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Interview with: Fred Brode
Date: November 25, 1980
Archive Number: OH 291.3
[audio 291.3_01 starts 00:02]
I: History interview conducted at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center December 16, 1980 with Mr. Fred Brode. B-R-O-D-E. Mr. Brode, last time we talked, you had concluded that the antiwar movement probably was the most broadly based and involved more people than any social action or social issue did during your time in Houston.
FB: That's true. It opened up the city for free speech, etc.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). One of the things that you mentioned about the antiwar movement and also about your political activity with the Socialist Workers Party was that there were—that there was an underrepresentation of blacks in both.
FB: Well, there was underrepresentation in almost—you could almost say non participation of blacks.
I: Was that because—certainly it wasn't because the people—any of the Socialist Workers Party or the antiwar movement were racists. Was it because the organizing effort simply wasn't made in the black community or because blacks were so overwhelmed by their own difficulties that they didn't have any energy or interest left over to get—
FB: It is the latter—more—well, to set the record straight here, The Socialist Workers Party only came to Houston in 1970 and the—of course, when they came in there, it enhanced the antiwar movement. We had speakers there and we would—prior to a demonstration—we would go around and speak around publicly, and sort of mobilize the people. That's why we—from the 1500 which the media gave us the first march—you know—and to the 3500 a year or 2 later—you know—march. That was an increase because we had more publicity—more people could talk it up. But the numbers of participation that was mentioned was the blacks more concerned about their problems. Of course, there was not open racism among some participants in the antiwar movement. I mean it wasn't institutionalized—
I: 03:25 No. I understand. Sure.
FB: But I mean there was remarks being made or attitudes shown in person contact which isn't you or I, not being black—
I: Yeah. Sure. Kind of like conscious or—
FB: Of course, a black person can walk in the room and we have just like that radar.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Sure.
FB: Just at the moment when they walk into the room, what the score is, and that's—they realize that.
I: It was probably the lack of blacks in the SWP—Socialist Workers Party—and the antiwar movement was probably something that those of you who participated in those movements were aware of. I mean, you probably—it was a matter of discussion or a comment that, "Gee, we're all Anglos and a lot of us are middle class."
FB: Well, I wanted to keep that separate.
FB: Between the antiwar movement—the blacks in the antiwar movement and blacks in the SWP. But of course, out of the Civil Rights Movement, came the Black Power Movement. Influenced by the separatism of the Black Muslims.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). And other Nationalists.
FB: Other Nationalists—Malcolm X—he went through a transformation since he—after he was expelled from the Muslims.
I: Yeah. He was apparently on the road to Socialism and was making the discovery that class really the more important.
FB: 05:18 Important. Yeah. And—
I: Explicator of society and race.
FB: Of course, he never was allowed to complete that turn or development. But of course, that's what the Black Movement always comes back to Malcolm in the early years—you know—separatism.
I: Well, it probably goes back even further back to people like Martin Delaney and Marcus Garvey.
FB: Yeah. Of course, yeah, true enough. But even to Marcus Garvey—I mean—led the Nationalist Separatist Movement in a dead alley in going back to Africa.
I: Yeah. Well, most of them had never been there to begin with.
FB: So that right.
I: But anyway, what was—were there any efforts made in the SWP or in the Antiwar Movement to try and regress the racial endowments that so obviously existed? And if so, what success—?
FB: People was invited—you know—I made an effort to have Fannie Lou Hama speak there in 1966 on the Antiwar Movement. Of course, nationally, blacks participated on the same level. It's just personalities speak. But there was nobody to mobilize the masses. Whites go in the black community like that with leaflets or anything like that—it didn't go over then and doesn't go over now.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: The only participation of blacks was in that march to support our boys in Vietnam which was organized by the Patriotic Society, Veterans of Foreign War, etc. The suggestion of some people in the Antiwar Movement said—well, we mentioned in the previous tape—there was black participation.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). On the wrong side.
FB: 07:43 What do you mean on the wrong side?
I: Well, you said that they were supporting the war in Vietnam?
FB: Well, the Patriotic don't support our boys in Vietnam—support our boys, right? We support the Antiwar Movement—support the boys too.
I: Yeah. Right.
FB: And they participated—a number of blacks participated in that. So that was the only—and they all—a lot of blacks participated on the LBJ Ranch when LBJ was not there so we could stand right in front of the ranch.
I: That was in '60—
FB: Well, it was in—
I: We talked about that before, but I just don't recollect the date.
FB: It was in '66 probably.
I: '66? Okay.
FB: Yeah. '66.
I: When did you become aware of movement in the black community—protest movement, organizational movement?
FB: Well, it came about that I became a contact to, as I said, to the Socialist Forum which was started by Ben Levy, and we held a symposium on TSU, which grew out of nowhere when we commented on that when march downtown by—organized by Lawson on the school strike—you know—and we—
I: What year are we talking about now?
FB: We're talking about way early—we talk about probably in '65.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay.
FB: 09:44 Probably in '65. You would have to ask Lawson that—Lawson for that for the correct year, but I think it was '65. Well, anyway, we had the Socialist Forum organized the symposium and a speaker from the Socialist Workers Party, Paul Boutelle—he was a tremendous speaker.
I: How do you spell his name?
I: I see. Okay.
FB: He participated and that's the way I established contact with black—
I: Students primarily?
FB: —students. And from then on I went on the TSU campus, listened to certain lectures and symposiums. Hatch—I forgot his first name.
I: Robert Hatch, I think.
FB: He's Robert Hatch now.
I: Yeah, that's right.
FB: He taught over there in Africa.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: He conducted several lectures. I remember one person—an American—went to—I was in Liberia for a couple of his talks down there and lectures. So that was my contact with students at TSU and—
I: What about the white students at TSU? Do you have—?
FB: Yeah, there was some white students.
I: Were they there do you think to make a demonstration of solidarity or were they there because there was some particular kinds of courses taught there that they couldn't get elsewhere?
