My road to socialist ideas began in the home. My father grew up during the Great Depression and knew that making it as a singer was a long shot. Like millions of other talented people, he had to put aside his dream in order to earn a living. Instead, he trained as a printer. But he found it impossible to get into the printers’ union, so took the first job he could get — waiting tables at a New York Jewish deli. He snuck in a song or two between pastrami sandwiches.
But on cold wintry days the restaurant was empty. My father took home his $11 paycheck and maybe some leftover hot dogs. The economic instability was palpable at home.
What to do about it? For my father, working round the clock was a partial fix and just a fact of life. He had Monday evenings off. He used it to catch up on sleep.
But he also made time for picket duty with his Dining Room Employees Union Local 2. As a kid, I accompanied him and held up signs. The solidarity of workers joining together to protect their jobs was tangible and inspiring.
The lesson I got at home was to do well at school and use that as my exit visa out of our economic mess. My politically precocious younger sister had a different assignment — help with all the house chores so her older brother could study hard. One day she called me a male chauvinist pig and I asked her if that was a bad thing. She explained to me that there is no way men could do what they do were it not for women holding up the world.
Who else besides workers and women are beaten down in our society? Thank you, Mr. Seid, my junior high school social studies teacher. You made the Civil Rights movement the theme of the semester. Slavery, lynchings, discrimination, poverty. And of course, the need to demonstrate and march for freedom. Fight the racists. I’m there with you.
Off to college. Now there’s a war in Vietnam. My neighbor was there. Please explain to me why. Why are you using racial slurs against the Vietnamese? And if the war is so just and right, why all the lies about it?
I took a year off after college to figure things out. I sold beer at Madison Square Garden to pay the bills. I read Dickens, Steinbeck, and Brecht. And also — Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky.
Here’s a truth I learned: There is simply no scientific understanding of society that so comprehensively explains the interconnections of economic exploitation, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and war better than Marxism. Period. And if capitalism is what generates all social evils, then there is no solution to society’s ills other than replacing it with socialism.
But how to do that is the key question. I joined a couple of groups on the left. In later years I traveled and met great revolutionary fighters — Celia Hart in Cuba, Neville Alexander in South Africa. I learned a lot.
Key differences. Despite all the positives, I observed two serious problems. The first is this. Not all left political parties see their job as developing future leaders. Instead, a relatively fixed core of people oversees a revolving door of otherwise inspired activists. That’s called bureaucracy, not revolutionary leadership.
Second, not all left parties grasp the crucial role of women’s leadership. Women’s subjugation is earth’s oldest oppression. Yet not one of humanity’s several social revolutions has solved this problem. And neither will the socialist revolution succeed — unless women fighters are among its leaders.
The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) grasps in its bones that the current task of a revolutionary party is to recruit and develop future leaders from the ranks of the most oppressed, and that joining the FSP means to begin a process of becoming one of many leaders of the socialist revolution.
The FSP understands that the fight against women’s oppression is key to a victorious socialist revolution. Only when those who have suffered the longest are finally free will we know that we have truly won.
And that’s why I joined the FSP when I was 55. I’m approaching 70 years old. And I don’t regret a single minute.
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