Socialist Families Disc/Dec 1996


Query From Michael E. James mejam@conncoll.edu 01 Dec 1996

Dear Colleagues:

How prevalent were socialist families? (I mean the nuclear family, not the communal "families" of the 1960s.) I've come across a southern California family at the turn of the century: mother, father, daughter each very active, the daughter going on to be the president of the California chapter of the Women's Socialist Union. Any literature on families that practiced active socialism? Biographies that might prove useful? Any and all commentary will be appreciated.

Responses:

From Bud Burkhard bud@qis.net 02 Dec 1996

It is my *impression* that red-diaper families were/are not all that uncommon, either in the US or in certain parts of Europe (France, Italy and Germany). I do note, however, the dilemma Sartre pointed out in 1960, in his preface to Nizan's writings: where does a young rebel go when daddy and mommy are Communists? I would be interested in learning if there is a literature on the question of inter-generational leftism as well...

From Lyn Getz getzlm@conrad.appstate.edu 02 Dec 1996

In your search for "socialist" families, you might be interested in an "American Experience" video called "Love in the Cold War" that was done by PBS some time ago. It was made by the son of two Communist party leaders, I think by the family name of Dennis. They never formally married, which suited her family because they were ardent communists. She was from southern California, and I can't remember where the father was from. They worked in the CP during the 1920s-30s, then went to Russia to work for the Comintern. When they returned to the USA, they were forced to leave their oldest son in a Soviet orphanage, and he grew up to be a Soviet party official. The father eventually became the Communist party president in the US and was imprisoned during the McCarthy era. They were all devoted communists to the end. The video is really interesting because it focuses on their life as a family and the sacrifices they made for the Party.

From Johanna Schoen jschoen@email.unc.edu 02 Dec 1996

Kim Chernin grew up in a socialist family, actually, I think her parents were communists. Her autobiography, _In My Mother's House_ describes her childhood and adolescence, incl. her parents being questioned (and detained? I don't remember) for their political activities. Great book!

From Clifton Hawkins cchawkins@ucdavis.edu 02 Dec 1996

Josephine Conger-Kaneko and her husband, Kiichi Kaneko published _The Socialist Woman:(renamed _The Progressive Woman_) From 1907-1914_; this has much *theory* about how socialist families should work, and occasional glimpses into actual SP families. It would take quite a bit of time to leaf through the volumes, however, for relatively scant information. However, you would get leads that might be worth pursuing.

From Judith Levine 73772.472@compuserve.com 03 Dec 1996

During the 40s and 50s, when the generation of 20th century young American socialists and communists had their babies (just like everybody else was having babies), there were many "socialist families"--or red-diaper babies, as we were called. The Rosenbergs' sons wrote a book about their lives, as did Kim Chernin; I think Vivian Gornick's book _Fierce Attachments_, touches on that.

As for inter-generational socialism, I actually think somebody has done some research on this and found that most kids brought up by leftists remain leftists. My own experience on the left attests that lots of us stayed here, with our parents' values, if slightly altered (I became, for instance, an anti-Stalinist socialist). You could also look at Jewish social history, since socialism was a large part of many Jewish families both before and after the war. Anyway, there are thousands of us. If you want to interview me, I'd be happy to do so.

From Georgina Hickey ghickey@gsaix2.cc.gasou.edu 03 Dec 1996

I seem to recall from a grad school seminar paper that Al Haber, founder of SDS, was the child of Old Left parents. You might check into this by consulting Kirkpatrick Sale's _SDS_.

From Monica Leonards mleaonard@astro.ocis.temple.edu 04 Dec 1996

Carl Bernstein's book about his father (_Loyalties_) also deals with growing up in a communist family during the 40s and 50s, and inter-generational conflicts.

From Louise S. Robbins lrobbins@macc.wisc.edu 04 Dec 1996

Add Sally Belfrage's _Un-American Activities_ and Carl Bernstein's _Loyalties: A Son's Memoir_ to your lists of books written by the children of socialists or communists. Cedric Belfrage is the author of a fascinating book called _American Inquisition_ that deals, as you might guess, with the investigations, blacklists, and purges of the so-called "McCarthy era."

From Andrea Friedman asfriedm@artsci.wustl.edu 04 Dec 1996

An interesting article on socialist (or in this case, communist) families is Deborah Gerson's " 'Is Family Devotion Now Subversive?': Familialism Against McCarthyism" in Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., _Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America_. It's interesting to me that most of the responses to this inquiry have focused on the 1950s, while the inquiry itself arose out of a question about the early twentieth century.

For the earlier period, a look at writings by such socialist-feminists as Crystal Eastman or Henrietta Rodman (both of them wrote explicitly about families from this perspective) might be fruitful.

From Marian Neudel mneudel@acfsysv.roosevelt.edu 04 Dec 1996

Take a look at Kenneth Keniston's work on "red-diaper babies."

From Jenny Newton Bess jbess@jetson.uh.edu 04 Dec 1996

"Growing Up Red: Children of the Left Meet and Remember," Barbara Melosh, with Linn Shapiro and Judy Kaplan. _Radical History Review_ 31, 1984: 72-83.
Excerpts from a 1981-82 conference. May be useful.