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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Peter Camejo and What Is To Be Done

The North Star web site,, as well as leftist bloggers, Pham Binh and Louis Proyect, moderator of Marxmail, advocate that all current Leftist organizations are useless in the cause to advance working class struggles and a should be disbanded. Binh and Proyect claim that organizations claiming to be Leninist are instead actually, "Zinovievist."

The late Peter Camejo (1939-2008), is held as a model of emulation by Proyect and Binh. Camejo advocated the US left use the Cuban July 26 Movement, and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, as models. What Camejo, Proyect, and Binh overlook, is that these movements came to power as the result of armed struggle, with no explanation how this applies to US conditions. The point of unity of both the Cuban and Nicaraguan movements was the overthrow of a particular dictatorship, not Socialism. Proyects irrelevant response to this contradiction is "read Lars Lih." Many of us find Lars Lih hard to read. The only effect Lih's writing has had for me was to cure my inflight insomnia. Thanks to Lars Lih, for the first time in my life, I can sleep during air travel.

The North Star Network, set up by Camejo, is held as a model of effective Socialist organizing. I was in the San Francisco Bay Area, during the short life of Northstar, the name sake of the North Star web site. The North Star Network, was for all practical purposes, a personality cult around Camejo. The organization disbanded, in 1988, not as the result of a democratic vote, but single handedly by Camejo. That says it all.

Camejo's supporters project Camejo as a dissident in the Socialist Workers Party. He was part of the inner membership until 1977, when he  began to develop differences with the leadership of the party. The time for Camejo to present his disagreements with the SWP leadership, would have been during pre convention discussion leading up the the 1981 convention, and at the convention. Instead Camejo decided to take what he claimed was a temporary leave of absence to "think thing out,"  at his family's estate in Venezuela,  prior to the beginning of pre convention disussion, in early 1981. The proper time for "thinking things out" would have been during the  pre convention discussion.

 The maximum leave of absence in the SWP was usually 3 months. There may have been exceptions to this. During a leave, members were still expected to pay dues, and if during a convention, pay the convention assessment that all members paid. Camejo did not pay any dues during his so called leave, nor did he pay convention assessment. Camejo was not expelled from the Socialist Workers Party. Camejo cut and ran, rather than participate in the 1981 convention. The claim that he was still a member during his almost year long hiatus, is the result of either hubris or arrogance on his part.

In 1983 someone I knew asked Camejo, why he didn't share all his disagreements with the membership. His response was, "I wanted this discussion restricted to the leadership." This response , along with Camejo's style of "leadership" and his unilateral disbanding of the North Star Network, would indicate that Camejo supported an elitist form of leadership.  This is hardly a model  that bears emulation.

Camejo's positive contribution was his ability as a public speaker who could articulate socialist concepts in popular language. His ability as an organizer did not measure up to his speaking skills. This is no great sin. No one should be required to be talented in everything. This is why having an organization, with divisions of labor, where the contributions of all can be utilized is so important.  


  1. Very good point at the end there about Camejo's strengths and weaknesses. The SWP always had a shortage of dynamic speakers and agitators like Peter. He was always very impressionistic, though, going with the winds of whatever was popular at the time. In the sixties and early seventies this was balanced by the more experienced, older comrades and his talents developed to their fullest. As the seventies wore on and these elements were replaced by younger leaders and the mass movement ebbed, Camejo fell victim to to the vindictive careerists of the Jack Barnes clique. None of the work he did as an independent came close to what he accomplished as a member of the SWP team.

    1. As talented as he was Camejo needed an organization to provide support, which was lacking after he left the SWP.