Reply to Louis (SWP, etc.)

David Walters dwalters at igc.org
Sun Nov 24 12:42:28 MST 2002


Not so much a reply, but on this I agree.

One of the problems with the left in general, and Louis touches on this via
the SWPers in industry, is the 'counter-cultural' nature of the SWP (and
other groups) functioning "in industry".

We can make fun all day (and it is fun!) of the SWP's weirdness in it's
industrial fractions, but Louis hit on a very good point...the idea that
working people, in a general down-turn or stagnate period in the class
struggle like the mid 70s onward, would join, indeed function, in a closed
off socially-incestuous movement like the SWP is astounding. SWPers for the
most part, socialized with SWPers. I saw this in many branches. That is,
instead of a 'turn' toward the industrial working class, it's members got
jobs there, but continued the 60s/70s style of apartment sharing, going out
with each other, and overall maintaining a social distance from their fellow
workers...so the turn to industry actually accentuated the differences,
'almost' class differences between  SWP members and the working class at
large...just the opposite of parts of Europe and Latin American where there
was a general understanding that being part of the meant being part of the
working class and visa versa.

By-the-way, it's VERY important to note that like any group, the SWP had
members who could really relate to  their fellow workers at all sorts of
levels, were respected by them, etc. AS socialists. These comrades were
often isolated by the leadership of the SWP and told to 'go into garment' or
'move to build a branch on the Iron Range' or whatever way the could to
prevent these comrades from actually building a base.

Cherie touches on the implications of some of this, that the left, er, the
SWP, had these social currents among it's membership.  IMO, this was not a
good thing, and took us away from the working class, not toward it...and
again, I think it was inevitable given the level of the class  struggle and
the SWP's complete failure in understanding the period.

I wanted to respond to Jose one issue he raised. In 1974 or so, the SWP
started building branches "in the community". This was the result of the
very, very positive experience of the SWP in the early 70s around New York's
Lower East Side Community School Board elections. The SWP, along with the
community organizations of the LES, Puerto Rican and Chinese, fought for a
bilingual, bi-cultural education in the schools...against the opposition of
the Shanker leadership of the Teachers Union. The SWP was the only left
group (aside from the Puerto Rican Socialist Party which had to be dragged
into the fight) that oriented toward this struggle. With the down turn on
campus, the SWP saw that this could be emulated everywhere in the US.

It was typical of the SWP's concrete-block approach to politics: if it works
in a specific area under special conditions, it can work everywhere. And of
course, it didn't. The SWP, for the most part, abstained from community
struggles everywhere but thought that locating bookstores in working class
communities would be the proper proletarian thing to do. It wasn't.

David Walters


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