The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 14           April 28, 2003  
Peggy Brundy, a veteran
socialist for four decades
‘A rank-and-file cadre of the kind
around whom the troops are formed’
SAN FRANCISCO--"Peggy Brundy was a rank-and-file cadre who saw everything she did as a way of helping others to develop the same kind of discipline and habits that she had acquired. Peggy was the kind of cadre that is the backbone of any working-class organization--the kind around whom the troops are formed."

This is how Mary-Alice Waters, a member of the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and president of Pathfinder Press, described the 40-year veteran socialist at an April 6 meeting to celebrate Brundy’s life.

Brundy was 59 when she died here of cancer March 28. Over 70 people attended the celebration, held at the New College, of her nearly 40-year contribution to the communist movement. Participants included SWP members and supporters who worked with Brundy over the years, family members, young people eager to learn about the socialist movement, and others. A 25-foot-long display with numerous panels depicted the political events that shaped Brundy’s life and highlighted the numerous contributions she made to building the communist movement.

Brundy joined the socialist movement in 1964 when she was attending Carleton College in Minnesota. Washington’s war to crush the Vietnamese revolution was escalating then; the Cuban revolution and anticolonial struggles were having a deep impact on youth and others; and the mass civil rights struggles by millions of Blacks were dealing powerful blows to centuries of entrenched racism and segregation.

Waters noted that Brundy came around a socialist discussion group organized by the Young Socialist Alliance. "The YSA she joined was part of the continuity of several years of work at Carleton and the recruitment of young people who became loyal members and leaders of the Socialist Workers Party over the years," she said.

Waters noted that Brundy’s first several years in the movement gave her a grounding in Marxism and working-class politics that she drew on the rest of her life. Shortly after joining the YSA, Brundy moved to Minneapolis. Veteran communists like Ray Dunne, and Helen and Charlie Scheer, were members of that SWP branch at the time. Brundy, like others of her generation recruited in Minnesota, studied basic works of the communist movement like the History of American Trotskyism, Struggle for a Proletarian Party, In Defense of Marxism, and books and pamphlets by Marx, Engels, and Lenin.

A short time later, in 1965, Brundy moved to New York City to work at the shop organized by the SWP to print books, pamphlets, magazines, and later the Militant newspaper. She wrote a letter in 2002 describing her experiences. "When I started there were four people there," Brundy said. "My assignment was to set type. I knew absolutely nothing about typesetting and was a pitiful typist. I quickly became very fast and dangerously inaccurate. [SWP leader] Al Hansen cured that with a two-part treatment: a comradely explanation of the importance of accuracy and an unbendable rule--I had to correct all my errors myself." After typing an issue of the magazine International Socialist Review, "I spent literally days with a razor blade cutting out misspelled words and replacing them with accurately spelled words. It’s a lesson that has stayed with me."

What’s important, Waters noted, "is that Peggy gained very deep satisfaction from that work, a sense of accomplishing something that was extremely important with each and every corrected word. She internalized what it meant for the kind of party that she was working with others to build, and why those high standards of accuracy are a necessity for a political party that represents the interests of the class that she saw as the future of humanity."

In a message to the meeting, Tony Thomas from Miami, Florida, explained that he first met Brundy in the 1960s in New York, shortly after he joined the YSA. Though they were about the same age, Thomas said Brundy’s seriousness and hardworking attitudes "made her seem more like the older generation of the proletarian comrades from the 1930s."  
Part of Cannon’s secretarial staff
Brundy moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to be part of the staff at the house the party organized for James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the communist movement in the United States. In 1928 Cannon broke with the Stalinized Communist Party and formed what later became the Socialist Workers Party. He served as the party’s national secretary and, later, national chairman. After his longtime companion and collaborator Rose Karsner died in 1968, the party established a household and secretarial staff that facilitated Cannon’s literary work for several more years.

