Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Roots of the UFT: Max Shachtman, Al Shanker Mentor

Vera Pavone and I wrote a review of the Shanker bio in New Politics: Albert Shanker: Ruthless Neo-Con | New Politics which delved into the roots of Shankerism which still dominates the UFT today.

It is important for people to know how the UFT/Unity party was born out of Trotskyism and the the firmament of left-wing politics, then morphing into socialism and then into vicious anti-left right wing social democracy with Max Shachtman as a leading light - the Social Democrats USA (SDUSA) of which most of the union leadership were members of, including Al Shanker and his successor Sandy Feldman. As for Randi and Mulgrew, with the end of the cold war, it is not exactly clear if the party still exists and if it does what their relationship to it might be. Leo Casey ideologically seems to be tied to the politics of SDUSA but I don't pay all that attention. Many years ago when I was in the early stages of Ed Notes and not blatantly anti-Unity, Leo and I were in touch for a while and he was sending my comments on my commentary. Now that we are no longer at war, the next time I see him I may ask him some questions from his view for some balance with the views of my friends on the left. I'm sure my discussion here is fairly shallow. (At this time I see myself as a left-wing social democrat, which is as far right as I want to drift.)

So for those who wonder why the UFT/AFT take positions far beyond teaching, there are roots in anti-communist social democracy. Shanker learned his lessons so well at the feet of Shachtman that the leading ideologues in the UFT feel they must control every aspect of the organization not only as a power play - like what would it mean if real opposition caucuses gained a few seats -- but as a way to keep left ideology and terminology out of official bodies. Other than to use certain leftists to their advantage in order to paint the opposition as a far out left.

Shanker used the UFT as an instrument of his political ideology nationally and internationally. (See George Schmidt - The American Federation of Teachers and the CIA which Vera retyped and we published for George.

A social democratic party, as do most leftist parties, take wide-ranging positions. I find the fault lines emerge when these parties push their ideologies in the mass organizations they either control outright (Unity Caucus and the UFT) or in organizations they participate in -- like MORE and New Action, for example. And always not in the most forthright manner, which often leads to internal splits. I'll review the history of these splits and realignments in the opposition over the past 50 years in a future post - I was part of the MORE summer series this past summer when we ran an event on this topic - there is video available.

You know the old joke - put 2 Trotsyists in a room and you get 3 groups. Splitting is endemic to the nature of these parties and that is why you end up with a tower of babel on the left. But more on this in future posts where I'll delve more into the history of the groups presently involved in the UFT.
From Wikipedia, Max Shachtman (/ˈʃɑːktmən/; September 10, 1904 – November 4, 1972) was an American Marxist theorist. He evolved from being an associate of Leon Trotsky to a social democrat and mentor of senior assistants to AFL-CIO President George Meany.

Individuals influenced by Shachtman's organisations have shared his opposition to Stalinism. A number of political organizations have emerged from the Trotskyist movement which have considered themselves to be Marxist. This broad tendency is described as "Left Shachtmanism", but does not include followers of Tony Cliff such as the International Socialist Tendency[23] as Cliff himself was greatly critical of Shachtman's entire political life and theoretical work.[24]
Glotzer argues that Shachtman's theory of bureaucratic collectivism has also informed unorthodox approaches within Marxism towards the class nature of the Eastern Bloc.
A number of Shachtman's former followers became leading figures in the neo-conservative movement.[25]
Inevitably, there are UFT members to the right of the UFT leadership and we see some of that playing out today over the Garner march. But again, I'll do some political analysis in the future.

Shachtman's wife was Shanker's assistant.

Yetta Barsh Shachtman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Yetta Barsh Shachtman (1925-1996), American socialist politician, married to Max Shachtman, a Marxist theorist. She wrote most of Albert Shanker's weekly ...
And see my post on Norms Notes with an article by Lois Weiner:


Oct 11, 2007 - After Albert Shanker's death in February 1997, the numerous .... The intellectual mentor of this group, Max Shachtman, was well known in ...
And I came across a piece by our own Kit Wainer and Marian Swerdlow that no longer seems to be available.

Yetta Barsh on Shachtman - Marxists Internet Archive
Marxists Internet Archive
Aug 18, 2013 - Max Shachtman Collection, Tamiment Institute/Ben Josephson Library.
Albert Shanker, Image and Reality (Obit by Marian Swerdlow and Kit Adam Wainer)


  1. Shacht's WP became the Independent Socialist League, which he then led into the Socialist Party, but some of his followers including Hal Draper (who was the reason the coined the term "Don't trust anyone over 30" - end of original slogan: "except Hal Draper") formed the Independent Socialist Clubs, which then became International Socialists, which had friendly but noncommittal relations with the Cliff group and tendency. Then ISO split off from IS and joined Cliff's tendency, but that didn't last. Deep are the roots.

  2. You live in a community near a beach, correct? You really need to take a walk on the beach or boardwalk and get some of that fresh salt air. You are a good man (always wrong, but your heart is in the right place). Max and Yetta are long gone. We all need to stick together and worry about DFER and E4E and not the communist or socialist of old.


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating).