Friday, February 10, 2012

Henry Winston, African American political leader and Marxist civil rights activist - Black History Month

Who was Henry Winston?
  
An unsung hero of Black History.
  
Winston was an African American. A Cold War political prisoner.  A communist.
  
Imprisoned with other communist leaders for a “conspiracy” to teach revolution, Winston was stricken with a brain tumor behind bars.
  
Thousands around the world rallied for his release.
  
Fidel Castro offered to trade the imprisoned Bay of Pigs mercenaries for his release.
  
President John F. Kennedy granted him executive clemency, but his release was too late.
  
Henry Winston went blind from medical negligence while serving a prison term because of his belief in a Socialist USA.

source: Communist Party, USA: Celebrating the Life of Henry Winston 

February is African American History Month. It is also the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry Winston, former national chairman of the Communist Party USA. On Sunday, February 19, 2p.m., the Communist Party will hold a celebration and tribute on Winston's legacy in New York City. The event, "The Legacy of Henry Winston: Fight against Racism and the Far Right in 2012" will be livestreamed. Speakers will include professor and political activist Angela Davis, CPUSA Exec. Vice Chair Jarvis Tyner and Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism founder Charlene Mitchell.
People Before Profits Education Fund, New York State Communist Party, Young Communist League and Longview Publishing are sponsors. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door with a special discounted price of $5 for low-income attendees. Make checks payable to People Before Profits Education Fund. Checks can be sent to 235 W 23rd St. 7th floor New York, NY 10011. For more information call 646 556-7409. Click here for the event invitation.

Henry Winston lived a heroic life. Born in Hattiesburg, Miss., into a poor working-class family in 1912, Winston at a young age became active in the unemployed movement during the early years of the Great Depression. It was then that he joined the Young Communist League and was soon elected as a national leader. Winston helped in the building of the 3-million-member American Youth Congress, the Southern Negro Youth Congress and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade whose members fought fascism in Spain.

Winston served in the armed forces, which were segregated, during World War II. Upon his honorable discharge, he became national organization secretary of the Communist Party. In 1948, despite his service to his country, he was among the first 12 leaders of the CPUSA who were indicted for their political beliefs under the unconstitutional Smith Act. Winston spent seven years in jail under this infamous thought control act, and became blind due to the racist negligence of his jailers and the Jim Crow prison system. In 1966 he was elected national chairman of the CPUSA, a position he held until his death in 1986.

Winston made profound theoretical contributions to the class and democratic struggles of the United States. His book, Strategy for a Black Agenda, which first came out in 1973 "remains a fundamental contribution to the struggle," says Tyner. Winston focused on the unity of the class and "national questions," stressing the need for the "Black liberation movement to come to grips with the long-term economic crisis faced by our community, and to direct the struggle against racism toward a broader struggle against the power of monopoly capitalism and imperialism," Tyner says.

In addition, Winston was active in the struggles for Black liberation, black-white and working class unity, and among the American pioneers in building solidarity with peoples of Africa, in particular the struggles against apartheid in southern Africa.

Tyner says the celebration of Winston's life is relevant for 2012 and the elections, especially the struggle against racism. "I think Winston's legacy is still very powerful for today.  Much has changed since Winston's time, and today holds its own complexities, but we are still confronting racism, economic injustice and reactionary political forces."

From the Wikipedia article Henry M. Winston :  

Henry M. Winston (2 April 1912– 13 December 1986) was an African American political leader and Marxist civil rights activist.

Winston, committed to equal rights and communism, was an advocate of civil rights for African Americans decades before the idea of racial equality emerged as a mainstream current of American political thought.

An early member of the American Communist Party, Winston was elected to the party's National Board in 1936, serving as Chairman of the CPUSA from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Born on 2 April 1911 to Joseph and Lucille Winston in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Henry grew up there and in Kansas City, Missouri. The economic situation of the poor Winston family was troubling enough to force Henry to leave high school early. Though once again uemployed after the start of the Great Depression, Winston's organizational skills and intellect when he took a position with the Kansas City Unemployed Council at 19.

By 1936, Winston was serving the Communist Party USA as both the national organizational secretary of the Young Communist League member of the Communist Party National Board.

As a high-ranking member of the Communist Party organization, Winston encouraged members of the party to sign up for military service to fight Fascism and Nazism in the Second World War. Winston himself served in the Army, participating in the liberation of France from Nazi occupation. He marked the war's end with an honorable discharge from the military.

The Red Scare
Back to political activity after his World War II discharge and the reorganization of the Party in 1946, Winston, along with the rest of the CPUSA leadership, was a victim of an early Cold War attempt by the American government to "decapitate" the Communists' leading ranks. In 1948, Winston, together with other notable leaders within the Communist movement, was brought to trial in the Foley Square trial on charges of violating the Smith Act prohibition prohibiting the encouragement of overthrowing the American government.

