Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 20, 2006

Caroline Lund memorial meeting

Filed under: socialism — louisproyect @ 7:10 pm

Caroline Lund: presente!

Last Saturday I attended a memorial meeting for Caroline Lund, who died of ALS on October 14th at the age of 62. The disease is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the Yankee star who succumbed to it as well. One of the best-known victims in the recent period is Stephen Heywood, who was the subject of the documentary “So Much So Fast“. He died on November 30th. Once it sets in, paralysis and death generally occur within a year or two. Caroline first noticed the symptoms in early 2005.

Caroline was married to Barry Sheppard. They were both leaders of the American SWP until irreconcilable differences between them and an ever increasingly sectarian leadership put them on a collision course. After they were separated from the party, both followed a trajectory known to many ex-SWP’ers which involved exploring non-sectarian socialist formations such as Solidarity, a group that both belonged to. Additionally, Caroline was a auto worker activist who put out a newsletter called Barking Dog that was read by between 2 and 3 thousand members of her plant each time it appeared.

I knew Caroline only from a distance since I was a rank-and-filer. That being said, she always made a good impression on me. I think that was because she had a warm smile and because she always appeared guileless, a trait that was generally in short supply in the Trotskyist movement.

Two of the speakers at the meeting, who I hadn’t seen in over 25 years, emphasized the decency of her character and the serious political commitment that had she had demonstrated over the years that they worked with her.

The first was Kipp Dawson, another party leader I always appreciated. Kipp was a leader of the antiwar movement and served on the National Executive Committee of the Young Socialist Alliance when the Trotskyist movement was feeling the wind in its sails. Kipp said that whenever Caroline walked into the room, she felt a sense of warmth and was put at ease. She also said that Caroline had a very sharp analytical mind but never expressed herself in an arrogant manner.

I should say a word or two about Kipp herself. After working for 13 years as a coal miner, Kipp is now teaching school. She brings the same kind of enthusiasm to teaching that she once brought to political work. She believes in the innate goodness and the capacity for change in her students that she saw in people in struggle The job seems a perfect fit for her talents.

I have a vivid memory of Kipp staying at my place in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1971 when she was on tour. This was just around the time that the gay liberation movement was taking shape and when Kipp would come out as a lesbian. We watched “A Streetcar Named Desire” together, the classic film based on Tennessee Williams play starring Marlon Brando. Williams, who was gay, had a profound understanding of sexual relationships and often used heterosexual couples as a stand-in for what were clearly gay ones. Kipp was utterly overcome by the power of Williams’s play, as was I. I remember thinking to myself at the time how lucky I was to be in organization which had leaders like Kipp, who could appreciate great art.

Ginny Hildebrand spoke next. Ginny became friendly with Caroline when the two of them were making the rounds in Pittsburgh on industrial jobs. Ginny, who was the most moving speaker among a group of highly moving speakers, had a self-deprecating sense of humor that I had never seen in action during the time I was in the party with her. She said that she was real loser. Every shop that she went to work for in Pittsburgh went out of business shortly after she got hired. Eventually she figured out that her bad luck made landing trade union jobs virtually impossible, so she switched careers and became a dog groomer! This was something that drew her closer to Barry and Caroline as well since they were all dog lovers.

But there was more to the dog business than this. Ginny said that the word “dogged” came to mind when she thought of Caroline. She really would not be budged when she felt principles were at stake. Her newsletter, the Barking Dog, of course captured both the image of the dog and the “dogged” attitude as well. (It turns out that she adopted the name from another newsletter that used to be circulated by another trade union activist at her plant.) After an unsigned leaflet was circulated at the plant singled her out for attack, she responded by writing a reply leaflet that had the heading: “Why unsigned leaflets are bad.” She explained that this was cowardly. In addition, after she figured out that the leaflet was written by a bureaucrat named Art Torres (the typeface was the same that he had used in signed pieces), she needled him: “Sign your name, Art. Be a man.”

Ginny said that after she had decided to conclude her remarks at the meeting with a quote from Howard Zinn, she discovered that Caroline had already used it in one of her Barking Dog newsletters. The quote embodies her spirit:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Credit must be given to Gus Horowitz for organizing and chairing a truly inspiring meeting. My memory of the SWP is pretty negative, but hearing Kipp and Ginny and being reminded of Caroline’s great character and dedication reminded me of why I stuck around for 11 years. These were among the most appealing people I had ever met in my life. They were also clear about why we had come together. Revolution, unlike art, is a group experience.

I had a chance to meet John Percy, who was over from Australia. He spoke at the beginning of the meeting and described his friendship with Barry and Caroline who were very helpful to the DSP both when they were in and out of the SWP. I knew Jim Percy, John’s brother who died of cancer in 1992. Jim was a very likable guy and so seems John based on the brief conversation we had. Both of us, and everybody in the room, agreed that somehow the good things that had brought us together originally had to be recreated. Of course, the big question is how.

Caroline Lund website

 

2 Comments »

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It stands as very nice tribute to Caroline Lund. I found the quote by Howard Zinn especially inspiring. ‘Like a much needed shot of B1 for my activist’s soul. :]

    Comment by Brian — November 21, 2006 @ 8:05 am

  2. I never knew those mentioned personally. I sure remember their time.

    Great post.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — November 24, 2006 @ 7:59 am


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