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).
Sam Eaton comment :
* Defend the independence of the working classes! No union dues for Democratic (or the stray Republican) candidates. In 2008 and 2012 labor, organized labor, spent over 450 million dollars respectively trying to elect Barack Obama and other Democrats (mainly). The “no show, no go” results speak for themselves as the gap between the rich and poor has risen even more in this period. For those bogus efforts the labor skates should have been sent packing long ago. The idea in those elections was that the Democrats (mainly) were “friends of labor.” The past period of cuts-backs, cut-in-the-back give backs should put paid to that notion. Although anyone who is politically savvy at all knows that is not true, not true for the labor skates at the top of the movement.