[Marxism] Re: "In defence of Jack Barnes"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Nov 20 05:54:36 MST 2005

I think that Louis has the better of the argument here.  Of course, he
exaggerates the weight of the list in radical politics today.  But I
think that the fact that the list plays a more necessary role in a
necessary process of regroupment than the SWP or any of the sects except
possibly the International Socialist Organization and Solidarity -- both
of which actually don't tend to do much more, in my opinion, than test
the discussion process with their very sensitive big toes. It is a very
initial role and, when the process really begins to make serious headway
which it is not doing today, the list will probably fall much more into
the background.

In the case of Solidarity and ISO, I have long found that, despite the
real differences in composition and character in emphasis (ISO being
student-based and Solidarity building a base in the unions), I have
found that the fundamental discussions taking place in the two groups
seem to be essentially about the same questions.  As a result, having
them entirely separately -- given the broadly revolutionary-minded
character of the two groups -- seems like a tremendous waste and
narrowing of the effort and the participation and the learning process.
In at least one area -- the discussion of Cuba and Venezuela -- the ISO
despite its problematic theoretical foundation seems to be a little
ahead in responding to the importance of identifying with these

In some other areas -- the Black struggle and Katrina solidarity for
instance -- Solidarity seems further ahead.  

At any rate, this list is one of the places where a small fringe of this
common but divided discussion can take place across sect lines. And of
course, when I was blessedly and at long last tossed from the SWP, the
list provided me with a tolerant publisher and also a source of vital
information, particularly about Venezuela.  My shift from a basically
sectarian though questioning position on this -- the coup and its defeat
by the leadership and the masses being the turning point -- was
basically accomplished by following the postings on the list.  

The list does this in the realm of ideas, and in the realm of debates or
exchanges among various ways of looking at the process and at politics.
I agree that the real REVOLUTIONARY regroupment, requires more advances
in the class struggle in this country. And while I don't think that the
discussion of "what Lenin meant" is the heart of the discussion -- I
think it goes on around a much broader range of politics -- I have to
admit that I found the last round of this discussion useful and
enlightening in sharpening up what I think about that aspect.

Since, taken as a whole, the list does not tend to counterpose itself to
the actual course of the class struggle and carries on debates that are
often relevant to what is being done on the ground, I see no reason to
counterpose the importance of what the list attempts to do to the
building of mass movements and so on.

Of course, organized groups of activists can and often do carry out
activities that make an important practical contribution from the
struggle, even when there orientations are sectarian, as was true in my
opinion of both coalitions that built the September 24 event.  But no
one poses the list as a correct alternative to doing this.

As for the SWP, it played a very important role in a number of areas.
There was still, in my opinion, an important positive aspect to their
turn toward the labor movement.  But a combination of sectarian baggage
and wrong organizational methods with some long-standing political
errors, contributed to the generation of leadership I was part of
proving incapable of preventing a spasmodic retreat into
sectarian-fortress existence in the face of the difficulties that the
class struggle was running into.  The SWP of the "Barnes era" (and I
don't believe in scapegoating Barnes though he did lead the way in
retreating from the actual difficulties of the class struggle into a
comfortably repressive sectarian fortress where he didn't have to be
bothered by differences of opinion) certainly did not prove more
competent than many of the people on this list in responding to the
situation, to put it mildly.

Of course, if the SWP were to change its course -- from what I can see,
that is no longer an option -- then it could have a positive impact on
events such as Sept. 24, especially in the labor movement.  But even if
that happened, it would mean that the SWP had turned to some extent
toward the preliminary regroupment discussion for which this list has
been one of the bases.  

Of course, Louis does probably exaggerate the total weight of the list
in this process, naturally enough.  If this helps keep him plugging at
it, that is all to the good.


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