Irwin Silber

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Irwin Silber

Irwin Silber (born October 17, 1925 in Manhattan, died September 8, 2010) is best known as a primary craftsman of the urban folk song revival, which grew out of the 1940s and culminated in the early 1960s. In 1964, Silber married jazz vocalist/activist Barbara Dane.[1]

Early Life

Silber was born in Manhattan on October 17, 1925, just in time to experience the formative years of the Great Depression. Like many of his contemporaries in New York City's working-class Jewish community, Silber came to quickly understand the relevance of fight back. Rapidly he developed into an activist, joining the ranks of the Young Communist League and then the Communist Party USA.[1]

People's Songs

As a student at Brooklyn College, he organized the American Folksay Group, and through his associations with the likes of Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax, Silber became an integral part of Seeger's post-war People's Songs organization. This was an independent artist-run collective, which not only sought to publish the songs of veteran left-wing folksingers, but it also grew into a national network for the publicity and management of same. Silber was on the founding committee of People's Songs, ultimately growing into one of its leaders and became a frequent contributor to its newsletter. The Newsletter was deemed a very important means of communication among folksingers and many important songs were published within its pages.[1]

Communist Party USA

As a young activist, Silber joined the Communist Party USA. Pre 1950s, he worked for the Communist Party USA-led Jefferson School of Social Science. By 1955 Silber had severed ties with the Party following a fall-out with the youth movement in the party. This was largely due to his hard line against the views of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and others. In 2004 he published a biography of Lester Rodney, titled "Press Box Red." Rodney was a sportswriter for the Communist Party newspaper, The Daily Worker, completing the circle of his avowedly radical life and times.[1]

New Communist Movement

By 1955, Silber had become a driving force in a Students for a Democratic Society-offshoot of the CPUSA, the decidedly Maoist organization, the New Communist Movement, and went on to write and edit their newspaper, The Guardian.

Questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee

In the late 1950s Silber was called into questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding his involvement in the Communist Party USA-led Jefferson School of Social Science.[1]

Origins of Line of March

Leading the initial effort to found the rectification network in December 1976 were Union of Democratic Filipinos leaders Bruce Occena and Melinda Paras and Max Elbaum, then a leader of the Northern California Alliance. Soon thereafter, Third World Women’s Alliance leader (TWWA) Linda Burnham joined the group. Believing that the organizational side of party building needed to be conducted mainly in secret, the network was initially clandestine and had no formal name, its members and supporters becoming known loosely as “rectificationists.”

In 1978, rectification leaders built close ties with two members of the Guardian staff – Executive Editor Irwin Silber and former Third World Women’s Alliance leader Fran Beal who were subsequently recruited into the rectification network. At their urging, other network members joined the just-being-formed Guardian Clubs. And Silber – who had authored many of the Guardian’s ideological polemics – began to propound key elements of the rectification perspective in his Guardian columns and in debates in the Club Network.

By late 1978 differences over the Clubs’ direction and the party-building line of the Guardian led to a split, with the Guardian Club membership – supported by Silber and Beal – breaking away to form the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs (NNMLC) in March 1979. This new group enabled the rectificationists to go public and publish the first comprehensive statements of the rectification line. But as Max Elbaum notes, the NNMLC’s “public attacks on the Guardian were extremely harsh, as were its broad-stroke criticisms of the OCIC. This did not auger well for the Rectificationists’ capacity to establish friendly relations with communists who held differing views.”.[2]

Line of March

In 1980 Irwin Silber founded an Oakland based Maoist organization - Line of March.[3]

The Line of March theoretical journal was simply named - Line of March:A journal of Marxist-Leninist Theory and Politics. It was published by the Institute for Social and Economic Studies, PO Box 2809, Oakland California.

In 1980 the Line of March editorial board consisted of co-editors Bruce Occena and Irwin Silber, managing editor Margery Rosnick and Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum, Melinda Paras and Bob Wing. [4].

