[Marxism] About Chui Choy and Sío, the SWP, Babylon 5, the antiwar movement, and some other stuff
jbustelo at gmail.com
Mon Nov 19 01:07:49 MST 2007
Louis posted: "BE LIKE CHUI, CHOY, AND SÍO WONG A Chinese View of the Cuban
Revolution Mary-Alice Waters, editor of New International magazine and Our
History Is Still Being Written, just back from China."
When I saw this --actually I just barely glanced at it-- I had the
impression this was just Louis lampooning the loonies, though really that's
more my style than his. Then going through more messages, Luko's post about
the Dubai strike picture box in the Militant prompted me to click on the
link, mostly to see the picture (and it was a very bizarre strike picture --
it looked like a bunch of guys who for some unfathomable reason decided to
pose with their drying laundry on a balcony -- an exercise in realistic
post-modern surrealism, or something), and I guess just the weirdness of it
prompted me to click on the link to go to the home page and I was thinking
maybe I'll check out the editorial or news articles, just a glance to see
what they're into, thinking to myself that I wish putting a normal
navigation bar on EVERY page, like virtually all other web sites have,
hadn't been beyond the skill of the SWP coders, so I could go directly to
sections instead of having to go through the home page, when the home page
popped up and there it was in a box in bold letters right smack in the
middle of the web page:
"BE LIKE CHUI, CHOY, AND SÍO WONG"
And I just about shit from laughing, because if you (mis)pronounce the names
in Spanish, they sound like "chewey, showey and see-oh" which for some
reason made me go hysterical, especially because I'd thought Louis has made
it up but he hadn't.
And right then it struck me just what it was about the subject (the SWP and
ISO on Cuba) that somehow had led me to stick in that joke about Babylon 5
in an otherwise pretty serious and straightforward post I'd just finished
writing and sent, wondering as I re-read what I'd written, correcting a typo
here and there, and spell checking the thing, whether I shouldn't really
take Babylon 5 out, and winding up not doing it, but for no reason I could
What I realized was, that the reason that writing about the SWP
subconsciously evoked a reference to Babylon 5 is that the SWP is like
something out of some science fiction story. I had that thought. And THEN a
split second later I realized that I'd written --quite consciously-- that
very same thing this morning, in another post, this one to the SWP list,
provoked by the exchanges there between Walter and Louis:
"The SWP now is one bizarre entity that seems lifted out of the pages of
some science fiction book. It combines a frankly thuggish and totalitarian
internal regime with a pure sect existence rivaled only by the SLP with the
damndest expression of commodity fetishism I've ever seen among Marxists --
the whole shtick about 'the books workers need.'"
And in looking for that quote, I ran across another passage, and it reminded
me that I've been meaning to write what I said in that passage on THIS list,
but haven't gotten around to it. It is something that I'd kind of been
thinking about for a couple of years, prompted by Marta Harnecker's book, La
Izquierda en el Umbral del Siglo XXI, a shortened and updated version of
which is now available in English under the title Rebuilding the Left.
And what I've been meaning to write relates to her argument that a political
organization is needed that serves to articulate (bring together) the
various social movements and give them a clearly political expression, i.e.,
that can present an alternative to the rule of the capitalists.
And actually, the line of thinking it led to is one that I've actually tried
writing perhaps a half dozen times, including a few days ago as part of my
post in the thread on "Decline in the antiwar movement," but I've always
been dissatisfied with the result and taken it out, as I did in that post,
or wound up not sending the post that contained it at all.
Basically, I've come to a conclusion that sort of trashes what for a lot of
us ex-SWPers of my generation was the SWP's best moment -- its role, tactics
and strategic line in the movement against the Vietnam War. Here is what I
wrote about that on the SWP list:
* * *
While I still have a positive appreciation of aspects of the SWP's
intervention in the antiwar movement, there is one CENTRAL point that I now
believe wasn't just wrong, but catastrophically wrong, and I use the phrase
advisedly and with no intent to exaggerate.
And it was a mistake that showed that at a very fundamental level, the SWP
leadership had a sect outlook. And that was the SWP's refusal to try to
create, and indeed its active and highly effective combat against any effort
to create, a POLITICAL expression in the electoral arena of the antiwar and
other social and protest movements of those days.
The counterposition of what the SWP called "class politics" to such efforts
wasn't just wrong, but asinine, because when you got right down to it, in
the United States in those years there was no working CLASS. Not in any
meaningful political sense. No "class for itself" movement.
