Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Shedrach Harris

Lessons from the Gary Tyler Campaign


First Published: Class Struggle, No. 11, Winter 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

In 1974 Gary Tyler, then a 16-year-old Black youth, was sentenced to die in the electric chair after being framed up on a murder charge involving a 13-year-old white youth. Today, Tyler still remains in prison, although a worldwide defense campaign has developed in his behalf and his name has become a symbol of the present-day Black liberation struggle.

Tyler’s case grew out of the segregationist assaults on the rights of Blacks to equality in education. In Destrehan, Louisiana, Tyler was on a school bus attacked by a Ku Klux Klan-inspired mob. A shot was fired and a young white student, Timothy Weber, fell dead. The evidence proved that it was not possible for the shot to have been s fired from within the bus, where Tyler was. The only conclusion to draw was that the shot was fired from among the whites, apparently aimed at the Blacks, missed and hit Weber. And to this day, the spineless scoundrel who pulled the trigger has gone free.

Thus Gary Tyler was chosen to be a “murderer” and the stage was set for another “legal” lynching. The authorities had completed their “investigation” in two days, which was 14 years less than the time it took to “discover” who killed four young Black girls in the bombing of the Birmingham church. The historical beginnings of another legal lynching rocked the South, sending its vibrations throughout the nation and the world.

This type of justice was nothing new to the masses of Black folk. As veteran Black communist Odis Hyde put it: “This is the way America has always treated non-white people who it couldn’t beat and smash into submission.”[1]

But what was new, at least for the first time in decades, was that Marxist-Leninist forces throughout the country began to organize broad support for Tyler. What is more, they did so in a revolutionary fashion, giving revolutionary leadership to a mass campaign that became an important component of the Afro-American freedom struggle. Marxist-Leninists, of course, had been involved in a number of local defense cases, but nothing had been done on this scale.

What are some of the main features of this struggle? What are some of the lessons, positive and negative, that can be drawn from the years of work that has gone on? These are some of the questions this article will try to answer.

A key feature of the Gary Tyler campaign was the political line of the Marxist-Leninists and other revolutionary-minded forces. For the first time in 25 years, the slogan calling for the right of self-determination for the Black nation in the Deep South was raised by thousands of Black and white workers and activists nationwide as the key demand pointing to the solution to the national oppression of the Afro-American people In addition, the character of the campaign’s mass work targeted the imperialist system as the cause of Gary Tyler’s frameup, and it culminated in a mass demonstration of some 2,000 people in New Orleans in July 1976.

The frameup of Gary Tyler was only one of many frameups of Blacks that occurred during the mid-1970s. Each was caused by the imperialist oppression of the Afro-American nation, where Blacks are denied their democratic rights and subjected to Klan and police terror, all-white juries, false testimony and suppression of evidence. The period saw the cases of the Charlotte 3, the Wilmington 10, Joan Little, Ronnie Long, Robert Arnold, James Jackson, Cheryl Todd and Desi X Woods, among many others.

The character of the Tyler defense work was mass in both style and content. The defense work was closely linked to the overall political and economic crisis of U.S. imperialism. This orientation was necessary in order for the Tyler work to correspond to the objective conditions of the masses: wildcat strikes, high unemployment, evictions, police killings, speedup and cutbacks, discrimination and the growing danger of war. By linking the Tyler case to these questions, the campaign could win mass support and advance the political consciousness of the masses as well.

Marxist-Leninists and other progressive forces were involved in the leadership of the Tyler campaign around the country. Thus many working class fighters were involved in the struggle against reformism and opportunism. At the same time, these growing numbers of activists learned firsthand how to build genuine mass organizations and coalitions, such as the Southwide Coalition, the National Fight Back Organization and many local defense committees. And in the context of this mass work, the October League and others carried out revolutionary education about socialist revolution and self-determination.

