Third camp memories: an outsider's view

Submitted by AWL on 29 January, 2014 - 11:16

A contribution to our ongoing symposium of reflection and recollections of the "third camp" left in the United States.

Click here to view the rest of the symposium.

Somehow, a copy of the lively, Chicago-based American Socialist found me in the Spring of 1965, at the University of Illinois in Champaign (my home town), at a moment when I was months out of the DeLeonite Socialist Labor Party, and not quite yet in Students for a Democratic Society. Around this time, Hal Draper visited the campus and spoke movingly about the Free Speech Movement.

Jump down a year or so and a couple of SDS chapters, and I found, at an SDS convention, members of IS to be my closest comrades. Unlike several other Old Left groups, they did not intend to infiltrate SDS, which was much appreciated—but they were also not much interested in students except to recruit them for proletarianisation, so they soon disappeared. At the same SDS convention, I found some pamphlets written by C.L.R. James, and there, an interest in the history of Trotskyism involved also a departure from Trotskyism.

SDS, like the old-time Industrial Workers of the World, was syndicalist in nature and that suited me, along with the magazine that I soon began to publish, Radical America. And yet, among Marxist groups, IS [International Socialists] was always the most appealing in personal and political ways. When Radical America relocated from Wisconsin to Boston in 1971, at least two editorial board members were in IS, and when they departed for Detroit, Workers Power [the IS paper] carried an inside-page headline about the recruitment of the two into IS. There was a moment when the industrialization of the former student left seemed to be crystallising, apart from the Maoist circuits, around IS perspectives (also those of more syndicalist survivors of the campus scene), and in my mind, Radical America was very close.

And then the moment passed. I never ceased subscribing to IS publications, found myself writing for Against the Current more or less continuously if not often, and joined Solidarity around 2000. I couldn’t find a place for myself in the group, but have always considered myself close.

Paul Buhle was a founder of Radical America and Oral History of the American Left. He is the author of Marxism in the United States, and the editor of many volumes of radical illustrations, murals, and comic art. He joined Solidarity in 2000, and continues to write for its magazine Against The Current. He is the biographer of CLR James.

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