Harry Fleischman, a leader of Eugene V. Debs’s Socialist Party USA, and a life-long agitator for civil rights and social justice, died of cancer at his son Peter’s home in Manhattan on November 1. He was 90 years old.
Born in the Bronx on October 3, 1914, Fleischman became involved with the party as a teenager, eventually organizing unions and strikes at manufacturing jobs. He served as the Socialist Party’s national secretary from 1942 to 1950. He also was campaign director for Norman Thomas, the socialist candidate for president who ran six times between 1928 and 1958; W.W. Norton published Fleischman’s “Norman Thomas: A Biography” in 1964.
From 1953 to 1979, Fleischman worked as director of the American Jewish Committee’s National Labor Service, where the black press, labor press and Jewish press, among others, published his syndicated column, “Let’s Be Human.” For more than 50 years, he held a post with the Workers Defense League, a New-York labor-rights group, acting as its chairman for 25 of those years until shortly before his death.
Bernard Bellush, a friend and colleague dating back to the 1930s and a contributing editor at the Forward, offered praise for Fleischman’s gentle perseverance. “Most individuals became sour and disenchanted with the activism and seeking the goals of democratic socialism,” Bellush said. “But Harry Fleischman did not.”
Jon Bloom, executive director of the Workers Defense League, recalled how Fleischman was fond of repeating a quote attributed to Norman James. “There are no lost causes,” both men would say. “There are only causes not yet won.”
Fleischman’s first wife, Natalie, died in 1989. Surviving him are his second wife, Ethel, as well as three children, three stepchildren, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.