Episodes from American Trotskyism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Dec 25 06:46:23 MST 1999

>I remember back in 1973 in the Los Angeles branch of the SWP, Milt Zazlow
>(Mike Bartell), was applying to rejoin the SWP, and some of these points
>were made. A comrade, Peter Herresshoff, whose father David had been a
>prominent Cochranite, got up and said, "well, what you're saying is, 'if
>you're so smart, why aren't you rich?'
>Yeah, I think that about sums it up.
>David Altman
>(a confirmed "Cannonite")

Ah, yes. 1973. Those were the days. Branches in every major city in the
country. Subscription drives of 35,000 Militant newspapers. Walter and
Miriam Schneir got an assignment from the NY Times magazine section to
profile the SWP, but the article they wrote was rejected because it was
considered fawning propaganda. Then it all collapsed.

You have to put the American Socialist in its proper perspective. It is
part of a 150 year old effort to create an indigenous Marxist movement in
the United States. Periodically there is evidence that support for such an
initiative exists. The first example was the 'Yankee International' led by
Victoria Woodhull, which unfortunately even Karl Marx himself did not fully
understand the importance of. He backed the dogmatic Sorge against
Woodhull, the very same Sorge who while paying lipservice to orthodoxy,
supported exclusion of Chinese workers from the trade unions.

Then Debs's Socialist Party came along, cheek by jowl with the IWW. While
both of these formations had the possibility of transforming themselves
into a genuine Marxist party, they were sidetracked into 2 losing efforts,
the Stalinist and the Trotskyist movement, both of which shared the rather
regrettable notion that the example of the Bolshevik party could be cloned.
The only exception to this during the heyday of American communism was A.J.
Muste's Workers Party, which sought to translate Marxism into the American
idiom. Poor Muste was outmaneuvered by James P. Cannon and his party was
swallowed whole.

The next initiative was the Socialist Union and the magazine associated
with it, the American Socialist. Unfortunately this was like trying to
start a garden during a drought.

There is much to be learned from the example of the American Trotskyist
movement, just as we can learn from studying the Communist Party. They won
strikes, built antiwar movements and fought against racism. Each had its
strengths and weaknesses. But the underlying and defining organizational
principle--namely, the umbilical cord to the USSR--has been severed. This
brute fact will do more than anything to heighten interest in genuine
Marxist initiatives, which can only emerge from the native soil.

Louis Proyect
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