Archive for the ‘WWII’ Category

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Barbara Gregorich and Phil Passen were members of the US Socialist Workers Party from 1965-72, and key figures in the Proletarian Orientation tendency within the SWP and then in the Class Struggle League 1972-74.  While maintaining their anti-capitalist views, Barbara became a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and Phil  is a musician on the hammered dulcimer.  In the interview below they talk about growing up in 1950s America, the winds of change of the 1960s, their politicisation and activity in that era, their involvement in the US SWP an how and why they began questioning its politics and organisational methods, how they came to a parting of the ways with it, their subsequent political activity, the decline of the left and the fate of the original new social movements of that era, and their assessment of politics in the United States today.

Philip Ferguson: Could you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?  What was it like growing up in the States in the 1950s and early 1960s?

Barbara Gregorich: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My mother and father worked in my uncle’s bar as bar tenders until I was ten, then my father worked as a millwright in a steel mill and my mother worked at home. One of my uncles had a dairy farm less than half a mile from our house, and I spent much of my time there, with my cousins. I loved being outdoors and helping with milking and other farm chores. After I graduated from high school I attended Kent State University, which was maybe 35 miles away. I graduated with a degree in American Literature and also one in American History. I received an MA degree from the University of Wisconsin, in Literature, and I did post graduate work at Harvard, in the History of American Civilization.

I worked as an Instructor of English at Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College while living in Cleveland, Ohio. Then Phil and I moved to Boston and I worked as a typesetter, first for a small job shop, then at the Boston Globe. We moved to Chicago, Illinois, and I worked as a typesetter for the Chicago Tribune, then as a postal letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office. I had always wanted to be either a baseball player or a writer. Baseball is closed to women, so I became a writer. In 1979 I went freelance,  which I’ve been to this day.

download (3)What it was like growing up in the States during the 1950s and 1960s is an interesting question, because of course one doesn’t think, “I’m growing up in the ’50s . . . and now I’ve transitioned to the ’60s!” But a person is definitely aware of the characteristics of the decade he/she grows up in, if not at the moment, then in retrospect, or in contrast to the next decade. Living in the 1950s, I was aware that I didn’t like many things about society. I hated fashion, especially as it applied to girls and women. I hated petticoats and crinolines, the latter “required” for the felted poodle skirts fashion of my junior-high years. I hated popcorn socks and pencil skirts and I refused to put my hair in curlers: torture!

What I wanted to wear was t-shirts and jeans, clothes I could function in. I also wondered why my fellow students flocked to and embraced each fashion that came along.  I can’t say that I was aware of politics when in junior and senior high, but standing in the early 1960s and looking back on the 1950s, I felt that it was a very conservative, unquestioning decade, and I was glad to be out of it.

Compared to the ’50s, the 1960s were a blast a fresh air, with people my age questioning what was right and wrong in society, and acting to make changes.

download (2)Phil Passen: I grew up in a small town in Michigan. My father, whose father had been a bricklayer who died from a fall on the job, owned a children’s clothing store in Monroe, Michigan, a small town between Detroit and Toledo. My mother’s parents had died when she was an infant, and she was raised by an aunt and uncle. I don’t know what their class background was, but I assume skilled workers or lower petty-bourgeois. My parents declared bankruptcy in 1960, and lost the store and our house primarily because of medical expenses for my mom’s various illnesses. I remember that this was the first time I thought about anything political, even though I didn’t realize at the time that it was a political question. But I wondered how medical expenses could be so great that they could cost people something they had worked so very hard for. My father was an Eisenhower Republican, and my mother was a Stevenson Democrat, and none of that made any sense to me.

passncon2I remember a palpable difference between the ’50s and ’60s. At some point early in the ’60s I realized that the stodgy, uninteresting, unexciting coat-and -tie atmosphere of the ’50s was gone — replaced by rock and roll, the Beatles and Stones, Bob Dylan, beats, greasers, art films, and an air of excitement. Hard to explain, but I remember feeling the change very strongly. And in the background, at least for me, but something I was very conscious of, was the Civil Rights Movement. I knew something was different.

Phil F: What made you first begin to question the existing state of things?

