I have set up this blog to post materials pertaining to the history of the Socialist Workers Party of the United States. Unless otherwise noted, I am the author of these materials.

I will post items written during the period of my participation in the SWP during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as more recent items pertaining to that period. I will occasionally make very minor changes to the text. Any substantive changes will be noted.

All comments, however critical, are welcome. I ask only that participants in the discussion be bound by ordinary standards of courteous discourse.

I also suggest that people visit the blog on SWP History that Barry Sheppard and I have set up: SWP History Blog

 

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14 Responses to “About”


  1. 1 David Keil July 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Gus, thank you for making your recollections available and for your frank reflections on the dynamics within the movement — David Keil

  2. 2 Roland Sheppard July 4, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Thank you, My blog is roland,sheppard.com

  3. 3 Kwame Somburu July 4, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Hello Comrade Gus,

    Yes, I want to read your writings on that subject.

    Kwame Somburu

  4. 4 Ray Markey July 4, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Hi Gus,

    Look forward to reading your blog.

    Ray Markey

  5. 5 unitenews July 5, 2012 at 4:55 am

    You should set up a subscribe option on the site.

  6. 6 Robert Davis July 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Gus: This is a response to your Barnes’ cult piece.
    The few workers who were still in the Party when I joined in SF in 1966 were imbued with a worshipful attitude toward leadership. Although democracy was highly touted, I saw little of it. When I participated in a YSA nominating commission in 1967, the slate which was worked out after hours of discussion was rejected by Barnes, and we were sent back to rubber stamp a slate he approved. When I objected, I was told that I had to learn to be a “team player.”… Since most of my energy was focused on antiwar work, I only began, slowly, to notice anti-democratic Party practices: the appointment by the National Office of branch organizers (people who often seemed unable to think for themselves but had to telephone New York for directions); interference from the N.O. in local disputes, like a Political Committee member’s role in the SF Prop P campaign, and another one’s role in whether or not to support Peace and Freedom in ’68. Worst of all were the vicious rumors circulated to discredit comrades like Levitt and Weinstein. Years later, from Tom Kerry, I heard the shameful story of why Larry Trainer was vilified at the SWP convention of ’72…. I had quietly left the Party before the waves of expulsions in the ’80s. Following from a distance, I could not help thinking that, although Barnes was more blatant, was he really all that different from his predecessors? Hadn’t Cannon picked Dobbs, and Dobbs in turn picked Barnes? Where was the democracy in an organization in which leadership, under the guise of ‘the responsibilities of leadership,’ picked itself? Why, after faction fights in the SWP, had factions not only disbanded but virtually all their members left or were driver out? What is the cost to an organization which values centralism so highly above democracy?… I do not believe, as you write, that the rank-and-file, under the influence of an “authoritarian-submissive dynamic,” find it convenient to abdicate their responsibilities to a leader. No doubt there are always a few characters in search of a leader. But for me one of the major lessons of the terrible failures of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals was that both failed to educate the rank-and-file, who therefore capitulated to their misleaders. I think that, long before Barnes, there was too much miseducation in the SWP.

  7. 7 Carole Seligman July 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Please don’t blame Cannon for Barnes!

  8. 8 Admin July 6, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Robert Davis wrote: “Years later, from Tom Kerry, I heard the shameful story of why Larry Trainer was vilified at the SWP convention of ’72…”

    Why was Larry trainer vilified?

    Btw, I agree with your argument that it’s not so much about a masochistic rank-and-file and a sadistic leadership and, as Louis Proyect has written quite a bit about, the imposition of a model of “party-building” in the Trotskyist movement that derives more from Zinoviev (and even Stalin) than from the actual Bolsheviks, certainly prior to the October revolution.

    Philip Ferguson
    http://theirishrevolution.wordpress.com/
    http://rdln.wordpress.com/

    • 9 David Keil July 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Gus, Robert, and Phil have raised questions that interest me.

      Gus emphasizes the potentially overdominant role of individual leaders in situations where a group of people are highly devoted to a cause.

      Robert emphasizes overcentralized features of the SWP as early as the mid 60s and attributes a negative role to the failure of organizations like the 2nd and 3rd internationals to educate their members.

