Wednesday, February 8, 2012

PSL's Lucy Parsons, and ours

In the article "Lucy Parsons: labor activist, writer and revolutionary" there is no mention of Lucy Parsons' role in the International Labor Defense with James P. Cannon, or her close collaboration with the Communist Party in the late 1930s.
She was a great wobbly and Debsian... and then she died in 1942.  What's 37 years between comrades, right?
Has Howard Zinn's anti-Marxist claimed the PSL?.  A material base and focus on the campuses is clearly taking its toll. 
The PSL article's author should have consulted than the first two paragraphs of the wikipedia article:

In 1925 she began working with the National Committee of the International Labor Defense in 1927, a communist-led organization that defended labor activists and unjustly-accused African Americans such as the Scottsboro Nine and Angelo Herndon. While it is commonly accepted by nearly all biographical accounts (including those of the Lucy Parsons Center, the IWW, and Joe Knowles) that Parsons joined the Communist Party in 1939, there is some dispute, notably in Gale Ahrens' essay "Lucy Parsons: Mystery Revolutionist, More Dangerous Than A Thousand Rioters", which can be found in the anthology Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality, Solidarity. Ahrens also points out, in "Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality and Solidarity: Writings and Speeches, 1878 - 1937", that the obituary which the Communist Party had published on her death made no claim that she had been a member.

Parsons continued to give fiery speeches in Chicago's Bughouse Square into her 80s, where she inspired Studs Terkel.[6] One of her last major appearances was at the International Harvester in February 1941.

She died on March 7, 1942, in a house fire. Her lover, George Markstall,[7] died the next day from wounds he received while trying to save her. She was believed to be 89 years old.[8] After her death, police seized her library of over 1,500 books and all of her personal papers. She is buried near her husband at Waldheim Cemetery, near the Haymarket Monument.[9] (now Forest Home Cemetery), in Forest Park, Illinois (then part of the city of Chicago).

The fact that the PSL article is silent on Parsons' merciless and principled critique of lifestyle anarchist and Zinn hero Emma Goldman also speaks volumes.  IWW leader William D. Haywood tells the truth about Goldman's role in the class struggle here.

The Marxist Internet Archive's Glossary of People is even more useful than PSL and Wikipedia about the last decades of Parson's life:

During the Haymarket Affair, Lucy became a popular speaker as she toured the country on a campaign for clemency, often fighting police trying to restrict her access to speaking forums. After her husband's execution Lucy would remain involved in revolutionary politics, eventually splitting with the anarchist movement and joining the I.W.W. in 1905. In the 1920's Lucy would begin working with the Communist Party, joining officially in 1939, and was involved on behalf of workers, political prisoners, people of color, and women, including the Scottsboro, Angelo Hearndon and Tom Mooney cases. Lucy would continue to fight against oppression until an accidental fire killed her and her lover in 1942.

Why would PSL not provide a link to their own article about communist work in the US South?  In that article there was no Zinn-like silence about the real history we have in that region:

Alabama Communists in the Depression era blazed new ground in organizing the very part of the United States where racist reaction was most entrenched. The movement for sharecroppers' rights and the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys brought the issues of the rural South to the eyes of millions across the country. This period, almost completely ignored in contemporary histories, saw the Communist Party as among the most influential civil rights organizations in the Deep South. 
If the PSL is on a trajectory to replace ISO on the campuses, articles like "Lucy Parsons: labor activist, writer and revolutionary" should serve them well as they labor to liquidate their heritage of Marxism-Leninism in favor of a "socialism from below" more palatable to petty bourgeois audiences. 

A 1905 article by Parsons expressing her then-support for anarchism can be heard as an audio file here.




  1. Lucy Parsons, born in 1853, joined the Socialist Labor Party and fought for the rights of labor, Blacks and women until her death in 1942. She started as an anarchist demanding the abolition of all forms of political authority. In the early 1900s she worked in the radical Chicago Work ing Women's Union and the Socialist Labor Party, and she was one of the first women to join the International Workers of the World (IWW). At the founding convention of the IWW, Parsons dealt with the subjugation of women by noting "wherever wages are to be reduced, the capitalist class uses women to reduce them." In 1939 Lucy joined the Com mu nist Party (CPUSA) and spent the last years of her life building that party during its militant days.

  2. Ridiculous. It was a quick profile of Parson's not a complete biography.

  3. Thank you for your comment, Tim. It would be more accurate to say it was a half-biography,designed to be palatable to anti-communists. Within 10 days PSL also posted and then withdrew without comment an article endorsing the views of Antonio Gramsci.