Joel Britton, a SWP leader in Chicago today and organizer of the Los Angeles branch of the party at that time, described some of Brundy’s experiences. "Peggy took on a very big responsibility as a 23 year old as part of Cannon’s secretariat," he said. Speeches and writings that, as Cannon noted, "slept in the files," were being prepared as manuscripts for books. "These were books Peggy helped to organize classes around as a new generation became imbued with what it means to build a proletarian party in the late 1960s when a great deal was going on," Britton said, "but when it’s not yet possible to once again build a Bolshevik party centered in the industrial working class and its unions."

Britton, who was also part of Cannon’s household staff, pointed out that Peggy was in charge. "There was a schedule for reading and studying," he said. "Jim welcomed the newest recruit, and collaborated with leaders of our world movement, and an occasional old Wobbly. But you had to go through Peggy. She made sure nobody abused their privilege of staying too long. And like a lot of what she did, she did it quietly but convincingly."

In October 1968 the Los Angeles headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party was firebombed while Brundy, Britton, and others were inside. The bombing occurred at a time of deepening struggles. Seven or eight months earlier the Vietnamese had dealt a stunning blow to U.S. imperialism during what has become known as the Tet offensive. Some 17,000 GIs had been killed by that time and 108,000 wounded. The SWP had sent its presidential candidate, Fred Halstead, to Vietnam to talk to GIs. "This was a big year of revolutionary struggles by Blacks," Britton stated. "Tremendous explosions took place in more than 150 cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr."

Britton was meeting with Chicano activists on how to respond to the massacre by cops of students protesting in Mexico City when "a tremendous explosion took place right underneath us that blew out the front door. The Cuban counterrevolutionaries who did this left their United Cuban Power sticker behind, as they did a few months later when they planted three sticks of dynamite at the door that didn’t go off. They had carried out a string of bombings against anybody doing business with or supporting the Cuban revolution.

"As I went out the back," Britton said, "I told Peggy to call the press. We literally were on live TV within a few minutes. The dust hadn’t really settled and here we were protesting this and demanding they prosecute those who perpetrated the bombing. We reached out broadly for support and the pressure was so great that a while later a few of those responsible were arrested and prosecuted by city authorities."  
‘Why not kill the whole system?’
One message came from Maceo Dixon, today part of the coordinating committee of Pathfinder’s business and distribution center in Atlanta, Georgia. He first met Brundy in 1970 in Detroit when he joined the socialist movement. "I was raw and very wild. The times were very tumultuous," Dixon recounted. "I remember having a conversation with Peggy about police killing Black youth. My attitude was that for every youth a cop killed, revolutionaries should kill 10 cops. Peggy looked at me and asked, ‘What would that do? They would just replace those cops. Why don’t you want to kill the whole system?’ That made much more sense to me."

Brundy traveled with SWP presidential candidate Linda Jenness during the 1972 elections. She worked with the local branches of the party to organize the campaign’s daily schedule, took care of security questions, wrote articles for the Militant, and made sure there was an occasional day of relaxation. Campaign meetings for Jenness and her running mate, Andrew Pulley, often drew large audiences. Hundreds of people were recruited to the socialist movement during that campaign.

In the mid-1970s, Brundy served as the managing editor for Pathfinder Press. "While Peggy was heading up the Pathfinder staff, some 240 titles were published," Waters noted. "It was probably the period of the greatest quantity of publishing that Pathfinder has ever done." She also served as associate editor for the International Socialist Review magazine in 1970–71.

Brundy was one of several SWP field organizers in the late 1970s. She collaborated with party units in Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Louisville at the time. The SWP had launched its turn to the industrial unions and was concentrating its forces in basic industry. This decision was based on the changes in the world as a result of the U.S. government’s defeat in Vietnam and the 1974–75 world recession, the sharpest worldwide economic downturn since the 1930s. This period was marked by the beginning of labor resistance in the United States--from the campaign of steel workers led by Ed Sadlowski to democratize the Steelworkers union, to struggles by iron miners in Minnesota, and by coal miners in several states.

