Comrade Helena Stevens, a lifelong communist, anti-revisionist and a good friend to our party and the revolutionary working-class movement, passed away earlier this year, following a long and purposeful life, at the age of 87.
Born Ruth Dunlap Bartlett, in the United States of America, she was an accomplished actress and Helena Stevens was her stage name. She was the first person to play the part of Mother Courage in an English-language production of the play of the same name by the great German communist playwright Bertolt Brecht.
Helena arrived in the UK in 1956 as a political refugee from McCarthyism. Over the ensuing decades she combined her political activity and her professional life. She was among the earliest members of the Stalin Society and served as a committee member for many years. She also played the part of Shirley Brown in the popular television detective series, Inspector Morse.
Helena was a warm and generous person in both her political and personal life. When Saklatvala Hall was being opened in Southall, west London, she donated the cost of the cooking facilities. As one of our comrades put it: “Every time we eat there, we remember Helena.”
Our central committee was represented at Helena’s funeral and we take this opportunity to once again express our condolences to her children, Tom, Wendy and Linda, to her eight grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
Below, we print a memorial poem written by Luis Lazero Tijerina, a Mexican-American friend of Helena who knew her both in the US and in the UK. It was also read to the Annual General Meeting of the Stalin Society.
A Long March, Remembered
You were such a beautiful, strange girl,
carrying your wooden Dutch shoe,*
seeking dimes for Mao’s Long March
in well-to-do Bronxville, New York.
Voracious reader of Voltaire, Dickens and Christopher Hill –
you were a rebel,
the kind of girl that working-class men like to meet
on hot summer days or melancholy evenings.
You met men of greatness: Paul Robeson, Siqueros, Neruda,**
in Los Angeles, Mexico City and Camden Town,
carrying with you those intense, brief moments,
like captured comets now blazing across the skies.
All of this drove you, an actress, to play your greatest part –
that of Mother Courage*** in a time, when to have courage
was to march, unperturbed, with your bright wooden shoe.
* Apparently, a young Helena raised money in the late 1930s for the Chinese revolution, using a wooden clog rather than the conventional collecting tin.
** David Siqueros was one of three revolutionary Mexican muralists (the others being Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco) in the period of the 1920s-1930s, who was famous for trying to shoot Trotsky. Pablo Neruda was a communist poet from Chile who, in most people’s minds, remains that country’s poet laureate.
*** As mentioned above, in her role as a stage actress, Helena was the first to play the title part in an English-language production of Bertolt Brecht’s great anti-fascist play Mother Courage and Her Children.