Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 22, 2014

Lynn Henderson on Nat Weinstein’s political legacy

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 1:57 am

Nat Weinstein 1924 – 2014
His Political Legacy
By Lynn Henderson

I’ve known Nat a long time and I get the feeling that a lot of people here today also knew Nat a long time. I was trying to think back when Nat recruited me to the Socialist Workers Party. It was in 1960, 53-54 years ago. To tell the truth it’s a little scary when I think about how long ago that was.

I was in New York City as a graduate student at the New School for Social Research. I went there because I had the impression that it was a progressive, kind of liberal, even radical institution. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was staffed by professorial types who had been reactionary social democrats in their flaming youths and their politics had continuously gone south since then. While there, I quickly developed a stomach ulcer and every class I went to my ulcer got worse. As bad as their politics were and even though I considered my self some kind of socialist and Marxist, I just didn’t have the political and intellectual tools at the time to take these people on. It drove me crazy.

My wife at the time, Mary Henderson and I, just by dumb luck, had gotten a rent-controlled apartment right in the heart of Greenwich Village on 8th Street between 5th and 6th avenues, a short half a block north of Washington Square. I think we paid $87.50 a month rent. It was a top floor, four-story walk up but we were young so we didn’t mind that. One day I’m sitting in the apartment, nursing my ulcer, being more frustrated than ever and I hear something and look out the window and across the street, where if you know New York was the old 8th Street Bookstore on the corner of MacDougal St. was a socialist street corner meeting taking place. I looked down and there were about 20-25 people gathered around it listening to the speaker so I scurried down there and there were about five or six members of the Socialist Workers Party, some of them were selling the Militant, others were talking to people in the crowd and the speaker standing on a ladder for a platform was Nat Weinstein. I was enthralled with this thing.

I had never heard of the Socialist Workers Party; never saw anybody ever holding a street corner meeting on socialist ideas. There were questions and answers going on with the audience too, and there was one guy there that I could tell immediately was a exact clone of the professorial types I was dealing with at the New School. He had a tweed jacket on, with suede patches on the elbows and was puffing on a pipe. Nat was making remarks on the role of U.S. imperialism at the time and this guy comments, “Well, you know, colonialism wasn’t all bad” he says, “The British empire introduced a modern educational system into India, they introduced parliamentary democracy into India and all this was very helpful in India’s subsequence independence, blah – blah – blah. Well, Nat took him on and just politically devastated him, not in a mean way, but he was able to answer him and make him look ridiculous. And not only did he make this guy look ridiculous, but I could tell that he was winning over numbers of the people in the crowd, he was having an impact on them. I thought, “Wow”, these are people that have the political tools to answer phonies like this guy. I could feel, or at least I thought I could feel, a sharp reduction in the acid that was usually flowing down onto my stomach ulcer. I thought, I’ve got to know more about this. I was really kind of torn. I wanted the meeting to go on so I could learn more from the speakers and I also wanted it to end so I could buttonhole them and learn more about them, who they were and how I could learn from the things they were talking about and acquire the political skills they were demonstrating.

Well, needless to say, within weeks I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. I never went back to the New School for Social Research, as a matter of fact I ended up in the next weeks going to meetings that Nat organized in Brooklyn where he lived, I think it was called the Brooklyn Educational League. It was a meeting of a small number of Black workers, kind of a socialist discussion club the core of which were the Franklin brothers who if you were around the New York SWP at that time you might remember. One of the Franklin brothers was an ex-prize fighter who was a member of the SWP. I learned more in those four or five meetings that I attended every week for a month or so than I learned in my whole previous political education. So that’s how Nat Weinstein recruited me to the Socialist Workers Party.

Nat, even at that time, was a leading worker activist in the SWP; I think he was already on the National Committee. He was part of a thin layer of workers that were recruited toward the end of World War II, really the last layer to be recruited to the SWP directly out of the working class. He was a merchant seaman and was recruited by an SWP shipmate while working a ship to Venezuela. As a worker activist he was a leader and an activist in all the events that were going on and would continue to develop in the emerging civil rights movement. He was a defender of Robert Williams and Malcolm X, and was a defender of Black Nationalism. He was instrumental in having Malcolm speak at an SWP forum at the New York branch headquarters. The SWP was the only organization on the left that had an appreciation of Black Nationalism. Trotsky in meetings with SWP leaders during his exile in Mexico had educated the party on the revolutionary nature of the Black Nationalist movement and had predicted its re-emergence.

Nat was also a defender of the Cuban Revolution and a union activist in the painters union in New York City. That’s how he ended up in San Francisco. He came out here because there was a fight in the painters union in San Francisco against the conservative bureaucracy and Nat came out to participate in that.

As significant as Nat’s role was as a leading worker activist in all these areas, Nat’s most important historical contribution, in my opinion, was later on. It was leading the fight against the political and programmatic degeneration in the SWP that was subsequently and surreptitiously organized by Jack Barnes. Nat emerged as the principal leader in that fight. In some ways this is surprising. There were others in the Fourth International and the SWP that certainly seemed to have more impressive intellectual and theoretical credentials for leading that fight, but they did not. It was this worker activist, Nat Weinstein, who recognized, analyzed and consciously organized against the break with the SWP’s political program and the core programmatic acquisitions that Barnes was determined to jettison. These included abandoning Trotsky’s concept of Permanent Revolution; abandoning the transitional program, as embodied in the founding document of the Fourth International; and rejecting the 1928 Program of the Left Opposition that launched the fight against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Barnes had come to the conclusion that all of these fundamental positions of the Fourth International and SWP were fatally flawed and from their inception anti-Leninist. He didn’t present his ideas for democratic discussion in the party but rather kept quiet about them until he could prepare an organizational terror campaign after which they would be unilaterally imposed.

