Henry Winston is IN THE HOUSE!


Henry Winston PRESENTE!
Henry Winston is IN THE HOUSE!

It is a great honor to take part in this historic program.

Comrade Henry Winston, or as we affectionately called him, Winnie, would be very pleased that his centennial celebration has brought together a full house in the hall that bears his name. Henry Winston is in the house. Winnie would be very pleased that Charlene Mitchell is part of the program this afternoon. Charlene was very close to Comrade Winnie, and a powerful leader of our party for many decades. Comrade Charlene's strong personal friendship with Winnie was built on a rich history of unity in struggle and great mutual respect and affection.

And Comrade Winston would be very happy that Angela is part of this celebration today. Angela Davis holds a special place in all our hearts because of the historic struggle for her freedom. Many of us here today were active in the broad united movement that defeated the criminal conspiracy of Governor Reagan and President Nixon to frame Angela and ultimately to take her life. That struggle was won because a multiracial coalition of people of diverse political beliefs here and around the world united around the basic truth that Angela was innocent. They knew that to free Angela would be a powerful blow against racism, anti-communism and reaction in general. And it was a powerful victory.

Comrades Henry Winston and Gus Hall, both political prisoners during the McCarthy era, contributed much to the basic tactics and political approaches that won Angela's freedom. And in the first place, the battle was won because of the tremendous courage and confidence of Angela Yvonne Davis. As Winston wrote:

"Angela's unflinching courage during the long months of imprisonment, her unyielding defense of her socialist convictions: her dignity and pride in her Black womanhood, her charisma-all gave the lie to the frame-up and inspired and won the love of millions."
(Strategy for a Black Agenda, pg. 264, International Publishers, 1973)

It is important to recall the tremendous struggles Henry Winston went through that made him what he was and enabled him to make such a huge contribution to freeing Angela. Winnie was just 19 when he joined the Young Communist League after cutting his political teeth in the unemployed movement, where he not only met the YCL but also his future wife, Fern.

He was a leader in the movement to save the Scottsboro youth. He worked in the Southern Negro Youth Congress with such brilliant fighters as Esther and James Jackson, Augusta and Ed Strong, Dorothy and Louis Burnham He also worked with William L. and Louise Patterson and Claude and Geraldine Lightfoot. All were Winnie's lifelong comrades and dear friends. Winnie was a top YCL leader when the YCL helped organize the American Youth Congress, which at its height had over 4 million members. Winston played a major role in mobilizing youth to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought fascism in Spain. He was a key organizer in the fight to integrate major league baseball.

Winnie also helped build the party's work in the movement against U.S. aggression in Vietnam. And he did seminal work in the African solidarity movement. Long before they became well-known names in the U.S. left, Winnie knew Amilcar Cabral, Alfred Nzo, Oliver Tambo, Bram Fisher and Moses Mabida. He was the first to call for the freedom of Nelson Mandela, and for a boycott of the South African racists.

Over decades of brilliant leadership, Winston developed into a organizational genius who taught hundreds of comrades how it was done. I remember the meetings where he would ask those concrete questions and insist on concrete answers. And how he would say, "We have only six weeks to do this. We need to plan for every week and every day."

It is important to mention the comrades who made it possible for Winnie to function: His drivers, his secretary, those who read for him, took him to the doctor and helped him shop and write. But above all there was his wife, Fern. Fern Pierce met Winnie on a unemployed march. They fell in love, married, but were later divorced and married others.

Winnie became blind while in prison, because the authorities would not treat a brain tumor that was pressing on his optic nerves. They gave him aspirin and left him in excruciating pain. The party's outstanding attorney, John Abt, visited him and raised the alarm. "Save Henry Winston" became a worldwide movement which forced President Kennedy to quickly release him. When he left prison he uttered those immortal words, "They have robbed me of my sight, but not my vision".

Now he needed someone to help him in his day-to-day life. Winnie and his second wife had divorced. Who would help him so he could continue his valuable leadership? Fern, who had also divorced her second husband, stepped forward. They married again and she was by his side for the rest of his life. Fern was a health care worker, a member of SEIU Local 1199. She was a member of the party's National Committee and later its National Board. I remember many delicious meals and good times at their apartment in East Harlem. Fern and Henry Winston were a wonderful communist couple.

