Saturday, March 21, 2020
***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night -One Night With You- Sam’s Song
***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night -One Night With You- Sam’s Song
By Allan Jackson
[One of the conditions that has allowed me to claim full attribution to this Root Is The Toots series of almost seventy sketches and coming in at about seven hundred pages if it was published as one hard copy volume is that I not bring up the internal struggle at this publication which began in early 2017 and wound up with me losing a key vote of no confidence. And my job. Having been through a million such fights both in the industry and when I was younger and my politics were on the radical side where “no prisoners were taken” I accepted that defeat obviously without liking it. I have agreed through the good offices of Sam Lowell who negotiated with current site manager Greg Green for my by-line to abide by those restrictions.
As part of that agreement though beyond my being allowed to make new introductions to each piece to give some background about how the piece came about or what was going on back in those days that made the piece a germane look back I have the right to bat back the slew of rumors, mostly outrageous or overblown, that have accumulated around my name since my departure. I had authorized my old friend Jack Callahan, a significant financial contributor to the success of this operation in both its previous hard copy form and now on-line, to swat as many rumors as he could when they came to the surface around this series. I will take some advantage here to give as Jack said “my take” on these rumors in order to clear my good name in the industry. That may require touching a little around the edges of that internal struggle but I feel the need to explain some things and Greg Green can always blue-pencil those parts if they go counter to the agreement.
Whether I had been “purged,” had gone into self-imposed exile out West or had simply gone into retirement is now beside the point. Except on that latter point which was clearly not possible for me to do since my financial situation prohibited me from retiring without taking care of some pressing matters. Those pressing matters included alimony payments to three ex-wives and more critically to the college tuitions for Lorry, Sean and Kenneth from my last marriage to Mimi Murphy and the last of my brood needing that assistance. So once the axe fell here I needed to grab some kind of editorial job someplace to make ends meet. The first place I tried here on the East Coast was American Film Gazette a place where I had worked when younger and where I knew the managing editor Ben Gold. This had also been the last place Greg Green had worked before I brought him over to do the day to day operations here as well.
Ben turned me down for any job and I thought maybe it was because of my age which while not allowable under various federal statutes and laws happens all the time in an industry where old is somewhere around forty and there is always the crush for young blood even in the editorial offices. That was not the case as Ben informed me on the QT. What had happened was that he had contacted his old employee and friend Greg to see why I was looking for work. Apparently (according to Sam Lowell’s take on the matter) Greg held some bitter animosities from the internal struggle and put “the kiss of death” on me. I was “hard to work with.” Those few words were enough to allow Ben to pass, and allow every other place that I tried on the East Coast to do so as well. Places like Esquire, American Book Review, Progressive Nation (which I had helped start) and Music Today. Hell in desperation I tried places like Vogue and Elle. No soap.
Seeing the writing on the wall in the East I headed west to the Coast figuring that Greg’s comment would not travel that far. Wrong, which I should have expected in these high tech communication days. All the West Coast publications including West Coast Review where they had put up with the craziness of dope and gun freak the late “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson for years turned me down. That is when I had the last chance gasp idea of going to secondary and tertiary markets and the start of the overblown rumor that I was in self-imposed exile out in American Siberia (and it really is except not so cold) Utah sucking up to the Mormons. What really hurt was the libel which I think Lenny Lynch published that I had “sold out for a mess of pottage.” I will admit that I might have been close on that issue but I never crossed the line. Couldn’t.
My selling point to the editor of the Salt Lake News was an article that I had written many years ago during 2008 when well-known Mormon (and ex-Massachusetts governor) Mitt Romney made his first bid for the U.S. presidency on the Republican side speaking admiringly of Mitt’s great-grandfather who had five wives-all at one time when polygamy was okay among the early Mormon settlers where the ratio of men to women was totally skewed. I assumed that the man had extraordinary executive skills to juggle that situation without murder and mayhem when I couldn’t even manage one (of three) at a time. The problem was that any reference to polygamy even though it is still practiced among hard-shell Mormons out in the canyons is anathema to the mainstream brethren. Another point was a slice of life article about the practice of Mormons wearing white underwear as part of their practice but that didn’t get me anywhere either. What I came to find out was that like a lot of other operations on the fringes of religion, politics, race, ethnicity and such that they “hire their own” keep it in the family.
The worse part of the rumor mill about my stay, short stay, in Utah was a total slander, maybe libel too although I did not see it in any piece from this publication was that I had pitched myself trying to get a job as press secretary with Mitt Romney’s U.S. Senate campaign once ancient Orrin Hatch called it a day. What happened is that I showed up at some press conference where Mitt was going on and on about some issue and I spoke to a couple of his people during which I threw out the idea in jest that I would be a prefect “press secretary” for Mitt. The joke was that during both the 2008 and 2012 presidential bids by the man I had gone out of my way, gone way out of my way, to skewer him every chance I got for being so crooked that he couldn’t put his pants on by himself. Needed a valet to squeeze him in and even that was a close call. Those were the days when he was so “possessed” about being President that he changed his policies like he changed his socks. Didn’t know the truth if it came up and bit him. And that was the gentle stuff. Whoever back here caught that employment remark obviously missed the point. Maybe should have looked at the archives for 2008 and 2012 and gotten the real story. Allan Jackson]
Sam Lowell thought it was funny how things worked out sometimes in such a contrary fashion in this wicked old world, not his expression that “wicked old world” for he preferred of late the more elastic and ironic “sad old world” but that of his old time North Adamsville corner boy Peter Markin who will be more fully introduced in a moment (Markin aka Peter Paul Markin although nobody ever called him that except his mother, as one would expect although he hated to be teased by every kid from elementary school on including girls, girls who liked to tease him, tease him when they wanted to show their interest usually, and his first ill-advised wife, Martha, a heiress of the local Mayfair swells who tried, unsuccessfully since they sensed right away that he was not one of them, to impress her leafy horse country Dover suburban parents with the familiar waspy triple names).
Neither of those expressions referred to however dated back to their youth since neither Sam nor Peter back then, back in their 1960s youth, would have used such old-fashioned religious-drenched expressions to explain their take on the world since as with all youth, or at least youth who expected to “turn the world upside down” (an expression that they both did use although each in very different contexts) they would have withheld such judgments or were too busy doing that “turning” business they had no time for adjectives to express their worldly concerns. No that expression, that understanding about the wickedness of the world had been picked up by Sam from Peter when they had reconnected a number of years before after they had not seen each other for decades to express the uphill battles of those who had expected humankind to exhibit the better angels of their nature on a more regular basis. Some might call this nostalgic glancing back, especially by Peter since he had more at stake in a favorable result, on a world that did not turn upside down or did so in a way very different from those hazy days.
The funny part (or ironic if you prefer) was that back then Sam had been in his youth the least political, the least culturally-oriented, the least musically-oriented of those corner boys like Markin, Jack Dawson, Jimmy Jenkins and “max daddy” leader Fritz Fallon (that “max daddy” another expression coined by Peter so although he has not even been properly introduced we know plenty about his place in the corner boy life, his place as “flak,” for Fritz’s operation although Fritz always called him “the Scribe” when he wanted something written and needed to play on Peter’s vanity) who kept the coins flowing into the jukebox at Phil’s House of Pizza. That shop had been located down a couple of blocks from the choppy ocean waters of Adamsville Beach (and is still there although under totally different management from the arch-Italian Rizzo family that ran the place for several generations now run by some immigrant Albanians named Hoxha).
That made Phil’s among other things a natural hang-out place for wayward but harmless poor teenage corner boys. The serious “townie” professional corner boys, the rumblers, tumblers, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters hung around Harry’s Variety with leader Red Riley over on Sagamore far from beaches. Night haunting boys far from sweated sun, tanned daytime beaches, with their equally pale, black dress-etched “tramps,” well known the boyos network at the high school for those few adventurous enough to mess with an off-hand “from hunger” girl looking for kicks and a fast ride in some souped-up Chevy or on back of fat hog Harley, the bike of choice around the town. Although tanned daytime beaches rumors had it that the beach, the isolated Rock Island enough, had been the site of more than one nighttime orgy with “nice” publicly virginal girls looking for kicks with rough boys down among the briny rocks. Rumors they remained until Sam ran into Sissy Roswell many years later who confessed that she and the “social butterfly” prom/fall dance/ yearbook crowd she hung around with on a couple of occasions had been among the briny rocks the summer after graduation when school social ladders and girls’ locker room talk didn’t mean a thing.
Getting back to Harry’s, a place where cops with their patrol cars parked conspicuously in front of the store during the daytime placed their bets with “connected” Harry who used the store as a front for the bookie operation and fence for Red’s nighttime work, Fritz and the boys would not have gone within three blocks of that place. Maybe more from fear, legitimate fear as Fritz’s older brother, Timmy, a serious tough guy himself, could testify to the one time he tried to wait outside Harry’s for some reason and got chain-whipped by Red for his indiscretion. So the tame corner boys at Phil’s were more than happy to hang out there where the Rizzos were more than happy to have them spent dough on the jukebox and pizzas except on Friday family pizza night to give Mom a rest for once until after nine (and secretly, since these corner boys were, if tame, still appealing looking to passing girls glad to have then around at that hour to boost the weekend sales). Moreover this spot provided a beautiful vantage point for scanning the horizon for those wayward girls who also kept their coins flowing into Phil’s jukebox (or a stray “nice” girl after Red and his corner boys threw her over).
Sam had recently thought about that funny story that Markin had told the crowd once on a hot night when nobody had any money and were just holding up the wall at Phil’s about Johnny Callahan, the flashy and unstoppable halfback from the high school team (and a guy even Red respected having made plenty of money off of local sports who bet with him on the strength of Johnny’s prowess any given Saturday although Johnny once confessed that he, rightly, avoided Harry’s after what had happened to Timmy Fallon). See Johnny was pretty poor even by the median working poor standard of the old neighborhoods in those days (although now, courtesy of his incessant radio and television advertising which continues to make everyone within fifty miles of North Adamsville who knew Johnny back in the day aware of his new profession, he is a prosperous Toyota car dealer, called Mr. Toyota, down across from the mall in Hull about twenty miles from North Adamsville, the town where their mutual friend Josh Breslin soon to be introduced came from). Johnny, a real music maniac who would do his football weight-lifting exercises to Jerry Lee’s Great Balls of Fire, Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula and stuff like that to get him hyped up, had this routine in order to get to hear songs that he was dying to hear, stuff he would hear late at night coming from a rock station out of Detroit and which would show up a few weeks later on Phil’s jukebox just waiting for Johnny and the kids to fill the coffers, with the girls who had some dough, enough dough anyway to put coins into that jukebox.
Johnny would go up all flirty and virile to some young thing (a Fritz expression coped from Jerry Lee and not an invention of Markin as Peter would later claim to some “young thing” that he was trying to “score”). Maybe, depending on whatever intelligent he had on the girl, maybe she had just had a fight with her boyfriend or had broken up with him Johnny would be all sympathy, or maybe she was just down in the dumps for no articulable reason like every teen goes through every chance they get, whatever it took. Johnny, by the way, would have gotten that intelligence via Peter who whatever else anybody had to say about him, good or bad, was wired into, no, made himself consciously privy to, all kinds of boy-girl information almost like he had a hook into that Monday morning before school girls’ locker room talkfest. Everybody already knew that he was hooked into the boys’ Monday morning version and had started more rumors and other unsavory deeds than any ten other guys. Spreading ugly rumors about a guy whose girl he was interested in a specialty. But the guy was like Teflon, nobody ever thought to take him out for his actions they were so dependent on his information to keep their place in the social pecking order.
