th-7th. We were informed from Pavlovsk by telephone that the Government was summoning the artillerists from there and the ensigns from the Peterhoff School. Kerensky had collected in the Winter Palace cadets, officers, and “shockers.” We ordered, by telephone, detachments of trustworthy military guards to bar all entrances to Petrograd and to send agitators to meet the detachments summoned by the Government. If they could not be kept back by reason, then arms were to be employed. All our conversations were carried on perfectly openly over the telephone, and were, therefore, accessible to the Government’s agents.
Our Commissioners informed us that our friends were keeping watch over all entrances to Petrograd. A portion of the Oranienbaum cadets did, however, get past our barriers in the night, and we followed up their further movements by telephone. We strengthened the outside guards of the Smolny by summoning another company. We maintained a continuous connection with all parts of the garrison. Squads on duty kept watch in all regiments. Delegates from every unit were constantly, day and night, at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee. An order was issued to put down ruthlessly every Black Hundred agitation, to use arms at the first attempts at street pogroms, and to act, if necessary, without mercy. During this decisive night all the most important points in the city passed into our hands almost without resistance, without fighting, without victims. The State Bank was guarded by Government sentries and an armoured car. The building was surrounded from all sides by our detachments, the armoured car was seized unawares, and the Bank passed into the hands of the Military Revolutionary Committee without a single shot.
On the Neva, below the Franco-Russian Works, stood the cruiser Aurora undergoing repair. Her crew consisted entirely of sailors wholeheartedly devoted to the Revolution. When, at the end of August, Korniloff was threatening Petrograd, the sailors of the Aurora were summoned to protect the Winter Palace. And although they were already extremely hostile to Kerensky’s Government, they knew that their duty was to repel the attempt of the counterrevolutionaries, and they took up their positions without a word. When the danger passed, they were again pushed aside. Now, in these days of the November insurrection, they were too dangerous. The Ministry of the Marine gave orders to the Aurora to get under way and leave Petrograd waters. The crew immediately informed us of this fact. We countermanded the order, and the cruiser remained ready, at any moment, to use all her forces on behalf of the Soviet authority.
THE DECISIVE DAY
Lenin had left Finland some days previously and was living in hiding in a working-class quarter in a suburb. On November 7th he came secretly to the Smolny. Judging by the newspapers, he had gained the impression that we were coming to a compromise with the Kerensky Government. The bourgeois Press had shrieked so much about the coming revolt, the march of armed soldiers in the streets, the pillage, and the inevitable rivers of blood, that it did not perceive the insurrection which, in reality, was now taking place, and accepted the negotiations between ourselves and the Military Staff at their face value. All this time, quietly, without any street fighting, without firing or bloodshed, one Government institution after another was being seized by highly disciplined detachments of soldiers, sailors, and Red Guards, in accordance with the exact telephone instructions emanating from the little room on the third floor of the Smolny Institute.
In the evening, the second All-Russian Congress of the Soviets held a preliminary meeting.
The report of the Central Executive Committee was submitted by Dan. He delivered an indictment against the rebels, the usurpers, and sedition-mongers, and tried to frighten the meeting by predicting the inevitable collapse of the insurrection, which in a day or two, he said, would be suppressed by troops from the front. His speech sounded exceedingly unconvincing and very much out of place in a hall in which the overwhelming majority of delegates were following with the greatest enthusiasm the victorious march of the Petrograd rising.
By this time the Winter Palace was surrounded, though not yet taken. From time to time shots were fired from the windows at the besiegers who were slowly and very carefully closing in upon the building. From the Peter and Paul Fortress a few shells were fired at the Palace, their distant sounds reaching the Smolny. Martoff, with impotent indignation, was speaking from the rostrum of civil war, and particularly of the siege of the Winter Palace where, among the other Ministers, there were – oh, horror of horrors! – members of the Menshevik Party. Two sailors, who had come to give news from the scenes of struggle, took the platform against him. They reminded our accusers of the July offensive, of the whole perfidious policy of the old Government, of the re-establishment of the death penalty for soldiers, of the arrests, of the sacking of revolutionary organizations, and vowed that they would either conquer or die. They it was who brought us the news of the first victims on our side on the Palace Square.
Every one rose as though moved by some invisible signal, and with a unanimity which is only provoked by a deep moral intensity of feeling sung a Funeral March. He who lived through this moment will never forget it. The meeting came to an abrupt end. It was impossible to sit there, calmly discussing the theoretical question as to the method of constructing the Government, with the echo reaching our ears of the fighting and firing at the walls of the Winter Palace, where, as a matter of fact, the fate of this very Government was already being decided.
The taking of the Palace, however, was a protracted business, and this caused some wavering amongst the less determined elements of the Congress. The Right wing, through its spokesmen, prophesied our early doom. All were waiting anxiously for news from the Winter Palace. After some time, Antonoff, who, had been directing the operations, arrived. At once there was dead silence in the hail. The Winter Palace had been taken. Kerensky had taken flight. The other Ministers had been arrested and conveyed to the Peter and Paul Fortress. The first chapter of the November Revolution was at an end.
The Right Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, numbering altogether about sixty persons, that is, about one-tenth of the Congress, left the meeting under protest. As they could do nothing else, they “threw the whole responsibility” for whatever might now happen on the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. The latter were still wavering. Their past bound them closely to Tchernoff’s party. The Right wing of this party had now shifted entirely towards the lower middle class and their intellectuals, to the well-to-do peasants in the villages; in all, decisive questions it was marching hand in hand with the Liberal bourgeoisie against us. The more revolutionary elements of the party, reflecting the Radicalism of the social aspirations of the poorest peasantry, gravitated to the proletariat and its party. They were afraid, however, to cut the umbilical cord which bound them with the old party. When we were about to leave the Provisional Parliament, they refused to follow us and warned us against “adventures.” But the insurrection forced them to choose either for or against the Soviet. Not without hesitation, they were concentrating their forces on the same side of the barricade where we stood.
Late one night in 2014 Ralph Morris and Sam Eaton had been sitting at a bar in Boston, Jack Higgin’s Grille, down a few streets from the financial district toward Quincy Market talking about various experiences, political experiences in their lives as they were wont to do these days since they were both mostly retired. Ralph having turned over the day to day operation of his specialty electronics shop in Troy, New York to his youngest son as he in his turn had taken over from his father Ralph, Sr. when he had retired in 1991 (the eldest son, Ralph III, had opted for a career as a software engineer for General Electric still a force in the local economy although not nearly as powerful as when Ralph was young and it had been the largest private employer in the Tri-City area) and Sam had sold off his small print shop business in Carver down about thirty miles south of Boston to a large copying company when he had finally seen a few years before the writing on the wall that the day of the small specialty print shop specializing in silk-screening and other odd job methods of reproduction was done for in the computerized color world.
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).