25 years

by Harry on August 12, 2006

So, it’s the 25th anniversary of Scott’s high school graduation. That reminds me that it is mine too (though I’d call it leaving school, no graduation having been involved), indicating, contrary to my impression over these many years, that we’re the same age (I thought he was a little younger, making him all the more impresive, somehow). He spent his last two years of high school thus:

In particular, there was no love lost between me and the principal, a crusty old cracker named Theo “Cotton” Miles. I thought he was an idiot — an estimate there has been no occasion to revise — and tended to shake my head every time I passed his office. To judge by later hostilities, he may have noticed this.

It got really bad sometime during my junior year, around spring 1980, when I was walking around with Socialist Workers Party literature as well as running for student council president on some approximation of a “student power” platform, influenced by old radical paperbacks.

During the school assembly where the candidates gave their speeches, my appeal got a very enthusiastic and rowdy response, particularly from the black kids who gave it a standing ovation. Rumor had it that I actually won, but Theo wouldn’t stand for it.

My last two years of secondary school were spent battling the British associates of the American SWP inside the peace movement (a central combatant being, I now know, a housemate of Chris Bertram’s at the time — one of several ways in which our paths have crossed over the years). And I liked both my secondary schools a good deal, despite not fitting in very well at the school where I spent my final two years. The head was not fantastic by any means (unlike his successor, whom I missed), but the teachers were mostly serious, smart, and caring. Most of them, I thought, really wanted to teach in a comprehensive school, which that school was in name only, so the smattering of middle class kids like me got a lot of good attention. But at least one of my best A-Level teachers, I later discovered, was adored by many of his pupils who left at 16 for his efforts to find them suitable employment at a time when that was not especially easy. (And this, I’ll add, after having pleaded with them to stay on for A-levels, instead of leaving for marriage and a steady income). I have many happy memories of that school, and few unpleasant ones, despite not having been especially cheery at the time. I feel intense gratitude to the teachers I had, especially (if you are reading) Mr, King, Mr Matthews, Colin Ross-Smith, and, at my previous school, Mr Thomas and Mrs Flint.

Anyway, the real point is this. Scott doesn’t dare to ask for himself, but could someone get him a copy of this book about his hated high school principal. He obviously wants it, but can’t bring himself to pay for it (understandably). Meanwhile, I’ll try to find my old copies of Permanent Revolution for him (explanation at the bottom of his page, entries for July 2, 5 and 7).



Scott McLemee 08.12.06 at 3:07 pm

Thanks, Harry. Sorry for the lack of permalinks — something to be remedied soon, I hope.

It’s worth mentioning that my contact with the American SWP in high school was not a matter of thinking its politics were better than those of other left-wing groups of the day. It’s just that if you looked up “socialist” in the white pages of Dallas/Fort Worth phone book then, the SWP was what was listed.

They had not yet worked out their fantasy of being Fidel’s truest comrades, which would lead them to purge most of their founding members (the old Trot teamsters and so on) a couple of years later.

Not long after that, they shut down the Dallas branch because “the class struggle was heating up in New Orleans” and so cadres had to be redeployed. Whatever the merits of that conjuctural estimate, it was hard to blame anyone for wanting to get out of Dallas.


etat 08.12.06 at 3:51 pm

It’ll be in the library. Or did they do away with those as tantamount-to-treason part of the anti-terror thing? Even so, or especially so, one could hardly show a higher regard for intellect as a public pastime than by having a card. And using it for an interlibrary loan.


harry b 08.12.06 at 4:05 pm

Scott’s preferred library appears to be the Library of Congress, which, oddly, doesn’t have a copy. But, of course, he could probably get it on an inter-library loan from a high school library in Texas. The LoC might find that a bit humiliating, of course.


will u. 08.12.06 at 4:05 pm

I am envious of both of you, given that my high school radical political activity was limited to little more than reading wsws.org and announcing my libertarian socialism to my 10th grade English class. (The announcement was met with only puzzled frowns.)


harry b 08.12.06 at 4:05 pm

That reminds me that another thing Scott and I have in common is librarian spouses (I think, Scott?).


