Episodes from American Trotskyism

Philip L Ferguson PLF13 at SPAMstudent.canterbury.ac.nz
Tue Dec 28 20:01:54 MST 1999

Jose G Perez writes:

>In the late 50s the party leadership temporized with various sorts of
>one-branch currents and cliques like the Marcyites and the people that later
>became the Freedom Socialists in Seattle, the people in and around Weiss in
>New York, the "young turk" wohlforth-mage-robertson current in the YSA, not
>to mention a fair bit of kibitzing from Jim Cannon in Los Angeles.

I think you may be being over-generous there Jose.  The 'temporising'
usually amounted to wearing down the oppositon, lining up the rest of the
organisation, and then forcing people out or expelling them.  The 'young
turk' element were driven out of the YSA quick smart, and the Barnes cabal
- the very people who subsequently took the outfit into what you rightly
describe as a parallel universe - replaced them.  One of the most
ignominious episodes of that purge was the expulsion of Shirley Stroude, a
black woman member who broke the Dobbs/Kerry ban on party members going
into the South in the early 1960s.

The Weisses were mercilessly undermined by Dobbs/Kerry in the 1950s and
eventually had enough, chucked it in and left the SWP, to subsequently be
turned into 'non-persons' in party histories, although they had contributed
a great deal to the party and remained Marxists for the rest of their
lives.  Myra Weiss also had to contend with the sexism of people like
Dobbs/Kerry who were not keen on having her run as vice-presidential

Interestingly, in an interview not long before her death Myra remarked that
Cannon gave her the impression in the late 50s that the SWP was not the
party he had set out to build in 1938.

The Fraser current in Seattle were also appallingly dealt with.  They were
pariah-ised in the 1950s as Breitman seemed to lose patience with with
Richard Fraser for challenging him on black oppression.  Basically the
leadership began persecuting the Fraser people and Richard was dumped off
the national committee when Dobbs/Kerry decided there would be no more
minority representation.  Fraser had been a party leader for twenty-five
years at the time.

It was these kinds of petty persecutions, motivated by political fear and
Stalinistic reflexes, that paved the way for the monolithic party which the
SWP was by the 1970s.  These carry-ons, along with the purges of
oppositions in the 1970s, have now been codified and taken to their logical
extreme by Barnes.  He has finally achieved the 'Zinovievisation' of the
organisation - an operation which always kills the patient.

Philip Ferguson

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