SWP members in New YorkLobmans party branch for nearly 45 yearsand other party members, Young Socialists, and supporters of the communist movement from Newark, New Jersey; Boston; northeast Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. attended the event. Some two dozen of Lobmans relatives and family friends took part as well.
A large display of photographs and drawings depicting the big political battles during Lobmans lifetime, and his involvement in them, gave participants in the gathering a picture of his political life and development as a rank-and-fi le member of the revolutionary party for 44 years.
These included photos of Lobman as a draftee into the army in World War II, as a delegate from Alabama to the Progressive Party convention in 1948, at his job as an answer man for Groliers Encyclopedia, and staffi ng tables with socialist books and periodicals while campaigning for SWP candidates for offi ce. To get to know Arthur, you had to do something with him, Barnes told the gathering. The SWP leader said he fi rst met Lob-man in 1960 at the SWP leadership school at the Mountain Spring Camp in New Jersey. But Barnes, at that time a new recruit to the revolutionary movement, said he fi rst really got to know Lobman later when they were on a petitioning team together in Schoharie, upstate New York. New York state laws at the time, Barnes explained, required candidates other than Democrats and Republicans to collect not only a good number of petitions, but to ensure distribution of the signatures in each county across the state in order to put additional roadblocks in the way of working-class parties from getting their candidates on the ballot and gaining a hearing. He noted that the teams that would travel to the hardest counties were comprised of our professional petitioners and innocent newcomers who didnt know any better. Arthur was the former, while I was the latter. Also on the team was SWP leader Clifton DeBerry, who was later the partys candidate for president in the 1964 elections. When Arthur opened his mouth he sounded like many of my school mates and immediately made me feel at home, Barnes said. He never lost his Alabama accent. Together with him and DeBerry, who was from Mississippi, I learned much about politics in the South and the fight against Jim Crow. Lobman, as often occurred, was the top signature gatherer on the team, which faced the risk of harassment from the right-wing American Legion there.
The SWP leader commented on several messages to the meeting from Lobmans comrades, describing events that captured his life and spirit. He said many of the messages, like one from comrades in New Zealand, told the story of being put up for a night or more at the apartment of Arthur and his companion, Ethel. There were probably thousands who stayed there, said Barnes. Ethel Lobman, an SWP cadre for 55 years, died in 1999. Messages to the meeting were also received from leaders of Communist Leagues in Canada and Iceland.
Arthur was a blurter
A letter from party member Jacquie Henderson in Houston described a time she was at the Lobmans apartment. They were watching a documentary video on Jim Crow segregation and anti-Jewish prejudice. From time to time Arthur Lobman gave a running commentary over the soundtrack, wrote Henderson, relating his own experiences growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, in a Jewish family, in the Jim Crow South. Arthur was a blurter, said Barnes. Hed wait a while in a conversation while he was thinking, then blurt out his thoughts, a story.
Lobman had an extensive library that was marveled at by many, with many books on the history of the Civil War in the United Statesa particular favorite. He would often reach for a book from his shelves to make a point or encourage someone to read.
Henderson wrote that she asked Lobman for advice on selling socialist literature on the streets, Barnes said. Get out early and put in a lot of hours, Lobman responded, and talk to everyone. Dont start with prejudice about who may or may not buy the Militant or a book. Arthur knew from his own experience how people can change and grow, said Barnes. He didnt assume anything about anyone.
Barnes also remarked on a letter from party member and Young Socialist Romina Green in Cleveland, hitting on a recurring theme in the meeting: Lobmans maneuvering to get out of the party headquarters and into the streets with socialist literature. Green wrote that she had been assigned to the party bookstore committee with Lobman, said Barnes. After a while discussing with Green the various tasks involved, Lobman turned to her and said, Now lets go out and sell the books.
SWP member Patrick ONeill from Newark, New Jersey, who had roomed with Lobman for a year, was the first speaker. He told the gathering that Lobman was often a ready volunteer for special petitioning efforts on the other side of the Hudson river. At the end of a cold, windy day petitioning to put Maurice Williams on the ballot for mayor of Newark, Lobman had told ONeill, You know, Im usually one of the best petitioners. This was the closest Arthur ever came to boasting, ONeill noted, because he was a modest person. But it was not boasting. It was justified pride in his contribution to the party that had won his loyalty.
That loyalty and respect also came through in Lobmans regular stints of twice-a-week or more as a proofreader for the Militant, in which he drew on his experience as a proofreader at Groliers Encyclopedia. But more important than that professional experience, said ONeill, was Arthurs love for the Militant, the information it brought him, the orientation it gave him in politics, and the way he saw his party speaking through it. He took great care and paid attention to detail because he wanted to make the paper as good as it could be.
