We are living through a crazy historical time. The whole country literally has shut down almost two full months, schools, offices, gyms, colleges, restaurants, street corners, all closed, all in response to a pandemic disease that so far has in the USA alone had killed over 55,000 and infected nearly a million. No riots, no resistance, not even much grumbling.
It’s changed the culture, economy, politics, even human physical contact. No touching, no talking to strangers, face masks, gloves, what they call “social distancing.” Again just in the USA, 25 million people have lost their jobs, financial markets took a nose dive (but are much recovered), the government has committed trillions in bailout money (about $4 trillion via the Federal Reserve and trillions more from Congress; more on the way). Daily briefings by Trump and Andrew Cuomo have become must-see TV, unexpected people like Fauci and Birx, health care workers, Amazon delivery guys, retail workers, food bank volunteers, are heroes. And the villains? A long list.
It feels likes its changing the world, but impossible yet to see or predict how. People haven’t absorbed it yet, and we still don’t know the outcome. How many will die? How many people we know? How badly will lives be disrupted? By what – the disease, the lost jobs and failed businesses, hunger side-effects? Who will get blamed? Will people get used to staying home, working less, change basic living habits?
Nobody knows. Not yet. It still feels unreal, partly because we’re all still so isolated in our homes. I hear occasional names of people I know getting infected, even dying, but nobody’s advertising that fact. Me and most people we know are radically sheltered, in nice houses with plenty of food and TV galore. I think most of the country probably feels like us, especially across the Midwest. It’s all very abstract; infections or deaths touch one in thousands.
We go though motions because we’re told to and we’re trying to be good citizens and understand the logic – again in an abstract way. People in the severe hot spots, of course, see if differently.
For younger people, in college and high school, how totally strange this must seem – the fear, the conformity, the crisis coming out of the blue, nobody seeming to expect it, nobody being prepared. All the focus on other things – presidential elections, sports, weddings, family events, all our work preoccupations and crises – all abruptly cancelled.
“Man makes plans and God laughs,” goes the expression. What a good laugh He/She must be having this year.
And topping it off is the strangeness in the White House. This disease began in China but, of all countries on earth, it’s the USA that’s seen by far the most deaths and infections. How could this happen? Aren’t we the most prosperous, technologically advanced country?
Its unavoidable, at least to me, that when this crisis is over, people, especially young people, will be far more cynical and feel far more aggrieved – by the trashed economy as much as by the disease. The country will gag for years on its $24(?) trillion debt. Finger-pointing will dominate discourse, fanned by partisanship.
Its hard to see any good resulting, but that’s always the case in the heat of events. Too many moving parts. New leaders will emerge. New directions. But that takes time.
The biggest near-term tests will be (a) the presidential election, whether Biden beats Trump and whether it matters, (b) the second wave of the covid-19 disease next fall, and whether the US is ready, and (c) how the economy bounces back by year-end. With all the Federal money poured in, wealthy people have been well cared of. Stock portfolios will do fine. But all those lost jobs and crippled industries could take years to bounce back. The memories of the endless food lines. Many will be left behind.
The bigger impact will come later, next year and the year after, when people can look at this disaster from a safe distance and make judgments. That’s when the real unknowns begin. Stay tuned.
Trotsky wrote this article after attending a highly-touted rally at Carnegie Hall of groups opposing American entry into World War I, just days after Germany had declared unrestricted submarine warfare against American shipping and President Woodrow Wilson, in response, had severed American diplomatic relations with Germany. Though it does;t mention him by name, the article was intended as a slam against Morris Hillquit, leader of the Socialist Party in New York City and the principal speaker at the rally. The article appeared in Novy Mir on February 8, 1917, and later was included in a 1923 collected called War and Revolution. Here it is translated from the original Russian:. Big Responsibility (In Reference to the Carnegie Hall Meeting Resolution)
“The official socialist campaign against the war kicked off on February 5th with the impressive meeting in Carnegie Hall. From a political and organizational standpoint, the first presentation was weighted down by a huge mistake: the meeting was organized by the socialist party in conjunction with bourgeois, priest like pacifists (“Friends of Peace”). The reason for that, as they said, was “circumstantial”: the only suitable venue, Carnegie Hall, had already been rented out to the bourgeois pacifists, and our party found it impossible to delay the meeting any further. However, regardless of the practical significance, we consider it necessary to state that the price for the opportunity to conduct this meeting at Carnegie Hall was too high. The socialist party was forced to present in a single rank the people who sincerely protest against the war today, and tomorrow, when they hear the first shot, will gladly call themselves good patriots and, following the example of all European bourgeois pacifists, will start supporting the governmental machine of mass murders, persuading the crowds that in order to reach “fair peace,” “lasting peace,” and “eternal peace,” it is necessary to fight the war until the end. When presenting together with the people who still have Wilson as their predetermined appeaser of the nations, we confuse the message and mislead the crowd. Meanwhile, in reality, and not for show, for revolutionary, and not a flashy fight against the war and militarism, the working class needs first and most of all a clear class-consciousness.
“The first mistake led to a second one: both rendered resolutions, the socialist and pacifist, were voted on conjointly. Although, it was apparent from the meeting spirit that the vast majority of it consisted of the revolutionist working class, it did not find its reflection in the voting pattern, and the revolutionary aspect of the meeting wasweakened, both psychologically and politically.
“On the other hand, we were very satisfied with the actual text of the resolution put forth by the official orators of the socialist party. However, it did not state everything we wanted to convey, and some of the points are extraneous. Nevertheless, the overall resolution is a principal internationalist document, and under the given circumstances, is also a revolutionary act, or at least a preface to it.
“If the resolution states that ‘the war will weaken the most noble traditions of this republic,’ then the only thing left is to note that the ambiguous pleasantries toward the traditions of the bourgeois republic would be more appropriate in the bourgeois pacifists’ resolution: they will start proving to the people, just like the French pacifists, that it is necessary to smash Germany in order to save the “republic’s most noble traditions”. Our proletarian republic does not dwell on the past – it is all in the future.
