Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 24, 2010

Red Jackman

Filed under: socialism — louisproyect @ 12:52 am

Scandalize my Name: Stories from the Blacklist

So I’m sitting in the third row at the Brecht Forum last Thursday night waiting for Michael Yates to begin his talk on his new book “Why Unions Matter” and guess who I run into? None other than Red Jackman, the barfly and Shachtmanite I haven’t seen since 1975 from Club 55 down on Christopher Street in the Village. The Club 55 was where Red held court. It was a hangout for beatniks and 1950s radicals, especially those with connections to the Trotskyist movement. I used to drink there with my friend Nelson, who was editor of the Trotskyist newspaper The Militant, whose offices were 5 blocks away on the Hudson.

Red was a raconteur and a ne’er-do-well charmer, who was either being thrown out of his apartment by a girlfriend or wife, or out of the Club 55 by the bartender. After Michael’s talk, Red went up to him and told him how much he appreciated it. He told a funny story about some Shachtmanites he knew who had ended up in the International Department of the AFL-CIO reporting to Jay Lovestone. When the Bolivian revolution broke out in 1953, these two ended up down there like Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern trying to promote AFL-CIO influence, even though they were still left-wingers.

They ended up getting kidnapped by the miners, who took them back to their clandestine headquarters. They plead their case with the miners, in fear of their lives. Who could blame them for being scared, since the miners were fierce-looking Quechuans who carried around dynamite sticks to throw at the army. When the miners learned that the two Americans were Shachtmanites, the mood changed completely. Drinks were served and a convivial debate opened up which lasted through the night about the class nature of the Soviet Union, with half the miners insisting in orthodox Trotskyist fashion that it was a degenerated workers state and the other half defending Shachtman’s “third camp” position. It turned out that the miners union was a Trotskyist stronghold.

I was so surprised to see that Red was still alive after a lifetime of drinking that when I got home that evening I called Nelson to tell him the news.

(clip)

* * * *

Just received a minute ago:

Hello Louis,

I am writing a profile of Red Jackman who lives on Staten Island now and came to the attention of Beth Gorrie who directs a community reading project called Staten Island OutLOUD. I am sure that does not need much explaining. Having met him once, it seems like he comes to the attention of someone everywhere he goes.

But here is a bit of explanation. He was at a Fourth of July reading of the Declaration of Independence and so captivated the crowd with his part that Beth tapped him to come to the next event, a reading of “Moby Dick” to read the part of Ahab.   My story is being timed with the upcoming annual Moby Dick reading of OutLOUD in which he will reprise his role.

I read your piece from Scandalize My Name that mentions Red with an affection that resonated with my interview of him in which he talked about “21” , the March on Selma and NY Times photo, as well as his coming around to being a Christian Marxist, all told with good humor and good storytelling while sitting on his porch.

It sounds as if his drinking kept him from being taken too seriously, but having met him sober, the intelligence and idealism behind the humor and storytelling is something that has stayed with me.

I guess I just wanted to touch base to see if my impression resonates with you.

Kathryn Carse
People and Places
Shores section
Staten Island Advance
718-816-8451

3 Comments »

  1. Completely tangentially, what happened to 410 West Street? Did the SWP sell it? Primo real estate now.

    Comment by ish — July 24, 2010 @ 1:42 am

  2. From the SWP wiki:

    In 2003, the SWP sold its West Street building in New York City for twenty million dollars, and is now renting offices in midtown Manhattan. They are publishing The Militant, running candidates for office and trying to organize garment workers.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 24, 2010 @ 1:56 am

  3. Don’t forget that Jack Barnes took a huge chunk of the proceeds from that sale as a “finder’s fee.”

    Comment by The Idiot — July 24, 2010 @ 5:01 pm


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