[Marxism] Barry Sheppard comments on Alan Wald article

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 9 17:37:51 MDT 2011

In the July/August issue of Against the Current there is an article by 
Alan Wald titled “SWP Memories, A Winter’s Tale.” The article purports 
to be a review of Peter Camejo’s memoir North Star and a book by Leslie 
Evans, Outsider’s Reverie. But it is not a review of either, except in 
the most superficial sense.

ATC has yet to review Peter Camejo’s important memoir. It should do so, 
but I for one am not holding my breath awaiting such a real review. This 
is because the main editors of ATC hate the SWP of “The Sixties,” while 
Camejo embraces it. I did write a review of Peter’s book, and am 
appending it below. Evan’s book is not worth reviewing, as it is full of 
errors and arguments to buttress his conversion to an opponent of 
Marxism and an adherent of mysticism and Zionism.

The thrust of Wald’s article is to present his view of what went wrong 
with the SWP. I welcome his contribution and hope that others will also 
present their views on this important topic. My own views are contained 
in my political memoir about my time in the SWP, from 1960 through 1988. 
The first volume of my memoir covers the period of 1960-1973, “The 
Sixties,” and has been published. My second volume will cover 1973 
through 1988 and will be published this autumn.

Here I only want to take up a central theme in Wald’s article, his 
largely positive view of a small minority that developed in the SWP in 
1971, called the Proletarian Orientation Tendency. This tendency arose 
in opposition to the SWP majority’s position that the social movements 
of “The Sixties” – including the antiwar movement, the civil rights 
movement, the student movement, Black and Chicano nationalism, the 
women’s and gay movements and so forth were not “petty bourgeois” 
diversions from the struggle of the working class, but were part of the 
workers’ struggle which the workers’ movement and parties should 
champion. The majority’s views were codified in a resolution that was 
adopted by the SWP at its 1971 convention.

The minority presented its views in opposition to the majority’s in its 
resolution, “For a Proletarian Orientation,” which was soundly rejected 
by the SWP convention after a long and voluminous discussion both 
written and oral in the SWP branches.

Wald is light on presenting the POT position. He doesn’t discuss the 
main points of the POT resolution. I will do so here.

“For a Proletarian Orientation” spends three pages attacking Ernest 
Mandel’s important work in the 1950s and 1960s analyzing the big changes 
that took place in the composition of the working class internationally. 
It attacks the SWP for adopting Mandel’s analysis, a charge that was 
accurate. We did support Mandel’s analysis, as did the great majority of 
the Fourth International, but not Alan Wald and the POT he was part of.

The FAPO attack on Mandel is too long to quote here, but a few excerpts 
will give a feel for it:

“However, in the last several years Ernest Mandel has developed a theory 
which challenges these basic Marxist definitions [of the working class]. 
And the SWP leadership has neither criticized Mandel’s assertions nor 
analyzed the implications have for the strategy of the revolutionary 
party. In fact, our party has been following the logic of Mandel’s 
position without admitting it.”

As I’ve said, we did admit it.

“It is the implications of his analysis with regard to party strategy 
that Mandel fails to discuss, yet it is these implications that are the 
most dangerous part of his analysis. The logic of his position is clear. 
First, of his new ‘producers of surplus value’ – ‘laboratory assistants, 
scientific researchers, inventors, technologists, planners, project 
engineers, draftsmen, etc.,’ he asserts: ‘[They] can only enhance the 
impact of the working class and revolutionary organizations because they 
equip them with the knowledge that is indispensable for a relentless 
critique of bourgeois society, and even more for the successful taking 
over the means of production by the associated producers…’. Mandel is 
siding with the crassest anti-working-class petty bourgeois hacks who 
maintain that the workers are incapable of running the economy.”

“Mandel has an even softer spot for in his heart for the 
intelligencia-to-be, the students. He tells us that ‘…the student revolt 
can become a real vanguard of the working class as a whole, triggering a 
powerful revolutionary upsurge as it did this May [1968] in France.’ “ I 
note that all the POT leaders came from the student movement.

Having demolished Mandel, and revised the facts of what occurred in the 
greatest general strike in history up to then in France in 1968, the 
intrepid authors of FAPO turned their powerful minds to the charge that 
the SWP turned its back on the working class beginning in 1957.

