Spartacist English edition No. 60
Our comrade Diana Kartsen died on April 12 from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”). Although increasingly paralyzed as the disease progressed, Diana fought with every ounce of strength to contribute to party work and discussion, and for the preservation and continuity of the Prometheus Research Library where she was Librarian.
Diana’s death is a painful blow to our comrades internationally, and to no one more than her companion and comrade Ed Kartsen. Our hearts go out to Ed, to Diana’s family and to others close to her. We are bitter that we were robbed of a comrade of Diana’s caliber, not least because backward religious elements at the helm of the U.S. imperialist ruling class have condemned millions to suffer hideously by blocking stem cell research that might lead to a cure for ALS and other diseases. Diana’s dedication to human emancipation was also a struggle to free science from subordination to reactionary obscurantism through international socialist revolution.
Memorial gatherings for Diana were held internationally. Written tributes were sent in from all over the world, including from scholars who had worked with Diana at the Prometheus Research Library and from young women cadres of the International Communist League who saw in Diana the kind of communist they would like to be. It is our custom in the communist movement to honor fallen comrades at the graves of their revolutionary predecessors. Thus comrades gathered at the grave of Karl Marx in London, at the Wall of the Communards in Paris, at the memorial to the Haymarket martyrs in Chicago, and at the graves of heroic Soviet spies Richard Sorge and Ozaki Hotsumi in Japan.
Friends and family gathered at memorial meetings in New York on May 27 and in California on June 10. At both memorials, displays of photographs and documents highlighted in particular Diana’s role as a leader of our interventions at numerous demonstrations and as head of the PRL. As Ed Kartsen stated at the New York meeting: “She radiated strength, determination, competence, discipline, accountability, love, intelligence, objectivity—what can be summed up as the highest levels of comradeship.”
Comrades who had the privilege to know and work with Diana benefited from her camaraderie in multiple ways: as a political and military leader in demonstrations; as a department head who ensured that comrades were given a thorough political briefing and overview as the precondition to any assignment, no matter how pressing the tasks or short the time at hand; as a wry wit and sympathetic friend to share a drink with; as a moral person with a strong sense of right and wrong whom you could count on for good advice. In a letter to comrades on the day Diana died, Ed Kartsen succinctly conveyed her strengths:
“Diana has been correctly honored for her military command capabilities and as an inspiring leadership role model for many of the younger cadre. Of course she should also be honored for her lifelong work in the party to preserve the political history of our movement in her library work. This was an expression of her understanding of the importance of historic knowledge for the development of Marxist theory and program. She had a clear comprehension of the unity of mental and physical labor, that is, of theory with practice. She appreciated the value of maintenance, and the concept of systems.
“Her understanding of the value of knowledge included the understanding of the critical importance of acquiring new knowledge about the political and natural world. Diana’s pursuit of knowledge was driven with the same determination she showed on the battlefield and she took an active interest in learning the principles of dialectics. Diana combined organization and theory and understood both to be necessary in the fight for a socialist future of the human race.”
Diana was won to Marxism and the Spartacist League as a student at the University of Chicago during the tumultuous period of the Vietnam antiwar movement. One comrade recalled seeing “this striking young woman with red flowing hair and a visible hammer and sickle pin on her jacket striding across campus.” While a graduate student specializing in Islamic art, she was won from the orbit of the International Socialists to authentic Trotskyism—to the importance of defending the gains of the Russian Revolution and building a party capable of leading the fight for new Octobers.
After working for a period of time as a close supporter of our Revolutionary Marxist Caucus in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), in October 1971 she became a founding member of the Chicago branch of the Revolutionary Communist Youth, youth group of the Spartacist League. Shortly thereafter she went to live and study in India, where she functioned under the political direction of the party. She joined the Spartacist League in 1974 after her return.
That same year, a Perspectives and Tasks document passed at the SL/U.S. Fourth National Conference stated:
“One of the crucial tasks of the vanguard of the proletariat is the struggle to function as the memory of the working class. An important component of this struggle for continuity is the systematic assembling, propagation and critical assimilation of the primary documentary history of the workers movement. Given the passage of time and the accumulation of distortions and vulgarizations, only the precise, verified reconstruction of past realities can serve as a true compass
“We recognize that archival work constitutes an important party task and project the regular assignment of a qualified comrade to direct this work.”
Diana was the qualified comrade found to lead the work of the Prometheus Research Library, drawing on her experience as an assistant at the Tamiment Library at New York University. The Prometheus Research Library’s collection grew out of the 40-year accumulated and organized collection of SL National Chairman James Robertson. With Diana as Librarian and Jim as Director, the PRL accumulated over 6,000 books and periodical volumes. Particular emphasis is on minutes of leading committees and internal discussion materials from our revolutionary forebears. She also led the Library through the painstaking archival research and other work involved in the publishing of two books on historic American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon (James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism and Dog Days: James P. Cannon vs. Max Shachtman in the Communist League of America, 1931-1933), a publication of Trotsky’s Third International After Lenin in the original Russian and six Prometheus Research Series bulletins.
There are few positions in top party leadership and administration where Diana did not serve. The delegates at the SL’s Sixth National Conference in 1980 elected Diana as a candidate member of the Central Committee. For a period of time she was department head for the International Secretariat while also holding down the Library. Elected a full member of the Central Committee in 1983, Diana was later elected to the SL/U.S. Political Bureau and to the office of National Secretary, paying particular attention to the often conflicting demands of central office departments and SL locals and to politically organizing the necessary discussion to prioritize our work. She also served for some years as Political Bureau secretary. Diana’s objectivity, fairness and integrity particularly suited her longtime role as the Central Committee representative to the party’s Central Control Commission.
Diana was also recognized as the party’s best military leader. In May 1981, she received a battlefield promotion from candidate to alternate member of the Central Committee and won a commendation from the Political Bureau for fighting to marshal our forces against a daisy-chain goon squad set up by the reformist Workers World Party to seal off a rally by our Anti-Imperialist Contingent at an El Salvador demonstration in Washington, D.C. While Workers World appealed to Democratic Party “doves” to set a more “humane” policy for U.S. imperialism, our contingent drew the class line over the civil war raging in El Salvador with the slogans “Military Victory to Leftist Insurgents!” and “Defense of Cuba, USSR Begins in El Salvador!”
From that day forward, Diana was a central military and political leadership component of almost every mass labor/black mobilization initiated by the Spartacist League or Partisan Defense Committee to stop the KKK and Nazi fascists, and dozens of other demonstrations.
With pain and sadness, and determination to continue the struggle to which Diana dedicated her life, comrades worldwide give the party’s best military commander a last, strong comradely salute.