(It is probably obvious to my readers that I do not really agree with this article but I am posting it as a courtesy to an old comrade from the SWP who at least had the foresight to see what a monster Jack Barnes was.)
“Winter Musings” by Mike Tormey
A few reminiscences of the era covered by Alan Wald in his article “A Winter’s Tale”, focusing on Larry Trainor, Jack Barnes, the SWP, the necessity of a vanguard party, and Wald’s infatuation with “creative Marxism”.
I ran across an old photograph of Larry Trainor the other day while rereading Kropotkin’s book on the Great French Revolution, which was ﬁtting because the picture was taken after the completion of the ﬁrst 4 hour session of Larry’s class on the French revolution. I remember he closed that session by quoting Danton “Audacity, again audacity, and always audacity” a quote I scribbled later on the back of the photo.There was no better educator of the party youth than Trainor and on a plethora of subjects The French revolution, the history of the Russian revolution, the history of the american labor movement, the revolutionary epoch of 1848 and the ﬁrst international etc. Primary and secondary source material was suggested and refrenced during his educationals which always had large attendance and vociferous post session discussions. After 30 odd years of building branches in Boston, Buffalo, and Seattle by the early sixties Larry was settling in as an educator and advisor to the young people entering the revolutionary movement. Larry knew it was imperative that the younger generation understand the past, foresee the future, and most importantly prepare for it.
I ﬁrst met Larry Trainor on a Friday evening in the late summer of 1963, when I dropped in on a Militant Labor Forum. That Friday I was in the Corn Hill bookshop and purchased a ﬁrst edition of “Laughter in Hell” by Jim Tully, even in 1963 a scarce book. They had a leaﬂet in the store promoting that days MLF and I decided to attend. I walked from Corn Hill near old Scollay square down Tremont st. to the Boston Common then through to the Public Gardens and picked up Huntington ave. at Copely square. In those days the MLF was on Huntington a few hundred yards beyond Symphony hall. I carried my book into the MLF dropped a dollar in the contribution basket and took a seat in the rear. A minute later a grey haired gent sporting old fashion suspenders sits down and asks me what I’m reading, I show him and off we go into a discussion of Jim Tully, who he is very familiar with, from there we jump to Frank O’conner and his great short story “Guests of the Nation” then proceeding on to the Easter rising and then ” O’casey’s Juno and the Peacock” from which Larry is able to recite several passages. About this time Steve Chase walks in, whom I had met about 10 days before at Boston University. His parents and mine had known each other in the CP USA, although I had not met him before we spoke at BU where he was selling the Militant. He sat down on the other side of Trainor and full introductions were made. After the MLF we adjourned to a local tavern to hoist a few beers, after an hour of chewing the fat Larry asked me what I’m doing on Sunday, as it happened I had tickets to the day game at Fenway park but had no plans after that. He then invited me to supper on Sunday evening at his house and he would meet me at the headquarters on Huntington after the game. I accepted the invite, and walked from Fenway park through the Fens and to the Museum of Fine Arts and down Huntington to the hall where Larry and Gusty were waiting for me. Larry didn’t drive so Gusty had to ferry him around, a task she did not always ﬁnd agreeable. Yet we proceeded to their abode on 27 Vineland in Brighton without incident. Once we get inside Larry takes me in to his living room and to a large bookcase by the stairs and he then opines “you can tell alot about a person by his library or lack there of” a statement I’ve found to be spot on over the years. I take my ﬁrst look at Larry’s books, he had a copious amount of volumes by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky including “Wither Russia” in a dust wrapper published by International publishers in 1926, I’m sure the last book by Trotsky they ever published. He also had a wide selection of “proletarian literature”, “The Disinherited” by Jack Conroy, “Somebody in Boots” by Nelson Algren. “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell, “Young Lonnigan” by J.T. Farrell and “Deathship” by B. Traven among others. Although I didn’t notice it at this time he also had an inscribed copy of John Brooks Wheelwright’s ﬁrst book of poetry “North Atlantic Passage”, which I believe Wheelwrights mother got published in Florence Italy in the 1920’s. I don’t know what ever happened to that volume which today would be worth many thousands at auction. Larry was very friendly with Wheelwright and played a major part in his recruitment out of the Socialist party. Unfortunately Wheelwright was hit by a car and died in 1940 just a scant 3 blocks from where I was born in Boston. I asked Larry what his favorite book of ﬁction was and he said “War and Peace” hands down. He then went on a 1/2 hour soliloquy on “War and Peace” with special attention to the battle of Austerlitz and its aftermath. He then picked up a volume on an end table next to his chair and stated “This book gives me the greatest comfort and I read from it most evenings”. The volume was the “Correspondence of Marx and Engels” and he could quote from it like a fundamentalist preacher can quote bfrom Leviticus.
