This is the first chapter from Turncoats and True Believers (Prometheus Books, 1992).  It is the original typescript, not including any editorial revisions made by the publisher.

Confessions of a Turncoat and Remembrance of a True Believer

by Ted George Goertzel

Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.          Bertrand Russell(1)

This book is about people whose convictions are not always comforting. Sometimes they turn vicious, stinging with a venom of anger and hatred. Sometimes they buzz around annoyingly, reminding the believer of doubts he would rather forget. Sometimes they fly further and further afield until he is caught without their comforting presence at a time of need. Sometimes new convictions spar piquedly with the old until he throws up his hands in disgust, hoping to drive them all away.

The inquiring reader will want to know what happened to the author's own cloud of convictions. I offer this chapter as a personal prologue in which I give my own life the same kind of scrutiny that I give to others. It differs from most autobiographical essays, however, because I contrast my life to that of a close friend whose life took a different path. Of course, our two lives have no particular historical importance and the reader is welcome to skip this chapter or save it for later. Chapters Two and Five give the basic theoretical ideas which tie the book together. The remaining chapters can be read in any order without losing more than an occasional reference.

Recollections of a Turncoat

Quaker Childhood. My parents were Quaker pacifists who favored racial equality and opposed militarism before it was popular to do so. As a small child growing up in the Michigan suburbs, I returned from playing with the girl next door full of comments about "niggers." This was a decade before the civil rights movement, but my parents were quick to lecture me on the importance of racial equality. There were no Negroes in our neighborhood, but on a trip to downtown Detroit I had the opportunity to prove how well I'd learned the lesson, shouting out for everyone to hear, "Mommy, I just held the door open for a Negro!"

Having been born in pre-baby boom 1942, when my pacifist father was not away in the army, I became aware of political issues in the late fifties when the nation was emerging from McCarthyism and the positions my parents believed in were on the upswing. Racial segregation, nuclear fallout and the Vietnam War were all problems the nation could have avoided if it had listened to the Quakers. When we moved to New Jersey, the committee to organize northern New Jersey's first peace march met in my living room. "Ted Goertzel, Montclair High School" appeared among the list of sponsors of the march, because the organizers hoped this might help them to reach out to the conformist youth of the fifties.

The march itself wasn't very exciting. We gathered a few miles from a Nike missile base on a cloudy Saturday morning and walked slowly carrying placards denouncing nuclear weapons and calling for peaceful negotiations with the Russians. Our group included a number of colorful individuals with long hair and disheveled clothing, as well as Quakers whose nonconformity was expressed only in their dissenting beliefs and their proclivity for giving public witness to them. No one took much notice of our march. The Nike base was inconveniently located in a remote area with little auto traffic and no pedestrians. The only press coverage was one small story in a local paper which claimed that a passing motorist threw a dead skunk at us. I didn't see this happen, nor did I hear anyone mention it at the time. It seems an unlikely thing for a driver to happen to have in his car.

Montclair was a safe, middle class suburb with big old houses, lots of trees, and young people who were generally well behaved. I had skipped a year in grade school and was shy and socially inept and had difficulty making friends. There were a few boys who occasionally picked on me after school, just as they picked on anyone who seemed vulnerable. I was thin and wore thick glasses. I generally avoided situations where I might get involved in fighting, more because I thought I'd get beaten up than out of any pacifist principles.

I remember one occasion, however, when I passed a group of boys who were hassling a boy whose slight frame and poor coordination were not compensated by any quickness of mind. I succumbed to the temptation to join in, making some remark about his slowness. The other boys were eager for a fight to establish who was on the bottom of the pecking order. He got his courage up to come over and shove me, but when I shoved him back he slinked away. One of his friends later told me that he only weighed 98 pounds. I was glad to have won something, and secretly wished he'd put up more of a fight. At the same time, I thought I should have been true to Quaker principles and returned violence with love.

The unfortunate fellow called the next night when the peace committee was meeting in our living room to plan the march. When I picked up the phone, he said "Goertzel, you are going to die" and hung up. I put down the phone and let everyone assume it was a wrong number. When I later described my pugilistic predicament to my mother, she seemed pleased and expressed the opinion that pacifist principles didn't necessarily apply to the school yard. Her desire to see me protected from harm or unhappiness meant more than abstract ideals. My father was more self-critical and more true to pacifist principles in his personal life. The best I can say for myself is that I never bothered the boy again.

I was usually quick to expose the flaws in other people's logic, but I chose not to confront my mother on her lapses in ethical consistency. I never had a convincing answer to the question usually put to pacifists, "What would you do if someone broke into your house and threatened to kill your family?" I knew that there were circumstances when I feel justified in using violence. The people I talked with were unfortunately too polite to push me very far on these issues. When I raised them with my parents they just said that these were difficult questions and I should respect other people's views. Politeness is the bane of skepticism, allowing each person the comfort of his convictions, however bizarre, so long as he has the good taste not to question anyone else's. My mother's mother, an austere Indiana farmer's wife, had sent her daughter away to college with the admonition that she should never discuss politics or religion.

In the Quaker culture, silent witness is preferred to rational argumentation. If God speaks to us in the silence, who are we to question the messages He sends to us? I wasn't sure what God was, and certainly hadn't thought through the implications of a mystical, non-rational theology. Without thinking it through, however, I had strongly internalized the norm that it was admirable to make a public witness of one's convictions. One day, I simply decided that it was wrong to recite the Lord's Prayer and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. My allegiance was to humanity, not to a particular nation, and certainly not to a God who made no discernable effort to use his infinite powers to stop wars and injustice. Without discussing the issue with my parents or anyone else, and even without giving it much thought, I simply declined one day to stand for the classroom ceremonies. The teacher asked what was wrong. When I told her I didn't believe in it, she sent me to the principal. When he heard that I was a Quaker, he contacted my parents and found that they had no objection to my behavior. He then wrote the teacher a note stating that "Ted has a long history of Quakerism in his family" and that I should be allowed my unusual beliefs as long as I showed my respect for others by standing at attention. I can't recall if anyone at school ever mentioned the event again.