“The resolution states – and beautifully states – ‘the threatening war will only serve the selfish capitalists’ interests of that country.’ These interests are called by name in the resolution: the fight is going on because of the ‘sacred right of the American capitalists to fatten up on the misfortune of war-struck Europe.’ In this light, the resolution states that ‘it is a great hypocrisy that President Wilson informs Congress that we are not going to serve the egotistical goals.’ The greatest hypocrisy is well stated, and more importantly, it hits the nail on the head of those pseudo-socialists, who replaced (partially or entirely) their socialist colors with the colors of Wilsonism. Socialism assumes an organized uprising against the bourgeois society. Socialist policy is an organized [Page 381 of Source Text] distrust for the bourgeois parties, their leaders, and the governmental bosses.
“The resolution does not strictly pose the question of ‘national defense.’ This is its’ serious shortcoming. However, it has a perfectly sufficient political answer to this question. Who indeed will dare to tell us tomorrow about our national defense duties, when today we see that the war starts as a defense mechanism of ‘America’s sacred right to fatten up on the misfortunes of war-struck Europe?’ Remember this clear, simple and honest formula, comrades! It will be of use to you. It includes a practical responsibility of all representatives of the working class to vote against any credits meant to sponsor the war. It gives a wolf ticket to those party members who will try to talk about “civil peace” with the national government tomorrow when the war will break out: because only backsliders, defectors, and people with no sense of honor and consciousness, can ask working men to ‘make peace’ with the organizers and leaders of this massacre, which was started to provide American capitalists with the right to fatten up on the misfortunes of bleeding Europe.” The resolution calls “workers of the United States to fight against all attempts to drag the United States into the war by all possible means.” We believe that we could have done a better job of describing those means in greater detail. However, the main direction of the fight was clearly described by stating that the resolution promises to take the way of Liebknet, Fenner-Brockway, and five members of the Russian Duma “and other martyrs who sacrificed their freedom, and even life for the cause of peace.”
“The means at the command” of the working class are entirely determined by its role in capitalist production and its position in the modern state: they are provided by the historic experience of the proletariat’s class war in its highest, most rigorous forms. The resolution calls us to fight in this very direction and widens the stream of the movement by increasing its political ideological and political swing and increasing its combative intensity.
Comrades see that the socialist party’s resolution is content-rich. This is a fighting call to action and a guide. However, it is also a big responsibility, which the leading party circles assume. We will watch that this obligation is fulfilled to the very end – without any weaknesses, compromises, and doubts!
“N.M.” February 8, 1917
 Fenner- Brockway was a member of the “ Independent Party of Labor” in Britain. He was publishing Labour Leader at the beginning of the war. As a representative of the war opposition, he was sent to prison. In essence, he was a typical pacifist in the spirit of the intelligence right wing. He has lost his importance lately. (Haywood’s note)
Trotsky’s ship, the Spanish steamer Montserrat, landed at pier 8 at the bottom tip of Manhattan at about 3am on Sunday, January 14, 1917, a cold winter morningStill, the ship’s landing attracted a carnival atmosphere, with at least six newspapers covering the event including the English-language the New York Times, Tribune, and Call. But the most poignant coverage came from the foreign-language socialist press. Trotsky was already a celebrity in these circles, and they treated him well. Here are some selections:
N.Y. Volkszeitung, Jan 14, 1917 (translated from original Germain)
Leon Trotsky is arriving today!
He is arriving at 9am at Pier 8 from Cadiz.
Our much persecuted comrade Leon Trotsky at will arrive in New York this morning at 9am aboard the Spanish vessel “Montserrat”. For at least the time of the war he will find a home here.
Comrade Trotsky belongs to the internationally minded Russian Social Democrats. He is also an editor at the Russian Social Democratic Daily in Paris. He was persecuted by the Russian government throughout all of Europe and he finally found his last resort in the United States.
The “New York Volkszeitung” is welcoming their courageous fellow combatant in the name of the internationally minded German-Speaking Socialists of the United States.
N.Y. Volkszeitung, Jan 15, 1917 (from original German)
Trotzky is here.
At least one country that still is free of Csarism. United States the only refuge.
The Russian Internationalist is giving credit to the “Volkszeitung” and the “German-Language Group”.
On schedule, in good health and in excellent spirits the four members of the Trotsky family arrived in New York yesterday. Out of circumstances they will take their home here for the time being. The genuine surprise of comrade Leon Trotsky, the renowned Russian socialist theorist, writer and speaker, to be able to land in the United States is revealing a lot about the upheavals that occurred in Europe since the beginning of the unfortunate year of 1914. “In fact” he repeatedly told the reporter of the “N.Y. Volkszeitung” there were no difficulties imposed upon me and my family whatsoever. Your immigration officers were as friendly and polite as if they wanted you to feel at home here right away, very different to Old Europe.”
And then he pointed out that all of Europe, no matter if part of the Entente or neutral, belonged to the area of influence of the Csar.
“You know”, the seasoned comrade said, “I made myself impossible in France as an editor of “Nashe Slovo”. Honestly, this isn’t surprising in light of the fierce opposition we were imposing on the “socialist” and the “capitalist” war mongers. Worse, truly democratic and neutral Switzerland didn’t dare to take me in for fear of Russian reprimands. As well as neutral Spain arrested and deported me on Russian demand. I am truly a ‘fatherland-less’ chap and I am grateful to have found a country that is accepting me within its boundaries.”
After, Trotsky gave friendly credit to the “Volkszeitung” and he explained that the paper is received in Europe as a reliable and accountable part of the Internationale. “I read the Volkszeitung every day in Paris as well as in Vienna and I do not want to let the opportunity pass to thank you for your loyal and brave attitude. Likewise, there are many European comrades who appreciate the high amount of socialist sense of duty and clear insight of the New Yorker voice of the German speaking socialist workers.” And then Trotsky cited several articles that he especially recalled.
