By Greg Godels
February 19, 2019
Greg Godels: Al, you’ve lived through, participated in some of the most significant events of the last century. You’ve never wavered in your commitment to peace, social justice, and socialism, despite many setbacks and disappointments. Others have dropped away, grown cynical, or given up. How do you account for your dogged commitment to these principles?
Al Marder: Thank you so very much for providing me with an opportunity to reflect upon my activities for peace and socialism. As a boy of 14, I observed the steady stream pouring out of the New Haven Railroads yards of men looking for work, coming into my parents’ small store asking for something to eat. I also observed in the neighborhood the poverty and the run-down conditions of mostly immigrants and a few black families. In downtown New Haven, I observed women picketing the Woolworth store that was selling silk stockings protesting the invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese. And then I saw the picket line for the vigils protesting the Spanish Civil War, wearing leather jackets and berets in honor of the Spanish Loyalists. I became deeply aware of the Fascist takeover in Germany, Italy. At the same time, there were fascist broadcasts by Father Coughlin from Detroit spewing anti-Semitism.
It was at this time that I transferred to the James Hillhouse High School. In my class, I discovered some of my classmates shared my concerns. I learned that several of these classmates were the children of Communists.
In our discussions I began to understand the class nature of these events that had disturbed me so. And also, for the first time, I learned of the concept of a society without profit, without discrimination, with equality and justice for all. A democratic society for the people, a socialist society. I was enthralled. This concept was a direct contradiction to what I had observed. My imagination soared. I began seeking out all the literature devoted to the struggles of people. To think that all the people, wherever they were, were struggling for the same goals that I now envisaged was mind-boggling.
With my classmates, with my new-found comrades and friends we decided to organize a Peace Council in the high school to conduct meetings explaining the issues to our classmates. This for me, was the beginning of tying my dreams of a new society with the daily struggles.
I learned of the emergence of a society of workers and peasants in Russia dedicated to building a society of the future, a socialist society. I read of the overthrow of the Czar and the nobility that had imprisoned an entire people. I read of the intervention of the imperialist world to try to prevent the emergence of a society without exploitation and capitalism. I read of a society that declared its goal was to liberate the minds of hate and discrimination. I understood from the very beginning how difficult this task was, to build a society, in the midst of a world controlled by the imperialist capitalist world. The struggles of workers and peasants coincided with my dreams, a society devoted to equality and opportunity for everyone to fulfill their potential. I marveled at learning of how this new society, the Soviet Union, was providing written language to peoples for the first time. I was also taken by the explosion of culture, music and literature emerging from this new experiment in history.
This was also the period when the newly formed industrial unions were trying to organize the shops in Connecticut. It wasn’t long that I met the union organizers who needed help distributing flyers to the various factories in the greater New Haven area. I volunteered. Since my father owned a car, I managed to find a way that we could “borrow” the car and distribute the flyers before the family awoke. The realization that the struggle for a new society entailed the struggle for improvement of the daily lives of the workers cemented my understanding and commitment to the working class.
I learned that there was a long history of the struggle of peoples for a better life. There was a great deal of literature explaining this struggle as a science of society. I became an avid reader of this material despite the fact that at that stage much of it was difficult to absorb. I must confess that it was only in later years that the lessons of what I had read became clear to me, the more and more I became involved in the struggle.
The horrors of fascism were the background of everything we did or discussed. How to mobilize the American people against fascism became the dominant responsibility. It was clear to us that we had to unite all the democratic forces, center and left. The concept of “united front” became the overarching guide. I became deeply involved in organizing the New Haven Conference of Youth and the Connecticut Conference of Youth as part of the mobilizing of the young people against fascism. This effort deepened my understanding.
The effort to organize the electrical and brass industries of Connecticut was successful. When the organizers became aware that the companies had set up sports and activities to cement the loyalties of the young workers, they approached me and asked if I would help organize a sports and youth organization for the CIO. I enthusiastically agreed and became president of the CIO Sports and Youth Association and proceeded to organize athletic events, dances, and other activities that would enhance the participation and the loyalty of young workers to the union. The outbreak of WWII made it impossible to continue. However, this experience brought me closer to the lives of young workers, their hopes and their expectations. I was one with them.
These experiences have never left me. I understood from my experiences that the move from avaricious capitalism to socialism was a very difficult road but one I was determined to travel. I realized there was no blueprint for this struggle. It entailed educating workers that the only answer to exploitation and impoverishment was to change the system. While we fought for an increase of 5 cents an hour, this was not the ultimate answer.
Today, millions throughout the world are struggling for food and shelter. Millions are leaving their homes in search of work. The only answer of capitalism is war and domination. This, while at a different level and historical stage, is what I had witnessed as a boy of 14.
Greg: The World Peace Council emerged in 1949-1950. What is its mission? What have been its major initiatives and accomplishments?