FB: 11:37 I know one—I know one. He's right now in Houston. I knew one at that time. He made a conscious effort, because it is this black school and he was so and so. This particular—some incident happened in the community—that was in '65—a black person got accused of stealing a chicken in one of the small supermarkets, and the security agent shot and killed him, and after he was laying on the sidewalk there, kicked him and spit on him. And the black community just stood there and looked—you know—black bastards—and when he told that story at the Socialist Forum, of course, the man broke out and cried. So that was the militancy of the black community at that time.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: And I was there of course when Jim Foreman spoke from SNCC.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). From the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
FB: So I was introduced to him by some of the students—you know—so and so and so and so.
I: Sure. Sure.
FB: But that was the only contact that we had with Foreman—just shaking hands.
I: Well, but still, there were speakers coming in and going out and so forth. At what point did maybe those speakers trigger the creation of a permanent on the ground in Houston organization?
FB: That was what I was just coming to. With the Foreman's speech, that was the beginning point or date when there was a Black Power Organization. It didn't have the name or friends of SNCC or anything like that organization—it took place at TSU.
I: Who were the people who were associated with that?
FB: One person—Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick.
I: Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick?
I: 14:27 Well named.
FB: He was active in that. Of course, he had been on several—well, he was supported by SCLC.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). The Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Uh-hunh (affirmative). Which was Martin Luther King Jr.'s organization.
FB: He was financially supported by that. Well, he took a hand in the organization of the students over there.
I: He was not a student himself.
FB: No, no, he was not a student. He enrolled for some—
FB: But I mean he had been teaching—I guess he was a football coach at the __(??) at one time.
I: I see.
FB: So then they got acquainted with several students and of course the most prominent one was Leotis Johnson.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: You know Johnson had some capabilities as a speaker and stuff like that. Well, I think we one time, prior to the TSU police riot there was that sit down—street sit down—in Wheeler Street.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). When was that?
FB: That was in '60—late '66—it was still summertime—it was real warm—'66 or '67.
I: Did whites participate in that?
FB: 16:09 No, there was very few—you know—well, I was there, but no, I took pictures of the whole thing.
I: Mostly it was probably black students at Texas Southern University. What was the response to that?
FB: Well, the response was that Kirkpatrick, Leotis, and Franklin Alexander got arrested.
I: On what charge? Just sitting in the street or—?
FB: Lord knows what—I forgot the charge because they was held on $25,000 bail.
I: My God.
I: My God.
FB: So of course the—and that was in the march to the downtown—to the Criminal 16:51 Courts Building. The students stayed all night—there was wide support for that. The students were—professors from U of H supplied sandwiches, and water, and coffee, and blankets, and all that sort of stuff.
I: This took place at City Hall or the Court—?
FB: The Criminal Courts Building here on the San Jacinto.
I: I see.
FB: And of course, then, they was released—nothing became of the dad gummed charges. It was ridiculous.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Just harassment charges.
FB: Harassment charges.
I: Yeah. Which really doesn't do anything other than to create heros and give momentum to the movement. Really it is counterproductive.
FB: 17:38 Well, anyway, it centered around—the whole struggle around—one of the major struggles at TSU was around—
I: Wheeler Street.
FB: —Wheeler Street. And I believe the original—the actions around there—you know—students whether organized or unorganized or spontaneous they blocked the streets and stuff like that. That caused the police to come out there—you know—that TSU Police Riot—shot so and so many thousands.
I: That was 1960—
FB: That was in 1967.
I: We should probably say for the record that Texas Southern University campus is kind of bisected or used to be bisected by Wheeler Street. There was no institutional congruity to having a major public thoroughfare cutting right almost across the heart of the campus. It wasn't a side street either—it was a major street.
FB: Major Street.
I: And it became a sort of geographically—it became a geographic flashpoint between blacks at TSU and white racists in particular that would travel through there on Friday and Saturday nights beeping their horns and throwing things out the window—beer bottles and making comments to the students and so on and so forth. So the early actions—the early Civil Rights actions at TSU then did focus on trying to get that street blocked off to public vehicular traffic. So then in '67 there was a Police Riot at TSU.
FB: One rookie policeman got killed, and two got shot, and five students was arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot. They had no connections with the—no evidence was charged inside of the riot to conspiracy. But it was morally responsible or something like that.
I: I see. I see. Did that happen spontaneously one night or was there a demonstration and out of the demonstration grew the riot? Or what—?
FB: There was no—to my knowledge, there was no organized demonstration advertised or so and so and so and so. There could have been a spontaneous action by some students—you know—I understand they built a fire in the street and stuff like that.
I: I see.
FB: 20:54 That's what—I didn't see it so it must—and that would cause the police to come out and the police to take that action.
I: And when the police came out they claimed that someone fired a shot at them and so they shot back and called in reinforcements.
FB: Of course, we was fortunate enough there was one black part time student—he had a hardhat and his safety shoes—you know—was standing in line with all the other people there when the police came out. When they went into action—no provocation on the part of the police to do what they—
I: What they did.
FB: —did, yeah.
I: Which is they fired several thousand rounds and shot the hell out of the buildings.
FB: Buildings, yeah.
I: It's a miracle they didn't kill any of the students.
FB: Yeah. And then the next day they went and destroyed their TV sets and other stuff.
I: In the dormitories.
FB: Dormitories—went in the women dormitories—well, the women—ripped the insulation out and the ceiling out and stuff like that. And they found nothing. And their personal possessions—you know—so a collection was taken up for—to reimburse the students, not fully, but at least partially. The money was collected and the administration took a hold of it.
I: And it disappeared at that point.
FB: Disappeared—the students didn't get anything—you know—they used it to replace the tile.
I: To repair the buildings rather than to replace the property—
FB: The students, yeah.
I: 22:56 What was the immediate aftermath of that police riot?
FB: Well, there was, of course—
I: Did the National Press come in?
