|Directed by:||Judith Montell and Ronald Aronson||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2004||Running Time:||65 mins.|
He spent his life fighting against authority, and rejected a conventional lifestyle, instead creating for himself a life of adventure, based on principle and conviction. Professional Revolutionary is not just the title of this film, but was Saul Wellman’s occupation.
“I want things to change, where the playing field is leveled,” Wellman says in the film, “where equality emerges as a reality…where the horrible things about inequality are eliminated.”
An under-educated idealist, Wellman fought in the army, worked in a car factory for Ford and was employed at a printing company; but when asked what he did for a living he would respond that he was a “professional revolutionary.” He fought against Fascism in both the Spanish Civil War and World War II. With the looks and swagger of James Cagney, Wellman returned home at the start of the Cold War, to help organize and lead the Communist Party in America. Then when the 1960s came along, Wellman latched onto the civil rights movement and became a father figure to revolution-hungry hippies. Though that era passed, his love of protest persisted. The documentary captures a wheelchair-bound Wellman during the last years of his life, at an Iraq war protest.
Wellman’s militant defiance and controversial ideologies began at a young age. “I sucked socialism at my mother’s breast,” he jokes. His mother, a Russian immigrant, took the young Wellman to hear leading socialist Eugene Debbs speak. But Wellman’s defining moment came in high school when he decided to cut school in order to attend a protest, and got expelled as a result. His parents were devastated, but Wellman felt liberated. His last day of formal education was his first day as a revolutionary. Throughout his life, Wellman was an organizer and passionate speaker who never apologized for his antagonistic beliefs.
Professional Revolutionary brings Wellman’s tenacious personality to the forefront. “You can’t just have a conversation with Saul Wellman,” a former hippie says, declaring “you have to be prepared to defend yourself.” This demanding attitude came out not only in one-on-one conversations, but also when Wellman was asked to speak for an audience. Instead of giving his audience an opportunity to ask questions at the end of his lecture, Wellman would turn the tables to grill attendees. He demanded his listeners have conviction, interest and passion. For Wellman, apathy was unacceptable.
But Wellman’s activism was not without controversy. While some have praised him for being “infinitely inspiring” and working towards a utopia, others believe he was a “Communist Party hack” who “ignorantly followed the twists and turns of Stalin’s ever-changing party line.”
A man who never got over his teenage angst, Wellman was a rebel without a specific cause. Whatever the dominant revolutionary movement was — Wellman wanted to be a part of it. When Fascism threatened Spain, he and his friends, still young, had a naïve understanding of world politics and social progress, but signed up to fight in the international brigades anyways. “We didn’t know our asses from our elbows,” he admits. Later, Wellman became a leader among American Communists, but when the Soviet Union’s corruption was exposed, he abandoned the movement to join in the social upheaval of the 1960s. Then when baby boomers cut their hair and put on suits, Wellman started searching for new, young revolutionaries to inspire.
But Wellman’s pursuit of his political passions came at a cost for those close to him. While he was busy lecturing hippies to attend more protests, his wife was left at home to work full time and raise their children alone. Wellman acknowledges the fact that his career disadvantaged his family, but he felt that his work was necessary to change society.
Adore him or despise him, Wellman was an organizer and passionate speaker who never apologized for his antagonistic beliefs, and his influence on activist culture and politics in America is undeniable.