      Phil refers to Zinoviev’s distorted international application of the Leninist approach to building a party.

      I hope that all these factors can be considered as possibly contributing to failure of the SWP effort, and that lessons can be drawn through discussion in order to help build a sustainable socialist movement.

      The issues have some life today. In the Socialist Party, which I belong to, there is a January 2012 declaration of a “Revolutionary Tendency” that looks back to the SWP very positively. These comrades seem, like many others in the SP, to associate some undesirable aspects of the functioning of Trotskyist groups with Leninism. It is not clear to me how much activity of the RT occurs within the SP and how much is public; I first heard word of the RT from Kwame’s research!

      I think that careful reflection on our experiences, with an emphasis on factual details and on fairness, such as Gus has provided, will help people today who are trying to find a way forward organizationally.

      My wish is for a forum for wide discussion that can also have an aspect of common action. An effort was made in that direction at the Trotsky legacy conference in 2008, at which Gus spoke on the SWP’s antiwar work. Parts of our legacy that stimulate us to turn our backs on each other in despair make this effort patient and difficult.

  9. 10 Ernesto Oleinik July 6, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Hi Gus and hi John!

    This is meant to be a political reply to the comments John made earlier about the SWP and the trend and practical consequences of its work and perspective in the global class struggle, TODAY.

    First something of a personal nature. I remember reading the introduction to the first issue of New International magazine of Marxist theory and politics when I was barely 15 years old. The authors were John Riddell, Steve Penner and Steve Clarke, if Im not mistaken.

    The summer of 1996 I spent in Habana, Cuba. It was a time that came to be known as the “Special Period”. I didnt know anything back then about an organisation back then in France called the OCI or Pierre Lambert for that matter.

    I did learn John, from reading you among others, that when you represent the opinions and practice of political opponents, you have to do it in a concientous and measured way, not in a doctored manner.

    I hope you dont mind if I go paragraph trough paragraph in my answer to your comments about how the SWP (and perhaps the communist leagues outside of the US?) “resemble the general run of small inward-turned Marxist groups.”

    I start with the end of the first paragraph:
    “I agree with the point you make about Nicaragua and Grenada, and you could speak also about Cuba, where the SWP’s stand even today compares favourably with that of many Marxists in the U.S.”

    No problem with that per se, BUT Im curious – What kind of Marxists in the US (and beyond it) are we talking about, and NOT primarily in an ideological “way”, whose practical positions TODAY on the revolutionary leadership of the workers state in Cuba, dont start with the FACT that the Cuban revolution and its leadership FROM THE BEGINNING truly was a historical watershed in HELPING to resolve that crisis of proletarian leadership of the working class on a world scale? To this day.

    I would like to have it spelled out more clearly since some of the comments on this blog and other internet sites have pointed to the ISO as a positive example of an organisation thats not sectarian in its class aproach.

    Second:
    “I am in contact with a range of young former members of the SWP and CLs, and without exception they are talented and tireless contributors to the revolutionary movement”

    I feel I need to know though, exactly WHAT “revolutionary movement”?
    What kind of movement and practical, revolutionary involvement in relation to the deepening patterns of working-class resistance in the US and globally? In a collective, organized and politically disciplined way..

    Third:
    “I must say, however, that the immense majority of those leaving the SWP/CLs drop out of political activity. I know of only about a dozen exceptions. This demands explanation.”

    I must admit John that Im not at all aware of the political activity of former members of the SWP or communist leagues.

    I do know in MY OWN case that I felt it was a question of personal/moral and political integrity to not pretend I was or represented something fundamentally more in class politics, outside of being a disciplined part of what John G Wright once called a collective, thinking maschine, if Im not mistaken.

    Fourth:
    “We must recognize that on many current issues the SWP’s positions are deeply disturbing and reflect a hostility to views generally held in the workers’ movement. In my own case, for example, I was expelled from the Canadian CL’s active supporters’ group for advocating self-determination for Iraq, at a time (2004) when the SWP/CLs had tacitly dropped that position. The Militant, as you may recall, was then talking about the unintended progressive consequences of U.S. occupation of Iraq.”

