The ICC's tribute to our comrade Jerry Grevin
Our comrade Jerry Grevin, a long-time militant of the ICC's US section, died suddenly of a heart attack on 11th February 2010. His early death is a tragic loss to our organization and to all those who knew him: his family has lost a loving and affectionate husband, father, and grandfather; his colleagues at the college where he taught have lost an esteemed co-worker; his fellow ICC militants, in his section and all over the world, have lost a much-liked and dedicated comrade.
Jerry Grevin was born in 1946, in Brooklyn, into a working-class family of second-generation Jewish immigrants. His parents were imbued with a critical spirit which led them first into, then out of the CPUSA. Jerry's father was deeply shocked by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which he witnessed as a member of the US occupying forces at the end of World War II; although he never spoke of this experience, and his son only learnt of it much later, Jerry was convinced that this had deepened the anti-patriotic, anti-war spirit he inherited from his parents.
One of Jerry's finest qualities, which never left him, was his burning, unwavering indignation at all forms of injustice, oppression, and exploitation. From his earliest adulthood he took an energetic part in the great social causes of his time. He joined in organizing the mass demonstrations against segregation and racial inequality by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the American South. This demanded no small measure of courage, since activists and demonstrators were routinely subjected to abuse, beatings, and even murder, and Jerry, as a Jew, was not only a fighter against racial prejudice but also an object of racial prejudice himself.1
For his generation, especially in the United States, the other vital issue of the day was opposition to the Vietnam War. Exiled to Montreal in Canada, Jerry was a moving spirit in one of the various committees set up as part of the "Second Underground Railroad"2 created to help deserters from the US Army escape from America and build new lives abroad. He undertook this activity, not as a pacifist, but with the conviction that resistance to the military order could and should be part of a wider class struggle against capitalism, taking part in a short-lived militant publication Worker and Soldier. Many years later, Jerry was able to gain access to a heavily censored copy of his FBI file: its thickness and detail - the file was regularly updated while he was a militant in the ICC - gave him no small satisfaction, and led to some caustic comments at the expense of those who think that police and intelligence services "don't bother" with today's small and "insignificant" groups of militants.
On his return to the United States in the 1970s, Jerry found work as a telephone engineer with one of the major phone companies. It was a turbulent time of class struggle, as the economic crisis began to bite, and Jerry was involved in workplace struggles both large and small, at the same time as he participated in a publication called Wildcat, urging direct action and put out by a small group of the same name. Although he was to become disenchanted with Wildcat's immediatism and lack of any broader, long-term political perspective - it was the search for just such a perspective that led him to join the ICC - his direct, shop-floor experience, coupled with his lively powers of observation and a comprehensive attitude towards the foibles and prejudices of his fellow workers, gave him a profound insight into the way that consciousness develops concretely within the working class. As a militant of ICC, his political arguments would often be illustrated by vivid images, drawn from his own experience.
One such described an incident in the American South, where his gang of New York telephone workers had been sent on a job. A black worker in the group was victimized by management for some alleged misdemeanor; the New Yorkers sprang to his defense, to the surprise of their Southern co-workers: "Why bother?" they asked, "he's only a nigger". To which one of the New Yorkers vigorously replied that color didn't matter, that workers were all workers together, and that they had to defend each other against the bosses. "Now the remarkable thing", Jerry would conclude, "is that this guy who was strongest in defense of the black worker, was known in the group as a racist who himself had moved to Long Island to avoid living in a black neighborhood. And that shows how class struggle and solidarity is the only real antidote to racism".
Another story he liked to tell concerned his first encounter with the ICC. To quote the words of one comrade's personal tribute "As I heard him say a million times, it was when he first met a militant of the ICC when he was, as he described himself, 'an immediatist and individualist youth' writing articles solo and distributing them, that it dawned on him that revolutionary passion without organization can be only a youthful, passing flame. That was when the ICC militant put the question to him, 'OK, you write and you are a marxist. but what do you do for the revolution?'. Jerry told this story often and said that the following night he could not sleep. But it was a sleepless night that brought tremendous fruit". Many would have been put off by the blunt comment he got from the ICC, but not Jerry. On the contrary, this story (which he told with amusement at his own state of mind at the time) reveals another facet of Jerry's character: his ability to accept the force of argument and to change his mind when he was convinced by different ideas - an invaluable quality in the political debate which is the lifeblood of a true proletarian political organization.