They have long quotes from the struggle in 1953 which resulted in a 
major split in the SWP. At that time the leaders of the minority in the 
SWP included Bert Cochran and Mike Bartell (Milt Zaslow).

Their resolution states, under the headline “The SWP and the Tactical 
Turn, 1957-64” the following:

“As we have shown, the party majority fought the Cochran-Bartell 
‘greener pastures’ scheme in 1953. Yet in the period from 1957-64, the 
SWP eventually came to accept the Bartell position on ’greener pastures’ 
without open acknowledgement of it….The period from 1957 to 1959 was 
called the ‘regroupment period.’ During these years the party’s main 
public activity was working with CPers, ex-CPers, and Bartell. This work 
centered around running a ‘united socialist election campaign’ to oppose 
the capitalist parties. In doing this the party hoped to attract and 
recruit ex-CPers and their fellow travelers who were shaken by the 20th 
Congress revelations [by then Soviet premier Khrushchev of Stalin’s crimes].

“Immediately after the Khrushchev revelations came the civil rights 
movement, the Cuban revolution, the anti-HUAC demonstrations, the 
Student Peace Unions, and so on. All of these presented the party with 
opportunities to intervene, propagandize, and recruit. All of these 
social movements, because they were mainly petty bourgeois in 
composition, led the party deeper and deeper into a petty bourgeois milieu.”

I’m not here going to refute FAPO, but I just can’t help noting that the 
millions of African Americans who were mobilized in the fight to abolish 
Jim Crow, these Black workers and sharecroppers, are dismissed as “petty 
bourgeois”! As are the largely working class ex-members of the CP.

Under the headline, “The SWP and Greener Pastures, 1965-71” our FAPO 
leaders, themselves fresh from the student movement, write, “By 1965, 
the party leadership no longer considered our basic task to be rooting 
ourselves in the working class….Instead, we were told, are told now, 
that the recruitment of students is the building of a bridge to the 
working class.” They quote, disapprovingly, of the SWP’s political 
resolution adopted in 1965, which stated that “Because of the 
exceptional opportunities [read ‘greener pastures’] open to us in the 
student movement a top priority must be given to this sphere of work.” 
The insert in brackets was by the FAPO authors.

They attack the student movement and anti-Vietnam-war movement as “petty 
bourgeois,” as well as the independent women’s movement. They leave out 
that these movements were objectively on the side of the world working 

Who drafted this SWP resolution in 1965? Why none other than that famous 
petty bourgeois Farrell Dobbs! Dobbs is the real target of FAPO. Dobbs 
became the SWP National Secretary in 1953, and the party soon after 
began to go to hell according to FAPO. Wald leaves the impression that 
the POT’s main targets were Jack Barnes, myself, Mary-Alice Waters, 
Betsy Stone, Peter Camejo, Gus Horowitz, Caroline Lund, Doug Jenness, 
etc. etc. But the POT implied it was Farrell and the other leaders in 
1957, which included James P. Cannon, Tom Kerry, Joe Hanson, Myra and 
Murry Weiss, and many other famous petty bourgeois who first led the SWP 
astray. We younger ones (who joined in 1959 and later) just took over 
where they left off on the road to perdition.

FAPO also takes to task Joe Hansen, George Breitman, Frank Lovell and 
others because they pointed to the opportunities among youth. It also 
attacks the SWP’s support of Black and Chicano nationalism, and an 
independent women’s movement. The only real work in support of Blacks, 
Chicanos and women is only in and through the trade unions, FAPO 
asserts. In one of the ironies of history, Jack Barnes in the 1980s 
adopted this same position, a fact I document in my second volume.

FAPO represented a current in the student movement at the time, 
especially the national leaders of the disintegrating Students for a 
Democratic Society, which rejected the social movements of “The Sixties” 
in favor of a crude “Marxism” that looked only to the struggles of the 
workers “at the point pf production.” To project it as a possible savior 
of the SWP is ridiculous.

“North Star – A Memoir” by Peter Camejo, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2010

By Barry Sheppard

This book by Peter Camejo, who was an important figure in the 
radicalization of “The Sixties” and beyond, up to his untimely death in 
2008, should be read by veterans of the socialist movement and wider 
social causes. It also should be read by new activists thirsty for 
understanding of previous struggles in order to better equip themselves 
for present and future battles.