I met Winnie in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, not long after his release from prison. He stood erect and spoke brilliantly, with such pride, confidence-and yes, with optimism-about the Communist Party and the movement. He showed no signs of bitterness or
pessimism. He made us laugh and he gave us confidence.

I said to myself, this brother/comrade has just gone through what has to have been the worst ordeal of his life and he did not lose his dignity, he did not lose his political perspective and he did not lose his fighting spirit. I was just 20 years old at the time. As I listened, I told myself, "I need to get to know this man. I have found my role model."

In 1966 Henry Winston was elected the national chairman of the party, with Gus Hall as general secretary. They worked together as a team for 20 years. What was Henry Winston's vision?

He and the other Smith Act victims were imprisoned because of their vision, and because they knew how to organize to realize that vision. Through the Smith Act, the 1 percent, the imperialist ruling class was out to destroy the party because it working class party that stood for black-brown-white unity and an end to ideological and structural racism; because it was an active, organized force in building the labor movement and stood against fascism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant bigotry and full equality for women.

Because the Communist Party advocated Socialism and an end to exploitation of workers here and world wide, and saw working people as decisive force for transforming society. Because they worked for an end to war and imperialist aggression at the height of the US anti Soviet cold war hysteria they were jailed. Because they fought in Spain and helped to build the world wide anti fascist front build industrial unionism and fought for the full equality for women they were jailed.

Because the party showed that it could not only talk the talk but could also build a mass base for those politics in the largest imperialist country in the world they were jailed. Winnie and his comrades were on the frontline defending the right to dissent in our country. They were jailed for their ideas but they were not criminals, they were patriots. Winston understood and wrote extensively about the fight for unity and progress. He understood that victory is not possible without a multifaceted fight against racism. He understood the politics of the popular front and why the left and center needed unity if the people were to win.

His thinking built confidence in the possibility of winning masses of white working people away from the self-defeating ideologies of racism and anticommunism. Some 38 years ago this magnificent Marxist, this working-class son of the African American people whose grandfather was a slave, who was raised under the yoke of Jim Crow apartheid and had every reason to be pessimistic about race relations, wrote the following:

"In reality, white as well as black workers have a material stake in the eradication of racism. To assert that white workers have a ‘material stake' in racism is to profoundly exaggerate monopoly's ability to sustain this illusion-particularly in the face of the deepening general crisis of capitalism."

He said that concept is based on an overestimation of the strength of imperialism and consequently a "denial of the intensifying contradiction between monopoly and the working class as a whole-black, white, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Asian and Native American Indian." (Strategy for a Black Agenda)

Winnie would have been very enthused by the election of Barack Obama. It was a watershed in the fight against racism even though the majority of white voters did not vote for him. Despite the Republicans' relentless daily firestorm of racist and anti- communist attacks, Obama did better among white voters than had Al Gore or John Kerry. And of course, overall, Obama defeated McCain by 10 million votes and became the nation's first African American president. That was a vote of the anti-racist majority and a refutation of the racist policies that remain the cornerstone of the Republican-Tea Party- Libertarian axis of evil today.

This year's election could turn on the issue of race. The real purpose of the Republican opposition to deficits and big government is to destroy the social safety net for working people. They aim is to divert the mass anger from manipulators on Wall Street to workers on Main Street; from millionaires to minorities and immigrants; from tax-dodging rich folks to unemployed and poor folks; from wealthy bankers to the foreclosed-upon; from Wall Street hustlers to the hungry and the homeless.

Basically the idea is to divert the mass anger of voters from the 1 percent to the 99 percent. The Republican opposition needs racism and its partner-in-crime, anticommunism, to carry out this political shell game. If they get away with this, working people, minorities, women, LGBT people, youth and seniors will have hell to pay. And so will the left. We have strong differences with a number of the president's policies, especially his foreign policy and many of his "national security" measures. These must be reversed. That said, if Romney or Gingrich or whatever surprise Republican may be waiting in the wings gets elected, does anybody doubt we will be in a qualitatively more dangerous situation? President Obama has done some very good things that have opened the doors to more profound progressive changes on major fronts of struggle. When led by Democrats before the 2010 Republican Tea Party majority takeover, the House passed over 200 pieces of legislation, most of which moved in a good direction.

