Call for a Conference on:

The Legacy of Leon Trotsky and U.S. Trotskyism:

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

 

We live in both terrible and exciting times, in which a new layer of activists is coming into struggles that former members of the Socialist Workers Party have been part of in the past.  We, both veterans and a new layer of youth, would like to organize a conference to dialogue to better understand past and present struggles, to clarify issues and to build the socialist movement today and tomorrow.

 

It became clear to many of us that events are reactivating an important layer of former Socialist Workers Party comrades, and that there is a desire on the part of a layer that played leading roles in the old SWP to get back in touch with each other. Many started meeting socially, which led to collaborating politically on building meetings for or holding discussions on Barry Sheppard’s book, Lynne Stewart Defense, the Caroline Lund memorials, and the antiwar movement. Other comrades have been involved in translating Celia Hart’s speeches and writing for various web sites and participating in on-line Marxist discussion groups. Some are working with Labor Standard and Socialist Action, in Solidarity, the ISO, Socialist Organizer, and other organizations. Barry Sheppard and Paul LeBlanc have written books about their experiences and conclusions on the last 40 years. These developments are all highly significant and very positive.

 

Many of us, however, have felt the lack of one unified socialist arena or milieu of Trotskyist comrades to collaborate with and share perspectives about what is happening politically in the USA and the world. This is in a period when the writings of Celia Hart and the comments of Hugo Chavez, along with discussions in the ISO and other left organizations, are focusing attention on the ideas of Leon Trotsky and his analyses of permanent revolution and the Soviet Union. For many reasons, we are not suggesting that the proposed conference attempt to recreate an organization like the old SWP (or any organization) at this time. But hopefully the intervening years have been an opportunity for reflection, for personal and political growth, affording us the possibility of both passing on the most valuable aspects of our time in the SWP and also of participating with others in the creation of a more profound and effective understanding. There is still and always a need to deepen and develop revolutionary thought, strategy, and action.

 

There is value in preserving the best traditions of the SWP in the living cadre that still exists. We should not undervalue each other, or ourselves, and perhaps in our maturity we can afford each other the respect and acknowledgment that was so often lacking toward differences and each other in the SWP. Under the pressure of events and the critical turning point that global warming, globalization, and the warfare state present, it should be only natural for us as seasoned revolutionaries to come together. We intend to share our experience, strength, and hope for the future and to pass what knowledge we have on to new generations.

 

As a result of our collective efforts in the SWP many of us developed an important understanding of concepts such as permanent revolution, the analysis of workers' states and Stalinism, democratic centralism, national liberation, racism, patriarchy, gay and gender oppression. While the world looks very different today, an appreciation of questions such as these still provides important answers to the dilemmas facing humankind. They remain crucial for a new generation of activists. We believe that the revolutionary Marxist tradition, which many of us attempted to defend through the SWP, and have continued to uphold since that organization's degeneration, has an essential contribution to make to any more contemporary understanding.

 

Conference Conception

 

We intend to focus on what we have in common and what we can do together. It is in the spirit of revolutionary optimism and unity that this conference proposal is offered. We encourage others to share their thoughts on possibilities.  It seems there are several components that could make sense for such a conference.

 

Theoretical and political perspectives

 

What remains relevant in the Trotskyist theoretical and political tradition?  What do developments of the late 20th and early 21st century indicate regarding the value of such concepts as permanent revolution, workers' states (and/or workers’ and farmers’ governments), workers' democracy, the revolutionary potential of the working class, the revolutionary potential of the African American, Chicano, women’s, and GLBT movements, Lenin on the vanguard party and democratic centralism, imperialism, the national question, and the relation of democratic struggles to the revolutionary struggle?

 

What now?

 

What is the best way to organize for change in the world today?  What is the political situation that we face, particularly from the standpoint of those who continue to want to create a socialist society?  What is the situation in Cuba today and how does that impact permanent revolution in Latin America in countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia. What are the dynamics in the Middle East created by US Empire building and US wars? What is happening on the Left, in the unions, in the immigrant rights movement, the antiwar movement, among environmentalists, and in other social movements? And what are those from the SWP tradition doing (and/or what should we be doing)?

 

Networking and projects

 

There are a number of projects that have already been initiated and others that have been suggested to provide opportunities for collaboration and united action:

 

1.  The Marxist Internet Archive and the related Trotskyist On-Line Encyclopedia;

2.  Kipp Dawson's initiative to help people gather together memories of their political experiences in the SWP and YSA;

3.  Barry Sheppard's effort to produce an important historical memoir of the SWP from 1960 to 1988 and related continuing discussions on the decline of the SWP;

4.  The on-line publication Labor Standard, the Holt Labor Library, the collections of materials, such as the Breitman and Lovell collections, at the Tamiment Library (and past efforts to highlight these through a conference and publications).

5.  A number of political campaigns - in the trade unions, in the antiwar movement, and around a variety of other issues such as health care and ecology - that many former SWPers have been involved in;

6.  Future joint publishing projects to preserve Trotsky’s legacy;

7.  Defense of the Cuban Revolution and bringing Celia Hart’s and Chavez’s reflections on Trotsky to a broader audience;

8.  Bringing revolutionaries from other countries to the U.S. for joint meetings.

9.  Lynne Stewart, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Gary Tyler Defense Work;

 

Making sense of what we have lived through

 

Remembering political experiences and comrades who were important to us, how can we best understand the historical significance and contributions of the Socialist Workers Party? How, when, and why did the decline of the Socialist Workers party begin? How is its decline to be understood?

Suggestions to implement this conference proposal have included so far:

 

1. A three or four day event, during the summer (probably in 2008), perhaps at a summer camp or Oberlin-type setting.  To include some social/cultural/recreational activities suitable not only for comrades participating but also for families and/or partners.  There could be panels, workshops, small-group brainstorming sessions, plenaries and public forums.  There should be plenty of tape recorders and video cameras going -- perhaps operated by paid "staff."

 

2. A three day event in New York City or the immediate vicinity to involve many forces who are already organized there and other tendencies.

(Suggestions 1 & 2 need not be exclusive.)

 

3. To include Celia Hart in person, if possible, and on film or by interactive technology if not, and to discuss the current situation in Cuba today, Cuba as an example of permanent revolution, defense of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s impact on the current Latin American struggle. To attempt to bring Venezuelans and other Latin Americans to the conference to discuss their situation.

 

4. Possible preliminary activities, including a smaller gathering in 2007 (perhaps focusing on efforts by Barry and Kipp).

 

5. Individual Marxist intellectuals may want to

relate in some way to our efforts (which should be welcomed), and the same may be true of several organized political entities, including: the Fourth International, Socialist Action, the International Socialist Organization, the Workers International League, Socialist Voice (Canada), Democratic Socialist group (Australia), Socialist Organizer, among others.  We may want to invite representatives of such groups to our conference as "observers" or participants.

 

6. A pre-conference on-line discussion of proposed topics, perhaps a specific Yahoo discussion group to facilitate this process and build the conference.

 

7. Those of us signing this call are constituting ourselves as an initial conference organizing committee, which can be expanded to include others.  We will conduct further discussion to plan for a conference along the lines indicated in the Trotskyist tradition, pulling together the finances and energies capable of making such a conference happen. This organizing committee consists of people who will do their best to be open-minded, good listeners, flexible, committed, and nonsectarian.

 

Tom Bias

Steve Bloom

Robin David

Alexei Folger

David Keil

Paul Le Blanc

Ahmed Shawki

Sharon Smith

Asi Somburu

Kwame Somburu

Zakiya Somburu

Linda Thompson

Dave Walters