Jenness et al. and decline of SWP (was: re: Doug Jenness (and Mark Curti

john.m. cox hazel_motes52 at
Sun Apr 15 11:03:48 MDT 2001

Sorry to resurrect this strand of discussion, but the postings prompted me
to put in print some of my thoughts on the ever-deepening degeneration of
the SWP leadership-
I was never in a branch with Doug, but came to like and respect him somewhat
through the contact I had with him at plenums and other gatherings in the
late '80s and early to mid-'90s. I noticed with dismay, in the last 3-4
years, that he was occasionally pressed into service (owing to his standing
as a 'party intellectual,' or at least as someone who presumably had
acquired some sort of Marxist education) to author some rather outlandish
articles in The Militant, for example claiming that global warming was
simply a myth, peddled by "petty-bourgeois alarmists." (Better to be aligned
with Big Oil than with petty-bourgeois environmentalists!) He also wrote a
couple articles and "Denunciations of Our Readers" (an occasional column
otherwise known as "Discussion with Our Readers") peddling a re-writing of
the party's history vis-a-vis NAFTA--a landmark, I thought at the time
(around 1997-98, I believe) in the party's downhill slid, as it was the
first time, to my knowledge, that the party was openly dishonest in this
way. (At the time, the SWP took a position neither for nor against NAFTA,
confining itself to obvious observations about the nationalism of many NAFTA
opponents, especially the AFL-CIO leadership. Sometime later, the party
decided it was against NAFTA, and announced in The Militant that this was
always its position, provoking a few astonished letters.)

I think those articles represented the sort of intellectual corruption that
has permeated the party. Jenness was a relatively well-read person who would
occasionally write something of value for the party press--a lenghty,
historical article about the LaRoucheites, for example, and a piece called
"The Myth of Race," which recycled a few ideas from Stephen Jay Gould.
(Perhaps it was the fact that Jenness had apparently read a handful of
non-Pathfinder books that first stamped him a potential heretic and
renegade.) As Militant editor in the 1980s-early '90s, he was a cut above
his more recent successors. By the time he was writing on "the myth of
global warming," however, his tactic was that of other Militant writers (and
deliverers of Militant Labor Forums etc.): to scour the pages of the NYTimes
for a few facts (even if in a forest of contradicting evidence) that can be
fitted into the conclusion, already set down by the Dear Leader.</P>

On a related point, it was an experience involving Fred Feldman that first
tipped me off to the manner in which Brother Jack (see Ellison's "Invisible
Man") promoted a culture of intolerance. Fred had written a good article for
the pre-convention discussion bulletin, suggesting that the party reconsider
its analysis of gays in the military. The Militant had asserted that the
bourgeoisie was doing what it had to in order to maintain combat readiness
for the impending conflicts with the workers' states of Russia, China, North
Korea and so on--the implication being that a revolutionary army might also
want to discriminate against gays, although noone seemed to have noticed
this. Fred did what a responsible, loyal comrade should do if he/she had a
minor disagreement with a public position of the party, and wrote a
thoughtful piece, arguing that this discrimination was part of a long-term
effort to deny civil and democratic rights to soldiers, among other points
he made. At a National Committee plenum a week or two later, Jack, in
remarks to the meeting, made a brief and contemptuous reference to Fred's
article, eliciting much merriment; needless to say, the content of the
article was not discussed in any way, but the impression was strongly
conveyed that anyone making even minor criticisms was a malcontent and/or a

Around this time, a similar experience, involving Jenness, amplified this
point. Another long-time veteran of the party had written a pre-convention
article tentatively suggesting that we might want to reconsider our
continued designation of eastern Germany as a "workers' state" (this was in
1995, five years after the reunification, and a few months after the
Treuhand had dissolved itself). I was part of a gathering at which Jenness
and Norton Sandler ridiculed the writer of this piece (who was apparently a
"man of little faith," as the Stalinists used to say), although again, of
course, without dealing with the substance of the argument. I mention these
two episodes because they are relevant to the discussion of these
individuals; of course, I was witness or party to (and even participant in,
I'm afraid) many similar conversations, which are often inspired by the hope
of promoting oneself in the eyes of supposed SWP leaders, and which all
suppress democracy and deaden the internal life of the party.

