He lead party work in so many areas for so long, and was a real builder of the SWP movement. There was no breach he couldn't fill.
Stu Singer: 45 years building communist movement in US
NY meeting celebrates his life, political contributions
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
NEW YORK—A meeting here June 16 celebrated the life and political contributions of Stu Singer, a member and supporter of the Socialist Workers Party for 45 years. Singer died June 1 at age 65 after a battle with cancer.
The event, attended by some 100 people, was organized by party supporters in the New York area. Among those attending were members of the communist movement Singer worked with over the years; coworkers Edgar Malave and Roosevelt Hudgson, who worked with Stu at AVA Pork Products in Hicksville, N.Y.; and his companion Robin Mace, brothers Jeffrey and Robin Singer, sister Wendy Singer and other family members.
Jack Barnes, national secretary of the SWP, sent a message that was read to the meeting by John Studer, a party leader in New York. “Stu Singer, first and foremost,” Barnes said, “was part of the generations that politically transformed the Socialist Workers Party by initiating and carrying out the turn to industry at the opening of the 1980s.”
Barnes called that political turn “the third proletarian transformation of the communist party in the United States in the past century.” The first, he said, followed the party’s founding in 1919, under the impact of the October 1917 Russian Revolution and “responding to the example and leadership of V.I. Lenin and the Bolsheviks.” The second was the struggle for a proletarian party begun in 1938 under the guidance of SWP leader James P. Cannon and Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky—a transformation “carried out as Washington entered into the second world imperialist slaughter,” World War II.
If a single book could capture what the SWP accomplished through the turn to industry, Barnes said, it is The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions. “That is truly a book less written than dictated by the actions and voices of hundreds. And Stu is rightfully, and unqualifiedly, one of its authors.” The course it records “inseparably combines practicing revolutionary proletarian politics with involvement as part of the working class through disciplined fractions of party members in industrial workplaces and unions.”
As a member of party branches from Houston to the Minnesota Iron Range, from Des Moines to New York City, “Stu stayed that course for a quarter century,” Barnes said.
1960s Black rights fight
Steve Clark, a member of the SWP National Committee, spoke about the life-changing impact the struggle for Black rights in the U.S. had on Singer. He joined in that fight from his high school years in Roanoke, Va., in the early 1960s on.
In June 1966, along with other supporters of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Boston, Singer hopped in a car and drove to Mississippi for the last leg of a three-week-long “March Against Fear” on the state capital in Jackson. The action aimed to push back racist terror and discrimination in Mississippi. Its nightly encampments were guarded by Black workers organized in the Deacons for Defense. Sharecroppers, tenant farmers and other working people joined in the action along the way.
The final eight-mile walk from Tougaloo College to a June 26 rally of some 15,000 in Jackson was the largest mobilization for the rights of Blacks and other working people in Mississippi since the bloody crushing of Radical Reconstruction in the 1870s. After the march, Singer and others joined the outpouring in Black neighborhoods, where people opened their porches and doors, inviting others to eat, talk and celebrate late into the night.
From Jackson, Singer went on to spend a week in Lowndes County, Ala., where farmers and workers who were Black were setting a powerful example by breaking from the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties and launching their own independent working-class party—the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.
Singer gained great confidence in the fighting capacities of working people from these experiences, Clark said. Two years earlier he had bought a Militant subscription in Boston and began attending socialist meetings. “But what I saw and learned on that trip settled any questions I had about the course I was going to follow,” Singer later said. He joined the Young Socialist Alliance and then the Socialist Workers Party.
SWP National Committee member Dave Prince spoke about a photo on one of the displays prepared by party supporters for the meeting. It showed the January 1969 Young Socialist Alliance delegation to the 10th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in which Singer and 12 others participated, including Prince.
After spending a month on the island meeting and talking with working people, Prince said, “we reaffirmed that the revolutionary capacity of toilers to make the revolution in Cuba will be true in the U.S., and a leadership to do that can and will be built.”
