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Friday, February 3, 2012

Death of a Stalinist

Bill Mardo (1923-2012)

and his vozhd  1878-1953

It seems that a Mr. Bill Mardo, né William Bloom, died in New York on January 20 of this year.  Seven days later the New York Times ran a 750-word obituary on the gentleman which may well be the most mindless obit ever written.

It seems that this Mr. Mardo was one of three such comrades who wrote columns in the Daily Worker during the nineteen fifties in which they urged that African-American baseball players be hired by the major leagues.  Obviously, the failure of the baseball industry to accomplish integration so late was shameful.  But did this comrade have anything to do with the belated integration of black players ?  The NYT obit has no doubt that he played a leading part.  But the obit writer here, Richard Goldstein, seems blissfully ignorant of the actual role of the American Communist Party in mid twentieth century America.

During the whole period of Mardo's tenure at the Daily Worker, the Communists constituted a small conspiratorial group totally devoted to the interests of the Soviet Union and to Stalin.  Any interest they had in African Americans was consistently subordinated to their devotion to the Soviets. The details of the Communist stance of "the Negro question" has been documented by a number of historians;  a very convenient source is Maurice Isserman's Which Side Were you On ? (1982).  Mr. Goldstein has either never read these sources or has chosen to disregard them.

Mr. Goldstein does furnish some details of Mardo's life that should have aroused at least some curiosity.   But no, to Goldstein everything appears to be as normal and American as apple pie.

On Mardo's name change, this is what Goldstein writes:  
Mr. Mardo was born William Bloom in Manhattan on Oct. 24, 1923 .... He changed his name to Mardo as a tribute to his sisters Marion and Doris when he began his career in journalism ...
As a tribute to his sisters !  What could be more natural than that ?  What loving brother could possibly do less than change his last name to honor his sisters ?  The fact that Communists in that era took on "party names" for conspiratorial reasons does not seem to be known by Mr. Goldstein.  In the case of Jewish Communists, the party names were almost invariably "Americanized" to hide the Jewish origins of these comrades.

And then, somewhat later, 
He left the newspaper to work as a Washington reporter for the Soviet news agency Tass in the early 1950's ..
Again, what could be more normal, more American, than to have a young American reporter (who by the way never went to college and never learned other languages, as far as we know) to work for the Soviets in Washington ?  And no, Mr. Goldstein has never heard of just what the Soviets were up to in those days of the Cold War.  Why mention a thing like that, anyway ?

But it does seem that this generation of readers needs to be reminded of just what the CPUSA was doing in those days, especially in regard to the civil rights of African Americans.  An African American sociologist of the time, Horace Cayton Jr., put it most succinctly:
... the record shows that where and when the Communists seemed to be fighting for Negro rights, their objective was simply to strengthen the hand of Russia.  When this was accomplished, they abandoned the fight and turned to somethings else ...  (cited in Maurice Isserman, Which Side Were you On ? 1982)
While the CP gave verbal support to civil rights issues before 1941, such support was  muted after the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany on June 22 of that year.  Overnight,  support for the war became the overriding issue. The Communists throughout were antagonistic to the  Civil Rights movement of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.  Just before June of 1941, these two leaders were denounced by the CP as "war mongers" because they were sympathetic to the cause of the Allies while Stalin was in a pact with Hitler.  After June of 1941, these Black leaders were denounced by the comrades as insufficiently pro-war.

And, obviously, neither the Daily Worker, nor its Comrade Mardo, could find any fault whatever in the Soviet Gulag, nor in the Soviet oppression of Jews.  In this they were in stark opposition to the whole Civil Rights movement of the 20th century.   The last words have to go to Martin Luther King, who wrote in support of the Soviet Jewry movement:

The New York Times 
January 16, 1965
I am profoundly shocked by the treatment of the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. I would like strongly to endorse the moral protest and appeal of conscience to the Soviet Union published as an advertisement in The Times Jan. 14.I should like to add my voice to the list of distinguished Americans of all faiths who have called the injustices perpetrated against the Jewish community in the Soviet Union to the attention of the world.
The struggle of the Negro people for freedom is inextricably interwoven with the universal struggle of all peoples to be free from discrimination and oppression. The Jewish people must be given their full rights as Soviet citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution of the U.S.S.R. itself.
The anti-Jewish tone of the economic trials must cease. The free functioning of synagogues should be permitted. There should be no interference with the performance of sacred rites. The religious and cultural freedom of this old Jewish community should be re-established.
In the name of humanity, I urge that the Soviet Government end all the discriminatory measures against its Jewish community. I will not remain silent in the face of injustice.
Martin Luther King Jr.Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 14, 1965

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