Obama has created millions of jobs. He got a health care bill passed, he's fighting for the American Jobs Act, he passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the "stimulus bill') and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He won several extensions of unemployment compensation, and cut taxes on working people several times. He eliminated "Don't Ask Don't Tell," supports higher taxes on the wealthy, identifies with the fight-back of workers in Wisconsin and Ohio and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He passed new regulations on Wall St. And he raised our Social Security benefits.

Obama's 2008 speech on racism was a breakthrough for a presidential front-runner, Democrat or Republican. It was perhaps the most profound speech on race ever to come from a major capitalist party. These things have enraged the extreme right and big sections of the 1 percent because they challenge their basic beliefs.

Winnie would ask, "How do we move forward?" Twenty-five million people are unemployed in this country. Some 49 million people - one in six - live in poverty, 14 million are underwater and/or facing foreclosure, and 48 million are hungry. Schools, housing, health care and infrastructure are all in crisis.

If you are a progressive and think defeating Obama will move things forward, you are mistaken. Electoral struggles are not the only arena of struggle but in our country and in most countries today they are a basic part of the struggle for change, including towards socialism. Winston was a dialectician. He understood that. The Communist Party understand this. We must go forward!

Henry Winston was recognized worldwide as a great Marxist Leninist thinker and a master polemicist. His writings on the national question and on African liberation broke new ground and strengthened the struggle for liberation and freedom.

When I was in Vietnam on a peace delegation in 1972, I meet with a leading scholar there who was writing a biography of Winston. He told me that in Vietnam they knew about Comrade Henry Winston as a political prisoner and a fighter against racism and for
socialism. We talked for two hours about Winnie. He repeated many times that Henry Winston is a great hero to the Vietnamese people.

When Winnie's "Strategy for a Black Agenda" came out, the South African Communist Party's publication, The African Communist, called it "a fighting book, written at white heat by someone who is by no means an academic onlooker but a front-line participant in
a main battlefield against imperialism." They called the book "an indispensable weapon for every fighter for the liberation of Africa and her sons and daughters in the USA and Africa."

Finally, let me share a wonderful experience I had with Comrade Winston. In February, 1968 "Freedomways" magazine sponsored a celebration of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois' centennial, at Carnegie Hall. Before the event began, Winnie asked a small group of comrades, myself included, to come with him to a waiting room backstage. Soon, in walked Dr. Martin Luther King. He immediately walked over to Winnie and said "Mr. Winston, it is an honor to meet you. How are you?"

Of course Winnie, and all of us, expressed how honored we were to meet Dr. King. Then Dr. King and Henry Winston had a very pleasant and mutually respectful 10-minute talk about the struggle in general. These two African American leaders - both sons of the deep south - hit it off very well.

Dr. King then addressed a packed house with a history-making speech about Dr. DuBois' legacy. In that speech he did a courageous thing: he took on the issue of anticommunism, saying, "Our irrational, obsessive anticommunism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it were a mode of scientific thinking."

At the time no U.S. mass leader, certainly none with anywhere near Dr. King's standing, was willing to acknowledge the problem and forthrightly, publicly speak out against anticommunism. That was a great moment for Dr. King, for Freedomways, and for all
democratic minded people.

From some things Dr. King said during the brief meeting, I think he was familiar with some of Winnie's writings. But even if he had never read a word, he knew about the great Henry Winston. And at that point it hit me that even if we were banned from the mass media and almost never mentioned in a positive light, what we were doing was known about. And it was so very, very important that we were and are a part of the struggle, advocating socialism and defending the interest of the working class. That we were and continue to build unity, build mass confidence and shining light on many complex, seemingly intractable problems.

Our theoretical and practical political work is appreciated and respected. Even under conditions of semi-legality at the time, we had a real impact.

So as we gather here today, we must celebrate Henry Winston for all that he did. I am in awe of Comrade Winnie for what he did, for his incredible contribution to our party and the working-class movement worldwide. We must continue the struggle as Winnie would have wanted us to. Always for the people, with the people, until the people win.

Henry Winston is in the house today. This is Henry Winston's house. Henry Winston, Presente today, tomorrow and always.


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