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John Riddell on the US SWP: Part 2, causes of a socialist collapse (1976–83)

The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume I: The Sixties, a Political Memoir by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (Sydney), 2005, 354 pages.

The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume II: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, 1973-1988, a Political Memoir by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (London), 2012, 345 pages.

[For more discussion of the US SWP, click HERE.]

By John Riddell

Part 2 of a two-part article. Part 1 is available here.

July 5, 2012 -- http://johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- The first part of this article contended that the U.S. SWP’s attempt during the 1976-83 period to turn outward toward unity with other revolutionary currents cannot be blamed for its subsequent retreat into self-absorbed isolation. To be sure, the outward turn was partial, flawed, and inconsistent. But a much more ominous development was under way.

As Barry Sheppard documents in his book on the SWP’s decline,1 the outward turn was undercut from the outset by simultaneous moves in the opposite direction. The outward and inward turns occurred at the same time, confusing party members then and confounding historians of the SWP to this day.

A two-way turn

This pattern was evident in the party’s presidential campaign in 1976. While revealing the party’s growing influence in the broader left milieu, presidential candidate Peter Camejo tells us that the campaign was marred by the leadership’s behind-the-scenes efforts to limit the scope and diminish the authority of his work. Camejo attributes this to fears of “the non-sectarian manner of my approach.”2

Sheppard’s account shows that the same reflex afflicted other positive initiatives by the SWP during this period. For example:

  • In 1977–78, even as the SWP campaigned to dissolve factions in the Fourth International (FI), SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes was pushing its representatives in the FI secretariat to take clearly factional moves (Sheppard 2012, 132–37).
  • In 1979, at a FI world congress marked by broad general agreement, Barnes insisted that the SWP present its own a separate minority resolution on Nicaragua. This divided vote was then utilized, Sheppard says, to suggest, without foundation, that the European FI leaders lacked commitment to the Nicaraguan revolution. (194–95)
  • The party campaign to implant members in unionized industrial workplaces originally had three goals: members were to become integrated into the workforce, carry out trade union work, and draw workmates to the socialist movement. But as the union movement was forced into retreat, the first two tasks were downplayed. The third goal was converted into “talking socialism,” meaning, mainly, selling socialist literature – an intensely isolating experience, Sheppard says. (268–69) Party policies were now justified in terms not of present conditions but by a prediction of a future upsurge. Members thus lost the capacity to judge policies on the basis of experience, an essential feature of democratic centralism.
  • After the Nicaraguan victory in 1979, the SWP began to talk up the prospects for a “new International” including Cuban Communists and other revolutionary forces. But within a year, party leaders started employing this perspective as a tool to discredit the FI and other revolutionary currents who had a different analysis of the Cuban leadership. (298–99) The “new International” concept was increasingly used just to burnish the party logo, rather than to take steps toward revolutionary convergence.
  • The SWP supported the political course of the revolutionary Nicaraguan leadership, even turning a blind eye to its failings. But when the U.S. made war on Nicaragua, the party decided not to commit forces to help lead the ensuing anti-war movement – not even in unions where the potential was real and the SWP had significant strength. (265)

Long after 1983, when the inward turn had triumphed, the SWP took major outward-looking initiatives on questions where most socialist currents defaulted. Among these efforts were: engagement with revolutionary Burkina Faso (1983–87); support of Cuba’s role in resisting the apartheid invasion of Angola (1987–89); publication of documents of Cuba’s attempts to combat Stalinist bureaucratization (“rectification”) (late 1980s); and publication of several books of writings by Nelson Mandela (1986-93), highlighting in particular his relationship with revolutionary Cuba. The Communist International publishing project (1983–93), for which I was responsible, pointed in the same direction. The SWP did important work in several major union struggles; in 1989–91, SWP employees at Eastern Airlines were deeply engaged in the strike that led to the company’s shutdown. The SWP continued active defense of the Cuban revolution.

The SWP was turning sharply in two opposite directions at the same time. No wonder its membership was confused and criticism was paralyzed.

The source of Barnes’s authority

Sheppard recounts the growth during those years of a “cult” around Barnes, and considers this the decisive factor in the party’s demise. In 1978, Sheppard warned some other leadership members, including Barnes, that Barnes was becoming a “one-man band.” Sheppard did not gain enough support to press the issue. (136–37, 208–9) But even had Sheppard won a majority for his views, he could not have successfully overturned the Barnes leadership on such grounds. The members would have perceived such a move as a malevolent palace coup.

Sheppard’s companion Caroline Lund, herself a respected party leader, told him at the time, “we have been taught that political questions [are] paramount,” pointing out that Sheppard had no political disagreements. Sheppard now says that the cult around Barnes posed a challenge so urgent that “the organizational question was paramount.” (301) There is truth in this, but outside the leadership core, it did not became clear until much later, when the process could no longer be reversed.

So why did Barnes prevail? He retained the trust of the great majority of party members because he seemed to be spearheading the party’s outward initiatives. As for the negative internal developments, most members were unaware of them, disregarded them, or accepted them as part of the package. There was a more profound motivation: many members felt that the outward turn, even if flawed, would bring the party into a healthy milieu of struggle in which the symptoms of narrowness and isolation could be more readily countered.

Alarm bells

Nonetheless, at least three developments between 1979 and 1983 should have rung alarm bells in the minds of knowledgeable party members:

  1. In 1979 the SWP leadership convinced the Fourth International to call on its sections in every capitalist country in the world, regardless of the state of our forces or of local conditions, to send our members to work in industry. (196) This pronouncement violated the very principle for which the SWP had successfully campaigned in the International since 1969, namely that tactics had to grow out of national conditions and be determined by national sections, rather than being dictated on a continental or world basis.3 It contradicted the conception of internationalism for which the SWP had struggled since its inception in 1928.4 The call provided a platform on which the factional battle was relaunched wherever the SWP had influence. (196–97) In the years that followed, the SWP’s allied organizations in other countries came to function as if they were units of the U.S. party, giving up their independent publications. In some cases these groups were born from from SWP-encouraged splits or defections from FI sections. The “global industrial turn” led thus ultimately to the dissolution of internationalism.
  2. Between 1981 and 1983, the majority SWP leadership moved to suppress discussion of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, an aspect of the party’s theoretical heritage that its leaders were increasingly calling into question.5 (280–85) The minority current loyal to this concept was prevented from expressing its view either internally or in the public press, even though they spoke for the party’s longstanding position. In 1983, the convention, at which they had been promised a hearing, was cancelled, and they were driven from the movement. In Sheppard’s opinion, this purge was “the death-knell of the SWP.” (287–88) An open discussion of these differences would have heightened the party’s reputation and made it a more attractive force for revolutionary regroupment. The party should have opened its publications to such a debate and invited contributions from all potential participants in a “new International.” The party should have encouraged members who held the traditional view to debate the issue publicly while continuing as loyal party members. The rejection of this path put the lie to the SWP’s claim to be working for revolutionary convergence.
  3. Rather than expelling the minority wholesale, the party leadership initially subjected them in 1982–83 to a process of attrition through disciplinary expulsions initiated by the local branches. (210–11) Often the charges concerned forming an “unauthorized grouping” as, for example, by inviting some members over for supper. “This broadened to frowning upon any informal get-togethers,” Sheppard says. The goal was “to instil fear among members of informal political discussions.” (210–11) This intimidation was highly effective. The constant buzz of political chatter among members – ideas, criticisms, experiences – died away, strangling the party’s internal life.