It was Nat Weinstein then who authored the key programmatic and theoretical documents answering the new Barnes politics, and defending the program of revolutionary socialism. He played the key role. Barry Sheppard, who is here, not too long ago wrote a two volume work documenting his time in the SWP and the history he went through. I believe it’s a valuable two volumes and anybody here who hasn’t read it and wants to know about the history of this period, I encourage you to read it. The first volume dealt with the SWP before the organizational degeneration and in general is an excellent account reminding us of how valuable the healthy SWP was in intervening in the class struggle and moving it forward.

The second volume deals with the organizational degeneration of the SWP. Sheppard gives us an insider’s look, often in horrific detail, of the organizational degeneration carried out under Barnes direction. In this he is uniquely qualified, functioning for most of the period as Barnes chief organizational enforcer. Expressing what I believe is sincere regret, he details the pressure that led him personally, step by step, into playing this role. Many devoted and talented political activists went through the trauma of the SWP’s degeneration. Some were expelled, some became demoralized and resigned, others just drifted away. Many were completely disoriented by the experience. For many, what happened and how it happened remains a political mystery. To his credit Barry Sheppard survived that experience still defending today the founding program of the Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International – that is defending Marxism-Leninism.

Where Sheppard’s account comes up short is explaining the political degeneration of Barnes and subsequently the SWP. One thing that we were always taught in the healthy SWP was that political questions come first; organizational questions are secondary and flow from the more fundamental political questions. Sheppard’s narrative implies that the primary factor in the SWP’s degeneration was a sudden (and essentially unexplained) personality change in Jack Barnes. Barnes inexplicably began functioning as a “star”, as a “one man band” and morphed into a cult leader.
The rise of the so-called “Barnes cult” was not the result of some new personality shift, rather it was the result of a fundamental shift in his political views Having secretly reached sweeping political conclusions, which in reality represented a rejection of the historic program of the SWP and the Fourth International, Barnes concluded, not illogically, that he had little chance of reshaping the party in this completely new political direction by openly presenting his views and engaging in a democratic political discussion of them. He consciously chose a different course. Barnes deliberately avoided openly expressing or debating his new views in the party but instead opted for changing the party through organizational intimidation and expulsions.

One of the first manifestations of Barnes’ new politics was his announcement for a turn to industry, which in its initial presentation sounded pretty good. But very quickly this turn to industry morphed into an absolutely bazaar policy called “talking socialism”. One thing the SWP had a long and successful history at was doing trade union work. In the 1930’s they had an influence in the Auto-Lite strike in Toledo and in the San Francisco general strike, and played the key leadership role in the Minneapolis Teamsters strike by applying the transitional program in a revolutionary way in the union movement. All of that was rejected by Barnes, who proposed instead a policy of going into the unions but not engaging in the struggles of the unions, not engaging in a struggle against the conservative class collaborationist bureaucracies, but going in as kind of socialist missionaries to “talk socialism”. It was a disastrous policy. It isolated those members who actually carried the line out and made them appear, in the eyes of healthy union members, like some kind of Jehovah Witness weirdoes. Other members, who maybe were a little more perceptive, went in and while they continued to support the line and vote for the line and even attack anyone who criticized the “talk socialism” line didn’t actually carry it out in their unions because they knew it would make them look like jerks.

This had a devastating effect on the membership. You see, there is nothing more demoralizing then to play-act at politics, to say and vote for one thing and do another thing. And we challenged that, Nat challenged that in the 1981 convention. At that convention, Nat and I as the two minority NC member’s, presented two documents. I presented (written jointly by Nat and myself) the Minority Trade Union Report and Nat presented the other document, The Transitional Program, The Road Forward. And we took on the “talk socialism” policy. Nat also at that convention, because we could foresee Barnes move toward denouncing and breaking with Permanent Revolution — so Nat posed to the Barnes steering committee the question, do you still support Permanent Revolution? Well you know the whole Presiding Committee got up and said, Oh yeah. As a matter of fact I think they were honest in this because Barnes had not yet told them that Permanent Revolution was not going to be any longer a part of the program of the Socialist Workers Party. And when Barnes, not very long after that, did reveal that Permanent Revolution was anti-Leninist from top to bottom, none of these people raised any objections, and from taking the position of saying that it was silly to say they were breaking with Permanent Revolution they flipped over completely.
What then followed was a long series of trials and expulsions of members, and not just people who had minority views. Most of the people that eventually were expelled in these trials didn’t directly express any minority views; they were expelled for completely arbitrary and sometimes silly reasons. Barnes was doing that because he wanted to create an atmosphere in which you could be expelled at any time for all kinds of reasons, if you showed any kind of opposition to the Barnes regime, no matter what it was.

