Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left

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9780679432944: Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left
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In 1970, Kathy Boudin, revolutionary Weatherman, fled the ruins of a town house on West Eleventh Street in Greenwich Village after a bomb that was being made there exploded, killing three people, and America’s sympathy with radicalism fell apart. The Weathermen had started as angry kids who planted stink bombs and emulated the Black Panthers, but the bomb they were building on Eleventh Street was deadly. Kathy, daughter of the celebrated lawyer Leonard Boudin, third generation of the famous Boudin family, emerged naked from the wreckage, was given some clothes by a neighbor, slipped into the night, and went underground for the next eleven years, her name soon appearing on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.

Susan Braudy tells the riveting story of the Boudin family circle through four generations. She writes of Kathy Boudin’s childhood, growing up in Manhattan in an ambitious, liberal New York Jewish family, daughter of a revered left-wing labor and civil liberties lawyer and an intellectual poet mother.

Braudy writes of Kathy’s parents; her father, Leonard, who patterned his life after that of his uncle, the great labor lawyer and leftist legal scholar, Louis B. Boudin (in the 1930s he fought in court for new laws to protect and organize labor unions and was one of the foremost translators and interpreters of Karl Marx). Leonard Boudin fought on behalf of dissenters on the left. He argued the cases of Paul Robeson and the two-time convicted spy Judith Coplon before the Supreme Court, forcing the U.S. government to allow free travel to all citizens and preventing the admission of illegally gathered evidence, rulings that crucially curtailed the power of J. Edgar Hoover.

Braudy writes of Boudin’s legal work on behalf of such clients as Rockwell Kent and Julian Bond; his defense of Fidel Castro in connection with his seizure of American capital in Cuba; his case on behalf of Dr. Benjamin Spock (arrested for protesting the Vietnam War; Boudin put the war, not Dr. Spock, on trial); and his case on behalf of Daniel Ellsberg, helping him to leak the Pentagon Papers, which set the stage for Nixon’s resignation.
We see Kathy’s mother, Jean Boudin, poet and intellectual, an orphan taken in by a cultivated Jewish family whose circle included Marc Blitzstein and Clifford Odets; her courtship and marriage to Leonard (they were toasted as “the most gorgeous couple of the left”); her years as the dutiful, devoted wife to a husband who conducted countless affairs; her suicide attempt when Kathy was nine.

And we see Leonard’s lifelong mentor and competitor—his brother-in-law, the brilliant, scrappy independent journalist and government critic I. F. Stone, a born leader and fighter who made war on government bureaucrats (believing they usurped power) and on his deadly enemy, J. Edgar Hoover.

We follow Kathy at Bryn Mawr, organizing the school’s maids to demand fair wages, graduating magna cum laude in the top five of her class; failing to get into Yale Law School (while her brother was a star at Harvard); helping to plan the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and the “Days of Rage” that followed; breaking Black Panther Assata Shakur out of jail; bombing the headquarters of the Manhattan Police Department and the Capitol in Washington; and finally, in 1981, being part of the botched robbery of a Brinks truck that turned into a bloodbath (two policemen and one Brinks guard were killed), which resulted in her trial with her father as her lawyer; her years in Bedford Hills prison as a model prisoner, teacher, and AIDS activist—and her release after twenty-two years.

A huge, rich, riveting book—a story of idealism and passion; of law and brilliant legal minds; of political intrigue and government witch-hunts; of SDS and the Days of Rage; of Vietnam protests and underground revolutionary terrorism; and of the golden family at the center of this vortex, who came to be seen through five decades as the very emblem of the American left.

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About the Author:

Susan Braudy was born in Philadelphia and was educated at Bryn Mawr, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. She has written for many magazines, including the New York Times, Newsweek, and The Atlantic Monthly. She is the author of four previous books, among them This Crazy Thing Called Love. She lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

LEONARD BOUDIN-DEEP
BACKGROUND

The refinement of our historical past chiefly means that we keep it properly complicated.
-Lionel Trilling, "The Sense of the Past"

The great labor lawyer and scholar Louis B. Boudin (the initial B. denoting Boudinovitch, the original English translation of the name) cast a long shadow over his nephew Leonard B. Boudin's entire life. While still a small child in the second decade of the twentieth century, Leonard proclaimed that he planned to learn "all the laws in the world and be more famous than Uncle Louis."

