First Published: Theoretical Review No. 12, September-October 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Ellwood “Woody ” Griest, a life-long working-class militant and anti-revisionist communist, died July 7, 1979. Comrade Griest devoted himself entirely to the cause of working-class struggle and communism while never surrendering to the betrayal of Marxist-Leninist principles.
In 1935, Griest participated in one of the first white-collar strikes, against Consumers’ Research. Thereafter, he was one of the 25 strikers who helped to found the Consumers’ Union, where he continued to work at a salary of $10.00 per week.
At the same time, he was active in the Communist Party, becoming the organizer of a branch on New York’s Lower West Side in 1938. In 1939-1941, Griest was the Secretary-Treasurer of the New York Joint Council of the United Office and Professional Workers Association (UPOWA), a Communist-led Union, to which the workers at Consumers Union belonged.
During the period of the Communist Political Association, after Browder had dissolved the Communist Party, Griest was not a member, having been dropped from the party rolls in 1942 for opposing the Party’s opportunist position on the Consumers’ Union. Reinstated in 1946, he fought for a genuine struggle against Browderism and for a return to revolutionary positions. For this, he was expelled from the Party on May 19, 1948.
But Griest refused to abandon communism. As he told his Branch Organizer:
“I want to make it clear to you ... that the action which you took last night will do nothing to keep me from being a Communist, acting as a Communist, carrying on Communist work, and especially fighting for an end to the chronic opportunism which has bedevilled and handcuffed the CPUSA almost from its inception and increasingly so in recent years... ”
Soon after he joined with the Paul Robeson Club (expelled), which had previously been kicked out of the Party, to found the journal Turning Point as a rallying center for anti-revisionist communists (see the articles and documents in Theoretical Review #11). Comrade Griest stayed with Turning Point until 1953 when he left due to his opposition to the pro-Lysenko position of the group and other tactical differences.
Throwing himself into the peace and anti-nuclear power movements in the late 1950’s, he became organizer and Chairman of the Brooklyn chapter of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), in 1957. Sticking to his communist principles, he was forced from this position in 1961 by Norman Thomas and Norman Cousins of the SANE leadership for his refusal to engage in red baiting and attacks on the Soviet Union.
Although plagued by ill health in recent years, he continued to follow developments in the U.S. and world Communist movement with great interest. Thus, he offered to help us locate and republish documents and materials of the anti-revisionist movement of the late 1940’s, the revolutionary principles of which he continued to uphold.
Some day in a Socialist USA there will be monuments to people such as Ellwood Griest. Until then, our own commitment to communism, drawing inspiration from his own, will serve as a monument and a remembrance of what he and countless others like him accomplished.