It is important for revolutionaries to note that the Tyler campaign was initiated at a time when there was not a genuine Marxist-Leninist party, when many Marxist-Leninist forces were still scattered in local circles. In other words, it was a time when party building was the principal task of communists, as it still is today.

But despite the infancy and amateurishness of the Marxist-Leninist organizations, a breakthrough was made in the content and style of the work of propaganda and agitation. Thousands of people read regular weekly reports of the struggle in The Call newspaper. Tens of thousands of copies of a special propaganda pamphlet were sold. A Tyler movie was made by October Films and shown in dozens of cities across the country. Nearly 100,000 signatures were gathered on a petition to free Gary Tyler. Through the influence of The Call, revolutionaries in many countries made the campaign worldwide. Protests and messages of support took place in Norway, Canada, Western Europe, Latin America and France. In this way, Marxist-Leninists, even though many were still in small circles and collectives, could still deliver a powerful blow against both the ruling class and the revisionist betrayal of the Afro-American people.

Waging class struggle inside the defense movement

The Gary Tyler campaign was an important front in the class struggle. On one side stood thousands of workers and oppressed nationalities who shared a common interest in freeing Tyler. They played a major and decisive role through their active participation in the struggle. On the other side stood a handful of enemies–the capitalists and the state apparatus, including the police and the judicial system.

This lineup of the two classes and their allies made it quite clear as to who our friends and who our enemies were. But what was not so clear at first, and what became a point of struggle, was the unmasking of the enemies of the people who mascaraded as friends.

A case in point was the New Orleans Defense Committee. The main forces within it included: a number of Black nationalist and Pan Africanist groups, such as Ahidiana; Marxist-Leninists, mainly the October League and the Revolutionary Workers Congress; a number of Black community organizations, mainly from the Desire and St. Benard housing projects, Ujama Bookstore and the Free Southern Theater; Black student organizations from nearby campuses, especially from Southern University of New Orleans; and many unaffiliated workers and individuals. Reformist forces included representatives of the NAACP and SCLC. Finally, there were Trotskyites and revisionists, including Walter Collins and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and, for a brief time, the Young Workers Liberation League, the youth group of the CPUSA.

In the main, this grouping of organizations and individuals comprised an embryonic form of the Black united front. It proved to be a very effective weapon within the Black liberation struggle as it mobilized and educated the Black masses against racist repression. For most people inside the defense committee, however, it was pretty obvious that the Tyler frameup involved more than the single issue of racist repression. A wide range of issues–unemployment, bad housing, school segregation, as well as police and Klan terror–were common factors that could be directly linked to the Tyler case.

The question quickly arose as to what would be the defense committee’s basic perspective in carrying out the campaign: in other words, what would be the orientation of its activities, its propaganda and agitation and its methods of work.

In general, there were two main groupings within the defense committee. A majority of participants held progressive and revolutionary perspectives The other grouping held a racist, reactionary and revisionist perspective This was mainly the Trotskyite SWP and its faithful stooge, Walter Collins.

The fact that a large section of the defense committee was comprised of revolutionaries, of course, pointed to the necessity of its becoming much broader and more mass in character. Which line would actually enable this to happen was a key component of the struggle between the progressive and reactionary forces.

The struggle against the SWP and Collins necessarily entailed an exposure of revisionism, since Trotskyism is nothing more than a disguised form of revisionism. From Moscow on down, the role of the revisionists is to subvert, split, wreck and sabotage the national liberation struggles around the world. Such was the role of the SWP in the Tyler case, where it echoed the revisionist line every step of the way.

The actual content of this reactionary line in regard to the national question was spelled out by Harry Haywood in his pamphlet, “Toward a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question”:

Because revisionism is the theory and practice of accommodation to the ruling class–because the unsolved Negro question is the most sensitive sector of the home front of U.S. imperialism–because of the explosive nature of the contradictions involved, the revisionists seek to gloss over and conceal the profound revolutionary nature of the struggle for Negro rights in the U.S....It is clear that the revisionist position downgrades the Negro question... reduces it to a fight against racial discrimination and places it in terms acceptable to the Negro bourgeois reformists and their allies among the labor bureaucrats and white liberals.(Emphasis added)[2]

The Trotskyites’ line and practice was like a textbook example of this revisionist outlook. Following are just a few examples that occurred in the course of the campaign.

