BY JON HILLSON
ST. PAUL, Minnesota - Although he died just a few miles from the farm where he was born in Sacred Heart, and never moved far from that spot in west central Minnesota where his immigrant Norwegian grandparents homesteaded nearly 130 years ago, John Enestvedt lived the life of an internationalist fighter, whose solidarity with the struggles of workers and farmers knew no borders.
Enestvedt's contributions to these battles, spanning nearly seven decades of political activity, were described in rich detail by friends, co-fighters, and comrades at a celebration at the Pathfinder Bookstore here sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party. More than 40 people attended the July 23 event. Enestvedt, who died a month earlier, was 89 years old.
Enestvedt was, he once explained, "a socialist ever since I was 20 or so." But even prior to that, John joined his uncle in organizing trips for the Non-Partisan League, which rose from Midwest farm struggles in 1915. His experiences with this group helped John develop a deep hatred for the capitalist parties.
Enestvedt voted for Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas in 1928, and later joined the SP.
The Great Depression that followed the 1929 stock market crash eventually spurred both farm protests against foreclosures, and a new wave of labor militancy. The Minneapolis Teamster battles of 1934 spearheaded working- class resistance and advances in the Midwest.
Among the central leaders of the Teamster strikes, which made Minneapolis a union town, were members of the Communist League of America. The CLA later became the Socialist Workers Party.
Teamsters' fight finds firm ally
When the Teamster leaders reached out to working farmers, they found fighters like John Enestvedt, SWP member Doug Jenness told the St. Paul meeting.
Teamsters' fight finds firm ally
In a message from the SWP Political Committee, National Secretary Jack Barnes noted, "Like another young Minnesota man in his twenties, [Minneapolis Teamster strike leader] Farrell Dobbs, who was just one year younger than John, he identified the revolutionary workers movement with the political character and combat courage of Carl Skoglund and the Dunne brothers [CLA and Minneapolis Teamster leaders], and he never altered his opinion on this."
Driven out of farming by the Depression, Enestvedt became an adult education teacher for the government program that eventually became the Works Progress Administration.
The victorious Minneapolis Teamsters, the vanguard of a deep-going labor insurgency, launched organizing drives to reach such workers, and established the Federal Workers Section (FWS) of Teamster Local 574.
After having tasted what he recalled was "real unionism" in the Minneapolis labor battle, John signed up, and was elected shop steward in Renville County's FWS local.
This brought him into deeper contact with revolutionary militants he'd met earlier in the CLA, who were now constituted in the Workers Party, and would shortly merge with the Socialist Party.
This wing of the organization was more than the pro- capitalist SP leadership could stomach. Enestvedt, who identified with the left wing, was expelled with it in late 1937.
In early 1938, he was the Olivia, Minnesota, delegate to the founding convention of the Socialist Workers Party.
John remained "a member of the Socialist Workers Party until his health prevented it, and a supporter of the party until the day he died," Jenness told the St. Paul celebration. The Renville County farmer "participated in virtually every major farm movement in North America this century."
He did so from a belief, captured in a letter written in 1982 that, "The good things that have happened to farmers have been the result of workers and farmers. But I have learned that until the workers move, the movement of farmers fizzles out. No one has aided, nor will they come to the aid of the farmer except the workers. Without this unity, my experience tells me that there can be no victory for workers and farmers - and no further progress for mankind on planet earth. Through the united effort of workers and farmers, everything is possible. Without it, nothing is possible."
This political stance, developed in work in the Non- Partisan League in the 1920s, the Farmers' Holiday Association in the 1930s, the National Farmers' Organization and its militant strikes in the 1960s, and the mobilization of working farmers against foreclosures again in the 1980s, earned a hearing among fighters in the countryside.
In a message to the celebration describing the meetings leading up to what would be a protest of 20,000 farmers at the Minnesota state capitol in 1985, Delores Swoboda, a longtime leader of Groundswell, which emerged from that rising of working farmers, stated that she "noticed that one elderly farmer was approached time and again for input, leadership, comments, and personal feelings. My husband Gene and I wondered who this man was. Later we learned it was John Enestvedt."
She and Gene would spend "numerous hours sitting at his house, asking for explanations, asking for help to understand an issue, and we learned, we grew."
Enestvedt, at the age of 78, was elected to Groundswell's board of directors in 1985.
Joe Johnson, who served as the Minneapolis SWP organizer in the 1960s, sent a message explaining, "I saw him in action in the early `60s with the National Farmers' Organization and its history-making Midwestern strike.
"In this huge farmers strike of 23 states, John's deep experience and extensive practical skills combined with his energy and devotion to make him a leader," Johnson stated.
Inspired by the Cuban revolution
Enestvedt's "political confidence in the capacities of the working class were reinforced," stated SWP national secretary Jack Barnes in his letter to the meeting, "by the triumph of the Cuban socialist revolution at the opening of the 1960s, and he closely followed its course over the next 35 years.
Inspired by the Cuban revolution
"A number of us knew him first as a champion of and educator on the Cuban revolution," Barnes noted, "even before we knew him as a revolutionary farm activist."
