Glaberman: 1918 - 2001
Red & Black Notes was deeply saddened to learn
of the passing of Martin Glaberman on December 17, 2001. Marty was
active in the workers' movement for almost seventy years, as a
writer, agitator, activist and teacher. His death is a tremendous
loss to those who knew him and the working class.
Marty Glaberman joined the Socialist Party youth group in 1932
when he was 13 years old. He came from a social democratic family and
joined the SP because it was the only organization in the
neigbourhood. Asked why he joined at 13, he replied they wouldn't
take him any younger.
While in the Socialist Party, Marty met Trotskyists, who in 1933
had dissolved their public organization and entered the SP. When the
Trotskyists left the party in 1937 to form their own organization,
the Socialist Workers Party, Marty went with them.
The following year Marty happened to see CLR James, a Carribean
Trotskyist who had been living in Britain, speak in New York. A
brilliant speaker and writer James had come to the US on a speaking
tour and was persuaded to stay. Marty described seeing James as a
"remarkable experience . . . he left a first impression on me that I
When a faction fight broke out in the SWP in 1939 over the
question of the nature of the Soviet Union, Marty, along with James
supported the minority position. In 1940, the party split and forty
percent of the adult party and a majority of the youth split away to
form the Workers Party James, and Marty were among those who left to
form the Workers Party under the leadership of Max Shachtman.
In 1941 James and Raya Dunayevskaya, a former secretary of Trotsky
and also differed with Shachtman, formed a minority tendency in the
WP, which became known as the Johnston-Forest tendency after the
pseudonyms of its leaders James (Johnson) and Dunayevskaya (Forest).
Actually this is unfair, since Grace Boggs was also a leader of the
The Johnson-Forest tendency left the WP to return to the SWP in
1946, but prior to formally joining they published a remarkable body
of literature: The first English translations of some of Marx's early
writings, a pamphlet on the American worker, works on
state-capitalism and a remarkable study of Hegel. During this time
they began the process that would reject the hallmark of Leninism,
the vanguard party.
The Johnson-Forest tendency left the SWP in 1952 and became an
independent organization with their own newspaper Correspondence. One
of the remarkable things about Correspondencewas the method called by
Dunayevskaya "the full fountain pen." The members of the group
actively sought to hear from workers and wrote down their words.
Although he was a writer and an editor of Correspondence, Marty
was also a worker. He spent 20 years in auto and the fruits of this
can be seen in such pamphlets as Punching Out and Be His Wages High
or Low. In the 1990's Bewick Editions published a collection of
Marty's poems about life on the shop floor under the title The
Factory Songs of Mr. Toad.
Organizing a radical group at the height of the McCarthy period
was not an easy task: Just prior to the launching of the paper James
had been deported. In 1955, the group was to split, with Dunayevskaya
taking a majority to form News & Letters. A second split in the
early 1960's further reduced the group.
While the themes of workers self- organization had an influence in
the sixties when libertarian socialism seemed more in accord with the
times than the stodgy old left, it did little to help the fortunes of
the group, now renamed Facing Reality. Marty taught a class on Marx's
Capital to future members of DRUM and the League of Revolutionary
Black Workers, but he admitted this didn't translate into recruits,
funds or even articles for their newsletter. At Marty's insistence
Facing Reality dissolved in 1970. After Facing Reality was wound
down, but years before CLR James was "discovered" by the academy,
Marty established Bewick Editions to keep James' work in print. Marty
also taught at Wayne State University, wrote several books including
Wartime Strikes and Working for Wages, and contributed a steady
stream of letters and reviews to a number of radical journals across
North America, such as New Politics, and Radical America.
In his 1980 book Wartime strikes Marty discussed the struggle
against the no-strike pact in the United Auto Workers in WWII. Of
particular interest was how this related to academic and leftist
notions of "class consciousness."
In the UAW, along with other unions there was pressure to sign a
no-strike pact. At the 1944 convention resolutions in support of and
in opposition to the no-strike pact were defeated. A compromise
resolution however which called for a postal ballot was accepted: A
ballot would be mailed to every UAW member. Less that half of the
ballots were returned, but of those who bothered to vote, a majority
re-affirmed the no- strike position. At the same time as this vote
was taking place an absolute majority of UAW members engaged in
wildcat strikes. When asked about consciousness Marty answered:
"That was the whole point to Wartime Strikes. The idea that in the
UAW in World War II a majority voted to sustain the no- strike
pledge, and while that vote was taking place an absolute majority of
auto- workers went on strike. So what the hell do they believe: A
no-strike pledge or they had the right to go on strike? It's
contradictory. They believed you should have a no-strike pledge, but
when the foreman looked at them that way, they walked off the job.
That was what Marx was about. Marx says it doesn't matter what that
worker thinks, or even the working class as a whole thinks, it's a
matter of what they will be forced to do. They are forced to resist
the nature of work.
And that's becoming worse. Every report about the new automated
work, all I hear from anybody out of the auto-shop is the greater
speed-up. If somebody tells me workers are saying "great! I love to
be here" OK, I'll give up on the revolution, but we're not even close
to anything like that."
(Revolutionary Optimist, p. 21)
Throughout this long career there was a constant focus on the
working class as agent of its own liberation. In practice, this meant
a rejection of the Leninist vanguard party, but curiously,
considering Lenin's role in the destruction of workers' power in
Russia, not of Lenin himself.. For Marty, and also for CLR James,
Lenin remained a figure of great importance.
My earliest contact with Marty was when I was living in Calgary. I
wrote to him asking for permission to republish, in an edited form,
his introduction to CLR James' brief account of democracy in ancient
Greece, "Any Cook Can Govern." Permission was granted and the piece
appeared, as "A Different Kind of Democracy".
When I moved back to Toronto in 1998, I contacted Marty and
visited him in December of the same year. We talked in his apartment,
then had lunch at the Detroit Art Institute.
Over the next year or so I kept in touch with Marty and in January
2001, along with two friends I interviewed him about his life and
thoughts for the future. The interview was later transcribed and
published as the pamphlet Revolutionary Optimist. I met
Marty fewer than a dozen times, although I also had communication
with him through email, phone and letter. I last saw him in the Fall
of 2000 when he came to Toronto to start a Capital class with some
comrades here. People were impressed, not only with Marty's knowledge
and experience, but also that at the age of 82 he would be willing to
travel the four hours by car to talk politics with people here.
My last communication with Marty was a few weeks before his death.
He wrote me a short note expressing his satisfaction with the
pamphlet and asking for more copies. He will be missed.
Martin Glaberman Archive