Boulder activist Jim Zarichny, 89, dies before bookstore announces closure
By Alex Burness Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 01/31/2013 10:36:28 PM MST
Updated: 01/31/2013 10:37:34 PM MST
Jim Zarichny, an activist in the Democratic Socialist movement, died of various ailments Thursday morning in his south Boulder home. He was 89.
Known for his long white beard and commitment to social change, Zarichny died just hours before Left Hand Book Collective — the progressive Boulder bookstore he helped found — announced its closure.
An activist from a young age, Zarichny was president of his Flint, Mich., high school’s junior union and participated with his parents in the 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike of General Motors.
As a college student, Zarichny was an outspoken communist and was the subject of McCarthyist accusations during his time at what is now called Michigan State University.
In 1948, he appeared before the Michigan Senate Committee on Un-American Activities at Universities. He refused to tell State Sen. Matthew Callahan whether he was a communist, and he was sentenced to jail for the remainder of the Senate term. But the term ended the same day he was sentenced, so Zarichny never spent a night in jail.
Zarichny finished his undergraduate degree in mathematics at Columbia University in New York. After graduating, he was hired by IBM, though the company fired him soon after a background check revealed his communist tendencies.
During World War II, Zarichny was trained to be a military police officer in the U.S. Army. He was reassigned to a military hospital in Lido, India, where he admitted injured Chinese soldiers. During his time off, Zarichny traveled throughout India, relishing his conversations with locals.
In Boulder, Zarichny worked in supercomputing at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He was employed by Florida State University, but the school sent him to NCAR because it didn’t have a supercomputer.
In 1964, he was invited to attend the Pine Hill convention of Students for a Democratic Society.
He was also an active member in the Boulder chapter of the New American Movement, a Democratic Socialist group founded in 1971.
In 1979, Zarichny hatched the idea for the Left Hand Book Collective, a source for progressive literature.
His passion for activism carried well into his old age, as he appeared at Left Hand forums and, as an 87-year-old, marched in the Louisville Labor Day Parade.
During his last few years, Zarichny devoted much of his time to sorting through his personal archives, which will soon be available at the University of Colorado’s Norlin Library.
“He was an incredibly intelligent and very sweet person,” said friend and Left Hand volunteer Dave Anderson, who first met Zarichny at a Marxist study group in 1974. “He was always helping out in social movements and always concerned with what was going on in the world and how it make it a better place.”
Kathy Partridge, who met Zarichny through the New American Movement and has also volunteered at Left Hand, recalls his love of conversation and debate.
“He was known to say, ‘I am prepared to argue this item at length.’ If you were on the other side of the issue, you’d just say, ‘uh oh,’” she said with a laugh, adding that Zarichny “was deeply committed to a life of ideas and social justice.
“From Jim I learned that social change is a long path,” she said.
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Jim Zarichny introduces himself to Marxmail on July 11, 2003:
In a separate posting, I will write about the conclusions about the Civil War reached by a study group in 1958-59. Since a number of people have mentioned that they would like to know a little of the background of the writers, here goes.
I have been politically active for 67 years, so it is impossible now to discuss all of the political developments I have been involved with. For example, in 1947 or 1948 I was the first and only witness before the Michigan State Senate Committee on un-American Activities. This resulted in a defeat for the Committee and its chairperson, State Sen. Mathew Callahan, failed re-election in the Republican primary. Earlier, I had been placed on disciplinary probation by Michigan State University for passing out leaflets for an organization called American Youth for Democracy. As a returned war veteran, I didn’t know I needed permission to pass out leaflets on campus.
In 1948 (or 49) I was expelled from Michigan State University. The local newspaper ran a story saying that I attended a meeting off campus at which Carl Winter spoke. The University deemed this a violation of my probation. Carl Winter was the secretary of the Michigan CP and under a Smith Act indictment at the time. The Civil Rights Congress, with the very active participation of Coleman Young (who later became mayor of Detroit) organized a defense committee for me. Among the people who lent their names to my defense committee were Paul Robeson, WEB Dubois, and Congressman Vito Marcantonio. The Civil Rights Congress organized a national speaking tour for me. When the case was appealed to the US Supreme Court, they refused to hear it.
About that time, the people around William Z Foster were organizing a drive to get their supporters into industry. Just a few years earlier, under the influence of Earl Browder, his organization had attracted a huge number of students and middle class people. I have heard an estimate, which I believe is accurate, that about 10,000 people went into industry. I went to work in the Chevrolet plant in my hometown, Flint, Michigan. (In junior high school, I had been president of the Junior Union, and in senior high school, I had been secretary treasurer of the CIO Youth Club)
By 1950, the UAW was quite depoliticized. Out of 10,000 members, only 2000 voted in Chevrolet union elections. After the Korean War broke out, most of the UAW politicians were afraid to work with us. So we had to run our own slate with just ourselves and our close friends. But we got 500 votes on a CP slate (twenty five percent of the votes cast). We felt this was pretty good in the middle of the hysteria around the Rosenbergs and the Korean War.