Much the same thing happened when I refused to take cover during air raid drills, which we pacifists opposed because they gave people the false impression that they could escape a nuclear bomb by hiding under a desk or running to the basement. The tolerant response of the good citizens of New Jersey to my radicalism didn't bother me. I wasn't ready for a serious confrontation with authorities or even with a persistent group of teenage bullies. Later on, when the civil rights and Vietnam issues heated up, I experienced much greater hostility from authorities and from the general public. I think my Montclair experiences had a lasting effect on me, however. I never really expected any serious consequences for my radicalism. My greatest concern was with being ignored.

A Parental Script. When I was in high school, I had no idea how closely my experiences paralleled my father's, almost as if our lives were following the same script. Much later, in 1981, I might have noticed a brief comment in The New Yorker describing events at Los Angeles's Roosevelt High School:

In 1930 and 1931, there was a bit of a free speech fight at the school--involving suspensions, demonstrations, lawyers and some battling on the campus. Students with names like Goertzel, Handler, Goldstein, and Schatz were being punished for accusing the school newspaper of "anti-working-class" and anti-Soviet attitudes and for refusing to salute the flag.(2)

The "Goertzel" in the story was my father, Victor, and the "Handler" was his step-sister, my Aunt Aida. The official school paper had written an editorial which Victor thought was an attack on the Soviet Union. When it refused to publish his reply, his radical youth group printed it and distributed it as a leaflet. Principal Thomas Elson professed to be a civil libertarian. He displayed the motto "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" prominently on his office wall. Nevertheless, he suspended Victor, Aida and several others, claiming that their "decidedly disloyal utterances" were impudent and revealed an attitude problem. Victor appealed to the motto on his wall, but to no avail. When they refused to recant after a few weeks suspension, Victor was expelled shortly before he was scheduled to graduate in the middle of the year. Despite these facts, Principal Elson insisted that "no one has ever been expelled from Roosevelt high school for radical views," only for "insolence and unpatriotic utterances."

Victor wasn't upset about being expelled since he hadn't planned to go to college anyway and hadn't taken the college preparatory curriculum. He planned to be a factory worker, union organizer and Communist Party functionary. After one day in an orange products factory, he abandoned this life plan. He learned his job in a few minutes and was bored before an hour was up. After loafing a few months, he decided to go back to school and the Los Angeles Board of Education was quite willing to transfer his records to suburban Downey Union High School which graduated him when the term ended.(3)

My father inherited his Communism from his father, Sam, who grew up in Vilnius, Lithuania. One day Sam and a friend were playing by the river, and the friend fell in. Sam tried to save him but had to let go because the current was too strong. The friend's parents blamed him, and he had to leave the Jewish religious school and enter the Russian secular school. This experience may account for the fact that he became alienated from religious Judaism and was the only one of his brothers and sisters to become a lifelong believer in Communism.

Victor grew up in a community of leftist Jewish immigrants in Los Angeles and in New York, and joined the Young Pioneers, a youth group sponsored by the Communist Party. The Pioneers was the "in group" whose respect he valued, and at the time he thought he had influenced his father to become a Communist, never realizing that Sam had been a Bolshevik in Lithuania. He was raised by his father because his mother, Anna, never wanted to have children. She reluctantly cancelled her appointment with the abortionist when her young husband thought he was dying from an accidental gunshot wound and begged her not to flush his only descendent down the toilet. When they divorced, she didn't contest custody. Anna was also a sympathizer with the Bolshevik revolution, and even went back to live in Russia for a while. Victor recalls that when he went for his driver's license examination, she asked whether he had given the examiner five dollars. When he insisted this wasn't necessary, she remarked that even in the Soviet Union you always had to bribe officials. This was, so far as Victor can recall, the only negative remark she ever made about the Soviet society, although she voted with her feet by returning to live in New York.

Victor recalls demonstrating against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in Union Square in New York, and feeling a rush of pride when he saw the hammer and sickle displayed on an issue of Current History on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. He became restless with the Young Pioneers as an organization because it was too authoritarian. He was once called before the Central Control Committee in Los Angeles for the offense of playing tennis with a Lovestoneite. His politics were not questioned, but he was not permitted to have social relations with "renegades." He joined the Young Communist League after he graduated high school but became disillusioned with the trials of Communist leaders in Moscow. He couldn't believe that all the old Bolsheviks but Stalin were traitors. Even more central to his defection was his belief that the Communists were supporting the fascists in Germany on the theory that only if things got worse would the workers become class conscious. He objected to being told to break up Socialist Party meetings in Los Angeles. He would gladly break up fascist meetings, but the socialist were well meaning if naïve.

My mother, Mildred George, was an Indiana farm girl who worked her way through Ball State Teachers' College in Muncie. Her parents weren't political, but her mother was supportive of Mildred's attempt to live a liberated life style to the extent of urging her not to "waste all that education" by getting married. By the time they met in Chicago, Mildred was an orthodox Socialist, while Victor was part of a Trotskyist faction which was engineering a "united front from below." They decided that they were just canceling out each other's votes, and dropped out of the socialist movement.