As a guest from the SWP’s Canadian sister organization, I was present at a meeting of the New York branch in 1983 where Barnes announced that, henceforth, the right to form an internal tendency consisted exclusively in electing delegates to represent a minority resolution that had received support in preconvention voting. Members no longer had the right to discuss or collaborate in writing a resolution, unless asked to do so by the Political Committee. Dissident or minority tendencies were thereby outlawed. As far as I know, Barnes’s edict was not published, however. That was not necessary; the ban on informal discussion had already been codified and enforced through the wave of expulsions.6

Seeds of decline

The minority of SWP members who disagreed with the position on Cuba and the Nicaraguan revolution being presented in the SWP press resisted these developments as best they could. Sheppard says correctly that dissenting comrades in the majority should have formed a bloc with the minority in defense of party democracy. But this did not happen. Many majority comrades, including Sheppard and Malik Miah, did go into opposition, but only later, by ones and twos, when they could be readily isolated and driven out of the party.

This outcome must surely reflect underlying problems. It will not do to say merely Barnes was to blame; deeper causes contributed to his emergence as “sole initiator of policy and supreme arbiter in any discussion.” (210) Specifically, some of the SWP’s strong points were exaggerated to the point that they became crucial weaknesses, obstructing a response to the danger signs.

Consider, for example, the following statement, quoted in a thoughtful article by Gus Horowitz from a speech Barnes gave in 1970:

[W]e are not simply a component of the mass revolutionary party. We are the essential component that embodies in living cadres today the programmatic conquests that are essential for molding the kind of revolutionary workers party that can win the socialist victory in this country7

Certainly it is positive to remind members of the historic importance of their party and of their own personal contribution. But the “essential component” concept approaches equating the party with the historic interests of the working class – leaving the struggles, organizations, historic memory, and activist cadres of the working class out of the picture. By this logic, anything that seems to build the party’s apparatus, resources, and reach can seem to acquire the force of historic necessity, regardless of the consequences for the party’s implantation in workers’ struggles or for the broader movement.

Significantly, when the SWP charted a course toward revolutionary convergence, it did not modify this conception of its own historic uniqueness. Sheppard’s account does not reveal any significant moves to link up with other currents in the U.S. who shared its view of Nicaragua, Grenada, and Cuba.8 The fault here lay in underestimating the implications of the emergence of revolutionary currents wielding governmental power who stood outside the Trotskyist tradition.

Another concept that proved dangerous, when applied in an exaggerated and one-sided way, was that of the party’s efforts to achieve “homogeneity.” The authoritative presentation of this concept is found in the SWP’s 1965 resolution on its organizational principles. Arguing against both Stalinist monolithism and a regime of permanent, tight-knit factions, the text states:

We are guided by the Leninist concept of relative internal homogeneity based on the loyal adherence to the party’s program and principles and the voluntary acceptance of its discipline…. Ample room is provided for the expression of dissident views, even major ones of serious import. The right to organize tendencies and factions is guaranteed.9

On the face of it, there is nothing objectionable here. The obligation of loyalty is common to all voluntary workers’ organizations; the right to organized expression of minority views is assured. Yet something is missing: a recognition of the importance of diversity, that is, for the membership to reflect the different struggles, social layers, outlooks, and currents of thought within the workers’ movement.

Previous generations of the party leadership, under James P. Cannon (1928–53) and Farrell Dobbs (1953–72), had indeed been diverse in outlook and experience. The Barnes generation, however, was much more uniform in outlook – in part, because the leadership had been trained mostly as full-time staffers in the party apparatus rather than in the field of struggle.10 Leaders of my generation considered this uniformity an advance. In fact, it was a step backward. The search for consensus around leadership proposals was enormously overdone and came to lock all members in its grip, deterring expression of dissent.

When unmistakable danger signs appeared, members who harboured doubts kept silent, because of a habit of consent, a desire to give the leadership the benefit of the doubt, and a fear of isolation within the party ranks.

Sheppard speaks to this issue with regard to the SWP policy on transferring members from one branch to another, from one industry to another, and from one workplace to another. “Such transfers are needed from time to time,” he says, but around 1980 they became much more frequent. The constant switching around deprived members of the time required to get rooted in their workplace, “to get to know fellow workers, … to understand the politics of the local union, and to get a feel of the range of views” in the workplace. (268)

Let us add: revolutionary political activity always disrupts of comrades’ personal lives to some extent, but the disruption should not be heightened unnecessarily. When driven to an extreme, the switching around deprives members of the steadying influence of deep roots in the working class and of the personal equilibrium needed to express independent views and raise objections in a party discussion.

Regression to the mean

In its prime, the SWP was distinguished from other Marxist currents by its commitment to working-class and social movements and its capacity to learn and improvise on the basis of experience in action. During the last three decades, these special features have faded from view, and the party now resembles much more closely the general run of small inward-turned Marxist groups.

This process can be described by the term “regression to the mean.” In statistics, that term describes the tendency of “outliers” – facts or observations that are substantially different from the average – to shift over time towards the average. In Marxist politics, it means that a small group that achieves excellence in one or another respect will tend to lose these characteristics over time, unless its strong points are reinforced through immersion in broad social struggles.

The “mean” – that is, the profile of the average small Marxist group – includes these features:

  • A conviction that the small group, and it alone, represents the historic interests of the working class.
  • A high ideological fence separating members from the ideas and discussions of the broader Marxist movement.
  • A hostile relationship to other Marxist currents.
  • A haughty attitude to social movements: the group’s interventions, when they occur, focus on self-promotion and recruitment.
  • An internal discipline aimed not at fending off blows of the class enemy but at restricting discussion and keeping the members in line.
  • A conservative approach to Marxist doctrine, aptly summarized by Marx in 1868: “The sect sees the justification for its existence and its ‘point of honour’ not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from it.”

