Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 22, 2013

Ernie Tate and Jess MacKenzie

Filed under: cuba,Ireland,socialism,workers — louisproyect @ 2:13 am

In January 2011, when I and my wife were on a month-long vacation in South Beach—a place that both of us love—we were pleasantly surprised to run into veteran socialists Ernie Tate and Jess MacKenzie who were staying only two doors away from us.

I did an interview with them that was supposed to be part of a longer video on “The Unrepentant Marxist Goes to South Beach” but for some reason I never pulled it altogether. I don’t tend to procrastinate but in this case things have slipped to the point where I decided to put up the interview with Ernie and Jess since it is just too good to get shelved any longer. After doing my interview with Beryl Rubens, a 90 year old CP’er who organized a trade union in my little village in the 1950s, I realized that there’s no greater calling than to get out the story of those who challenged the status quo in good times and bad.

Born in 1934, Ernie was a working-class Irish Protestant kid from Belfast who took a vacation in Paris in 1954 just after the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. The powerful demonstrations celebrating the victory organized by the CP were such an inspiration to him that he decided on the spot to become a communist.

Jess joined the movement in 1964 and before long found herself on a trip to Cuba that would put her in touch with Robert Williams, the NAACP leader who had organized a militia to defend African-Americans against Klan terror. She found herself functioning as a courier between Williams and his comrades in the U.S.

They relate their experience in the movement and offer some thoughts on why they remain socialists to this day. A very inspiring story.


  1. Isn’t he the guy that Gerry Healy’s goons beat up circa 1966?

    Comment by Anonymouse — January 23, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

  2. Yes, there’s actually a brief and fairly difficult to decipher reference to that at the beginning of the video. Ernie told me long ago that he prefers to be known as a leader of the Trotskyist and British antiwar movement than the guy that was beat up by Healy’s goons or recruiting Tariq Ali.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 23, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  3. What a great interview. Very interesting stuff about Robert Williams.

    I tend to agree with Ernie’s take on promoting savings rather than emptying your wallet for the movement. It’s a romantic sentiment to give up everything for the revolution. I think the only thing missing from the analysis is how ideologically gripped a lot of working people are by success of Wall Street because of their retirement 401Ks. These managed funds are literally tied to the Dow Jones or S&P 500.

    Comment by Aaron — January 29, 2013 @ 1:38 am

  4. Great work Louis and Aaron is 100% correct regarding ” emptying your wallet.” So many working class members found themselves with very little tho the “smart ones” and those with trusts made out well after they dropped out.

    Comment by David Walsh — July 1, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

  5. […] Ernie and Jess that evening, I offered to bring my camcorder over to their hotel room where I would interview them. A decade ago I had begun an oral history project of Trotskyist veterans and Ernie’s reflections […]

    Pingback by A Revolutionary Joy Ride Through History » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names — January 23, 2015 @ 5:59 pm

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