First Published in New Politics, vol.9, no.3 (new series), whole No.35, Summer 2003.
BARRY FINGER is a member of the New Politics editorial board.
Transcription, Editing, & HTML markup: Tom Unterrainer and D. Walters in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.
JULIUS JACOBSON – JULIE TO HIS MANY FRIENDS and comrades – founder and editor for more than forty years of New Politics died on March 8th of cancer. He is survived by his wife and New Politics co-editor Phyllis, his son Michael, daughter-in-law Lynn Chancer, grandson Alexander ... and by generations of socialists and radicals who were first acquainted with and then educated to the ideals and values of democratic, third camp revolutionary socialism by a lifetime of his essays, letters and polemical exchanges. It has been said that twenty-five years in the life of a small magazine is the equivalent of an individual attaining the age of one hundred. By that standard this journal, for which Julie travailed to his last breath – tirelessly writing, cajoling recalcitrant contributors, searching for scarce funds, grooming new voices, and endlessly, relentlessly editing – has truly earned its place as one of the venerable mainstays of American radicalism.
As a socialist committed to keeping radical politics vibrant and relevant, Julie would have repudiated any tribute as an unforgivable lapse into sentimentality. Julie was remarkable for revealing so little of himself in his writings – his political passions and moral steadfastness, his rollicking wit and historical sweep, the vigor and brilliance of mind, of course, permeate his pieces, but of Julie the man, the historical personality, there is precious little. He was, in this manner, a scion of the movement that fashioned him – wary of the cult-breeding virus that arises from the association of socialist analysis with the projection of any individual personality. There is, therefore, only one way to write about him in accordance with how he led his life: to appraise his writing as if he were still alive and could read that assessment with his own uniquely critical, skeptical and combatative sensibility in anticipation of the almost certain sharp rejoinder to follow. This, certainly, will come. Still, in tow to the enormity and immediacy of this loss, one must be forgiven from straying, at least in part from his wishes.
One of a vanishing breed of working class intellectuals, the product of the heroic socialist struggles of an earlier age, Julie began life as the son of Eastern European immigrants, his father a (largely unemployed) stevedore. The family was immersed in the left-leaning, secular culture of immigrant Jewry. His parents read the social democratic Forward for the “news” but, the Yiddish language Communist daily Freiheit for what they believed was the emes, the truth behind the news. As a child, perhaps as early as the tender age of 9, Julie was recruited by his older brother, Leon, to the Young Pioneers, the pre-teen youth group of the Communist Party. Julie always insisted that political radicalization at such an early age was not the aberration then that it seems today. But as a teenager, in defiance of Leon, Julie jumped ship from the Communist Youth League for the Young People’s Socialist League (4th International). Julie’s new affiliations caused a political breach in the family that was never wholly repaired, though interestingly Leon later contributed drawings which peppered the first several issues of New Politics.
These were the waning days of the unified American Trotskyist movement – days of street corner agitators, of battles between the anti-Semitic followers of William Pelley, and the largely Jewish Bronx chapter of the YPSL, days in which Trotskyist meetings were violently disrupted by Stalinists; a few short years that formed an epoch in which capitalism seemed so rotted out that world revolution, “permanent revolution,” by the oppressed masses seemed the only realistic hope for humanity. It was a time in which the thoroughly Stalinized Communist Party was aligning itself with big city machines and “progressive” capitalists, where social democracy could no longer find its bearings. It was a time, the last time, in which an entire historical movement, revolutionary Marxism, could still be seen as concentrated both politically and morally in the remarkable personality of one intellectually incorruptible individual. And it was this Trotskyism that produced a youth movement far better skilled in matters of theory, history and tactics than the youth of any other group of its day. This youth movement was almost half of the Trotskyist movement of the late 30s, with a robust and vibrant internal public life, most of whose members gravitated around Max Shachtman.