–From the beginning, the SWP forces put forward the slogan “All we want is justice” in order to guide the work. They claimed that slogans like “Full democratic rights for Black people,” “Death to the Klan” and “Self-determination for the Afro-American people” were “unrelated” to the Tyler case and would “take the focus off the struggle to free Tyler.”

But isn’t a slogan like “All we want is justice,” especially when counterposed to the other slogans, clearly an accommodation to the bourgeoisie? In fact, it was just empty rhetoric that any judge could use to bring his courtroom to order. It is also misleading and abstract in the sense that it presupposed that Afro-Americans can receive justice in the capitalists’ courts. By ignoring the actual character of bourgeois justice, it implies that the main enemy is simply the judge and jury in the case. Thus it lets the capitalists off the hook and promotes the reformist illusion that all that is needed is better judges, better juries and better court procedures. And by opposing the slogans put forward by revolutionary forces, the SWP bunch revealed the fact that their slogan was not opposed to the national oppression and persecution of Black people, but only to certain means employed in carrying this oppression out.

–In the preparations for the July 24 demonstration, the SWP revealed another feature of its rightist line. Under the guise of giving the action a “wider appeal,” the SWP opposed having any revolutionary speakers and contended that all speakers should be “non-revolutionary.” Specifically, they proposed that the speakers exclusively come from among local clergymen, bourgeois politicians and laboi bureaucrats, including the head of the state AFL-CIO, a well-known enemy of Black liberation. In brief, this SWP policy shows that they call for relying entirely on the liberal bourgeoisie and the labor bureaucrats to lead the people’s struggles.

–As the day of the demonstration neared, the SWP forces went all out to promote illusions about the “impartiality” of the state and gross capitulationism to reactionary forces. First, they suggested that we shouldn’t march if we did not get a parade permit. Second, they opposed any militant, mass picketing of a hearing in Hahnville, La. on the Tyler case on the grounds that it would “upset” the judge and make him “mad.” Third, when the KKK publicized a phony threat to have a counter-march on July 24, the SWP tried to call off the march or limit those who participated. This was done through a phony “concern” for the people’s welfare and cowardly assertions of “I don’t want to get my head beat in,” “mass arrests” and “the making of a bloodbath.” By way of contrast, the revolutionary forces responded to the Klan’s threats by intensifying their efforts to bring out the masses. In the end, it was the Klan who backed down and called off its march, not the people.

–The SWP had another point of unity with the Klan–vicious anti-communism. They launched a wide range of attacks on the October League and red-baited groups like SCEF and the Fight Back. They claimed these forces were not really interested in Tyler’s freedom, but only wanted to spread communist propaganda and build their organizations. But this just shows how phony the SWP’s talk of “revolution” and “socialism” really is. Genuine revolutionaries know quite well that building mass organizations like a defense committee, while independently taking socialism to the masses and building a new communist party, are in no way contradictory to fighting to free Gary Tyler. As communists, it is our duty to put forward the final aims of the struggle, to agitate against capitalism and to raise socialism as the solution. Not to do so would mean sinking to the depth of economism and opportunism.

Should we build organizations? Of course, both mass organizations and the Party We plead guilty to this charge. Given the devastating effects of the imperialist crisis on the lives of the masses, they must have organizations which they belong to and control in order to effectively organize resistance to these attacks. The Party is the highest form of proletarian organization and without its leadership of the people and their mass organizations, the masses are doomed to suffer under the misleadership of the liberal appendages of the Democratic and Republican Parties. As Lenin said, “the proletariat has no other weapon in the struggle for power except organization.”[3]

In fact, the opportunists really didn’t object to the building of “organizations” per se. What they actually opposed was the type of organizations being built–anti-imperialist organizations and the party. They would have had no objections if we were trying to build Trotskyite organizations.

