Forwarded from Ted Crawford (Trotskyism conference)
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Oct 5 11:12:02 MDT 2000
[Ted Crawford is on the editorial board of Revolutionary History
Someone sent me your report on the conference. I send you mine. You clearly
know far more about the American Left and American Unions than I do but it
is interesting as to how often our impressions coincide. I may have got it
wrong about the Seamen, I was repeating what someone told me.
I would make a few points about our disagreements. (These are not those of
RH but my personal ones - I can be blamed.)
1st. Cannon (& I take it Weiss) was as much better than Dobbs as he was
better than Barnes. (Maybe that is harsh on Dobbs--; Barnes is real scum.
They are sueing the MIA!!!!) But Cannon was basically a Zinovievite. The
idea of the Leninist Party that we have all been landed with comes via
Zinoviev and is deeply flawed. And our politics also often come from the
ultra left with whom LDT had to work at first. I am with everything you say.
2nd On the conference I found Wald's speech disappointing--; that is not
the same as being disappointed with Wald who is a nice genuine bloke but
scarred by this academischer NLR approach. His books are valuable.
3rd I think the Cochran tendency was soft on Stalinism, but it also
contained many of the best working class cadres of the SWP. Any real
"party" worth its salt should have easily contained such divergences. And I
am quite sure that the accusations of this tendency against Cannon were
4. I think Broué's work is very valuable indeed. See "La Revolution en
Allemagne" being translated and published by Porcupine also his stuff in
English on the Spanish Civil War etc. I too found him difficult to follow
but I think in his questions he was hinting at the disastrous interventions
of Cannon in the groups abroad, Britain is a case in point.
5. I think LDT found it difficult to work with people like Serge & Rosmer
who were their own men. (Our next issue is on Rosmer, largely his own
previously untranslated works.) No-one is a God, not even LDT. Serge,
Rosmer etc SHOULD have been in the movement. In fact I think that a lot of
Thalheimer is correct, wrong about Russia, soft therefore on Stalinism but
right on 1923 where Trotsky was wrong. But all the gurus will not listen or
read Thalheimer (now available on our website in English.) Was Levi right?
We see our job as making as much of this stuff available as possible.
Things can be learnt from them. The fact that you do not consider yourself
a Trot while I and Al still do (in my case sort of consider myself) is I
think terribly unimportant, it is a label, that is all. The label of Trot
has of course many negative connotations nowadays, like the label Communist.
The following is a Report on the Conference on Trotskyist History held in
New York at New York University and sponsored by the Tamiment Library, a
section of the university which specialises in Labor History and has
massive holdings of original material.
<http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/tam/> I give the programme with
our comments on the sessions. Most, and all the personally offensive
comments, are mine though Barry has made a few suggestions.
Conference Schedule & Speakers
Friday September 29
5:30 - 6:45 pm: Reception at Tamiment Library (We missed this & the wine
7:00 - 9:30 pm: Relevance of American Trotskyism: An Internationalist
Welcome: Peter Filardo & Paul Le Blanc
Voigt Downey advertised as the chair was not there. She has just become a
Esteban Volkov: Trotsky & His U.S. Comrades
Pierre Broue: International & U.S. Trotskyism
Michael Smith: Opposition to Vietnam War
Rafael Bernabe: Latin American Perspectives
Simmi Gandhi: Fighting "Globalization" Today
Though fluent Broué was sometimes difficult to understand as we were very
tired - our body clocks were catching up. He raised three interesting
questions without attempting to answer them
1. Was the role of Stalinism in Europe in the post war period revolutionary
2. Was the expectation one of social peace & fake democracy?
3. What was the role of the American leaders in the FI at that time.
My guess is that Broué after closely examining the evidence from the
European end is rather less impressed by Cannon and so on than some others
at the conference.
The other speakers were unmemorable.
Saturday September 30
9:30 - 10:40 am: New Perspectives on
James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman
Chair: To be announced
Bryan Palmer: Perspectives on Cannon.
Peter Drucker: Perspectives on Shachtman. Peter Drucker was stimulating on
Shachtman. Palmer is an academic who was become a Cannon hero-worshipper.
But he has dug up some interesting documents in the biography he is writing
which should be informative.
10:45 am - 12:15 pm:
Trotskyism and African Americans
Chair: Cynthia Young
Kwame Somburu: Malcolm X and Trotskyism (This is I think Paul Boutelle!)
Christopher Phelps: Black Trotskyists
Paul Lee: Contributions of George Breitman
Gladys Grauer: Experiences of an African-American Trotskyist
I missed all this. We were told by a number of people that Phelps was
interesting, some thought him brilliant, but the others less so. I greatly
regret missing his speech.
1:20 - 3:05 pm: Trotskyism, Workers & Unions
Chair: David Roediger It was feebly chaired by David Roediger.
Kim Moody: CP & Trotskyist Trade Unionism.
