In the late 1990s Nelson Blackstock, a former member of the Socialist Workers Party and author of “Cointelpro”, began interviewing members of the party who had been active in the 40s and 50s as part of an oral history project, the final shape of which was to be determined.
Not long after he began the project, he drafted me to make contact with some of the Cochranites I had met through Sol Dollinger, a Marxmail subscriber who died in 2001. The purpose of the interviews with these comrades was not so much to rehash the 1953 split but to get an idea of how they got involved with the party and what their experiences in a radical labor movement were like. We managed to set up interviews with Sol, Cynthia Cochran who died in 2006, and with Irwin Baur who is still alive and in his 90s.
In this first interview we speak with Cynthia Cochran who was married to Bert Cochran, the co-leader with Harry Braverman of the American Union that put out the American Socialist magazine from 1954 to 1959, when the group disbanded. Bert co-edited the magazine with Braverman, who went on to work for Grove Press and then finally with Monthly Review.
I became very close with Cynthia in the course of visits to her apartment on West 94th Street to pick up copies of the American Socialist that I began scanning for upload to the Marxist Internet Archives. The good news is that MIA has now made the entire American Socialist available to a new generation that will find the articles of great interest, both as reflections of thinking on the left in that period and as one of the first attempts to regroup the left on a non-sectarian basis.
As you will see from the interview, Cynthia was an outspoken and altogether charming woman who was a real member of the “greatest generation”, the men and women who stood up to American capitalism when its interests were being guarded by arguably the only liberal president of the 20th century.
I would refer you to what I wrote about Cynthia on the occasion of her memorial meeting in 2006, including these words:
Cynthia belonged to a generation that is now dying out, namely people in their 80s and older 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.
The subject of the next video in this series will be Sol Dollinger.