WEB DuBois Clubs of America

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WEB DuBois Clubs of America, were, in the mid to late 1960s, the youth wing of the Communist Party USA.

Towards a new national organization of communist youth

After the Conference of Socialist Youth in March 1964, it was decided to hold the next convention in Chicago, and there form a new national youth organization. The Coordinating Committee determined to switch the meeting place to San Francisco, however, and to hold it on June 19 through 21, 1964.

Copies of The Convener, position papers, schedules of activities, copies of agenda and other materials, were widely circulated prior to the meeting, and attendance from all parts of the country was anticipated. Carl Bloice edited The Convener, assisted by Michael Myerson, Terence Hallinan, Eugene Alexander, Hugh Fowler, Keith Glick and Phyllis Glick, Gerrit van der Hoogt, Kathy Olson, Tom Waite, Luria Castell, Stephan Argent and Sue Miller.

Pre-Convention regional meetings were held in Wisconsin, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. Materials were distributed, generally echoing the current party line about getting out of Viet Nam, changing our government to a Socialist system, resisting the draft, and participating in all civil rights movements. There were some who preferred to hold the new youth organization somewhat aloof from other Left groups, but it soon became apparent that this attitude was impracticable. The National Coordinating Committee was expanded to thirty people, and they actually made all preparations for the San Francisco meeting.[1]

Demonstration and arrests

Members of the San Francisco DuBois Club proudly claimed that they led the demonstrations in San Francisco that resulted in a total of 395 arrests and pointed out that there were "... several new and important features to these demonstrations. One was the audacity and determination of the participants. Another was the widespread popular support that they obviously had and the positive results they were able to bring about. The most significant is that they were led by a Socialist youth group, the W.E.B. DuBois Club."[2]

Signing the "Call"

Those who signed the "call" for this June 1964 convention, as set forth on page 15 of The Convener No. 4, were:

The convention

Marvin Treiger presided at the opening session of the convention, outlined the procedure and general program, and the group then divided itself into sections on organization, civil rights, Puerto Rico, Negro problems, unemployment, Bracero farm workers, peace, civil liberties, education & culture, political action, Viet Nam, and Socialist youth unity. Terence Hallinan's statement entitled "We Must Now Begin to Speak," was widely distributed and served to establish the general tone of the convention, being a five-page document which set forth the history and accomplishments of the W.E.B. DuBois Club of San Francisco and pointed out that there were five clubs in the general area and three in process of formation. He declared:

San Francisco, it is true, has long had a reputation as a progressive town. But, there are still the same problems here as in any major city. When we first started, none of the mass organizations would have anything to do with us. When the United San Francisco Freedom Movement, for example, was launched a year and a half ago, we tried to participate. There was such an uproar that we were forced to withdraw our application and were not even permitted to attend meetings. Today we have a situation where the same CORE leader who led the campaign against us declares to the press that if Khrushchev wants to come walk on their picket lines, he is welcome, and the secretary of the San Francisco DuBois Club is a member of the executive board of the San Francisco United Freedom Movement.
This position we now enjoy has not come to us easily. We have it only because we were willing to fight for it. Conditions today are such that we have been able to mobilize a great number of young people and to show the mass organizations that any repercussions they might suffer from working with a socialist youth organization would be more than compensated for by the help our club could provide. It is the firm belief of those of us in the Bay Area that the conditions for a Socialist youth organization on the order of the DuBois Clubs exists in every major city and campus in the country.[4]

Dissension and walk-out

The various sections then convened at the ILWU Building; at 60 Leavenworth Street, Apartment 22; at 918 Buchanan Street, 1007 McAllister Street (San Francisco DuBois Club headquarters), and at the office of the American-Russian Institute, 90 McAllister Street. This latter organization was an old Communist front, headed by Holland Roberts, former Stanford University professor, and for many years head of the Communist School in San Francisco.

