FOLLOWERS OF THE TRAIL: Jewish Working-Class Radicals in America by David Leviatin

FOLLOWERS OF THE TRAIL: Jewish Working-Class Radicals in America

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An unremarkable collection of oral histories and photos of the remaining members of a Catskill summer retreat established in 1929 by American Communists with a European Jewish background. The study begins and ends well, with a comprehensive introduction to these immigrants' Socialist and Communist institutions (newspapers, clubs, etc.) and with an extensive bibliography of immigrant and leftist literature. In between are sketchy accounts of oppressive life in the Old Country, the hardships of working-class life in America, and the tangible but limited achievements of the workers' movement. Least useful here are the author's 34 photographs of unhappy, wrinkled faces behind shuffleboard decks and decks of cards. These mostly childless (by choice) blue-collar Reds look as played-out as their ideology--betrayed by the false god of Stalin, ignored by a capitalist world, and left in the dust by a resurgence of Jewish nationalism and spirituality. One disgruntled camper, identified as Bertha S., proclaims that ""Those people who are left, they don't live with the times. . .These here fanatics, they see one side and no truth."" Author Leviatin, a grandson of four members of the proletariat camp known as ""Followers of the Trail,"" succeeds in preserving the lives of these working-class radicals, but not in convincing us that such lives were glaring omissions in Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers or How We Lived. More pathetic than full of pathos, the book does offer unique, firsthand glimpses into the Czarist Old Country, the capitalist New World, and the Communist sensibility.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1989
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press