The most sweeping organizational move Barnes made was then in 1983, as the 1983 pre-convention discussion period was to begin, he canceled the party convention. This was a direct violation of the SWP constitution which required a convention of the party every two years. I think he did this for two reasons. One, even though the minorities had been expelled and even though he had carried out this suppression of any workers democracy in the party, he was still afraid to have a convention in which any of the political questions could come up for a discussion and a vote. So that was one reason, but there was another reason. I think Barnes wanted to test the membership that was left in the party. Would they accept this blatantly illegal organizational move without any opposition? The test proved positive for him. Not one person got up and objected to the cancellation of the 1983 party convention which was in direct violation of the SWP constitution. Barnes then finally felt free to reveal his new political positions which ipso facto would be the party’s new political program. Even then these were not presented to the party for a vote by the party but rather published as two articles in a public magazine the New International — Their Trotsky and Ours: Communist Continuity Today, in the Fall 1983 issue; under Jack Barnes’ name, and The Workers and Farmers’ Government: A Popular Revolutionary Dictatorship, in the Spring 1984 issue; under Mary-Alice Waters’ name.

You know, the pace and timing of historical events are almost impossible to predict. Marx and Engels, with all their political skills, thought there was a good possibility of decisive socialist revolutions in 1848 in Europe. But they were wrong. While the pace of events and how they actually unfold are very difficult to predict, the re-emergence of a working class radicalization cannot and will not be postponed indefinitely. You can be sure that at some point, we don’t know when, we don’t know how it will emerge, but there will be a reaction in the United States and other countries to what is happening and a working class radicalization in response to that. When that occurs, the ideas that were expressed by Barnes in his rejection of the revolutionary program will play no role, they will be irrelevant, they will be largely forgotten. But Nat’s programmatic and theoretical defense of the revolutionary program will not be irrelevant, will not be forgotten. It will be a part of the rich Marxist heritage available to guide the working class in coming revolutionary struggles. In leading a defense against the Barnes programmatic degeneration, Nat, in my opinion, proved himself to be the most significant worker intellectual of his era. It was not the people who had written big theoretical works on economics and Marxist theory that led this fight. It was this worker activist who took on and wrote the theoretical documents and the political analysis that became the basis of the fight, not just in the United States, but throughout the whole Fourth International against the Barnes attack on the revolutionary program.

So when we celebrate Nat’s life, we are also celebrating how this worker activist magnificently rose to the challenge of a sweeping petty-bourgeois attack on the program of revolutionary socialism and led the fight against it. That is Nat Weinstein’s giant political legacy and it will live on to the benefit of future class struggles for a more humane and truly democratic socialist society.

23 Comments »

  1. <>

    Sounds like a life well lived and an interesting post but this sort of thinking is illustrative of why Trotskyism can’t break beyond being an insular sect.

    Workers will fight when they are forced to by conditions. Workers didn’t fight for communism Marx told them too. Workers fought because capitalism forced them to, Marx just tried to help. Most workers fought without reading a word of Marx and that will continue to be true. No one outside of specially interested academics, ironically the kind named at the New School, will ever look up Nat Weinstein’s contribution to “the rich Marxist heritage”.

    Comment by pram — August 22, 2014 @ 5:23 am

  2. Not to diminish the role of Nat Weinstein and Lynn Henderson in the fight against the Jack Barnes machine, but they were hardly the only leaders of that struggle. Frank Lovell and George Breitman, among many others, also played very important roles.

    Comment by John B. — August 22, 2014 @ 9:42 am

  3. I have great respect for Lynn Henderson but it seems that this appreciation of Nat Weinstein is conditioned by and reflects a sectarian, insular outlook that sees the world revolving around the SWP and its milieu, part of the legacy of what he aptly called elsewhere the “counter culture” sectarian world of groups like the SWP. Thus the internal faction fight within this group in the early 80s, while a significant milestone in its evolution obviously, really isn’t of world historical importance at all or what was politically of import in that period. This is the legacy of too many dissidents in the SWP: the focus on building a rival sect that adheres to the correct dogma, what Hal Draper called the mentality of the “micro-sect”. It is simply another path down the road towards political irrelevancy.

    Comment by Tom Cod — August 23, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

  4. I don’t want to demean Nat’s and Lynn’s lifelong commitment to a better society, either, but “Trotskyism” only seems to have been alive in those few years during the Stalinist purges when the term “Trotskyism” generally represented the non-Stalinist left. Despite some outstanding abilities, Trotsky, himself, possessed an authoritarian personality and viewed others instrumentally–workers and Red Army soldiers as revolutionary tools–and had an impoverished view of the dialectic he defended. He also conducted the first show trial in which he in effect managed to murder the hero of the Baltic Fleet, Admiral Shchatsky (sic).

    Victor Serge remained loyal to Trotsky despite much abuse from him. But here is Serge’s summation of Trotsky’s character, taken from Memoirs of a Revolutionary: “Trotsky would not tolerate any point of view different from his own.” That is one hell of an indictment of a revolutionary “leader” and “theoretician.”

    But thanks again, Lynn, for a lifetime of social commitment, and don’t stop now. My red-green best.