A few years later, the Army-McCarthy hearings were taking place in Washington. At exactly the same time, the House un-American Activities Committee came to Flint. I was subpoenaed, but never called to testify. However, a number of the witnesses were asked about me, and this was reported in the local paper. At that time, the Chevrolet factory had hired a large number of new workers. All of them were Korean War veterans, and almost all of them were from out of town. Somebody made the claim to these guys that I had supported the North Koreans who had killed their buddies in Korea. One of them implied to me that the source was the FBI. I was attacked by the veterans and badly beaten. Others who were named in the HUAC hearings were also beaten. (The beatings were widely reported state wide by all of the major newspapers. Much to my amazement, the officials of the Ford Motor Company ran a full page ad in the Detroit Free Press deploring violence.) Chevrolet told me that if I did not return to work, I would be fired, but they offered no protection on the streets outside their plant. I returned to work. After several days, I learned that a new attack was coming. I left the plant early, but Chevrolet fired me for leaving without permission. The local union filed a grievance on my behalf. Because Chevrolet refused to settle, it went to a higher level where it was dropped by the Reuther officialdom.
In 1956, the Khrushchev report to the 20th Congress of the CPSU confirmed my worst fears. I knew that a fresh start was needed. My friends in Flint were too demoralized to do anything. New York seemed to be the place where I could find people for the project. In New York, I found a job and became a part time student in the Columbia University School of General Studies.
In 1958, about 20 young people centered around Steve Max and Jim Brook left YSA to join an almost dying study group that I was involved with. For more than a year we met in my apartment every Wednesday evening for a detailed re-evaluation of American history and the role of the American left. We took turns on giving a report and leading a discussion on the topic of the day. In a separate article, I will cover what I remember of our discussion of the American Civil War. Gradually, people dropped out. When we were down to nine members, another dropped out. He said we were getting nowhere and he was going to join the CP led youth group, which at that time was called Advance. A few years later, he surfaced as a paid informant for the FBI. He had been with us for a year. I am still surprised that the FBI would plant a paid informant in a small study group with only ten members and with absolutely no connection to any tendency. The only explanation I can give is that they had a lot of money.
When Bayard Rustin organized the march for unsegregated schools, most of our group went to Washington to participate. There they met a number of young New Yorkers who were looking for an organization. Steve invited them to join our group. Rachelle Horowitz from YPSL (the same Rachelle Horowitz who later married Thomas Donahue, the national secretary-treasurer of the A.F.ofL-C.I.O. from 1979 to 1995.) also met the same individuals. The new people could not decide which group they wanted to join and proposed a debate. About nine people came to my apartment to hear Horowitz vs. Steve Max and Zarichny. We won decisively. Overnight, we had an organization of 75 or 80 members. Suddenly we were being asked to do all sorts of things. We were asked to organize picket lines at 3 Woolworth stores in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. When Martin Luther King came to speak at the armory in New York, we were asked to furnish half of the ushers. (it was the moment in history when the Black church youth groups had collapsed and the Black preachers could not furnish enough people.)
We were organized as the FDR-Four Freedoms Club. Around that time, Al Haber and Tom Hayden were transforming the Student League for Industrial Democracy into the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They approached us and asked that we merge with them. We agreed. SDS had 120 members and our 80 brought the national membership to 200. But a problem developed. JoAnne Landy and her then husband, Sy Landy said we were Stalinoid, whatever that means, and their group of 15 withdrew bringing SDS national membership down to 185. Very soon, Steve Max became the national traveler for SDS. He had the magical organizational touch. Everywhere he went, SDS chapters sprung up.
I was officially invited as a resource person to the Pine Hill SDS convention in 1964. I attended the SDS National Council meeting at the McBurney YMCA after Christmas in 1964. It was there that Jim Brook presented the resolution that SDS organize a march in Washington against the war in Viet Nam. There was a lot of opposition to the proposal. The debate was so heated and so long that none of the other points on the agenda were reached. The primary support for the resolution came from people who had been in the Four Freedoms Club. Jim, himself, had been a key figure in our study group from the very beginning.
30,000 people came to Washington when SDS had only 3000 or 4000 members. It made national television and SDS really took off.
(Incidentally, I am a character in the cartoon strip, Ernie. Sometimes the strip is called the Piranha Club. Buddy Grace who draws the strip took the photo of myself that I sent to Les.) Jim
P.S. I later learned that Tom Hayden, who had heard of me in Michigan long before he ever met me, told his friends that he was disappointed in me. He told them that he had expected a much more dynamic person.