Supper that night was a home made lasagna complete with ricotta cheese, a specialty of Gusty. Gusty as it turned out was employed for several years as the chief cook and bottle washer for Alfred Baker Lewis, one of the major leaders of the Socialist party and League for Indusrial Democracy in New England, well known at the time now a footnote at best. As we started eating I noticed Larry was consuming a plate of baked beans with a pair of hot dogs while Gusty and I had the lasagna. I asked if Larry was being punished but no, Gusty remarked he never eats any on my “exotic creations” and only ever eats meat and potatoes and other simple faire. I noticed a copy of “The Feminine Mystique” on the counter and we started a discussion of the book. Betty Friedan had been a UE organizer and writer after WWII until McCarthyism and redbaiting hit the UE and she ran for cover. Gusty thought it was an important book and struck a chord with women. This led us to a discussion on women in society, women workers, and women in the SWP and to another person all but forgotten who played the pivotal role in the political development of Larry Trainor. That was Antoinette Konikow, referred to by Larry as “The Old Lady”. Antoinette Konikow was born in Russia a year before Lenin, she was a member of Plekhanov’s Emancipation of Labor Group. She emigrated to the USA in the mid 1890’s and joined the Socialist Labor Party, after the failure of the revolution or 1905 she joined the socialist party. She was in the left wing of the Socialist Party and a founding member of the Communist Party and in fact a delegate to the Chicago convention. During this time she put herslf through college and medical school graduating from Tufts medical school in Medford Mass. She was as well known at the time as Margret Sanger in the movement for birth control. In fact she invented some form of birth control spermicidal opntment. She was invited to the USSR in 1926 to educate both politically and clinically on birth control. Her stay in the USSR was cut short after becoming won over to the ideas of the united opposition. Back in the USA she was expelled from the CPUSA for Trotskyism in 1928 and left with a handful of people. She was close to Martin Abern at that time and joined the Communist League of America.
After supper we adjourned to the living room and had a lively discussion about the trade union movement. Larry wanted to know what my outlook was and how I would proceed given the current state of affairs. I told him I thought the bureacrats of the C.I.O. were in accommodation mode and were becoming more conservative and less combative almost daily. I thought a struggle would emerge between the rank and ﬁle and the bureaucrats over maintaing the standard of living and improving real wages which the leadership of the AFL-CIO was unwilling to lead. I thought there were opportunities in the UAW. Steelworkers, IUE especially the Lynn GE where the UE barely lost an election, and even in the ILA where they still had the shape up at Castle Island in Boston. Larry didn’t disagree but pointed out a second dynamic that I had not considered. That manufacturing jobs were on the wane and that trend would continue and the next wave of union organization would be among service workers, food workers, hospital workers, transportation workers, and government workers. He pointed out that this sector would not only continue to grow but would encompass a lot of women and minority workers all of whom would come in with to a situation with sub-standard wages and conditions. He continued that while the service workers were not at the point of production withholding service at the delivery point is powerful. As it turned out Larry was prescient. The last 25 years of my working life was spent at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). Almost all of that time I was on the executive board of the local and elected to the negotiating committee and the withholding of train service or the threat helped secure the best contract with wages and beneﬁts in the ATU including a portable retired medical plan that I enjoy today.
Larry felt it was critically important for the student youth entering our ranks to either become workers or thoroughly identify with the working class before joining the SWP and in looking back he was spot on again. As I was leaving the Trainor home that evening Larry gave me a copy of Engels “Ludwig Feurbach and the outcome of classical German philosophy”. He mentioned “its a good introduction to dialectical materialism and we’ll discuss it the next time you come over”. Keep in mind now that I was not yet a member of the SWP nor the YSA and had just met Trainor two days ago. That was the ﬁrst of over 40 meetings I had at Larry’s house over the next seven years, he truly was the best of his generation as an educator, an agitator or a popularizer of socialist concepts. One of the problems of the SWP was there were not enough Trainor’s.
