[Marxism] The SWP, Gay Liberation and Leninism
MLause at cinci.rr.com
Tue Apr 20 00:24:15 MDT 2004
Interesting post, Jose. Thanks.
From: marxism-bounces at lists.econ.utah.edu
[mailto:marxism-bounces at lists.econ.utah.edu] On Behalf Of Jose G. Perez
Sent: Monday, April 19, 2004 11:13 PM
Subject: [Marxism] The SWP, Gay Liberation and Leninism
I thank John O'Brien for his heart-felt contribution on the issues of
gay liberation and the SWP.
For those who are tired of talking about the SWP, I can certainly
sympathize, however, the SWP was one of the strongest and (relatively
speaking) most effective groups on the U.S. Left in the 1960's and
1970's: an analysis of where and how it went wrong is important for
That is especially so because however much we all might dump on the
"Zinovievist" distortion of Leninism, the truth is we cannot do without
political organization. The class struggle is a political struggle and
therefore political organization is essential.
What John describes about the SWP basically sharing the anti-gay stance
of society as a whole and then justifying it as a "security policy"
coincides completely with what I know.
Yet his description of the discussion in the SWP in the year or two
following that will, I think, strike at least some of us who lived
through that period as weird, even inaccurate. Let me describe what
happened in a flat way and then I'll explore why John's perception of
those events is the way it is.
The Stonewall riot sent shockwaves throughout society leading to the
emergence of the modern gay liberation movement. In the SWP one
immediate effect was a debate and vote by the PC that gays had as much
of a right to be members of the party as anyone else. It is my
understanding --I was not yet a member-- that this was initiated by some
of the younger PC members despite the discomfort of some of the older
Another pretty much immediate effect is that the SWP adopted a political
position in support of full rights for gays and against any and all
forms of discrimination against people based on their sexual
orientation. As far as I know this is still the SWP position today.
As gay groups emerged in the wake of the Stonewall riot (June 1969)
there also began to be pressure inside the SWP to relate to this
movement actively. The leadership organized what was called a "probe" of
the gay liberation movement, low-key participation with an eye mostly to
finding out about the movement and gauging its potential.
This was the followed by something called the "memorandum" on the gay
liberation movement written by Barry Sheppard and adopted by the
Political Committee, if I remember right.
This memorandum said that, in comparison to the Black or Chicano
movement, or the women's liberation movement, the gay liberation
movement had decidedly less "social weight." Its practical effect was to
have comrades pull out of gay liberation organizations; that SWP and YSA
members should not be central leaders of gay protests, not the "best
builders" of this movement as we tried to be --or imagined we tried to
be-- in the antiwar, women's, Chicano and Black movement.
This conclusion was challenged in a special "literary discussion" (no
oral debates in the branches) and then in a preconvention discussion but
as I recall things, at least, the latter challenge had little open
support, as that took place nearly two years after the memorandum came
out, because as I recall things, the memo was done in the wake of the
1971 convention and the discussion took place finally in 1973. By then,
most of those who were uncomfortable with the memo had left the
organizations, especially in the YSA. This wasn't very noticeable at the
time unless you were focused on the issue because the YSA was recruiting
large numbers of people, and quite a few stayed only a few months or a
year or two.
Some who read this and read John's piece may think we're giving two very
sharply contending accounts and that mine is meant to "correct" his. But
I think his account is an entirely accurate recounting of these events
as he lived them. I've tried to give a "flat" account for a reason.
John quite reasonably --and accurately, I believe-- presents the
memorandum in the framework of, as an expression within the party of the
oppression of gays and lesbians in society as a whole.
I want to focus on some of the *mechanisms* through which that
oppression found that expression within the SWP and YSA, because I
believe they hold lessons for today.
First, the SWP's view of politics was extremely narrow and constricted,
one might even say in a typically anglo, male, heterosexual way. The
SWP downplayed when it did not outright reject the social, cultural and
psychological dimensions of the various oppressions and struggles. If it
could not be formulated as a demand on the government around which
people could be mobilized in the streets, it simply wasn't important at
all to the SWP.
