Remembering Irving Howe

Remembering Irving Howe

I first met Irving Howe ca. 1938-39 in Alcove No. 1 at City College, the sandbox of radical politics. Revolutionary questions, from the theoretical to the practical, convulsed the Alcove: would the capitalist class peacefully surrender power if the working class won an electoral majority; was “bourgeois democracy” a sham; how could one organize a revolutionary insurrection since there were no cobbled streets in New York, as there had been in Paris in 1789.

Irving was then a Trotskyist. Still Horenstein (in class), he was using the party name of Hugh Ivan. This was part of the romanticism of the time. After all, Ulyanov had become Lenin, Bronstein transfigured as Trotsky, Dzhugashvili metamorphosed as Stalin, and so on, and so on. Why Hugh Ivan? H and I as the transposition of initials? Or Hugh for the English gentleman that Irving absorbed from the novels he read and Ivan as the Russian muzhik, the earthy peasant they all admired? I was not, then, very friendly with Irving. I was a right wing social democrat, a Menshevik opposed to the Bolsheviks. Irving was then a commissar of the revolution and the “theoretician” of the Trotskyists.

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