Larry Lawrence 1950–2020

4 May 2021

We have just learned of the death of Larry Lawrence, a partisan of Trotskyism for 50 years and a critic of all those who sought an easier path. We will remember his keen ironic humor, his modest gentlemanly demeanor and his passion for justice.

Larry’s origins in the South shaped who he was—from his calming lilt to his resolute anti-racist opposition to the Confederacy and its successors. He grew up in the small city of Jackson, Georgia, and went to college in Athens. Like so many of his generation, Larry got caught up in the radicalizing student movement and the struggle against the Vietnam War. In 1971, he moved north to join the then-revolutionary Spartacist tendency, contributing a rich archival and historical perspective.

Two of Larry’s key assignments in the Spartacist League were proofreading Workers Vanguard and finding books and documents for the collection which was to become the Prometheus Research Library. In working life, Larry became a legal proofreader and editor, and he continued his interest in collecting, and also trading, in literary material and memorabilia relating to his political, historical and sporting interests.

As with many of the good people in the Spartacist League, its degeneration in the late 1970s demoralized Larry. He came to see its leadership, in particular James Robertson whom he had deeply trusted, as dishonorable and dishonest. Larry never found it possible to fit into a cadre organization again. But he became a strong supporter of the Bolshevik Tendency, and later, when it fused with the Permanent Revolution Group of New Zealand and the Gruppe IV Internationale of Germany, of the International Bolshevik Tendency.

In 1989, Larry founded the John Brown Society, commemorating the executed leader of the failed 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry. John Brown’s fight, and his understanding that slavery could not be dismantled peacefully, are key elements of the American revolutionary tradition which Larry devoted his life to preserving and deepening.

The John Brown Society was openly critical of the fantasy of reforming away racial oppression and derisive of Democrats and Republicans alike. It sought “to reward courage and sacrifice in the struggle for racial equality,” to “preserve the sites associated with the history of militant abolitionism” and to encourage scholarship on the left wing of the abolitionist movement.

Larry died unexpectedly of natural causes at home in New York City on 26 August 2020. On the letterhead of the Society, he had incorporated a quote from Wendell Phillips’ eulogy to John Brown: “He sleeps in the blessings of the crushed and the poor, and men believe more firmly in virtue now that such a man has lived.” Those who knew Larry find these words fitting for him, too.

Video by Louis DeCaro, a John Brown Society friend

Related article:
‘His Truth is Marching On’ (1917 No.11)