A Faustian bargain

The driving force behind Marxist “regression to the mean” is that these inward-turned features equip the small group to survive with minimum effort in a hostile environment.

By hewing to these norms, the SWP has made an adaptation to the conditions of an extended working-class retreat. Features that could have exposed it to the hazards and challenges of socialist regroupment, class-struggle engagement, and revolutionary party-building have been eliminated; features that it shares with inward-turned Marxist groups have been developed and exaggerated.

The SWP’s inward turn insulated it from the influences of 30 years of working-class retreat, sealed it off from the ideas of other left currents, safeguarded it against internal differentiation and debate, and made the membership a pliant and disciplined instrument of leadership policy. Something has been achieved: the party has survived as an organization. The price has been its near-disappearance from the stage of working-class politics.

Jack Barnes has been the main exponent of this small-group model; he has also become its prisoner. He has fallen silent on the political concepts that established his authority;11 he has lost his once-considerable reputation among Marxists internationally; he has succumbed, with his party, to political paralysis.

The SWP has effectively abandoned its past, turning away from the pre-1980 experiences it previously treasured. It has surrendered its traditions of internal democracy.12

Once so different from other small Marxist groups, the SWP has come to more closely resemble the profile of this category as a whole. It thus shares in the common tragedy of these currents: characteristics that insulate the group against disruptive influences also render it incapable of contributing positively to broad working-class struggle and to building a revolutionary party.

References

1. The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume II: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, 1973-1988, a Political Memoir by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (London), 2012, 345 pages.

2. Sheppard, vol. 2, p. 288. Peter Camejo, North Star: A Memoir, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010, pp. 129–30, 134–35.

3. In 1969, the Fourth International adopted a strategy of rural guerrilla struggle in all countries of Latin America. The SWP led a minority that opposed the concept of a continent-wide policy and called for close attention to the specific conditions in each country. The 1979 FI world congress accepted the core of the SWP’s criticism.

4. See James P. Cannon’s speech, “Internationalism and the SWP,” which was well known to the party membership.

5. The term “permanent revolution” has been used by Marxists in many ways. In the SWP context of 1981–83, it related mainly to describing the path through which socialist revolution can be achieved in a country that has not experienced advanced capitalism.

6. As a guest at the gathering and non-member of the SWP, I felt it proper to keep silent. But I had another motivation as well. If I had spoken up, it would likely have meant the end of the Comintern publishing project, which I thought had the potential to popularize a political model more inclusive and democratic than that of the SWP. In addition, as a member and former leader of the Canadian sister organization, I felt an obligation to support those now carrying the burden of leadership, and they were aligned with the SWP majority. Inadequate as they may have been, my motivations give insight into the political culture at that time.

7. Quoted by Horowitz from Towards an American Socialist Revolution, by Jack Barnes et al., New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971, p. 125.

8. Sheppard does pass on an account by former SWP member David Walters of efforts in 1980 by Camejo, then working in New York’s garment industry, to unite the SWP with revolutionary currents among Caribbean and Central American workers in New York as a municipal “United Socialist Slate” in pending municipal elections. Others in the branch contended that Camejo was overestimating the potential for such a slate. The branch rejected Camejo’s proposal by a 70% majority. (288-290) Camejo’s de facto expulsion followed shortly thereafter.

9. The Organizational Character of the Socialist Workers Party, New York: SWP National Education Department, 1970, p. 12; see also The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume I: The Sixties, a Political Memoir, by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (Sydney), 2005, pp. 145-48.

10. The “turn to industry,” as originally formulated, sought to remedy this problem by deploying a higher proportion of the leadership off the full-time staff and onto the front lines of struggle. To that end, most branches gave up the post of full-time organizer. But the excessive national-office apparatus was not reduced, and experience in now-retreating industrial unions did not much affect the shape of the party leadership.

11. In the 1970s, Barnes was known for popularizing and elaborating the concept of a workers’ and farmers’ government, Lenin’s concept of the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants,” and the Cuban leadership’s stature as revolutionary Marxists; he also wrote an extensive critique of Trotsky’s views on permanent revolution. Most of this material is still in print, but the themes have disappeared from Barnes’s current writing.

12. For example, the only currently circulated Pathfinder book on the SWP’s history in the 1960s and 1970s is Fred Halstead’s Out Now: A Participant’s Account of the American Movement against the Vietnam War, a celebrated account of the party’s leading role in the movement against the Vietnam war. During the last nine years, in which the U.S. has been continually at war, the party newspaper, The Militant, has mentioned this book only infrequently and never with regard to its central theme of mass struggle against an imperialist war. See also the appendix on “The SWP today” in Part 1 of this article.

 

 

Comments

Letter in support of the US SWP’s current course

 
July 10, 2012

When the concluding volume of Barry Sheppard’s history of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party was published recently, it set loose a vigorous debate including many contributions that defended the SWP’s current record. To my knowledge, this is the first extensive exchange between critics and supporters of the SWP in at least three decades. I am reposting here a lengthy and forceful letter in support of the SWP’s positions posted on this site by Ernesto. Other comments will be found following “The SWP Attempts an Outward Turn” and “Causes of a Socialist Collapse,” on this website, and on the blog of Gus Horowitz. — John Riddell.

Letter from Ernesto:

Hi John!

I’m glad that we have been able to engage in this exchange with a sense of proportion and mutual respect. I do feel those qualities are of immense importance in any kind of political exchange, specially among those who strive to be engaged “by any means necessary” in the organized and collective struggle to end all forms of explotaition and oppresion.

Now that you have published the second part of your article reviewing Barry Sheppard’s history of the SWP, I think the political points have become even more clearly spelled out, in the sense of showing us, even more than before, the different political perspectives involved.

In the second paragraph of part 2, you write commenting on Barry Sheppards documentation (or at least how you interepret it):

“..  the outward turn was undercut from the outset by simultaneous moves in the opposite direction. The outward and inward turns occurred at the same time, confusing party members then and confounding historians of the SWP to this day.”

I must admit one difficulty for me (though I’m not an historian), while trying to read memories and histories of how different people who once belonged to the SWP describe the partys “demise”.

