Review of Signe Waller's CWP Memoir

Thomas Seay entheogens at
Wed Nov 27 14:58:52 MST 2002

 On November 3rd, 1979, I was  attending an internal
 meeting of the  Communist Workers  Party (CWP) in
 Pittsburgh, PA.  That evening we  repaired to the
 the funky living room of our Oakland  district
> headquarters and learned from  television broadcast
> that several anti-kkk activists had  been killed or
> wounded
> during the course of a demonstration  in Greensboro,
> North Carolina.  A few minutes  later, we received a
> call confirming our fears:  four of  our comrades
> had already died and several others  were in serious
> condition after having been shot in  cold-blood by a
> caravan of Klan/Nazi members who had  attacked
> the anti-Klan march organized by the  CWP.
> In her newly released, "Love and  Revolution", Signe
> Waller, the widow of Jim Waller, one  of the five to
> die as a result of that November  tragedy, provides
> us
>  with a "political memoir" that  spans several
> genres.
> It is at once a biography of the  victims of the
> Greensboro massacre, autobiography  of the author,
> reportage, chapter in American  history, political
> analysis and activist handbook.  Ms.  Waller writes
> in
> two voices: the first is that of the  young Signe
> Waller, leftist militant circa 1979;  the other
> voice
> is that of  Signe  Waller, year  2002.  Combining
> these
> two perspectives, Ms. Waller allows  us access to
> the
> passionate thought processes of a  young
> revolutionary
> as well as the sobre reasoning of  a  seasoned
> activist
> culling the wisdom of her  experience.
>  Who were the five slain?  Dr. James  Waller, age
> 36;
> Dr. Michael  Nathan, 32; William  Sampson, 31;
> Sandra
> Smith, 28; Cesare Cauce, 25.  These  were
> extraordinary
> individuals.  Collectively, they  were collegiate
> student body presidents, Phi Beta  Kappa
> members,graduates of the University  of Chicago,
> Duke,
> and Harvard Divinity and  accomplished physicians.
> Poised for professional success and  the material
> comfort and bourgeois respectability  that
> would have afforded, they chose  instead to live,
> work
> and struggle among the poor and  working classes of
> North Carolina.  To this end, four  members of the
> CWP5 took low-paying and dangerous  jobs in the
> textile
> mills of North Carolina and arm-in- arm with other
> workers fought for better working  conditions and
>  pay.
>  Co-workers recognized the  dedication and skill of
> these openly-radical CWP member,  electing them as
> local Presidents and shop stewards.  In addition to
> their trade-union activities, the "5" also
> participated
> in the  anti-apartheid movement,  struggles for
> better
> education, and anti-racist actions.   After a long
> day's work at the mill, Dr. Waller  gave gratis
> medical
> treatment to the workers and their  families, even
> paying for the pharmaceuticals when  his patients
> were
> too poor.
>  In the Summer of 1979, the CWP  along with other
> townfolk confronted and routed the  Ku Klux Klan in
> China Grove, North Carolina, where  the racist
> organization had been terrorizing  african-americans
> and inter-racial couples.   Emboldened by
> this victory, CWP leadership in  North Carolina
> called
> for an anti-klan  rally and march to  be held in the
> predominantly black neighborhood of  Morningside
> in Greensboro.  The CWP publicly  dared the Ku Klux
> Klan to show up at the rally and  even sent the
> white
> supremacists a letter to that  effect.
> The Klan did show up on November  3rd, accompanied
> by
> Nazis with whom they had  recently  forged an
> alliance.
>  On-the-scene television crews  recorded the fatal
> shootings.  The CWP, complying with  police orders,
> were not armed and, therefore, could  not mount a
> defense.  As one Klansmen noted, it  was a "turkey
> shoot".
> In the wake of November 3rd,  evidence came forward
> that proved this was more
>  than a brutal assault by the KKK/ Nazis.  Sure
> those
> groups pulled the trigger  but it  was later brought
> to
> light that the Greensboro police and  even the FBI
>  had been in complicity and even  helped organize
> the
> attack.  Given the amount of  conspiracy theory we
> encounter on the Internet, the  sceptic should
> certainly be  wary of such a  statement.  To this I
> can
> only reply, "Read the book!"
>  In the last pages of "Love and  Revolution", we
> learn
> that today Waller still  believes in  the ideals of
> her
> youth: an egalitarian society and no  war.  She
> does not berate her years in the now  defunct CWP as
> youthful folly.  Mistakes were made  from which she
> has
> learned and evolved.
>  She criticizes the rhetoric of the  CWP.  The CWP
> talked tough but was in no position  for a military
> confrontation.  This fact in no way  justifies
> the argument of some at the time :  that the CWP
> "got
> what it deserved" or provoked.  The  fact is that
> the
> CWP was leading a peaceful "unarmed" demonstration.
> Nonetheless, the groups aggressive  rhetoric did
> make
> it
> possible for their enemies to  portray them as
> violent.
>  She also criticizes the Leninist  party structure,
> democratic centralism. It was  according to her
> "long
> on centralism and short on democracy".
> I couldn't agree more.  As a one- time member of the
> CWP, I found rhetoric and democratic  centralism
> perniciously fed into one another.   On the one
> hand, rhetoric alienated me, divided  me from
> myself.
> Often I could not distinguish my  true thoughts and
> feelings from Party rhetoric.  When  one did offer
> an
>  unpopular opinion, there was always  the threat
> that
> it would not be fairly judged  but  simply rejected
> as
> a symptom of "petit- bourgeois" orientation or my
> youth(I was only 19 at the time).   Due to this
> censorship by others, or even  self- censorship,
> there
> was NO chance that a regular cadre  could influence
> party policy. In my opinion, not  only democratic
> centralism but the party  model,  which
> aspires to mediate the desires of so  many under a
> united platform, deserves to be  tossed in the trash
> bin.
> I hope that this book will be  studied by many
> activists. I also hope that it will  serve as a call
> to
> reawaken all those ex-members of the  Communist
> Workers
> party who have fallen into the  slumber of
> middle-age.
> A better world is possible and, as  Signe informs
> us,
> we are being "convened by martyrs".

 -Thomas Seay entheogens at

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