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March 2004 • Vol 4, No. 3 •

Asher Harer: Worker, Trade Unionist, Revolutionary Socialist

By Paul Colvin

Asher Harer was born in Calexico, California on the Mexican border on August 14th, 1912. He grew up in poverty, but graduated from high school, and entered junior college. His role in organizing a student antiwar demonstration at that college in the mid-1930’s resulted in his suspension.

Newspaper accounts of that incident came to the attention of a group of pro-Soviet, but anti-Stalinist socialists in Los Angeles. Seeing him as a young man willing to fight for his progressive ideas, they sent a representative to Calexico to meet with him, and succeeded in persuading him that his desire for social justice would find wider opportunity in a big city where the labor movement was on an upsurge, and labor militants were more receptive to socialist ideas.

Asher and a friend hitch-hiked to San Francisco where he got restaurant job and was soon involved in strikes in the waiters’ union. When an opening for work on the docks occurred, he joined the International Longshore and Warehousemens Union (ILWU) and remained a longshoreman for the rest of his working life.

His devotion to his union and to the cause of the working class were demonstrated in the 1946 strike and again in the 1948 ILWU strikes where he was on the strike committee in charge of “educating” scabs. His effectiveness in that capacity is remembered fondly by many old-timers to this day.

His active involvement in the longshore union and work on the docks, important as that was, was not the only or even the main part of his life. His awareness of the class struggle and association with socialists in San Francisco led him to become a founding member of the Socialist Workers Party in 1938.

Building a revolutionary party based on Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist principles became the dominant goal of his life; union consciousness, however was only a small part of revolutionary socialist consciousness. That is, the revolutionary socialist road to the emancipation of the working class and of all humanity requires a mass political movement that puts the interests of the workers as a class—not as individuals—first.

The ILWU because of the militancy and political consciousness of its membership had put the old labor slogan of “An injury to one is an injury to all,” at the very center of their union’s relations with the entire American and world working class.

In 1956, a crucial event occurred in international politics—Kruschev’s speech to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. That speech astounded the world because was a sharp denunciation of many of Stalin’s crimes. It had a far-ranging effect not only among the World’s Stalinist parties, but it also opened up an opportunity for discourse among those in the U.S. Communist Party who had believed their party’s cover-up of Stalin’s anti-working-class crimes.

Asher and the SWP, taking advantage of the opportunity, sought to establish a relationship with the best of those socialists deeply affected and repulsed by the Soviet Union’s top Stalinist’s revelation—aiming to find a common platform to counter the growing assaults on labor and civil liberties.

In the early 1960’s Asher coordinated the mayoral campaign of Sam Jordan, a leader of African-American community activists from Bayview Hunters Point in 1963.

Around the same time, the victory of the Cuban Revolution and the undisguised hostility of the U.S. government towards it, again brought to the fore the principle of “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was formed nationwide. Asher along with his comrades and friends were instrumental in organizing the Committee’s Bay Area chapter and was elected its executive secretary. He led that committee in support of Cuba’s right to an independent existence in a demonstration at the Civic Center in October, 1962, as the confrontation between Soviet ships and the U.S. Navy took place, with its potential for a nuclear Armageddon.

His active political life, again went into high gear with the beginning of the Vietnam antiwar movement. In 1967, his branch of the SWP and a small number of left-liberal Democrats decided to put a proposition on the San Francisco ballot calling for the City to adopt a policy for the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam. Asher, his SWP comrades and many other activists and groupings joined a coalition that organized a petition campaign and succeeded in putting an antiwar resolution, Proposition P, on the ballot.

It failed by a very narrow margin. A couple of years later the same proposition appeared on the November ballot, this time as Proposition J, and this time it won, making San Francisco one of the first cities in the country to officially adopt a policy of opposing the war.