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — August 23, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

  5. Nat Weinstein was a homophobe. He represents the worst of the left who seek control and power and not the interests of all workers. He was close minded and could not relate to open Gay workers. He was sexually uptight and his statements regarding sex revealed he was not open to listen and learn, but to state and project his own ignorance and bigotry. Nat Weinstein was far closer to Stalin then the leftists before their time. The left that challenged power structures and ignorance, was not the left that Weinstein, Barnes and Stalin preferred. Weinstein, Barnes and Stalin were no different and just as uptight about sex, as the Roman Catholic leadership. While I appreciate the exposing of the Jack Barnes Cult, Nat Weinstein was an active supporter of Barnes efforts to remove Gays from membership and involvement in the SWP before 1970 and after the open Gay exclusion policy was rescinded. But Weinstein had wanted to keep that exclusion policy and then was an active supporter of Barnes putting open uppity Gays in their place – which was to politically and personally disrespect both Gay and Lesbian members of the SWP and of all Gay and Lesbians. To ignore homophobia and pretend Weinstein had not made horrible statements about Gays and carried out bad policies, including kicking Gays out of the SWP simply based on “comrades” sexual orientation. I was and am a Gay male laborer of the working class and there are millions more – and for supposed revolutionaries like Weinstein and Barnes to view Gay “comrades” and workers with disrespect and not being even equal as human beings, is something future generations will look as unacceptable, as the racism and sexism of other so called leftists in the past – as definitely flawed individuals – and not really revolutionaries!!

    Comment by John O'Brien — August 24, 2014 @ 5:23 am

  6. John O raises some powerfully accurate points here that have been all too easily ignored until now.

    Whatever his other faults Sam Marcy deserves credit for being the first American Trotskyist leader by a long ways to give a political voice, dignity & the respect that Gay proletarians have always deserved.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 24, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

  7. It is not fair to characterize Nat Weinstein as an anti-gay bigot. He wasn’t. It may be true, like many of his generation, that he held certain prejudices (which I have never seen documented by anyone, other than through hearsay), but it is also true that he was a supporter of gay rights during the last 40 years of his life, at the very least.

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 25, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

  8. My second observation was how odd I found it that Lynn used his eulogy almost exclusively to talk about events that took place 35 years ago in the SWP, and said nothing really about the last decades of his political life. I wasn’t in political solidarity with Nat, other than the fact that we were both socialists, but I respected him none-the-less. I trust there weren’t many young people in attendance (the demographics, you see, are universal), because I can well imagine how perplexed they must (or might) have felt. I joined the YSA in 1974, and as I have commented before, if someone beefed to me about events in the party dating back to 1939 my eyes would have glazed over.

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 25, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

  9. No documentation? John O’Brien just documented his experiences.@ #5 for crying out loud!. In the late 60’s I was less than 10 but I recall the unofficial party leadership’s position on homosexuality was that talk of it should be avoided lest the workers become alienated. Now there was a “turn” to the gays a few years later but it struck me as only half-hearted at first.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 25, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

  10. For those petitioning at the Gates of Heaven, the most important factor is the condition of the soul at the moment of death. Nat was not an anti-gay bigot the second half of his life, despite prejudices he may have had in the first. And blanket statements and garbled memories does not equal the truth. Nor do political differences with a gay member make one anti-gay, even if those differences have to do with the gay rights movement. I could say Eugene Debs like to eat mud pies but that wouldn’t make that true, either.

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 25, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

  11. Keep in mind that John O’Brien, who posted the comment, is unmoved by all the huge advances in Cuba since the nation was treating gays like second-class citizens. His animosity toward Fidel Castro and Nat Weinstein does not square with their respective histories. The problem with the SWP was not homophobia so much as it was sectarianism. When the SWP dipped its big toe into the gay movement in the early 70s, it was just beginning to move in a “workerist” direction. It counterposed the Black and Latino movement to the gay movement because Blacks and Latinos were supposedly more working-class. I suppose this is true to an extent, but who the fuck cares? You orient to people who are in motion against the capitalist system, not those who are the final agents of socialist revolution. As they say, if you mistake the first month of a pregnancy with the final month, you can end up with an abortion.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 25, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

  12. I don’t remember the SWP counter-posing the gay rights movement with, for example, the Black liberation movement, but I do remember that the party pointed out that the latter had more social weight than the former, a political difference which, over the years, lead some with bad memories and bad politics to say that the SWP and it’s leadership were anti-gay, which, as Louis points out, they were not. And it is interesting to note that the rulers have more or less thrown in the towel when it comes to gay rights, which is, of course, a huge victory for the working and middle-class people who forced their hand. They have not made the same concession to African-Americans or women and they have no plans to do so in the future.

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 25, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

  13. There is ample documentation on Nat Weinstein’s homophobia and unfortunately others among the SWP/YSA leadership . The recent well researched work by Christopher Phelps that was published in 2013 by the Labor and Working Class History Association Vol. Ten Issue Four: The Closet in the Party: The Young Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Workers Party and homosexuality 1962 – 1970. This work documents the history. Like most bigots, people try to deny that they were, Sadly instead of admitting their bigotry, I have heard for years the SWP/YSA members deny they never had bigoted policies/practices towards Gays and Lesbians or such prominent vocal bigots as Nat Weinstein “really never were” as written in various apologists ways in this current discussion. Efforts to try and re-write history and deny such homophobia – are themselves homophobic – or ignorant. If Dave The Mate and Louis Proyect are just ignorant, then they should take the time to learn, before challenging myself one of those directly oppressed by the SWP/YSA homophobia and that included Nat Weinstein. What is just as troubling is that Nat Weinstein and I assume by the commentator name: Dave The Mate had connections to the Maritime Industry and Maritime laborers. Naval Maritimine has always had significant numbers of Gays and even some Lesbians, that if either Nat Weinstein, or appears from his name: Dave The Mate,had spent time to learn about this, they might have stopped being so ignorant. But they chose not to – around such excuses “Gays are not important to study their history”.

