Socialism or Suntan

Miami's revolutionaries may not be plentiful but they're persistent

Read Part 2

As the results of the Florida presidential election came in on November 7, Volusia County officials sitting in Daytona Beach were faced with a situation much more alarming than Gore and Bush tally irregularities, or even rumors of stolen ballot boxes. Without any advance warning Volusia County suddenly had emerged as a hotbed of socialist revolution. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) presidential candidate James Harris had received 9888 votes there, a sum far higher than any other area in the entire nation. Should the police be alerted? Were socialist militants about to storm Daytona Beach City Hall? True, county sheriffs had dealt with civil disturbances before, but those were drunken spring-breakers and Harley-Davidson bikers, not Bolsheviks.

One would imagine that James Harris himself, upon being alerted to his sizable following in Volusia County, would begin formulating plans for the new People's Republic of Daytona Beach. ("Sorority sisters of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your thongs!") At the very least he'd pop open a bottle of champagne.

Workers' paradise: The SWP bookstore offers Miamians a different  take on the world
Steve Satterwhite
Workers' paradise: The SWP bookstore offers Miamians a different take on the world

Instead Harris, watching television coverage of the election in Atlanta along with a clutch of SWP faithful, promptly phoned Florida election officials. As reported in the Socialist Workers Party newspaper, The Militant, he charged them with vote fraud and asked for a recount, making Harris perhaps the only presidential candidate in history to complain about receiving too many votes. (Chastened Volusia County election workers soon discovered a "computer disk glitch" that also gave Al Gore negative 16,000 votes in one precinct; a manual recount awarded Harris 8 votes out of a statewide total of 558.)

Harris's reaction seems awfully straight-laced for a group that proclaims the need to "take state power, overthrow capitalism, and join the international struggle for socialism.... Our goal is to emulate the Cuban revolution in the U.S. and internationally."

But then, this isn't the first time the Socialist Workers Party has been caught up in a presidential controversy. In the aftermath of the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, SWP leader Farrell Dobbs was called to testify before the Warren Commission. There Dobbs obediently produced letters he'd received from Lee Harvey Oswald asking for SWP membership, a carbon copy of Oswald's 35-cent receipt for a mail-order copy of the SWP manifesto The Coming American Revolution, and perhaps most startling, a photograph Oswald allegedly had sent to the SWP offices in which the presumed lone gunman posed in his Dallas back yard with a rifle in one hand and a clenched copy of The Militant in the other. (Oswald himself claimed the photo was a fake.)

Rather than salute a comrade in arms or even echo Malcolm X's famed quip that the chickens had finally come home to roost, Dobbs denied any SWP association with Oswald beyond the U.S. Postal Service. For good measure he soberly informed the Warren Commission: "I would add that it's a matter of historic record, long established, that our organization's philosophy is opposed to individual acts of terrorism." How very responsible of him.

So just who are these conscientious revolutionaries toiling away over the decades? Meeting the dozen-or-so members of Miami's Socialist Workers Party chapter (one of 28 nationwide) only causes more head-scratching at these dour defenders of the communist faith. It's one thing to be part of a group that unabashedly "defends Cuba's socialist revolution and sees it as a living example of the way forward for all humanity." But it takes a certain level of chutzpah to proclaim that same conviction in the very city to which hundreds of thousands of individuals have fled across the Florida Straits from that, ahem, "living example."

Rebecca is Miami's newest socialist worker and at 27 years old, could well be its youngest. (Fearing reprisals at work, she asked that her last name not be used.) Standing amid the flow of people at the Miami Book Fair International on Saturday, November 18, she hardly looks like the determined Fidelista of el exilio's nightmares. Her long black hair is pulled back into a ponytail, revealing a pretty face. No makeup. A modest amount of jewelry accents a simple mauve T-shirt, gray slacks, and black sandals. The net effect recalls the Guatemalan peasant-chic look popular on Northeastern college campuses in the early Nineties. And indeed Rebecca was a student then at the University of Delaware, interested in environmentalism and Amnesty International, contemplating a career as a social worker.

Just three days ago, however, Rebecca was in Havana listening to Fidel Castro thank her fellow international delegates to the Second World Meeting of Friendship and Solidarity with Cuba for their vigorous support of the revolution.

"Cuba is not a utopia or a perfect society," she recalls of the experience, "but workers and farmers are in power. That's the key question to me. They decide the road the country is going to take.... From talking to people there, I can see that they feel they're a part of the political process. Contrast that to here, where only half the population votes."

It's an exotic statement to hear in Miami, further compounded by the tables of books set up by the SWP and arrayed behind Rebecca. And with several booths just around the corner sponsored by Cuban-exile groups, it's a provocative display: U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War screams one title near collections of Castro's speeches and a bundle of Granma International; stacks of Che Guevara Talks to Young People tower over Spanish translations of Lenin and Trotsky.

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