Marv Gettleman (1933-2017) was one of the founders and a strong stalwart of H-Pad’s predecessor organization Historians Against the War (see our tribute to him).
MARVIN E. GETTLEMAN, 1933–2017
We lost Marv on January 7 this year.
Marv was one of the (then!) younger people brought on board, around
1973, by the existing editorial group at Science & Society. For 36 years he was a tireless presence at the journal, a colleague whose energy, enthusiasm and wide knowledge were a de ning element in our “mix.” Marv resigned from the Editorial Board and Manuscript Collective in 2009, owing to what we subsequently realized was the onset of dementia, the illness that eventually ended his life.
Marv was a singularly active presence at Science & Society. His enthusi- asm, tireless work, deep knowledge and commitment to Marxism and to working-class and progressive struggles will not be forgotten. During his time with us, he wrote three articles and several reviews, and co-edited a Special Issue on the Spanish Civil War (Fall, 2004). If he were still with us, he would undoubtedly have been a major contributor to the project of the current Special Issue.
We present below excerpts from a few remembrances of Marv, from a Memorial Service held in New York last January 12.
It was in History 100 or 101 in 1953 that I met Marvin, at City College (City University of New York). We were respectful of the teacher’s authority; he, however, was, well, not easily hoodwinked. The diet of “Western Civ” that we were fed, which presented the bourgeoisie as rising since ancient Elom, gave him indigestion. Never in my previous schooling had I met anyone who acted as if he knew more than the authority gure with the chalk in his hand at the front of the room.
When I came back from a year abroad to nish my senior year, Marv was editing the college magazine. He invited a piece about my experience. Marv was ready with his scorching blue pencil. His well-known talent at S& S later, of letting authors know what he really thought of them, was fully developed in 1956.
We reconnected later, in the late 60s at the Socialist Scholars Confer- ence. Eventually my husband, John Cammett, worked with Marv at S&S; while Marv could be ferocious as a critic, he was generous and kind, especially when John fell ill.
How does one remember someone who was such an independent spirit, powerful intellect, devoted to the principle that scholarship must serve a progressive political purpose? The Marvin that I remember was all those things and, if I remember the early years correctly, it must have been in his DNA. We all, his wife Ellen, his family, grandchildren and many friends will remember the active, lively, insightful, muscular Marvin of those past decades.
Marv and I rst met at City College in the mid-1950s. He was in the class of 1957, one year ahead of me, but we met and became friends when we served on CCNY’s Student Council. In those days, besieged by McCarthy and conservative congressional Committees, and a college administration that did their bidding, Marv spearheaded a movement in response to an at- tempt by the College to force students to sign membership lists if they joined extra-curricular clubs. Each club had to have 12 members sign up in order to be allowed to function. In those days of guilt by association signing such lists could be used against members of left-oriented clubs and discourage students from joining radical groups. Marv had the brilliant concept of organizing 12 student leaders to sign every membership list on campus, thereby obviating the necessity for other members to sign and put themselves in harm’s way. It worked. The administration was outwitted and furious, but could do nothing to counteract Marv’s great idea.
He was young and exuberant at CCNY. We packed the classrooms of any professor under attack by congressional committees. Hundreds of students enrolled in their classes, making it impossible for the administration to think of ring or persecuting them. Marv, when he wasn’t busy competing on the swimming team, led this movement and was terribly effective.
Marv’s book on Vietnam, a low-cost paperback, became the bible for the anti-war movement in the 60s and 70s. It presented in a very readable format, with pithy introductions which Marv wrote, the most important docu- ments of Vietnamese history and politics. Most of us in the anti–Vietnam War movement were ignorant of Indochinese realities, but Marv’s book allowed us to become instant experts. It was a godsend.