    History will also judge them unkindly for that. By the way, Fidel Castro in recent times stated his policies on Gays and Lesbians were wrong. Fidel admits that but can Dave The Mate and Louis Proyect? I also object to Louis Proyect stating that I have not not been “moved” by advances (I disagree with his description as huge) in Gay and Lesbian rights in Cuba. I do not need heteros telling me how I feel, especially when they do not know. I welcome the changes but these currently still happening with far more needed, were not done by the U. S.SWP/YSA or Nate Weinstein, Dave The Mate or Louis Proyect. And I would appreciate if Louis stopped siding with the homophobes in Cuba by stating “huge advances” Revolutionaries side with the oppressed workers, including Gays and Lesbians and do not state “huge advances done” when in the middle of an historic struggle by those trying to obtain that in Cuba but still facing much bigotry. The same is true by Dave The Mate in his faulty class analysis of the current status of Gays and Lesbians in the USA and to also deliberately ignore the role of the Gay and Lesbian Community and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement that forced the changes so far – with his stating “a huge victory for the working “and middle class!!” people – besides why needing to add “middle class” instead of just working people? But it is the Gay and Lesbian Communities and Movement they organized that has made the changes. Movements would be recognized by name when discussing what made such changes by Marxists. And I resented then and still do Dave the Mate’s defense of having a “social weight” competition of “what matters” when a real struggle against homophobia and of heterosexism were and are being conducted. The SWP leaders including Nat Weinstein wanted a discussion on “social weight” as a cover to not be involved in that historic Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement at all. Nat Weinstein’s infamous comments during the SWP Convention discussions in the 1970’s (after the Stonewall Rebellion) that “the” working people had no interest or time in sexuality and specifically homosexuality, sums up his views – and sadly much more horrible homophobia came out of the mouth and brain of Nat Weinstein – and no coverup is justified. Those Caucasian Marxists before the 1930’s who defended having Jim Crow racial segregated Socialist Party locals in the USA South, are correctly viewed as racists and/or abetting racism at least. How is the SWP/YSA homophobes to be judged differently? Or is what is being implied here too: that homophobia is not a real problem or concern – and it was alright for Nat Weinstein to hold such views and take part in such wrong polices to discriminate against Gay and Lesbian Marxists and all Gay and Lesbian people.

    Comment by John O'Brien — August 26, 2014 @ 1:49 am

  14. I also object to Louis Proyect stating that I have not not been “moved” by advances (I disagree with his description as huge) in Gay and Lesbian rights in Cuba.

    Too bad. But it is true.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 26, 2014 @ 2:23 am

  15. Louis stop being so insensitive and bigoted – to again tell me what I feel. Only I know what I feel and to what levels and you have not a clue to my views and feelings on the Cuban July 26 Movement, their historic success in coming to power and the policies and yes mistakes made after – and how I view today’s present government and others. But I will be happy to list what I have done around improving the lives and status of all Cubans and in particular Gay and Lesbian Cubans. But you are trying to also defend “the name and reputation of Nat Weinstein a known homophobe. Have you read Christopher Phelps documented research published by Duke University Labor Studiesin Working Class History of the Americas Volume Ten Issue Four? You have never mentioned this document on the Marxist list you moderate, but do mention the same researcher Christopher Phelps on other subjects. Is it you do not want to recognize your own “blindness” in not wanting to deal with challenging homophobia, whether in the U. S. SWP when you were a member or when this arises in Cuba, Nicaragua or recently Syria when last year I raised concerns about the political forces involved from the Salafists and other reactionary forces? You then stated wrongly, that I did not know what I was speaking about and now the obvious should be even considered by yourself, as your not always being “all knowing and right” on LGBT concerns and the political forces involved in Syria (and certainly the case in Cuba and the U. S. SWP too!)

    There is still time Louis to learn and listen from Gay people and stop your heterosexism – and stop trying to re-write history on the “non-homophobia” lies and justification promoted by the Barnes cult – and break from this Stalinist type behavior. Read about in Christopher Phelps researched work the names of actual Gay and Lesbian comrades harmed by the U. S.SWP leaders including by Nat Weinstein. Think about and learn from and stop standing still to prevent change and please get on the correct side of history and stop denying your own limitations. Those who say thy know it all – actually reveal how very little they know. You do not know what I feel and you should stop stating that, since it reveals you are ignorant – and I have a higher respect for you than that, please!

    Comment by John O'Brien — August 26, 2014 @ 3:39 am

  16. Right, and 1962-1970 was, if my calculations are correct, between 52 and 44 years ago, when I was 6 and 14 years old respectively, and when 65% of the people walking the earth today had not yet been born. And like I said, members of the socialist movement (some, not all), to varying degrees had prejudices against homosexuality prior to the rise of the powerful gay rights movement that emerged in earnest beginning in 1969. That’s what a movement does, it raises consciousness, in this case much in the same way the women’s movement raised consciousness, even among working-class revolutionaries like Nat Weinstein and with members of a revolutionary party. Fortunately my political generation, and the one before me represented by the anti-Vietnam war generation was not so cursed. But the fact of the matter is this: we all live under capitalism and we all, as a result, have certain prejudices of one kind or another, which is why our inclination is always to form political parties to harness the power of the piston steam and to diminish the faulty capacities of any given individual.