These various workshops continued through Friday and Saturday, June 19 and 20, and reported to the general meeting. Treiger caused the first of a series of angry outbursts and disagreements when he stated that minority reports could not be read, but would be ruled out of order because there was too much to be done and too little time. A compromise was finally effected when it was declared that the majority report would be read in its entirety, and that there could be one opposition speaker who had three minutes to present his views. There could only be three suggestions for amendments. Immediately after lunch on Saturday, the majority adopted the tactic of presenting two or three amendments, and leaving no chance for any substantial change of the original report. Minority reports were never permitted to be presented. The chair also adopted the practice of recognizing only the most unpopular delegates for opposition remarks, so that there was actually little danger of the majority faction losing its iron grip on the convention.

There were wide varieties of radicalism represented: the Maoists, the Trotskyites, the Socialists, the Anarchists, the independents, the various autonomous local groups.There was much acrimony, much shouting; and it soon became clear that a slowly-mounting anger and resentment was developing as it became ever more evident that a small faction was in control and would brook no challenge to its power. And this was the Moscow line Communist group, consisting of the leadership in the DuBois and Youth Action Union organizations. They had dominated the National Organizing Committee, then the National Coordinating Committee that set up the San Francisco Convention, and the Socialist Youth Conference in March.

During discussions of the proposed constitution, Robert Kauffman suggested that as Article III specified no person should be eligible for membership who opposed the principles and policies of the new organization, then no member of another national Socialist youth group should be entitled to vote or hold office. This was aimed at the Young Socialist Alliance and Progressive Labor Movement, and precipitated much argument. Carl Bloice declared that no effort was being made to unite the Left, and that no member subscribing to other ideologies would be allowed to influence policy decisions. At that point another Negro delegate said that he came for the purpose of welding together a broad movement of Socialist youth—not to form a rigid organization preoccupied with expelling anyone daring to disagree with its program.

Allan Sharp, a delegate from the national committee of another nationwide youth organization, then declared that the invitations to the San Francisco convention had been a hoax; that there was never any real intention of forming a broad youth group, and that neither he nor his followers would be able to participate under the provisions then being adopted. At that point, Sharp started walking out of the meeting, and was followed by others until approximately one-third of the delegates had permanently deserted the convention. Those who remained were the faithful members of the DuBois Clubs, Youth Action Union, and a few other of the more radical and Communist organizations. Even the San Jose State College unit of the DuBois Club announced that it had no intention of affiliating with the new national movement.

About 139 people remained, and it was now apparent to them that they had gone too far, and that their rigging of the meeting to concentrate power and warp the membership to the radical ideological views of the small core of leaders had provoked too much resentment. They then rescinded the proposal about exclusion of other Socialist groups. As one observer remarked, this was the inevitable penalty that plagues a group that first puts itself together as a small, tight little center of control and then seeks to hold a rubber-stamp convention.[5]

California clubs

In 1964 there were five DuBois Clubs operating in Southern California.

  • DuBois Central was comprised mostly of Mexican-American members, and was headed by Alan Zak and Sue Green.
  • DuBois South, a small unit with about seven to ten members who attended with any regularity, was headed by Victor Oliver and Franklin Alexander.
  • DuBois West, which devoted itself almost exclusively to the UCLA campus, was headed by Ruth Greenbaum, and was the most active of the five.

There were also skeleton clubs, one of which operated in the Santa Monica-Venice area.

Into action

The formation of the DuBois Clubs of America was concluded on June 21, 1964. The announcement was mailed from the newly-established national headquarters in San Francisco, a series of regional conferences were scheduled for the late summer, and plans were made for the building of a network of local chapters. Funds were solicited for the support of the temporary national office at 1007 McAllister Street, San Francisco, and plans were made for publication of newsletters both from the Bay Area and Southern California organizations. This was accomplished in the south with the issuance of The Correlator, and in the north with the appearance of Insurgent, in the spring of 1965. Carl Bloice editsed this publication, and the first issue contained material presented under the joint efforts of the staff and contributors.

They included Celia Rosebury, managing editor; Karol Burkett Supriano, art editor, and former secretary of the Marxist School of Social Science in San Francisco; Howard Harawitz; David Castro; Michael Folsom; Steve Murdock, from the Peoples World, and John Haag, owner of a Venice West restaurant, and a leader of the Southern Calfornia West DuBois Club.[6]

Reunion

"Laughter, tears, and vivid memories flowed" at the DuBois Clubs reunion, Tarrytown New York June 8-9, 2013, as about 100 men and women celebrated the 50th anniversary of the multi-racial, working class, youth organization named for the African American leader, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.

