The Indispensable Ones

This speech was delivered on March 23, 2007 at the Tamiment Library in New York, on the occasion of the reception of the archives of the Communist Party USA to the library.

Tonight we are celebrating the passage of a massive and unique collection of documents, photos, films, and materials from the Communist Party and the Reference Center for Marxist Studies to Tamiment Library. It is truly a historic occasion.

These items are glimpses into the past, and I had the opportunity to see a small sampling of them during this process. The collection helps paint a picture of the Party’s history, but it does not reflect every story of our Party’s past. The items that make up this gift are simply snapshots of the incredibly varied, complicated and rich history of the Communist Party and also of the amazing multiracial, multinational, multilingual working class in this country.

Over its history, our Party reached every state, and cities and towns large and small. It involved and affected the lives of millions of people in this country. Not just the thousands upon thousands of people who were members of the Party at one time or another, but the hundreds of thousands more who were close to the Party, influenced by the Party, supporters and allies of the Party.

People make history. Not the items in a library. And it is people who we honor today. It seems obvious, but we must remind ourselves of this fact. We must remind ourselves that every newspaper was carried and distributed by a dedicated volunteer, that every speech was delivered from a soapbox or podium by an activist, every song was scratched out on a napkin by a young troubadour, every action, demonstration or protest was organized by everyday people drawn into the struggle by the vision and the hope represented by the Communist Party.

We salute the unnamed factory worker who organized the mill, the political refugee who raised money to support freedom in their home country, the student volunteer whose body is buried in Spanish soil, the courageous woman who refused to “name names”, the unsung man who championed women’s right to equal pay for equal work, the organizer who smuggled leaflets to workers the fruit groves, the peace activist who broke the silence on the wars in Korea and Vietnam—they and countless others make up our Party’s history.

Every contribution is important and unique, but no one did it alone. Nor would any of them claim so. They always worked together through unity to win victories for America’s working people.

We cannot honor them all. We can never even know all of their names. But tonight, we take a moment to honor a few of them. We honor some of those devoted and tireless activists who are here with us tonight. Some of them were in and remained in the Party and they have a special place in our hearts, and others were “fellow travelers” or members who left over the years. But all those present have dedicated their lives to the struggle for a better world.

There are many more who could not make it tonight, and we honor them as well. I can only aspire to live my life as they have.

In the words of the German playwright, Bertold Brecht:

“There are men who struggle for a day, and they are good. There are those who struggle for many years, and they are better. But there are those who struggle for their whole lives— and these are the indispensable ones.”

Those we honor here today are the indispensable ones.

This article originally appeared at . Libero Della Piana is chair of the New York State district of the Communist Party USA.