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Workers Vanguard No. 956

9 April 2010

Joe Verret


Our comrade Joe Verret died on March 30 in Los Angeles after a four-year battle with leukemia. He was 64 years old. Joe fought to the end, enduring multiple bone marrow transplants and a final round of chemo in the hopes of seeing his daughter, Jasmine, graduate from high school in June. We join Jasmine and Joe’s wife, Gloria, in grief for the loss of this deeply cultured fighter for humanity’s future. Joe was a communist, a talented mathematician, a teacher by profession and a dedicated educator in the party. He was a founding member of the Spartacist League and a leading cadre of our organization from the day he joined in 1965.

Joe was instrumental not only in helping to recruit to the party many young people radicalized by the Vietnam War and other diverse currents of the New Left, but equally in training such recruits in Marxism and as members of a disciplined revolutionary organization. Like other young party leaders, he was active in various arenas of party work as the SL struggled to achieve political cohesiveness and national and international extension. Joe’s ability to conduct himself as a Spartacist in a variety of situations reflected not only his strong character, but his hard recruitment on the Russian question and understanding of the need for a Leninist combat party.

Joe resigned in 2000 in Los Angeles, though he continued work with the Prometheus Research Library. As a sympathizer, he became increasingly close to the party again, especially as a valued mentor to the Los Angeles comrades. In April 2009, recognizing Joe’s lifelong contributions and commitment to the SL, the Political Bureau voted him an honorary member of the SL/U.S.

Joe was born in New Orleans on 11 December 1945. His father came out of Cajun country, picked peppers on the Avery Island plantation and was later a member of the CIO’s Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union, where he was involved in a 1947 strike where black workers played a leading role. Joe’s dad’s stories about being a union member in the “open shop” Jim Crow South left a deep impression on him. Joe was always known by his comrades for his love of jazz, his talent for cooking, including rich, complicated New Orleans cuisine, and his infectious, ribald sense of humor. He and Gloria were famous for their hospitality.

Joe was the linchpin of our work in the South, as well as a leader of our early international work. A longtime sympathizer of the Spartacist League in New Orleans recalled meeting Joe in 1971 when he helped to win her and her comrades to Trotskyism. As she described it, “We were the most unserious, politically illiterate, pot-smoking, shoplifting, horny, contentious and mismatched bunch of unreconstructed New Leftists you ever saw…. And here came Joe, telling us to spit out our gum, sit up straight, and do our homework.” Joe was tough. “Rumor had it,” our sympathizer in New Orleans wrote, that he “was part alligator.” In fact, he was fondly known as “The Gator.”

Even as the leukemia was taking its toll, he continued to contribute to party work, recommending books on everything from science and medicine to education and dialectics. Last year, he gave a class to the Los Angeles branch on the history of the SL’s work in the South. Just weeks before his death, Joe attended a February 20 Spartacist public forum in L.A., where he engaged in political discussions with several of the young people who attended. Joe recently wrote two important articles for Workers Vanguard. “The Decline of New Orleans” (WV No. 945, 23 October 2009) contained a valuable critical appraisal of WV’s propaganda on New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and underscored the centrality of black longshore labor in the South. His “Notes on New Orleans” (WV No. 955, 26 March), which appeared in the last issue of WV, vividly demonstrated his intimate knowledge of the city.

Joe’s erudition and breadth of knowledge were always at the disposal of the party, not least in educating younger comrades. Comrades in the L.A. branch often went to his house to discuss politics and books and watch movies from his enormous film library. These included highly political films on East Europe or the Near East as well as movies like Southern Comfort, set in the Louisiana bayou—“about my people,” as Joe put it, flashing his trademark devilish grin.

Joe’s political life began during the tumultuous days of the civil rights movement and Vietnam-era New Left radicalism. He was shaped by his struggle for integration in the South. Joe was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), the youth group of the Socialist Party. He then joined the American Socialist Organizing Committee (ASOC), an offspring of YPSL’s left wing. But as a fervent defender of the Vietnamese workers and peasants’ struggle against U.S. imperialism, he left ASOC, which refused to call for victory to the National Liberation Front in Vietnam. He found the Spartacist tendency through a Guardian ad for Spartacist No. 1. Joe joined in 1965 and was elected an alternate member of our Central Committee at the SL’s founding conference in 1966.

Joe was widely known and respected in the New Orleans left. The small group of comrades he led there were often involved in united-front defense work, including with black militants on the left wing of the Southern civil rights movement. The Deacons for Defense and Justice, formed in Louisiana in 1964, organized armed self-defense patrols to protect civil rights workers and black neighborhoods against KKK terror. New Orleans comrades visited Bogalusa chapter head Charles Sims in 1965. They raised funds for the Deacons, out of which came the slogan, “Every dime buys a bullet.”

The New Orleans comrades held a united-front defense protest with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in 1968 to protest the cop killing of a black youth, after the NAACP called off a planned march. The protest came on the heels of Martin Luther King’s assassination, and a massive police presence was expected. Our comrades contacted Charles Sims and requested assistance. As Joe recalled in his class for the L.A. comrades: “It’s us and SNCC and it’s like hundreds of cops are circling the demonstration…. I don’t think we would have done it without the Deacons; we would have just probably gotten beaten up.”