BUT IT WAS ALSO A PERIOD in which history began to deviate from the classical Marxist trajectory on which Trotskyism was based. New forms of property and of class rule were beginning to take shape, forms which were not anticipated by the old formulas. Trotsky’s attempts at reconciling the emerging historical data with his revolutionary theory were becoming increasingly tenuous, forced and unconvincing. He began to betray a doctrinaire, mechanical bent to basic theory that stood in stark contradiction to the unblinkered fearlessness with which he interpreted unfolding events. Unable to follow his insights to their unorthodox conclusions, Trotsky who, better than any other leader, understood the dangers of Stalin’s abandonment of international revolution in favor of building “socialism in one country,” intellectually disarmed his followers, in the end, by his failure to re-conceive Stalinism as a new form of class society. To that remnant of the movement that did not flinch from the full implications of what was transpiring in Russia – the Shachtmanites, who were exiled into a separate organizational existence as the Workers Party – was where Julie was to find his political home and where he would remain until its dissolution in the 1950s. This is where Julie’s political and literary skills were shaped and his flinty and unyielding polemical edge honed. This is where his lifelong fixation with the broader intellectual, political and cultural corruptions of Stalinism, of bureaucratic collectivism as it became known, was incubated and nourished. This is where the inseparability of socialism and democracy, which lent the struggle against both Stalinism and capitalism a theoretically unassailable basis and political program, became the touchstone of Julie’s politics.
It was also where Julie first met Phyllis, both teenagers in the Yipsel. Julie’s territorial domain at the time was the Bronx and the Manhattan party headquarters. But Phyllis came from Brownsville in the hinterlands of Brooklyn. Ordinarily such romances were doomed to heartbreak. Rare indeed was the relationship that could withstand the demands of a three-hour roundtrip subway journey from one end of New York City to the other. Legion are the tales of movement’s loves lost, crushed by the limitations of mass transit. This was a singular exception, a veritable legend of its time, whose details are still enviously recounted by aged veterans of the Trotskyist and socialist movements. In time this teenage romance was to blossom into a full political and intellectual partnership, a rounded friendship of shared passions – not only of politics, but of art and music, of travel and antiques, of fine literature and epicurean delights; of passions pursued inconspicuously on the shoestring budget of the skilled machinist Julie was to become. To be sure, there were plenty of lean years. But as a life together that of the Jacobsons remains a standing rebuke to those who would extol the supposed socialist virtues of humorless gray existence consumed by Jimmy Higgins drudgery and wanton self-deprivation much the way a contemporary sensibility is repulsed by the pretence that monkish austerity brings the members of a religious order closer to god. Julie never worshipped at any shrine, and certainly not that of working class squalor. He had nothing to prove.
When the country entered the war, the Workers Party industrialized, unionizing its cadres to position the movement for an anticipated upsurge in militancy following the war. Julie, although a skilled industrial worker at General Electric, was nevertheless drafted. He served at the tail end of the Battle of the Bulge, where he narrowly escaped death after a mortar shell pierced the boxcar he was traveling to the front in, killing half of the GIs inside. But even more riveting than this brush with death was another incident whose effects he would never shake off. While traveling to the front, Julie witnessed a large contingent of white soldiers firing as if in sport on an encampment of black American soldiers. The officers in charge displayed no interest, more accurately found it amusing, that their racist troops were engaged in target practice against their own countrymen. This episode of military lynching flagrantly contradicted the Popular Front nonsense that the Second World War was a conscious fight against fascism. That WWII was the “good war” was a proposition that Julie would never theoretically or practically entertain. It transformed Julie’s anti-racist commitments from the political realm to the visceral.
Julie also took part in the liberation of Paris in 1944. He made contact with French and expatriate Greek Trotskyists, most memorably one who went by the party name of Pablo, and managed to smuggle supplies of clothing, blankets, food and socialist literature to these beleaguered comrades. Shachtman sent word to Julie to be wary of Pablo, whom Shachtman believed to be seriously unmoored as evidenced not least by Pablo’s fanciful if not fantastical perspective at the time that the American troops were at the precipice of revolt. Years later – after subsequent rifts in the Fourth International, which had become, not least under the pernicious influence of Pablo, little more than a leftwing of Stalinism as far as the Workers Party was concerned – Pablo proved incapable of maintaining even the pretense of civility with Julie, despite their once warm wartime friendship.