Now here is what Johnny “knew” about almost every girl if they had the quarter which allowed them to play three selections. He would let them pick that first one on their own, maybe something to express interest in his flirtation, maybe her name, say Donna, was also being used as the title of a latest hit, or if broken up some boy sorrow thing. Brenda Lee’s I Want To Be Wanted, stuff like that. The second one he would “suggest” something everybody wanted to listen to no matter what but which was starting to get old. Maybe an Elvis, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee thing still on the jukebox playlist but getting wearisome. Then he would go in for the kill and “suggest” they play this new platter, you know, something like Martha and the Vandelas Dancing in the Streets or Roy’s Blue Bayou both of which he had heard on the midnight radio airwaves out of Detroit one night and were just getting play on the jukeboxes. And bingo before you know it she was playing the thing again, and again. Beautiful. And Johnny said that sometimes he would wind up with a date, especially if he had just scored about three touchdowns for the school, a date that is in the days before he and Kitty Kelly became an item. An item, although it is not germane to the story, who still is Johnny’s girl, wife, known as Mrs. Toyota now.
But enough of this downstream stuff Sam thought. The hell with Johnny and his cheapjack tricks (although not to those three beautiful touchdowns days, okay) this thing gnawing at him was about old age angst and not the corner boy glory days at Phil’s, although it is about old time corners boys and their current doings, some of them anyway. So yeah he had other things he wanted to think about (and besides he had already, with a good trade-in, gotten his latest car from Mr. Toyota so enough there), to tell a candid world about how over the past few years with the country, the world, the universe had been going to hell in a hand-basket. In the old day, like he kept going back to, back in the day he was not the least bit interested in anything in the big world outside of sports, and girls, of course. And endlessly working on plans to own his own business, a print shop, before he was twenty-five. Well, he did get that small business, although not until thirty and had prospered when he made connections to do printing for several big high-tech companies, notably IBM when they began outsourcing their work. He had prospered, had married (twice, and divorced twice), had the requisite tolerated children and adored grandchildren, and in his old age a woman companion to ease his time.
But there had been for a long time, through those failed marriages, through that business success something gnawing at him, something that Sam felt he had missed out on, or felt he had do something about. Then a few years ago when it was getting time for a high school class reunion he had Googled “North Adamsville Class of 1964” and came upon a class website for that year, his year, that had been set up by the reunion committee, and decided to joint to keep up with what was going on with developments there. He would wind up not going to that reunion as he had planned, a long story about a slight ill-advised flirtation with an old flame classmate although that too is not germane to the story here except as one more thing that gnawed at him. But mostly in the end he could not face going home, came to believe what Thomas Wolfe said in the title of one of his novels, you can’t go home again).
After he had registered on the site giving a brief resume of his interests and what he had been up to those past forty years or so years Sam looked at the class list, the entire list of class members alive and deceased (a rose beside their name signifying their passing) of who had joined and found the names of Peter Markin. He had to laugh Peter had been listed as Peter Paul Markin since everybody was listed by their full names, revenge from the grave his poor mother, and that leafy suburban first wife who tried to give him Mayflower credentials, he thought. He also found the name of corner boy Jimmy Jenkins among those who had done so. (Jack Dawson had passed away a few years before, a broken man, broken after his son who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan had committed suicide, according to Peter, as had their corner boy leader, Fritz Fallon, homeless, and found down along a railroad trestle in New Jersey, after going through a couple of fortunes, his own and a third wife’s).
Through the mechanism established on the site which allowed each class member who joined to have a private cyberspace e-mail slot Sam contacted both men and the three of them started a rather vigorous on-line chat line for several weeks going through the alphabet of their experiences, good and bad. The time for sugar-coating was over unlike in their youth when all three would lie like crazy, especially about sex and with whom in order to keep their place in the pecking order, and in order to keep up with Fritz whom lied more than the three of them combined. Peter knew that, knew it better than anybody else but in order to keep his place as “scribe” in that crazy quill pecking order went along with such silly teenage stuff, stuff that in his other pursuits he would have laughed at but that is what made being a teenager back then, now too, from what Sam saw of his grandchildren’s trials and tribulations.
After a while, once the e-mail questions had worked their course, all three men met in Boston at the Sunnyvale Grille, a place where Markin had begun to hang out in after he had moved back to Boston (read: where he did his daytime drinking) over by the waterfront, and spent a few hours discussing not so much old times per se but what was going on in the world, and how the world had changed so much in the meantime. And since Markin, the political maniac of the tribe, was involved in the conversations maybe do something about it at least that is what Sam had hoped since he knew that is where he thought he needed to head in order to cut into that gnawing feeling. Sam was elated, and unlike in his youth he did not shut his ears down, when those two guys would talk politics, about the arts or about music. He now regretted that he had not listened back then since he was so strictly into girls and sports, not always in that order (which caused many problems later including one of the grounds for his one of his divorces, not the sports but the girls).
This is probably the place for Sam to introduce Peter Markin although he had already given an earful (and what goes for Peter goes to a lesser extent for Jimmy who tended to follow in Pete’s wake on the issues back then, and still does). Peter, as Sam has already noted, provided that noteworthy, national security agency-worthy service, that “intelligence” he provided all the guys (and not just his corner boys, although they had first dibs) about girls. Who was “taken,” a very important factor if some frail (a Fritz term from watching too many 1940s gangster and detective movies and reading Dashiell Hammett too closely, especially The Maltese Falcon),was involved with some bruiser football player, some college joe who belonged to a fraternity and the brothers were sworn to avenge any brother’s indignities, or worse, worse of all, if she was involved with some outlaw biker who hung out in Adamsville and who if he hadn’t his monthly quota of college boy wannabes red meat hanging out at Phil’s would not think twice about chain-whipping you just for the fuck of it (“for the fuck of it” a term Jimmy constantly used then, and now, so it was not always Markin or Fritz who led the verbal life around the corner). Who was “unapproachable,” probably more important than that social blunder of ‘hitting on” a taken woman since that snub by Miss Perfect-Turned-Up-Nose would make the rounds of the now legendary seminar, Monday morning before school girls’ locker room (and eventually work its way through Markin to the boys’ Monday morning version ruining whatever social standing the guy had spent since junior high trying to perfect in order to avoid the fatal nerd-dweeb-wallflower-square name your term existence). Strangely Markin made a serious mistake with Melinda Loring who blasted her freeze deep on him and he survived to tell the tale, or at least that is what he had the boys believe. Make of this what you will though, Peter never after that Melinda Loring mistake, had a high school girlfriend from North Adamsville High, who, well, liked to “do the do” as they called it back then, that last part not always correct since everybody, girls and boys alike, were lying like crazy about whether they were “doing the do” or not, including Markin.
But beyond, well beyond, that schoolboy silliness Markin was made of sterner stuff (although Sam would not have bothered to use such a positive attribute about Markin back then) was super-political, super into art and into what he called culture, you know going to poetry readings at coffeehouses, going over Cambridge to watch foreign films with subtitles and themes at the Brattle Theater that he would try to talk about and even Jimmy would turn his head when he went on and on about French films, especially those films by Jean Renoir, and super into music, fortunately he was not crazy for classical music (unlike some nerds in school then who were in the band) but serious about what is now called classic rock and roll and then in turn, the blues, and folk music. (Sam still shuttered at that hillbilly folk music stuff Markin tried to interest him in when he thought about it).
That folk music was how Peter had first met Josh Breslin, still a friend, whom he introduced to Sam at one of their meetings over at the Sunnyvale Grille. Josh told the gathering that Markin had met him after high school, after he had graduated from Hull High (the same town where Johnny Callahan was burning up the Toyota sales records for New England) down at the Surf Ballroom (Sam had his own under twenty-one memories of the place, some good, some bad including one affair that almost wound up in marriage). Apparently Josh and Peter had had their wanting habits on the same girl at one Friday night dance when the great local cover band, the Rockin’ Ramrods held sway there, and had been successively her boyfriend for short periods both to be dumped for some stockbroker from New York. But their friendship remained and they had gone west together, gone on that Jack Kerouac On The Road for a number of years when they were trying their own version of turning the world upside down on. Josh also dabbled (his word) in the turning upside down politics of the time.
And that was the remarkable thing about Peter, not so much later in cahoots with Josh because half of youth nation, half the generation of ’68 was knee-deep in some movement, but in staid old North Adamsville High days, days when to just be conventionally political, wanting to run for office or something, was kind of strange. See Peter was into the civil rights movement, nuclear disarmament, and social justice stuff that everybody thought he was crazy to be into, everybody from Ma to Fritz (and a few anonymous midnight phone-callers yelling n----r-lover in the Markin home phone). He had actually gone into Boston when he was a freshman and joined the picket-line in front of Woolworths’ protesting the fact that they would not let black people eat in their lunchrooms down south (and maybe Markin would say when he mentioned what he was up to they were not that happy to have blacks in their northern lunchrooms either ), had joined a bunch of Quakers and little old ladies in tennis sneakers (a term then in use for airhead blue-haired lady do-gooders with nothing but time on their hands) calling on the government to stop building atomic bombs (not popular in the red scare Cold War we-are-fighting- against- the- Russians-terror North Adamsville, or most other American places either), running over to the art museum to check out the exhibits (including some funny stories about him and Jimmy busting up the place looking at the old Pharaoh times slave building Pyramids stuff uncovered by some Harvard guys way back), and going to coffeehouses in Harvard Square and listening to hokey folk music that was a drag. (Sam’s take on that subject then, and now.) So Peter was a walking contradiction, although that was probably not as strange now as it seemed back then when every new thing was looked at with suspicion, and when kids like Peter were twisted in the wind between being corner boys and trying to figure out what that new wind was that was blowing though the land, when Sam and the other corner boys, except Jimmy and sometimes Jack would try to talk him out of stuff that would only upset everybody in town.
But here is the beauty, beauty for Sam now that he was all ears about what Peter had to say, he had kept at it, had kept the faith, while everybody else from their generation, or almost everybody, who protested war, protested around the social issues, had hung around coffeehouses and who had listened to folk music had long before given it up. Markin had, after his Army time, spent a lot of time working with GIs around the war issues, protested American foreign policy at the drop of a hat and frequented off-beat coffeehouses set up in the basements of churches in order to hear the dwindling number of folk artists around. He had gotten and kept his “religion,” kept the faith in a sullen world. And like in the old days a new generation (added to that older North Adamsville generation which still, from the class website e-mail traffic he received when classmates found out they were in communication had not gotten that much less hostile to what Peter had to say about this wicked old world, you already know the genesis of that term, right), was ready to curse him out, ready to curse the darkness against his small voice.
One night when Peter and Sam were alone at the Sunnyvale, maybe both had had a few too many high-shelf scotches (able to afford such liquor unlike in the old days when they both in their respective poverties, drank low-shelf Johnny Walker whiskey with a beer chaser when they had the dough, if not some cheapjack wine), Peter told Sam the story of how he had wanted to go to Alabama in high school, go to Selma, but his mother threatened to disown him if he did, threatened to disown him not for his desire to go but because she would not have been able to hold her head up in public if he had, and so although it ate at him not to go, go when his girlfriend, Helen Jackman, who lived in Gloversville, did go, he took a dive (Peter’s words).
