Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Phillips Russell, November 18, 1974. Interview B-0011-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of politics in workers' education programs in the South

Russell describes the role of politics in workers' education programs in the South. According to Russell, most of the educators involved had leftist political leanings. He cites, for instance, Leo Huberman's Communist inclinations. Nevertheless, he insists that teachers were not interested in advocating political interests in terms of garnering votes for certain candidates or adherence to certain political parties. Instead, they worked to promote political self-awareness amongst workers so that they would vote in their best collective interest.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Phillips Russell, November 18, 1974. Interview B-0011-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were they not . . . were they pushing any kind of . . . I mean, were they asking people to join in any particular political party?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did they talk about political parties?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
No, nothing like that, no.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And McLaren was as far as you know, not . . . I just have trouble understanding how in '38 or '39 when political parties in this country were, I mean, when there were so many third parties that were active and I think that some of these people must have been active in political parties and that it didn't come out at the school.
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
No, there was nothing like that. They were teachers, they were educationists and they were just interested in schooling. They wouldn't go out and solicit anybody's vote, no.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And they wouldn't solicit any students to join a certain party?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It seems like Huberman, from his book . . . he had written several books when he was at the school. He wrote The Labor Spy Racket and Man's Worldly Goods and he seemed in Man's Worldly Goods to be extremely interested, as I guess that everyone was, in the Five Year Plan in Russia and the rise of communism. I just wondered if he . . . he certainly seems to have taught Marxist economics.
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Would you say that was the line that his class followed?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But it was completely in a closed, economic academic sense?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
That's right. It was all academic, yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you think there is any possibility that these people could have been members of the Communist Party and just very quiet about it?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Possibly, but I don't think any of them were. I think that it would have shown on them. A Communist doesn't keep that quiet.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I was going to ask you if at the time, a Communist might not have been able to say . . .
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
If there had been any Communists, they would have shown themselves there. There was a terrific antagonism against the Communist when they first came out.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
This would be before the end of the thirties?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It is hard to understand how in such a politically active time there wouldn't have been any discussion of politics?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
(laughter) No, you misunderstood me. That was what the discussion was about. That was what they did talk about but they didn't go out on the street and grab a man and say, "Will you vote for my friend, Bill Smith who is a good Socialist or a good Communist?" That wasn't the way it was done.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
O.K., so they were just advocating political action?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I don't understand, I'm sorry. (laughter)
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
No, they just took it for granted that if you were talking certain principles that they would act on them through the ballot box when election time came up, but they didn't make a drive at you to see that you did it or that you needed any definite propulsion towards the polling place. It was just an understood thing that as a citizen when you got to be twenty-one years old, you were going to vote.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
O.K.
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
And you voted in a way that would benefit your political party or your trade union or whatever you belonged to.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But it was all in very general terms?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And they weren't actively going out and like you say, getting some of the vote for a particular candidate or trying to put a particular candidate into office?
PHILLIPS RUSSELL:
No. Unless it was some particular internal affair where there were two factions in the same group and one wanted to elect its candidates over the other, you would expect to see some form of solicitation then but otherwise, no.