An interesting development in the SWP
Jose G. Perez
jg_perez at bellsouth.net
Thu Jul 24 20:03:45 MDT 2003
There appears to be an interesting development in the SWP.
Last Saturday a good friend and comrade (who comes out of the
New Communist Movement experience) called me after getting back from a
low-key action here in Atlanta in support of the Smithfield organizing
drive in North Carolina.
Turns out several SWP'ers had shown up for it, and not to sell
books or papers. In fact, they kept the Militant in their backpacks the
whole time. They *did* talk a lot, too much for my friend's taste, but
they actually took part in the planned activity, not just hung around
the edges doing "communist work."
Knowing my background, he wanted to know if the people involved
had just been sent into town (they hadn't), if they would be disruptive
of the work he and I and others are trying to do together building a
labor-community alliance, etc.
It struck me then that I had been seeing a little bit more of
the SWP folks lately. They did make a significant effort to reach out
around the Roger Calero defense campaign. They had been to a couple of
meetings like those my friend and I tend to hang out at. Other things.
My friend and I talked for a bit, and came to the conclusion
that, nah, this particular involvement was just because of the SWP's
earlier involvement in some UFCW struggles in Midwest.
My friend did mention they would be having a meeting Wed. night
for Roger Calero, which I decided to go to. I'll confess, when the
government starts persecuting Latino journalists for being socialists, I
take it personally. Roger and his friends in the SWP beat them back,
which I'm grateful and congratulate them for. So I did go to their
The Calero meeting held Wednesday night was an interesting
meeting in various ways.
One was that the most outstanding leader (IMHO) of our Latino
community in Atlanta was a speaker. And she gave a very inspiring report
on a meeting held the day before around the drivers license issue where
scores of immigrant workers itching to ACT around this issue had turned
out, even though it was in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. And
they're setting up an action committee to plan public protests around
this issue. (I'd gotten an account of the meeting from the friend I
mentioned earlier --he was there-- but it was a real pleasure to hear
the person who has been centrally responsible for helping this mass
sentiment find expression give her own account of it, and to see the
very positive reaction of the folks at the Calero meeting to this
Another aspect of the Calero defense meeting is that it was held
at a church very much identified with the progressive forces in the
Another was that although very modest (30 people roughly), 10
(12 if you count preschoolers) were Latinos. Only two of the Latinos
were connected to the SWP, three if you count me as an "ex", though I
think I'm actually probably reflective not of being an "ex" but of being
a Latino who thought it was way cool that Roger and his friends beat
back la migra. Roger also got on a show at a local Pacifica-type radio
station (I'm not sure if they're actually, technically part of the
network) and I suspect Latinos who heard about the case that way were
also all thinking, "right ON!" as Roger told his story. It is a
"Hispanic" thing if you want. I LIKE it when one of US gets back at
Two of the Latinos there were organizers for UNITE, rank and
file union staffers, so to speak. A couple were college-age activists
around the Latin American Association, whose desire to do something for
our people has so far been channeled by that group into
social-services-type activities. One was a young woman with two
pre-schoolers. One was a long-time Cuba solidarity activist (not me).
And there were three or four Blacks there, including one that identified
himself in the discussion as also being a trade unionist -- whether on a
union staff I'm not sure. The tone and tenor of his comments showed
clearly he wasn't in the SWP, but wasn't hostile to them either.
The meeting wasn't half "People of Color" -- but if you look at
just the 15 or so that weren't SWP members, it was overwhelmingly
Latinos and Blacks.
Another thing that was interesting was the talks by the SWP'ers,
and especially Roger Calero. They went on too long, of course, but then
again, I don't know of anyone who has been in the radical movement as
long as I have who doesn't think meetings and speeches *always* go too
long. But even taking that into account, this one still seemed longer
But that wasn't the main thing, but the tone and content. A lot
of it was about relating to the real issues and real fights that are
going on, and the actual indications of motion that do exist, such as
the Freedom Rides coming up in a month or two to oppose the persecution
of immigrant workers, initiated, backed and organized by a bunch of
folks in and around the AFL-CIO officialdom.
The message was, if you unite, if you ignore everything lawyers
and politicians tell you about not raising a stink and instead you
fight, you can win, like Roger Calero did. No, not necessarily every
time, and you have to pick your fights, you have to be tactful and
sensitive to people you're working with, you have to reach out and unite
all who can be united, but if you do those things, you can win.
Another thing that struck me was how little emphasis was given
to the "books and newspapers workers need" and so on, the SWP mantra of
a couple of years ago, self-proclamations about the SWP being the real
"revolutionary communists," etc. etc. etc.
More, the SWP'ers who spoke talked about immigration issues in
terms of the drivers license fight and so-called "no match" letters
(and, no, I'm *not* going to explain those, if folks on the Marxism list
in the U.S. don't know what that's about, go Googling. You NEED to
figure it out *for yourselves* -- Now!).
Now, I don't want to exaggerate, I would not say the comrades
were as completely successful in relating to and identifying with and
explaining the significance of these fights and issues in a popular,
accessible way as they may might imagine they were doing. Although it
seemed to me Calero in particular is a diamond in the rough.
