July 1, 2013
Another Obama Comrade
By Paul Kengor
While doing my usual survey of People's World, Communist Party USA's (CPUSA) successor publication to the Daily Worker, a particular headline caught my eye, "Beatrice Lumpkin's extraordinary book about her extraordinary life."
Given my research in this area, "Lumpkin" rang a bell -- for reasons I need not elaborate upon here. Suffice to say, Beatrice Lumpkin is still with us, an old communist (literally) at age 94 -- and today in the tank for Barack Obama. Her life and relationship with our president is illuminating.
For the record, People's World doesn't mention Lumpkin's relationship with Obama. That isn't surprising. I find that the writers and editors there seem to hold back in hailing Obama too openly and glowingly, knowing how conservatives might use the information. They have been guarded in their encomiums for our president. This article was no exception. For details on Lumpkin's relationship with Obama, you need to check out her book, as I have and discuss below. But first, consider what People's World has to say about Lumpkin:
The CPUSA organ began its profile by reminiscing back to a golden moment in 1934 at New York's Hunter College, Miss Lumpkin's alma mater. The "fascists" in the college administration had dared to hike the price of milk in the cafeteria from five cents to six cents. This staggering blow to the "working-class students" was too much for comrade Lumpkin, who mounted the pulpit and led the student proletariat in a milk boycott.
"The boycott was a huge success," remembers Lumpkin fondly. "Students massed around our table. I had to climb on top of a table to be heard. I did not realize that the dean of students had come into the lunchroom... It was too late to be diplomatic; I am afraid that I had already called her a fascist."
Miss Lumpkin was a veteran at such things. She had joined the Young Communist League in high school in order to study Marxism and "work for peace" -- the kind of peace prevailing in Stalin's Soviet Union at the time, where the Great Purge was about to go full throttle.
The occasion for this People's World remembrance is the release of the aforementioned new autobiography by Lumpkin, titled, Joy in the Struggle: My Life and Love. In her book, reports People's World, Lumpkin revels in her "solidarity with her fellow workers, of seeing in Cuba the first fruits of the Revolution," of her "hope for a better world." Her book is "a treasure trove of advice and tactics for others engaged in building workers' power and solidarity." And, "In Lumpkin's vision of the world, nothing falls outside of political work," from discussions of "sexism" to "inequality of access to medical care" -- all part of "her valiant struggle for a fair, peaceful, and democratic world."
Some of these sentiments remind me of Obama. Equal access to healthcare is an obvious one. Another is the observation that for Lumpkin "nothing falls outside of political work." This smacks of Obama, David Axelrod, and much of today's political left generally. There's seemingly nothing they won't politicize.
And yet, skillfully neglected by People's World was Lumpkin's ardent political love of Obama, and her equally tenacious struggle for Obama. This wasn't missed by my fellow researcher, Trevor Loudon, at his probing "KeyWiki" website, which I commend to readers for all sorts of fascinating forgotten gems on the left. And it also can't be missed from an even cursory reading of Lumpkin's book, which is available online as a free download courtesy of Communist Party USA. Therein, we learn not only that Lumpkin is a longtime Chicago CPUSA activist, but also an activist for Obama. More than that, the narrative of Lumpkin's life gloriously culminates in the triumph of Obama, a man elected not only by the votes of thrilled communists but countless millions of clueless moderates and traditional Democrats who served as dupes in 2008 and 2012. Here are some highlights from Lumpkin's account:
Beatrice Lumpkin's memories of Obama start with the Chicago mayoral campaign of Harold Washington, which she believes blazed the trail for Obama. That's an interesting place to start, given that an advisor to Washington was Harold Canter and the Canter family, which, before arriving in Chicago decades earlier had lived in Moscow, where the senior Canter worked for Stalin's government as an official translator of Lenin's writings. Harold Canter became a mentor to David Axelrod, who also worked on the Harold Washington campaign -- before Axelrod hooked up with Obama and twice elected him president of the United States. (Lumpkin doesn't go into this.)
Lumpkin says that she (along with her husband, Frank) first met Obama in the 1980s. "I am sure that Frank and I met Obama in the '80s," she writes, listing areas of common work. Even then, Barack Obama was not yet "a name." "After Obama became our state senator in 1996," says Lumpkin, "we knew his name, and I am sure he knew ours. We were also friends with Alice Palmer, a progressive state senator. When she ran for Congress, Barack Obama won the vacated state senatorial seat."
Readers of this site know of the "progressive" Alice Palmer. Among other antics, it was in the Chicago living room of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn -- two other "progressives," who happened to have been Weather Underground bombers and fugitives -- that Palmer passed the torch to a young Obama. But I digress.
Beatrice Lumpkin excitedly continues her Obama narrative:
During Obama's years in the Illinois Senate, we heard many good things about him. I helped organize steel worker retirees to visit Obama about health care legislation. He made us happy by telling us he was a sponsor of the legislation we wanted.... He told us he was thinking of running for the U.S. Senate. Electing Obama to the U.S. Senate was a must-win election for us....
