James P. Cannon

Farewell to Inger Swabeck

(12 July 1948)

Published: The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 29, 19 July 1948, p. 2.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The following is a complete stenographic report of the address of James P. Cannon at the funeral of Inger Swabeck in Chicago, Monday, July 12, 1948.

Dear Friends:

I will first relate Inger’s biography. She was born in Horsens, Denmark, May 30, 1895. Her maiden name was Inger Lindhardtsen. She came to the United States, to stay here in Chicago, in the spring of 1916. A little later Inger met Arne Swabeck, who was also an immigrant from Denmark, in the Chicago Karl Marx Club, the local Scandinavian branch of the Socialist Party. On May 12, 1920, Inger and Arne were married. She became the mother of one son, Edgar, who was born June 11, 1921. Inger died at the age of 53. Her survivors are a mother, a sister, and a brother in Denmark; a sister, Mrs. Thora Hansen, a resident of Chicago; her husband Arne, and her son Edgar.

Inger was loved by all. This, is testified to by the telegrams that have been pouring in from all parts of the country, from comrades and friends who knew her. And all of us here testify to the same.

Some people are called upon to play their part on great stages where all the world can see them and hear them. Others, and they are the great majority, do their Work in quiet corners, observed and noticed only by the few who come into intimate contact with them. Inger was one of those, but she was none the less important for all of that.

One of Old Guard

Inger was one of the old guard of the party. She was one of those who sustained and supported the party in its hardest days, when it seemed that the whole world was conspiring to break it, to smash it. In those hard days of the early Thirties, when very few people cared for us or believed in our future, Inger cared. She believed.

We had to call Arne from Chicago to New York in 1930. We could not get along without him. He had to give up his job. They had to break up their home, dispose Of their furniture and come to New York to work under conditions of unbelievable hardship and poverty, to try to hold the fragile nucleus of the party together.

Inger came uncomplainingly. And even under those difficult conditions, she set about her own chosen task to put together a few sticks of furniture and make a home where her warrior husband might rest and recuperate from his labors and his battles; and where her young son might grow up in an atmosphere of mutual affection, and mutual respect and concern for humanity.

I was privileged to be a frequent guest in the home that Inger made for her husband and her son in New York. It always seemed like an oasis. All the storms of the world were raging outside, but the home that Inger made and presided over always recalled to my mind the beautiful words of the English poet, Rupert Brooke: “There was peace and holy quiet there.”

More Beautiful Than Ever

I last saw Inger two years ago, after a long separation. She and Arne had been released from their task in New York and had returned to Chicago. Arne had gone back to work at his trade and she had built a new home in her own town, Chicago. When I last saw her she seemed to me more beautiful than ever. With grey hair framing her fair young face, she seemed to be blooming with a second youth. Her life work was crowned with victory. Her husband, who had worn himself sick under the long stress of his tasks in New York, had been restored to health under her tender care. Her son had grown to manhood and had taken his own place in the army of labor and the army of the socialist revolution.

I will never forget the pride that glowed in her face when she told me: “Edgar is on his own now. He is grown up. He is making his own living, has joined the union, and joined the party all by himself.”

It was just then, when everything seemed best, that the worst troubles of dear Inger’s life assailed her. Physical illness took a Cruel toll of her body; and on top of that, the dark sickness of the mind, which no medicine could cure, came over her. She fought a long time against that, but it was a losing fight. All her courage, and all her husband’s tender care, and her son’s solicitude – not all that was sufficient to contend with that dread enemy.

And when Inger finally yielded to it, she remained true to herself and to her real nature, which was dominated above all by her concern for others, by her love for others.

I think we can most truly describe her as we all thought of her, as we remember her, if we recall the words of the great apostle, Paul: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

Gift of Love

We remember her, we, and all who knew her, all those whose paths of life touched hers – We remember her as one who “had love.” Hers Was the precious gift of love. Her whole life was spent in the service of others. Even in her last act she gave testimony to her love. She feared that the sickness of her mind would grow worse, not better. She feared a greater evil, a greater calamity, for her family; and she wanted to choose for them the lesser evil. That is the real meaning of her last act of renunciation and sacrifice.

If we remember her that way we Will remember her truly as she really was. And we will speak the truth if we say that her last action in taking her own life was no sin, but on the contrary, a final demonstration of the basic principle of her life, of her love and concern for others.

It is not for us to enquire into the wisdom of her act, or to judge, or to criticize. It is only for us to try to understand. It is for us only, as we stand here with the grief-stricken family of this blameless woman, the blameless husband, and the blameless son and the grieving sister – it is only for us to say to them that we, their friends and comrades, do understand. We stand here with our arms around them in sympathy and solidarity. And we entreat them: Dear friends, do not refuse to be comforted. Be rather comforted and consoled by the memory of all that Inger gave to you to all of us. We are all better for that, and our lives are brighter.

But even here, as we say farewell to Inger, we must not forget our duty. We must not forget that we are soldiers in the war for the liberation of humanity. We must remember, too, that Inger in her own way, in her own fashion, was also a soldier of the revolution. For that her grave, as the poet Heine said, should be marked not with a cross but with a sword. We must all try to do a little more now to make up for her loss and to honor her memory.

World Needs Us

The strongest warrant for living is the sense of being needed. The world needs us; the party needs us. I venture to remind the stricken husband of this dear woman; I venture to remind him that for the old guard of the party, to which he and she both belong, duty is the first commandment. And when duty calls, even though they have been knocked to the earth and have to crawl on their hands and knees, the old guard will answer and obey.

We who have this philosophy dare to end even a funeral service on a martial note. We will say farewell now to this dear child who blessed out lives with her love. And then we will rise, all of us together, rise from the ashes of grief to go back to work, back to the battle.

Last updated: 2 November 2022