Jose and the Living Dead

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Mon Aug 30 19:40:58 MDT 1999

I am, I think, somewhat older than Philip, and perhaps also more generous in
taking into account other people's intentions and hopes and points of view,
and not just the unintended and even --by them-- unperceived results of
their actions.

It is one of the reasons why, in my party life, I always felt a little
uncomfortable in fractional interventions and tactical political brawls; and
why today I would not join Philip in saying, looking down at the comrades I
ran into over the weekend, that they got what they deserved. I also will not
talk about them with the contempt he seems to hold.

That because I cannot shirk a certain sense of personal responsibility for
where they are and what they have become, and especially in my last few
years in the party, when, having been entrusted the responsibility of being
both on the NC and PC, I did not live up to what I now believe was required
of me: to explore more fully my unease, my doubts, my misgivings, instead of
trying to shove them aside; to have persisted in those questions and doubts
that I did raise, instead of being satisfied with facile explanations or a
sentence or two added to a report, which in the end meant nothing.

I know that the actions of one individual would not have changed anything;
all of us, who lived through this or similar experiences can console
ourselves with that thought.

Yet before we sleep easy, we should think about this: Just a few weeks ago
Nicaraguans --celebrated or mourned, I'm not sure which is the right word--
the XX anniversary of the victory of the Sandinista Revolution. I've been
reading what some of the people who took part in that glorious day, and in
the subsequent debacle, have had to say. To many of them, the thought that
one individual could not have changed anything has proved no consolation at
all, for, having tasted victory,  they have had to drink the draught of
bitterest defeat in fullest measure, and to the last drop. Consolation would
have come from knowing they did everything they could, and many are not sure
they did.

So most of all I cannot join Philip because I cannot escape a deep and
personal sense of responsibility and shame for the actions which Philip
places solely at the feet of those remaining in the party. It was a sin to
acquiesce to things like the expulsion of Jimmy Kutcher, whatever the
reasons. Call it a dual standard, but people like Jimmy Kutcher ("The
Legless Veteran"), Frank Lovell, who was the mentor on the new generation in
trade union tactics,  and George Breitman, who rescued Malcolm X's true
legacy in his writings, weren't just "one more comrade."

Each one spent decades crawling on the mud through the belly for the party,
for our class, for our cause. They all made outstanding contributions. We
the younger leaders should have instilled in the cadre a sense of deference,
of recognition, of appreciation for what these comrades had done over a
lifetime, and weighed that against any alleged misdeeds. Instead, we whipped
the party up around some cockamamie theory of proletarian norms where
discipline and submission to the will of the "majority" drove out every
consideration of solidarity, of respect, of appreciation, and even of
understanding for human weakness, frailty and old age.

On Saturday, when I saw the comrades, I also read that Osmany Cienfuegos,
one of the old fighters from the Sierra Maestra, Camilo Cienfuegos's
brother, has been replaced as minister of tourism. Cuba, for understandable
reasons, does not usually wash its dirty laundry in public, but over the
past few months there have been brief press announcements about financial
and other irregularities in a couple of enterprises attached to the
ministry. Evidently he was held responsible for allowing it to have

But this announcement in Granma, quoted in the American wire reports, said
Cienfuegos would be assigned new responsibilities, taking into account his
trajectory as a revolutionary fighter and years of service to the
revolution. And if you read Che's memoirs of the guerrilla struggle, you'll
see the roots of this decision in the way discipline was handled in the

The irony is that the underlying reason for the expulsions in the SWP which
Philip refers to was that Frank and the others accused us of abandoning the
party's traditional Trotskyism and Bolshevism, of having become Fidelistas.
There was some truth to that but, alas, not nearly enough. The comrades of
Frank's generation had trained us too well for that.

Still, I will not join Philip in saying even that at least Frank got what he
deserved, even though he personally led the charge against the Cochranites
in Detroit. Frank deserved better than he got, just as the comrades I saw
over the weekend deserve better, not because of their mistakes, but despite
them, and not perhaps because of anything they might have done or
accomplished, but because of what they tried to do, and are still trying to
do. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but I would not
travel a road paved with greed, or hypocrisy or hate, though it lead to
heaven itself.

It is part of the legacy of our century, what most weighs against us, that
Marxism, the most human of world outlooks, has been saddled with an image,
and, let's be honest, not just an image, but deeds, too, that are
mechanical, inhuman, cruel to such an extent that next to it, most people
view capitalism as being more humane.

We say we don't want that, the Gulags, the Wall, the hateful cults of the
Great Leader that turns one man into a God and the working people into
slaves. We want socialism with a human face.

I do not think we will ever get there unless those of us fighting for that
future do so with a human heart, a human soul.

For the very essence of Marxism beyond beyond the laws of motion of
capitalism, the theory of value and of crisis, and the class analysis of the
state, is the simple idea that humans, this being whose very essence is to
be a social animal, since the rise of class society has seen his own
creation, society, which defines him and makes him what he is, stand over
and above him and against him, so that his brother becomes his enemy and
even his cooperation with his fellow humans takes the form of exploitation
and of a war of all against all. And that the losers in that war, the wage
workers, those who produce yet have nothing with which to produce, those who
produce yet whose product becomes the chains that enslave them, will one day
rise up together and break the chains, reconquer man's greatest creation,
which is his society, himself, and end the opposition between the two.

That class unity is impossible without solidarity, and solidarity is
impossible without respect -- even for those comrades, those "friends and
fellow workers" --as the wobbles used to say-- with whom we might disagree.


