Williamson John

John Williamson


John Williamson was born on June 23, 1903 in Glasgow, the son of a marine engineer. A woodworker and shipbuilder by trade, John had only had eight years of formal education before starting work, although later in life, he studied part time at night.


He emigrated to the United States in July 1913, settling in Seattle. By August 1918, he had joined the Socialist Labor Party and became its Secretary for Washington State from 1921 to 1922.


After the 1922 convention of the underground Communist Party of America determined a move towards legality and mass work, he joined the legal entity the Workers Pafrty of America, founded in late 1922. He became active in the party's youth section, the Young Workers League and would become a major functionary of the YWL.


He was elected a delegate to the 2nd National Convention of the YWL in May 1923, held in New York, where he was elected to the NEC. He was subsequently elected National Industrial Organizer, which obligated him to move to Chicago, where the YWL had its head office.


John Williamson was a delegate of the YWL to the 3rd National Convention of the WPA at the end of 1923 and was there voted to be one of two delegates to the 4th World Congress of the Young Communist International in Moscow.


In 1924, for a short time, he was made the YWL's representative to the YCI in Moscow and returned in September that year assuming the Secretaryship of the YWL. In April 1925, he was a delegate to the 5th Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International(ECCI). In autumn 1926, John married Lenore Sarney, a Polish émigré who was active in the YWL. But the marriage ended four years later, albeit in a friendly fashion. Lenore remarried and subsequently settled in the Soviet Union.


John stayed in the role of YWL Secretary until August 1928, when he was replaced for political reasons but once again permitted the role of  Industrial Organizer. He had begun to adopt leftist political positions and, indeed, was a supporter of James P. Cannon, when he began to diverge from the position adopted by the leading group in the CPUSA around William Z. Foster. But, unlike Cannon, who veered off into Trotskyism, for which he was expelled in 1928, John stayed with the Communist Party.


From 1933 to 1940, Williamson was the CPUSA's District Organizer in Ohio, helping to take local membership from 600 to 3,500.


In 1935, John met Mae Cooperman (possibly Kuperman), whom he married in March the following year and with whom he would have two boys.  (See separate entry for Mae Williamson).  


Mae and John now spent nine months in the Soviet Union, after which he was directed into work for the Communist Party USA after its 5th National Convention in April 1929. By the following year, he was a member of the Party’s Central Committee and spent the next twenty years as a senior figure of the Party. This was a time when the experience of British, especially Scots, trades unionists was positively nurtured by Bill Foster.  The American trade unions began to learn the benefit of an organising approach to unionism that was brought to a new campaigning zeal that saw union density massively rise. Only a vicious period of reaction brought on by the onset of the Cold War brought this period to a close.


It was no accident that John Williamson – and others –  found themselves convicted under the Smith Act in 1949 in an attempt by the US Department of Justice to "decapitate" the leadership of the Communist Party USA. He served 5 years in prison and was promptly deported to the UK upon his release in 1955. There he was active in the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Williamson suffered a serious heart attack in April 1963 and wrote a memoir of his life in the radical movement in 1965, a book eventually published by the Communist Party's International Publishers in 1969.

John Williamson died in 1974.


Source: John Williamson, `Dangerous Scot: The Life and Work of an American "Undesirable."’ New York: International Publishers (1969)


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