Also, the book is a good read. The first chapter is set in 1979, out of 
chronological order from the rest of the book. It explains how the CIA 
attempted to get Peter arrested in Columbia, on a leg of a speaking tour 
in South America. If he had been imprisoned there it is possible that he 
would have been “disappeared.” Without giving away the story, Peter 
escaped this fate through an unlikely intervention, quite a tale in itself.

As Peter explains, the two of us met each other in college, collaborated 
and then joined the Socialist Workers Party at the same meeting in 
Boston in November 1959. I was 22 and Peter 20. We became leaders of the 
party’s associated youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance. In 1960 
and 1961 a dispute over the Cuban Revolution broke out in the SWP and 
YSA. The majority in both groups supported the Revolution and its 
leadership (with criticisms). Peter and I supported the majority 
position, and became its primary spokespersons in the YSA. As a result, 
I became the national chairman and Peter the national secretary of the 
YSA and we moved to New York. Soon, along with others from a new 
generation, we joined with people from older generations in the 
leadership of the SWP.

Peter left the SWP in 1981. After that he remained active in promoting 
various attempts to rebuild the American left culminating in his running 
as the Green Party candidate for governor of California in 2002 and 
2003, and then as independent candidate Ralph Nader’s running mate in 
the Presidential elections of 2004.

His experiences as a leader of the YSA and SWP, and his subsequent 
activities, form a major part of his memoir. In this review I will 
concentrate on this aspect of his memoir. There are three political 
threads that run through the book. One is that social change comes about 
through the action of masses of people. Related is the theme that 
attempts to circumvent mass action by the activities of small groups 
engaging in what they think of as “exemplary” actions of a few are an 
obstacle to social change. Two variants of this viewpoint are 
ultraleftism and sectarian abstention. The third theme is the need to 
break from the stranglehold of the parties of “money” as Peter puts it, 
the Democrats and Republicans.

Peter’s experiences as a leader in the anti-Vietnam-War movement are 
vividly portrayed. One is his speaking before a crowd of 100,000 on the 
Boston Common as a spokesperson of the Student Mobilization Committee 
Against the War in Vietnam as part of the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium. There 
is a gripping account from a political opponent from the Democratic 
Party describing how Peter was by far the best received speaker of the 
day. In fact, Peter was the best public speaker of our generation in the 
SWP and YSA, and, I think, of the youth radicalization as a whole.

Peter had moved from New York to Berkeley, California in late 1965, at 
the request of the SWP and YSA. The San Francisco Bay Area had become a 
center of the new student movement, and the University of California at 
Berkeley especially so. Peter enrolled in the University, and quickly 
rose as a leader of the antiwar movement and the student movement in 
general there.

He outlines three different perspectives that emerged in the antiwar 
movement. One was that the movement should orient toward the Democratic 
Party. The Communist Party put forward this perspective, but also would 
endorse mass actions especially during periods between elections. 
Another was associated with the national leaders of the Students for a 
Democratic Society, who, while calling for the first massive action in 
1965, had subsequently turned their backs on mass action and 
increasingly championed small vanguard actions and then minority 
violence. The third approach, which we supported, was to further mass 
actions in the streets independent of both capitalist parties.

To do this, we focused on building broad antiwar formations around the 
“single issue” of opposition to the war. All, regardless of their 
political views on other questions, were welcome to join. Within such 
coalitions, Peter explains, we argued for taking an “Out Now!” position, 
calling for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. It took some years before 
“Out Now!” became the widely accepted goal of antiwar demonstrations.

Another key point we raised was non-exclusion. While independent of the 
Democrats and Republicans, we argued, the antiwar movement would welcome 
politicians from those parties who were against the war, on the 
principle that the movement had to be non-exclusionary. In practice, 
there were very few such politicians. It was on this basis that the 
large antiwar demonstrations that reached into the hundreds of thousands 
were organized.

An aspect of our approach was to build antiwar committees both locally 
and nationally by putting decision making in the hands of the activists 
themselves. Votes would be taken by the assembled activists after open 
debate. Most often our mass action perspective would carry the day, 
which led many others with opposing perspectives to charge that we had 
mechanical majorities of our own members at such meetings. But we never 
became anywhere near that large, although we did grow substantially 
during this period. Our arguments simply made sense to the majority of 
antiwar activists. This approach also raised the self-confidence of the 
participants, who became more dedicated to building the mass actions as 
a result.

Peter concludes that the SWP played a crucial and positive role in the 
antiwar movement. Peter himself was an important part of that effort.

