In the May 4th issue of the Militant, there’s a peculiar article but probably not that much more peculiar than many that have appeared there in recent years, as the tiny cult enters its death throes.
Titled “SWP’s 45 years of rich political history in Texas”, it gives the impression that the party is stronger than ever even though the article is basically a farewell to Texas:
“We can join in increasing labor resistance today,” Warshell said, “like the strike by Steelworkers in area oil refineries and widespread proletarian struggles against police brutality. There are new openings for communists today to build our movement and recruit.
“We’re leaving Houston and closing the branch here,” he said, “but as the class struggle deepens and the party grows, we will be back.”
Increasing labor resistance and leaving Houston? How do these two things go together? Who knows? Who cares?
The SWP once did have a remarkable presence in Houston and the rest of Texas that is referred to briefly:
The SWP and Young Socialist Alliance in Texas grew out of the fight against Washington’s war against Vietnam in the 1960s, said Joel Britton, an SWP leader from Oakland, California. Party branches were built in both Houston and Austin.
As a result of the party’s growing public presence, it became a target of the Ku Klux Klan, as were Black rights’ fighters, anti-war activists, and KPFT, the local Pacifica radio station.
“Houston’s KKK operated with true impunity, tied in with the police force, the sheriff’s department,” and other parts of the so-called justice system, Britton said.
“One of the high points in the fight against Klan attacks was when Debbie Leonard, SWP candidate for mayor in 1971, debated a top Klan leader — not once but twice,” Britton said.
But most of the article is the standard recitation of the party’s “turn to industry” that in fact has left it not only incapable of continuing in Texas but has sealed its doom everywhere else. In a normal organization, there would be feedback mechanisms to allow it to reverse course but in this bizarre cult that is led by someone more than a bit tetched, there is no turning back.
I arrived in Houston in the winter of 1973 in order to help organize a faction fight against a sizable minority in the branch that supported the Ernest Mandel-led wing of the Fourth International that supported guerrilla warfare in Latin America. After a year or so in Houston, the sixties radicalization began to disappear before our very eyes as we scrambled around for new sources of recruitment. It was around this time when I began to feel more and more alienated from the party and its stifling peer pressure both socially and politically that the thoughts of dropping out began to take shape. I only regret that I hung around for another four years.
In any case, you will see the pages from my unpublished memoir about the time I spent in Houston. As is always the case, I am free to post this material under the provisions of fair use legislation, plus rights afforded me as the copyrighted author of the text and the full permission of the artist to circulate the memoir.