Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 21, 2012

Cult leaders reward themselves handsomely

Filed under: cults,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 5:07 pm

From the Socialist Workers Party 2011 tax records (found on guidestar.org under the Anchor Foundation).

Screen shot 2012-12-21 at 12.01.19 PM


  1. I still would like to see some critical thought on why people like Camejo, Shepherd, et al., stayed in the SWP during the 70s when the opportunism and sectarianism of the group was woefully obvious. In the absence of such an analysis, all the shit that is being published about Barnes & Co. is sensation mongering.

    Why were people who are now rightfully engaged in criticism of the SWP so fucking blind back them? Without an analysis of the method by which they sustained themselves, all that is being done is reiterating what most people on the Left already knew decades ago.

    Comment by David Berger — December 21, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

  2. David, the answer to this is quite simple. Through most of the 1970s the group was making headway, so much so that when the NY Times Sunday Magazine assigned Walter and Miriam Schneir to write an article on the party, the article was rejected because it was too favorable. It ended up being published in the Nation. In terms of “opportunism”, I am at a loss to understand what you are driving at. For me the term is generally applied to rightward moving currents, particularly those that adapt to the Democratic Party as most Maoist groups from back then were doing. If you mean that the SWP was “taking opportunities” to work in the student movement, etc., then I think we have a semantic difference. (Probably political as well.) Finally, Peter was unlike anybody in the SWP leadership. He was not a “team player”. He was a true leader. Mostly he was like a butterfly trying to break out of an iron cocoon. Eventually the cocoon was broken by the party leadership itself that expelled him.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 21, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

  3. Frankly, Louis, in terms of the SWP in the 70s and 80s, what headway? What significant work in the “student movement”? The student movement was dead by the early 70s. What is significant about the SWP was that it completely missed the labor insurgency of the early and middle 70s. By the time it made its turn to the working class, in the late 70s, it was way too late.

    As to Camejo, I have the advantage of having interacted with him all through the 60s. We were on a first-name basis although we did not know each personally. He was part of the process of whatever went wrong in the SWP. Until you and others see the fatal weaknesses in him and those like him, important political conclusions will be missed. Specifically, Camejo was present in the SWP when it abandoned any pretenses at all of working in the working class in the late 60s when opportunities for such work were just opening up.

    Comment by RED DAVE — December 21, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

  4. not to defend the swp, or Jack and Mary-Alice, but I’ve wondered if this is just a way for them to kick-back money from Anchor (where does Anchor get its income?) to the SWP. Any thoughts?

    Comment by D. Walters — December 21, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

  5. What is significant about the SWP was that it completely missed the labor insurgency of the early and middle 70s. By the time it made its turn to the working class, in the late 70s, it was way too late.

    What insurgency are you talking about? The hard truth is that not a single group that colonized the working class recruited any genuine workers. The groups that focused on such activity like the International Socialists and some of the Maoists did good work but–let’s not kid ourselves–the coal miners, truck drivers, auto workers, et al, were not going to join a “Marxist-Leninist” sect. That is why Peter was instinctively looking for a broader framework like the Greens. About 5 years ago I was on a Metronorth train. Sitting across the aisle were a group of UPS workers talking about how much they dug Ralph Nader. In fact that is what ordinary workers would be likely to join, something loosely-knit like the Greens, not some “disciplined” cadre organization that forced them to go to meetings 3 times a week, sell newspapers, and all the rest of the bullshit.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 21, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

  6. David, Jack and Mary-Alice live at the Chelsmore. Go check it out: http://www.chelsmore.com/. This is exactly what their money goes for, fancy apartments, fine restaurants, and all the rest.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 21, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

  7. Nice digs. Guess the money goes to the $3,000/month rent.

    Comment by D. Walters — December 21, 2012 @ 10:22 pm

  8. Some are more equal than others ?

    Comment by purple — December 21, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

  9. Terrific research.
    This is the Barnes the majority of the Party loved.
    George Novack thought he was the next Lenin.
    More like the next Bernie Madoff.
    That skunk never changed his stripes.

    Comment by ralph levitt — December 22, 2012 @ 2:41 am

  10. ” fancy apartments, fine restaurants, and all the rest.”