Upon discharge, the Party maintained its industrial perspective. But Julie disagreed with this, objecting that the meager and thinning resources of the Party were inadequate to offer young workers a meaningful industrial alternative. Where Julie did see organizational prospects was not in the high schools or among “proletarian youth” but on campus, where returning GIs benefited from unprecedented educational opportunities. Julie abandoned his job as a machinist for General Electric and plunged himself into college organizing for the Socialist Youth League, which later stripped the SP’s youth group from its parent organization to form the Young Socialist League, and made a major contribution to the burgeoning of a campus Third Camp. The SYL had good-sized units in New York, Chicago and Berkeley and had groups in dozens of other cities and universities including Oberlin, Detroit, Los Angeles and Denver. It was in those years that Julie wrote the Youth Corner column for Labor Action and founded and edited the campus magazine Anvil that later merged with Student Partisan in 1950. Formally formed by the New York Student Federation Against War, its political tendency was generally that of the Independent Socialist League, which the Workers Party had now become, diversified somewhat by association with pacifist clubs and unaffiliated students sympathetic to the ISL’s anti-war and militant viewpoint. This remarkable journal, with a circulation of over 4,000, whose pieces were never unfortunately collected for reprint, contained essays by the likes of Richard Wright, Lewis Coser, Irving Howe, Hal Draper, Michael Harrington, Paul Goodman, Harold Rosenberg, George Rawick, C. Wright Mills, Isaac Rosenfeld, Harvey Swados and Dan Wakefield. It helped introduce an American audience to the writings of Simone de Beauvoir.
Julie contributed two pieces in particular that were symptomatic of later enduring themes. Do Communists have the Right to Teach? was an editorial in the inaugural issue. It was an attack on Sidney Hook, who, by that time, had become a sophisticated apologist for McCarthyism. Julie’s rebuttal remains a ringing and spirited endorsement of free speech and civil liberties noteworthy not only for the archivists – contrasting the consistent stand of independent socialists with that of the wavering liberal anti-Communist left – but for its eerie contemporary relevance. Julie’s implacable defense of civil liberties was extended and developed in forthcoming articles, written under his pen name Julius Falk (Falk being his mother’s maiden name), in the ISL’s journal, The New International. These concerns, that “the democratic principles of the Bill of Rights are often ground to dust in the social mechanism of bourgeois democracy,” were continuously revisited in the course of his political and literary career. In the penultimate article that Julie penned for the Summer 2002 issue of New Politics, Julie warned that unlike the 1950s witch hunts, that were made short shrift of by the Army and Eisenhower, the current “War on Democracy is recognizably a war by the ruling class and its State.”
ANOTHER THREAD OF ENDURING relevance was laid out in War, Realism and the Lesser Evil. It remains to this day one of the most concise and concentrated statements of Third Camp foreign policy analysis, whose relevance outlives the particular context in which it arose. However, it too was set against a raw political backdrop that made liberalism suspect and radicalism subversive. In it Julie tackled openly and imaginatively the knotty maze-like logic of “lesser evilism” that seduced an army of retreating leftists into believing that they could lend critical support to the American Establishment while remaining in the ultimate service of socialism. This is a theme that continued and could not but continue to find resonance in his numerous subsequent anti-war polemics. But it is in Julie’s elegant parting thoughts that can be seen the animating impulse of a lifetime of socialist activism. It is a piercingly simple and yet more profound statement than can be found in the most pretentious of treatises on dialectical methodology, over-determination and universal schemata often associated with Marxism and a telling rebuke to the “end of (socialist) ideology” theories of then and now. “Nevertheless,” Julie concluded, “guarantees can not be given to those who ask ‘How do I know the Third Camp will succeed?’ We do know that neither capitalism nor Stalinism can succeed in solving a single basic social problem. We do know that the potential for socialism exists. More that that we do not need to know for making a political, realistic and moral choice.”
During the 1950s Julie turned over the stewardship of Anvil and Student Partisan to others to become editor of The New International. By the middle 50s, Shachtman was shifting rapidly to the right purportedly in pursuit of new opportunities for movement building. The Communist Party was in disarray, traumatized by Khrushchev’s revelations at the XXth party congress and the Hungarian revolt, and rent by an ensuing faction fight that could not be resolved within the framework of a unified organization. It was caught, as the ISL stated, between the Russian ruling class and the American working class. This raised anew the question of a broader socialist movement predicated on finding common ground for regroupment and unity with that wing of the CP that was beginning to find its own path towards recognizing the centrality of democracy for socialism. The search on the part of Shachtman and the majority for a minimum platform, understandable in the abstract as being inconsistent with the full position of the ISL, signified in practice an opening to the right. That is, the Shachtmanites became ever more unwilling to advocate – in a non-disruptive manner – for revolutionary politics and Third Camp socialism as they folded up shop inside the near moribund Socialist Party.
