On the election of the NC and the SWP's degeneration
dayneg at aros.net
Sat Nov 23 15:29:08 MST 2002
Because the discussion was on selection of party leadership, Jose
focussed on that element but then also briefly surveyed generally what
happened to the SWP(U.S., in the 1980s). As a result i think his message
might mislead you about how blatant and obvious the degeneration of the
SWP was, and about the fundamental level of that degeneration. Because
the SWP's version of democratic centralism in practice was heavily
centralist and only lightly democratic IMO, i think most of the membership
had already learned that it was foolish to directly disagree with the
central leadership unless you had already decided you were willing to
leave the organization(under a cloud of politically demeaning aspersions).
I don't think the SWP's turn to industry had any necessarily causal
relationship with the SWP's subsequent political degeneration.
I'm concerned that Jose's comments could be interpreted to mean
that there is inherently something about a revolutionary organization
making a 'turn to (colonize) industry' that leads to political
deterioration - or, more plausibly - that there was something intrinsic
about the SWP that made its effort to colonize industry automatically
I think a revolutionary organization could choose to colonize
industry (or implement any other strategy/tactic) - *if* it had a healthy,
democratic decision-making process - and carry it out with success or
failure, learning from the experience, without necessarily causing the
political deterioration of the organization. Even if the organization,
like the U.S. SWP in the latter 1970s, had recruited the large majority of
its membership (of about 1700) in just the past ten years primarily from
an economically privileged university student milieu (although this would
make it difficult).
The SWP central leadership didn't have to insist that essentially
every single member must become an industrial worker now. Any more than
the SWP leadership of a decade earlier did not have to have chosen to
drive rooted industrial workers out of the organization if they would not
leave industry and find a way to get on the university campus in the
previous turn to the student milieu. Turns like these could have been
carried out in a more reasonable and organizationally constructive way.
As things went wrong for the SWP, the Barnes leadership could have
encouraged open, democratic discussion and evaluation of their leadership.
Barnes could have accepted being held accountable for the SWP's results -
even if it might mean ceasing to be the central leader.
It wasn't the turn to industry that caused the political
degeneration of the SWP. It was Barnes' decision that it was more
important to preserve his personal leadership than to be held
democratically accountable for the value of his leadership.
Peter Camejo, who was a member of the SWP Political Committee at
the time, told me that by the end of the 1970s the large majority of the
SWP Political Committee was a Barnes clique. They all lived in the same
apartment building and they got together practically every night for heavy
political discussion and heavy social drinking. When the Political
Committee met, everything on the agenda had already been decided.
In frustration, Camejo at one point suggested a reduction in the
size of the Political Committee to the exact size of the Barnes' clique.
Barnes became livid with anger. Peter told me that, in retrospect, he
thought that was when Barnes decided to get him out of the organization. I
consider Camejo to be Barnes' first purge victim (1981).
The SWP had a constitutional commitment to having a convention at
least every two years. This had been the practice even during WWII when
the SWP's central leadership was in prison. As it came time to open up
pre-convention discussion in 1983, the Barnes leadership suddenly
announced that the convention had to be postponed because of the
difficulties caused by a lawsuit from an expelled former member in Los
In the intervening year before the next SWP convention in 1984,
every known supporter of the two declared opposition tendencies (and other
members who had shown an inclination to question leadership) was driven or
formally expelled out of the organization. There were more formal trials
and expulsions in that year than in the entire previous 45 year history of
the SWP. And the SWP was on course to become the sectarian Barnes cult it
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