There is a riveting chapter on what became known as “the battle of 
Telegraph Avenue.” This street abutted the Cal campus. In May-June 1968 
there was a massive student-worker uprising in France which galvanized 
the world. Our young French cothinkers played an important part in these 
events. We organized support meetings and picket demonstrations in 
solidarity. In Berkeley, Peter met with other campus leaders to organize 
a big meeting on Telegraph Avenue. The SWP and YSA reached out to 
involve other organizations, but Peter was recognized as the main leader 
of the event.

The rally was set for June 28. The Berkeley City Council voted down the 
organizers’ request to shut down a short stretch of the Avenue next to 
the campus for the event. So there was agreement that the participants 
would stay on the sidewalks. Monitors were stationed to help keep the 
crowd on the sidewalks. But then the police attacked.

The students fought back as best they could. The next days and nights 
were marked by increased police violence, all of the city of Berkeley 
was placed on nighttime curfew, and mass meetings of the young people 
who fought against these violations of their rights to free speech and 
assembly. Finally, the city backed down and allowed the rally to proceed 
on Telegraph Avenue on July 4.

Peter’s account of how this victory was won makes for exciting reading, 
but more important are the lessons to be drawn. There was a big 
difference between the physical showdown between the mass of student 
protesters and the cops, and the actions of violence even bombings 
carried out by small groups believing they were “sparking” the mass 
movement. In contrast to such futile “offensive” actions, the protesters 
of Telegraph Avenue were defending their fundamental rights. All of 
their decisions were made at mass meetings after open debate. Their most 
important decision was to defy the city authorities by going forward to 
hold a rally on July 4, come what may. They knew that this could mean a 
violent confrontation with the police. They had already suffered 
casualties, and understood what this could mean. It was this resolve 
that forced the City Council to back down.

An important aspect of the leadership of the SWP and YSA and Peter 
himself was to reach out to the citizens of Berkeley, the fight for 
public opinion. Initially, this was against the students. But through 
careful tactics aimed at bringing the truth of the situation to the 
public, that the city authorities were trampling on rights guaranteed in 
the U.S. Constitution, the mood in the city swung over to support them. 
The over-reaction of the police, by attacking bystanders and even people 
in their homes, was a factor. Police always go too far in such 
situations, but this truth had to made widely known.

In every way, Peter’s leadership was geared toward mass mobilization and 
mass action.

The third thread that runs through the book from beginning to end is the 
need to break from the Democratic and Republican parties. This was an 
aspect of our insistence that the antiwar movement be focused on 
independent mass actions in the streets not subordinate in any way to 
the twin parties of “money.” It was projected in the small example set 
by SWP election campaigns, from the first one Peter and I participated 
in, Farrell Dobb’s 1960 Presidential campaign with Myra Tanner Weiss as 
his running mate, through Peter’s own campaigns for the mayor of 
Berkeley, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, and his 1976 campaign for 
President with running mate Willie May Reid. After he left the SWP, 
Peter supported the independent campaigns of the Green Party, including 
Ralph Nader’s 2000 run for President, Peter’s own campaigns for Governor 
of California in 2002 and 2003, and as independent Ralph Nader’s running 
mate in 2004.

Peter’s last battle was to keep the Green Party independent from the 
Democrats, a fight which he lost at the national level as is well 
documented in the book, although some local Green Party groups do 
maintain their independence.

A comment is order here. There are some splinters of the Trotskyist 
movement who have attacked Peter’s support of independent Green Party 
election campaigns. Their argument is that the Greens are not a 
socialist party, nor do they have a base in the trade unions. These 
groups (including the rump which still uses the SWP name), say they 
would vote for a Labor Party if the trade unions organized one, claiming 
that it would be a workers’ party. They point to Lenin’s position in 
1919 that the newly formed British Communist Party should vote for the 
Labour Party. They leave out that Lenin also said that the British 
Labour Party was a bourgeois party through and through, and an 
imperialist party to boot. He urged the young CP to vote for this 
imperialist capitalist party anyway, to reach out to the British workers 
whose trade unions had created it. The weird logic of the sectarian 
argument ends up urging a vote for the Labour Party of Tony Blair and 
Gordon Brown, while opposing a vote for the anti-imperialist, 
pro-working class Ralph Nader. It is true that the U.S. Green Party is a 
petty-bourgeois (and thus bourgeois) party, but it is not a party of the 
big bourgeoisie nor is it an imperialist party. Unfortunately, on a 
national level it is now on a slippery slope towards supporting the 
imperialist Democratic Party. In many countries, the Greens have already 
gone over to finance capital.

