Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 24, 2004

Camejo and Shawki

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:13 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on October 24, 2004

Last night I attended the 8pm plenary of a northeast regional conference organized by the International Socialist Conference up at CCNY. Ralph Nader’s running mate Peter Camejo spoke first, followed by ISO leader Ahmed Shawki.

The ISO is probably the largest socialist group in the USA today, next to the CP. It is a “state capitalist” formation that broke with the British SWP about 4 years ago in a classic instance of Comintern-type meddling. After the ISO had raised some innocent questions about how other sections were being funded (at least to my eyes), it was stigmatized as “not understanding the lessons of Seattle” and either expelled or browbeaten until forced to detach itself from the SWP’s international organization.

It has been rather successful over the past few years in general socialist outreach and participation in the mass movements. The chairperson at the plenary announced that 500 people had shown up for the conference. To my eyes most seemed to be under 30 and included lots of college students. I was also struck by the presence of more than a handful of African-Americans. My guess is that the desire to be connected to a socialist formation overrides Black nationalist and separatist impulses in a period of rising capitalist crisis–especially when the traditional “radical” Black movement has become an appendage of the Kerry campaign.

Camejo’s talk was a combination of his stump campaign speech and observations geared to the socialist audience, which was obviously as fond of him as the American SWP rank-and-file was back in the period before he was expelled for challenging the party’s sectarian course.

The campaign portion of his speech focused on the cognitive dissonance aspect of support for Kerry. You have a situation in which the beliefs and desires of the people voting for him runs counter to his professed goals around a range of questions, including most importantly the war in Iraq. Camejo drew big laughs and applause when he tried to imagine how Kerry supporters reassure themselves in private conversations. They probably tell each other that Kerry is lieing when he says that he seeks victory in Iraq and that he will pull out after being elected. This will be the first time in American history when a politician becomes more popular for telling more lies.

The openly socialist portion of his speech addressed what Peter saw as mounting contradictions in the world capitalist economy. I certainly hope that the ISO will transcribe and publish his remarks because I can hardly do them justice. He pointed to the likelihood that the United States has either reached the Hibbert curve or will soon do so. This means that the rate of economic growth will be slowed by energy shortages. We are also facing a situation in which home ownership has become a kind of savings plan for most working people, as house values increase as a result of cheap mortgage rates induced by low inflation rates. When rising energy costs leads to an inflationary spike, home values will begin to sharply decrease. The consequence might be massive consumer default and bankruptcy.

Both Shawki and Camejo emphasized that in a period of deepening economic crisis, it will matter little to the average working person what Peter Coyote or Medea Benjamin wrote in 2004 (who now apparently regrets supporting Nader in 2000). For somebody facing eviction or unemployment, they will remember who defied the TINA political consensus framed by the 2-party system and who stood up for working people, not left-of-center celebrities. This has been the main reason people such people voted for Nader. It is also the challenge to the Green Party, to decide whether it will be a middle-class party that compromises with the billionaire war-makers in both parties or one creating alternatives to the system.

For those who think that the Green Party will be the vehicle for the ultimate social and economic emancipation of the USA, Camejo made it clear that it will be another party more deeply rooted in the working class. However, it would be a big mistake not to get involved with the Greens today, despite its conflicting tendencies. The debate that is going on in the Greens is important for future developments. To further that debate, Camejo announced the formation of a Green Caucus for Democracy and Independence. It is opposed to the Electoral College type rules that allowed a non-entity like David Cobb to become their Presidential candidate. It also insists that the Greens should run *against* both Democrats and Republicans, as was the original mandate.

Last night was the first chance I heard to hear Shawki speak. In comparison to the SWP leaders I remember with some ambivalence, he comes across as a much more modest figure. I suspect that his relative youth in and of itself would have to make him less cocky. In a pitch perhaps to veterans of 1960s type sects like me, he emphasized that it is not inevitable that socialist groups will heap recriminations on critics of the party line. He believed that the ISO was conscious of such problems and would avoid them. My own take on the matter is that this is a question of methodology rather than good intentions.

Shawki had some interesting observations on an ABB-like outlook popping up in Europe, as elements of the left begin to face the same pressure that it faced in the USA. For example, the revolutionary parties in France got 10 percent of the vote the last time it ran a united left ticket. Now some party leaders are questioning that approach. They are weighing the possibility of throwing their support behind the SP on a “lesser evil” basis. Although Shawki did not mention any names, I was convinced he was speaking of Trotskyist figures deeply embedded in academia like Daniel Bensaid. In Italy, the CP/Refoundation made it a point to reject the Olive Tree coalition of left and bourgeois parties a couple of years ago. Now it has decided to embrace such a coalition.

As the extreme left lowers its profile and as the left-center and traditional right parties continue to attack the living standards of working people, it is inevitable that the extreme right parties will begin to gain in influence as they use radical sounding demagogy. Although we are obviously not in as extreme a crisis as in the 1930s, this kind of “lesser evil” logic has been historically proven to lead to the triumph of fascism. It is incumbent on radicals to avoid this temptation and speak up as forcibly and as visibly as possible for a class alternative to capitalist politicians and programs.


  1. The Granddaddy of all litmus tests, one that does not seperate those on the left from those on the right, but one that sepetates the humane from the SOBs, is to support the closeing of all US military installations overseas and to make large cuts in military spending. One does not have to support abolishing the US military all together even though the chances of an attack on the US by a foreign country are nil. NO if the US military were to be completely abolished it is possible that some evil group of SOBs will simple try to start a new one in place of the old one. Any person who is a competent judge of history should also recognize that the first step to destroying a republic and creating an empire is to build a blue water navy. The construction of a blue water navy is an even more telling sign than creating a standing army which is also a terrible milestone.
    The Grandmother of all litmus tests, one that DOES seperate those on the right from those on the left, is not how much of the economy one thinks should be nationalized, it is how much of a MAXIMUM income (wages and interest, and profits from the sale of stocks, bonds, and property and gambling profits, and gifts) that any person or family could earn in a year, and the closely related question of how much one can inherit in a lifetime.
    The Godfather of all litmus tests, one that seperates the polictically sane from the political rabid are those who support the Palestinians against the Israelis.
    The Godmother of all ltmus tests one that seperates those who have discernment from those who are metaphorically blind is those who believe that global warming is a threat to mankind as opposed to those who do not.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — February 4, 2017 @ 7:29 pm

  2. I did not include that figure on purpose. But I have written about it else ware

    Comment by Curt Kastens — February 4, 2017 @ 7:31 pm

  3. The mother of all litmus tests which seperates those who have at least half a brain from those that are really dumb is to support the abolition of the Federal Reserve.
    The father of all litmus tests which seperates those who are really funny from those who are dull is to support making Persian the national language. I do mean of the USA not Turkey.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — February 7, 2017 @ 8:50 pm

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