Thus the SWP excluded itself and its members from participation in
"consciousness-raising" sessions which were a very common expression of
the women's movement then (living-room feminism, we called it). It ALSO
excluded itself from informal and semiformal study circles and
dialogues, which as we now know, was where the layer of several thousand
activists that became the New Communist Movement was to be found at the
end of the 60s and early 70s. (Ironically, the SWP and YSA SHOULD HAVE
been conscious of this as a generalized phenomenon because we did pick
up a few of these groupings; but we were to monomaniacally focused on
our antiwar tactics to try to search out such groups).
Second, although the SWP defended the right of Blacks, women, gays or
any other specially oppressed sector to organize independently and also
to caucus within broader movement and labor organizations, it
categorically rejected such formations *within the SWP.* This was an
extremely strong part of the SWP's view of itself as a completely unique
group, THE revolutionary party. As a result, this rejection extended so
far as to aggressively intervene in social functions and living
I guess I should mention here that there were some political groups in
the late 1960s and early 1970s who were so knuckle-headed they
*rejected* separate Black, Latino and women's organizations: "Black and
white, unite and fight," that was their line. Also we were coming out of
an era when the ruling class had put an equals sign between liberation
and "integration" and there was a lot of nonsense around in society as
a whole about "reverse racism" and similar things. So it was important
--and a good thing-- that the SWP held the position it did about the
But despite its position about everyone else in the world, the SWP and
YSA went to extremes to put down even the slightest hint of separate
organization on that sort of basis in the party or youth group. For
example, for a time in 1971 in Berkeley I lived in what came to be known
as "the Third World House." It was three or four college-age couples who
shared a big old house and we were all Black, Latino or Asian (except
for one white woman who was in a couple with a Black comrade). This
arrangement, which had come about pretty spontaneously, soon drew the
attention of the leadership. It was viewed as a problem, exclusionary,
introducing into the revolutionary movement the divisions of the broader
society. And some class on Leninist organization would be given,
highlighting the danger of "Bundism" (The Bund was a separate
social-democratic organization in Russia for Jews around the time that
Lenin's was trying to draw together the RSDLP before 1905). Of course,
the last thing we wanted to do was to be "anti-Leninist" so after 2-3
months housing arrangements in the Berkeley YSA got reshuffled.
Another time, a few years later, I was recruited by a top party leader
to essentially torpedo a "Latino party" at the party's annual gathering
at Oberlin (these were week-long events attended during the 70's by more
than 1000 people and held every summer. One year it would be a party
convention, the next an educational conference). Some of the comrades
--from Houston I think-- wanted to get together socially especially with
other Latinos. This was in no way an exclusionary party, anyone would be
welcome, but it was meant, yes, as a way of getting a high concentration
of us in a room, exchange experiences, get a feel for the progress we
were making in developing a Latino cadre (as I remember it, the SWP had
about 50 or 75 Latino members out of a total of 1300-1500 members in the
mid-70s; the YSA's Latino membership was comparable or just a touch more
and, of course, there was a lot of overlap. The number of Black members
was about double the Latino figure). But having a private party hosted
by Latinos to which other Latinos were especially invited was simply
considered beyond the pale. A Latino caucus meeting, of course, would
have been unthinkable, Bundism of the purest water.
Of course, SWP people were so thoroughly indoctrinated in the cult of
the organization that it was no problem in either of these cases or
others that came up convincing the comrades directly involved to abandon
anything that might undermine the unity of "the revolutionary party."
Third, in the SWP's version of "Leninism" ANY and ALL activities that
could even be considered remotely political by a member had to be under
the specific, direct supervision of the party (or YSA) and EXCLUSIVELY
in keeping with organizationally-decided priorities. "Free-lancing" and
individual initiative was prohibited. Members were expected to function
as a disciplined fraction under any and all circumstances and on every
last question -- following the lead of a designated floor leader even on
something like when to recess a meeting for a bathroom break.