Thanks to the German language Group
I’d like to thank as well the German language Group of the local Socialist Party for their financial donation to support of the international socialists that were left by all good patriots. Although it wasn’t a big amount it was still a sign of solidarity that was highly encouraging and pleasing. It were those times when we were berated by “friends” and enemies as “vassals of the Hohenzollern”, when we were suspected to be German spies. When your letter with the money wire arrived we published it in the newspaper and let everybody know how proud we were ….. to save us we get the support of the international proletariat who are defamed and suspected by their fellow patriots as “friends of Russians” and “mercenaries of England”. Many letters to the editor of our newspaper expressed the joy about this demonstration of solidarity.”
An Episode from Spain
In relation to the above comrade Trotsky told in fluent German a little episode from Spain. As he was interrogated by the Spanish police prefect it turned out that this high official was unable to speak any other language than Spanish. A translator was called, a German who was supposed to translate the questions as well as the response. In addition it turned out that the translator was also the secretary of the German consul……”The nationalist defamation is truly international” added our comrade with a smile “and it uses the same dirty tricks everywhere”.
What plans does our friend have for his future. ….The socialist movement in this country can only be thankful that the war sent this fellow combatant and teacher to its shores.
And here’s the front page of the next morning’s Jewish Forward. The Forward’s 200,267 circulation made it one of the most widely-ready daily newspapers in the city and country, competing even with the New York Times. The caption under Trotsky’s photo says “This is Comrade Trotsky” and introduces him as Russian revolutionary par excellence. The Forward would carry interviews with Trotsky for the next several days.
Of all the people Leon Trotsky met during his 1917 ten-week stay in New York City, few were more personally hostile then Grisha Ziv. Ziv had known Trotsky back in Russia when they were both teenagers, was arrested with Trotsky in 1898 when their youthful circle of friends helped organize an illegal workers’ union in the industrial Black Sea town of Nikolaev, was sentenced with Trotsky to exile in Siberia, and knew the woman Alexandra Sokolovskaya Bornstein who Trotsky married behind bars awaiting sentence.
Ziv published a Russian-language book about Trotsky in 1921 that contained a rare account of his interactions with the future Russian Bolshevik leader in 1917. I had the account translated into English as part of the research on my book TROTSKY in NEW YORK, 1917 . As a service to future researchers, I am posting the full text of the translation below.
From Trotskii: Testimony as to Character
Narodoprevstvo Publishing House, New York, 1920:
Meeting in New York. – Speeches about the “Immediate Ceasefire on the Fronts.” – “The Reactionary Imperialist Entente” and “Progressive” Germany. – The Forthcoming “World Revolution.”
Once it became apparent that Trotsky was coming to New York, all of the local socialist newspapers started their campaign to prepare the general public to properly welcome the guest.
The circumstances were more than favorable for this campaign to be executed on a large scale, the way they do it in America: an old advocate for Russian freedom and democracy (Trotsky has always been a supporter of democracy and freedom), a socialist and revolutionary, who had been deported from Austria, not allowed into Germany, persecuted in Spain and France, oppressed all around Europe for his selfless dedication to the idea of peace, was very appealing to the anti-militarist audiences of the socialists newspapers, which kept their readers on their toes by providing the newest information of Trotsky’s past and present activities.
Not only Vorwärts, The New World, and The Call were filled with articles about him, but bourgeois newspapers also gave him favorable publicity here and there: not only was he an anti-militarist, but he also played a role in the Russian fight for freedom, which Americans have always sympathized to.
Before Trotsky stepped on American soil, experienced reporters, who represented local newspapers, rushed to give him the third degree about his past and present life, his ideas, political views, plans—pretty much about everything, which he knew very well, knew very little, or knew nothing at all about.
The next day, almost all of the socialist newspapers published detailed reports on those interviews. Vorwärts wrote the biggest article, which filled almost half of a large-sized page. It was continued the next day, this continued so on and so forth.
During one such interview, Trotsky, who was being attacked by a half-dozen reporters and was touched by such a welcoming, noted: “I have never sweated like now when I am under the crossfire of those masters of their trade, not even when the police would give me the third degree.”
Newspapers published his portraits – both old portraits and those that were newly captured – in different poses and postures.
Soon after Trotsky’s arrival in New York City, there was a so-called Reception Meeting that was thrown in his honor at the Cooper Union.
Obviously, this meeting was promoted in every possible way, both in articles and advertisements, with the typical American razzle-dazzle.
Of course, I decided to go to the meeting. Although I was considerably late, there was no crowd outside despite my expectations. The room was almost empty, and I found a spot in one of the front rows.
I remember such a meeting in this very room in 1912, when the same Reception Meeting was thrown in honor of Deytch. The room was packed way before the announced time. Not only was the entire platform on the stage busy, all of the seats and aisles were taken, but there was also no space behind the seats, between the seats, and even on the window sills. Everywhere your foot would normally touch the floor, there was another person. This is how popular Deytch was, although he just came for the modest purpose of editing a small Russian newspaper.
This time, even the best-crafted advertisement, which touched the most sensitive strings of the emigrant mass, was obviously insufficient to make a person that lived all the way across the ocean and that was mostly unfamiliar to the vast majority of the public that normally fills up such meetings popular overnight.
The room was filling up slowly, and the meeting was forced to be opened with the room half empty, way past the announced time for the beginning of the meeting.
Again, in accordance with the established customs, before Trotsky took the stage, a lot of other speakers heaped their praises in different languages on the distinguished guest. However, who stood out the most was a representative of a German socialist newspaper, Lore, who raved and stormed (he obviously was an internationalist and hoped for Germany to win the war) to extol “our dearest teacher,” forgetting, however, that three-quarters of the audience did not know German and could not understand a thing he was saying.