A bright spot Peter points to was the 2000 campaign of Nader for 
President on the Green Party ticket. Tens of thousands packed Nader 
rallies in many cities, more than those of the two capitalist parties. 
These rallies were mainly young. A central aspect, evident in the shouts 
and applause of these young people, was their identification with the 
big anti-globalization demonstration in Seattle the year before. A new 
movement had appeared, inexperienced, new to radical ideas, but moving 
in an anti-capitalist direction – and full of the energy and enthusiasm 
of youth. Peter doesn’t mention this background to the Nader campaign, 
but this must be an oversight.

We both were present at the Oakland, California, Nader rally and saw 
these anti-globalization young people firsthand. Nader reacted to the 
shouts of the crowd, absorbing their energy, and his speech became more 
and more radical, which furthered the excitement of the audience.

This anti-globalization movement was cut short by the chauvinism and war 
mongering whipped up by the Bush administration, the Congress to a 
person, and press after 9/11. The movement continued elsewhere, but was 
silenced in the U.S. This was the major factor in the success of the 
subsequent Democratic Party anti-Nader campaign that reached into the 
Green Party itself. Figures like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Media 
Benjamin and Michael Moore capitulated. Not content with only their 
ideological campaign, the Democrats launched a series of despicable 
dirty tricks to keep the Nader-Camejo ticket off the ballot. This part 
of Peter’s book graphically explains the obstacles we face in breaking 
the two-party stranglehold.

Peter writes that in 1984 he made a “major political mistake” in 
supporting the campaign by Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party 
Presidential primaries. A detail that Peter omits was that after Jackson 
lost, Peter supported the Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in the 
general election. After Peter left the SWP in 1981, I hadn’t had contact 
with him. In 1984, I happened to be walking by a Mondale street rally in 
New York, and ran into Peter, who handed me a vote Mondale leaflet. This 
seemed to me at the time to validate charges by the SWP leadership that 
Peter had moved way to the right.

Later, Peter and I talked about this. He said he wrongly supported the 
Mondale campaign as part of his tactic of trying to work within 
Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in hopes that it would lead to a mass break 
with the Democrats. Peter writes “This error on my part lasted until I 
came to my senses and realized that, with few exceptions, the Rainbow 
Coalition was just another name for keeping progressives in the 
Democratic Party.”

An important appendix is a short essay on the origins of the two-party 
system, going back to the foundations of the United States, and up 
through the Civil War and beyond. He shows that in fact the present 
Republican and Democratic parties emerged from a single party, the 
Republicans, after the Civil War. This appendix should be reprinted as a 
pamphlet for the new generations who will become radicalized in the future.

There is a chapter on how Peter became a stockbroker, and how he helped 
set up a firm, “Progressive Assets Management.” The idea was that Peter 
would invest money for those who didn’t want to invest in firms doing 
business in apartheid South Africa, polluters, and so forth. There was 
an element of self-deception in this undertaking, as the control of the 
economy by financial capital makes it virtually impossible to know where 
investments go, except for some start-ups like solar power firms. This 
chapter is interesting, however, in explaining the obstacles the powers 
that be put in the way of Peter’s progressive projects. His outline of 
how workers’ pension funds are controlled by capital is revealing.

When my companion, Caroline Lund, and I reconnected with Peter it was 
after we had left the SWP some years earlier. We had moved to the San 
Francisco Bay Area. It was in the early 1990s when we first talked. In 
discussing what had happened to the SWP, Peter said that the fundamental 
question was that the program of the SWP was wrong. Since this theme is 
a major one in his book book, and since I disagree with him, I will take 
this up in some detail, both to disclose my bias and to explain Peter’s 
views in the latter part of his life more clearly.

Peter told me this disagreement represented a “profound difference” 
between us. I agree.

Peter writes, “With the rapid growth of the SWP and YSA during the 
antiwar movement, an ideological crisis had manifested itself within the 
SWP. The older, primarily worker-based segment of the party had grown 
concerned that the SWP would be changed by its newer members, most of 
whom were middle class youth. Many of the older members opposed our 
support for what they saw as contemporary issues, such as gay 
liberation, and in general were nervous that the SWP might abandon its 
roots in Trotskyism and begin to alter its ‘program.’”

