Communist Party USA

  In some ways the life of centenarian Al Marder reads like a serial thriller with plenty of comedy and tragedy, defeats, and victories. As a teenager, he would sneak out of his parents’ house in a working-class neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut, early in the morning to meet his good friend Sid Taylor, push the family car down the road before starting it so as not to waken his parents. They would distribute fliers and Daily Workers to workers arriving and leaving plant gates at Sargent and Co., after which they would reverse course and Al would sneak back into the house. Years later his mother revealed that his parents were in fact aware of his goings-on. What’s remarkable about Al Marder is not so much that he just passed his 100th birthday this January but that he constantly raises urgency in opposing war and injustice, an urgency that is undiminished in the nearly 50 years I have known him. What’s remarkable is that he combines his deep historical analysis of current events with demands for action to address them. What’s remarkable is that he doesn’t hesitate to press comrades up and down the ladder to act for peace and racial justice, to reach for unity with the broad people’s movements. Al Marder entered the fight for justice and peace when he was fourteen years old, the height of the Great Depression. He saw families being evicted, his own included, and Communists moving their furniture back. He wasn’t alone. The nation was demanding peace. Workers were struggling for their rights and moving unionization to the fore. Peace, he has said, was a central demand of the Communist Party in the 1930s. He became an organizer for and then at age 16 headed the Young Communist League. Al began to connect the anti-Semitism that his family, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, experienced with the prevalent anti-Black racism. He found that Communists modeled equal treatment of everyone. At the New Haven Peoples Center, Al found his milieu. This community center had been bought by immigrant, socialist-oriented Jewish tradesmen for their own families and the broader community. There Al participated in creating the first integrated theater group, the Unity Players, which among others performed Plant in the Sun in a tournament at the Yale Drama School, which they won, and in union halls throughout Connecticut. Through the Peoples Center Al also managed the Young Communist baseball team, the Redwings, the first integrated team in New Haven, built campaigns to integrate the city’s bus drivers’ union, and with other young Communists organized an evening college for workers through the New Haven Teachers College. Eventually Al would become the president of the nonprofit that runs the Peoples Center. Al tells a scary story that as a U.S. soldier during World War II he was alone on a scouting mission in Austria when he heard the rumble of tanks and trucks he thought were German. He dove into a ditch alongside the road to hide, frightened of being captured. The convoy stopped by him, motors running, but the soldiers who exited the vehicles and spotted him weren’t speaking German. To his surprise they spoke Russian. Al was perhaps the first GI to experience greeting and being warmly greeted by his Soviet counterparts coming from the east to liberate Austria. On other occasions in the European theater Al demanded that Black soldiers be able to sit with their white counterparts in movie theaters. As German town after town was liberated by allied troops, Al was assigned to seek out non-Nazis to govern those cities. He did and…

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Al Marder, a century of accomplishment for unity, peace, justice, and socialism