Finally--I don't think the revelations, which seem to be accurate, about
Mark Curtis' expulsion indicate that he was guilty of the 1988 sexual
assault charges. The party (and the "Mark Curtis Defense Committee") never
claimed that a conspiracy existed to frame up Curtis, simply that his
frame-up unfolded in the manner that many do: he was in the wrong place at
the wrong time, the cops picked him up in order to "solve" a crime, and only
then discovered that he was a political activist, involved in certain issues
in which they certainly had an interest (e.g. immigrant rights). In
retrospect, some aspects of the official version could well be inaccurate,
but the prosecutions version is still far harder to accept--that this guy
would drive up to a house he had never visited, knock on the door, and,
unconcerned with the sounds of a large family in the house, attack the
person who answered the door. Also, I think it's unlikely that the party
leadership would run the risk of defending someone who they thought could
well have been guilty.
The Curtis defense campaign, however, contributed to the party's discomfort
(at best) or backwardness (at worst) in relation to women's rights, as well
as gay rights. The SWP proclaimed that William Kennedy Smith had had a "fair
trial," whatever that could be, and sided with Clarence Thomas over Anita
Hill. In each case, there was a lot of room for Marxists to make some points
that would have distinguished themselves from the liberals and middle-class
feminists and so on, but the party's haste to distance itself from such
forces--in part out of embitterment toward the many feminist organizations
that opposed Curtis--led it it reactionary positions. The party's
indifference or ignorance toward feminist and gay/lesbian issues has
deepened; as one small example, a recent article about the legalization of
mifepistrone was riddled with factual errors, among other things mixing up
RU-486 with the 'morning after pill'.
I was in the Des Moines branch during the last year of Curtis'
incarceration, and witnessed a much more serious example of this tendency. I
won't go into great length, but this episode certainly hastened my exit from
the party, and represented the single most deplorable moral and political
failing of the party leadership in my experience. The branch executive
committee was on the verge of recommending the expulsion of a member for
sexual assault; the P.C., in the person of Barnes, intervened (outside of
proper channels), rejecting our report--which he deemed representative of
"the pornographication of politics"--and directed the branch leadership to
not only let the comrade off the hook, but to slander and ostracize the
person bringing the complaint (who had been a SWP member, and was still a
supporter, and who had brought the matter to our intention in full
confidence that we would handle it properly. She was accused of "implicitly
threatening" the party).
This is a rather long post, and will not be of much interest to anyone other
than those who are, or have been, in the orbit of the SWP. I do not make
these remarks in the spirit of sensationalism, or to engage in gossip, and I
hope that party members or supporters reading this (after forwarding it to
the appropriate bodies) will consider the implications of some of these