FB: Oh, the National Press was of course—the NWCP—it took the defense of the students, but one person had some differences with the NWCP with the way they was gonna handle it, and it was gonna be low key. And there was one student and another one—a TSU student—he formed a committee—the TSU Defense—
FB: —Committee and the money that was collected was set—you know—only for expenses for them to travel around the country, not for any legal funds. So the money was received—I mean, Houston did the best to get them speaking engagements across the country.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Were you successful at that?
FB: Yeah. I got them as far as Boston (inaudible).
I: Now you—were you a member of this committee or just a supporter?
FB: A supporter.
I: But you went to the meetings of the committee?
FB: There was hardly any meetings—there was about two or three people. And they had a post office box and received the money and a checking account. So that was just a small committee—just a public information center—just to assemble information about the TSU Five and stuff like that.
I: 24:54 You almost said propaganda, didn't you?
FB: Well, I probably almost said propaganda—well, it is propaganda.
I: Sure. Sure. Sure.
FB: So that was one aspect that came out of it, and the other aspect was only one of the five came to trial—now this is Charles Freeman. And if you want you have—it would be helpful to dig him out—he's in Houston now.
I: He's still around. That's right.
FB: And the state got a change of venue.
I: Where did they move the trial to?
FB: They went to—
I: Someplace else?
FB: Yeah. Down South—yeah, down South.
I: San Antonio?
FB: It wasn't Wharton. What's the next—what's the next street below—city below Wharton? Oh, I forgot.
I: Well, don't worry about it—it's a small thing. What was the result of the trial?
FB: Well, it was a hung jury.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). So the charge was dismissed?
FB: Well, he never—finally after a couple of years all the charges was dropped.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay.
FB: And there was big—white supporters and black supporters went down there. The Houston Police Department was down there.
I: 26:32 Did you go?
FB: Yeah, I was down there.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: And it was a very hairy situation on the part of the blacks. (inaudible) Victoria.
I: Victoria, okay.
FB: No, I was warned that there was __(??) that was Victoria. So—
I: In what sense was it hairy for the blacks?
FB: Well, from what I heard later on, there was several carloads of blacks, who were armed. (inaudible)
I: But there was no provocation?
FB: No provocation—nothing came out. (inaudible)
I: Did, as a consequence of the police riot, was there a formation of any organizational entity like—I know at some point, an organization called People's Party II came into existence and was basically exterminated—harassed—out of existence.
FB: Yeah, like there was various—
I: Was there a Black Panther Party Chapter in Houston?
FB: Well, not that I know of—People's Party II was the closest to the Black Panther, but there was some differences why they couldn't—
I: Get together.
FB: Get together, yeah, I don't know that. Of course, there was the—at that time—there was the Rainbow Coalition. Of course, I did not participate in that.
I: 28:23 What was the Rainbow—?
FB: They was people from STS—the people out of Mayo and some—
I: Mayo is the—
FB: Mexican-American Youth Organization.
I: And why didn't you participate?
FB: Well, I was not a student—it was just a student organization.
I: You did relate that immediately after that police riot you happened to be driving through.
FB: Yeah, I happened to be driving through there and I—
I: Was that the next day or a couple of days after that or—?
FB: Well, I believe it was a Monday when I drove through there and that happened on a Saturday night, I believe—Saturday night.
I: So a day and a half later.
FB: Day and a half later. And I happened to drive through, parked my car and a person was with me—had an attitude—just a block and a half away from the People's Party II Headquarters off of Emancipation Park and he came back and we started out—I was gonna carry him to a meeting.
I: Now this was a black person?
FB: Yeah, a black person. And we drove down Live Oak and we was stopped by the police, and he charged me with speeding. He said, "Speeding. I was speeding." It's no use arguing speeding—there was four cops around there, so just write the blame ticket. Well, it turned out that they didn't have a ticket—that they didn't have ticket—then they harassed my passenger, and I didn't know he was an epileptic, and he had a seizure there and he—it was supercop Kilty—you know—he was harassing him.
I: 30:26 Kilty, yeah. K-I-L-T-Y.
FB: Yeah. Harassing him and—
I: And the guy got upset and it provoked an epileptic seizure?
FB: Seizure, yeah. And then Kilty claimed that he was bit by the person. Well, we was both taken up—the person knew enough—he felt when the seizure was coming on he was looking for his medicine—you know—his Dilantin whatever he had. And the cop knocked it out of his hand and all that sort of stuff and there was some more around, but it was held as evidence as drugs—you know—I was booked as suspicion of—
[audio 291.3_01 ends 31:29]
[audio 291.3_02 starts 00:08]
I: At the scene of that particular arrest, did any words pass between Kilty and your passenger and you—I mean—was—?
FB: I know the passenger lay on the ground there, he said, "Fred, get me a drink of water." So I get drink of water that person come out of the house with a cup of water and Kilty run him off. "Get away you goddamn black bitch." Couldn't give the man a drink of water. Well, anyway, I realized that the man was an epileptic and I told the officer and they finally found his tag—you know—people have on their—on a necklace—pulled it. Well, anyway, we was—
I: But he still wouldn't let you friend take his medicine, hunh?
FB: No. No. Well, of course, he was—I didn't know where it was or where he put it.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: Or they he had put some in the glove compartment. But anyway, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and I was charged with suspicion of trafficking narcotics. I got the next morning—you know—Ben Levy got me out on writ of habeas corpus.
I: What did Ben say when you called him up?
FB: 01:39 Well, I didn't call—
I: Probably said, "Jail was where you belonged."
I: Probably what he said.
FB: No, he came—he came down there that night and said, "Well, of course, I can't do nothing—I can't get a judge tonight." But first thing in the morning, I got out of there—there was no question about that. And of course, the SWP was in town already then. Two people came to see me up there in jail.
I: Were you and your friend separated when you were booked? Was he—?
FB: No, we was booked together and we was in the same cell with about 30 others—you know—this cell was awful.
I: It's a holding tank, yeah.
FB: Holding tank.
I: I've been in that also.
