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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Max Geldman
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Max Geldman was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1905, and immigrated to New York when he was eight. His father was a garment worker and a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Max's formal education ended after the eighth grade, when he started to work in the needle trades. Later on he attended the City College of New York for two years. Mr. Geldman became active in the labor movement during the 1926 strike of textile workers in Passaic, New Jersey, and the concurrent campaign to save the lives of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. He joined the Young Communist League but soon was drawn out of it by the force of Leon Trotsky's criticisms. In 1930 he joined the Trotskyist Communist League of America, and remained in Trotskyist parties until 1983. He moved to Chicago just in time for the stock market crash of 1929, and began a decade of organizing activities among the unemployed. In Chicago he met his first wife, Goldie Cooper, who came from Chaska, Minnesota. Through her, Mr. Geldman became acquainted with the Trotskyists in Minneapolis. The party reassigned Mr. Geldman to New York until 1934. As organizing efforts in Local #544 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Minneapolis heated up, the Geldmans relocated to be part of this struggle. Mr. Geldman worked particularly with unemployed workers, to persuade them to support the teamsters' strikes rather than using them as opportunities to gain employment. From 1935 to 1939 he organized with the Federal Workers Section of Local #544, demanding better pay and working conditions for the unemployed who were in the Works Progress Administration program. In 1939 a cut-back in federal funding for the WPA set off a wave of strikes by WPA workers across the country. In Minneapolis the conflict was particularly intense, and one worker died in a clash with police. Mr. Geldman was arrested for his role in the strike, and convicted of conspiracy to violate the Woodrum Act. He served a year in the federal prison at Sandstone, Minnesota, for this offense. He was rearrested shortly after his release, under the Smith Act. He and seventeen other leaders of the Socialist Workers Party were found guilty of attempting to overthrow the government through force and violence in 1941. Mr. Geldman returned to Sandstone after appeals were exhausted, on the last day of 1943, and stayed there for thirteen months. Upon release, he moved to Philadelphia and became the SWP branch organizer there. In the 1950s, Mr. Geldman took party assignments in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Newark. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived the rest of his life. In 1983, organizational and political differences led him out of the SWP, and he became a founder of Socialist Action. Later he left that organization, too, and helped establish Solidarity. Goldie and Max Geldman had two children before Goldie's death in 1952. Two years later Mr. Geldman remarried, and he and Mrs. Shevi Geldman had two more children. At the time of the interview Mr. Geldman was retired and living in Los Angeles. He died on December 2, 1989. (Information from obituaries in the Militant and Socialist Action.) SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Mr. Geldman's conversion from Stalinism to Trotskyism, late 1920s. New York hotel restaurant strike, 1934. Memories of the Minneapolis teamsters' strikes, 1934. Assessment of the Trotskyist contribution to those strikes. Support of the strikes and of Local #544 by the unemployed. Memories of Edward Palmquist. Formation and activities of Federal Workers section of Local #574/544. Opinions of the Farmer-Labor Party and of Floyd B Olson. Cooperation and tensions between the Communist and Socialist Workers Party on unemployed activities in Minneapolis, late 1930s. Works Progress Administration strike, 1939. Convention of the Workers' Alliance of Minnesota, 1936. Arrest and trials of the leaders of the WPA strike, 1939. Smith Act trial, 1941. Memories of Sandstone Federal Correctional Facility, 1943-1944. Tensions between Local #544 and the teamsters' international, late 1930s and 1940s. Trotskyist loss of influence on Local #544, 1940s. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: Mr. Geldman spoke publically about his life and experiences, and the interview has a rehearsed quality to it, as if he were giving one of those speeches. There is another interview with Mr. Geldman in the Historical Society's collection, by Thomas O'Connell and Steven Trimble, taped twelve years earlier. Mr. Geldman speaks very slowly, with the trace of an accent. There is some background noise, like a television.
1.5 hours sound cassette
15 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
00:59:33 running time
Interviewee: Geldman, Max
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.22 (Accession Number)
MHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'