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Socialist Fish in a Capitalist Sea

By Seth M. Kupferberg

THE SOCIALIST WORKERS Party is trying again this year Two years ago its Boston mayoral candidate, John Powers, got 1700 votes. With a presidential ticket on the ballot in 25 states, and candidates here for the U.S. Senate and two Congressional seats, the SWP hopes to pick up "quite a few votes." Powers, now the Eighth District Congressional candidate, said last week.

"Socialism has never been achieved through elections anyhow, elections are a chance to get our program across to literaly millions of the American people," Powers said.

To that end, presidential candidate Linda Jenness, vice presidential candidate Andrew Pulley, and local SWP candidates have been holding forth at rallies and on campuses, distributing literature--50,000 pieces of it in the Boston area and spending $300,000 nationwide in the process.

Powers said that the SWP's funds come from small contributions. "Sometimes we get a large gift, like $100," he said.

He said much of the money is spent supporting volunteers who gather the signatures small parties need to be listed on the ballot.

The Massachusetts center for the campaign is on the third floor of a decrepit, dishevelled, and generally decaying office building opposite South Station.

As in other campaign offices, volunteers scurry about stuffing leaflets and answering phones. But in the SWP office, a large proportion of the volunteers are also candidates--notably Powers, Don Gurewitz, the Senatorial candidate, and Jeanne Lafferty, the Ninth District Congressional nominee.

Occasionally the volunteers sally forth to make a speech or to picket an opposing candidate who has refused to debate. The SWP likes debates. If its opponents refuse--they generally do--there are always its opponents' supporters, who sometimes agree to appear, especially for student groups. "Debates with McGovern and Nixon supporters are very fruitful for us," Powers explained, "because we always win."

"Naturally, a lot of them won't touch us with a ten-foot pole," he continued. He said that several Harvard professors fall into this category.

"Harvard is a funny place," he said. "We've never had much support there, I don't know why." The Young Socialist Alliance, the SWP's youth group, has been increasingly active on campuses in the last few years.

"The majority of the country right now agrees with big chunks of our platform--the antiwar part, women's rights, black rights, gay rights," Powers said.

Nevertheless, he admitted, McGovern's candidacy may be cutting into the SWP vote, largely because of McGovern's antiwar image.

"Everything You Always Wanted to Know About McGovern," one of three "Young Socialist Truth Kits" (the others deal with Nixon and Gus Hall, the Communist Party candidate), denounces McGovern because "he has backpedalled on virtually every major issue."

Both major parties, it says, are "ultimately controlled by the millionaires who finance them."

The SWP developed out of the Communist League of America, an organization founded in 1928 by Trotskyites whom the Communist Party had expelled.

In the next decade, it became one of the strongest sections of the Fourth International, which Trotsky organized after his expulsion from Russia to lead the "permanent revolution" which he left Stalin had betrayed.

The Party never developed a mass following, however. Today, Powers estimated, about 40 per cent of its 5,000 to 10,000 members also belong to trade unions.

As a Trotskyite party, the SWP calls for revolution all over the world, including at least political revolutions in Russia and China.

"Mao may sound more leftist, but what he does is actually pretty much like Russia," Powers said.

"Cuba's probably about the best," he continued, "but even there they've been arresting writers and supporting Communist Parties in Latin America."

Despite this revolutionary ideology, the SWP's 1972 program seems in some respects not terribly different from that of many left-wing Democrats'.

It calls for immediate withdrawal from Indochina, abolition of the draft, dismantling of military bases, an end to wage controls, a shorter work week without a cut in pay, socialization of medicine, public works, and a 100 per cent tax on incomes above $25,000 per year, as well as civil rights and power for minority groups.

"Some Democrats can support some of these demands; the program is directed to the mass of the American people," Powers said. "But if the program were implemented, it would have to mean a social revolution." As a Marxist-Leninist party, the SWP hopes to lead the revolution it is sure is coming.

Postwar American prosperity, Powers said, was based on America's "taking over the world." But as exploitation becomes more difficult, SWP members believe, prosperity will decline and the country will be radicalized.

"Earlier crises were resolved by world wars," Powers said. "But there won't be a Third World War, because that would destroy the world. There will have to be a revolution."

IN PREPARATION FOR THAT DAY, the SWP is trying to build a following through participation in antiwar and minority-rights demonstrations as well as electoral campaigns.

SWP members have been prominent in organizations like the Peace Action Coalition and especially the Student Mobilization Committee. Columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, among others, have claimed that the SWP controlled SMC's large Washington demonstrations of 1970 and 1971.

"There was some vicious Red-baiting about the demonstrations," Powers said. "We did play a significant role in getting coalitions together, but obviously we didn't control anyone."

The antiwar movement, Powers said, has been the major source of SWP members.

"People are against the war, and the war is part of American foreign policy, and American foreign policy is imperialist, and imperialism is caused by capitalism, so they end up opposing capitalism," he explained.

Pulley, for example, was active in GIs United Against the War, eventually serving 60 days in the stockade, after his expulsion form high school for his participation in what officials called a riot after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Jenness is a 31-year old former teacher and secretary.

In 1968 the SWP was on the ballot in 19 states and received 60,000 votes.

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