FB: So he—I think he beat the wrap because I was a witness at the (inaudible).
I: So the charges, basically, were never sustained.
FB: Never sustained.
I: In either case.
FB: In either one. I assume the police (inaudible). He was out of town for awhile and then he came back, and I saw both of them a couple of years ago on the U of H, but I (inaudible).
I: What is his name?
FB: His name was—?
I: First name or last name?
FB: 03:08 Parnell(??) or something.
FB: It has to come to me.
I: Sure. Sure. That happens—that happens. Okay, so picking up from that TSU shootout, what kinds of things developed subsequently in the black community?
FB: Well, then there was the People's Party II came out. Of course, I had no contact with them.
I: Who was active in that? Was the leadership of the Texas Southern University students—did that leadership subsequently form the leadership of People's Party II?
I: Or did People's Party II—was People's Party II more formed of ghetto residents who had—?
FB: It was more like street people.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: The vast majority of them was street people. I understand that at one time or another Freeman came and became involved in it so that'd be a better source.
I: He'd be a person to talk to. Yeah.
FB: On what took place
I: What was Leotis Johnson's attitude towards People's Party II?
FB: People's Party II—I think he was in jail at that time.
I: Was he?
FB: On that marijuana charge.
I: 04:39 Yeah. He got framed on a throw down marijuana charge. Basically, some marijuana was planted in the car. At least that was his contention.
FB: Well, it was in the car and it was passed from a police agent to another person to him and he was charged—
I: And he was the only one that was charged.
FB: —with possession.
I: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. People's Party II then to your knowledge really—when did you first find out about People's Party II? When did that come to your attention?
FB: At the time of the—'69 or '70. Of course, I did not belong to any—I could not belong to the Rainbow Coalition, because it was made up of students and stuff like that. The SWP was in town and SWP at that time even though they approved of the black party—not only the black party, but a black separation—
I: Did you thing that that was appropriate by the way?
FB: I went hook, line, and sinker for it first.
I: Did you?
I: That's an old CP line you know.
FB: Yeah, it's an old CP line. Well, because there was a possibility for the way it was dealt. Even Stokely Carmichael was a big advocate—
I: Yeah. He started out as an integrationist and then became a Nationalist—that's true.
FB: But of course, it's never material base for a nation or a national entity for the blacks. There's no material base. And as it turned out, history proved that the main trust—the black movement was to it's integration, period.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: 07:09 Get their share of the pie on a equal basis. I am looking forward to the discussion with some black friends—politicals—you know—on the question of black unity, black party, and stuff like that and the political mirage of black unity. But black solidarity is different from black unity.
I: Black unity—I'm sure it is.
FB: So stuff like that that will have be, of course, if I can __(??)08:02 these people go on paper.
I: So in the black community at that time there were probably three major tendencies. One was the integration tendency symbolized by Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC. One was the nationalists religious tendency symbolized by Malcolm X and the Muslims.
FB: The Muslims and then—
I: And then there was the Nationalists Marxist political tendency represented by the Black Panther Party. And of those 3 tendencies, probably, the People's Party II followed the last one—they were politically nationalists. What did they do?
FB: What did they do? Well—
I: Besides get shot to pieces.
FB: That was the main thing. I really don't know because I was not—
I: Hooked into that wiring.
FB: I mean—
I: When did their headquarters get shot up?
FB: Well, when Carl Hampton got killed and Bartee Haile got shot in the Dowling Street Shootout—the exact day of the month—that was in '70.
FB: 09:35 That was two days later, I got busted.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay. All right. Do you think that there is a more favorable basis now for cooperation between blacks and whites in Houston than existed say 10, 12 years ago—15 years ago? Or do you think not? Do you think the same fundamental problems—?
FB: The way I see it, the movement for Black Nationalism led the black movement down a dead end street. As far as that goes that’s the working black—working class—I mean—the petty bourgeoisie, they got—
I: Their integration.
FB: Integration and the Black Nationalism.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: I explained to one of them that the Black Party—well, there is no separate black party but there is a black party—there's the black party—black caucus in the United States Congress basically. For them—follow them—the bourgeoisie got everything out of what they could get. They are content—they are no longer revolutionary.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: They are content. A bunch of Civil Rights activists and several SNCC activists—they got jobs and that was it. Some of them got absorbed in these various government programs. That did away with most of the Civil Rights activists—they got jobs and that was the end of that.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay. People do get coopted in various ways.
I: That they do. Do you think that surveillance—you may not know the answer to this—but nevertheless, probably have an opinion about it, because you have an opinion about everything. Would say that the surveillance maintained by law enforcement agencies of the SWP, of the Antiwar Movement, of the Black Movement in town were principally city agencies, state agencies, or national agencies?
FB: 12:41 Well, it would be either city or national.
I: Not state.
FB: Well, the national evidence that in the main. That would be city and national.
I: Do you think that your phone was ever tapped?
FB: Well, I think so—it was tapped—it may be even tapped right now.
I: It's an assumption that you operate on.
FB: Yeah, that's an assumption I operate on.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Have you ever been contacted by any representative from any government agency in attempt to subvert your loyalty or to enlist you?
FB: I was visited one time by two FBI agents and they said, "Well, we're from the FBI."
I: Did they show you a badge and all—
FB: Well, I wasn’t—yeah, they showed a badge and everything. So I said, "Well, what do you want?" "Well, we want to talk about the SWP." I said, "Well, there's not much to talk about." But anyway, I was still a member of it—you know—a collaborator of it. The break had not come yet but of course they had inside talk that I was one of the dissidents. Well, all they was concerned with—you know—about Wallace coming out of the SWP and __(??). I must say there be come any violence out of the SWP.
I: SWP, yeah. Did you not feel vulnerable or were you made to feel vulnerable because of your nonresident status in the United States?
FB: Noncitizen status.
I: Noncitizen status, yes.
FB: 14:39 No. I mean, a resident in the United States has the same First Amendment Rights that a citizen has.
I: Well, but still, matters of deportation can be politically inspired.
