I picked up a bunch of old pamphlets written by Stalin while I was at the anarchist book fair in San Francisco last month, and brought them back home with me to Tacoma, WA. Most of these pamphlets come from the “Little Lenin Library, vol. 25,” published by International Publishers in New York City. They still exist but thankfully they don’t print any more Stalin. (Stalin is so boring! and just plain evil.)

Stalin wrote a pamphlet called Dialectical and Historical Materialism at some point. It’s not interesting at all because he adds nothing new to the theory, mostly quoting Marx. But the version I have is heavily marked up with illegible cursive handwriting and that’s what makes it more interesting.

The inside cover of my copy is stamped by Roy L. Walford of Venice, California. I imagine this copy must have once belonged a very eclectic library because all kinds of skeptical and thoughtful comments were written in the margins. Mr. Walford wrote “OK” in the margin when he accepted something as truth, and “NO” when he did not.

From this I deduced that Walford agreed with Stalin that history must be “evaluated from the standpoint of eternal justice,” and that “the world and its laws are fully knowable,” but not when Stalin says, “class struggle of the proletariat is a quite natural and inevitable phenomenon.” He underlined the word “inevitable” as if to suggest he emphatically disagreed that anything was inevitable.

Puzzling through the text, he shoots back at Stalin who, quoting Engels, says, “The materialist world outlook is simply the conception of nature as it is, without any reservations,” with a statement: “but it is only in minds.” He then draws an arrow to the side of the page where he asks the question, “I’m an idealist?”

I flipped through the pages. Stalin is such a dull and unimpressive writer, but I find these margin notes more interesting because it was the work of an obviously smart person trying to get the most out of the ‘great’ communist thinker. Part of me even doubts Stalin wrote this. He probably had an academic write a primer on historical materialism and then, after a brief look, announced it as his own.

Suddenly a folded slip of yellowy, crusted-over piece of paper fell into my lap. It was titled “XMas Vacation 1946 – 7.”

Interesting! Presumably Mr. Walford’s.

Let me recap how the vacation went, although some of it I can’t read at all.

  • On Saturday, December 21st, 1946, he went to a party at Martha’s house.
  • He spent Christmas Eve downtown, and then went to Norma’s.
  • He spent Christmas day home, and then went to party with Stan.
  • On Sunday, January 5th, 1947 he went to a ballet, a play, and then had supper.

On the top of the page he wrote “a big mess”. Was Christmas vacation of 1946 a big mess? Was he a good communist? Were his friends? Were they loyal to the Communist Party of the United States and did he ever marry? Was it a bad decision to bring Stalin along on his Christmas vacation?

In the first place, who is Mr. Roy L. Walford?

I Googled Roy L. Walford and found that he has a Wikipedia page. There’s even a documentary about his life. Mr. Walford was a gerontologist known for his research into life extension. He joined a research crew at the Biosphere 2 experimental project in Arizona. His obituary in the LA Times is helpful. It says he wrote 330 scientific papers and eight books. He also practiced what is called the “signpost theory of life” which says that you should spend all your time working in a laboratory trying to get a Nobel Prize, but also do exotic and dangerous things like shaving your head and breaking your legs doing wheelies on your motorcycle. Walford is most-known for proposing that lower caloric intake can extend your life.

Upon more research I found that Roy Walford married Martha Sylvia Schwalb when he was in Chicago. (The Martha who he partied with on December 21st!) And I found he was survived by three children: Lisa, Peter, and Morgan. Did they know their father to be a scientific socialist? Did he ever talk about any kind of radical political past at the dinner table?

When I first picked up these pamphlets, my friend Daniel and I wondered aloud about the post-WWII communists in the US who distributed them in mass quantities. Can you imagine living in that era? It’s safe to say the Communist Party probably ordered countless copies of these pamphlets and shipped them out to all their members as required reading, probably giving lots out for free. But this one was not just kept on someone’s shelf to rot. It was actually lived with, maybe even kept under a pillow. Perhaps discussed fervently at a laundromat or over supper.

I find this all very interesting and amusing, not that I just happen to own a book from Mr. Walford’s library – but that the book is an artifact from his early life, documenting his courting days with Martha. I will find the survivors of Mr. Walford and send them their dad’s copy of Dialectical and Historical Materialism, signed by Roy and with the Christmas to do list intact. I doubt it reveals that Roy was a staunch Stalinist, and imply that his biographies will have to be re-written. But it does make for interesting table talk.