Carl Feingold: A Life Worth Living

Tod Ensign

CARL FEINGOLD, A lifelong revolutionary socialist and a cofounder of Against the Current, died following a battle with esophageal cancer in New York City on April 6, 1993. He was sixty-four years old. Against the Current and New York Solidarity organized a memorial meeting. Carl is survived by two daughters, Karie Durgin and Jackie Feingold.

The son of Jewish immigrants, Carl was raised in Los Angeles where his father, an expert cutter, led garment workers on labor actions. Carl led his first political movement while still in high school. He helped organize what became a city-wide protest among high school students against allowing proto-fascist Gerald L. K. Smith to conduct rallies in the city’s school auditoriums. This culminated in thousands of students surrounding the Board of Education headquarters.

Carl joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) as a strike wave, which eventually involved two and a half million workers, swept the country. It was a time of great expectations for the radical movement Within the SWP’s ranks were hundreds of rank-and-file leaders from every key industry. The influence of the much larger Communist Party (with 80,000 members) was also at its peak.

Before long, however, the Cold War and McCarthyism began to take an inexorable toll. The left-wing movement shrank as thousands of militants were intimidated into silence During this decade-long political winter Carl, along with a few hundred other Trotskyists in the United States, hung on and endured.

Carl worked at jobs from ship’s cook to cab driver to factory worker, while carrying out various party tasks. He also attended college intermittently, finally graduating with a B.S. degree.

During the Korean War, Carl was drafted into the Army and sent to Ft Ord, California for training. Years later, he learned that the FBI had accumulated a file of at least 1500 pages on his activities. After keeping him on “administrative hold” for thirteen months the Army finally discharged him administratively.

Within party circles in Los Angeles, Carl had close relationships with James Cannon, Vincent Dunne, Murry and Myra Weiss, and George Novack, all key party leaders. He formed an especially close relationship with Cannon, whom Carl would later call his adopted father. In 1956 he took over as branch organizer in Los Angeles and later was elected to the SWP’s National Committee.

At the end of the fifties, Carl took on another difficult assignment to stabilize the party’s Minneapolis branch which had become badly split During his tenure there he was able to unify the branch, although a number of veteran members were forced out in the process. He also conducted an aggressive campaign as the party’s U.S. Senate candidate in 1960 against Hubert Humphrey.

Carl was also involved in recruiting a number of young socialists, who were led by Jack Barnes, into the party. This group subsequently gained control of the SWP, to Carl’s deep disappointment.

In the early sixties Carl served on the party’s National Committee and as branch organizer in New York City. Disenchanted with what he considered the excessive sectarianism of the Barnes group, he left the SWP in 1965. He bemoaned the party’s failure to respond creatively to the burgeoning civil rights and antiwar movements.

An Activist with Many Interests

Carl along with other ex-SWPers like Steve and Barbara Zeluck advocated that New Left groups and the antiwar movement establish closer ties with the labor movement and with working people in general. In the early 1970s, Carl became active with the International Socialists. Carl was an active IS member for several years until, in Carl’s words, the group was “rebolshevized as an agitational” organization. Carl’s criticisms of these shifts were not appreciated and he was eventually forced out.

Later, Carl worked with Steve and Barbara Zeluck and others to create Workers Power, for which Carl wrote the constitution. This organization later (1986) merged with the IS and Socialist Unity, a group of former SWPers, to form Solidarity. In the early 1980s, Carl, Steve Zeluck and others finally realized along-deferred dream when they launched the magazine Against the Current.

Carl always had many diverse intellectual interests. I recall, for example, several lively discussions we had over the years about Ronald Dworldin’s essays on jurisprudence in the New York Review of Books. He particularly enjoyed reading Scientific American and the books of Stephen Jay Gould. He often said that if he hadn’t been bitten by the socialist bug, he might have been a nuclear physicist or a mathematician.

Unlike some who became isolated and clannish after spending years in small, sectarian parties, Carl prided himself on having a diverse circle of friends and associates. His generous spirit meant that many young socialists found employment in his typesetting business over the years.

In the last months of his life, I worked with Carl to prepare a memoir which he entitled A Life Worth Living. Two book publishers are currently considering it; hopefully, a book will appear within the next year.

Carl was a warm, caring person who never wavered from his belief that the horrors of capitalism could be replaced with a system of humane democratic socialism. His premature death robbed many of his loyal friendship. He’ll be missed.

July/August 1993, ATC 45