Nat Weinstein ¡Presente!

Nat Weinstein, An Appreciation

By Carole Seligman

This presentation was made at the Celebration of Nat Weinstein’s Life, June 22, 2014, in San Francisco.

Nat Weinstein had a good life. He said, “There is no better life than participation to the best of your ability in the struggle for socialism.” And he definitely participated in that struggle, to the best of his ability from 1945-2014—his whole adult life. He really loved two things most of all: revolutionary socialism, and his family—Sylvia, Bonnie and Jack, Debbie, Kevin, Maria, Johnny, Reshad.

I met Nat about 50 years ago in N.Y. but only started to work with him in the Socialist Workers Party in 1971 in San Francisco. 

As a young recruit to the Young Socialist Alliance in Boston, I was already influenced by Nat, though I didn’t know it, because he, in New York, helped the SWP get acquainted with Malcolm X, and, as organizer of the N.Y. City SWP branch, he arranged for Malcolm to speak at three Militant Labor Forums. Older people here will remember that the Left scorned Malcolm X for his strong Black Nationalism and opposition to integration.

The SWP embraced Malcolm’s revolutionary stand for Black liberation by any means necessary, his advocacy of self-defense against the violent racists, and his independence from the twin racist political parties. I believe Nat’s role in supporting Malcolm X, leading to the SWP’s publishing speeches and interviews with him, had a deep positive effect on the Black liberation movement, an effect which continues today.

Nat came to San Francisco to be part of a struggle in the Painters Union. He was on the National Committee, the national leadership body of the SWP, and helped lead the branch through many working class struggles—Vietnam, Sears, Emporium, oil workers, construction—two-gate, teachers, abortion rights, the ERA, childcare.

Nat was a one-hundred percent party man; a party patriot. Loyal to the program and to the organization of the SWP. And this was because, as he wrote in an introduction to a re-print of Leon Trotsky’s “Fascism, What it is and How to Fight it,” only a revolutionary socialist party “can lead the human race out of the capitalist quagmire.” When the SWP organization began to abandon the historic revolutionary program and its own internal democracy, Nat lead the fight to defend them. In 1979, he made an impassioned plea in an SWP discussion bulletin for the party not to abstain from the class struggle, as it was doing: He wrote, “If we are not standing on the ground of the class struggle on the job and in the union—if we appear to abstain—it will look like political action for us is a substitute (and a panacea) rather than a logical extension of class struggle methods.”

And everyone who agreed with him and Lynn Henderson, or disagreed on any of the other SWP positions, was expelled.

A letter from Ben Stone, a co-worker and political comrade, to Nat in 1966, said, “I know you hate to write.” But Nat became a pretty good writer when he needed to write in defense of the revolutionary program, like that 1979 SWP bulletin. In writing and speaking, he was the main defender in the United States of the historic revolutionary socialist program of the Fourth International, the Transitional Program. This is Nat’s most important contribution to the socialist struggle.

This is what he said when he wrote the pamphlet, “Socialist Action, Who We Are, What We Stand For,” in the organization where he did his best writing, about the great advantage to being in a revolutionary party: “Above all, you win your own freedom from capitalist miseducation. You see things clearly; you are no longer puzzled and bewildered by the big events that suck whole nations and continents in their vortex. You understand what is happening and why. You become a fighter for your own rights and the rights of all the exploited and oppressed.”

Although we are not united today in a common revolutionary organization (and Nat considered this to be a terrible problem), many of you in this room have been part of important struggles that Nat helped to lead. Many of you were part of union struggles where you wrote the leaflets at Nat and Sylvia’s house, and formulated the motions and projects, and plans, to present at union meetings or mass meetings in the antiwar movement. I know Sylvia, and I and a fraction of SWP members got a lot of help from Nat in the childcare struggle, and many other women’s rights campaigns. The kind of help that linked our struggles with the liberating program for socialism.

I remember the first forum Socialist Action organized after we all had been expelled from the SWP. Nat’s speech was about the basic ideas of Marx and Engels, the Communist Manifesto, the class struggle as the engine of society. He considered the formation of Socialist Action to be a continuation of the revolutionary path he had been on since he joined the Troskyist movement on a ship while he was in the Merchant Marines during WWII.

He considered Socialist Viewpoint magazine, for which current issue he recommended articles, to continue that same path. And to the very end of his life, he maintained optimism about the working class leading all humanity to a socialist future, an optimism that was totally based in a rational, scientific understanding of society. He explained that “a fighting proletarian leadership can be forged only in the course of a prolonged social, economic, and political crisis during which leadership is tested and retested during wave after wave of mass mobilizations and class confrontations.”

And, although today’s world events, in the main, have not been encouraging for this socialist future, Nat’s life, dedicated to bringing it about, is an example to emulate:

Leon Trotsky wrote: “A life has not been lived in vain if it has been devoted to the greatest cause of human kind: building a better world—without oppression, exploitation or violence.” And that’s exactly what Nat’s whole life was about.