FB: You got the McCarran Act—you know—the McCarran Act. That's why I could not belong to any organization under the Attorney General's list. It would be subject to (inaudible).
I: And SWP was not on—
FB: It was on there, but at that time—I believe at that time—when they had __(??) that was '73—around '73.
I: When the FBI man came knocking on your door.
FB: Yeah. I think that the Attorney General's list was already abolished.
I: Oh, I see. I see. But nevertheless, you were running some risk by maintaining a visible membership in the SWP. Especially in the late 40s and 50s.
FB: Well, as I said, the 40s and 50s there—
I: There was not, yeah.
FB: There was nothing going on—there's was nothing.
I: Let me ask you a question. You're a revolutionary. Do you think there's going to be a revolution in the United States?
FB: Oh yeah. I most certainly think that.
I: As a Marxist you're committed to—
FB: Yeah. Sure. I know that it's gonna come about.
I: It's not gonna be an evolution, it's gonna be a revolution. It's gonna be people—
FB: But one doesn't—the idea of cretin socialism is utter nonsense.
I: I see. That's—I see—that's Social Democratic—
FB: 16:36 No, that's the Right Wing—the Right Wing—the reaction is a Right Wing—
I: The Right Wing of the Left Wing you're talking about, aren't you?
FB: No. The Right Wing of the fascists I'm talking about.
I: Oh, those guys.
FB: Those guys talk about cretin socialism if you have like unemployed compensation—you know—like Goldwater was gonna do with unemployed compensation—vacations with pay—you know—and that sort of stuff. Of course, they never went through with it. Reagan talks in the same kind of way, but once he's in office, he will not be able to do all that sort of stuff. I'm just surprised what he's gonna do with that 20% interest rate the banks charge. But of course, that's slows down the economy. Now do you want to stop inflation by slowing down the economy? And it's absurd. Capitalism in order to subsist it has to be an expanding economy. That's what we call a crisis.
I: Yeah, that's right.
FB: A depression.
I: Do you think that, in fact, a contraction of Capitalism in the form of a depression and a rollback of U.S. Imperialism is going to be what stimulates the revolution?
FB: Oh yeah. And will set the working class—of course, the __(??) going on whether they have the working class has competent or uncompetent—or is it incompetent leadership.
I: Or even whether the working class is conscious or unconscious.
FB: If that's going on. I mean, a friend of mine—we listen to TV broadcast and they had a working man speak and he made $25,000 a year. And he was—I forgot what he—what industry he worked on—but anyway, he made $25,000—he was a steel worker, I believe. He made $25,000 a year. So he was out of a job and couldn't—
I: Couldn't make his payments.
FB: No and didn't know whether he had the same hill to find another one. But he part of the middleclass. Now we laughed about it—joking that he's all confused.
I: Yeah. False conscious of being supreme.
FB: 19:19 Yeah. So—
I: But you think there's going to be a revolution?
FB: Oh yeah, definitely.
I: Do you see a revolution within the next decade?
FB: Oh no, I wouldn't go as far as saying—I wouldn't even say when—there has to first and exhaustive understanding being—be an exhaustive understanding of the American Working Class as to their precision in society. They still think they are part of the middleclass.
I: Why do you suppose that—?
FB: And as a matter of fact, the most working people use the bad English.
I: Yeah. Yeah.
FB: The working people is—it would be a shame to be—
I: Called that.
FB: Be working people.
I: Or to think of themselves that way. Let's say that Marx stood Hegel on his head. What do you make of the argument that history may stand Marx on his head, and that instead of a Communist Revolution, what we will have is simply the Latinization of North America—that we will become like Brazil or Argentina or Chile or just a dictatorship.
FB: A dictatorship, but—
I: But not of the proletariat or—
FB: 20:51 A dictatorship—well, that is highly possible—that is highly possible. In order to enforce—no, take away some of the privileges the American Working Class has and lower their standard of living. Well, of course, it's pretty difficult to do—the organized system—you know—if the gasoline gets too high, some of them—all of us can't go to their jobs. From the highest or to go down their to the Ship Channel or go to the Bay Town Plant if they live in Houston, etc.—this would be cost prohibitive. It became more so in the beginning of the oil crisis—I mean—there was an oil shortage or there was a ration in the East. The miners couldn't go to work. So I mean they devised a system—they did away with all public transportation—mass transportation—there was. Railroad, trolley cars—well, you have buses and the buses either way are inadequate even across country or locally.
I: I have heard you make the comment that the historical failure of the Left in the United States was that it never developed a mass constituency. It would seem to me that the historic failure of the Left in Houston is exactly that also—that it has failed to create a mass constituency. What do you think can be done about that given the oppositional forces in the community and given the limited resources of progressive people—both as to numbers and to money and to time? What the hell—what the hell can the Left do in Houston? Now the SWP engages in electoral politics and attempt to use that as a platform to begin to build. But you don't even vote. Did you vote for SWP candidates when they ran?
FB: They don't let foreigners vote in this country.
I: Well, if you had had—
FB: Oh yeah, if I had, I would have voted.
I: Had had the privilege.
FB: The election campaign—it is a platform—it's a medium to do what—there is one organization states it's whole existence on that—that's the Socialist Labor Party. They put their program up for industrial unionism, and they have that chart which shows how the Union is going to run the country and all that sort of stuff. Well, they've had it for a century already. The shortcomings of the American Leftist started a hundred years ago—a hundred years ago the American Working class was not American. It was not English speaking. They speak all European languages. And all the Socialist papers—every city had a little Socialist paper, but it was all printed in a foreign language.
I: In Czech or German.
