US SWP Degeneration

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Nov 24 09:31:11 MST 2002

Lou Paulsen:
>As for the ISO, my own take on it is that ultimately the ISO-US and the
>SWP-US ended up competing for the same niche in the political ecology, and
>the ISO-US won.

Leaving aside the question of whether small proprietor competition for
market niche has anything to do with how a true vanguard will be formed,
this is not an accurate statement at all.

The SWP virtually abandoned this "niche in the political ecology" in 1978
when the turn toward industry was implemented. It was based on the foolish
notion that all protests against capitalist injustice would be funnelled
through the trade union movement since the industrial working class was now
moving into the "central stage" of American politics when in fact, as my
old friend Peter Camejo once pointed out, it was the bourgeoisie that was
occupying center stage.

So here's what happened. SWP'ers who were visible actors in one local
social struggle or another were withdrawn from their base and assigned to
various trade union fractions where the level of political activity was
often very low and where recruitment was *impossible*. For many people like
myself, who were born recruiters (I had personally been responsible for
persuading dozens of people to join the SWP over the 11 years I was in the
organization), the turn was just too onerous. For others, whatever skills
they had in that direction would be wasted in a milieu where ordinary
working people were just not ready to make the kind of commitment that
fellow workers in the SWP were obviously making. For somebody working in a
coal mine and who has 3 or 4 kids, a mortgage, etc., the notion of joining
a group that required plant-gate sales, meetings 2 and 3 times a week, $100
per week sustainers etc., was just prohibitive no matter how much they
agreed with the idea that socialism was preferable to capitalism.

When you persist in this approach for 25 years or so, as the SWP has, the
results are predictable. You will find a steady loss of members and influence.

This created a political vacuum that both the WWP and the ISO have filled.
After a fashion that reminds me somewhat of buzzards diving up a spoil,
both groups have attacked the carcass abandoned by the SWP lion which
wandered off into the desert. The WWP very intelligently took the Vietnam
antiwar movement model and applied to Iraq, Yugoslavia, Panama and
elsewhere. My suspicion, however, is that this has not yielded the kind of
big growth that the SWP enjoyed because these struggles involve less than
attractive leaderships and because this movement is not taking place in the
context of an explosive youth radicalization. Meanwhile, the ISO has
focused more on the campuses which the SWP turned its back on a long time
ago. From this base, it has gotten involved with a myriad of issues from
Mumia to the fight against sweatshops--exactly the kind of issues that the
SWP has written off.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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