How could Trotsky, who was writing in Russian, possibly become a teacher of the German Lore, who obviously did not speak Russian, and what academic articles he meant, remained his personal secret. Was it a little booklet “The War and The International” that enlightened the unpretentious scholar and editor?
When the audience was pretty much exhausted by this disorderly army of multilingual speakers, the man of the day took the floor and was welcomed by vigorous applause.
It is know that the popularity of the speaker is measured by the time during which the audience detains the beginning of the speech by showing affection in different ways: applauding, whistling, stomping feet, etc. – simple, yet noisy methods.
This is called “cheering.”
It is hard to tell how long this “cheering” would last if Trotsky, who had not yet developed a taste for the American treatment, did not disrupt it at the very beginning by expressing obvious signs of impatience and began his speech in the midst of the thunderous applause, when the signs of impatience did not work.
The audience settled immediately.
It is really hard to judge declamatory skills of your opponent. However, this speech of his had a great effect on me, just from the artistic standpoint. While listening to him, I experienced aesthetic pleasure, despite the fact that I absolutely rejected the idea the speech was based on.
I have listed to him many times after that. Sometimes his speeches were just average, sometimes they were good, and sometimes they were excellent. However, I have never heard any speech, which was like this one. Trotsky obviously thoroughly prepared for it, having this rare opportunity, and managed to get prepared for this one in a way he had never prepared and could not prepare. This speech had no rough demagogic methods of influencing the audience, at least those that for a cultured listener we can obviously call demagogic: the good theme made them absolutely excessive. He bombarded the audience with a great number of facts, which portrayed the terrifying realities of the war and the irrecoverable destruction, both material and spiritual, which it was inflicting at the moment and which would have threatened us in the future.
He thrilled his readers with terrifying reports that Paris was getting dark after six. And not because they were scared of the German zeppelins, he exclaimed in the heat of his enthusiasm, but because France was short on coal in its economic degradation; and women are wandering around the streets with bags where they collect coal leftovers to warm their freezing children and make a little warm food….
And spiritual degradation. To achieve victory at any price (in the midst of the German domination in the war), with the full acceptance of its no less barbaric allies, the French government, in order to save civilization, did not refrain from sending black African savages, who carried in their bags (and this is where Trotsky’s boiled-over pathos reached its highest point) cut-off ears of the German soldiers.
The spiritual degradation caused by the war could not go any further. He depressed the audience with the abundance of facts, each scarier than the last. His burning resentment and high-minded pathos were transmitted to the audience, which in turn, being ignited by his eloquence, joint in sincere indignation against the French government and its allies, who were leading Europe to such terrifying economical, social, and spiritual degradation.
However, all of those terrifying facts, no matter how serious they were, were nothing in comparison to the terror and degradation created by the civil war that broke out later in Russia. It is so true that you unconsciously start to doubt Trotsky’s sincerity when you realize that he and his friends, who managed to come to power, were the ones who inspired and led the civil war and tried their best to spread the sacramental fire of the civil war not across Europe, which had just started to embrace the peace that Trotsky was a big advocate for, but also to the rest of the civilized and uncivilized world, which has not yet been appended to this pestilent degradation.
However, his audience could not have known all of that then, and they could not have known about the forthcoming communist civilizing role in China and other doings of Trotsky and his friends, which were simply terrifying and easily overshadow all of those horrible facts that Trotsky was painting black to his New York audience.
That is why that aesthetic unity of their impression was not disturbed, and Trotsky’s triumph was complete. This part of the speech, where he spoke about the horrors of the war, was indeed dominating—both in length and content—as we have seen it before in speeches of all abstract advocates for peace by all manner of means, regardless of whether they were called “internationalist,” “antimilitarists,” or “neutralists.”
This speech was distinctive not because of the novelty of its ideas or profundity of thought, but because of its artistry.
Since war is such a horrible thing, it is obvious that every socialist should be dead against it. And those who accept war, who contribute to the extension of that war, even for a day in one way or another, is a traitor and defector of the working class’s business. And the socialists who remained loyal to their ideas could not have anything to do with those castoffs. They could not have anything to do with them, except for the grim struggle with those rabid enemies of the working class. He considered it necessary to make it clear in the very beginning, so no one has any doubts about it. This dissociation of socialists from traitors (he used those strong expressions all the time), regardless of their statuses and names—whether they were Plekhanov, Vandervelde, Thomas, Ged, etc.—is the first and foremost thing for every honest socialist.
Even I was impressed by the artistry of his speech, this logical transition from horrors of the war to abstract, starry-eyed, philistine and naïve antimilitarism quand meme was grate on my ears.
Anyway, here Trotsky did not tolerate any compromises and with the full power of his eloquence, he criticized the French socialist Thomas and others who shamed themselves for forever by joining bourgeois governments, accepted the war, consciously participated in that war and thus took the responsibility for all depicted economic, social and spiritual horror of it.
And when he started talking about nine Russian volunteers who were shot in battle because they did not obey some disciplinary rules, his eloquence reached the highest point, and his resentment had no limits. May the French government not try to make any excuses and shift the blame on the battlefield government—it carries the full responsibility for this despicable crime. And let Thomas comfort himself with the notion that he did not personally sign this death sentence. There was no actual signature of his on that document, but his name is engraved there with shameful indelible letters. And let those socialists who found it possible to reach a helping hand to such socialists like Thomas for any conjoint venture be damned. This is where his speech reached its climax. His scourging resentment seemed to be pouring out from the very bottom of his soul and was passed onto the audience, which was listening to him with breathless attention.
This happened at the end of 1916, just months before the Russian Revolution. And in the beginning of 1918, in the capacity of Field Marshal, and not just a modest immigrant, Trotsky reported in Moscow about instances of disciplinary disobedience in his army. There were no traces of the past pathos and pacifist resentment. He reported this calmly and busily, as it would be expected from a person in such a high rank, and thoroughly explained the steps that he took, including the arrest of those ten defaulters. Just on a side note, as if it was a small embarrassing lapse, he noted, “unfortunately they have not yet been executed.”