George Orwell once wrote that “people are always better than we think they are. They are more kind, more loving, more brave and decent. They keep their mouths shut in the torture chambers and go down with decks awash and guns blazing”. Orwell never met Jack Barnes. I joined the YSA the next week and my ﬁrst assignment was to arrange speaking engagements for Jim Bingham one of the indicted Bloomington students. I arranged a tour that included all the major campuses in the area plus a few local union meetings and even a presentation before the Workmens Circle that was still functioning in Boston at the time. The most interesting time I spent with Jim Bingham was between engagements and his explanation of the history of the YSA in Bloomington. Initially the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) dominated the campus. It was one of the larger YPSL chapters in the country and included Leroy Johnson a member of the I.U. varsity basketball team and Walt Carnahan a member of the I.U. varsity wrestling team. Strangely and almost simultaneously two Fair Play for Cuba committees were formed on the Bloomington campus each with no knowledge of the other. Jim Bingham and Ralph Levitt joined the committee organized by Phil Weigand the other committee was organized by George Shriver. Eventually the two groups merged and Shriver was able to build a large viable YSA that could challenge YPSL and eventually eclipse it, not only did the YSA have Bingham, Levitt, and Morgan, but Bill and Paulann Groninger ,she was I.U. student of the year, Jack Marsh, JerryFoley, Don and Polly Smith, David Fender etc. Jack Barnes in the meantime had built a very successful YSA at Carlton College. Then did some obvious good work in Minneapolis and then in Northwestern and Chicago further building the YSA in the midwest. Make no mistake on a number of levels Jack Barnes did an excellent job of establishing the YSA in the midwest. However, he had no real role in building the most dynamic YSA in the midwest, that of Bloomington. Additionally, Barnes had one obvious weakness he kept a coterie of sycophants around him like vassals around a lord. These vassals consisted of people he recruited at Carlton and Northwestern and all of them seemed to have been granted a most favored nation status. As a group they were C+ in talent but A+ in obsequiousness. Barnes also kept a group of people on his periphery that could be useful to him the way a box of toothpicks is useful to a glutton. Historically, Dick McBride would best represent this bunch of servile tools that hung in Barnes orbit like a group of junior Faust’s seeking alms from Mephistopheles, of the two groups the second was more contemptible.
The Bloomington local was the ﬁrst to both feel and articulate suspicions of Jack Barnes. Don Smith was the ﬁrst one to communicate his doubts he felt there “was a taint to Barnes from the beginning” and it manifested itself initially in subtle differences on tactics, strategies, organization, and character. Jim Bingham expressed it as “the guy just gives off a bad vibration”. Unfortunately the leadership of the Bloomington YSA was indicted for sedition in the spring of 1963 and a giant and successful defense case was launched on a national level. I remember speaking to Betsy Barnes and a few of the minions that winter they were trying to educate me on how ultra left the Bloomington local was and how they lacked control and leadership, “if we were down there none of this would have happened”. What Barnes didn’t like was that Levitt, Bingham, and Morgan were on national speaking tours and heroes of the YSA and none of them had much use for Jack Barnes.
After WWII the SWP had almost 2000 members and overwhelmingly workers with functioning fractions in auto,steel, and maritime. I believe at that time the SWP was approaching becoming a vanguard party, for many reasons it did not happen what did happen over the next 20 odd years did not augur well for the SWP. The social composition of the SWP membership started deteriorating from the high water mark in the years following WWII. By the mid 1960’s the social composition of the directing organs of the party both locally and on the national level had also drastically deteriorated. By the end of the 60’s and with the full cooperation and participation of Kerry, Dobbs, Novak, Breitman etc. Barnes had at least six of his minions on the political committee, Betsy Stone, Mary-Alice Waters, Lew Jones, Larry Siegle, Joel Britton, Doug Jenness, and Gus Horowitz who worked closely with Barnes in Chicago was also on and at this time fully enamored with Barnes. I don’t remember the exact date maybe 1967 David Suskind had a television show and on this particular episode he was interviewing the “radical” youth, what they were doing and why, what there program for change was and what were the differences between them. It was a great opportunity to put our program before a national audience. Diedre Griswold was on the show representing Youth Against War and Fascism, someone was there representing Dubois Club,and Suskinds producer wanted someone to represent the YSA. So Barnes sent his minions down one after the other to be interviewed by Suskinds producer he rejected them all. In desperation Barnes asked Ralph Levitt to go interview, he of course was accepted, Suskinds producer asking Ralph “why did you send me all those vapid dolts”? The amazing thing is it took Suskinds producer 20 minutes to ﬁgure out the worth of Barnes vassals, it took Tom Kerry more than 20 years.
