Fred Goldstein, 1938-2023, Marxist writer and fighter
Fred Goldstein, who spent close to six decades as an organizer, educator, writer and thinker building Workers World Party, died in New York City on April 11 after a long illness. He was 84.
In the decades following the counterrevolution of 1989-91 in the Soviet Union, Goldstein won international regard among Marxists for his contributions to preserving and expanding a Leninist view of revolution and class struggle. His writings exposed the inevitable crises facing the capitalist system and the erroneous claim that humanity faced “the end of history.”
Goldstein’s articles in Workers World newspaper covered all aspects of the global class struggle, including the changes in People’s China following the opening of its socialist economy to the imperialist-dominated world market. His two books, “Low-Wage Capitalism: Colossus With Feet of Clay” (World View Forum, 2009) and “Capitalism at a Dead End” (World View Forum, 2012), reached Marxist readers worldwide and were accessible to non-economists. The second book was translated into both Spanish and Korean.
One thing that distinguished Goldstein from many U.S.-based Marxist analysts was that every idea he presented encouraged struggle aimed at overthrowing capitalism and building a revolutionary workers’ party in the United States that could bring about socialism. His writing was informed by his six decades of recruiting individuals and groups to build a communist combat party, starting in 1961. Goldstein did this as a youth leader, a New York branch organizer, recruiter of party branches, and everything from street fighter to WW editor to co-initiator of major events.
Fred’s friends at New York’s City College knew he boxed at a local gym for recreation. They were used to seeing him in the college cafeteria with a cigarette in one hand and a cup of bitter black coffee in the other. So in 1959, when two of them sat with him on a large rock in the midst of a mountain stream, they were surprised to see him leaning over the rock’s edge, gazing intently for a half-hour at an upstream-facing crayfish and contemplating why. The world’s events, combined with his “why” questions, brought him to WWP.
No working-class political leader grows in a vacuum, nor is what they accomplish due only to their own talents or personality. Their own characteristics interact with their world, its social forces and with others in the party they help build, including their peers, their mentors –– in Goldstein’s case, the founding leaders of WWP — and all those they educate in the struggle. Marxists call this a dialectical process.
Goldstein’s history is a history of Workers World Party, and a selection of episodes from those years outlines both stories.
In the summer of 1962, as a leader of the just-formed Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF), Goldstein had his first political arrest. He and other political activists had fought to turn back a group of scabs being used by hospital managers against a strike led by a new hospital union, Local 1199, which represented nonprofessional hospital workers, most of them Black and/or Puerto Rican. It was only the beginning.
That same summer, YAWF held the first demonstration in the United States against the U.S. intervention in Vietnam — an action noted and commented on by the president of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh.
In early August 1964, then-President Lyndon Johnson announced the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, with the fictitious “Gulf of Tonkin incident” as a pretext. Responding immediately, YAWF’s Goldstein and Deirdre Griswold worked all night drafting a leaflet for YAWF members to distribute when they protested U.S. aggression across from the United Nations the next day. By the following Saturday, YAWF allied with the May 4 Movement to rally in Times Square, condemning the U.S. war escalation.
The New York Police Department had barred demonstrators from Times Square. Police on horses attacked them with batons, arresting many including Goldstein. In jail that night, they called for a return to Times Square. The struggle continued.
The years 1968 and 1969 were filled with more fight and hope for social advances than any since, leading to both growth and radicalization of the progressive movement in the United States. At the center of this development was the massive Civil Rights Movement and the wing of the Black struggle that oriented toward self-defense.
Solidarity with the Black Liberation Movement
From the early 1960s, WWP oriented toward the most revolutionary organizations of the Black Liberation Movement. WWP members, including Goldstein, worked in the Monroe Defense Committee, which supported Rob Williams, Mae Mallory and the Black community of Monroe, North Carolina, whose armed self-defense group had driven the Ku Klux Klan out of the Black part of town.
WWP and many other activists were electrified by the founding and rapid growth of the Black Panther Party. Goldstein, along with others in WWP, attended the BPP’s United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) conference in Oakland, California, in July 1969 and the Revolutionary Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in September 1970.
Goldstein worked with the Prisoners Solidarity Committee in defense of an uprising in Attica prison in September 1971. Goldstein and WWP played a key role in organizing a demonstration in Philadelphia in 1995 that stopped the execution of Black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In the late 1960s, the Students for a Democratic Society, home to some varied political tendencies, also had enormous growth. The most militant group inside the SDS, born of a May 1968 occupation at Columbia University, was the Weathermen, later called the Weatherpeople and later still the Weather Underground. Before going underground, the Weatherpeople called for “Days of Rage.” Revolutionary youths turned out and trashed a posh shopping district in Chicago as a protest against the Vietnam War and U.S. racism.