Kim talked of Shachtman's rank and file orientation and what it meant in
practice. He mentioned the problem of bureaucracy noting the enormous
increase in the bureaucratic weight on US unions today. He pointed out that
the aim of the leaders of the strikes in the thirties was not merely to
gain the wage demands, become, that is more effective "business union"
leaders, but to raise consciousness and build a broad layer of working
class leaders. He noted how history has often been forgotten. For instance
in the great Flint strike there was one Afro-American who got a lot of
hostility from the white workers. The Trotskyists defended him and there
were a few fights and much shouting. This has been forgotten in the left's
story of the time. The talk was very good and I would like to have it on
Kathleen Brown: Women in the Minneapolis Strike.
An academic & feminist. A long whine that the attitudes of the American
Trotskyists in 1943 were not as feminist as standard US attitudes in 2000.
Interesting questions like "Were the Trotskyists better, worse or the same
as everybody else and were they changing compared with others?" were not
considered. In other words there was no context and it was totally
ahistorical. She had done her homework on her sources however and I am sure
what she said was true.
Victor Devinatz: Trotskyists in Auto. Compared role of SWP & WP in WW2 and
after. Very interesting but read his paper at supersonic speed. I failed to
record it. It will be published He promised me that he would tell me where
and when so that RH can publicise it.
Jean Tussey: Trotskyist Labor Perspectives. Tried to talk about how they
implemented the Transitional programme but she did not really succeed. Not
a memorable performance but she is 82.
Ray Markey: Comments
3:10 - 4:55 pm: Trotskyism and Intellectuals
Chair: Paul Siegel
Suzi Weissman: Victor Serge & U.S. Intellectuals. Suzi Weissman is a
firecracker whom we all like a lot. A high point of the conference. She
gave a quick synopsis of her book - out next spring. Get it.
Alan Johnson: Hal Draper & Third Camp Socialism. An interesting talk.
Maurice Isserman: Mike Harrington & Irving Howe. Maurice Isserman pointed
out the Harrington did not oppose the Vietnam War until 1972 while Howe, in
grudging kind of way had opposed it. Both preferred the beaten Trotsky
rather than the successful one. Both expected to be beaten all the time and
lose on progressive issues. In 1965 they denounced the "New Left" as
Stalinist without understanding its complexities as a movement.
Kevin Anderson: Theoretical Contrasts: Burnham, Novack, James,
Dunayevskaya. I missed this but Barry liked it. He said Anderson seemed
keen on Dunayevskaya. (It appears that Anderson a core member of News &
Michael Denning: Comments
5:00 - 6:15 pm:
The Living Heritage of U.S. Trotskyism:
Reflections of Trotskyist Veterans
Dorothea Breitman: Detroit Branch, 1950s-1960s . Nice interesting
anecdotes. Not very deep but pleasant.
Theodore Edwards/Kovacs: The Weiss Current. Very enjoyable. Kovacs took the
chance to pay off few old sectarian scores and told us the origins of the
great cosmetic controversy. When this started apparently it was used by
Dobbs to undermine Weiss. So there was more in it than met the amazed eye
of posterity looking at the documents about lipstick. (When I first heard
about this I recognised the eccentricity but simply thought that they must
have had nothing better to do.) Eventually Weiss lost out, Barnes became
the heir apparent and he promptly kicked out Dobbs. Kovacs enjoyed putting
the boot in to those eventually ejected by Barnes who had previously helped
purge everyone else. Many elderly faces did not move a muscle as he told
the story since they must have found it deeply unfunny.
Bernard Goodman: Struggles in Maritime (an east coast union). Who joined in
1933. Enthusiastic account which managed never to mention that the Union
was always lily-white and racist.
Morris Slavin: Reflections on the Workers Party
Nat Weinstein: Tom & Karolyn Kerry Disgraceful performance. Weinstein, who
had had his fare paid so that he could speak, announced he was not speaking
on the subject as the Kerrys would have preferred him to emphasise the
general thrust of Trotskyist politics. He thereupon made a standard speech
which he had made, and we had heard, countless times before.
7:30 - 9:30 pm: New Directions
Chair: Arlene Keizer
Mike Davis: Trotsky's Comet.
Alan Wald: Trotskyism and the Angel of History
Grant Farred: CLR James and U.S. Trotskyism
Robin D. G. Kelley: Response
Davis did not show. Wald started well with a hilarious account of a
demonstration in Bloomington, Indiana in 1962 against the Cuban blockade by
the YSA. He then went on like the other two to be full of
self-congratulatory academic bullshit and new lefty jargon all about "new
ideas" & "developments of Marxism" that were never specified with any
precision. He did note that the Trotskyists expected a rerun of 1917-19 but
did not add that so did much of the bourgeoisie and Stalin. Farred was
disappointing though he did note that there was a certain disjuncture
between James in the States and previously as a revolutionary tribune of
the old British Empire. James was of course ordered to the States by Cannon
for factional reasons to weaken his influence in the UK but those who
worship at the Cannon shrine prefer not to know this. To be fair Farred and
Kelley do not of course claim to be Trotskyists but I was disappointed with
Wald who I am sure is better than that judging by his books.
