Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Oberlin, 2016

This is a tough post to write because there is almost nothing to write about. Still, it's important to comment on the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) most important annual event.

Oberlin conferences, held on the eponymous campus annually since about 1970, have historically hosted the Party's biannual conventions, and in the alternate years a Marxist Summer School or Educational Conference. That pattern has changed recently--the Party's last convention was in 2014, and if there was an Oberlin Conference in 2015, it went unremarked on this blog.

This year's conclave was billed as an Active Workers Conference. (Given the Party's demographics, it might more accurately be called the Active Retirees Conference.) The program included classes on the Party's trade union work, on their call for unilateral nuclear disarmament, on Puerto Rican independence, on the Middle East (with emphasis on Iran), and on the importance of the Cuban revolution, among other topics. Attendees numbered 320--the same number as attended the 2014 convention--including foreign visitors.

The major purpose of the meeting, however, was to tout Jack Barnes' new book, entitled Are They Rich Because They're Smart?: Class Privilege Under Capitalism. From The Militant's review, I was disappointed to learn that the book is not original, but instead is an updated compilation of articles Mr. Barnes has written previously. I did inquire about getting an advance review copy--unsurprisingly they didn't reply--but I have since ordered the book from Amazon (temporarily out of stock). It only costs $10. I'll post a review as soon as I can. I don't believe an appraisal has appeared in any other publication.

Mr. Barnes delivered the keynote address entitled The Changing Face of US Politics. The brief description in The Militant isn't very informative, containing only predictable boilerplate about "the unprecedented and irresolvable worldwide crisis of capitalist production, trade and finances." I can't help but hope there was more substance in the actual talk, i.e., about Donald Trump, who really is a new face in American politics.

The upshot of all this are the two tasks for the coming period: the Alyson Kennedy for President and Osborne Hart for vice-president campaign, and the drive to sell 1750 copies of Mr. Barnes' new book. Given the "irresolvable worldwide crisis of capitalist production, trade and finances," this seems remarkably modest. But the book is selling like gangbusters (despite Amazon being out of stock): "Since June 25 teams campaigning in Utah have sold 76 copies of the book; in Vermont, 133 copies; and in Washington state, 16." This, of course, is accomplished by comrades going door-to-door.

So there are three levels of political thought and activity. At the top are core principles. Then comes some overarching strategy for accomplishing those principles. Finally, this leads to tactics that are an implementation of that strategy.

I have read nothing indicating that the Party has violated any core principles, which remain mostly unchanged since I was a comrade 40 years ago. On this they are without sin.

Their mission to run an election campaign and sell books is a perfectly good tactic (however small).

What is missing is a strategy. They have none, and haven't had one for many years now. That's why this article is so short and doesn't have much to say. I can't comment on a strategy that doesn't exist. They bounce around from one idea to the next: appeal to Trump supporters, lobby for education (not) reform, defend the Jewish right of return, plead for nuclear disarmament, etc.

It's a long list. But nothing inspires. Nothing carries through from one week to the next. It's all ad hoc.

Note: Blogging has been light recently, due partly to some time-consuming, personal issues, and also because Mrs. Trotsky and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a two-week holiday in Japan.

Further Reading:

No comments:

Post a Comment