Asher, as a national leader of the SWP, played a key role in convincing the antiwar movement that the most effective way to win the American people—including the GIs themselves—to oppose the war in Vietnam was by advancing the demand “Bring the Troops Home Now,” as the adopted slogan of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

In addition to working as a longshoreman and being active in the union, as well as maintaining a high level of involvement in the struggle to build a revolutionary party of socialist workers, Asher found time to educate young people in the fundamental principles of revolutionary Marxism.

• • •
Asher Harer: Presente

By Carole Seligman

Asher Harer, a revolutionary worker for three-quarters of a century has died. But his example of love for, and commitment to, the working class—the only power that can rid the world of poverty, war, oppression, and ignorance—stands as a powerful example for all socialist workers now and to come.

Asher’s work in defense of the Cuban Revolution, his work in defense of the Vietnamese Revolution, in defense of the peoples of Central and South America, in defense of women’s rights, immigrant rights, and against racism and all forms of oppression, his work as a militant unionist of the ILWU and in solidarity with farm workers, meatpackers, miners, and every other worker’s struggle, as well as his tireless work as a builder of the Socialist Workers Party for nearly 50 years as a rank and file member and as a leader—all these (and these are only some of the many struggles Asher took an active part in) show a tireless commitment to a cause which hasn’t yet been won, but, with more workers who will follow in Asher’s footsteps, will be won!

In all the three-quarters of a century that Asher fought for the working class, for workers power by any means necessary, he never wavered in his commitment to the pillars of the historic working class movement—international solidarity; independence of the working class from the capitalist class in all areas; and the struggle for a revolutionary socialist workers political party. How rare these qualities and commitments are! But Asher embodied them all.

In 2004, as the misleadership of the American unions tries to graft workers onto the capitalist political bandwagon of the Democratic Party, Asher’s example of fighting for working class independence from capitalist political parties and institutions stands as a beacon of light. Asher was the senior Trotskyist of the Bay Area and beyond. He was continuously active in the socialist movement long after he retired from his work as a longshoreman.

His death is a particular loss to the revolutionary movement because he was one of the few who deeply understood the need for a revolutionary workers party which could keep alive the lessons of the revolutionary workers movement for the next generation. Such a party has not existed in the U.S. since the demise of the Socialist Workers Party of its founder, James P. Cannon. Most of those who spent their lives building that party and who kept an unwavering devotion to the socialist cause are aging and dying, but their example will not die! It will live and it will come to fruition. The workers of the world will unite! We have nothing to lose but our chains!

Asher Harer: Presente!

• • •

Asher Harer: A Life Well Spent

A Letter to his life-long companion and comrade

Dear Ruth,

We have lost a champion of the working class—a warrior whose life was dedicated not only to his family and friends but to the whole world. His love for the working class and its inherent power as a force for change never wavered.

Asher taught that workers throughout the world were brothers and sisters and have the same interests; that all that is needed and all that could be wanted is created by workers and that all the working class needs to do is cut out the middle man—the capitalist class—and organize our society on the basis of production for human needs and wants and not profit in order to create a paradise for every living thing on the planet.

But Asher did not sit back and just talk about it. His life was dedicated to the day-to-day struggle of the worker on the job. At every step he was in the front-lines of the fight for better wages, conditions and the right to benefit from the toil and suffering that workers endure on a daily basis he was personally familiar with on the San Francisco docks.

He was a champion of all workers; women, men, gay, lesbian, Black, white, Asian, Latino, industrial workers and farm hands because he knew that the unity of all the segments of the working class throughout the world is needed to make a fundamental change in the basic structure and relationship of forces between workers and capitalists—to bring about an end to class society as a whole—and to bring about a socialist world.

The only way to honor such a life is to continue the struggle for a world based upon the concept of workers’ control of the means of production—a world where there are no strings attached between one’s labor and the necessities of life. Marx and Engels put it most succinctly: from each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs.

Asher taught the need to read the classics; to study the history of our class and the world; to best prepare for the battle that is to come if humanity is to survive.

It is a tall order to live up to the life of this tall man. But what else are we to do?

With all my love to you and your family,

Your comrade,
Bonnie Weinstein





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