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Devotion, or Asceticism?

It's kind of hard to come to terms with my 8 1/2 years in the Socialst Workers Party. Should I be commended for becoming more and more devoted to my cause, or should I be condemned for irrational ascenticism? For my defense, I can only plead ignorance.

In 1976, I was a seasoned pro among SWP members. I had become organizer of one of the tiny branches, I had recruited more Houstonians than anybody else had, and I had read enough to merit attention to my opinions. I had been "successful" as their candidate for Congress. Then the Houston SWP leadership went too far.

Without consulting me, they announced to a city-wide meeting that I would be their candidate in the City elections. I would be running against the most progressive candidate who was also the only African American on the City Council.

I immediately rose and told the assemblage that I would carry out the decision of the leadership if it was approved by vote, but that my own vote would be against their proposal. Houston had only recently begun to elect minorities to city offices, and an SWP candidate in that particular race would alienate the very people we hoped to lead.

The leadership withdrew the motion before a vote was taken, but my position as one of the “outs” was firmly established. Within a few weeks, they were recommending that I be transferred to work in the SWP print shop in New York.

I Was In a Hole, so I Dug Deeper!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned, in this treatise, that whatever I’ve learned didn’t come about easily. Dumb brute that I am, I learned whatever I learned after being hit on the head several times. Again, I never claimed to be smart. Just persistent.

I was well aware that moving me to New York was the SWP leadership’s maneuver to get rid of me and my influence in Houston. I also knew that I’d be giving up all the emotional comfort that I had. I’d be giving up a job that paid fairly well and gave me a certain amount of respect in the school and the community around the school. I’d be giving up all my close relationships. I knew that I’d be living a bare-bones existence in a big frightening city, and that my work would not involve any of the skills I had refined and was proud of, but would be limited to typing.

By way of explaining, let me say that I had completely bought into the idea that only the growth and success of the Socialist Workers Party had any chance of redeeming mankind from oppression. Even if they were mistaken in sending me to New York, the larger purpose would be served, I figured, if I obeyed.

I resolved to move to New York and work as a typographer. I took the Greyhound.

I would like to be able to say that I learned a good deal over the next 18 months. It’s true that I read everything the SWP published, including new books, old books, and periodicals. I became a professional typographer, to be sure, but the entire occupation was on its way out as more and more sophisticated computers took over. It just occurs to me that I may have been the very last professional typographer to be trained! I’d like to be able to say that I learned a good deal but I didn’t.

I worked 6 days a week and sometimes 7. Very long hours. I walked across Manhattan twice a day, until I got a bicycle and increased my mobility substantially. I earned $65/week and maintained a decent sustainer payment to my new Branch on the Lower East Side. I loaned my entire savings to the Party. I sold their Militant newspaper and remained active in all Branch affairs. I lived and breathed the Socialist Workers Party and socialized, when I socialized, on its behalf. Even though I couldn’t claim to have recruited any New Yorkers, no one could say I hadn’t tried.

I lasted 18 months, which was fairly good for print shop employees. I was depressed a lot, but then it was a recurring problem. I had a succession of comrade girlfriends, one of whom lived with me for a few months. The only real problem I had was when New Yorkers teased me about being from Texas. I hated being called “cowboy” and once threatened to smack a comrade who persisted. I also made no secret of being pretty miserable while living broke in New York City.

The Socialist Workers Party decided to transfer me again. This time they asked where I would like to go, and I immediately chose Dallas. Houston wasn’t one of the choices, they would never have sent me home to Houston, where I had influence that they couldn’t control.

I had a beloved sister in Dallas. She was always quick to comfort me. And Dallas was part of the “Great Southwest,” where I felt more at home.

When I left New York, I was stripped of nearly all the protective ego-coating that I had relied on earlier. In Dallas, I was a real nobody. I was nearly broke. I had no job, no car, and no prospects. I had work clothes, a few dishes and a pot or two. My doctorate wasn’t going to help me get a job in academe or in public teaching. In fact, it was a hindrance. It was not a good time for me, but it was still a learning time.

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