Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Thomas Barton Papers
Scope and Contents of the Collection
A small, but rich collection, the Barton Papers provide a glimpse into the career of a long-time Socialist and activist. From Barton's entry into the Young People's Socialist League in the latest 1950s through his work with the Wildcat group in the early 1970s, the collection contains outstanding content on the civil rights and antiwar movements and the strategies for radical organizing. The collection is particularly rich on two periods of Barton's career -- his time in the YPSL and Student Peace Union (1960-1964) and in the Wildcat group (1968-1971) -- and particularly for the events surrounding the dissolution of YPSL in 1964, following a heated debate over whether to support Lyndon Johnson for president. The collection includes correspondence with other young radicals such as Martin Oppenheimer, Lyndon Henry, Juan McIver, and Joe Weiner.
Woven together, the YPSL files -- and particularly those for Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Texas -- give a sense of YPSL's field work and the sometimes radically different approaches taken by the New Left and Old Left, and between the varied factions within each. The correspondence, reports, fliers, and other materials reflect deep seated tensions over ideology and tactics, as well as the assault on the left by the forces of authority, as the grappled with issues ranging from the war in Vietnam to the pervasiveness of racism and sexism, and international politics from Berlin to China and Cuba.
The tumultuous 1964 Convention that resulted in the suspension and dissolution of YPSL is well documented, given Barton's central involvement, and the files for the various branches of the League document the reaction around the country as news of the split spread. The YPSL Texas file with letters from Lyndon Henry and Doug Hainline is noteworthy for the clarity of analysis and candid discussions of YPSL's relations with SDS.
Other materials are bellwethers for the shifts in attitude within the movement and the increasing radicalization of some members. In November 1965, for example, Joe Verret wrote bitterly about pacifists: "Good God -- you know it and so does anyone else with serious intentions of defeating the imperialists -- the change to socialism -- the convulsion of property relations -- will never be accomplished on a world scale if we try tactics such as lying down in front of the tanks of bourgeoisie . . . are we revolutionaries or are we just interested in having a nice sized organization?" (Joe Verret, Nov. 26, 1965)
The most extensive, densest, and perhaps richest correspondence in the collection -- five folders worth -- comes from Juan McIver, a fellow Wildcat and International Socialist. Sometimes signing himself Frank (and once Igor), McIver's letters are remarkably intense and detailed discussions of Socialist politics, history, the struggle of the present day, revolutionary organizing, the international scene, his travels in Europe and England, and his evolving views on Socialism and the struggle to create a working class movement. McIver eventually broke with Leninism-Trotskyism. Some of Barton's letters to McIver are included.
About one third of the collection consists of a remarkable group of materials relating to the Wildcat, and particularly Wildcat Detroit. Mostly signed pseudonymously, the letters and reports analyze efforts to engage in revolutionary organizing of the working class, primarily in the automotive industry. Among other highlights is an essay (filed under "Wildcat: Trade unions and revolutionary organizing") discussing tactics in navigating racism, suspicion of fellow works, and the fight against capitalism. In a similar vein, the unidentified author of "Towards a Revolutionary Newspaper" laments the lack of a publication that reflects their point of view and offers thoughts on how better to reach workers:
"Initially we planned, and still plan to use locally produced factory bulletins, distributed free at the plant gates. As the basic tool of our organizing, recruiting, and propaganda work. The format would be the simplest and most economical; and 8 1/2 x 13 sheet mimeoed or printed on two sides; one side being a major political article by members of our organizing group, the other side being written entirely by people employed at the plant (ourselves and others)..."
The Wildcat files also contain materials relating to Revolutionary Union Movement groups, such as DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) and ELDRUM (Eldon Revolutionary Union Movement), which sought to organize Black workers and which joined forces to form the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Among the printed materials are several copies of Wildcat and its successor The Spark, as well as a valuable series of highly ephemeral newsletters from Revolutionary Union Movements.