    I must ask you John: What kind of views generally held in the workers movement? I think we all know from personal experience that there are a lot of VIEWS in the workers movement that are an ideological reflection or expression of capitalist class interests and pressures through all its mediations. So, what views who could point to a deepening class conscience and self-confidence throug class struggle againt ones “own” bourgeoise and all other exploiters?

    I do remember your letter to the Militant from February 2004 and the response from the paper. I have read through them again and I am still not convinced, no matter words like “disturbing”. By the way, the word “progressive” in relation to consequences. Is it something from the Militant or is it your explanation?

    I did find this from the answer to your letter though:
    “Being against Saddam Hussein, or even “anti-imperialist,” however, doesn’t make one progressive either. What counts is what you are for. The Stalinists, like others on the “left,” often say they are for “democracy,” as the CP USA so eloquently explains. Because their existence is based on class collaboration, not a revolutionary class-struggle orientation, they end up on the bandwagon of one or another imperialist power that imposes certain bourgeois democratic forms as part of its imperialist offensive and occupation. Once the fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat ceases in practice to be at the center of the program of a workers party, everything else follows. ”

    “Compared to living under the Hussein regime, it is true there is more space for working people to defend their interests in Iraq today, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Revolutionists need to take full advantage of this opportunity. But class-conscious workers don’t therefore support democratic imperialism”

    The thing that stayed with me through these years and specially after what has started developing in north Africa and the Middle east after last year is this word: “opportunity”. Opportunities for fighters wanting to find a new road to becoming proletarian revolutionaries.

    Fifth:
    “Similarly, the Militant now campaigns against radical opponents of the oppression of Palestinians, telling us that to speak of Israeli apartheid, the Palestinian right of return, etc., is anti-Semitic. More is at stake here than mere terminology. The governments of Canada and many other countries make the same assertion, as part of an attempt to illegalize Palestinian advocacy under “anti-hate” laws.”

    I agree with you John, theres much more at stake than mere terminology.
    But I do need to ask: What campaign against what KIND of radical opponents of the oppression of Palestinians? Are you not putting in a retorical way a lot of things in the same bag? Are you talking concretely about the Boycott and Divestment STRATEGY?

    Could you please point to any concrete article where the Militant argues that “to speak of Israeli apartheid, the Palestinian right of return, etc., is anti-Semitic.”

    I did find this though from 2006, from the resolution “The World Crisis of Imperialism and the Contradictory Dynamics of the Labor Vanguard,” adopted by the June 2006 national convention of the Socialist Workers Party (forgive me the length):

    “What the Israeli rulers are seeking to impose in order to consolidate Israel within borders of their own choosing is not a “peace process,” as it’s dubbed by liberals in the big-business media. It’s the consolidation of an Israel still based on the forcible expulsion of the Palestinian majority, together with the “right of return” of those of Jewish parentage—and only those of such parentage.”

    “There can and will be no long-term peace with the dispossessed Palestinian people on that basis. Or on any other basis that forcibly seeks to guarantee a permanent, large Jewish majority in Palestine. The Israeli rulers aren’t pulling back from their “right” to demolish the family homes of Palestinians accused of bombings or other attacks, let alone their “obligation” to “execute” members and leaders of Palestinian organizations they hold responsible for “terrorism.” ”

    “As all this unfolds, the stakes continue to mount for the Palestinian people in forging a leadership adequate to the tasks before them, which remains the fight for a democratic, secular Palestine. The bourgeoisification and political retreat of the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, described in “The Opening Guns of World War III” some fifteen years ago, has proceeded apace. The PLO long ago exhausted its capacity to lead forward the Palestinian toilers in fighting for national liberation.

    The bourgeois-nationalist opposition, Hamas, with its origins in the Muslim Brotherhood, neither has any alternative program or strategy to advance the struggle, nor offers more space to the proletariat to organize and act in the interests of the toiling majority of the Palestinian people.”

