|Remembering Marty Glaberman
by Bill Mullen
Rich Gibson has asked me to share some recollections about Marty Glaberman. Though I did not know him as well as many others, he made a vivid and lasting impression.
I was with Marty three times: once, during a research visit to Detroit, Marty, Alan Wald, Arlene Keizer and I had dinner together. On another occasion, I sat with Marty and his partner and friend Diane Voss in Marty's apartment near the Wayne State campus and talked about literature and Marxism. The last time I saw Marty was two years ago in Youngstown, Ohio. Jim Jordan was hosting a barbeque for members of the Workers' Solidarity Club of Youngstown. Marty was the Detroit contributing editor for Impact, the rank and file newsletter of Youngstown Solidarity edited by Staughton and Alice Lynd. Staughton and Marty go back a long way. When he died last week, Staughton said he felt like he had lost an older brother.
For me, Marty Glaberman demonstrated more courageous optimism about the revolutionary potential of the working-class than any person I ever met. It was a dialectical optimism, grounded in the recognition that objective conditions always carry revolutionary potential. Each time I was with him, I came away much more confident that as long as Marty was in the world, justice, and an egalitarian society, were possible.
Here are some lasting examples for
me of Marty's contributions to our understanding of the working-class and
its role in history:
---On February 22, 1957, Marty wrote a letter to his friend, mentor and collaborator C.J.R. James. The letter is available in Box 5, Folder 9 of the Marty Glaberman papers at the Walter Reuther Library in Detroit. The topic, broadly, was the role of workers in the intellectual evaluation of world events of 1956, particularly the Hungarian Revolution. Marty perceived Kruschev's 1956 speech on Hungary as a "turning point" for both intellectuals and the working-class. It revealed, he wrote, "the fraud and fiction of the economic plan, and the ensuing realization that the working class had known this all along while they, the intellectuals, had been taking its success for granted." Marty's enthusiasm for the Hungarian uprisings brought this astonishingly optimistic and synthetic analysis: "We have said before, although we have not elaborated it sufficiently, that cooperative labor is itself a form of knowledge, of cognition. What we have to realize now is that the intellectuals who, up to now, have considered that cognition, knowledge of reality, is their own specific trade, their special contribution to society, their historically appointed task, have now discovered through the failure of the economic plan, that the working class is better equipped, not through special training in philosophy or books, but by virtue of its position in the process of production to carry out this function of knowing reality than any intellectual divorced from the process of production could possibly be, no matter now well-trained, how gifted, how worldly."
Marty, always, read history from the
bottom-up. It was, he thought, the only way of understanding and applying
Marx, in general, and Trotsky and C.L.R. James in particular. "I think
we have to be very firm on the fact," he wrote in the same letter to James,
"that certainly such time as universal man (sic) emerges in his full universality,
the intellectual does have certain functions to perform---of formulation,
systemization, the contribution of his special capacity to formulate and
systematize. But that these capacities can absolutely not be realized,
without a) the philosophic concept of the inevitability of socialism and
of universal man (sic) as the direction in which society is and must travel;
and b) contact with the working class in the process of production."
---Less than a month later, on March
2, 1957, Marty wrote again to James. This letter is in Box 5, Folder 10
of the Glaberman files. In the letter Marty pondered the relevance of Marx's
Ph.D. thesis on Democritus and Epicurus to world events. The former, he
told James, represented the "new society before the division of labor between
manual and mental," while the latter represented their division during
the decline of Greek society. We are now, he wrote James, in a similar
moment: "All the debates about the conflict between science and faith,
between techniques and the humanities, between means and ends are to be
solved by the fact that today there exists a working class whose politics
is in its economics and whose economics is in its politics.."
---Eleven years later, in 1968, Marty
gave a speech to a conference of the Facing Reality Publishing Committee.
The speech is reprinted as "Theory and Practice" in Marty's edited edition
of the essays of C.L.R. James, Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on
Revolutionary Organization, published in 1999 by University Press of
Mississippi. Here is a passage from that essay:
The basic characteristic of the working
class is that first you strike
In 1980, Marty published the book
Wartime Strikes (Detroit, Bewick Editions, 1980), a study of wildcat
strikes during World War II. Here is a statement from that book:
is a contradiction between the workers' being and the workers' consciousness.
It would be quite remarkable if that were not so in a capitalist society.
If that was where the matter rested, with the control by the ruling class
of all the significant means of education and communication, then this
discussion would be meaningless because it wouldn't matter in the slightest
what workers thought. But the domination over the production of ideas is
never enough for those who rule, because the reality of workers' lives
is in contradiction to the ideas that dominate the society. It is the contradiction
between being and consciousness which produces change. The hostile and
alienating nature of work in this society (in addition to all the institutions
inside and outside the factory designed to sustain the discipline of work)
forces workers to resist their daily reality, individually and collectively.
The response to that resistance tends to expose the mythology of freedom
and equality and continually transforms the consciousness of workers. This
is especially true of workers who have not yet been socialized into the
accepted and institutionalized forms of resistance, such as the union grievance
procedure, government boards, and so on. It is likely that those sections
of the working class who were relatively new to the factories.....were
least likely to accept the discipline of factory work and the discipline
of the union. .....There is a continually developing contradiction between
being and consciousness. They act upon each other. ...activity continually
emerges to assert itself as the overriding element in that combination.
course perhaps the most remarkable thing about Marty was his persistence
of vision. When I saw him in Youngstown, he was talking with the editorial
board of Impact about formulating a statement to the labor movement
about the shape it was in. That statement, published as "An Open Letter
to Rank and File Labor Activists," (available at http://www.zmag.org/open_letterrank.htm)
described the problems with top-down unionism, the myth of Walter Reuther
as a "Social Movement Unionist," sellouts by Ron Carey and the Teamsters,
and the potential contribution of the anti-globalization movement to the
building of a socialist society. In a section of the document titled simply
"Internationalism," the editorial collective wrote:
Probably we all can agree that in
order to combat transnational
To the end of his life, Marty remained an active contributor to Impact, Against the Current and other journals. The last time I saw him in Detroit, Marty was talking about writing a book about white workers and their role in revolution. He was a little disturbed at what he perceived to be declining confidence in that sector of the proletariat.
What is Marty's Glaberman's legacy?
It is well beyond me to say. It is essential, though, that his works, read
by too few, be read more widely, and that his spirit, which is irreplaceable,
be sustained by those who carry on his work. As Staughton Lynd put it to
me, "For those of us who espouse a bottom-up view of things, they (Marty
and Stan Weir) carried the idea of self-activity outside traditional institutions
into the new century. Then left it to us."