PAST 90 (3)
This world is not the one my parents hoped their children would live to see. Like many immigrants, they lived through extraordinary sacrifice and struggle convinced they were making things better for the next generation. But their dream was not future prosperity and successful careers for their sons and daughter. They were among the social visionaries and revolutionary idealists of the first half of the Twentieth Century who believed that a new world was in birth.
As it happens, their offspring eventually moved out of the poverty shared during childhood and youth. Their sons achieved successful professional careers, not without travail along the way. But the world fashioned of their struggles and dreams — where exploitation, poverty and war were no more — may seem farther off today than when my parents died in 1964.
I don’t doubt for a minute the lasting value of how they chose to devote their lives.
Part of them is in every hard won social gain of their lifetime, from Social Security to Medicare. They were among the relatively few white Americans who refused to abide segregation from the time of the Scotsboro case and the scourge of lynchings to the unquenchable uprising against Jim Crow near the end of their days. They were builders of unions that fueled social progress during and after the New Deal. They were anti-fascists before the world woke up, supporting Republican Spain against crushing odds — odds that changed when most nations joined together to overwhelm fascism at the cost of millions upon millions of lives. They fought McCarthyism, too, before it was fashionable and when persecution was the price of dissent.
Of course, I’m not just speaking of my parents, but of thousands of progressives and radicals, “reds” and freedom fighters of various stripes. How could I not be proud of that legacy? How could I not wish to be part of it?
Late in life, my parents began to perceive illusions and delusions that kept some of us in denial about cruel realities that violated our basic values and distorted our world of hopes. Since I shared those delusions and have lived long enough to think a lot about them, I prefer to deal with them later in the context of my own experience. I have written about some of this in my book, but life goes on in all its complications and there’s always need to rethink.