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Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker Paperback – November 1, 1999
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William marx mandel was born to jewish parents of Polish and Ukranian origin in Brooklyn, New York, in 1917 -the year of the Russian revolution and the day before U.S. soldiers were registered for the World War I draft. by the age of ten, Bill was rattling a can in New york subways, collecting money to help feed striking miners and their families, as a member of the Young pioneers, the Communist children's organization.
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These episodes bracket Mandel's autobiography. In between, his family moved to the Soviet Union where he attended high school, he was a labor organizer for the Communist Party, he was tossed out of the Communist Party for refusing to overlook some of the excesses of Stalin. He remained active in communist actions, battling racism in the south, and the oppression of labor in the north. He was present at Peekskill, NY when a Paul Robeson concert was attacked by racist hooligans, and lead a march through New York the night the Rosenbergs were killed.
Despite was hauled before first HUAC and then McCarthy's committee--and both times used his appearance to attack the committees (but spent at least two decades blacklisted, unable to teach or publish). He was a commentator on Pacifica radio for decades, and was a member of the leadership committee of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 60's.
While the book desperately needs a good editing--far too many sections contain lengthy stories about people Mandel knew who appear once, and then disappear without a trace. However, stick with it. His is such a fascinating life, and such a model of staying true to one's beliefs, and ACTING on them everyday, that it is well worth the read.
What's it like to spend your lifetime fighting for social change? SAYING NO TO POWER takes you on a journey that puts you on the front line in the struggle for peace, social justice and socialism. Mr. Mandel is a "red diaper baby" who had graduated from high school at fourteen when his parents took him to the Soviet Union in 1931 to help build socialism. Back in the U.S., he joined the Communist Party at eighteen and was assigned to industrial Ohio where the steel, auto, and rubber unions were being built. In the 1950's when McCarthyism was looking for commies under every bed, they found Bill and ordered him to appear before all three witch-hunting committees, two in the U.S. Senate and also in the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities. Instead of being intimidated, Mandel turned the tables on Senator Joe McCarthy and demanded an end to the witch-hunt. He had faith in the American people's desire for free speech as stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
We follow Mandel into the 60's and learn about the significant role he played in the Free Speech Movement and as a commentator on KPFA (KFCF 88.1 FM, our local progressive radio station). He is one of the most knowledgeable experts in the country on the former Soviet Union. In the 90's he was removed from the air for "deviating" from the subject matter of his regular program.
If you want to learn about the life of someone who has spent most of the last century in the struggle to build a better America, read SAYING NO TO POWER.
Its a very interesting life story in any case. William Mandel grew up in a milieu which is long gone: a highly literate, politically active, urban working class. He spent a significant part of his childhood in the Soviet Union; was deeply, though ambivalently, involved in the Communist Party U.S.A(CPUSA) - (he was kicked out and then readmitted, at which point he resigned); He was interrogated twice by HUAC, as well as by Roy Cohn during the McCarthy hearings; He was the victim of red-baiting through-out his career; He was involved in the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley; he is a principle actor in the current Pacifica Radio fracas.
Along the way William Mandel has encountered a huge number of characters, ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt, to Paul Robeson, to Jerry Rubin. His political outlook has changed from Marxist-Leninism to his current disavowal of Socialism.
He is such an acclaimed scholar of the late Soviet Union that he was, for a time, a member of the Hoover Institute, a bastion of right-wing American triumphalism.
In short, William Mandel has led an exciting life. His autobiography should be an exciting read.
Sadly - it ain't so. Outside of the first few chapters about his boyhood, which are charming, this book is a chore. Mr. Mandel appears distraught that his contributions to the history of the American Left have been under-appreciated and is therefore concerned with setting the record straight. There are more references to personal correspondence extolling Mr. Mandel's impact on the world then there are to Mandel’s own writings!
Fascinating questions are left unanswered. He infers that he has given up on Marxian Socialism since it has proved to be as utopian as the 19th Century socialisms that it sought to replace. He suggests that civil libertarian concerns gnawed at him while he was a practicing Communist. But he never presents a critique of Marxism. Given that this is a relatively recent intellectual development for Mr. Mandel, one would expect some substance in this regard.
There are also the odd omissions and tantalizing facts that are not followed through upon. William Mandel offers a seemingly cogent case for the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact: tying together Stalin's desire for a secure western border with the incursion into Finland. Mandel seeks to make us understand that this pact was primarily a vehicle for the defense of the Soviet Union against a set of hostile and intractable enemies. trange...there is no mention of the invasion and division of Poland.
As for tantalizing facts, there is one point where William Mandel mentions a recent CPUSA convention wherein the Commies called the Cops! Apparently there was a group of dissidents who were attempting to participate, and the Cleveland Police Department was called upon to enforce Party Disciplne. But this incident is not expanded upon. (This is, in fact not merely an offhand anecdote. The CPUSA subsequently split into two groups: one of which expounds Social Democracy ala Western Europe – and which has left the Party, the other is a bunch of aging ideologues. This has spelled the end of the CPUSA as a viable force, even in left-sectarian terms. Given the sturm and drang that followed the CPUSA throughout its history, and inspired Mandel’s most courageous moments – indeed, given the force that the CPUSA had in Mandel’s personal life, from childhood forward, one would think that the Party’s demise is worthy of comment.
Perhaps William Mandel could author a follow-up volume which details and analyzes the history of the American Left in the 20th Century. He would be in a unique position to do so, and it would be an exciting and entertaining book.
Bottom line: if you're building a library on the American Left, get this book for the sake of completeness.
Otherwise look for William Mandel's other works on the Soviet Union. I note that there is a new one due in July.