Told a redemptive story too about his anti-war fight in the Army when he refused to go to Vietnam and wound up in an Army stockade for a couple of years altogether. (Sam thought that was a high price to pay for redemption but it may have been the scotch at work.) Told a number of stories about working with various veterans’ groups, throwing medals over Supreme Court barricades, chainings to the White House fence, sitting down in hostile honked traffic streets, blocking freeways complete with those same hostile honkings, a million walks for this and that, and some plain old ordinary handing out leaflets, working the polls and button-holing reluctant politicians to vote against the endless war budgets (this last the hardest task, harder than all the jailings, honkings, marches put together and seemingly the most fruitless). Told too stories about the small coffeehouse places seeing retread folkies who had gone on to other things and then in a fit of anguish, or hubris, decided to go back on the trail. Told of many things that night not in a feast of pride but to let Sam know that sometimes it was easier to act than to let that gnawing win the day. Told Sam that he too always had the gnaw, probably always would in this wicked old world. Sam was delighted by the whole talk, even if Peter was on his soapbox.
That night too Peter mentioned in passing that he contributed to a number of blogs, a couple of political ones, including an anti-war veterans’ group, a couple of old time left-wing cultural sites and a folk music-oriented one. Sam confessed to Peter that although he had heard the word “blog” he did not know what a blog was. Peter told him that one of the virtues of the Internet was that it provided space (cyberspace, a term Sam had heard of and knew what it meant) for the average citizen to speak his or her mind via setting up a website or a blog. Blogs were simply a way to put your opinions and comments out there just like newspaper Op/Ed writers or news reporters and commentators although among professional reporters the average blog and blog writer were seen as too filled with opinions and sometimes rather loose with the facts. Peter said he was perfectly willing to allow the so-called “objective” reporters roam free to state the facts but he would be damned if the blog system was not a great way to get together with others interested in your areas of interest, yeah, stuff that interested you and that other like-minded spirits might respond to. Yeah that was worth the effort.
The actual process of blog creation (as opposed to the more complex website-creation which still takes a fair amount of expertise to create) had been made fairly simple over time, just follow a few simple prompts and you are in business. Also over time what was possible to do has been updated for ease, for example linking to other platforms to your site and be able to present multi-media works lashing up say your blog with YouTube or downloading photographs to add something to your presentation. Peter one afternoon after Sam had asked about his blog links showed him the most political one that he belonged to, one he had recently begun to share space with Josh Breslin, Frank Jackman and a couple of other guys that he had known since the 1960s on and who were familiar with the various social, political and cultural trends that floated out from that period.
Sam was amazed at the topics that those guys tackled, stuff that he vaguely remembered hearing about but which kind of passed him by as he delved into the struggle to build his printing shop. He told Peter that he got dizzy looking at the various titles from reviews of old time black and white movies that he remembered watching at the old Strand second run theater uptown, poetry from the “beat” generation, various political pieces on current stuff like the Middle East, the fight against war, political prisoners most of whom he had never heard of except the ones who had been Black Panthers or guys like that, all kinds of reviews of rock and roll complete with the songs via YouTube, too many reviews of folk music that he never really cared for, books that he knew Peter read like crazy but he could not remember the titles. The guys really had put a lot of stuff together, even stuff from other sites and announcements for every conceivable left-wing oriented event. He decided that he would become a Follower which was nothing sinister like some cult but just that you would receive notice when something was put on the blog.
Peter also encouraged him to write some pieces about what interested him, maybe start out about the old days in North Adamsville since all the guys mined that vein for sketches. That is what Peter liked to call most of the material on site since they were usually too short to be considered short stories but too long to be human interest snapshots. Sam said he would think about the matter, think about it seriously once he read the caption below:
“This space is noted for politics mainly, and mainly the desperate political fight against various social, economic and moral injustices and wrongs in this wicked old world, although the place where politics and cultural expression, especially post-World War II be-bop cultural expression, has drawn some of our interest over the past several years. The most telling example of that interest is in the field of popular music, centrally the blues, city and country, good woman on your mind, hardworking, hard drinking blues and folk music, mainly urban, mainly protest to high heaven against the world’s injustices smite the dragon down, folk music. Of late though the old time 1950s kid, primordial, big bang, jail-break rock and roll music that set us off from earlier generations has drawn our attention. Mostly by reviewing oldies CDs but here, and occasionally hereafter under this headline, specifically songs that some future archaeologists might dig up as prime examples of how we primitives lived ,and what we listened to back in the day.”
Sam could relate to that, had something to say about some of those songs. Josh Breslin laughed when he heard that Sam was interested in doing old time rock and roll sketches. He then added, “If we can only get him to move off his butt and come out and do some street politics with us we would be getting somewhere.” Peter just replied, “one step at a time.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Workers Vanguard No. 1129
9 March 2018
Communism and Women’s Emancipation
(Quote of the Week)
In commemoration of International Women’s Day (March 8), we publish below an excerpt from the theses on work among women adopted by the Third World Congress of the Communist International (CI) in 1921. The theses are a key document of the early revolutionary years of the CI under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks. The International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), standing on the first four congresses of the CI, is committed to the fight for the emancipation of women as a crucial part of the struggle for international proletarian revolution.
The most decisive efforts of the feminists—the extension of women’s suffrage under the rule of bourgeois parliamentarism—do not solve the problem of the actual equality of women, especially of the non-propertied classes. This can be seen in the experience of women workers in all capitalist countries where in recent years the bourgeoisie has granted the formal equality of the sexes. Suffrage does not eliminate the primary cause of women’s enslavement in the family and society. Given the economic dependence of the proletarian woman on her capitalist master and her breadwinner husband, and in the absence of broad protection in making provision for mother and child and socialized education and care of children, replacing indissoluble marriage with civil marriage in capitalist states does not make the woman equal in marital relations and does not provide a key to resolving the problem of the relation between the sexes.
Not formal, superficial, but actual equality of women can be realized only under communism when women, together with all members of the laboring class, become the co-owners of the means of production and distribution, participate in managing them and bear their work responsibilities on the same basis as all members of toiling society. In other words, it is possible only by overthrowing the system of the exploitation of man’s labor by man under capitalist production and by organizing the communist form of economy.
—“Theses on Methods and Forms of Work of the Communist Parties Among Women,” 1921 (ICL translation, published in the Women and Revolution pages of Spartacist[English-language edition] No. 62, Spring 2011)
The Rich Really Are Different From You And Me, Part II-Cary Grant’s “The Amazing Adventure” (1936)-A Film Review
The Rich Really Are Different From You And Me, Part II-Cary Grant’s “The Amazing Adventure” (1936)-A Film Review
By Frank Jackman
The Amazing Adventure (In England released as The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss), starring Cary Grant, Mary Brian W1936
F. Scott Fitzgerald caught the essence of the truth that the rich, by that in his time he meant millionaires and such today it would have to be billionaires, the really rich, the controlling rich are different from you and me. Lifestyle, concerns, power, hell, even not worrying for one minute where the next meal is coming from and whether one has a roof over his or her head that preoccupies the rest of us. That is the hidden premise behind this early Cary Grant film The Amazing Adventure (can’t say much for the nondescript film title which sounds like a title for a kid’s movie) where the rich, or one rich heir to a London fortune can renounce wealth and go on the bum-for a while.
Poor little idle rich boy heir to a pile Ernest Bliss, played by a young versatile Cary Grant, is down in the dumps. Reason. Life as a poor little idle rich heir is not what it is cracked up to be and well boring by his lights. As many people do, maybe more these days than then, Ernest checks with a doctor to see what is wrong with him. Being idly rich is the good doctor’s diagnosis with a poor prognosis for recovery. That little slap on the face irks dear Ernest and he decides to go on the bum for a year after making a big bet with the doctor who, maybe rightfully, believed this idea was a non-starting among the Mayfair swells according to his experience.
Looking for work for a guy without any references in Great Depression era London though is a tough sell. But before long our boy is walking the streets as a salesman for ovens. Works that racket so well turning dross into gold for his boss that he decides he has to move on to some other line of work when the boss wants to make him a partner. Of course not before wowing the boss’s secretary Frances, played by no name Mary Brian, taking her from right under the very interested in her boss’s nose. Eventually he grabs work as a chauffeur and that is where things get dicey. See that boss wants to marry Frances but she loves Ernest but has to look out for a better prospect than a lowlife cabbie so she leaves the boss’s employee as well in a quandary.
After a few frankly less than amazing adventures including an attempt to scam Ernest by some white collar criminals and a rousing of Frances’ new employer who is thinking about silky sheets and not her typing skills Ernest finally asks Frances to marry him. But fate plays fickle here since Frances’ sister is at death’s door and needs some serious and expensive medical attention. Lowlife cabbies don’t count at that point and she agrees to marry the oven king. Don’t forget this is Cary Grant she is throwing over so you know in the end she will bounce back into his arms. How? Ernest finds out why Frances flew the coop on him and finally reveals who he really is. He loses the bet since the year is not up but gains a wife. Ho-hum.
There have been a spade of books of late touting the advantages of shedding lots of material things which are not necessary. Buy only what you absolutely need and use recycled stuff to divest yourself from the deep consumer society which has plagued America. There is some good to this idea but I noticed that the authors were all relatively well-heeled when they decided to chuck stuff and live simply. And stayed relatively well-heeled even after shedding material goods. What the knock on these New Wave self-help books is though is informative as well. It is a very good thing for the well-heeled to cut back. But what about those masses of people living on a few dollars a day, those “from hunger” as we use to say in the old working poor neighborhood I grew up in. They don’t have that storybook luxury down at the base of society when food on the table and a roof over the head keeps them up nights. That is where the idea behind Ernest’s moment of renunciation belongs as well. Yes, the very rich are different from you and me in a lot of ways, a whole lot of ways.
Friday, March 20, 2020
The Trials And Tribulations Of An Airline Stewardess (ah, Flight Attendant) Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight-Jane Wyman’s “Three Guys Named Mike” (1951)-A Film Review
The Trials And Tribulations Of An Airline Stewardess (ah, Flight Attendant) Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight-Jane Wyman’s “Three Guys Named Mike” (1951)-A Film Review
By Laura Perkins
Three Guys Named Mike, starring Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Barry Sullivan, 1951
What the hell. Yes, what the hell am I doing reviewing this little advertising promotion for American Airlines circa 1951 (and circa propeller planes) Three Guys Named Mike posing as some sort of romantic comedy of the air. Poor Icarus was a bright boy by contrast. Why Greg Green, our illustrious site manager the guy who gives out assignments and who allegedly previews these things, thought this thing was worth any cyber-ink is beyond me. My longtime companion and now occasional fellow reviewer, ah, writer here Sam Lowell would say two things about this turkey of a film. First WTF instead of my polite “what the hell” and then turn the thing from dross to gold by running the whole piece as a “slice of life” piece from a now well bygone phase of aviation passenger experience which is certainly part of the American cultural experience which this site is all hopped up on. That’s Sam though and you can tell why he has survived for forty years in the business and a slew of overlords including recently departed high school friend Allan Jackson. And will survive Greg’s whims too.
Okay this thing is already set up in the first paragraph. Marcy from nowhere Indiana, played by schoolmarm-like Jane Wyman is head over heels to blow that small town scene and fly the world as an airline stewardess never having been on plane one but that is no problem. She doesn’t want to be an airline hostess on some unnamed Podunk Tiger Airlines but the very real American Airlines in the propeller era (circa 1951 and hence that “slice of life” jive Sam would try to sling if I had asked him his opinion which I did not on this one). That airline got about a billion dollars’ worth of presumed free advertisement on this one-whether they come out with egg on their face or not for hiring this dunce or not. (By the way speaking of “slice of life” I would be remiss if I did not mention that “airline stewardess” is old hat these days when one and all are called flight attendants. Also old hat is the changeover from all lovely young fully made-up women to the now anybody male or female who you might be served by on any particular flight. That is my contribution to the “cultural” expression so coveted on this site.)
