By: Trevor Loudon
Former Communist Party member and champion of the socialist folk-song movement, Irwin Silber, passed away on September 8, in Oakland, California, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Born in Manhattan, New York on October 17, 1925, Silber grew up in in New York City’s working-class Jewish Community. He joined the ranks of the Communist Party USA‘s youth wing, the Young Communist League, followed by joining the party proper.
As a student at Brooklyn College, Silber organized the American Folksay Group and through his associations with the likes of Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax, Silber became an integral part of Seeger’s post-war People’s Songs organization. This was an independent artist-run collective, which published the songs of veteran left-wing folksingers.
In the late 1950s, Silber had the dubious honor of being called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee where he was questioned regarding his involvement in the Communist Party’s Jefferson School of Social Science.
By the 1960s, Silber had severed all ties with the Communist Party and later become a driving force in the ultra-leftist Students for a Democratic Society and later still in the Maoist-leaning New Communist Movement.
Silber wrote for and edited the Maoist’s main journal, The Guardian, which was published between 1948 and 1992 in New York City.
In 1970, Students for a Democratic Society member Max Elbaum and Irwin Silber were founders of one of the “second wave” new communist groups, the pro-Mao Tse Tung, Line of March. When Line of March disbanded in 1989, Elbaum and Silber went on to work as editors for the Institute for Social and Economic Studies-sponsored magazine, CrossRoads, until 1996 when it too folded.
In 1990, Silber attended and spoke on a panel entitled “Developments in the USSR and Eastern Europe and their Significance for Western Europe and the US Left” at the Socialist Scholars Conference, held in New York. Frontline, the organization he had founded, sponsored the panel. Also speaking on the panel were Phyllis Bennis, Frontline; Donald Sassoon from the University of London; and key Democratic Socialists of America member, Joanne Barkan. Once again, in 1992, Silber again spoke at the Socialist Scholar’s Conference. This time he spoke on a panel entitled “92 Elections & Left Electoral Strategies Panel,” alongside Ellen David-Freidman, Progressive Vermont Alliance; colleague Max Elbaum, Managing Editor, CrossRoads; Robert Fitrakis, Columbus Democratic Socialists of America; and former Communist Party member, James Steele. The panel was sponsored by CrossRoads.
In 1992, Silber endorsed the Committees of Correspondence national conference entitled the Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s, which was held at Berkeley California. Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism began in 1991, when approximately one-third of the Communist Party USA membership split from the party to form a new organization.
Most of Silber’s old Line of March comrades joined Committees of Correspondence. In its last days, Line of March had moved to a pro-Soviet, pro-Gorbachev position, which matched that of many of the so-called Communist Party reformers.
By 1995, Silber was a member of Solidarity, an independent Socialist organization – dedicated to forming “a broad regrouping of the U.S. left.”
In January 2002, Irwin Silber was one of those to endorse a new national anti-Iraq War newspaper entitled War Times. The publication was founded by a group of San Francisco leftists, mainly involved with the neo-Maoist Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement or Committees of Correspondence. The publication is funded by the Center for Third World Organizing, a “racial-justice organization,” that aims to build a social-justice movement led by people of color.
Former Obama Green Jobs Czar Van Jones was a key member of War Times and STORM and had long been cultivated by Silber’s colleagues from the Bay Area Line of March/Committees of Correspondence.
Without Irwin Silber, Van Jones would probably have never risen above abusing cops on the streets of San Francisco.