Editorial note: We’ve had the privilege of knowing Walter Tillow for several years and by re-posting this artcle we just want to join the celebration of his life drawn in this piece by ML Today.
Our comrade, Walter Tillow, turns eighty this month.
Walter joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s, organizing against and resisting segregation in the South. His experience in SNCC led him to working and coordinating with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in its efforts to get seated at the 1964 Atlantic City Democratic Convention.
Walter grew close to and joined the Communist Party in the late 1960s. After a stint in the labor movement, Walter and his wife, Kay, relocated to Pittsburgh, PA, where he worked full time for the CPUSA. He became Western PA District Organizer, before taking on the responsibility for leading the Party’s publishing arm, Prompt Press, in Camden, New Jersey.
In 2005, he “retired” to Louisville, Kentucky. He continues to work diligently and productively in anti-racist, working class, solidarity, and Communist politics.
Walter is a leader and founding member of the Marxism-Leninism Today collective.
The Library of Congress has recorded and transcribed much of Walter’s inspiring record in the fight for racial justice here. His wife Kay’s equally heroic work is chronicled here.
Below, we share many of the warm tributes we have received from Walter’s comrades and friends on this occasion.
Happy Birthday, Walter!
The Editors, Marxism-Leninism Today
Nikos Seretakis, KKE ( CP Greece)
I got to know comrade Walter in difficult times, when the counter-revolutionary wave was in full swing. Class conciliation seemed to have neutralized the workers’ movement while in the US the liquidationist platform of Sam Webb was delivering a deathblow to the historical organization of the working class.
It was a period when questions were raised before our movement rather than answers, uncertainties appeared stronger than convictions. Yet, despite all odds, we were holding steady, whispering “And yet it does move” [E pur si muove – Galileo. The earth moves around the sun] . However, that was not enough. Revolutionaries needed to combine theoretical knowledge with firm class consciousness, hope about the future with courage in the daily struggle, and firm trust in the historical mission of the working class. Upholding proletarian internationalism was as vital as breathing fresh air.
Initially it started like just having a distant penpal: exchanging of emails, sharing interesting articles and resources, pinpointing developments here and there in the world. However, day after day, mail after mail something started to change. Our relation became more substantial. By the time I finally met him and his beloved wife Kay during the WFTU congress in Athens in 2011, I already had in him a real comrade and friend, a selfless, dedicated, ardent internationalist.
With this background it is not by chance that he outwardly rejected the Sirens of the emerging new social-democracy expressed by Syriza and other forces. At no moment he hesitated in providing his generous and unwavering solidarity with the struggles of the Greek workers, with, he never lessened his support for KKE. And a friend in need is a friend indeed.
What have I learned from Walter? I think he made me understand better what the communist poet Nazim Hikmet described saying
It’s this way:
Being captured is beside the point
The point is not to surrender.
Happy birthday Walter, thank you, and I do wish that we will have the chance this year to receive you and Kay in our country again!
Pedro Eusse, Labor Secretary, CP Venezuela
It has been a privilege for me to have known, some years ago in Nicaragua (during the Trade Union Meeting of Our America), dear comrade and friend Walter. An experienced American communist, who has dedicated his whole life to the cause of the working class, with an exceptional sense of proletarian internationalism and of brotherhood among communists.
It was an honor for us Venezuelan communists to receive his visit a few months ago, accompanied by his wife Kay and several of his comrades. We were able to confirm then his extraordinary quality as a revolutionary cadre, by listening to his clear and profound analysis of the contradictions of the world in which we live; without a doubt, a convinced Marxist-Leninist of our times.
Comrade and friend Walter, happy birthday!
Here in Venezuela you have a brother.
Ramón Labañino Salazar, one of the Cuban Five; Vice President, Cuban National Association of Economists and Accountants
I met Walter Tillow in 2010 while I was serving time (a life plus 18 years sentence, because we, “The Cuban Five,” were fighting terrorism in U.S.) in USP McCreary. I remember our first embrace, on his first visit. He was always like family, like a big brother, supporting me and my whole family when they came to U.S. to visit me in prison. He was an essential part in the struggle for our freedom, very active as member of the solidarity movement. He dedicated his life and devotion to our cause. I had the honor of decorate him with the “Friendship Medal” awarded by the ICAP, “Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples”. More than any other recognition, he is a part of our family forever, a dear brother and a special comrade on whom we can count at any time to defend the just causes of the world.
Five hugs for our dear Walter Tillow!
Ramón Labañino Salazar.
Vice-Presidente de la ANEC
Elizabeth Palmeiro, wife of one of the Cuban Five
For my daughters and for me to talk about Walter Tillow is to talk about someone as close as a father.
