The Freedom Socialist Party at 50
Born in the turbulent ’60s, keeping the flame lit today
Megan Cornish
volume:  
volume 37
issue 3
June 2016
imagestuff

Social revolution — masses of humans fighting to change the entire system because they can endure no more — cannot be “called forth,” as Lenin put it. “We can only work for the revolution if you work consistently, if you work devotedly. If this work is linked up with the interests of the oppressed masses who make up the majority, revolution will come.”

That purpose and staying power is the core of FSP’s 50th anniversary. Over the decades movements have surged and receded, and the Freedom Socialist Party has been in the thick of it all. It taught the essential lessons of Marx, Lenin and his co-thinker Leon Trotsky on why socialism was necessary for genuine freedom, and how to win it. The party broke new theoretical ground in analyzing the changing working-class and world events. It grew from Seattle to a national and international party, with vital collaborative ties to other revolutionary international groups.

The ruling class uses every means to thwart revolution, but it can’t halt capitalism’s decay. Over the last decade, its crises have sharply heightened awareness, especially among youth in the U.S. and globally. FSP’s steady education and fightback has fostered this.

A party of the times. The Freedom Socialist Party was founded in 1966 in a period of surging freedom movements in the USA and dynamic revolutions globally. The Civil Rights movement against Jim Crow in the 1950s inspired resistance to oppression from women, people of color, gays, and opponents of the Vietnam War. Africa was fired up for independence from European colonialism. Cuba had recently overturned U.S. domination and set the stage for socialism in the Western Hemisphere.

Yet the U.S. Left was still reeling from the McCarthy witch-hunts that made communism a dirty word. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), originally founded on the ideas of Leon Trotsky, clung to the predominantly white male union movement.

What too few radicals grasped at the time was that all the new social sectors shaking up society were not just “allies” of the working class. They were workers. The class was changing, and labor and the Left needed to change with it.

In its very first years, Freedom Socialist Party comrades defended the Seattle Black Panther Party against a planned deadly police assault, and steadfastly backed Pacific Northwest Indian sovereign fishing rights. It organized with Black women anti-poverty activists to campaign for abortion-rights, ultimately winning the battle in Washington State three years before the national Roe v. Wade decision. FSP members helped found Radical Women (RW), the first socialist feminist women’s organization in the country. Both were deeply involved in the LGBTQ movement from its early days.

Members were among the first open radicals to re-enter the labor movement after McCarthyism. The party was in the leadership in the first staff workers’ strike at the University of Washington, which did groundbreaking work on the concept of comparable worth. It fought for hiring people of color in the construction trades. FSP co-founder Clara Fraser created an affirmative action program for women at Seattle City Light that led the nation in the electrical industry. The party fought in the courts for the right to be open radicals, winning legal precedents and getting vital support from the labor movement.

Keeping on. Besides leading and supporting strikes and union drives, comrades work hard in unions — organizing locals where they don’t exist, radicalizing them where they do. Today’s struggles against right-to-work laws and discrimination against immigrants and workers of color top the party’s labor agenda.

It has mobilized for independent civilian control boards over police, notably in Seattle, Los Angeles and now New York City and San Francisco. It led anti-fascist organizing that halted a neo-Nazi drive to create an “Aryan homeland” in the Northwest, and spearheaded anti-fascist organizing in Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Australia. Today this work involves confronting Islamophobia and other anti-immigrant hysteria.

FSP has always organized against U.S. imperial wars from Vietnam to the Middle East. When democracy movements swept the Soviet bloc in the late ‘80s, party members traveled there, talked to workers and found much support for the socialized economy. Missing was a conscious anti-Stalinist leadership that could resist the restoration of capitalism.

FSP was closely involved in the World Trade Organization “Battle in Seattle” and other struggles against free trade, participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement across the country, and in related West Coast port solidarity work in San Francisco and Seattle. It has fought for quality working-class education, especially at the City College of San Francisco and other California colleges, and many New York City campuses.

In 1981 a joint Comrades of Color Caucus was formed to guide the party’s and RW’s work in people of color movements and to build these comrades’ leadership. This is a unique formation on the U.S. Left.

The party has made determined efforts to build solidarity on the Left through radical election campaigns and by forming united fronts on other issues. Unfortunately, we have found little support for these efforts from other left organizations in the US due to sectarianism and opportunism. FSP runs its own election campaigns when possible, from city council posts to state races and the 2012 presidential election.

In recent years, an international collaboration has borne fruit in the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR). Its members include Partido Obrero Socialista (POS), of Mexico; Núcleo por un Partido Revolucionario Internacionalista (NUPORI), of the Dominican Republic; Partido Revolucionario de las Trabajadoras y los Trabajadores (PRT), of Costa Rica; and Freedom Socialist Party. CRIR has led international solidarity campaigns — recently helping to win freedom for Indigenous leader Nestora Salgado from a Mexican prison.

It takes a party. Most other left organizations have by now added feminism, anti-racist fightback and LGBTQ rights to their programs, but few delve into the theoretical import of these movements. The party has broken theoretical ground on the revolutionary nature of the Black and Chicano movements, women’s and gay liberation, and the insurgent Western Hemisphere. These ideas are published by Red Letter Press (see redletterpress.org) and the Freedom Socialist newspaper.

Some progressives oppose revolutionary parties as “hierarchical” (see article on horizontalism in this issue). But the Freedom Socialist Party does not believe leadership and majority rule are bad. Dedicated to democratic functioning and building every member’s leadership, the group holds frequent party-wide conventions, preceded by dynamic internal discussion of position papers voted on at the convention. It also prioritizes study groups and exhilarating national seminars on revolutionary theory.

During the last decade, capitalism has created unprecedented, unrelieved misery — economically, socially, politically, and environmentally. Insurrections against this in some form are daily and worldwide, though rarely reported by the mainstream press. Everywhere there is desperate need for Bolshevik parties, especially in the United States, the leader of counterrevolution worldwide.

Trotsky beautifully described the role of Bolshevik parties in his History of the Russian Revolution: “Without a guiding organization, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.”

FSP invites those steamed up and eager to work for the revolution to join the FSP piston box.

Send feedback to: fsnews@mindspring.com.