[Marxism] Alan Wald: more about Herbert Hill
walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 23 08:51:13 MDT 2004
(Yesterday I got this very nice note from Alan Wald on
a meeting he had with Herbert Hill. I was struck by one
thing about Hill's relations with the SWP: Long after
he had left the SWP, no one in the organization ever
had a bad word to say for him. I gather that he left
the group without breaking with it, if that makes any
sense. I hope that others who knew him or had any other
recollections about him will be sure to share them.
(The SWP has changed so much over the years and isn't
what it once was. As critical as I am of the way the
SWP has evolved, I know very well that I was drawn to
an organization that had a great deal of good in it
during its earlier history. It had its flaws, even
then of course, but it made a positive and a lasting
contribution to US working class radicalism, as the
impact it had on people like Herbert Hill testifies.)
When I heard that Herbert Hill was ill I went to Madison
last fall and taped an interview with him.
Unfortunately, I am just too swamped right now with
political, literary, and family commitments to dig it out
and play it, so what I recall may be a bit off.
I think Hill said that he was in the SWP about ten years,
but, even if less, the experience was central to his life.
He participated in the industrialization process that
occurred after the 1940 split and was in the steel fraction
for some years.
Later, when back on campus he became active in the NAACP
chapter. He was effective, and the SWP leadership
encouraged him to get more involved. Eventually he came to
the attention of Walter White, who asked Hill to go on full
Hill, who was Jewish (I believe the family name was
changed), asked if race might be a problem; White, who was
lighter than Hill, pretty much laughed off the question.
Hill turned out to be so successful in his work & enjoyed it
so much that soon he found his loyalty shifting away from the
SWP and over to the NAACP. (A romance with a staff person
may have assisted in this.)
Nevertheless, he spoke with great affection about many old
comrades in the SWP. In particular, he made a point of
telling me that he still thought that the proudest day of
his life was when he was coming down the stairs in the NYC
SWP headquarters after reporting on some activity and ran
into Cannon. Cannon looked at him, recognized him, and said
"Good work, comrade!" I believe that Hill continued to
consult with Cannon for years after he left the SWP.
I think he also said that he became interested in Black
issues as a high school student after running into Richard
Wright at their favorite ice cream parlor. They both were
there often and conversed.
Since Hill was ill (we were supposed to go out for dinner
but he was too weak; his wife had recently died and he was
alone in the house), the interview wasn't great. We talked
a lot about Black writers but I felt that his information
was out of date & his impressions of people (and their
He hated John Oliver Killens and seemed oblivious to the
fact that Killens wrote the great attack on the CP line in
WWII available--his novel AND THEN WE HEARD THE THUNDER.
Generally speaking I think that Hill's strength was in
attacking the unions for their racism, but his literary
stuff is limited and his attacks on the CP rather
It was a friendly evening, but I regret very much that I
didn't get to meet the guy in his prime.
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