But being revisionists, they feared the spread of Marxism even more than the bourgeoisie itself. After the demonstration, Walter Collins, who refused to march himself, squeaked noisily about, attacking the demonstration as being “against the ruling class and not to free Gary Tyler.” Isn’t it clear that only a dedicated opportunist who is scared to death of class struggle could come up with a formulation that put these two things into opposition?

But this bizarre logic of the Trotskyites is quite in keeping with their opposition to revolutionary slogans, speakers and methods of work. It is also in harmony with the descriptive analysis Stalin made of the original Trotskyites in the early years of the Soviet Union:

Because the present-day Trotskyites are afraid to show their real face to the working class, are afraid to disclose their real aims and tasks to it, and carefully hide their political face from the working class, fearing that if the working class should learn of their real intentions, it will curse them as an alien people and drive them from it.[4]

Thus, as Gary Tyler sat on death row, the majority of forces in the defense committee were working for his release, while the opportunists who trumpeted bourgeois logic at every twist and turn were actually working to keep him there. It eventually became clear that these saboteurs within our ranks were not only enemies of Tyler, but were also enemies of the entire Black liberation struggle.

In summary, the SWP’s tactics and slogans show that they have a thoroughly reformist position on the Black freedom struggle. They viewed it simply as a fight against discrimination, obliterating the questions of self-determination, land and Black political power Accordingly, their solution to the national question in practice is that it is just a matter of winning certain reforms within the framework of the capitalist system. Furthermore, they maintain that the struggle for these reforms should be carried out in such a way that the existing class relations–between master and slave, boss and worker–could not be altered and would virtually remain intact.

Such a position clearly represents the interests of the imperialists. Of course, as communists’ we fight for reforms. But we do not limit the struggle to the bounds set by reformism, which Lenin described in this way:

Reformism in general means that people confine themselves to agitation for changes which do not require the removal of the main foundations of the old ruling class, changes that are compatible with the preservation of these foundations.[5]

Harry Haywood also elaborates on this point of distinguishing between the communist and reformist approach to reforms:

But we understand that even a minimal program must flow from, and be based upon, a revolutionary perspective. This is precisely the difference between us and the reformists.[6]

In fact the main purpose in fighting for reforms is to strengthen the unity and fighting capacity of the working class and its allies The particular gains themselves, which are merely crumbs which the bourgeoisie can and does take away at another point, should be viewed essentially as by-products of the revolutionary struggle to get rid of the capitalist system altogether.

Positive and negative lessons of our work

The main lessons of the Tyler campaign are around the question of the united front–namely, what policies, methods of work and tactics we should employ with the various class forces within the united front.

From the outset, the purpose of groups like the New Orleans Defense Committee and the Southwide Coalition was to unite the broadest number of forces to fight for Gary Tyler’s freedom. These forces included workers, students, intellectuals, the unemployed, the youth, small businessmen, women’s organizations, church groups and certain politicians. As a form of the Black united front, the masses of the oppressed nationalities were the backbone force.

Naturally, each class force within the united front represented its class point of view. Our approach was first to make a concrete analysis of each force, so as to distinguish between our friends and our hidden enemies. We wanted to broaden the ranks of our friends while isolating our enemies. This was the only way to strengthen the united front which, along with the Party and the armed struggle, we saw as one of the main weapons for making revolution.

In building the united front, we tried to implement Chairman Mao’s policy of combining both unity and struggle. To take a line of “all unity” or “everything through the united front” at the expense of our independence and initiative would have been a right deviation. At the same time, to follow a policy of “all struggle and no unity” would have been a “left” deviation. Both types of deviations would harm both the front and the working class forces. Therefore, in order not to cause unnecessary splits and promote harmony within the front, the OL and others struggled to defend the rights and independence of other organizations as well as our own.

