Monday, July 28, 2008

PA in 1960: A New Hope

by Norman Markowitz

By the Spring of 1960, sit-ins against segregation in pubic accommodations, from lunch counters to movie theaters, libraries, and churches were sweeping the South. A presidential election was coming and millions looked for a new political path outside of the suicidal straight-jacket that the cold war and the nuclear arms race had placed the U.S. and much of the world. The March, 1960 issue of PA reflected the campaign to have a reconstituted CPUSA play an active role in the period. Herbert Aptheker was now Editor, assisted by Hy Lumer as Associate Editor. V.J Jerome, a novelist, short story writer and and cultural critic who had been the CPUSA's leading cultural functionary had edited The Communist and its successor PA, from 1935 through 1954, when he had exhausted all appeals and became a Smith Act political prisoner, serving three years in the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

This issue began with a PA staple, "Notes of the Month" written by Hy Lumer. Lumer looked at the development of the European Common Market, the threat it posed to U.S. dominance and the need for broad cooperation in Europe between capitalist and socialist countries as a necessity for both economic well-being and peace. He also called upon U.S. labor to work for international cooperation with European and other unions. Lumer warned against the new U.S.-Japanese Treaty with its maintenance of U.S. military positions in Japan, its support for Japanese big capital and reaction against China (the U.S. China policy remained "non-recognition," active campaigns to keep U.S. allies from trading with the Peoples Republic, and the blocking of the Peoples Republic's seating in the UN).

Finally, Lumer called for an all out campaign to pass an "effective voting rights act" in 1960, calling upon Northern Democrats especially to act to break an expected Southern filibuster(the view of U.S. decline was overly optimistic, and the Voting Rights legislation passed in 1960 was very weak, but PA was addressing some of the central issues facing the working class and the American people.

A. Krchmarek looked at the record 116 day Steel Strike, in a limited victory for the Steelworkers in spite of a Taft-Hartley injunction and in a clear way analyzed the issue confronting Steel Workers in the midst of the ongoing postwar economic expansion, It raised questions of work rule enforcement, conditions in the plants, that had largely been buried in the 1950s as conservative leadership lived off gains in wages and benefits and kept silent on both these issues and organizing the unorganized.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, whose life as a revolutionary activist began with the IWW before WWI and continued with the CPUSA until here death in 1964. She had a previously served two years as a Smith Act political prisoner at the federal women prison at Alderson, Pennsylvania and would become CPUSA National Chair in 1961.

Her article, "The Golden Jubilee of International Women's Day," recounted the history of a world holiday, adopted by the Socialist International in solidarity with New York City female garment workers, just as May Day had as its initial inspiration the Eight Hour Day strikes launched by U.S. workers on May 1, 1886, and the subsequent Haymarket riot and political trial and execution of the Haymarket rally leaders. But Flynn was dealing with much more than history. She looked at the condition of women in the U.S. work force, in the professions and government, raising issues that would be heard in feminist rallies and literature with a decade. But Flynn was looking to class and political solutions. "What an improvement," she contended," could be made in Congress if it were representative of our countries population." This would require the election of a substantial number of Negroes, workers, farmers, youth democratize Congress--to retire the aged, reduce the number of lawyers and politicians, kick out the Dixiecrats...." While progress has been made in terms of representing, compared to 1960, the lawyers and politicians still predominate and the Dixiecrats are today Republicans, a leading force in the GOP as against its allies in the conservative coalition.

There was also an interesting historical article, "The Gentleman From Mississippi on Hiram Revels, the free black who became the first Senator seated from Mississippi since the Secession nine years earlier, and who ironically was replacing the Mississippi Senator who became president of the Confederacy.

There was also a number of lengthy book reviews, William Z. Foster reviewing Canadian labor leader and Communist Tim Buck's Our Fight for Canada, a collection of his writings. Also, in the tradition of British parliamentary debates, there was a sharply worded review of John Strachey's The End of Empire by the prominent Marxist theorist and leader of the Communist Party of Great Britain R. Palme Dutt (a former labor party minister, Strachey as Dutt shows tongue in cheek was a champion of the use of force to preserve the empire he was now burying, an example that "The Social Democrat always learns history from its backside, after the event."

The issue ended with the Resolutions enacted at the 17th Congress of the CPUSA on a wide variety of issues, ranging from labor, women, youth, and various oppressed ethnocultural groups in the U.S. The convention, which had a decidedly left orientation, seeing the party as having struggled successfully against "anti-Party sectarians" and a "wave of revisionism," saw accurately I think, the need for the party to fight to develop greater outreach to the working class struggles, the struggles of African Americans, Latinos, and women. Uneven development, the lack of collectivity, and weakness in party clubs were seen as the main problems. There were also no excuses (which might very well have been merited) for the continuing repression by all levels of the U.S. government, mass media, corporations, etc. The only real reference to the ongoing repression was a call by editor Herbert Aptheker for readers to petition for the release of Henry Winston, a CPUSA national leader Smith Act political prisoner who had already served four years in federal prison and whose parole applications had been denied three times. "Suffering special discrimination as both a political prisoner and an Negro," Aptheker wrote," Winston's health was allowed to deteriorate to the point where a most serious operation was finally necessary, As a result vision in one eye is totally lost and in the other badly impaired. and he remains critically ill. Still, the Government sadistically persists in its refusal to grant him a medical parole."

Henry Winston would eventually replace Elizabeth Gurley Flynn as National Chair and serve in the leadership cadre with Gus Hall, General Secretary of the CPUSA for many years. He would lose the remaining sight in his eye, but not, as he would say over and over again, his vision. Although a new decade and a new period in U.S. history was dawning, characterized by the Civil Rights movement, the CPUSA was still a long way from regaining its own civil rights.

Unfortunately, there is a large gap in my personal collection of PA's which covers the 1960s and 1970s. Although this is purely accidental, unlike the eighteen and a half minute gap in the Nixon White House Watergate tape, I will pick up this review of Political Affairs soon looking at the 1980s and carrying the review through to the present period, or looking at the PA in its struggles against Reagan I, Bush I, Clinton and the present administration, Bush II by parentage, Reagan II by policy.