Onward. During Marcy’s tenure she gets hit on by the usual rum-dum travelling salesmen who today would be charged, and rightly, so with sexual harassment along with their meals. Those guys don’t count though-only guys named Mike do if you paid attention to the title of the film in the headline. None of these guys strike out –at least at first. There is Mike the pilot keeping the whole thing in-house, played by hunk Howard Keel, Mike the crackerjack ad man, played by hunk Barry Sullivan, and Mike the otherworldly research scientist, played by hunk Van Johnson. Which begs the question why three hunks would take a tussle with a schoolmarm like Marcy. The whole cabal meet up in Los Angeles where Marcy was based just then in the days before mega-sprawl and you could actually afford to live in the burg on the slight pay of a stewardess. Naturally with three guys chomping at the bit there are war clouds in the air. Not to worry though after a bout with a photographer who very definitely would be wrapped up and tied as a sexual predator these days the trio make their bids for Marcie’s finger. (Remember going back to “slice of life” these were the days when this job was a short hop sowing wild oats on the way to marriage. Marriage which took you out of the contest. Gone- no married women allowed.) And the winner is-Mike-the Mike with the hunky otherworldly look. Let me turn my thumbs down quickly and be done with it.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery
The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery
By Allan Jackson
[Hell, it has been many years since I have used this by-line name having for most of that time used the moniker Peter Paul Markin who taught me, taught a lot of us who grew up with him in the Acre section of North Adamsville back in the late 1950s early 1960s, before he went off the rails, before he wound up with a couple of slugs in him down in Sonora, Mexico way after a big try busted drug deal. Today though I am proud to write under my own name especially since it was a struggle to get such recognition and since this Roots is the Toots project was one of a half dozen that I am proud to have been associated with in my long career.
Without going into to details which my old friend Jack Callahan has probably filled you in on already after I authorized him to speak on my behalf when I was in so-called exile to bat away the silly rumors that have accumulated around my exit, my purge from my position here I do feel that I am entitled to express my concern over the fact that is series was initially re-issued without my knowledge. That is what enraged me and led me to contact Sam Lowell and try to get this situation rectified. And by stages it has been as current site manager Greg Green whose work I admired when he held the same position over at American Film Gazette has graciously consented to let me run the rest of this series under my own name and make comment as I see fit about each piece. As my initial offering I don’t want to spend much time on this slice of live piece below about the old neighborhood, the old Acre section of North Adamsville where a number of us associated with this publication came of age and which drove much of the action of the series but on its place in my personal pantheon.
I mentioned above that this is one of about one half dozen series that I have been associated with over the years that are hallmarks of my career. This is maybe not number one on the list, probably the series that I did long ago for the East Bay Other and The Eye two publications now long gone as have most alternative newspapers spawned in that time. That series concerned the fates of a bunch of fellow returning Vietnam War veterans who could not adjust to what we called “the real world” and wound up creating alterative “communities” down in the riverbeds and along the railroad tracks in Southern California. Guys who would certainly qualify as members of the “brothers under the bridge” which Bruce Springsteen made a song about some years later. That one was personal as well as journalistic and I think the guys who spoke their stories out appreciated what they were able to do to heal a little.
In the pantheon though this series ranks number two and without getting into a nostalgia trip which supposedly got me into more hot water than necessary early last year it is a rather remarkable “slice of life” run of sketches which covered everything from puberty to public nudity and then some wrapped around serious devotion to rock and roll music which saved our lives in that hard scrabble time. Plenty has been written and portrayed on screen about the middle class aspirations of the 1950s “golden age” in America which around our way was a myth, didn’t pan out. In that sense this was a unique experience. In another sense this also represented something like a “youth nation” culture which for a little while at least transcended classes until the middle and upper class youth went back to whatever they were going to do before they stopped for a minute. We on the other hand mainly wound up in Vietnam or fucked up in some other way. That part has come out too.
On the question of my role in the production of this series I either wrote the bulk of the sketches, assigned a few and edited every single piece with a very hard red pencil to turn them a certain way and while there was some collective efforts this one reeked of my sweat for a few years. Like I say I am proud to have my name on this one. To put paid to this sketch below I can still smell those bakery smells mentioned just like I did when I returned to the old neighborhood to soak in the milieu. Heck still can smell the smells from when I was a kid looking for a vagrant oatmeal peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Allan Jackson]
There are many smells, sounds, tastes, sights and touches stirred up on the memory’s eye trail in search of the old days in North Adamsville. Today though I am in thrall to smells. The why of this thralldom is simply put. I had, a short while ago, passed a neighborhood bakery here on the St. Brendan Street that reeked of the smell of sour-dough bread being baked on the premises. The bakery itself, designated as such by a plainly painted sign-Mrs. Kenney’s Bakery- was a simple extension of someone’s house, living quarters above, and that brought me back to the hunger streets of the old home town and Ida’s holy-of-holies bakery over on Sagamore Street.
Of course one could not dismiss, dismiss at one’s peril, that invigorating smell of the salt air blowing in from North Adamsville Bay when the wind was up. A wind that spoke of high-seas adventures, of escape, of jail break-out from landlocked spiritual destitutes, of, well, on some days just having been blown in from somewhere else for those who sought that great eastern other shoreline. Or how could one forget the still nostril-filling pungent fragrant almost sickening smell emanating from the Proctor &Gamble soap factory across the channel down in the old Adamsville Housing Authority project that defined many a muggy childhood summer night air instead of sweet dreams and puffy clouds. Or that never to be forgotten slightly oily, sulfuric smell at low- tide down at North Adamsville Beach, the time of the clam diggers and their accomplices trying to eke a living or a feeding out of that slimy mass. Or evade the fetid smell of marsh weeds steaming up from the disfavored Squaw Rock end of the beach, the adult haunts. (Disfavored, disfavored when it counted in the high teenage dudgeon be-bop 1960s night, post-school dance or drive-in movie love slugfest, for those who took their “submarine races” dead of night viewing seriously. And I do not, or will not spell the significance of that teen lingo race expression even for those who did their teenage “parking” in the throes of the wild high plains Kansas night. You can figure that out yourselves.)
Or the smell sound of the ocean floor (or dawn, if you got lucky) at twilight on those days when the usually tepid waves aimlessly splashed against the shoreline stones, broken clam shells, and other fauna and flora turned around and became a real roaring ocean, acting out Mother Nature’s high life and death drama, and in the process acted to calm a man’s (or a man-child’s) nerves in the frustrating struggle to understand a world not of one’s own making.
Moreover, I know I do not have to stop very long to tell this retro crowd, the crowd that will read this piece, about the smell taste of that then just locally famous HoJo’s ice cream back in the days. Jimmied up and frosted to take one’s breath away. Or those char-broiled hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on your back-yard barbecue pit or, better, from one of the public pits down at the beach. But the smell that I am ghost-smelling today is closer to home as a result of a fellow classmate’s bringing this to my attention awhile back (although, strangely, if the truth be known I was already on the verge of “exploring" this very subject). Today, after passing that home front bakery, as if a portent, I bow down in humble submission to the smells from Ida’s Bakery.
You, if you are of a certain age, at or close to AARP-eligible age, and neighborhood, Irish (or some other ethnic-clinging enclave) filled with those who maybe did not just get off the boat but maybe their parents did, remember Ida’s, right? Even if you have never set foot one in old North Adamsville, or even know where the place is. If you lived within a hair’s breathe of any Irish neighborhood and if you grew up probably any time in the first half of the 20th century you “know” Ida’s. My Ida ran a bakery out of her living room, or maybe it was the downstairs and she lived upstairs, in the 1950s and early 1960s (beyond that period I do not know). An older grandmotherly woman when I knew her who had lost her husband, lost him to drink, or, as was rumored, persistently rumored although to a kid it was only so much adult air talk, to another woman. Probably it was the drink as was usual in our neighborhoods with the always full hang-out Dublin Grille just a couple of blocks up the street. She had, heroically in retrospect, raised a parcel of kids on the basis of her little bakery including some grandchildren that I played ball with over at Welcome Young field also just up the street, and also adjacent to my grandparents’ house on Kendrick Street.
Now I do not remember all the particulars about her beyond the grandmotherly appearance I have just described, except that she still carried that hint of a brogue that told you she was from the “old sod” but that did not mean a thing in that neighborhood because at any given time when the brogues got wagging you could have been in Limerick just as easily as North Adamsville. Also she always, veil of tears hiding maybe, had a smile for one and all coming through her door, and not just a commercial smile either.
Nor do I know much about how she ran her operation, except that you could always tell when she was baking something in back because she had a door bell tinkle that alerted her to when someone came in and she would come out from behind a curtained entrance, shaking flour from her hands, maybe, or from her apron-ed dress ready to take your two- cent order-with a smile, and not a commercial smile either but I already told you that.
Nor, just now, do I remember all of what she made or how she made it but I do just now, rekindled by this morning’s sough-dough yeasty smell, remember the smells of fresh oatmeal bread that filtered up to the playing fields just up the street from her store on Fridays when she made that delicacy. Fridays meant oatmeal bread, and, as good practicing Catholics were obliged to not eat red meat on that sacred day, tuna fish. But, and perhaps this is where I started my climb to quarrelsome heathen-dom I balked at such a desecration. See, grandma would spring for a fresh loaf, a fresh right from the oven loaf, cut by a machine that automatically sliced the bread (the first time I had seen such a useful gadget). And I would get to have slathered peanut butter (Skippy, of course) and jelly (Welch’s grape, also of course) and a glass of milk. Ah, heaven.
And just now I memory smell those white-flour dough, deeply- browned Lenten hot-cross buns white frosting dashed that signified that hellish deprived high holy catholic Lent was over, almost. Beyond that I draw blanks. Know this those. All that sweet sainted goddess (or should be) Ida created from flour, eggs, yeast, milk and whatever other secret devil’s ingredient she used to create her other simple baked goods may be unnamed-able but they put my mother, my grandmother, your mother, your grandmother in the shade. And that is at least half the point. You went over to Ida’s to get high on those calorie-loaded goodies. And in those days with youth at your back, and some gnawing hunger that never quite got satisfied, back that was okay. Believe me it was okay. I swear I will never forget those glass-enclosed delights that stared out at me in my sugar hunger. I may not remember much about the woman, her life, where she was from, or any of that. This I do know- in this time of frenzied interest in all things culinary Ida's simple recipes and her kid-maddening bakery smells still hold a place of honor.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
From the Archives of Marxism 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution In Defense of October 1917 By Leon Trotsky
From the Archives of Marxism 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution In Defense of October 1917 By Leon Trotsky
Workers Vanguard No. 1121
3 November 2017
From the Archives of Marxism
100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution
In Defense of October
“We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.” With these words, V.I. Lenin, addressing the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies in Petrograd, announced that the proletariat had seized state power in Russia on 7 November 1917 (October 25 according to the old Julian calendar).
The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Leon Trotsky, saw the October Revolution as the opening shot in the struggle against the rule of capital internationally. But between 1918 and 1923, revolutions in Europe, most importantly in Germany, were defeated and the Soviet workers state was left isolated. Ravaged by World War I and the imperialist-backed Civil War which followed the revolution, economically backward Russia was devastated, the vanguard of its proletariat decimated. Under these conditions, a bureaucratic caste headed by J.V. Stalin carried out a political counterrevolution, beginning in 1923-24. The proletarian property forms remained, but political power had been usurped from the working class.
Trotsky fought implacably against the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the bureaucracy’s repudiation of the revolutionary internationalist program of the Bolsheviks. He was driven into exile and continued the fight for genuine revolutionary Marxism until 1940, when he was murdered by a Stalinist assassin.
