Communist Party of Washington State brief history

 
BY:Washington District| March 13, 2002


Untitled Document

Writing the history of the Communist Party
of Washington State would be a grand, major project. This essay is just
a brief introduction of some of the major movements, organizations, accomplishments,
crises, and difficulties of that history. We hope this web site will encourage
the writing of more pieces of that history.

There are people whose names resonate throughout the history of both
our Party and our state, for example Lenus Westman. He came to Seattle
and got a job as a machinist at Todd Shipyards, shortly before they went
on strike in what became the 1919 Seattle General Strike. Lenus was elected
to the Washington State Legislature in 1939, but because he was an open
Communist, the State Legislature, in striking proof of the class nature
of power, voted to refuse to seat him, overturning the will of the voters.
The Democratic Party almost split at its convention the following year
over this issue, prompting Warren Magnuson to say to a reporter years
later, when asked about a divisive state Democratic convention, “You
should have seen Hoqium in 1940!” Lenus was arrested in the late
40s for standing up in court during the state Smith Act trial and denouncing
the proceedings from the audience. During the McCarthy period, he was
kicked out of the Machinist’s Union because of his politics. He went
on to be one of the most dedicated and faithful participants in the Farmworkers’
picketlines at Safeway stores in the late 60s and early 70s. He distributed
the People’s World regularly at unemployment offices for decades.
He and his wife Doris picketed the South African Consulate in Seattle
every Sunday for many years during the 70s. Lenus is an example of the
hard work, dedication, fortitude, and perseverance that have enabled our
Party to play an important role in our state, not just during the 30s,
but up to and including the present day.

Some of the other names of that history, still to be written: Earl and
Viv George, Heine and Dood Huff, Brick Moir, Ernesto and BJ Mangaoang,
Bill Pennock, Morris Rappaport, Burt Nelson, Rosella Bailey, Elmer Kistler,
Tom Rabbit, Thorun and Gene Robel, Oiva and Taimi Halonen, Marion Kinney,
Milford Sutherland, Irene Hull, Jim and Audrey West, Norma Rader, Zeo
Prizner, Bill and Cecilia Corr, Russell and Virginia Brodine, and countless
others.

During the 30s, the CP of Washington State played a leading role in several
organizations which changed our state: The Washington Pension Union, which
won the first old-age pension plan for seniors in the country; the Washington
Commonwealth Federation, which transformed politics in this state and
led to the famous statement by James Farley, Roosevelt’s Postmaster
General, that there were the “47 states and the Soviet of Washington.”;
the Unemployed Councils; and the organizing and strengthening of many
unions, including the ILWU (the International Longshoreman and Warehousemen’s
Union), the IWA (the International Woodworkers of America), and Machinists
Local 751 (the Boeing local of the IAM), and Local 79 (International Association
of Machinists).

Communists from Washington State were among those who fought fascism
in Spain, joining the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Oiva Halonen was one of
those.

One anecdote from the 30s is about the Party caucus in the Washington
State legislature. At one point, the caucus had six or seven members,
all elected as Democrats, through the agency of the Washington Commonwealth
Federation, including Tom Rabbit and Bill Pennock. When they wanted to
meet, they would have the pages go around announcing a meeting of the
“Committee on Roads and Bridges.” There was no such committee.

Another anecdote was told by Rosella Bailey, who described bringing a
load of vegetables from the family farm into Grays Harbor in a horse-drawn
wagon, to donate to striking longshore workers in 1934. That was where
she first came into contact with Communists. Rosella later went on to
found and lead the Elder Citizen’s Coalition in Seattle’s Central
Area.

During the McCarthy period, the Party built the Committee for the Protection
of the Foreign-Born to help stop the attempted deportations of immigrant
union and Communist activists. Under the leadership and hard work of Marion
Kinney, there were no successful deportations from Washington State. This
included the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Mangaoang vs. United States,
which declared that Filipinos had special status, since they came to this
country while the Philippines was a protectorate of the US. The US had
been trying to deport Ernesto Mangaoang and seven others, Filipino leaders
of ILWU Cannery Workers, now called Local 37.

[Above: Sept. 5, 1946 Labor Day Parade in Seattle–Shipscaler’s Contingent
photo credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, Museum of History and Industry]

Another Supreme Court victory against McCarthyism was won in the case
of Eugene Robel, a machinist employed by Lockheed Shipyards. Because Lockheed
did “defense” work, Gene was fired as a “security risk”
even though he didn’t work on any “defense” projects! He
was reinstated in his job, though not reinstated in the Machinist’s
Union from which he and Lenus Westman had been kicked out.

During the 50s and 60s, the Party was active in support of many struggles
for civil rights for African Americans and others. Party members, including
Marj Sutherland, went south for Mississippi Summer. As one African American
political leader said recently, “These white Communist women were
at every demonstration for Black rights,” referring to Marion, Thorun,
Taimi, Cecilia, and others. We supported the fishing rights struggles
of several tribes, joining in “sleep-ins” on the Nisqually River
as well as other demonstrations.

