A Winter’s Tale Told in Memoirs, by Alan Wald

The Socialist Workers Party After the 1960s: A Winter’s Tale Told in Memoirs – By Alan Wald

This article was published in Against the Current, July/August 2011
A link to the article is posted here

A PDF version of the printed article, including pictures, can be downloaded here (with permission of the author)
Click to download

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One Response to A Winter’s Tale Told in Memoirs, by Alan Wald

  1. [The following is a lightly-edited version of a reply that I posted on the Solidarity list. It was written soon after Alan Wald’s article appeared. I deal only with one aspect of Alan Wald’s article]

    In the July/August 2011 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.”

    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. 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 (POT). 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 political positions. He doesn’t discuss the main points of their 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.

    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 authors of FAPO developed their accusation 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 — BS].

    “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 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” the 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 class.
    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, according to FAPO.

    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 reflected inside the SWP 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.”

    The majority of the SWP and YSA, both younger and older members, plunged into these movements. We saw them as manifestations of the class struggle. The revolutionary party should champion the struggles of all the oppressed in capitalist society, was the position we took in the 1971 resolution that the POT was vehemently against.

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