Obituary for Steve Cohen (ZT"L)

Steve Cohen (ZT"L) died peacefully on Sunday 8th March 2009

Steve was a member of the Jewish Socialists Group, the International Marxist Group, and a leading campaigner for migrants rights.

David Rosenberg wrote:

“I knew Steve from 1978 when he joined the JSG, and one of the first impacts he had on us, and later on other groups within the left and anti-racist movements, was the importance of the history of immigration control.

He did a lot of original research unearthing aspects of the 1905 Aliens Act and from this research he wrote about how every key principle of racist immigration practice and the machinery to implement them, was enshrined in that first act of 1905 - the idea that some people were considered “undesirable”, the use of medical criteria to exclude, and powers of deportation after people were permitted entry.

In our last conversation a couple of months back Steve was talking about an article he planned to submit for Jewish Socialist about Jewish funerals - he was having grief with the jewish authorities trying to arrange a Jewish humanist funeral. The article never came and I hadn’t realised how quickly his already severe condition had deteriorated. In the end - no funeral - he decided to leave his body for medical research.

His impact on the group was especially in the area of campaigning around immigration and refugees - something he was still doing days before his death. His pioneering research on the Aliens Act was the inspiration behind an exhibition we prepared in 1985 that linked the reaction to Jewish immigration to that against later waves of immigrants and refugees. He was a consistent and unbelievably tireless champion of the victims of racist immigrataion and refugee legislation.

Of course there were areas where we had genuine disagreement - such as the framework for understanding antisemitism on the left, and on the Israel-Palestine conflict where he was a much more convinced one-stater than I have ever been, but I will remember the times in which we strove together for common socialist and anti-racist goals more than I will remember times of disagreement.

He was and a warm and humorous comrade and a great campaigner. Condolences to family and friends.
Koved zayn ondenk.

Please take the time to read Steve''s landmark work on the history of immigration controls, anti-semitism in the labour movement and the historical failures of the Left to develop genuine anti-racist stance with regard to anti-semitism...

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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