[Marxism] Cynthia Cochran
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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