    I had been won over to the cause of gay rights when I was 16 years old, three years before I had ever heard of the Young Socialist Alliance. And by the time I did join, in the waning months of 1973, we were involved in many pro-gay rights activities and had many openly gay members. Throughout my many years in the SWP we were involved as well, as I attended dozens of events over that period of time in support of democratic rights and dignity. The SWP was amongst the first working-class organizations to join the struggle against the AIDS epidemic and incorporated the demand for marriage equality as early as the electoral campaigns of 1994, that is, as soon as it became a demand of the movement itself.

    There is no doubt the advances of the gay rights movement has been tremendously important for the working-class (and their allies in the middle-class) as a whole, as it has extended the franchise of democratic rights and makes it harder for the enemy to discriminate against anyone, be they Black and Latino, immigrant, women, handicapped, or on the basis of one’s country of origin or faith tradition, political points the Militant has made in very recent editorials. But the capitalist class can rule and make profits without pressing further the fight around gay rights, which is, essentially, what they have decided to do. Simply put, they have bigger fish to fry. But they can never surrender the continued oppression of African Americans and women, the eradication of which is clearly a task of the socialist revolution. That is what social weight means; it does not mean that the gay rights movement, which continues today, is not important.

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 26, 2014 @ 3:43 am

  17. Louis your words are sadly predictable to ignore actual history, but not true. You joined the YSA before 1970 and were involved in the SWP during then and certainly after 1970 when Nat Weinstein, Jack Barnes, Frank Lovell and other prominent homophobic SWP ‘leaders’ were discriminating and you and others were silent “and went along”, for Gay lives were not important enough. Disrespect and the strange excuses with the SWP was so pro-Gay blah blah – just seems to continue – rather than recognize the SWP was wrong. Your response tries – but fails – to respond to my first statement when “Dave The Mate” states there is no such documentation of Nat Weinstein being a homophobe or the U. S. SWP (which would if there is documentation raise the point: what did David the First Mate and others actually do in a supposed reviolutionary party to themselves challenge homophobia and heterosexism – of course) – and you AVOIDED – did you read the Christopher Phelps published research on the awful treatment/policies of the U. S. SWP towards Gays?

    If not – before you glowingly state “the SWP and Nat Weinstein history” – perhaps you can learn more FIRST – and stop the too late “damage control”. The ship of history has sailed on – and it finds Nat Weinstein “lacking” – and now while “Dave The First Mate” and yourself are still living, can recognize the wrongs and really understand their significance and harm to the world revolutionary movement. Again, have you read the 2013 document issued by the Labor Studies in Working Class History of the Americas Vol. 10
    No. 4? I also await “Dave The First Mate’s” response in apologizing that when he stated above “there is no such documentation”.
    One way homophobia/heterosexist policies have been carried out against Gays and Lesbians has been the deliberate effort to remove all evidence of the actual existence of Gays and to portray in less than equal and unrespectfu for many centuries. The U. S. SWP had continued to adhere to those bigoted views and policies and still in 2014 some appear like “Dave The First Mate” and the Unrepentant Louis Proyect are appearing to do by challenging my own actual experiences in the USA SWP and inform of others. The homophobic U. S. SWP policies and conduct, including in not respecting Gay and Lesbian comrades as equal people, was carried out throughout its history, including now when this political party current evolved into the current small cult group, even David and Louis left. Some were forced out and did not leave on their own. Around a year ago Barry Shepherd came up to me in the San Francisco ILWU Hall where I was a scheduled speaker at a memorial for a former SWP Gay member Howard Wallace and Barry told me that I and Howard were correct when we left the SWP/YSA and on our then view of being disrespected for being Gay by the SWP leaders. Barry finally recognized history would not be kind to the SWP homophobia. David and Louis (and others) can join Barry Shepherd and many others to recognize the obvious – homophobia is wrong – and can never be justified – period!

    Comment by John O'Brien — August 26, 2014 @ 4:27 am

  18. Look. I grew up in the late 60’s and early 70’s in a Chicago neighborhood along Broadway & Clark St. near Lincoln Park nicknamed “GayTown” by the pack of peers I ran with. Since we were poor we moved every year. I lived in every neighborhood in zip code 60614 all the way through Wells St. in Old Town. That zip was as close as you could get to the Castro District in the Midwest. Meanwhile I attended virtually every SWP weekend meeting at Debs Hall on Wacker St. from 68 to 75. I overheard both the side & plenum debates about Gay rights, all as a pre-pubescent latch-key kid who roamed the city as he pleased,

    I became far more mature for my age than any adult could fathom. Being an only child I listened intently and developed a memory like a trap. Fact is back then I was extremely hostile to Gays as I endured come-ons that albeit weren’t nearly as lewd & crude as some that my mother would get walking past a construction site at lunch hour but sometimes that’s how I felt, like a woman being gawked at and it really pissed me off, especially riding my bike through Lincoln Park and being propositioned by all kinds of lonely degenerates. But that hostility didn’t stop me from testifying in 1973 against some lumpen neo-fascist gang of 4 thugs who almost beat to death some “queer” in the Park for no other reason than he was allegedly “Gay” — and that incident taught me a big lesson in life, particularly since I was also pissed off at some of the Puerto Rican bullies that moved into the neighborhood. I began to fathom a bigger, working class struggle picture, even as a feeble minded youth, from all those hours absorbing not only the weekend meetings with my joint-custody dad at Debs Hall but also all the heated after-hour meetings at various comrades’ apartments but also bars like “Der Read Baron” on Lincoln Ave. — where there was at least one jagoff police spy (who rode a motorcycle) in the mix.

