Monday, May 30, 2016

An Incomplete Bibliography of the Phila Left Book Club

Phila Left Book circa 1995

I have been a member of a socialist reading group for the last 25 years in Philadelphia, which we just call Phila Left Book. We meet once a month in a cafe or restaurant for two hours, and discuss the book or articles of the day. Currently we meet at Manakeesh Cafe and Bakery at 4420 Walnut St in West Philadelphia. We started with four old friends. Our numbers have fluctuated between 5 and 15 over the years. We do not have a political litmus test for members. The books and topics we select reflect the interests of the members. We challenge each others politics and experiences. It is more congenial than graduate school - no papers to write. My continuing socialist education has largely come from our readings and discussion in these years. I haven't affiliated with any left organization since the 1980s, but I feel very attached to my Left Book comrades. I've made new friends. It is also a social support group for us left malcontents. We share our life milestones, medical crises, political activities. We've had two members die during these years which brought us closer together. It is not all politics.

I've assembled a list of books we've read, as best I can remember. I'm sorry we didn't keep a record of our reading. So here is our booklist in random order:

Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program (1875).

Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010).

Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015).

Anton Pannekoek, Worker's Councils (1947).

C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955).

Simone Zelitch, Waveland (2015).

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Revolution (2011).

Jack London, The Iron Heel (1908).

Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (2000).

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010).

Michael A. Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (2006).

Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (2011).

Albert Soboul, A Short History of the French Revolution 1789-1799 (1977).

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848).

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014).

Paul Mattick Jr., Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011).

Maurice Brinton, Paris: May 1968 (1968).

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938).

Michael Heinrich, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital (2012).

Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origins of Capitalism (1999).

Max Shachtman, Race and Revolution (2003).

Antonio A. Santucci, Antonio Gramsci (2010).

David McNally, Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique (1993).

Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini, Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present (2011).

Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (2015).

Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).

Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State (1884).

Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1964).

Peter Singer, Hegel: A Very Short Introduction (2001).

Joseph Stalin, The Economic Problems Of Socialism in the USSR (1952).

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The New Left in Philadelphia 1960-1970

Lyons, Paul. The People of This Generation: The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

“The people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities” (C. Wright Mills words) are the subject of Paul Lyon's study of the New Left in the 1960s Philadelphia. Mills felt the early focus on alienation, community, and meaning evident in The Port Huron Statement (1962) distinguished the New Left from the Old Left, with its rigid socialist and communist doctrines. Paul Lyons chronicles the distinctive New Left community that blossomed in Philadelphia and nearby suburbs during the 1960s. He argues the New Left was less sectarian and more ecumenical here due to the dominant influence of the Quakers, in the form of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and the Quaker schools and colleges. The Quaker institutions remain central to social justice activities in the Philadelphia to this day. The religious institutions have held up better than the New Left, needless to say.

Author Paul Lyons was a member and observer of the New Left in Philadelphia. He was a history instructor at Temple University from 1967-71, and then taught high school history at Miquon Upper School (now called Crefield School), a private school in Philadelphia until 1980. He received his PhD from Bryn Mawr College in 1980 in social work, and then taught history, social welfare policy, and Holocaust studies for many years at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His dissertation became his first book, Philadelphia Communists, 1936-1956 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982). He has also written about the New Right, also born in the 1960s, and conservatism, which pervades the American landscape today. Lyon's was a much beloved professor at Stockton who died too young in 2009. The college has since established the annual Paul Lyons Memorial Lecture in American Studies in his honor.

The People of This Generation is a fun book for alumni of the New Left in Philadelphia. I found many old friends and adversaries scattered throughout Paul Lyon's account. I arrived in Philadelphia in Fall 1971, a little after Lyon's timeline in the aftermath of the 1960s. One of my close friends was Carl Gilbert, who informed Lyons about campus politics at Temple University 1960-1968. Temple was a subway commuter school, often regarded like City University of New York, with a large compliment of red diaper babies enrolled. Carl, also a red diaper baby, became chairperson of Student Peace Union chapter (SPU), and later a leader of Students for a Democratic Society chapter (SDS) when it formed in 1965. Carl had one foot in the Old Left, and one foot in the New Left. He was a member of Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL aka Yipsels), the youth group of the Socialist Party, which controlled SPU. Carl was already a Marxist and anti-Stalinist in high school, conversant with the ideological debates within the Old Left. At Temple he embarked on the New Left with SPU and SDS. SPU brought issues and prominent speakers to campus, volunteered in local public schools, joined with Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in civil rights protests in Philadelphia and the South. The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy (aka SANE) and W.E.B. DuBois Club (led by English graduate student Jim Quinn), the youth group of the Communist Party, were also important actors at Temple. By 1966 the central issue for the New Left became the Vietnam War and the draft. Students and some faculty joined in campus speak-outs on the war, and marches on Washington. Temple never became host to a big student strike like the University of Pennsylvania in February 1969. The most serious Temple activists enlisted in various socialist and communist organizations after the collapse of SDS in 1968. My friend Carl Gilbert left Temple for a graduate program in 1967. His Temple Master's Thesis From “Integration” to “Black Power”: The Civil Rights Movement in the City of Philadelphia, 1960-67 was his account of those years.

Philadelphia Resistance Print Shop 1969
Paul Lyons regards the antiwar and anti-draft Philadelphia Resistance and the antiracist People for Human Rights (PHR) as the most successful New Left organizations of the 1960s in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Resistance organized draft resistance locally and nationally. They also founded Philadelphia Resistance Print Shop as a movement and commercial union printer. I spent many hours at their print shop over the years as a customer, a union official, and fellow printer. PHR was founded by Episcopal priest Rev. David M. Gracie in 1967 as an interracial support group advocating for school funding, housing, health care, and employment in the city. Episcopal priests Rev. Paul M. Washington at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, and Rev. John M. Scott at St. Mary's at the University of Pennsylvania were also prominent voices for racial justice in the 1960s and many years thereafter.

Rev. David M. Gracie
Rev.Paul M. Washington

Many in Lyon's The People of This Generation got their political education in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Some still live here, making the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love home.

Gilbert, Carl. From “Integration” to “Black Power”: The Civil Rights Movement in the City of Philadelphia, 1960-67. Master's Thesis, Temple University, 1967.