Thursday, March 22, 2012

"So piss off" - A memoir of defending the U.S. SWP on Marxmail

The recent publication of the second volume of Barry Sheppard's Socialist Workers Party memoir has stirred up those former members of that party who now despise it.  Like the 68ers in France who once embraced Marcuse and Mao and the CGT militants, but who now support the SP or Sarkozy or something worse, they hunt for any reason to explain their renegacy other than the impact of the U.S. class struggle itself.  For the most part they claim the SWP has degenerated into a criminal enterprise and/or cult of personality.  Readers of this blog will know that I was once a member of the SWP for too few years, and regard the party today as at the forefront of understanding the current stage of the US class struggle.

 

One blogger, former SWPer Louis Proyect, has spent the last couple of decades creating and maintaining the Marxmail list as well as his own blog, The Unrepentant Marxist. 

 

Both emphasize his desire to create a pole of attraction for those who, based on their experiences in the 1965-1985 period, reject the Leninist strategy of party building. 

 

In the last few days I have posted a few comments on Marxmail defending the SWP and its national secretary Jack Barnes from attacks and baiting by Proyect and other list participants who find inspiration in Sheppard's memoir.
 
 
The memoirist Sheppard in early days

 

On 21 March Proyect initially wrote:

 

If the SWP had any real role to play on the American left, I would have not set up the mailing list on Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/swp_usa/) to discuss it, more or less in the same spirit as the food fight scene in "Animal House". On the Marxism list we discuss groups that are *significant*, like the PSL or the ISO.

 

My response:

 

The Yahoo SWP ghetto Louis set up is a moral swamp of hearsay which I happily no longer visit.  I am sure the discussion of Barry's book will devolve there into typically loathsome displays of gossip and scandal-mongering very quickly. 

 

I would take seriously the claim that the SWP ignores ows [which a search on the Militant website easily disproves] were it not coming from one-eyed-men who consistently ignore the significance of the American Crystal Sugar lockout, and the fact that SWP has recently opened a new branch organizing committee in the area most concerned in that lockout.  This decision was made after an unprecedented number of contacts and Militant subscriptions registered the party's appeal among workers in the area.

 

The ACS and other lockouts, and the resistance to them, has far greater political weight than any city's OWS.

 

The idea that there is something called the "American left" [to use the moderator's phrase from the quote above] or that it is a worthwhile place for communists to spend their time and energy, itself speaks volumes. 

 

Those who talk about SWP cults of personality and undemocratic measures need to face up to something.  No communist or revolutionary party in any country avoided the demographic slump that started in the eighties.  And the personalities and careers of those who left or got the boot, and have become permanent traducers of their old parties, have many things in common, too. 

 

Comradely,

Jay Rothermel

 

Proyect responded:

 


When leaders of self-described proletarian parties use the resources of the party for their personal benefit, this is a breach with socialist morality whether or not this matters to you. It certainly matters to the rest of us, including Barry Sheppard who documents it in v. 2 of his memoir.

This decision was made after an unprecedented number of contacts and
Militant subscriptions registered the party's appeal among workers in the
area.


Oh please, I personally sold more subscriptions to African-American workers in Harlem in the 1960s than the SWP's latest sub-drive. (Not that this had any effect on anything or anybody.)

The ACS and other lockouts, and the resistance to them, has far greater
political weight than any city's OWS.


You forgot to call them petty-bourgeois. Losing your proletarian mettle? Eat some Raw Bits cereal to get yourself right.

The idea that there is something called the "American left" [to use the
moderator's phrase from the quote above] or that it is a worthwhile place
for communists to spend their time and energy, itself speaks volumes.


So piss off.

Those who talk about SWP cults of personality and undemocratic measures
need to face up to something. No communist or revolutionary party in any
country avoided the demographic slump that started in the eighties.


This from somebody who crossposts articles from an obscure Hoxha-ite sect...

 

 

My answer:

 

Louis Proyect wrote:

 

When leaders of self-described proletarian parties use the resources of the party for their personal benefit, this is a breach with socialist morality whether or not this matters to you. It certainly matters to the rest of us, including Barry Sheppard who documents it in v. 2 of his memoir.

 

 

Sheppard offers nothing but his own undocumentable testimony if he makes such an accusation in the book.  Were there something more, he would not have made his public wait 30 years for it.  If he or anyone else had proof of financial wrong-doing, they would not be spreading it as rumor on a Yahoo SWP website run by someone who has made his name not for being an unrepentant Marxist, but a TMZ-style purveyor of anti-SWP scandal and gossip.  Said gossip, I am confident, will soon reach pornographic levels.  Those who've spent 40 years nursing their sour grapes about Comrade Barnes for ignoring their genius and not inviting them for cocktails or otherwise snubbing them socially are tonight licking their chops over Barry's book. 

