Wednesday, April 30, 2008

*Hard Times In Babylon- Growing Up Absurd in the 1950's

Click on title to link to a website that has information about the 1950's. This site is presented here for informational purposes only I will not vouch for its accuracy or political perspective.


For regular readers of this space the following first few paragraphs will constitute something of a broken record. For those who are not familiar this commentary constitutes an introduction to the politics of class struggle as it gets practiced down as the base of society-away from the headlines of the day. As I have mentioned in my profile, and also in the purpose section of this space, I am trying to impart some lessons about how to push the struggle for working class solidarity forward so that, to put it briefly, those who labor rule.

My political grounding as I have evolved as a socialist over the years speaks for itself in my commentaries. The prospective that had been lacking, and which has probably plagued my efforts over the years, since I long ago first started out on my political journey is a somewhat too strong attachment to the theoretical side of the need for socialist solutions. Oddly, perhaps, although I now proclaim proudly that I am a son of the working class I came to an understanding of the need for the working class to take power without taking my being part of the class into consideration. One of the tasks that I have tried to undertake in this space over the past year, as a corrective, is to make some commentary about various events in my life that reflect my evolving understanding of class society and the class struggle. I am actually well qualified to undertake that chore.

The impetus for undertaking this task, as is also now well known to readers, was an unplanned trip back to the old working class neighborhood of my teenage years. That led to a series of stories about the trials and tribulations of a neighborhood family and can be found in this space under the title "History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga" (Yes, I know, that is a rather bulky title for a prosaic story but, dear reader, that is the price for my being a ‘political junkie’. If I were a literary type I would probably have entitled it Sense and Sensibility or something like that, oops, that one is taken- but you get the point.).

I have also started another series here, one that indirectly came to life through that trip back to the old neighborhood, entitled "Tales From The ‘Hood" going back to my early childhood days as a product of a housing project. However, in that effort, I consider myself merely the medium, as the narrator is really a woman named Sherry whom I consider the ‘the projects’ historian. This present series will center on my personal experiences both about the things that formed and malformed me and that contributed to my development as a conscious political activist. The closest I have ever come to articulating that idea through examination of my personal experiences was a commentary written in this space last year entitled "Hard Times in Babylon" (and hence the genesis for the current series title). Even at that, this was more an effort to understand the problems of my parents’ generation, the generation that came of age in the Great Depression and World War II. That, my friends, nevertheless, is probably a good place to take off from here.

The gist of the commentary in "Hard Times in Babylon" centered on the intersection of two events. One was the above-mentioned trip back to the old neighborhood and the other was a then recent re-reading of famed journalist David Halberstam’s book "The Fifties", which covered that same period. His take on the trends of the period, in contrast to the reality of my own childhood experiences as a child of the working poor that missed most of the benefits of that ‘golden age’, rekindled some memories. It is no exaggeration to say that those were hard times in Babylon for Markin’s family. My parents reacted to those events one way, this writer another. The whys of that are what I am attempting to bring before the radical public. I think the last lines from Babylon state the proposition as clearly as I can put it. “And the task for me today? To insure that future young workers, unlike my parents in the 1950’s, will have their day of justice.”

There are many myths about the 1950’s, to be sure. One was that the rising tide of the pre-eminent capitalist economy in the world would cause all boats to rise with it. Despite the public myth not everyone benefited from the ‘rising tide’. The experience of my parents is proof of that. I will not go through all the details of my parents’ childhoods, courtship and marriage for such biographic details of the Depression and World War II are plentiful and theirs fits the pattern. One detail is, however, important and that is that my father grew up in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Hazard, Harlan County to be exact, coal mining country made famous in song and by Michael Harrington in his 1960’s book "The Other America". This was, and is, hardscrabble country by any definition. Among whites these ‘hillbillies’ were the poorest of the poor. There can be little wonder that when World War II began my father left to join the Marines, did his fair share of fighting, settled in the Boston area and never looked back.

I have related in "Tales From The ‘Hood’" some details that my ‘ the projects’ historian Sherry told me about her relationships with some of the girls from the wealthier part of town with whom we went to elementary school. She spend her whole time there being snubbed, insulted and, apparently, on more than one occasion physically threatened by the prissy girls from the other peninsula for her poor clothing, her poor manners and for being from the ‘projects’. I will spare you the details here. Moreover, she faced this barrage all the way through to high school graduation. It was painful for her to retell her story, and not without a few tears.

Moreover, it was hard for me to hear because, although I did not face that barrage then, I faced it later when my family moved to the other side of town and kids knew I was from the 'projects’. I faced that same kind of humiliation on a near daily basis from the boys, mainly. I will, again, spare the details. I can, however, distinctly remember being turned down for a date by an upscale girl in class because, as she made clear to all within shouting distance, although she thought I was personally okay (such nobility) my clothes were ‘raggedy’ and, besides, I did not have a car. That is the face of the class struggle, junior varsity division.

The early years of the Kennedy Administration were filled with hopes and expectations, none more so than by me. As I have noted elsewhere in this space I came of political age with the elections of 1960. This, moreover, was a time where serious social issues such as how to eradicate poverty in America were seriously being discussed by mainstream politicians. I mentioned above the widespread popularity of Michael Harrington’s "The Other America" and its mention of quintessential other America, including Hazard, Kentucky. But, here is the personal side. One of the most mortifying experiences of my life was when the headmaster of my high school came over the loudspeaker to announce that our high school was going to begin a fundraising drive in earnest to help those less fortunate in Other America. And that other America in this case had a specific name-Hazard, Kentucky. I froze in my seat. Then came the taunts from a couple of guys who knew my father was from there. That is the face of the class struggle, varsity edition

As I finished up my remarks in "A Tale of Two Peninsulas" trying to sum up the meaning of the events that Sherry had related about her brushes with the class struggle in her youth I asked a couple of rhetorical question. After what I have described here I asked those same questions. Were the snubs and other acts of class hatred due to our personalities? Maybe. Are these mere examples of childhood’s gratuitous cruelty? Perhaps. But the next time someone tells you that there are no classes in this society remember Sherry’s story. And mine. Then remember Sherry’s tears and my shame. Damn.

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