For Louis, legal scholarship was holy; he saw the courts as a locus of enormous powers. He wrote the weighty book Government by Judiciary, attacking the Supreme Court during the Depression when the justices of the Court were blocking President Roosevelt's economic reforms. Louis's was a populist message; the people and their elected representatives should make the laws.

The fact that Louis had no sons made his arm's-length relationship with his nephew Leonard more momentous. Louis would be a prime influence on Leonard's children, Kathy and Michael, although they remembered little of his physical presence.

Louis's belief in the greatness of his mission-an intellectual life of legal service to the underclasses-overshadowed the influence of Leonard's far more ordinary father, Joe, a coarse, bellicose man who made a living in real estate law and foreclosing mortgages.

Louis was small and plump and looked like a storekeeper until he opened his mouth often to shout an opinion. And because he was so revered in Europe and the United States as an outstanding labor lawyer, foremost interpreter of Karl Marx and historian of the Supreme Court, his temper tantrums as well as his parsimony prompted fond jokes instead of enmity. He was considered "a great man" and allowances were made.

His nephew Leonard would treasure a European cartoon of Louis scowling disdainfully, under a black cloud. The figure's legs were short, his torso pigeonlike, and under one arm was a volume of the writings of Karl Marx. The caption of the cartoon: "The Hon. Louis Boudin loses his temper."

Louis B. Boudin was born in southeastern Russia in 1874, the oldest of five children. He emigrated to Manhattan in 1891 on his own, where he almost miraculously flourished in just a few years. Louis was too proud to admit that anti-Semitism had forced him to leave Russia. He earned his master's degree from New York University Law School in 1897, while shedding most traces of a Russian accent in his spoken English.

Louis's love for his new country was ever-expanding. He saw no conflict between his belief in both Marxist economics and the genius of the United States Constitution. He felt socialism was fairer than capitalism and should prevail.

Louis's mother longed to emigrate to the United States because she missed her favorite person in the world. On the rare day that a letter from Louis failed to arrive, she wept. Louis soon made arrangements for his parents, two brothers, and two sisters to flee. His brothers Joe and Samuel, and his sisters Sarah and Mary, packed handwoven linens and sateen featherbedding in preparation for their journey.

But when they reached the nearby city of Kiev, a cholera epidemic was raging. Leonard's grandmother's featherbedding was confiscated and burned. She managed to hide one little embroidered silk pillow in a brass samovar, and later bestowed it upon her favorite grandchild, Leonard.

Louis's parents never learned much English. A family story, told as a joke, illustrates that fact. Riding the subway during World War I, Louis's father misunderstood a stranger's remark excoriating pacifists and was almost arrested as a spy. The anthropologist Margaret Mead later observed that nearly all Boudin family problems were grist for jokes.

After graduation from law school, Louis had started a general practice on the Lower East Side, but soon represented almost all of the socialist and communist unions in New York, including the furriers, restaurant workers, united office and professional workers, and the amalgamated utility workers. In the first decades of the twentieth century, emerging labor unions were on the minds of many serious thinkers, politicians, and working people.

A difficult aspect of Louis Boudin's legacy is illustrated by his obdurate attempt to join the first convention of the International Workers of the World, known as the "Wobblies," on June 27, 1905, in Chicago.

Two hundred socialists, anarchists, and union leaders gathered there to create "one big industrial union" to be "founded on the class struggle." The delegates refused to seat Louis, then thirty-one, because as a prosperous lawyer he was "a parasite on the working class." Louis shouted out his commitment to the working man for six long days. But it was no use.

Delegate Lillian Forberg told the assembled group: "It is a well-known fact that no attorney of law could be anything else but a parasite. We are here to fight the whole parasitical class and to organize the working class."