Victor had a problem with stuttering and he had come to Chicago to seek the help of a nationally renowned expert on relaxation techniques, Edmund Jacobson, M.D. author of books titled Progressive Relaxation and You Must Relax. The Indiana farm girl he'd just met, whose maternal instincts may have been revived by concern about her advancing biological clock, thought that unresolved feelings of rejection by his mother might be to blame. She tried holding his head on her lap and reading him nursery rhymes. The stuttering rapidly came under control and they married, abandoning both of their jobs in the midst of the depression to take off on an extended honeymoon in Mexico. There they met Babette Newton, wife of the American Friends Peace Secretary Ray Newton. She informed Victor that Quakers were not just a historical group but still existed in the modern world. He found that the Quakers shared many of the ideas he had developed independently, especially the emphasis on nonviolence. A few days later my parents happened to meet Arthur Morgan, a prominent Quaker who had been the first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and President of Antioch College. Victor told Morgan, who he knew only as a "farmer from Ohio," all about Quakerism. Morgan listened patiently while Victor voiced his newfound enthusiasm, never revealing that he had heard about it before. They moved to Berkeley, California and became lifelong Quakers.

At about this time, Victor read Aldous Huxley's book Ends and Means which he still remembers as an important statement of the validity of the pacifist position. This was probably the source of the argument, which I heard Victor offer in various forms when I was young, that good ends cannot come from evil means. Huxley argues that military sanctions are "intrinsically bad and so incapable of producing any but bad results."(4) Today, I regard this as a metaphysical error, falsely assuming that the outcome of real world events can be predicted by analyzing the meaning of a word. On the basis of this argument, Victor was a conscientious objector during World War II.

College in the Sixties. Antioch College, which I entered in 1959 at age 16, was a distinctive and distinguished liberal arts college, full of "red diaper babies" and sensitive, serious students who wanted a change from high school.(5) My freshman roommate, Karl Grossman, was a spirited, outgoing, cocky Jewish New Yorker who had read up on populism and prairie socialism in preparation for his venture into the midwest. He had great curiosity, and was always looking for something interesting to observe and talk about. He found Ohio a bit tame, and took to riding around the countryside on a motor scooter which he parked outside the window of the dormitory. During the winter quarter which we both spent at the Antioch Center in Guanajuato, Mexico, he impressed me with the amount of confidential information he amassed about the program director's marital problems. Twenty-five years later, I learned that he had become an investigative reporter, publishing in the Nation and the New York Times op-ed page, as well as teaching journalism. In a questionnaire which I circulated to 128 members of my college class, he was one of only three who reported no change in their opinions on any of fourteen attitude items.

Each academic quarter, the fifty or so of us who were inclined toward activism organized political groups and tried to find some action we could take to make the world a better place. I joined the Antioch Committee for Racial Equality, and was one of the agitators who urged for several quarters that we should follow the example of southern students and stage a sit-in at Gegner's Barber Shop. The barber shop was Yellow Springs' only segregated establishment. Mr. Gegner stubbornly refused to cut the hair of Negroes, claiming his was a personal service, and in any event he hadn't been trained to cut that kind of hair. We secretly sent in a white student with tightly curled hair, and he cut it without objection. Numerous legal complaints were filed, one of which finally ended in a trial when Gegner was found guilty of discrimination, and fined one dollar. I was part of the faction which insisted on direct action, much against the urging of the fatherly dean of students, John (Dudley) Dawson, who counseled moderation, and the local courts, which passed an injunction prohibiting all demonstrations within 100 yards of Yellow Springs' main street. Yellow Springs was so small, that the injunction covered the whole town including the college.

We were joined by a large number of Negro students from Central State and Wilberforce Universities, and the police fired tear gas and packed us off to jail. Spending the night in the Greene County Jail was interesting mostly for the chance to meet the regular prisoners. My cell mate was in for buying too much cough syrup with codeine, and he thought the jail food was pretty good compared to other jails he'd known. I bailed myself out the next day, and the cases were never brought to trial, probably because the prosecutor knew the injunction would never hold up on appeal. Many years later, I found out that Dean Dawson was informing on us to the FBI.

I met my first wife, Carol Zwell, at an Antioch political meeting. Shared political views were central to our relationship. She was also involved in the Gegner's sit-in and traveled with me and a number of Antioch students to Selma, Alabama, to participate in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march. We also agreed in opposing American intervention in Vietnam. After living together for two quarters, Carol's absence from the dorm room she had to pay for was detected by the College officials and we decided that getting married was the logical solution to our housing problems. Our parents thought that 19 was too young for us to make such a commitment, and looking back from middle age I would have to agree. Even at the time, I felt a need to date other women which probably had its origin in a deeper need to mature socially and develop self confidence instead of relying on a woman to solve my problems. I believe there were repressed doubts hidden behind my certainty about both the marriage and my prescriptions for saving the world.

In my political involvements, I was never quite satisfied with the groups or organizations I joined, often criticizing them in a cynical tone. I had inherited a good bit of skepticism from my father, and I never expected my life to be transformed by a political event such as universal disarmament or socialist revolution. I remember a discussion with another activist who couldn't understand why I remained active in the movement when I didn't expect us to win, at least any time soon. I was making a moral witness, not trying to win anything through politics. This may explain why I continued through school to obtain a Ph.D. and a sinecure as a college professor instead of devoting my major effort to politics. It wasn't that I didn't want success, I just didn't expect to get it through politics. Instead of sacrificing my career, I let my neuroses play themselves out in my marriage.

My experiences strengthened my confidence that the political values I had inherited from my parents were sound and that I was right in using militant non-violent tactics in expressing them. The supposedly wiser adults, such as Dean Dawson, were simply holding up the march of progress. This is a view which has been largely confirmed by history, at least with regard to the civil rights movement. I am not aware of anyone who has recanted and come out in favor of segregation. This self-confidence carried over into other issues, such as opposing the increasing American involvement in Vietnam or the blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis.