Julie, who had always maintained close personal relations with Shachtman, identified and exposed the regressive trends and interpretations in the latter’s writings that represented a rupture with the ISL’s historic past and which invited intellectual disorientation to envelope the movement’s remnants. Leninism, The Comintern and Putschism was Julie’s answer to Shachtman’s final article in the fall 1957 issue of the New International entitled American Communism, or a Reexamination of the Past. It unfortunately had to be privately printed and circulated, having been submitted for a scheduled issue that was never to appear. Painful as this was to Julie, it became increasingly apparent that Shachtman was beginning to manipulate the lesser evil comparison of democratic capitalism with Stalinism as a rationalization for abandoning socialist politics. That is, Julie would concede that democratic capitalism was a “lesser evil,” but insisted, in the WP-ISL tradition, that supporting Western capitalism against Stalinism could only perpetuate a Cold War symbiosis that undermined democracy globally. For a brief moment following the absorption of the ISL into the Socialist Party, it seemed that the latter might enjoy a revival, anticipating new support from the fallout from the CP and the merger of the AFL and CIO. But the old movement leadership, once inside the SP, began to move to the right and with few exceptions to the extreme right. They were shortly to plunge the organization into a series of disastrous and debilitating factional fights in their newfound zeal to abandon independent political action for a political realignment of the Democratic Party.
STILL THIS INTERREGNUM was an intellectually fecund period for Julie. He produced a groundbreaking trilogy of articles, actually the material for a small volume, on The Origins of the Communist Movement in the US that appeared in successive issues of The New International during 1955 and 1956. And he extended his researches contributing as an associate author to the Howe and Coser volume on The American Communist Party in 1957, one of a handful of truly seminal treatments of this subject and the only one to refract the topic through the critical lens of Third Camp socialism.
Julie never entered the SP after the dissolution of the ISL, although Phyllis for a period was its Manhattan organizer. Yet it was quite clear to the Jacobsons that the newly regrouped SP would not be the antidote to the frailty of organized socialism in the US. The promise of radical renewal was to be found elsewhere, in the emancipation struggles of Southern blacks, in the emergence of a militant civil rights and civil libertarian consciousness in the North and in the small, spontaneous outbursts of peace and anti-war sentiment on campus all of which portended the birth of a new left. The immediate problem as they saw it was “not how to solve all the problems of socialist politics, theory and organization but rather ... how to establish a sphere in which these problems could be seriously discussed.” They proposed a new magazine which would grapple with the issues pioneered within the independent, Third Camp framework – the impact of totalitarianism on the concept of socialism, the post-Stalin changes in Russia, the meaning of socialist democracy and the dangers of bureaucratization, the relevance of socialist anti-militarism in a world living in the shadow of the bomb, the role of the modern working class, and the ubiquitous impact of racism on American society. But it would also be a journal in which the “sole criterion of editorial selection [would] be neither conformity nor heterogeneity, but rather the ability of articles to stimulate thought and debate, or to contribute in some way to thinking out acute questions of politics and theory. It can be taken as a principle that an article which stirs one to refute it is an article eminently worth printing – whether an editorial board or any editor agrees with it or not – far more than an article of impeccable sentiments which stirs no thought at all.” New Politics would be a journal to engage the left, not to hector or lecture to it from on high; a journal that would assist the left in resurrecting itself.
It was an idea met with the enthusiastic reception of leading American socialists, writers, university professors and trade unionists. Included among its original editors and sponsors were Hal Draper and Herbert Hill – who more than any aside from the Jacobsons themselves were to shape the journal – as well as such notables as Harvey Swados, James Baldwin, Dan Wakefield, Sid Lens, A.J. Muste, Norman Thomas, Herbert Gold, Bert Cochran, Patrick Gorman, Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington. It was an illustrious list to be sure, but a list also all too typical for its time with its notable and jarring lack of women sponsors and editorial members. Not even Phyllis was recognized as editor until the Summer 1968 issue. Although its endorsers and contributors ranged from the reformist to the revolutionary, the journal clearly intended to stake out for itself an independent democratic Marxist presence in the intellectual life of the left. In this it distinguished itself from the other significant journals of the left at the time: Studies on the Left, with, what Julie felt, was a “clear enough pro-Eastern bias,” the social democratic Dissent and the anarchist-pacifist monthly Liberation.
