Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 15, 2007

Against Sectarianism

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,socialism — louisproyect @ 4:48 pm

Thanks first of all to Dayne Goodwin who sent me a copy of Peter Camejo’s “Against Sectarianism” that he stumbled across in his archives. To my knowledge, this key document has never been put up on the Internet, so this morning I scanned it in to make it available at: http://www.marxmail.org/camejo.html. I invite comrades from the MIA to include it there as well because of its importance.

Additionally, I want to explain why this article was important to me.

I resigned from the SWP in December 1978 after an abortive attempt to get an industrial job in Kansas City. I was exhausted by what amounted to a wild goose chase and felt that it was up to younger and more energetic comrades to “make the turn” to industry. My intention was to return to NYC, get back into computer programming and try to become a novelist.

Like most SWP’ers who dropped out around this period (our numbers were legion), I had no big political differences. I was skeptical about the turn toward industry, which seemed to be based on an overprojection of the mood of the American working class, but never thought it was worth questioning inside the party for fear of being labeled a petty-bourgeois. Indeed, I made a point of getting up at a big city-wide meeting just before leaving for Kansas City to announce that I was going to go into industry because the opportunities were so great, or some such bullshit to curry favor with party leaders who needed continuous reaffirmation from the ranks.

Back in New York City, I tried to put politics behind me but could not get my mind off Central America. By 1981, things were heating up in El Salvador to such an extent that any sentient radical, including me, could hardly ignore it. The Militant newspaper had ample coverage on the region, but I never got the sense that the SWP was actively involved with the burgeoning movement to oppose American intervention. I had nagging doubts about what seemed like workerist sectarianism, but was willing to give the party the benefit of the doubt.

However, a July 24, 1983 NY Times article by Leslie Gelb titled “The Boiling Point: White House Puts Central America on a Front Burner” was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The article compared the situation in Central America to Vietnam and concluded that Reagan was about to escalate American involvement. Since Gelb was one of those NY Timesmen who shuttled back and forth from the paper to top government posts, he spoke with some authority. I compared the sense of urgency conveyed by Gelb’s article to the routinism of the Militant, which seemed far more excited by trade union struggles for wage increases, and concluded that something was deeply wrong. I telephoned an old friend from the SWP and asked what was wrong with the party. Why was it ignoring such an important struggle? He replied that the party was emphasizing trade union struggles since workers had the power to end war and the capitalist system, which bred war. Upon hearing this sectarian idiocy from somebody who I deeply respected, I felt like the main character in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as he heard one or another old friend channeling the thoughts of the space invaders that had taken control of their body. Except in this case the space invaders were from the Spartacist League, not the planet Mars.

I walked around in a daze for a week or so trying to figure out what was wrong. Just by coincidence, I ran into Ray Markey at a pizza parlor across the street from my building. Ray was an SWP member, a leader of the librarian’s union in New York and a straight shooter. Without having any idea of what he thought about any of these questions, I asked him to explain why the SWP was abstaining from the Central America fight. He said that he wanted me to read something that might help. That was Peter’s “Against Sectarianism”.

I should add that I was open to other interpretations of what was going on. I asked Ray for the phone number of Les Evans, an SWP leader who was part of a faction that wanted to reorient the SWP back to the kind of orthodox Trotskyism that appeared to work so well in the past. This meant defending the theory of the Permanent Revolution and other ideas that the party was founded on. SWP leader Jack Barnes had spent the better part of the early 1980s trying to reconfigure the SWP as some kind of Castroite formation. As I would eventually figure out (with Camejo’s help), the SWP and the Cuban Communist Party had virtually nothing in common.

I made up my mind that Camejo was correct and began working with him to build a new Marxist organization in the U.S. that could incorporate the insights of the Cuban CP, the FSLN in Nicaragua and other such organizations that had developed mass working-class followings. This meant launching something called the North Star Network, which eventually got folded into a larger initiative that included ex-members of Line of March, a Maoist group that had reached conclusions similar to our own.

Eventually Peter discovered that the Green Party was the best outlet for his thinking on building a new left. I largely agree with him on this but I have never joined the Green Party myself, preferring to concentrate my energy on writing and moderating the Marxism mailing list, which obviously incorporates my ideas about left unity.

I had a falling out with Peter in 1987 over some money questions. I would only say as a word of advice that you should never allow a comrade to become your stockbroker!

