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The Internationalist
June 2024

Marjorie Stamberg

Revolutionary Trotskyist, Marxist Educator,
A Leader of Struggles for All the Oppressed

Marjorie speaking at 24 November 2008 rally to defend educators in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), demanding “Place ATRs.” (Photo courtesy of Ivan Rowe)

Our comrade Marjorie Stamberg died on May 29 after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 79 and had been active in the New Left, was a pioneer of the fight for women’s liberation, a Trotskyist activist and leader since her ’20s, a teacher for the last quarter century, and a revolutionary all her adult life. Throughout, she fought tirelessly for the working class, for black people, women, immigrants and all the oppressed. In different arenas, she defended all those exploited and downtrodden by capitalism. Up to her last days, as a central leader of the Internationalist Group (IG), the U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, Marjorie continued the struggle for equality, for public education and for international socialist revolution, which was her life. She never stepped back from that goal, continuing through her illness until her life was cut short by a disease that is seldom detected in time. Firm in her communist convictions, she was also a warm collaborator, mentor and friend of so many who worked with her. Her comrades and colleagues cherish her great contributions, which will continue to inspire us and hopefully many others in years to come.

Marjorie Stamberg grew up in Philadelphia in a family of East European Jewish heritage. Her grandfather fled from the Ukraine at the time of the 1904 Russo-Japanese war and antisemitic pogroms. She first became active in protesting the Vietnam War at the University of Michigan, participating in the first antiwar teach-in (March 1965). Marjorie moved to Washington, D.C. to become a full-time activist with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the radical wing of the civil rights movement, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the main organization of the New Left.

Marjorie marched in the 26 March 1966 New York City peace parade on Fifth Avenue as part of the contingent of the Committee to Aid the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. Click on image to see photo of the whole contingent.

Already by that time Marjorie was part of the most radical wing of antiwar protesters, considering herself a revolutionary. She not only opposed U.S. foreign policy in Indochina but took a stand with the Vietnamese Communist forces (derisively referred to by the media as “Viet Cong”) fighting against U.S. imperialism and its puppet regime in Saigon. Marjorie marched in the March 1966 Fifth Avenue Peace Parade in the dissident contingent calling for victory to the Vietnam National Liberation Front (NLF) with its leader, Walter Teague, and with NLF flags flying, along with over two dozen supporters of Spartacist, which had been expelled by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). In November 1969 she marched in the Revolutionary Contingent in the Vietnam Moratorium march in Washington calling for “Victory to the Vietcong,” which with its NLF flags was excluded by the reformist organizers (notably the ex-Trotskyist SWP) of what many radicals called “peace crawls.” When in 1970 the Spartacist League carried the banner “All Indochina Must Go Communist,” Marjorie strongly supported that call.

Living in an SDS-SNCC commune in D.C., she was part of the collective that produced the Washington Free Press, the first of the underground papers that spread across the U.S. Marjorie’s article on the October 1967 March on the Pentagon against the Vietnam War was quoted in Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night. That march of tens of thousands who ringed the headquarters of the imperialist war machine had a large pacifist majority and a smaller Revolutionary Contingent of SDS and the Committee to Aid the NLF, which Marjorie supported. After the pacifist leaders declared victory on the first day, her article, “Wedge!” described “the agony of those who sat and watched for hours” – held at bay by paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division – “who could not leave yet could not resist” as hundreds were arrested. Marjorie also covered the upheaval of black Washington following the 4 April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, when the police fled the city, and there was a brief period of 48 hours with “no state power, and no scarcity,” as she put it, until the 101st Airborne Division and the National Guard were brought in to restore bourgeois “order.”

Coming to New York, Marjorie became a staff writer for the Guardian,1 and when the staff revolted, she wrote for the Liberated Guardian2 and other movement papers. Rejecting the male chauvinism rampant in the New Left, she became a pioneer of the modern women’s liberation movement and of its left wing that sought a program fit to the radical tasks posed by the fight for emancipation. She was an early member of Redstockings,3 a leading organization of what is now called “second wave feminism” in 1968-69. A three-part series on “The New Feminism” that she wrote in the Guardian in March/April 1969 was considered influential in breaking through resistance in the New Left to the women’s liberation movement. Although posed in a feminist framework, Marjorie underlined issues of class and capitalism and referred to the Marxist analysis of Friedrich Engels. As she said later in a 2015 class on women’s liberation that she gave to the New York Marxist study group of the IG:

“I was a member of Redstockings in New York for a few months while I was writing for the Guardian. Others have told me that I was always pushing from the left. In particular, I was concerned about the fact that the group was overwhelmingly petty-bourgeois and entirely white…. The group included many who become well-known writers, critics and professors and a number of Greenwich Village intellectuals. So while it may loom large in histories of feminism, it wasn’t that influential among radical women activists who basically came from the New Left.”
–Marjorie Stamberg, “Women’s Liberation and the Class Line” (29 October 2015)

Meanwhile, she added, “Redstockings and most of the women’s groups consolidated around various gradations of anti-Marxist theory in order to justify a thoroughly pro-capitalist program.”

Marjorie was at the SDS 1969 convention, where the main organization of the New Left split between competing Maoist wings, that of the Third-Worldist Revolutionary Youth Movement I and II, on one side, and the Worker-Student Alliance led by the Progressive Labor Party, on the other. She had been in close touch with what would become the Weathermen faction of RYM since her days in Washington, although not entirely sharing their politics.

Moving to the West Coast, Marjorie was a founder of Tooth and Nail, a feminist journal that became the organ of Oakland Women’s Liberation (O.W.L.). In her 2015 talk, Marjorie noted:

“We were not feminists first who were won to revolutionary communism. For a lot of us, we were revolutionaries first, who saw the need to fight for women’s liberation and because of that were won to feminism – and then, for some of us, as we saw what it meant in practice, we went from feminism to genuine Marxism.”
Interview with Marjorie in Women and Revolution, the journal of the Women's Commission of the Spartacist League, No. 18 (Spring 1979), recounting her experience organizing women phone workers in Oakland, and the conclusions she drew from that.

