The Permanent Revolution debate is a useless, phony debate ? What can a poor boy do ?

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Tue Jul 8 10:32:34 MDT 2003

Jurriaan Bendien writes:

>>My own impression at the time was, that Barnes was really saying that
we should orient towards real, living revolutionary experiences such as
Cuba, Nicaragua, etc. since the Trotskyist agenda for world revolution
had only existed on paper since 1938, it was in Barnes's retrospective
opinion just Froebel stuff, whereas in Nicaragua and Cuba you had the
real McCoys, real communism put into practice.

>>My own thinking was however that it is a mighty strange thing, that if
you live in New York, that you think that you must learn how to be a
true revolutionary in Cuba or Nicaragua, in order then to build a "mass
workers party" in New York capable of inauguring a socialist revolution
in the USA, armed with a Caraibbean "how to" model, never mind the
spooks you would attract in so doing.<<

I think it is useful to see it not just from the point of view of what
Jack Barnes was saying, but from the role it played in SWP life.

I know it is true in 1984 that the comrades of the French League and
others were much more involved in the actual solidarity movements than
the SWP, but, of course, it wouldn't take much to do that, for the SWP
was becoming increasingly abstentionist.

The role the mindless cheerleading for Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada
actually played in the SWP is that it was the opium of the cadre, a
distraction from focusing on just how badly we were doing in the United

As for actually *applying* the lessons of Cuba or Nicaragua, that was a
joke. What we were actually applying was the same sectarian, workerist
b.s. everyone else on the left had tried, and well before the SWP. The
SWP had in previous years discussed and rejected the policy of creating
ersatz proles from student cadre. We went for it at the end of the 70's
based on a projection that huge class battles would be taking place in
the next few years centered on the industrial proletariat because, well,
that's where the surplus value comes from and the ruling class wanted

There was one serious proposal to actually apply the real lessons of
Cuba and Nicaragua, in the form of an idea by Peter Camejo that we
approach other groups about running a joint election campaign in New
York, I think for Mayor it was. Behind this was the thinking that the
victory in Nicaragua --and the central importance in that victory played
by overcoming factionalism and disunity-- would have an impact among
radicals, an impact that would be multiplied manyfold with the victories
we all hoped for in Salvador and Guatemala. It was a step towards a
regroupment, for which there was some sentiment, especially among Latino

It was not only rejected, but in such terms that Peter, who was *by far*
the party's most effective campaigner as well as a national political
leader of substantial stature, was to all intents and purposes driven
out. (Camejo once again showed his effectiveness in reaching out to
masses of people with socialist ideas as the Green gubernatorial
candidate in California last fall, when he received more than 5% of the
vote). I think Louis was with Peter in that fight and he might remember
more about it (although he and Peter had a falling out later over other
matters having to do with Camejo's business (he works as a money
manager, and has been fairly successful). I wasn't in New York City at
the time of the fight around the campaign but at the leadership school,
and did not at follow the controversy in any detail.

There is no question but that the need for revolutionary unity *was* the
lesson the Cubans sought to pass on. Fidel, in the interview he did on
Cuba's support for the revolutionary movement in Latin America for the
Ted Turner's "Cold War" documentary series that aired on CNN explained
this was the essential prerequisite: "And that's why the first thing
that we did in any country was to try to unite the left forces, and
perhaps that was the greatest service we did to those countries."

In the SWP what "applying the lessons of Cuba and Nicaragua" actually
amounted to was, in effect, quotation shopping, pulling out isolated
statements or quotations from Fidel or one of the Sandinistas or Maurice
Bishop to justify whatever it was that the party leadership wanted to

So when we started to bleed cadre like crazy because the turn to
industry and the political perspectives and work associated with it made
absolutely no sense whatsoever, and which coincided roughly with the
shattering of the New Communist Movement, we said there was a "Mariel"
going on in the left, because this was at the time of the boatlift, and
the wavering elements, the softies were deserting under the pressure of
the imperialist offensive.

And then there was the time when Tomás Borge said that the Sandinistas
"had a nose for power," and Jack latched onto the phrase to lead the
party by the nose into more plant gate sales and yet one more heroic
Friday night forum.

Stuff like that. It is true that all that sorts of rhetoric about
studying and applying the lessons and so on did lead many of us as
individuals to reexamine things and try to do that -- especially once we
walked out of the party. But it wasn't something the party leadership or
the party as a whole did as a party, and as the Camejo example showed,
it was something the party rejected organically as a foreign body.


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