Ira Gollobin, a great friend of PLP who made an enormous contribution in the area of dialectical materialism, died from a staph infection in his blood and lungs on Friday, April 4, in his 97th year. In a lifetime of struggle, Ira was as much at home on the picket line as in the courtroom. He never stopped fighting for nearly an entire century!
In addition to authoring one of the definitive works on Dialectics, Ira had a great influence on PLP. He was present at a December 1961 meeting of a group of about 30 members of the old Communist Party (CP) who had concluded that the CP was dead as a communist organization and that it was necessary to organize a new party. Out of that meeting the Progressive Labor Movement was born six months later, and the Progressive Labor Party three years after that. Ira endorsed that outlook.
For years afterwards, he taught many classes on dialectics to leaders and members of PL and was partly responsible for the crucial emphasis PLP has placed on members studying this subject. This was probably his most important contribution to our Party. In addition, Ira was our lawyer in many government attacks on the Party, as far back as the early 1960s, and then taking the offensive against the witch-hunting House UnAmerican Activities Committee ( HUAC). Ira always agreed with our position to not simply rely on the “legal” front but to organize militant demonstrations and make a political defense (which many other lawyers told us would “hurt” our case).
In his early years as an attorney in New York City, Ira defended many victims of the Great Depression. After he passed the bar in 1935, he left New York to spend a year “seeing the country.” He became a migrant worker, picking oranges and walnuts in the fields of the West, “riding the rails” with jobless workers. He said these experiences “sealed my identification with the underdog.”
When distributing leaflets during a strike at Presbyterian Hospital in NYC, he met members of the American Committee for Protection of the Foreign Born and eventually this cause dominated his life as he became the country’s leading immigration lawyer and a member of the Committee’s General Counsel. He saved the jobs of 1,500 NYC foreign-born transit workers and enabled workers fleeing Nazi Germany and Franco’s fascist Spain to be admitted to the U.S. He won a landmark decision before the U.S. Supreme Court for 300 Haitian immigrants who had been refused asylum, the government claiming they were “economic” refugees, but Ira won the case to identify them as political refugees fleeing the Duvalier dictatorship.
Over the years we sent him scores of workers with immigration problems and he successfully defended them against government attacks (money for fees was never an obstacle).
Ira was part of a generation that risked their lives to join the fight against fascism, first in the Spanish Civil War, and then against the Nazis and the Japanese fascists, a fight led by the world communist movement. Ira was more than a lawyer. Being a dialectician, he understood the necessity to practice what he preached.
Serving in the Philippines in the army when World War II ended in 1945, he led a struggle to prevent U.S. rulers from using thousands of GI’s to repress the communist-led Filipino guerrilla movement (the “Huks”) — that had been crucial in defeating the Japanese — and even to ship them to Vietnam to assist the French colonial oppressors in that country. But the GI’s, having defeated Japanese fascism, were seeking to return home and wanted no part of this, looking on the “Huks” as comrades-in-arms. So Ira helped organize militant actions opposing the brass, putting 35,000 GI’s into the streets of Manila on January 7, 1946. He led a 5-member committee that met with the brass to tell them the GI’s would refuse to carry out this mission for U.S. imperialism. They succeeded and the GI’s were shipped home over the ensuing months (although Ira and the committee were immediately flown back to the States, the brass not wanting to deal with their leadership). The “Bring the Boys Home” movement soon spread around the world.
Ira was a stickler for physical fitness. In his 70’s and 80’s he was still running six miles a day, six days a week and was working out in the gym three times a week in his 90’s. (In going through his belongings in the hospital his daughter found his gym card still in his back pocket.) He spent 20 years writing his monumental work, “Dialectical Materialism, Its Laws, Categories and Practice.”
Ira was a supporter of PLP right to the end, generous in his financial donations, giving our Party five cartons of Marxist books from his personal library. The revolutionary communist movement will sorely miss Ira, but his contribution to Marxist theory and practice will live on in our members’ study of dialectical materialism and the carrying out of that theory in practice, a cause to which Ira devoted his life. The best way we can honor him is to use those tools to organize a communist revolution and the emancipation of the working class.