Peter Camejo – College Days

[I wrote this in March, 2007 not long after I learned that Peter Camejo had been stricken with cancer. I sent it to him and he told me that he liked it and wanted to include it as an appendix to his autobiography, which was later published as North Star: A Memoir.]

I first met Peter Camejo around a poker table in September 1958, during freshman orientation week at MIT. His playing style, like his personality, was mercurial. Mine was more pedestrian, more by the book. Poker, some say, is about life. Yet we were both, I think, good poker players.

Although we met each other frequently during the first couple of months of school, it was only while playing poker. I knew nothing of Peter’s socialist ideas and activities. That changed in the second semester.

Peter and two other students were the lucky residents of a very large dormitory suite, a quadruple with only three inhabitants. I knew the other two students as well, one from playing pool and the other from the kosher kitchen. Poker, pool and keeping kosher – the three vices I brought with me from high school – were personified right there in that dorm room.

The pool player soon dropped out of school. The other two, fearing that the school authorities would deluge them with strangers, took preemptive action by inviting me in to fill the third slot and limit the suite’s population to only three.

Thus began months of discussion and argument – about socialism and capitalism, about God and atheism, about ethics, morality, sex and the meaning of life. I am happy to report that we resolved all of these issues, at least for a time.

Peter was a year and a half older than I, and much more worldly wise. So he had a big influence on me, and not merely in the realm of ideas. We went out on double dates, and he also introduced me to my first non-kosher hamburger.

Joining many of these dorm room discussions was Barry Sheppard, a senior, who worked with Peter to try to get some socialist activities going in those still-conservative times, the last years of the 1950s. The three of us were to become political comrades for the next twenty years as members and leaders in the Socialist Workers Party.

Peter’s political biographers sometimes mention his perfect 800 score on the mathematics SATs, the college entrance exams. That wasn’t very impressive to me. Many students at MIT had high scores. It may have puffed up our egos as high school hot shots. At MIT, however, we were just faces in the crowd. There were certainly a few really brilliant minds among the students, but not very many.

Neither Peter nor I was particularly studious or exceptional academically. But there was something about his way of thinking that I remember. The occasion was a physics exam, a tough exam, with one question that stood out for its difficulty. Afterwards we were all discussing the proper, textbook solution to the problem, using the various tools provided by calculus. Peter, it turned out, had completely bypassed the standard approach and solved the problem by a simple appeal to symmetry. His solution was obvious and intellectually elegant. Although I have long since forgotten the problem, I have always remembered Peter’s ingenious way of solving it. Peter is a creative thinker, a talent that served him well over the years.

When we were together later on Peter and I sometimes reverted to our old dorm room personas. On a couple of occasions in Europe, at meetings of the International Executive Committee or World Congress of the Fourth International, we were assigned to the same lodgings. So, when the meetings adjourned for the evening, Peter and I would while away the time competing in mathematical and logical puzzles, as we used to do in the old school days.

Peter and I became good friends that first year in college, and although we drifted apart as time went by, we still remain friends.

– Gus Horowitz 03/20/2007

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