As part of our struggle for international socialist revolution, we of the ICL stood for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union to the end. At the same time, we fought for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy. The Soviet workers state was finally destroyed through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92.
Today, the ICL continues to uphold the program and principles of Lenin and Trotsky. The October Revolution remains the indispensable guide to proletarian revolution, which, extended internationally, will lay the basis to realize the liberating goals of communism. To this end, we fight to reforge the Trotskyist Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.
In November 1932, Trotsky, then living in exile in Prinkipo, Turkey, spoke before some 2,000 Social Democratic students in Copenhagen to mark the October Revolution’s 15th anniversary. It was to be his last public speech to a large audience. We reprint below an English translation of his talk as published in the then-Trotskyist newspaper the Militant.
Leon Trotsky Defends the October Revolution
(The Militant, 21 January 1933)
(The Militant, 21 January 1933)
My dear listeners,
Permit me to begin by expressing my sincere regrets over my inability to speak before a Copenhagen audience in the Danish tongue. Let us not ask whether the listeners lose by it. As to the speaker, his ignorance of the Danish language deprives him of the possibility of familiarizing himself with Scandinavian life and Scandinavian literature immediately, at first hand and in the original. And that is a great loss.
The German language, to which I have had to take recourse, is rich and powerful. My German, however, is fairly limited. To discuss complicated questions with the necessary freedom, moreover, is possible only in one’s own language. I must therefore beg the indulgence of the audience in advance.
The first time that I was in Copenhagen was at the international Socialist Congress, and I took away with me the kindest recollections of your city. But that was over a quarter of a century ago. Since then, the water in the Ore-Sund and in the fjords has changed over and over again. And not the water alone. The war [World War I] broke the backbone of the old European continent. The rivers and seas of Europe have washed down not a little blood. Mankind, and particularly European mankind, has gone through severe trials, has become more sombre and more brutal. Every kind of conflict has become more bitter. The world has entered into the period of the great change. Its most extreme expressions are war and revolution.
Before I pass on to the theme of my lecture, the Revolution, I consider it my duty to express my thanks to the organizers of this meeting, the Copenhagen organization of the social-democratic student body. I do this as a political opponent. My lecture, it is true, pursues historico-scientific and not political aims. I want to emphasize this right from the beginning. But it is impossible to speak of a Revolution, out of which the Soviet Republic arose, without taking up a political position. As a lecturer I stand under the same banner as I did when I participated in the events of the Revolution.
Up to the war, the Bolshevik Party belonged to the international social-democracy. On August 4, 1914, the vote of the German social-democracy for the war credits put an end to this connection once and for all, and opened the period of uninterrupted and irreconcilable struggle of Bolshevism against social-democracy. Does this mean that the organizers of this assembly made a mistake in inviting me as a lecturer? On this point the audience will be able to judge only after my lecture. To justify my acceptance of the kind invitation to present a report on the Russian Revolution, permit me to point to the fact that during the 35 years of my political life the question of the Russian Revolution has been the practical and theoretical axis of my interests and of my actions. The four years of my stay in Turkey were principally devoted to the historical elaboration of the problems of the Russian Revolution. Perhaps this fact gives me a certain right to hope that I will succeed, in part, at least, in helping not only friends and sympathizers, but also opponents, better to understand many features of the Revolution which had escaped their attention before. At all events, the purpose of my lecture is: to help to understand. I do not intend to conduct propaganda for the Revolution nor to call upon you to join the Revolution. I intend to explain the Revolution.
I do not know if in the Scandinavian Olympus there was a special goddess of rebellion. Scarcely! In any case, we shall not call upon her favor today. We shall place our lecture under the sign of Snotra, the old goddess of knowledge. Despite the passionate drama of the Revolution as a living event, we shall endeavor to treat it as dispassionately as an anatomist. If the lecturer is drier because of it, the listeners will, let us hope, take it into the bargain.
Let us begin with some elementary sociological principles, which are doubtless familiar to you all, but as to which we must refresh our memory in approaching so complicated a phenomenon as the Revolution.
Human society is an historically originated collaboration in the struggle for existence and the assurance of the maintenance of the generations. The character of a society is determined by the character of its economy. The character of its economy is determined by its means of productive labor.
For every great epoch in the development of the productive forces there is a definite corresponding social regime. Every social regime until now has secured enormous advantages to the ruling class.
Out of what has been said, it is clear that social regimes are not eternal. They arise historically, and then become fetters on further progress. “All that arises deserves to be destroyed.”
But no ruling class has ever voluntarily and peacefully abdicated. In questions of life and death arguments based on reason have never replaced the argument of force. This may be sad, but it is so. It is not we that have made this world. We can do nothing but take it as it is.
The Meaning of Revolution
Revolution means a change of the social order. It transfers the power from the hands of a class which has exhausted itself into those of another class, which is on the rise. The insurrection is the sharpest and most critical moment in the struggle of two classes for power. The insurrection can lead to the real victory of the revolution and to the establishment of a new order only when it is based on a progressive class, which is able to rally around it the overwhelming majority of the people.
As distinguished from the processes of nature, a revolution is made by human beings and through human beings. But in the course of revolution, too, men act under the influence of social conditions which are not freely chosen by them, but are handed down from the past and imperatively point out the road which they must follow. For this reason, and only for this reason, a revolution follows certain laws.
But human consciousness does not merely passively reflect its objective conditions. It is accustomed to react to them actively. At certain times this reaction assumes a tense, passionate, mass character. The barriers of right and might are broken down. The active intervention of the masses in historical events is in fact the most indispensable element of a revolution.
But even the stormiest activity can remain in the stage of demonstration or rebellion, without rising to the height of revolution. The uprising of the masses must lead to the overthrow of the domination of one class and to the establishment of the domination of another. Only then have we a whole revolution. A mass uprising is no isolated undertaking, which can be conjured up any time one pleases. It represents an objectively conditioned element in the development of a revolution, as a revolution represents an objectively conditioned process in the development of society. But if the necessary conditions for the uprising exist, one must not simply wait passively, with open mouth: as Shakespeare says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
To sweep away the outlived social order, the progressive class must understand that its hour has struck, and set before itself the task of conquering power. Here opens the field of conscious revolutionary action, where foresight and calculation combine with will and courage. In other words: here opens the field of action of the Party.
The revolutionary Party unites within itself the flower of the progressive class. Without a Party which is able to orientate itself in its environment, evaluate the progress and rhythm of events, and early win the confidence of the masses, the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. These are the reciprocal relations of the objective and the subjective factors in insurrection and in revolution.
The Causes of October
What questions does the October revolution raise in the mind of a thinking man?
1. Why and how did this Revolution take place? More concretely, why did the proletarian revolution conquer in one of the most backward countries of Europe?
2. What have been the results of the October revolution? and finally,
3. Has the October revolution stood the test?
The first question, as to the causes, can now be answered more or less exhaustively. I have attempted to do this in great detail in my “History of the Revolution.” Here I can formulate only the most important conclusions.
The fact that the proletariat reached power for the first time in such a backward country as the former Tsarist Russia seems mysterious only at first glance; in reality, it is fully in accord with historical law. It could have been predicted and it was predicted. Still more, on the basis of the prediction of this fact the revolutionary Marxists built up their strategy long before the decisive events.
The first and most general explanation is: Russia is a backward country, but only a part of world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system. In this sense Lenin exhausted the riddle of the Russian revolution with the lapidary formula, “The chain broke at its weakest link.”
A crude illustration: the great war, the result of the contradictions of world imperialism, drew into its maelstrom countries of different stages of development, but made the same claims on all the participants. It is clear that the burdens of the war had to be particularly intolerable for the most backward countries. Russia was the first to be compelled to leave the field. But to tear itself away from the war, the Russian people had to overthrow the ruling classes. In this way the chain of war broke at its weakest link.
Still, war is not a catastrophe coming from outside, like an earthquake, but as old Clausewitz [19th-century Prussian general] said, the continuation of politics by other means. In the last war, the main tendencies of the imperialistic system of “peace”-time only expressed themselves more crudely. The higher the general forces of production, the tenser the competition on the world markets, the sharper the antagonisms, and the madder the race for armaments, in that measure the more difficult it became for the weaker participants. For precisely this reason the backward countries assumed the first places in the succession of collapses. The chain of world capitalism always tends to break at its weakest link.
If, as a result of exceptional or exceptionally unfavorable circumstances—let us say, a successful military intervention from the outside or irreparable mistakes on the part of the Soviet Government itself—capitalism should arise again on the immeasurably wide Soviet territory, together with it would inevitably arise also its historical inadequacy, and such capitalism would in turn soon become the victim of the same contradictions which caused its explosion in 1917. No tactical recipes could have called the October Revolution into being, if Russia had not carried it within its body. The revolutionary Party in the last analysis can claim only the role of an obstetrician, who is compelled to resort to a Caesarian operation.
One might say in answer to this: “Your general considerations may adequately explain why old Russia had to suffer shipwreck, that country where backward capitalism and an impoverished peasantry were crowned by a parasitic nobility and a rotten monarchy. But in the simile of the chain and its weakest link there is still missing the key to the real riddle: How could the socialist revolution conquer in a backward country? History knows of more than a few illustrations of the decay of countries and civilizations accompanied by the collapse of the old classes for which no progressive successors had been found. The breakdown of old Russia should, at first sight, rather have changed the country into a capitalist colony than into a socialist state.”
This objection is very interesting. It leads us directly to the kernel of the whole problem. And yet, this objection is erroneous; I might say, it lacks internal symmetry. On the one hand, it starts from an exaggerated conception of the backwardness of Russia; on the other, from a false theoretical conception of the phenomenon of historical backwardness in general.
Living beings, including man, of course, go through similar stages of development in accordance with their ages. In a normal five-year-old child, we find a certain correspondence between the weight, and the size of the parts of the body and the internal organs. But when we deal with human consciousness, the situation is different. Contrary to anatomy and physiology, psychology, both individual and collective, is distinguished by exceptional power of absorption, flexibility and elasticity; therein consists the aristocratic advantage of man over his nearest zoological relatives, the apes. The absorptive and flexible psyche, as a necessary condition for historical progress, confers on the so-called social “organisms,” as distinguished from the real, that is, biological organisms, an exceptional instability of internal structure. In the development of nations and states, particularly capitalist ones, there is neither similarity nor regularity. Different stages of civilization, even polar opposites, approach and intermingle with one another in the life of one and the same country.
Let us not forget, my esteemed listeners, that historical backwardness is a relative concept. There being both backward and progressive countries, there is also a reciprocal influencing of one by the other; there is the pressure of the progressive countries on the backward ones; there is the necessity for the backward countries to catch up with the progressive ones, to borrow their technology and science, etc. In this way arises the combined type of development: features of backwardness are combined with the last word in world technology and in world thinking. Finally, the historically backward countries, in order to escape from their backwardness, are often compelled to rush ahead of the others.
The flexibility of the collective consciousness makes it possible under certain conditions to achieve the result, in the social arena, which in individual psychology is called “overcoming the consciousness of inferiority.” In this sense we can say that the October revolution was an heroic means whereby the people of Russia were able to overcome their own economic and cultural inferiority.
But let us pass over from these historico-philosophic, perhaps somewhat too abstract generalizations, and put the same question in concrete form, that is, within the cross-section of living economic facts. The backwardness of Russia expressed itself most clearly at the beginning of the twentieth century in the fact that industry occupied a small place in that country in comparison with agriculture, the city in comparison with the village, the proletariat in comparison with the peasantry. Taken as a whole, this meant a low productivity of the national labor. Suffice it to say that on the eve of the war, when Tsarist Russia had reached the peak of its well-being, the national income was 8 to 10 times lower than in the United States. This is expressed in figures, the “amplitude” of its backwardness, if the word “amplitude” can be used at all in connection with backwardness.
