BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
Ed Shaw, a longtime leader of the Socialist Workers Party, died in Hialeah, Florida, on November 9. He had been hospitalized for a month with complications arising from chronic emphysema and serious heart problems. He was 72.
Shaw joined the SWP in 1944, while he was a seaman in the merchant marine, and spent the next half century working to build a communist party capable of leading the workers and farmers to power. Elected to the SWP National Committee in 1959, he served on the leadership body until 1981. He was the SWP's organization secretary during the late 1960s, serving alongside the party's national secretary, Farrell Dobbs.
Shaw campaigned for vice-president of the United States in 1964 on the Socialist Workers ticket with Clifton DeBerry, the party's presidential nominee. In the early 1960s, he was a leader and Midwest director of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
Meetings to celebrate Shaw's life and political contributions will be held in Miami, New York, and San Francisco on December 3, 10, and 17 respectively.
Born in Zion, Illinois, on July 13, 1923, Shaw grew up in a family of working farmers. In his youth, he rebelled against the narrowness of the fundamentalist religious assumptions that surrounded him in Zion. After high school, at the outbreak of World War II, he entered the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
There, prodded by schoolmates, he applied for a special scholarship offered by the U.S. Marines that allowed students to finish college and graduate as officers in the Marine Corps. But he failed a test for mechanical drawing because of poor hand printing and was not accepted.
"I was pretty down-hearted at the time, but in retrospect it was a major lucky break," he wrote in a 1993 letter. "It changed the direction my life was taking and opened the way to becoming a Marxist."
Shaw moved to New York City in 1942. There, while still in his late teens, he entered the military-run Maritime Service training school at Sheepshead Bay, where he got his papers as a fireman/watertender in the merchant marine. As more and more merchant seamen worldwide were dying from torpedo and bomb attacks, jobs on cargo and passenger ships were advertised at the time as "a draft-deferred civilian occupation with good pay and possibilities for travel and adventure," as Shaw put it in his 1993 letter.
Union militant in maritime years
On his way to start a job on a boat on the Great Lakes in 1943, Shaw found himself helping a Black worker escape a racist lynch mob during a race riot in Detroit - an act that ended up marking the rest of his life. From that moment on, he identified with, and later became an active participant in, the struggle for Black rights.
Shaw's first ocean voyage took him to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on the Marjory, a small cargo ship run by the Bull Line company. During that 1943 trip, as part of the "black gang" in the engine room, Shaw was elected union delegate and got his baptism in the labor movement. The crew, mostly Puerto Rican workers, was organized by the Seafarers International Union (SIU), one of the two major unions in the merchant marine on the East Coast at the time.
"I firmly believed in the principle of unionism," Shaw wrote in the 1993 letter, recounting his maritime years. "I never once doubted the crew's right to decide living conditions, etc. For me it wasn't a matter of negotiating with the captain. I just told him what he had to do. I never expected him to refuse a reasonable demand based squarely on the union contract." When the captain refused some overtime pay while the ship was unloading in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Shaw spearheaded a sit-in at the company office by the entire crew. The workers finally forced the employer to give in.
During this trip, Shaw also got his first education in the struggles by working people in the Caribbean against U.S. domination. Shipmates talked to him about the fight for Puerto Rican independence and explained how Washington installed and helped maintain in power Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the military dictator of the Dominican Republic at the time.
As part of his distaste for the attempted militarization of the labor force on the commercial ships, Shaw rejected wearing the uniform given to government-trained seamen. He was not alone. Thousands of other sailors did the same.
On `liberty ships' in World War II
During World War II, Shaw sailed mostly on what were called "liberty ships." This designation was part of the nationalist demagogy used to break down doubts in the working class about "sacrifices" for "our" war effort.
In fact, as Shaw explained, these were cargo vessels mass produced by the U.S. government at the end of the 1930s to transport mostly war matériel during World War II. They were poorly and cheaply built and lacked up-to- date equipment available at the time. They often literally came apart at the seams in rough seas, in addition to the hundreds also sunk by Berlin and Tokyo's submarines. Of the 2,600 liberty ships, barely 1,000 were still afloat at the end of 1945.
