CLEVELAND – Longtime Communist Party activist Lou Bortz died here Aug. 16. He was 92 years old.
Bortz was one of 10 children of an immigrant shoemaker from Czarist Lithuania. He finished ninth grade in New York City and began working at 16 in the needle trades. As a teenager, he helped organize the Grocery, Dairy and Fruit Clerks Union, originally with the AFL and eventually an independent union affiliated with the Trade Union Educational League, led by William Z. Foster. At 14 he joined the Junior Group and at 16 the Young Workers League, later renamed the Young Communist League.
Bortz moved to Cleveland in 1929, where he eventually lost his job in a sheet metal shop in the deepening depression. He joined the Communist Party in 1930 and was active in the Unemployed Councils and in the fight for unemployment insurance.
He was one of the 3,000 young Americans whose dedication and internationalism led them to volunteer to fight fascism in Spain as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. During his 22 months in Spain he fought in the battles of Jarama, Guadalajar, Brunete and elsewhere. He returned to Cleveland in 1938 and in 1942 enlisted in the U.S. Army. As with many of the 15,000 Communists who joined the armed forces, he faced discrimination but nevertheless rose to the rank of sergeant in the Army Air Corps.
Discharged from the Army in 1945, he worked for six months in a steel mill before moving to Pittsburgh. He served as Educational Director of the South Side Club, one of more than 10 neighborhood clubs in 1947, and was an active supporter of the Progressive Party in 1948.
When the U.S. government launched its vicious attack upon the Communist Party and progressive movements in the late 1940s and 1950s, Lou Bortz remained steadfast despite loss of employment and betrayal of many associates. He was hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he refused to name names.
He was one of a handful of comrades who helped to restore the Party in Western Pennsylvania and inspired many through his activism in the 1960s. He attended the 1963 March on Washington and helped to found the Pittsburgh Chapter of Veterans for Peace during the Vietnam War.
In 1977 he was a member of the 10th Venceremos Brigade that worked in socialist Cuba for five weeks. His fellow Brigadistas voted him the honor of representing them on the podium with Fidel to view the May Day parade. In 1980, when democracy finally triumphed over fascism in Spain, he returned to that country with a group of veterans of the Lincoln Brigade and had the honor of meeting the legendary Communist leader, Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria.
For many years, until he moved back to Cleveland, he was a mainstay in maintaining the Ben Careathers and William Z. Foster Book Center in Pittsburgh. He was always a staunch supporter and distributor of the People’s Weekly World and its predecessors.
Throughout his life, Lou Bortz remained deeply committed to the cause of socialism. He gave selflessly and bravely to the movements for the freedom of workers in every land. Those that knew him were forever changed by his example. He brought honor to the name “Communist.”