Natie Gould, As I Knew Him
— Morris Slavin
NATHAN “NATIE” GOULD, a founder of the Fourth International and a former secretary-organizer of the Socialist Workers Party's youth group, the Spartacus Youth League (SYL), died November 10, 1997. My impressions of him follow.
I first met Natie in December, 1934 at the united convention of the Communist League of America (CLA, the Trotskyist group) with the American Workers Party (A.J. Muste's comrades). It was a rare occasion in that instead of a radical political association splitting, two parties were actually uniting.
Natie had come with the Chicago delegation among whom was Al Glotzer, one of the leaders of the American Trotskyists. Like me, Natie was 21 years old, but unlike me he had seven or eight years of militant working-class experience behind him.
I remember the informal atmosphere of the gathering at a comrade's New York apartment. Natie had taken off his shoes, sat on the day bed propping up his back against the wall and participated in the discussion.
After Natie had become secretary of the SYL he began to visit its branches. Among the activities planned during his stay was a public address in a hall rented for the occasion. Natie was always prepared on the topic he had chosen to speak on—either an important international development, or a persistent national problem.
He never spoke without a manuscript, to which he referred but never read from. His voice was clear and loud enough to be heard through the hall, his arguments seemed irrefutable to us, and we enjoyed the give and take between him and the audience.
I remember one speech he gave on the tour. I think it was an anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871. Dipping into the past, Natie told how young workers had been recruited by the French bourgeois government into a militia which was then used to crush the desperate uprising of the hungry workers in 1848.
He dramatized the confrontation between the two forces by describing the men and women who recognized their relatives and neighbors in the armed forces. Never would they turn their guns on their friends, they thought—only to be shocked by the suddenness of the unexpected attack as the militia responded to their officers' command.
Once he visited the Columbus, Ohio branch when some of us were students at Ohio State University. We had somehow managed to have him invited to a large group of students housed on the premises of the football stadium.
After dinner he arose to speak. The students were polite enough, with the exception of one who was heard to make a derogatory remark. A cold stare from Natie ended this effort at disruption. As for the Stalinists in the National Student League, for some reason they avoided a confrontation with Natie at this time.
A Talented Organizer
In 1936 members of the WP joined, as individuals, the Socialist Party.1 Natie helped win over several leaders of the Young Peoples Socialist League to Trotskyist views. Differences over the Moscow Trials, the Spanish Civil War, the Popular Front and how to respond to the continuing economic depression—these and the drift to war divided the left during the decade.
By the end of 1937 the former leaders of the WP were expelled from the Socialist Party, and founded the Socialist Workers Party at the beginning of 1938.
When the decision to build a new (Fourth) International was taken, Natie accompanied James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman to Europe as one of the delegates. The meeting was held in a suburb of Paris on September 3, 1938.
The following year Natie visited Trotsky in Mexico. There is a photograph in Jean van Heijenoort's With Trotsky in Exile from Prinkipo to Coyoacan (Harvard University Press, 1978; 142 but mislabeled as”Hank”) of him sitting with Trotsky during an outing in the Mexican countryside.
As he was leaving Trotsky, Natie told me, “the Old Man” fixed his eyes on the ground and “like a little boy” proceeded to kick the stones under foot—obviously moved by Natie's visit.
Shortly after the United States entered World War II, Natie was drafted. After some months he made second lieutenant and volunteered to fight with “Merrill's Marauders” in Burma, described as “a dangerous mission” by the army command. He was wounded in action, losing the function of one hand.
After a period of convalescing in an army hospital, he was finally mustered out. Later, he told me he had volunteered for the assignment because he had decided to share in the experiences of his generation.
Having to earn a living, Natie found an opportunity by joining the staff of an organization called ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation Through Training) that provided work skills for Jewish men and women.
As executive director and vice president of its women's affiliate, he increased its membership from less than 15,000 to over 100,000. Today, ORT supports some 800 technical, scientific and vocational schools in sixty countries.2
Natie was married to Yetta Barsh, a high school sweetheart and future wife of Max Shachtman. After Natie's return from the army the couple divorced, and Natie married Ruth Davidson with whom he had two sons, Andrew and Jonathan, and three grandchildren.
He lived in Roslyn, New York and though no longer active in a socialist group he never surrendered his belief in its ideals.
- [The WP referred to here was the merged organization of the American Trotskyists with the followers of A.J. Muste. It dissolved after Trotsky urged his supporters to enter the Socialist Parties, in a tactic known as the “French turn,” in order to build revolutionary factions therein. In the United States, the Trotskyists were especially effective during 1936-37 in recruiting inside the SP's youth group, the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL)—ed.]
- [An obituary article in the New York Times (November 24, 1997) detailed Gould's role in transforming ORT from a moribund group to a thriving organization, but mentioned nothing of his longtime political organizing background—ed.]
ATC 74, May-June 1998