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Interview with: Fred Brode
Date: November 25, 1980
Archive Number: OH 291.4
[audio 291.4_01 starts 00:11]
FB: Well, I just got through saying when John Dickerson—D-I-C-K-E-R-S-O-N—came to us in the study group which was proposed by some, let's say, customers or people who would like to check with us on the table, and it came to fruition and it has been going on since '77. The International Press Correspondents sponsored, since then, several other forums or lectures. We sponsored a speaker on Iran that was prior to the victory of Khomeini, so to speak, of the actual Islamic reaction when things was still in somewhat fluid. And then we also sponsored some feminists which came down here in 1977 to the women's conference—what was it called—it was held here in the—
I: Yeah, it was a national women's conference—whatever.
FB: Well, I had government approval and stuff like that was here in the year of the women's—you know—that year. We got acquainted with them and then we, the following year, we sponsored them meeting here when they came down here at the—to intervene in competitive political convention and it was the—they came in the Freedom Socialist of Radical Women came down here from Seattle to intervene in the convention of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. We spoke on campus and was instrumentally getting some time on KPFT. The next affair was this 1980 when we was able to sponsor the speaker to speak on El Salvador—it was a Belgium—I think it was already recorded sometime.
I: Summarize it nevertheless. He was a Belgium newspaperman who—
FB: 03:21 No, he was a Belgium student who spent quite a bit of time in Central America—in and out of Salvador. And he was able to give us a good talk on the positions of the, at that time, the—well, it looks to be a Left Wing organization. That was before the Revolution Democratic Fund was formed—was about to be formed—he gave us a rundown on the various organizations and some of the origins as best he knew how. He had worked with the Human's Rights Commission which of course is—that's the Human's Rights Commission is the legal organization of the Left.
I: Yes. That's right. Was it as a result of that presentation that the Committee for Solidarity with the people of El Salvador was formed? Or did the formation of that party precede?
FB: I think it's on record that we formed the Salvador Committee—actually it became—put down on paper—you know—and we published the—that New York Times say it. From then on, we say it was the El Salvador Committee.
I: And that was an out—a direct outgrowth of the Marxist Study Group.
FB: Yeah, that—yeah, the Marxist Study Group—
I: Must have put took and put another hat on.
FB: Put another hat on, yes, that's it basically. And then the sponsoring on campus was under the auspices of International Press Correspondents, of course, because the El Salvador Committee was not a campus recognized organization. So that was it and the subsequent organization of the committee to the solidarity of the El Salvador people that is a combination of the forces which represent some of the organizations which exist in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and at the moment we function as part of that.
I: Yes. Yes. Also the—there was an action in the summer of 1980 in front of the Federal Building.
FB: Oh yeah, that was the Salvador Solidarity Committee.
I: Yeah, right.
FB: Because that's the original Salvador Committee.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). So the study group then has—does principally meet once a week.
FB: 06:49 Once a week and we read certain Marxist classics.
I: Such as for example.
FB: We started off with Engels—the Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Then we went to the Civil War in France. This is around the Paris Commune. The Communist Manifesto, the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte—
I: And Lenin's—
I: a—on Imperialism which we just finished. All right. Okay. Do you think that looking a little bit into the future, do you see Leftist activity in Houston accelerating somewhat and if so, why and if not, why?
FB: Well, Houston is—I call Houston the fortress of reaction. That is very difficult to work in there. If certain Leftists gain influence in the working class—you know—and the Left Marxist, Communist, Socialist, whatever—they refer themselves to speak in the name of—for—the working class—and if—what is my favorite word?
I: Well, you have a lot of favorite words.
FB: No. Constituency—constituency in the working class—then the dismal picture of protest in Houston might be changed. It's very difficult. Certain people—well, certain Left Wing— certain organization sponsored—when the miner strike was on—when was that—'76. Well some spokesperson—official spokesperson for the miners union came to town—well, who sponsored them? A quick committee was formed on the Houston University campus—the YSA which was campus recognized—the Young Socialist Alliance was campus recognized—sponsored that meeting to get a hall, and that in itself is the description—very poor. For a labor union to—trade union men have to go on the campus instead of a union hall and have working class—strictly working class audience.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). That is a testament.
FB: 10:21 That's a testament to the backwardness of the—
FB: Yeah. Well, the same thing when the steel workers—you know—the iron ore miners which were organized—which are organized in the steel worker's union. The people who sponsored that also people around the SWP and around the SWP sponsored that when they went around trying to get a union committee to sponsor that. They went to the union hall—that was impossible to do that. There were working men who don't know—the only Marx they know is Groucho.
