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Louis Waldman, a leader of the Socialist Party of America and a founder of the American Labor Party who worked for decades as a leading labor lawyer in New York, died at 90 on this date in 1982. Born in the Ukraine near Kiev in 1891, he came to the U.S. at 17, participated in labor organizing in the needles trades, and witnessed from the street the Triangle Fire conflagration of 1911 — looking “up at the burning building,” he later wrote, seeing “girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity.” In 1917, Waldman was one of ten Socialists elected to the New York State Assembly; the five who were reelected in 1919, including Waldman, were expelled by the Republican majority. In 1923, Waldman was admitted to the New York Bar and went to work as counsel for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, among other unions. As the Jewish left split in the 1930s into Communist-led and Social Democratic factions, Waldman became a warrior of the Social Democrats and a vocal anti-Communist, as expressed in the two autobiographies he wrote in 1944 and 1975.
“Unless the New Deal casts out the seeds of left-wing totalitarianism, which it fosters today, it may either lead to an American variety of Communism, or, what is more likely, provoke an American expression of unadorned fascism.” —Louis Waldman