    Nothing is too good for the working class.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — December 22, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

  11. Pete and Barry were a fine leadership team.
    Pete should have been the primary public voice and an essential part of the Party
    leadership. That would have assuaged his ego and he would have remained an asset.
    Barry was the obvious successor to Dobbs.
    Along came Barnes—–and the rest is history—-or infamy.
    Give the devil his due.
    Jack was a premier recruiter and a fine speaker before a small audience.
    But his record was not on the level of Pete and Barry.
    Jack was never, ever, going to function as part of a leadership team.
    There could be no balance. For Jack it was “my way or the highway.”
    And he destroyed the SWP.
    Why didn’t more people see it?
    They didn’t want to—-it was too painful.
    But a number of us saw it from the beginning.
    It was painful for us too. You wanted to believe in Jack. He was a terrific guy—–and
    even likeable. But you couldn’t be blind. The negatives stood out sharply.
    And for the failure to see and recognize, the Party paid a grim price. The death penalty.

    Comment by ralph levitt — December 22, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  12. I have a question.
    We in Bloomington always thought we were the first to figure out Jack Barnes.
    Now I’m not positive.
    Were there comrades in Twin Cities who saw what we saw? Maybe Harry DeBoer?
    Ray Dunne? Others?
    Are there any people from the old days in Twin Cities who can comment on this?
    One reason I ask this is as follows. Larry Trainor jumped in pretty quick. He certainly
    liked Tormey and Chase but that couldn’t have been enough.
    Was he in touch with DeBoer or someone else from Mpls. who clued him in and
    confirmed his suspicions?
    I could be wrong but Jack started in Minnesota and he hasn’t changed since then
    ————–over 50 years.

    Comment by ralph levitt — December 22, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

  13. There’s the old story that some old hat ran into James Cannon outside of a meeting and asked why he had gone along with the “turn to Cuba”, abandonment of the working class, Jack Barnes at the helm, etc., to which he replied “the party pays my bills.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s probably essentially the key for a lot of the older militants who were either financially or at least culturally reliant on the party after being 100% dedicated it for so long.

    “Through most of the 1970s the group was making headway, so much so that when the NY Times Sunday Magazine assigned Walter and Miriam Schneir to write an article on the party, the article was rejected because it was too favorable. It ended up being published in the Nation.”

    Remember the title of that article by any chance? I’d love to dig it up online.

    BTW, as Louis can surely tell you, $3000 a month actually isn’t that much for an apartment in NYC today. That’s about average. Of course “the rent is too damn high”.

    Comment by redmink — December 22, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

  14. The Schneirs’ article is here:

    Click to access schneir_swp.pdf

    Comment by louisproyect — December 22, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  15. Thanks.

    I found a link to at least one other person who has the tale I recounted:

    “The SWP’s Pathfinder Press was also a profitable enterprise … for Barnes and Waters. If you ever wondered why their books and publications were so expensive (back in the early 1990s, a copy of The Militant would cost $1.50!), it was because nearly all of the profits were diverted into the ‘non-profit’ Anchor Foundation (a tax-deductible donation, I might add), which was little more than a means of funneling Pathfinder money to Barnes and Waters, who drew a salary from the group. At the same time, the SWP had (still has, I believe) a policy of shifting its members from industry to industry, depending on what they feel is the most radical at any given moment. For example, the SWP had a lot of members in the 1980s and 1990s who worked in auto in Detroit, but they were all (except those who ended up quitting) forced to leave those jobs and become meatpackers (a minimum-wage job), either locally or in some other city. This kind of shifting of members would make them economically dependent on the Party for their survival, which means they wouldn’t dare speak out against Barnes and Waters, lest they be thrown out on the street (literally).

    “We can rightly call this the ‘Cannon Plan’, since Jim Cannon was one of the first to experience it, in the years before his death in 1974. I remember a veteran Trotskyist (I think he was a Spartacist) telling me a story of when he was paper-selling outside of a Militant Labor Forum in Los Angeles in the late-1960s or early-1970s, and running into Cannon as he was coming in. He started asking Cannon how he could go along with the SWP’s revision of their past politics, their tailing of Castro and reunification with the Pabloites. Cannon’s only reply was, ‘They own my house,’ and he walked inside. A pathetic end to a tragic process, if there ever was one.”


    Take it for what it’s worth. I don’t know how to confirm or deny it.

    I’m really interested in this “non profit” stuff. I don’t know it works, but it seems to be useful. You’ve got the SWP and their unclear (to me at least) connection with this “Anchor Foundation.” The only thing I can ever track down is that this foundation published James Cannon’s “Founding of the Socialist Workers Party” in 1982.

    And then you’ve got the ISO and it’s “non-profit” Haymarket Books and “non-profit” Center for Economic Research and Social Change. Are there more?

    How exactly does one “funnel” money in and out of this sort of organization? What exactly makes it non-profit? I would think the federal government would be looking at socialist groups with a microscope, so I guess it’s all legal. I would love to know how exactly this works (not just speculation, but a real explanation). Anyone have a clue?

