[Marxism] Their SWP ... and ours

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Fri Feb 1 01:55:34 MST 2013


I don't know how to handle allegations of rape or other crimes of 
violence or threats of crimes of violence within an organization, much 
less the broader movement.

The U.S. SWP had "proletarian norms" on this, and it led to the moment I 
feel most ashamed about in my decade and a half in the SWP.

It was the Manhattan branch trial of Jimmy Kutcher, the "legless 
veteran" who had stood up to the Truman-Eisenhower (so-called McCarthy) 
witch-hunt when the anticommunist hysteria as at its peak ... and won.

What I refer to took place 30 years later, in 1983, after an NC plenum 
(meeting) where we "suspended" the four dissident NC members [which 
really meant expel, although the formality of using the e-word was left 
to the next convention], and including Steve Bloom, for I forget what 
outrage against Leninism ... I think it may have been for not raising 
their hands clearly holding up one or two fingers before going to the 
bathroom.

Kutcher was charged with attacking a woman comrade. The comrade, who 
like Kutcher, was a critic of the party majority, denied he had punched 
her, just touched her so she wouldn't block his view (Jimmy always sat 
in the back of the hall in his wheelchair, since the branch was quite 
large due to all the comrades assigned to the national apparatus).

The accuser --I forget who, but I'm certain it was one of us West Street 
National Office hacks-- got up to say no no no, he'd seen it very 
clearly, and he wouldn't speculate as to why the comrades had agreed to 
cover up the incident, meaning, of course, that they're doing it because 
they are dissidents. And by then I'd known Jimmy for a decade or more 
and knew --we all did-- that he was getting more irascible and slipped 
more easily into a confrontational style of argument. And I remember 
asking myself, but doesn't he deserve special consideration because of 
his age and his service to the cause? And just then the comrade who 
brought the charges was answering the question --no, because it really 
was about the political atmosphere in the party and especially the 
example that Kutcher was setting for the younger comrades.

And just then Olga Rodriguez, who was becoming the new branch organizer, 
or had just been, got up and said this stuff was happening all the time, 
and recounted another incident of a shouting match between Jimmy and 
Hedda Garza (another oppositionist) where he threatened and tried to hit 
Hedda with his cane. And Hedda got up and said no, we were just having 
an agitated discussion, and Jimmy waved his cane around because he had 
it in his hand and was gesticulating as he spoke.

The response of one of the branch leaders was that this was Hedda's 
version. And we don't have Jimmy's because he decided not to be here. It 
was ten or fifteen years later that I learned the truth: Jimmy had asked 
--begged-- for a week or two delay for health and emotional reasons and 
the branch leadership denied it. As far as I can remember, they also 
didn't bring it before the branch.

But I had witnessed that incident. And Hedda was absolutely right. It 
might have looked threatening of intimidating to someone parachuting in 
from Uranus, but even if Jimmy had lunged at Hedda (which he didn't), 
Hedda and everyone else knew that Jimmy could not get up from the 
wheelchair without using the cane as a support instead of a weapon. He 
couldn't even move the wheelchair without putting the cane across his 
lap so he could use both his hands to move the wheels. And I'd seen 
several more incidents like that, where Jimmy gesticulated in arguing or 
talking while holding the cane in his hand. It wasn't unusual.

And then /that /was brought up. That Jimmy repeatedly acted like this. 
And the branch exec self-criticized itself for not having taken this up 
sooner, and as penalty and repentance, we should expel Jimmy (unless 
there happened to be a bus around we could throw him under).

I was sick to my stomach.

I knew I had a duty to speak, to say no, Hedda is right, Olga and the 
exec are wrong.

I don't remember thinking this at that time, but if I had done that, 
spoken out in defense of Jimmy and Hedda and the minority, it might have 
had an effect because Olga and I were the two most prominent Latinos in 
the party leadership then, since Peter Camejo had been pushed out 
(something else I did not understand until many years later). I was the 
editor of the party's Spanish-language organ, a member of the Political 
Committee and National Committee. The big shot Cuba expert in the 
Fidelista majority (sort of like Sam Farber is to the ISO and much of 
Soli but in my case without the academic credentials but a stronger 
political presence). With several Pathfinder titles to my name.

But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I could not bring myself to tell 
the comrades the truth. Not out of concern for my "career" as a party 
hack, because even that late I had the most naive virginal belief in the 
purity of our central leadership and did not fear reprisal; but out of 
loyalty to "The Party." And the factional idea that certain people who 
were technically "us"  were really " them."

"From a scratch to the danger of gangrene, it was said."  And if I let 
this scratch fester in some quixotic search for truth ...

But then there was Trotsky:

    To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance;
    to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the
    masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be
    true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s program on the
    logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action
    arrives – these are the rules of the Fourth International.