Phil P: Unquestionably, (more…)

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Photo by Simon Oosterman

by Daphna Whitmore

Margaret Jones died on 19 June aged 96. She was a fun-loving, colourful and committed communist. She was invariably seen at demonstrations with her trusty Workers of the World Unite placard strung around her neck. It was the best slogan of all she reckoned. She was also an animal rights activist and supporter of the organics movement. She loved jazz and dancing. She grew more beautiful as she got older, and was a groovy dresser who looked great in black leather pants and red lipstick, a look she could still pull off in her nineties. She was a teacher and never quite retired. (more…)

Today, February 13, marks the 65th anniversary of the start of the 1951 waterfront dispute, the 151-day long struggle by the ruling class to smash the country’s most militant workers and unions.

Check out our coverage of this momentous dispute.

Interview with Jock Barnes, the legendary wharfies’ leader: part one and part two.

Our major feature article on the dispute: Behind the 1951 waterfront lockout

A review of Barnes’ Never a White Flag (and a book on the militant Builders’ Laborers’ Federation in NSW): When workers had class

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Walter Nash, Labour’s immigration minister, helped keep doors largely barred to Jewish refugees from Nazis

by Phil Duncan

While the Labour Party showed its knee-jerk racism in relation to the Chinese yet again last year – a modern-day equivalent to the early party’s keen support for the White New Zealand policy – few people are aware of the first Labour government’s shoddy record in relation to refugees, particularly Jewish refugees, from Nazism in Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Below is essentially a summary of chapter 13 of Oliver Sutherland’s Paikea, a book about his father (I.L.G. Sutherland), which throws an interesting light on this.

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

I only became aware of this hidden part of Labour Party history when, by chance, I saw Paikea in a display in a public library.  I knew of Oliver as a prominent figure in the Auckland Committee on Racial Discrimination (ACORD) way back in the 1970s, so I picked up the book and had a look at it.  I was interested to see that Ivan Sutherland had been very involved in campaigning for European refugees in the late 1930s and into the 1940s and had been up against it as the first Labour government wasn’t keen on (more…)

51Gblu33XmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Donny Gluckstein (ed), Fighting on all Fronts: popular resistance in the Second World War, London, Bookmarks, 2015; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

This is a fascinating book.  Its ten contributors provide eleven chapters – two are by Gluckstein – on people’s resistance to dictatorship in Europe and Asia/Pacific during World War 2 and struggles within two capitalist democracies (Australia and Ireland, the latter not being formally involved in the second great imperialist conflagration).

The struggles range from Jewish resistance to the Nazis and the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, to the Slovak national uprising of 1944 to resistance to French rule in Algeria to Burmese resistance to both British and Japanese imperialism to the Huk rebellion in the Philippines.  While the countries covered exclude key imperialist players, and sometimes the choice of places to cover seemed a little strange, hopefully there will be a second volume to cover struggles in the United States, Britain and Germany – especially since Gluckstein is an expert of Nazi Germany and has already written a fine book about the rise of the Nazis and the course of their regime.

Lesser-known

One advantage, however, of covering the places that are covered is that these are generally the least-known.  I certainly found that most of the chapters added considerably to my knowledge of resistance during what several generations of us used to call “the war”.  Perhaps the most fascinating for me was Janey Stone’s impressive account of struggles by East European Jews, and non-Jewish supporters, against repression and annihilation.  The ‘mainstream’ impression is that Jews went meekly to the slaughter but Janey, (more…)

The piece below appeared as the editorial in the September 16 issues of the weekly bulletins for a range of workplaces produced by the Workers Fight group in Britain; we’ve slightly altered the subheads.

Jeremy Corbyn: leader or hostage?

Jeremy Corbyn: leader or hostage?

Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the Labour leadership election was a blow to all those who claim that the working class should pay with its jobs, conditions and services in order to boost the profits of the capitalist class.

The uproar and consternation caused by this result among the political establishment and most of the media, was an expression of their class contempt – if not their class hatred – towards us, workers. They just cannot swallow the fact that, for once, a quarter of a million people managed to voice their refusal of any form of austerity!

Yes, for once, the promoters of the capitalist market and the champions of austerity have been challenged in public. And that, if nothing else, should be cause to rejoice. But only provided we (more…)

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August 6 marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.  The US is the only country in the world ever to have dropped nuclear bombs on another country, an important fact to remember when US government spin lines about ‘weapons of mass destruction’, ‘terrorism’, ‘barbarism’ and so on.

Mick Hume on The Pacific War, racism and Hiroshima

John Pilger on The lies of Hiroshima are the lies of today

Sabena Norten on World War II: the real story

James Heartfield on The Second World War: the battle of the books