Episodes from American Trotskyism

Apsken at SPAMaol.com Apsken at SPAMaol.com
Sat Dec 25 13:13:06 MST 1999


>  This reminds me. I need to get a hold of Marty Glaberman's new book
>  "Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization".  I
>  took a quick browse through it up at Labyrinth Bookstore, but it didn't
>  seem to address the major concerns I've raised here and in real space since
>  the early 80s, which revolve around the appropriateness of the "Bolshevik"
>  model. I guess one of the reasons I am leery of CLR James on the
>  party-building question is that the "News and Letters" group, which is the
>  legacy of his partner Raya Dunaskaya,  has such a cultish character. Oddly
>  enough, the News and Letters comrades are quite good on eschewing all
>  claims to being the vanguard of anything; on the other hand, they exist in
>  splendid isolation from broader initiatives on the left. That being said,
>  CLR James remains, along with Mariategui and Gramsci, my strongest
>  influence on broader theoretical questions.

    Our organization (Facing Reality, it was called, after the split from
Grace Lee and James Boggs, who retained the name Correspondence) was anything
but a cult, but the non-member academics who attached themselves to James
were often cultists of the worst sort.
    Marty's perpetual grievance against the members, throughout the sixties,
was that although we all were engaged in political activity of every activist
sort, and derived our line and strategy from the organization's collective
vision, few of us made any serious effort to recruit members to the
organization. As a consequence, our periphery was enormous, and our
conferences brought together members of DRUM and other worker organizations,
SDS, academic feminists, anti-war leaders, etc., but not many regarded the
organization as important to build. George Rawick spent several years with
Nello (C.L.R.) in London, and helped break down the barriers to his return to
the U.S., but they both had larger followings outside the organization. In
fact, practically none of the leading Johnsonites whose writings are widely
read are known to outsiders as having been members.
    Another of Marty's grievances was that academics with no pretensions to
revolutionary commitment, like Paul Buhle, who rarely joined us in the real
political struggles that we were fighting, eclectically promoted James's
cultural doctrines, or his vision for the colonial world, or his
philosophical writing, or his critique of state capitalism, etc., while
ignoring or playing down the essence of his proletarian commitment. I have
not read Marty's new book, and haven't spoken to him in several years, but I
expect these will be among its themes.
    Ironically, in the end it was Marty, as chairman, who pushed through the
dissolution of the organization, while many of us, including C.L.R.,
including myself, including others who were widely dispersed, fully engaged
activists, were stongly opposed to it. It was a tricky time, though. I was
not willing to form a pro-organization bloc with Selma James if it would have
required me to support her "wages for housework" line. (I did not object to
the slogan, nor to agitation around it, but I was offended by the
S.James/dallaCosta argument that housework is a central feature of capitalist
production.) In the end, the pro-organization majority divided on too many
other issues to prevail.

Ken Lawrence

More information about the Marxism mailing list