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

Volume 1: The Sixties


Review by Nick Medvecky

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About Nick Medvecky

Nick Medvecky became a member of the Young Socialist Alliance in 1966 when he was an autoworker in Detroit during the rise of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. He was chairperson of the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam and cofounder of Veterans Against the War. He became managing editor of South End, the daily student newspaper at Wayne State University, which became a citywide voice of the Black freedom struggle, the autoworkers movement, and the antiwar movement.

Sentenced to 25 years on drug charges (1990), Nick will soon complete (in prison) his doctorate in psychology. His plans upon release are to found a mass-based political advocacy organization of ex-prisoners and their families.

The following review appeared in Nick's prison newsletter, Communiqué, which he sends to about 200 correspondents.

Speaking of books, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend to my extensive correspondents a political memoir by Barry Sheppard, a former central leader in the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The Party is a well-written documentary of the history of the YSA/SWP during the period from 1960 through 1972. Sheppard is currently working on Volume II covering 1973 through 1988, when he left the party.

Short of having been an active participant (as I was from 1966-68), The Party best explains both the history and the basic strategies and tactics of that period. His experiences include the early Sit-Ins and Freedom Rides in the South; responses to the Cuban Revolution; the Viet Nam antiwar movement and its mass marches; the revolutionary evolution of Malcolm X and Black consciousness; and a variety of writings and organizational assignments in Viet Nam, India, Japan, Australia and Europe for the YSA, SWP, and the Fourth International.

Personally, as an active witness to the civil rights, antiwar, and human rights struggles of the l960s and '70s, I've always felt the need for a movement "cookbook" on the history and political strategy of that period. The Party comes the closest to fulfilling that need. In fact, if anything, Sheppard exhibits far too much humility as to his own and the crucial role that a few organized cadre can play in a movement, and to which the YSA/SWP was a foremost participant in that struggle.

In my 45 years of political experience (counting from 1959 when I was a 17-year-old recruit in the army and experienced my first "Sit-In" at Augusta, GA), I've come to witness certain basic axioms of political and mass organizing that occur repeatedly in the struggle. These are addressed in The Party.

One example is the issue of mass demonstrations (direct action) versus community (or "grassroots") organizing. In my experience, the dichotomy is a false polemic. The underlying question/motivation is one of social versus individual oriented behavior. Mass demos serve to bring together and energize large numbers of people; expose them to others who agree on the organizing issue yet hold other views as well (Black nationalism, women's liberation, the environment, gay rights, etc.); and tend to influence and open one's consciousness for further activism - if not alter the thinking and direction of the antagonistic political powers that be.

A metaphor can be the re-charging of a battery system. In between these empowering events, one is energized to return to their local communities to educate, radicalize, build locally and, yes, organize for the next major, all-participating event. If one has never marched with half-a-million others in a demo for a common cause, well, there are hardly words to describe or impart the psychic impact. It should be needless to explain that social action builds individual responses - sadly, not the other way around. Barry Sheppard's The Party examines these issues in their organic, autobiographical context.

The bookshelf of any serious or aspiring political activist is not complete without this important reference work. Buy it, read it, and keep it handy. We're gonna need it!

By Nick Medvecky

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