Barnes then read from a message to the meeting from Joel Britton, a party leader in Los Angeles, who said, Arthur didnt have to say a lot to express his enthusiasm for our steps forward. Last winter Britton introduced Lobman to Lawrence Mikesh, a party cadre and YS leader who was going to be staying at his apartment. Arthur shook his hand, Britton said. Britton then described to Lobman how Mikesh had just returned from Europe, speaking on the fight against the U.S. governments efforts to deport Róger Calero, and that he had been able to give a talk on Caleros fight and the U.S. class struggle to a large gathering of high school students in their cafeteria in Iceland. Without a word, Britton wrote, Arthur smiled and grabbed a surprised Mikeshs hand once more.
Seeing the present as history
History and Arthur lived together in a peculiar way, Barnes remarked. He pointed to many of the big events Lobman lived through and was shaped by, along with hundreds of millions of othersthe Great Depression of the 1930s, the military draft, World War II, the Korean War, the struggles against segregation in the South. But it was always Arthurs tendency, Barnes explained, to take a step back and see the present as history, as part of building a proletarian party.
Barnes then introduced the featured speaker, Steve Clark, who spoke on behalf of the National Committee of the SWP, outlining the impact of these world-changing events on Lobman, leading to his decision to join the revolutionary party. Clark pointed out that Lobman joined the party at the age of 35, having already been an adult for nearly two decades before joining the communist movement.
Lobman was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1924. His familyon both his mothers and fathers sideswas part of the relatively small Jewish population in the South, going back to before the Civil War. One of the last books Lobman read, said Clark, was Rich Mans War; Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley by David Williams. It tells the story of how poor white farmers in parts of Georgia during the Civil War resisted the draft by the Confederate government and joined with Blacks to resist the war plans of the slavocracy. Lobman was interested in the subject, and then to his surprise discovered a passing reference in the book to a distant relative, Louis Merz, who served as a private in the Confederate army.
As a youth in Alabama, Arthur was repelled by the indignities and brutalities of Jim Crow segregation, Clark said, and his parents encouraged him in that direction. Arthur remembered, in particular, the case of the Scottsboro Boys that began in 1931nine young Blacks framed up on charges of raping two white women. Its impact on him was due in part to relatives of Lobman, who were leaders of the Communist Party, who were involved in the case.
Just four years earlier, James P. Cannon and other CP leaders had been expelled from the party for fighting to continue the course of Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin against the political counterrevolution in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. In The First Ten Years of American Communism, Cannon pointed out that the revolutionary movement had no forces in the South at the time. Despite the Stalinist degeneration of its leadership, the CP led the fight against the racist frame-up of the Scottsboro Boys, making it an international case. It was also the only party in the workers movement to run an African-American for vice president at the time.
By the mid-1930s, however, said Clark, applying the Popular Front strategy in the United States, the CP increasingly subordinated the struggles and interests of workers and the oppressed to the reactionaryand utopianhope of a long-term alliance with a progressive section of the capitalist class. Concretely, this meant an alliance with the wing of the Democratic Party represented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But to the steel, mine, and other bosses in Alabama, a Communist was still a Communist, Clark said. The most prominent leader in the mid-1930s of the Alabama CP was Joseph Gelders, Arthurs cousin, Clark continued. In 1936, while Gelders was working to free a union organizer from jail in Birmingham, he was picked up by Ku Klux Klan goons, beaten up, and left to die in a field outside the city. He later regained consciousness and found his way to a hospital. Clark noted that the details of that incident can be found in Carry Me Home: Birmingham, AlabamaThe Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter. Arthur recalled the impact on him when his father received a call at home to pick up Gelders at the hospital.
Drafted into army, sent to Japan
In 1941 Lobman began classes at Harvard University. Two years later he was drafted into the armed forces. After Arthur had become a revolutionist some 15 years later, said Clark, he recognized that World War II was in fact not a single war, but three wars in one.
It was a war by the toilers of the Soviet workers state against the invasion by German imperialism aimed at overturning the social conquests of the October 1917 revolution, Clark said. Second, it was a war by the Chinese people and other colonized peoples around the world to throw off their oppressorswhether Japanese, British, French, or American. In these wars, revolutionists stood unreservedly in support of a Soviet victory and of the colonial toilers. But what was called World War II was at the same time a war among the rival imperialist powers to redivide and dominate the world. Washingtons targets were not only the Axis enemiesGermany, Italy, and Japanbut its allies, above all the United Kingdom. And in that war, as with Lenins course during World War I, communist workers stood for the defeat of our own government in Washington.