FB: No, German—mostly German. As a matter of fact, the language of the first international was German even though it was at one time the situated headquarters was in either London or Paris and in Philadelphia the language of the second international which was founded in Paris in 1889—the language of the second international was German and believe it or not, the language of the third international with headquarters in Moscow was German. I have a small anecdote that was told me by a person who went through the struggle—you know—the person is about 84 years old now—he was Dane, and had had been traveling in Europe and spoke several European languages and amongst of course, German would be the first language he would learn besides his native tongue. So they came to the United States at the beginning of the war and of course he was a Socialist and he was engaged in the 1919 struggle—you know—in the split and formed the Communist Party and he was one of the first delegates who—I forgot which Congress and—
I: 26:33 Would be the Second Congress.
FB: It would be at least the Second Congress. Well, I'm looking forward to his book which was finished two years ago, but has never been published yet. He told me 6 months later it's gonna be published and I'm still looking for it.
I: Who is this person?
FB: Arne Swabeck.
I: Can you spell that?
I: Okay. Good.
FB: He and Jim Cannon—James Patrick Cannon—the
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). The Communist Party—
FB: No. Of the Communist Party at that time.
FB: The delegate of the Communist Party—later on part of the SWP or the International Left Opposition. They was there and they was told, "Well, so and so and so and so talked to Kwsinnen."
I: 27:36 You want to spell that too?
FB: And so on he went to Kwsinnen—well; Kwsinnen could not speak German, so Kwsinnen was a Finn. So the—he could speak Swedish and Arne could speak Swedish—they had to converse in Swedish. So Cannon, who only spoke English, said, "My God, I have to learn German." Well, we wasn't talking German—we was talking Swedish.
I: It's all the same I guess to—
FB: It was all the same to him.
I: Americans have a tin ear—you know—we can't tell the difference.
FB: But anyways, that is one of the drawbacks. A black historian had a lecture and his name was Hammond—H-A-M-M-O-N-D—I forgot his first name—made a complaint. Blacks could never had any actions to their literatures. Blacks and so did the—
I: Same with white.
FB: Whites. I mean, Carl Liebknecht was in the United States.
I: You want to spell Liebknecht?
FB: Yeah. L-I-E-B-K-N-E-C-H-T.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay.
FB: He traveled on a speaking tour in the United States, but he spoke all before German workers. So that is one of the drawbacks of the—and it was—that existed even in 1912. The big strikes they had at that time—the Brisbane Strikes. They had to give out leaflets in two different languages—two different languages—Italian, Spanish, and whatnot.
I: Let's take a brief break and then do some concluding talking. All right? Okay. So the son of a leather craftsman born in Europe in 1907 to a North American Marxist in Houston, Texas by way of New York City—that's quite a journey—that's quite a journey.
FB: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: 30:33 Are there any other comments that you would like to make about your experiences, particularly those in Houston that we have perhaps overlooked along the way?
FB: Well we went over the war history (inaudible). And then the __(??) history until that broke up and the Antiwar Movement did a great deal to—
I: Open local society, yeah.
FB: You could—
I: It established a beachhead for the Left, I think.
FB: Not only for Libertarians—you know—bringing the Right Wing people—you know—they called the Civil Liberty Union the Communist of __(??) and that was ridiculous.
[audio 291.3_02 ends 31:36]
[audio 291.3_03 starts 00:04]
I: —you as far from being a Communist organization. I'm gonna have to talk to Ben Levy.
I: Cause he's likewise had a lot of experience. He is a pretty reliable person, though, don't you think?
FB: Oh yeah. (inaudible) when the ACLU came into existence—that was in the early 60s. The exclusion of Communist came about in the 50s or late 40s or 50s when the exclusion of Communist took a—that had an anticommunist clause in there and stuff.
I: Yeah. Was Herman Wright or a lawyer by the name of Mandel associated in any point with the ACLU or not?
FB: I don't—I really don't know.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: 01:10 The only thing I mentioned Mandel and Wright—that they was a law firm for the local 227 at that time.
I: Yeah. Right.
FB: The predecessor of 42227.
I: Right. Oil and atomic workers. Okay. Any other things that you would like to get on the record that you maybe skimmed over or ignored all together?
FB: No. Nothing that I can think of.
I: Let me ask you one more question then. Do you—why did you decide to stay in Houston when it was no longer economically necessary that you do so after you retired? For instance, you have spoken of your affection for New York City as sort of the city of cities in the United States. And I also know that you're a globe trotter—you've gone back to Europe several times, you have gone to Latin America several times, into Mexico, and yet at some point on the way, you decided to make Houston the place that you always came back to.
FB: Of course, what I found in Houston, I finally found a job. I may sound like a PR man for the Chamber of Commerce, it's still the city with the lowest unemployment rate and so—and I could not, as much as I would like to live in—as much as I like New York—but I don't think I could—first of all, I could not afford to live there.
I: But you could afford to live in Mexico. You could afford to live in Greece. You could afford to live in Yugoslavia.
FB: Yeah. I couldn't afford to live in Germany. That's pipedream was shattered—I had that dream one time—you know—
I: No, I didn’t say Germany—Germany's expensive.
FB: Stuff like that.
I: But Greece, Italy, perhaps, Mexico certainly.
FB: Of course, there is a language barrier. I could—I don't think I ever would learn Greek. But maybe I could speak in a __(??) language—Spanish or Italian. But Italy never—well, I would like to live in Central America, but—
I: 04:06 Uh-hunh (affirmative). You liked it—you were in El Salvador?
FB: Yeah. I liked it there.
I: Also Nicaragua?
FB: Yeah. I was there for just a couple days, but I liked Salvador much more—better—than Nicaragua.
FB: Well, of course, maybe it's colored by my political police.
I: Do you think Nicaragua is reformist in—
FB: Well, reformist, no. The people at the airport are going through the shebang there—getting out of the country and all that sort of stuff. I didn't like these people, period. They just got the power there and the little middleclass punks and the slums—
I: Are still in the slumps.
FB: Slumps, yeah, but nothing can be—will be done about it—you know—and stuff like that.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Are you comfortable in Houston or do you feel surrounded by a thing that you're at war with?
