Randall Beach: It Hasn't Been Easy Being a Communist in America

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), April 16, 2016 | Go to article overview

Randall Beach: It Hasn't Been Easy Being a Communist in America


Before Al Marder began his speech, "The Right to Speak One's Mind" last Thursday night at the New Haven Museum, I greeted him and noted he has been getting lots of publicity lately about his lifetime of political activism.

Marder laughed and said, "That's what happens at 94: they forgive all your sins!"

But Marder, who has been a member of the Communist Party since he was a teenager at New Haven's James Hillhouse High School, sees no "sins" in the many public actions he has taken since that time.

He certainly paid a price for his beliefs. Marder is the last survivor of the seven New Haveners arrested when the federal government prosecuted Communist Party leaders during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Although after a long trial he was acquitted on the charge of conspiring to overthrow the government, he lost his job and many of his friends while undergoing what he recalls as "tremendous stress and tension."

What had he done to draw FBI agents to his door, with their guns drawn, pulling him out of his home in front of his family? He was an outspoken communist, advocating workers' rights and blacks' rights - - not the violent overthrow of the government.

During his trial, which ended in 1956, Marder said, "We wanted to try to show that these arrests were a contradiction of the principles on which this country was founded: the right to dissent. This was basic to our society."

Through the years, Marder has taken some heat for remaining with the Communist Party despite the myriad human rights violations of Soviet leader Josef Stalin and those who succeeded him. In a recent interview with WNHH Radio, Marder admitted "mistakes were made" but said this is balanced in his mind by "my belief in socialism as an answer to human destiny."

I have known Al (he rarely uses his real name of Alfred) for many years, as he is a prominent local advocate for peace and labor issues, a common sight at demonstrations I have covered. He also was a leader in the movement to commemorate New Haven's key role in the Amistad captives' mutiny and legal struggle to win their freedom. He doesn't seem to have slowed down at all.

When I interviewed him at his attractive home in a quiet New Haven neighborhood four years ago, he told me: "My ideology can be summed up succinctly. I believe in the opportunity of working people to take control of their lives politically and economically. My goal has never changed."

During his talk at the museum, Marder quoted two of his role models. "Frederick Douglass said, 'Power doesn't concede anything without a struggle.' And Karl Marx said, 'White labor can never be free if black labor is in chains.' These are my two life-long mottoes, without which my country cannot get better, cannot provide for its people, cannot be more just."

Marder thanked the museum and the event's co-sponsor, Connecticut Explored magazine, for "being bold enough to initiate a dialogue" in a time when many Americans are unaware of what happened to dissidents in this country during the second "Red Scare."

Marder called those years "the most shameful period in the history of the United States."

Connecticut historian and journalist Mary M. Donohue, who asked Marder a series of questions during his museum talk, was joined on the small stage by Waterbury Superior Court Judge Andrew Roraback. His cousin, Catherine Roraback, while fresh out of Yale Law School, agreed to be Marder's defense attorney for his trial at a time when lawyers were losing their jobs for giving legal counsel to communists. She died in 2007.

After Donohue noted Marder won a Bronze Star while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, she asked him about growing up on Oak Street in New Haven during the Depression. His father ran a grocery store. …

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