 

This from somebody who crossposts articles from an obscure Hoxha-ite sect...

 

A put-down unworthy of an admirer of Bert Cochran, but not unexpected.  Hoxha was well known for many things, including not having feet of clay.  The trait is sorely missing in our time. 

 

The years I spent in the SWP were, aside from marriage, child, and grandchild, the most valuable and exciting in my life.  I do not agree with the SWP on everything [Libya, Syria, Iran]. But I also do not write-off the effects on the SWP of decades of class retreat as the work of a conspiratorial and power-mad criminal cabal. 

 

Our moderator today praises PSL and ISO, buy only denigrate the SWP by comparison.  I would advise PSL and ISO members and supporters to not take this praise as good coin; the moment the moderator feels one of these organizations or their members is giving him the Barnes treatment, the tune will change. 

 

Future historians will have to ask themselves why this list and the Yahoo SWP pigsty only register an uptick in activity when gossip, innuendo, and hearsay about the Socialist Workers Party and Jack Barnes is the order of the day.  Those of us who have not made a career out of attacking the SWP do not have to wonder. 

 

Comradely,

Jay

 

 

Proyect's final rejoinder:

 

Jay, you don't seem to understand why I created this mailing list in 1998. One of its main purposes, just as it was the purpose of Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman in 1954, was to create an alternative to and a critique of groups like the SWP and the Hoxha-ite sect you crosspost from occasionally. Now you are entitled to your own view on the value of such groups, but don't ever forget that I have spent my time and money not to create the equivalent of Hyde Park where anybody and everybody is invited to make speeches on behalf of their own favorite hammer-and-sickle festooned sect.

Sometimes people forget that I had an ulterior motive in setting this mailing list up. I created it as a pole of attraction for those who feel that the "Marxist-Leninist" model of the 1960s was a disaster. It reflects my own writings on the topic as well as Max Elbaum's "Revolution in the Air".

You don't have to agree with this orientation but you'd be advised not to waste your time and energy trying to change it. It would be much better for you to create your own mailing list that is geared to people who believe that groups like the SWP and that Hoxha-ite sect are the way to go. Contact me privately if you need some technical assistance.

 

 

After a few more entries on Marxmail, Proyect called a halt to the proceedings:

 

Let's drop the discussion of the SWP, especially since it is taking the same tack as what is discussed on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/swp_usa/.
 
Proyect's main enemy, James P. Cannon

 

Proyect  misunderstood; I was not trying to change marxmail, just protest its gossip about Jack Barnes being a crook.  If he created marxmail as a pole of attraction for those who thought the 1960s were a disaster, he certainly succeeded.
 
I will close this item with some psychologizing:  do Proyect and his ilk accuse Jack Barnes of theft of party funds and other felonies because they feel
Cannon's party robbed them of something?  I hope they don't feel that way; their contributions of time and energy to the SWP were the best part of their political lives. That as old men they view the work of their youth as a disaster may say something about their demographic cohort more than it does the SWP or Leninism in general.
 
Jay
20120322

 

6 comments:

  1. "The idea that there is something called the 'American left' [to use the moderator's phrase from the quote above] or that it is a worthwhile place for communists to spend their time and energy, itself speaks volumes."

    This embodies the sectarian mentality that leads to isolation and ossification as it did for the Socialist Labor Party in a previous era. Lenin taught us that socialists must be tribunes of the people responding to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, involving themselves in the political life of society more generally, not devolving into "trade union secretaries", doctrinaire or otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Unknown,

    It is hard to know where to begin with this. But I will take a stab. There is such a thing as the American Left but it has very little to do with that portion of the international working class presently living within the borders of the United States.

    The most profound confusion which exists amongst those who inhabit the left is the extent two which they confuse themselves with a real social force or "movement". Interestingly during the last presidential election campaign the Obama campaign lashed out at the "professional left." Basically asking for more discipline and for them to quiet down their demands in the interest of the Democratic Party's need to present a united centrist face against the Republicans. I think that this begins to get to the heart of the matter.

    A major portion of what might be considered to be the "left" finds a form of employment suitable to this form of self identification. These are the "left-wing" professors, functionaries in not-for profit organizations and NGO's, "radical" union officials, "progressive" lobby groups often focused on environmental "issues". Paid canvassers for the Public Interest Research Groups, Leaders of Gun Control activists, Liberal Authors and talk show hosts etcetera.