It was in 2008 when we broke into the tranquility of his home and the routine of his life with his beloved Kay. Walter would become from that moment on, the safe company and the necessary support during our obligatory stays in his country. Walter harbored us at his home in Louisville, Kentucky to drive with us to a maximum security prison: USP McCreary.
Laura was 15 years old, Lizbeth 11. For several years we had to go through the bitter experience of entering a US maximum security prison. They suffered the humiliation of scrutiny before entering and the pain of the farewell to the unjustly imprisoned father.
Thanks to Walter and Kay everything was less sad. His understanding, patience, love and conviction of the difficult times through which we were living as family, made him travel hundreds of miles by car from their home to FCI Jessup, in Georgia, just to protect us and help us in everything we needed. For Walter there never existed long distances.
Even today, we laugh when we remember Walter’s face of surprise and laughter when we lived our first contact with snow. It was in Ashland, Kentucky. Very emotionally he told us: “Don’t be scared it’s just snow…”
We never forget his interest in easing the pain of making visits to the prison with a whole plan of side visits to distract my daughters by taking them to a museum, a zoo and a park, like a father with his daughters.
Walter organized the stay, he looked for the best and most economical hotel. He postponed his tasks to accompany us. In case he could not make it, he arranged everything with another partner. He phoned almost everyone he knew about us. Like a father he gave us so much love and concern.
Walter suffered and enjoyed with us every setback and every victory in the case of the Cuban Five. Cuba has been always in his heart and mind.
There are a lot of things to say about his militant life. Walter is an example of devotion, modesty and revolutionary awareness. He has been involved on behalf of every progressive movement in the world that has given welfare and social justice to its peoples.
As friend of the Cuban Revolution, it would be impossible to enumerate all the reasons why he was decorated with the Friendship Medal, granted by the Cuban Friendship Institute (ICAP) The Medal was bestowed in the presence of the Five, Gerardo, Rene, Fernando, Gerardo and Ramón.
We are honored and happy to have met him and counted on him as a true friend of the Cuban Revolution.
That is why on this day in which he is honored on his birthday, we wish him all the best, good health and many good things, so his example and love will accompany us.
Happy Birthday, dear Father!!!!!
Laura, Lizbeth and me, Elizabeth
Greg Godels is a Pittsburgh-based blogger and activist who offers commentaries on current events, political economy, and the Communist movement from a Marxist-Leninist perspective.
Walter found my name and address on a Daily World subscription list. Armed with a copy of Henry Winston’s newly released Strategy for a Black Agenda, he visited me in the early 1970s. We date our friendship from that time.
He coaxed me into going with him to mill gate distributions of the DW, a task which I didn’t relish. With the McCarthy era in my rearview mirror, the idea of engaging steelworkers with the Communist newspaper made me apprehensive. Walter’s example stiffened my commitment, one which took us to mill gates throughout the Pittsburgh era and started my own understanding of the necessity of bringing the message of socialism to workers.
Walter’s dedication to the Daily World was unmatched. His efforts were chronicled in a chapter (in Aliquippa, vor dem Stahlwerk) in the book, Die Muttermilchpumpe, by a visiting German comrade.
As a leader and eventually District Organizer of the Western Pennsylvania CPUSA, Walter developed an uncommon bond with and respect from the membership: veteran Communists, Black and white workers. When the national leadership requested that Walter be released from his assignment in our district to assume responsibility for Prompt Press in New Jersey, the Party’s printing facility, I was asked to make the case for his release with the comrades. The veteran Communists, the fighters who persisted through the worse anti-Communist inquisitions, refused to allow him to leave. It took two more attempts and much personal pleading before the last holdout, Lou Bortz, a beloved worker and veteran of the Spanish anti-fascist war, finally conceded. Such was the esteem shown him by his comrades.
After the demise of long-time leader Gus Hall, Walter was one of the few– very few– in the national leadership of the CPUSA who stood against the liquidationist tendencies. Standing nearly alone against the Webbites and those too timid to challenge them, Walter earned the respect of genuine Marxist-Leninists here and abroad.
Subsequently, he was one of the founders of our website, Marxism-Leninism Today.
His solidarity with the first free country of the Americas, Cuba, was well expressed by his dogged support for the Cuban Five. He became a US “parent” to Ramón Labañino and his family while he was incarcerated in Ashland, Kentucky (a federal prison where many Communists were imprisoned in the past). The Cuban Council of State awarded him the distinguished Friendship Medal.
When the Abu Ghraib tortures came to light, Walter led the struggle to get Henri Alleg’s definitive book, La Question published in English. He fought to attain the rights to the English translation and to find a US publisher.