I: Yes. Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: So they come down and speak about their struggle, and the local union bureaucracy will not even assist them. So labor solidarity is in very bad straights here in Houston. They had to hire a hotel room—downtown hotel—so it would be accessible.
I: Let me ask you which group you think has evidence of the greatest imagination in organizing energy and efficiency in Houston, say over, from 1970 on? Is there one group on the Left that is just in your estimation more effective than any of the others?
FB: There is quite a few groups who knew how to organize. But the SWP deal was organizing in the antiwar movement. That is okay, but organizing a labor action, that is an entirely different proposition—you know—everything was open—free—there was no union contracts or union membership or another leadership to contend with. So it's entirely different.
I: What about Workers World—what has been your impression of them in Houston since you've been acquainted with them.
FB: They was all local—here locally here.
I: When did they show up in town?
FB: That crew out of the Dowling Street Shootout, seven people got arrested and they had no national connections to appeal to some—wrote letters around for appeal and assistance in Workers World in New York answered them and they finally included them and they had a Chapter one time here which was quite strong and—
I: How many members would you say?
FB: 13:44 Well, I would say they had at least 30 members—locally. I mean it was nothing—no imports.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). And that is the Dowling Street Shootout again.
FB: And it was in 1970 the participants offered. There was at least one prominent radical that was arrested and charged with various crimes which he all beat.
I: And so you think that the Dowling Street people then just sort of put out a call for assistance?
I: And that call was heard in New York City by Worker's World?
I: And they dispatched a couple of people down here?
FB: Yeah. Assist them to get organized. Do the defense and all that sort of stuff.
I: Did you know any of those organizers from New York?
FB: Well, I got acquainted with one—I only knew one by reputation. Winnie Copeland.
FB: Winston Copeland.
I: Winston Copeland.
FB: Yeah. That's Comrade Winnie.
I: I see.
FB: In their lingo.
FB: 14:52 So—
I: And he was a fulltime __(??)14:54 or—?
FB: Yeah, he's a full-timer. He's more of my generation—people he was engaged with.
I: So he was a pro.
FB: Oh yeah.
I: How long did he stay in town?
FB: Oh well, on and off, he came back and forth and that was internal to a local leadership. But of course, they __(??) and they organized and then they had several actions. One of most problem was a certain Synagogue in the South where the scientist tried to raise funds for the Israeli war machine and they had a picket line in front of that. And they sold it in a disorder or melee.
I: Was there in fact a physical—?
FB: Oh yeah. Physical and twelve of them got arrested.
I: What year was that would you guess roughly?
FB: Wait a minute. I was—when that happened, I was in Europe—it was '73.
I: Most of the Workers World people who composed the body of the local chapter must have been black then.
FB: No. See it was out of the—the SDSs formed the Rainbow Coalition. Blacks, browns, and whites. And they had great—the Workers World had great contact with the Chicanos. The blacks, of course, was dominated by the—
I: The Dowling Street People.
FB: The People's Party II and the Panthers.
I: How long was that coalition in existence?
FB: 17:09 The Rainbow Coalition, I really couldn't give you an answer.
I: Well, now, let me get this straight. The one outgrowth of the Dowling Street Action was People's Party II and that was pretty—
FB: No it was not an outgrowth—the People's Party II was the cause of the Dowling Street Shootout.
I: All right. But that was almost exclusively a black organization.
FB: Black organization, yeah.
I: Right. And then—
FB: The Rainbow Coalition participated in that as a support.
I: I see.
FB: Solidarity—you know.
I: Then as a result of the Dowling Street Action, who put out the call for assistance and help and affiliation?
FB: No the—
I: The People's Party II?
FB: No, the people from the Rainbow Coalition who was arrested.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay.
FB: They appealed for help.
I: All right. Okay. And so People's Party—or the Workers World—
FB: Came to the assistance of those people who were arrested.
I: And there was, as a result of that, Workers World Chapter in Houston which was predominantly white.
FB: 18:23 White and Chicano.
I: And Chicano. Was it largely students or ex students?
I: Ex-students. Ex-SDS people—
FB: Yeah, the leadership comprised of ex-students when they have good contact with some community people.
I: Subsequent to that peak period of activity in the middle 70s is Worker's World diminished to a hardcore of a few members?
