The Weisses

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Tue Oct 3 21:25:53 MDT 2000

Re: Edmond Kovacs paper on the Weisses, posted by Louis.

I really enjoyed reading this.

I first came across mention of the Weisses when, as a high school kid, I
joined the NZ section of the FI in the 1970s.  I got the impression from
some book, possibly of Cannon's, that they were quite important figures in
the US SWP.  But they seemed to have disappeared.  When, a few times I
asked what had ever happened to them - and I think I might have asked some
visiting US SWP party tops - I was told they had just got disillusioned and
dropped out and gone apolitical.

About two or three years ago, however, a great friend of mine in the States
who had a load of SWP documents covering several decades, organised to send
me photocopies of a number of things written by Dick Fraser, who I was
interested in because of his work on black liberation.

Among the documents that my friend sent was the 1965 political resolution
written by the Frasers (Dick and Clara).  A section of it covered the
Weisses.  At last I found out a bit about them and what had happened to
them.  Ed Kovacs' talk confirms everything they wrote about the Weisses.
The Frasers' document was full of praise for Murry and Myra and the
openness of the LA local, and the whole way it operated, which they seem to
have regarded as a model.  Interestingly, Dick Fraser gave his first public
talks on the black question in Los Angeles in 1952, when the Weisses would
still have been leading it.

Their document also says that the Weisses pioneered 'the woman question' in
the SWP and were never given any credit at all for this.  Also, that this
question was a key factor in bringing down the wrath of Dobbs-Kerry on
their heads.  The Frasers made a number of points about the degree of
sexism in the party in the 1950s - moreover this was not just low-level
sexism which you might expect to find at that time, but quite hard-core
hostility to women playing any leadership role.

It was interesting that Ed mentions that Evelyn Reed was one of the people
hostile to the Weisses and their attempts to get women's oppression taken
seriously.  Because the Frasers say exactly this in their document too.
They argue that it was kind of ironic that in the 1950s Reed was extremely
hostile to discussiong women's oppression and then in the late 60s/early
70s she is presented as the party's leading spokesperson on the issue and
as someone who has always taken the question seriously and pushed it.
Clearly, not so.

Ed mentioned the problems that women in the maritime fraction had with
incredible sexism.  Dick Fraser takes this up in his 1973 'Open Letter to
US Trotskyists'.  He argues that many male SWP members who were in maritime
ended up replicating the views of men they worked with, and that a lot of
the time the main contact sailors had with women was with prostitutes and
that, and the male-only nature of maritime, meant that workers there were
often extremely backward in relation to women.  Instead of challenging
that, the SWP fraction succumbed to it, to quite a large degree.

Ed also mentions the Weisses open attitude to regroupment in the late 1950s
and their successes in this field.  Ironically, the Dobbs regime, which
never managed to attract any other forces, used this against the Weisses.
When Robertson, Mage and Wohlforth et al opposed the party leadership over
Cuba, the Weisses came under attack for having won these young leftists
over in the first place.  So this became another club to beat them with.
The same point is made in the Frasers' document.  So it is good to have
confirmation of this.

Today past oppositions in the US SWP seem to be in for rehabilitation, and
rightly so.  The utter degeneration of the organisation under the Barnes
cabal seems to have been a major factor in prompting the large number of
people who got expelled or driven out by the Barnesites to undertake a
reassessment of past oppositions.  Hopefully, Dick Fraser will be
recognised/rehabilitated in this reassessment as well.

Lastly, on the Weisses.  Not long before her death Myra gave an interview
to the IBT journal '1917'.  It can be viewed on their website.  It's quite
an interesting interview, mainly about the past.  Somewhere in it she says
that Cannon became quite depressed in the 1960s and told her that the SWP
was not the party he had set out to build.  Although I guess he would have
to take a certain amount of responsibility for the result, I can't help
feeling very sorry for him.  He was a genuine working class revolutionary,
a different kettle of fish altogether from the Barnes gang.

Philip Ferguson

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