One sentence to East Bay people only: I'm reading from Saying No To Power at 7 tonight (Thursday) at the Niebyl-Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley (just north of Alcatraz; west side of avenue, street level entrance.) ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Last Sunday's SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE carried this review: SAYING NO TO POWER: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker by William Mandel Reviewed by Jack Foley [The review is uncut and unchanged. I have put a few of its phrases in caps for those who wish only to scan. W.M.] In 1960, summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, author and Soviet affairs expert William Mandel said, "If you think I will cooperate in any way with this collection of Judases, of men who sit there in violation of the United States Constitution, if you think I will cooperate with you in any manner whatsoever, you are insane." A red-diaper baby born in 1917 who narrowly escaped being named Karl Marx Mandel -- he is William Marx Mandel -- Mandel was both an activist in and an observer of the revolution that began the year he was born. "Between my father's interest in social change and my mother's in culture," he writes, "I chose to follow my father." Following his father meant not only following the path of revolutionary activity but also suppressing "creative imagination...in favor of logic and disciplined thought." The author's activism manifested itself early, and THE CHAPTERS ON "KID POWER" ARE SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING IN HIS BOOK "Saying No To Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker." Even more important, from 1931 ro 1932 the Mandel family was in Russia, where the young William could learn Russian and observe the Soviet experiment from close up. It was a rich, determining priod in his life, and it placed him in a unique position. Following the logic of his father's convictions, Mandel joined the Communist Party in 1935, but he also honored his mother's awareness of culture. "Saying No To Power" is FULL OF WONDERFUL DESCRIPTIONS OF GROWING UP IN AMERICA. If you don't know what "stickball" and "belly-whopping" are, this book can tell you. We also find discussions of Benny Leonard, "Legs" Diamond, Red Skelton, Father Coughlin and other more or less forgotten figures. Later, Mandel gives us a tremendous description of a demonstration following the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a SET PIECE REMINISCENT OF SOME OF THE GREAT MOMENTS IN JOHN DOS PASSOS "USA". The author's keen intelligence and powers of observation stand him in good stead throughout "Saying No To Power," and the material dealing with his career as a writer and his 37 years as a radio commentator on Berkeley station KPFA is fascinating. (In the interest of full disclosure, it should be mentioned that both Mandel and this reviewer have contributed regularly, and without pay, to that beleaguered radio station. Such contributions are certainly no guarantee of collegiality, though, as followers of the station's recent history can attest.) His central story is that of the loss of faith in what he calls a kind of "religion": communism. Like many who have lost their faith, Mandel has nothing to replace it with. Now, he writes, "there is no longer a Utopian ideal I believe in." Mandel would not, however, endorse Gary Snyder's "May Day Toast" description of "actually existing socialism" as "a blight on the century almost equal to that of Nazism." Though often critical of the USSR, he is at pains to point out the genuine accomplishments of the Soviet regime, which is the burden of HIS DELIGHTFUL RADIO PIECE "IF I WERE GORBACHEV...," INCLUDED HERE. There are undoubtedly reasons to fault "Saying No To Power"; it is too long and has too many commendatory letters in it. Though Mandel is often brilliant in analyzing the world around him, and is scrupulously honest in doing so, he is less successful in turning the lens upon himself. He can be sentimental, arrogant, insensitive, extravagantly self-promoting and utterly blind to his own motivations. (At one point, in a fury, he beat his daughter's head against the floor. One of his sons reminded him of this incident, which had slipped his mind!) The material in the book could be scrutinized from a psychological point of view, and a very different portrait would emerge. Indeed, "Saying No To Power" suggests at times that the author's consciousness was awash in what he calls "towering rage," from which he would find "relief" in the terrors of reckless driving. All that said, no one can deny Mandel his magnificent social passion and sheer aliveness of mind. "Saying No To Power" is not only A MOVING AUTOBIOGRAPHY, but also A FIRSTHAND TESTIMONY TO MANY OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENTS OF THE 20TH CENTURY , what Kenneth Rexroth called "this century of horror." "Don't oversimplify," Mandel writes: "Life, and politics, and individual human beings are extremely complicated and internally contradictory." At various moments, Mandel offended everybody, communist and capitalist. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1952, though he was not informed of this, and went on for the next four years trying to pay his dues and attend meetings. "No one would accept the money and no one would tell me where the meetings would occur." He officially quit the party in 1957. Though he published many books, no publisher would touch him for the 15 years following 1946. He was fired from KPFA in 1995. Even in the worst periods, he managed to get his message out. The times he lived in perhaps made an unlikely hero of him, but HIS INSIGHTS FOCUSED THE TIMES IN SUCH A WAY THAT MANY UNDERSTAND THEM FAR BETTER THAN WE OTHERWISE WOULD HAVE. "Saying No to Power" beautifully articulates one of the deep myths of America. Mandel acted with courage, intelligency and flamboyance at a time when all three were precisely what the Establishment was trying to eliminate. He may be an apostate, but he remains at the end of his book what he has been throughout his long and fruitful career: an optimist, a believer that even amid the wrecks ot the 20th century, something will come. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Other aspects of the book's content are described in my website, www.BillMandel.net, particularly reviews reprinted from The Black Scholar and the on-line Greenwich Village Gazette. Two chapters of the book are on the website in full.
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