Lazygal 08.12.06 at 5:32 pm

Uh, your spouse could tell you that LoC doesn’t do ILL to individuals. Also, Gene Wilson, the author, appears to have done some creative publishing (i.e., self-publishing): http://www.thewilsoncompany.com/ebooks.html. No wonder it’s not in the LoC collection.


Scott McLemee 08.12.06 at 8:58 pm

Lazygal is right — while the LC will occasionally send out a book to another library on interlibrary loan (only in very special cases), it does not request books from other libraries. Why that is, I don’t know.

Harry is right, my wife is a librarian there, and I used to work in the Manuscript Division. This has probably gotten me out of the habit of using ILL at the public library. There’s also the fact that the book in question is not listed via WorldCat, itself a might timesuck.


bad Jim 08.13.06 at 2:26 am

Perhaps this is merely a Berkeley thing, but someone once suggested that sympathy with SWP was typically demonstrated by wearing a Sherwin-Williams Paint cap with its distinctively red cover the earth logo.


Ray 08.13.06 at 3:13 am

The British and US SWP’s actually aren’t related. The sister organisation of the British SWP in the US is called the International Socialist Organisation (or at least it was, there were disputes post-Seattle and a split – I’m not sure what the story is now). AFAIK, the US SWP doesn’t have a British version.


Chris Bertram 08.13.06 at 4:10 am

Ray: Harry and I know that. The associates of the American SWP he’s talking about were a minority pro-US SWP faction of the International Marxist Group which, at the time, was the British section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (as the SWP was then the American section – or what would have been the American section but for the Voorhis Act but which de facto functioned as such). Shortly after the period Harry describes, the US SWP (and its British co-thinkers) split with the USFI to become uncritical Castro cheer-leaders.


harry b 08.13.06 at 9:33 am

although, there is (or was) a UK equivalent of the US SWP, emanating from the faction Chris mentions, after the IMG split (I know, because I subsequently met ZM, another of my adversaries, in a queue for a movie at the PPP, and he told me he was in it. It had the words League and Commmunist in its name. The group, not the movie, the title of which I forget, but it’ll come back to me — sometime in July 1987, so whatever was current-ish then).


david 08.13.06 at 11:01 am

July 1987?

I’ll hazard a guess: Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.


Scott McLemee 08.13.06 at 12:30 pm

I believe most groups in the SWP-US “international” call themselves the Communist League — was the original name of the American group after they were thrown out of the CP in 1928.

As Dwight Macdonald put it in Memoirs of a Revolutionist, “Originality of nomenclature was never our strong point.”


Chris Bertram 08.13.06 at 12:40 pm

These be the ones:

“Communist League (UK 1988)”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_League_%28UK%2C_1988%29

part of the “Pathfinder Tendency”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathfinder_tendency

The first Wikipedia article refers to a split from “Socialist Action”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Action_%28UK%29 rather than the “IMG::http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Marxist_Group . SA was the paper of the entryist Socialist League, which was just a rebadging of the IMG during its death throes.


etat 08.13.06 at 5:35 pm

Back to the library…

It isn’t online in WorldCat, as mentioned in #7, nor is it in the J. Erik Jonsson Library/Dallas Public Library. The Wills Point/Wingo Public Library is apparently still using paper based catalogs.

Guess that means some public-minded person may have to purchase a copy and donate it to one of the above. With or without marginalia.

That, or ask a library to purchase it for the collection. My library gathers requests for that purpose.


lazygal 08.14.06 at 7:38 am

That, or ask a library to purchase it for the collection. My library gathers requests for that purpose.

While many libraries do honor purchase requests, they tend to be leery of self-published works (even those given as donations). Which this appears to be.

Someone’s just going to have to pony up the $$ at Amazon or Alibris.


harry b 08.14.06 at 8:33 am

I thought the timesink was going to be following CB’s pathfinder links. But now I’m obsessing about the movie. Not S&RGL, which I’ve still not seen for some odd reason. Perhaps it just wasn’t a very memorable movie (I remember whom I was with, and almost every word of the exchange with ZM, who was selling the tickets).