Then I got home, and because a Militant article about a
development in Georgia was mentioned (a lynching of a Latino) I went to
the Militant web site. But I got diverted from that when I found this
headline on the links on the home page.
"International socialist conference celebrates increasing trade-union
"OBERLIN, Ohio--An International Socialists Workers Conference took
place here July 10-12. It laid the basis for socialist workers in coal
mining, textile and garment, and meatpacking to rapidly extend their
involvement in union-building work in every factory, mine, or mill where
they are employedwhether it be work toward organizing unions, or toward
mobilizing existing union structures to be used by the membership.
"'We have a union orientation, not a factory orientation,' said SWP
national secretary Jack Barnes in his conference summary July 12....
"The growing integration of socialist workers in the vanguard of the
working class over the last two years, Barnes said, has laid the basis
for this turn toward making mass work in the unions universal in the
There may be a strong temptation to write this off as one more
"turn" within the "turn" that never stops turning. But this is, or so it
seems to me, a very clear shift by the SWP: away from sectarian
abstentionism, towards *involvement* in real living union struggles.
And it may be just coincidence, but the Militant web site being
updated with the weekly dead-tree edition "dump" by Wednesday night is
relatively new, I think. A few months ago it used to take them until the
Then thinking back, there have been other shifts in recent
months. The Calero defense was one of them. They've tried to help out
the FLOC folks with the boycott, identifying with it, publicizing it.
They were relating to the (pre-war) antiwar movement, finally, at the
end, that was another shift. I think Fred Feldman noticed that,
highlighting its significance. I thought it then not very notable,
because they weren't relating to it nearly in the way I would have
wanted such experienced cadres to do so, but now I think Fred may have
been right and I wrong. He noticed the shift, the change, the motion,
and I wrote it off. I *think* it was Fred.
I don't want to exaggerate the *extent* of this at this stage.
For one thing that extent isn't clear to me. I haven't followed the SWP
except in the most desultory way in years.
I think the most significant thing to note is simply that,
politically, the SWP appears to be *in motion* and that the *direction*
of that motion seems to be, at least as a first approximation, largely
I believe in politics it is very important to think dynamically,
i.e., NOT in terms of "positions" but in terms of movement. And shape
our stances and tactics in such a way as to favor the positive evolution
of the forces in question, rather than simply reject, denounce, or
polemicize with them, which easily turn into *obstacles* for the trend
we want to encourage.
Because, of course, there is plenty I, at least, would take
issue with in the positions outlined in the Militant article and
reflected at the Róger Calero meeting.
One of them is that the SWP is ready to fight the "next" war
that comes up.
I think that was pretty typical stance on the left in the
April-June period, and continues among a lot of people even today.
Others of us think that, actually, the "next" war turns out to have been
the "last" one, i.e., opposition to the ongoing U.S. War and occupation
of Iraq remains a central (and perhaps even "the" central) axis of the
political struggle in the United States right now. That view is, for
example, what was behind my comment on the UFPJ proposal for a phone
meeting of the antiwar coalitions, urging a united call for a national
day of action against the Iraq occupation. I hope the SWP comrades will
soon think this through, just as through this list and other lists,
meetings, etc., others on the Left are thinking this through.
And there's all the stuff about how "imperialism lost the cold
war," which doesn't improve with age, quite the contrary. It is fairly
easy, and even fun, to deconstruct it as I've done a couple of times on
Marxmail in the past. Then again it doesn't advance things much. For
half or more of the comrades in the local socialist group I'm part of,
the fall of the Berlin wall is a *childhood* memory.
Instead, I think *right now* the biggest contribution we can
make to a positive evolution by the SWP is not emphasizing those
disagreements, but drawing them into actual real living struggles and
movements, insofar as some of us may be positioned to do so, and the SWP
comrades willing to take part.
This will be a challenge, for I expect that one of the things we
will need to do is to help these comrades learn to function in such a
way that they're less of a hindrance than a help. But we can do that
better as their friends than as their enemies.
The key, I think, is this: NOT viewing the SWP'ers as
"opponents" (even though it is quite likely that is the way they think
of many of us right now), but rather as people who might possibly have a
lot to contribute to the creation of the united party or revolutionary
socialists that working people in the United States need. We should
remember that, in addition to the 300 or so members they may have now,
there are probably several hundred more, largely ex members, still in
the SWP's orbit or under its influence to one degree or another.
It is easy to make yourself irrelevant with a foolish political
line even with ten times those numbers. But this is pretty much what the
SWP had going into the anti-Vietnam War movement, and it is plenty to
have a huge political impact on the left as it exists today should they
opt for a less sectarian approach.
It may be that whatever modest aid we can offer comrades in and
around the SWP in breaking away from their isolation will prove
inadequate. In the end, their members and leaders will make a decision
on how far in an anti-sectarian direction they will go. And I certainly
don't suggest this should be a central priority for people, a major
focus, or anything like that.
But I do think we should relate to this, and to them, as
thoughtful political activists relating to a group in motion in a
positive direction (even if modestly), rather than having a sectarian
knee-jerk reaction based on a lot of past history.
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