[Hpn] Not Party or Racial Politics, Despite the Opening
William M. Mandel
Wed, 20 Dec 2000 21:06:41 -0800
A bare majority of whites think Bush won fair and square, according
to a CNN/USA Today/ Gallup poll. Virtually no Blacks do (seven percent).
As many as four whites out of ten think the electoral system
discriminates against Blacks, as do three out of four Blacks. Three out
of ten whites think Bush cheated; seven out of ten Blacks do.
This post is directed at that last category, in both races. It is
not concerned with reversing the results of the election or with how to
win the next one for whatever party or candidate or racial group. It has
to do with how the American people, in all its segments individually and
jointly, young and old, female and male, home-owners and renters, those
who work for wages and salaries and those who are or think of themselves
as do the self-employed; well or poorly educated; white, Black, Latino,
Asian-American, Native American, the "normal" and the disabled, have
learned to defend their own interests in the past century and to gain
improvements in their status. That includes staying out and getting out
of wars, and attaining necessary objectives outside our country by
peaceful means and even when military means are unavoidable.
I have no formula to offer, no organization to join, no place to
give money to, only extremely rich experience and thoughts based on
In the 1920s I belonged to a children's organization that won the
establishment of a cafeteria in a huge public school that had none.
I had the good luck to be in my teens during the Great Depression.
Good luck, because the teens are one's time of greatest energy and
intellectual curiosity, and also because the circumstances of the day
forced people to act and think outside established patterns. As a
student, I opposed the bringing of police on campus, demolished the
liberal pretensions of the college president who did that, and was
expelled for my pains. I helped in labor organization in New York and
the industrial cities of Ohio, and listened to the debates over whether
unions should support the radical idea of unemployment insurance. I met,
on a picket line, the young woman who remains my wife 66 years later.
Our daughter was born at the end of that decade.
I also met a white young woman who had initially testified she had
been raped by the Scottsboro Boys, and then had the courage to go back
to court in that redneck Alabama town to contradict that, thus
compelling me to face, for the first time, the use of rape as an
allegation to keep African-Americans "in their place."
For one year in that decade, my father took the family to Moscow
where he had taken a civil engineering job. This gave me the chance to
observe, at first hand, the effort to build a Utopian society, and to
read the theories on which it was based.
The forties were a roller-coaster. The knowledge of Russian I had
acquired was put to use providing government and press with basic
knowledge of the country that, totally contrary to pre-war expectations,
had become our most powerful ally against Hitler. A Rockefeller
Foundation- funded organization asked me to write a book on that
subject. Another book became the second ever used as a text about the
Soviet Union in American higher education. The vice-president and a
Supreme Court justice came to hear me speak on that at the Brookings
Institution in Washington. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University
invited me to take a fellowship there at post-doctoral level to pursue
further research. Two more children were born.
The Cold War began literally the day World War II ended, according
to the Pentagon. Along with our wartime ambassador to Moscow, the
vice-president, and others of similar stature, I opposed it. This
brought an attack on me personally, as well as others, in Newsweek,
before I was thirty. It ended my paid association with higher education
for twenty-seven years thereafter. It caused two more books, which I had
written on publishers' advances, never to see the light of day. I was
dropped by my lecture management, the top such firm in the country,
which had people like Eleanor Roosevelt on its roster.
I never permitted these lofty associations to interfere with
grassroots activism, sometimes downright physical. In 1949 the
extraordinary Renaissance man Paul Robeson, football All-American,
baritone called upon for command performances before the crowned heads
of Europe, first Black in this century permitted to play Othello
opposite a white Desdemona, was prevented by a mob from giving his
annual outdoor concert not far from West Point because he, too, vocally
opposed the Cold War. I was part of the bodyguard the following week
when 2,000 young war veterans protected the crowd of 15,000 that came to
hear him, against another mob that stoned us, bloodied my wife, sent
hundreds to hospitals and doctors. But that finished, to this day,
efforts to prevent expression of dissenting viewpoints by mob violence
-- fascism -- except against Blacks and other ethnic minorities. That is
one of the things that explains the huge difference between white and
Black opinions on the conduct of the recent presidential election.