As communists working in the Deep South, our New Orleans comrades were subject to exceptional state surveillance and repression. The New Orleans Local was penetrated by three state agents almost simultaneously. The agents did their best to elicit “evidence” that the SL was engaged in or advocated violent or illegal activities. But as detailed in the 1967 Louisiana Joint Legislative Committee on Un-American Activities Report No. 9, “The Spartacist League and Certain Other Communist Activities in South Louisiana,” all the agents had to admit that they never heard anyone in our organization so much as joke about violence. An internal party circular at the time noted that “the report is not a bad recruiting pamphlet for us” as it shows us to be genuine Marxists committed to socialist revolution and working-class rule.

As the organizer of the New Orleans branch, Joe was a special target of threats. As he later told the L.A. comrades: “I can tell you that when I would get death threats, I would be afraid. I spent weeks checking around the hood of my car to make sure it hadn’t been wired for bombs. But it’s a question of how you manage your fear, and the party’s program is what gives you the ability to manage that.”

Joe was elected to the Central Committee as a full member in 1969. That same year, at the height of the Vietnam War, he was drafted into the Army, following the SL’s policy laid out in “On Draft Resistance: You Will Go!” (Spartacist No. 11, March-April 1968). Counterposed to the largely student “Hell no, we won’t go!” protesters, as Marxists we understood that if drafted, forced to choose between the military and either prison or fleeing the country, we would join our class brothers and sisters in the military and try to win them to our class-struggle program. To that end, Joe and other comrades published G.I. Voice beginning in 1969, urging soldiers to exercise their democratic right to protest against U.S. imperialism’s dirty war.

Joe, a well-known red, was kept in basic training in Louisiana for a year. He often recalled how two officers once took him on a long drive into the bayous, where he thought he was going to disappear. At the end of 1970, Joe was sent to Vietnam for a six-month call-up. Shortly after he arrived there, his weapon was taken away from him and he was put on desk duty.

Throughout his political life, Joe intervened on a broad range of domestic and international questions in the party. This included playing an important role in the party’s work on the fight for black liberation. In 1974, at the Fourth National Conference of the Spartacist League, he served on the Black Commission. A year earlier, he had written a key document on the Russian question, focusing on guerrilla movements and the formation of the deformed workers states. Joe also played a prominent role in a 1985 internal party discussion on slogans against apartheid in South Africa.

In 1979, at our First International Conference, Joe was elected as a full member of the International Executive Committee, the leading body of the international Spartacist tendency, now International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). In the late ’70s and early ’80s he played a leading role in both our Canadian and British sections, including serving as National Chairman of the Trotskyist League of Canada. Joe’s key fights in that section were “centrally against a narrow circle existence,” as one comrade there recalled, and on the Russian question as Cold War II heated up. He was also a member of the Central Committee of the Spartacist League/Britain.

Joe was also stationed with the Spartacist League of Australia and New Zealand for several weeks in 1980 as a representative of the International Secretariat. After further international work, he returned to the U.S. in 1981 and served on the SL/U.S. Political Bureau during his brief stay in our center.

Joe led our former Atlanta Local from 1983 until 1996. In Atlanta, he was part of the leadership of a Partisan Defense Committee-initiated labor/black mobilization of 3,500 to counter a Klan provocation against Martin Luther King Day on 21 January 1989. Joe always had a hard-nosed sense of social reality in America, a product of being a communist fighter in the South. In a speech after a 1987 Democratic Party-led protest against the Klan in the racist backwater of Forsyth County, Georgia, Joe declared: “What you need is a modern-day version of General Sherman’s army…. What you need is a workers government, in which the working class rules and intransigently goes after smashing racist reaction. And it’s not necessarily going to be pretty.” (Joe’s speech is printed in “Anger Over Racist Attacks Derailed in Georgia,” WV No. 421, 6 February 1987.) In 1996, Joe transferred to Los Angeles, where he spent the rest of his life.

“He came out of the bayou but rejected all backwardness,” as Gloria put it on a Web site set up in Joe’s memory ( We will miss Joe. We will miss his fine mind, his depth, his tenacity, warmth and wicked humor. But we also deeply appreciate that his role in educating and training Trotskyist cadres will continue to help our cause of building a revolutionary workers party as a section of a reforged Fourth International—the cause to which he dedicated his life.


Workers Vanguard No. 956

WV 956

9 April 2010


“Reform” Wall Street Can Believe In

Democrats’ Health Care Scam

For Free, Quality Health Care, Including for All Immigrants!

For Free Abortion on Demand!


ILWU: Don’t Handle Scab Borax!

For International Labor Solidarity with Locked-Out Boron Workers


Pioneer Trotskyist and Fighter for Women’s Rights

Honor Antoinette Konikow

(From the Archives of Marxism)


Joe Verret



1968 Teachers Strike Revisited

IG in Bed with Scabherders

(Young Spartacus pages)


Spartacist Leaflet in 1968 NYC Teachers Strike

“Beware Liberal Union Busters!”

(Young Spartacus pages)


For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

The Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement

Break with the Democrats!

For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Part One