Thousands of merchant marine sailors were killed as a result. Casualty rates among seamen during the first six months of World War II were three times higher than any branch of the U.S. armed forces.
While in Murmansk, in the arctic region of the Soviet Union in 1943, on a ship carrying arms and supplies, Shaw got his interest piqued in socialism. He got a glimmer of how the workers and peasants of the world's first workers state - at the time, the only workers state - sacrificed in their millions to turn the tide against German capital's invading armies.
One of the main objectives not only of Berlin and the other Axis powers, but also of Washington and its imperialist allies, above all the United Kingdom, was to roll back the Russian revolution and reestablish capitalism in the Soviet Union. The Soviet toilers prevented the vying imperialist powers from realizing this objective, which none have abandoned from the October 1917 Russian revolution to this day.
Back in New York in late 1943, Shaw decided to learn more about socialism. He found a copy of the Daily Worker, the newspaper of the U.S. Communist Party (CPUSA). "I distinctly remember reading the paper in a subway car and, after a while, looking at the first page again to make sure I hadn't accidentally picked up a Daily News or Mirror," he wrote in the 1993 letter. "I couldn't tell the difference, the war news, the comics, the sports, were all the same to me. So I gave up for the time being."
The CPUSA, following the dictates of Moscow, had thrown its full and fimest political support behind the Roosevelt administration's entry into World War II.
A few months later, on a ship in a Philadelphia harbor loading cargo for the USSR, Shaw met a seaman who had gotten to know a member of the Socialist Workers Party on another trip. This seaman told Shaw that 18 leaders of the SWP and the Minneapolis Teamsters had been imprisoned on charges of "conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government," because of their opposition to the drive by Washington and Wall Street to drag workers and farmers in the United States into the slaughter of World War II. Their convictions had been the first under the notorious Smith "Gag" Act.
The seaman in Philadelphia gave Shaw three books he had gotten from the SWP member: Dialectics of Nature and The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Frederick Engels, and Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin. Shaw promptly sat down and read them from beginning to end, taking a particular liking to Dialectics of Nature. When he returned to New York, he visited the party's office in Manhattan, where he met SWP members and bought the Militant and more socialist books and pamphlets. Shaw was especially interested in the broad campaign the party was at the center of to win the release of the imprisoned SWP leaders, many of whom had also been central leaders of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes and subsequent Midwest organizing drives.
Shaw joined the SWP soon thereafter, in October 1944. He was active for a number of years in New York's Chelsea- based seamen's branch of the SWP and was a member of the party's union fraction in the maritime industry. In 1947 he switched to sailing ships organized by the National Maritime Union (NMU), the other major union in the industry besides the SIU.
In 1949, while unemployed, Shaw was drafted into the U.S. Army. Losing his appeal for deferment based on his time in the merchant marine, he was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey. The wartime conscription law had been allowed to lapse in 1947 but the Selective Service Act had been pushed through in 1948 as part of the Truman administration's war drive - the first "peacetime" draft in U.S. history.
Shaw served one year in the army, on the eve of the Korean War. When U.S.-organized forces invaded Korea in 1950, Shaw took an active part in the SWP campaign against the imperialist assault.
1953 split and move to Detroit
At the beginning of the 1950s Shaw went to work in Los Angeles for a couple years and was active in the party branch there. In the fall of 1953, Shaw, along with a handful of other SWP members, moved to Detroit to help reinforce the party branch there. The big majority in the branch had abandoned hope of building a revolutionary party, following the political course of a faction in the SWP that was the strongest in Michigan.
Recoiling in face of the anticommunist witch-hunt and softened by the relative prosperity following Washington's victory over its imperialist rivals in World War II, this grouping proposed curtailing or outright doing away with petitioning to put socialist candidates on the ballot, organizing regular public meetings, and conducting subscription drives for new readers of the Militant, which they characterized as scattering grains of sand to the wind.
The faction fight culminated in the defeat of this grouping, which walked out of working-class politics by November 1953. Shaw was among the younger cadre of the party who defended the SWP's communist continuity and dug in to help rebuild the Detroit branch.
