ALBERT Glotzer (also known as Al Gates), a founder member of the American Trotskyist movement, recorder of the Dewey Commission’s inquiry into the Moscow Trials, and close friend and collaborator of Max Shachtman, passed away on 18 February 1999. Glotzer was born in Pinsk, a city in what today is Belarus. As a small child, he emigrated with his family, settling in Chicago. At the age of eight, he was distributing Socialist literature in working-class districts of the city. On his fifteenth birthday, 7 November 1923, he joined the youth section of the Communist Party, then called the Workers Party.
In November 1928, James P Cannon, who had recently returned from Moscow, sent him a copy of a document by Leon Trotsky which later became a portion of The Third International After Lenin, that had been smuggled out of Russia. At the time he was 20 years old and a member of the National Committee of the Young Communist League. Glotzer showed the document to Arne Swabeck, who had recently headed the Chicago branch of the party. They studied it together, became convinced of Trotsky’s views, and succeeded to bringing a group of 10 Chicago comrades into the fledgling Trotskyist group, the Communist League of America. He became one of the seven members of its first National Committee, and he moved to New York City to help out at the group’s minuscule national office.
Glotzer visited Trotsky in Kadikoy, Turkey in 1931, acting as an English secretary and guard. Whilst in Turkey, Glotzer read the material of the British Balham Group, headed by Reg Groves, and urged Trotsky to support it. Passing through London on the way home, he linked up with Max Shachtman, and met with Groves, Harry Wicks and others.
Glotzer’s rôle within the American Trotskyist organisation in the 1930s is of considerable interest. Whilst originally close to Swabeck and Cannon, he was drawn to Shachtman, along with Martin Abern and other younger members of the leadership. They felt that Jim Cannon was running the organisation in a bureaucratic Zinovievist manner, holding back its growth. Relations between Cannon and Shachtman grew very tense in 1931, and remained that way until 1933. Glotzer reported all this to Trotsky in Turkey. The Old Man, while not dismissing the Zinovievist charge, urged a truce between the factions.
The prospect of unity with AJ Muste’s American Workers Party created conditions for close working relations between Cannon and Shachtman. Max cut off his personal and political ties with Glotzer, who remained sceptical of Cannon. Politically isolated and out of a job, Glotzer returned to Chicago. In 1937, he sided with Hugo Oehler against entry into the Socialist Party. However, when entry was decided upon, he went along with it.
Once within the Socialist Party, Glotzer embraced the strategy wholeheartedly, and became critical of those elements amongst the Trotskyists who sought to sustain their previous sect-like existence within the new party. When he discussed the matter with Trotsky during a visit to Mexico, he discovered that the Old Man was also disturbed about the entry, but had drawn the opposite conclusion: the need to pull the group back out. Glotzer was not alone in the 1930s in having difficulty following Trotsky’s bouncing ball.
In April 1937, Albert Glotzer, a court reporter by profession, travelled to Mexico to produce a transcript of the proceedings of John Dewey’s inquiry into the Moscow Trials charges against Trotsky. The highly professional result was a major contribution to the Trotskyist movement.
Between 1938 and 1940, the old lines of division re-emerged within the American party, now called the Socialist Workers Party. However, this time the question of the party’s attitude towards the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland and Poland, and the related issue of the class nature of the USSR, were involved, as well as the issue of the party regime. Glotzer supported Shachtman against Cannon.
After Shachtman formed the Workers Party, Glotzer left Chicago and travelled to New York City to help staff the national office. As the wartime draft drained away the younger members, Glotzer, who had a medical deferment because of ulcers, played an increasingly important rôle in running the organisation. His friendship and political collaboration with Shachtman were re-established.
I knew Glotzer as Al Gates from 1955 to 1958, when I was a member of the Shachtmanite Young Socialist League (YSL). He was a pleasant, likeable, unpretentious man. He was working as a court reporter, attended weekly meetings of the Independent Socialist League’s (ISL) leading committee, and occasionally came to social events. The day-to-day functioning of the ISL was in the hands of Gordon Haskell and Hal Draper. What life remained in the movement was in the YSL. Glotzer, like many others of the older generation of the ISL, as well as of its rival, the Socialist Workers Party, was in semi-retirement from politics. Shachtman was not that much more active.
Glotzer remained a close personal friend of Max Shachtman. It was a somewhat incestuous circle. In 1951, Max separated from Edith Harvey, Glotzer’s former wife, and moved in with Yetta Barsh, who had been married to Nathan Gould, a prominent Trotskyist youth leader in the Depression period. When Max and Yetta got married, Al and his new wife Marguerite were the only witnesses.
Shachtman’s bitter anti-Stalinism led him to abandon his life of internationalism and to support the USA in Vietnam and elsewhere. These positions precipitated the defection of Mike Harrington and other followers and friends, but Glotzer stayed. During the last two years of Shachtman’s life, Al’s friendship grew in importance. Shachtman had moved so far to the right politically that few on the left believed he still considered himself a Socialist, let alone a Marxist. Paradoxically, his thoughts and emotions had retreated into his Bolshevik past. Shachtman even travelled to Los Angeles to visit his old nemesis, Jim Cannon. Glotzer was the only one left in his political trend who had been there since the days of the early American Communist Party, and therefore knew what Shachtman was thinking and feeling.
From Shachtman’s death in 1972 until his own recent passing away, Glotzer devoted his considerable talents to the history of the movement. His book, Trotsky: Memoir and Critique (Prometheus, Buffalo, 1989) should be read along with Jean van Heijenoort’s With Trotsky In Exile (Harvard, Cambridge, 1978) as supplements to the picture of Trotsky in exile furnished by Isaac Deutscher’s The Prophet Outcast (Oxford, New York, 1963). Van Heijenoort, like Glotzer, had abandoned Trotskyism, and yet devoted his last years to his memories of the time he spent with the Old Man.
Glotzer’s Trotsky ends with the following statement: ‘Trotsky must share responsibility with Lenin for the rise of Stalin and Stalinism.’ This is certainly a highly disputable statement. There is more involved. If the Trotskyist experience is to be summed up in this way, why then write a book of generally friendly reminiscences about Trotsky and his movement? We know of no memoir entitled With Stalin In Power, where the writer swills down vodka with Uncle Joe in an old dacha whilst reading aloud reports from the KGB firing squads, and then heads out with his buddy over the snowy steppes, with hunting rifles in pursuit of escapees from Vorkuta.
Shachtman was shaken when he learned of the death of Joe Carter in 1970, the man who first presented the theory of bureaucratic collectivism within the Socialist Workers Party. Carter, who did not get along with Shachtman, had drifted out of the Workers Party, earning a meagre living as a bookstore clerk. Shachtman felt it was wrong that Carter should have ‘gone, silently, unnoticed, unmourned, unGoddamned for, with only a vague memory left behind’. Whilst we abhor the politics of his last years, we would not wish the same fate on Albert Glotzer.