But Lobman did not hold this view in 1943, said Clark, who noted that Lobmans daughters, Carrie and Sara, had made available some of his letters home during the war. Like millions of others, Lobman was convinced by the U.S. rulers propaganda that this was a war for democracy against Nazism and the Japanese empire. Lobman was stationed in Hawaii for much of the war, and wrote back home in elation at the time of the Japanese surrender in August 1945. Now I still can hardly believe it…. God Save the United States of America! He added in the letter that he was a little tipsy at the time.
Lobman was sent to Japan in September of that year as part of the U.S. occupation force. By the end of 1945 he wrote about the current fake Liberal-Progressive parties in Japan put in power by the occupation forces headed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. They are only a front for the landowners, capitalists, Lobman wrote at the time.
After the war Lobman returned to Harvard, graduating in 1947. Aside from a few subsequent short-term jobs elsewhere, he remained a New Yorker the rest of his life.
In the summer of 1948 Lobman was a delegate from Alabama to the convention of the Progressive Party, a short-lived capitalist party that nominated Henry Wallace, a former vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, as its candidate. Wallace had been fired as secretary of commerce by President Harry Truman for expressing public reservations about Washingtons increasingly aggressive course toward the Soviet Union. The CP backed Wallace and hoped the campaign would offer a way to slow down the U.S. war drive against the USSR.
Arthur had not yet met up with the SWP, said Clark. He was shaken up two years later when Wallace supported the Truman administrations launching of the brutal war against the Korean people to keep their country divided. Lobman attended a Militant Labor Forum in New York to discuss and protest the war on Korea and the McCarthyite witch-hunt that was well under way.
Clark read from a letter from SWP national secretary James P. Cannon to Truman and Congress in July 1950. I disagree with your actions in Korea, and in my capacity as a private citizen I petition you to change your policy fundamentally, as follows: Withdraw the American troops and let the Korean people alone, Cannon wrote. But before opening the argument, I beg your permission, gentlemen, to tell you what I think of you. You are a pack of scoundrels. You are traitors to the human race. I hate your rudeness and your brutality.
The 1958 regroupment
During the 1950s Lobman took part in actions to support various labor struggles in New York and was attracted to the rising struggle for Black rights. His mother Dorothy and sister Jane were active in the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott, sparked when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and go to the back of the bus consigned to colored people. Parks at the time was the secretary to labor leader E.D. Nixon, who organized the boycott. Lobman was also active in the American Labor Party (ALP), a New York political group initiated in 1936 by the CP to give left cover to supporting Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. The ALP folded in 1956, as did the Progressive Party.
In 1958 the SWP proposed an independent socialist ticket in the New York state elections, said Clark, regrouping all those who could agree to run on an openly socialist platform independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Arthur rallied to this effort.
When the results in November of that year were just a few thousand votes for the socialists, most individuals involved in the campaign concluded that the experience had been a fiasco, and drifted back to the Democratic Party. Based on this and his other experiences, Lobman drew the opposite conclusions, said Clark, That a socialist revolution was necessary in the United States; the working class needed to build a disciplined partylike the one Lenin had forged and led in Russia. That the working class had to maintain its independence of the parties of the imperialist exploitersthe Democrats and Republicansand any other parties that stood on a program of maintaining and reforming capitalism. And that propaganda efforts such as socialist election campaigns, sales of a working-class newspaper like the Militant, the production and circulation of revolutionary books and pamphlets were at the heart of gathering the cadres of the essential nucleus of such a party.
And so in January 1959 Arthur made what turned out to be a lifetime decisionto join the SWP, Clark said. In October of that same year he married Ethel Bloch, a 15-year member of the party at the time. They remained companions and comrades until her death in 1999.
The month Arthur joined the SWP was, by coincidence, the same month as the victory of the Cuban Revolution. Arthur and Ethel visited Cuba in the summer of 1960, said Clark, along with Priscilla March and Militant reporter Harry Ring.
In Cuba at opening of revolution
They were there during the opening stages of the revolution, when more and more imperialist-owned enterprises were being taken over by mass mobilizations of Cuban workers and farmers. Clark noted that Ring recounted at the time that when Ethel picked up the phone at their hotel on the second day of the trip, the operator greeted her with the message: Good morning. Today we work for Cuba!
Clark pointed out that for the next 45 years of Lobmans life he joined the effort to build a party in the United States that could emulate what the workers and peasants of Cuba had accomplished. He said Lobman was fond of a remark by Bartolomeo Vanzetti, an immigrant fish peddler framed up on bombing charges and executed by the U.S. government in 1927. The defense of Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco became a worldwide movement led in the United States by the International Labor Defense, of which James P. Cannon was executive secretary at the time. Shortly before his execution Vanzetti told a reporter, If it had not been for all these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. Lobman did a lot of talking at street corners, though not to scorning men, said Clark. He used the Militant, and petitioning and campaigning for candidates whose socialist program could become the political foundation of a mass socialist movement of workers, farmers, and youth.
Following Clarks presentation, Barnes pointed to a phrase in the 1950 letter to Truman in which Cannon said, I hate your rudeness. That was something that Arthur could never be charged with, said Barnes, Arthur wore his learning lightly, he said, never giving anyone the feeling that he was putting them down, that he held superior knowledge and intelligence. He simply offered what he knew with modesty. Some of his best jokes taught you something.
Barnes noted that in a message to the meeting, Harry Ring wrote that Lobman had been a volunteer staff member for the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (NECLC) in the 1950s. This group would defend anyone regardless of their political affiliation, and refused to succumb to pressure by the Stalinized Communist Party to deny support to the CPs political opponents, said Barnes. One such example was the fight by World War II veteran and SWP member James Kutcher to win back his government job against Washingtons witch-hunt. The story is told in the Pathfinder book The Case of the Legless Veteran.
Its usually harder to unlearn than to learn, Barnes said. But if someone unlearns and learns at the same time, the result is profound conviction. That was the case with Lobman and the early influence on him by Stalinism. It shows Arthur knew exactly what he was doing, and the depth of his decision to join the SWP.
Paul Pederson of the New York Young Socialists told the meeting about a New York Militant Labor Forum in August of last year on the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the presentation at that forum Pederson had explained that Washington had carried out a deliberate incendiary bombing of dozens of Japanese cities where buildings with wood structures were common, in an effort to terrorize the population. These bombings were carried out against Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, and many other targets, killing some 200,000 Japanese. The forum also addressed the Bring the troops home movement among soldiers, in which thousands of active-duty troops protested their continued deployment in Asia and Europe after the war had ended.
Arthur was the first to speak in the discussion period, said Pederson, and described his experiences as a young GI while he was stationed in Osaka. There couldnt be much less of it after the firebombing, Lobman had written at the time after a visit to the city of Okayama. He also told the 2002 meeting, said Pederson, that the troops knew that the U.S. rulers had their eyes set on China and Korea and wanted to claim the newly conquered Japanese empire for Washington. But Arthur saw the way that the movement among the troops prevented the U.S. rulers and their military tops from achieving these aims, through a powerful working-class movement among the ranks of the U.S. Army.
Arthurs smile was his trademark
You cant separate Arthur from Ethel, Barnes added, but they were different people. Ethel would prowl the back of the room at a meeting like this, talking to people, organizing tasks, said Barnes, while Arthur would sit quietly, letting you know with his smile what he thought of what someone was saying. Arthurs smile was his trademark.
Barnes pointed to a message from Maggie Trowe, a party leader in Boston, who explained, another characteristic of Arthur I didnt know: he was a good dancer.
Olga Rodríguez, a leader of the New York SWP, told the meeting that on one of her stays in the Lobman apartment in the 1970s Arthur drew my attention to an account of the Brownsville riots of 1906. There had been several run-ins between townspeople and members of an all-Black regiment stationed in Brownsville over racial slurs against the troops and official signs warning No niggers or dogs allowed. The troops were falsely accused of instigating a fight in the town leading to the death of a bartender and wounding of a cop. After 12 of the Black soldiers were framed up for the events and the rest of the troops refused to back the accusations, all 167 members of the battalion were dishonorably discharged.
You see, Arthur and I shared something in common: we were both reared in the Jim Crow South. I was born in Brownsville, Texas. Arthur opened up a chapter in the history of the my birthplace that was utterly unknown to me by pointing to that book. She added that in recent years Lobman was especially excited about the relocation of the New York SWP branch to the garment district of the city, where tens of thousands of clothing workers labor.
Toward the end, Barnes read from a message to the meeting from Jim Lambrecht, who had been a member of the New York SWP branch that voted Lobman into party membership. Among other points, Lambrecht said that Art didnt tire or become discouraged, Barnes pointed out. I dont think thats true, said Barnes. Especially after Ethels death, Arthur did grow tired, discouraged, or frustrated at times. He had human frailties like anyone else. What Lobman did do, said Barnes, was put together a pattern of activity and discipline under which he kept becoming slightly different through his entire life, and which had an impact on others around him. While it is often said at events like this, noted Barnes, its worth repeating, We would all be better in our lives to live like him.
An appeal to contribute to Pathfinder Press as part of honoring Arthur Lobmans life raised $1,500.
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