Square D Strike
In 1954 Shaw got a job as a garment cutter in the Square D Company plant manufacturing seats for automobiles. Fred Halstead, a skilled garment worker in the branch then working in a UAW-organized plant, helped train Shaw and other socialists to get the Square D jobs. While working there, Shaw took part in the Square D strike, which became a well-known labor defense battle during the McCarthy years. About 1,200 members of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 957 walked out in June 1954, demanding better pay.
In September, one week after the federal Communist Control Act had been signed into law, about 100 police, armed with tear gas, riot guns, and gas masks, descended on the picket line. The cops, outnumbering pickets two to one, herded scabs into the factory - something not seen in Detroit since 1940.
The daily press hammered that this was a "communist" strike, since the UE was one of the unions expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1950 in a red-baiting purge. The employers had decided to make a showcase of union-busting at the center of the auto industry under the guise of fighting a "Communist- infiltrated" union.
But thousands of United Auto Workers (UAW-CIO) members, as well as workers from American Federation of Labor (AFL) locals, responded to a call by 13 UAW local officials to come to the aid of the Square D workers. UAW flying squads joined the strikers in their efforts to keep the plant shut and stop the scab-herding by the cops.
This response by the auto workers finally pushed back the union-busting and red-baiting assault. On September 30, after 108 days of picket-line battles, the Square D workers returned with a contract, although they had been forced to yield significant concessions.
The experience steeled Shaw and other SWP members who worked in the plant for the defensive struggles labor faced. It reinforced their conviction in building a communist party, even under adverse conditions.
That same year, the Detroit branch organized a successful petitioning drive to put SWP candidates on the ballot in Michigan in the 1954 elections. Shaw was among the top petition-getters in the branch, which collected 14,000 signatures in all. This victory was of particular significance because the Michigan state legislature had passed the Trucks bill two years earlier, making it a crime to be a "subversive," punishable by 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Another provision, stipulating that "subversives" could not be on the ballot, had been used to rule the SWP slate off in 1952.
The Detroit socialists had waged a successful legal challenge and a public campaign against the witch-hunt law. SWP national secretary Farrell Dobbs had gone to Detroit in 1952 to help lead this effort, as part of a nationwide party campaign against witch-hunting attacks on democratic liberties and labor rights through state imposed clones of federal anticommunist, antilabor, anti-civil-rights legislation.
By 1955, a weekly forum series was also established in Detroit. At these free-speech public meetings, socialists spoke along with others on topics of interest to working people - from the fight against the Jim Crow segregation in the South to lessons from the Russian revolution. The Detroit forum series set an example for the party nationwide.
At the end of the 1950s Shaw was chosen by the SWP branch in Detroit as its organizer. He was elected to the SWP National Committee at the party's convention in 1959.
Collaboration with Robert F. Williams
Before moving to Detroit in 1953, Shaw had returned to the New York area from Los Angeles and gotten a job at an aircraft engine plant in New Jersey, along with a number of other former seamen.
While on night shift at the factory, Shaw met Robert F. Williams, a militant from North Carolina who was Black. Williams was an ex-Marine and Korean War veteran. The U.S. Marines, formerly a segregated, lily-white force, had finally taken in a few Blacks by 1950. Another SWP member in the plant had sold Williams a subscription to the Militant, and Shaw struck up an acquaintance with Williams after that.
"He was a `natural born' fighter and anxious to go back home to North Carolina and fight against racism," Shaw said of Williams in a 1993 Militant article. "He finally did so, against the advice of many who were afraid his militancy could get him killed."
Williams led the NAACP chapter in Monroe, North Carolina, in struggles to desegregate public facilities and organize armed self-defense against racist night-riders shooting up and terrorizing Black neighborhoods.
In 1958-59 Williams was a central leader of the defense campaign around the "kissing case." Two young boys - one seven years old and the other nine - had been arrested in Monroe in October 1958 for "letting" a seven-year-old white girl kiss one of them. At the trial, the presiding judge convicted the boy who was kissed of "assaulting and molesting a white female" and the other boy as an "accomplice." They were both sentenced to a reformatory.
Their defense case assumed nationwide, and even worldwide, character, and the SWP and Young Socialists helped lead the effort. Shaw, who by then was living in Detroit, was in the front ranks of the socialist workers and youth campaigning for the boys' release, which was won in February 1959.
Williams also organized a "civil defense" unit to defend the Black community against Ku Klux Klan thugs. He discovered that the National Rifle Association had no chapter in Monroe. He applied for a charter and obtained it, since the national organization did not suspect that an ex-Marine would be Black. During these years, rifle clubs were being encouraged by U.S. authorities to form "civil defense groups," and that is exactly what the Monroe club did.
After the civil defense group had trained enough people in the community, the KKK was stopped in its tracks. When the Klan came for one of their customary "joyrides" - during which they drove in caravans and fired at random as well as at specific targets - they were met by armed residents who had turned the lights off in their houses and began firing into the air.
"In a matter of seconds the attitude of the Klan changed from hilarity to mortal fear," Shaw wrote in the 1993 Militant article. "Amidst the clash of fenders and screech of tires they managed to turn around and flee. They did not return."
In retaliation for his civil rights militancy, and with the apparent agreement of the FBI, Williams was framed on charges of kidnapping in August 1961. Holding no hope he would get a fair trial, he fled to Canada the next month and from there to Cuba, where he received political asylum.
The SWP helped organize a nationwide defense effort to stop the railroading of Williams, a campaign in which Shaw was actively involved. In the first half of 1961, prior to the frame-up, Shaw had also conducted a speaking and organizing tour for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, speaking on the same platform with Williams at each stop.
Partisan of Cuban revolution
On New Year's Day in 1959, the workers and peasants of Cuba, led by the July 26 Movement, overthrew the U.S.- backed tyranny of Fulgencio Batista. The Cuban revolution opened the road to socialist revolution in the Americas and was thus encountering the wrath of Washington.
Soon after the revolutionary triumph, Shaw took the initiative to travel to the Caribbean island to find out the truth about Cuba first hand. Upon Shaw's return, the SWP sponsored a nationwide speaking tour for him in late 1959 and 1960, showing slides from his trip and explaining the accomplishments of the revolution.
In the spring of 1960, SWP national secretary Farrell Dobbs and Militant editor Joseph Hansen visited Cuba. Dobbs was the party's candidate for U.S. president in the 1960 elections. Defense of the Cuban revolution became the central theme of the Dobbs election campaign, and Hansen's series in the Militant helped get out the truth about the Cuban revolution to thousands of youth and working people.
In early 1960 Robert Taber, a free-lance reporter who had interviewed rebel leaders in Cuba for CBS news prior to the revolution, initiated the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. It was the first nationwide group in the United States to organize activities in opposition to Washington's attempts to crush the Cuban revolution. Shaw subsequently became chairperson of the organization's chapter in Detroit and Midwest director for Fair Play.
In June 1961, Shaw was subpoenaed by the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to appear before hearings on the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. The subcommittee, the counterpart in the Senate of the House Un-American Activities Committee, was chaired by Senator James Eastland, a notorious segregationist and anticommunist from Mississippi.
"The unspeakable Senator Eastland's Internal Security Subcommittee spent four days last week trying to smear the Fair Play for Cuba Committee but its witch hunt efforts failed miserably," said the June 26, 1961, issue of the Militant, describing the results of the hearing.
Eastland had subpoenaed more than a dozen people, including Shaw, after the appearance of an anonymous United Press International dispatch charging that the Communist Party and the SWP dominated the Fair Play committee..
"Following the policy of principled non-cooperation with the witch-hunters, Shaw refused to testify about the activities or members of the Fair Play committee," the Militant reported. "Despite hours of bullying by [Connecticut Democratic] Senator [Thomas] Dodd in an executive (secret) session on June 14, Shaw didn't budge an inch. This brought from the near-apoplectic Dodd the shout: `You're the worst witness I have had in 30 years.' "
At a public hearing session the next day, Shaw read a statement blasting the subcommittee's violations of the Bill of Rights and suggesting that it instead investigate the recent invasion of Cuba and Senator Dodd's business dealings with the reactionary regime in Guatemala. The U.S.- inspired invasion of the Caribbean island by Cuban counterrevolutionaries at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 had been held at bay by the Cuban militia and crushed swiftly by the revolutionary armed forces. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee had organized numerous rallies and picket lines blasting Washington for its efforts to overthrow the revolutionary government in Havana.