This is wrong on several counts. A minor distortion is the assertion 
that our newer members “were middle class youth.” Most of our recruits 
in this period had come from the campuses, were students. Students come 
from all classes, from the bourgeoisie like Peter, from “middle class” 
families (working farmers, small business people, lawyers, self-employed 
and so forth) and from blue and white collar workers. After the Second 
World War, there was an explosion in education which drew in millions 
from working class families. Most of our recruits came from this latter 
section which was the majority among students, but we recruited from all 
these backgrounds.

To Peter’s main point. The “worker-based” older cadre had come to grips 
with analyzing the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions prior to the 
radicalization of “The Sixties” but which greatly influenced our 
generation. These revolutions had come to power under Stalinist 
leaderships, something which our program had deemed extremely unlikely. 
The SWP modified its program accordingly. A new challenge was the Cuban 
Revolution, unfolding as Peter and I joined the SWP, which was led by 
non-Stalinist but not socialist forces (they became socialists in the 
course of the Revolution). Our program was further modified as we 
embraced the Cuban Revolution, an important context of the youth 

Our fundamental strategy and tactics in the antiwar movement (well 
explained by Peter) were first developed by the “older, primarily 
worker-based” party leadership, and which the younger leaders then also 
helped shape. It was the older comrades who developed the party’s 
positive appreciation of Black Nationalism against the opposition of 
almost all other socialist tendencies, and developed a far-reaching 
program for the Black liberation movement. It was younger leaders who 
analyzed the world-wide youth revolt, developed a new program in 
relation to it, with enthusiastic support of the older comrades. The 
same was true of the new women’s liberation movement. The younger 
members and leaders had the full support of the older comrades in all of 
these “contemporary” issues.

Opposition to our embracing of the new issues of the 1960s 
radicalization did develop in the party and YSA. This came not from the 
older comrades (with one or two exceptions) but from a small minority of 
the newer members, who did charge that the party was abandoning its 
program. This was a reflection among our student recruits of outside 
forces, especially the national leadership of the Student for Democratic 
society, who did turn their backs on the youth radicalization in a 
“workerist” direction. This small minority of our student youth was 
soundly defeated in the SWP and YSA.

There was some opposition to our fully embracing the gay liberation 
movement from some older comrades and some younger ones, too. This had 
nothing to do with fearing for our program, but was an expression of 
prejudice, pure and simple, in the wider working class at the time.

These examples and others refute Peter’s assertion, and a later one that 
the party’s program was “rigid.”

Peter makes some correct generalizations: “Not only is a political 
program an evolving concept, but it requires continuous discussion and 
debate in order for it to be effective. And it must, most important of 
all, be tested against reality. In other words, the program of an 
organization trying to bring justice to the world must be a process 
rooted primarily in the living mass struggles of the people.” But his 
next sentence reads, “It is not a written document put together by 
intelligent people in the past.”

Marxist written documents “from the past,” beginning with the Communist 
Manifesto, are essential to understand the present and to effectively 
intervene in it. The “living mass struggles” of the present grow out of 
those of the past. The written programmatic documents of Marxism are 
rich with the lessons of these past struggles. They do show development 
of course, since they reflect changing reality, but they also provide 
continuity. Neither reality nor Marxist theory (program is another word 
for theory) is always just coming into existence independent of the past.

Peter’s own history attests to this. Peter didn’t invent the need to 
break with the Democrats and Republicans. He learned this from the 
program of the Socialist Workers Party. His book has a chapter on 
Stalinism. He was taught to understand Stalinism by the SWP, which based 
its understanding on the programmatic work done by Trotsky. When Peter 
and I joined the SWP the two larger socialist groups, the Communist 
Party and the Socialist Party, rejected the need to break with the 
Democrats and rejected Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism. The “single 
issue” and mass action perspective of the SWP in the antiwar movement 
was an adaptation of the united front tactic developed by the early 
Communist International, codified in “written documents.” What Peter 
learned about Malcolm X from the SWP was developed from “written 
documents” of the Bolsheviks on the national question. And so forth.

