The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.60/No.30           September 2, 1996 
Curtis: `Glad To Return To The Class Struggle'  

CHICAGO - "Since June 18, the day I walked out of prison, everything I have done has been leading toward this day. Today, you are welcoming me back to the class struggle. What else can I say except, `I've been waiting a long time for this: Bring it on!'"

With these opening words, Mark Curtis, recently released from the Iowa State Penitentiary after serving seven and half years behind bars, addressed a crowd of 70 people here. Curtis, who was a unionist and member of the Socialist Workers Party in Des Moines, Iowa, was framed-up in 1988 and sentenced to 25 years for rape and burglary - crimes he did not commit.

The celebration of his parole to Illinois was held at the Pathfinder Bookstore and was co-hosted by Linda Jenness, the former secretary of the Mark Curtis Defense Committee, and David Marshall, a leader of the SWP branch in Peoria, Illinois, and member of the United Paperworkers International Union.

Under a banner entitled, "Mark, welcome back to the class struggle," Jenness opened the meeting by pointing out that the defense committee "is no more, because we don't need one. Mark is a free man."

"I felt welcomed back today," said Curtis, "when I spent a full afternoon of campaigning for socialism, going out to Pilsen [a predominantly Mexican working-class neighborhood] where I sold my first copy of Perspectiva Mundial since getting out of prison." Curtis and many of the others present had participated earlier that day in the national "campaigning for socialism" weekend called by supporters of the Socialist Workers campaign. A number of participants headed straight to St. Louis after the Chicago event, in order to take part in a support rally for the strikers at McDonnell Douglas the next day.

`Once again with the working class'
"I am once again with my class, the working class and will be going through many experiences with them again," said Curtis. He described how he had been working at a union-organized plant in the Chicago area for the last month. "One of the first political discussions I've had at work," said Curtis, "is over this past Thursday's arrest by the INS of over 40 immigrant workers at an electronics factory." On Friday there were two more Immigration and Naturalization Service raids of industries where another 44 immigrant workers were rounded up.

Curtis said he has joined the local committee organizing participation in a national demonstration in Washington D.C. on October 12 to protest the attacks on immigrant rights, "attacks much accelerated under the current Clinton administration. In a way it's like coming full circle," he said. At the time of his frame-up, Curtis was involved in a fight to defend 17 of his co- workers from Mexico and El Salvador who had been arrested in an immigration raid at the Swift meatpacking plant.

Curtis was joined at the celebration by several other speakers. "Tonight, we celebrate Mark's release because now he can join in the struggle along with a new generation of dangerous young men and women," said Tom Alter, a leader of the Young Socialists in Chicago and member of the YS national steering committee. "Most of the young fighters in our organization never met Mark, but learned more about the class struggle by learning about his case."

Alter pointed to how a previous defense case helped forge an earlier generation of young revolutionists. In 1963, three members of the Young Socialist Alliance in Bloomington, Indiana, were charged with sedition under the state laws for attending a speech on the fight for Black rights by Leroy McRae, the YSA national organizational secretary. The previous fall, the young socialists had also been active in defense of the Cuban revolution during the Cuban Missile Crisis. "Cases like these help us learn that the state takes us more seriously than we sometimes take ourselves," Alter said. "It's a lesson that you are dangerous to this system if you stand up in defense of the Cuban revolution, for Black rights, for immigrant rights."

Political Rights Defense Fund
John Studer, who had been the coordinator of Curtis's defense committee and is the executive director of the Political Rights Defense Fund, Inc. (PRDF), said that the files of the MCDC would soon be ready to ship to the State Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. This institution will preserve the collection, making the record and lessons of the eight-year fight available for activists and political researchers. The State Historical Society has one of the best collections of socialist and labor material in the country.

Studer explained that PRDF, which backed Curtis's case from the beginning, will be prepared to help with any further legal costs Curtis faces during his parole. Participants at the meeting gave more than $1,200 to PRDF. The Political Rights Defense Fund was founded in 1973 in response to a lawsuit filed by the SWP and Young Socialist Alliance challenging the decades- long campaign of the FBI and other government agencies to spy on, harass, and disrupt the two socialist groups. Since then, PRDF has played an important role in taking up additional cases, including the 11-year case to defend Hector Marroquin, a Mexican socialist who had been ordered deported by the INS because of his political views.

Naomi Craine spoke on behalf of the SWP National Committee. Craine is also editor of the Militant newspaper and author of the Pathfinder pamphlet, Why Is Mark Curtis still in prison?

Craine pointed out that the struggles Curtis was involved in at the time he went to prison have become sharper in the years since. He rejoins his party in the class struggle at a time when new explosive developments in world politics can be expected. "This is what Mark was preparing for the whole time he was in jail," she said. "When revolutionists are imprisoned, they are separated from directly doing political work with their class. But they are always preparing to rejoin the struggle."

In his talk, Curtis emphasized that he came out of prison stronger. "I went in a communist and I came out one too, a stronger one in fact, due to the collaboration with the SWP, my studies of the books published by Pathfinder, reading the Militant regularly, and holding discussion groups with other prisoners interested in these ideas."

Pamphlet tells chapter in class struggle
Craine announced that Pathfinder will soon publish a new, updated edition of the pamphlet that tells the story of Curtis' fight. "Like other materials produced in the defense of communist fighters, it has a lasting value as an educational tool that tells a chapter in the class struggle," she said.

Other such materials currently in print include Socialism on Trial, which explains the basic ideas of socialism through testimony during the frame-up trial of 18 leaders of the Minneapolis Teamsters union and the SWP charged with sedition during World War II; The Case of the Legless Veteran, which tells the story of James Kutcher's successful eight-year fight to win back his government job from the witchhunters; and FBI on Trial, the story of the SWP's victory against government spying.

Craine also pointed to the case of Joe Johnson, a U.S.-born socialist who Washington tried to deport in the 1960s. Johnson's pamphlet, They Have Declared Me a Man Without a Country, and My Story: the Struggle for Political Asylum in the U.S. by Hector Marroquín were reproduced for the celebration. Participants bought 10 copies.

Displays on the wall highlighted these cases and earlier ones, such as the defense campaigns led by the International Labor Defense in the mid-1920s and the Cologne Trial of 1852, a fight Karl Marx and Frederick Engels waged against the political police of their time after the 1848-49 revolutions.

Kitty Leopker, a member of United Steelworkers of America Local 16 in Granite City, Illinois, and Frankie Travis, a labor activist and former locked-out A.E. Staley worker in Decatur, gave greetings welcoming Curtis back to the struggle.

Several messages celebrating Curtis's victory were read at the meeting, including from the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee; framed up miners Roger Warren and Tim Bettger, from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada; and Edith Ballantyne, from the international office of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

In the meeting, the co-hosts recognized several fighters in the audience, including Luis Galarza, a leader of the Chicago Cuba Coalition and Puerto Rican activist; Mary Johnson, a long- time fighter against police brutality and member of executive board of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty; and Joanne Patterson, mother of Aaron Patterson, a frame-up victim who is on death row in Illinois.

Craine closed the meeting by thanking all those who supported Curtis's fight over the years. "I especially salute those who are not members of the communist movement, but who staunchly fought to bring about this day, when Mark could rejoin his party and his class in the struggle he was temporarily separated from."  
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