This mode of functioning came from the idea that the SWP was a "higher
body" than any other organizations. There was no sense of respect for
the autonomy of non-party organizations, nor of inculcating in members
the idea of loyalty to the organizational integrity of non-party
organizations. If an SWP member was also a member of another group,
everything that member had access to in the other group was an open book
to the SWP. Conversely, SWP members were expected to, and did, keep
absolutely internal everything the SWP (I'm referring here to the SWP,
but the YSA functioned along the same lines, just more raggedly, due to
inexperience) discussed, decided or dealt with.
This verticalist, manipulative, "God's gift to the world" approach
applied even in SWP relations with the YSA, although the shtick was that
the two were a part of a common revolutionary socialist movement. SWP
members in the youth organization, although not formally organized as a
fraction, were expected to follow party policy in the youth, which in
practice meant to follow the leadership of the youth organization
nationally and locally. Thus in 1971, YSA members were denied the
experience of *openly* debating on the basis of *counterposed*
documents the different points of view even within the SWP-YSA common
"movement." True, there were *some* pro-minority YSA'ers who were not
party members and thus free to submit documents and raise differences.
As for the minority dual members, they intervened in pre-convention
discussion along the lines of "I support the resolution, I just disagree
with what it says." This led directly and inescapably to the creation of
underground factional formations which then waged war in the form of
one-sided private discussions with newer members.
People who were in the SWP in those years will of course remember that
what I've just described is precisely the conduct most anathemized by
the majority when minority comrades were found to be engaging in it; but
it was the inevitable result of the party's formalistic straitjacket
into which party democracy was expected to fit.
If you take the organizational approach of the SWP, and put it together
with my intentionally very flat description of the SWP's approach to gay
liberation, and then imagine yourself a young activist, gay, impacted by
the tremendously liberating event of the Stonewall riot going through
the SWP's attempt to come to grips with the gay movement, you will come
up with the description that John gave. There was a *formal* abandonment
of what was essentially a don't ask, don't tell policy (that is what it
really was, there were LOTS of closet gay members), followed after a
brief hiatus of liberalization by essentially a dictate that gays had to
go BACK into the closet politically: they could not participate or
relate to THEIR OWN movement because gays had less "social weight" than
Blacks or women.
And it is not just a gay thing. Time and again the SWP and YSA
leaderships intervened to stop individuals and branches from taking
initiatives to become involved in various struggles. The SWP and YSA did
not want members --even Black members-- to head South and become part of
the struggles down there at the beginning of the 1960's. The SWP and YSA
stayed out of SDS when that group suddenly became practically the entire
student movement around 1967 or so. There was a lot of pressure on YSA
at large members and "regional" locals (where there was no SWP branch)
to NOT relate to local antiwar formations and instead set up a chapter
of the Student Mobilization Committee.
But, in the case of the memorandum on the Gay movement, is it fair to
say it was an expression of heterosexual prejudice, as John does? Not in
a conscious way (perhaps I differ with John on that) but yes, I believe
that is what it represented politically, ruling class ideology finding
expression within a socialist organization.
That because, on the face of it, politically, the SWP decision on NOT
actively relating to and participating in the gay liberation movement
made no sense.
There are many factors involved in a small political nucleus deciding
where to focus. This was an application of formal logic based mainly on
just one factor, "social weight." Conceding --just for argument's sake--
the social weight issue, a point one would have thought needed to be
considered was whether even this "light weight" movement could be the
straw that broke the camel's back.
Bourgeois society survives, not through naked repression, but through
the political and ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie. Gay
liberation was, by its very nature (and as we are seeing today once
again in the marriage debate) a movement with profound counter-hegemonic
implications (as the Gramscians might say), one that is tremendously
threatening to bourgeois ideology.
