Nat Weinstein: Working Class Hero
This presentation was made at the Celebration of Nat Weinstein’s Life, June 22, 2014, in San Francisco.
I want to talk about the things my father, Nat Weinstein, was involved in that stand out to me as part of the very essence of him.
Above all the other things—husband, father, brother, uncle, grandpa, friend, worker and artist—he was a fighter for socialism for 69 years. He despised class exploitation, racism, bigotry of all kinds, inequality, and injustice—which he knew was endemic to capitalism.
He had an undying faith in the ability of the working class to create a world beyond anyone’s highest expectations; and he realized that socialism is the only way to achieve that goal.
Nat married his childhood sweetheart, Sylvia Mae Profitt, on October 6, 1944. Sylvia was eighteen-years-old, and of legal age to marry, but Nat, who was only twenty, needed his mother’s permission to get married. (Young women could marry at 18, young men had to be 21 in those days.) Nat’s mother, Lillian Weinstein, signed the permission slip. And because Nat only had a couple of days on leave (he was a merchant seaman during WWII from 1943-45) the two eloped to Maryland where they could get married right away. New York required couples to wait several days after getting the marriage license before they could marry.
In 1945 while at sea, Nat wrote to his new and pregnant bride, that he had found the answer to the problems of the world! Sylvia at first thought he had become a Jehovah’s Witness until she read what he wrote about socialism, revolution and the power of the working class. They joined the Socialist Workers Party in 1945 after the war.
From then on, while working and raising a family, they both devoted themselves to fighting for a socialist tomorrow.
Nat and Sylvia were leaders in the movement for socialism and leaders in the day-to-day struggles of the working class. You really can’t talk about one without the other—they were comrades, and husband and wife, for 57 years until Sylvia died on August 14, 2001 at the age of 75.
They were not afraid of hard work and they did whatever needed to be done. They never hid their politics and lived their entire lives as open socialists. And for that they endured harassment, including from the FBI.
They picketed Woolworth’s segregated lunch counters in New York as members of the NAACP. They helped build a massive campaign to support the 1955-56, 13-month, Montgomery Bus Boycott. Nat helped collect donations of food and clothing that were needed in Montgomery because of the boycott—some of it was driven to Montgomery in a caravan that included Nat’s car lent for the trip.
Nat strongly supported the struggle of Robert F. Williams, President of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. In the 1950s and ’60s among other civil rights struggles in Monroe, Williams organized Blacks in armed self-defense against the racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan Nightriders.
When he heard about it, Nat immediately recognized the power of the united self-defense Williams was building. When Williams was wanted by the U.S. government on trumped up charges of kidnapping, Nat helped organize a defense committee for Williams and helped publicize and distribute Williams’ groundbreaking book, Negroes with Guns.
While in the SWP, in 1960, Nat and Sylvia helped organize the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in defense of the Cuban revolution and to oppose the attacks of the U.S. government against their revolution.
One of Nat’s great contributions to the socialist movement was his early appreciation of, and association with, Malcolm X. That association brought Malcolm’s ideas and militancy (and the ideas of self-defense and rejection of the ruling class political parties) to perhaps hundred-of-thousands of people with the publications of Malcolm’s speeches and interviews while Nat was organizer in the Socialist Workers Party in New York. Under Nat’s guidance, while the bourgeois media was printing and airing bits and partial sentences from Malcolm’s speeches to make him appear a “racist in reverse,” The Militant, the newspaper of the SWP, printed Malcolm’s major speeches in their entirety which led to the publication of the book, Malcolm X Speaks, a collection of some of his most important speeches.
Nat recognized that Malcolm X revolutionized the civil rights movement; not only by adopting Robert F. Williams’ right to self-defense of the Black community, but also the right of Blacks to organize independently.
Nat interpreted this as an expression of the fundamental idea of the power of unity among the working class. He saw no conflict between Blacks—or any other groups—organizing in their own defense as well as in the defense of the working class as a whole. As Nat saw it, workers could organize separately—deal with their own unique issues independently and democratically—then come together in a democratic united front in defense of all workers!
He lead the struggle in the SWP to stay true to the revolutionary program of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and James P. Cannon—a struggle which was lost, but carried out in a principled way that helped to preserve the revolutionary program for future generations of workers.
He left us a detailed analysis of the Cuban revolution; the fall of the Soviet Union and the current nature of the Chinese state, among many other important written contributions, which are archived in Socialist Viewpoint magazine, of which he was a founder and editor; in the Socialist Action newspaper while he was in Socialist Action; and in The Militant during his years in the SWP.
Nat became a skilled decorative painter in New York. When he moved to San Francisco in 1966, he soon became known for his decorative painting skills—inventing his own materials and tools. He worked for many years for the renowned founder of California Style decorating, Michael Taylor. He passed these skills on to his grandchildren and to many others who wished to learn them. He was not selfish with his knowledge of the craft. He taught classes to young painters and published a book, Woodgraining, Marbleizing and Glazing and related Decorating Techniques.
He was also an artist. He experimented with materials often mixing fine oil colors with house paint, varnishes and even caulking compound. He decorated furniture; made his own canvasses, and built frames from scrap wood that he sanded and painted with decorative patterns and colors unique to each painting.
He was an avid reader of books on science—physics, astronomy, string theory, the big bang, etc.
He loved music and spent many a family night singing old folk and labor songs. Sylvia had a beautiful voice and Nat played the harmonica, the ukulele and a little piano. He loved baseball and participated in many heated arguments between himself, a Brooklyn Dodger fan, and some of the neighbors who were New York Yankee fans. He loved the beach, Nathan’s hot dogs and watermelon. He loved dogs and cats. And he loved the Beatles. He was an excellent pool player and loved to play pinochle on Friday nights with his best friends. And nothing got him going more than a good debate or argument.
We will carry on the scarlet banner in tribute to him and until we win.