I have found that different people not only give different political explanations of why they left a movement they once were a part of building “by any means necessary” during an important preceding period of their lives, but also that different people judge the “demise” of the SWP quite often according the the year or period they left that organization, sometimes even before  –  and they usually do that long after the fact.

Guarding all proportions, and I think this exchange and other interventions  have reflected this, I understand the publication of this books and others as a political act, attempting to draw lessons for the political present and future, according to the actual prespective of the author/s involved.

As I commented before on Gus Horowitz blog, those were seventeen years of unprecedented political uppheavals, exemplified by such events as: the downfall of the workers and farmers government in Nicaragua and its global consequences, the accelerating and stratifying pressures bearing down upon the workers and opressed of the world, the Wall Street crash of 1987 and what it showed about the growing disorder and destabilizing future of capitalism, the collapse of the bureaucratic apparatuse in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989-1991, the first war on Iraq and the growing, social, economic polarization and tendencies toward Bonapartism and incipient facism in the capitalist “democracies”, the war in Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 90s, the Special Period in Cuba and so on, the list could be a lot longer.

Yet all those mould-shattering events didn’t fall from the sky. In all its changing features, those important facets of a downward curve of capitalist development have been with us since at least the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s.

What were the necessary adjustments, adaptions, reorientations and turns an international revolutionary movement would have to make, who had fought for its right to pass on the accumulated revolutionary experience of the modern proletariat since at least 1848, against all odds and intervening according to the best of its abilities and posibilities in the radicalyzing and revolutionary openings of the preceding decades?

You write a couple of paragraphs later listing some “alarm bells in the minds of knowledgeable party members”:

“1. In 1979 the SWP leadership convinced the Fourth International to call on its sections in every capitalist country in the world, regardless of the state of our forces or of local conditions, to send our members to work in industry. (196) This pronouncement violated the very principle for which the SWP had successfully campaigned in the International since 1969, namely that tactics had to grow out of national conditions and be determined by national sections, rather than being dictated on a continental or world basis.”

The facts remain though, John, and they are stubborn things. The turn to industry was democratically discussed and adopted by a majority at the world congress of the Fourth International in 1979, based on a then common understanding of the changing patterns of working class resistance to a developing world capitalist crisis, in all its different national, social, economic manifestations and the  growing need for those who wanted to be a part of the working class  and revolutionary vanguard in formation to make a radical political turn to the industrial working class.

One could argue, as a lot of individuals and political forces do nowadays in retrospect and some did back then, that the “projections” and the analysis was wrong from the beginning, one-sided, insufficient and so on.

But then you still have to show how it was wrong and you still have to tell what you think the revolutionary movement should have done instead, in a practical, organized way that has some continuity with your revolutionary positions today. You still have to spell your current politics out. Its just not enough to write:

“the SWP leadership convinced the Fourth International to call on its sections in every capitalist country in the world, regardless (my emphasis) of the state of our forces or of local conditions, to send our members to work in industry.”

Not long after 1979, the fundamental issue of the turn and all its political, organizational and personal consequences did become a struggle of a fundamental nature inside the SWP and the Fourth International. And a majority in the leadership of the FI came to believe, as they do to this very day, it was a destructive, disorganizing mistake.

I quote Jack Barnes from the 1982 report “The Organizational Norms of a Proletarian Party”:

“The report on the turn was adopted unanimously by the NC at that 1978 plenum. Since then, as events and our experience have unfolded in ways we could not have guessed, we have adjusted, corrected, and continued to think out and advance the turn..”

“..We didn’t start out with a complete understanding of how things would unfold—not by a long shot. We made some projections that turned out to be wrong… Fortunately, they are counterbalanced by the statements and decisions that turned out to be correct. But even where we were wrong, there is an instructive side..”

“As I said, no one on the National Committee spoke against the turn to industry or voted against it in 1978. But saying that doesn’t settle the question. Because there are certain proposals that, if they are presented in a considered and reasonable way, hardly anyone in the leadership of a relatively experienced Marxist party will oppose. One such proposal is a timely campaign to proletarianize the party. One of the first books we all read when we join is Cannon’s Struggle for a Proletarian Party. And along with that many of us read Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism, about how the party must make a turn into the industrial working class to be ready for imperialist war, explosive developments and deepening polarization in the class struggle, and to withstand the pressures of bourgeois public opinion..”

“..But we’ve seen that the turn must be led. It is a turn. It does mean bending the stick. It does require that the leadership lead the way into industry, convince and inspire new layers to go in, and constantly review and learn from the experiences at each stage, and generalize them for the whole party, to lead the whole membership to make the turn. We must transform ourselves and the leading committees of our party, assess our experience, and come back to it over and over again, as the turn becomes a reality, and—above all—changes the party.”

“And as it does become real, disagreements begin to arise in the party. That is unavoidable. While the big majority is for the turn, not everyone is for all the various political and organizational consequences of the turn and how it works out in life. Not everyone draws the same balance sheet from our experiences and their effects on the party—or themselves. But the fact of such disagreements should not be surprising. They are built into the situation as a result of where we have come from, our experiences in the whole past period, and the character of the turn that must be made, which is not so much a single decision or set of decisions, but a course that deepens as it advances.”

“This is the challenge not just for the SWP but for every section in the whole Fourth International. If you are not willing to risk such disagreements then you can’t carry out the turn.”(1)

You continue:

“In the years that followed, the SWP’s allied organizations in other countries came to function as if they were units of the U.S. party, giving up their independent publications. In some cases these groups were born from from SWP-encouraged splits or defections from FI sections. The “global industrial turn” led thus ultimately to the dissolution of internationalism.”

I do believe this came to be the opinion of the majority of the leaderships and sections of the Fourth International, but you still have to prove this. How the SWP “encouraged splits and defections” and what was your own political part and opinion back then in relation to your current one.

You still have to prove how the “global industrial turn” led thus ultimately to the dissolution of internationalism.”, giving an objective and measured account of the political positions of the SWP and those comrades who were drawn to those positions internationally, through all the years of that political struggle.

You continue:

“Between 1981 and 1983, the majority SWP leadership moved to suppress discussion of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, an aspect of the party’s theoretical heritage that its leaders were increasingly calling into question.5 (280–85) The minority current loyal to this concept was prevented from expressing its view either internally or in the public press, even though they spoke for the party’s longstanding position. In 1983, the convention, at which they had been promised a hearing, was cancelled, and they were driven from the movement. In Sheppard’s opinion, this purge was “the death-knell of the SWP.” (287–88) An open discussion   of these differences would have heightened the party’s reputation and made it a more attractive force for revolutionary regroupment. The party should have opened its publications to such a debate and invited contributions from all potential participants in a “new International.” The party should have encouraged members who held the traditional view to debate the issue publicly while continuing as loyal party members. The rejection of this path put the lie to the SWP’s claim to be working for revolutionary convergence.”