Second, one of the main tasks of the SWP as it viewed itself was simply
to grow. Given the extreme Stalinist hostility of the CP, the Maoists,
the New Communist Movement (then in gestation) and most of the sects to
the gay movement, this was an arena where the SWP had pretty much an
open field. The SWP had stubbornly resisted the "social weight" argument
in focusing its attention on radicalizing youth on the campuses (though
it would succumb a few years down the road, in 1978) precisely for those
kinds of considerations. The same argument applied to the gay movement.
And, third, a political party consists not of Bolshevik "professional
revolutionary" automatons, but of real people. Real people relate to
their own specific oppression, background, interests, etc. A wise and
skillful leadership will take the actual people involved into account in
deciding priorities and proposing assignments. The decision to
de-prioritize (essentially, to ban) active participation in gay
liberation organizations would inevitably lead to a layer of comrades
leaving the party and especially the YSA. But since this was a movement
the SWP claimed to support anyways, what would have been the harm in
simply saying, "we don't view this as a central priority for the SWP as
a whole right now, but people who feel strongly they want to participate
should go ahead and do so under the direction of their branches"? Of
course the SWP leadership would not have formulated it quite that way
but they could have come up with some policy that was tantamount to
The leadership, arguably, was worried about diverting resources away
from antiwar organizing. But the same sort of argument about weight and
political centrality and so on could have been constructed to propose
abandoning the abortion rights campaign which the SWP was very heavily
involved with at the time. The leadership could have said, look, we're
all for this, but, compared to the transcendental importance of the
Vietnamese revolution in world politics, and that of course only we have
the correct line to build the kind of mass antiwar movement that will be
most effective in helping the Vietnamese win, and that we're just a tiny
nucleus not a mass party, we simply don't have the cadre to spare to
involve ourselves centrally in an abortion rights campaign.
The SWP leadership at the time did not do that, and did become massively
(for its scale) involved in abortion rights organizing. Whether
consciously or unconsciously, it realized that without a specific
campaign around women's issues, and in which women SWP and YSA members
would function in all-female fractions, the party and YSA would suffer
massive losses among women members.
So the question becomes, why didn't it go through the same kind of
conscious or unconscious calculation in relation to gays and lesbians?
I think the obvious answer is the one John gives. The SWP was happy to
have any number of (privately) gay and lesbian members, but was even
happier in NOT having those who insisted on "flaunting" their lesbian or
Nor was this so entirely unconscious. Ask anyone active in the late 60's
what the SWP and YSA members were like, and they'll tell you these were
the squarest people in the radical movement. They wore their hair short,
dressed neatly and very conventionally. If you wandered in off the
street into one of their meetings looking for this young socialist
outfit, your first impression would be that you'd stumbled into the
young republicans instead.
At a time of extremely accelerated change in social and cultural norms
among the youth that was inextricably intertwined with a massive
political radicalization, the SWP and YSA members did not go through the
same social/cultural experiences and changes as the rest of their
generation because the SWP viewed politics so narrowly and because the
SWP had this shtick about looking like real proletarians, not seeming to
be oddballs, misfits and malcontents.
A lot of that "social conservatism" got swept away by the influx of my
generation, people who joined after 1967 or 1968. We went through the
"cultural revolution" of the 60's outside the party and joined the
movement in such numbers that our social/cultural norms became dominant
to some degree before we could be thoroughly assimilated and recast into
the old mold.
But the gay memo was, I believe, part of an effort by the leadership to
set limits on just how "weird" people could be in the SWP. And, of
course, "weirdness" was simply deviance from the norms dictated by
bourgeois society. And on these sorts of issues and how they related to
politics, the SWP wasn't just clueless, but, at least in its leadership,
quite consciously and arrogantly clueless. And thus the leadership
became the vehicle for the oppressive heterosexist norms of society as a
whole to become norms for the party also.
* * *
On the lessons for today. I think the need for cohesive, coherent
political functioning is becoming increasingly evident, and the one
thing we can say pretty much for sure is that "Leninism" as it was
understood, not just by the SWP, but also by the groups of the New
Communist Movement and pretty much the entire "far left" in the
"advanced" capitalist countries is a failed model.
