After graduating high school at 15, Mike Conan traveled to the South in 1964 where he became involved with voter registration work and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Not too long after that, he pushed on to Cubawhere he was able to further establish his commitment to solidarity.
Later in the decade, Conan became involved in the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam Movements. In an attempt to forge a revolutionary vanguard, he engaged in the "new communist" movement of the 1970's. However, when that dynamic movement lost its momentum, he moved on and took initiative in the broader effort to unite diverse strands of the Left.
MLC to Freedom Road
In the 1970s Conan was a founder of a small Bay Area group called the Marxist-Leninist Collective.
- The MLC was in a whole milieu of small collectives made up of experienced fighters from a variety of movements and seeking clarity about the road ahead and the line struggles raging between the larger national groups in this movement. These collectives focused on the study of Marxist-Leninist works and theoretical questions and by the 1980s were hard hit by the difficulties that affected the whole movement.
The group split in 1979, with Conan joining the XMLC faction. A merger with a similar collective in 1981 and another in 1982 produced the Organization for Revolutionary Unity, which had members up and down the West Coast and ties with similar small groups across the country. The ORU worked in the Rainbow Coalition and the movement around El Salvador. This helped create conditions for the group to debate and implement a decision to join the newly formed Freedom Road Socialist Organization in 1986, a development for which Mike Conan was the main advocate.
As a leading member of Freedom Road he continued to advocate the igathering of other revolutionaries. He played a key role in the unity struggle with the Amilcar Cabral-Paul Robeson Collective, a Black-led, North Carolina--based group with which the ORU had maintained close contact, and was an early advocate for the merger of FRSO with the Socialist Organizing Network, which was formed by members of the League for Revolutionary Struggle when that group abandoned revolution and socialism in the early 1990s.
Mike Conan, San Mateo appeared on an early '90s mailing list of activists in the Bay Area, sent to Freedom Road Socialist Organization member Mike Conan. Several of those listed were known Freedom Road Socialist Organization or Socialist Organizing Network members .
In the mid 1990s Mike Conan wasa contributing editor to Oakland based Institute for Social and Economic Studies- sponsor of CrossRoads magazine, which sought to promote dialogue and building new alliances among progressives and leftists... and to bring diverse Marxist and socialist traditions to bear while exploring new strategies and directions for the progressive political movements.
At his death, Mike Conan was active in the Northern California Committees of Correspondence, a Contributing Editor of CrossRoads magazine and a member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Socialist Organizing Network.
- Big Mike carried his drive for unity on the left into the 1990s. When a great chunk of the old Communist Party USA broke away from the stale dogmatism and undemocratic functioning of that venerable institution, Mike was early in recognizing this as a most important development for the U.S. left. He argued that FRSO should dissolve itself into the new Committees of Correspondence, which was then coming into being.
- This last struggle for organizational unity was one that he could not win. Freedom Road’s members chose overwhelmingly to maintain our organization. We had the numbers and the confidence in our line and purpose to determine that our continued independence had more to offer the struggle than our merging into the Committees would have. In truth, this was due in no small part to Mike’s efforts up to this time.
- And it would also be wrong to say that he lost that last struggle. He took a job as a staffer for the CoC and helped it through its birth pangs, putting practical flesh on the bones of FRSO’s position of support for the new group and building real ties between the two organizations.
Mike Conan was an active member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization until his death.