. On Sunday, December 12, 2004, Fred "Slim" James, a close friend of our comrades, and a former activist and one of the leaders of the Marxist-Leninist Party, collapsed while playing basketball and died of a heart attack. This was an unexpected tragedy. And it took from the world a man who had devoted a quarter century of his life, up to 1993, to the struggle to build up the revolutionary organization of the working class.
. Slim came of age in the turbulent years of the late 1960s. He took part in many of the struggles of the time, such as the fight against racial discrimination and the struggle against the Vietnam war. He helped establish the "FTA" coffeehouse for anti-war work among GIs ("FTA" stood for "Fuck the Army", and it was a takeoff on the recruiting slogan of "Fun-Travel-Adventure"). And he helped defend the coffeehouse against fascist and police attacks.
. He also took part in seeking to organize the general revolutionary movement. He became convinced that this movement should be based on the working class and that it should have a Marxist standpoint. He joined with other comrades to found the Association of Communist Workers (ACW) in Louisville, which carried out direct communist work among the masses. From this time on his attention was always closely linked with the work to organize among the working class.
. He also saw that communist organizing had to be carried out on an anti-revisionist basis. He and some other ACW comrades joined the American Communist Workers Movement (ML) prior to the conference which formed the Central Organization of US Marxist-Leninists. The ACWM(ML) and COUSML were predecessors of the MLP, and their key journal was the Workers' Advocate, which later became the MLP's national journal. Slim played a major role in the organizational consolidation of the ACWM(ML)/COUSML.
. One of the major problems facing the COUSML was developing its theoretical basis. It was clear that one had to oppose the class-collaborationism of the pro-Soviet Communist Party of the USA and the pretense of the state-capitalist Soviet Union to be socialist. But what was the correct application of Marxist-Leninist views to the US and the world situation? The ready answers of those days proved deceptive and false. The Soviet Union was revisionist. Pro-soviet revisionism had corroded the once-revolutionary CPUSA, so that its methods and traditions had been reformist for a long time. Maoism had claimed to be the answer but it ended up bogged down in its own class-collaborationist "three worlds" theory. But even before it was clear that Maoism itself was revisionism, it became evident that it had few answers about how to organize. So it was necessary for the ACWM(ML) and then COUSML to try to answer these questions for itself. These organizations, and then the MLP, thus concentrated a good deal of attention on developing its theoretical work, which it developed in conjunction with the problems facing it in the mass struggle.
. Slim saw the need to carry through this work. Although he would have preferred to continue devoting his main efforts to work to establish organization at factories such as Philip Morris in Louisville or links among the militant coal miners, he agreed to take a larger part in the general theoretical work of the party and the putting out of the Workers' Advocate. Slim played a particularly large role with respect to formulating the line of the COUSML and the MLP on organizing at the place of work; the line on struggle against the racist anti-busing movement; and a variety of other issues.
. Slim also had many responsibility with respect to organizational work. He was level-headed, and he also was the type of comrade whom other people would come to with their problems. In the final years of the MLP, he was one of the key people striving to keep the party together, and he dealt with a succession of crises in various local areas. This became discouraging work over time, as the crises would be surmounted, but the party organizations only survived and didn't rebound. The MLP was founded on January 1, 1980, at a time when the mass struggle was beginning to decline. The MLP, due to its emphasis on party-building, which it connected to work among the masses, was pretty solid organizationally. But the decline of the mass movements inevitably took a toll.
. In the last years of the MLP, a theoretical crisis was added to the pressure of the stagnant state of the mass struggle. The MLP had inherited a tradition of struggle. Its roots went back into various mass movements of the late 1960s, and it was an activist organization. It's anti-revisionism was inspired by the desire to have a militant and revolutionary mass movement, so the protracted decline of mass struggle not only cut off the source of new comrades but took a toll on its morale. Meanwhile the MLP had been involved in theoretical work to deal with the roots of revisionism in the communist movement. It wasn't sufficient to simply denounce the "three worlds" theory and the most blatant treachery and reformism of the pro-Soviet revisionists. Instead the MLP carried out a broad study of the communist movement, judging it against the basic principles of Marx and Lenin as well as against the needs of the time. This study had led to the repudiation of Maoism. But it also showed that Stalinism itself was revisionism, and that the Soviet Union hadn't changed fundamentally when Khrushchov had come to power, because it was already state-capitalist at that time. This was a major success of the study, but it also was disturbing. It meant that there no longer was a model of successful socialism. Everything was being re-examined, and although this study was actually laying the basis to confirm the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism, a time of universal doubt and reconsideration is always a difficult time.
. The MLP thus went into a severe crisis in its last few years. The majority of the party would end up politically demoralized, and only a minority was determined to maintain anti-revisionist work. Thus the MLP wouldn't survive.
. During this last period, Slim continued steadfastly to try to hold the party together. He also continued theoretical work. One of his accomplishments was a detailed defense of the anti-war tactics of the MLP in the first Persian Gulf War from the somewhat three worldist views set forward by the comrades from the Chicago Branch, who after the dissolution of the MLP became the Chicago Workers' Voice group. The Chicago comrades deviated towards accommodation of the petty-bourgeois nationalism of the third world, and also had a somewhat mechanical understanding of various Marxist-Leninist principles. A good part of Slim's refutation of their views was reprinted in Communist Voice #4, 5 and 6.
. In the MLP's final crisis, Slim did not join with those who began to mock revolution, but he never really recognized what their politics had become either. He also had been worn down by the heavy load of his responsibilities, which became heavier still as the party declined in size. Thus he went passive with respect to Marxist-Leninist politics after the dissolution of the MLP in 1993. But this doesn't negate the tremendous role he had played in the attempt to establish an anti-revisionist proletarian party. Many people can only put in a few years of intense effort before having to settle back as supporters of the main struggle. No party or trend can survive without a huge number of such activists. Slim however was one of the rare activists who worked selflessly at revolutionary organizing for most of his adult life, for over twenty-five years. It's characteristic that even after he went passive politically, he continued to devote tremendous attention to helping other people in all sorts of situations.
. The MLP ultimately dissolved in November 1993, and the Workers Advocate, which had been published by the MLP and its predecessors for almost twenty-five years, came to an end. But the MLP accomplished a good deal and left an important legacy. Slim was one of the key comrades who ensured that the MLP was what it was. He was one of the best of the revolutionary activists who rose up in the 60s, and he was devoted to the working class and to the revolutionary perspective. A large amount of detailed knowledge about the development of the anti-revisionist movement of the late 60s through the 80s died with him. And personally, he was a good friend to all the comrades in the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group, and we deeply regret his passing.
-- Joseph Green <>
Last modified: May 7, 2005.