[Marxism] Real Left Unity
dayneg at aros.net
Sat Jun 19 13:34:36 MDT 2004
On Thu, 17 Jun 2004, paul bunyan wrote:
> . . .
> I feel one of the major mistakes of the 80's by activist[s] resisting US
> attacks against Nicaragua, was instead of building anti-intervention
> organizations, was in building solidarity type ones, which implied
> uncritical support of the [Sandinista] leadership in that country, as the
> basis of unity. I say we stick with the anti-Vietnam War model.
Louis, one of the leading U.S. activists engaged in resisting U.S.
attacks against Nicaragua during the 1980s, has already responded to Paul
by pointing out that some U.S. activists were engaged in *both* direct
solidarity (i.e. with the FSLN, with the FMLN in El Salvador) and
anti-intervention types of campaigns and organizations. I agree with
Louis' implicit message that the two types of campaigns need not be
counterposed. i have further comments on this issue Paul raised and also
on a related topic discussed by David W. and Jose.
IMO after the Nicaraguan "Triumph" of 1979 and the formation of
the FMLN in El Salvador (October 1980), the trend among U.S. revolutionary
activists was to assume that 'since Nicaragua won, El Salvador will surely
win' and to politically depreciate the 'liberal' non-intervention stance
versus the 'revolutionary' solidarity stance. The central leadership of
the SWP, which had some justification at the time for considering itself
to be the leading revolutionary socialist organization in the U.S., began
to educate its membership that anti-war, anti-U.S.-intervention campaigns
were politically backward given the revolutionary situation developing in
the Americas. The ripening revolutionary situation opened the opportunity
to educate and recruit u.s. workers (who were supposedly increasingly
revolutionary) into direct solidarity with the Central American
revolutions which would inevitably and successfully spread into North
America. Instead of the Vietnam war era style anti-intervention campaign,
what was politically on the agenda now was calling for solidarity with the
Central American revolution and promoting its geographic extension.
IMO this ultraleft stance, which mistakenly counterposed
solidarity with Central American revolutionaries to a non-intervention
campaign, disoriented and miseducated many revolutionary activists in the
U.S. who had been drawn into and around the SWP because of its leadership
role in building the mass anti-Vietnam war movement. While it was
possible to be involved in both direct solidarity with the Central
American revolutionary movements and in the non-intervention movement
focussed on the U.S. government at the same time (as many of us were, some
of us in organizations which consciously did both), i think the U.S.
movement would have been more successful if there had been widespread
understanding that it was politically crucial for U.S. activists to
primarily build the strongest possible non-intervention movement and to be
involved in direct solidarity campaigns within that context. The need to
*defend* the Central American revolution and stop U.S. intervention
eventually impacted even the insular and sectarian SWP which changed its
line in spring 1985 and began to participate in the non-intervention
Nevertheless, as Jose explains (copied below), instead of
supporting CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador)
- the organization the FMLN expected u.s. activists to use for direct
solidarity - the SWP counterposed itself to the 'petit-bourgeois' CISPES.
In his analysis of what was happening with the SWP at the time, "Against
Sectarianism: the evolution of the Socialist Workers Party, 1978-83,"
Peter Camejo describes the (unsuccessful) 1982-83 maneuver of the SWP to
get one of the constituent organizations of the FMLN to bloc directly with
the SWP to build a "proletarian" solidarity movement which would compete
with CISPES. I agree with Jose that the SWP was responsible for the
hostility which developed between the SWP and CISPES.
I don't agree with Jose that the SWP's sectarianism "grew out of
the turn to industry" - if by that he means that sectarianism grew
naturally, inherently, inevitably out of the 'turn to industry.' I think a
revolutionary socialist organization can potentially make a turn to
industry, or any other turn, without becoming sectarian.
IMO it was the central leadership of the SWP - not the turn to
industry - which was responsible for transforming the SWP from a
revolutionary organization with some degree of internal democratic process
into a hardened sect with a permanent central leadership and only a
surficial, inconsequential degree of internal democratic process.
The SWP was having difficulty finding its way forward as the
political situation in the u.s. began to significantly change in the
latter 1970s. The SWP central leadership was "making sharp shifts in its
policies, political positions, methods of work and internal norms"
(quoting Camejo) as it lurched from one orientation to another. Efforts
to maintain the confidence of members and followers in the SWP leadership
were having diminished success, the organization ceased growing.