Major political differences didn’t manifest themselves until the summer of 1970, between convention years at Oberlin, where Barnes and company sped up their journey on the treadmill to oblivion. They asserted that the present radicalization was the biggest, deepest, broadest, radicalization of the century and furthermore, was the most threatening to the ruling class. They listed the anti-war movement, Black movement, Chicano movement, and feminism and abortion rights as proof positive of there biggest, deepest, broadest, most threatening theory. The working class was not mentioned, nor its relative quiescence, nor the lack of class consciousness among the workers. The class struggle became past tense. It was against this fatuous nonsense that the POT was formed. At the 1971 SWP convention Barnes even expanded on the biggest, deepest, broadest, radicalization by imbuing it with a permanence and ever deepening quality. The POT recognizing the deterioration of the working class composition of the SWP as a whole and proposed some modest demands; to send non student comrades into industry where feasible and to orient to a class perspective. During the debates it seemed like the majority believed that the coming revolution would be made by some amalgam of Black and Chicano militants, feminists, homosexuals, and people that marched in the anti-war demonstrations, it was truly a circus. Barnes report carried by 90% compared to 10% for the POT.
The only old time member of the SWP that supported the POT was Larry Trainor. The Brietmans, the Lovells, the Winesteins, etc.supported Barnes right down the line. Of course i take a small degree of solace in that those old timers who lined up behind Barnes in the early 70,s belatedly saw the error of their ways in the early 80’s. When they ﬁnally tried to take a stand against Barnes they were mowed down like Eton boys at Paschendale. I’m only sorry Larry didn’t get to see it, although he knew it was coming. I foolishly thought the POT would have several years to operate and over time we would become more homogeneous and the correctness of our position be more obvious. The POT wasn’t a homogeneous tendency and had only about to 15% workers at the time. Barnes was not going to let the POT “co-exist” and led an all out faction ﬁght against us from which we were not able to survive.
There were also divisions within the POT itself the essence of which is contained on page 7 of Wald’s piece “A Winters Tale”, namely he asserts that a major ﬂaw in the POT was it was tied to the older SWP proletarian tradition of the party and in that it was backward looking and therefore was too much in the frame work of an outmoded form of politics. Wald was wrong then and he is still wrong now. That was our strength, the proletarian traditions of the SWP were built on Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. Marxism has three parts : Philosophy where Marx took Hegel’s dialectic casting out its idealism and turning it over as as a theory of dialectical materialism, which when applied to society became a theory of historical materialism. In economics Marxism is based on the theory of value as labor and then he worked out the theory of surplus value and the laws of accumulation of capital analyzing both the structure and evolutionary functioning of capitalism. In politics he grasped the principles of class struggle and developed a thesis leading to a new system of society, that of course is communism attained by the working class carrying out its historic mission and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Simply put classes are bound up with particular historic phases in the development of production, the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that the emancipation of the working class is a task for the working class itself.
What I share with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Cannon, and Trainor is an abiding faith in the working class to carry out its historic mission. That is the part of the looking back to the tradition of earlier SWP I embrace. Barnes and his retinue never had faith in the working class to carry out its mission. By the same token the same can be said about that long list of “creative Marxists and leaders of “contemporary’ Trotskyist thought Wald thinks so much of namely Eagleton, Anderson, Rowbotham, Jameson, Althusser, Wood, Mitchell, and lets not forget Tariq Ali who last I heard was off stumping for John Kerry for president. Those people are not creative Marxists at all but left pragmatists that is pragmatists covered with a patina of Marxism which becomes a substitute philosophy for Marxism among intellectuals who operate on the fringes of the workers movement. This left pragmatism is not even new Sidney Hook espoused it 75 years ago when he attempted to harmonize pragmatism with Marxism see “Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx” by Hook, Wald most likely has a copy. So if they have no faith in the working class then these left pragmatists have to look for another road to travel, to get to socialism, not to much different than Barnes in 1971, look at the roads traveled by creative thinkers of “contemporary Trotskyist thought” Maoism, Titoism, Ben Bella, Castro, guerrilla warfare, Black nationalism, Grenada, Sandinistas, feminism, homosexuals, etc. Substitutionism and opportunism can be the by-products traveling down these roads. One thing certain among these “creative Marxists” they