List formed to discuss legacy and lessons of US SWP
The SWP was a very influential Trotskyist group from the 1930s to the late
1970s, when it embarked on a sweeping series of changes both politically
and organizationally. Politically, it began to disavow any connections with
Trotskyism and defined itself as a kind of Castroist current that was part
of an emerging new international movement that included the FLSN of
Nicaragua, the FMLN of EL Salvador, the New Jewel Movement of Grenada, the
ANC, etc. Despite its proclaimed willingness to become part of a political
movement that was distinguished by its lack of sectarianism, the SWP
actually became more sectarian. The turn toward broader political forces
globally was accompanied by a workerist "turn to basic industry" inside the
USA which resulted in a growing abstention from various mass movements
located outside of basic industry.
Organizationally, this turn was accompanied by a steadily increasing
crackdown on the membership's right to criticize various aspects of the
turn. Long-time members of the party who still saw value in the theory of
Permanent Revolution were not allowed to answer the party leadership, which
was consolidating itself around National Chairman Jack Barnes. Many members
either left out of a feeling of alienation from the party's growing
sectarian drift or were expelled in a series of purges that were
reminiscent of how Stalinist parties functioned.
The purpose of the mailing list is to come to terms with this legacy. Was
it inevitable as some suggest or was it a function of a powerful
personality subverting what was basically a healthy organism?
We will discuss the party's past and its current activity and ideas as
reflected in the Militant newspaper. In addition, we will try to come to
grips with the problem of party-building in general with an eye to building
a new movement that avoids the mistakes of the past.
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Marxism mailing list
- Regarding the discussion list about the SWP (USA) which was
launched earlier this week, here are a few additional thoughts.
Most of them were posted to the Marxmail list. A few have been
added for the Greenleft discussion.
It has occurred to me more than once to initiate a discussion list
devoted to analyzing the experience of the SWP by people who
had a history with the organization. As the owner of another list
which is very much moderated, I know that such a process isn't
easy to organize or to conduct. Thus, taking such an initiative
was an challenging step.
How can we have a more or less calm, educational discussion of
the rise and decline of a group like the SWP?
The announcement posted earlier today was reminiscent of the
Socialist Workers Party in that it's a "members-only" organization,
and so its discussions won't be available to the public.
Like the SWP, it will be necessary to become a member to be able
to read the "discussion bulletins". Anyone who is not a member
will not be able to access the discussions. Unlike the SWP, there
are no dues, no meetings, and no agreed-upon framework.
A better example is that provided by the Marxmail list, which is
open to being read by anyone with internet access. Even people
who aren't members can post through the moderator or another
member of the list. The new list is closed off to the public.
Here on the GreenLeft discussion list the same open discussion
model prevails. Greenleft, which isn't heavily moderated from
what I can see, provides a similarly better example. In my own
opinion, a list devoted to the SWP (USA) would have to be very
actively moderated, to avoid the kind of point-making and score-
settling which evokes more friction than illumination of this very
complex and frustrating subject.
The rise and decline of the Socialist Workers Party has its own
particular characteristics. It's also part of the much broader
problem how how to build a revolutionary movement in the US,
one which is both uncompromising in its opposition to capitalism
and the evils associated with it, AND, at the same time, one with
a genuine capacity for self-reflection with minimal factionalism.
Why, therefore, should the public be excluded from reading and
perhaps learning from such discussions as are held there?
Those among us who belonged to the Socialist Workers Party
in the past are all too familiar with a "democratic discussions"
there in which some critical comment is permitted and then the
leadership trounces those who question received wisdom. They
may be subjected to sharp rhetorical assault. They're described as
"petty bourgeois" or with other demeaning epithets. Discussion in
such a setting is more likely to produce heat than illumination.
Some exemples of that variety of discussion style, which have been
seen at Marxmail occasionally, and which doesn't portend well for
a new list just starting out, were posted recently:
"I found that I was growing a third ear in the middle of my
forehead after being exposed to their posts for a month or
so. I was forced to unsub for the sake of my marriage.
My wife was embarrassed to be seen with me in public."
"cults leave very deep wounds. Mine have healed, thank god
"you are obsessed with the SWP. When I met with you in Los
Angeles 15 years ago, that was the only thing you wanted to
talk about. After subbing to Marxmail, you sent me mail
about the need you felt to examine the entrails of its
rotting corpse. Every so often, you send me mail asking if
so-and-so, an ex-SWP'er, is still on the list. This is not
normal. Give it a break."
"My recommendation is not to take the words of this
minuscule sect so seriously. It is not as if it had
thousands of members confusing antiwar activists with
their shitty politics. In fact, if their newspaper was not
online, nobody here would give it a moment's notice.
That is one of the consequences of having the Internet,
even when you are dealing with a group that has little
engagement with it."
To have a sneering and hostile response from the organizer
or leader of a group to any comment with which she or
he disagrees would make a serious discussion difficult.
Little would likely be learned in such an environment.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE FROM WEBSITE:
Walter Lippmann, CubaNews