In 2004, I reconciled with Peter because I felt that the work he was doing with the Greens superseded any personal issues I had with him in the past. We are not really in contact at this point, although I am sure that he is aware of the positive things I have said on the Internet about his work with the Greens. As most of you are probably aware, Peter developed Lymphoma recently. Considering his service to the left over a nearly half-century period and his decency as a human being, he deserves a full recovery and many healthy years in the future.

8 Comments »

  1. Thanks for posting this, Louis. I’d heard a lot about this document but never actually seen it. It should repay a more leisurely reading.

    Wasn’t it Jim Percy who said that if you make the turn permanent you just go round in circles?

    Comment by SplinteredSunrise — February 16, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  2. […] Unrepentant Marxist explains what it meant to him, both then and […]

    Pingback by Politics in the Zeros_archi »Blog Archive » Peter Camejo: Against Sectarianism — February 22, 2007 @ 8:15 am

  3. Stockbroker?! Tell me you’re joking.

    Comment by Doug — August 16, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  4. Nope, Peter Camejo is a pretty high networth after his years with Prudential invetsments and still is CEO of at least on capital investment project. From his years with Progressive Asset Management Inc see tv coverage of his CA race

    “Peter Miguel Camejo is a financial investment advisor. He is chair and co-founder of Progressive Asset Management Inc., a nationwide company that promotes socially responsible investments.” http://ktvu.azonis.com/bio_camejo.php

    Here’s an SEC report outlinging his percentage of shares when he was CEO of “Progressive” Asset Management. http://sec.edgar-online.com/2002/02/05/0000950149-02-000188/Section3.asp

    If you simply google words together like “capital”, “stock”, “shares” together with his name you can come up with all kinds of information on how Camejo became really considerably well off working several CEO gigs he’s held over the years and other jobs in the investment and finance industry including working as a “financial investment advisor”.

    I’ve worked in brokerage but never could bring myself to sell the stuff. I processed trades and was one of the worker bees who brokers call to place trades and did post close composite trades on third party managed mutual funds for awhile so I could work on political campaigns during the day and work at night.

    Personally my investments, such as they are, are in coop bonds used to fund loans to worker, consumer, and housing coops. the interest rates aren’t bad compared to the broader market and I feel a heck of a lot better about myself.

    Comment by David Strand — January 7, 2008 @ 6:22 am

  5. I’m wondering if this is the same Les Evans who has been the city manager of Rancho Palos Verdes for the last ten years; I think I read somewhere circa 1997 that he was living in this area and going to grad school.

    Comment by Sue Sponte — February 3, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

  6. The Les (he now goes by Leslie) Evans who was in the SWP etc did return to LA in 1982, was expelled in 1983 along with a bunch of other people, went to grad school at UCLA and earned an MA in the mid 80’s, worked at UCLA until 2005 when he retired, but has never had anything to do with Rancho Palos Verdes. And he and I have been married for 24 years.

    Comment by Jennifer Charnofsky — April 25, 2008 @ 1:13 am

  7. […] had written something that would answer my questions. It was titled appropriately enough “Against Sectarianism“. He would send me a copy even though that broke party rules. Ray understood that he would be […]

    Pingback by Reflections on Peter Camejo (1939-2008) « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 13, 2008 @ 8:57 pm

  8. A belated comment (2021)
    After years of following only occasionally the discussion on the balance sheet of the SWP, and a return to the issue

    Thanks to Dayne Goodwin for recounting his personal experience in the antiwar movement, YSA and SWP from about 1968 to 1983, and for his explanations about Peter Camejo.

    I was particularly interested in the 1970-77 period. I get the impression that Dayne was very aware and sensitive to the criticisms raised by the Proletarian Orientation Tendency, and its undemocratic treatment. The comments by Robert Vernon are insightful. But I found very little comment on the formation of the International Majority Supporters’ caucus, the Internationalist Tendency of the SWP, and the whole debate in the Fourth International between the LTF and IMT between about 1972 and 1977. I am trying to figure out why this is the case. Perhaps Dayne’s lesser involvement in the YSA-SWP, the decline of the antiwar movement, Dayne’s desire to go back to Utah and his jobs, made it more difficult or less interesting for him to follow the debate. But he is not alone. More generally why were a large number of SWP members and sympathizers not very impacted by the hundreds of internal bulletins, pre-convention discussion meetings, trips abroad and report back events, new journals (Perspectivva Mundial), organizational measures that seemed to absorb the party from 1973 to 1974 and decreasingly until 1977. There was the end of the war and the draft, the coup in Chile, Cointelpro and PRDF, the resignation of Nixon, the rise of affirmative action measures, the emergence of the gay liberation movement.

    Comment by John Barzman — June 2, 2021 @ 9:04 am


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