The stakes were high. To win, each one of us had to do more than we could. But Frank was 88 and I was 86. Sure, we were in good shape "for our age." But how good was that? Well we found out. We worked and we worked and worked. And we did a lot of worrying, too.... As it was, he won the nomination in a landslide, 29 percent higher than his nearest Democratic opponent. With Obama safely nominated, we relaxed just a little. We no longer had to dream the impossible dream....
That August, at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Obama gave the speech that became his "trademark," the call for people to unite to benefit the whole country. In November 2004, Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate with 70 percent of the vote.
At last, with Obama's election, the old communists had their man. The election of Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate was, for this longtime communist, the achievement of the "impossible dream."
Lumpkin had worked all her life for radical campaigns, especially the 1948 Progressive Party presidential campaign of the pro-Soviet Henry Wallace, which she "really threw myself into ... heart and soul and body." Nothing, however, compared to electing Barack Obama. Getting Obama in Washington was the greatest victory of all.
But then came the greatest of all campaigns for the veteran communist activist: the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, which was pure nirvana. "That was like nothing I had ever seen," recalls Lumpkin. "There had been a high level of enthusiasm when [Harold] Washington ran for mayor. But nothing equaled the Obama campaign for president." She was "ecstatic" over the Obama campaign: "my hopes went through the ceiling when Obama spoke." At last, said Lumpkin, anticipating Obama's later campaign slogan, "we could move the country forward."
Lumpkin's book provides a breathless account of the excitement she and fellow travelers in the Democratic Party and "progressive" movement had for Obama. They "were sisters and brothers united in the greatest cause of all." This was a chance to genuinely "rebuild America." At nearly 90 years old, she volunteered and gave her "all." She described the packed volunteer center in Chicago, crammed with young liberal dupes (my word, not hers): "every inch of floor space was occupied by 16 to 25 year olds, sprawled in various teenage positions. They had thought to bring their chargers for their cell phones and were calling away.... My heart sang, and I had the rare feeling that I was not needed. My replacements had arrived!"
The young folks were "replacements" for Lumpkin who, when she was their age, had stumped for Stalin as a member of the Young Communist League.
Lumpkin couldn't believe it when, during election night, the people of Indiana pulled the level for Obama: "When the votes were counted, Indiana came through for Obama-Biden!" It was indeed a shock. Just mere hours later, John McCain conceded defeat.
In all, said Lumpkin, it was a "huge victory." They had "worked so hard and elected Obama."
Lumpkin relates this in the final chapter of her book, a chapter triumphantly titled, "Yes We Can, and We Did." Tellingly, the narrative of her life ends with Obama's victory.
She closes her memoir with a poignant moment. She informs her dying husband of the election results. The old communist was nearing the end of his life in a nursing home. "I talked to him about Obama every day," writes Lumpkin. "I knew he wanted to know.... The day after the election, the first page of the New York Times carried Obama's picture and his name in three-inch letters. I showed it to Frank. He looked at it, hard. Then he drew his right arm out from under the covers, bent it at the elbow, and raised his clenched fist high!"
A clenched fist, raised high in the air, for comrade Barack Obama -- that is, President Barack Obama. Beatrice Lumpkin's final words, the end of the narrative of her communist life and sojourn, end with that image.
For Beatrice Lumpkin, Barack Obama's long-awaited presidency and fundamental transformation of America is something she has yearned for her entire life. In 2012, according to KeyWiki, she was back for Obama, organizing under a front-group called "Seniors for Obama."
Such is the story of Beatrice Lumpkin and its relation to the current leader of the free word. It is hardly unusual.
As noted by former Weather Underground communists like Mark Rudd and Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, Barack Obama was the first and only major presidential candidate that they could support. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and even Hillary Clinton had all been too "reactionary" for their tastes. Obama was the one and only. In his coronation, they succeeded in their fundamental transformation, and they did so only because of the assistance of tens of millions of oblivious traditional Democrats and moderates and independents -- dupes.
And what of Barack Obama and Beatrice Lumpkin? Well, she worked hard for him. She really did. Perhaps Obama could honor her with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, or some sort of statement or commendation? Why not? Does Obama not have the integrity to reward this old comrade? Does he not have the courage? Why ignore her and slight her because of her radical past?
Of course, Obama will do just that. Like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and other old radical pals, Obama will toss Beatrice Lumpkin under the bus. So will his sycophantic liberal media, which will do its standard back-flips to avoid digging and asking Obama about yet another far-left association from his past. For Obama and our nation's esteemed mainstream "journalists," the Beatrice Lumpkins are former friends, dispatched to the ash-heap of history in order to try to paint President Barack Obama as a moderate Democrat.
Meanwhile, America's fundamental transformation continues. Yes they can, and they did.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor. His other books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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