Throughout our shared years, I have never known anyone to be a better friend and more dedicated comrade than Walter Tillow.
Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny, co-authors, Socialism Betrayed
Without the labors of Walter Tillow, there would have been no Spanish-language edition of Socialism Betrayed (Socialismo Traicionado) published in Cuba in 2013 and launched with considerable official fanfare at the Havana Book Fair in January 2014.
Moreover, without the Cuban edition breakthrough, it is far from certain that two other publishers in the Spanish-speaking world, (El Viejo Topo, Barcelona, Spain in 2014 and Edithor, Quito, Ecuador in 2017) would have undertaken to translate and publish the book.
Ramon Labañino, one of the Cuban Five, is now free, back in Cuba, and a top officer of the Cuban Association of Economists and Accountants (ANEC). The Cuban Five (Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González) were five Cuban intelligence officers arrested in September 1998 and held until December 2014. They were wrongfully convicted in Miami of “conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, acting as an agent of a foreign government” and other illegal activities in the United States. In reality the Five were in the United States to observe and infiltrate notorious terrorist and right-wing Cuban-American groups such as Alpha 66, the F4 Commandos, the Cuban-American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue.
Ramon Labañino was imprisoned at Ashland Kentucky Federal Correctional Institute near the West Virginia border, about three hours by car from Kay Tillow and Walter Tillow’s home in Louisville, Kentucky. Walter chose to make it his personal political responsibility to visit Ramon often, and to help with family visitations to the prison and to give him books. The Five were well educated men. Ramon is an economist and can read English well. Walter gave him a copy of Socialism Betrayed in English, which dealt among other things with the political economy of the Soviet downfall, above all, the growth of the underground, private economy in the last three decades of the Soviet era.
The book’s thesis, in Ramon’s view, was relevant to the debates in Cuba about the possible perils of the pro-market reforms being introduced. Ramon saw a need for the book to be translated into Spanish and made available in Cuba. With the support of the other four he appealed to the political and publishing authorities in Havana to translate and publish the book. When it appeared, it contained a prologue from Ramon, written from his prison cell in Kentucky, explaining the need to deepen the debates about economic reform in Cuba, and to consider the Soviet experience.
Walter went further. He bought scores of copies of the Cuban edition and mailed them to leaders of revolutionary movements, Communist and left socialist political parties and left governments in Latin America. These books have been read in the most interesting places. For example, in autumn 2019, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, second only to President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, at the People’s Forum, thanking US antiwar activists who had helped her and Venezuela’s UN diplomatic mission successfully navigate a hectic UN General Assembly week in New York City made difficult by the Trump Administration, leaned over on a receiving line and said to one of us, in passing, “I read your book. I liked it.” It was a comment that gladdened the co-authors’ hearts.
Socialism Betrayed has been translated into many languages: for example, Russian, Bulgarian, Farsi, Greek, Turkish, French, and Portuguese. It has been most often translated into Spanish. Comrade Walter Tillow had everything to do with that. We are enormously grateful to him. Walter also helped to get Socialism Betrayed published in France. Walter knew the great French Communist journalist, Henri Alleg, and was instrumental in getting Alleg’s book on his imprisonment and torture during the Algerian Revolution published in the United States. After Alleg had made some favorable comments on our book, Walter urged us to contact him. We met Alleg in France, and he in turn put us in touch with Aymeric Monville of Delga Editions. Alleg’s wife and son helped translate the book into French and in 2012 Delga published it. Le Socialisme Trahi was launched at the Fete de l’Humanite in September 2012.
Also, Walter played a key role in the decision to start MLToday.com and to shape its purpose. All of the founders of MLToday were members of the CPUSA who were increasingly disenchanted by the CPUSA’s relentless march into what Lenin called the swamp of opportunism, but because of his long leadership of the Party’s Prompt Press and his long membership on the Party’s National Committee, Walter’s participation in the founding of MLToday.com gave the effort an indispensable fount of knowledge and experience, international contacts, and a stamp of legitimacy. Walter’s vast array and constantly expanding contacts has greatly expanded the reach of MLToday. Walter’s readership of new studies relevant to the left has been an enduring source of articles and books to review.
Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny are co-authors of Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991 Second English-language edition, 2010, i-Universe
Roger D. Harris, Task Force on the Americas
I have had the pleasure of knowing Walter Tillow and his comrade and spouse Kay through the solidarity movement for Latin America and the Caribbean. As a champion of the popular classes, Walter exemplifies the virtues of being stalwart, militant, and generous. He is a lifelong, effective credit to the movement for a better world. Happy Birthday!
Michael Scheinberg, activist, college teacher
Happy 80th Birthday!