With the group’s working-class orientation, Marjorie organized operators in the phone company (AT&T, which until the 1980s was a monopoly), many of them Black Panther women. But she saw through the defeatist sectoralism of feminism, notably when some operators scabbed on a strike by (white male) IBEW switchmen. As she recounted, that experience won her to the program of women’s liberation through socialist revolution. The most conscious women in O.W.L. undertook what Marjorie called a “voyage of discovery” that led them to Friedrich Engels’ 1885 work Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and his “discovery that oppression of women and the patriarchy evolved out of the development of private property and its locus was the family, integral to the capitalist social and economic system.” Actually, as Marjorie put it in her 2015 talk, it was a “rediscovery”:

“This political work had been done before by an earlier generation of revolutionary women leading up to and after the Russian Revolution – Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai and others.  But that work had been systematically buried by the Stalinists after the political counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and destruction of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky. We had to find it again.”

Professional Revolutionary

In the Bay Area, Marjorie joined the Spartacist League (SL), which for three decades championed revolutionary Trotskyism against the betrayal of internationalist communism by Stalinism, the politics of the conservative nationalist bureaucracy that usurped political power in the Soviet workers state. She also helped build the Militant Action Caucus in phone, which was politically supported by the SL. A key question for her was the 1968 New York City teachers strike, which she had covered for the Guardian, opposing the walkout by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). She traveled to New York to speak with Spartacist leader Jim Robertson, who convinced her of the SL’s position that the strike was a necessary action against the anti-labor drive of the liberal Republican mayor and the Ford Foundation, who were pushing “community control” in order to set black people against the union and to undercut the potential for ghetto rebellion by putting black militants on the payroll. But while defending the strike, the SL also denounced the UFT leadership under Albert Shanker for waging it in a way that stoked white racist attitudes instead of on a program to defend the impoverished black community. Robertson's crucial role in the fight to uphold the Trotskyist program over many years is an important part of our history and what we stand on today.

One of the first issues of Workers Vanguard that Marjorie worked on.

Transferring to New York in 1973 to help launch the SL’s Workers Vanguard as a biweekly paper, Marjorie continued to work at the phone company, where she launched the New York branch of MAC and became the first female switchman in NYC. She was a staff writer and then member of the editorial board of WV, edited by Jan Norden, who was to be her companion through thick and thin for 50 years. Together they were at the core of a vibrant collective, often under fire internally, that put out WV as the premier publication of the Spartacist tendency for 23 years and what many judged to be the finest left paper in the U.S. at the time. In 1985, the Pacifica Radio group’s NYC station, WBAI, launched a “first annual ‘Emma’ Awards for the American left press,” declaring Workers Vanguard the hands-down winner, describing it as “the craziest, most lively, most humorous, most nasty, most intelligent and most pig-headed of the left-sectarian organs.” We, of course, took every word of that as a compliment.

Marjorie ran as the Spartacist candidate for New York State Assembly in 1978, as a platform for presenting the revolutionary program. (Photo: Workers Vanguard)

Marjorie was also a main public spokesperson for the SL, a member of its central committee and its candidate for state assembly in 1978, running in the 64th A.D. encompassing downtown Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, East and West. In opposition to social-democratic electoralism, where elected officials simply ignore their party’s political positions, following Leninist practice Marjorie signed an undated resignation statement from her position, to be tendered should she fail to carry out the Spartacist program. Bolsheviks run in bourgeois elections primarily as a platform for their revolutionary program. Marjorie’s campaign called for “A Socialist Fight to Save New York.” At the time, large parts of the city looked like bombed-out war zones as landlords burned down their own buildings in order to collect insurance money. Marjorie got 3.2% of the vote, a good showing for a leftist candidate, and a lot of local press coverage highlighting her program.

Marjorie ran for office again in 1985, this time for New York City mayor against the racist Democrat Ed Koch. The central campaign slogan was, “From Soweto to Harlem: Smash Racist Terror!” This connected with the uprising in the impoverished townships of South Africa against the apartheid regime of white supremacy which denied black people any rights while superexploiting their labor. Meanwhile, in NYC the NYPD was on a murderous rampage against black people, enforcing “Koch’s Killer Kuts,” as a sign protesting the closing of a hospital in Harlem put it. In 1983, “Koch’s cossacks” killed 25-year-old Michael Stewart for writing graffiti on a subway wall. In 1984 they killed a Bronx grandmother, Eleanor Bumpurs, in her apartment as she resisted eviction. Coming amid Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet Cold War crusade, Marjorie’s campaign proclaimed “We Are the Party of the Russian Revolution.” Speaking on WLIB, the leading black radio station in New York, she declared “the KKK doesn’t ride in Moscow.”

Marjorie pushed insistently for the Spartacist League's labor/black mobilization to stop the Ku Klux Klan in Washington, D.C., that brought 6,000 determined demonstrators into the streets to block the hooded nightriders.
(Photo: Workers Vanguard)

Marjorie always emphasized the centrality of the fight against the racist oppression of black people. After the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis massacred leftists in Greensboro, NC, in 1979, she played a main role in sparking SL-led labor/black mass actions that kept the KKK out of the North for years. In 1980, when the KKK threatened to go to Detroit, she went there to help organize a mobilization of black workers under the watchword, “The Klan Won’t Ride in Motor City.” In 1982, after the hooded fascists announced they were coming to the nation’s capital, she fought for the party to initiate actions to stop them. When that was initially turned down, as the SL didn’t have a local there, her tenacity overcame the initial objections. On 27 November 1982 the SL’s “Labor/Black Mobilization to Stop the KKK in Washington, D.C.” brought out 6,000 determined demonstrators, including a Nat Turner Brigade of black shipyard and naval workers from the Norfolk, Virginia area, who took over the streets while the nightriders slunk off.