FB: Yeah. That's the salt of the—there was disagreement on the conduct of the defense and the trial—you know—and several people resigned from it.
I: Do you know what the disagreement was about?
FB: Really I don't—I couldn't go into it intelligently. But then the chief defendant was expelled from Worker's World.
I: Who was that?
FB: Bartee Haile.
I: And could you spell that?
I: Could you spell that?
I: Okay. What subsequently happened to him?
FB: 19:47 Well, he—in 1980 he was written up in the Houston Chronicle after having become a Republican.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Okay.
FB: Well, I don't know as to what—how many members the Workers World has now active in the Prisoners Solidarity Committee.
I: What about the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee—DSOC—do you have any early memories of when they first popped up?
FB: No, I really don't. I know some of the members who participated in the—initially in our study group, but then they got the notion that they would have their own study groups. Our study group is definitely nonsectarian—not tailored to any particular party position or ideology. There's no Jonestown—there's no room for Jonestown in our study group.
I: Okay. I know that one of the members of DSOC, a lawyer, who you know, was of service to you. He was associated with the ACLU.
I: I can't think of his name right off hand, but—
FB: Ben Levy.
I: Ben Levy, yeah. So there has been some contact then between the SWP and DSOC—maybe not organizational contact, but individuals from those groups have occasionally—
FB: You mentioned SWP—no, between the study group and DSOC, yeah, there has been. We met in the anti nuke—
FB: —movement and stuff like that.
I: What about the Revolutionary Communist Party?
FB: The Revolutionary Communist Party—
I: Are they the new kids in town or—?
FB: 22:08 Most of them are imports.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: Most of them are imports. You probably can verify that. To me, it's only a charge and I can't prove it—I make the charge that most of them are imports.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: Maybe with the exception of Travis Moralis.
I: Yes. Right.
FB: Well, I don't hold nothing—I have no—I don't care for their politics and I don't care for their tactics.
I: They have chosen to be highly visible and highly provocative. Do you think that that has been of service or a disservice to the Left in Houston in general?
FB: Oh yeah. It's been a disservice to my notion—sure. Of course, it's the same thing with the Moody Park riot. Moody Park riot would have happened if the RCP would have been there or not. Just like what's happened.
I: Would you date the Moody Park riot? '78?
FB: '78, yeah. '78. But there they was on the job and their __(??) tried to claim—headed for leading the working class. Well of course, it was utterly ridiculous.
I: But they do seem to be very hard working people and they do—
FB: Yeah, I don't chide them for their dedication to the cause. Ostensibly, their course is supposed to be my course too, but— (laughs)
I: Well, don't you think, though, to the extent that they have created a visible Communist presence in Houston, that that's really—
FB: 24:25 There is so many different conceptions of what Communism is. There is the kind of the—or Socialism—either one—we used the same voice—interchangeably mean the same thing. There is the Socialist of Nixon—you know—whichever he's opposed to. Or Goldwater—Goldwater Socialism meant Social Security and vacation with pay and all that sort of stuff.
I: But in particular, what has the Revolutionary Communist Party done, you think, that is damaging?
FB: That's ridiculous being, for instance, climbing the Alamo. Then the same person goes out there in California or I don't know what actions he was engaged in—the guy gets killed. For what? For nothing. Irresponsible. Definitely irresponsible.
I: Well, in what way?
FB: The same thing with that meeting of the miners which was held, but miner officials—they tried to break it up. Regardless of what they say, you don't come to a meeting if you want to attend a meeting to listen to what the man has to say with—
I: Two by fours or whatever.
FB: Two by twos and stuff like that.
I: Were you at that meeting?
FB: I was there, yeah.
I: Why don't you describe that—date it and sort of explain what happened.
FB: When I arrived there the World Affairs Lounge was full of people and a few people was in the Pacific Room and of course it was—
I: At the University.
FB: Of Houston. The SWP has the monitors at the door and stuff like that. Of course, most of them know me and I know them. Well, it's time to get into the room, so we all went in there, and the room was full and outside—
I: How many people?
