[Marxism] Cynthia Cochran

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 4 13:46:32 MST 2006

Yesterday I attended a memorial meeting for Cynthia Cochran, who died at 
the age of 82 on a plane flying from South Africa to Great Britain. We 
assume that she suffered a blood clot on the plane. Although her doctors 
had advised her against travel, she decided to take a world tour one more 
time. Everybody who spoke at the memorial meeting concurred that this is 
the way she would have wanted to go.

Cynthia was the widow of Bert Cochran, a leader of the Trotskyist SWP who 
had split with the party in the early 1950s over what he perceived as a 
flawed sectarian model. Back in 1971, during a faction fight in the SWP 
between party leaders who oriented to the campuses and a small minority 
that favored a "proletarian orientation", I was asked by Peter Camejo (my 
branch organizer in Boston) to prepare some remarks on the Cochranites for 
the preconvention discussion. I said that since they were all factory 
workers did not prevent them from becoming conservatized, there was no 
sense sending students into factories as a kind of prophylactic.

Years later after I left the SWP I began to reconsider what the Cochranites 
stood for. Ultimately I decided that they were on the right track but only 
failed because of the difficulties starting any kind of left group in 1954, 
including one with a correct perspective. Using an introduction provided by 
the late Sol Dollinger, I contacted Cynthia Cochran with an eye toward 
putting selected articles from Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman's American 
Socialist on the Internet. Over about a year I would go over to Cynthia's, 
pick up a volume for scanning and chat with her.

Cynthia belonged to a generation that is now dying out, namely people in 
their 80s and up who had direct experience in a radicalized workers 
movement. Eventually I videotaped an interview with her in which she 
recounted her time in aircraft plants during WWII. Like Sol's wife Genora, 
she was like Rosie the Riveter but with Marxist politics.

In the official version put forward by SWP party historians, the 
Cochranites turned tail in the 1950s and hid under their beds. When they 
came out, they all became solid middle-class citizens putting their radical 
past behind them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

During an entire lifetime, Cynthia was politically engaged until macular 
degeneration began to prevent her from getting around as freely as she 
would have liked. As a professional nurse, she felt an immediate connection 
with the ACT-UP activists and took part in militant demonstrations well 
into her late 1960s. She also took part in antiwar demonstrations until the 
last minute. Indeed, her latest trip took her to some of the more 
interesting places in the world politically. She started off in China and 
then to Vietnam. From Vietnam she sailed to South Africa. Speaking as 
somebody who is plagued by jet lag for at least 10 days after arriving in 
Turkey, I am in awe of any 82 year old that can get around like that, with 
a compromised circulatory system and 75 percent blindness to boot.




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