On the election of the NC and the SWP's degeneration

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at bellsouth.net
Fri Nov 22 22:57:09 MST 2002

Richard Fidler writes, about the degeneration of the SWP:

>>Suffice it to say that I do _not_ think the SWP's method of electing their
National Committee (or electing convention delegates from branches) had
anything to do with it!<<

Actually, I believe the SWP's method of electing the NC did play a very
significant role in the party's degeneration, because a very important
component of Cannon's method was abandoned after the 1978 turn to industry.
And that was an increasing intervention by the outgoing central leadership
in guiding and shaping the slate

The first step was to clear out of the NC and the PC the comrades from the
1930s.  This may even have preceded the turn formally, but it became a
reality with Joe Hansen's death and George Novak's assignment to the
leadership school shortly thereafter. I believe also comrades like Clifton
DeBerry, Dick Garza, Ed Shaw and others were also moved off the committee

I do not know what happened in this regard in the 1979 convention, for I
wasn't there (I was in Cuba), but in the 1980 or 1981 convention, the next
one, and especially the following one, which was held I *think* in 1984,
even though the constitution required a convention every 2 years, on Jack's
initiative, the outgoing central leadership DID intervene in the election of
the new NC. Reports were give to the PC, and then conveyed in one form or
another to the Nominating Commission, calling for a renewal and a transition
of leadership and so on and so forth, pushing forward the younger comrades
who were "leading" the turn to industry as the real leadership of the party.
After the initial round there were reports to a plenum, if I remember right,
along the same line but even more insistent on the need for renewal. And at
what was the 1984 convention, I became aware of at least a couple of
meetings of the nominating commission that Jack went to. What I was told is
that the committee had asked him to come to describe the various roles of
various people in the central leadership. As a result there was an extremely
high turnover of the NC in those years, and the *majority* of the committee
that initiated the turn to industry was gone a few years later.

I think it was on this list that a couple of years ago I wrote something
here referring to my minority report at the November, 1984, plenum on the
Nicaraguan elections. I was very much struck then that the majority of the
cdes. in the room had no clue what I was talking about, never mind whether
or not they agreed with it. There were a very few comrades --Fred Halstead
was one I remember-- and I think maybe also Fred Feldman, but I'm not sure,
who understood what was being discussed. Of course, the biggest share of the
blame for this falls on the central leadership, which was entirely conscious
that I disagreed with their approach --they were, after all, systematically
changing the articles they were getting from Managua, where I was the
party's correspondent-- and did nothing to prepare a discussion, quite the
contrary. But the "renovated" committee with all sorts of recently-minted
worker Bolsheviks would have had a very difficult time understanding that
discussion, even if properly prepared.

Other aspects of the leadership functioning and structures in the early 80s
also contributed greatly to the party's degeneration. The relatively stable
12 or 15 full-member PC (plus several "permanent" guests) typical of the
70's was replaced with a much larger NY-NJ resident PC that met
infrequently. Instead, there was a small politburo that met week to week
with no guests. At another point, an even smaller PC secretariat played
essentially a similar role. A national trade union steering committee was
said to be in charge of that work. A central america solidarity steering
committee functioned for a bit, and there were, I think, other such bodies.

The net result was that, whereas in the late 70's I had a very clear picture
of everything the party was doing, in the early 80's the only ones in a
position to have that picture were comrades directly working in the party
National Office. There was no longer the same transparency at all in the
organization. And as those who were in the SWP at the time will recall, this
also coincided with the "campaign to reconquer proletarian norms of
functioning," like keeping what was going on in your branch secret from your
best friend who lived in another city, the purge of micreants and misfits,
the nasty, coercive campaign to, in effect, purge the party of
"petty-bourgeois elements" who would not/could not "make the turn" and so

So there were changes --very big changes-- in the makeup of the NC, how it
was elected and how the leadership was structured.

I believe these changes contributed greatly to its degeneration because I
believe it was the monomaniacal turn to industry of the Feb. 1978 plenum,
and especially its continuation and deepening and broadening, despite the
failure of the proletarian upsurge on which it was premised to materialize,
despite all the evidence that it was a mistake, that turned the party into a
dessicated sect. For the turn was much MORE than simply getting most
comrades into industrial union situations, the heart of it was doing all our
political work in and through the unions, the "turn" was the framework for
all of the party's campaigns and work going forward. But, of course, that
presupposed and assumed a revitalization of the labor movement, which, as it
turned out, was precisely the *opposite* of the situation on the ground. The
unwillingness of the central leadership core to re-examine the turn, the
shift from projecting it as a shifting of forces to meet (anticipated)
opportunities (a big labor upsurge) into a sanitary measure to rid the party
of unclean elements, might have run into difficulties with a committee
composed of more seasoned and independent-minded cadre. The ultra-rapid
promotion onto the NC of comrades who had only begun to play leading roles
with the turn short-circuited that important check on a central leadership
that had gone off-course.


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