However, the audience of the Reception Meeting could not have known that, and they could not have known how easily the same Trotsky would soon kill not only dozens and hundreds guilty soldiers, but also their children and families, if those soldiers escaped the prosecution…Therefore, the artistry of the impression from his speech was not disturbed.
I anxiously listened to Trotsky in hopes of hearting his explanation as to why Belgians, Frenchmen, Serbians, and others should lay aside their weapons in the face of victoriously attacking Wilhelm’s army, and what kind of kind of benefits the Belgians, French, Serbians, Russians, and others, as well as those nations who were under the power of victors, would get out if it.
The answer soon followed.
It was as simple as could be. The horrors of the war were so extreme, baneful, and obvious to everybody, that there was no doubt that this would be the working class, which would come back from the war and would not be able to tolerate the political and social regime that committed those horrors. There is no doubt that they would organize uprisings against their governments and wipe them off the face of the Earth, together with the bourgeois lifestyles those regimes were carriers of, and establish a socialist regime. The working class from both sides experienced the horrors of the war. Therefore, upon returning home, they would create uprisings and revolutions everywhere, regardless of whether their government was the winner or loser in the war.
This opened my eyes, and everything became apparent to me. Since it is inevitable that the working class will organize revolutions and establish socialist regimes, there is no real difference as to which country wins and which country loses in this war.
The victory does not matter. What really matters is the all-round speedy return from the war. It is that simple!
What if they do not organize uprisings? Then…“Then,” Trotsky stated, viciously shaking his fist in the air, “I will become a misanthrope.” As you can see, he provided a solid guarantee there.
“An immediate ceasefire” is what is important. And all those “without annexations and contributions” and other propaganda are just small details, which serve as a honey trap to provoke a faster return from the fronts.
Why does this all matter when the whole of society, the whole world will be redeveloped in a completely new way and the entire map of Europe and the whole world will be completely redone in accordance with the program described in Trotsky’s “The War and The International”?
Needless to say, the speech had a huge success.
Trotsky soon gained huge popularity among the Russian community. Soon, he broke off relations with “social-patriots,” who made his journey to America possible and who welcomed him so warmly.
He became the editor in chief of The New World and quickly turned this publication into the second edition of Our Word.
Trotsky’s arrival in New York fell during the season of balls hosted by various organizations. Trotsky was a very tempting attraction for those organizations that managed to get him as a guest speaker, and, therefore, increase the profitability of their event. I saw and listened to him at a number of such events.
However, I have never spoken to him in person. His crisp and definite speech left no desire to do so. Besides, he was very inapproachable. He gave his speeches, provoked needed enthusiasm, got his fair share of triumph, and then left the podium. However, he did not join the crowd, did not blend in like a big beloved brother, but rather disappeared in a backstage cloud, surrounded by the atmosphere of a cold arrogance, which like a thick armor chased away even his most dedicated fans if they did not belong to the elite of the party and organization.
It was apparent not only to me, but also to those people who managed to get closer and get behind the amour. This is what one of the reporters of the local newspaper, who had the honor to interview Trotsky, shared with me: “In 1912 I interviewed Deytch when he came to New York to edit The New World. What a contrast between him and Trotsky! While Deytch is very approachable, and you soon feel like a good friend, despite the huge age difference, with Trotsky you always feel inferior as if you would be standing in front of an important nobleman who makes sure you don’t forget the distance between you and him.”
Meanwhile, upon his arrival in 1912, Deytch was already widely known as an old Russian revolutionary, who had already visited America after his escape from the penal establishment and as the author of 16 Years and Siberia, which was translated into nearly twenty languages. Not only was he known among the socialist audience, but also among other populations.
On the other hand, before his banishment from France, Trotsky was unknown to the non-socialist parts of the population, and he was only well known to a small group of socialist Russian immigrants.
However, the more arrogant he was, the more reverence he would get. The same reporter that I mentioned above once proudly told me that Trotsky had made a promise to initiate him. I must admit that I also wanted to see Trotsky somehow. We shared too many old memories and moments to simply ignore it. “When Trotsky visits you, tell him I said hi.” If Trotsky had any desire to see me, he could easily call me on the phone. That call never happened though.
“So, have you seen Trotsky?” I asked the next day. “Yeah, I recall him,” is all that Trotsky had to say about me after the reporter said hi from me.
It has been nearly three weeks since Trotsky’s arrival. One day I answer my phone: “Grisha, is that you? Do you recognize me? It’s me – Trotsky.”
It appeared that he had long wanted to see me and did his best to find me (if he really wanted, it was pretty easy to find me). He had found out about my appearances at the balls after I had left been gone, or after he had left the event. In one word, he wanted to see me and asked to set up a good place and time.
I went to see him. Our meeting was friendly, but not overly warm. There was no awkwardness, because both of us, as if we had a silent agreement between us, avoided any discussion on hot political topics (it was before the February revolution) and we already had a lot of other things to talk about. I learned a lot about my long-lost friends and acquaintances.
“How is Parvus doing?” (once Trotsky’s teacher and mentor), I asked.
“Working on getting his twelfth million,” Trotsky replied curtly.
I saw him several other times. We almost had never spoken about political topics. Once he made a remark about Plekhanov, obviously, not in the most favorable way. “Does that mean that he is a counter revolutionist, daddy?” his 11-year-old son, who was standing right there and attentively listening to him, asked. Trotsky smiled and did not reply.
Once he offered to play chess, apparently considering himself a good chess player. He showed himself to be a weak player and lost, which obviously upset him. He immediately offered to play another one. Once he won that one, he did not want to play anymore.
