Peter Camejo

David McDonald dbmcdonald at
Thu Jul 10 07:58:09 MDT 2003

I'm in agreement with Jose. We need to do something new, not recreate a new
version of what hasn't worked already.

In Seattle, the February 15th forces were led by people from the 60's &
70's. Moreover, a huge, huge percentage of the marchers were also of that
fateful demographic. They are still very much astir, and they are looking
very hard and trying to find a place to land. They aren't looking for a
better sect, just as few of us are looking for a non-cultish SWP or
whatever. There are some very fine forces poised to break with the
Democrats, but they're like me: they're not gonna get out of bed in the
morning to go build some vanguard action. They tasted blood, so to speak, on
February 15th, when they saw how many of us there were on such short notice,
despite all the problems.

I was pretty interested in talking to people of this certain age, maybe
because I'm one of them, but mostly because I wanted to know what brought
them out. In a word, it was experience. They'd seen it before and on a
certain elemental level they knew what to do: make their bodies count.

Even more electrifying, really, from the point of view that Jose is coming
from, was the MLK Celebration Day march on January 18th that drew 15-20,000
in Seattle, an absolutely unprecedented number, achieved by a genuine coming
together of Black and peace and general community forces. The success of
that action really was the sparkplug that got people on the streets building
February 15th. On certain well-travelled streeets of North Seattle, one
could find tablers every four or five blocks, not to mention the flying
squads with pick-ups riding around everywhere. It the 60's, and I
don't think I'm being a sentimentalist about this.

David McDonald

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-marxism at
[mailto:owner-marxism at]On Behalf Of Jose G. Perez
Sent: Thursday, July 10, 2003 12:14 AM
To: marxism at
Subject: RE: Peter Camejo

David Walters wrote, about Peter's campaign:

>>he doesn't place the working class in the proper political center of
his campaign, something he did do when running as an SWPer in 1976. So,
the issue of unions being tied to the Democrats; to break free, build a
working class alternative, was simply missing unless someone asked him

I guess it was probably confusing for me to call Peter's campaign
"socialist" given that people associate the idea with doing abstract
propaganda for socialism, which he didn't do, I don't think, although he
certainly was quite open about his being a socialist.

As for placing the working class, the unions and so on at the center of
his campaign, this is probably going to sound heretical to many on this
list, but I don't think that sort of propaganda culminating with the
labor party idea has much validity in the United States right now. In
fact I don't believe it has had much validity during my entire political

One thing I know for sure: the idea leaves the kind of young rebels who
were the sparkplugs of the recent antiwar protests completely baffled.
It is an incomprehensible abstraction, something like imaginary numbers
are to high school students when they first encounter them. Just like it
was for my generation of young antiwar fighters 35 years ago.

To your average worker, calling for a labor party based on the unions is
to call for a labor party run by Hoffa. It is bad enough that he runs
the Teamsters, why would you *also* want him to run a political party?
And never mind that 90% of the workers don't even *have* a union. In my
part of the country, the big majority have never even *been* in a union;
nor do they know anyone who ever has.

In talking to workers about unions, the discussion is much more about
whether they should be for unions, not about whether the unions should
form a labor party.

Of course, comrades don't mean a labor party run by *these* unions, but
a labor party run by reformed, transformed, expanded, class-struggle
unions, in other words, unions which don't exist.

So the propaganda slogan about the nonexistent labor party becomes that
nonexistent unions that are quite the opposite of the unions that do
exist AND much bigger to boot should form it. How this is going to
strike a young rebel as a superior strategy to praying to God that he
strike Bush dead is beyond me.

There is another variant. You can always point to the example of other
countries. We should have a labor party just like the one in Britain.
Instead of Bush we should have Blair. THAT makes perfect sense, doesn't
it? That's really going to attract the militant young Black worker or
the immigrant from Mexico or from Asia. Tony Blair. Just what the doctor

Or you can combine the two approaches: we should have a labor party
formed by the unions we don't have that would be quite like the labor
party they have in Britain if it were entirely different from what it
really is.

I think the old Peace and Freedom party, and today the Greens, are much
closer to the real original spirit of the labor party slogan and of the
kind of strategic and tactical approach outlined in the Manifesto, so
well explained by Engels in his 1884 article on Marx and the Neue
Rheinische Zeitung, and reiterated by Lenin in ultraleftism.

I have a friend here in town who I work with closely in Jobs with
Justice. He's a young Black, very militant, very class conscious, with
--AFAIK-- no ties or history of association with left wing groups. He
was a staff organizer for a local union for a while, and made a real
mark. Everybody in this town in left/progressive/union/civil rights
politics want him on their team, so to speak.

The ones who have him on their team are the Greens. This young militant
has gone over to the Greens, and with very interesting reasoning. He
does not want the "really existing" labor movement to transform the
political arena, he wants the greens intervening in the political arena
to help change the unions. Eventually he has a vision of a grand
alliance, with labor playing an essential role as a solid, well
organized, relatively stable backbone of the green party, which would
become a real "third party" of working people, in which a revitalized
Black movement would also play a decisive role.

