Our comrade George Crawford died suddenly in London on 17 October at age 77. We extend our deep condolences to his wife and comrade, Kate. George’s death shocked and saddened the many comrades throughout the International Communist League who knew and worked with him over the years. Comrade Crawford was a 50-year member of our tendency who from the time he joined the Spartacist League/US in 1971 served on the party’s highest leadership bodies. He was elected a full member of the International Executive Committee (IEC) at our first international conference in 1979. At the time of his death, he was a consultative member of both the Central Committee of the Spartacist League/Britain and the IEC.
George grew up in a white working-class enclave in south central Los Angeles, where his parents had migrated from the South. The family lived literally across the tracks from the black ghetto of Watts. A black person took his life in his hands just to walk down the streets of the white area. One of George’s grandmothers was a bible-thumping Pentecostal preacher, a disciple of Aimee Semple McPherson. George rebelled against the racist bigotry and religious backwardness that surrounded him. He had a sharp understanding of the stifling repressiveness of American bourgeois society, which he described vividly in a forum he gave titled “Sex, Race and Class in the ‘American Century’” (published in Women and Revolution no 33, Spring 1987). George used to say that he never wanted to live in a place where there were no black people or Jews, because that meant no culture.
George attributed his coming into contact with left-wing politics to his involvement in music, specifically jazz, spending a lot of time in LA jazz and blues clubs in his early 20s. He played the saxophone in his high school marching band, and although he maintained he wasn’t any good at it, he loved the instrument. He had an abiding passion for music throughout his life. Even while plagued with hearing impairment in his later years, he constantly listened to music, mainly classical and opera but also jazz, blues and other genres. He loved Shostakovich’s symphonies and read extensively about the composer’s life, the evolution of Western music and how it reflected the historical epochs and societies it came from.
Known affectionately to comrades as “the Grouch” for his no-nonsense disposition, George was a worker intellectual and an autodidact. His formal education was erratic; he attended university but never graduated. While attending classes, George worked for several years at the Firestone tyre factory, part of his extensive experience working in industry. Like many of his generation, he was radicalised in the 1960s by the struggle for black rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam. He joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), a civil rights organisation. Later he joined Nelson Peery’s California Communist League (CCL), a hard Stalinist organisation. Expelled for criticising Stalin, George and other former CCL members and supporters formed the Communist Working Collective (CWC), a Maoist grouping. The political evolution of the CWC is described in detail in Marxist Bulletin no 10, “From Maoism to Trotskyism”.
The CWC’s trajectory towards fusion with the SL/US was not an easy one, not least because Trotskyism was anathema to Maoists. In contrast to the Little Red Book-waving Maoist milieu, George and other CWC comrades carefully studied the works of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Trotsky and drew the conclusion that Trotskyism was the continuity of Leninism. George remarked later that Lenin’s The state and revolution, and particularly chapter V, “The economic basis of the withering away of the state”, had a big impact on him. Lenin explains that socialism is a classless society which requires an enormous development of productive forces internationally. This can only be achieved through proletarian revolutions in several advanced countries, which gives the lie to the anti-internationalist programme of building “socialism in one country” advocated by Stalinists, whether Stalin himself or Mao.
The CWC undertook a rigorous study of the first four congresses of the Communist International and of the Transitional Programme, the founding document of the Fourth International. George told SL/US national chairman Jim Robertson when they met that he was disturbed by the flawed discussion at the Fourth Comintern Congress which put forward the essentially social-democratic view that a workers government could be something other than the dictatorship of the proletariat. Comrade Robertson, who thought at the time that only he and a few others shared this position, concluded from this that the fusion with the CWC would be a politically solid one.
Having been won to the Trotskyist programme, the CWC had to decide which organisation represented Trotskyism. While the CWC was discussing with us, they were also being courted by the Workers League (WL), the Healyite organisation in the US led by Tim Wohlforth. The WL at that time could still put forward orthodox-sounding politics. Although the CWC comrades found the WL organisationally unappealing, they felt that if the WL was indeed the continuity of the Fourth International as it claimed to be, they would have to join it. When comrade Robertson heard this, he smiled and plunked down a stack of the SL/US Marxist Bulletins, which document the struggle for the continuity of Trotskyism against the degenerating US Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and against the Healyites. The Marxist Bulletins convinced the CWC beyond doubt that the Spartacists represented Trotskyism.
The 1971 fusion with the CWC was the first of several fusions of the SL/US and its youth group with collectives originating in the New Left, as well as with cadre from the SWP. These examples of revolutionary regroupment, in which the party is built through splits and fusions, provided the SL with the cadre to undertake a qualitative transformation, enabling the organisation to establish a regular press, carry out substantial implantation in the trade unions and expand our tendency internationally.
The CWC fusion was programmatically deep, marked by the rigour and extensive study the comrades put into assimilating the fundamentals of Leninism and Trotskyism. The fusion of the two organisations was carried out on the leadership level as well, and George became a full member of the SL/US Central Committee (CC). He was initially assigned to the Boston Local, where he helped lead the struggle against a clique split led by Marvin Treiger, the former leader of the CWC. Testifying to the political solidity of the fusion, virtually none of the former CWCers left with Treiger.