The imprimatur of the Third Camp was immediately impressed on the journal by Julie himself in such remarkable essays as American Socialism and Thermonuclear War, The Limits of Russian Reform and Isaac Deutscher: The Anatomy of an Apologist. Some of these were later gathered, along with pieces of a similar Third Camp orientation by other New Politics contributors, in a volume edited by Julie, Soviet Communism and the Socialist Vision (1972). These remain signal contributions that can be reread profitably today as luminescent roadmaps of an independent socialist politics; one which eschews any accommodation with authoritarianism or “democratic capitalism” of that sort that all too often litters and neutralizes socialist politics. He insisted that the relevance of socialism is crucially and inseparably linked to a policy of peace and freedom. “Peaceful solutions can be offered short of freedom but they can not be socialist solutions (nor do I believe that they can assure peace) because socialism is freedom and a policy that denies freedom, denies socialism.” Put otherwise, these non-socialist “solutions” cannot really bring peace because they leave in place class systems with an inherent drive toward war.
With his extended discussion of Deutscher, Julie grappled with a strain of radicalism that was to make deep inroads into the more sophisticated interstices of the New Left and beyond. “Given his [Deutscher’s] views of socialism, which eliminate democracy as an integral part of socialism and given his conviction that only the inevitably (‘predetermined’) evolved system of Stalinism could bring this method about, there is no ground for repudiating Stalin’s methods other than an irrelevant squeamishness. Perhaps it was not necessary to slander the old Bolsheviks with the charge of being agents of foreign imperialism and on Hitler’s payroll, but whatever reasons might be advanced, from Deutscher’s point of view and analysis, if logic prevails, the old Bolsheviks had to be removed one way or another, since it can easily be established that their very existence was a serious menace to the consolidation of Stalinism politically and therefore an impediment to its historic ’socialist’ mission of raising Russia from the wooden plow to the tractor.” Deutscher created the “theoretical justification for terror whose practical significance” is extended, in echoes that reverberate even today, to justify the “use of terror and the liquidation of democracy and democrats” not least of all in Cuba, as it has in China and Vietnam.
Imbued by the animating impulse of socialism from below, Julie became an extraordinarily keen observer and consistently sympathetic ally both of the militant wing of the civil rights movement and of the rising tide of campus radicalism in the ’60s. His Defense of the Young, Coalitionism: From Protest to Politicking and the introduction to The Negro and the American Labor Movement (1968), which Julie edited, brought into sharpest relief the contrasting politics of the third camp with that of his old comrades. These he now condemned as having debased the ideals of socialism by shilling for the Democrats and becoming “paid political agents of the reactionary Meany leadership of the AFL-CIO” or who, in their more radical “democratic left” wing, having “grown tired, disillusioned and frustrated over the failure of independent socialist politics ... moved in an increasingly rightward direction, discovering en route all sorts of wondrous things in liberal (and not so liberal) institutions and values.” He indicted them for setting upon themselves the task of “impeding and reversing the radicalization of the young” and of “reducing the Negro-labor alliance to a fetishism.”
With respect to the latter, Julie was particularly merciless and impatient. “What,” he asked in the 1960s, “is either extreme or unfair in the demand that Negro workers who have so long been oppressed be partially compensated for the crimes against them (including crimes by racist unions which deprived them of a livelihood) by giving them preferential consideration in hiring practices?” The point can easily be extended to the demand for reparations today. The larger issue is that the blight of racism and inequality are not merely historic outrages, but ongoing offenses that demand pervasive institutional and social redress and compensation. Affirmative action was, in Julie’s estimation, a “small democratic step in the direction of social justice.” Those among the “Democratic Left” who so relentlessly insisted on a black-labor alliance never once outlined what the labor component of that alliance should look like. Could a militant civil rights movement be expected to accommodate itself to a conservative and bureaucratic trade union bureaucracy? And if so, at what cost? Julie warned that those who perpetually counsel the need for such an alliance, and who placed no preconditions that the trade union movement acknowledge and cleanse itself of racism, could no longer claim to be primarily concerned with advancing the cause of social reform. They had, in word and in deed, become brokers for the establishment within the civil rights movement, attempting to effect a non-disruptive framework, a pact of institutional quiescence, as a pre-condition for Democratic Party advancement. As for what cost, Julie was specific – “the abandonment of political independence and socialist opposition.”