    Comment by redmink — December 22, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

  16. Barnes has a Secretariat————-beyond laughable.
    But to turn out so much material, Proyect must have a secretariat.
    Or he lives in another dimension, with a 72 hour day.

    Comment by ralph levitt — December 22, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

  17. There are apparently tax benefits to setting up these non-profits. Not faulting the SWP or ISO for doing it. One wonders why the third, fourth and Fifth bananas in the SWP aren’t compensated also if it’s a racket to funnel money to the SWP instead of line Jack’s and MA’s pockets. MA Waters at least is independently wealthy so I wonder what she needs a salary for. Jacko was living at the Chelsmore as of a few years ago but I’m not sure now. Waters has a nice place, with “concierge service,” in Battery Park City. Not to mention her pied a terre in a tony neighborhood of San Francisco.

    I don’t believe that story about Cannon. I don’t think he thought much of the Sparts.

    Comment by David Altman — December 22, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

  18. P.S. Since presumably the ISO’s foundations cited above also must file public tax returns, it would be interesting to see how much their officers are paid. Anyone have the time or inclination to research?

    Comment by David Altman — December 22, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

  19. You can see the federal tax statements for ISO’s CERSC (which owns Haymarket Books) here: http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2011/364/400/2011-364400754-0864baa7-F.pdf

    The only paid employee listed is Ahmed Sehrawy who was compensated $41,000 + benefits in 2011.

    Comment by socialistbicycle — December 22, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

  20. I was a member of the Twin Cities branch of the SWP from 1968 to 1972. I knew Harry and Pauline, Jake, Ray, and others. I don’t recall any of them commenting on the Barnes leadership in my presence. I am grateful to them, to Charlie and Helen, Winnie and Paul, and others, for their loyalty to the political tradition and their willingness to pass it along. My view is that the organizational tradition, which goes back to the Comintern, was fatally in error. This fostered a fatal split in the SP, followed by multiple disastrous splits among communists after the founding of the CI.

    Difficult as it is, the need is to build a heterogeneous, not homogeneous, political party. Many political and organizational lessons from the SWP experience, including major strengths of the SWP, will be useful in rebuilding. In my view, the need is to rebuilt the SP of the Debs period, not just the SWP of the Cannon period. Within a broader socialist movement, a trend brought together by revolutionary theory can develop in a healthy way.

    I’m not too interested in the details of the current SWP. Where Jack Barnes and Mary Alice Waters live doesn’t interest me. They have been bypassed. Will the rest of that party be bypassed or will it revive in some form?

    My choice is to belong to the SP. I look to Socialist Action, Solidarity, Socialist Alternative, and the ISO as well. These groups will attract more people as they begin to relate to each other in positive ways.

    David Keil, dmkeil@gmail.com

    Comment by David Keil — December 24, 2012 @ 3:11 am

  21. @redmink: New York State charters non-profit corporations, and they can’t pass out money via dividends to owners. But they can pay people very good money via W-2 salaries and 1099 miscellaneous income, as well as benefits like a housing allowance, a car and driver, and retirement plan contributions. Any enterprising organization inevitably has a parallel non-profit corporation with, ideally, a tax exemption letter from the IRS. Guidestar’s a great way to follow the money for non-profits and tax-exempts and, last I knew, the US Department of Labor had good online resources for finding out who gets money from a labor union.

    Comment by townsend.harris@verizon.net — December 27, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

  22. Btw, it should be obvious to all that the $95,000 that Barnes and Waters get from the Anchor Foundation is most likely not their entire income. SWP fulltimers get paid out of the party’s books so it is conceivable that they are getting another $30,000 or so as officers of the SWP. I can’t say what party leaders get nowadays but that might be about right.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 27, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

  23. I posted a comment on this article here: http://trotskyschildren.blogspot.com/2012/12/paying-pastors.html

    Comment by Dan King — December 27, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

  24. Here is another take on whether or not the SWP is a cult: http://trotskyschildren.blogspot.com/2012/12/is-swp-cult.html

    Comment by Dan King — December 30, 2012 @ 2:01 am

  25. Plz note that Dan King is a fucking Republican and a Reagan supporter. Take anything he says with a large glass of vodka. And don’t turn your back on him.

    Frankly, fuck you Dan. Eat shit and die.

    Comment by RED DAVE — December 30, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

  26. Hold on. Why the FUCK was/is CESR investing in Caterkiller?? 86 shares for fuck’s sake??

    Comment by Eva — January 2, 2013 @ 7:51 am

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