Spartacist League protest outside United Federation of Teachers headquarters, September 1981, protesting UFT role in funneling millions of CIA dollars to Polish nationalist anti-Communist  Solidarność movement. (Photo: Workers Vanguard)

Marjorie fought against counterrevolution everywhere. In 1981, she demonstrated with the SL outside the offices of the UFT denouncing its role as a conduit for CIA funding of the nationalist, anti-Communist Solidarność movement in Poland. As the overwhelming majority of the left proclaimed “solidarity with Solidarity,” Marjorie gave a seminal talk titled “Hail Rosa Luxemburg,” in which she analyzed “Poland’s Communist Tradition.” This was published in Young Spartacus (May and Summer 1982), the newspaper of the Spartacus Youth League. We will be republishing this important article. In 1985 Marjorie went to Nicaragua as part of our “Nicabucks” campaign to raise money to defend the besieged Central American country against the U.S.’ proxy “Contra” (for counterrevolutionary) forces.

In early 1990, Marjorie went to the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in the all-out effort by our International Communist League (the name adopted by the international Spartacist tendency in 1989) against the annexation of the East German bureaucratically deformed workers state by imperialist West Germany. She returned to New York to put out WV while Norden edited our daily news bulletin in Berlin. The ICL’s audacious mobilization was the first time Trotskyists had openly campaigned in a Stalinist-ruled state, and was a signal achievement of the Spartacist tendency. After the counterrevolution, Marjorie gave a talk in 1991 at the cultural center of the Leuna refinery, noting how East German women lost many rights due to capitalist reunification, and explaining, based on her own experience in the U.S., how feminism was counterposed to a real struggle against the oppression of women rooted in the family.

Marjorie traveled to Nicaragua in 1984 as part of the Spartacist “Nicabucks” campaign to raise money in the U.S. to combat Wasshington’s "contra" mercenaries.  (Photo: Workers Vanguard)

In 1993, Marjorie traveled to Cuba as the island was reeling from the cutoff of Soviet aid following counterrevolution in the USSR. Upon returning from that trip, she was asked as she walked in the door of the SL’s offices if Cuba would resist counterrevolution. She responded that, from what she had seen, it would – which led to a campaign of accusations inside the SL of being “soft on Stalinism.” A little later, party leader Robertson wanted WV to say that the Cuban deformed workers state would “sink under the warm waves of the Caribbean.” Marjorie and Jan refused. Thirty years on, Cuba is still afloat, and the gusano counterrevolutionaries are still held at bay. But as Marjorie said in a forum she gave at Howard University in Washington on “Blacks and the Cuban Revolution,” “Latin American anti-Yankee nationalism, or black nationalism, were not able to give a revolutionary answer to black struggle,” and that “only through socialist revolution can black people be emancipated and fully integrated into an egalitarian society” by extending the struggle to the U.S.

Imperialist blockade and counterrevolution in USSR produced severe food crisis in Cuba. Above: crowd clamors for holiday pastries. Marjorie took this photo in Cárdenas, Cuba on 26 July 1993.  (Photo: Workers Vanguard)

The imperialist-led destruction of the Soviet Union, the first workers state in history – founded by the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky, and betrayed by Stalin and his heirs – devastated much of the Western left. Many who had called themselves communists rebranded as socialists, erstwhile socialists became “progressive” union bureaucrats, and many organizations closed up shop. The Spartacist tendency, which fought against counterrevolution in the DDR and the USSR, was not immune to this defeatism, but it expressed itself differently, by a retreat from the class struggle. In 1995-96, there was a year-long internal fight against its drift toward abstentionism – posed sharply over the organization’s work in Germany – which in June 1996 led to the ICL’s desertion under fire in the struggle to oust the police from the municipal workers union in Brazil’s “Steel City” of Volta Redonda. Earlier that month, Marjorie and Jan were expelled from the SL/ICL on trumped-up charges.

Marxist Educator

After the bureaucratic expulsions, Marjorie didn’t hesitate. She proposed the name “internationalist” for our new organization and publication, as it summed up our aims in a clear, simple, understandable way. Starting over from scratch at age 51 with a tiny group of four comrades (Marjorie, Jan, Socorro and Negrete) is not easy, but this was her life’s work. She went to work at the New York University Medical Center to pay the tuition at the NYU Steinhardt school of education, and by 1999 she embarked on a second career as a teacher in New York City schools.

Now there were new challenges. Marjorie compared teaching to being on-stage in a Broadway play five days a week, with a run that goes on for nine months, and continues year after year, with a different script every day, and an audience that talks back. Plus, she and her colleagues had to deal with mind-numbing rubrics supposedly measuring teachers’ effectiveness, which changed almost yearly, a stultifying bureaucracy in the NYC Department of Education (D.O.E.) and the exhausting work of teaching young people as they are going through the difficult time of becoming adults. Marjorie taught English as a second language, or ESL, now called ENL (English as a new language) initially in high school and from 2008 on in a program for young adults ages 17 to 21. She also taught university-level English language courses at Hunter College and summers at NYU for a decade, and then later in adult ed in the D.O.E.

Soon after Marjorie started teaching, the IG began publishing articles on education. A 2001 article, “Defeat the Capitalist Onslaught Against Public Education!” spelled out how the Democratic Party, with Hillary Clinton in the forefront, embraced privatizing and corporatizing the public schools, pushing education “reform” to please Wall Street. It also explained the origins of the UFT leadership in the anti-communist social democracy of Max Shachtman, a renegade from Trotskyism who went over to imperialism. (UFT founder/leader Albert Shanker was a devotee of Shachtman, whose wife, Yetta Barsh, was Shanker’s long-time assistant.)

Supplement to The Internationalist had articles on the capitalist drive to privatize and corporatize public education, struggles over education in Oaxaca, Mexico and materials from the revolution in education in the early Soviet republic. To read pdf, click here or on the image. 

A special supplement on Marxism and the Battle Over Education also included materials from the early Soviet republic when the Bolsheviks introduced a revolution in education, including replacing the dictatorship of school administrators and their capitalist bosses with teacher-student-worker-parent control of the schools. In addition to “On the Class School” by Anatoli Lunacharsky, the commissar of education from 1917 to 1929, two essays by Nadezhda Krupskaya on public education and socialist schools (explaining that it will take a socialist revolution to realize thorough-going educational reform), it included a report by John Dewey on a trip to the USSR in 1927 where he saw his program of “labor schools” connecting education with social life turned into reality, before they were squelched by Stalin.

