Ricky Eisenberg in our thoughts
Ricky Eisenberg on the guitar. | Courtesy of the Family of Ricky Eisenberg

When I heard that Ricky Eisenberg had passed in February, I was deeply saddened. Ricky was a special comrade and a friend that I had known and worked with politically on and off for over 50 years.

Ricky was a founding member of the W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs. In 1967, when I moved to New York City and became national chair of the Du Bois Clubs, Ricky was in the thick of the struggle for youth rights, peace, jobs, and equality as part of a broader revolutionary working class movement. We in the Du Bois Clubs were all committed to achieving real democracy for all in harmony with a socialist transformation of our nation. When I think of Ricky, I think of those heady years, our robust organization, and his passionate and selfless involvement.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois—renowned scholar and pioneering Civil Rights/pan-Africanist, NAACP founder, and socialist for most of his life—died on the eve of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the age of 96. Three years before, at the age of 93, he had joined the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). The next year, on June 20, 1964, the W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs of America was founded in San Francisco.

We proudly named our organization for a public Communist, challenging the new McCarthyism of the McCarran Act, which had been used to imprison and unsuccessfully try Dr. Du Bois and others on the false charges of being agents of a foreign government. Just as Dr. Du Bois did, Ricky and the rest of us understood that McCarranism, like McCarthyism, had nothing to do with foreign governments and everything to do with repressing a blossoming movement for peace and social, racial, and economic justice here and abroad.

Soon after the Du Bois Clubs were established, our national office was bombed, and we became a favorite target of J Edgar Hoover’s covert and overt program that sought to undermine progressive activism in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. The Du Bois Clubs’ open engagement with working class battles and its embrace of a socialist future earned the FBI director’s special enmity.

Ricky Eisenberg demonstrating for voting rights and against war in Feb. 1966. | Courtesy of the Family of Ricky Eisenberg

A mass youth upsurge, stretching from Greensboro to Berkeley and beyond, was organizing, with growing support, for a world without war, racism, inequality, bigotry, oppression, and exploitation. Anti-communism was used to divide and intimidate the movement. Dr. Du Bois and the organization named for him resisted redbaiting not out of self interest but out of a genuine interest in improving the well-being of the American people, and people throughout the world, with the application of socialist principles.

Du Bois believed, as he wrote in his letter of application for membership in the CPUSA, that “No universal selfishness can bring social good to all… Communism—the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute—this is the only way of human life… These aims are not crimes. No nation can call itself free which does not allow its citizens to work for these ends.”

Ricky shared that belief. He worked his whole life toward the humane and just goal of a socialist order.

A red diaper baby, Eric “Ricky” Eisenberg was born in 1943 into a class-conscious working-class Jewish family. From the start, Ricky displayed a passion for art, music, literature, and social justice. At the High School of Music and Art, and later at the City College, he pursued printmaking, folk music, and creative writing, but committed himself to the working-class movement.

In high school, he organized protests against mandatory civil defense drills and for banning nuclear weapons. In college, he became a leader of the City College Marxist Discussion Group, which helped wake students at the historic campus from the stupor of McCarthyism through vibrant conversations and political engagement.

Ricky was always ready to put his body on the line for his beliefs. His first of several arrests occurred during college at a sit-in at the World’s Fair site in Queens to demand construction jobs for minority workers. With the founding of the Du Bois Clubs, Ricky assumed a leadership role at the City College campus and later helped establish a club on the Lower East Side, engaging neighborhood youth in jobs training efforts with organizations like Mobilization for Youth.

As he worked weekends with Lower East Side youth, Ricky spent his weekdays as an autoworker and union activist at the Ford plant at Mahwah, N.J. When his plant closed, he became a union carpenter utilizing the considerable technical skills passed on to him by his dad, Al, to frame new construction, and his considerable organizing skills to work for a more democratic and racially inclusive carpenters’ union.

Needing to support his growing family, in the late 1970s, Ricky started a cabinetmaking business in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. With other woodworkers, Ricky rehabilitated an old factory, establishing a non-profit building for woodworking shops and a vibrant apprenticeship program for youth. Ricky also built a house for his and his wife Sarah’s family in the Catskills, where they spent many joyous summers and holidays.

During college, Ricky had established friendships with other activists that would last a lifetime. Living with close friends in a predominately Puerto Rican community in the East Bronx, Ricky taught himself Spanish and in sort order was organizing in English and Spanish alike. One of his closest friends from those years, Dennis Mora, along with James Johnson and David Samos, became a member of the Fort Hood Three, the first draftees who refused to accept the order to fight in America’s “illegal, unjust and immoral” war in Vietnam.