The situation was complex: Louis believed himself to be morally superior to middle-class friends because of his work on behalf of the less fortunate. But Louis's life was buttressed by the objects and security of class privilege and this anomaly led him to sometimes talk as if he were trying to destroy himself. Seventy-five years later, Kathy Boudin claimed to see her birth to a family of well-to-do whites as an agonizing defect to be obliterated by rationalization, violence, and self-deprivation. Kathy wanted above all somehow to discipline her mind and body into being a member of the black working class.

Soon after Louis's humiliation at the convention in Chicago, his brother Joe fell for fair-haired Clara Hessner at the Henry Street Settlement in Manhattan. Founded by Lillian Wald, a shrewd, generous nurse of German-Jewish descent, the center trained volunteers to teach immigrant women like Clara Hessner how to talk back to school superintendents, court clerks, police sergeants, and other public officials who condescended to them.

Although overlooked as a role model for Leonard and his children, Louis and Joe's sister Sarah was a pioneer in the emerging field of social work. As a young woman, Sarah sewed neckties in a sweatshop, the rare Boudin to possess a legitimate if brief membership in the proletariat. Nights she took classes to qualify for law school. She organized coworkers for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The hours were long-the harsh cry of management was "If you don't come in on Sunday, don't come in on Monday"-and the male shop foreman had free rein to humiliate female workers.

Sarah retaliated by organizing the women to stop work as soon as he was out of sight. But she was fired after the foreman saw her picture at a strike meeting on the front page of the Forward, the six-page daily Yiddish-language newspaper. She then went to work as a secretary for her favorite brother, Louis, in preparation for law school. But Sarah came to realize that she'd find legal research boring, and she soon married William Edlin, an editor and drama critic at the Forward.

When Louis's wife, Anna, died, his sister Sarah and her husband moved into Louis's big house in Brooklyn, where Sarah tended to Louis's small children. Sarah's husband, William, felt neglected. After a divorce, Sarah thought about going to law school again, rejected the idea, and enrolled instead at the New York School of Social Work, vowing to "make a difference."

After her graduation Sarah took over the Lakeview Home on Staten Island for unmarried mothers sponsored by the Jewish Board of Guardians. Recent immigrants from Russia, the young girls had worked as domestics and factory workers. Her duties for the next fifty years ranged from "statistics to shoveling coal." Sarah insisted the girls see themselves as worthy members of society. She canceled restrictive practices such as locking the girls' clothes in lockers in the basement to keep them from running away. Encouraged by Louis, she wrote a blunt book called The Unmarried Mother in Our Society, replete with common sense and affection.

Following Louis's lead, Leonard's mother, Clara, disdained Sarah's endeavors as not truly intellectual. Clara saved all adulatory reviews of Louis Boudin's ponderous books. Presumably she knew exactly how much her practice irked her insecure husband, Joe. Joe felt more comfortable around his brother Samuel, also a City College graduate, and a highway and tunnels engineer.

Joe screamed that Louis was "selfish" and cared only about famous friends and footnotes in his books. Louis bragged of shouting at Leon Trotsky and of his correspondence with Rosa Luxembourg as well as with Jack London who signed "Yours for the revolution." A founder of the U.S. Socialist Party, Louis was a popular speaker on socialism and democracy at college campus meetings of the LID (League for Industrial Democracy, the precursor to SDS, Students for a Democratic Society).

Leonard B. Boudin (he adopted the "B" in homage to his uncle) was born on July 20, 1912. When he was six, his father moved his family from Brooklyn to a large corner house at Eighty-fifth Avenue and 150th Street in Richmond Hill, Queens. Leonard loved rolling on the big lawns with his collie. He watered the family's acre of cornfields and helped his father grease his automobile on Sundays.

There was perhaps only one person who could have foreseen that the dazed little boy with a lisp would one day be known as "a great man" to judges and legal theorists in England, Chile, Cuba, and the United States. But that person made all the difference. She was Leonard's weepy and fine-featured mother. Throughout his life Leonard would retain the attitude of an adored boy.

Clara saw her own angelic face every time she looked at ...

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