Barnesite Dog and Pony Show

Martin Schreader mschreader at
Sat Feb 16 17:58:32 MST 2002

Oh man! Talk about coincidence. I took in a Militant Labor Forum last night
(I was bored and wanted to get out of the house) -- one of the first ones
here following the edict about "turning toward creating branches in workers'

Recently, the SWP here in Detroit moved its bookstore from the mid-city New
Center area -- near the old GM headquarters -- to the Southwest "Mexican
Town" area. (Kinda reminds me of when the Healyites/Northites did the same
thing in the 1970s.)

The forum was on "The Fight for Black Rights and the Rise of Working-Class
Resistance". There were a total of 10 people at the forum, and that includes
the speaker -- Osborne Hart -- and the woman who staffed the door. Of those
10, eight of them were SWP members (I think that's about all they have here
any more). And, of those 10, only one -- Osborne -- was non-white. I was the
only one under 30 (the other non-Barnesite was in his 30s, and the rest,
well, seemed to visibly age while we were there).

Many of the SWPers were new. Each one asked me if I had read The Militant
before. Instead of being rude and laughing in their face, which was my first
thought, I smiled and told them I've been reading it on the Web for some
time. Every single one of them paused, got this puzzled look on their faces,
and said "Oh. OK." I swear, they looked like I had been speaking a foreign

The presentation was decent, but it was vague -- very vague. The comrade
talked about the relationship between class and national oppression in the
context of the current developments here in Detroit and nationally. But the
whole thing was very abstract, and gave no concrete steps forward, save two:
buy Pathfinder books and join the SWP. (I am NOT kidding about this!)

Trying to liven up the discussion and draw out some of the SWP's politics
for the benefit of the other non-SWPer there, I asked about the role of
democratic demands in relation to Black liberation and the broader fight for
socialism. The speaker stumbled, mostly concentrating on economic issues,
and talking about "the need for a workers' ... and farmers' ... government"
(the farmers were an afterthought; I wonder if this indicates some tension
over formulation in the party now) and the building of "the communist party"
(without even discerning for the audience whether "communist" had a capital
"C" or not).

After the forum had ended, I got into a conversation with comrade Osborne
about, of all things, the railroad (he worked as an engineer for Union
Pacific; I load Intermodal rail cars for Canadian Pacific). Honestly, it was
more informative, lively and ... how do I say this ... human than the forum
presentation and discussion. I eventually made my way to the front of the
store, where I picked up the books I bought -- a two-volume set of W.E.B.
Dubois's writings for my comrade's birthday -- and was accosted by another
Barnesite who has actually been in this city longer than I have (quite a

He seemed to get angry at me about my question on democratic demands. "You
know our position, Marty," he sputtered at me. I replied, "Yes, I do, but
the other new guy doesn't. I did it for his benefit." He shrugged his
shoulders and walked away. I wonder if I'll be dis-invited from attending
MLFs now. Have I been "shunned"?

Anyway, at least the food was good.


David Altman wrote:
> Lately "The Militant," paper of the Barnesite US Socialist Workers Party,
> has been making much of the organization's latest "turn," toward "creating
> branches in workers' communities."  That the latest "turn" is yet another
> dog and pony show is illustrated by this item in the Feb. 18 "Militant."
> Note that while the Barnesite's new hall was "filled to capacity," only
> twenty people were in attendance, and this included Barnesites shipped in
> from Atlanta and North Carolina.

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