On the morning of Tuesday, October 5, 2010, communists in the San Francisco Bay Area lost a comrade who was our direct link to multiple generations of past class struggle. That comrade was Ben Epstein, who passed away at the age of 92. He embodied the history of those fights, having participated in them himself, and was one of the last in the tradition of self-educated working class militants. When the current crisis hit in the summer of 2008, our study group was groping for historical references. Ben told us inspiring stories of the early Depression when workers and farmers joined in his hometown of Sioux City, Iowa to thwart auctions of foreclosed homes and farms, returning them to their former owners in “penny sales.” His town had been the epicenter of the movement of farmers’ councils that spread throughout the Midwest, in some places becoming near-insurrections. Most of us only knew Ben in the last 5 years of his life, but his influence went well beyond those few years and will always stay with us. But it was reciprocal. There were times when Ben would get giddy with excitement while we were reading texts like Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts or Luxemburg’s The Mass Strike. When asked why, he’d say “because it’s been such a long time since young people understood Marx and its implications for class struggle.” Ben always helped us see the concrete ways those theories could inform the struggles of our class. I will never forget the wisdom he so generously shared.
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