Jenness, Barnesites, Styron and the Question of Human Material

William Warren celtman at
Tue Apr 24 20:24:38 MDT 2001

Was the pro-Mandel tendency,with which I became acquainted with
when I went up to Chicago for the week end during the meat boycott
(they broke discipline during a subsequent educational over
the question of when China became a workers' state and held a
separate late Friday night party at which Charles a leading Mandelite from
France was a "guest of honor") then different from FAPO?
I thought they were the same. Mr.. Massey's -who later joined YAWF-
girlfriend was the local Party Spy for this tendency which tried
to prove their loyalty to the party by acting as "Party spies"
on members of the YSA who were taking part in the SWP/YSA's
informational probe into a non-conformist  lifestyle

>From: Philip Ferguson <plf13 at>
>Reply-To: marxism at
>To: marxism-digest at
>Subject: Jenness, Barnesites, Styron and the Question of Human Material
>Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001 15:22:43 +1200
>In response to Guarnot and others, I'd like to widen this discussion
>somewhat - ie beyond just dealing with the pathology of Barnesism.  But,
>first, just to answer a small point:
> >On a separate note--Philip Ferguson's post that initially mentioned Dan
> >Styron also mentioned someone who had been a member of the
> >opposition" in the US SWP. What was this opposition--or would it have
> >known by a different name?  (Granted, after a few decades, my memory may
> >be slipping).  Was that the Proletarian Orientation Tendency?
>Yes, I think that's the one.  I gather that their actual name, ie the one
>they used themselves, was For a Proletarian Orientation (FAPO), and that
>maybe the central leadership called them POT.  As far as I can gather the
>tendency included some older working class militants and some young
>firebrand students or ex-students, like Gregorich (not sure of his first
>name) and Barbara Passen.  They were driven out of the SWP around 1971 or
>72 I think, and became the Leagues for Class Struggle, which subsequently
>disintegrated and was also partly cannibalised by the Sparts (who did an
>entry job on it).
>Louis probably has a lot of the details as his early years in the SWP would
>have coincided with the FAPO fight and it was probably his first factional
>struggle in the organisation, although he would have been on the other
>Now, onto the more substantial thing I wanted to try to start discussing.
>Guarnot writes:
> >Dan Styron was kind of like Peter Camejo without the flash.  He had the
> >kind of talent for explaining things clearly, patiently and, as Louis,
> >lucidly.  But he was far more quiet and thus more readily approachable.
> >Camejo could do in speaking before a large group, Dan Styron could do by
> >talking to individuals.  He projected an air of sincerity--although I was
> >close to him, I remember him from my days in LA, and I remember the sense
> >that he was the sort of person that made you think the SWP might actually
> >for real.  Of course, in the SWP, sincerity and decency could easily
> >one to outcast status.
>It is really the last two sentences that I would like to dveelop some sort
>of discussion from.
>One of the things that has most troubled and preoccupied me over the past
>15 years is the question of human material.  My concern with this issue
>began as I had to come to terms with the fact that the current I had been
>first politically attracted to, basically that of the US SWP, was being
>revealed to me as a cynical bunch of manoeuvrers, liars and hypocrites.
>Basically, living in Britain in the early 80s I was part of the Faction, an
>opposition grouping in the IMG (British section of the FI) which shared the
>views of the American SWP.  I had previously been in the FI section in New
>Zealand, which was completely dominated politically by the US SWP and we
>blindly followed every move of the US organisation which we were taught was
>the inheritor of the banner of Marxism, passed on through Lenin to Trotsky
>and by Trotsky personally to the US SWP.
>So it came as quite a shock to me to see the US SWP leadership up close
>while living in Britain, and also get a close-up view of those who had been
>their British lackeys in the 70s.  Frankly, I was just plain disgusted.
>One of the things that I could stomach was that the US SWP leadership,
>while promoting all kinds of secret factional activity in the IMG,
>including paying money to people and giving them jobs in order to
>facilitate their loyalty and their activity in the IMG, were busy purging
>the bulk of the old, working class veterans of the US SWP itself.  In the
>faction we were constantly encouraged to provoke the IMG leadership so we
>could scream that our democratic rights as a faction were being infringed -
>meanwhile the US SWP leadership was expelling people whose entire adult
>lives had been devoted to the party, and kicking them out for such terrible