Certainly, one of the most agonizing essays Julie was called upon to write was The Two Deaths of Max Shachtman in the winter 1973 issue. Shachtman had earned the admiration of a generation of radicals of previous decades by his political courage in engaging and opposing and, in Julie’s estimation – besting Trotsky, whom he “loved, respected and feared” and for his intellectual and political contributions to the understanding of Stalinism. In the 40s and early 50s, Max had had unusually warm – unusual for the difficult and ungenerous Shachtman, that is – relations with Julie and Phyllis. Among the most stunning and dramatic photographs of the Jacobsons in their young adulthood were some taken by Shachtman, who was not an infrequent diner at the Jacobson household. Yet with admitted trepidation, Julie passed the pronouncement that Max, the unheralded author and eminence grise of coalition politics and of the “realignment strategy” died in the most factual sense a renegade, “a man who reneged on his earlier, most fundamental commitment to social justice...” “Had he [Shachtman] been able to make contact with the young, who were fresh and receptive to new ideas, might he not have been able to guide some into the camp of revolutionary socialism?” “But why,” Julie characteristically asked, “should any of these young people have cocked an attentive ear to Shachtman’s revelations about Stalinism when they were accompanied by apologies for the American bombing of Vietnam and plaudits for some of the most reactionary elements in the trade unions and the Democratic Party?” In this essay, Julie put to rest for a decade any lingering need to further engage the self-entitled “Democratic Left,” including most of the comrades of his youth who had by then orbited themselves politically and morally miles away from anything that could reasonably be said to be socialist.
A few years later, Julie had occasion to analyze the neo-Stalinist mist that was fast enveloping the antiwar movement. In it he found the ultimate tragedy of the Shachtmanite legacy, reduced by his epigones to simple anti-communism, to be clear. “If the ideological force of Stalinism, in the left wing world is to be exposed and eliminated it can only be done by those who continue in a truly radical, socialist tradition; never by those who compromise with imperialism.” This theme foreshadowed Julie’s final project that began twenty years later, “The Soviet Union is Dead: The ‘Russian Question’ Remains.”
By the end of the 1970s, the Jacobsons had quite literally exhausted themselves. Putting out a quarterly journal on a shoestring and editing the journal as a two-person operation had occupied nearly every non-working minute of their lives. Julie’s business, he had operated a small machine shop – General Machines (one of whose workers invariably answered the phone by announcing, “General Machines, private parts here”) – was taken over by Bell and Howell. The shop, which had barely paid its bills, in part by having functioned as subsidized employment for numerous movement personalities over the years, was – at Julie’s insistence – fully unionized. Its remaining workers were absorbed as a pre-condition by their new employer with full seniority rights and appropriate union wage scales and benefits, a somewhat unusual procedure in such takeovers. With this transition, the first run of New Politics also came to a close, brought to that by a combination of editorial fatigue with the social isolation and subsequent disappearance of the New Left at the conclusion of the Vietnam War.
IN THE INTERIM, the Jacobsons edited a volume entitled Socialist Perspectives (1983), which frankly hoped to contribute to a renewal of interest in socialist theory and ideology buoyed by the growing anti-nuclear, feminist and ecological movements during the Reagan years. It prefigured by some three years the forces that again led to the revival of the journal in 1986. When the journal was resuscitated, Julie made it explicitly clear from the outset that this was to be a journal of Third Camp socialism. Julie’s masterful and detailed analysis of the manifold meaning and implications of such politics was fleshed out in greater detail than ever before and Socialism and the Third Camp remains, along with Hal Draper’s The Two Souls of Socialism,” a classic exposition on the subject. He took on the specters that haunted such politics, the apparitions of past Third Campers, who had – so to speak – given up the ghost by their acquisition of a superior political “realism.” Where is the Third Camp to be found? In what social forces does it adhere? Does it have a concrete history? What of the Third Camp and bourgeois democracy? And what of it and lesser evilism? One by one he painstakingly attempted to dissolve the political gunk that had accumulated in opposition to these animating political ideals assembled over a lifetime of revolutionary experience. His conclusion bears restating.
