Peter Camejo is dead

by Harry on September 23, 2008

Obituaries here and here. I should say upfront that I never met Camejo, but we had many associates in common. The people I knew who had been expelled from the SWP around the same time regarded him with something like reverence; in fact it always seemed to me that he was the one person who could have led the various layers of people who were expelled into some sort of alternative grouping. Perhaps he thought that would have been a bad thing to do; if so, perhaps he was right. He preferred to put his efforts (and his not inconsiderable financial support) into a wider range of (admittedly only somewhat) broader efforts. After expulsion from the SWP he worked for Merrill Lynch; and after being expelled from there he was a major figure in the socially responsible investing movement. According to the wikipedia article, he participated in the 1960 Olympics on the Venezualan yachting team.

We were talking about him over dinner last night and, finding out he was a socialist, my 11-yr-old said “oh well, then he’d have supported Obama”. My response: “I wouldn’t bet on it”. Merrill Lynch outlived him by a week. I’m sorry that he’s gone.

Update: a touching memoir from Louis Proyject gives you a real sense of the man and his world.



LFC 09.24.08 at 12:53 am

“My response: ‘I wouldn’t bet on it.'”

I wouldn’t either, after glancing through the SWP obit and noting Camejo’s longstanding attitude toward the Democratic Party and all its works. Contrary to what the SWP obit writer said on this, Michael Harrington, whatever his blind spots (and he certainly had them, as everyone does) did not believe that the Democratic Party could be turned into “a vehicle for advancing socialism,” or to be more precise he did not phrase it that way. Rather Harrington believed that the majority of the progressive constituencies/elements in U.S. politics were firmly in or around the Dem. party (along with other not-progressive elements), that third parties had not had much success in prying those elements away from the Dems in the modern era, and that not to recognize these facts when deciding on electoral strategy was foolish. Harrington’s approach might not have worked all that well, but Camejo’s didn’t either.


K 09.24.08 at 2:18 am

I saw him speak a couple of times, and read his stuff. One of the few people in these times with a clear idea of what the Left needs to do; a pragmatic, funny, but firmly principled guy. A real loss.


Lex 09.24.08 at 8:50 am

From the SWP obit:

“one of the few leaders of the 1960s who actively maintained his commitment to the need to build a new revolutionary movement based on the mass of working-class people and students in this country.”

“Having left the SWP where he’d spent his entire political career, Peter embarked on the unexpected path of becoming a broker for Merrill Lynch. He used to laugh when he’d tell the story of how he figured it wouldn’t be too hard to make some money because he’d read Marx’s Capital, and he was good at math…”

So which is it: deluded or sell-out? And at what point in time does a life wasted in the service of revolutionary socialism stop being tragic and just become funny?


Harry 09.24.08 at 1:50 pm

“And at what point in time does a life wasted in the service of revolutionary socialism stop being tragic and just become funny?”

When it’s Bob Avakian’s life?

But that’s a misreading of Camejo’s life (or, more likely, of what goes on in organisations of this kind). I wasn’t in the SWP (btw, the SW of the obit is completely different from the SWP from which he was expelled — I doubt that their paper, Militant, is even running an obit). But in the organisations that Camejo subsequently supported financially and morally, everyone knows that socialism is a long way off, and that not everyone you recruit is going to stick around. There are struggles worth supporting here and now, and so you support them, acting as a kind of auxiliary, sometimes providing resources that no-one else is in a position to access. And you provide education and training to recruits that you hope will serve them well in whatever campaigns and organisations they live their lives in. Union locals, and even, sometimes, union leaderships, are replete with people who are more effective thanks to their experiences in groups like those Camejo supported (I am refraining from naming names for obvious reasons, but I know some of these people pretty well). Compared with the training that the Democratic Party usually offers, and the trajectory of its recruits, I think Camejo’s contribution holds up pretty well.

I don’t know about how it holds up compared with Harrington. LFC is right about what Harrington’s view was. But Harrington was Harrington. I don’t know about the training DSA and DSOC have provided for recruits, but the folks I used to come across had the view that obit writer wrongly attributes to Harrington. The fragmentation of this broad part of the left in the 60s and 70s was a minor tragedy. From the outside, the fact that Camejo and Harrington were not comrades seems like evidence of that tragedy.


Jeff 09.24.08 at 2:23 pm

Camejo was an activist in the California Green Party, but likely supported Ralph Nader in this election. Nader run outside the Green Party in 2004 with Camejo as his vice-presidential running mate.


Ben Alpers 09.24.08 at 3:09 pm

As someone involved in the national Green Party from around 2000 through 2006 or so, I think it’s fair to say that Camejo’s role in internal GP politics was at best a mixed blessing.


Righteous Bubba 09.24.08 at 3:10 pm

in the service of revolutionary socialism

For what period of his life was he calling for blood in the streets?


Louis Proyect 09.24.08 at 5:22 pm

I worked very closely with Camejo from 1981 to 1987 on various nonsectarian leftwing initiatives. I have written 2 items about him. The one on my blog is more personal. The other for is more of a traditional obit, but focused on his SWP experience:



Finally, although this might sound Talmudic, Camejo was not expelled. To be expelled from a group like the SWP involves charges, a trial body, etc. Camejo took what he assumed to be a leave of absence in 1980 in order to go to Venezuela and read Lenin with an eye to figuring out how the SWP became a sect. When he came back to NYC, he was blocked from a National Committee meeting with the excuse that his leave was really a resignation since leave of absences were only allowed within in the US, or some such nonsense. The membership never knew that this secret bureaucratic maneuver had taken place. I should finally state that Camejo’s verdict on the SWP written around this time can be read here:

Considering the power of his arguments, it is not surprising that the SWP would want to prevent him from getting a hearing.


Kenny Easwaran 09.26.08 at 7:54 am

I really don’t know enough about Green Party politics to comment much, but I believe I voted for Camejo for governor (when he ran against Gray Davis and whoever the Republican was) but then lost faith in him when he was Nader’s running mate in ’04. Although I’ve never actually lived in San Francisco itself, I did like the idea of Matt Gonzalez’ candidacy for mayor when he almost beat Gavin Newsom – but again, he’s now running as Nader’s running mate, again running against the Greens, so I don’t think I can support him any more either.

Comments on this entry are closed.