Always “In Opposition”

Always “In Opposition”

When I heard the sad news, two memories came to mind. I met Bernie in September 1950. I had just finished my graduate course work and been lucky enough to get my first teaching job as an adjunct at Hunter College. I was assigned to its Bronx campus (now Lehman College) where Bernie was the sole full-time representative of its sociology department. We had lunch together that first day, and at one point he asked about one of my graduate school teachers, a well-known and influential sociologist. Like most of his graduate students, I had fallen under his spell, but, as I told Bernie, I had some serious reservations about his work. As soon as I said this I sensed a change in the atmosphere— from wary neutrality to warmth.

The second memory is of a conversation around the time of the election of John F. Kennedy, who entranced not only liberals but many socialists. A group of us were talking about the elections—it must have been during an editorial meeting break or at a Dissent conference. None of us was happy about Kennedy—I think we all had cast our usual vote for Norman Thomas— and Bernie was on one of his characteristic and inimitable riffs: trenchant social analysis laced with caustic wit—this time about Kennedy’s politics and admirers. One of us, I think it was Manny Geltman, managed to interrupt the flow to ask Bernie what he would do if suddenly, through some miracle, socialists came to power—a socialist president and Congress. Without a moment’s hesitation, Bernie replied, “I would go into opposition immediately.”

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Lima