In this little episode, it was not just important that Trotsky did not want to play since the chances that he would lose were high, but also the fact that Trotsky could not learn how to be a good player. To learn how to play, he needed to play with superior players, and, therefore, lose multiple times. Trotsky could never afford that.
I have already mentioned above that Trotsky’s first speech opened my eyes as to his meaning of the slogan that he put into repeated by all “internationalists,” “immediate ceasefire.” It became apparent to me why he wanted that immediate ceasefire regardless of the way the war map looked at the given moment. However, it became less apparent to me why he was sympathizing Germany and its victories.
However, one lecture opened my eyes on that aspect as well. After drawing a picture of how modern European capitalist society, and even a society of the whole civilized world, is moving towards larger and larger unification, and how this development is leading to the destruction of economical independency and autonomy of certain countries, which in turn would strengthen their mutual dependence. He draws the right conclusion that the strengthening progressive connection and dependency between civilized countries is inevitably leading to a necessity for a political unification. And any attempt to preserve independence of one country or another, whether it be Belgium, Serbia, Austria, France, or Russia, will inevitably be politically, and, therefore, socially reactionary. Thus, any discussions about defense are highly harmful and reactionary. “Social-patriots,” with their ideas about protecting the given Motherland disturb the judgment of crowds, restraining them from a sooner ceasefire.
It is just one country involved in the war, which is so far ahead in its’ social, economic, and cultural development that it is the only country that could possibly, in the case of victory, make unification of the civilized world from “the top” possible, and, therefore, play a significant progressive role. This country is Germany.
Trotsky was very cautious with his wording. Obviously, he did not want to sound clearer, so he does not openly appear to be a Germanist. I listened closely to his speeches to get and not lose the main theme of his reasoning. He did not have a strong desire to make direct implications from this idea and clearly communicate them to the public for some obvious reasons: at the time he hoped to make that unity happen through revolutions and uprisings in certain countries. He was hiding the idea of the German domination—maybe away from himself—on the back of his consciousness, like a plan B in case plan A fails.
Like an experienced strategist, he could not really talk about the perspectives of the unlikely, according to his beliefs, failure, so it does not stay in the way of victory.
“The bourgeois method of resolving current issues is war. The working class method is revolution,” he pronounces in his pamphlet “The War and The International.” As a “revolutionist” he prefers the second method and only if it fails he agrees to the first method, where oppressive Germany conquers the world.
After signing a peace treaty in Brest with oppressive Germany, which gave Russia a good chance to feel its heavy paw, the Bolsheviks were knocked off their feet for a while. Not only the external, but also the internal situation did not look too promising for the nearest future. The new Russian Messieurs were in a pretty grim mood. And when they found out that Japan, with the full support of its allies, was going to attack Soviet Russia, Trotsky stated in the press. “If we are threatened by invasion of the imperialist Entente, we will form an offence-defense alliance with Germany (after smashing Russia, Wilhelm’s government had still been victoriously fighting the Allies), like with a more progressive imperialist country as opposed to the reactionary Entente.”
Therefore, the cautiously guarded from himself and others reserved the idea of the German domination started to become apparent and assumed the similitude of the reality.
Sometimes returning from the lectures, Trotsky would condescend to me and give me a friendly clap on the back telling his people, “This is my old friend who needs to stay in France for a couple of months to become a good socialist.”
One time, using our alone time, I started to interview him about his certain “internationalist” colleagues in New York. There was someone called Semkov, an uneducated person with a naturally loud voice and overly “revolutionist” manner of speech. He had a special talent to speak in “revolutionary” phrases without rest for an unlimited amount of time, although those phrases had no logical connection. As an uneducated person, he did not know any thorny subjects or questions, and everything was clear and easy for him. He could never been caught off-guards. He was always ready to object any question on any subject. His ecstatic speeches always made such an impression, as if he would stuff his pockets with random phrases from Lenin and Trotsky’s catechesis along with cigarettes and matches when he would rush out of his house to attend yet another meeting. Once he appeared at those meetings, he would start to turn his pockets out and show off all of this stuff without even carefully listening to the opponents’ arguments. His phrases would be pulled out of context, without beginning or ending, and the main body, however, had a more impressive “revolutionist” effect and provided him with a great success among “revolutionist” crowd. He was much appreciated in the “internationalist” crowds, and he was considered an irreplaceable and valuable member. This star, all spite aside, I asked Trotsky about.
“No matter what he is, “ said Trotsky as always giving full value to each word, without even thinking, “When the time comes, Semkov will be there, where needed, unlike N.N. (Trotsky’s permanent opponent at all meetings) will always be there where not needed.”
 Later, following the activities of Trotsky’s former New York associates in the Russian newspapers, I had the true opportunity to see that Semkov was always “there where needed,” holding “there” in a high position.
Publicity photo of Anzia Yezierska from Goldwyn studio period, circa 1922.
Click here for Part II on Anzia, her legacy on Broadway, on more. You’ve probably never heard of Anzia Yezierska.But not too long ago, this foreign-sounding name was the toast of New York publishing and Hollywood films.Anzia Yezierska got attention because she wrote in a voice that demanded it.She spoke not only for the flood of new immigrants flooding New York’s lower East Side in the early 1900s – Jews, Poles, Italians, and the ethnic strangers to Old America – but also for women carving out a strong new role.
Even if you haven’t read her books (click here for her Amazon page), you certainly know her characters.This winter, Hollywood and Broadway give us two striking glimpses into Anzia’s world of the 1920s, a fitting tribute a century later, but more on that in Part II of this Post.
Anzia directly confronted the bastion of white male writers dominating American letters in the 1910s and 1920s. Speaking out in the prestigious New York Times Book Review for a foreign-born author denied a university job in 1922, she openly threatened the cloistered old regime: “The generations that went before in America have little to say to us,” she wrote. “They could not begin to imagine the new world of the Melting Pot.”
Scene from film version of Hungry Hearts, 1922.