At the same time, however, the law of combined development expresses itself in the economic field at every step, in simple as well as in complex phenomena. Almost without highways, Russia was compelled to build railroads. Without having gone through the stage of European artisanry and manufacture, Russia passed on directly to mechanized production. To jump over intermediate stages is the fate of backward countries.
While peasant agriculture often remained at the level of the 17th century, Russia’s industry, if not in scope, at least in type, stood at the level of the progressive countries and rushed ahead of them in some respects. It suffices to say that the giant enterprises, with over a thousand employees each, employed, in the United States, less than 18 percent of the total number of industrial workers, in Russia over 41 percent. This fact is hard to reconcile with the conventional conception of the economic backwardness of Russia. It does not, on the other hand, refute this backwardness, but complements it dialectically.
The same contradictory character was shown by the class structure of the country. The finance capital of Europe industrialized Russian economy at an accelerated tempo. Thereby the industrial bourgeoisie assumed a large-scale capitalistic and anti-popular character. The foreign stockholders, moreover, lived outside of the country. The workers, on the other hand, were naturally Russians. Against a numerically weak Russian bourgeoisie, which had no national roots, stood therefore a relatively strong proletariat, with strong roots in the depths of the people.
The revolutionary character of the proletariat was furthered by the fact that Russia in particular, as a backward country, under the compulsion of catching up with its opponents, had not been able to work out its own conservatism, either social or political. The most conservative country of Europe, in fact of the entire world, is considered, and correctly, to be the oldest capitalist country—England. The European country freest of conservatism would in all probability be Russia.
But the young, fresh, determined proletariat of Russia still constituted only a tiny minority of the nation. The reserves of its revolutionary power lay outside of the proletariat itself—in the peasantry, living in half-serfdom, and in the oppressed nationalities.
The subsoil of the Revolution was the agrarian question. The old feudal-monarchic system became doubly intolerable under the conditions of the new capitalist exploitation. The peasant communal areas amounted to some 140 million desyatines [Russian unit of land equal to 2.7 acres]. But thirty thousand large landowners, whose average holdings were over 2,000 desyatines, owned altogether 70 million desyatines, that is, as much as some 10 million peasant families or 50 millions of peasant population. These statistics of land tenure constituted a ready-made program of agrarian revolt.
The nobleman, Bokorkin, wrote in 1917 to the dignitary, Rodsianko, the chairman of the last municipal Duma, “I am a landowner and I cannot get it into my head that I must lose my land, and for an unbelievable purpose to boot, for the experiment of the socialist doctrine.” But it is precisely the task of revolutions to accomplish that which the ruling classes cannot get into their heads.
In Autumn 1917 almost the whole country was the scene of peasant revolts. Of the 624 departments of old Russia, 482, that is, 77 percent, were affected by the movement! The reflection of the burning villages lit up the arena of the insurrections in the cities.
But the war of the peasants against the landowners—you will reply to me—is one of the classic elements of the bourgeois, by no means of the proletarian revolution!
Perfectly right, I reply—so it was in the past. But the inability of capitalist society to survive in an historically backward country was expressed precisely in the fact that the peasant insurrections did not drive the bourgeois classes of Russia forward, but on the contrary drove them back for good into the camp of the reaction. If the peasantry did not want to be completely ruined, there was nothing else left for it but to join the industrial proletariat. This revolutionary joining of the two oppressed classes was foreseen with genius by Lenin and prepared by him long ahead of time.
Had the bourgeoisie courageously solved the agrarian question, the proletariat of Russia would not, obviously, have been able to take the power in 1917. But the greedy and cowardly Russian bourgeoisie, too late on the scene, prematurely a victim of senility, did not dare to lift its hand against feudal property. But thereby it delivered the power to the proletariat and together with it the right to dispose of the destinies of bourgeois society.
In order for the Soviet state to come into existence, therefore, it was necessary for two factors of different historical nature to collaborate: the peasant war, that is, a movement which is characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development, and the proletarian insurrection, that is, a movement which announces the decline of the bourgeois movement. Precisely therein consists the combined character of the Russian Revolution.
Once the peasant bear stands up on his hind feet, he becomes terrible in his wrath. But he is unable to give conscious expression to his indignation. He needs a leader. For the first time in the history of the world, the insurrectionary peasantry found a faithful leader in the person of the proletariat.
Four million industrial and transportation workers led a hundred million peasants. That was the natural and inevitable reciprocal relation between proletariat and peasantry in the Revolution.
The National Question
The second revolutionary reserve of the proletariat was constituted by the oppressed nationalities, who moreover were also predominantly made up of peasants. Closely tied up with the historical backwardness of the country is the extensive character of the development of the state, which spread out like a grease spot from the center at Moscow to the circumference. In the East, it subjugated the still more backward peoples, basing itself upon them, in order to stifle the more developed nationalities of the West. To the 70 million Great Russians, who constituted the main mass of the population, were added gradually some 90 millions of “other races.”
In this way arose the Empire, in whose composition the ruling nationality made up only 43 percent of the population, while the remaining 57 percent consisted of nationalities of varying degrees of civilization and legal deprivation. The national pressure was incomparably cruder in Russia than in the neighboring states, and not only those beyond the western boundary but beyond the eastern one, too. This conferred on the national problem a monstrous explosive force.
The Russian liberal bourgeoisie, in the national as well as in the agrarian question, would not go beyond certain ameliorations of the regime of oppression and violence. The “democratic” governments of Miliukov and Kerensky, which reflected the interests of the Great Russian bourgeoisie and bureaucracy, actually hastened to impress upon the discontented nationalities, in the course of the eight months of their existence, “You will obtain only what you tear away by force.”
The inevitability of the development of the centrifugal national movement had been early taken into consideration by Lenin. The Bolshevik Party struggled obstinately for years for the right of self-determination for nations, that is, for the right of full secession. Only through this courageous position on the national question could the Russian proletariat gradually win the confidence of the oppressed peoples. The national independence movement, as well as the agrarian movement, necessarily turned against the official democracy, strengthened the proletariat, and poured into the stream of the October upheaval.
In these ways the riddle of the proletarian upheaval in an historically backward country loses its veil of mystery.
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Workers Vanguard No. 1122
17 November 2017
From the Archives of Marxism
100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution
In Defense of October
On November 7, communists celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, when the working class under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party and supported by the broad masses of the peasantry took state power into its own hands. The revolution (which, according to the Julian calendar used in Russia at the time, took place on October 25) opened up the possibility of a socialist future for all mankind. In honor of this event, we publish below the second part of the 1932 Copenhagen speech presented by Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the Bolshevik Revolution, before an audience of Danish Social-Democratic youth. In the first part of his presentation (see WV No. 1121, 3 November), Trotsky gave an account of the revolution and its class nature, as well as the indispensable role of the revolutionary vanguard party. He also addressed why the proletariat could conquer state power in Russia first rather than in the more developed capitalist countries.
Exiled from the Soviet Union by Stalin, Trotsky was speaking during the depths of the Great Depression, a brutal display of capitalist irrationality that pushed millions of workers and youth to the left. Required by the Danish authorities to limit his remarks to a historical-scientific elaboration of the revolution, Trotsky did not explicitly criticize the Stalinist bureaucracy, which had usurped political power from the Soviet working class beginning in 1923-24. However, the socialized property forms created after the destruction of capitalist class rule remained. In his speech, Trotsky did defend his theory of permanent revolution, which for the Stalinists was his original sin.
In his writings on the rise of Stalinism, most famously The Revolution Betrayed (1936), Trotsky uncompromisingly defended the Soviet Union against imperialism and counterrevolution. At the same time, he insisted that the Soviet working class needed to oust the nationalist bureaucracy through a political revolution to liberate the collectivized economy from Stalinist mismanagement and to re-establish the Leninist program of international workers revolution. Otherwise, the workers state would ultimately be strangled. Socialism can only be constructed on a global basis. The Stalinists made their peace with imperialism and used the anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country” to justify betraying revolutionary opportunities internationally. The ultimate abdication of Stalin’s heirs demonstrated the fallacy of “socialism in one country.”
The Social Democrats and their reformist hangers-on all over the world hailed the destruction of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism in 1991-92. They share some responsibility for the consequences. The ex-USSR was racked by mass immiseration and fratricidal ethnic cleansing. The capitalist rulers in North America, Europe and elsewhere, no longer fearing the “specter of communism,” stepped up attacks on the gains of past working-class struggles. The neocolonial masses suffered in the “one-superpower world” as the emboldened U.S. imperialists ran rampant.
We of the ICL fought to the best of our ability to defend the USSR so long as it existed, through opposing our “own” imperialism in all its cold and hot wars against the homeland of October and through fighting to oust the sellout Stalinists. The banner of authentic Trotskyism remains ours as we continue to fight for new October Revolutions.
Leon Trotsky Defends the October Revolution
(The Militant, 21 January 1933)
(The Militant, 21 January 1933)
The Permanent Revolution
Marxist revolutionaries predicted, long before the events, the march of the Revolution and the historical role of the young Russian proletariat. I may be permitted to repeat here a passage from a work of my own in 1905:
“In an economically backward country the proletariat can arrive at power earlier than in a capitalistically advanced one....
“The Russian Revolution creates the conditions under which the power can (and in the event of a successful revolution must) be transferred to the proletariat, even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism receives the opportunity of unfolding its genius for government to its full extent.
“The destiny of the most elementary revolutionary interests of the peasantry...is bound up with the destiny of the whole revolution, that is, with the destiny of the proletariat. The proletariat, once arrived at power, will appear before the peasantry as the liberating class.
“The proletariat enters into the government as the revolutionary representative of the nation, as the acknowledged leader of the people in the struggle with absolutism and the barbarism of serfdom.
“The proletarian regime will have to stand from the very beginning for the solution of the agrarian question, with which the question of the destiny of tremendous masses of the population of Russia is bound up.”
I have taken the liberty of quoting these passages as evidence that the theory of the October Revolution which I am presenting today is no casual improvisation, and was not constructed ex post facto under the pressure of events. No, in the form of a political prognosis it preceded the October upheaval by a long time. You will agree that a theory is in general valuable only insofar as it helps to foresee the course of development and influences it purposively. Therein, in general terms, is the invaluable importance of Marxism as a weapon of social and historical orientation. I am sorry that the narrow limits of the lecture do not permit me to enlarge the above quotation materially. I will therefore content myself with a brief résumé of the whole work which dates from 1905.
In accordance with its immediate tasks, the Russian Revolution is a bourgeois revolution. But the Russian bourgeoisie is anti-revolutionary. The victory of the Revolution is therefore possible only as a victory of the proletariat. But the victorious proletariat will not stop at the program of bourgeois democracy; it will go on to the program of Socialism. The Russian Revolution will become the first stage of the Socialist world revolution.
This was the theory of the permanent revolution formulated by me in 1905 and since then exposed to the severest criticism under the name of “Trotskyism.”
To be more exact, it is only a part of this theory. The other part, which is particularly timely now, states:
The present productive forces have long outgrown their national limits. A Socialist society is not feasible within national boundaries. Significant as the economic successes of an isolated workers’ state may be, the program of “Socialism in one country” is a petty-bourgeois Utopia. Only a European and then a world federation of Socialist republics can be the real arena for a harmonious Socialist society.
Today, after the test of events, I see less reason than ever to dissociate myself from this theory.
