Remembering Frank Lovell

It was very surprising to find an editorial for Frank Lovell in the TIMES this morning, three weeks after his death, but better late than never. At the Tamiment Insitute last spring, during the Socialist Scholars Conferece, Lovell and I spoke at a meeting devoted to a new book, TROTSKYISM IN THE UNITED STATES, consisting of essays by George Breitman, Paul Le Blanc, and Alan Wald. Lovell gave a talk which ran through the whole history of the Socialist Workers Party, up through his own expulsion. It was an odd experience. For one thing, the audience consisted mainly of people who had lived through that experience, and the performance had something ritual-like about it -- very few people were learning much, but the speech reinforced a sense of community. It went on for quite a long time, so when my turn at the podium came, I tried to be brief. I pointed out that most writing about Trotskyism, in the US or elsewhere, tended to focus on the organizational history (as Frank had just done) and when done by people within the movement, it focused on "continuity" of doctrine and leadership. Far more interesting, and what anyone doing the history of Trotskyism in the future would want to focus on, are (1) the social history of the movement, including questions of gender, ethnic composition, and the day-to-day life of organizations and (2) the "discontinuity" of the movement, as when the "Pabloism" fights of the mid-fifties gave birth to THE AMERICAN SOCIALIST, a journal sponsored by expellees from the SWP. It was one of the most stimulating and open radical journals of the fifties. That may not be saying much, but it's more interesting to a historian than the bulk of SWP literature from that period.

On the other hand, the AMERICAN SOCIALIST people never really kept an organization running, and Frank and his comrades did. It was a pleasure to meet him, and the cohort of old-timers there distributing BIDOM, the journal he helped keep running after they were kicked out of the SWP in the early 1980s. Those attracted to the movement in the 1930s and '40s have time and again turned out to be some of the most serious, stable, humane people I've ever met. Every time one of them passes on, it drives that point home.

--Scott McLemee