    To a certain extent this group represents a sort of small subclass or strata and even to a limited extent it has distinct social and economic interests. The also have political organizations or a stake in political organizations that reflect these interests and social position. These are the characters who are frightened and upset when the national foundation for the humanities cuts back federal funding for research dedicated to subjects outside of the hard sciences. They are afraid then Federal or state support to National Public Radio is on the agenda.

    So what is, or should be, the position of the working class party towards positions at university for left of center economists. For myself I do not believe that the working class party should care. Much of what is considered to be sectarianism on the part of the SWP is actually indifference to the various causes celebre of the "left". More specifically it is indifference to the perceived social interests of this element.

    If one attends any political meeting in which the forces of the US left are present then one can expect to hear the language that I am referring to. "As Progressive People we need to be heard" as if "progressive people" suffered a specific oppression akin to national or class oppression.

    As for Lenin I would be quite interested to read a more extensive quote and to understand your thinking on Lenin's positions.

    It is impossible for me to imagine Lenin as having had any tolerance whatsoever for organizations such as the ISO, or Solidarity?

    What would Lenin have to say to the sort of vaguely pleasing opportunism expressed in this pamphlet from Solidarity?

    "To rebuild a broad, pluralist left capable of sidestepping such traps will require a flexible new culture and way of thinking, not just a set of political "lines" or a traditional program. No one can pretend to have a sure formula for how to overturn the existing order and build a new one. But we are confident that the struggle for a different society will have to begin with the rejection of elitist, condescending, top-down varieties of socialism. It is time for socialism from below.

    Socialism from below is a vision of a new world, based on one central conviction: that human beings can construct a society without exploitation and oppression through, and only through, the maximum extension of democratic control, not only in the political-electoral arena but throughout economic and social life.
    http://www.solidarity-us.org/whysocialism"

    Rawlinsview
    Rawlinsview.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. I admired the SWP enough to campaign for Peter Camejo for president here in Rhode Island in 1976 , to be a presidential elector in 1980.By disposition I was never an organization type-just a CLASS CONSCIOUS worker.So I have no personal bitterness over the obvious implosion of a once very promising party As much as I long for socialism I don't see how the working class will accept the leadership of any self-appointed vanguard party or CENTRAL COMMITTEE STIFFS.
    At my age I can only offer moral support anyway. Lenin said it was a crime for any revolutionary to be over 55 I ( Joke, I think ).
    rlnruggieri@gmail.com{ http://radicalrons.blogspot.com }

    ReplyDelete
  4. Much of what is considered to be sectarianism on the part of the SWP is actually indifference to the various causes celebre of the 'left'. More specifically it is indifference to the perceived social interests of this element."

    This was exactly the rationale that sectarian groups like the Workers League and the Sparts used back in the day to justify their abstention from the anti Vietnam War movement, black liberation and women's struggles. It is a sad commentary on the sectarian decline and isolation of the SWP and also its drift to the political right as its dismissive attitude towards progressive struggles as a "cause celebre" reflects. Tellingly, this has been coupled with the SWP selling their papers at Tea Party events, tailing after right wing fake populism without ever exploring the gentrified social character of this milieu.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Much of what is considered to be sectarianism on the part of the SWP is actually indifference to the various causes celebre of the 'left'. More specifically it is indifference to the perceived social interests of this element."

    This was exactly the rationale that sectarian groups like the Workers League and the Sparts used back in the day to justify their abstention from the anti Vietnam War movement, black liberation and women's struggles. It is a sad commentary on the sectarian decline and isolation of the SWP and also its drift to the political right as its dismissive attitude towards progressive struggles as a "cause celebre" reflects. Tellingly, this has been coupled with the SWP selling their papers at reactionary Tea Party events, tailing after right wing fake populism without ever exploring the gentrified social character of this milieu, let alone their vile anti-working class, anti-union politics.

    ReplyDelete
  6. ". . .I would take seriously the claim that the SWP ignores ows [which a search on the Militant website easily disproves] were it not coming from one-eyed-men who consistently ignore the significance of the American Crystal Sugar lockout, and the fact that SWP has recently opened a new branch organizing committee in the area most concerned in that lockout. This decision was made after an unprecedented number of contacts and Militant subscriptions registered the party's appeal among workers in the area. . ."

    Houston branch, closed! Boston branch, closed! Omaha branch, CLOSED!

    ReplyDelete

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