Remembering Marty Glaberman (1918-2001)

Against the Current, No. 97, March/April 2002

Seymour Faber and Linda Manning Myatt

MARTIN GLABERMAN DIED on December 17, 2001 at the age of 83.  Marty grew up in New York, joined the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) at the age of thirteen and remained active in revolutionary politics for the rest of his life.

In the latter half of the 1930s a number of developments occurred leading to splits in the Socialist movement.  By 1941 Marty was a member of a minority faction of the Workers Party called the Johnson-Forrest Tendency.

Marty earned his bachelor’s degree at City College of New York in the middle of the Depression.  He had begun working on his masters degree in economics at Columbia and moved to Washington, D.C.

He came to the Detroit area in the early forties, sent by the party with the aim of working in the auto plants.  He worked in industrial plants twenty years of his life and brought that experience to every aspect of his thinking and his intellectual work.

Any appreciation of Marty requires an understanding of his politics which was the central focus of his life. Johnson (C.L.R. James) and Forrest (Raya Dunayevskaya) argued that Russia was a State Capitalist society: Though the state ran the economy, Russia contained the characteristics of a capitalist economy, value production and wage labor.

Later they expanded their theory to say that world capitalism had evolved to a new stage—State Capitalism—in which the state intervened into the economy, regulating it and taking industries over and running them. This became the basis for understanding modern society and the position of the working class.

Johnson-Forrest developed a new conception of organization.  They rejected the need for vanguard parties, political parties whose function was to lead the working class, and along with this they rejected the idea that workers could not be successful without the leadership of the party.

They saw an organizational form developing where the whole working class constituted the party.  They agreed with Marx who wrote in The German Ideology that revolutionary activity itself transforms people and makes them qualified to create a new and better society.

Marty’s position on the working class was one of his central distinguishing features.  Many radicals had given up on the revolutionary potential of the working class.  Marty disagreed.  He said the modern working class in advanced countries was far ahead of any other exploited class in education and training.

This and the experience of alienation and exploitation would lead to resistance and revolution and the establishment of a society where the workers would control their lives and have creative outlets in their work. Marty based himself on Marx when Marx said that the working class was revolutionary because its conditions of work and life made it that way.

Politics and Humanity

In an essay published a little over a year before his death Marty wrote, “Workers have to deal with their own reality and that transforms them .  .  .  I think self-activity is the response of working people to the nature of their lives and work.

“And the one thing that I think is an absolute given: workers will resist, because work sucks.  Until someone can tell me that work has become real nice under capitalism, whether in the United States or anywhere else, I say that is the fundamental basis of our theory and our practice.  Work sucks, and sooner or later workers are going to resist it in whatever way they can.” (From The New Rank and File, ILR Press, an imprint of Cornell University Press, 2000, edited by Staughton Lynd and Alice Lynd.)

Marty spent a number of years as a speaker, writer, and organizer for Correspondence and Facing Reality, and after this went back to graduate school and received the requisite degrees that allowed him to teach at Wayne State University.  He retired from there in 1989 as an emeritus professor.

Marty and his wife Jessie had one son, Peter, who is an artist and carpenter.  Marty greatly admired his son’s work in both areas, and was always very pleased to show photos of Peter’s work. Marty and Jessie also took in three teen-aged boys, Ralph, Gary and Farrell Hamann when the boys’ parents died, and raised them until they were ready to go out on their own.

Marty and Jessie maintained a household that was opened to the world as a way station, a meeting place and a refuge.  You always knew you would be welcome, and that you could turn to them if in need of advice or support.

It was also fun to drop by. The conversation was always lively, and you never knew who you might meet there—members of various left political groups, intellectuals, auto workers, and the occasional artist.  At mealtimes, there always seemed to be enough to feed an unexpected guest.

This had to do with Marty’s attitude about the relationships between people and their politics.  He always said that political relations were personal relations and your political activity should represent and confirm your humanity.

Marty was the author of many books, pamphlets, essays, and poems including Wartime Strikes; Working for Wages, the Roots of Insurgency (with Seymour Faber); and The Factory Songs of Mr. Toad. Staughton Lynd is editing a collection of Marty’s essays to be published late this year.

After Marty retired he remained intellectually involved.  He continued to travel, write and lecture, and to run a publishing house, Bewick Editions, which primarily published the works of C.L.R. James.

He also continued to give classes on Marx’s Capital.  Marty once said, “If you want to set up a Capital class, tell me the time and place, and I’ll be there.”

One of the students in his last Capital class said that Marty made Capital easy to understand without making it too simplistic.  He eliminated the academic jargon, and used examples from life to illustrate the concepts.

Since 1994, Marty had shared his life with Diane Voss, a professor at the Center for Creative Studies and a historian of science.  Diane was with him when he died.

from ATC 97 (March/April 2002)