The Bolshevik Party
After all that has been said above, is it still worthwhile to recall the Fascist writer, [Curzio] Malaparte, who ascribes to me tactics which are independent of strategy and amount to a series of technical recipes for insurrection, applicable in all latitudes and longitudes? It is a good thing that the name of the luckless theoretician of the coup d’Etat makes it easy to distinguish him from the victorious practitioner of the coup d’Etat; no one therefore runs the risk of confusing Malaparte with Bonaparte.
Without the armed insurrection of November 7, 1917, the Soviet state would not be in existence. But the insurrection itself did not drop from Heaven. A series of historical prerequisites was necessary for the October revolution.
1. The rotting away of the old ruling classes—the nobility, the monarchy, the bureaucracy.
2. The political weakness of the bourgeoisie, which had no roots in the masses of the people.
3. The revolutionary character of the peasant question.
4. The revolutionary character of the problem of the oppressed nations.
5. The significant social weight of the proletariat.
To these organic pre-conditions we must add certain conjunctural conditions of the highest importance:
6. The Revolution of 1905 was the great school, or in Lenin’s words, the “dress rehearsal” of the Revolution of 1917. The Soviets, as the irreplaceable organizational form of the proletarian united front in the revolution, were created for the first time in the year 1905.
7. The imperialist war sharpened all the contradictions, tore the backward masses out of their immobility and thereby prepared the grandiose scale of the catastrophe.
But all these conditions, which fully sufficed for the outbreak of the Revolution, were insufficient to assure the victory of the proletariat in the Revolution. For this victory one condition more was needed:
8. The Bolshevik Party.
When I enumerate this condition as the last in the series, I do it only because it follows the necessities of the logical order, and not because I assign the Party the last place in the order of importance.
No, I am far from such a thought. The liberal bourgeoisie—yes, it can seize the power and has seized it more than once as the result of struggles in which it took no part; it possesses organs of seizure which are admirably adapted to the purpose. But the working masses are in a different position; they have long been accustomed to give, and not to take. They work, are patient as long as they can be, hope, lose their patience, rise up and struggle, die, bring victory to the others, are betrayed, fall into despondency, again bow their necks, again work. This is the history of the masses of the people under all regimes. In order to take the power firmly and surely into its hands the proletariat needs a Party, which far surpasses the other parties in the clarity of its thought and in its revolutionary determination.
The Party of the Bolsheviks, which has been described more than once and with complete justification as the most revolutionary Party in the history of mankind, was the living condensation of the modern history of Russia, of all that was dynamic in it. The overthrow of Tsarism had long since become the necessary condition for the development of economy and culture. But for the solution of this task, the forces were insufficient. The bourgeoisie feared the revolution. The intelligentsia tried to bring the peasant to his feet. The muzhik, incapable of generalizing his own miseries and his aims, left this appeal unanswered. The intelligentsia armed itself with dynamite. A whole generation was burned up in this struggle.
On March 1, 1887, Alexander Ulianov carried out the last of the great terrorist plots. The attempted assassination of Alexander III failed. Ulianov and the other participants were executed. The attempt to substitute a chemical preparation for the revolutionary class suffered shipwreck. Even the most heroic intelligentsia is nothing without the masses. Under the immediate impression of these facts and conclusions grew up Ulianov’s younger brother Vladimir, the later Lenin, the greatest figure of Russian history. Even in his early youth he placed himself on the foundations of Marxism, and turned his face toward the proletariat. Without losing sight of the village for a moment, he sought the way to the peasantry through the workers. Having inherited from his revolutionary predecessors their determination, their capacity for self-sacrifice, and their willingness to go to the limit, Lenin at an early age became the teacher of the new generation of the intelligentsia and of the advanced workers. In strikes and street fights, in prisons and in exile, the workers received the necessary tempering. They needed the searchlight of Marxism to light up their historical road in the darkness of absolutism.
In the year 1883 there arose among the émigrés the first Marxist group. In the year 1898, at a secret meeting, the foundation of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party was proclaimed (we all called ourselves Social-Democrats in those days). In the year 1903 occurred the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. In the year 1912 the Bolshevist fraction finally became an independent Party.
It learned to recognize the class mechanics of society in struggle, in the grandiose events of twelve years (1905–1917). It educated cadres equally capable of initiative and of subordination. The discipline of its revolutionary action was based on the unity of its doctrine, on the tradition of common struggles and on confidence in its tested leadership.
Thus stood the Party in the year 1917. Despised by the official “public opinion” and the paper thunder of the intelligentsia press, it adapted itself to the movement of the masses. Firmly it kept in hand the control of factories and regiments. More and more the peasant masses turned toward it. If we understand by “nation,” not the privileged heads, but the majority of the people, that is, the workers and peasants, then Bolshevism became in the course of the year 1917 a truly national Russian Party.
In September 1917, Lenin, who was compelled to keep in hiding, gave the signal, “The crisis is ripe, the hour of the insurrection has approached.” He was right. The ruling classes had landed in a blind alley before the problems of the war, the land and national liberation. The bourgeoisie finally lost its head. The democratic parties, the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries wasted the remains of the confidence of the masses in them by their support of the imperialist war, by their policy of ineffectual compromise and concession to the bourgeois and feudal property-owners. The awakened army no longer wanted to fight for the alien aims of imperialism. Disregarding democratic advice, the peasantry smoked the landowners out of their estates. The oppressed nationalities at the periphery rose up against the bureaucracy of Petrograd. In the most important workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets the Bolsheviki were dominant. The workers and soldiers demanded action. The ulcer was ripe. It needed a cut of the lancet.
Only under these social and political conditions was the insurrection possible. And thus it also became inevitable. But there is no playing around with the insurrection. Woe to the surgeon who is careless in the use of the lancet! Insurrection is an art. It has its laws and its rules.
The Party carried through the October insurrection with cold calculation and with flaming determination. Thanks to this, it conquered almost without victims. Through the victorious Soviets the Bolsheviki placed themselves at the head of a country which occupies one-sixth of the surface of the globe.
The majority of my present listeners, it is to be presumed, did not occupy themselves at all with politics in the year 1917. So much the better. Before the young generation lies much that is interesting, if not always easy. But the representatives of the older generation in this hall will surely well remember how the seizure of power by the Bolsheviki was received: as a curiosity, as a misunderstanding, as a scandal; most often as a nightmare which was bound to disappear with the first rays of dawn. The Bolsheviki would last twenty-four hours, a week, a month, a year. The period had to be constantly lengthened.... The rulers of the whole world armed themselves against the first workers’ state: civil war was stirred up, interventions again and again, blockade. So passed year after year. Meantime history has recorded fifteen years of existence of the Soviet power.
15 Years of the Soviet Regime
“Yes,” some opponent will say, “the adventure of October has shown itself to be much more substantial than many of us thought. Perhaps it was not even quite an ‘adventure.’ Nevertheless, the question retains its full force: What was achieved at this high cost? Were then those dazzling tasks fulfilled which the Bolsheviki proclaimed on the eve of the Revolution?”
Before we answer the hypothetical opponent, let us note that the question in and of itself is not new. On the contrary, it followed right at the heels of the October Revolution, since the day of its birth.
The French journalist, Claude Anet, who was in Petrograd during the Revolution, wrote as early as October 27, 1917:
“Les maximalistes ont pris le pouvoir et le grand jour est arrivé. Enfin, me dis-je, je vais voir se réaliser l’Eden socialiste qu’on nous promet depuis tant d’années.... Admirable adventure! Position privilegée!”
“The maximalists (which was what the French called the Bolsheviks at that time) have seized the power and the great day has come. At last, I say to myself, I shall behold the realization of the socialist Eden which has been promised us for so many years.... Admirable adventure! A privileged position!” And so on and so forth. What sincere hatred behind the ironical salutation! The very morning after the capture of the Winter Palace, the reactionary journalist hurried to register his claim for a ticket of admission to Eden. Fifteen years have passed since the Revolution. With all the greater absence of ceremony our enemies reveal their malicious joy over the fact that the land of the Soviets, even today, bears but little resemblance to a realm of general well-being. Why then the Revolution and why the sacrifices?
Worthy listeners—permit me to think that the contradictions, difficulties, mistakes and want of the Soviet regime are no less familiar to me than to anyone else. I personally have never concealed them, whether in speech or in writing. I have believed and I still believe that revolutionary politics, as distinguished from conservative, cannot be built up on concealment. “To speak out that which is” must be the highest principle of the workers’ state.
But in criticism, as well as in creative activity, perspective is necessary. Subjectivism is a poor adviser, particularly in great questions. Periods of time must be commensurate with the tasks, and not with individual caprices. Fifteen years! How much that is in the life of one man! Within that period not a few of our generation were borne to their graves and those who remain have added innumerable gray hairs. But these same fifteen years—what an insignificant period in the life of a people! Only a minute on the clock of history.
Capitalism required centuries to maintain itself in the struggle against the Middle Ages, to raise the level of science and technology, to build railroads, to stretch electric wires. And then? Then humanity was thrust by capitalism into the hell of wars and crises! But Socialism is allowed by its enemies, that is, by the adherents of capitalism, only a decade and a half to install Paradise on earth with all modern improvements. No, such obligations were never assumed by us. Such periods of time were never set forth. The processes of great changes must be measured by scales which are commensurate with them. I do not know if the Socialist society will resemble the biblical Paradise. I doubt it. But in the Soviet Union there is no Socialism as yet. The situation that prevails there is one of transition, full of contradictions, burdened with the heavy inheritance of the past, and in addition under the hostile pressure of the capitalistic states. The October Revolution has proclaimed the principle of the new society. The Soviet Republic has shown only the first stage of its realization. Edison’s first lamp was very bad. We must know how to distinguish the future from among the mistakes and faults of the first Socialist construction.
But the unhappiness that rains on living men? Do the results of the Revolution justify the sacrifice which it has caused? A fruitless question, rhetorical through and through; as if the processes of history admitted of an accounting balance sheet! We might just as well ask, in view of the difficulties and miseries of human existence, “Does it pay to be born altogether?” To which [German poet Heinrich] Heine wrote, “And the fool waits for answer.”... Such melancholy reflections have not hindered mankind from being born and from giving birth. Suicides, even in these days of unexampled world crisis, fortunately constitute an unimportant percentage. But peoples never resort to suicide. When their burdens are intolerable, they seek a way out through revolution.
Besides, who becomes indignant over the victims of the socialist upheaval? Most often those who have paved the way for the victims of the imperialist war, and have glorified or, at least, easily accommodated themselves to it. It is now our turn to ask, “Has the war justified itself? What has it given us? What has it taught?”
The reactionary historian, Hippolyte Taine, in his eleven-volume pamphlet against the great French Revolution describes, not without malicious joy, the sufferings of the French people in the years of the dictatorship of the Jacobins and afterward. The worst off were the lower classes of the cities, the plebeians, who as “sansculottes” had given up the best of their souls for the revolution. Now they or their wives stood in line throughout cold nights to return empty-handed to the extinguished family hearth. In the tenth year of the revolution Paris was poorer than before it began. Carefully selected, artificially pieced-out facts serve Taine as justification for his annihilating verdict against the revolution. Look, the plebeians wanted to be dictators and have precipitated themselves into misery!
It is hard to conceive of a more uninspired piece of moralizing. First of all, if the revolution precipitated the country into misery, the blame lay principally on the ruling classes who drove the people to revolution. Second, the great French Revolution did not exhaust itself in hungry lines before bakeries. The whole of modern France, in many respects the whole of modern civilization, arose out of the bath of the French Revolution!
In the course of the Civil War in the United States in the ’60’s of the past century, 500,000 men were killed. Can these sacrifices be justified?