The idea that precisely the right politics + a central organ and a very
high or complete control over members political lives is the formula for
success has been tried so many times in so many different varieties and
flavors that if something like that were the solution, everyone would
know it by now. On the contrary, we have the experience of literally
HUNDREDS of failures, including some that degenerated into such bizarre
cults that really a book should be written as a cautionary tale. Believe
me, today's SWP is far from the worse. On the road of this "Leninism"
lies not just failure, but --sometimes-- madness.
The model remains attractive nevertheless. A tightly organized,
disciplined group, especially one that had the good fortune to start
with cadres with some real experience and connection with mass
movements, and thus has a somewhat non-sectarian approach to at least
some mass work, is likely to wield influence and have an impact wildly
disproportionate to its numbers. That is so especially with a fragmented
far left or in a niche sector.
It thus becomes attractive, recruits pretty good people, and --with any
luck-- soon is growing and becoming better known. That was the story of
the SWP in the 60s and 70s, and, in a rough ballpark approximation sort
of way, of Workers World and the ISO in recent years. Despite that,
experience shows the model doesn't scale up. Sometimes around a thousand
members or two or three, the group stagnates, goes off the deep end
politically or blows up spectacularly.
I believe by their very nature they are incapable of becoming parties,
even tiny ones, real organic expressions of a class or even some sliver
of a class. That is because, essentially, they are sects, bearers of a
special doctrine by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.
I have some thoughts at least on where to BEGIN the search for the kind
of political organization that is needed in societies like the United
States at the dawn of the 21st century.
The most important point is political.
It should not be a sect, i.e., a group with a highly elaborated body of
doctrine covering everything from the POUM's mistakes in Spain 70 years
ago to the correct kind of antiwar committee to form on campuses. Some
people think this means abandoning (real) Leninism, the idea of
building a political organization of revolutionary socialists as
distinct from an all-inclusive socialist or workers party. That isn't
The Bolshevik current and later party included a wide spectrum of views
and tactical approaches. It was united around the perspective of the
working class leading a revolution in Russia and a number of specific
issues that had come up over time. But it also had something of a
shifting composition because the Bolsheviks for most of that time were a
current in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Apart from Lenin,
the key Bolshevik faction leaders around 1907 were nowhere to be found
in 1912 when the Bolsheviks decided to become a separate party. And
neither were all key Bolshevik leaders in 1917 there in 1912, notably
Trotsky. That's because despite the formalities of a separate party,
given the underground conditions and the history, the two different
parties didn't really completely sort themselves out from each other
until mid-1917. Bolshevism as we understand (or misunderstand it) was
the result of an evolution, a process, and acquired its political
profile over time, as issues were posed concretely.
The range of views within the Bolsheviks was evident in many instances
throughout its history, for example, right after the February revolution
in 1917, when the Bolsheviks took a spectrum of positions that ranged
from defacto support to the bourgeois provisional government to Lenin's
position of promoting a second revolution to install a workers
government and begin the construction of socialism.
Now, the sect idea is to inoculate people against making the kinds of
mistakes some Bolsheviks did after February by having this huge
apparatus of programmatic, theoretical and historical positions that
absolutely everyone in the sect must adhere to as sacred dogma. The
problem is 99% of that is stuff people don't know from their own
experience and have no way of testing in practice.
So against the full-program, full-theory sect idea, I would counterpose
an organization built around a certain strategic perspective for the
United States and a series of key practical positions. And from this
flow also organizational consequences.