Jerry's contribution to the ICC has been inestimable. His knowledge of the workers' movement in America was encyclopedic; his ready pen and his lively vernacular brought this history alive for our readers in his many articles written for our press in the United States (Internationalism) and for the International Review. He also had a remarkable grasp of political life and the class struggle in the USA today, and his articles on current affairs, both for our press and in our internal bulletins have provided a much valued input to our understanding of the politics of the world's greatest imperialist power.
His contribution to the ICC's internal life and organizational integrity was equally important. For many years, he has been a pillar of our American section, a comrade who could always be relied upon to step into the breech when things got difficult. During the discouraging years of the 1990s when the whole world - but perhaps especially the United States - was awash in propaganda over the "victory of capitalism", Jerry never lost his conviction in the necessity and possibility of a communist revolution, he never stopped reaching out to those around him, to the section's rare new contacts. His loyalty to the organization and to his comrades was unshakable, all the more so because, as he put it himself, it was his participation in the ICC's international life that gave him courage and allowed him to "recharge his batteries".
On a more intimate note, Jerry was also an extraordinarily funny man, and a gifted storyteller. He could - he often did - keep an audience of friends or comrades laughing for hours at a time at tales most often drawn from his own observation of life. While his stories sometimes deployed a barbed wit at the expense of the bosses or the ruling class, it was striking that they were never cruel or unkind. On the contrary, they revealed his affection and sympathy for his fellow man, as well as an all too rare ability to laugh at his own weaknesses. This openness to others was doubtless one of the qualities that made Jerry such an effective (and appreciated) teacher - a profession that he came to late in life while already in his forties.
Our tribute to Jerry would be incomplete if we left unmentioned his passion for Zydeco music (a musical form that originated and is still played among the Louisiana creoles). The demon dancer from Brooklyn was known in Zydeco festivals all across the Louisiana back country, and Jerry took pride in the help he was able to offer some young and unknown bands to find venues and an audience in New York. That was Jerry through and through: enthusiastic and energetic in all he undertook, open and warmhearted towards others.
We feel Jerry's loss all the more keenly in that his last years were among his happiest. He was delighted to become the grandfather of an adored grandson. Politically, he saw the development of a new generation of contacts around the ICC's US section and threw himself into the work of correspondence and discussion with all his customary energy. His dedication bore fruit in the Days of Discussion held in New York only a few weeks before his death, which brought together young comrades from all across the USA, many of them meeting each other for the first time. Jerry was delighted at the outcome, and considered this meeting, with all the hopes for the future that it embodied, to be one of the crowning achievements of his militant activity. It is fitting then that we leave the final word to two young comrades, both of whom took part in the Days of Discussion: for JK "Jerry was a trusted comrade, and a warm friend... Jerry's knowledge of the history of the workers' movement in the US; the depth of his personal experience in the struggles of the 70s and 80s and his commitment to keeping the flame of left communism alive in the U.S. through the difficult time following the so-called 'death of communism' were unmatched". For J, "Jerry was something of a political mentor to me over the last year and a half. He was also a very dear friend. (...) He was always willing to talk and help younger comrades learn how to intervene and understand the historical lessons of the workers' movement. His memory will live on in all of us, in the ICC, and throughout the rest of the class struggle".
1In an infamous case in 1964, three young civil rights activists (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner) were murdered by police officers and Ku Klux Klan members. Two of the activists were New York Jews.
2The name "Underground Railroad" was a reference to the 19th century network of safe houses and anti-slavery activists set up prior to the American Civil War to help run-away slaves escape to the American North and Canada.