In 1973 George transferred to Detroit, where we were carrying out a sizable implantation in the car plants. Most of those comrades going into industry came from a petty-bourgeois background — it was like “the New Left meets the working class”. George’s experience in the trade unions gave him an astute understanding of the union bureaucracy’s treacherous role as labour lieutenants of capital. He reacted sharply against the bureaucracy’s scab policy of ordering their union members to cross the picket lines of other unions or locals and pushed the party to raise this issue vigorously in the unions and in our press. This Workers Vanguard did, for example in extensively covering the case of Keith Anwar, a steelworker and Spartacist supporter in Chicago who was fired in 1979 for respecting the picket lines of another steelworkers union local.
As his first international assignment, George spent several months in London Station in the mid-1970s helping in the political preparatory work essential to establishing a section in Britain. In 1975 he moved to the party centre in New York, where he became a member of the Political Bureau (PB), the resident administrative subcommittee of the CC responsible for the day-to-day work of the organisation.
In New York, George worked closely with comrade Robertson and held a multitude of responsibilities, including Organisational Secretary. His job description, as he told one comrade, was, “I’m the fireman. If there’s a fire in a local, I go in to put out the fire, figure out how it got started, and get to the bottom of it all.” He added that sometimes there are interesting things happening and he just gets to come in and help out. One of George’s strengths as a leader was that he saw the big picture and did not get bogged down in petty details. He had a keen perception of society that was a tremendous asset for the party.
George was also a leading member of the party’s Trade Union Commission as well as PB representative to the Central Control Commission. In 1979, George served on the trial body in the case of one Bill Logan, a former leader of our British and Australian sections who was expelled from our organisation for crimes against communist morality and elementary human decency (see our August 2007 bulletin, The Logan Dossier). Logan went on to lead the dubious “International Bolshevik Tendency”.
In 1983 George transferred out of New York and out of the central party administration. After a brief period in Detroit, he and Kate moved to the Bay Area, where George completed a four-year apprenticeship as a stationary engineer, becoming a journeyman. In 1993, at the request of the organisation, George and Kate transferred to London. George gave up a well-paid union job in the US, working for about half the pay in London in a non-union job doing building maintenance. It was no picnic. Already 50 years old, he attended night classes to qualify as an electrician. George was scathing about the sharp division between mental and manual labour in bourgeois society. In the posh London office buildings where he worked, tradesmen had to use the service lift and were expected to make themselves invisible to “the suits”.
In London in 2004, George was reconnoitring a meeting of the European Social Forum when he recognised that the social forums were in fact popular fronts. The social forums consisted of corporate- and state-funded NGOs, various trade unions and the reformist left. Alarmed that the SL/B was setting up a literature table inside the event, George immediately called the London office and said, “No table inside the building, aggressively sell to the participants, this is European popular front meets Tony Blair, and it’s totally unprincipled to be inside the popular front.” George’s intervention helped break the ICL from its adaptation to the social forums and reassert the basic Trotskyist position of opposition on principle to popular fronts. Such alliances between organisations of the working class and the bourgeoisie necessarily subordinate the working-class component to the capitalist class enemy.
As part of his work in the SL/B, George made an intensive study of the Proletarian Military Policy (PMP), particularly as it was applied in Britain. This policy, centred on the call for trade union control of military training in the bourgeois army, was a step towards social patriotism (see “Documents on the ‘Proletarian Military Policy’”, Prometheus Research Series no 2, February 1989). George gave an important party educational on how British Trotskyists like Ted Grant used the PMP to support their own imperialist bourgeoisie in the war.
George travelled on many occasions to ICL sections as part of international delegations. In 1981 he assisted our Australian section in a faction fight to root out a “little Australia” anti-Soviet opposition. He made several trips to South Africa, where his knowledge of Stalinism gave him insights into politically combating the South African Communist Party. He assisted the majority of our South African group in their faction fight in 2015-16 against a minority who had abandoned the programme of permanent revolution and the fight for a black-centred workers government.
George was well-known and loved by many comrades throughout the International. He had an acute sensitivity to the oppression of women and was committed to developing and training women cadre to become leaders in the party. He was an excellent educator and was particularly effective in teaching our politics to new members. But more than that, George had a way of cutting through political confusion. Once convinced of a point, he would argue it strongly, in his own words. He always sought to simplify, demystify and illustrate political points in a way that made them accessible. Besides his wicked sense of humour, George will also be fondly remembered for Crawfordisms like “the tenements of Marxism” and “You’ve buttered your bed, now you have to lie in it.”
In 2009 George went to New York, where he intervened strongly against the former Wolkenstein regime’s arrogant disregard of the party’s Maintenance Department. As he pointed out at a PB meeting, this treatment was quite different from what the norm should be, and had in fact been during the major renovation work on our headquarters building that he helped supervise in 1978-79. The document for the 2009 SL/US National Conference states: “As Crawford noted during his recent trip, the Maintenance Department was no longer being treated as communist commissars of the contractors and protectors of the building. Maintenance was cut out of the decision-making and consulting process and they were ‘told what to do’ — an adaptation to bourgeois class relations.” George knew that bourgeois social relations had no place in our organisation. He knew what a Leninist party was supposed to be, and he fought to the end to realise that.
To the end of his life, George was animated by the struggle to rearm the ICL that began with the 2017 fight against Great Power chauvinism. Right before his death, he welcomed the fight in the SL/B to renounce the section’s embrace of Labourite reformism and reclaim the revolutionary programme on which it was founded. During the pre-conference discussion, in what would be his last London Local meeting, George declared that he recognised in this struggle the politics of the party he had joined. The SL/B 25th Conference document is dedicated to comrade Crawford, noting, “His lifelong struggle for communism is an example and an inspiration.”
Contact the SL/B for information about a memorial meeting to be held in George’s honour.