Communist Party of Washington State brief history

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.

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  • 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 .

    Posted by l.Young, 09/08/2013 5:03pm (2 years ago)

  • 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.

    Posted by Victor Armada, 06/25/2013 11:18pm (3 years ago)

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