If I remember correctly the first issue of New International magazine had an article from the Cuban communist Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and NI 3 had an article from Tomas Borge from the FSLN. Issue number 5 on the coming revolution in South Africa had contributions from FI leaders Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan. I remember reading as a teenager the debate between Doug Jenness and Ernest Mandel on in an Education for Socialists titled “Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution”. This is how Mandel put it at the end of his article “In Defense of Permanent Revolution”:

“The reason we are provoking Comrade Jenness in this way is neither because of some hostility nor because of some desire to paint the devil on the wall, as a German proverb puts it. It is because it is the duty of the Fourth International, of all revolutionary Marxist cadres and activists, to pull the alarm signal, to solemnly warn that a scratch is about to turn gangrenous. Our polemic has only one goal: to save the Socialist Workers Party for revolutionary Marxism, for the American revolution, for the world revolution. But it will be saved only if it stops the march of some of its leaders towards a break with Trotskyism in time..”

So, how and in wich ways didnt the party open up its publications to contributions from “all potential participants in a “new International.”? I still feel you have to tell though what the defining political and class characteristics of those potential participants would be and how the party and its elected bodies should have regulated this discussion, mantaining not only the democratic rights of the minorities as well as the democratic rights of the party in its totality, permitting the pary to move forward in the process.

Wasn’t one of the driving forces of the turn to industry just that? Giving the party and its members, as party members, the political inspiration, encouraging them to take revolutionary politics into the working class, to debate, to challenge and being challenged, to educate and being educated by the actual experiences of a class that is stratified and divided in a million ways in capitalist society, but who becomes more united and conscious through collective struggle and study, in an organized way.

After quoting from a speech Jack Barnes gave in 1970 that appears partly quoted in an article by Gus Horowitz on his blog “..We are not simply a component of the mass revolutionary party. We are the essential component that embodies in living cadres today the programmatic conquests that are essential for molding the kind of revolutionary workers party that can win the socialist victory in this country…” you write:

“Certainly it is positive to remind members of the historic importance of their party and of their own personal contribution. But the “essential component” concept approaches equating the party with the historic interests of the working class – leaving the struggles, organizations, historic memory, and activist cadres of the working class out of the picture. By this logic, anything that seems to build the party’s apparatus, resources, and reach can seem to acquire the force of historic necessity, regardless of the consequences for the party’s implantation in workers’ struggles or for the broader movement.”

You can find the entire speech “The new Radicalization and the Revolutionary Party” in the april 1971 International Socialist Review so I went back to it and found it very instructive in getting a feel for both the continuity and the changes introduced by the passage of time in history and class politics, by the accumulation trough struggle of experience in the communist movement. Among other things it says:

“The fifth point, and in a way this may be the most important —at least it is one we should take special care to absorb, for it differentiates us from every other tendency that claims to be socialist or radical —is that there will be no reversal of this radicalization before the working masses of this country have had a chance to take power away from the American capitalist rulers. There will be ebbs and flows in the struggle, there will be class polarizations (my emphasis/Ernesto), there will be partial defeats and partial victories. There will be all sorts of stages, some rapid, others drawn out, as the ruling class uses different methods, up to and including the attempt to use fascism, to try to prevent the workers from winning power. But the important thing for us to see is that this radicalization will not be reversed until we have had our chance.”

You write further down (Im referring to your quotation of Jack Barnes, not mine):

“Significantly, when the SWP charted a course toward revolutionary convergence, it did not modify this conception of its own historic uniqueness.”

Well I agree, nor should they have modified that fundamental conception, in any other way than what is continually revealed – to this day – by the experience gained and generalized in a conscious way, as a combative PART of the industrial working class and its changing patterns of resistance and struggle on a world scale and through history.

Or as the founding document of our movement put it a long time ago:

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement..”

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”

“The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.”

“The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes…”

It’s the struggle for that conception, as concretized in the struggle for a proletarian party through the decades, changing through the changing of circumstances and men/women, that I feel this exchange is all about. Its not about finding guarantees against the future degeneration of the revolutionary party – trough a selective reading of the past – its about assembling the forces for the party of the revolution. By necessity a world party, proletarian in leadership and composition.

You write under the heading “A Faustian bargain”:

“The driving force behind Marxist “regression to the mean” is that these inward-turned features equip the small group to survive with minimum effort in a hostile environment.”

“By hewing to these norms, the SWP has made an adaptation to the conditions of an extended working-class retreat. Features that could have exposed it to the hazards and challenges of socialist regroupment, class-struggle engagement, and revolutionary party-building have been eliminated; features that it shares with inward-turned Marxist groups have been developed and exaggerated.”

“The SWP’s inward turn insulated it from the influences of 30 years of working-class retreat, sealed it off from the ideas of other left currents, safeguarded it against internal differentiation and debate, and made the membership a pliant and disciplined instrument of leadership policy. Something has been achieved: the party has survived as an organization. The price has been its near-disappearance from the stage of working-class politics.”

You write that as a fact, long after the fact, John, but I cannot but feel the analysis is divorced from the real political lessons of those earlier struggles, separated from the real world challenges – trough retreats and advances, “hazards and challenges“ – of how independent working-class politics will find its expression, not in an ideological and fetishized way but in an organized, disciplined and combative communist perspective.

I think that dynamic, changing and going forward, reaching out by going deeper into the proletariat, is more concretely and truthfully described in Jack Barnes political report to the fusion congress of the Communist League in the United Kingdom om June 1992 (it appears as the last chapter – Youth and the communist movement – in the Pathfinder Press book “Capitalism’s World Disorder”):

“Although workers place no independent class stamp on the initial manifestations of this radicalization, opportunities do start growing under these conditions for the working class to begin to act in its own interests. These changes are virtually invisible to those outside the working class, however. Only from within the factories and the unions are these changing opportunities evident. But this increasing space to practice politics in the working class and labor movement is the most important single political fact for the communist movement today.”

“The communist workers movement today has only one way to test whether our assessment of the political situation and what we are doing is right or wrong. It is not by polls or election results. The test for us is whether or not the space on the job and in the unions to discuss politics, to take initiatives, and to gain a hearing for the communist point of view stays open or begins to narrow in face of today’s rising class tensions and polarization. If we are right, then that space will not close down, but will instead open up, with whatever ebbs and flows.”

