Tribute to Herb Kaye - 1917 - 2003

Herbert Kransdorf, long-time writer for the People’s Weekly World, died May 20, three days after his 86th birthday.

Kransdorf, born and raised in New York City, wrote under the name of Herb Kaye. He graduated from high school in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression and spent the summer in an unsuccessful search for work and, as he often said, “doing a lot of reading.”

His study and participation in mass meetings and demonstrations led Herb to join the Young Communist League, an experience he said he never regretted.

When the Communist Party asked its members to seek employment in basic industry to back up the CIO organizing drives of the ’30s, Kransdorf seized the opportunity to seek work on a merchant ship. “I always had the intention to sail on the deck [of a ship] where I could see and feel the sea and sky,” Kransdorf, ever the romantic, wrote in a brief biographical pamphlet.

The years that followed found Kransdorf walking picket lines during the 1936 strike of the National Maritime Union (NMU), raising money and recruits for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and holding forth as a street corner orator. “When I ran out of money, I’d ship out and take a suitcase of party literature with me. It’s a long time between ports so my shipmates and I had lots of time to read and talk politics.”

Herb’s seafaring life was interrupted when he was drafted in 1940 and served briefly in the army. Eventually he and hundreds of other seafarers were discharged and Kransdorf returned to his sea and ships, sailing the U-boat-infested North Atlantic. He was particularly proud that he had once sailed on the “Booker T. Washington,” commanded by Hugh Mulzac, the first African American skipper of an ocean-going vessel flying the U.S. flag.

After attending the 1945 NMU convention, Herb stayed in Baltimore where he worked as an NMU organizer and equally important, where he met the future Mrs. Kransdorf. As he told the story, he was standing in the back of the union hall when he “noticed this attractive young woman who I thought was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I was determined to meet her.” Before the year ended the couple was married, establishing a team that was to weather the political gales for 51 years until Jean died in 1996.

And gales there were: The anti-communist witch hunts in the NMU; the McCarthyite attacks and arrests of Communist Party members; the Port Security Act under which Kransdorf and some 1,500 others were denied the right to sail; and the years-long separation from his wife and children – Joe and Annie, at the time – when Herb went “underground” to preserve the Party organization.

When the winds of reaction moderated, the Kransdorf family moved to Pittsburgh, then to Detroit and, finally, to Chicago in 1974. There, at age 57, Herb got a job in a large steel mill – a job that lasted only until the FBI caught up with him.

But all was not lost. Kransdorf became the Chicago correspondent for the PWW and headed up the Party’s work in the area’s steel mills.

Kransdorf took advantage of his new assignment to build ties with leaders of the rank and file upsurge that mounted an electoral challenge for the leadership of the Steelworkers union in 1977.

Ed Sadlowski, the movement’s presidential candidate, said Kransdorf had “unbelievable staying power. For Herb it was not a matter of agreement or disagreement, but a matter of living up to one’s principles.”

Roberta Wood, co-founder of the District 31 Women’s Caucus of the Steelworkers union remembers Herb as a person who gave himself “very generously” to rank and file union activists. “If you needed help on a grievance or resolution – go see Herb. He was always there to help and prod you to action.”

Kransdorf moved to Oakland in 1997, in part to be in touch with an ever-growing brood of grand children, the latest – Herbert James Corrigan Kransdorf – who Herb met on May 17 when both were in the hospital. (Herb was “Grandpa” to many toddlers who instinctively recognized him for the softie he was.)

One of Herb’s proudest possessions was a jacket given him when he was made an honorary member of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). “We gave the jacket in recognition of his support of our 2002 contract fight and because we knew he – and the People’s Weekly World – could be trusted to defend the integrity of our union meetings,” ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member Clarence Thomas said.

Juan Lopez, chair of the Communist Party’s Northern California District, said. “Although the life of Herbert Kransdorf – writer, organizer, agitator and dedicated Communist – has ended, his spirit, best illustrated by the final paragraphs of his 1999 autobiography, lives on:

“I have remained an active member and leader of the Communist Party, USA, because I believe in the validity of its basic program and theory, which I think offers the only … alternative to the bankruptcy, degeneration and corruption of the capitalist system.

“This I believe, and being now in my eighty-second year, have seen no alternative that offers any better solution to life’s woes. I reaffirm my youthful commitment … to the Communist Movement. Long may it live!”

Herb is survived by three children – Bill joined the family in 1958 – five grand children, four great grand children and two brothers.