In December 2001, Marjorie went to Hunter College to join in a united-front rally, initiated by the IG, to stop the “war purge” of undocumented immigrant students by raising their tuition that the City University of New York tried to push through in the atmosphere of repressive hysteria following the 11 September 2001 attacks. In 2002, she leafleted the UFT Delegate Assembly with a resolution calling for teachers to show solidarity with a looming NYC transit strike by, among other things, encouraging teachers to “take their classes to TWU picket lines to provide students with education in the class struggle.”

In 2003, as the U.S. invasion and occupation laid waste to Iraq, Marjorie wrote a paper on “Teaching English as a Second Language in a Climate of War,” skewering the lying war propaganda (invented Iraqi weapons of mass destruction) being spewed out by the government and media, and denouncing the fear instilled by repressive laws like the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act. She presented the paper at the national TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) convention in Long Beach, California and later at the New York state TESOL convention. In 2005, she slammed the UFT contract with the D.O.E. that gave up the right of transfer by seniority when schools close in exchange for a salary hike, and wrote a leaflet denouncing the arrest of Muslim students by immigration cops.

In June 2006, the government of Oaxaca, Mexico murdered ten people in an encampment of striking teachers. Alerted by our Mexican comrades, in a matter of hours, the Internationalist Group organized a protest outside the Mexican consulate in New York City. (Internationalist photo)

On 14 June 2006, there was an explosion of sharp class struggle in the Mexican state of Oaxaca as teachers rose up in the face of a deadly cop attack on their plantón (encampment), in the state capital.  The teachers sparked a semi-insurrectionary struggle backed by indigenous peoples and workers that drove the police, courts and all government authorities out of Oaxaca city, surrounded and shut down the state legislature, blockaded highways and the airport and cut off the state for five months. That same day, Marjorie and the Internationalist Group called a solidarity protest outside the Mexican consulate in New York. A few weeks later, she and comrades of the Grupo Internacionalista of Mexico traveled to Oaxaca, where strikers effusively thanked the teacher from New York who had played a key role in helping to spread the word of their struggle.

Defending the ATRs

Back in the U.S., Marjorie had enjoyed teaching her immigrant students, most of them newly arrived, inspired by their excitement at seeing their first snowfall and amazed that they respected their teacher. (“They hadn’t got the memo,” she remarked.) It was challenging, with students ranging from some who had almost no formal education (and sometimes no written first language) to others with baccalaureate decrees in their home countries that are not recognized in the U.S. D.O.E. administrators soon saw that she was a superb teacher and asked her to become a mentor. So for a couple years she traveled to schools around Queens helping new teachers. Many stayed in touch over the years, saying how much they appreciated her support. But she felt it was a semi-management position – she even had to wear a suit – and she decided to return to teaching. “Who needs the suits?” – the D.O.E. bureaucrats – she would say. “We’re the ones who do the educating. We should decide.”

Marjorie returned to the classroom in spring 2007. She was hired at ASHS – Auxiliary Services for High School – just as the D.O.E. decided to dissolve this model program that prepared students for the high school equivalency exam. The chaotic reorganization of the alternative schools district, D79, “excessed” hundreds of teachers. Because of a clause in the 2005 contract, they couldn’t be fired – so instead, more than 250 who couldn’t find a principal to hire them were thrown into the “Absent Teacher Reserve” (ATR). Marjorie and the UFT ASHS chapter leader Roz Penepento launched a petition and media campaign to get them back in the classroom. When ASHS was replaced by “GED Plus,” Marjorie ran for chapter leader, narrowly losing as the UFT Unity Caucus bureaucracy refused to give her a list of chapter members, or even of the 80 locations where they taught, until a day or so before the election.

By 2008, the excruciating situation of the “excessed” D79 educators worsened. By now there were 1,400 in the pool. Once more, Marjorie didn’t give up. She put out a call for a citywide meeting of ATRs and again launched a petition drive calling on the union to demand they be placed, garnering hundreds of signatures from over 103 schools across the city. Together with other activists she initiated an Ad Hoc Committee to Support the ATRs and wrote a motion, which was actually passed by the Delegate Assembly, for a UFT “citywide rally … calling on the NYC Department of Education to reduce class sizes and assign positions to all teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve who want assignments before any new teachers are hired.” This spooked the UFT and D.O.E. tops, so much that they hurriedly signed a side agreement the day before the November 24 rally. But instead of placing ATR teachers in permanent positions, it only created some financial incentives for principals to hire them.

Despite attempt by the union tops to divert people from the rally approved by the UFT Delegate Assembly, some 300 educators and supporters turned out on 24 November 2008 to demand that teachers be placed in permanent positions. Marjorie (barely visible, bottom center) was a lead organizer and speaker. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Rowe)

The union then announced a wine and cheese party at the UFT offices at the same time as the rally to celebrate this empty agreement, and dispatched staffers to divert people from the protest. It didn’t work. Some 300 teachers and supporters turned out to a united-front demonstration organized by the Ad Hoc Committee, the largest opposition showing in years. The crowd was electrified. Marjorie was a main speaker, as a UFT member and the main public spokesperson of the recently formed Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW). She insisted that the struggle for the ATRs continue, the UFT-D.O.E. agreement couldn’t be trusted. But she didn’t stop there.

CSEW sign at 24 November 2008 rally to defend teachers thrown into limbo in the Absent Teacher Reserve. (Internationalist photo)

Marjorie went on to denounce mayoral control, calling for teacher-student-parent-worker control of the schools. She excoriated the union bureaucrats as labor lieutenants of capital, in socialist Daniel De Leon’s famous phrase, who act as a transmission belt for the bosses, particularly through the Democratic Party. She said that as the government was bailing out the banks (this was at the height of the 2007-08 Wall Street crisis), educators had big battles ahead and needed to ally with all of NYC labor and prepare to take on New York state’s no-strike Taylor Law. She warned against illusions in newly elected president Barack Obama, who as a Democrat was going to continue the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq when what was needed was to defeat those wars. And she ended, “We need a workers party, we need a workers government.”