Thus to the MILLIONS of radicalizing young people and others who could have
been reached by something like the Peace and Freedom party writ large, or at
least larger, the SWP's alternative of a labor party based on the unions was
no more real than Posada's insistence that UFO's were emissaries from more
advanced societies on other planets who were bringing communism to the
I insist this was a CATASTROPHIC mistake because what it meant was to hand
over, without any REAL effort to counter it on a MASS scale, the
overwhelming, vast majority of activists and radicals, and those sympathetic
to them, to the Democratic Party.
We are still paying a very heavy price for that piece of stupidity, one born
from the SWP's fundamental character as a sect, a group that upheld abstract
"correct politics" completely detached from any relation with social forces
The way it actually worked is that what the SWP did was motivated by the
desire to combat "popular frontism." What made it even scarier to the SWP
was that this wasn't some pipe dream, but a live possibility: in 1968, a
layer of the radical pacifists and more experienced student rebels (who had
gone "part of the way with LBJ" in 1964, and got the Vietnam War as
recompense) tended to be for it, as did the Panthers and other Black
revolutionaries. The CP (Stalinists! We hates them forever! -- that was the
SWP attitude) could probably have been tempted by such a project, justifying
it, in terms of their OWN ideological baggage, as precisely popular
frontism. And as it turned out, the Democratic Party convention and
nomination of Humphrey wound up creating a HUGE, MONSTER opening for such a
formation, and similar opportunities would continue to exist in subsequent
"The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains
of the living," Marx says in the opening paragraphs of the 18th Brumaire.
The SWP's nightmare was popular frontism.
But this could no more have been popular frontism than it could have been
"feudal socialism," the mistake of supporting the feudal elements in
conflict with the bourgeoisie. To commit the mistake of feudal socialism,
you have to have feudal elements to support. And to commit the mistake of
"popular frontism," of subordinating the independent workers movement
politically to the capitalists, you've got to have an independent
class-political movement of the workers.
Instead, what we had were independent social and protest movements composed
largely of working people, and what the SWP did was to combat any attempt to
have them cohere as a political alternative in the electoral arena, and in
that way HELPING the Democrats have a completely wide-open field in getting
activists in these movements sucked into bourgeois politics. This wasn't the
SWP's intention, its intention was to "combat popular frontism," but that is
what happens when you apply abstract formulas learned by rote without any
regard for or understanding of their real political content, their real
meaning in terms of social forces that were in motion and struggle.
What we actually faced was not an attempt to subordinate the emerging
independent class-political movement of the proletariat to bourgeois
parties, because there was no such movement, but an opening to chip away at
the well-nigh absolute hegemony of the bourgeois two-party system in the
United States among a layer of working people who had become radicalized
(albeit not on a class basis, in other words, not around their identity as
members of the working class).
The SWP's own "socialist election campaigns" were nothing more than
exercises in isolating the party as a sect from the mass movement activists.
At a time when MILLIONS of young people considered themselves
revolutionaries, the success of the SWP in getting somewhere north of 95% of
them to vote AGAINST "the socialist alternative" speaks for itself.
* * *
I continue the main argument (about the SWP's sectarianism) for some
distance, but I break it off here because I wanted to add a couple of
thoughts about the antiwar thing before getting too far away from it.
I am not unconscious that what I wrote is probably only half the story, and
perhaps only the tip of the iceberg. Because if what I say there is correct,
then a lot of the STRATEGIC justification for the SWP's single-issue
approach (but not necessarily some of the tactical arguments in its favor)
is gone, and with it also at least part of the justification for the
NPAC/PCPJ split being correct, or necessary, or unavoidable.
The single-issue/multi-issue debate in the antiwar movement of "the sixties"
wasn't really about that, not exactly, for the SWP was ALSO for, and
actively promoted and worked to link the issue of the war with the Black
struggle, the women's movement, etc.. The SWP proposed doing this through
contingents which raised their own demands, speakers at rallies, and so on,
whereas the radical pacifists, the CP and others argued for including some
of these other points as central slogans or demands of the protests as a
The heart of it was that for the SWP, the antiwar movement could not and
should not become a broader social and political challenge to the policies
of the capitalists, or not be at the center of an alliance that presented
such a broad challenge, for as the SWP saw it, this would simply be a
"popular front" in the form of a third capitalist party or a petty-bourgeois
party (can't remember right now which we said, I *think* it was probably
both at different moments).
What Harnecker argues is that we need to figure out how to bring the
movements into such an alliance that can become an overall POLITICAL
challenge. And she suggests somewhere that perhaps the whole series of
issues and concerns about the environment and sustainability can serve as a
starting point for a process of creating this party that is the articulation
of the social and protest movements.
