Another Review by Fred Feldman
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This review appeared April 15, 2005 on the Marxmail list (www.marxmail.org)
Re: Sheppard's Book on the SWP in the 1960s
I just got the book in the mail. What a beautiful job. In the high Pathfinder tradition, very rare among radical press jobs these days.
I keep thinking of Draper's comment about the difference between Cannon and the rest was that "he wanted to remember." That's what you've accomplished.
I think this is also the only book about this great revolutionary period overall (aside from Out Now) written from a consistently revolutionary perspective.
I feel tremendous pride of editorship. I can't think of anything I'm so proud of since helping to defeat imperialism in Vietnam.
The great loss that the SWP leadership underwent in the 1980s, a process registered initially with the savage, politically unjustified split, was the loss of the revolutionary perspective that was reinforced by and came out of the experiences of the 1960s. This exaggerated and destructively implemented every weakness inherited from the past - the one underlying all the other crap. This revolutionary perspective that was reinforced for the older cadres and FORGED for the younger ones such as myself by the experiences of the 1960s. This was embodied for that time in the party more than any single other place in the US (leaving aside Malcolm X, who stands as the outstanding voice of the revolutionary perspective of our generation).
Many, many others had a piece of it or more. Robert Williams. AJ Muste. ED Nixon. Gloria Richardson. Martin Luther King. James Forman. AJ Muste. Stokely Carmichael. Clark Kissinger (no kidding!). Bernadine Dorhn (no kidding!). George Jackson. Ruchelle Magee. H Rap Brown. Dave Dellinger. Many others. But no single political group had as big a piece of it as the SWP at that time. That is my firm conviction.
That is what our generation of leadership could not successfully maintain as Cannon's did with the decline of the Russian revolution and as Cannon and Dobbs did after the labor upsurge of the 1930s and 1940s faded. This perspective -- not some organizational schema (or as Barnes says today, "the organization question is the central question") -- was the real issue in debates over the [American] Theses, whatever imperfections that document had historically.
Your book rescues the revolutionary perspective as it came through the 60s more than any other. These are the experiences and lessons that made me a revolutionary, as the Russian revolution and working-class opposition to World War I were for Cannon's generation, and as the battles of the industrial workers in the 1930s were for Farrell Dobbs, Tom Kerry, and others. This is what I think of when I consider myself an "unreconstructed 1960s revolutionary."
For me this was expressed in the 1969, 1971, and 1975 resolutions - and I'm sure weaknesses can be located in all of this. And this tradition and approach were also embodied in the turn toward the Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Grenadians in 1979-80. Yes, it even inspired the beginnings of the turn [to industry] although the "limits of the possible" began to eat away at the perspective that governed the move for me and most other members.
Unlike the Cannon and Dobbs leadership generations -- allowing for a million and one inadequacies and inapplicabilities of the SWP as a "model" (I reject "models" today though good examples certainly come in handy - our generation was unable to preserve the perspective while making whatever adjustments (and they would have been major) were needed to face the difficult reality. If this perspective had been maintained, the political and organizational problems (including the inadequacies of the "model" in complex and changing, but hardly purely counterrevolutionary times) could have been managed.
That's why the SWP is OUTSIDE today's radicalization process today (though still in the workers' movement, which is also MOSTLY outside the radicalization at this point). That's why it will not be part of any regroupment processes in the working class or anywhere else that will point to an American July 26 movement or a version of the Venezuelan process or even an "American" 1917. Politics, not organizational rulebooks or "models" (loose, tight, or in the middle) still decides.
And this was even more in danger of being lost than it was under the impact of Stalinism in the late 1920s because, since our generation did not produce a Cannon or Dobbs not to mention a Castro or Chavez (I think there were objective reasons for all that, including above all the absence of the working class from center stage in politics), the revolutionary meaning of this decade was in grave danger of being lost through the dispersion of those who still held on to that perspective.
This book is indispensable. You have accomplished something historic.
Hope I can see you all soon.
With revolutionary greetings,