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Vol. 76/No. 27      July 23, 2012

Maceo Dixon: 4 decades
in struggle for socialism
Helped lead SWP into new openings in industry, unions
CLARKSTON, Ga.—A meeting to celebrate the life and political contributions of Maceo Dixon, a leader and later supporter of the Socialist Workers Party for more than four decades, took place at the Clarkston Community Center June 10. Dixon died May 30 at the age of 62. He had been hospitalized since early March after collapsing at his job as a machinist.

In attendance were members of the communist movement and others Dixon worked with in politics over the years, his wife Andrea, family, friends and coworkers.

More than 30 people sent messages to the meeting. A collection among the 75 people in attendance raised more than $1,000 for the Socialist Workers Party.

Dixon joined the SWP and Young Socialist Alliance in the early 1970s in Detroit where he was active in a number of political struggles, including helping lead a fight to abolish a plainclothes unit of the Detroit Police Department called STRESS (Stop the Robberies-Enjoy Safe Streets).

In 1974-75 Dixon, then a party leader, was a central leader of the school desegregation battle in Boston and of the National Student Coalition Against Racism. That fight was at the center of a broader national struggle in defense of Black rights.

Dixon was part of a generation that led the party’s turn to industry beginning in the late 1970s in response to a new ruling class offensive and changing attitudes among working people. In face of new political opportunities, SWP members organized to get jobs in basic industry in order to carry out collective work in the trade unions and strengthen the proletarian character and composition of the party and its work.

As a party supporter during the last decade of his life, Dixon volunteered at the Pathfinder Distribution Center in Atlanta where he helped lead the effort to get books on revolutionary politics distributed throughout the world.

Boston school desegregation fight

Sam Manuel, a longtime leader of the SWP, opened and co-chaired the meeting. Manuel, who lives in Atlanta, was part of the same political generation as Dixon and the two worked together in many fights. Manuel explained how in 1974 a violent campaign to stop the busing of Black children into South Boston schools in defiance of a desegregation order was organized right out of the Boston City Council.

He recounted how Dixon and another SWP leader, Mac Warren, were among the few individuals trusted by parents and students to ride with them on the buses through a gauntlet of stone-throwing racists, a testimony to the integrity of the party and respect it earned as part of the struggle.

The June 13 Boston Globe ran an obituary under the headline: “Maceo Dixon, rights activist during busing era.”

Manuel read from a 1979 report by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes printed in the Pathfinder Press book, The Changing Face of U.S. Politics, which described the Boston desegregation battle as “the single most decisive political combat experience for an entire layer of the party leadership.”

Manuel also pointed to a display, one of several at the meeting, on the book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power. It featured part of the book’s introduction in which Barnes, the author, explains it “could never have come into being without the leadership collaboration over nearly half a century of proletarian cadres of the Socialist Workers Party who are Black. The book is a product of the disciplined efforts of these and other SWP cadres, including generations who have been leading the work since the mid-1970s to build a party that is working class in composition as well as program and action.” It ends with a dedication to the proletarian party cadre “of African origin, who, in their lives and activity, remain true to their revolutionary convictions to this day.”

Jim Rogers, a volunteer who worked closely with Dixon at the Pathfinder Distribution Center and the other co-chair of the meeting, read a message from Susan LaMont, an SWP leader from New York who worked with Dixon for many years in Boston and then Atlanta: “The Boston desegregation fight was one of the class-struggle developments that told us the working class was moving to the center stage of U.S. politics.” It helped prepare the party to respond to new openings for organizing growing party work among industrial workers and in the trade unions a few years later, she said.

“I came to Detroit in 1973 where Maceo was a leader of the Young Socialist Alliance and the Detroit branch of the Socialist Workers Party,” Rachele Fruit, a leader of the party in Atlanta, told the meeting.

Fruit explained that Dixon ended up in jail for defending himself against a racist attack. He was allowed to go to work in a Detroit auto plant and do jail time on the weekends. “It was at this time he ran into someone with the Militant. He bought a copy and shortly thereafter joined the YSA and the party,” she said.