Given the size and energy of the rally, as it was winding down Randi Weingarten showed up with a retinue to peddle their backroom deal. When Marjorie sought to answer her, the AFT/UFT chief refused to hand over the megaphone until people calling out “let Marjorie talk” forced her to relent. In fact, in the next several years as few as 16 ATR teachers were assigned positions as a result of the incentives in the side agreement. Instead, the ATR pool ballooned to close to 1,700 teachers by 2014. As the bosses’ press (not only the teacher-bashing Post but also the New York Times) harped about ATRs as mooches sitting around “doing nothing,” Marjorie kept agitating for union action to demand that they be placed. The ATR only ended with the pandemic-induced teacher shortage in 2021 when the D.O.E. finally let these qualified, experienced educators teach.

What Kind of Opposition to the Bureaucracy?

Marjorie emphasized that to fight the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy, what is needed is a class-struggle opposition that fights the capitalist system that is destroying public education. Shown here at April 2014 protest against invasion of charter schools, financed by Wall Street hedge funds. (Internationalist photo)

Marjorie’s criticism of Obama and the Democrats at the November 2008 ATR rally upset a number of reformists and liberals in the crowd. In the aftermath, there was a sharp struggle over what kind of opposition was needed. Speaking for the CSEW, Marjorie called for more united-front actions like on November 24, but insisted that to defeat the pro-capitalist Unity caucus “we need leadership based on a class-struggle program, and that is what we need to build now.” Others wanted an all-inclusive opposition caucus bringing together all the different groupings despite their very real differences in program and strategy. Marjorie replied that a mega-caucus would only result in mega-confusion, and that it would have a lowest-common-denominator program that could only be simple trade-unionism:

“But simple trade unionism in this period where working people are under attack across the board, where every union gain is being taken away, is impossible. In this period of capitalist decay, reformism is a dead-end: if you are not prepared to fight the system as a whole, you are destined to fail….
“There has to be a serious discussion about the history and future of this union, from the ‘AFL-CIA’ ‘State Department socialist’ Albert Shanker, to his wannabe imitators of the fourth reincarnation…. As we fight on every issue of social justice, we need to understand their roots in and to struggle against the capitalist system as a whole. That’s why we call for a class-struggle workers party.”
–“After November 24…” (2 December 2008)

The one-big-caucus crowd went on to form the Grassroots Education Movement, which a few years later engendered the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (M.O.R.E.).

The ATRs were only one of the issues Marjorie fought over. In the spring of 2009, as Obama was pushing “performance pay” for teachers, Weingarten tried to soft-soap it by proposing that if student test scores in a school rose, each teacher would get a $3,000 bonus. Marjorie denounced this as a soft-core version of the union-busting agenda of “merit pay,” and she led the teachers of GED-Plus to vote it down. It’s no mean feat to get a majority of union members to reject a $3,000 bribe, but she did. Ultimately that ploy went nowhere. When Marjorie ran for UFT delegate from GED-Plus that spring, she was elected with more votes than the Unity chapter leader, Michael Friedman. They clashed on different issues over the next decade, but they also collaborated, and he always spoke of her with respect.

“Public Schools Are Where Race and Class Come Together”

2010 saw a full-scale teacher-bashing, anti-union offensive nationwide. Right-wingers produced a pseudo-“documentary,” Waiting for Superman, denouncing tenure for public school teachers. The next year, Columbia Pictures followed suit with Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz. In New York, billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a campaign to close scores of “failing” schools and promote privately managed anti-union charter schools that siphoned off dollars (in addition to big bucks from Wall Street) and stole classroom space from public schools with disruptive “co-locations.” Marjorie and the CSEW fought this tooth and nail, calling to occupy closing schools. She put out leaflets detailing how charters were used by real estate operators and served as cash cows for hedge funds, their steady flow of state funds to be milked if their speculative “investments” went south (as they did in 2007-08).

Marjorie testified at hearings of Bloomberg’s PEP (known as the “Puppet Education Panel”) against the closing of Paul Robeson High School in Crown Heights and at Bronx Regional High School. She along with hundreds of educators, parents, students and supporters spoke at animated PEP hearings of several thousand people that went on for hours, after which the panel members dutifully rubber-stamped the closing of the latest batch of schools slated for destruction by Bloomberg and his schools chancellors Joel Klein and Cathy Black, imports from the corporate world who knew nothing of education. Black (who never attended a public school) set off a firestorm with her racist quip that the solution to classroom overcrowding was birth control! At a PEP meeting, Marjorie distributed a hilarious “Pop Quiz for Cathy Black” written by her colleague and comrade Charlie Brover, whom she had worked with since the 1970s.

At 1 February 2011 meeting of billionaire mayor's puppet Panel for Educational Policy, UFT D79 delegate Marjorie Stamberg denounced Bloomberg's school closing program as racist, an obvious fact which other educators who spoke tiptoed around. The audience of hundreds cheered. (Screenshot from Internationalist video)

The UFT, the several dissident currents in the union, just about the entire left, community activists and many liberals came to the stormy PEP meetings, but what Marjorie had to say was distinctive in one important respect: she attacked Bloomberg’s schemes as racist. “Look at the zip codes where they are closing the schools, it’s not in Riverdale or the Upper East Side, it’s in the poor, black and Latino neighborhoods,” she said. The UFT and the reformist opposition consciously stayed away from the issue of race, but as Marjorie was walking down De Kalb Avenue after a session at Brooklyn Tech, a prominent black activist from Bed-Stuy ran out of a deli to thank her for saying out loud the obvious truth that the others were tip-toeing around. She often noted that the fight against closing schools was key to overcoming the division between teachers and the black community that had lasted for 40 years since the 1968 UFT strike.

In 2013, the NYC school bus drivers and attendants, a largely Dominican and Haitian workforce whose crucial role in the school system was often ignored by both the UFT mainstream and dissident unionists, went on strike. On Day One, Marjorie was on the picket line in the rain at 6:30 a.m., expressing teacher solidarity with the strikers. The next day she put forward a motion at the UFT Delegate Assembly for the union to pledge its full support and call a mass rally of NYC labor to back the strike (it was not allowed to come to a vote, although it had a lot of support). The CSEW, which seeks to unite all education workers, not just professionals like the UFT, was on the picket line almost daily. M.O.R.E., as Marjorie put it, was “missing in action” (it had one token rally on the steps of D.O.E. headquarters).