For example, the SWP was surprised by the Nicaraguan triumph in
July 1979. I believe it was in March of 1979 that the SWP published an
article in its _Intercontinental Press_ by Fausto Amador (half-brother of
FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca Amador) which argued that the FSLN was an
*obstacle* to revolution in Nicaragua. I have saved a copy of the August
31, 1979 issue of _The Militant_ with Nicaragua mispelled as "Nicargagua"
in the headline. The SWP leadership was scrambling to catch up, now
saying that the FSLN was a proletarian revolutionary leadership after all,
and trying to appear to have a comradely relationship with the
It was natural that some of the SWP's secondary leaders and
members would begin to organize to democratically discuss, evaluate, and
draw a balance sheet on the central leadership's performance. At the
SWP's 1981 national convention two small opposition tendencies emerged. It
was in the period from the 1981 national SWP convention through the
following 1984 convention that the SWP was definitively transformed. The
central leadership - which was pretty far down the road toward becoming a
Jack Barnes clique - took steps to shut down internal party democratic
process (including suddenly cancelling the constitutionally mandated 1983
Jack Barnes made the decision that it was more important that he
remain the central leader of the SWP than that the SWP have a healthy
democratic discussion which could have put his continued leadership in
question. Anyone who questioned this, or was perceived as a potential
questioner, was drummed, discouraged or expelled out of the organization -
culminating with more purge trials at the end of 1983 and in early 1984
than in the entire previous 45 year history of the SWP. Then it was
possible to have the postponed SWP convention in summer 1984 practically
without dissent or any questioning of the central leadership.
The SWP became an organization committed to the perpetuation of a
Jack Barnes cult as its first priority, the needs of building a
revolutionary party and helping lead the working class to socialist
revolution _ipso facto_ becoming secondary. IMO an undemocratic or
illegitimate leadership of a revolutionary organization is going to
prioritize its own maintenance first. This is the definition of
sectarianism - when a supposedly revolutionary organization puts its own
perceived self-interest ahead of responding to the needs of revolutionary
working class struggle. I express my opinion with awareness that the
priority agenda for revolutionary working class struggle is subject to
debate, not necessarily obvious, and clarified only in practice.
IMO the political practice required to perpetuate this
undemocratically-led SWP with its permanent Barnes-clique leadership is
not only sectarian but, often with workerist and/or ultraleft
rationalizations, is usually abstentionist - as has been recently
discussed on this list in regard to the SWP's sectarian abstention from
the current anti-war movement. From Jack Barnes' vantage point atop the
SWP structure, the revolutionary priority is whatever contributes most to
directly supporting and sustaining the SWP apparatus. The SWP's own
organizational campaigns (mainly selling SWP publications) clearly take
priority over investing human and other resources in campaigns not
directly controlled by the SWP.
My impression is that there is a recurring pattern in recent
discussions about the SWP and the present anti-war movement. Activists
question why the SWP isn't involved and gradually discredit whatever
rationale the SWP is currently using to dismiss the anti-war movement.
Eventually, at the end of tortured discussion, the SWP says that 'of
course' it doesn't disagree theoretically with the basic political
argument for building the anti-war movement.
In practice, meanwhile, the SWP is not building the anti-war
movement. The real reason for this - that the SWP central leadership
chooses its course out of its sectarian concern to build its own
organization and to manage, control and politically insulate its
membership - can not be honestly put forward.
IMO that's why SWP political arguments sometimes seems mysterious
and puzzling. It is difficult to understand the political practice of the
SWP, taking its political arguments at face value - without being aware of
the historical experience which created its sectarian method of
On Fri, 18 Jun 2004, Jose G. Perez wrote:
. . . But it is
> *absolutely* true that the SWP central leadership had a hostile,
> sectarian stance (there's that word again) towards ALL non-party
> initiated activities around Cuba and Central America.
> This grew out of the turn to industry, which, I'll remind people who
> were there and explain to those who were not, wasn't projected merely as
> a factory colonization project but a complete and radical change in how
> we did all our work. The solidarity work was meant to go in and through
> the unions and our fractions, apart form that, only ultra-narrow
> SWP-dominated projects would be countenanced (such as the Militant/PM
> tours). At a time when literally THOUSANDS of young people from the
> United States were travelling to Nicaragua to see the revo for
> themselves, we brilliantly decided to set up our own narrow tours so
> that our folks wouldn't get contaminated by the "petty bourgeois left."
> With this line, the SWP in one fell swoop managed to wreck BOTH the
> possibilities for doing any fruitful union work AND any possibility of
> doing fruitful solidarity work.
> Yes, I know, there was branch "A" that did this, and YSA local "b" that
> took part in that and so on. For the first several years AFTER the
> *industrial* turn (Feb. 1978) the leadership had to wage a fairly
> systematic campaign against a tendency of the comrades to revert to the
> old line, especially because the turn was presented on a false basis,
> i.e., as a turn towards increasing opportunities and a rising wave of
> struggles, including decisive class battles, in the next immediate
> period. In reality nothing was going on in the union movement of much
> significance, and certainly nothing resembling even a tiny uptick, never
> mind the world-historic explosion Jack had seen in his crystal ball, so
> the tendency for the old training to come back and reassert itself was
> I don't know what happened in CISPES after early 1984, I was sent to
> Nicaragua and did not come back for several years. But I do very much
> know what the SWP's national leadership's approach was, and that
> approach was unremittingly hostile and sectarian.
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