Hayden Perry 1914-2000

Against the Current, No. 89, November/ December 2000

Edmund Kovacs

DESPITE HIS ADVANCED years, Hayden Perry was the most activist member of the Oakland-Bay Area branch of Solidarity for the past six years.  After his wife Esther died several years ago, he lived very modestly on his social security pension of $750 a month in an old-age facility in Berkeley, using his bicycle for transportation and signing up for the meeting hall in the home for the branch to use.

In recent years Hayden contributed several important articles to this magazine: on the importance of defending social security from the menace of privatization, on the long struggle for freedom for Leonard Peltier, and—the most ambitious—the history of the United Labor Party of San Francisco in the early twentieth century, which Hayden felt had relevance for the effort to build a Labor Party today.

The editors of ATC greatly respected Hayden as a highly competent writer, who thoroughly researched his topics yet was neither egotistical nor self-promoting in his writing.

To the end, he participated on all levels of branch and Labor Party activity, until he collapsed on his front lawn, dying shortly after an ambulance took him to the hospital.

Mortality and Permanence

Younger people usually do not think of death or of dying, but as one gets older and as the likelihood of one’s own demise moves inexorably closer, older people begin to contemplate the inevitable.  Being part of Hayden’s generation, it appears to this writer that the style and manner of his death were admirable in their brevity, occurring without any preceding debility.  He was a printer, belonging to the Typographical Union.  When work became hard to get in the Bay Area, he and Esther moved to Los Angeles.  After retirement, they moved back to Oakland/ Berkeley.

Hayden was part of that generation of worker activists of the Thirties and Forties who joined the Trotskyist movement during the class battles of those years, staying in the Socialist Workers Party during the succeeding decades until all the older cadre were purged by the Barnes leadership in the Eighties.

The worker militants of the thirties and forties are almost all gone now, although there are still a few left here and there, two or three in Solidarity, a few here and there in other groups or not belonging to any group.

Some became national figures, others were local leaders and not a few remained rank and filers.  But what rank and filers they were! Questioning, evaluating, critical, not ever accepting something at face value, just because somebody said so. In short, they were the kind of ranks that make democracy functional in a workers organization.

Hayden was a prime example of that kind of rank and filer.  He always had questions about proposals or analyses, no matter who proposed it or what it was about.  Some comrades tend to get a little impatient with people like that, but that is how democracy works its cumbersome way.

Sometimes Hayden and I would start out on the same side of an issue, only to end up on opposite side. At other times, we would start on different sides and end up on the same team in the end. After the Eighties purges, we started out in the same organization, separated into two different groups, only to come together again in Solidarity in the end.

It was never a question of doubting the cause of socialism or of not being loyal to our ideas, but always honest disagreements discussed in a sometimes vehement yet still comradely way, with mutual respect for each other’s long and battle-tested experiences.  The bonds uniting us were always stronger than the circumstances separating us.

Human life is finite and comes to an end, but the movement is permanent.  Hayden lives in the movement, in the striving for the socialist future that unites all of us in Solidarity and beyond.

Edmund Kovacs is a member of Solidarity in Los Angeles and a longtime friend of Hayden Perry.

ATC 89, November-December 2000