Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Passing of George Fishman, Historian, Teacher, Militant, Communist

by Norman Markowitz

These are few scattered thoughts about the passing of George Fishman, whom I knew and worked with in many local political struggles in New Jersey and in national campaigns. I will be writing other things about George, less scattered in the near future. But these are my first feelings. George passed away in New Haven last week at the age of ninety two. His daughter, Joelle Fishman (CPUSA leader in Connecticut) had been with him and Edie, his wife and life comrade. George was singing, Joelle told me, with her and Edie after dinner, a pleasant dinner. He passed away peacefully afterwards, falling asleep. When I heard of his passing, I felt the loss. Felt what George and Edie had meant to me, to the people whose lives they had touched and helped to change over the generations.

Edie is still with us and still the strong gentle person whom I have known for so long. But I really can't think of George without thinking of Edie. The two literally go together in my consciousness as they went together over the decades fighting for workers rights, tenants rights, against racism and for peace. I was with them in many of the more recent struggles--whether it was making Highland Park, New Jersey a nuclear free town or campaigning against Reagan's attempt to put Robert Bork on the Supreme Court, but they been engaged in those struggle before I was born.

George and Edie grew up in Philadelphia in working class communities. George was in the Navy in WWII and Edie worked in the Camden ship yards. They were active in many struggles (Edie in serviceman's wives campaigns against racism). A teacher, George was fired and blacklisted during the postwar persecutions called McCarthyism. He and Edie never changed their political outlook or associations though. George eventually became a teacher again after working in the Campbell Soup factory (he once warned me about eating Campbell Soup based on what he saw them putting into it when he worked there). And he and Edie continued to be militants(the international term that I like better than activist) in union struggles, community struggles, national and international campaigns. George ran for Governor of New Jersey as a Communist. In 1988, Edie ran for Freeholder here in Middlesex County (Freeholder is a significant position in New Jersey since the county boards of freeholders control important social services which are funded at the county level). To my surprise(and Edie's too) we got five thousand votes, even though the local newspaper ran one red-baiting article At one point the political machine even tried to contact George and Edie and offer George a political job if Edie dropped out of the race. We all laughed at that one. They didn't know who they were dealing with.

George also went back to school and got his Ph.D in history from Temple University, His doctoral dissertation, The African American Struggle for Freedom and Equality: The Development of a People's Identity, New Jersey, 1624-1850 (New York: Garland Publishing: 1997) was his most important scholarly work. George also wrote over the decades for CPUSA publications on a wide variety of topics, although the history of the African American freedom struggle along with New Jersey history were of special interest always of special interest to him.

When George and Edie left New Jersey for Connecticut it was a great loss for us. For years I would run into people who would ask about them, including centrists, middle of the roaders, and others who claimed that they didn't want to "bothered with politics." Many of those people missed George and Edie in front of supermarkets, on the streets, and at meetings, when issues were being raised, and George and Edie got them to think a little differently, even if they didn't want to think much at all.

George will of course live on in his writings, in the many unfinished struggles that he and Edie began to participate in before I was born, in Edie, Joelle, her husband Art, myself, and many many others. So I don't have to say good bye to George. He is still very much with us.