First, the organization needs to have *some* policies and *some*
priorities and *some* campaigns, otherwise it is not an organization at
all, just a network of activists. But notice that word "some." I think
the national organization should respect the autonomy and freedom of
initiative of the local units, or national working groups and fractions,
and the local unit of its constituent work groups and committees as well
as individual members. Viewed as a whole the priorities of the
organization become a sum of nationally decided priorities, locally
decided collective priorities and initiatives, and individual priorities
Second, the organization needs to develop a sensitivity to the
intersection of the personal, the social, the cultural and the
political. "Cultural" hegemony is one of the ways the capitalists
maintain their *political* rule -- including within our own
Third, the organization needs to adopt a non-hierarchical outlook
towards the rest of the radical and workers movement, not just competing
organizations, but mass organizations, hybrid forms and even I would say
its constituent and "subordinate" bodies. It should respect the autonomy
and organizational integrity of others just as it wants its own
respected. It needs to develop relationships based on trust and
collaboration, not vanguardist attempts to hegemonize everything in
sight. It should display a willingness to learn and be led, and abandon
messianic conceptions that it has been created to teach and lead because
it is the bearer of the sacred doctrine.
A mostly white local unit of 15 people shouldn't imagine it is in a
position to figure out tactics and strategy for a local Black community
struggle. Your strategic concepts may be sound and your tactical
instincts razor sharp, but your actual knowledge of the REAL conditions
precludes that unit playing that kind of role. Similarly, a unit
composed mostly of people without trade union experience isn't really in
a position to dictate to a fraction of three or four comrades in some
union what tactic to follow. Nor is a PC dominated by veterans of the
60's, 70's and 80's particularly well positioned to figure out the best
vehicle for doing campus antiwar organizing.
Fourth, from this it may seem that I am against "democratic centralism,"
at least in the original sense of that phrase, majority rule. Actually I
am not. Majority rule is the only possible basis for functioning in a
common organization carrying out common campaigns. Without majority rule
what you have is not an organization but a debating society.
For example, I believe it was indicated for any political organization
in the United States at the beginning of last year to decide that
opposing the U.S. war in Iraq had to be its central, national political
priority and campaign. And that this campaign should be a major
component of the practical work of all its branches or districts. A
clear, universal mandate.
But today, I would not say the same is true in relation to the March for
Women's lives. My conception of organization and my sense for the state
of actually existing political organizations is that this isn't
something that a national leadership is duty bound to try to get all
local units to relate to in a major way. Notice that this is a function
not just of the importance of the issue, the weight of the sector, the
motion around it and so on, but also and mostly really the state of the
organizations. (Unlike the Iraq protest movement in the runup to the war
and quite possibly also today).
Experience shows that a certain amount of caution and humility should go
into the exercise of majority rule. And discipline should be
imposed/required only when needed. Two comrades working in the same
antiwar committee don't need to tie up the branch in deciding whether
they should propose Rose Park or Petal Field as the place to have a
rally. Each comrade should feel free in the antiwar committee to make
their suggestion and motivate it, and the branch should respect the
autonomy and competence of the antiwar committee to make such decisions
without the political organization trying to sway it in one direction or
The opposite course of functioning, where every mass movement decision
is first pre-chewed and voted on in a political organization branch or
fraction, substitutes the branch or fraction for the antiwar committee
and sucks all the life right out of it. That is what we tended to do in
early 70's in the YSA. There will be cases, of course, where there are
important issues at stake in an antiwar committee, and the local unit of
the political organization will vote which one it favors and decide to
bind its members in the committee to that position. But this should not
be the normal or default mode of functioning.
Finally, this is a point John raises but that I didn't take up above,
the organization should have room for members with widely varying levels
of activity and financial contributions. John says the SWP drove out
members with children. I don't know if I would put it quite that way,
but, yes, in essence that was the result of the way the SWP functioned
and the generalized expectation of the level of activity members should
have. Very few people in this generation of SWPers, the ones that stayed
in, have kids. This is, in reality, a form of discrimination against
women and regular working people.
A loose group of several hundred along the lines I describe is likely to
be "less effective" in an immediate sense than an ultra-disciplined,
lockstep marching "Leninist vanguard" of only a couple of hundred. My
group is going to have people pulling in different directions, a very
limited capacity to carry out real national campaigns and a lot of
unevenness from place to place when it does, a lot fewer publications,
much smaller financial resources.
