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In memory of Fred Feldman

September 10, 2018

Including: A guide to Fred’s online writings

Fred Feldman young

Fred Feldman in 1972. Photo by Walter Lippmann.

By John Riddell: Fred Feldman, a widely respected socialist activist and long-time leader of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, died August 25, 2018. An accomplished and influential writer, Fred had fallen silent in recent years due to ill health. Fortunately, most of his texts are online and easily accessible. A guide to his writings is provided below.

Fred was raised in Philadelphia. Back in the early sixties, as a student activist, he was often arrested during the Maryland Freedom Rides for Black human rights.  In 1964, Fred supported the Socialists Workers Party (SWP) presidential campaign against L.B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater. He soon joined the SWP. He wrote voluminously for SWP publications, mostly on international issues, and served for many years as a full-time volunteer on the staff of its publications and of Intercontinental Press/Inprecor.

Fred reported on popular struggles in every corner of the world, often addressing the most difficult and controversial questions before the socialist movement. The Wikipedia entry on Fred records his path-breaking studies (with George Johnson) on the nature of the Communist Party of Vietnam, which presented the SWP position to the world socialist movement. Fred wrote a similar assessment of revolution and counterrevolution in Cambodia. In 1989 he and Georges Sayad wrote a short book on the Palestinian liberation struggle, which is still in print. (See references below.)

During the 1990s and after, Fred earned his living in industrial employment, carrying out socialist work among workmates and in his union; he now wrote rarely for the socialist press. In 1999, however, his critical spirit found expression in a contribution for the SWP’s internal pre-convention discussion, the party’s approved avenue for proposals for a change in the party’s course. Fred’s text suggested that the party increase its engagement with progressive united-front “coalitions” on class struggle issues.

As an example of this challenge, he cited the party’s relationship to defense of framed-up Black activist Mumia Abu-Jamal. “A rather broad spectrum of the party membership,” Fred wrote, were engaging with defense coalitions for Mumia despite “admonitions of the party leadership about the evils of the coalitions and the dangers of adaptation.” He referred to such rank-and-file efforts as “a kind of low-intensity guerrilla struggle” for a correction in course.

The party leadership interpreted Fred’s sardonic quip as enemy action – nothing less than a call for “guerrilla struggle” against the party itself. When the convention met a few days later, delegates were presented with a motion for Fred’s expulsion, which was duly adopted. Subsequently, all members were required to take part in a referendum vote approving this action. And there was more. The SWP leadership ostracized Fred, excluding him from all its public events and breaking off his human contact with party friends and supporters, that is, with the broad circle of friends made during 40 years of struggle.

In the years that followed, Fred experienced the deprivation and insecurity of the most oppressed layers of the working class, accepting this outcome with buoyant good humour. Gus Horowitz and other comrades who had left or been expelled from the SWP came to his aid. Still, the SWP as a movement should have done better. In this regard, Barry Sheppard, in the second volume of his memoirs (p. 307), recalls the words of long-time SWP central leader Farrell Dobbs:

How could we expect to ask comrades to make the sacrifice financially to work full time for the party for most of their active lives if, when they could no longer do so, we tossed them on the trash heap?[1]

The brutality of the party’s response tacitly acknowledged the issue’s importance. The SWP’s rapid growth in the 1960s and 1970s was fueled above all by its effective participation in united-front struggles such as the anti-Vietnam war movement, Cuba defense, and struggles for Black human rights. Subsequently, its absence from such coalitions, particularly in the 1990s and after, crippled the party as a working-class leadership force. Fred was the first party member, to my knowledge, to pinpoint this danger.

Fred’s expulsion for speaking his mind in a leadership-organized discussion period was a blow against the socialist movement as a whole, a frightening vision of what SWP-style socialism might mean in practice. Still, it had a positive side-effect: Fred started to write again – at first, mostly for the discussion forum Marxmail.org. His pointed and insightful comments won a clandestine readership among many SWP supporters, including me. He also joined the U.S. socialist group Solidarity.

As a supporter of the Communist League (CL), the Canadian sister organization of the SWP, I was then barred from any contact with Fred. This barrier fell in 2003 as an indirect result of the U.S. war against Iraq.