This cocky sense of being in the vanguard of history made me self-righteous and something of a purist. My Federal Bureau of Investigation file reports that Yellow Springs police chief James McGee told them I was "a very unreasonable type person." It doesn't say why he thought so. McGee was the only black police chief in Ohio at the time, and I thought we were on good terms.

The FBI files also recount the following incident at Washington University in St. Louis, where I went for graduate work:

TED GOERTZEL was present at a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) meeting held at Washington University on October 29, 1965, and at this meeting interrupted a speaker who at the time had the floor and made the announcement that he has some literature to distribute. He was told by the chairman that he was out of order and could not distribute the literature until the speaker who had the floor was finished. GOERTZEL apparently lost his temper and threw the literature he had in his hand to the floor.

I can't remember what this incident was about, or imagine why it interested the FBI. It does say something about my tendency to be highly critical of other people and of organizations including ones to which I belonged. Political groups served as a place to meet people and have a sense of belonging. While I looked down on people who joined fraternities (we didn't even have them at Antioch), I now see some sense in meeting one's social needs by joining an organization which is openly dedicated to that purpose instead of one which is focused on a political cause. With my family background, however, that would have been difficult. When my younger brother, Penn, told our father he was thinking of joining a fraternity, Victor became so angry he threatened that he wouldn't contribute "a red cent" to Penn's education if he did so.

The fact that my social needs were met through political organizations led me to compromise my political convictions in order to maintain my friendships. I did this fairly easily since my politics was based more on intuition than on rigid logical arguments. The cautiously pacifist Student Peace Union, which I supported for several years, died out as activists shifted to the more radical Students for a Democratic Society. I followed the crowd, joining the Washington University chapter of SDS when my SPU chapter dissipated. We continued our weekly demonstrations against the war, occasionally driving through the night to a bigger demonstration in Washington. We ruffled the university administration's feathers by chanting on the sidewalk in front of the auditorium when Vice President Hubert Humphrey spoke on campus, but I never abandoned my liberal, civil libertarian principles by actively disrupting a speaker.

I reluctantly conceded that pacifism wouldn't have worked for the Jews in Germany or the Vietnamese revolutionaries, but I wasn't persuaded that bombing campus buildings in the United States was justified. Where to draw the line? While I waffled on these issues, the FBI decided that my actions did not show the "requisite intention to violate the sedition statutes" and took me off their active surveillance list.

When some committed themselves full time to the movement, I was one of many who held back and maintained my status in graduate school. I found academic Marxism attractive as a social theory, but couldn't identify with the Weathermen and Progressive Laborists and who were taking over SDS. They were going back to the ideas that my parents had already rejected in the forties, and for good reasons. My wife had a baby who conveniently maintained my draft exemption while I did dissertation research for two years in Brazil, finished my Ph.D. and got a job teaching sociology at the University of Oregon.

For the first few years at Oregon, the student movement was at its peak and radical faculty were much in demand as speakers and organizers. When Nixon invaded Cambodia in the spring of 1970, the University administration actually had to end classes early so the students could canvass against the war. Hundreds of students even attended a faculty meeting, which had to be held in the gymnasium, where I was cheered when I introduced a resolution that the faculty go on record opposing the "incursion" in Cambodia. I was still part of the vanguard leading society into the future. The very next fall, the masses of students were tired of activism. I still remember the first freshman who told me proudly, "we are the quiet generation." Thus began my long slide from vanguard to rear guard.

Remembrance of a True Believer

Albert Szymanski. THe 1969 meetings of the American Sociological Association were held in the sterile towers of the San Francisco Hilton. The meetings were particularly incongruous at the climax of the social upheavals of the sixties. While blacks rioted in the streets and students bombed draft boards, the sociologists hid in their dummy variables and multiple dimensions, speculating about the functions of conflict and the need for values to maintain the social equilibrium. Colorless men in business suits read bland papers full of theoretical frippery and statistical fastidiousness. Al Szymanski was an oasis of genuineness in this desert of scholasticism.(6) He dressed casually in faded jeans and a work shirt, with a dishevelled mop of dishwater blond hair topping his large round head. He was only a few months older than me, having been born in 1941. At 6'2" and 190 pounds he was the largest of a small group of radicals who stood quietly in the back of a meeting room holding up a sign saying "bull shit" whenever the speaker made a particularly galling remark. The shy grin on his cherubic face revealed his embarrassment with this tactic, which he had agreed to as an experiment in ethnomethodology.

Al quickly recruited me into the sociology radical caucus, which gave me a support group of other young professors to replace the political groups I had belonged to as a student. We were committed to direct action and had little patience with the stuffy professionalism of academic sociology. We had missed the deadline to place a resolution condemning American involvement in Vietnam on the agenda for the business meeting. Courtesy resolutions, on occasions such as the death of a colleague, could be introduced at any time, however. Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader, had died during the meetings. We felt that he was our colleague and sought to extend the courtesy to him. When our parliamentary maneuver failed we simply marched to the front of the room and held our ceremony anyway. The officials wisely retreated to resume their deliberations in another room, allowing our action to fizzle out gracefully.

Al was the son of a Polish-American Rhode Island lobster fisherman who loved to work with his hands and never really understood his son's intellectual and political inclinations. It was his strong-minded, deeply religious, Italian-American mother who nurtured his precociousness, taking him to get his first library card as soon as he became eligible on his sixth birthday. When he first entered school, she told him that "other children could be cruel to another child who was different because of color or how he dressed and if he saw anyone alone or rejected to become a friend to them."(7)

Al read Freud and Marx at the University of Rhode Island and tried to shock his mother first with the revelation that he had loved her unconsciously as a child, then with his discovery of Marxism. She professed to be flattered by the first revelation, and did her best to understand the second. She believed he was true to the fundamental values she had taught him, and defended his right to political views she did not share.