“As workers begin finding ways to fight back against the capitalist offensive, as waves of strikes and other struggles begin to accelerate, this political space will expand. The bourgeoisie cannot simply take back this space, nor can the liberals, the Stalinists, the social democrats, or the union officialdom. This space within the working class and unions can only be taken back by the bosses and their labor lieutenants through class battles in which big defeats are inflicted on the working class. Each advance and victory by workers in these battles, on the other hand, will expand that space and strengthen the prospects for independent working-class political action and organization.” (p 432-434)

And a couple of pages later, what goes to the political heart, what makes a true, concrete understanding of this uninterrupted communist history of the fight for a proletarian party, a necessity for the present preparation of the future:

“Young fighters are ultimately attracted to a class. Whether they know it or not initially, they are attracted to the social weight and potential strength of the working class, its struggles, and its organizations.”

“Youth must also be offered a tradition. Without a political tradition, there is no chance whatsoever of building a working-class movement. Moreover, young people have to find living carriers of that tradition, fighters whose experience draws from more than one generation of working-class struggle. Youth have to find others like themselves from previous generations whom they can join with in building a common movement.”

“Just being a radical, just being against the bourgeoisie, just negating bourgeois values is no more likely to lead somebody to communism than to fascism. We should think about the political implications of this fact. It is only finding the working-class movement, and finding the human beings who carry its tradition, that leads rebel youth in the direction of communism.”

“Communists sometimes underestimate, or even disparage, the importance of tradition. But we should never do so. Proletarian tradition is the opposite of maudlin sentimentality. We should never forget that revolutionists only have a tradition today because workers who came before us fought so hard, for so many decades to maintain it.” (p 441-442)

So I say that the rumours of the party’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Or if I may quote what I wrote to you in an earlier post:

“I do defend the SWP and the movements revolutionary perspective, and I feel deep inside me, in the gut, in my own life and past and present experiences, that I and others I know of and others I dont know of, wherever we are, are converging with the party and its unflinching course, in practice.”

“The party that is becoming, not the party that became. Let the class struggle judge, and everything that through collective, disciplined action, helps assemble the international vanguard that in daily life will subordinate all other considerations to the fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

“I firmly believe history will absolve them.”

Ernesto, July 9, 2012

1. http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/fit/appendixbarnes.htm

Post-mortems of the SWP

From its height of influence and membership in the mid-70s to its long steady decline into a workerist cult of around a hundred aging members, the American SWP—regarded by Leon Trotsky as the flagship of his movement—is worthy of study in the same manner as a dead body on CSI or Quincy, ME, two television shows that appeal to those of a morbid personality. In my role as forensic pathologist of the Marxist dead, I have rendered my own findings on many occasions.

full: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/trotskyist-postmortems-on-a...

The Degeneration of the SWP: elitism, megalomania, bullying

My assessment of the SWP’s degeneration differs from Barry Sheppard, Gus Horowitz, and other commentators in important aspects, particularly the role Sheppard played. Most of my 11 years (early 1970 through 1980) in the YSA and SWP were spent in the New York City branches and my experience is colored by proximity to the national office and national leaders. I don’t know how to present my evaluation without making it a personal narrative; I don’t do this to inflate my importance in the story.

An apprenticeship
I came to NYC in 1970 when the YSA and party were experiencing a huge rush of recruits they were not organized to handle. They soon moved from a single, unmanageable branch to three NYC branches. I had moved to NYC from Minneapolis to get involved in women’s liberation and immediately became active in organizing for the August 26, 1970, Women’s March for Equality. My run-ins with the party began right after August 26th. Although I had been centrally involved in the march and am part of its history, the party moved in some of their key personnel to take over women’s liberation work and without explanation simply moved me out of the work by not including me or notifying me of meetings. Though I badgered the branch organizer for an assignment, I didn’t understand what was going on and simply continued my political work at NYU where I worked as a secretary. I organized antiwar meetings and protests, Palestinian defense forums, organized a women’s liberation committee and carried on abortion rights work. My speeches at NYU and in the women’s abortion campaign were on TV and radio and I was more than once interviewed on radio with Gloria Steinem but I was unable to get the organizer to assign me to an area of work. To mollify me, the organizer (Ken Shilman) created a new post (a shameful sui generis in the history of the world revolutionary movement) and assigned me as branch social director to organize parties. In 1973, when the branch financial director was asked to relocate across country, Shilman asked me to take the position temporarily until he could find a permanent replacement. It turns out I was something of a whiz at the job and reorganized branch finances top to bottom. According to the national finance director, I was one of the best financial organizers in the country and the best at explaining finances to the membership. What I understood was the integration between political goals and financial functioning as well as the financial relationship between the party and membership in a voluntary organization. My performance was such that it would not have been easy for Shilman to remove me and put me back organizing dance parties. I had gone a few years unable to get an assignment but now had become a branch leader. During those dry years, I did what every working class woman does; I internalized the judgment of the leadership and assumed they discerned no talent in me useful to the party because I had none. But I was committed to socialism and decided to contribute the little I could to building the movement.

Class dichotomies in the SWP
It’s not in vogue and often disparaged to speak of class in the SWP but it was and remains the elephant in the room. Most of the young people coming to the movement were privileged and middle-class which has a class psychology quite distinct from that of the working class. The former are entitled, confident, competitive, self-assertive, and self-promoting relative to the working class. The latter (especially women) are diffident, inept and loath to self-promotion, uncertain of their abilities, and reluctant to put themselves forward since the ethos of the class is not to get too big for one’s britches. So it was not easy for working class recruits to adapt to the environment of the SWP which was overwhelmingly middle-class and cocky, including the younger national leadership. Regrettably, the competitive ethos of the middle-class prevailed--particularly in the manner of leadership selection and development.