Peter’s position appears to reject the basic program of Marxism. He 
writes that Marx was right on many things. “Marx said human history can 
be understood like any other scientific process,” he says. He goes on to 
list other positive aspects of Marx’s thought. “Marx raised the idea 
that humans can transcend the brutality, violence, and abuse that have 
characterized most of human society for at least the past few thousand 
years. He laid out a view that attempted to tie society’s past evolution 
to how it might evolve in the future.”

Marx wasn’t the first to raise that society can transcend the present 
order. All socialists before Marx believed this, and were devoted to the 
cause of the working people and the oppressed. Marx’s unique 
contribution was his program of how this will (not “might”) come about. 
He didn’t “attempt” to do so, he did so. His program in its essence is 
that the modern working class which capitalism has produced is in an 
irreconcilable class struggle with the capitalists, and will lead all 
the oppressed in a revolution that will overthrow capitalist rule and 
take state power. It will use that state power to build over time a 
society without classes. To accomplish this historical task, the working 
class will have to develop consciousness of itself as a class and form a 
political party (or parties).

Peter nowhere affirms Marx’s program, and appears to reject it by 
omission. That is, he rejects much more than the SWP’s program. In the 
place of program and theory he presents an agnostic view: “The science 
of social change is permanently evolving. We will learn what works – 
that is what is ‘true’ – by the inevitable conflict of ideas and by 
testing those ideas against reality.” What “works” is what is “true” – a 
restatement of American pragmatism. We don’t yet know what “works,” 
including Marx’s program, Peter seems to be saying.

Peter believes, as do Marxists, that a Third American Revolution is on 
the historical agenda. An important part of his book is devoted to the 
idea that this revolution will be an extension of the first two, the War 
of Independence and the Civil War, which centered on the fight to extend 
democracy. “I am convinced the struggle will appear as a fight for 
democracy and will develop around very concrete issues of a defensive 
nature,” he writes. In the mid-1970s, as he was first developing his new 
ideas, Peter told me that the coming revolution will be fought around 
democratic demands, “not class demands.” Peter’s view is reflected in 
the title of his book, “North Star.” He took this term from the name of 
the abolitionist newspaper published by the great former slave Frederick 
Douglas in the fight against slavery.

Democratic demands will be very important, including the unfinished 
democratic tasks from the first two revolutions such as ending the 
continued oppression of Blacks. But so will the specific class demands 
of the workers, including the need for them to take state power, or 
there will be no revolution. The Third American Revolution will be a 
proletarian revolution for socialism.

The first two American Revolutions consolidated the rule of the 
capitalist class. The Civil War clinched this by overthrowing and 
expropriating the slave owning class. In class terms, the Third will 
overthrow the capitalist class and consolidate the rule of the working 
class through the formation of a democratic workers’ state and the 
expropriation of the capitalist class. The workers’ state will gradually 
move toward the withering away of all classes and the state itself.

Peter is right that we should assimilate the democratic victories of the 
War for Independence and the Civil War and identify with their leaders. 
But our American revolutionary heritage goes beyond that. We identify 
with the suffragettes, the decades-long battles against Jim Crow, and 
their many leaders including Susan B. Anthony, W.E.B DuBois, Malcolm X 
and Martin Luther King. The first stirrings of the labor movement in the 
later 1880s, the IWW and the Socialist Party, the formation of the 
Communist Party and the SWP are also part of our heritage, as is the 
great labor upsurge of the 1930s. These movements threw up leaders we 
seek to emulate, too – and they put class demands at the center of the 
coming revolution. Malcolm X was moving toward socialism when he was 
gunned down. Martin Luther King saw at the end of his life that it was 
necessary to begin fighting for economic, working class demands – he was 
assassinated assisting striking Black waste workers.

Our generation of “The Sixties” also developed leaders and organizations 
of women, gays, youth, Blacks, Chicanos, socialists and more, who 
combined democratic and working class demands.

I realize that my reaffirmation of Marx’s view of the dynamic of class 
struggle under capitalism and its outcome is a minority one within the 
broad progressive movement and even among socialist organizations, and 
that many readers of Peter’s book will agree with him. This is quite 
true today, in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, 
the feebleness of the labor movement in the face of the capitalist 
offensive, and the shrinking and divisions within the socialist movement.