Al became involved in a group called Students for Democratic Affairs in 1963, writing a letter to the Providence Journal advocating that students be allowed to visit Cuba. He argued that students might return finding that Castro was not as bad as they had been told, or they might return as staunch anti-communists. In any event, they would be better off with first hand knowledge instead of repeating sterile cliches composed by people who had never left the state of Rhode Island.(8)

On April 14, 1963 he organized an appearance by Hyman Lumer of the Communist Party on the Rhode Island campus. He thought that the communist system was a "tremendously important ideology in the world today." The Worker quoted him as stating that "if, after eighteen years of being schooled in the American way, two hours of listening to Dr. Lumer could change a student's political views, something would indeed be wrong with our system."

Al abandoned physics for sociology as an undergraduate major, and went on to do a doctorate at Columbia University, where he organized a radical sociology journal. He was a compulsive worker who produced a massive, two-volume dissertation on Chile. He also found time to travel to Orangeburg, South Carolina, where he was arrested in a demonstration protesting a "slow down" by voting registrars. He was also arrested in a demonstration at Fairweather Hall, Columbia University, in 1968, but the case was apparently dropped and the FBI never got his fingerprints. They suspect he was at times affiliated with Youth Against War and Fascism, the Workers World Party, the Weathermen, the Worker Student Alliance, the Progressive Labor Party, the Revolutionary Youth Movement, the Peoples Coalition for Peace and Justice, the Venceremos Brigade and the Revolutionary Union, but his file includes few details. Both of our FBI files are heavy on hearsay and newspaper clippings. They did, however, uncover both of our "aliases." Mine was Ted Goerge Geortzel (instead of George Goertzel). His was John Albert Szymanski (instead of Albert John) or sometimes simply "Al".

By the time I met Al in San Francisco he was finishing up at Columbia and looking for a job. Oregon was hiring, and we brought Al out for an interview. Al's charisma and intellectual brilliance were apparent to even the most stodgy of Oregon's senior professors, who accepted Al's reassurance that he would not advocate armed revolution until social conditions had reached the point that it was unavoidable.

Al had been involved in the Sociology Liberation Movement for several years before I met him in San Francisco, and had helped to edit The Human Factor, a radical journal produced by students at Columbia. In an article titled "Toward a Radical Sociology," Al stated that the goal was to "explain how badly the present society functions, how people's frustrations stem from the social structure, how unnecessary and oppressive the present institutional arrangements are and how much better an alternative social order world work."

When Al came to Oregon, he brought the Sociology Liberation Movement's newsletter, The Insurgent Sociologist, with him, with the intention of turning it into a journal of socialist scholarship. We formed a collective with interested graduate students, solicited articles, collated and addressed the copies, and mailed them out free to anyone who'd signed a list at an annual meeting. The costs were covered by a film series which we ran on the Oregon campus. The mailing parties were fun, probably the only cooperative work most of us had ever done, and spouses and children joined in. When somebody asked my son if he knew what his daddy did for a living, he said, "yeah, he puts things in piles to go to different cities."

We agreed that The Insurgent Sociologist should be open to a wide range of radical and socialist perspectives, instead of trying to define a narrow political line. A similar agreement enabled Al and me to work together for many years, despite the fact that I was a "wishy washy social democrat" while he was an staunch Leninist. What made him so intriguing was his insistence on combining theoretical orthodoxy with exhaustive empirical work. While many radicals retreated into theoretical speculation or utopian visions, Al focused on the difficult issues others ignored such as human rights in the Soviet Union. He relied largely on mainstream specialists for factual information, always carefully footnoted, and made the best case possible for an orthodox Marxist interpretation. His books are most fascinating when they defend positions I find outrageous, such as supporting the Polish government against the Solidarity movement.

Coping with Disillusionment

Buzzing Doubts. While the Insurgent Sociologist was successful, the left in general and in Oregon began to split and crumble. Many of the anti-war activists, including Al Szymanski, became involved in sectarian Marxist-Leninist groups that I thought were out of touch with reality. I saw no evidence that socialist revolution was on the agenda in the United States, nor was I even convinced that it would be a good idea. Carol, Al, Al's wife Sue Jacobs, and I were involved in the New University Caucus, which was an organization of new left graduate students and young faculty who wanted to continue their activism while pursuing academic careers.(9) The women in the group were primarily interested in feminist issues, and we white males were expected to repent our ways. Even when we did so, after a fashion, the unmarried women tired of dealing with men altogether and split off into their own women's organizations. My wife became involved in radical feminism, telling me I was a representative of the gender which had caused most of the problems in the world. She also became enthusiastic about the Chinese cultural revolution, and began studying Chinese. We no longer had much in common ideologically or participated in many of the same activities.

The conflicts within University of Oregon sociology department became more complex when issues of preferential hiring for women and minorities were added to the splits between Marxists and mainstream sociologists and between Leninists and cultural Marxists. As an untenured white male Marxist with an "abrasive personality," my future in the department didn't look good and the gloomy winters became wearing on my psyche. I left for safer and sunnier climes at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, where everything was peaceful and my personality was unproblematic. Al remained, got tenure at Oregon, and took over my role as the department's scapegoat. He gradually became more and more isolated from his colleagues, especially from the feminists and the cultural Marxists.

My marriage finally broke up as Carol deepened her commitment to feminism and I envied the swinging singles. I dealt with the divorce by getting involved in humanistic psychology and personal growth, sampling the singles scene, and eventually remarrying. For Al, personal life was always secondary to political and intellectual projects. I can remember his telling me that he feared his wife's getting pregnant as he would have only nine months to complete the book he was working on. I already had two small children at the time, and no book. He, also, was divorced, but he responded by becoming more and more involved in his work.