August 2014 Harlem vigil for Eric Garner and Michael Brown, murdered by cops in Staten Island and Ferguson, Missouri. Marjorie always insisted on the centrality of the struggle against the racist oppression of black people in the U.S.  (Internationalist photo)

The issue of what kind of opposition needs to be built against the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy came to a head with the July 2014 police murder in Staten Island of Eric Garner, who was choked to death as he repeated eleven times, “I can’t breathe.” This crystallized outrage against racist cop repression throughout the city. Marjorie and the IG went to Garner’s funeral in Brooklyn, where they didn’t see anyone from the union. But when black Democrat Al Sharpton called a mass march in Staten Island in August, UFT leader Michael Mulgrew wised up and the union endorsed.

The Internationalist Group has many times denounced the role of Sharpton, who with his signature chant “No justice, no peace,” always seeks to divert protest into pressure on the bourgeois politicians. Still, the IG and CSEW marched in the Staten Island protest, which was in actuality a referendum on racism. M.O.R.E. did not. Why not? Partly because some of their members from Staten Island, where many teachers are married to police, were influenced by local pro-cop sentiment. But even worse, M.O.R.E. put out a grotesque statement against the union’s decision to participate in the march and calling for “the leaderships of the UFT and PBA, to find ways to work together and unite”! “Unity” with the fascistic organization protecting the racist killer cops of the NYPD?!

The acid test. While Class Struggle Education Workers marched in August 2014 protest in Staten Island against police murder of Eric Garner, the M.O.R.E. caucus, despite pretensions of “social justice unionism,” called for unity with the police and the fascistic police "union." CSEW calls for cops out of the unions and out of the schools. (Internationalist photo)

M.O.R.E. claims to stand for “social justice unionism.” But here we saw the program of simple trade-unionism in action, covering up for racist police murder. Marjorie put out a sharply worded “Open Letter to M.O.R.E.” (10 September 2014), saying: “Far from being our ‘brothers and sisters,’ the police are professional strikebreakers and enforcers of racist ‘law and order.’ That’s their job for the ruling class.” Its outrageous statement, she added, “flows directly from MORE’s basic premise of ‘uniting’ all and sundry against the Unity misleaders. It flows directly from its avoidance of all issues of race and class, the fundamental questions in this country.”

Marjorie emphasized over and over, “the public schools are where race and class come together.” She called for cops out of the unions, and cops out of the schools. And she stressed that in city after city, all across the country, Democrats are the bosses of the racist killer cops.

Teachers Lead Mass Revolt in Oaxaca

In 2016, Marjorie took a six-month sabbatical to go to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she had been several times before, to study indigenous education. She interviewed teachers in Zapotec, Mixtec and Mixe communities and gave some classes to grad students at the state university named after Benito Juárez, the indigenous president of Mexico who in the mid-1800s, after waging a civil war against clerical reactionaries and defeating a French invasion, launched a system of free, secular public education. After returning to New York she gave a presentation as a professional development day in her school, P2G, on “Language, Culture and Identity: An Investigation into Teaching and Learning in Oaxaca.” While she was in Oaxaca a new teachers strike broke out, that as in 2006, engulfed the entire state, lasting from May to September. Marjorie actively supported our comrades in the Grupo Internacionalista, who were in the front lines of battle.

After the 2016 teachers strike in Oaxaca had gone on for a month and a half, on 19 June 2016 the army and federal police massacred eleven indigenous people in Nochixtlán. As the military force proceeded along the highway to the state capital that day they were met with tenacious resistance in every town on the way. Marjorie, who was on sabbatical in Oaxaca at the time, supported our comrades of the Grupo Internacionalista, who were in the front lines of the battle (above, in Hacienda Blanca on the outskirts of Oaxaca city). (Photo: Revolución Permanente)

All highways in and out of Oaxaca were cut off for several months. Soon, the only way in or out was on the teachers’ bus. The teachers had 37 major roadblocks across the state and check points at the state line where they inspected all vehicles. The teachers have their own FM and Internet radio, Radio Plantón, that the GI has a program on, Frecuencia Obrera Internacionalista. The Zapotec, Mixtec and Triqui indigenous areas were mobilized in support of the teachers, who often act as spokesmen and advocate for these impoverished communities. There were repeated demonstrations of tens of thousands, and on a couple of occasions, hundreds of thousands in the state capital. During the strike the GI had a film club that showed films every night in the street outside the headquarters of the teachers union, Sección XXII of the CNTE, a dissident union that had largely broken free from the stranglehold of the corporatist education workers “union” (SNTE), which was and is essentially a government agency for controlling teachers.4

After the strike had gone on for about six weeks, in mid-June the army and federal police came in, killing eleven indigenous people and wounding over 100 in the town of Nochixtlán. As they proceeded to the state capital of Oaxaca, they met massive resistance at every town, with flaming barricades. Our comrades participated in the fighting, and the next day our health worker comrades went to the town clandestinely with a mobile surgery unit to treat the wounded. In New York, the CSEW organized solidarity protests. But even the murderous army and federal police attack didn’t break the strike, which continued three more months. That was a real lesson in the power of teachers’ struggles, not in defense of narrow professional goals but as a leader and champion of the working class and oppressed communities.

For the last 25 years in Mexico, the federal and Oaxaca state governments have sought to impose educational “reform” plans promoted by imperialist agencies like the World Bank and OECD. Because of the teachers’ resistance, they have been largely unable to implement these union-busting and privatizing plans. But neither have the teachers been able to win a resounding victory, as they have limited their struggle to one state, not bringing in the powerful industrial working class, and they have looked for salvation to the populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who wants to recorporatize the dissident teachers, reasserting the chains of government control) rather than building a workers party. Mexico remains a capitalist state and Oaxaca is still an impoverished region. Nothing short of an international socialist revolution can change that. Marjorie’s experiences in 2006 and 2016 show the power of class-struggle unionism, and the need for revolutionary leadership.

