[Marxism] Re: the SWP and the turn

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Mar 4 01:11:16 MST 2006

Joaquin asked:
A question: perhaps Fred or someone else knows the answer to it. Did
theSWP over the past quarter century recruit even a tiny layer of people
*working class* origins? 
Fred responds:
The answer is yes.  
That, of course, would also have been true in previous years, during the
"petty-bourgeois" radicalization of the 1960s.  However, I believe it is
more true today.  That is because while the union movement has gone far
backward, the situation in the working class is more complicated.  The
students that the SWP recruits today in small numbers are more likely to
be of working class origin than in the past, and the party has recruited
a few workers. in the 1990s. Of course, the norms present a big obstacle
to consolidating people.  I remember two cases which horrified me om yj.
I am glad I was horrified in these cases because there were a lot of
things I still tried to convince myself of at the time.  Two successive
YSA top leaders, one a very promising youth from Utah who I remember as
had to quit because they were not allowed to be youth leaders and live
with their companions.
Perhaps these manifestations of the Barnesian administrative obsession
-- per capita the SWP must be one of the most over-administrated
organizations in the world.
The party had adopted a rule that YS members could not transfer to
cities where there were branches unless they agreed to go into industry.
No more campus work for these youth.
Their companions were not in industry and had no immediate plans to do
so.  So these leaders had to come to New YOrk, leaving their companions
behind, not in my opinion because they were cultists, but because they
wanted to be party fighters, working-class fighters, an aspiration I am
not in a position to knock since I still entertain it.
But these young people, barely out of their teens, could not stand being
without their lovers and probably best friends. So, since the party rule
could not be changed for such individual cases (for the norms come
first, last, and always), these two successive YS leaders had to quit,
feeling that they had proven not to be good enough communists to live in
a period of retreat without their companions.  I thought this was plain
insane, frankly -- and was trying to accept a lot.  These people seemed
worth not forcing them to separate from their loved ones.
Of course, the Cuban rebel army did these things as a matter of course,
as Lueko points out, but they had the perspective of winning power in a
reasonably short time. What was the perspective of the SWP in these
cases: that the companion could be forced into industry but
unfortunately it worked the other way around.  I am sure the forced (if
the YSA leaders wanted to be real cadre) separation was demoralizing to
both parties.
Disgusting!  But there was a certain advantage for the top leadership in
thus killing off promising youth leaders.  It justified them in
proclaiming that transition in leadership was no longer an issue, since
the current leadership would survive indefinitely by eating their
veggies (and staying away from all unhealthy things) and since the youth
really couldn't measure up, even though when they were youth, these
people were NEVER asked to do  such things.  Nor are they ever asked to
today.  So what are the norms today -- a guarantee that they can live in
modest but predictable comfort without obstacles.
Frankly, unlike most real cults and even most sects, the SWP seems not
to want to have too many members.  Just enough for a small body of old
people to administer effectively and completely.  Thus I am not
surprised that the expansion of Militant readership which seems to be
taking place (if reports in the paper are to be believed, which I
suspect is a mixed bag but not a complete fake) is not reflected in any
rise in membership.  And the importance of  the supporters, as a group
which has no formal say at all on party matters but are pretty active --
and barred from being politically active in any other way (that would be
"centrism") or even to see Cuba for themselves without permission (they
must represent the party -- ie, the party's opposition to the Cubans on
almost every political question without exception).
However, I want to object to the beating to death of the word cult.  It
is losing all meaning and becoming a useless term.  If Joaquin or others
doubt that working people will join a real cult, they should study the
real class composition of Jim Jones People's Church or even the Branch
The SWP should be approached as a phenomenon of politics, not religion
and not some vague evil called "cultims."  What t took place was a real,
deep bureacratic degeneration and corruption which had a certain
material base.
The use of the term "cultist" to describe everybody who tries to sell a
socialist newspaper, and every organizational structure which isn't
exactly like Solidarity (which, in my  experience, bears some
resemblance to James P. Cannon's description of the limitations of the
all-inclusive party  in his article on Debs). Frankly, I think this is
mostly becoming a form of baiting and also a bit of magical thinking
that if you use the word "cult" often enough about the sects (which, in
the real world, include Solidarity, which I belong to because I know
there is not yet a real alternative to the sect existence today in terms
of political organization on the left -- even the antiwar movement is
dominated by sectarian coalitions), the political problem will
Fred Feldman

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