Al: The dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US had a profound effect on the immediate post-World War II. Any thoughts that were nurtured of post-World War II cooperation in the struggle against fascism that brought together the Socialist Soviet Union with the capitalist world were shattered. That collaboration during World War II itself was characterized by the constant thread of the capitalist maneuvering to weaken the Soviet Union in that common struggle. The postponement of the Second Front was a deliberate strategy to bleed the Soviet Union. This strategy contributed to the unbelievable toll of 28 million Soviet citizens.
There was the hope that the establishment of the United Nations would provide a venue with a new socialist world that could meet as equals with the capitalist world in post-World War II. However, it did not take long for that hope to unravel. The US emerged from World War II as the sole capitalist Superpower, with no international capitalist competition and facing an enlarged Socialist block in Eastern Europe and large Communist parties in Europe.
It became evident that the post-World War II period would soon become a battleground between the people’s movement and US Imperialism. French anti-Fascist intellectuals with support from the anti-Fascist and Left movements organized a movement for peace calling the first meeting for Paris. However, the French government refused permission and it was moved to Warsaw, and the World Peace Council came into being. It began the task of organizing peace councils throughout the world. It extended support to the burgeoning anti-Colonial movements in Africa and the national movements in China and Asia.
Recognizing that the major threat to world peace was the emergence of nuclear weapons, the World Peace Council initiated the Stockholm Peace Pledge, a petition that was circulated globally for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It mobilized international support for the Cuban Revolution and full support for the anti-Apartheid struggle in Africa. Throughout its existence, it has provided leadership and recognition of the dangers that US Imperialism presents to world peace. It is a beacon for peoples everywhere who are struggling for national liberation and sovereignty.
With the virulent McCarthyite anti-Communism of the post-World War II period coinciding with the organizing of the World Peace Council, relations for the US peace movement were very difficult. It was almost impossible to get travel permission from the State Department for outspoken peace leaders of the Left. A delegate to the initial World Peace Council Conference from the US was Reverend Willard Uphaus, president of Religion and Labor, from New Haven. He addressed the meeting in Warsaw, urging the peaceful competition between systems. Upon his return, the trade union movement, already subverted to virulent anti-Communism, the national trade union leadership withdrew support from the organization. Forced to find employment Willard Uphaus became the Executive Director of a Peace Camp in New Hampshire. There the state of New Hampshire insisted that he reveal all the names of people who attended his Peace Camp. Willard refused and served a prison sentence.
The US Peace Council maintained its membership in the World Peace Council despite all the difficulties. It finally assumed a leadership role in preparation for the World Congress held in Copenhagen in 1986 for the International Year of Peace. It has remained a Vice President and member of the Secretariat.
Greg: Many believed that with the end of the Cold War global peace was within reach, yet today the US is involved in seven wars, maintains hundreds of military bases, and strong-arms countries with sanctions. The US military budget is bloated and growing even faster than the military requests, nuclear weapons are being modernized, new weapons systems are being developed, the INF treaty is threatened, and the US and NATO surround Russia and PR China with offensive weapons. How do we best understand these developments? Are we headed for another world war?
Al: The New York Times recently in a lead editorial asserted that the US was involved in 14 secret wars. We are aware of the seven but obviously New York Times is privy to other developments.
These are indeed volatile times. The capture of the US government by the billionaires, assisted by the belligerent positions and support of the Democratic Party, has created the preconditions for a potential catastrophe. The US economy is a war economy with 61% in the national treasure devoted to the military budget. The dominance of the military in the government becomes more apparent every day, with ex-military officials in policy-making positions. The arms industry is flourishing, depositing huge profits. Arms have become the major export item, along with capital. In order to keep this profit stream going imperialist policies must follow.
US imperialists are fully aware that they are no longer able to dominate the global agenda. In order to turn that trend around, they have unleashed a global offensive creating the crisis, potential of war.
While the major capitalist world is part of the aggressive NATO Alliance, there are serious disagreements and competition. The role of Russia and China in opposing US aggression plays a very significant role in the opposition. In addition, the global peoples’ movements are an integral part of the movement against imperialist aggression and cannot be ignored.
When we talk about another world war, the frightening aspect is the presence of nuclear weapons. The trillion-dollar Obama budget for modernizing nuclear weapons and the threat and withdrawal of the INF Treaty by Trump threatens any semblance of arms control and escalates the tensions. The global peace movement must accelerate its opposition to nuclear weapons and energize the recent drive for a United Nations Ban on Nuclear Weapons. This cannot be separated from the campaign for peace.
While we recognize all the factors that can explode into a world war, we cannot, we must not allow this to produce a sense of inevitability. Just as we are witnessing an upsurge by the US peace movement against the US plotted coup in Venezuela, so must we intensify our efforts to mobilize the powerful grassroots movement for peace that has characterized peoples’ struggles for peace in the past. The basic ingredient must be unity of all peace forces.
