From International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.1, Winter 1961, p.2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The American working class on December 11, 1960, lost one of its best, most experienced and loyal defenders. Carl Skoglund, at the age of 76, died of a sudden heart attack while talking with a few friends. He was a big man, a strong man and a skilled man, a worker experienced in many trades. He knew the life of the lumberjack. He laid railway ties. He worked as a mechanic in a railway shop. He hauled coal. He never exploited anyone. Like all workers, he produced far more wealth than he ever consumed.
But Carl Skoglund was much more. He was a class-conscious worker, a socialist. He lived his entire adult life fully aware of the historic tasks of his class. All his thoughts and all his actions were bent to the education and organization of his class for human progress.
For this reason Carl Skoglund escaped the miseries and frustrations that burden the lives of most workers. He lived his life with the deepest grasp of the historical process.
Most workers escape from the dull, monotonous and hopeless grind of daily toil only in moments of labor upsurge or revolutions. Only then do they feel the liberating solidarity of men and women working and fighting together for the common good. The very fact of struggle against capitalism is an emancipation, a realization of freedom.
Carl Skoglund was one of those few who worked and lived always on the level of the mountain-peak moments of his class. Periods of quiescence or retreat were not occasion for despair, because he understood their transient character. The broader sweep of history was his field of action.
It is for this reason that the story of Carl Skoglund’s life is also the history of the revolutionary movement in America. He contributed to that history; and, in return, his personality was an integrated product of that history.
In the first World War Carl Skoglund, as a member of the Socialist party, stood with Eugene V. Debs in opposition to the right-wing leaders. When the workers of one country were ordered to the slaughter of the workers of another, he raised his voice, still tinged with the accent of his native Sweden, for internationalism. He protested against the lies of the “war for democracy” and the “war to end all wars.”
The war ended in the first successful struggle for power by the working class of any nation – the Russian Revolution. Skoglund hailed that great event and helped to found the American Communist party.
By 1928 the Russian Revolution had receded and a bureaucratic caste took over the Soviet government. What later was called euphemistically “the cult of the individual” began the era of the destruction of Bolshevik freedom in Russia and the destruction of Communist parties throughout the world as instruments of revolutionary struggle.
Again Skoglund had the courage and the clarity of vision to pioneer in the construction of an opposition. He joined in defending the truth against this monstrous bureaucracy. His energy was devoted to the preservation of revolutionary principles. He was expelled from the Communist party for his opposition to the Stalin regime in 1928.
The correctness of his views was fully confirmed in the tragic events in Germany in 1933. The second largest Communist party in the world permitted Hitler to come to power without a struggle. As a result Carl Skoglund with his friends and comrades began the arduous task under Trotsky’s leadership of assembling a new revolutionary cadre throughout the world. In 1938, once more, he helped to found a revolutionary movement in the United States, the Socialist Workers party.
The thirties also saw a great labor upsurge in the US. For the first time the industrial workers successfully challenged the absolute power of the biggest capitalists in the world, forced them to sign union contracts, and brought new hope to the exploited of this land. Skoglund demonstrated his capacity for leadership in the mass movement and helped to make history in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest. He became the much-loved and much-respected president of General Drivers’ Local 544, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
World War II temporarily put a stop to progress for the American working class. War-fed prosperity, repressions, and narrow national chauvinism destroyed the promising movement toward independent political action. And Skoglund, together with 17 of his comrades, was sent to prison in the utterly vain hope of silencing the voice of internationalism.
For the rest of his life, Carl Skoglund was threatened with deportation. The period of the witch-hunt restricted and confined him physically. But it didn’t even touch his morale or his convictions. He had a very real contempt for the capitalist class in the United States. A cool contempt. He always seemed amused at the foolish, frantic efforts of the capitalist class to solve their problems and find the means to survive. He knew this outmoded class was doomed; he was sure of the ultimate revolutionary victory. He was supremely confident, as a Marxist and as a human being. But without a trace of vanity or pettiness.
For all these reasons Carl Skoglund was an exceptionally happy man who enjoyed life to the full. Those who knew him were enriched, not only in understanding the world in which they live, but in knowing how to live in that world.
Last updated on 7 May 2009