What's inspired this vision is the local green party in DeKalb County.
It is not a grouping dominated by well meaning white liberal
professionals, but one in which the leading role is played by Black
militants, gays, women, and people who have been working to change the
unions. It is a political expression of these social movements, not
necessarily in a conjunctural sense, for there is no big active
independent women's movement or gay movement in Atlanta right now. So it
is a funny thing, it expresses motion and brings up issues collected
really from many years of social struggles. Or put another way, it is in
embryo the party of the 1960's, in the sense that Cuban leader Ricardo
Alarcón spoke of the 60's in his tribute to John Lennon a couple of
years ago.

So, no, I don't think the sectoralism of Peter's campaign was a
weakness, on the contrary. The starting point has to be *what is* not
what one wishes or understands there *should be.*  What there is in the
United States, within the historical memory of working people, is "the
60's," these social movements. Even if quiescent for the moment, they
are a living presence, as shown by the extraordinary series of mass
antiwar mobilizations of a few months ago.

Peter accepting the nomination and saying that the first thing he would
do as a candidate was to take part in the Martin Luther King march was
exactly, precisely, completely and utterly l10% right. On the redness
scale, he achieved extreme  fire truck.

And his drawing history and the present together, and the popular way he
projected into the simple thing of a Dr. King commemoration the
counterposition of a party of working people like the Greens and the
parties of the rich, was masterful. When I spoke about Peter explaining
socialist ideas, that's what I had in mind, being able to demonstrate
and make real the political implication of something as simple as
honoring a guy who has been dead for 35 years now. He understands what
such gesture signifies politically, he is able to draw it out so that
others get it, too.

I think that's what a real proletarian, revolutionary, communist,
Marxist campaign should do.

If you ask me, how does a Lenin campaign, today, in the USA, I would say
he campaigns in the way Peter did, setting out on day ONE, in the first
minute of his first speech, by concretely identifying with the most
advanced expression of the struggle of our class in the living memory of
the working people of our country, the Black civil rights struggle, and
drawing out in an ultra-accessible way the political lessons of that
struggle, that working people need to break from the Democrat and
Republican parties, that we have our own interests to defend, which are
not those that are being upheld by those two parties.

But it appears comrades have big issues with this. He didn't talk about
class! He didn't speak about socialism! He didn't come out for
revolution! He didn't even mention working people as such! And he's a
fucking millionaire, just like Nader!

Let's say it's all true. Nevertheless, what Peter showed with his
campaign is that the most conscious elements of our class, the advanced
workers, the *real* left, as distinct from the subjective left, is
yearning to find its voice, to express itself. Five percent plus of the
vote, including coming in second (ahead of the Republicans) in three or
four cities in northern California show this is a *mass* phenomenon
among advanced workers in at least parts of the country. And that he can
wage a campaign in such a way for that existing sentiment to begin
transforming itself into motion and organization.

And I believe the voting results tremendously *understate* the real
sentiment and potential ALL OVER the country.

If you don't believe it, dig up the exit polls from the last few
elections and primaries and study them in detail. Three years ago, on
Super Tuesday in North Carolina, with the presidential race open in both
parties, and it all being decided that day, Black folk massively
boycotted. North Carolina is 70% white, but the turnout was 98% white.
And the turnout was less than 20% of the Voting Age Population. In the
general election, nationwide, the turnout was less that 50% of the
voting age population, whereas in Kennedy's time, when Blacks weren't
allowed to vote in places like North Carolina, turnout was two-thirds.

The way I read this is, like, well, helloooo... Is anybody home on the
Left in the United States? Wake up and smell the coffee!!! This is a
class independent political movement waiting to be born.

If THAT is true, then the task is quite simply to let the working people
hear themselves speak in the electoral arena. This can only start at
*their* level of consciousness, not at ours. If the California
gubernatorial vote is symptomatic of an inchoate, instinctive but at
bottom *class* yearning to find independent political expression, and I
do not believe any other explanation makes sense, THEN the campaigns
Peter has been running which some folks consider "low level" are exactly
right, *just as* the Moncada program projected by Fidel was exactly
right, *just as* Marx and Engels were exactly right to take to the field
in the political battles of the revolution of 1848 as *democrats*, not
as communists or proletarians.

And something else flows from that. IF there is such feeling, an as-yet
inchoate sentiment towards an independent working class political
movement waiting to be born, THEN all these ultra-pure, hyper-Communist,
extremely proletarian and super-r-r-r-revolutionary propaganda campaigns
that various groups carry out are DEAD WRONG. It is *exactly* what
Engels described in his article on Marx and the Neue Rheinische Zeitung
as the alternative to the course they chose, to take the field as

"If we did not want to do that, if we did not want to take up the
movement, adhere to its already existing, most advanced, actually
proletarian side and to advance it further, then there was nothing left
for us to do but to preach communism in a little provincial sheet and to
found a tiny sect instead of a great party of action. But we had already
been spoilt for the role of preachers in the wilderness; we had studied
the utopians too well for that, nor was it for that we had drafted our

IF the results Camejo got in a place like Oakland, where he came in
second, indicate this bottled-up motion towards political independence
that is trying to find expression, then the really *proletarian*
campaign is the one that makes itself the vehicle for this sentiment to
find expression; and the campaign that goes around preaching to the
workers about socialism and the decisive role of the proletariat as a
class and a lot of other things 99% of working people do not yet
understand is not a proletarian but a petty-bourgeois sectarian campaign
and an *obstacle* to the real development of a real class political


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