Thursday, December 27, 2012

Paying The Pastors

Louis Proyect has performed a useful service by publishing the 2011 compensation given Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters. These are the two leaders of the Socialist Workers Party. Jack has been National Secretary (yes--they still use Soviet-style nomenclature) since 1972. Mary-Alice has some other role--historically she's been the boss of Pathfinder Press, but I don't know what her current role is.

Proyect's scoop is that these worthies were paid $94,400 apiece, presumably from Party coffers. Proyect exaggerates slightly in the title: "Cult Leaders Reward Themselves Handsomely." From this money they had to pay the full 15% payroll tax (no benefits were covered), plus they are responsible for their own health insurance, etc. (Though Jack is over 65 and thus qualifies for Medicare). Still, after taxes and benefits they probably each take home around $60K. It's definitely a living wage, but it hardly puts them in the 1% category. "Handsome" is too generous a term.

Still, Proyect's main point is true. There is nothing wrong with Party leaders getting paid. What does raise eyebrows is the surreptitious nature of the reward. Why the ruse to keep it a secret? The reason is pretty obvious. The SWP has two annual fund drives, during which Comrades are asked to contribute their "blood money" bonuses to the cause. These funders have a goal in the $100K range, or about $200K annually. Apparently most of this income is spent as compensation for Jack and Mary-Alice. What a rip-off! Especially since most Comrades make nothing close to $60K in after-tax income.

I don't think this was a problem when I was in the Party in the early to mid-70s. Jack had just been appointed "National Secretary," and hadn't been in office long enough to become corrupt. But there is something wrong when there is no leadership turnover in 40 years. The "democratic-centralist" model of governance invites corruption. I hazard that the real reason for the Socialist Action split in the 1980s was precisely for this reason.

So why do Comrades put up with it? It certainly can't be that they are unaware. But they derive social and psychic benefits from their membership, and that makes it worth the cost. In this sense Jack and Mary-Alice are like church pastors, most of whom get paid and a few of whom are spectacularly corrupt. Barnes and Waters tend their flock, fostering the illusion that together they will someday reach the promised land lead the world revolution.

Of course this is a self-limiting movement. A group of elderly men and women who have devoted their lives to a lost cause will not mind contributing a bit to the welfare of their leaders. But new recruits, who lack the sentimental attachment, certainly won't sign up for this. It's a raw deal, and hence no surprise that the SWP is not recruiting new members.

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