Letter to an old friend and comrade

 

Posted to www.marxmail.org on December 1, 2003

 

Dear X,

 

It has been a long time since I have written anything about the SWP, but I wanted to follow-up to our phone conversation last Saturday.

 

I have a somewhat different take on the controversial "Baathist remnants" line that appeared in the Militant last week. Unlike Josť and Fred, who stayed in the SWP for about 10 and 20 years longer than me respectively, I have very little sense of continuity between the group I joined in 1967 and the one that exists today. They might have the same name, but they are radically different types of organizations.

 

I remember when I was first coming around the SWP in 1967. My college room-mate was going to the New School with me and had grown close to the Progressive Labor Party. Meanwhile, another New School student Art M. had begun to try to recruit me to the SWP. For somebody beginning to radicalize in 1967, PL/SDS had some genuine strengths. As you might recall, they had organized a petition drive in NYC to put a referendum for "Immediate Withdrawal" on the ballot. Meanwhile, the SWP and its allies in the 5th Avenue Peace Parade Committee had their own petition which actually failed to call for *immediate* withdrawal. Some of the very same people who are now working with the Leslie Cagan-led UCPJ coalition were in the 5th Avenue Peace Parade Committee and had the same kind of tendency to seek "respectability". Despite the clear superiority of the wording of the PL/SDS petition, the SWP opted to work with broader forces.

 

After my PLP-leaning classmate argued that their petition was more "anti-imperialist", I raised that question with Dan Styron who made a huge impact on me at the time and probably was key in convincing me to join the SWP. He said that the antiwar movement was *objectively* anti-imperialist. By promoting mass actions that could potentially affect the outcome of the war, we were impeding imperialism. Those actions counted much more than any verbal support for revolutionary causes.

 

This strategic orientation has stayed with me all these years even after I left the SWP. In 1980, when I was still a supporter of the SWP, I became increasingly alarmed by the abstention of the party from the Central American struggle. Despite articles in the Militant in favor of the FMLN and the FSLN, I got no sense that it was actually taking responsibility for building a mass movement.

 

It was this realization that led me to begin to question the SWP's new orientation and to hook up with Camejo, whose "Against Sectarianism" has made a lot of sense to me over the years despite his own rather uneven evolution. He convinced me to get involved with Central American issues, which was obviously not too hard to do given my concerns. I joined CISPES and afterwards got involved with Tecnica. I had the same exact outlook I had in 1967 when I joined the SWP. I wanted to assist fighters in other countries who were standing up to US imperialism. Any organization that failed to rise to that task would not deserve to be called revolutionary in my opinion.

 

For the first time since the late 1980s, the left in the USA is confronted with the same kind of challenge. Despite the failure of the various Islamic or post-Baathist resistance groups in Iraq to articulate a revolutionary program in the socialist traditions of the NLF, the FMLN or the FSLN, it is absolutely incumbent on us to come to their aid. Their fight is our fight. If the USA prevails in Iraq, it will throw politics to the right in the Middle East and at home. It will amount to a huge victory for imperialism if the quisling Governing Council can rule over a vanquished people. It simply amazes me that anybody who is still in the SWP cannot rise to the occasion.

 

Which leads me to my final thoughts on this matter.

 

I can't remember who said this, but revolutionary politics is a great devourer. It demands the greatest sacrifices but can often pay back little in return except shattered careers, mental and physical exhaustion, jail terms or worse. Sometime back in the late 1970s, the SWP entered a period of deep disorientation. With the decline of the various social movements, it made an adjustment based on a completely false assessment of the period. It was not a period of rising class struggle and working class radicalization like the Debs era or the 1930s. It was a time of retrenchment and defensive struggles. It would have been correct to colonize certain industries where genuine political activity could be carried out. Instead the leadership transformed the party into a typical workerist sect. To this day, I cannot understand why Barnes would have taken this course but this points--sadly--to the root of the problem.

 

In driving out everybody who had the backbone to question articles in the Militant or resolutions presented to national conventions, he has effectively removed the rudder that could have corrected him on such questions. I don't agree with the analysis that the SWP is in danger of turning into a rightwing, pro-capitalist formation despite the rather bizarre coverage in the Militant recently. Keep in mind that it was printing speeches by bin-Laden only 2 years ago! It is more likely that the group, with its aging and fanatically loyal membership, will simply go along with whatever Jack thinks is correct. If he wakes up tomorrow and decides that the Iraqi resistance is okay, they will go along with that as well.

 

The one thing that will not change is its terminally propagandistic character. It functions almost completely as a commentator on events that it has no impact on. In almost every important *social* struggle that has taken place since I left the party, it has played no role whatsoever. This was not the party I joined. My hope is that a party can be built down the road that incorporates the best of the SWP, especially the SWP of Fred Halstead's "Out Now". It should also incorporate the ability of the Browder CPUSA to speak to working people in the language and imagery they understand rather than jargon about "worker-Bolsheviks". It would also absorb the gains and lessons of the Green Party, which has grown through its ability to highlight the environmental crisis of our age. Without such an understanding, I doubt that any would-be revolutionary organization has a future.

 

In any case, I remain guardedly optimistic about the future. Through Marxmail, I have come in contact with some incredibly energetic and politically sophisticated young Marxists who are taking the first modest steps to pull together a new left organization. I urge you to look at their website at www.lefthook.org. I am sure that you will be as inspired as I am.