Leadership selection in the SWP
It was entirely evident that the process of becoming a leader was to be chosen by the current leadership and groomed. I don’t know when this process began but I do know how it became corrupted. I think leadership development is an essential concern in organizations and I don’t think it should be left to chance. But that does not mean selecting people in your own image or those you think compliant and grooming them as parrots and hand-raisers or enforcers. Because that means the less confident, more diffident or even more independent members get lost in the shuffle. It means the process of apprenticeship and learning how to think for yourself are preempted. It means sycophancy is rewarded and people become indebted for their falsely attained stature in the party. And it means phony leaders are created since on some level, many of those selected and groomed must realize how little they know, how unable they are to think a problem through, or defend a position without being told what to say. Or else, they get an inflated sense of their abilities which also ill-serves the revolution. But the greatest offense of all is that working class people who initially lack confidence often develop as effective leaders and organizers. Class society is based on belittling workers, women, and minorities but the socialist movement considers them transformative and revolutionary agents in society. Our leadership methods must reflect that conviction to encourage the more diffident, and prevent demoralization and resignations. Instead, the grooming method was rampant, created an atmosphere of competitiveness, and fostered careerism in a movement based on egalitarianism. It was thoroughly corrupt and was part of the process of degeneration. I don’t think it means holding promising recruits back so much as it means paying attention and encouraging the development of all members. With an egalitarian approach to leadership development, rancor and hostilities are less likely to poison relations between leaders and ranks, democracy is fostered. Most importantly, when you take rebels and turn them into hand-raisers you’ve made them useless as revolutionists.

Financial and political mismanagement
In 1975, I was asked to join the full-time staff of a civil rights group formed by the party in defense of busing for desegregation. I was to be the financial organizer and fund-raiser. The SWP has extensive experience with fund raising as a result of the anti-Vietnam War, civil rights, women’s movements, as well as civil liberties campaigns (like the SWP’s PRDF suit vs. the US government). A good share of large donations come from wealthy liberals who are politically astute and well know and respect the SWP. This group of people were confused about busing because of the opposition as they saw it, between the white working class and Blacks--and they were not contributing money. This was a political factor that needed evaluation. But as financial organizer, I was excluded from all political meetings between the party officers and staff members. They would return from meetings at the party headquarters without apprising me of political discussions and order me to call donors to ask for loans if they would not give donations, knowing full well we would probably not be able to repay them. I insisted first, that I be included in all political discussions of the work and secondly, told them in no uncertain terms that I would not raise fraudulent loans. It was a felony for which I could serve jail time and it was politically short-sighted by playing people for fools who were not money-bags but political people who had to be respected as such. These two disputes went on for several weeks without resolution. I would ask donors for loans but only after explaining we did not know when or if we would ever be able to repay them. Some donors were so floored by the candor they gave donations instead. But the staff members continued to exclude me and order me to raise fraudulent loans. I knew Barry Sheppard had dealt with this same problem in the antiwar movement and as a former financial director of the SWP understood the integration of politics and finances so I phoned him at the national office to meet with all of us to set the matter right. He agreed and we all gathered at his office. For the entire hour of this meeting, he lectured me with vituperation on doing what I was ordered to do without questioning. I listened to him aghast because I knew he, better than anyone, understood the danger I would put myself and the party in by complying. I resigned immediately from that position deeply troubled about the leadership and future of the party.

Coincidentally, at that time I went to live in the town house of George Weissman, an older member of the SWP who as a widower remarried a woman living in New Hampshire. He edited for Pathfinder Press and spent one week per month in NYC and the rest of the time in NH. In the meanwhile, I paid nominal rent and cared for his home which very often included hosting foreign guests like Hugo Blanco, Ernest Mandel, Louis Sinclair, Leah Tsemel, Marguerite Bonnet, Seva Volkov, and others. George was from a middle-class background, married originally into great wealth and I was quite wary he would display toward me the haughty relations I witnessed in the party. On the contrary, he was very egalitarian. He had the regrettable habit however of reading at the table while we were dining. I consider meals a social grace and this habit was not acceptable at all to me. So to his immense chagrin at first, I hammered him with questions about the history of the movement which I was considering leaving. He responded to my interrogations with stories that indicated the party’s past was very different from what I was experiencing. What he described was what I had thought I had joined--a working class party--and I realized that a corruption had taken place, a usurpation of proletarian norms in conduct and atmosphere. Recruited out of Harvard in the generation of the 1930s, George was very aware of dichotomies between working class and middle-class members and we often discussed this phenomenon. It was these discussions that kept me in the SWP hoping to be part of changing it’s rancid environment.

Branch building
After leaving the civil rights staff, I became involved in branch building again in the Manhattan Chelsea branch. The women’s movement had been railroaded into the Democratic Party, the Vietnam War had ended and there was a general lull in political activity. Dozens of members who had been immersed in antiwar activity came back to the branches off kilter and slightly disoriented. The party needed to evaluate where it was and where it was going but with a leadership so self-isolated from the membership and with local leaderships often indentured to them, they were little aware of the problems in the branches or what the focus of collective work should be. This was the era of the “community branches” where larger units broke into smaller ones. Whatever the intentions of the national leadership (which they never explained), many local units thought this signaled a turn to community organizing. Although the CP engaged in community organizing to reformist purpose, it is at odds with the method of the transitional program and not the way we do things for many political reasons. The leadership was floundering, unable to acknowledge they were lost, and unwilling to collaborate with the membership. I believe the turn to industry was a get-rich-quick scheme and a blundering attempt to get out of the malaise and confusion the leadership felt.

People often date the turn to industry as beginning in 1978 but in fact, it began earlier. And as members began to get better paying jobs, the national office began putting the screws on to significantly increase weekly voluntary sustainer payments. One thing I well understood from finances and which Sheppard suggests in his book is that these donations are voluntary, that the party has no right to intrude into people’s private finances and dictate what they should give because it creates rancor and resentment. But now the the national leadership began relentless bullying, ordering everyone to pay $40 per week. I watched this in alarm because I knew it would compel people to leave and I also knew the national leadership knew better.

Undemocratic meddling
When I joined the Chelsea branch, one of the new community branches, it was not functioning. I am a branch builder and became key to involving others in getting it up on it’s feet and it’s institutions (such as public forums) functioning. My leadership style is to spend a lot of time talking and listening to people, to find out who they are, what they’re interested in, what rankles them, what inspires them. It was my ability to work with people that made me effective as a branch builder (and why Shilman made me social director). In the period leading up to the SWP convention (1976?), the branch organizer notified me the national office had given each NYC branch a slate of members working in the party print shop who they wanted elected delegates for the convention. The organizer wanted me to help promote those names in the branch. I was notably missing from the slate although I was a central branch leader and an obvious candidate. Despite the awkwardness this placed me in, I told the organizer this was completely unacceptable. The national leadership had no right whatsoever to impose any kind of slate on the branches, especially a slate of people that played no role in the branches and who were unknown to most of us. I spoke to others in the NYC branches to oppose this maneuver but none were willing to stand up against it. I was fully aware that if I chose to singly and openly thwart it, I would be expelled. So although I refused to go along with it, I did not assail it before the membership. I was elected a delegate despite this repugnant maneuver--along with several print shop workers. This leadership maneuver was intended to control delegate selection and not to address the isolation of print shop workers from the work of the party or to integrate them into participation at conventions.