Defending Immigrant Students

On 28 January 2017, as President Donald Trump issued his ban on travelers from Muslim countries, Marjorie joined hundreds of other immigrant defenders to rush to JFK Airport in New York to demand that Muslim immigrants be let in.  (Internationalist photo)

In early 2017 newly elected president Donald Trump launched an offensive against immigrants, beginning with the ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) began raids around the country, including in New York City. I.C.E. agents showed up at schools looking for undocumented students. Marjorie and other Internationalists went to JFK to protest the “Muslim ban,” and she launched a “UFT P2G Immigrant Students Support Committee” to defend immigrant rights and to keep I.C.E. out. This was not abstract. At her site in Manhattan, they located back doors for students to leave in case the immigration police showed up, and she contacted a nearby sanctuary church, bringing the priest to the school to meet officials.

Then, on May 15, the UFT sponsored an immigration forum, with AFT president Randi Weingarten as one of the featured speakers. They highlighted the chancellor’s instructions that I.C.E. agents were not to enter the schools without permission from the D.O.E. In the discussion, Marjorie got up to say that was not enough, that if the migra came, teachers and staff should line up outside to say that those are our students, you will not touch them, and if you try to go in, you will have to go through us. There was a lot of applause but no reaction from the panelists. But as the meeting was breaking up, Marjorie reported, Weingarten called out to say, essentially, “And Marjorie, if you form such a line, we will defend you.” That was all we needed. It was a green light. Marjorie never expected anything more from the union bureaucracy.

On 17 September 2012, on hearing news that Chicago teachers went out on strike, Marjorie got on a 6 a.m. flight to go there to show solidarity from New York City teachers. The union “reform” leadership forced the Chicago Teachers Union delegates to vote twice on a contract that won none of their main demands. Marjorie wrote an article for The Internationalist headlined, "Chicago Teachers: Strike Was Huge, Settlement Sucks ." (Internationalist photo)

Marjorie did a lot more over the years. In 2007, she put out a leaflet defending Debbie Almontaser, a Yemeni American principal of what was slated to be the first Arabic-focused school, who was purged by Mayor Bloomberg, with the approval of the AFT/UFT’s Weingarten, after a months-long Muslim-bashing campaign by the virulently anti-teacher Zionist New York Post. As a delegate from 2009 to 2019, Marjorie put out a listserv, which people referred to as her blog, with her reports on the DA and other materials, which was circulated to several hundred teachers, mostly in P2G. In 2012, when Chicago teachers went on strike, as soon as she learned of it, Marjorie hopped on a 6 a.m. flight the next morning to go there to show solidarity from New York teachers. She voted against every UFT-D.O.E. contract, and in 2014 put out a sticker (with a union bug) which she distributed widely, saying “Don’t Blame Me – I Voted No.” She also fought insistently to integrate New York City schools, calling for free, equal, quality secular public education for all.


Marjorie retired on January 1, 2020. By February, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Suddenly schools were desperate for teachers. So at the age of 73, she learned how to teach remotely, familiarizing herself with different programs and apps. By the fall of 2020 she was teaching again. She taught remotely in regular school and adult education right up to the start of the week when she was rushed to the emergency room on 26 February 2022. She only made it there because, as she and Jan were desperately searching for a gastroenterologist on Friday afternoon of presidents’ week, when asked about her insurance, they answered “UFT” and no further questions were asked. If she had been on Medicare Advantage, as Mulgrew and the Municipal Labor Committee are trying to impose in order to save money for the (capitalist) city government, who knows what would have happened.

When many teachers unions and almost all the union “reform” caucuses were calling to keep schools closed, CSEW said “remote edication” is a contradiction in terms and called as early as August 2020 to use union power to keep schools open safely. Above: Marjorie (second from right) and CSEW contingent counterposed to M.O.R.E. caucus demo at UFT offices that still called for remote education in January 2022.  (Internationalist photo)

By the late spring of 2020, as many teachers unions, and the reformist internal oppositions like M.O.R.E. in New York and C.O.R.E. in Chicago, were calling to keep the schools closed, Marjorie insisted, and we wrote on placards, that “Remote education is an oxymoron.” All education is social, as Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky taught, and every teacher in New York learned in ed school. Marjorie and the CSEW called to use union power to make schools safe, to form committees of teachers, students, parents and school workers to inspect the buildings, to check out ventilation and make sure the new ventilators worked. The union did not need the administration’s permission, it could just do it and insist on compliance. And by involving the parents it could undercut the kind of anti-teacher backlash that the right wing predictably instigated. The CSEW called for this insistently but at the time, we did not have sufficient strength in the schools to wage this fight.

Marxism & Education, the journal of Class Struggle Education Workers. To order a copy, click on image. Cost: $3, including postage. (Internationalist photo)

Marjorie went back to the university after retiring, thinking of getting another master’s degree in history from CUNY. Among the powerful papers she wrote “Interpretations of 1989 and the ‘Socialist Reform’ Currents in the German Democratic Republic” (DDR), taking apart the Cold War ideology of Western anticommunist academics, who portray the struggles of 1989-92 in the Soviet bloc as “totalitarianism” vs. liberal democracy. In it she explained why the socialist reform movements of dissident intellectuals, isolated from the workers and lacking a revolutionary program could not fulfill their dream of an independent DDR cleansed of bureaucracy, existing between the Soviet and Western blocs. Another paper dealt with various modern-day “Interpretations of CLR James’ The Black Jacobins” who find the Haitian Revolution wanting for not conforming to current standards of “human rights” imperialism.

Marjorie received the best medical care available. After an emergency operation in February 2022, she was treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the premier institution for this disease. It was a hard regimen, taking 13 pills multiple times a day, dealing with neuropathy and indignities. Then, when further chemotherapy was no longer possible, she received considerate attention at the only acute-care accredited end-of-life hospital for advanced cancer patients in the U.S. When they asked at intake if she was depressed, she said “yes – because I’m dying.” Marjorie had tremendous will power, as communists must have, but eventually her body gave out.

During the two years’ time won with chemotherapy Marjorie accomplished some important things. She gave a three-part talk on the 1968 New York teachers strike, about which much has been written and which is still sharply disputed today, dissecting the forces at work, and explaining how a leadership armed with the Bolshevik revolutionary program of educator-led teacher-student-parent-worker control of the schools could have cut through the community control vs. teachers rights standoff. She gave another talk during these months, on the counterrevolutionary role played by the Shachtmanite anti-communist leadership of the UFT and AFT, from the Pinochet coup in Chile to Polish Solidarność. The CSEW plans to publish these talks, together with others of her writings, in the next issue of Marxism & Education. Marjorie also mentored a group of young teachers starting out in this demanding job.