Anzia Yezierska made her name through critically acclaimed novels set in Manhattan’s impoverished Lower East Side – her immigrant world — that earned her the sobriquet “Cinderella of the Tenements.” Her stories like Hungry Hearts and Salomé of the Tenements featured tough, independent characters. Her 1920 Hungry Hearts—tracing the lives and loves of Jewish immigrant women—became a well-reviewed Hollywood film in 1922 for the Goldwyn Company, the first time this Jewish-owned firm tried to show actual lives of Jewish people. (Click to see a clip.)
Born in Poland and reaching New York as a child in the 1890s, Anzia had to create her destiny by fighting both poverty and tradition.Her parents refused to send her to college, so she sent herself.Anzia’s daughter, writing years later, described how her mother “withheld from her wages enough money to pay for a year at the New York City Normal College.” Anzia ironed clothes in a laundry before and after classes.Ultimately, she won her college degree. But having to defy her parents made her feel like a nomad. “She wrote about this as homelessness,” her daughter Louise wrote, “being lost between her parents’ Old World and the new world.”
Notice how, in the newspaper drawing, Anzia’s
Jewish features — nose and eyes — seem to disappear.
Anzia’s prose could be clunky and melodramatic, but she had an ear for tart dialogue and vivid characters.In her story “Hunger,” a young woman balks at her uncle’s complaints about the meal she’s made for him: “What a fuss over a little less salt!” she cries. When the old man says the Talmud gives a man the right to divorce his wife for not salting his soup, the young woman fires back: “Maybe that’s why Aunt Gittel went to the grave before her time – worrying how to please your taste in the mouth.”
Yezierska didn’t enter the limelight to please.Among other targets, she took on the state of male-female relationships: “American Man Must Be Nearly 60 Before He Really Loves, Says Novelist,” sounded the NY Evening Telegram in a profile of her in early 1923.
Yezierska’s rollercoaster fame finally rode her to Hollywood, where she received $200 a week as a studio-employed screenwriter.It was a fortune at the time, but it gave her vertigo.She felt lost in California, cut off from her stories and people. She left after a few months, writing “This is What $10,000 Did to Me” for Cosmopolitan.She married twice and ended both marriages, raised a daughter, had an affair with philosopher John Dewey, published five more novels and another collection of stories, and struggled.
In 1964, speaking at Purdue, Anzia described just how the Lower East Side’s voices first inspired her to write:
“What started me on [my first] story was the sight of a crazed mother, looking among the pushcarts for her lost child. ‘People! My child! Find me my child! My Benny! My best child from all my children!’
“And when a policeman came, leading a frightened, pale-faced little boy, the way that mother slapped and cursed her Benny, her best child of all her children! “A fire should burn you! The waters should drown you! Thunder and lightning should strike you! Haven’t I enough worries over my head, without you getting lost on me?”
It was this voice that she turned into literature – and in portraying complex characters in a society contorted by change, she offers a model of courage for all of us today who call ourselves writers.
Next: The price of being a renegade, and the legacy.
As promised, today a few more clippings from the wonderful overstuffed scrapbook of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, irrepressible oldest daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt — a fantastic find at the Manuscript Room of the Library of Congress.
Alice with her stylish fur and feather hat, all the rage in 1906.
Alice kept piles of cuttings from the White House press office, which used service like this one in London to assure global reach — here a story from Berlin via the London Herald.
Alice and Nick arriving in Paris was a great event for the local society.
Alice in the 1930s with her only child, daughter Paulina. Born in 1925, Paulina’s father was understood to be not Nick Longworth, Alice’s husband, but rather Senator William Borah (R-Idoha), with whom Alice had an affair. Sadly, Paulina suffered from a chilly relationship with her mother complicated by what doctors back then called “melancholy,” and died of a pill overdose in 1957 at 31 years old. Her husband, Alexander Sturm, had died of hepatitis in 1951.
This is my personal favorite: Alice wrote a memoir in 1933 called CROWDED HOURS, published by Scribner.s, and, like any good writer, she tracked her sales and royalties like a hawk. Here’s one of her statements.
It’s easy to like Alice Roosevelt Longworth, oldest daughter of TR and owner of Washington, D.C.’s sharpest tongue for 96 years (1884-1980). Among others she’s credited with–
•“If you have nothing nice to say about anyone, come here and sit by me.”
•“My simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. And scratch what itches.”
•“The secret to eternal youth is arrested development.”
•On Calvin Coolidge: He “looks as if he was weaned on a pickle.”
•And on Thomas E. Dewey: “The little man on top of the wedding cake.”
Her father, Theodore Roosevelt, famously added this: “I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”
Recently, I spent a day rummaging through her scrapbooks in the Manuscript Room of the Library of Congress. What a pleasure!! They contain a treasure trove of newspaper clips, full of gossip, politics, old smudgy snapshots, so on.
I’m not sure yet what to do with them yet. (The research was part of my endless quest into the story of cantankerous old House Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon, a project that has become my own personal White Whale. I’ll catch that damn whale some day.)
In the meantime, I’d like to share some of the photos with you, spread out over the next few weeks. To start, in 1904, Alice made herself the glamour sensation of the country by announcing her surprise, sudden wedding engagement to young Congressman Nicholas Longworth, scion of the richest family in Cincinnati. Nick and Alice had met early that year year on a diplomatic mission to the Phillipines hosted by then-Secretary of War William Howard Taft. Newspapers loved the story, and Alice clipped them all. Here are a few–
From the New York City’s Jewish Daily News, July 12, 1926.
“Zeit Gezunt!” says the headline. “Be Healthy!”
This quarter-page ad for the “Natural Health Food Store” comes from the July 1926 Jewish Daily News, a favorite among Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants on New York’s crowded lower East Side back then, almost 90 years ago. But the ad could have come from any health food store, then or now. People have always wanted to eat well, eat healthy, eat smart. But back then, long before claims were checked by any government agency like the US Food and Drug Administration, the chance of being fooled by smooth-talking nonsense was much greater.