Greg: You are the president of the US Peace Council, the US chapter of the WPC. In July of 2016, the USPC organized a first-of-its-kind fact-finding delegation to Syria. This was a bold move in the face of almost total official and media support for the anti-government forces and their international sponsors. The report-back broke the consensus and spurred rethinking among many on the left who gave tacit or even active support to the enemies of the Syrian people. Why was the broader peace movement largely absent on the issue of Syrian self-determination? What lessons should we draw from this initiative?
Al: In the broader peace movement there were serious divisions, not only Syria but on Russia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia and North Korea. In every instance, sections of the peace movement bought into the CIA/ State Department ploy of demonizing the leadership of these countries, thus justifying the intervention of US imperialism. They forgot that each intervention of the past was justified by this rationale. It inhibited a discussion that US imperialism was violating the sovereignty of Syria and the right of peoples to determine their own destiny. This led to almost complete silence on the part of the broader peace movement.
The US Peace Council decided that it would organize a delegation that would build on global solidarity and hopefully open the avenues of discussion in the US peace movement. We realized there would be criticisms. At the same time, we knew that a report-back from this delegation would provide the opportunity to engage the peace movement in a discussion. It did. Members of the delegation were invited to address a number of local peace groups. While we cannot say we won over everybody, nevertheless, the delegation opened the door to deepen the conversation on Syria and emphasized the obligation to oppose US imperialism’s drive to extend its domination in the Middle East.
This action proves the need for dramatic expression.
Greg: The US and World Peace Councils were major organizers of the recent Dublin conference against US/NATO bases. Tell us about the event and its resolutions. I understand that one important result is the planning of a national demonstration in Washington on March 30. Would you tell us about this action as well?
Al: The leadership of the US Peace Council recognized that the broader peace movement in the US was comparatively silent in the face of aggressive foreign policies initiated by the new Trump administration and endorsed by the Democratic Party. We also recognized the divisions within the peace movement. We felt it was our historic responsibility to bring the peace movement together in the face of this juggernaut for global domination. To overcome the differences, we proposed a Unity Statement that would recognize that the main dangers to world peace were the policies of US/NATO.
We also recognized that an issue that would unite all the peace movements was foreign bases, the widespread distribution of US military forces in 186 nations, the symbol of US imperialist domination. We proposed a national conference in Baltimore, Maryland in January 2018 to form a US Coalition Against Foreign US/NATO Bases. The Conference was very successful, very well attended and united. Out of the Conference came the Resolution to organize a global conference to set up a global coalition. It also resolved to organize some April spring actions for peace in New York. Efforts ensued to bring together a global coalition in November. With the co-sponsorship of the Ireland Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA), a conference was organized in Dublin, Ireland that brought together over 400 delegates from global peace organizations. This successful conference called for the creation of a global coalition and actions.
NATO declared that it was going to commemorate its 70th anniversary in Washington, DC on April 4, 2019. This announcement desecrates the observance of the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. It also was the date of the previous year when Dr. King made his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York condemning the Vietnam War and decrying the militarism of US policies.
While there will be several activities that week, the Coalition is organizing a Demonstration and March on Saturday, March 30 in Washington, DC. It is imperative that the peace and justice community organize a large expression. It will provide an opportunity to demonstrate the opposition to the drive to war. Carrying banners and posters expressing the demands for peace and justice, the marchers will be making a major contribution to mobilizing the American people for peace.
The WPC will organize a conference on NATO on Sunday, March 31, 2019, continuing its practice of mobilizing in opposition to NATO.
Greg: What role do you see for the USPC in 2019? What is its unique role in the peace movement?
Al: The USPC has maintained its unwavering position of anti-imperialism since its founding. Its unity with the struggles of working people everywhere is integral to its work. Its history of solidarity with peoples and movements throughout the world struggling for liberation and sovereignty permeates its relations with the global people’s movement.
We consider it a profound historical responsibility to help unite the various peace and justice movements in our country. This is an imperative if we are to halt the drive to war.
We invite all those who wish to contribute to this noble struggle to join the USPC, to form Chapters wherever they are. Together we can make a meaningful contribution to unity.
Greg: Thank you for the interview, Al. You are a wonderful example for the thousands of youth who are stirring and looking for political direction. Any closing thoughts and further information about how to participate in USPC activities?
Al: My closing thoughts for young people is if you want a full, rewarding and meaningful life, I heartily recommend joining with us. Knowing that you are devoted to creating a more just, equal and peaceful world is of great satisfaction. It brings you together with others who share your vision. It also extends your hand to peoples throughout the world who are involved in the same struggle. The USPC is a member of the World Peace Council (WPC) bringing us together with peace organizations throughout the globe.
I urge you to come aboard and share your ideas and dreams.
US Peace Council
PO Box 3105
New Haven, CT 06515