Unable to produce any evidence that any of the leading party members had actually called for the armed overthrow of the American government, the prosecution, boosted by the American public's antipathy toward radical activists during the opening years of the Cold War, based its case on selective interpretation of quotations from the works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and other revolutionary figures of Marxism-Leninism, and the testimony of "witnesses" hired by the FBI. During the course of the trial the judge held several of the defendants and all of their counsel in contempt of court.
Convicted of revolutionary insurrection alongside the rest of the defendants for advocating the ideas of Marxism, Winston escaped while on bail. In disguise, traveling around the country under a false name, Winston was sheltered by sympathetic to Marxism and leftist political work. Undeterred from maintaining his links with the party above-ground, Winston continued his activities from within the party's underground organization: his 1951 pamphlet on party organization, "What it Means to be a Communist," was produced by the Communist Party while Winston was still underground.

Following his surrender to federal authorities years later, Winston served out his sentence in Terre Haute, Indiana, remaining imprisoned, despite severe health problems, until his release in 1961.
Winston's state of health began to see a rapid deterioration throughout the late 1950s. By 1958, he began to suffer from headaches and dizzy spells; no adequate treatment was administered to him until 1960; by then, although the tumor was removed when he was transferred to a hospital New York, Winston was left permanently blind as a result of denied treatment. Winston's release, now sought even by anti-communist preachers and liberal activists, was refused.

Addressing President Kennedy in a 1961 debate, Comandante Fidel Castro, whose July 26 Revolution swept the Communists into power two years earlier, called for the release of Winston and other political prisoners.

Against the backdrop of both waves of protests from various quarters of the United States in addition to criticism from across the world, the Kennedy administration allowed Winston executive clemency, following which he was permitted to seek medical attention in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The same year, the Supreme Court, in Noto v. United States (1961), put an end to the jailing of party leaders, having reversed a conviction under the membership clause because the evidence was insufficient to prove that the Party had engaged in unlawful advocacy:

"[T]he mere abstract teaching of Communist theory, including the teaching of the moral propriety or even moral necessity for a resort to force and violence is not the same as preparing a group for violent action and steeling it to such action. There must be some substantial direct or circumstantial evidence of a call to violence now or in the future which is both sufficiently strong and sufficiently pervasive to lend color to the otherwise ambiguous theoretical material regarding Communist Party teaching, and to justify the inference that such a call to violence may fairly be imputed to the Party as a whole, and not merely to some narrow segment of it."

The legal recognition of the illegitamcy of the federal government's basis for the imprisonment of party activists was now complete. Although the party was seriously damaged by the repressive moves, aggressive party activity was now again possible.

Later life
Winston was elected CPUSA Chairman in 1966, sharing the running of the party organization with Gus Hall, the General Secretary.

In 1964, he spoke to students at the University of Washington, after radical activists from the Baby Boomer generation staged protests against the university's ban on "communist speakers."

The 1970s witnessed the publication of two books connecting the long-denied issue of African American equality in America and the Communist philosophy of class struggle: Winston's Strategy for a Black Agenda (1973) and Class, Race, and Black Liberation (1977), which argued that the struggle for civil rights had reached the stage of fusion with the struggle for economic rights.

His 1971 lecture to a seminar of Communist Party organizers, "The giant industrial monopolies, the big banks and insurance companies, the financiers and landowners, all spawn racism and use it as one of their chief class weapons to maintain and defend their regime of exploitation and oppression, of enmity among peoples, of imperialist wars of aggression.

"It follows that all democratic and antimonopoly forces, with the working class and Black liberation movement in the van, can effectively defend the interests of the vast majority of people only when they actively further the struggle against racism. This is an essential precondition for the development of a fighting alliance which will unite all democratic and [anticapitalist] forces in the country."

A close ally of the South African Communist Party and actively involved in the American movement to end support for the United States' then-ally, apartheid South Africa, Winston proposed the following strategy as a backbone of principles for the U.S. sanctions and divestment movement against the apartheid regime:

  1. No economic, political or military relations whatsoever with the Vorster regime in the Republic of South Africa.
  2. Congress shall tax and the Treasury shall collect taxes on all profits made in South Africa at maximum rates without deductions for local tax paid.
  3. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation shall refuse to insure any new investments in South Africa and cancel all outstanding insurance on investments in the Republic of South Africa.
  4. The President shall instruct the Export-Import Bank and all other U.S. credit agencies to refuse all credits for business with the Republic of South Africa and instruct U.S. representatives of international lending agencies to oppose all credits to the Republic of South Africa or companies operating therein.
  5. The State Department shall denounce all existing investment, trade and commercial treaties with the Union of South Africa and the President shall remove most favored nation treatment from South African goods.
  6. The immediate withdrawal of the sugar quota to the Republic of South Africa.

As Chairman of the CPUSA, Winston condemned the Reagan administration's nuclear buildup, increases in military spending at the expense of social welfare programs, and sponsorships of civil wars against leftist forces in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Winston died on December 13, 1986, aged 75, in the Soviet Union, where he had again returned in search of medical treatment.

  

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