The "vanguard" is going to have books, pamphlets, a weekly paper, more
money and a much greater capacity to carry out campaigns.
The advantage of what I propose is that my group will be much more in
touch with the real world, much more rooted in the daily reality of
regular people, including many with children, and a whole life apart
from politics. Politically it will be much more involved on an ongoing
basis with a much wider range of issues and activities, and therefore
with much broader layers of activists and just regular people concerned
about a given subject.
It is a group much less likely to go crazy, and much less likely to
split over something like the correct theoretical analysis of the Cuban
revolution because it doesn't need to have a position on every subject
under the sun. And it is a group that is more likely to be able to
contribute to at least the beginnings of a tiny party, but party in the
real sense of the word.
The sect, the SWP-type group is much more likely to go off the deep end
politically precisely because it is so hyper-focused and disciplined on
the two or four issues or efforts the leadership has singled out. To a
very large degree its members live in their own little party world. They
don't have the range of contacts with a diverse enough selection of
people to pick up on new trends and changing moods. And when you look at
a group like the SWP, you can see this.
I mentioned earlier that the SWP places a great value on its members
being like regular people and not sticking out like some sort of
extragalactic wackos. But the truth about the way they come across is
If you get in contact with an SWP branch, you soon discover that,
typically, in a group of 10 or 15 people above the age of 30, only 1 or
2, or perhaps none, have children. And then you find that no one was
born in that city, or lived there more than a decade, that they all
rent, that most came to town in the last 2, 3 or 4 years, that most have
lived in a half dozen or more widely disparate cities, that they've got
college degrees and tons of books on shelves in their homes but now are
manual workers of one sort or another, and have had a sequence of such
jobs in different industries for the last decades. Oh yes, and that they
all say exactly the same thing, even using the same catch-phrases and
mannerisms. And at political meeting they'll introduce themselves as
being a garment or airline or some other kind of worker, as if it were
something quite distinctive to have to work for a living.
This is the fruit of the SWP's cult of organization and cult of the
"professional revolutionary." It is okay for people like that to be in
the organization, who live, drink, eat, and sleep politics. But if you
require every last person to be like that, you will get a very weird
Further, because you depend on everyone marching lock-step across the
country around campaigns, you need to have everyone on the same
wavelength. One of the ways that Jack Barnes liked to describe the SWP
was as a "thinking machine" and I think he may have hit on something
there. In the SWP we used to talk about "assimilating" new members. I
think what you have here is the Borg.
I don't think what is involved here is a question of degree of
centralization, degree of homogeneity, degree of commitment required and
so on. I used to think so, and in the archives there's a couple of my
first posts from around 1999 discussing my SWP experiences and the
general question of organization where I say the SWP could perhaps have
evolved into something better in the mid-70's. But now I think these are
really two irreconcilably different types of groups, so different in a
qualitative way you're not going to get from one to the other without
the moral equivalent of a revolution, a crisis that shatters the sect.
The reason I think the two kinds of groups are qualitatively different
is because I now have (but did not five years ago) some experience in a
group that, roughly, in a ballpark sort of way, functions somewhat along
the lines of my "ideal" group. My description isn't and wasn't meant to
be a description of Solidarity with the name left out, but rather an
attempt to draw up a more general description or approach to the
organization question based on my earlier experiences in the SWP and the
ones I am having now, and abstracting from a number of peculiarities of
Solidarity as such. But it isn't a universal "formula" but one very much
that implicitly assumes the sort of Left and sort of political situation
that exist in the United States today.
Finally, I should add --for clarity-- that I wrote this mostly a couple
of days ago in response to the original post. For some weird reason, my
Marxmail stopped coming for a few days (restored now) and through the
web interface I see a series of posts on this same issue of the
organization question as it related to Gays and the SWP. That web
interface is awkward for me to follow the threads, and I haven't had
time to do it as carefully as I would like. So this wasn't written in
response to some particular later post that may already have crossed the
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