In 1987 the Line of March editorial board consisted of Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum, Bruce Occena, Melinda Paras, Irwin Silber and Cathi Tactaquin.[5]

Frontline Anniversary events

Supplement Frontline June 1988

In 1988 Line of March celebrated the 4th Anniversay of their newspaper Frontline with a series of events around the country. Boston dinner speakers were Gus Newport and Ann Schwartz, Washington DC speakers were Irwin Silber and Hilda Mason. In Chicago it was Danny Davis and Fran Beal.

Line of March leader


In 1988 Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum, Arnoldo Garcia, Miriam Louie, Irwin Silber, Cathi Tactaquin, Bob Wing represented the Line of March National Executive Committee and National Board.


As at Nov. 13, 1989, the listed editors of Line of March's Frontline were:

Hard Times Conference

In 1976 Irwin Silber, Guardian attended the Weather Underground and Prairie Fire Organizing Committee organized Hard Times Conference Jan 30 - Feb 1 at the University of Chicago.[6]

DSA forum

In 1990, Los Angeles Democratic Socialists of America organized a forum on "Socialism at the Crossroads -- Crisis in Eastern Europe: What does it mean for the U.S. Left?," with Irwin Silber, co-editor of Frontline newspaper, and Cornel West, a member of DSA's National Political Committee.[7]

Socialist Scholars Conference


The Socialist Scholars Conference 1990, held September 6-8, at the Hotel Commodore, New York, included panels such as:[8]

Developments in the USSR and Eastern Europe and their Significance for Western Europe and the US Left


Ellen David-Freidman, Progressive Vermont Alliance; Max Elbaum, Managing Editor, CrossRoads; Robert Fitrakis, Columbus Democratic Socialists of America; Irwin Silber, Editorial Board, CrossRoads and James Steele, Breakthrough Political Consulting Services were speakers on the The '92 Elections & Left Electoral Strategies panel sponsored by CrossRoads at the Tenth Annual Socialist Scholars Conference. The conference was held April 24-26, 1992 at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City.[9]

Institute for Social and Economic Studies

Silber was affiliated with the Institute for Social and Economic Studies which is an Oakland, California-based organization which sponsored the CrossRoads magazine.


In the mid 1990s Irwin Silber was an editor of Oakland based Institute for Social and Economic Studies- sponsor of CrossRoads magazine, which sought to promote dialogue and building new alliances among progressives and leftists... and to bring diverse Marxist and socialist traditions to bear while exploring new strategies and directions for the progressive political movements.[10]

CoC National Conference endorser

In 1992, Irwin Silber, CrossRoads, Oakland, endorsed the Committees of Correspondence national conference Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s held at Berkeley California July 17-19.[11]

West Coast Socialist Scholars Conference 1993

Dem. Left March/April 1993, page 13

The West Coast Socialist Scholars Conference 1993, "New Realities, New Identities ; Socialism and Empowerment" was held April 17, 1993 University of California, Los Angeles.[12]

Speakers included;

Co-sponsors were Socialist Community School - Democratic Socialists of America - Committees of Correspondence - Concerned Faculty (UCLA) - CrossRoads Magazine - International Socialist Organization - Socialist Organizing Network - Solidarity - Union of Radical Political Economists[13]


By 1995 Irwin Silber was a member of Solidarity.[14]

War Times

In January 2002, a group of San Francisco leftists, mainly involved with STORM or Committees of Correspondence, founded a national anti-Iraq War newspaper War Times.[15]

Endorsers of the project included Irwin Silber.


Silber died on September 8 in Oakland, California, from complications of Alzheimer's disease.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 People's World: Irwin Silber, a craftsman of the folk revival, dies at 84, Sept. 13, 2010 (accessed on Oct. 1, 2010)
  2. The Rectification Network – Line of March
  4. LOM, Vol 1, No 1, May-June 1980
  5. LOM, No 20, Winter 1987/88
  6. Outlaws in Amerika, West Goals 1982, Pg33-35
  7. DEMOCRATIC: LEFT MAY-JUNE 1990, page 8
  8. Second Annual Socialist Scholars Conference program.
  9. SSE Tenth Annual Conference Program, 1992
  10. Crossroads March 1996
  12. Dem. Left March/April 1993
  13. Dem. Left March/April 1993
  15. WAR TIMES January 29, 2002