It looks as though the Soviet Union, or the pieces that it may soon become, will embrace capitalism, or fall into a severe authoritarianism, or undergo both of those fates.footnote That is not an original thought. While a certain amount of humane socialist rhetoric survives even now in the Soviet Union, few observers believe that from its present crisis there will emerge a state, or states, characterized by an attractive form of socialism. But it costs me a lot to endorse that unoriginal thought, and I want to explain why.

In 1912 my mother was born, in Kharkov, to secular Jewish parents of ample means, her father being a successful timber merchant. When she was just five years old, the Bolshevik revolution occurred. My grandfather’s business continued to provide well for the family during the period of the New Economic Policy,footnote1 and my mother was consequently quite well-heeled, with plenty to lose, but she nevertheless developed, across the course of the nineteen-twenties, in schools and in youth organizations, a full-hearted commitment to the Bolshevik cause. This she took with her in 1930 when, the nep having given way to a regime less amenable to bourgeois existence, her parents decided to immigrate to Canada, and she left the Soviet Union, not because she wanted to, but because she did not want to part with her emigrating parents and sister.

In Montreal, my mother, who could not speak English, and without, at eighteen, an advanced education, tumbled down the class ladder to a proletarian position. She took employment as a sewing-machine operator in a garment factory. Before long, she met my father, a dress cutter, who, unlike her, had an impeccably proletarian pedigree (his father was a poor tailor from Lithuania), and no secondary education. Their courtship unrolled in the context of long hours of factory work, struggles to build unionism in the garment trade, and summer weekends at the country camp some forty miles from town that was set up by and for left-wing Jewish workers. My parents married in 1936 and I appeared, their first-born, in 1941.

My mother was proud to be—to have become—working class, and through the thirties and forties, and until 1958, she was an active member of the Canadian Communist Party. My father belonged to the United Jewish People’s Order, most of whose members were antireligious, anti-Zionist, and strongly pro-Soviet. He was not in the Party itself, not because he had ideological reservations, but because his personality was not conducive to Party membership. Members of the Communist Party were expected to express themselves with confidence and with regularity at branch meetings, and my father was an unusually reticent man with little capacity for self-expression.

Because of my parents’ convictions, my upbringing was intensely political. My first school, which I entered in 1946, was named after Morris Winchewsky, a Jewish proletarian poet. At Morris Winchewsky we learned standard primary school things in the mornings, from non-communist gentile women teachers;footnote2 but, in the afternoons, we were taught Jewish (and other) history and Yiddish language and literature, by left-wing Jews and Jewesses whose first (and in some cases, so it seemed, only) language was Yiddish. The instruction we got from them, even when they narrated Old Testament stories, was suffused with vernacular Marxist seasoning: nothing heavy or pedantic, just good Yiddish revolutionary common sense. Our report cards were folded down the middle, with English subjects on the left-hand side and Yiddish on the right, because of the directions in which the two languages are written. One of the Yiddish subjects was Geschichte fun Klassen Kamf (History of Class Struggle), at which, I am pleased to note, I scored a straight aleph in 1949.