Phil 08.14.06 at 9:22 am

I distinctly remember an ex-IMGer telling me that the IMG split four ways, but at the moment I can only think of Socialist Alternative and the group Harry referred to – they were the smallest of the four and were generally known not as Communist anything but as American Militant, since selling the US SWP’s paper Militant was pretty much all they did.


T. Gracchus 08.14.06 at 9:40 am



Chris Bertram 08.14.06 at 10:02 am

No, three ways:

The International Group/International Socialist Group (Packer, Pennington, Hearse et al. and (briefly) Bertram, as it happens)

The Socialist Action people (Ross, O’Neil, Woodward et al, who went on to become advisers to Ken Livingstone and now have nice well paid jobs working for the mayor)

The Brian Grogan/Dodie Weppler/Jonathan Silberman group, who went on to form the British arm of the US SWP – the Communist League.

(You could make it four ways if you include the people who went off to join the Spartacists a little earlier, I suppose)


Phil 08.14.06 at 11:05 am

Ah, the ISG, I knew them well. (Back in the early 90s, they were the last nasty organised centralised Leninist group to have their nasty organised centralised Leninist fingers prised off the Socialist Movement – which didn’t last very long once nobody was fighting over it. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.) Maybe the fourth ‘group’ consisted of all the IMGers who decided to give up on the whole Trot lark and concentrate on publishing and academia – not that there’s anything wrong with that, I hasten to add.


chris y 08.14.06 at 1:12 pm

Out of idle curiosity, who wrote the Wikipedia articles? They’re surprisingly accurate.


Chris Bertram 08.14.06 at 1:33 pm

Seems to be


mainly. I wonder if it’s someone we know Chris?


jacob 08.14.06 at 2:13 pm

I’m far to young to have any memory of the post-1960s splits in the sectarian left, and too anarchist (and simultaneously bourgeois) to have much to do with their descendants now. Is there a family tree available? Who split off from whom when, and such. (Presumably there would have to be at least two versions–U.S. and U.K., although perhaps it could be international.) It would make things much easier to follow for whippersnappers like me.


harry b 08.14.06 at 3:30 pm

jacob — Dsquared has encouraged me to write a book about it. But I can’t bring myself to do it, partly because of time, and partly because there are too many people in the far left for whom I have too much respect to seem to be making fun (which it would be impossible not to seem to be doing). I suspect Scott and I could produce a pretty good transatlantic forest. Chris B is also a specialist… (sorry chris).


dave heasman 08.15.06 at 4:10 am

“The Brian Grogan/Dodie Weppler/Jonathan Silberman group”

Brian Grogan! Now there’s a name from the past. I recall him touting his “more proletarian than thou” credentials while on the pull in 1969. Hung out with the nearly as offensive Paul Preston who I understand has achieved some respectability.

(I assume it’s the same ratbag?)

I guess as jacob suggests, these schisms need their own Pete Frame to draw tress; trouble is there’s even less talent and likeability in this mob that there was in the British Blues dregs of Chicken Shack/Groundhogs etc.


Martin 08.15.06 at 4:32 am

Confusing, I think I understand, but where does the People’s Front of Judea fit in?


chris y 08.15.06 at 6:01 am

Christ on a bike! According to a comment here, the WRP were doing an entry job in the ISG in the 1990s. How sad is that?


harry b 08.15.06 at 1:30 pm

Bloody hell, that’s brilliant (response to #28).

I remember, immediately after the initial implosion of the WRP became public (late 1985), Alan Thornett saying that he had thought there would be no openings until Healy, Grant, and Cliff were all dead, at which point each of their groups would implode, and being very excited about the possibilities raised by the WRP split. In fact both the WRP and Militant split prior to their leaders’ deaths, and the WSP (UK) has continued in much the same vein despite Cliff’s death (all the time continuing an amazing degeneration — a mutual friend of mine and Scott’s just reported the ISO shouting the slogan “Long Live Palestine, Long Live Hezbollah!” at a demo in SF — yes, I know that the ISO split from the SWP UK, but still).

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