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How I Became a Socialist

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31 July 2009
D'Artagnan Collier

D'Artagnan Collier, the Socialist Equality Party's candidate for mayor of Detroit, has deep roots in the city's working class population and its struggles. Collier, 41, a city worker and lifelong resident of Detroit, joined the socialist movement in 1984.

His maternal grandfather, James Andrew Davis, migrated to the Motor City from Meridian, Mississippi after World War II, one of tens of thousands of African-American workers who left the poverty and racial oppression of the Deep South in search of a better life in Detroit's many auto factories. Davis worked at Chrysler for 33 years, the majority of those years at the auto company's massive Dodge Main complex on the city's east side. He died at the age of 79 from neuropathya degeneration of the central nervous system caused by long-term exposure to lead.

D'Artagnan's fatherMalcolm J. Collierwas a materials handler at Chrysler's Detroit Trim factory. He had grown up in the Jeffries Housing Projects, but his job at an auto plant enabled him to buy a house on the city's northeast side, marry Diana Gail Davis, and start a family.

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D'Artagnan, the first of three boys, was born in July 1968. Many in the family were avid readers and his parents decided to name their child D'Artagnan, after one of the heroic characters in Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers (1844). In fact, all three boys would have French or Spanish names.

His parents separated while he was very young, and his mother, a life-long caregiver at nursing homes and hospitals, raised the family on her own. He also spent time with his grandfatherwho lived down the streetand recalls the older man leaving for work at his auto plant job before dawn every day.

Auto workers, many of whom like his father and grandfather had grown up in poverty, won a relatively decent standard of living through mass struggles, such as the 67-day General Motors strike in 1970. By the late 1970s, the American ruling elite responded to the growing economic challenge of its global competitors by initiating an offensive against the working class aimed at stripping workers of the gains of generations of struggle. The Chrysler bailout of 1979-80and the wage cuts, factory closures and mass layoffs that accompanied itwas the opening shot in this assault, which continued with the wave of union-busting in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Since 1970, three-quarters of Detroit's manufacturing jobs have been destroyed, wiping out employment for 250,000 workers. The city, which once boasted the highest median income and home ownership rate of any major urban area in America, is now the poorest in the nation, with a Depression-level jobless rate of 25 percent and more than one in three of its residents living below the official poverty line. The Obama administration's forced bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler will deepen this social crisis and set the stage for an assault on every section of the working class.

The bitter experiences of the late 1970s and early 1980s, including the abandonment of any defense of the working class by the United Auto Workers and other unions, and the anti-working class policies carried out by the Democratic Party in Detroit and nationally, were the critical events that shaped D'Artagnan Collier's life and political views.

In 1984, at the age of 16, he joined the Young Socialists, the youth movement of the Workers League, the predecessor of the Socialist Equality Party, and for the last 25 years has played a leading role in the struggle to build a revolutionary leadership in the working class.

Below we post an interview with Collier about the experiences that led him to join the socialist movement.

Campaigning among youth in Detroit in the 1980s

In the course of our campaign, many people have askedHow did I become a socialist? What drove me to conclude that the only way forward for the working class was socialism?

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Most of my coworkers and friends voted for Barack Obama. They're deeply affected by the crisis of capitalism, by the soaring foreclosures and unemployment, declining wages, the cuts to the school system, and the destruction of Detroit.

In explaining why I think it is necessary to break completely with the Democratic Party, to build the Socialist Equality Party as the new mass party of the working class, I point to the nature of the political situation in the US today, to the right-wing policies of the Obama administration, its support for the banks and its attack on the working class.

It is also important, however, to look at this question historically. My decision to become a socialist was bound up with social experiences that affected millions of workers in the US and internationally.

I was born in July 1968. This was a very turbulent time in American life, particularly for blacks. It was only a few months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a year after the Detroit rebellion of 1967. During that six-day upsurge in Detroit, 43 were killed and 342 injured, officially. Friends and relatives recalled to me how the city was occupied by over 13,000 federal troops and the National Guard marched through the neighborhoods, carrying loaded weapons and unafraid to shoot.

National Guardsmen during the 1967 Detroit riots

The riots in Detroit were part of a series of uprisings throughout the countryuprisings that grew out of conditions of poverty, social neglect, unemployment, and government-sanctioned racism. Even at the height of the post-war boom of American capitalism, the "American Dream" was a cruel mockery for millions of workers.

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Nancy Hanover writes for the World Socialist Website which is published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).

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