Elitist behavior
In the entire time I was in NYC, I seldom saw the national leadership. They did not participate in local events (or national ones for that matter) either of the social movements or of the party, such as election campaigns. In fact, they isolated themselves from the local membership in a way I thought peculiar and elitist. On one rare occasion Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters attended a party I held in Weissman’s home so members could meet Hugo Blanco. They stood the entire hour they were there looking dour, speaking to no one, including Blanco, making everyone uncomfortable but grateful when they left. Camejo was different in that regard, perhaps because he was single at the time. I met him through antiwar work at NYU when we both spoke at rallies. I recall in early 1971 he told me that Jack Barnes was the “American Lenin” and as such “needs to be protected”. The country was barely out of the McCarthy era politically so this was an astonishing judgement and indicates not just how imminent they must have judged the revolution but what an inflated respect they had for Barnes. As I previously described, Weissman was an egalitarian man and those who stayed in his home as guests all ate together, often cooking for each other--as befits a socialist household. Somewhere around 1977, Barnes and Waters broke up and he took up with a companion who was a friend of mine. Barnes asked Weissman to stay at his home while they looked for a new apartment. Weissman agreed and informed me that Barnes requested I absent myself from dining while he and his companion were eating. I was floored and insulted by the request since it flew in the face of the egalitarianism I had so respected in George. I believe it indicates the blinded and inflated judgement of Barnes was shared by older as well as younger national leaders--though such imperious behavior should have sent up red alerts. Such hyperbolic esteem must have gone straight to the head of a man already prone to narcissism and megalomania. I did encounter Barnes and his companion in the kitchen I paid rent on and cleaned and in every instance this man who went straight from graduate student to full-time functionary lectured me (who has worked and helped support my family since I was 13) on how to be a proletarian.

Isolation and leadership
I don’t believe the corruption of the SWP was entirely due to the class origins of the young leadership though I do believe they introduced the methods of that class into the atmosphere of the party. I think an equally compelling problem was their isolation from politics. Outside of their Cuba defense work and party building work in the early to mid 1960s, most appeared to have very little connection to not just the working class and the social movements but to the members of the party. In my several decades of political activism, my observation is that a revolutionary spirit cannot sustain such isolation, whatever the cause. Under Barnes, they chose to live a hermetically sealed and elitist political life, unable to even sustain conversation with the ranks. They selected and groomed compliant people as leaders, people who owed them something--like deference. They bullied and intimidated the rest so that people were reluctant to even ask questions. When they did begin to reject the political program of Marxism, the membership was brow-beaten and trained in obedience and those who stood up to them easily isolated and expelled.

Coming to grips with the SWP’s degeneration
Sheppard says he did not stand up for fear of being shunned. I well know how it feels to be vilified as a sectarian and shunned as a pariah for standing up against the entry of the FIT into Solidarity. But that is not an acceptable defense for failing to defend the party. I think the case I have presented shows his culpability and responsibility go back long before 1978 and the “epiphany” moment of Jack Barnes. Without the role Sheppard (and others) played as enforcer of undemocratic and coercive norms in the party Barnes could not have pulled off his coup. I can’t offer any redemption to Sheppard because that is a religious concept alien to Marxism but I can offer advice and that is to face up to the poisonous atmosphere in the party during all of the 1970s, to examine it, to identify it’s sources, and educate about its anti-proletarian methods. I also have argued to deaf ears for nearly 25 years now that this degeneration of the SWP has analogs in socialist groups in every country and in every political current. The problem is considerably more significant in scope than the paltry narcissism of Barnes or the failings of Sheppard. These political processes need to be examined as the early Comintern did concerning the Second International to come to grips with the politics of this epoch and to find a way out of the malaise of the revolutionary movement.

Postscript
As a postscript, I made the turn to industry in Boston in 1978 and resigned from the party in December 1980 after I was brought up on charges of putting my personal life before my political life. I had requested a time change for the work fraction meeting so I could work overtime to buy a car since I was on the second shift and forced to be at bus stops and walk alone at midnight. I had also refused to sell the Militant at work since I was being threatened verbally and physically for being friendly with Black coworkers. It may sound melodramatic but I felt I was choosing my class over a party that didn’t stand a chance in hell of transforming society. I have remained active in the trade union, women’s, antiwar, immigrant rights, socialist (such as it is), disability rights, and other movements. My grounding in Marxism rooted in the SWP experience has proven invaluable in every area of political work.

Setbacks in class struggle fuel sectarianism

My qualfications for writing on this issue are extremely limited- I was in another section of the FI when these developments spread outwards from the SWP to the other sections, including its non-SWP leadership. It should not be forgotten that Mandel too was in favour of the 'turn'.

This turn was apolitical in the strictest sense. Marxists are supposed to provide a line of march for the working class and its allies. To the question of an advanced worker, what shall we do now? The answer, make the turn to industry is fatuous. The worker is already there.

But in all the thousands of words wasted on this, only Mary Scully comes close to an assessment of the real forces at work. Sheppard and Miah don't even come close. These forces are based in the class struggle, ie the struggle between classes, not in Barne's or Sheppard's head or the SWP PC. That is, it was the series of setbacks and defeats which caused the growth of sectarianism, as it always does (eg, the defeat of the Paris Commune broke the first international).

It was the inability of the SWP leadership as whole to cope with those setbacks that caused it to become a sect. The only alternative was the one most spectaularly eschewed, to throw themselves into those few domestic struggles and most expecially solidarity with the international advances that were taking place.

These struggles, and immersing the party in solidarity with them, are the only conceiveable insulation against the otherwise unbearable pressures of imperialism.

Show me a Marxist pary whose only reponse to a strike is to sell papers, and whose only response to the international struggles against imperialism is to sell a pamphlet, and I'll show you a sect.

My review of Barry Sheppard's The Party

Dear All,
I just posted my review of Barry Sheppard's The Party: Socialist Workers
Party 1960-1988. As participants on this list come from Red as well as
Green backgrounds, some might be interested in learning about the
socialist parties' experiences. I would appreciate it if anyone
interested in commenting does so on Our Place in the World. That would
help me as well as readers of the review. It is a long article. PLEASE
do let me know of any errors you might find--I did try very hard to copy
edit it a number of times. But my poor, old eyes are known to make
mistakes.
882. Book Review: The Party: The Socialist Workers Party: 1960-1988

Thank you.
Kamran

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