“Eat Natually Healthy Food!” this ad says — using phonetic Hebrew letters to spell out English words like “naturally” or “specialty” or “rhumitism,” words with no Yiddish equivalent that immigrants barely understood. Still, they sounded wonderful, just like the handsome, bare-chested young man in the drawing and the gorgeous-looking plate of grapes, bananas, pears and apples in his hand.
For just $3, the Natural Health Food Store offered you a wonderful meal that, among other things, would cure diabetes, stomach flu, kidney disease, and over-eating. How did you know? Because they said so. And perhaps hopefully because nobody who ate there got sick before walking out.
People today may complain that government regulators sometimes are too strict or intrusive in demanding honest disclosures about what we eat. Sometimes too much information causes confusion or can be misleading, or there are honest diisagreements about the underlying science. But don’t forget the big picture. Given the choice, I’d still rather have an FDA and all the other government watchdogs, with all their faults, then none at all.
But that’s just me. (And a well-earned thanks to my colleague Dick Siegel of OFWLAW for his help in deciphering the Yiddish.)
Copy of the original ship’s manifest. Our family is listed at lines ten through fourteen. From Ancestry.com.
I can’t let this September go without marking an anniversary for my own family. It was exactly one hundred years ago this month that my father, Bill Ackerman, landed in America. My mother would come a few years later, in 1926, and they would meet on the lower East Side of NYC. The rest, as they say, is history.
My Dad was five years old at the time. (In the photo below, taken in Poland, he is the baby sitting on his mother’s lap. On the ship’s manifest above, he is listed on line 14 under his Yiddish name, Meier Zev.) Their ship, the SS Main, left Bremen and landed in New York on September 19, 1912. On their reasons for the trip, see A Love Story from Poland – Sheah and Yetta Akierman.
Photo taken shortly before leaving Poland, circa 1910. The children Ruchel, Bill (Meier Zev), and Chafa and Feiga are left to right, with Yetta (Yachel) seated in the middle and Abe, the oldest son, standing behind.
Here’s how my Aunt Rachel (the little girl Ruchel standing on my Dad’s right in the photo above) described the trip many years later in her self-published memoir Horseradish: Jewish Roots. Enjoy-
“In 1912 we were ready to leave for America. From our little town we took a horse and cart to Yanow. From there we took a train to Warsaw.
“In Warsaw I met my father’s mother, who I had never seen before. We stayed overnight with them. My grandmother was straight, tall and very quiet. She kissed us and cried because she was an old woman and knew she would never see us again. Aunt Geitle Vlotover gave us presents from her store to take along with us on the train to Hamburg. In the morning we took the train to Hamburg, Germany, to reach the ship, the Main, that was leaving for America. …..
“We sailed on the Main for thirteen days. We traveled 3rd class. It was very crowded and we had to stand in line with tin plates like animals to get food. Most of the people got seasick and stood by the rails all day vomiting or rolling on the decks, too ill to get up.
“My mother and Hannah were very, very sick. Fanny, Bill and I were the only ones who were okay. Bill was too young to remember anything. “While I was on the ship, I missed my friends and thought about the little town that I had left. I remembered how we used to do the wash by a little brook. You had to lift your skirts not to get wet, then kneel by the rocks and wash the clothes with soap and then bang them with the rocks.
The Main, the ship that brought my family to America in 1912.
“After a few days on the ocean, many people began to get very, very sick – in addition to the sea sickness. Some of them died and were buried at sea. The waves looked so high to me that they seemed to reach the sky. We were very frightened. My mother and sister Hannah got very sick also. We cried because we were afraid they would die and be thrown overboard like the other dead people we saw. Hannah was delirious and had a high fever. So did my mother.
“On the 12th day out we were on the deck crying and the sailors were talking to us. They told us that, in a couple of hours, we would be in sight of land. They knew this because they could see birds flying. “While we were standing there a miracle occurred. We saw our mother and Hannah coming to us on the deck from the sick bay. We started to scream and shout in disbelief. “My mother told us later she had a dream while she had the fever, and Hannah had the same dream at the exact time. They dreamt that my mother’s dead brother, Moses Zies, had come to them. He gave them a piece of veal to eat and even told them to suck on the bones. They dreamt that they did what he told them to do, although in reality they had been throwing up since coming aboard the ship. The dream meat tasted delicious, they said. As they told the story, they vomited one more time, but from that moment on they were well. “One of the funnier things that happened to us on the ship took place earlier in the voyage. The sailors pointed out to my mother that we were passing London. My mother’s half-brother, Jack Baumiel, lived in London. Although there was no land in sight, my mother made us line up at the rail and wave “hello” to Uncle Yankle. “I remember the food they gave us was so salty you could hardly eat it. We used to take a walk to the upper decks to see how the 1st and 2nd class passengers lived. There were tables and fancy dining rooms, and we were jealous. “We landed on a beautiful day in September. We passed the Statue of Liberty and landed at a place called Castle Gardens [the US government immigration station on the lower tip of Manhattan]. We were among the first ones off the ship. ….. “We got off the ship and all the immigrants were herded into a big building on the water’s edge. The first thing that happened was an eye examination by doctors. Anyone who had a disease was sent right back to Europe.
“As we stood in the line waiting, my mother prayed that they wouldn’t find anything wrong with us. We all passed. After that, we waited less than ten minutes before my father, my aunt Nettie, my sister Helen, and Nettie’s husband the policeman, all appeared to greet us. By now, Helen had gotten married and had a little six month-old girl named Florence. “They took us to my aunt Nettie’s store where she had rooms in the back. The address was 24 Second Avenue in Manhattan. We couldn’t believe we were on American soil. Everyone talked English at us and we couldn’t make out what they said. I thought they were talking about us. …..”