Our comrade Al Nelson died of throat cancer at the age of 85 in the San Francisco Bay Area in February. Following the death of Jim Robertson in 2019, Al was the sole surviving member of the precursor of the Spartacist tendency, the Revolutionary Tendency in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which he joined in 1962.
Al’s development as a Leninist began in the heat of an internal struggle against the SWP leadership’s abandonment of Trotskyism, marked by its adulation of Cuban Stalinist Fidel Castro and its criminal abstention from the radicalizing black struggle in the U.S. South. He was one of several RT supporters bureaucratically expelled from the SWP in 1964. Notably, as part of a student trip to Cuba that year, Al confronted Che Guevara over the absence of workers democracy under the Castro regime (see “Freedom for Cuban Trotskyists!”, Spartacist No. 3, January-February 1965).
Al was elected to the Central Committee of the Spartacist League/U.S. at its founding conference in 1966 and to the International Executive Committee of the international Spartacist tendency (now ICL) at its founding in 1979. Over the years, he headed up many of the party’s most significant mobilizations. In 1989-90, he played a crucial role in leading our intervention in the DDR (East Germany) as the Stalinist bureaucracy was collapsing. We fought for a reunified “Red Germany of Workers Councils” through proletarian political revolution in the DDR deformed workers state and socialist revolution against West German imperialism.
By the early 2000s, comrade Nelson had stopped playing a leadership role and became a consultative member of the SL/U.S. A more comprehensive treatment of Al Nelson’s life as a Trotskyist cadre will appear in a future issue. Our condolences go out especially to his wife and comrade, Karen.