Arthur Kinoy, Revolutionary

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”
-Che Guevera

The obituary in this morning’s New York Times for Arthur Kinoy, featured prominently with a picture, describes Arthur as “a fighter for civil liberties, he was involved in many landmark verdicts.” This is true. Without question Arthur was an exemplary model of a “people’s lawyer,” a title he was proud to call himself. His legal skills were legendary–creative, courageous, brilliant. But he was much more than this. Arthur Kinoy was a revolutionary, in the very best sense of the term, in the tradition of Tom Paine, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many millions of others down through history.

Arthur was deeply convinced that there was no hope for real change in U.S. society until a broadly-based “mass party of the people” was formed that could challenge the corporate domination of government and the economy. He had no illusions about the Democratic Party. He believed deep in his bones that it was absolutely essential, a strategic necessity, that there be a genuine people’s alternative developed to the two parties of capitalism. He was constantly talking about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of the 1960’s as an example of the kind of alternative political movement needed.

A recent example: in June of this year Arthur was present at a house party for the Independent Progressive Politics Network, an organization he helped to found and lead. There was much discussion at this event about the importance of getting Bush out of office, and, for a while, very little about the need for anything other than supporting whomever the Democrats ended up nominating. Arthur was clearly agitated, and when he was called upon to speak he asked, “What about the question of a third party?” He argued forcefully that we should not push this central, strategic issue aside in our understandable fear about what another four years of the Bushites could mean.

Arthur understood that the building of unity on the left and among broad sectors of the population was another strategic key to the possibilities for people-oriented change. And he was good at it, in very concrete ways. He was always open to taking time to try to figure out how he and the groups he worked with could be supportive of movements and organizations that were in need of support. He was amazing in his ability to intervene during times in meetings when things seemed to be coming apart. He could do this because of his deep commitment to unity, because of his intellectual brilliance, and because of his ability to listen carefully to what people were saying-not just the words, but what was behind the words.

Arthur was a very good listener. I remember one meeting when an organization he had founded was going through a deep internal crisis. At the “showdown” meeting where things came to a head, he was quiet for much of the meeting, listening to the divergent opinions and frustrations that people were putting forward. When he finally spoke he spoke with a wisdom and a depth that affected everyone and helped to keep things together, at least for a while longer.

Arthur Kinoy was a humble man, by and large. Unlike many lawyers, including progressive lawyers, he made a genuine effort to follow the leadership of both those he was defending and the broader movement. Here’s what one person wrote yesterday as she remembered this great human being, reflecting upon how he reacted to her group’s invitation for him to speak at Columbia Law School during the Vietnam War:

“I was one of the people making arrangements for the schedule of events. Each of the important people told us what they would speak about, when they could speak and how long they would speak. They fit in their presentations to accommodate their busy, important schedules. Arthur Kinoy, in contrast, said (essentially): What can I do to help? When would you like me to speak? What do you need me to speak about? How long do you want me to speak and how else can I help.”

Arthur was one of those people who didn’t just love humanity, he really loved individual people, especially young people. This was such a strength, it was also a weakness, in that he hated to say no to people or let them down. He was often stretched out as he attempted to respond to the many demands on his time in a way that was as helpful as possible to those who were demanding it.

Arthur took seriously the need for personal as well as political change. His life exemplified these words from Rosa
Luxemburg: “Unrelenting revolutionary activity, coupled with a boundless humanity-that alone is the life-giving force of socialism. A world must be overturned, but every tear that has flowed and might have been wiped away is an indictment, and a man hurrying to perform a great deed who steps on even a worm out of unfeeling carelessness commits a crime.”

In the last several years of his life, as he struggled with various medical problems, including problems with memory, Arthur refused to give in to the ravages of old age.
Although unable to do as much as in earlier years he continued to be as active as he could be as a leader of IPPN. Two months ago he flew out to Detroit to take part in our 6th national summit at the University of Michigan. He was re-elected to our Steering Committee and was up for nomination to our Executive Committee. He was always telling me that I should be sure to give him things to do.

It is difficult to think that he will never again be in our midst, in the physical sense. But this man’s spirit, his indomitable, fiery, passionate, loving spirit, lives on in the lives of the many, many people he touched over the course of his 83 years on this earth. He is a model we can all learn from as we go about our movement-building work during these urgent times. Well done, brother Arthur, well done.