Editorial Notes

The Death of John Donlin

(April 1931)

Written: April 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 7, 1 April 1931, p. 2.
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John Donlin, veteran of the revolutionary labor movement, is dead at Kansas City at the age of 68. In this tragic event the Communist movement suffers a real loss. The memory of this exemplary man and revolutionist is very dear to those who fought beside him in the past and it is not easy to speak of him as of one no longer in the struggle. For the writer of these lines the name of John Donlin stands today – as it has stood for twenty years – as the symbol of a model soldier for whom devotion and service to the cause of the proletariat is its own justification and its own reward.

John Donlin was not a conspicuous figure, not a hero acclaimed by the crowd. He lived and worked obscurely as a man of the rank and file. He was a true “Jimmy Higgins” – that ideal militant of Ben Hanford’s portrayal. He never made a speech, but he carried the soap-box for many a speaker. He was not a writer, but he could distribute the literature written by other men – and throw a dollar into the hat to pay for it. He was not a leader and never pretended to be one. But he could set before leaders an example of unwavering allegiance to principle. His biography, like that of uncounted thousands who have worked in quiet places, can be written simply: He lived, he worked for the revolution, and he died.

With his death the Communist movement in the middle West has lost a personality which was a bond uniting it with the best traditions of the past – with the Socialist Party of Debs and Hanford and with the I.W.W. in its days of glory. In the person of John Donlin the revolutionary proletariat was represented by the figure of a man who was able, in a rare degree, to rise above the mean and petty self-concern generated by the class society of the present day and to approach the dignity and stature of the Communist man of the future.

By contemporary standards John Donlin was not a success in life. He was a worker, and as such his rewards were meager. The best energies of his manhood’s prime were given to the revolution. Physical ailments, joined with the direst poverty, assailed him like twin monsters in his declining years. But his unconquerable spirit rose triumphant over all the vicissitudes of personal fortune, and he remained to the last a confident revolutionist. The old warrior never shirked his duties, even though his duty – as he saw it – consisted in the distribution of a leaflet.

While carrying out such a task he was arrested and confined in the hell-hole of Leeds Farm where once before he served a sentence in the Free Speech Fight of 1913. The indignities and abuses he suffered there brought on his death. Thus, despite his great infirmities, he died in harness as a worker and fighter for the cause. By our standards such a life represents a real success. It will be vindicated. A new generation of proletarian revolutionaries will pick up his banner and carry it to victory.

Last updated on: 14.12.2012