Our general policy was to “unite the many to defeat the few.” In particular, we targeted reformism as the most dangerous ideology and the chief obstacle to building broad and militant support for the case. We saw the SWP and Collins as the main stockholders of this ideology and worked to expose their treacherous political line through a series of Call articles, leaflets and formal discussions with groups and individuals. This was especially important since the SWP managed to control the leadership for a while through their alliance with opportunists like Collins.

As a result of this work, the majority of forces within the front united against the counter-revolutionary politics of these opportunists and were able to remove them from the leadership of the defense committee. Had this not been done, the struggle to free Tyler would have been wrecked and led straight into the sewers of bourgeois democracy.

Nonetheless, the OL made a number of right and “left” errors in the course of this struggle. One of the earliest and most prominent was an error of “left” sectarianism toward many of the honest and progressive forces within the front. This developed in the course of fighting the opportunists and meant we had mixed up friends with enemies and treated them all as one opportunist clique.

At the beginning of the work, for instance, we made the erroneous decision to withdraw from the committee and go off on our own to build another “pure” defense committee. What we should have done was to make distinctions among those who disagreed with us and still remained within the front to wage struggle against erroneous views. Instead our decision to withdraw was in essence a rightist capitulation to the opportunists, although in a “left” guise.

The fact was that our self-isolation left the opportunists to do as they pleased. While most of the progressive forces did continue the struggle in spite of our absence, the struggle itself suffered from the sectarian effects of our action and the lack of a strong, unified opposition to the SWP line.

This sectarianism also had a chauvinist character, given the actual nature of the progressive forces in the defense committee. It stemmed from an underestimation of the importance of revolutionary and progressive nationalists as a basic ally in the struggle against imperialism and its racist policies. Communists, of course, are proletarian internationalists and make no ideological concessions to nationalism. But in the practice of the Black united front, we unite practically with the generally democratic thrust of the nationalism of the Black masses and make distinctions between revolutionary nationalism and narrow, reactionary nationalism. This policy was not firmly grasped by our comrades initially, thus comprising a deviation toward the “All nationalism is reactionary” or “Black nationalism is the main danger” lines of opportunists like the Progressive Labor Party or the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party.

Soon after we realized the gravity of our error, the OL made a public self-criticism and was permitted to re-enter the defense committee. It was at this point that we had to fight around the question of independence and initiative, which had been banned by the opportunists in leadership. It was also obvious that many other forces were as dissatisfied as we were, but were confused as to the source of the problem. It then became our special task to show how the problems in leadership stemmed not from “bad personalities,” but from a Trotskyite political line. By consulting with the other forces, attentively listening to their views and demands, and criticizing our past errors, the committee developed strong unity against the reformist line of the opportunists and succeeded in jointly ousting them from the leadership.

The main lessons we learned from this experience were, first, to recognize the importance of fighting opportunism and, second, to use good tactics in uniting your allies to do so. As the Trotskyites were agents of the bourgeoisie, it was necessary to expose them in a scientific, rational and popular way. Simple phrase-mongering and subjectivism made it impossible to mobilize the masses in the struggle against the opportunists. In fact, it was the masses who had the greatest disdain for opportunism, since they had suffered from it the most.

Another important error made by the OL was focused on the question of tactics, especially in relation to the ebbs and flows of the struggle.

When the struggle was in a period of flow, as it was in the time leading up to the July 24 action, our tactics were carried out relatively well. We concentrated our mass work in several different and important target areas, including several factories and communities and among students. The main form of day-to-day mass work was consistent agitation combined with propaganda. This was when we made great gains with The Call, the petition campaign, speaking engagements, mass leafletting and postering, and winning endorsements from other groups. The key to the success of this work was uniform guidance in accord with the actual conditions and democratic centralism.