The 1950s were the darkest time for freedom in my lifetime. I was
subpoenaed by all three committees we jointly label McCarthyism, for my
outrageous crime of writing books. Literally. In 1952 it was the U.S.
Senate Internal Security (McCarran) Committee, which was horrified by my
wartime book, The Soviet Far East and Central Asia. The next year it was
Senator Joe McCarthy himself, objecting to that one and to an article of
1944 in an academic journal, the American Sociological Review,
originally written at the request of the advisors to the Republican
candidate for president. That hearing was broadcast live on national TV,
and I am happy to say that the national press, from the New York Times
on down, front-paged my testimony and transmitted what the television
audience had seen on screen -- that I cut him to pieces. That cost me my
job, of course, and we were pretty poor for some time thereafter.
But in 1951 I had taken part in an event that foreshadowed the
biggest change brought by the 1960s, one that it is still necessary to
nail down, judging by the electoral shenanigans in Florida. I
participated in a "pilgrimage" of 500 people, about 50-50 Black and
white, to the South, in an attempt to save the lives of the defendants
in another mass rape trial of African-Americans. The Scottsboro Case of
1931 had ended years later in victory, when the U.S. Supreme Court found
that barring Blacks from juries was illegal. The seven men in the
Martinsville Case of 1951 were executed, despite the fact that no white
had ever been put to death for that crime in the history of the state of
Virginia, where this occurred. But the welcome given us by the local
African-American community, and its participation, foreshadowed what
would occur a decade later when one of my sons was among those who
risked their lives in Mississippi to win Blacks the right to vote.
The 1950s also brought ventures into politics as such. I ran for
Congress in New York City in 1950 and 1952 against the Korean War, using
that as a means of publicizing information that the mass media would run
once -- "objectivity," dontcha know -- and then suppress. But I do have
the satisfaction of knowing that I was the first person reported in the
public press to have called for the dismissal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur
for insubordination that threatened a world nuclear war. He was in fact
Having been New Yorkers most of our lives, we moved to Berkeley in
1957. The following January I began a program on Pacifica Radio that
lasted until 1995, in the course of which I re-invented talk radio (I
did not know that it had existed on a couple of stations before
McCarthy). In 1960, the House Un-American Activities Committee
subpoenaed me for its road-show hearing in San Francisco in an effort to
get the station, KPFA, to cancel my show, and to intimidate the local
public TV station, KQED, where I also had been on for three years, to do
likewise. The latter caved in, the former did not. By great good
fortune, the hearing coincided with the birth of student activism,
provoked by the fact that the committee also subpoenaed a student at the
Berkeley campus of the University of California.
My testimony this time became part of folklore. It has been
reproduced in six documentary films, one even this year, forty years
after the event, and has become pretty much the standard cut used in TV
specials seeking to portray the atmosphere of the McCarthy era and,
above all, resistance to it. It has also shown up in phonograph records
and audio cassettes. (My testimony before McCarthy was performed by an
actor in a play thirty-five years later that had a seven-month run in
Los Angeles, and also played in McCarthy's home state of Wisconsin.)
For me personally, the HUAC testimony had the pleasant result of
winning such popularity among 1960s students that I was incorporated
into the Executive Committee of the Free Speech Movement at the
University of California. Essentially it was pressure from that movement
that won me a teaching appointment in its Sociology Department in 1969.
I also taught at San Francisco and San Jose State universities and in
the Law School of Golden Gate University.
When President John Kennedy blockaded Cuba in 1962, resulting in the
Cuba Missile Crisis, the only time in the four decades of Cold War that
nuclear war was an immediate possibility, I was able to present a
solution through people with access to his brother, cabinet officer
Bobby Kennedy, and to the National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, that
corresponded very closely to the deal actually worked out with the
The 1970s involved a series of offers of teaching positions by
faculty at various places, cancelled by higher-ups but for one short
stint at one institution. At another, a department head said he would
resign in protest over action taken against me, but I convinced him that
his university needed precisely people like him, so he confined himself
to taking a sabbatical.
