Howard Keylor’s 95th birthday
One of the founding members of the Bolshevik Tendency (BT), and longtime waterfront militant, Howard Keylor, celebrated his 95th birthday on Sunday 6th December 2020. Two other founding BT members attended his online event and made the following comments (slightly edited)
We talked earlier today and I gave you my private congratulations.
Do you remember, Howard: exactly forty years ago, today, we were at a party in Frankfurt/Main in Germany, celebrating your 55th birthday and our marriage – just two days before – and a forum you gave on the German postal workers strike for the German section of the iSt [International Spartacist tendency]. In December the year after we had both left that organisation and were trying to understand what had gone wrong with it. We got together with Bob Mandel, Tom Riley and Cathy Nason in Toronto, and a couple of other comrades. We founded the ET [External Tendency of the iSt], we wrote documents explaining what had gone wrong with the SL [Spartacist League] and we were able to play a significant role in the longshore boycott of South African Cargo.
We showed by example that there is a difference between workers’ strikes against an apartheid regime that had just arrested several more union leaders and the divestment slogans of some groups. When that boycott ended we were able to continue that work with the Campaign Against Apartheid, a student group in Berkeley, and succeeded in stopping the cargo even longer.
When you retired, Howard, we moved to Germany and built the German BT-group by fusing with the Group Fourth International [Gruppe IV. Internationale – GIVI], also founded by former Spartacists.
Today, the German section is a propaganda group with a journal called Bolschewik. At the beginning of the year 2021 we will issue No. 38. We have had several forums recently via zoom and interested comrades can listen to the audio recordings on our website.
We are hoping to be able to sell our paper again soon and that means that we hope for an early date for the vaccine against Corona/Covid-19 to be available. I certainly will be early in line for it.
Stay healthy, all of you – but especially you, Howard.
I first met Howard (and Uschi) through Bob Mandel. We had all been deeply involved in the revolutionary Spartacist League of the 1970s, and we had all been driven out as it commenced its terminal spiral into oblivion. After reading an obvious slander against Bob in Workers Vanguard, I contacted him. He suggested that before I flew to the Bay Area to see him I should first sit down with Howard and Uschi who would soon be visiting Canada. We met in Vancouver in July 1982 and bonded over several days of intense discussions. That was the beginning of the External Tendency (today the Bolshevik Tendency) through which we have sought to preserve and carry forward the best aspects of the old Spartacist League.
In fact, by the time we met, Howard and Uschi had already initiated this struggle through Howard’s continuing activity as a revolutionary on the waterfront and his publication, Militant Longshoreman. In 1983 Howard was instrumental in a very important defensive victory won by the ILWU [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] in Richmond, California, when a mass picket of 1200 longshoremen defied court injunctions and cops and successfully ran the scabs off the docks. This was the first time in decades that such an action had occurred. The victory at Richmond set the stage for the 1984 11-day boycott of apartheid cargo aboard the Nedlloyd Kimberley, in which Howard again played a pivotal role.
These were two high points in the revolutionary trade-union work that was initiated by the Spartacist League in the 1970s. But by the early 1980s that organization had become so politically corrupt and degenerated that it attacked Howard for his role in launching both these exemplary actions.
In 1998 we brought out an edition of the Transitional Program that contained an interview with Howard in which he concluded:
“The key is to build a revolutionary organization with a real, organic connection to the working class. That is why I am a supporter of the Bolshevik Tendency.”
We are honored to have been able to call Howard our comrade for almost four decades now. And we remain committed to the political work he devoted his life to through publishing analyses and polemics on our website and bringing out our new journal, Bolshevik.
COVID has unfortunately slowed down our publication schedule, but for me at least it has not been a complete disaster, as I have been allowed to “work from home” on a series of discussions I taped over the years with various leftists, including a 20-hour interview with Howard. I expect these recordings to be available online sometime early in the New Year. As soon as they are, I will notify the organizers of this event so that they can pass the word to all of you.
Happy birthday Howard!
La lucha continua!