Apr 16, 2012
Marion Syrek, one of the founding members of Spark, died on April 1 in Oakland California. He was 89 years old. Before helping to found Spark in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he had been part of several other left groups, the Young People’s Socialist League and the Spartacist League.
In Detroit in the early 1970s, he got a job at Chrysler’s Eldon Gear and Axle Plant and started a political bulletin there. He left Spark after about a decade and moved to California. But Marion remained close, an honorary member, steered people to us and gave us a hand from time to time, for example, during an election campaign we organized.
Marion was part of a generation that had awakened to Marxist politics in the 1950s, that is, during the McCarthy period and anti-communist witch hunts, difficult times to take the road of revolution and communism.
Marion was one of that brave and committed generation.
This is illustrated by a legal case that he brought against the state of California. In early 1956, when Marion applied for unemployment benefits after losing his job, he refused to apply for a civil service job because it required that he sign a “loyalty oath.” The state cut off his benefit and so Marion appealed the decision several times, even winning one of the appeals.
By 1960, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear his case. It drew so much attention, the case was handled personally by the top state prosecutor, Attorney General Stanley Mosk, along with two Assistant Attorneys General and two Deputy Attorneys General. Syrek had only his own attorney.
The Supreme Court judges found that: “It is undisputed that Syrek diligently sought work in his trade as multilith operator elsewhere than in government positions. He applied for work with 12 corporations; he registered with several employment agencies; he was studying certain skills connected with his occupation at a trade school.... He registered on January 22, 1956 with the Department of Employment but left blank the place where willing to apply for a civil service position.”
In his official statement, Syrek wrote, “I do not recognize the right of any employer to ask these questions, and I have never answered them in the past. Since I cannot be hired without answering these questions, I do not apply for Civil Service jobs....”
At a hearing before the referee for the Department of Employment, Syrek was asked whether he thought the U.S. government should be “overthrown.”
He replied, “Now there are certain circumstances under which it is my belief that the government of the United States should be overthrown. Specifically, any time that the government turns into a dictatorship which can be done by legal means – there have been occasions in American history in the past when the government of the United States has been overthrown by force and violence.”
“You don’t mean the government of the United States, do you?” asked the official.
“The government that was in existence in 1776,” replied Syrek.
“I see,” said the referee.
“And I think I certainly uphold that, and would recommend a similar course of action under similar circumstances in the future,” said Syrek.
“Do I get your statement correctly then that in the event of a dictatorship in the United States, if one were established, or in the case of tyrannical rule, that you advocate the violent overthrow of the government?” asked the official.
“Yes, sir, that is my opinion, and I advocate and I intend to advocate it in the future. As a result, I cannot sign the loyalty oath,” replied Syrek.
Not surprisingly in the middle of the exceedingly reactionary McCarthy period, Marion lost the appeal by a 4 to 1 vote. But he stood his ground, which was important during that time period, when authorities tried to browbeat militants to give up their ideas.
Among the many things he shared with a younger generation were two poems he wrote. The first, on Jack London, ended this way:
“No man has a right to scab
While he can find a piece of rope long enough to hang himself with,
Or a pool of water deep enough to drown himself in.”
And in the second poem, Marion wrote,
“In the real world
Nothing is guaranteed.
You can’t always win,
But you can always fight.”