[Marxism] Seth Sandronsky review of "North Star"
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 23 08:00:34 MDT 2010
North Star: A Memoir by Peter Camejo (Haymarket, May 2010)
Peter Camejo stayed politically active but independent of
Democrats and Republicans for a half-century. How? He did not do
it alone but with family, foes and friends. Camejo, who died in
2008 at age 68, engaged in collective struggles: antiwar, civil,
economic and electoral rights, the core of his posthumous memoir.
In it, he details the ebbs and flows of those involvements. It’s a
Camejo’s early experiences drove him to oppose injustice. One
stands out. As a lad, he sees construction workers living in slums
after building luxury structures in Venezuela for his father.
Camejo promises to help change such class inequality. That
sentiment propels him to seek out socialism in practice and theory.
As a teen and young adult, he gravitates towards radical politics,
eventually joining the Socialist Workers Party Youth after
enrolling at MIT. The SWP opposed the Democratic and Republican
parties for their foreign and domestic policies. That militant
stance matched Malcom X’s. In matters of peace and war, class and
race, he and the SWP agreed that both parties offered no
alternative to the status quo for the vast mass of the American
public. How and why that stalemate has prevailed despite many
attempts to change it from the grassroots runs a red line
throughout Camejo’s autobiography. Changing this political
straitjacket was his life’s work, and his was a critical view of
To this end, Camejo shares his years of activism in Berkeley:
mobilizing for peace, free speech and minority rights, beginning
in 1965. In a telling passage, he recounts a humorous approach to
public speaking while giving talks against the US war in Vietnam.
“When casualties are reported every night you will notice that on
one side they say a nationality, the United States; on the other
they say an ideology, communists. For instance they will say 20
Americans were killed, but they killed 1,500 communists. If they
were consistent and gave an ideological breakdown, it would be
something like 30 conservatives, 42 liberals, 155 socialists, and
250 apoliticals were killed and 4 existentialists were missing.”
This critique puts me in mind of the late George Carlin.
Camejo’s account of the rise and demise of independent Latino
political groups in the Southwest during the 1970s is
illuminating. For them and dissident groups before and after,
breaking free of the Democratic Party is a steep mountain to
climb. Camejo admits that he briefly lost sight of this trend in
the 1980s emergence of the Rainbow Coalition, which steered
progressives into the Democratic Party. He faults the
winner-take-all US political system that stifles independent party
formation. Camejo details the proof from his experiences running
for political office (governor in California, for the US Senate
from Massachusetts, president and vice-president as an independent
candidate from 1970 to 2004). His narrative speaks volumes about
this pathology in the US political economy.
Abroad, Camejo learned much about communicating with people. He
recalled a young man speak publicly in Nicaragua after its
revolution. This speaker connected with his audience by using
simple words about their past and current lives. Camejo adopted
that same approach, rooting it in US history, especially the
pivotal Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Thus his book’s title,
North Star, the same name of the abolitionist paper that Frederick
Douglas founded nearly two decades before he and others labored to
overthrow slavery in the US. Running as Ralph Nader’s vice
president in 2004, Camejo drew upon this antebellum period to
inform and inspire audiences.
In his spare time he launched socially responsible investing. This
chapter of his life is a bit under-developed in terms of Camejo’s
thoughts as a radical on entering the financial services industry
in the 1980s. Since then, this industry has swelled as a part of
the US economy, marked increasingly by income and wealth
inequality that Camejo fought.
His book’s 21 chapters are jargon-free. There are no serpentine
sentences and sectarian phrases. Four appendixes wrap things up.
The last lays bare the economic base of the US’s two-party system
of electoral politics before and after the Civil War. Readers
hungry to understand and change the economy and polity of the US
in 2010 and beyond won’t lack sustenance with Camejo’s new book.
Seth Sandronsky lives in Sacramento, Calif. Email
ssandronsky at yahoo.com.
From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2010
More information about the Marxism