FB: —was outside. Well, let's see. The room was full of about 60 or 70 people—that's what the Pacific Room will hold. And outside there was about—at least—40 Maoist Iranians and 12—they had a statewide mobilization—12 or 15—RCP members.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: 26:57 Well, they could have gone in there one by one originally, and I also want to state that there was the—they had issued a leaflet denouncement at that particular meeting. A denouncement—these mineworker's officials—you know—there wasn't any top officials, but anyway, they was representing the mine workers and speaking for the miners which were on strike. And they didn't soft pedal any particularly line or giving in—you know—they took a militant stand. Well, they tried to announce that particular meeting in the leaflet and then they try to break it up—you know—stormed the meeting and several—
I: You mean they just—
FB: Oh yeah. Well, of course, they would agree the SWP handle it. I would have handled it different. They stopped everybody who were trying to rush—I would let one or two through an wail the piss out of them.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). But instead—
FB: They closed the door and some people was outside—SWP people were outside.
I: Got trapped outside?
FB: Outside and they was beaten up unmercilessly. They was kicked, knocked to the ground, and kicked and one had to buy $700 worth of tooth work—dental work had to be done.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). And those of you that were inside—?
FB: Finally came out—now I was not—I was no longer associated, but that galled me that some people would combat. They went out the other door, cause in closing the doors, some people pulled the doorknob off so we couldn't open that particular door anymore.
FB: 29:08 And we came out the other door and I saw some of them people there running around with two by twos, so I got engaged.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Did you get struck yourself?
FB: Yeah, I got struck—I had a glancing blow on the head but that caused a little—
I: You returned a little fire.
FB: Yeah. But then caused a little bump and a black spot and blood seeping down my eye and for about a week or two I had the biggest shiner there was.
I: I bet everybody said Laura probably bopped you with something.
FB: That's correct.
I: Do you happen to—did you recognize any of the—
FB: That person I had tangled with, I don't—I have never seen again. He's supposed to be from Austin. I have two offers—if I could find out—if they could find out who it was and where he lives and some of that—it would be taken care of.
I: Did you recognize any of the more prominent RC people there that day?
FB: Well, no, I just saw that they had oodles of Iranian Maoist.
I: I see.
FB: But that was their strike force. I wasn't expecting SWP, YSA came around the campus and the went after him—lucky for him that security—campus security was around. And campus security arrested 5 people there. Of course, nothing came out of that thing.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). What—was this an afternoon or weekend or evening meeting?
FB: No. It was an evening meeting.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Well, but specifically, how do you think the RCP has done a disservice other than to raid other people's meetings and disrupt them and so forth? That's kind of an internal thing, but their activities in the community, in what way, have harmed the cause of—?
I: Well, for instance, in Moody Park—
[audio 291.4_01 ends 31:52]
[audio 291.4_02 starts 00:04]
FB: In Moody Park they had three people arrested but 20 people got arrested in the neighborhood just standing and some of them—this actually sabotaged their defense effort. They came to the—the man that be the—you know—defend the Moody Park Three, period. Well, of course, they had a trial too—we came out there and said, "Well, we defend all Moody Park defendants." Not only the Moody Park 3, but they want to have a different approach to that and drawing picket lines wouldn't be what was impossible then. They got free and I don't know how many of them 28 people went to jail. The big leaders of the working class assisted to the __(??). The leaders get free and the soldiers go to jail.
I: Is it your impression that they have been successful or unsuccessful in recruiting local members of the working class?
FB: Well, I doubt that they have been successful. I couldn't say. Their membership is—they have the idea that is secret.
I: But you have been to at least one meeting that they sponsored. What is your impression from that meeting about the numbers of people that—?
FB: The study group supplied 30% of the attendance of that meeting.
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
FB: And you couldn't get any—
I: Couldn’t even fill a small room very well.
FB: 02:06 There was 19 people there; five people of the study group and—
I: The rest were—
FB: —and one, two, three, four, five, of theirs—you know—of theirs. So that left at least 5 of theirs which you know was the speaker, the chairperson, and the person taking care of the literature, and another person there, and we supply one member on the program.
I: Yes, that's true.
FB: So we—the study group definitely is nonsectarian and I don't think that the RCP could claim that.
I: Oh no. No, they couldn't. Yeah. That's true. All right. Well I think maybe this brings us to a conclusion. Is there anything that you've left out along the way that you would like to slip in at this point or anything that we haven't talked about that you would like to make mention of?
FB: No, I think we've talked about everything. The only thing I wish maybe you could have set the states more correctly for future reference but that all could be—
I: Crosschecked in the newspaper.
FB: a—crosschecked in the newspaper—sure.
I: Okay. Very good. Well, thank you very much for your help from the beginning on this.
FB: Thank you.
[audio 291.4_02 ends 03:55]