Barry Sheppard's
The Party
The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988
A Political Memoir

Volume 1: The Sixties


Review by John Green

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This review is by John Green, a member of the International Socialist Organization. It appears on the Amazon website.

April, 2006

No radical can read Barry Sheppard's book without being simultaneously awestruck and inspired.

His account of Sixties activism and life in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is fascinating. More than fifty chapters in The Party: Volume I explore the trajectory of anti-racist and antiwar struggles from the perspective of a revolutionary socialist who participated in much of the upheavals that defined the time period.

Drawing on his experience as the Party's former National Organization Secretary, Sheppard does two things particularly well in this book: 1) Asserts the real history of the Sixties against the safely watered-down version most commonly expressed today, and 2) Puts a focus on edifying incidents of interest to today's activists that are generally left out of even the best left-wing histories (for example the anti-communism case against the Young Socialist Alliance in Indiana).

Other chapters cover early days of picketing segregated restaurants, the relationship between Malcolm X and the SWP, and the nuts and bolts of publishing an independent newspaper.

The author teases the reader with plenty of lively anecdotes (how about the one on Lee Harvey Oswald, anyone?) but pulls back from providing a clear big picture: Just how large did the SWP ever become? Hopefully Volume II, while preserving the richness that Sheppard's semi-autobiographical approach provides, will balance out all the focus on the trees with a look at the forest.

One more item for next volume's wish list: More political analysis. Sheppard explains his, and the Party's, positions on events such as the Cuban Revolution ever so briefly. Although Sheppard's purpose isn't necessarily to persuade readers at every turn, a more polemical approach on his part would force us to consider our own ideas more seriously, deepening the intellectual impact of the book.

Overall, this book is highly recommended to activists young and old. The world of the 1960s has many reflections today-let's hope a growing socialist movement is one of them.

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