FB: Well, I wouldn't—yeah, I'm comfortable—I wouldn't say that I—I have friends here and I got a certain—gravitate in a certain __(??), but there's some people I know where it's just "hello" and "how are you" and my opinions on—their opinions or my opinions on blacks or the state of the world has never become an issue.
I: It strikes me that one of the things that perhaps makes you comfortable in Houston and it is a thing we haven't talked about, I would hope that we can do it in 15 or 20 minutes because I have an appointment unfortunately with the dentist. And that is the Marxist Study Group—we haven't talked about the Marxist Study Group or how that came into existence or when or what are some of the things that it has done. What called it to mind was your comments about Nicaragua and El Salvador which of course is a—or both areas that the Study Group is engaged in political activity. Could you tell me about the history of the Study Group and the people involved?
FB: 06:56 Well, the history of the Study Group was back through that campus organizations which we formed—those was formed by the people who was expelled by the SWP in 1974. It is called International Press Correspondents--ts not ce.
I: Okay. Right. International Press Correspondents, and this was formed 19—
I: All right.
FB: We took that name because International Press Correspondence—ce—you know—was the bimonthly magazine of the Foreign International United Secretary which the SWP, who claims collaboration with the United Secretary—denies membership but claims collaboration and declined to sell.
I: I see.
FB: That was the first English we sold and all the publications of the British section which called the International—International Press Correspondents was a commentary—a running commentary—of what's going on. Here, there, all over.
I: Okay. In 1972 was it when the expulsions from the SWP—
FB: No, it was '74.
I: In '74. What caused those expulsions? There was a rash of them in the Socialist Workers Party—at least in Houston. Was it a national phenomenon?
FB: Yeah. The expulsions was a national expulsions of about 150 people.
FB: Well, in the—we had formed, prior to the 1973 Convention, declared ourselves a tendency and presented a political resolution—counter to the political resolution of the political bureau—political committee of the SWP and support the resolutions for the __(??) Congress of the European section of the SWP formed the Leninist tendency, and then in '73 they said the military faction—I mean—the LT—Leninist-Trotsky tendency, and the SWP was the Moreno group in Argentina. The PST. And the IM—International Majority—tendency was formed by the various European sections.
I: 10:40 Okay. Specifically in the United States, what was the difference between the Majority and the Minority Tendency?
FB: We supported the revised position on Latin American from the IMT.
I: All right. And what was that position?
FB: They was accused of being for guerilla warfare and stuff like that. Or terrorism and stuff like that—that's what the SWP charged which, of course, is not quite correct. Then there was a European document—it was called the European Document—looked forward to forming a __(??) amongst the politically advanced elements in Europe which came partially to—you know—resolution never comes—
FB: And then we opposed the SWP's political resolution (inaudible) American Revolution.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). In the Americas.
FB: Yeah. In the United States.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: And of course, we got defeated—we got 9% of the membership supporters and with some part of the Socialist Alliance.
I: Well, now, wait a minute.
FB: '74—in May of '74, we called for a conference to build out our political positions and of course, the conference did not get to a political—nothing was solved there. As a matter of fact, it was a political disaster. The Europeans—a certain section of the European moved to reproachment with the SWP by making Right __(??) Resolution. And, eventually, the LTF split and Moreno went one way and the rest went another way. We informed that the conference—we informed the SWP leadership of the conference, but for holding that conference, we was expelled.
I: 13:41 That was it. All right. And then the basis of those SWPers who were expelled in Houston, which included you and how many others—six?
FB: Twenty-two others.
I: Oh, twenty-two others in Houston.
FB: Twenty-three—we had two delegates to the convention. That was the only—
I: That was it.
FB: And Chicago had one.
I: Okay. So the local SWPers who got expelled—some of them formed the nucleus for the Marxist Study Group.
I: Which you named International Press Correspondents.
FB: That is the campus organization under that name we conducted books—magazine sales—book sales—sponsored several meetings—
FB: —programs—you know—meetings.
I: In other words, if you had called yourself the Marxist Study Group or something like that, which would have been in fact much more accurate a description of your activities, there would have been difficulty in, you think, of operating on the University of Houston campus.
FB: No, I don't know because they all know what I stand for and they knew what the other people stood for. That was—well, it was started on the spur of the moment—we never saw fit to change it. When we went off campus—you know—off campus—when we expressed ourselves off campus—you know—and a political statement—a political leaflet off campus—we started to call ourselves Houston Marxist Collective or something like that.
I: 15:35 Okay. Would you explain what the Study Group, also known as the International Press Correspondence, also known as the Houston—what did you say? The Houston—
I: Houston Marxist Collective—my God. Would you explain what that group does on a week to week basis? What is it's primary business and function and—?
FB: Well, the primary business was to conduct literature sales on the campus of the University of Houston. But the last semester we did not have any daytime students—there had to be daytime—there had to be a student there for us to conduct the table. I could be there—assistant—you know—collaborative assistant—but a student had to be there. So that came off. The Study Group was organized a couple years ago. We had people stopping by the table talking about the Study Group and then we called all the names and made all the telephone calls and mailing out and nobody showed.
I: Nobody? Literally, nobody?
FB: Nobody—nobody showed. We were waiting for the people to come so we could decide which book we gonna read and how to conduct it.
I: How many people did you mail out to?
FB: We had about a dozen or fifteen names in the course of a couple, three weeks that came by the table and expressed interest.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). What year was this?
FB: Oh that was '75.
I: And so you mailed those 15 people and not—zero.
FB: Zero. So we volunteer some people who had left another organization.
I: What organization?
FB: Workers War Party.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: 17:39 Came in touch with us and John Dickerson (inaudible).
I: John Dickerson?
FB: Dickerson, yeah.
FB: That's correct. And then we organized the Study Group and it's been going on—it's had it's ups and downs. One time we had as many as 20 people there.
I: Now it's down to what? Around 10 or—
I: —eleven, twelve, something like that.
FB: Something like that.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). And what does the Study Group do? It chooses a book?
FB: We choose a book and we read and maybe read a chapter or paragraph.
I: You read outloud?
