A Gateway City for Me, Too, Then and Now

(Greensboro) The photo above was taken in 1981, almost two years after I left Boston with a woman named Nancy Garner. Thank you, Nancy Fox, for this and much, much more; our two adult children, Ana Maria and Nate, and Ana’s son Jordan.

I chose the photo because “This Week in Black and White” ends with this column, and Gate City Revue will also disappear. After 40 years here, the city I will always call home for the rest of my life, I am excited about leaving for another place, or places, before nature takes its toll and not in the immediate sense. As I often said to people during the last decade or so, I believe I came of age in Greensboro. I had arrived as a would-be revolutionary and leave feeling a more complete human being; hopefully, one who has learned how to see all sides of a matter far better than he ever has.

In the photo, the left side of my face in the light is the mindful determination to look always toward progress in whatever ways I understood, which I now think has been a mantra for study and the application of what it revealed, in my teaching and public service ever since graduate school in the early 1970s. In other words, I have come to see the shadowed right side to indicate a heavy heart sinking lower by repeated, self-inflicted acts of self-sabotage over a good part of those 40 years.  

I did not arrive at this more important revelation on my own. For one thing, in the years of journalism and academic work, I became more learned in U.S. and world history in general, Marxist political economy, and a tradition called “socialist humanism” that emerged with the discovery of Marx’s early philosophic writings, two of the most important among a trove of others that were never published in his lifetime. For these reasons, I side with one of the two general schools of Western philosophy, the only one I really know well as a result of the background work I had to do prior to specific research and publication – I side with materialists against the idealists.

Even so, there’s a documented account of one of Karl Marx’s daughters asking Old Nick, as she and her two surviving female siblings called the father they adored, to recommend to her any chapters or sections in the Bible she would find helpful in the course of her own education as a socialist/communist and her activism. Without hesitation, he said she should read the Books of the Prophets.

Not seeking God in my search, I learned to follow my course and, instead, always have sought the Good in all people, especially in my hometown. Along with the eventual completion of my doctoral dissertation and ongoing reading and research toward its revision into a book, I came to understand that Karl Marx was far more spiritual a man than most God-fearing people who seem to me to be running in place in pursuit of Him while I run out of space looking for Good.

And yet I am compelled to affirm the tradition of the Christian-Marxist dialogue long present in the history of the United States since the 1930s in the struggle against fascism at home and abroad. The dialogue deepened in the 1960s and 1980s, when seminal and radical discussions and writings flowed, first, from the convergence of the antiwar, civil rights, and feminist, and ecology movements and, later, the U.S. imperialist war on El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala that inflicted mass murder on some of the poorest peoples in the Americas.

For these reasons, I am convinced that I learned so much from the many people who became friends and whose lives influenced me greatly in the whole time I have been here. Among them are many whose impact will likely never be known to them. Some have passed on while others have slipped away for one reason or another, perhaps only for now. To all I say thank you for what you taught me and the enduring gifts of love and compassion from some I will take with me always, most of all, my lovely and intelligent wife, Sharon Weber.

One thing they have helped me to do decisively is to grasp what it means to be a revolutionary communist and an internationalist. I can say I am far from the objective. But I understand history as well or better than most. I taught it over two decades. Before that I learned how to write for the public and did the drill to the best of my ability. In both I have never lost sight of the desire to create something better than what I knew and felt was wrong. That’s what I see in this photo.

I arrived in Greensboro an ABD (all but the dissertation) from Boston College quite rudderless in my personal life yet driven by my longing to be engaged in creating a socialist alternative to capitalism. I found others who had experienced great personal loss on November 3, 1979, and began the journey of honoring fallen comrades I came to know best through their survivors.

I have a clear view of that part of my life now. I had finally embraced the noble cause of communism just as they had – it is written on the back of the monument to them in Maplewood Cemetery – and hoped to follow in the tradition as had millions of people around the world before them.

For many years I would go to the cemetery to find strength in their noble sacrifice to represent, to defend, and to fight for the working class and all its needs in the struggle against the criminal monopoly-finance capitalist class – only to be murdered by its “agents” as is written in stone. Check it out for yourself some time. Someone years ago wrote that it was “sacred ground” and there are many good people here and elsewhere who would agree.

Every socialist revolution to date has occurred in what historian E.J. Hobsbawm called “The Long Twentieth Century,” the period he and others in the Marxist and post-Marxist tradition of scholarship and teaching also recognize as the discipline of Contemporary World History, roughly 1880 to the present. Some also view it from the standpoint of both history and political economy as the epoch of Late Capitalism, i.e. the last or final stage based on monopoly and finance capital and imperialism – as Lenin demonstrated historically and theoretically by often relying on U.S. economic statistics more effectively than U.S. economists from the late 1890s into the post-World War 1 period.  

In every attempt to create a socialist alternative in the history of the contemporary world and the truly distinct global experience it has created – buzz word was once “globalization” – we find ample evidence of its undermining from the start, and due mainly to the problem of underdevelopment. Now more than ever, we know that with each failure also came the knowledge of what to do in the wake of defeat. To lose a battle is one thing, more than one far worse than possible when locked in struggle. But to lose the war, to be the loser in the class struggle from a terminal capitalist crisis in which the outcome is Trump’s re-election, takes us quickly to the completion of the fascist re-ordering – and war.

To that end, there will be unprecedented political repression to support growing dictatorship of the market by finance capital – the triumph of American fascism.

From time to time over the many years since the photo was taken, I came to see the contrast between my brightly-lighted, left side that, to me, seemed miraculous compared with the darkness on the right. All I saw was a sharp line, and I was moving to the left and proud of it.

Today, I know how romantic it all was then and sober affirmation of it now. I had left Boston and maybe for good? All I knew was that Greensboro was nothing like Long Island where I grew up, New England where I went to graduate school, and the whole New-York, Italian, lower-middle-class background that was always the backdrop for all of it. Then I came to the South and spent 40 years coming of age.

A communist in the making when I arrived, to a Southern Red hoping to glide elsewhere …  

“Marx” by Nate Roberto
Posted in The Week in Black and White.