But when the struggle was in a period of ebb, as it was in the period following the July 24 action, our tactics were not carried out well and considerable confusion set in. This was due to a subjective analysis whereby comrades were not able to shift tactics in light of the ebb, which was an objective factor that developed quite independently of our will. But instead of shifting tactics, we fell victim to tailism and bowing to spontaneity, as well as a breakdown in the system of centralized guidance.

What we needed was an objective analysis of the situation which would have helped promote a flexibility in tactics. Rather than one-sidedly clinging to rallies and demonstrations, we could have emphasized in the ebb period such tactics as house meetings, issuing newsletters to keep people informed, getting resolutions passed in unions, or film showings.

The main point is to utilize the ebb period to get the maximum advantage in consolidating the gains from the period of flow, to maintain, strengthen and regroup our forces in getting ready for the next period of flow. In that way, the next move forward would begin on a stronger and higher basis, with the struggle to free Tyler becoming increasingly familiar and integrally bound up with the life of the masses.

In New Orleans, however, this approach was not carried out. Instead, the confusion over tactics was compounded into a rightist line of “all unity” and “everything through the united front.” This had the effect of disorganizing the work, with many of the progressive forces falling away. We took the line of being the “hardest workers” for the front while belittling our tasks of revolutionary education. Thus when a righist line emerged to dissolve the weakened defense committee, we were not in a position to prevent it.

This “hardest worker” line made practical tasks primary over our political tasks of leadership. In particular, this meant not doing education around our program and the question of self-determination. This made it difficult, if not impossible, to strengthen the level of political unity of the defense committee and to combat reformism by putting the question of political power for the Black masses to the forefront.

Some basic guidelines for united front work

In addition to the particular strengths and weaknesses of the Tyler work, there are a number of other points on the question of the united front which can strengthen the Party’s work today. The OL’s work in the united front was designed not only as a means of ensuring the widest mobilization of the masses. It was also geared toward strengthening and consolidating the OL in particular and the communist movement in general.

Some people see these two things–party-building and the building of mass organizations–as contradictory. Or that the first is only the task of communists while the second is only the task of the masses. On the contrary, our work to build the OL in the past and the Party today should not be viewed as a narrow, selfish concern for our organization, but as a concern for the entire working class.

With this in mind, what are some of the basic guidelines we should follow in united front work?

First, we should combat a subjective viewpoint in dealing with other organizations, especially with reformist groups like SCLC or the NAACP. Here a distinction should be made between the leadership and the general membership of these groups. There are a number of occasions when this has not been done. Instead, the politics of the rank and file were indiscriminately lumped together with the politics of the leadership.

This error stems from an underestimation of the ties between the two and how these ties have historically developed. For the past 10 years and more, reformist-led groups like the NAACP and SCLC have been put forward among the masses as the only legitimate organizations for social change. Given this status, many people have joined them out of a genuine desire to struggle against injustice while, at the same time, being unaware of the actual implications of their reformist nature.

In the main, these people are a progressive force and should not themselves be the target of criticism or isolation. Likewise, there have recently been a number of rifts among different forces in the Black bourgeoisie who are contending for leadership. This has caused splits and disunity within their ranks in different cities. Thus an NAACP in New Orleans may have different politics than an NAACP in, say, Detroit. Rather than making a blanket analysis, a careful and concrete analysis should be made for each group in each city, to determine how we should relate to them.

Another point concerns sectarian errors in methods of leadership. It is not enough for one to proclaim oneself as “the leadership” just because one is a communist. Leadership has to be won and not declared. While theoretically the Party does represent the leadership and the interests of the masses, practically this is not generally recognized by the masses at this time and we should not proceed as though it was. To make rash advances solely for the purpose of being in the leadership of the united front, or to declare that we are the “party of the proletariat” and to demand a seat on the steering committee on that basis, is opportunist, dogmatic and sectarian. And even if such a request would be granted, your leading role would not last long if you did not prove your capabilities in practice. The masses will eventually see through your phony scheme and evict you.