For Third Camp socialists, political and social democracy and a belief in the ability and necessity of working people to govern their own lives are at the core of our socialism; we cannot recognize socialism in any other guise. This is not to suggest that Third Camp socialism is a sectarian and rigid dogma which provides a ’correct line’ on all political questions. The concept is broad enough to embrace a rich variety of views, strategies and programs. But what is imperative is the acceptance of democracy as a common denominator of socialism if we are to overcome the ’crisis of socialism’ over which we have agonized for so many decades. For the crisis is also in socialism, a crisis of self-definition of who we are and what we want. And since we are convinced that it is the responsibility of socialists to wave the banner of peace, freedom and democracy with one hand, then it follows that the other must be raised in a clenched fist as both affirmation of socialism and in defiance of all the little people in high places who control our lives; against those societies which oppress humanity and threaten its existence.
Some of Julie’s finest writings during the ensuing years dealt, necessarily and at length, with American imperialism. The winter 1991 issue, in which Julie analyzed the first Gulf War crisis, actually sold its complete press run. What he observed a decade ago about American foreign policy still rings, if anything, with added truth and a resilient poignancy after the recent carnage. “... (T)o be effective, and deserving of popular support, anti-war activists must make it unambiguously clear that resistance to an unjust war does not mean any support for the Iraqi dictatorship ...” “All of us active in the movement against war in the Gulf should make our own linkage between the struggle for peace and the struggle for democracy in the Middle East. We should urge the adoption of a foreign policy which encourages the development of democratic movements and democratic societies in a region now dominated by feudal monarchs, religious fundamentalists and dictators in the Arab world, and by racists and hardline hawks in Israel.”
Julie’s final project, which he considered the culmination of a lifetime of theoretical reflection rooted in political engagement, was to cast a cleansing light over the Stalinist shadow which had so infected and discredited socialism; to complete, as it were, the work of the Workers Party-Independent Socialist League. Of this project, three-fourths were brought to print: the introductory essay on the enduring relevance of the Russian question, a discussion of the USSR and the nature of the Second World War, and one on Stalinism and the demise of American Socialism. It was to culminate in a larger theoretical section on the Bolsheviks, Communist totalitarianism and Marxism that, sadly, was never completed. Still he left a tantalizing prospect of what was to have come. “What is involved is nothing less than the question of self-definition, of fundamental concepts of right and wrong, of what kind of movement for emancipation must be built and, last but by no means least, what vision we have of an emancipated society.”
IN THE LAST THREE YEARS, Phyllis was stricken with a series of debilitating strokes that left her severely compromised and in need of round-the-clock attention. Julie, unable to care for her himself, shifted his office to Phyllis’s nursing home room. There he carried out the day-to-day business of New Politics. That is where he did his note taking, his writing, his editing. That is where he contacted essayists to discuss their submissions. That is where he took his lunch and, many days, where he dined in the evening. He was Phyllis’ untiring nursing home advocate, overseeing her treatment and summoning specialists when he felt the home to be negligent. He shared his articles with her and took delight in showing her each ensuing issue of the journal. Except for his stint in the army, Julie never parted a day from Phyllis, and the last years were no exception. Julie refused trips to museums and could not bear to indulge himself even to take in a movie, for fear that his absence would frighten, alarm or disorient Phyllis. He abandoned his weekend cottage and his beloved fishing trips. On their anniversaries and on their birthdays, friends gathered with Julie in Phyllis’s room. When in his last few months he underwent chemotherapy, he would end his day, wan and ill, with a visit to Phyllis, fearing only that his ravaged appearance might shock her.
Julie spent his last months as he had his entire adult life – with enormous reserves of dignity, not a hint of self-pity and with his sense of humor and irony fully intact. He completed the final draft of his article just days before he died. For those who knew Julie, it was striking that only in the last few months were we aware of his having aged. Striking because it reminded us how indestructible Julie appeared, one of our generation out of time. If for us, the editorial board of New Politics, Julie seemed never to really grow old, there is an explanation, even if the truth sometimes lurks in clichés. Perhaps it is impossible to truly grow old, as Ignazio Silone suggested, when one remains as fully and truly faithful to the ideals and commitments of one’s youth as did our comrade.
Last updated: 21 February 2010