Workers Vanguard No. 1124
15 December 2017
Our comrade Bonnie Breen died in New York City at the age of 63 after a prolonged illness. Her death is a painful blow to comrades around the world. A longtime leading cadre of the International Communist League, Bonnie was greatly respected: a hard-working communist and a tenacious character who rejected the idea of mellowing with age.
Bonnie was born in Sacramento into a religious Christian Science family and broke from her upbringing. From a young age, the genocide of Native Americans sparked her social conscience and burning hatred of the crimes of the U.S. government. Like many of her generation, Bonnie was radicalized by the Vietnam antiwar movement, the Black Panthers’ fight against racial oppression and the struggles for women’s sexual freedom and social equality. Recruited as a campus activist at UC Berkeley in 1974, Bonnie, unlike most New Leftists, stayed true to the ideals of her youth and devoted her entire life to the fight for socialism.
Bonnie was red in tooth and claw—one of the ICL’s finest polemicists. In 1985, after the spectacular blowup of the British Healyites, pretenders to orthodox Trotskyism, Bonnie was selected to be on a team with more senior comrades to interview Jim Robertson and other 1966 London Conference participants on our definitive rupture with Gerry Healy two decades earlier (see “Healyism Implodes,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86). A short list of Bonnie’s greatest hits can be found in issues of our Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League pamphlet series. Just as everything V. I. Lenin wrote was a polemic against false ideas and organizations that were roadblocks on the path to proletarian state power, so too the ICL exposes our opponents claiming to be Trotskyist, including by reprinting their polemics against us.
Bonnie wrote the 1984 article, “Marxism and Bloodthirstiness” (reprinted in Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League No. 5: “The Bolshevik Tendency”), which stakes out the Marxist position that we are for the victory of just causes and the defeat of imperialism, but do not groove on the deaths of American soldiers sent to die for the U.S. ruling class. Year after year, Bonnie led our intervention at the U.S. Socialist Workers Party annual summer camp, engaging the few subjectively revolutionary elements there and often scoring that organization’s internal bulletins. Bonnie was also the main author of the 1990 Hate bulletin produced by the Spartacist League/Britain and the Dublin Spartacist Youth Group against Workers Power and the Irish Workers Group. This pamphlet is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the Russian Question and what it meant to be Soviet defensists in a period when Cold War II burned white-hot.
After her recruitment, Bonnie went on to be a Spartacist organizer in Boston and Cleveland. She rocketed to the leading national body of the Spartacus Youth League, serving as national organizational secretary and then editor of the monthly Young Spartacus. Our treaty on youth-party relations, modeled on the Bolsheviks’ work among youth, provided for an exchange of representatives on leading bodies. Bonnie was elected by the youth organization as its full representative on the Spartacist League/U.S. Central Committee. She was a central participant in the struggles to hammer out a correct political line for the youth organization on many important questions—including mobilizing against fascist terror, driving CIA/NSA and military recruiters off campus, intervening in campus divestment struggles, and combating the racist rollback of affirmative action in university admissions as part of our fight for open admissions and free tuition.
In the time-honored tradition of communist youth organizations making periodic forays into ultraleft sectarianism, Bonnie and the national youth leadership (as well as the party reps) had to be won away from a position that distorted the united-front tactic. They had insisted that other organizations must agree with our defense of the Soviet Union to engage in joint actions against U.S. imperialism in Central America in the 1980s. The fights to correct such errors are valuable parts of our party’s revolutionary continuity.
In 1978, the party waged a fight against the jocularly named “cloned youth”—a layer of young male intellectuals who imbibed the alien bourgeois values of great male “thinkers” served by female “doers.” Bonnie was one of several “earnest young women” whose symbiotic relationship with the “clones” was inimical to the Spartacist League’s conscious policy to develop leading women and black cadre. But Bonnie was won over, hard, and through this fight became a younger peer of the senior party leadership. One party rep to the youth press recalls that Bonnie was the best and most enjoyable of many Young Spartacus editors he worked with because she did not bow to power, nor was she subjective or defensive. She cared most about achieving political clarity.
SL/U.S. National Chairman Jim Robertson motivated a battlefield promotion for Bonnie as a full member of the Central Committee in 1986 for her stand-out role in combating instances of party passivity in the face of rising fascist activity and fighting political liquidation. Later that year, Bonnie was transferred to Britain to help lead the section in the wake of the collapse of its leadership, which had indicated a willingness to support Labour Party traitor Neil Kinnock in upcoming elections. Bonnie took over as editor of Workers Hammer and wrote the savage polemics exposing Kinnock as “Thatcher’s poodle” and giving voice to the angry coal miners and other proletarian sectors that had been stabbed in the back by Her Majesty’s Labour leaders.
Bonnie was a night owl on the prowl in the party office wherever she was stationed in the world. Her nocturnal habits and organizational skills positioned her to carry out a key task during the ICL’s 1989-90 intervention in the nascent political revolution in East Germany—from London. As there were no accessible phone lines from East Germany to West Germany, teams of Spartacist comrades in the East would make late-night calls to Bonnie in London, and she would then relay their reports and needs to a Spartacist organizer in West Berlin. Hours later, Berlin-based comrades would give boxes of our propaganda weapon, Spartakist-Arbeiterpressekorrespondenz, to train conductors and ask them to toss a carton from the train in Eisenhüttenstadt or wherever Bonnie reported that there were potential recruits to the Spartakist-Gruppen waiting to use our literature to fight capitalist reunification of Germany.
Bonnie became an alternate member of the ICL’s International Executive Committee in 1992. She transferred to Australia, where in 1993 she became editor of Australasian Spartacist and subsequently the central leader of the section. An Australian comrade wrote: “Bonnie had a lasting effect on raising the understanding of the section here, and by extension internationally, as to the horrendous legacy and hideous present of Aboriginal oppression and the role of this question in the battle for social revolution.” Bonnie fought to win the section to champion even partial victories in the Aboriginal struggle to claw back some of their land and/or wrest compensation.
In 1996, Bonnie moved back to the United States, where she worked closely with Workers Vanguard, remaining on its Editorial Board until her death. She went off the IEC in 1998, but was re-elected to that body as an alternate member in 2003, briefly serving in the International Secretariat. In 2004, she became a full member of the SL/U.S. Central Committee and was part of the Political Bureau for several years. Bonnie played a crucial role in working with young writers and paid special attention to training the editors of the Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard. Her death evoked an outpouring of grief and tributes from former youth editors who closely worked with her. One comrade recounted how she “despised those who pretended to know more than they did, and had great fun expressing this.”
Bonnie’s sense of humor was forceful and angular, but also dry and ironic. She was keenly attuned to the world of bourgeois politics, in all its absurdity and hypocrisy, and was a news junkie. Bonnie had a stubborn, adventurous and independent spirit. She was also known for her keen sense of fashion. In recent years, Bonnie’s health deteriorated, and she left the SL/U.S. Central Committee in 2015 and the IEC earlier this year. Already seriously ill, she was hit hard by the death of comrade Ed Cliffel in September. They were close friends who enjoyed feisty arguments—suitably lubricated with copious quantities of vodka, wine and cigarettes. Her last contribution to the party was a written remembrance of Ed.
Ever unbowing to convention, Bonnie lived the life she wanted and devoted herself to the cause of international proletarian socialist revolution. We honor her and miss her.