[Above: Communist Party USA and Young Workers Liberation
League contingent march up Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle in anti-Veitnam
War march in the early 1970s.]

During the 60s and early 70s, the Party played an important role in the
struggle against the war in Vietnam. Taimi Halonen and Thorun Robel worked
with many non-Communists in SWAP (Seattle Women Act for Peace), WILPF
(the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), and helped
bring together one of the two major anti-war coalitions, Seattle PCPJ
(the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice), which lasted here
in Seattle long after it dissolved in other parts of the country, mainly
due to the work of Taimi and Thorun. At one point, two of the three co-chairs
of Seattle PCPJ were Communists: Taimi Halonen and Marc Brodine, who represented
the Young Worker’s Liberation League in PCPJ.

[Above: Washington State delegation to Solidarity Day demonstration
in Washington DC in September 1981. The delegation included activists
from many local unions, from the Washington State Labor Council, and from
community organizations. At least seven Communists were part of the delegation,
which flew across Canada to attend the demonstration, to protest Reagan’s
firing of the PATCO air traffic controllers.]

Communists were involved in many efforts during the 70s, 80s, and 90s
to fight for better wages and working conditions and civil rights (like
union rank-and-file committees, like the Coalition to Defend the Right
of the Black Panther Party to Exist, like JOIN (Jobs or Income Now, an
organization of the unemployed), like the coalition against inflation
which organized a large Olympia demonstration in 1974, like the delegation
to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Day in 1981, like the February 1982 Olympia
demonstration for Jobs and Justice sponsored by the Washington State Labor
Council and the Seattle Council of Churches, like the 1983 20th Anniversary
of the March on Washington), for peace (like the massive demonstrations
against US intervention in Central America in the mid-80s, like the Coalition
against the Gulf War, and the coalition against the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia,
both of which the Party joined as an official member), and for equal rights
(like our participation in International Women’s Day events, like
our role helping to found and lead the Elder Citizen’s Council in
Seattle’s Central Area).

We ran several candidates for office, including Marion Kinney, who got
over 9% of the vote in 1980, running from Seattle’s 37th District;
Elmer Kistler, a union carpenter, who ran three times for the state legislature;
and BJ Mangaoang, who ran for Mayor of Seattle in the late 70s, and for
Governor in 1986, garnering over 6,000 votes. We held rallies for our
national candidates for President and Vice-President, in 1976 at the Paramount
Theater with 1,500 attendees, in 1980 at the Moore Theater with 800, in
1984 at Franklin High School with 600. We ran a petition campaign in the
mid-70s to get rid of the unconstitutional so-called “loyalty oath”
then required of candidates for public office.

In the mid-80s, we issued a series of shop papers for workers in specific
industries: Flightline for Boeing workers, Loadline for longshore workers,
Lifeline for Harborview employees, and The Progressive Clerk for grocery
workers (a takeoff on the grocery industry magazine, The Progressive Grocer).
We also started issuing our own newsletter, Partyline, which continues
today. We participated with many others in the Marxist Scholar’s
Conference held in 1985 at the University of Washington, attended by over
500.

Communists have been and continue to be involved in JwJ (Jobs with Justice,
a union/community coalition), in the seniors/retirees movement, in the
environmental movement, in the peace movement, in many local unions, and
in general constantly participating in people’s struggles. We circulate
and raise funds for the People’s Weekly World, our national newspaper,
which carries on the traditions of the Daily Worker and the west coast
People’s World.

Though still numerically small, we continue to play a role much larger
than our numbers in the political life of our state. Our pioneering statements
on the closure of Hanford (issued in 1986), on Jobs and Trees (issued
in 1989), our Washington State Economic Bill of Rights (issued in 1993),
an expose of the “Weed and Seed” program, our Jobs Not Jails
pamphlet (issued in 1996) all paved the way for broadening and deepening
the struggles for a better life for all, for jobs, justice, equality,
peace, and socialism. (These statements are available elsewhere on this
web site.)

[Above: CPUSA banner in the November 30, 1999 ‘Battle in Seattle’ WTO Protest–part of the
50,000 strong labor-led march]

[Above: Photos from the A20 Stop the War rally in Seattle, April 20, 2002]

Today, in this new century, we are still making history. Join us.

Comments (2)

l.Young | September 08, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Your pics don’t present in my Google browser or Firefox. I would like to see them . I;m looking for an old friend from Nisqually sleepin days ,Roger .

Victor Armada | June 25, 2013 at 11:18 PM

Can you help me to join you mailing list? No one in NYC has been able to help, they make things very complicated. I just need the party news thrown into my email address. Thank you.

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