FB: We read out loud and then anyone reading or anyone listening following the reading—"Well, I don't understand" and interrupt right there and maybe more or less make the conversation—a debate would ensue until everybody's satisfied. I find that to be the most—the best way to conduct the Study Group. Some people have a lecturer or leader—you know—people have to read beforehand—I've seen it work and I participated in them Study Groups—
I: Enough to know.
FB: —enough to know. I participated in one in New York, but you had to read so and so many chapters. __(??) and of course the person who was leading that Study Group—he was comfortable—he had to read that chapter about 15 times. Then he would ask questions "What do you think of so and so?" Well, of course, we was nonplussed. Anybody who hadn't read that chapter, he was out of luck. Or he couldn't come along there.
I: 19:51 So you select a reading in the Study Group and then actually take turns reading it out loud and discussion happens at any point that it happens.
I: The Study Group has also established certain secondary purposes. Could you talk about them?
FB: Yeah, I'll share about it. Of course, John Dickerson was very much impressed that the Nicaraguan Revolution so he went to Nicaragua and stayed in El Salvador for few days and went to Nicaragua and didn't stay very long—Nicaragua—and came back to Salvador and met some people there. Wasn't very much impressed with what he saw and what he could make out of the movement down there—I mean—the political statements by the various movements. I read some of the statements of the problematic stuff of the revolutionary __(??) and that sounded to me very good. Nothing Democratic—nothing mentioned about it.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Was John Dickerson also an ex-member of the Socialist Workers Party?
FB: No, he was an ex-member of the Workers War Party.
I: Okay. All right.
FB: So it's—well the person that he is (inaudible) and he came back and talked to us and __(??) so I had to go to—I went to Salvador, and I stayed there three weeks. But of course, I didn't know—I wasn't as fortunate to making contact that Dickerson made—Dickerson made a contact with a Belgium who was able to—spoke Spanish very well and involved himself in some of the Human's Rights Commission down there and wrote articles and stuff like that, and he stayed in touch with Dickerson and he came to here and gave us a lecture. That's one thing. Well, of course, we tried to get some Salvadorians in there—one particular person—Oscar—we asked him one time. "Well, Salvadorians don't care—they like to drink beer and go dancing." That was a year ago. Dickerson and I went down there and came back and we—two people in New York—we got a hold of the __(??)22:47 the parents of the kidnap victim to put in the newspaper. It was a full-page ad. There was lots of information about Salvador. Of course, at that time, there was no information, so we reproduced that and printed 3000 copies of it under the name of the El Salvador Solidarity Committee. We supplied a cartoon for it and a small statement of support of solidarity with the circle down there. And then the same person who was five or six months previous said Salvadorians had nothing—
I: 23:39 Nothing better to do than drink and dance.
FB: Drink and dance. He came to us and—he had been in Salvador and he came back with an idea that we hold—that we approach the Bishop to hold a mass for the people that killed down there and stuff like that.
I: Let's cut that point and come back one more time and bring everything up to date and we can begin with that particular action that resulted. Is that okay?
I: All right. Good. Thanks again Mr. Brode.
FB: Oh, you want me to come back.
I: Yeah. One more time we have to do it. We're almost there, but not—
I: This is an interview with Mr. Fred Brode—B-R-O-D-E—conducted in the Houston Metropolitan Research Center on January 13, 1981. So we're running into our second year of interviews. We were talking last time about the—kind of the genesis of a group that we are both members now which is the Marxist Study Group or the Marxist Reading Group. Could you just begin by and paying very close attention to dates and remembering to spell the last names of people so that our transcriber won't go completely insane? Could you tell a little bit about the origins of that group and to the extent that they have engaged in activities besides reading, to the extent that they have done little political actions? Could you talk about that as well? Roughly in sequential order.
FB: Yes. The Study Group—Marxist Study Group—is an outcome of an organization which was formed on the University of Houston campus in 1974 by—the name of that organization was dubbed International Press Correspondence TS.
I: That was sort of a cover name, wasn't it?
FB: 26:10 Yeah, but that's the campus organization for which we needed to—for our public appearance. The primary object was—
I: Let me—can I ask you a question?
FB: Let me finish here. This organization was made up from—made up by people who was expelled on July 4, 1974 from the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance. And we used this organization to—for the sale of the International Press Correspondents Magazine which was the official organ of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, and we also sold any other English magazine or journal and paper which was put out of the various sections of the Fourth International—primarily the British section which we issued quarterly called the International. That was the beginning of it. Then we stocked up on Marxist literature; Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and we—for many years, we operated 2 days a week during the school year.
I: That is, you had a display table in the University Center and you sold literature and contacted people.
FB: Yeah. Contacted people there. And the first action being engaged in—the initiative of this organization was held a symposium on Angola and the Angola Liberation was going on, and that was in '76. The participation in the organization was in the National Press Correspondents stating the views of the United Secretariat. The SWP stated their views on Angola, and I must add it was Angola and Portugal made a mission there awhile ago. And Workers War Party expressed their views on that. Well, we was able to fill the Pacific Room to the gills.
I: About how many people would that be?
FB: That would be 60 or better.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: That was the first deal we engaged in—action we engaged in.
I: When the group originated, how many active members did you have or how many founding members?
FB: Well they said it was the Internationalist Tendency of the SWP—at the time of the expulsion, there was 23 members, then some people moved away. And then after the expulsion, quite a few people moved away. And then after the expulsion, some people dropped out of politics. And 5 out of the original 23—
I: 30:10 Organized the group?
FB: No, re-joined—re-joined the SWP and the rest of them were declined. And then with—it came down actually to two former members of the Nationalist Tendency that was—myself and Roy Simmons. S-I-M-M-O-N-S. And while we conducted with that table over the years and we got reinforcements by John Dickerson—must I spell that?
FB: D-I-C-K-E-R-S-O-N. And we were approached by people—passing the table or buying literature for discussion group—I believe we organized it once or twice—
[audio 291.3_03 ends 31:24]