Following the U.S. government’s occupation of Iraq that year, the SWP pulled back sharply from support of Iraqi resistance and of the anti-war movement in the U.S., on the excuse that the Iraqi masses lacked a progressive political leadership. Notably, the party dropped its long-standing advocacy of Iraqi self-determination – a clear violation of fundamental socialist principle. I joined with Vancouver-based socialist Roger Annis in challenging the SWP on this point in letters to the SWP paper, the Militant, and in forums of its Canadian sister organization, the Communist League. (See “The Iraq War and the Antiwar Movement”) This led quickly to our expulsion from the CL, along with other supporters who declined to endorse our exclusion.

Fred Feldman old-2

Photo by Naomi Allen.

We immediately got in touch with Fred, and he joined us in founding a Web blog, Socialist Voicebased in Canada but with contributing editors in five other countries. An early issue featured Fred’s thoughts on resistance in Iraq (see below).

It was through the Socialist Voice partnership that I came to know Fred well. Although he now found writing for publication difficult, he contributed nine articles to Socialist Voice during the seven years that followed (see links listed below). Sensing Fred’s personal vulnerability, his friends in Canada tried to ease his personal burdens by arranging for a several weeks’ stay in Toronto for urgent dental treatment, raising thousands of dollars to meet the costs.

Fred was easy to like. He could be outspoken, stubborn, and sometimes abrupt, but that was far outweighed by his generosity, empathy, warmth, and affection. As a friend, he was loyal, perceptive, and profoundly helpful.

Fred’s writings have aged well and are still worth reading. As a sample, here is his analysis in 2004 of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, excerpted below from Socialist Voice. Fred was seeking to correct a previous article that had compared the Iraq and Vietnamese freedom struggles in a simplistic manner. Fifteen years later, his comments on U.S. foreign-policy adventurism and the dynamics of popular anti-imperialist resistance apply well to the current world situation. (Full text available here.)

‘With the People of Iraq – Win Lose or Draw’

By Fred Feldman. Published in Socialist Voice, April 25, 2004 (excerpts)

In Iraq, it is imperialism that has shaken the status quo…. It is U.S. imperialism that has taken on the task of destroying the gains of the anticolonial revolution in Iraq and reshaping the country in their interests. This poses the question: Is imperialism strong enough, at home and abroad, to accomplish this overturn today.

If they are not, then the possibility exists of freeing Iraq from occupation and ending the attempt to reverse these gains before a leadership and movement of the caliber of Vietnam has been forged, and before a communist leadership exists, although through a mass struggle that advances toward this goal.

I don’t think imperialism is strong enough today, and I think that is part of the reason that Iraq is seen in some bourgeois quarters as something of a potentially ruinous adventure…. [C]arrying out a project of this scope requires much more stability and reaction on the home front, and much more and deeper defeats for the colonial struggles.

I believe there is a necessary and growing element of adventurism in U.S. foreign policy. They must seek to defy and change the relationship of forces in their favor, an element of what Hitler did in waging war against Russia and the United States and England at the same time. Not an exact parallel, but just because imperialist policies arise from necessity does not eliminate the element of adventurism.

 [I]mperialism is weaker than it was at the time of Vietnam, less able to crush genuine popular struggles…. It is more possible, not more difficult to defeat U.S. imperialism today than it was in Vietnam.

A Fred Feldman bibliography

No listing exists of Fred Feldman’s many hundreds of published articles. However, the vast majority of his writings are available in searchable online resources and can be readily accessed at the following locations.

Fred Book Cover1. Palestine and the Arabs’ Fight for Liberation

This outstanding 98-page study, co-authored with Georges Sayad, was published by Pathfinder in 1989. Pathfinder recently reprinted this work in a large-type edition, and it  is still available from the publisher for $8 US.

2.  Intercontinental Press

Fred wrote about 100 articles for Intercontinental Press/Inprecor between 1972 and 1985. A search at the Intercontinental Press archive produces a full list of Fred’s articles in a format that is itself searchable. Alternatively, enter Fred’s name plus a keyword.

3. The Militant

Close to 150 contributions to The Militant, written  between the mid-1970s and 1997, can be retrieved at the Militant web site. A search can cover either a particular year or the entire span of the online Militant.

4. International Socialist Review Militant Supplement

Fifteen articles by Fred in the Militant’s International Socialist Review supplement can be accessed at the “New International” archive.

5. History of the Internationals

Fred’s 30-page essay “Stalinism and Internationalism (1935-1973) is found in The First Three Internationals: Their History and Lessons, co-authored with George Novack and Dave Frankel, published by Pathfinder Press and now out of print.

