[Marxism] Barry Sheppard, Peter Camejo, and the role of the revolutionary party: A critique by Louis Proyect

David Thorstad binesi at gvtel.com
Sun Jul 18 15:04:39 MDT 2010

I generally agree with Louis's take, and with his tone. The 
self-destruction of the SWP is breathtaking, but Louis is right that it 
cannot be explained only by personality flaws. Probably people who leave 
left organizations are prompted to do so by accumulating perceptions 
that vary by individual and time. Like Louis, I quit the SWP, but unlike 
him, it didn't take till 1978 to see the handwriting on the wall. The 
bureaucratic top-down managerial style of the leaders was clear to me by 
1973, but subsequently, I learned that others (e.g., Myra Tanner 
Weiss...) had seen this a decade earlier. By the late 1970s, the Barnes 
clique that ran the SWP had lurched into weirdness, a "turn toward 
labor" (echoing the SDS tactics the same leaders had ridiculed a decade 
earlier). As a top leader, Barry was part and parcel of the Barnes style 
and policies, which included, by the late 1970s, some pretty shabby and 
Stalinoid ad hominem attacks on people, members or not (slanderous 
attacks on me were published in the /Militant/ in 1979, for example, as 
the leaders withdrew from their episodic involvement in gay lib as part 
of whipping the members into line for the "turn to labor"). But similar 
tendentious distortions have been made by the ISO, which some think is 
in a different (better) league than the SWP.
     Peter had some wonderful qualities, including, as many have 
observed, his abilities as a speaker and his skill at linking radical 
ideas to youth rebellion), though Barry is right to point out his 
astonishing lapse of once supporting Jesse Jackson and the Democrats, 
even if he later made a self-criticism (not mentioned by Louis). Such 
lapses are typical of many leftist groups, and point to their tendency 
to act like mere leftist prods to the ruling class.
     I do not know whether it was old-time leaders of the SWP, or 
actually younger ones like Barnes, who turned against active involvement 
in gay liberation. I have heard both explanations. The late Charlie 
Bolduc, who was the youngest member of the leading Political Committee, 
and who came out as a homosexual during debates on gay lib and 
homosexuality in the SWP in the early 1970s, told me years later that it 
was younger leaders, including Barry and Barnes, who were responsible 
for that. On the other hand, since those days, gay liberation itself has 
morphed into a conservative, patriotic, conventional, and 
assimilationist movement, and the position of most left groups is 
indistinguishable from that of liberal capitalists and the Democrat 
Party--or of the SWP's (still unpublished) wretched 1973 "Memorandum" on 
gay liberation. Barry was the main author of the "Memorandum," which 
consolidated the liberal stance that today characterizes the position of 
most left groups, including the ISO. His first volume of memoirs skirts 
a frank discussion of this episode.
Louis Proyect wrote:

More information about the Marxism mailing list