At the time, WWP’s leaders were in discussion with leading Weatherpeople, hoping to convince them to hold off from going underground and to collaborate in actions, while making use of legal, public organization. Only by joining them in struggle would WWP’s advice on this question be heard. For that reason, despite misgivings about the Days of Rage tactic, YAWF sent a delegation to the Chicago protest.
Goldstein and his comrade Mike Tilli carried the one banner visible at what became an uneven battle with Chicago’s brutal cops. The banner read, “U.S. imperialism, out of Vietnam,” and was signed by Youth Against War and Fascism. Later that night, Tilli and Goldstein had to ditch the banner to escape the police, while running across rooftops as bullets whizzed over their heads.
The political message
YAWF always carried signed orange banners. Their clear political message, like “Big Firms Get Rich, GIs Die” and “Free the New York Panther 21!” stand out in documentaries and photos from that period. Sometimes an action speaks for itself, but the political message always counts.
Some comrades remember Goldstein from his days as WWP branch organizer, when at “hard hitting pre-meetings in New York, he’d give an on-target political and even tactical orientation from a class and anti-imperialist viewpoint, regarding the demonstration the young comrades were about to hold,” wrote Jim MacMahan. That was the tradition: Explain the politics; review the obstacles; and then review the action after it occurred.
In those years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of young people in the center of world imperialism looked with optimism toward a revolutionary future. They were encouraged by the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions; the heroic Vietnamese; the movements for liberation in Africa and Latin America, as well as the founding of the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican organization based mainly in Chicago and New York; and the American Indian Movement’s 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, along with the Black Liberation movements across the United States.
This optimism was encouraged further by the break out of the Lesbian and Gay movement in June 1969, following an uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village, led by trans women. A year later came an almost spontaneous outpouring of women, who turned the growing demands for the right to free legal abortion, with no forced sterilizations, into a mass movement.
During that period of political growth, Goldstein and his life partner, Naomi Cohen, edited Workers World newspaper along with Griswold. All over the United States, young people, with similar sentiments to those of the Weather Underground, but who chose different tactics, had formed collectives to carry out local popular struggles. Many realized at this point that they needed a countrywide organization that could help them win.
Goldstein, working with other leading comrades, had the task of convincing those in the collectives that WWP could take on that challenge. He knew this task required being available to explain and convince, at any time of day and night and over and over, battling ruling-class ideology, whether by oration or discussion or listening closely. And that the best way was to engage together in struggle and help the struggle succeed.
While there were many examples, a key one was when WWP coordinated the All-Peoples Congress, in response to attacks by the Reagan administration, in the majority-Black working-class city of Detroit in 1981. Goldstein lived in Detroit for six months, helping comrades from all over the country, and worked especially with the Detroit branch of WWP to hold what would turn out to be a mass meeting of popular neighborhood and union organizations and women’s organizations. It was a mobilization of all those fighting oppression and exploitation, independent of the electoral politics dominated by the ruling class.
Many party activists remember a talk he gave at a conference that used the analogy of constructing a ship — long before you sail it — to building a revolutionary party long before there is a revolutionary situation.
In the long reactionary period after the 1991 counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, Goldstein concentrated on writing and speaking. He expressed the ideas about globalization developed in the book “Low-Wage Capitalism” at international Marxist conferences in Havana, Cuba, and Brussels, Belgium, and to a graduating class of social workers at the Federal University of Espirito Santo in Vitoria, Brazil.
While his political work was more than demanding, Fred relaxed by hiking and biking, doing carpentry and in later years baking bread and telling jokes, with his inimitable timing. He approached everything with the same energy and concentration as he did politics — or observed crayfish. Some will remember never strolling with Fred; instead you power walked together if you could keep up.
His survivors include his life partner for 57 years, Naomi Cohen. At various times Cohen has been co-editor of Workers World newspaper and co-editor of Battle Acts –– the magazine of the women’s caucus of YAWF. She participated in all aspects of party life, including editing Fred’s first drafts. Also surviving Fred is their daughter Lila Goldstein, a daughter from a previous marriage, and hundreds of friends and comrades, who will miss him every time they want to talk politics with someone who has lots of answers but still listens.
Goldstein leaves his books, articles and speeches on video and internet, including one in which he explains the key points of “Low-Wage Capitalism” at a California campus. (tinyurl.com/Low-Wage-Capitalism)