Returning from Cuba by cattle boat, Prince said, Singer and other YSA members—despite bouts with their stomachs—worked hard together on board preparing talks on that revolutionary perspective that they ended up giving to hundreds of young people and others when they got back.
Producing books for party work
Gale Shangold chaired the meeting. She and Don Mackle, who also spoke, are party supporters and leaders of the Print Project. Project volunteers help produce, upgrade, and keep in stock more than 300 Pathfinder books and pamphlets used by SWP members and other vanguard workers. Shangold read excerpts from some of nearly 20 messages, several of which commended Singer’s patient assistance during construction projects to upgrade the party’s meeting hall and other facilities in New York.
Mackle said that Singer, a party supporter for the last half-decade of his life, was always conscious about training other volunteers in skills needed to produce books important to the party’s work. Singer was also a “top-notch salesperson” to bookstores in New York, Mackle said, a point seconded by Shangold, who helps lead the project’s sales to retail stores, distributors and libraries.
Disciplined habits, not individualism
In 1982 Singer spent six months in upstate New York at a session of the party’s leadership school that Barnes organized. “As we prepared to jump into following the line of march of the early modern working-class movement, as it affected, transformed and was recounted by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,” Barnes wrote, Singer was asked to organize an introductory class on an outline by SWP leader Farrell Dobbs of his series Revolutionary Continuity: Marxist Leadership in the United States. Dobbs completed the first two volumes before he died in 1983.
In preparing the discussion, Barnes said, “Stu did what we had come to count on from him—a thorough, workmanlike job.”
In the section Singer was asked to focus on, Barnes wrote, Dobbs explained that in addition to turning its back on the social-patriotic Socialist Party leadership in the U.S., who backed Washington’s imperialist military efforts in World War I, the young Communist Party also had to break from revolutionary-minded left socialists such as Eugene Debs and from “the individualist, self-serving radicalism” of the Industrial Workers of the World—the Wobblies—and leaders such as Vincent St. John.
Forging a communist party in the U.S., Barnes wrote, “involves surmounting some extra hurdles. It runs up against the petty bourgeois tradition of American ‘individualism’—a by-product of the long duration of the Westward-shifting frontier and access to free land. It’s even reflected in literature, such as the restless, questing, chasing-and-doing Huck Finn. …
“Who among those early generations of communists in this country,” Barnes said, “could even have imagined that close to a century later, a bumper sticker aimed at workers, among others, would cynically proclaim: ‘He who dies with the most toys win.’”
Singer and others at the leadership school, Barnes said, came to recognize that “the kind of disciplined habits and selflessness” Dobbs was describing at the birth of the communist movement were also the “norms and values that shaped the generations in the party who carried out the turn in the 1970s and made the SWP so unique a party, a proletarian party.”
Barnes quoted from a message by Jeff Powers, a friend of Singer who joined the YSA and SWP in Boston around the same time in the mid-1960s. Powers recalled that Singer once found both of them a job—one they thought at the time was “a perfect gig. Not much work and a company vehicle that served as a delivery truck for leaflets, buttons and posters for the Boston Peace Action Coalition throughout the area, with the gas included.”
At the time, Barnes said, such jobs were “close to universal in what comrades in the YSA, and younger ones in the party, looked for in a job. But that ended for all time with the run-up to the party’s turn. From then on, each generation in the party converged—not only in program, but in our lives and work—with the struggle for a proletarian party as fought for” by Trotsky, Cannon and Dobbs.
“All this rang true to Stu’s roots as a young person who came to the party along the road of the working-class-based fight for Black freedom in the 1960s—one of the great turning points in the U.S. class struggle,” said Barnes.
For a number of years Singer had organized Barnes’ secretariat. His experiences in the Black rights movement in the South, Barnes said, “was substantially responsible for the fact that no one I ever worked with in my secretariat was more attentive to security. … Nothing, nothing, was ever going to happen on Stu’s watch.”
Singer “remained to the end true to the young man who first discovered the truth about capitalism and the class struggle from the racism he saw all around him, hated and combated for the rest of his life,” Barnes concluded.
An appeal for contributions to advance the work of the Socialist Workers Party raised nearly $3,600.