Chapter XXIV: Et Tu, Brutus
I have seen many changes in this world of ours since that evening in the early `30s when 15 of us crammed into that small room in the run-down tenement house on the West Side of New York City. I took an oath, along with nine others, to serve and defend with all my heart and energy the best interest of the working class. I pledged to work and struggle among my fellow workers to ease their burden of servitude and economic slavery and to convince them to bring about a new world order through a system that would bestow on them their dignity and ownership of the means of production. I pledged to work to bring about a better, more worthwhile life for all of us.
I look back at that dingy room in the basement where we sat crowded together listening to the unit organizer tell 15 "old-timers" that this was "a great month for recruiting. At our branch of maritime workers we will initiate ten new recruits tonight. The Party across America is reporting an increase in people joining like never before."
While he talked, I scanned the room. It was truly a working-class shack. It had an ample supply of folding chairs and a three-drawer dresser. A few pictures adorned the walls. Two were pictures of a young girl, apparently a relative. Two were of the chairman and some friends. A makeshift desk consisting of two packing crates with a smooth piece of lumber spanning them gave the room some semblance of authority and order. Behind this desk sat the chairman. On the dresser rested some literature which would be offered for sale at the end of the meeting.
As the chairman, Clay, administered the pledge, he called on all the people in the room to stand. As he read the words from a card, we all repeated them, exhilarated like never before by the importance of what was happening here and now. When it was over and before we took our seats, Clay spent a moment congratulating us on our induction. He told us that we were now members of a worldwide movement of workers, farmers, intellectuals and middle class who were dedicated and organized to bring about a new order of change in the world, and that no matter where we traveled, we would surely be meeting our brothers and sisters all united in the same efforts. I felt privileged that I was to be part of this great cause and was ready to go out into the world and help bring about those great and noble changes.
Changes have been swift since then and some most devastating. But one could spend hours or days in discussion, or write pages and pages of analysis of past mistakes or shortcomings of the Party, but then what? What one must think about is, where do we go from here? Do we join the cabal of "I told you so" crowd in proclaiming that only capitalism can offer hope, peace and charity to the mass of people? Do we believe that socialism is but a myth, an unobtainable, impractical dream that shall always remain a dream? If we follow that illogical thinking, then surely peace, brotherhood and everlasting security will never be achieved because it tells us to do nothing: capitalism, in its "benevolent" nature, will solve all our problems.
We cannot say that socialism did not work in the Soviet Union. The fact is, they did not have socialism in the Soviet Union, nor did they practice it. The true meaning of socialism for me is a harmonious, classless society with a social organization based on a collective or governmental ownership of the means of production, with a democratic distribution of all goods derived from such collectivization. While the aim of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet government may have been pursuing those noble goals, somewhere along the rocky road bureaucracy got the better of them and the only thing the masses got was lip service and more dogma.
Many of the people who left the Party in the United States for one reason or another never abandoned their principles, but continued by various methods to pursue those aims. When I left the Party as the Russian tanks moved down the streets of Budapest, I found new avenues opened to me as never before. I have been privileged to speak in the classrooms of many colleges and high schools across the country. I discovered I could communicate with students, creating a rapport with young people which gave me a shot in the arm to do more of it. I have spoken to audiences before the screening of the documentaries Seeing Red, about the American Communist Party, or The Good Fight, about the Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. I have been interviewed on numerous television and radio networks. I have written numerous articles on the Spanish Civil War, on labor, and on war and peace. I have been invited to Spain to film a six-hour documentary by Granada Television about the Spanish Civil War and to participate in a documentary on the International Brigades called El Portado. I have conducted waterfront walking tours for hundreds of people interested in the maritime trade union struggle and the history of the San Francisco General Strike.
I've participated in the fight for women's and minorities' rights, offered support on the picket lines for workers' job demands and marched in demonstrations for peace up the main streets of our city.
I am proud that in my lifetime I have helped in many ways to make a difference in the economic and political lives of people who needed that extra bit of support to make a difference. But while much has been gained in those struggles, it falls on a heavy heart to know that many of those gains have been lost in the past ten years. Our union movement has been split and weakened, and our political hopes and aspirations have been disappointed.
The struggle to hold on to what we still have goes on as we strive to gather new forces in what seems to be a never-ending uphill battle to bring about a more rewarding way of life for all humankind. I have never doubted our ability to move mountains when we have to. We have done it before, and we will do it again. The new generations entering the arena will have to come up with new definitions of democracy and socialism and will perhaps devise new methods of achieving those aims.
My generation fought against fascism and depressions and for equality. Those battles go on, but now there are new battles, as well--battles to save the universe from smog, filth, and disease; to protect the ozone, and to prevent the disappearance of the greenbelt. The new generations will make a difference if they seize the opportunity and pick up where my generation tired out.
I have tried to lead my life by following a belief that has guided my passage. This I sincerely recommend for all to follow: to witness an injustice and do nothing--that is the biggest crime.
Copyright © 1993 by Bill Bailey. All Rights Reserved.
The Kid from Hoboken: Book Three
The Kid from Hoboken
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