>sins as writing letters to each other, organising a mere tendency, etc etc.
>A number of things went on which I simply could not stomach and I left.
>There was no way I was going to condone the purges in the US.
>(As an aside I might add that it ill-becomes Jose, who I generally have a
>certain amount of time and liking for, but who, sadly, went along with
>these purges, to talk about anyone being obssessively anti-Barnes.)
>At that point, about March or April 84, I began to be concerned about the
>question of human material.  It was clear to me that the problem wasn't
>simply a political line in the US SWP - people make mistakes all the time,
>and mistakes can be remedied by honest people - but a level of real,
>personal degeneration.  Moreover, it was hardly new.  It had been seen
>before with people like Healy.  And I recalled Joe Hansen making a comment
>about Healy in 'Intercontinental Press' that there was a level at which
>Healy was beyond political analysis and was a subject for an analysis of
>the affect of the last stages of the imperialist epoch of capitalist decay
>on the human personality.
>It also interested (and appalled) me to see who rose to the top in a number
>of FI sections, especially the groups that I was most familiar with (which
>tended to be those aligned with the US SWP).  In the NZ section, for
>instance, there were a number of poeple in the leadership who could have
>become national secretary.  One possibility was a guy called Keith Locke,
>one of the original Trotskyists in NZ, who had gone to canada to join the
>FI and gained experience there, coming back shortly after a NZ section
>emerged.  Although I have major political differences with Keith these days
>(he's now a Green MP), he was a most decent human being and full of
>integrity.  At the other end of the spectrum was a revolting specimen
>called Russell Johnson.  Johnson was a misogynistic, homophobic thug.  He
>even violently assaulted another member of the leadership in front of a
>room full of people, both members and non-members, and had to be dragged
>It was Johnson, not Locke or anyone else, who took over as national
>secretary.  Johnson remained national secretary through the 1970s and
>1980s, becoming Barnes' chief minion in the Asia-Pacific area, until
>finally some time in the early-mid 90s he was removed and the NZ Barnesite
>group then brought in some kind of resoltion or guidelines about acceptable
>relations between comrades.  Which was rather like locking the door after
>the horse had not only bolted, but kicked down the stables.
>The issue is, therefore, not only bad politics, or political mistakes -
>Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg etc etc etc made political mistakes
>but they didn't become cult-masters.  There is *also* the question of what
>kind of human material is necessary to build a revolutionary movement and
>revolutionary leaderships and what kind of mechanisms are necessary to
>establish and preserve the moral integrity of a revolutionary movement.
>Ultimately, my answer would be that only a highly politically-educated
>membership, imbued with a culture of critical thinking and fearlessness, is
>the guarantee against cultism and against inevitable political mistakes
>being covered up and the covering up, over time, requiring increasingly
>bureaucratic modes of operation.  Such modes of operation have a logic of
>their own, a fact which many refugees from the sects  have not really comes
>to term with yet.
>For instance, it's all very nice that people like Jose, Barry Sheppard,
>Malik Miah and so on have now parted company with Barnes.  But where were
>they in the 1980s, when the purges were going on?  Barnes' project would
>not have been possible without their support; in fact Sheppard was the #2
>player in the whole thing.  So there is a certain amount of coming clean
>that is required.  Given that literally hundreds upon hundreds of cadre
>were destroyed, this is not an inconsequential question and a bit more
>critical reflection on their own role in this process would not go amiss.
>I think that people seriously interested in revolutionary politics and the
>*liberation of humanity* have to be vitally concerned with the question of
>human material.  Organisations led by the dysfunctional and dishonest may
>well reach the stage of creating cults of several hundred members, but they
>will never build anything serious.  However, they can get in the way of
>those of us who actually do take seriously the cause of human emancipation
>and want to create a better world and a better human being.  If we want a
>free world then we have to act, to the maximum degree possible in the here
>and now (even given all the constraints of capitalism) like *free people*
>and not like some leftist variant of the office bully and sleaze.
>Unfortunately a great deal of the far left groups, certainly in the
>English-speaking world, are led by just this kind of loathsome human
>Philip Ferguson

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