-----Original Message-----
From: Philip L Ferguson <PLF13 at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Monday, August 30, 1999 6:37 PM
Subject: Re: Jose and the Living Dead

>Jose's experience at the CNN Center was beautifully told.  Although perhaps
>a little too wistful.
>After all, these were the people who purged most of the old-time working
>class militants from the SWP.  These people whom Jose met and chatted with
>threw out of the organisation most of a generation whose entire lives had
>been devoted to building the SWP and to organising and participating in
>working class struggle.  So I wouldn't be too sorry for them: they are the
>makers of their own fate.
>From time to time I run across their NZ underlings.  About two years ago I
>was in the city centre one Saturday and I walked past a woman I thought I
>recognised from many years ago.  I turned round, and she was a few yards up
>the street, but with her with a couple of other women I recognised from the
>same time, all members of the Socialist Action League, which was the SWP's
>NZ 'cothinkers' (in reality blind camp followers) of the 1970s and 1980s.
>It turned out they had been having their national convention in
>Christchurch.  (The SAL, like everyone else, used to have national
>conferences, but now they are the Communst League and everything they do is
>organised in New York with instrictions faxed to them in NZ) they have
>'conventions', just like people in the US.  Similarly, they used to have
>Socialist Forums; now they have Militant Labour Forums.  The MLFs are even
>organised at the same time as WSP MLFs in the States, even though no-one in
>NZ has meetings at that particular time.
>Time has not been kind with the remaining CLers.  At its height in the mid
>1980s the SAL and its youth gropup had maybe 150 people, the equivalent of
>11,000 highly active members in the USA.  In other words, a substntial
>organisation.  There are only two dozen left.  Most of their local branches
>have collapsed, they now only exist in Auckland and Christchurch.  They
>look old but, more importantly, they *are* old in the worst sense - they
>are broken and defeated and spiritless and mindless.
>They put huge amounts of effort into standing around in town and on campus
>selling 'The Militant', having abandoned putting out their own paper.  I
>doubt they sell more than half a dozen a week in Christchurch, but that
>doesn't cause them any pause for reflection.  The fact that people who see
>them on the street selling an American paper think of them as quite mad,
>like a whacked religious cult, makes no impression on them either.
>They have a bookshop a few doors from a cafe myself and some friends go to,
>so I pass it quite frequently.  I have never once seen a customer in it in
>the four years or so I have been going past it on the averga eof once a
>Their MLFs are equally depressed.  Once I was going by with a friend and
>their partition between the meeting room and shop wasn't properly in place,
>so you could see into the meeting room.  A guy all dressed up in a suit and
>tie was speaking at a podium to an audience of about five people in various
>stages of drifting off to sleep.  It was surreal.
>A single Militant being sold is a major cause of joy for these people these
>days.  Also, I remember Lou Proyect posting a quite funny email on apst a
>couple of years ago when there was a piece in the Militant that got excited
>about how five people in Iceland were being approached to renew their subs
>and three had agreed.
>In Christchurch, in the past five years they have recruited one person.
>This was, of course, not a worker, but a student.  While has doing an MA
>they got him to throw in university and go to work in a chicken factory.
>Actually, it is quite interesting watching how he has deteriorated in the
>time that he has been with them.  Any energy or enbthusiasm as a person he
>used to have is gone.  He has put on a lot of weight and is a fat and dowdy
>When I lived in Ireland, I came back here for a holiday in 1992.  I went to
>visit someone who had been my best mate back in the early 1980s but we'd
>fallen out over the whole Barnes lunacy.  I hadn't fallen out with him, but
>he had decided he couldn't be friends with someone who failed to appreciate
>the greatness of the SWP and its dictator.  Anyway, since we hadn't been in
>touch for about six years, I thought I'd look him up.  Rather than ringing
>him, I just got his address out of the phone book and turned up on his
>doorstep.  We spent an incredibly sad afternoon together.
>Totally gone was the energetic, lively, critical-minded, funny, and just
>really decent person with whom I had once been best mates.  All that was
>left was a husk with nothing inside.  He was uninspired, miserable, broken.
>His wife had been recruited and given up being a doctor and gone into
>industry and so now their whole lives revolved around the Barnesite cult.
>His wife was out doing 'party work', but their eight-year old daughter was
>there.  Even she looked miserable and borken down, as if she had soaked up
>the atmosphere of misery and brokenness which was all around her parents.
>On a purely human level, it was just plain horrible.  My former friend and
>comrade tried on one or two occasions during the afternoon to sound
>enthusiastic about what the cult was doing, but just couldn't.  He'd try to
>say something positive about them, then in the next breath he'd tell me the
>CL, having 'buried' the SAL, were now at the smallest size of their whole
>I think it was the saddest afternoon I can recall in my whole life.  Here
>was someone whohad basically been destroyed as a person.  All the life had
>been squeezed out of him by this evil, wretched cult.  He had been
>absolutely broken as a human being.
>That is pretty much what they are all like, certaionly any of them who have
>been in it for any length of time.  Even Johnson, the mysognistic,
>homphobic, violent thug who ran the Barnes operation here, but seems to
>have finally dropped out.  I ran across him in a supermarket a few years
>ago, shuffling up the aisle like one of the lobotomised patients from 'One
>Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest'.  It was tempting to go up and say to him how
>all the disgusting things he'd done in his political life really hadn't
>done him any good had they.  But I just couldn't be bothered.  He just
>wasn't important enough to waste words on.
>I certainly did not feel any pity or sorrow for him.
>In fact, the fate of these people - like that of Stalinism - has been
>something of a source of encouragement.  It shows that the wheel does turn
>full circle.  That people do get their just desserts.
>And if this is the fate of ratbags on the left, then there is certainly
>hope that we can give the  capitalist class itself its just desserts!
>Philip Ferguson

More information about the Marxism mailing list