From the standpoint of the American slaveholder and the ruling classes of Great Britain who marched with them—no! From the standpoint of the Negro or of the British workingman—absolutely! And from the standpoint of the development of humanity as a whole—there can be no doubt whatever. Out of the Civil War of the ’60’s came the present United States with its unbounded practical initiative, its rationalized technology, its economic élan. On these achievements of Americanism humanity will build the new society.
The October Revolution penetrated deeper than any of its predecessors into the Holy of Holies of society—into its property relations. So much the longer time is necessary to reveal the creative consequences of the Revolution in all the domains of life. But the general direction of the upheaval is already clear: the Soviet Republic has no reason whatever to hang its head before its capitalist accusers and speak the language of apology.
To evaluate the new regime from the standpoint of human development, one must first answer the question, “How does social progress express itself and how can it be measured?”
Balance Sheet of October
The deepest, the most objective and the most indisputable criterion says—progress can be measured by the growth of the productivity of social labor. The evaluation of the October Revolution from this point of view is already given by experience. The principle of socialistic organization has for the first time in history shown its ability to record unheard-of results in production in a short space of time.
The curve of the industrial development of Russia, expressed in crude index numbers, is as follows, taking 1913, the last year before the war, as 100. The year 1920, the highest point of the civil war, is also the lowest point in industry—only 25, that is to say, a quarter of the pre-war production. In 1925 it rose to 75, that is, three-quarters of the pre-war production; in 1929 about 200, in 1932, 300, that is to say, three times as much as on the eve of the war.
The picture becomes even more striking in the light of the international index. From 1925 to 1932 the industrial production of Germany has declined one and a half times, in America twice; in the Soviet Union it has increased fourfold. These figures speak for themselves.
I have no intention of denying or concealing the seamy side of Soviet economy. The results of the industrial index are extraordinarily influenced by the unfavorable development of agriculture, that is to say, of that field which has essentially not yet risen to Socialist methods, but at the same time has been led on the road to collectivization with insufficient preparation, bureaucratically rather than technically and economically. This is a great question, which however goes beyond the limits of my lecture.
The index numbers cited require another important reservation. The indisputable and, in their way, splendid results of Soviet industrialization demand a further economic checking-up from the standpoint of the mutual adaptation of the various elements of economy, their dynamic equilibrium and consequently their productive capacity. Here great difficulties and even setbacks are inevitable. Socialism does not arise in its perfected form from the Five-Year Plan, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, or Venus from the foam of the sea. Before it are decades of persistent work, of mistakes, corrections and reorganization. Moreover, let us not forget that Socialist construction in accordance with its very nature can only reach perfection on the international arena. But even the most unfavorable economic balance sheet of the results obtained so far could reveal only the incorrectness of the preliminary calculations, the errors of the plan and the mistakes of the leadership, but could in no way refute the empirically firmly established fact—the possibility, with the aid of Socialist methods, of raising the productivity of collective labor to an unheard-of height. This conquest, of world-historical importance, cannot be taken away from us by anybody or anything.
After what has been said, it is scarcely worthwhile to spend time on the complaints, that the October revolution has brought Russia to the downfall of its civilization. That is the voice of the disquieted ruling houses and the salons. The feudal-bourgeois “civilization” overthrown by the proletarian upheaval was only barbarism with decorations à la Talmi [costume jewelry]. While it remained inaccessible to the Russian people, it brought little that was new to the treasury of mankind.
But even with respect to this civilization, which is so bemoaned by the white [Russian counterrevolutionaries] émigrés, we must put the question more precisely—in what sense is it ruined? Only in one sense; the monopoly of a small minority in the treasures of civilization has been destroyed. But everything of cultural value in the old Russian civilization has remained untouched. The Huns of Bolshevism have shattered neither the conquests of the mind nor the creations of art. On the contrary, they carefully collected the monuments of human creativeness and arranged them in model order. The culture of the monarchy, the nobility and the bourgeoisie has now become the culture of the museums.
The people visits these museums eagerly. But it does not live in them. It learns. It builds. The fact alone that the October Revolution taught the Russian people, the dozens of peoples of Tsarist Russia, to read and write, stands immeasurably higher than the whole former hot-house Russian civilization.
The October Revolution has laid the foundations for a new civilization, which is designed, not for a select few, but for all. This is felt by the masses of the whole world. Hence their sympathy for the Soviet Union, which is as passionate as once was their hatred for Tsarist Russia.
Worthy listeners—you know that human language is an irreplaceable tool, not only for giving names to events but also for evaluating them. By filtering out that which is accidental, episodic, artificial, it absorbs that which is essential, characteristic, of full weight. Notice with what nicety the languages of civilized nations have distinguished two epochs in the development of Russia. The culture of the nobility brought into world currency such barbarisms as Tsar, Cossack, pogrom, nagaika [whip used by Cossacks]. You know these words and what they mean. The October Revolution introduced into the language of the world such words as Bolshevik, Soviet, kolkhoz [collective farm], Gosplan, Piatiletka [Five-Year Plan]. Here practical linguistics holds its historical supreme court!
The profoundest significance, but the hardest to submit to immediate measurement, of that great Revolution consists in the fact that it forms and tempers the character of the people. The conception of the Russian people as slow, passive, melancholy-mystical, is widely spread and not accidental. It has its roots in the past. But in Western countries up to the present time those far-reaching changes have not been sufficiently considered which have been introduced into the character of the people by the Revolution. Could it have been otherwise?
Every man with experience of life can recall the picture of some youth, that he has known, receptive, lyrical, all too susceptible, who later, all at once, under the influence of a powerful moral impetus, became hardened and unrecognizable. In the development of a whole nation, such moral transformations are wrought by the revolution.
The February insurrection against the autocracy, the struggle against the nobility, against the imperialist war, for peace, for land, for national equality, the October insurrection, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, and of those parties which sought agreements with the bourgeoisie, three years of civil war on a front of 5,000 miles, the years of blockade, hunger, misery and epidemics, the years of tense economic reconstruction, of new difficulties and renunciations—these make a hard but a good school. A heavy hammer smashes glass, but forges steel. The hammer of the Revolution forged the steel of the people’s character.
“Who will believe,” wrote a Tsarist general, Zalewski, with indignation, shortly after the upheaval, “that a porter or a watchman suddenly becomes a chief justice, a hospital attendant—the director of a hospital, a barber—an officeholder, a corporal—a commander-in-chief, a day worker—a mayor, a locksmith—the director of a factory?”
“Who will believe it?” They had to believe it. They could do nothing else but believe it, when the corporals defeated generals, when the mayor—the former day worker—broke the resistance of the old bureaucracy, the wagon-greaser put the transportation system in order, the locksmith as director put the industrial equipment into working condition. “Who will believe it?” Let them only try and not believe it.
For an explanation of the extraordinary persistence which the masses of the people of the Soviet Union are showing throughout the years of the Revolution, many foreign observers rely, in accord with ancient habit, on the “passivity” of the Russian character. The revolutionary masses endure their privations patiently but not passively. With their own hands they are creating a better future and they want to create it, at any cost. Let the class enemy only attempt to impose his will from the outside on these patient masses! No, he would do better not to try it!
The Revolution and Its Place in History
Let us now in closing attempt to ascertain the place of the October Revolution, not only in the history of Russia but in the history of the world. During the year 1917, in a period of eight months, two historical curves intersect. The February upheaval—that belated echo of the great struggles which had been carried out in past centuries on the territories of Holland, England, France, almost all of Continental Europe—takes its place in the series of bourgeois revolutions. The October Revolution proclaims and opens the domination of the proletariat. It was world capitalism that suffered its first great defeat on the territory of Russia. The chain broke at its weakest link. But it was the chain that broke, and not only the link.
Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfill its essential mission, the increase of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot stand still at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, Socialist organization of production and distribution can assure humanity—all humanity—of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. Freedom in two senses—first of all, man will no longer be compelled to devote the greater part of his life to physical labor. Second, he will no longer be dependent on the laws of the market, that is, on the blind and dark forces which have grown up behind his back. He will build up his economy freely, that is, according to a plan, with compass in hand. This time it is a question of subjecting the anatomy of society to the X-ray through and through, of disclosing all its secrets and subjecting all its functions to the reason and the will of collective humanity. In this sense, Socialism must become a new step in the historical advance of mankind. Before our ancestor, who first armed himself with a stone axe, the whole of nature represented a conspiracy of secret and hostile forces. Since then, the natural sciences, hand in hand with practical technology, have illuminated nature down to its most secret depths. By means of electrical energy, the physicist passes judgment on the nucleus of the atom. The hour is not far when science will easily solve the task of the alchemists, and turn manure into gold and gold into manure. Where the demons and furies of nature once raged, now rules ever more courageously the industrial will of man.
But while he wrestled victoriously with nature, man built up his relations to other men blindly, almost like the bee or the ant. Belatedly and most undecidedly he approached the problems of human society. He began with religion, and passed on to politics. The Reformation represented the first victory of bourgeois individualism and rationalism in a domain which had been ruled by dead tradition. From the church, critical thought went on to the state. Born in the struggle with absolutism and the medieval estates, the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people and of the rights of man and the citizen grew stronger. Thus arose the system of parliamentarism. Critical thought penetrated into the domain of government administration. The political rationalism of democracy was the highest achievement of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.
But between nature and the state stands economic life. Technology liberated man from the tyranny of the old elements—earth, water, fire and air—only to subject him to its own tyranny. Man ceased to be a slave to nature, to become a slave to the machine, and, still worse, a slave to supply and demand. The present world crisis testifies in especially tragic fashion how man, who dives to the bottom of the ocean, who rises up to the stratosphere, who converses on invisible waves with the Antipodes, how this proud and daring ruler of nature remains a slave to the blind forces of his own economy. The historical task of our epoch consists in replacing the uncontrolled play of the market by reasonable planning, in disciplining the forces of production, compelling them to work together in harmony and obediently serve the needs of mankind. Only on this new social basis will man be able to stretch his weary limbs and—every man and every woman, not only a selected few—become a full citizen in the realm of thought.
But this is not yet the end of the road. No, it is only the beginning. Man calls himself the crown of creation. He has a certain right to that claim. But who has asserted that present-day man is the last and highest representative of the species Homo sapiens? No, physically as well as spiritually he is very far from perfection, prematurely born biologically, sick in mind and without new organic equilibrium.
It is true that humanity has more than once brought forth giants of thought and action, who tower over their contemporaries like summits in a chain of mountains. The human race has a right to be proud of its Aristotle, Shakespeare, Darwin, Beethoven, Goethe, Marx, Edison, and Lenin. But why are they so rare? Above all because, almost without exception, they came out of the upper and middle classes. Apart from rare exceptions, the sparks of genius in the suppressed depths of the people are choked before they can burst into flame. But also because the processes of creating, developing and educating a human being have been and remain essentially a matter of chance, not illuminated by theory and practice, not subjected to consciousness and will.
Anthropology, biology, physiology and psychology have accumulated mountains of material to raise up before mankind in their full scope the tasks of perfecting and developing body and spirit. Psychoanalysis, with the inspired hand of Sigmund Freud, has lifted the cover of the well which is poetically called the “soul.” And what has been revealed? Our conscious thought is only a small part of the work of the dark psychic forces. Learned divers descend to the bottom of the ocean and there take photographs of mysterious fishes. Human thought, descending to the bottom of its own psychic sources, must shed light on the most mysterious driving forces of the soul and subject them to reason and to will.
Once he has done with the anarchic forces of his own society, man will set to work on himself, in the pestle and the retort of the chemist. For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at best as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in that other sense too, that the present-day contradictory and disharmonious man will pave the way for a new and happier race.