do not believe in the inevitability of the dictatorship of the proletariat and they want nothing to do with a Leninist combat party capable of leading the working class to seize government power in open combat. Oh, no that is “an outmoded form of politics”. The revolution of 1905 started in Jan. with Father Gapon at the head of the Petersburg workers, by Oct. leading the Petersburg workers was the elected council of workers deputies the Soviet. From Oct. 13-Dec.3, the Soviet became an organ of public authority, when the Soviet held authoritative power it made use of it; when the power was in the hands of the military or monarchy the Soviet fought to obtain it. The Soviet became an organization whose purpose was to ﬁght for revolutionary power. In 1905 the executive committee of the Soviets had been created from a strike wave which the conscious workers led, in Feb. 1917 due to the revolt of the army after the strike waves started by the International Women’s Day demonstration, the February revolution was victorious before the workers created the Soviets. Immediately the Soviets started functioning as an organ of public authority by occupying the state bank, the treasury, the mint, printing ofﬁces etc. with revolutionary guards. At this time the Mensheviks and SR’s were the overwhelmingly leading voices in the Soviets with the Bolsheviks of Feb-March becoming the left ﬂank of “revolutionary Democracy”. Lenin changes all this on April 3-4. Lenin excoriates Pravda (Stalin, Kamenev, & Molotov) for consolidationism with the “defensists”. “The proletarian revolution is imminent, we give no countenance to the provisional government, we don’t need a parliamentary republic, we don’t need bourgeois democracy, the only government we need is the Soviet of workers, soldiers, & peasant deputies”. The proletariat did not seize power in Feb. because the Bolshevik party was not equal to its objective task and could not prevent the “compromisers from expropriating the masses politically for the beneﬁt of the bourgeoisie”. As we know, Lenin presented the April theses which the executive committee of the k party opposed including Kamanev, Rykov, Stalin, Tomsky, and Zinoviev. Supporting Lenin were the Vyborg workers and the Kronstadt sailors. From this time until the actual seizure of power in Oct. there was a division in the Bolshevik party with Lenin & Trotsky heading one group and Kamanev, Zinoviev, Stalin, & Rykov the other. Sukhanov qoutes a naval ofﬁcer who took part in the Bolshevik party conference on April 4 “Ilyich laid down a Rubicon between the tactics of yesterday and today”. This division was in many ways similar to the division between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks before the Mensheviks joined the Government.
What does it all mean today, Lenin deﬁned our age as the age of war and revolution, he also pointed out that a new social system of planned economy based on nationalized property with a state monopoly of foreign trade can not co-exist with imperialist states for any length of time in the end one or the other must triumph.
However, it is not the end; the class struggle of workers in the capitalist countries goes on and must inevitably culminate in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialist society. Today world capitalism is in deep trouble not only in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland other obvious places but in the USA itself. The National debt is over 15 trillion dollars, the real unemployment ﬁgure is approaching 20%, what these numbers express is a degradation of the living standards of workers and the “middle class” and the complete pauperization of the unemployed, the under employed, and in fact the entire underprivileged population. All this while the now famous 1% utilize the crisis to grab an even greater share of the nations wealth. Now we must go back to Marx not Alan Wald’s “creative” Marxists but the man himself and take note “the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself, a seminal thought. By absorbing this we can see the future and best prepare for it. Faith in the working class to carry out its historic mission must be as strong as ever. What exact form it will take we do not know the workers when the IWW called in 1905 did not move, despite some episodic success by 1929 the IWW was moribund. Less than 3 million of a work force of 35 million were organized and many of them in the old craft unions. For the vast majority of workers if they knew unionism it was through company unions, but by 1946 there were 2 million CIO workers with little union experience all on strike at the same time. The next step will be the big one the political education of the American workers and that education may come fast as conditions continue to deteriorate. Wald closes his essay “A Winter’s Tale” with a search to discover wisdom. I would suggest you have to long been searching for it in the wrong place. Maybe you and the devotees of “creative” Marxism should look back to “older SWP proletarian tradition you reject on page 7 of your essay. You could start by learning from Larry Trainor a man who stood head and shoulders above Breitman, Novak, Dobbs, Kerry, and all of his generation. Start with the educationals Larry delivered in the 60’s some of which you can hear on the internet and hopefully you can glean some kernels of unadulterated Marxism to help you on your journey toward wisdom!
— Mike Tormey, Fort Pierce Florida