The annual ASA meetings were a pleasure largely because I would get to spend time with Al. He would stay the full five days at the meetings, but would only attend one or two sessions, spending the rest of the time sitting at a table selling copies of The Insurgent Sociologist. It was a great way to meet interesting people and find out what was going on around the country. We also helped to organize the radical caucus at each year's ASA meetings, and prepared resolutions on all the burning issues for the business meetings.

The peak of our movement came in 1976 when we nominated and elected our senior statesman, Alfred McClung Lee, to the Presidency of the A.S.A. Al put together a program which was stimulating and exciting, a real model of what a gathering of sociologists could be. His presidential address, delivered to a packed plenary session in the enormous, ornate ballroom of the New York Hilton, was a ringing indictment of the sociological establishment, many of whom walked out in dismay.(10)

After Lee's Presidency, everything we did seemed anti-climactic. We tried nominating other radical sociologists for the Presidency, but none of them were at the right stage of their careers to be electable. I had done the paperwork necessary to establish a Section on Marxist Sociology, which gave us our own space on the program every year. This took much of the spontaneity and excitement out of our movement. There was no need for a radical counter- convention when we could give our papers in the official hotel, and get our universities to pay our air fare to the conference.

As the radical movements around us waned, we became more professionalized, and I felt that our sessions often weren't any more exciting than the traditional ones. Academic Marxists were retreating into scholasticism, debating obtuse points in Marxist theory or developing complex conceptual schemes to disguise the fact that the world really wasn't evolving as we had expected. Much of the Marxist work was, in my view, just as obtuse as the worst of the establishment sociology we had protested as students.(11)

The Struggle to Keep the Faith. As a tenured professor, I could have gone on giving the same lectures year after year, but I began to feel that I was more of a relic than a revolutionary. I moved on to other interests, but Al remained loyal to Marxism-Leninism. He knew that few students were persuaded by his arguments, but he took comfort in what he called the "lazy dog effect," which meant that years later, when social contradictions had reached a peak, they would think back to what their radical sociology instructor had said and the truth would "click" in their heads. He also continued to search for a Marxist-Leninist movement which would follow the correct line and bring revolutionary consciousness to the masses. For years, he was involved with a group which was centered in Philadelphia and kept asking me if I had heard about its activities. I had to tell him it was a minor sect with no real political influence, and teased him about his eternal quest for a nonsectarian sect. When the Philadelphia group fell apart, he grudgingly acknowledged that there was truth to my remarks.

I knew Al was disappointed in political trends, but he seemed personally contented when I saw him at the 1984 International Institute of Sociology meetings in Seattle. He conceded at a panel that he had no idea how to bring about a revolution in America, but he was good natured about it and insisted that we go out drinking afterwards. He was even quite charming on a brief visit to my parents' home, taking an interest in my mother's work on health food faddism.

It was a complete shock when I got a call from my ex-wife the next March with the news, "Al Szymanski has committed suicide." She'd heard from his ex-wife, who gave her no clue as to why he did it. As the reality of his death sank in, I felt worse and worse. Losing a friend my own age, 43, was bad enough. But Al was someone I genuinely admired, not just as a scholar but, more importantly, as a man who lived for and by his convictions. What principle could have led him to this? I realized that the writing I was doing at the time was meaningful to me largely as part of a dialogue with Al. Why should I go on if he had decided it wasn't worth living for?

After the burial, Al's girl friend told me that he had been taking antidepressants for a long time but had avoided psychotherapy or even medical attention for what he thought was liver cancer but was only gall stones. I remembered conversations years ago when he urged me to keep a gun in the house in preparation for the revolution. Carol and I wouldn't consider such a thing with small children in the house, even if we had believed that a violent revolution might someday be necessary. We certainly never anticipated that Al would keep his gun by his bedside to comfort himself during bouts of depression, then, finally, one lonely agonizing weekend, use it on himself.

Many people asked if I knew why he had done it. I wasn't sure. If he had intended it as a political statement, he would have written a political testament. All he left was a 3 by 5 card asking that his retirement money be divided among a number of radical journals, and a small fund for his dogs. Looking back, my biggest regret is that I didn't urge him to encourage his wife to have children even if it meant delaying his book a year or two. At least I could have responded more seriously, in later years, to his questions about my successful second marriage, and encouraged him to talk more freely about his difficulties in establishing a committed relationship. I don't know that talking with me would have helped. But at least I would have the comfort of knowing that I had done everything I could to help. There is a sense in which the personal is political, but Al went too far in subordinating his personal life to his politics.

Although Al was my own age, he was also something of a mentor for me because of his brilliance, personal charisma and strong sense of commitment. He shared my disillusionment with the scholasticism in Marxist sociology and insisted on dealing with difficult political and empirical issues. In a sense, his death was the end of my youth. I realized that we weren't young people having a good time tweaking the establishment's nose. This was real life.

A trip to China with a group of sociologists in 1983 contributed to my growing disillusionment with socialism. We talked to a great many people who recited the horrors of the cultural revolution period from their personal experiences. The success of capitalist reforms, particularly in agriculture, was apparent and no one was interested in talking about socialism except a few of the Americans. I was particularly struck by the contrast between the repressive reality of the Maoist era and the idealized picture of it which I had heard over the years from Carol and her friends.

For a number of years, I had been a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This organization, led by Michael Harrington, essentially allowed me to continue to think of myself as a "socialist" while actually believing in democracy and a mixed economy. I went to monthly DSA meetings and attended an occasional Socialist Scholars conference in New York. I also kept up a membership in the local Nuclear Freeze group, which gave me a feeling of continuity with my history in the peace movement. These political affiliations, however, played a minor role in my life as I found friends elsewhere. In my academic work, I pursued other interests. I was glad when the introductory sociology textbook Al and I had written went out of print since I had found it awkward to use the book in my own classes.

