Lou Diskin, Marxist educator, working-class activist

Lou Diskin, Communist and long-time working class activist, died July 28 at the age of 84. Lou was a carpenter, book publisher and seller, educator, and political leader. He was admired for his wisdom, modest character, deep concern for the well-being of all around him, and his daily humorous story. He was well-read in literature as well as politics.

Lou Diskin was born October 28, 1918 to poor, Jewish working-class parents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The family lived in a fourth floor walk-up, cold water tenement flat.

During those Depression years, Lou listened to Socialist and Communist Party neighborhood street corner speakers. In response to a speech by Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas, Lou and a buddy went to the Communist Party office and joined the Young Communist League. They were assigned to build the first YCL club in Williamsburg. Within a couple years their work resulted in 1,300 YCL members in that community.

After graduating from Alexander Hamilton High School, Lou had to go to work. Some of his many different jobs in factories and construction were short-lived, because he was fired for helping organize a union.

Lou first met Bernice Blohm, a Queens YCL activist, at a YCL dance. Bernice loved to dance. Lou soon became her partner, co-worker, and friend for life. They devoted their lives, from their teenage years on, to the fight for a better world and socialism.

Within weeks of their marriage in 1941, Lou left for Europe to fight fascism. He landed on Omaha Beach D-Day + 1. He fought all across Europe, participating in the link-up at the Elbe with the Soviet Army. During the Battle of the Bulge, Lou won the Bronze Star, with two citations for bravery under fire. He also received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant.

Shortly after returning from the war, Lou worked with the newly-formed World Federation of Democratic Youth in Prague. Upon returning to the U.S. Lou was active in the American Youth for Democracy and Young Progressives of America and then served in the leadership of the Labor Youth League.

At the request of the Party, Lou took a number of organizing assignments. From 1951 to 1969, Lou and Bernice lived in Chicago. There, Lou worked with the 600 Party members who were workers in the meat packing industry.

Later in Chicago, Lou was manager of the Modern Bookstore. Always imaginative and creative in his work, he took the bookstore to young people rather than waiting for them to come to it. During those years, Lou often spoke on campuses, challenging the anti-communist laws of that time that prohibited Communists from doing so.

From 1969-1972, Lou and Bernice lived in Los Angeles, where Lou served as the district organizer of the Southern California district of the Communist Party. In 1972, Lou and Bernice returned to New York where he was head of International Publishers. Lou brought new approaches to broadening IP’s book list and distribution.

In 1982, Lou helped expand the Communist Party’s Education Department beyond inner-Party education and public Marxist schools to work among academics, cultural work, and mass education through audio-visual means, literature, and presentation of the history of the CPUSA.

In 1992, during the period of great turmoil in the U.S. and world Communist movements, Lou and Bernice reluctantly left the Party they had loved and joined the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Without cutting off their recent associations, the Diskins rejoined the Communist Party in 2001, impressed by the soundness of its policy of all people’s unity to defeat the ultra-right Bush administration and Congress and by its progress on many fronts.

During the last years of his life, Lou worked on Marxist education programs, a study of the economy and politics of New York City, and U.S.-China friendship efforts. He also worked on an ad hoc committee which produced an affirmative action ad in the New York Times signed by 900 leading personalities, including five Nobel Laureates and national figures in the labor, civil rights, religious and academic communities. After returning to the Communist Party, despite illness, Lou spared no effort to help the Party as he could.

Lou is survived by Bernice, who has always been active in community struggles, especially those of tenants and in the cultural field.

– Daniel Rubin (pww@pww.org)