Nan Bailey, who was in Detroit at that time, highlighted the work Brundy did with party members who were women getting industrial jobs at a time when the bosses had still largely kept women out of work in industry. "We were part of the vanguard," Bailey said. Fights for affirmative action for Blacks had "also laid the basis for women to get these jobs."  
‘An architect by example’
Jason Alessio, a coal miner from Rangley, Colorado, spoke on behalf of the Young Socialists. "Peggy was an architect by example," he observed. "She made sure that new rebel youth had in their hands the continuity of the communist movement embodied in the books. For myself, it wasn’t enough to have the passion and the will to change the world--you had to have direction. And it helps to have people like Peggy by your side. To develop as a young revolutionary, you have to read and study. And you also have to jump into action and participate in the struggles alongside people like Peggy."

Brundy herself got a job in an oil refinery in Houston in the early 1980s. Tony Dutrow, a Houston packinghouse worker, sent a message telling about a conversation he had with Tom Boots, a leader of the fight against a lockout by Crown Central Petroleum in the late 1990s. Though Brundy had worked there more than a decade and a half earlier, Dutrow noted, she had left a strong impression on Boots. "We called her ‘Commissar Peggy,’" said Boots, He explained how she "fought to learn the job, fighting against both lingering prejudices against female workers as well as toward her socialist politics."

Norton Sandler, a SWP National Committee member, chaired the San Francisco gathering. He interspersed the presentations with excerpts from greetings sent to the meeting by some of Brundy’s collaborators. The messages included one from Michel Prairie on behalf of the Political Committee of the Communist League in Canada, and another from Pathfinder’s Farsi-language editor, Ma’mud Shirvani.

Sandler noted that delegates to the SWP 1976 convention elected Brundy to the party’s National Committee. She served on that body until 1985. She was circulation director for the Militant in 1983–84. Her sales columns in the paper helped organize the international subscription campaigns and the weekly plant gate sales. She also attended a six-month session of the SWP leadership school, where worker-bolsheviks studied the writings of the founders of the communist movement--Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Brundy suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis that had an impact on her ability to work industrial jobs. Waters said that Brundy was also deeply affected by the retreat of the working class in the 1980s and withdrew from political activity for a decade. She began responding to the increased resistance from working people in the 1990s and resumed activity with the party. In doing so, Waters stated, Brundy drew again on the solid political grounding she had acquired earlier.  
Pathfinder Printing Project
The Pathfinder Reprint Project was launched in 1998. In this effort supporters of the SWP and Communist Leagues around the world took on the job of converting Pathfinder’s titles, which existed on outmoded film and printing plates, to modern digital technology. This volunteer effort has now been renamed the Pathfinder Printing Project. It includes some 250 supporters of the communist movement around the world.

Laurel Kelly, a steering committee member of this project, spoke about Brundy’s contribution to this effort. "It might sound like being a supporter of the SWP is like being a fan or cheerleader, taking a role on the sidelines and not being an active participant. But many of us had a different idea. We were hungry for a way to make a meaningful contribution to change society. The Pathfinder Printing Project began as a proposal by party supporters to help keep Pathfinder books in print by making high quality digital copies of all titles using the latest and less expensive printing technology. Now the project has expanded to include the preparation of new titles, the sales and distribution of the books, maintaining the web site, overseeing quality control, scheduling, and working with printers directly. In five years, 320 titles have been converted to digital form out of nearly 400."

Brundy joined the steering committee of the project shortly after it began. Waters explained how Brundy loved the analogy that SWP leader Joe Hansen often used to describe centralized revolutionary activity. "Joe always used to say every revolutionary is like a good plow horse that likes getting the harness on because it makes you more capable of work and accomplishing what you are trying to accomplish," Waters said. "It was getting back into this political harness and to once again have an organized political life, along with Peggy’s consciousness of how important this work was, that gave her a very great sense of satisfaction in the final five years of her life."

Participants brought a fine assortment of food to the gathering. Many stayed for an hour afterward to look at the displays and to socialize. They also contributed $2,190 to a Peggy Brundy Party Building Collection that will go towards supporting the activities of the SWP.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home