In a 1982 letter, John emphasized, "The strong internationalism of Cuba, next door to the world's most powerful imperialist power...is a true contest between what socialism really is offering its working people, as against imperialism's program of mass deprivations and periodic wars, leading to a nuclear burnout of all life."
John embraced the Nicaraguan revolution, whose leaders initially looked to Cuba as their example. In 1985, he visited Nicaragua with a delegation of 11 farmers and four trade unionists from the United States and Canada.
Prior to and after his trip to Nicaragua, whenever he could, he made it to Twin Cities demonstrations to protest U.S. war moves "against the revolution, in defense of the revolution in Grenada, in support of the struggle in El Salvador," said Maggie Perrier at the meeting, who worked with John in the 1980s as a member of the Young Socialist Alliance, and is now a member of the Chicago SWP.
Perrier also remembered Enestvedt's warm sense of humor. "We would have serious discussions, about the Minneapolis strikes, the Farmers' Holiday movement, about farm struggles, but John would have us on the floor, with his Ole and Lena jokes," she told the meeting.
Friends tended to stick with him
"A big, rangy guy," was how Charlie Scheer, a founding member of the SWP, and lifelong comrade described his friend John. "As a farmer, he believed in protecting the environment," Scheer said.
Friends tended to stick with him
"He avoided pesticides, he defended the wetlands, he fought the environmentally destructive power lines, and he always sought to find what was best for the soil. And if he rented your land, you had to abide by that, too," Scheer said.
John's friends tended to stick with him, Scheer said. Among those in attendance at the celebration was Al Eiden, who served in Minnesota's Sandstone prison as a conscientious objector, with 14 SWP and Teamster leaders convicted on sedition charges in 1943 for their revolutionary opposition to the second imperialist war.
David Warshawsky, a member of the Twin Cities Young Socialists, recounted a story of John's protest against a grade school teacher who forbade immigrant Norwegian farm youth from speaking their native tongue.
"The students laid in a circle with their heads together, speaking Norwegian to each other," Warshawsky said, "while they kept their eyes in every direction. They forced the teacher to back down."
"That's the spirit of a rebel, a fighter, who got organized, and played a role in making history," the young socialist said.
Argiris Malapanis, a member of the SWP Political Committee, described his experiences as member of the Young Socialist Alliance in the mid-1980s when he worked with John.
"John was inspired by the spirit and determination of the [United Food and Commercial Workers Local] P-9 strikers against the Hormel bosses," he explained. "He was able to apply what he learned in the 1930s workers and farmers battles for a new generation, and he helped bring these politics to young farmers," Malapanis said.
Describing that moment in 1986, John wrote, "My hearing is bad, of course, but I have been around long enough to scent when there is fresh air in the political atmosphere," Enestvedt wrote in 1986. "It is like old times for me."
"Scent," Jenness said, "was the right word" as he described one of John's favorite quotes, which he used in another letter, written in 1984.
"I liked what [Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Toma's] Borge said in May 1983: `From the beginning, we had a nose for power, and we went on developing that instinct and transmitted it to our cadres even when we recruited them through struggles around immediate demands.' I think I have been in his camp all my adult life."
"Borge abandoned those revolutionary perspectives," Malapanis said, "but John never did. He never left that camp, the fight for a workers and farmers government, for placing power in the hands of the mass of working people to solve the crisis of exploitation and war, once and for all."
Broad view of the world
John's level of solidarity, and his stated goal of a socialist world, meant "He lifted himself past any rural and national limitations, and even beyond the limitations of the times he lived and died in," wrote Mark Curtis, the framed-up union and political activist.
Broad view of the world
Although Enestvedt was a farmer, meeting chair Doug Jenness explained, that was only the beginning of defining him. "John was, we know, a craftsman.""When our movement moved into what is now the Pathfinder building a quarter century ago to house the expanding apparatus that allows comrades to produce a large and effective propaganda arsenal, John recognized the importance of this conquest for the world communist movement and threw himself into the needed reconstruction effort," Jack Barnes stated in his message. "His signal contribution - and sculptural inspiration to successive generations of construction brigades - was the spiral steel staircase that to this day connects the work spaces on the fifth and sixth floors of that building."
"John set a lifetime example for the militant farmers, workers, and youth who will be in the forefront of the coming class battles that world capitalism's deepening depression conditions are making inevitable. Some of us, as young communists, knew John personally and had the opportunity to laugh with him as we learned from him. And we learned directly from him why he had supported the proletarian majority in every struggle within the party for more than half a century.
"We stand in debt to John's sixty-one years of selfless communist work and will repay it as he did the efforts of those who preceded him," the SWP national leader said.
"We can pay no higher tribute to him than to devote our lives, as he did, to the proletariat's efforts to make `everything possible' by taking power out of the hands of the capitalist exploiters and war makers in this bastion of imperialism and elsewhere throughout the world."
Doug Jenness concluded the meeting by urging the audience to donate to the recently launched Militant fund drive. John's comrades and friends pledged $2,500 to the effort.
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