The hallway of the Inn in the Hudson River valley town resounded with happy greetings, with bear hugs and tearful kisses. Many had not seen each other for a decade, even four decades.

The socialist youth group, aligned with the Communist Party USA, existed only from 1962 until 1969. Yet speakers, now looking grayer, a little bent, a bit portly, told of the indelible mark they made on crucial issues then and now.

Their claims were bolstered by a photo exhibit featuring black and white photos shot by Ted Reich and a video using many of the same archival photos by Matthew Weinstein. There was an image of women, including DuBois Club members, in a sit-down protest in front of the White Hall Induction Center in New York demanding an end to the Vietnam War and the military draft. Others featured the DuBois Club contingent in the April 1967 march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Benjamin Spock on the United Nations protesting the Vietnam War.

Bobby Heisler, a leader of the radical youth organization, who came up with the idea for the reunion, urged the crowd at the Saturday evening banquet not to judge too quickly that the DuBois Clubs failed.

"We stopped the war in Vietnam. We stopped the draft," Heisler said. He ticked off victories that followed: freedom for the Fort Hood Three and for Angela Davis, legalized abortions, long strides in the struggle for marriage equality, ending racist apartheid in South Africa, electing more African Americans, Latinos and more women to political office, the struggle to save planet Earth from global climate change.

"We played a big role in electing the first African American president of the United States," said Heisler as the crowd erupted in applause. He hailed the Affordable Care Act for placing the right to health care on the same level as the right to free public education.

"Do you have any regrets?" Heisler asked. The crowd shouted back, "NO!" To prove it, the crowd then took to the dance floor, tripping the light fantastic until dawn.

Earlier that day, the crowd packed a conference room for a panel discussion, "A Look Back, A Look Forward."

Mike Zagarell, a former youth leader of the Communist Party USA, said, "I see socialism that we thought was dead reemerging" but the socialism embraced by millions today "means democratic control, checks and balances, guarantees for minority rights."

Jarvis Tyner, Exec. Vice Chair, Communist Party USA who served as a leader of the DuBois Clubs, praised the members for their courage and determination. Along with the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in movement, the DuBois Clubs were "breaking the stranglehold of McCarthyism," he said. "We talked about multi-racial unity and at the same time were aligned with the labor movement. I'm very proud of that," Tyner said.

He invited the crowd to visit the CPUSA website to dispel misconceptions about the Party. He also urged the crowd to join the CPUSA. "You will be welcome," he said.

J.J. Johnson, one of the Fort Hood Three, army draftees who went to prison for refusing to serve in Vietnam, said the question facing everyone at the reunion is "what to take from the past and what to discard? You cannot bifurcate yourself into your political side and your personal side."

Matthew Hallinan, a founder of the DuBois Clubs when it was first organized in the San Francisco Bay Area, praised both current and former Communist Party members for knowing how to organize, build coalitions. "We need a vision. I'm working in the Democratic Party as a progressive," he said. "But there is no vision."

Speaking from a floor microphone, JoAnn Demas, said "nostalgia" for the past is not enough. "We have a duty to rock the boat to fight back against any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid." The crowd erupted in applause.

Lisa Bergmann, current national coordinator of the Young Communist League thanked the organizers. The YCL is fighting for jobs for unemployed youth and against gun violence, she said. In New Haven, Connecticut, for example, the handgun death toll reached a staggering 34 homicides in one year. The YCL established a youth jobs program that cut the death rate in half in one year, she said.

The afterglow from the reunion has not dissipated. Jay Schaffner, a member of the DuBois Clubs Reunion Organizing Committee posted a statement on Facebook. "We found we still had a lot in common despite the years, the changes in the world," Schaffner wrote. "Many of us feel that capitalism is not working and there has to be an alternative---a better system without economic, racial and sexual oppression. For most, we still share the vision of a democratic and socialist alternative," said Schaffner adding that the path to that goal is unclear.

"For the period of the 60s and 70s, the DuBois Clubs and YWLL showed that it was possible to have a socialist-oriented, multiracial, multinational youth organization that was partisan to the working class and the labor movement."[7]

References