I could not bring myself to speak the truth to the cadre, never mind the 
masses. But I could not vote the lie. I left the meeting, unwilling, 
unprepared and untrained to meet the challenges life put before me.

  there was a second Kutcher trial, because I think the first one's 
outcome was really something like, he's guilty as sin but if he kisses 
Jack Barnes's ass, he can stay.

I don't know why I don't remember Kutcher's version of the events from 
the 1984 convention, because he did appeal his expulsion, and I assume I 
got a copy -- because that appeal was what I read 12 or 15 years ago.

But by the 1984 convention, I was sinking into a crisis like that 
depicted for Jean Valjean in Les Miserables after he steals the Bishop's 
silver, and the Bishop covers for him:

What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night,
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far,
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate,
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?

In Nicaragua, as the Militant's correspondent, I'd been away from the 
SWP bubble for a couple of months and reinsertion into the SWP's reality 
distortion field was brutal. The SWP had spent tens of thousands of 
dollars maintaining a bureau in Managua for its publications with what 
we believed were the strongest cadres suitable for the assignment. And 
none of us who had actually been there for extended periods were giving 
talks or classes at the summer school in Oberlin in 1984. Instead, 
revolutionary tourists who had parachuted in for a week or two were 
presented as the "experts."

A particularly sore point for me was our reporting on the battle of 
Ocotal in June 1984. Thanks to collaborators inside the town of 20,000, 
the largest town near the border with Honduras (and the contra camps), 
the contras were able to sneak in quite a few people into the heart of 
the town the night before who then staged a pre-dawn attack.

The incursion within Ocotal lasted but a short time --a half hour, or 
perhaps an hour or two at the very most. One of the first Cuban-trained 
BLI's (Batallones de Lucha Irregular -- battalions for unconventional 
warfare) had its base across the Panamerican highway from Ocotal, a few 
hundred meters away, and there was no contra unit that could stand up 
against such a force.

I and my companion, Ellen Kratka, had just arrived in Nicaragua days 
before; our predecessors, Michael Baumann and Jane Harris, were still 
there helping us to get acclimated. When the news about Ocotal broke, we 
decided to go up there the next day. We did, and wrote the articles 
together but Mike insisted Ellen and I should not be given bylines in 
the main article, which said almost explicitly that what Ocotal showed 
is that the contras were developing a social base in these rural 
agricultural areas and towns bordering Honduras.

We sent it in, the Militant and the other publications carried it, and 
then to our shock, a week later, we got a Militant with a front-page 
statement --by the Political Committee no less-- repudiating our 
coverage and reproducing, by way of apology and correction, an article 
that followed the Sandinista Army's press department completely 
fictional narrative that a contra column tried to sneak into town in 
pre-dawn hours but were met with a popular uprising by the militia that 
held them at bay and then drove them back from the outskirts of the town.

A few weeks later, one of the SWP's sectarian "militant-perspectiva 
mundial tours" of Nicaragua came through, and on  the basis of a talk 
and a couple of interviews, Patti Iiyama wrote an article about the 
glorious people's uprising that prevented the U.S.-puppet contras from 
entering Ocotal. We in the Managua bureau didn't have any say about it: 
again, we were never even consulted. And at the week-long Oberlin summer 
school/convention, we were surprised by a talk on the Battle of Ocotal 
by Patti Iiyama. The SWP had both the former editor of Intercontinental 
Press and of Perspetiva Mundial  AT THE SCENE the day after. We weren't 
consulted, we weren't told, we weren't even invited to hear how wrong we 
were.

At times like that, the words of the Russian exile in Mexico from 
decades ago invade your mind like a tumor: "To face reality squarely; 
not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right 
names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; 
not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; ... 
these are the rules of the Fourth International."

Easy to say, hard to do, when what separates this vale of tears from the 
bright communist future of humanity is the lack of a party.

To wit: the same Russian guy, the sole survivor from the shipwreck of 
October, who wrote 75 years ago:

/*"The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by 
a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.*/"

The solution to which is: transform a propaganda sect into a mass party, 
specifically the sect that has the honor of counting you among its members.

I do not criticize nor condemn the comrades of the SWP (UK) CC for their 
coverup and other misdeeds.

I criticize them only for failing to learn from our mistakes, the ones 
that destroyed the American SWP, but not just -- they also destroyed the 
Morenistas, the Posadistas, the Pabloites and so many others.

That mistake is THE CULT OF THE PARTY, the idea that we revolutionary 
wizards have this magic wand --the Leninist Party-- with which we can 
miraculously transform the world. And our task is to build it and bring 
it TO the masses.

Which means, in the end, choosing between integrity, honesty, 
transparency and truth, on one side, and the party, on the other.

I cannot criticize the leading comrades of the SWP (UK): they merely 
followed our footsteps, and those of so many others.

But I do grieve that it is so.


Joaquin




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