Comrade Walter, I include you among my favorite people! I look back on my many years working with you at the print shop, very fondly. What better way to spend one’s time, then to spend it in struggle efforts with a comrade like you. I did appreciate then, and do to this day, your thoughts on the many political issues that concern us all. I valued and appreciated then, and now, all the work, time, and effort that you (and Kay) have spent around the labor for single payer campaign. Likewise, with your efforts to help free the Cuban Five and a number of other issues. The reason I include you among my favorite people, is that it was apparent to me that you have lived your life according to this statement (possibly made by Fidel?) which I value highly: “…because seeking individual happiness in itself is not genuine. It is only true when, like the world’s eternal guerrilla, it has a collective soul and a vocation for humanity”.
Happy Birthday and many more!
Dan Kovalik, author of many books
Walter Tillow has lived a revolutionary life. He has given everything he has to the cause of justice and social change, and he has truly had a global impact. To me, a great example of his work was Walter’s driving many hours on many occasions to help the families of the Cuban 5 when they were visiting their husbands and fathers in prison. This is an example of Walter’s quiet and patient service to the cause which was hugely impactful if largely unseen. Walter has been a guide and support to me in my own life and work, and I wish him the best and my undying gratitude on his 80th birthday.
Ed Grystar, former president, Butler County United Labor Council
Walter Tillow, friend, comrade, teacher and organizer
Wishing you a Happy 80th
Hasta la Victoria Siempre
Rich Giovanoni, Website Administrator, MLToday.com
Walter Tillow has been a mentor, a comrade, a co-worker and a friend for the thirty-three years that I’ve known him. He has always stood up strong for all working people and for Marxism-Leninism both here in the USA and across the globe – and as such has inspired many others including myself to do more than we thought we could ever do to help advance the struggle for worldwide socialism.
Bob Bonner, former President, Local 2028 AFGE
It is nearly impossible to express the depth of my respect, admiration, and love for Walter Tillow with a few sentences, a few paragraphs, or even a few books as he embarks on his ninth decade of life. Walter has been a, mentor, a confidant, and has helped me accomplish things I could never have done without his assistance and advice.
The examples and events are far too numerous to enumerate here so forgive me if I only mention a few.
– Passing out the DW at Maple Creek Mine a week after some of our comrades had their papers taken from them by an anti-communist mine worker. When the miner in question asked Walter if the paper was a Communist paper, Walter responded, “It’s not a Republican Party paper.” Asked again, he replied, “It’s not a Democratic Party paper.’ Noticing me leaning against the wall of the bridge where Walter had stationed me, the questioner decided to drive on.
-Distributing the DW at mill gates and at other mines;
-Arranging for Communist Party speakers to appear on campus at California University of Pa. and Point Park College while I attended classes there;
-Helping me put together the Priority Party;
-Critiquing my newsletters and leaflets and teaching me the little I know about journalism. I vividly recall his response over the telephone after I had sent him an article I hoped to have published, probably in the DW, “Do you have a Post-Gazette in front of you?’
“Yes, I replied.”
“How many sentences are there in each paragraph?”
“Now look at yours.”
Lesson learned although I am certain I was much more argumentative and difficult than that.
Always ready to assist me and my comrades in Clairton with projects and study groups from our Caravan in support of striking UMW workers at the Mathies Mine local, to our scattered site housing effort which led one councilman to remark that, “the thing I liked about Korea was we could kill Communists.”
His help to me and my family when my son had a critical illness was immeasurable. I won’t embarrass him more with the details of all he did but we all are forever grateful.
I am so proud and so honored to have had Walter play a role in my life, and by no means was it a minor one, in making me the person I am.
Happy birthday Walter.
Jim Bonner, Member Local 85 ATU, Pittsburgh
December 4, 2019
Happy Birthday Walter. Thank you for your efforts which contributed to saving my life in 1983.
In March of that year I was diagnosed with childhood leukemia. Walter went above and beyond to help my family secure treatment at the Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York City. Without his generosity my family and I would have been devastated. He also went on to help with securing lodging while we were staying in NYC. I still remember my Mom and Dad walking me through New York City and traveling on on the hot and crowded subway trains. Several years later I had the great opportunity to live in New York in my early adulthood. That would not have been possible without Walter and his generous contribution.
Nearly 10 years ago when I was laid off Walter called and asked if I would be willing to go to Jessup Georgia to help with the Cuban Five. Not knowing much about the case I accepted. What I thought would be a routine road trip ended up being an opportunity that would forever change my life . I had the opportunity to spend a week with the two family members of Cuban Five driving them around and assisting with their daily needs. I was honored to have such a great opportunity however I was elated Walter would think of me to carry out such an important task that created a great memory.