From 1974 to 1978, Fred headed a massive multi-volume project on international revolutionary organizing from the 1930s onward, entitled Toward a History of the Fourth International. See his introductory comments:

The publications of this project are available online, mixed in with some relevant contributions from non-SWP sources. See

6. Socialist Voice

The following nine articles by Fred were published in Socialist Voice between 2004 and 2010.

7. Marxmail

About of Fred’s 40 contributions to the Marxmail.org discussion list, contributed between 2002 and 2011, can be retrieved through a google search for the following string:

Fred Feldman site:lists.csbs.utah.edu/pipermail/Marxism

Note

[1]. Barry Sheppard, The Party: The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, vol. 2, Interregnum, Decline, and Collapse, London: Resistance Books.

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9 Comments
  1. Karen Newton permalink

    For anyone unaware of Fred’s expulsion, this is jaw-dropping. I am among the many who will find themselves grateful for the support he received from you, Barry, Gus, Canadian comrades and others. The downfall of the SWP is a tragic tale indeed.

    • Kurt Hill permalink

      The SWP has not been a truly healthy political organization since the 1970s…

  2. Marty Boyers permalink

    I was in NY at the same time as Fred for two stretches — 1969 to 1972, and 1986 to 1991. I did not find him abrupt at all, just serious about serious subjects. On the contrary, he was one of the least arrogant, least self-absorbed, least pompous people I have ever met. He had a warm affection for people and tolerance for their human weaknesses. He was a very serious political thinker, and a very clear communicator. I was startled and saddened by his expulsion from the SWP, and will be forever ashamed of not having spoken out somehow. I resigned from membership in 2000, and was removed from the active support category for opposing its sectarian approach to antiwar activities in 2003. I was silent far too many times over the years. But, both politically and personally, I will always have fond memories of Fred.

    • Thanks for your insightful comments. Your description of Fred’s character is very apt and stronger than mine in some ways. I am glad to hear that you, too, took exception to the SWP’s sectarian approach to antiwar activities in 2003. At the time, I reached out to a number of my close friends in and around the SWP, and ran into a brick wall. I assumed that some SWP supporters in the U.S. reacted as I did, but this is the first time I’ve seen evidence of this fact.

      By that time, honest communication among SWP comrades had become very difficult.

      • Marty Boyers permalink

        I do not want to divert this thread from its original course. “What went wrong with the SWP?” has become a massive industry, with most of its product self-sensitive self-important nonsense. Exceptions to this dynamic include contributions by John Riddell, Barry Sheppard, Peter Camejo, and others. I do not agree with all that these folks say, but they are at least food for thought. Objective factors battered the group — the rout of the U.S. labor movement, the stalling of revolution in the colonial world, the collapse of the workers states, etc. But the self-satisfied uber pride of the party — “more Bolshevik than the Bolsheviks,” its narrow interpretation of party loyalty, and its substitution of obligatory unanimity for homogeneity, has led to its tragic deterioration. Today, its turn towards Zionism and semi-Trumpism make the Militant painful to read. As an alternative, you can look up any past issue of the Militant (a very well organized archive) — not just from the relatively well-funded 1970s, but from the years when it ran 4 or 6 pages as well. Sorry for going on so long.

  3. Kurt Hill permalink

    May he rest in peace with the saints in light. Pray for us, comrade Fred, that we may be worthy of the tasks set before us.

  4. Marty, your second comment, “I do not want to divert this thread,” mentions the online archive of the Miliant, “a very well organized archive”. Indeed! An outstanding achievement that took much arduous labour by SWP supporters. It stands alongside archives of other SWP publications and larger-type new editions of a broad range of Pathfinder books.

    The books are not yet online, but we can hope this will be done some day soon, starting with out of print editions.

    This achievement of the SWP itself stands up well beside what the SWP’s former members have done on this party’s history. Apart from the comrades you mention (and Paul Le Blanc) we have done few memoirs or historical studies of the party. The SWP itself rarely refers to its past achievements. But its online archive confirms that the party itself remains part of the workers’ movement. The SWP deserves unsparing criticism, to be sure. but in a spirit of courtesy, objectivity, and balance we expect in discussion among workers’ organizations.

    The SWP is a deeply conflicted organization. Its members have a profound experience of working with more-oppressed and super-exploited workers, but the Militant rarely comments on the lives and outlook of its members’ co-workers. The SWP supports revolutionary Cuba, when many Socialist do not, but at the same time the SWP harshly undercuts Cuba by opposing its international policies (e.g. ALBA). The SWP remains anti-racist, in a general sense, but is blind to the racism of Trump and co.