With the rise of popular discontent with the Cold War in the 1980s,
I was able to use my knowledge of the Soviet Union to serve the
citizen-diplomacy movement that then sprang into existence. This took me
on joint peace walks from Leningrad to Moscow, then two across the
Ukraine including a visit to Chernobyl not long after the nuclear
catastrophe, and finally one across immense Kazakstan to the nuclear
bomb test site.
At home, my major concern in the 80s was with prisoners. Forty years
earlier, when I was at Stanford, a blinded New York veteran of the civil
war against fascism in Spain had asked me to visit his son in Soledad,
and I got my first notion of the world behind bars. Now two listeners to
my radio program, both Black men, sought my help. One, abandoned by his
mother in childhood, had become a small-time drug dealer, and, with
another, had killed a higher-up and his wife during a brief period when
the ghetto thought the way to free itself of drugs was to kill the big
dealers. My wife and I visited him for seven years. Hard to believe, but
he proved to be a person of particularly fine character and exceptional
intelligence. In the long run, the prison system wore down his
determination to follow my idea of his going to college behind bars so I
could use my academic connections to get him paroled to study for an
advanced degree. Truly a Jean Valjean - Javert story. The other man was
the rare case of a Black Panther who came from an educated, middle-class
family. When the prison authorities sought to frame him for inciting a
riot that I knew he had actually prevented from happening, I was able to
use my broadcasts to get a member of Congress and others in the state
legislature to make inquiries in the Department of Corrections, which
totally astonished it. This man did in fact go on to a university after
serving nine years.
The 1990s were a wild time of trying to understand what had happened
and was happening in the collapsed Soviet Union and the role the United
States had played. So in 1998 I visited the place in Siberia my father
had worked three-quarters of a century earlier (before the trip on which
we took me). That lengthened my stretch of first-hand knowledge of that
country to 68 years, longer than anyone else in the 500 years of foreign
observation of Russia.
At home I took part in the new "pirate" radio (low-power FM)
movement. It was simply that, having been dropped by the station that
had carried me for thirty-seven years, due to a new national management
that wanted it to follow a particular political line, two stations
invited me to broadcast. One of these was Free Radio Berkeley, later put
out of business by a federal judge. I had offered to go to jail in a
test case, but that became moot. I now broadcast on its successor,
Berkeley Liberation Radio, and on a Web station, LuVER.
As people learned of the richness of my life, they asked me to make
a book of it. That first happened in 1969, and came from three widely
different sources: my colleagues on the editorial board of the monthly
of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, an early feminist,
and a disabled academic. I did nothing for 15 years, but when it became
clear that Ronald Reagan would be re-elected, I felt that my experience
could be of use in combatting what he stood for. I asked my radio
station for an additional spot, and broadcast my autobiography over a
year of weekly half-hour shows in 1984-5.
In the 1990s I felt that my age made it a now-or-never proposition.
I was sure that, just as there had been activist generations in the '30s
and '60s, another would certainly appear, and I wanted to equip it with
whatever I could offer. In a sense, I wrote it for the Seattle
generation, although I had no notion of where, when, or what issue would
bring it to life.
I call it Saying No To Power, because that summarizes what I am best
known for. I used the form of an autobiography because people are always
more interested in the story of a human being than in abstract
historical fact. When I asked the publisher how he would price it, and
he replied: "$18.50", I expressed amazement at the low figure, which I
welcomed. He told me he has eight children, knows what it costs to buy
textbooks, and wants it used in American History, American Studies, and
foreign affairs courses.
So that's what this post is about. You can purchase it from me, at
4500 Gilbert St., Apt. 426, Oakland, CA, 94611, by sending me a check
for $23, which includes shipping and tax. That will get you an
autographed copy, but it won't reach you before the holiday. Or you can
buy it from any bookstore. Simply give them the title, my name, and the
publisher: Creative Arts, Berkeley. Wholesalers all over the country
have it, and a bookstore can get overnight delivery, so if you order it
today or tomorrow, you can have it for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah.