The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.59/No.35           September 25, 1995 
Event Honors Life Of SWP Leader Mayhew  


NEWARK, New Jersey - Howard Mayhew, a veteran leader of the Socialist Workers Party, had an unshakable confidence in the capacity of working people to change society. For over half a century, from the l930s to the l990s, he was a builder of the Socialist Workers Party and of union, antiracist, and antiwar struggles.

Seventy people attended an August 20 meeting here to celebrate the life and political contributions of this fighter, who died earlier this year at age 86.

SWP leader Elizabeth Stone described how Mayhew's experiences in the l930s depression - "when literally millions of workers around the world were joining in revolutionary and trade union struggles" - won him to a life- long commitment to building a revolutionary party.

"Howard knew that in times of economic crisis, workers will organize and fight," Stone said. "He also knew that for these struggles to be effective, revolutionary leadership is necessary."

Mayhew began to learn this when he first came into contact with socialists in l936 and joined the Socialist Party. Debate in the party focused on Spain, where powerful revolutionary workers' struggles were being crushed by fascists due to misleadership by anarchist, social democratic, and Stalinist forces.

Break from Socialist Party
Stone described how Mayhew was one of many younger members who joined the left wing of the Socialist Party and put forward revolutionary positions on Spain and other issues. In l938, after these forces were expelled from the Socialist Party by conservative party leaders, they helped form the Socialist Workers Party.

Shortly after joining the SWP Mayhew faced another decision, Stone pointed out. While working at a newspaper in Chicago he found himself in the middle of an American Newspaper Guild organizing drive. Joining the drive meant putting a job he had held for 10 years at risk, in depression conditions when he had a family to support. Howard threw himself into the battle, Stone said, soon becoming head of an emergency committee to respond to company attacks. He wrote years later that this decision to join the fight was "a fork in the road... that marked the time when I became a revolutionist."

During and following World War II, Mayhew worked at a General Motors locomotive plant in McCook, Illinois, organized by the United Auto Workers union. He helped lead workers at the plant in the nationwide GM strike of l945, which was the biggest strike of the massive post-World War II strike wave.

Stone noted that, like all revolutionaries, Mayhew wanted to be part of big workers' struggles and victories. But, as it turned out, his biggest political contributions were during the l950s and l960s when the workers movement was in retreat in the United States.

Helped build antiracist struggles
Stone explained that as a leader of the Chicago SWP in those years, and as part of a national team of leaders, he helped keep the party going as a fighting, out-turned workers' organization involved in the struggles that were advancing at the time, most importantly antiracist fights.

A high point was the election campaign of Black community activist Rev. Joseph King, which Mayhew helped organize in l958. It was a socialist campaign organized jointly by the SWP; the Washington Park Forum, a predominantly Black organization strongly influenced by the Communist Party; and others. The campaign helped win some members and supporters of the Communist Party, which had been especially strong in the Black community in Chicago, away from the Communist Party's support to capitalist politicians in the Democratic Party.

"The campaign advocated labor as well as Black political action," Stone explained, reading from an interview with Rev. King in the Militant where he proclaimed, "The unions should help build a party to fight for the emancipation of the human race. The capitalists can't do that. In the meantime, we're campaigning for Negro representation in the Second District, which has never had a Negro congressman."

Braiding of generations
Joel Britton, a member of the SWP Political Committee who joined the party in Chicago in l962, spoke of Mayhew's leadership capacities in the "braiding of generations so essential to building a combat party of the working class vanguard," a genuine communist party.

"Howard probably directly worked with, and served on branch executive committees with, more young members who went on to serve on the SWP's Political Committee than any other leader of his political generation," Britton said.

Britton noted that SWP founder James P. Cannon had stated that national leaders of the party must have "prestige" not only "in the party, but as the party tasks develop, they must have it outside."

"Howard Mayhew was an example of such a party member," Britton said, explaining that his prestige was earned in union battles, the fight for civil liberties, antiracist, and other struggles, and as a candidate for public office for the party. "This prestige came from serious involvement, activity, and leadership."

Britton pointed out how in the early l950s, in the midst of the postwar prosperity and anticommunist witch-hunt, Mayhew quit his job, with nearly ten years' seniority, to participate in the party's leadership school for six months.

In l954, at the age of 46, he was elected by convention delegates to be an alternate member of the SWP's National Committee. He was elected a regular member at the following convention in l957.

Britton reviewed some of his experiences as a new member of the party in Chicago, noting the serious nature of branch discussions and Mayhew's role in driving through a transition of leadership from older to younger generations.

At the party's l963 national convention, Mayhew set an example for other veteran leaders by accepting nomination for the newly established advisory membership on the party's National Committee.

After a half-decade of central leadership responsibility helping to organize the party's expanded printshop in New York, Mayhew again set an example in l971 by declining nomination to the advisory committee. This action, Britton noted, helped lay the basis for ending the advisory committee a few years later when the transition in leadership was completed.

Later, Mayhew was active in the party's Albany branch. Larry Lane, SWP candidate for governor of New York in l994, spoke of how Mayhew's political experience and judgment helped the Albany branch's participation in massive protests in l981 when the South African rugby team came to Albany.

Ray Parsons, SWP candidate for mayor of Chicago earlier this year, spoke of meeting Mayhew in the early l980s as an l8-year-old recruit to the Young Socialist Alliance in Albany. Howard "embodied in flesh and blood the party's continuity," he said. Parsons described how Mayhew campaigned for socialism into the early l990s, selling the Militant and Pathfinder books, and opposing U.S. aggression against Nicaragua, Libya, and Iraq.

Young Socialists member Janine Dukes, a volunteer in the party's printshop and participant in the recent Cuba Lives festival, gave a fund pitch in honor of Mayhew for the Capital Fund to help maintain the long-term printing and publishing of Marxist literature. A total of $757 was donated.

A display of photographs, articles, and other materials chronicling Mayhew's political activity was featured. A number of these items were contributed by Astrid Mayhew, Howard's wife, who attended the meeting.

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