Loss of Belief. My final break with thinking of myself as a "socialist" came at a meeting of the DSA Peace Committee in Philadelphia. A speaker was presenting a slide show about her trip to El Salvador. She noted with pride that the guerrillas had blown up the highway bridge over a major river and showed a slide of local residents driving slowly over the ties on a railway bridge. I asked whether the people didn't resent having their bridge destroyed and noted that the same slide might be used as evidence against the guerrillas. As presentation went on, I continued to question many of the speaker's remarks which I thought idealized communist movements and societies. At the end of the evening one of the members, Russell Kleinbach, a sociologist at a Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences, politely objected to my role. He acknowledged that I was very well informed and that the members didn't have answers to my objections. Instead of suggesting further study or discussion, he made it quite clear that he wanted me to accept the group's line or stop coming to the meetings. His final remark was, "I don't know what happened, you used to be a socialist." I realized he was right.

At about this time, I decided to seriously reconsider pacifism. After a long search through obscure volumes, I found that I agreed most with a Catholic philosopher who carefully dissected the flaws of a doctrine which makes no distinctions between justified and unjustified killing.(12) I thought her rationality contrasted favorably with the mysticism of my Quaker heritage. At a meeting the Nuclear Freeze group I still belonged to, I found myself agreeing with Congressman James Florio's remarks and felt embarrassed by the group members who advanced simplistic anti-American views. I realized I didn't really belong in a movement which was essentially an odd alliance of Quaker pacifists and Marxist-Leninists.

The Turncoat and the True Believer. A number of things may help to explain why I became a turncoat while Al died a true believer. My father set a precedent with his apostasy from communism and his skepticism about ideologies. Al rebelled against his father's beliefs and life style much more consistently than I did. His father bragged that he had never finished a book, mine had a Ph.D. in psychology. Al spent his life trying to convert the working class to Leninism but he had no hope of convincing his own lobsterman father. This may have locked him more firmly into his position since any wavering would have meant giving into the old man.

Al was much more committed to Marxism that I was. He had visions of himself as the Lenin of the twentieth century and kept reassuring us that the time would come when "power will be lying in the streets, and we must be ready to pick it up." When that glorious day kept receding further and further into the unknown future, he clung to the belief that nuclear war was imminent and that it was his duty to organize so that the left could seize power in the aftermath. He became a survivalist, squirreling away food, medicine, bullets and supplies in the hope that Eugene, Oregon would be far enough from the bombs to survive. He had so much invested in his Marxism that it was impossible for him to accept failure. The drive and commitment which made him such a powerful writer and organizer dug him into a hole he wasn't able to climb out of. In this respect, his death parallels those of Eleanor Marx and Abbie Hoffman which are discussed later in this book.

I was always more of a skeptic, unable to commit myself fully to Marxism or anything else. When I was in graduate school my teacher, the Marxist economist James O'Connor, correctly observed that I really couldn't make up my mind if I was a liberal or a Marxist. I enjoyed finding the flaws in other people's beliefs while avoiding committing myself to fully to anything.

Moving away from the University of Oregon gave me a chance to redefine myself without making concessions to my opponents. Getting involved with the human potential movement after my divorce gave me an alternative reference group as well as a chance to develop interpersonal skills. In the larger urban world of greater Philadelphia it was easier to drift away from radical sectarianism into new circles and organizations.

It is impossible to be certain whether any of these factors accounts for the differences between our lives. Al's depression may have had a chemical origin; he was seeing a psychiatrist who treated him with pills. A little talk therapy might have helped him to lessen his dependence on politics as a source of meaning and fulfillment in his life. If he had lived to see the collapse of communism in 1989, he might have changed his views as well. I don't think he would ever have abandoned Marxism, however. He might have become a reforming democratic socialist in the style of Boris Kagarlitsky.(13) If he had remained strongly committed to political sectarianism, he would probably have adopted a dogmatic defense of Maoist orthodoxy such as that of William Hinton.(14)

Al and I can be seen as examples of different ideological scripts. Although we were both leftist protestors, I was more of a survivor and a skeptic while Al had a much stronger commitment script. These ideological scripts will be explored in the next chapter.


1.  Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1961, p. 20.

2.  Richard Reeves, "A Reporter at Large," The New Yorker, September 14, 1981, pp. 113-114.

3. Abraham Hoffman, "Jewish Student Militancy in the Great Depression: The Roosevelt High School Blowouts of 1931," The Newsletter of the Southern California Jewish Historical Society. Hoffman states incorrectly that Victor was sent to a disciplinary high school.
On May 10, 2004 I received the following email from Abraham Hoffman:

Dear Professor Goertzel,

Partly from ego and mostly from wanting to see which of my writings are being referenced, I occasionally search my name on Google. So I found your "Turncoat" chapter and the footnote on my "Jewish Student Militancy in the Great Depression" article.

In the late 1960s, while researching my dissertation on Mexican repatriation from the United States during the Great Depression, I was going through newspaper articles in the Los Angeles dailies when I ran across a series of stories on the student demonstrations at Roosevelt High School (RHS). This attracted my interest since I am a RHS graduate (W’56), and I was struck by the coincidence in timing since Chicano students were demonstrating at RHS in February 1968. Almost four decades between demonstrations, and both protests had similar reasons. Apparently change moved glacially at RHS, as I myself had come to know in the 1950s.

