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Tribute to Helen Judd – Revolutionary Fighter

(10 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 10, 10 March 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

History will record that the true heroes and heroines of our time are not the rich, the mighty, the “successful,” but those now obscure working-class fighters for socialism who lived out their lives in poverty, suffering and unyielding struggle for a better world, it will be the Helen Judds whom the free emancipated society of the future will remember with love and honor.

Many who are new and young in the revolutionary: Marxist movement did not know Helen Judd, the 71-year old pioneer American Trotskyist, who died in Chicago on February 17. Many who met her for the first time during the past few years may recall only an elderly woman in a loose house-dress, a wisp of graying hair hanging down over her forehead, who greeted almost everyone entering the Chicago headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party and who was always busy at some party chore.

This grandmotherly woman, so warm in her welcome to all comrades and workers seeking enlightenment, so eager and busy at her “little” tasks, was one of the most heroic and noble figures of the American working class. Her accomplishments? Her whole life was an accomplishment, for from early youth to her last breath it was spent in the struggle to build the proletarian party, the party of scientific socialism, the party which alone can lead the exploited and oppressed to the lasting peace, security and freedom of international socialism. For over half a century, in the face of persecution, social pressure, personal tragedy, physical suffering, she devoted all her strength, will and energy to the battle which to her was all of life itself.

Helen was the daughter of a prominent St. Paul family. Her father – a fact she never mentioned – had once been mayor of that city. She had been well- educated and trained for the teaching profession. An old photograph of her in her youth reveals a face of extraordinary beauty and character. In the normal course of events for a girl of her time and background, she might have lived in comfort, reared a family, died as a “respected” matron of her community.

50 Years of Struggle

But Helen chose a different road. Early in her youth, she turned her back upon “respectable” society. She entered the young socialist movement of the 1890’s, joined the working class and its struggles, and never once during over 50 years of toil and travail did she ever look back.

All the great events and figures of the developing American labor and socialist movement before World War I were a part of her life. All the defeats and victories and tragedies burned in her heart. The bloody strikes and the great martyrs, they were all a part of her. The Ludlow massacre, Coeur D’Alene, Lawrence – these were her struggles and she aided them. When the copper bosses shot Joe Hill and the prison doors closed behind Gene Debs, she was among those who fought unremittingly against these murders and frame-ups.

Almost from the first, Helen allied herself with the left-wing of the Socialist movement. She studied Marxism – the great works of Marx and Engels and all the socialist classics. She was no mere sentimental socialist. Her devotion was to the revolutionary party and its program, to the disciplined, organized, conscious expression of the working-class vanguard in action. Against any and every revision of Marxism, she fought all her life.

During the first imperialist World War, Helen was among the Debs socialists who actively opposed the war. For this “crime” she was ousted from her teaching position in the public schools. And in the infamous Palmer “Red” Raids that followed the war, she was indicted for her revolutionary activities and held under $10,000 bail.

Pioneer Communist

In 1919, with the left-wing split of the Socialist Party inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Helen became a founding member of the new and persecuted Communist Party. She had been the secretary of the North Side English branch of the Socialist Party, one of the largest sections in Chicago. Against the opposition of some of the most powerful leaders of the SP, she helped to swing her branch into the new revolutionary party founded on the principles of Lenin and Trotsky.

During the next two years when the government was hounding the underground communist movement, Helen served as secretary of Chicago Local of the National Defense Committee. Through the twenties she occupied numerous important local posts of the party and devoted herself to indefatigable work on its behalf. In 1928, she was the secretary of Nucleus 81, one of the largest and most active in Chicago, and a member of the District Control Commission.

Then came the campaign against “Trotskyism.” True to her lifelong struggle against falsified Marxism and revisionism, Helen was among the first courageous few who opposed Stalinist degeneration in the party. On November 24, 1928, as recorded in the second issue of The Militant, December 1, 1928, she was expelled for “Trotskyism.”

For the next 16 years, Helen threw herself into the struggle for the revival of genuine Marxism and the building of the Trotskyist party. Twice her hopes had been frustrated. But she faced the new tasks with optimism and unbounded courage and loyalty. She gave everything to the party – her small teaching salary, her time, her energy. No task was too humble for her to do. With the tiny group that made up the first Trotskyist branch in Chicago, she went out on the streets with leaflets and papers, dodged police persecution, confronted Stalinist hooliganism.

Helen’s Latter Years

Those were the hard years. To hold the little Trotskyist group together in a period of rising reaction and tremendous slander was a terrible ordeal. The little group had to fight physically for mere survival. At one early meeting – Helen was in her middle fifties – she helped to beat off a Stalinist assault in which at least one invader suffered a serious headache from a large, heavy platter that split in Helen’s hands.

Six years ago, Helen was retired from her teaching job with a small pension. It was the realization of her life’s dream – to be able to devote all her time to the party. Never will the Chicago comrades forget her in those last years, when, old, sick and tired, she worked without letup for the party.

Every day she did her tasks, quietly, unassumingly, efficiently. She would come in with her shopping bag full – and there was always some little addition for the headquarters, some office supplies that no one but she remembered to get, a prized book from the library of socialism that she had read, new pamphlets for the literature shelf, or just some candy or fruit for the comrades. She swept, she dusted, she cleaned the woodwork. Few comrades may have noticed – but the headquarters were kept clean. And in cold or rain, she trudged out with her shopping bag full of Militants – to the day of her death. As she would be leaving after a hard day, she would cast one last look around as though she hated to go, even for a minute. Perhaps she saw a bundle of literature that some other, younger comrade had failed to distribute. Into her bag it would go. “Well, I know just the place to leave these on my way home.”

True to the End

Hardly a one is left of those who entered the socialist movement when Helen did. Many other women were flaming and prominent figures in their day. Most of them fell by the wayside in the course of the bitter struggle, retired to easier existence, succumbed to opportunism, yielded to pressure of their families (Helen was estranged from her own). But Helen stayed straight and true to her course to the end. She was the epitome of the most heroic people of our time, the enduring, women proletarian revolutionists.

It was the Helen Judds who marched in the forefront of the Parisian masses storming the Bastille of 1789, who defied the grapeshot on the barricades of the Commune of 1871, who opened the revolutionary struggle leading to the Russian October of 1917. It is the Helen Judds, armed with the weapon of Marxism, who in their thousands and millions will snatch the very lightning from the heavens, before whom the mighty will tremble and fall, whose hands will build the socialist future.

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