My critical collaboration with Marv began after September 11, 2001. The attacks of that day led us to write our co-edited book of documents on the Middle East and the Islamic world from the 7th century to the (then) present. It is now in its third edition and was produced by Marv’s publisher, Grove Press. We worked almost every day for a couple of years writing and rewriting the text. Marv knew how to simplify our message without talking down to our audience of students and educated citizens. In the process I learned how to write for a mass audience and how to develop the discipline to become a professional writer. For that I owe him a great deal.
Periodically, we would drive up to Ellen and Marv’s house in the Catskills where we would continue writing, between berry picking, barbecues, shop- ping at the local farmer’s market, and entertaining friends. I became part of Ellen and Marv’s large family and loved every moment of it.
I’ve lost a dear friend who showed me the way to become a professional writer. On the way, I solidi ed my friendship with him and Ellen. I will be forever grateful for the chance of knowing and becoming friends with both of them.
Like Stuart, I share fond memories of Marv’s and Ellen’s hospitality in their Catskills home. Marvin, unlike many intellectuals, was also a skillful carpenter. He rebuilt much of that house, was constantly puttering with im- provements, was a sucker for new tools, and made a unique headboard out of branches for their bed. And yet, lover of life that he was, he also exulted when they nally let the house go, saying: “The less property one has, the freer one feels!”
Marvin was also an artist: his portraits capture the subject’s character and his landscapes capture the mood of a place. And he loved music. In his last years, he listened to classical music all day. Once I asked him who his favor- ite composer was and he struggled to speak, coming out with “Beethoven.”
But of course we all know Marv as a committed public intellectual and activist. One of my rst memories of him was when in 1970 our ad hoc New York Faculty Against the War occupied Pupin Hall, one of Columbia Univer- sity’s science buildings doing military research. We held it for nearly a week until security was breached and the mobilized athletes threw us out. In that time we bonded in a tiny civil society of our own, complete with political discussion and a Women’s Caucus.
I got to know Marvin better a few years later when he joined the board of Science & Society. Like many journal boards, we had our lively discussions which Marv participated in with passion. Needless to say, his expertise in American history made him a very valuable member of the group. But I must remind you, this is a memorial, not a canonization. Marv, being only human, had a fault or two. In this case, his high standards sometimes leaked into letters to contributors of manuscripts in a rather challenging way. I remember saying to him once: “Marv, this is a letter of acceptance, not rejection!”
As long as he was able, Marv continued his scholarship. It is our loss that he could not nish his book on the Jefferson School of Social Science, but an anticipatory article appeared in the Encyclopedia of the American Left, and another in S& S (“‘No Varsity Teams’: New York’s Jefferson School of Social Science, 1943–1956,” Fall 2002).
Finally, Marvin doted on Ellen. I’ll never forget his announcement at an S&S meeting, beaming and starry-eyed: “I’ve met the most wonderful woman!”
I rst met Marv Gettleman at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in l962. JHU was then a white Christian male bastion; a racist sexist place with almost no diversity. As one of the rst Jewish graduate students in the History program, Marv was subjected to outrageous bigotry by our mentors. As the second woman in the department after Willie Lee Rose, an example of our faculty’s limitations occurred when I returned from my rst teaching post at Hampton Institute in Virginia, to be asked by one of our professors: “Now, Blanche tell us, as a New York Jew: What was it like to teach them Nigras?” But even JHU was in ux by 1963.
Marv, who despised racism, was one of the students who led sit-ins at segregated Baltimore eateries, and around the time of the March on Wash- ington the History Department created a bail fund for arrested students. Moreover, Charles Barker — Marv’s mentor and mine — was a peace activist, and when in 1965 Marv’s brilliant book on Vietnam was published, the many efforts to derail his dissertation and block his PhD ended.
My subsequent memories of Marv were at John Jay College (CUNY) during Science & Society meetings. Above all, I remember a conversation highlighted by Annette Rubinstein’s af rmation that “life is about the struggle! ” and “revolution is a process, not an event!”, to which Marv replied: “And joy is the engine! ”