And it struck me at some point that back in "the sixties" we had that
starting point from which to develop a convergence in the fight against the
war. It dominated and was central to absolutely everything, as I remember
those years, in a way that the current war(s) do not quite do. And some time
a few months ago I read bits of Fred Halsted's book, "Out Now!" with this
whole subject in mind, and as he recounted the debates, I kept thinking that
we in the SWP blew it. We were so obsessed with the idea that multi-issuism
would provide a bridge to the Democrats that we could not see it ALSO
provided a bridge to challenging the Democrats and the two party system,
viewing even third party developments as basically a stalking horse for the
Democrats rather than a challenge to them.
And this was intimately tied in with the SWP's "correct programitis," the
idea that only WE could present a real and full and true challenge to
capitalist politics because only we had the correct program. And while we
had a concept of relating to actual social forces and layers in motion in
opposition to the war, we built a brick wall against the idea of this motion
evolving into an overall challenge to the parties and politicians of the
capitalists by saying that this latter sphere of activity was the exclusive
province of "class politics" and until such time as the class itself, as a
class, moved on THIS question, even if imperfectly through, say, a labor
party, everyone else had to keep out. We as the SWP, the bearers of the
program that expressed the historic interests of the class, had exclusive
rights to present an overall political challenge to the capitalists. We were
willing to carve out a (small) exception for the Black and Chicano
movements, with the argument that these oppressed nationalities were
"overwhelmingly proletarian" in composition, but that was it.
Yet taking the antiwar movement into the electoral arena in alliance with
the other social and protest movements WAS the obvious next step. If marches
and demonstrations, along with other forms of protest and pressure,
everything from civil disobedience to lobbying, could not get the
politicians we had to stop the war, the conclusion of most rational people
would be to remove those politicians and replace them with ones that WOULD
end the war.
The debate then should have been HOW to do that -- through the Democratic
Party or by breaking with the Democrats and building a "Peace and Freedom"
type party (and that name was and still is not a bad one). But that debate
didn't happen on the scale it should have because the single strongest
cohered force in the antiwar movement that needed to be at the center of the
peace and freedom party camp, the SWP, instead opposed and denounced the
idea. We counterposed to it our own microscopic and ultrasectarian socialist
election campaigns, as well as the purely theoretical perspective of a labor
party based on the unions, which was entirely unattractive given the rotten,
right-wing, pro-war, imperialist politics of most of the union bureaucracy.
Whether such a party, could have really gotten off the ground, whether it
would have succeeded in becoming an ongoing effort, at least as much as,
say, the Greens have, is a question that I can't answer. I was 17 at the
time of the 1968 elections, feeling burnt out/betrayed by how the whole
"clean for Gene" thing worked out (Hubert Humphrey! Johnson's useless VP!!!)
and knew nothing about the overall politics and moods in the antiwar
movement outside Miami. Perhaps others on the list a little older and/or
better situated than I was then can give their impressions. My guess is that
after Chicago such an effort *might* have gotten traction, especially
because the Democratic Party convention had been such a focus because there
really was no other alternative visible (at least as I recall it) other than
somehow getting the Democrats to change course. I don't recall being much
aware of P&F then or Cleaver's campaign, although I do remember knowing
about Dick Gregory's campaign but as something like a comedian's gag, like
the recent Colbert effort.
I see just now that David has posted a query about my previous missive: "I
don't get the long essay/tome by Joaquin...? What was the *point* of this
I actually thought that last one was pretty straightforward, but I suspect
it won't be just David that will have that reaction to this one.
PS: The point that I actually set out to make when I decided to write this,
before I got diverted by ... well, everything, was that I downloaded the PDF
leaflet and actually what Louis quotes isn't the most bizarre thing. The
most bizarre thing is that AFTER the listing of the public meeting on
Saturday, they have a listing of INTERNAL meetings on Sunday:
Discussion on Saturday's presentations for Young Socialists
and worker contacts of the Socialist Workers Party 10 a.m.
Young Socialists national meeting 1 p.m.
Join 'Militant' subscription sales teams Noon
Pathfinder Print Project volunteers 9:30 a.m
(location to be announced)
I hope the way I've arranged the text means it won't get broken into
different lines because even the chronology is weird. They start at 10 AM,
move to 1 PM, jump back to Noon, and then to conclude, they have a 9:30 AM
meeting at an undisclosed location. And just the very weirdness of publicly
promoting events that those who receive the leaflet or download the PDF are
EXCLUDED from leaves me groping for something to say.
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