At the end of 1961, Shaw was asked to organize a session of the SWP's leadership school in the Poconos in New Jersey; he had attended the school as a student at an earlier session taught by Joe Hansen. In mid-1962, he moved to New York City and took an assignment as a volunteer in the party's national office. Since the party treasury was short of funds and he had a family to support, Shaw worked part-time as a compositor for the New York Times and a member of the I.T.U. during much of his stay in New York in the 1960s to supplement his income.
In 1964, Shaw was nominated as the Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. vice-president and ran on the ticket with Clifton DeBerry. The SWP slate got on the ballot in 11 states. Youth for DeBerry and Shaw campaigned on many campuses, winning new recruits to the Young Socialist Alliance. The YSA had been founded in 1960 by youth who were partisans of the Cuban revolution, active in civil rights actions, and defenders of Leon Trotsky's course to continue the communist line of march initiated by V.I. Lenin and the Bolsheviks. It campaigned against the growing military intervention by Washington in Vietnam.
The DeBerry-Shaw campaign helped increase the political influence of the party among fighters for Black liberation, championing the revolutionary course that was being taken at that time by Malcolm X.
Shaw assumed additional leadership responsibilities over the next decade. He became SWP organization secretary in 1965, an assignment he held through 1968. Throughout this period, Shaw helped facilitate the transition in the party leadership to a younger generation and preparations for the growing trade union work of the party as a whole.
During much of the 1970s, Shaw shouldered numerous responsibilities as a leader of the world communist movement as well. He traveled throughout Latin America, collaborating with cothinkers of the SWP and other revolutionaries. His trips included visits to Argentina and Bolivia during the prerevolutionary upsurges of the early 1970s in these countries, as well as to Peru, Chile, and elsewhere.
Shaw represented the SWP leadership as a fraternal delegate in the United Secretariat of the Fourth International between 1972 and 1977 and spent considerable time in Spain.
In 1977 Shaw moved to Miami and became part of the SWP branch there. After retiring from day-to-day political activity in 1982, he continued to follow the party's press and its work nationally and internationally, and to carry out projects proposed by the party leadership.
Shaw worked as a machinist for 11 years at an aircraft engine shop, before retiring in 1992 at the age of 69.
Since 1992 Shaw has worked along with Tom Leonard, another longtime SWP leader and a seaman in the 1940s, on a project to pull together and write down the party's experiences in the maritime industry and unions, based on their firsthand knowledge. In February 1994 Shaw and Leonard gave classes about party-building during that period at a regional socialist educational conference held in Miami.
Shaw was hospitalized on October 8 with complications from chronic emphysema and serious heart problems. He died four weeks later. Shaw is survived by his wife Mary, who lives in Hialeah; his son Matthew and daughter Wilma by a previous marriage, who both live in the Seattle area; and his sister Lillian Bacheler, who lives in Illinois.
Meetings to celebrate his life and political contributions will be held in Miami on December 3, in New York City on December 10, and in San Francisco on December 17 (see accompanying ad).
Speakers will include SWP national secretary Jack Barnes; Mary-Alice Waters, editor of New International magazine; Tom Leonard; Tony Thomas, a member of the Transport Workers Union Local 291 in Miami who served on SWP leadership bodies with Ed Shaw in the 1970s; former Militant editor Harry Ring; longtime SWP member Virginia Garza; and Young Socialists. Messages for these meetings can be sent to the party's national office at 406 West St., New York, NY, 10014. Fax (212) 727-3107.
The SWP has announced a fund in honor of Shaw's life.
Contributions can be sent to the Capital Fund at 410 West
St., New York, NY 10014. The Capital Fund is used for long-
term investments in plant and equipment to maintain and
improve the production of the political arsenal of
communist books and periodicals.
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