John Cox

<DIV></DIV>>Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2001 13:55:02 -0600 (MDT)
<DIV></DIV>>From: Dayne Goodwin <DAYNEG at AROS.NET>
<DIV></DIV>>Subject: Re: Doug Jeness(and Mark Curtis)
<DIV></DIV>>Hi Louis,
<DIV></DIV>> I just read your "Jenness" message and query and then read
<DIV></DIV>>the following responses on "Jenness" and then "Mark Curtis"
down through
<DIV></DIV>>Jose's on "Jenness and Gagarin."
<DIV></DIV>> I also first heard about Jenness' expulsion from the
SWP(U.S.) a
<DIV></DIV>>few months ago. According to the story I heard, he was
expelled for
<DIV></DIV>>quitting his job on his own initiative - instead of upon a
<DIV></DIV>>decision. Apparently there had been an initial
<DIV></DIV>>discussion(maybe at the local level) about making some
changes that would
<DIV></DIV>>have involved Jenness quitting his job but Jenness jumped the
gun before
<DIV></DIV>>the final decision was made. My guess is that the poor guy
wanted a
<DIV></DIV>>little vacation time between assignments.
<DIV></DIV>> I also heard that when Jenness realized he was in trouble
with SWP
<DIV></DIV>>leader Jack Barnes he unsuccessfully begged the employer to
re-hire him.
<DIV></DIV>>That's where 40+ years of dedication, hard work and loyalty
to Jack Barnes
<DIV></DIV>>can get you.
<DIV></DIV>> Mark Curtis
<DIV></DIV>> The SWP quietly got rid of Mark Curtis a couple years ago.
It was
<DIV></DIV>>in the aftermath of Curtis getting busted in Chicago for
soliciting a
<DIV></DIV>>prostitute in October 1997. Jack Barnes flew into Chicago to
tell a
<DIV></DIV>>"mandatory" branch meeting that every member must keep
absolute silence
<DIV></DIV>>about what happened. The SWP used funds that had been raised
to defend
<DIV></DIV>>Curtis in the initial 1984 or 1985 "frame-up" sexual assault
case from
<DIV></DIV>>Des Moines, Iowa to defend Curtis in the solicitation case(he
was on
<DIV></DIV>>parole) and successfully kept him out of jail.
<DIV></DIV>> There were Chicago branch members who very troubled by the
<DIV></DIV>>solicitation incident. When Curtis was arrested he was booked
<DIV></DIV>>imprisoned and his car was impounded. Comrades in the branch
became aware
<DIV></DIV>>of his absence from his home, his work and his political
activities and
<DIV></DIV>>became anxious. They were relieved when he called to say that
he had
<DIV></DIV>>checked himself into a hospital because of physical
exhaustion and that he
<DIV></DIV>>now needed help getting home. A subsequent effort to help
Curtis reclaim
<DIV></DIV>>his car led to the exposure of his arrest and his lies to his
<DIV></DIV>> Apparently the circumstances of the solicitation case,
<DIV></DIV>>lies, and familiarity with Curtis personally, led some local
SWP members
<DIV></DIV>>to conclude that he was probably guilty in the original
sexual assault
<DIV></DIV>>case where he was charged with the attempted rape of a young
Black woman.
<DIV></DIV>>Chicago SWP members were expelled from the SWP for discussing
the case
<DIV></DIV>>*with other SWP members* outside the Chicago branch.
<DIV></DIV>> I initially helped to defend Curtis in the mid-1980s
<DIV></DIV>>case. After a couple years (1987 I think) I wrote a note to
the local
<DIV></DIV>>Mark Curtis Defense Committee (i.e. SWP branch) explaining
that I had come
<DIV></DIV>>to the conclusion that Curtis was probably guilty and that I
was no longer
<DIV></DIV>>willing to help 'defend' him.
<DIV></DIV>> One of the things that amazed me about the Curtis case was
<DIV></DIV>>SWP members would typically begin their 'defense' spiel with
an up-front,
<DIV></DIV>>emphasized assertion that there wasn't a shred of evidence
tying Curtis to
<DIV></DIV>>the crime and the victim. Then they would take up some of the
<DIV></DIV>>controversial minutia of the trial.
<DIV></DIV>> Mark Curtis was arrested at the scene of the alleged crime,
at the
<DIV></DIV>>home of the victim! How did he get there? IMO that was where
his story in
<DIV></DIV>>the initial case fell apart.
<DIV></DIV>> Curtis was an intelligent young SWP member who had served in
<DIV></DIV>>national leadership position in the Young Socialist Alliance.
However, it
<DIV></DIV>>was hard for me to believe that the government had gone to
such lengths to
<DIV></DIV>>put a relatively average member of the SWP in jail. If you
believed it
<DIV></DIV>>was a frame-up, you had to believe that the government was
willing to base
<DIV></DIV>>a political frame-up on the perjured testimony of a
15-year-old girl and
<DIV></DIV>>her 11-year-old brother.
<DIV></DIV>> Dayne
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