    “A road forward out of this political morass can only—and will—come out of the response of new generations of working people and youth as the struggle continues on many fronts: fights for land; for water rights; for freedom of movement, freedom to travel; for jobs, decent wages, and union protection; for the release of political prisoners; for women’s equality; against the brutal operations of Tel Aviv’s cops, troops, and commandos; against war threats and mounting prospects for devastating military blows against sections of Israel itself; and many others. Neither we nor anyone else has a script or a timetable of how the forging of such a leadership, a communist leadership, will unfold in Palestine, or anywhere else in the world.

    As for Israel itself, a revolutionary leadership that is proletarian internationalist to its core must be built there too—a secular, multinational leadership, with a substantial Jewish component in its makeup. This is a difficult task under the social, political, and military conditions prevailing in Israel. It won’t happen rapidly. And the Palestinian people will not wait, and cannot be asked to wait, for class divisions and conflicts to deepen enough inside Israel for such a process to take place.”

    Sixth:
    “We fight many battles for the right of free speech for Palestinian advocacy. I am immensely saddened that the SWP/CLs, whatever their intention, are objectively aligned with the imperialist states on this issue.”

    I must admit John: This is the FIRST time I read lines with this unmistakable meaning – “objectively aligned with the imperialist states” – since I together with other Young Socialists met supporters of Sendero Luminoso some 14 years ago on a book table after a meeting in defense of the Cuban revolution in Stockholm. Thats not how I interpret resolving political arguments – even deep ones – in a united-front manner in the working-class movement.

    That saddens me a lot, since nowhere do you even mention such basic facts of class politics TODAY in Palestine, Israel (aswell as any other opressed nation on this earth) and other countries for that matter – reflected in the political perspective of the SWP and communist leagues – as are the growing CLASS polarisation and all its consequences, even inside opressed nationalities..What it means for communists wanting to build a proletatian party, a truly world party.

    (Does it mean that the stuggle for revolutionary-democratic goals is superseded? Not at all. But it does mean according to my understanding of this historical juncture, that the democratic struggles and the proletarian methods of struggle necessary to achieving victory, need to base themselves on the facts of changing material realities.

    The capacity to recognize these moments and the need to reach outward and deeper into the lines of resistance of the world working class. To identify with it, fuse with it, help it and be helped by it.

    The need to put on a new shirt, the shirt of the New International. A communist international of the proletariat.)

    John, reading you and others as a 15 year old boy made me want to come back to Sweden, to help build this movement. Thats the John Riddell among others I remember.

    And no matter what detours my personal life took, my confidence has grown in the Militant and the SWP. Not because anyone is perfect, but because they are true. True to themselves in the only way one can remain true, trough change, deeper into that class who has nothing to loose..

    /Ernesto

  10. 11 Manuel Aguilar Mora April 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Hola Gus, desde la ciudad de México me ha gustado mucho saber que Barry y tu siguen bien activos en la izquierda socialista de EUA escribiendo artículos, libros (Barry) y seguramente participando en diversos proyectos sociales (políticos, sindicales, etc.) Desde acá los seguiré con atención, en especial profundizando en la cuestión de la debacle del SWP con la dirección de Barnes.
    Saludos fraternales a ambos.

    [English Translation below – GH]
    Hello Gus, from Mexico City. I am very pleased to know that Barry and you are still active in the U.S. socialist left writing articles, books (Barry) and surely participating in various social projects (political, labor, etc.) From here we follow these closely, especially the deepening SWP debacle under the leadership of Barnes. Fraternal greetings to both of you.

  11. 12 Paul Friedman September 1, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    Gus,
    May I just say that the work we did together in the ’60s significantly helped save lives of U.S. soldiers and many Vietnamese? No matter our differences, in this we were united.
    Paul Friedman

    • 13 gushorowitz September 1, 2013 at 11:47 pm

      Thanks Paul. Nice hearing from you. (Paul and I worked together in 1967, along with Linda Morse (Dannenberg) in the national office of the Student Mobilization Committee when it was first formed.)

  12. 14 gushorowitz February 25, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Recently this blog received several posts by Michael Tormey and Ralph Levitt. Since these contained what I consider to be ad hominem comments, the posts have been removed.


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