Of course we have to avoid the flip side of this error as well. This would be simply to present ourselves as “hard workers” while abandoning or lowering our politics. In this way we would fail to distinguish ourselves as leading elements and end up bowing to spontaneity.

In essence, both sides of this error on leadership stem from a rightist line on the united front, namely, a belittling of the leading role of the working class in the broad people’s movement.

A final lesson on united front work centers on basing our activities on the actual conditions (such as an alignment of forces) and being flexible in tactics. In the past, “left” errors have been made in efforts to unite with forces in disagreement with us. This has manifested itself in not knowing when to struggle and on what grounds to struggle. It is not necessary to struggle over every point or every question. Sometimes it is necessary to make concessions, to take a step backward in order to make two steps forward at another point. This is what is known as subordinating the part to the interests of the whole.

The same is true for knowing when to unite. As Lenin said: “The only correct policy is a policy based on principle.” In trying to determine a correct policy on working in the united front, it is not necessary to liquidate one’s principles as a means of achieving unity. To do so would be a rightist error and would only build a superficial and sham unity that would disintegrate when the first strong wind blows by. To work for all unity and no struggle is to commit rightism, while leftism consists of all struggle and no unity.

In determining the actual conditions when building the united front, it is important to practice the mass line. In part, this means involving the working masses in situations concerning decisionmaking as well as in everyday mass work. This is a good means of winning their confidence and avoiding the mistake of either overestimating or underestimating the degree of class consciousness of the masses.

In summary, we have to make a sober appraisal of the actual situation based on the objective conditions. Otherwise, as it happened at certain points in the Tyler campaign, our actions simply become based on our own subjective wishes and desires, on a view of where we would like the masses to be rather than where they actually are. This one-sidedness results in our substituting ourselves for the masses or for replacing method’s for leading the masses with methods that are more appropriate to leading a party organization. In the last analysis, it is only to the extent that the masses themselves are involved in every sphere of united front activity that the strength of the front can grow.

The struggle must continue

Today Gary Tyler remains in prison. After four years of mass struggle, petitions, hearings and appeals for a new trial all the way to the Supreme Court, the criminal nature of capitalist rule is still trying to break the revolutionary spirit of this militant young fighter for Black liberation.

The fact that all the capitalists’ legal mechanisms have been utilized to no avail in the fight to free Tyler should contain some lessons about the opportunists who preach about relying on the courts. Just as the class nature of U.S. justice stands exposed by Tyler’s continued imprisonment, so is the class nature of those like the SWP who would rely on sweet-talking to judges, liberal politicians and other enemies of the people.

Nonetheless the name Gary Tyler has become a household word among masses of people. He is no longer subject to the death penalty, although it must never be forgotten that, as in the case of George Jackson, the bourgeoisie has more than one way to carry out its executions.

Since Gary Tyler was arrested, there have been scores of other “reported” Gary Tylers and who knows how many unreported. All these expose the hypocrisy of Carter’s “New South” and “human rights” campaign and demonstrate the continuing oppression of the Black nation by imperialism.

Today this oppression is generating a new wave of resistance. A new upsurge is taking place, from the struggle of the United League in Mississippi, to the anti-Rizzo campaign in Philadelphia, to the mass mobilization of the Black United Front in New York City, to the struggle to free Terrence Johnson in Washington, D.C. It is crystal clear that the jailing of Tyler has not stopped the Black struggle. The same conditions still persist, creating new outrages and new struggles.

The task of our Party is to wholeheartedly take up these struggles. In their course, we must strengthen and expand existing mass organizations, like SCEF and the National Fight Back Organization. But we must also seek unity with the new forms of organizations that have developed in the struggle or have been initiated by the masses themselves. We must work with these organizations, spread them and strengthen them and provide a revolutionary perspective. Finally, we must build the Party itself. Hundreds of new fighters will come forward who can be won to communism and recruited into the ranks of the Marxist-Leninists.