I referenced the stories and several years later I was able to put together the "Jewish Student Militancy" article. The sources, however, were severely limited, so at best it was a minor effort. It was published in 1976 in Branding Iron, the quarterly publication of the Los Angeles Corral of Westerners, an organization I had recently joined (and have now been a member for thirty years—time flies!). Little did I know at the time that this article would take on a life of its own.

At the time there was a fairly active RHS Alumni Association with a predominantly Jewish membership and numerous members who had attended RHS in the 1930s and 1940s. Attempts to locate or contact the Jewish students who had protested in 1931, however, proved unsuccessful. The search might have yielded quite different results had the Internet and been around in the early 1970s. Of course, I looked in the wrong places, and had I cast a wider net I might have run across your father’s name or seen some of his publications.

I was a bit surprised to find that this modest article was being referenced here and there, though I came to realize this may well have been because so little had been published on the Boyle Heights community. Incidentally, the 1981 New Yorker article you mentioned had my name a few paragraphs following the description of the 1931 protest—small world. In recent years George Sanchez, urban historian at USC, has been doing major studies on Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, and he has a forthcoming book that deals in part with issues such as student demonstrations.

Last year I was invited to submit a revised version of the article to another publication, but I didn’t update the research—I just revised it for style. So I missed the opportunity to use the Internet to see if any names checked out, and of course the name Victor Goertzel would have popped up with many references. The revision appeared in Roots-Key, Newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles.

I apologize for the error regarding your father being sent to a "disciplinary school." This information came from one of the newspaper stories. My reading of it was that if Principal Elson ordered the transfer, it must have happened. A quarter century later a friend of mine, attending Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, was denied his graduation diploma for being insubordinate, disobedient, impertinent—whatever it was, he had talked back/disagreed with the principal. My friend went on to a Ph.D. in Political Science and a long career at Claremont College, but he never did get his high school diploma despite his having fulfilled all graduation requirements except the one about keeping his mouth shut. Fortunately, principals today no longer seem to have such imperial power.

I continue to be fascinated by RHS and its many oddities. With the perspective of almost fifty years, I am still emotionally bothered by the many things going on there that I didn’t learn about until much later. The last high school in Los Angeles to have female cheerleaders; the last to have a Grad Night; a school that maintained an organization of student spies; a school that tolerated openly evangelical Protestant proselytizing by teachers to a student body composed largely of Jewish, Catholic, and Buddhist students; and more. In 1949 the principal, Francis Daugherty, wrongly foreseeing the future racial and ethnic composition of the students as Jews moved out of Boyle Heights, attempted to convert RHS into a vocational high school. He apparently assumed that Mexican American students would have no interest in taking academic subjects or going to college. A community protest thwarted this move, but when I attended RHS a few years later, there was an obvious paucity of a cademic subjects for anyone planning on college.

So I greatly respect the courage of your father and the other students who stood their ground against the hypocrisy they could see in their school environment. I only wish I had been as capable of seeing those problems 25 years later. Sorry to report that Los Angeles schools pretty much remain awash in mediocrity, despite El Camino Real High capturing the National Academic Decathlon this year (an accomplishment of a few dedicated students that has virtually nothing to do with the state of public education in Los Angeles today). When I was a graduate student at UCLA in the late 1960s, someone said to me that UCLA, in winning all those NCAA basketball championships, was a "great school." My reply was, "Yeah, I tell Coach Wooden how to win the games."

I do have a question about your citation of my article. "Turncoat" is listed as being published in 1982 as well as 1992, and my article appeared in 1976, but you state it was in the Newsletter of the Southern California Jewish Historical Society. That’s one on me. Someone must have liked it a lot, only maybe not enough to ask me for reprint permission!

And a final irony about all this. Victor Goertzel seems to have exacted a most fascinating retribution on those school officials who harassed and humiliated him in 1931. He went on to a Ph.D. in Psychology, then published Cradles of Eminence, a major study of people who did not do well in school but went on to great accomplishments. And he was a pioneer in what is today known as Home Schooling. Hmm. Sounds as if truly "revenge is a dish best served cold."

Many thanks for your time regarding this rather long letter,

Abe Hoffman
Department of History
Los Angeles Valley College

4. Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, London: Chatto & Windus, 1937, p. 118.

5. Burton Clark, The Distinguished College: Antioch, Reed, and Swarthmore, New York: Aldine, 1970. "Red diaper babies" means children raised by leftist parents.

6. Ted Goertzel, "Albert Szymanski: A Personal and Political Memoir," Critical Sociology, 15: 139-144, 1988.

7. Verna Szymanski, letter January 10, 1992.

8. This and subsequent information on Albert Szymanski's student experiences is from his FBI file.

9. Fred Pincus and Howard Ehrlich, "The New University Conference: A Study of Former Members," Critical Sociology 15:145-147, 1988.

10. Alfred McClung Lee, "Sociology for Whom?" American Sociological Review 41: 925-936, 1976.

11. I am thinking particularly of the work of Nicos Poulantzas as compared to that of Talcott Parsons. This work has been devastatingly critiqued by Axel van den Berg in The Immanent Utopia: From Marxism on the State to the State of Marxism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988. I don't intend to give an analysis here, but just to report my feeling of disillusionment with the best work being produced by leading Marxist sociologists. Some were using abstract formulations such as "contradictory locations in class relations" to obscure the fact that class analysis really didn't explain much about contemporary society. Others were retreating into historical schema which claimed to explain the evolution of capitalism into the world system centuries ago but had little or nothing to say about contemporary society or the future.

12. G.E.M. Anscombe, "War and Murder." Pp. 45-62 in Anscombe, et. al., eds., Nuclear Weapons and Christian Conscience, London: Merlin Press, 1965.

13. Boris Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed, New York: Verso, 1988.

14. William Hinton, The Great Reversal, New York: Monthly Review, 1990.