SUNDAY October 1
9:30 - 10:30 am: Preserving the Past
Chair: Patrick Quinn
Esteban Volkov: Leon Trotsky Museum
Peter Filardo: Tamiment Library
Emily Turnbull: Prometheus Library
Esteban turned up late and spent half of his time telling all of us what we
already knew. When he moved on to what had happened since 1940 it was
interesting but the contribution could have been cut by half. Peter Filardo
was informative. The Tamiment has an immense and most useful collection.
See their web site for some of the details. It is also, by British
standards very well funded. Turnbull, though telling us useful information
about their collections insisted on wasting our time by putting the usual
triumphalist Spart line. Since everyone present had heard this countless
times before and were the least likely of any audience on the surface of
the globe to be moved by it, this was pointless as well as bad manners. And
this is a pity since, though Jim Robertson will never be remembered as a
political being, he might be honoured as a competent archivist who did the
class some small service. As a result there was no time for me to tell the
conference about our work in RH.
10:35 am - 12:00 noon:
Trotskyism and Others on the Left
Chair: Betsy Esch
Dan Georgakas: The Detroiters and Others
Annette Rubenstein: The Independent Socialist Party
David McReynolds: Socialist Party & Vietnam War
Mark Solomon: Comments
Georgakas talked about his memories and reactions to Dunayskaya, James (in
the person of Marty Glaberman) the Workers Party and the SWP. It was very
informative and carried conviction. Both Glaberman and the SWP had
considerable influence on the individuals who later created the Black Union
Caucus RAM etc. His tone was affectionate though not uncritical and gave a
feel for the times. The Forrest tendency was far more dogmatic and
authoritarian than Glaberman who was thus much more effective in
influencing independent minded people. Rubinstein was a cultivated old
Stalinist, a bossy headmistress, who no doubt genuinely said that she liked
the Trotskyist rank and filers in the ISP after being put off by Sidney
Hook before. I would guess he was very arrogant and unpleasant with
political opponents. But she is still an old Stalinist if a charming one
whose habit of quoting Byron & Shelley is to be commended. McReynolds was
not impressive. He was then roasted from the floor by Leni Brenner who
pointed out that Norman Thomas got money straight from the hand of Allen
Dulles. McReynold's reply was very feeble.
1:00 - 2:25 pm: Trotskyism and Sexual Politics
Chair: Andrew Ross
Susan Williams: Contributions of Clara Fraser
Dianne Feeley: Feminism: 1960s & 70s
Gary Kinsman: Gay Liberation
Nancy Holmstrom: Theoretical Reflections
We missed this if only because Sexual politics did not become of interest
to Trotskyists until the mid seventies which is after the period in which
RH is concerned. Most of us at the conference, if not too old for politics,
were certainly too old for sex anyway. Besides Barry & I needed a decent meal.
2:30 - 3:45 pm: The Creative Legacy of the Johnson-Forest & Cochran Tendencies
Chair: Scott McLemee
Martin Glaberman: CLR James and the Johnson-Forest Tendency
Louis Proyect: Reflections on the Cochran Tendency
Michael Livingston: Harry Braverman
Glaberman was perceptive and amusing though skating over CLR's later
evolution. Proyect and Livingstone most informative. They said a good deal
about the "American Socialist" published from 1954 to 1959 by Braverman and
Cochran. They felt that there were most valuable articles there and
Proyject had OCRed them all for their website. They said that they did not
seek to develop Marxism but to apply it fruitfully to present situations.
In my opinion Braverman's "Labour Under Monopoly Capitalism" is one of the
very few places where this has ever been done. Livingstone's account of
Braverman's life showed me that a part of the reason HB applied theory so
fruitfully was his experience of working class life.
3:50 - 5:00 pm: Making Sense of the Trotskyist Tradition in Light of
Today's and Tomorrow's Struggles (Young Activists Panel): Brad Duncan, Matt
We missed the last session to get our plane.
A few comments on the conference. Like all such it was a bit of a curate's
egg. Some of the contributions (and some of the best) are due to be
published, either in extended form as a book or as articles in Labour
History journals. It would be most useful if the Tamiment could put a
synopsis of these contributions on their website fairly quickly. If RH ever
attends a similar conference in future we should have a leaflet of up to
1,000 words (2 sides of A4) which details our work, plans, hopes and
resources for the movement. To devotees of academic tedium-speak I would
emphasise that to be serious is not necessarily to be solemn. Folly and
stupidity were not confined to today's left and today's movement. That
there never was a totally golden age is important to recognise. We at least
should always "call things by their right names." We might then, though my
pessimism of the intellect suggests otherwise, learn something from our
The conference was worth while since we sold all the copies that we
brought, it gave us a whole number of contacts and at least one possible
outlet and we are very grateful to te Tamiment for sponsoring it and the
organisers for getting it on the road.
It also gave both myself and Barry a first look at Noo York which has
whetted our appetite for more in quite unpolitical ways.
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