    At 17 I quit school to work full time at a non-union printing factory on the West side to make some bread. I helped some AFL-CIO organizers try to penetrate but this plant was busy and the workers were making some overtime and they just weren’t class conscious enough. Plus they were scared. The plant was 10% white, 30 % Black & 60% Mexican. My line mate & mentor Gustavo suddenly got 3 tips of his right hand fingers chopped off in a paper folding machine right in front of my eyes. He was in agony but I instinctively grabbed paper towels and grabbed the finger tips from the oily machine floor and wrapped them up in paper towels as carefully as the Holy baby in the manger.

    The big boss then came out on the shop floor and told me to fuck the ambulance and rush Gustavo immediately to the nearest hospital in my own car, a ’69 Ford Fairlane that I’d bought 6 months back for $300. So I grabbed the towel full of finger tips and shoved Gustavo into the passenger seat and hauled ass running every red light for 5 miles to Grant hospital. They rushed him in agony straight to the ER and when I opened the towel to show the Doc the preserved finger tips he immediately pressed his foot down on the lever of a stainless steel waste can and tossed them in without a second thought, like nobody was going to try to attach this Spics fingers back together.

    I fucking cried that day and I vowed a working class vendetta against all injustices be they Black, Brown, Gay, Lesbian, Hunchback — Whatever.

    The moral of this story is that I along with the SWP and the Cuban Revolution grew a long way from our phobias as we matured and if somebody wants to dig back to some immature and infantile days to try & besmirtch my awakening or the maturation of the Cuban Revolution because today’s criteria make yesterday’s look crude then they should be ashamed of their poverty of imagination and the narrowmindnedness that can only be wrought from a dishonest motive.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 26, 2014 @ 4:31 am

  19. John, we all recognize anti-gay prejudices existed within the socialist movement prior to the gay rights movement, much in the same way anti-Black sentiments existed in the early socialist movement, especially prior to the Russian Revolution. They existed and now, by all reasonable standards, they don’t.

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 26, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

  20. Dave the First Mate – states in his reply – rather than apologize on his former statement that there is no documentation about Nat Weinstein, Jack Barnes etc. being homophobic – after I provided such that there was (and have sadly much more!) instead has the same mentality of denial of oppressing Gay comrades by stating that ongoing homophobia no longer exists either! Well just as their is documentation to show homophobia in the SWP by Nat Weinstein many years after the forming of the Gay & Lesbian Rights Movement, the responses or refusla to recognize that Nat Weinstein was not the admired “revolutionary” to those who supported an end to oppression and ignorance by Marxists that should have been done long before. Nat Weinstein’s prejudice against Gays and Lesbians was not based on atheism or Marxism, it was prejudice and fear promoted by the Abrahamic religions which were the base for such prejudice and fears. I do not believe the Torah should be considered a valid scientific based work – and that is precisely what Nat Weinstein and others who held religious based prejudice based their practices, policies and lack of solidarity with oppressed Gays and Lesbians.

    And to say the SWP has no history of homophobia – really? Please refer to no articles on educating on sexuality. When people were thrown in jail, given lobotomyies, tortured, murdered and much more and not in small inconsequential numbers – the U. S. SWP was silent. When the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 1958 in a landmark case brought by ONE (a group I led later for a while) that overturned the post office ban on positive Gay and Lesbian literature/materials being mailed, there was nothing in The Militant. And when the Stonewall Rebellion occurred in June 1969 there was no coverage in The Militant reporting it. There should have been an article welcoming it actually – but the hetero membership policy was instead more defended by Nat Weinstein, Jack Barnes, Frank Lovel etc.- and no positive coverage after on GLF forming and then the many other groups. Protests and continued discrimination was not covered while the membership exclusion policy was enforced. These were not viewed as separate things by Nat Weinstein, Jack Barnes, etc. – but connected – in their blatant homophobia to oppress.

    And now we are told that there is no longer a problem by this persons statement here . and by people who denied/covered up that there has been a big such problem in the past. And I want to point out when a so called Marxist in 2014 states there is no more discrimination/homophobia anymore -that person has no contact with the reality of what many Gay people are dealing with. And to try to cover up Nat Weinstein being a homophobe is how this discussion started – and this response by me and still refusal to recognize Nat Weinstein was a homophobe, shows that heterosexism and not just homophobia continues among those who were in the U. S. SWP who still say they are revolutionaries and practice differently in their lives and laziness to learn to counter such thinking and sad practices. The thinking is we state we love Gays and then there is no issue – that the issue goes away and we no longer have to deal with it. The not having to deal with internalized homophobia is of course the base of the problem!

