US SWP Degeneration

Jurriaan Bendien J.Bendien at
Sun Nov 24 12:03:29 MST 2002

I think the "degeneration" of the US SWP was mainly a product of the
following three factors:

- a dogmatic, doctrinaire approach, the lack of any intelligent political
analysis, or any culture which fostered this.
- the way they implemented the "turn to industry" and subsequently
"militarised" the organisation.
- personal, political and intellectual "burn-out" or exhaustion, as a result
of fanatically pursuing wrong policies.

The SWP got a new "lease of life" out of the anti-Vietnam war protests,
because they had an "apparatus" which could organise in a disciplined way,
but already at that time, their political culture wasn't very healthy, far
too dogmatic and insular.

They had forgotten that organisational methods should be flexibly adapted to
achieving political goals, that there isn't a "true" organisational method.
They set out with the idea that they had the revolutionary programme and the
revolutionary method already, and were just waiting for the masses to flock
in, attracted by "transitional slogans" being waved around.

When I joined the New Zealand branch of the SWP (the SAL) briefly in 1983,
it quickly became obvious to me just by talking and looking around that most
of these people had gone weird, it was a religious cult. You could sort of
admire them for their dedication, but you immediately sensed something
unhealthy just by observing them. They could not actually muster a coherent
and cogent political argument.

Most of the capable people either left, or got kicked out for strange
reasons - some  of those went on to become members of parliament or pursued
successful careers elsewhere. I think it was especially the "industrial
grasshopping" that killed them. Many of the members were really capable,
really intelligent people, but they tore out their lives through dogmatic

A real socialist party would work steadily for many years to build up a
profile in local communities, getting personally known, showing their
ability to take up local issues and do something with them successfully. But
they hardly did that, they even refused to take on any positions of
political responsibility in trade unions, social movements or councils etc.
They were simply "not there" as living personalities, they had no life of
their own.

Lenin remarked something like "theory without practice is sterile, practice
without theory is blind". These people typically left university to become
factory workers, and hardly had "a life". But even when they became factory
workers, they didn't take with them an intelligent analysis of their own
country. This wasn't a good fusion of theory and practice.

So they would build up a "presence" in meat processing plants which were
subsequently closed, they would be taken by surprise by new popular social
movements, and they were incapable of recognising the biggest political
sea-change in post-war New Zealand history when they were looking at it (the
extreme "more market" policies of the Fourth Labour government from 1984).

What a waste ! The sad thing is that these people bring discredit on
socialist politics. There could have been a vibrant socialist culture in New
Zealand. The would-be "Leninists" stuffed it up.


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