In particular, we must link the fight to free Gary Tyler to this new upsurge. The demand for Tyler’s freedom must become a common demand of all progressive organizations of the Black people and the working class in general. To do so, the Party must continue to play a leading role in educating people about the Tyler frameup as well as our general program on Black liberation.

This will require consistent agitation and propaganda, carried out in the context of building the new struggle. In doing so, we must take the lessons learned in previous Tyler defense work, applying the positive and avoiding the negative.

Given the increased activities of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis, we must also intensify our work among the white workers and middle classes to combat the spread of white chauvinism. The main proponents of this poison among the masses, such as the fascist groups and the trade union bureaucrats, must be exposed as “props” of the ruling class, fomenting racist policies and propaganda as a means of maintaining the bourgeoisie’s bloody dictatorship.

In carrying out this work, we must implement our Party’s policy of a “division of labor,” with white comrades mainly taking up work among the white workers and Black comrades among Blacks. We must popularize the famous slogan of Karl Marx: “Labor in the white skin cannot free itself where labor with a Black skin is branded.”[7] Or as Comrade Odis Hyde boldly put it: “White workers are going to have to understand that the only reason they dragged us over here in chains was because cheap Black labor could drive down the cost of all labor... But you ain’t got nothing but labor either! You got to fight because the system is aimed at you as well as Black folks. So either we survive together or we perish separately.”[8]

The importance of continuing the Gary Tyler campaign in the current struggle was pointed out by Gary Tyler himself. In a recent letter to The Call appealing for support for himself and his family, he states:

I would like to express profoundly my most sincere appreciation to those of you who are supporting not only my cause, but others, as well as political prisoners that have and are being victimized everyday by the imperialistic forces of amerikkka’s judicial system.

As we struggle with extreme determination for manumission, as one of our main objectives, and with the support of the masses, we will by all means prevail.

And our adversaries will suffer ignominiously (shamefully)...

Well, I have made twenty years of age, and ever since this detrimental miscarriage, I’ve been forced to struggle realistically with the situation on a more broad perspective.

And I must admit, this struggle has been quite an experience for me, all of us, and the things we’ve learnt by working concommitantly (together) with one another in the fight for what we believe in to the utmost, etc.

My dear comrades, as I continue to appeal my case to the people; although I am no longer eligible for execution in the electric chair; the probability of death occurring lurks beyond every corner or hill.

I will be, by all means, very meticulous (careful) while being held here in this institution forcibly and illegally by the State of Louisiana. While in the konkentration kamp, if something is ever to happen to me, it will never be an accident, and let’s just hope it never does.

Of course, no single defense committee, no single campaign or issue, will create revolutionary conditions or produce a revolutionary upsurge. New outrages and new imperatives are produced everyday by a system whose very nature thrives on the exploitation of the working class and the subjugation of entire nations and peoples. To root out this evil once and for all, we must build the broadest united front against imperialism based on the alliance of the working class and the oppressed nationalities.

This is the basic lesson of the Tyler campaign. It has served as a beacon to condemn the brutal oppression of Black people. Today this beacon must shine even more radiantly, not only to damn the savagery of capitalism, but to lead millions to fight for land, freedom and self-determination for the Afro-American people.


[1] Quoted from Gary Tyler Must Be Free, a presentation of October Films, Box 5690, Chicago, II. 60680.

[2] Harry Haywood, For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1975), p. 13.

[3] V.I. Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back(Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), p. 280.

[4] J.V. Stalin, Mastering Bolshevism (San Francisco: Proletarian Publishers, 1972), p. 10.

[5] V.l. Lenin, as cited in Haywood, For a Revolutionary Position, p. 12.

[6] Haywood, p. 12.

[7] Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers), p. 287.

[8] The Struggle to Free Gary Tyler (Chicago: Communist Party Marxist-Leninist, 1978), p. 30.