Tribute to Henry Winston


Editor: These remarks were delivered February 19, 2012 at Winston Unity Center in NYC, at a memorial on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry Winston.

It is an honor to have been invited to participate in this tribute to Henry Winston on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of his birth.   Over the last twenty-five years I have often thought about Winnie and how much I miss his brilliant analyses and his warmth and compassion.  I think he had the most genuinely expressive smile of anyone I have ever known.  Communists are often accused of giving so much of their love and affection to the revolutionary struggle that they have little left to devote to one-on-one relationships. Winnie was certainly the most convincing refutation of that assumption.  His love for the struggle was always matched by his love for all of the individuals in his life, both those in his intimate life and those in his political life.

I cannot reflect on the life of Henry Winston without also remembering Kendra and Franklin Alexander, who loved Winnie with all their hearts. It was the two of them, along with Charlene Mitchell, who recruited me into the Communist Party.  A constant theme our many discussions back then was the life and work of Henry Winston.  In fact I would not be exaggerating if I said that it was Winnie, channeled through Kendra, Franklin and Charlene, who persuaded me to join the Communist Party.

When I think back on that period I find it hard to believe that so much happened within a relatively short period of time.   What stands out most in my memory of the events that unfolded after I became a Communist was the presidential campaign during which Charlene Mitchell and Mike Zagarell were the Party's candidates for president and vice-president. At the same time I was working on a Marxist-Leninist political education program for the Black Panther Party. I was a graduate student during this time and had been a member of the Communist Party for less than a year when I accepted a position at UCLA.  During the summer prior to the semester I was scheduled to teach, Kendra Alexander and I joined a delegation to Cuba and after an amazing time in revolutionary Cuba, we returned to discover that I had been made the target of a raging anti-communist attack headed by Governor Ronald Reagan.

I mention the details of this period not only because this was when I met Henry Winston for the first time, but also because he was a constant inspiration to me, especially when it came to garnering the courage to stand up to attacks I had never imagined would be directed individually at me.  In my own mind, as I compared my journey as a black girl from the deep South to Winnie's migration up from Mississippi to Kansas City, it helped me create the resolve to confront the racism, sexism, and anti-communism that shaped the attacks that were directed against me.

In Strategy for a Black Agenda, Winston wrote a postscript to his pamphlet "The Meaning of San Rafael" in which he acknowledged all of those who played a major role in the struggle for my freedom.  He failed, however, to point out that he himself played a critical role in the development of the international campaign. As Chair of the CPUSA he appealed to Communist Parties throughout the world -- from South Africa to France to Australia to India.  In the postscript he wrote that "[t]he growing strength and prestige of the socialist world made it much more difficult for U.S. Imperialism to exploit anti-communism in this case, as was done so successfully in the Rosenberg, Smith Act, and other political cases of the 1950's." But characteristically, he did not acknowledge that it was his own organizing efforts-his, Charlene's, and many others-which helped to persuade Communist Parties everywhere to encourage their members to support a young and relatively unknown member of the CPUSA.

Henry Winston helped to imbue an important internationalism into the Black Liberation Movement of that period. Through his writings and his speeches, he helped Communist and progressive activists to develop a conceptualization of solidarity with African freedom struggles that was grounded in anti-imperialist unity.  At a time when W.E.B. DuBois' work had been long marginalized both in academia and in popular discourse, Winnie introduced DuBois to young activists and scholar/activists.  

Winston's role in the creation of NAIMSAL, the National Anti-Imperialist Movement in Solidarity with African Liberation, helped to further popularize DuBois' notion of an anti-imperialist Pan Africanism, which emphasized unity with the socialist countries against settler colonialism and against the neocolonialist strategies that attempted to bring "free" African countries into the orbit of capitalism.  Inspired by Henry Winston, NAIMSAL generated support against the Apartheid regime in South Africa that foreshadowed the important U.S. role in the global Anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s that helped to eventually bring down the racist government and usher in a new era of democracy in South Africa.

Through NAIMSAL, support was generated in black communities, in the labor movement, and on campuses, not only for the African National Congress, but for SWAPO, the MPLA, FRELIMO, and other progressive African Liberation organizations.  In 1973, I was able to bring greetings from Henry Winston and indeed from the entire party when I visited Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, and Tanzania.  The highlight of my trip to Africa was a meeting with Augostino Neto at the MPLA headquarters in Tanzania.  I remember that he specifically asked me to convey his regards to Winnie.

Henry Winston was indeed revered throughout the world.  Communists and those who were not deterred by anti-communism had no problems openly declaring their admiration for him.  In my many travels in the socialist, capitalist and non-aligned countries, I had the opportunity to hear vast numbers of people express their profound respect for Winnie.  But also, on many occasions I encountered actors, musicians and public figures (whose careers might have been placed in jeopardy had they openly declared their admiration for a communist), who secretly assured me that Winnie was a major source of inspiration in their lives.

Comrade Jarvis Tyner has described in very moving terms a meeting that took place between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Henry Winston on the occasion of Freedomways' centennial celebration of W.E.B. DuBois.  It was an auspicious meeting, occurring just two months before Dr. King was assassinated and during the period when Dr. King was deeply involved in the first stages of organizing the Poor People's Campaign.  If Dr. King was at all familiar with Henry Winston's writings, he would have known that Winnie always emphasized the inextricable connections between racial oppression, capitalist exploitation, and imperialist war. King's insistence during that period on our understanding the dangers associated with what he called the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism brought him closer to Henry Winston and other Communists who always contended that these three modes of oppression created a field on which each helped to sustain and reproduce the other.

In November of last year I had the opportunity to participate in a major Occupy mobilization in Oakland, California, which was represented as a general strike opposing the police violence with which the Occupy encampment was attacked.  This march was multiracial, multigenerational, multigender, and it emphasized the centrality of working class struggles.  As many as forty thousand people participated in that march and it was a wonderful moment to experience.  The sense that we constituted a powerful community of resistance was palpable and many people of my generation felt that finally there was some possibility of  fulfilling the promise of the struggles of the 1960s.
But what has been most important about the upsurge in activism over the last period, including in Wisconsin, Cairo, and New York-and the reason why I evoke these developments in my tribute to Henry Winston-is that for the first time since the 1930s, the era of Winnie's own youthful activism, we can speak openly and honestly about the perils of capitalism.  This fulfills a great legacy we associate with Henry Winston's enduring opposition to corporate capitalism and to the racism and militarism that has always sustained human history's most rapacious form of economic production.

Three years ago when we enjoyed the planetary euphoria occasioned by the election of Barack Obama, I remember thinking that this was a moment I wished Winnie (as well as Kendra and Franklin and all those who had given their lives over to the cause of social justice) could have experienced.  And while the euphoria has subsided, and some people allow their often valid criticisms to render them oblivious to what these last three years might have been like had the Republican candidate been elected, there can be no doubt that the current upsurge in labor and social justice activism is related to the political climate produced by the election of Obama.

As we work in multiple arenas with the aim of further expanding the possibilities of socialism, the spirit of Henry Winston will always be with us. Our words and our actions can help to create a future that reflects Winnie's enduring commitment, his incisive vision, and his beautiful smile.


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