The Evolution of the Socialist Workers Party 1978-1983

by Pedro (Peter) Camejo

During the years 1978-1983, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of the United States has been making sharp shifts in its policies, political positions, methods of work and internal norms. These shifts reflect an effort by the leadership of the SWP to develop an orientation in the post anti-Vietnam war movement period. Some important steps forward have been taken by the SWP. Two important shifts, which reflect fundamentally positive steps, have been the decision to colonize industry and to recognize the revolutionary proletarian character of the Cuban Communist Party, the FSLN in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada.

Along with these positive steps, however, there has been a hardening of increasingly sectarian positions which threaten to undermine the positive aspects of the two points mentioned above. This document is a review of the increasingly sectarian positions developed by the SWP in the last five years. Why this is happening is beyond the scope of this document, although it is clearly related to the years of isolation from the broader workers' movement. The development of hardened sectarian political views has occurred quite frequently in groups which have developed within the world Trotskyist current. While the causes of the sectarianism of the SWP are undoubtedly related to these broader questions, this document takes up each political question at its face value, independent of broader judgments.

The SWP leadership codified a conjunctural analysis in 1978-1979 which contained certain errors of an ultraleft and worker-ist nature. As they were further developed, these errors of analysis were intertwined and often confused with the turn to colonize industry.

The Turn to Colonize Industry

The decision to begin orienting members into basic industry in mid-1975 was correct for three fundamental reasons:

1. On an international level there has been an increase in the relative role of the industrial and urban proletariat. This trend has been quite marked in Europe. The industrial proletariat in the United States faces many of the same objective conditions which will lead to an intensification of the class struggle in the next historic period.

2. The post-World War II economic boom came to an end with the 1960s. Instead, we have entered a period of decline of world capitalism characterized by deeper and longer recessions, with growing crises of an international character.

3. Thirdly, the cadre growth of the SWP during the late 1960s and early 1970s was overwhelmingly of a white-collar composition. Thus, the party was not in a position to intervene within the industrial unions when political openings arose, such as the Sadlowski campaign within the steelworkers' union or the miners' strike of 1978. A conscious policy to begin colonizing industry was correct.

However, such a colonizing campaign must proceed as a process geared to actual political developments. It cannot be based on historical guesses, moral judgments, or hygienic prescriptions against the dangers of pe