Marjorie’s life was not easy. One thing that helped her, both facing hostility in the SL and with the demanding schedule of teaching, was running. Her father, Bill Stamberg, had been a semi-pro basketball player and after getting cancer used to go on long walks every day. Marjorie watched the NBA finals every year, and was an avid runner. She ran eight New York City Marathons. She ran all through the pandemic, when people (including her) were afraid to go out. Later, after she fell ill with cancer, she had Parkinsonian symptoms and found it hard to walk. But after seven months of slowly recovering from surgery and little by little being able to walk again, she adopted a daily routine of walking two and a half miles. It was slow-going but she did it. Then she had to negotiate 46 stairs to get up to her and Jan’s fourth-floor walk-up apartment.

Marjorie Stamberg at protest called by Class Struggle
              Education Workers outside NYC Department of Education
              headquarters on 16 November 2023 protesting gag order by
              chancellor that sought to suppress solidarity with Gaza by
              teachers and staff.Marjorie at protest called by Class Struggle Education Workers outside NYC Department of Education headquarters on 16 November 2023 protesting gag order by chancellor that sought to suppress solidarity with Gaza by teachers and staff. (Internationalist photo)

It was a measure of Marjorie’s fortitude that in November 2023, when it was increasingly difficult for her to walk, she participated in three Gaza solidarity protests in one week. On November 9, she made her way into a crowd of several thousand on the steps of the New York Public Library main building in a National Shutdown for Palestine student walkout. Her sign called to “Defend Palestinians Against Genocidal U.S./Israel War.” On November 15, she joined a rally at the UFT offices in downtown Manhattan with a sign declaring, “Israel Out of Gaza and the West Bank Now!” The next day, outside the D.O.E. headquarters, holding a sign calling “For the Right of Students and Teachers to Protest War on Gaza!” she spoke at a protest called by the CSEW against a gag order issued by NYC schools chancellor David Banks seeking to squelch any pro-Palestinian talk, even on their own time and out of school.

Marjorie was determined to show her opposition to the slaughter by the Israeli Zionists and U.S. imperialists, who furnish all the bombs and planes that make this mass murder possible; to refute the slander by the purveyors of genocide who equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism; to speak out on behalf of the Palestinian Arab people under attack, and to defend the rights of others to do so as well.

Having written for several left papers as she evolved politically, Marjorie Stamberg made the leap from being a New Leftist and pioneering women’s liberationist to the communism of Lenin and Trotsky, and then held fast. She was an editor of Workers Vanguard and The Internationalist, along with the CSEW journal Marxism and Education; she was a member of the Central Committee of the Spartacist League when it stood for revolutionary Trotskyism, and for the last 28 years a central leader of the Internationalist Group and of the League for the Fourth International. She was a professional agitator, and a very good one, able to appeal to a crowd, to explain clearly the essence of the issue at hand, and the need for a revolutionary answer. As one comrade who worked with her for decades commented, “She was hard as nails politically, and also kind, always there when you needed someone at your back.” Marjorie was respected by pretty much everyone who knew her.

Marjorie and Jan in the 1980s. Jan wrote to her comrades the night she died: "She was the love of my life, my comrade in struggle, my compañera and girlfriend forever, who will continue to inspire me tomorrow as she did yesterday, and for years before.... I’m sure many other comrades feel this loss deeply as well."   (Internationalist photo)

Over the half century of their life together, from Workers Vanguard and the Spartacist League/ICL to The Internationalist and the Internationalist Group/LFI, Marjorie and Jan collaborated politically so closely that they sometimes forgot who had said what. In the SL they were embroiled in many fights – to the point that when they walked in together to a Political Bureau meeting in the early 1990s, party leader Jim Robertson remarked, “Oh, here comes the alternative leadership.” They lost some fights, but probably won more and worked together effectively with others in the leadership for over two decades despite tensions. In the IG/LFI Marjorie continued to fight for the program that she was won to decades before, and that today is more urgent than ever. As Rosa Luxemburg stated, the choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism, and we’re getting a horrifying preview of that barbarism in the genocide in Gaza.

The leader of the East German Stalinist regime, Erich Honecker, had a fatuous slogan, “Vorwärts immer, rückwärts nimmer” (Always forward, never backward), which is absurd – it is sometimes necessary to fight rearguard actions. As labor and left misleaders have capitulated before the imperialist offensive in recent decades, giving up union gains and acquiescing to – even joining – the drive to gut public education, Marjorie and her comrades have had to become adept at waging defensive struggles, but always preparing to go on the offensive. Yet Marjorie never gave up, or stepped back, she was always in the forefront, fighting for the oppressed. Her example, and the lessons she drew from those struggles, will help show the path of those who continue her struggle for a socialist world. ■

  1. 1. The National Guardian was founded as the paper of the Progressive Party (PP), the Communist Party-led electoral vehicle for the 1948 presidential campaign of former U.S. vice president Henry Wallace. Under the blows of McCarthyite repression the PP disbanded in the mid-1950s, but the newspaper continued as the largest left paper in the U.S. As the New Left grew, in early 1968 the Stalinist popular-front editors stepped down and were replaced by a New Left team of writers who changed the name to the Guardian and invited Marjorie to join the staff.
  2. 2. As the New Left Guardian settled into a reformist Mao-Stalinist line, and the editor Jack Smith acted in a high-handed way toward the collective that supposedly ran the paper, members of the staff staged a strike and then started up the Liberated Guardian, with a somewhat more radical (but still Stalinist-influenced) political line.
  3. 3. A takeoff on “Bluestockings,” a name used to disparage female intellectuals in past centuries.
  4. 4. See Marjorie’s article “CNTE-SNTE, What’s the Diff? And Why It’s Important” (August 2016), on the CSEW site (edworkersunite.blogspot.com/2016/08/mexico-teachers-strike-cnte-snte-whats.html).