The Eisenberg and Mora families became very close. Ricky and his family joined Dennis’s sister Grace and the Moras in working with progressive organizations—including the Du Bois Clubs, the Communist Party, the War Resister’s League, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and others—to campaign for freedom for the Fort Hood Three and justice for other GIs resisting America’s imperialist war in Southeast Asia. The Mora family had deep roots in the movement against Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain, the Puerto Rican liberation movement, and Hispanic progressive movements in Harlem and the Bronx. The Eisenberg family and their close friends had deep roots in the progressive working class Jewish union movement and the anti-fascist battles, both in Spain, where Ricky’s father-in-law, Ken Doolittle, and closest family friend, Ralph Fasanella, served, and in Europe and Africa during World War II, where Ricky’s father, Alex, and uncle, Hesh, both fought.

Ricky of course never gave up the passion for music that had been a big part of his youth. He lent his guitar playing and singing to his political activity. Back in the Du Bois Club days, he wrote a bluesy/Doo Wop song about the Clubs, the first contemporary song I ever heard that used the word “socialist.’’

Ricky had a powerful baritone voice and loved to sing blues and folk tunes and play acoustic guitar. When time allowed, he would perform at clubs, often with his lifelong buddy Richard Jaccoma and, later, his daughter, Julietta. Ricky was part of Big Road Blues, a traditional blues group he founded with friends, Alan Podber and Myriam Valle. With Big Road, Ricky organized world music concerts at Winston Unity Center in the Chelsea neighborhood which had a real following and helped showcase new artists.

Ricky was also a longtime member of the New York Labor Chorus and traveled with them to perform in Sweden, Wales, and Cuba, as well as to local organizing sites and marches, where protest songs kept spirits strong.

Ricky gave of his artistic and organizing talents unstintingly, always ready to speak and sing where his voice would move people to think, feel, and act. He was particularly interested in the movement of low-wage workers, authoring a pamphlet on the Fight for $15 in English and Spanish that was published by the New York District of the Communist Party and circulated around the country.

The New York CP initiated a “We’re Not Going Back” Black history celebration in February 2015 at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem. There, Ricky made a moving speech on why white workers must fight racism. It was a personal account of his part in a united multi-racial struggle in the carpenters’ union. The Harlem crowd gave him a rousing applause.

Ricky Eisenberg, center, with Jarvis Tyner, left, at the Better World Awards in New York in December 2015, where Ricky was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. | New York Friends of the People’s World

Later that year, Ricky was honored by the NY Friends of the People’s World with a “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Several hundred gathered at the Winston Unity Hall to honor Ricky and others. At the event, Roque Ristorucci, a retired teacher and longtime friend of Ricky’s from the Du Bois days on the Lower East Side, delivered a beautiful introductory salute. Ricky took that occasion to speak on the need today for a robust Communist Party.

Ricky was ailing through both those events, but he did a magnificent job. Even as his health declined from the onslaught of a mysterious clotting disorder, causing multiple hospitalizations and amputations, Ricky’s political engagement was exemplary in its intelligence and inspiring in its passion and steadfastness.

In his hospital room, it was not uncommon to find Ricky working on an essay, talking to young comrades who’d come to see him and get his advice on their organizing or writing projects, or playing his guitar with friends and family.

On Feb. 3, 2017, Eric “Ricky” Eisenberg succumbed to the effects of a long and difficult illness, surrounded by family and friends who offered his favorite songs to help him pass. We miss Ricky. We miss his vibrant soul and passion for the struggle.

He was a courageous revolutionary worker, activist, artist, and political leader. He was a loving husband to Sarah and a dedicated father of two wonderful daughters, Julietta and Anna, and grandfather to Jackson and Grace Spence, who owned his heart. To his sister, Nora, niece Katie Halper, and other loving members of the Eisenberg, Doolittle, and Buch families, we send our heartfelt condolences.

We share his life-long commitment to the working class movement and his dedication to the struggle for equality, peace, economic, and social justice. We share his socialist vision. With Ricky in our hearts and collective memories, the struggle will and must continue.

Forward!

A memorial for Ricky Eisenberg will be held soon. For details, contact the New York District of the Communist Party.

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Jarvis Tyner
Jarvis Tyner

Jarvis Tyner is former executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA and a long-time member of the party's national board.. He was a founding member of the Black Radical Congress and served on its national coordinating committee for five years. Tyner was born in the Mill Creek community of West Philadelphia in 1941 and graduated from West Philadelphia High School. He joined the Communist Party USA at the age of 20. After several years working in various industrial jobs in the Philadelphia area, where he was a member of the Amalgamated Lithographers and the Teamsters union, he moved to New York in 1967 to become the national chair of the DuBois Clubs of America, and later founding chair of the Young Workers Liberation League. He was the Communist Party USA candidate for vice president of the U.S. in 1972 and 1976, running with party leader Gus Hall. As a leader of the CPUSA Tyner has been an active public spokesperson against racism, imperialism and war. He has written numerous articles and pamphlets and appears on the media, campuses and in other public venues advocating for peace, equality and the socialist alternative. He currently resides in the Inwood section of Manhattan, N.Y., is married and the father of four adult children and one grandchild.  

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