[Marxism] North Star: a tribute to Peter Camejo

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 12 07:37:53 MDT 2010

North Star
A Tribute to Peter Camejo
by Louis Proyect

Book Review

ed. Louis Proyect's tribute is based on his own experience and 
recollection as well as his reading of Peter Camejo's unfinished 
memoir published posthumously, North Star: a Memoir, Haymarket 
Books, 2010, ISBN 978-1931859-92-9.

(Swans - July 12, 2010)   In November 1969, I was ready to drop 
out of the Socialist Workers Party in New York City just two years 
after I joined. Although I had no political disagreements, I felt 
alienated from the organization. I was in a kind of limbo that 
most people with regular jobs experienced. Unless you were a 
student at a place like Columbia University where all the action 
was going on or a full-timer with a sense of mission about being a 
"professional revolutionary" in Leninist terms, it was easy to 
feel like a fifth wheel.

Just before I had steeled myself to turn in my resignation and 
become a "sell-out" to bourgeois society, the organizer called me 
into his office to ask me to take on an important assignment. The 
Boston branch was out of step with the rest of the party and 
required reinforcing with "solid" people who would work with the 
organizer Peter Camejo to "turn things around." Feeling a sense of 
validation that had escaped me before, I said yes on the spot. 
This would be my introduction to a comrade who I can describe as 
one of the major influences on my political evolution over the 
past 30 years. It was thus with a keen sense of anticipation that 
I turned to his posthumous memoir North Star, a book that not only 
captures his winning personality but also the ideas that 
transformed me.

Before moving up to Boston, I knew Peter only by reputation. 
Apparently, he was one of the few Socialist Workers Party (SWP) 
members who had won a following among the broad left, especially 
in Berkeley where his leadership in the Telegraph Avenue struggle 
of June 1968 had helped to cement his reputation. After the cops 
had attacked a rally in support of the French strikers, the 
movement mounted a counter-attack to defend the constitutionally 
protected right to protest. Although there was a considerable 
amount of violence, Peter played an important role in making it 
clear that the cops were responsible and not the protesters. His 
description of the confrontation would be especially useful to 
young people today grappling with the problems of black block 
machismo that have served to muddle the message of 
anti-globalization protests.

After seeing the power of a united left in the battle of Telegraph 
Avenue that included the Black Panther Party, the Peace and 
Freedom Party, and thousands of unaffiliated radicals and 
progressives, Peter began to think about how "out of touch" the 
left, and Trotskyism in particular, was with "the reality of what 
it would take to build a mass current for social justice." He 
found himself becoming more and more aware of how detached it was 
from American realities:

	We were so disconnected from our own history that to join our 
organization and remain active, a member had to become interested 
in and invested in the internal factional struggles of socialism 
in Russia and Europe. This was important but couldn't serve as the 
framework for a mass movement for social change.

He doubted that a single party member could name the first 
candidate of the Liberty Party, the original third party in 
American history formed to oppose slavery. It was also unlikely 
that any had ever read Frederick Douglass's newspaper "The North 
Star" that would eventually become a symbol of the kind of broad 
left that Peter sought to build.

read full at: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/lproy62.html

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