In his remarks, Manuel recalled how he and Dixon and another young leader of the National Student Coalition Against Racism visited Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in jail as part of a campaign in the 1970s to win Carter’s freedom. Carter was a world middle-weight boxing contender, framed up and convicted along with another Black man for a triple murder in 1967. “Rubin was polite, but cautious at first,” said Manuel. “But when he heard how Maceo had ended up behind bars a sly smile came over his face and he became relaxed.”

Manuel described the work he and Dixon were part of in building an international communist movement: from the struggle against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, to support of African liberation movements, the international movement against the Vietnam War, the Irish fight against British colonial rule, and defense of the Cuban Revolution.

Holly Harkness, organizer of the work at the Pathfinder Distribution Center, spoke about Dixon’s role as a party supporter over the last decade.

Distributing Pathfinder books

Harkness described Dixon’s diligence in filling and shipping orders for Pathfinder books and recounted how he also worked to get books into commercial bookstores, libraries and classrooms, and helped staff Pathfinder booths at conferences around the country as part of this effort.

Miguel Zarate, another volunteer at the Pathfinder Distribution Center, worked closely with Dixon in getting books to workers behind bars. “The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 2.3 million prisoners behind bars,” he said. “Pathfinder Press offers free catalogs and 50 percent off books to prisoners.”

SWP National Committee member Mary-Alice Waters commented, in a message read by Manuel, how Dixon “followed through on every detail with proletarian professionalism, calling and corresponding with prison officials whenever there was a problem” and “there were none he cared more about than the five Cuban revolutionaries behind bars in the United States—Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González.”

“The party we have today, its proletarian character, was built on the work of comrades over the last four decades, which Maceo was a part of,” said Dave Prince, a member of the SWP National Committee, who worked with Dixon as part of the leadership of the supporters’ work at the Distribution Center. “That accomplishment is the foundation on which the party can be strengthened today in response to working-class resistance to the crisis of capitalism. It is worth celebrating.”

Rogers read a letter to Andrea Dixon and to the meeting from Barnes: “In September 1988 Mark Curtis—a longtime cadre of the Socialist Workers Party and packinghouse worker militant in the Des Moines region—went on trial in Des Moines, Iowa, on frame-up charges of attempted rape of a minor and burglary.

“As the trial proceeded, it became necessary to help Mark get ready for the eventuality that he would serve extensive time in prison, like so many working-class fighters before him. A small meeting was organized for Mark with Maceo Dixon, a fellow communist leader and himself an ex-con to prepare Mark for all the political, practical, personal, and sexual circumstances and dangers he would face—from guards, agents and fellow cons. …

“During that meeting, I saw a Maceo I had never quite known before, even though I had worked with him and served together in many leadership responsibilities since he had joined our movement nearly two decades earlier.”

Curtis was subsequently convicted of the trumped-up charges and spent nearly eight years in prison.

“Over that time, Mark conducted himself with exemplary dignity, integrity, and manliness,” Barnes continued. “He did so despite every danger, and every manner of harassment that Maceo had alerted him to. And Mark never wavered in face of the prison authorities’ standing offer of a substantially reduced sentence if, even implicitly, he submitted to their unrelenting pressure to ‘own his crime’ and take even one ‘class’ to treat his alleged ‘tendencies.’

“I’ve never doubted that Maceo’s discussion with Mark, and the connection established between them that day, never receded for Mark the entire time he kept on functioning as an exemplary communist and working-class militant behind bars. …

“The many of us who have worked closely with Maceo know he could be an angry man because of the racism, oppression, and exploitation that surround us and bear down on workers, especially young workers. He could be delightfully effective to an audience who’d come to learn something about how to fight. And Maceo was such a warm person. He was almost too easy to love—and to subtly underestimate.

“I share this particular experience with you, because that afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa, I recognized in Maceo Dixon a concentrated example of the inner character every single young working-class militant aspires to.”  
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