All this is not say that Peter does not accept many Marxist concepts. He 
applies an analysis of the conflicting class forces (and fractions of 
classes) that have created the two-party system to great effect in his 
appendix on the subject. But he does not do so in relation to capitalism 
today and the question of what class forces will accomplish the Third 
American Revolution he looks forward to. We have to wait and see what 

There has been a degeneration of the SWP, signs of which appeared in the 
1970s, and which accelerated after 1980. Peter attributes this to 
Trotskyism itself, which inevitably produces sectarianism, splits and 
cults. He points to undoubted true examples. But there are glaring 
contradictions to his view. If the SWP was always inflicted with these 
diseases (since it undoubtedly was Trotskyist), there was no 
degeneration, only a continuation. The SWP that Peter and I joined was 
not sectarian. It certainly was not a cult of an individual. Its 
leadership team was composed of very independent and strong individuals, 
such as James P. Cannon, Farrell Dobbs, Tom Kerry, Murry and Myra Weiss, 
George Novack, Evelyn Reed, Karolyn Kerry, Joe Hansen and many others. 
The European Trotskyist parties on the whole were not sectarian or 
cults, and aren’t to this day.

The picture of the SWP and his participation in it and the movements of 
the radicalization of “The Sixties” Peter outlines are positive, 
overall. He clearly enjoyed those days and regards them as a high point 
of his life. This stands in contrast to many who left the SWP and have 
become bitter about their own youth.

I’ve taken the space to explain my differences with Peter because they 
are fundamental, but in spite of these differences we remained friends. 
I supported Peter’s attempts to further the struggle against the parties 
of “money” in the 1990s and 2000s, which he explains in his book. The 
2000 Nader campaign, and his own election campaigns for governor stand 
out. One instance I particularly remember was in his 2002 campaign. 
Peter had championed the cause of the undocumented workers vigorously in 
this campaign, as he did before and after. My companion Caroline Lund 
and I joined a long march of 500 such workers in Santa Rosa, north of 
San Francisco, on a cold day, which ended up in a spirited rally 
addressed by Peter in Spanish.

 From time to time Peter would telephone me to get my opinion during 
these campaigns. He also would call me to check my memory of events as 
he was writing the book. There are factual errors that crept in, 
probably because he was pressed for time and did not have the 
opportunity to consult the written record, but most do not affect the 
thrust of the book. One, however, should be corrected, as it 
misrepresents the views of an important figure in the Marxist movement, 
Ernest Mandel.

During the first days of the Nicaraguan revolution, a current of the 
Trotskyist movement relatively strong in Latin America led by Nahuel 
Moreno, which had split from the Fourth International, had formed an 
armed column called the Simon Bolivar Brigade. The SBB entered the 
Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, which was demographically and 
geographically separate from most of the country, and attempted to set 
up local governments there. The Sandinista leadership of the revolution 
was concerned, of course, and moved to expel them.

Peter writes that Mandel, a central leader of the Fourth International 
in Europe, supported the SBB. I was part of the FI leadership in Paris 
at the time, and know this is not true. The whole of the FI repudiated 
Moreno’s adventure. A close friend of Mandel’s in Mexico, Manuel, who 
was also a leader of our group there, was dispatched to Nicaragua to 
explain our position. It is possible that Peter confused something that 
had occurred years earlier during the Portuguese revolution when there 
was a temporary political agreement between Mandel and Moreno. However, 
the false picture Peter presents of Mandel’s and other European leaders’ 
view of the Nicaraguan revolution extends beyond the Simon Bolivar 
Brigade. These leaders wholehearted supported the revolution, and sent 
many delegations to Nicaragua to learn about it first hand and returned 
to build solidarity in their countries. Peter also claims that at the 
November 1979 World Congress of the FI, the majority of the European 
leaders expressed hostility to the Sandinistas. There were two 
resolutions on Nicaragua presented to the Congress, but both were in 
support of the revolution, while having a theoretical difference.

I wish Peter had checked with me on this, because I am sure that if he 
had he would have realized that his memory of these events was faulty.

Peter’s honesty and selfless devotion to working people and all the 
oppressed marked his entire conscious life, and these qualities shine 
through the book. When my companion, Caroline Lund, was dying of  ALS 
(Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2006, we held a big party for people to say 
goodbye to her. Peter was there, and a photo of him, Caroline and myself 
was taken, which I treasure and still keep. At that party Peter did not 
yet know of the cancer that was developing in his body, and which would 
take his life. Peter also spoke at Caroline’s memorial meeting, and 
noted that she was a very kind person. This was one of Peter’s personal 
qualities, too.

More information about the Marxism mailing list