The two Bayards

Submitted by Matthew on 11 April, 2012 - 8:49

The exchange on Bayard Rustin (Solidarity 239, 240) was fascinating.

I met Bayard in 1949, when I was a young student at UCLA. He had a profound effect on me, and when I came to New York in 1956 to work for Liberation magazine, he was one of the editors (the others being Dave Dellinger, A. J. Muste, and Roy Finch) who met weekly. And then I went to work for War Resisters League, where Bayard, as Executive Secretary, was my boss. He and Muste were my two primary mentors.

We have essentially two Bayards. The one up to 1963 was a radical pacifist. He was not linked to Max Shachtman or to the Socialist Party. But after 1963, when his homosexuality had been “outed” by a US Senator in a failed effort to derail the great March on Washington, he finally gave in to Tom Kahn, his young lover at the time (and a member of Shachtman’s group) and to Mike Harrington (also a Shachtmanite), and left the WRL for “the more important work” he could do as the director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute [a not-for-profit organisation focused on making links between the civil rights movement and the trade union movement].

I note in Eric Lee's piece (Solidarity 239) that Bayard did get to Israel to raise questions about the black Jews — but nothing about the Palestinians. And he acted on the “boat people”, but had been silent all through the Vietnam War.

Why Bayard was drawn to a defence of Israel I have never understood — though once he shifted, after 1965, toward the social democrats (read: early neocons), a defence of Israel was part of the liturgy. I know there have been some tendencies to see Bayard as always having been influenced by Shachtman, but I am quite sure that did not happen until fairly late in the game, and that he did not take his role in the Social Democrats USA (of which he was a co-chair) at all seriously.

I’ve always felt that Bayard's “second life” as a part of the establishment was explained by Brecht’s poem To Posterity.

• More first-person accounts of the US “third camp” political tendency that Max Shachtman helped found will appear in future issues of Solidarity.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.