    Comment by John O'Brien — August 26, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

  21. John, there is nothing I can do about what the Militant did or did not cover before I was born. Nor is there anything I can do about your suspicion that I am an anti-gay bigot, or at the very least, that I look the other way in the face of anti-gay bigotry. That is to say, there is nothing I can do about the way you feel. All’s I can do is give you my impressions based upon what I witnessed from my considerable time as a party activist. And the conclusion I have drawn, based on this experience, which I would gladly provide to any academic interviewing me for a scholarly dissertation on the subject, is this: that the program of the SWP covering the years of my involvement has been in support of the movement for democratic rights and human dignity for people who are gay. Nor do I make any claim that there was a complete absence of anyone who held anti-gay prejudices (or anti-Appalachian, anti-immigrant or negative sentiments against people who have certain ailments). All’s I can do is attest to the fact that in all those years I never personally witnessed any kind of anti-gay behavior on the part of anyone, nor did I ever hold such views myself.

    And what I mean by documentation, which I should have made clear from the beginning of this discussion, is documentation from a direct party source, like the kind of documentation that is readily available from the YSA and the SWP from the years 1970 and 1971 that spells out the need for a new course and new way of approaching, thinking about and relating to what was then a new social phenomenon of vast importance.

    Comment by Dave the First Mate — August 26, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

  22. Documentation is not just what the SWP produced, which does not cover the crimes it did to its Gay and Lesbian comrades. Yes I use the word crimes, because it is that serious. Please view the document I mentioned that has the mistreatment, expulsions and in some cases suicides resulting from, by MANY Gays who were members and supporters of the U.S. SWP. From your latest reply/response you seem more reasonable and I will assume you actually are unaware of what the SWP leaders such as Barnes and Weinstein actually did. This discussion began around my comments objecting to attempts as I viewed it, to portray Nat Weinstein as a revolutionary to promote as “exemplary”. Nat Weinstein favored keeping the Exclusion Policy. He also was a major supporter of the Memorandum that was made to put uppity Gays in their place and encourage them to leave the SWP/YSA. It was not meant to give respect to Gays and Lesbians. If my memory is correct Nat Weinstein who led Socialist Action after this group of SWP members were expelled, would eventually be forced to leave that party, because of his homophobia too. I spoke to Nat Weinstein in person at an antiwar protest I was a speaker at in San Francisco several years ago. Nat Weinstein was not apologetic and clearly continued to hold fear and hatred for Gays. My view is that one must reject prejudice based on religion and bourgeois ideology and see that uniting workers with all the different identities and life experiences into one force to save this planet and all life on it from capitalist destruction, is essential to understand, if one wants to be a revolutionary. One of the main objections to Stalinism was how it viewed and treated people. It said it was also revolutionary, but offered something very different in its policies and practice. SWP leaders such as Barnes and Weinstein may have used wording/slogans claiming they were revolutionaries, but certainly it should be clear that they did not practice such. Jack Barnes has gone beyond even the levels of Weinstei,n in destroying the SWP itself. But part of my views are to raise that what Nat Weinstein wanted to establish with a larger SWP than Jack Barnes wanted, was still not a party that was truly respectful to Gays. There were many comrades who were expelled for being Gay – was there any discipline EVER to comrades using perjorative words or their own bigotry at Gays inside or outside the SWP? I remember the word fagot used many times in the 1960’s. It only became less used because of the Gay Rights Movement – and NOTthe SWP itself, viewing that as disrespectful and harmful to worker unity. Homosexuality may be uncomfortable for heterosexuals but it was known to exist before the Stonewall Rebellion. People in the SWP knew of Oscar Wilde and many other Gays – and knew of the discrimination and attacks on Gays, but did nothing but continue that prejudice. My example of how Socialist Party members in the U. S. South in having separate locals based on race “accepting” Jim Crow has relationship to The Memorandum that said that Gay and Lesbian SWP members could not be active in the daily struggles of the Gay & Lesbian Rights Movement. To tell a group to accept discrimination to conform to be acceptable as members, is not justifiable. The cover of the Party decides totally what their members do, does not hold up when there is a movement of people challenging and in motion. Sure the SWP might not want to donate money to “fagot rights”, but to deny members as individuals to participate in that struggle – is not party discipline, but effort to not directly aid a Movement that Jack Barnes understood would force eventually him to challenge and curtail his own homophobia and heterosexism. Behind all the clever wordage, it came down to not respecting Gays and setting up a second class at best status. It may not have been intended by you – but it certainly was by Jack Barnes, Frank Lovell and yes also Nat Weinstein. There is no justification for Nat Weinstein to not educate himself and as a resident of San Francisco no less with a large open Gay & Lesbian population. If he did even a basic learning of labor union history in the city area he resided in he would know that the CPUSA led NUMCS (later expelled as a CIO red union) was led by open Gay men. For him to promote that workers and workers organizations were heterosexual and incompatible with “faggots” – was against historical fact.

    Comment by John O'Brien — August 27, 2014 @ 8:21 pm

  23. In 1971, at a massive war demonstration in SF, I saw Barry Shepherd’s younger brother leading a herd of young trots, and I mentioned to one of them that I had been kicked out nine years before for being gay, His response was that “We would never DO such a thing!” By then, they had perceived the revolutionary energy building up in the gay community and hoped to embrace it. Unfortunately, this energy was a product not of economic class differences, but of a fight against simple chauvinism. Fidel Castro was still something of a hero to young revolutionaries, but learning the fate of gays under Castro had taught us that socialism isn’t intrinsically gay-liberating.

    If socialism could end chauvinism, then turkeys might fly.

    Comment by Dan Stevens — November 2, 2014 @ 1:09 pm


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