    I look forward to the day when an honest and open dialogue becomes possible between socialists inside and outside the SWP circle.

    For my own comments on the turning point in SWP history, see

    https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-u-s-swp-attempts-an-outward-turn-1977-83/

    and

    https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/causes-of-a-socialist-collapse-the-u-s-swp-1976-83/

    • Marty Boyers permalink

      John, again I hope I am not diverting the thread to subjects other readers do not want to dwell on. If so, you let me know. You, or anyone else, can privately email me at m_boyers@yahoo.com. I have been mutely following your page for quite a while now. Your work on the Comintern, with the resources of Pathfinder, is very impressive. Continuing, with the help of Mike T and others, on a non-institutional basis is downright unbelievable. It is truly a historic service to the working class movement of all countries.

      On the SWP: If I remember physics right, a vector is a force with direction and magnitude. The SWP is the heir of a great tradition, properly speaking going back to 1848. In recent years, its evolution — on Palestine, on the colonial revolution, and on bourgeois politics in the imperialist countries — has been to the right. Its velocity is accelerating. I would be very surprised if a big section of it turns around. I see no other organized current ready to take ts place. Although this does not sound very political, it saddens me tremendously.

      One factor in the recent politics the most thoughtful of the commentators (I would include Gus Horowitz to that list) has not included is the collapse of the workers states in the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China. The Stalinists had long driven the working class out of politics, and had mangled the image of socialism. That is why the bureaucracy had so little difficulty in destroying the material base of socialized production.

      Nevertheless, the previous existence of socialized property, and the objective conflict it faced with world capitalism, impelled these states to provide some assistance to the world revolution. It came with political limitations and side effects, to be sure. But could the Cuban been able to turn back the U.S.and its minions without arms? The Vietnamese, without Surface to Air missiles? Not to mention trade arrangements that were, though not exactly just, not as rapacious as those with imperialism?

      One of the factors of the SWP decline has been, not only its abandonment of effective tactics in the class struggle in the U.S., but also its telescoping of that approach to its allied Leagues. The CL of Britain, of Canada, of New Zealand, and of Australia have essentially no publications to address the politics and tactics of those countries. It is a difficult question: How would the Canadians develop one — a monthly or two-monthly supplemented by the weekly Militant? I don’t know. But, aside from anecdotal picket line stories, I doubt the Militant has more than three or four articles on Canadian politics a year. I agree with you, also, on the lack of allowance for differences in the class struggles in the variety of countries. This is even true for the five mostly white, mostly English-speaking, imperialist countries of the International Communist League. Take the rest of the world, and situations are vastly diverse.

      Walking out of the FI meant avoiding a political discussion of its retreat from the stand of building combat parties. The International Viewpoint. web page chronicles a collection of various organizations (4 to 6 in some countries), which have little in common, except a vague affiliation to the adjective Trotskyist — sometimes not even that. Sometimes there are thoughtful articles, but it does not seem to be in the process of becoming a world party of socialist revolution.

      On ALBA and Chile, I probably side more with the SWP/permanent revolution tradition. I just scanned the Second Declaration of Havana for the quote, “either socialist revolution or a caricature of the revolution,” but I could not find it. The concept seems timely, given the crises in Venezuela and Nicaragua. ALBA was an attempt to develop equitable trade, that was largely based on the then-strong oil economy of Venezuela. The Nicaraguan FSLN, in the late 1980s, and Chile’s UP, in the early 1970s, tried to evade a head-on conflict with capitalist property as a whole. Although the pace is a tactical question, the results of their strategies were disasterous.

      Once again, I droned on too long. Thank you for what you do, for the CI work, and for the forum of ideas you provide.

  5. geoff1954 permalink

    Marty I wanted to add that you are not alone in feeling a sense of shame for not speaking up when Fred was expelled from the SWP for the sole “crime” of expressing his opinion in a pre-convetion discussion period. I too was still a member of the Party at that time and I too remained silent. I believe we were not alone. (That too is not, in my view, an excuse for our inaction.)

    The reasons — excuses is perhaps a more honest term — for our silence then is a separate discussion. Like you, I want nothing to do with what you term the ““What went wrong with the SWP?” [that] has become a massive industry, with most of its product self-sensitive self-important nonsense.”

    There are however many former cadres who have never been animated by hostility to the SWP or its leadership, who are interested in how what we fought so long to build, seems to have lost its way so very badly today.

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