David Loeb Weiss was born in Warsaw in 1911 and emigrated as a child with his family. He was the brother of Murry Weiss and brother-in-law of Myra Tanner, both important, even exceptional, SWP leaders who fought its sectoralist descent and continued to be important Marxist fighters after they left the party.
David, who in some ways had more of an artist’s relationship with revolutionary politics, joined the SWP at its founding in 1938 already a veteran Trotskyist militant. Active for many years, including as SWP candidate for New York Governor, he would become, among other things, a respected filmmaker directing “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger” in 1968.
He didn’t leave the SWP as his brother and Myra did in the mid-1960’s. While he shared some of their critique his daily party activity had waned, though not his loyalty to the party. He became a typesetter at the New York Times directing a film there on the demise of the hot metal type. He was expelled from the SWP during the purges in the early 1980’s. He remained a Fourth Internationalist and went on to join the FIT then Socialist Action which he left in the 1990’s. He was active until the realities of his age made political activity too difficult.
I was fortunate to have gotten to know David Weiss in the years before he died. He was active, in his way, until 90. He was a unique character. A bit hammy, he was an inspired speaker and fully conscious of the history of the century his life’s activity spanned. I remember arguing, good natured and over red wine, about SWP history with David until into the night at a conference in Pittsburgh. He was already well passed 80 at the time. We compared hangovers the next day.
One of the very best things about being a communist is the people you get to meet. know, collaborate and become comrades with. Remarkable people. David, won to the revolution at an early age, pursued it his entire, long life. For some perspective; he was a revolutionary activist from before Hitler took power to well after the capitalist reunification of Germany. He was most proud (or was it to impress me?) of his role in “acquainting fascists with the pavement” during the heady days of 1930’s New York politics. He rode the rails in his youth and lived his life with the same spirit.
At one conference in Detroit, I have pictures of him there that will someday with many others get scanned, during the dog days of the nineties David gave a spiel on Lenin and the couple of coaches of revolutionaries who showed up to defend proletarian internationalism at Zimmerwald during World War I. There weren’t more than that in the room that day. My god, I thought, was he there?
No, of course he wasn’t, but he could and would have been there. He certainly sounded like he was. This was because he believed, passionately, in the same things the isolated 1915 internationalists did. The long view gained by his long life certainly helped a few of us through the dejected days of the triumph of T.I.N.A in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There is a difference between nostalgia and retaining a collective memory of the events and lessons of our movement. That collective memory is essential to navigating the muddied waters of the class war today. It’s comrades like David who embody and pass it on. This work on Trotsky’s exile of David’s, which I heard him talk about decades after he began it, continued to be a passion of his. It is fitting that we try and finish David’s film
This appeal is clear as to the importance of what David put together. Only revolutionaries can really tell the story of revolutions. This is a worthy project and I hope that comrades will, in these hard times, be able to give something to complete it. And don’t you really want to see it any way?
APPEAL FROM REFUGE PRODUCTIONS:
PLANET WITHOUT A VISA:
THE EMBATTLED LIFE OF LEON TROTSKY
In creative bursts over 30 years, award-winning filmmaker (No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger) and longtime SWP member/organizer David Loeb Weiss filmed eyewitness accounts of Trotsky’s last years in exile. He assembled an extraordinary breadth of interviews, over forty-five in all, ranging from James P. Cannon who recounts seeing Trotsky speak unamplified to a crowd of thousands in the USSR, to French comrades-in-arms Marcel Body and Pierre Pascal, who broke with their high level WW I military mission to work closely with Lenin and Trotsky, to grandson Esteban Volkov who was living with Trotsky in Mexico during both assassination attempts. All these precious interviews, most of them filmed in color from 1969-73 are rich with telling details that bring Trotsky to life. Weiss filmed also the texture and locations of exile in Turkey, Norway, France and Mexico, guided by Trotsky’s personal secretary Jean Van Heijenhoort, and he acquired home movies of Trotsky in Mexico and archival footage from the U.S. and Moscow.
As part of a student film project for UCLA, award-winning filmmaker and former SWP member Lindy Laub went to New York to interview George Novack, who introduced her to David Weiss. Laub lost contact with Weiss for 18 years but when she found him again he hadn’t progressed on his film about Leon Trotsky. He needed help so she became involved. Seeing the disarray of his work print and realizing his 30-year project may never see the light of projection, she organized the negative and moved it from his hot dusty house to film storage vaults. At 93, Weiss died leaving this irreplaceable footage with Laub hoping she would craft it into the film he’d so intensely imagined. Although he never completed the film, his accomplishment is considerable.
Recently, Suzi Weissman became involved as an invaluable advisor and, with her involvement, Laub has been transferring the sound and having these extraordinary interviews transcribed. We are doing further archival research and shooting contemporary footage to bring Trotsky’s legacy forward to the present. Now, it is most necessary to digitize for editing, i.e. transfer the negative to video, and to finally complete the film Weiss so intensely imagined.
For $200,000 we can edit and entirely finish this film.
To make your contribution to this project please see the attached form.
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Yes, I want to contribute to Planet Without a Visa.
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Lindy Laub, Refuge Productions
5465 Madison Avenue
San Diego, CA 92115
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