Socialism or Suntan, Part 2

Is it a harmless political party, or is it a cult?

"A revolution is inevitable," Rebecca answers matter-of-factly. "Capitalism cannot survive. It constantly has to expand to find new markets. It has to. Those are the laws of history."

Kulchur cites the burgeoning new markets in the (supposedly) communist Far East -- Starbucks has just opened in Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City now has Internet cafés -- but Rebecca has a stock response to that too. "Eventually those markets will be full. The U.S. cannot expand forever. And when it tries, more wars will come out of it.... The alternative is fascism."

The discussion begins to take on the flavor of a theological debate: If a person devoutly believes, no amount of rational discourse is going to convince them otherwise. And so much of the SWP's activity appears inwardly focused; few members seem to have any meaningful social contacts outside the party. Which raises a nagging question: Is the Socialist Workers Party a cult?

Miami's Socialist Workers Party bookstore offers up fiery words and fruit slices; (above) SWP presidential candidate James Harris
Steve Satterwhite
Miami's Socialist Workers Party bookstore offers up fiery words and fruit slices; (above) SWP presidential candidate James Harris

Certainly, as cults go, it's relatively benign. Unlike the Krishnas you get to keep your hair, and unlike the Moonies there aren't any mass marriages. Still, in a 1986 interview, former SWP leader Peter Camejo (the party's 1976 presidential candidate, now pro-Nader and a broker with a "socially responsible" California investment firm) likened his more than two decades in the group to time spent in a religious sect. He was expelled from the party in 1980 after attempting to steer it in a less dogmatic direction. "I totally believed that the SWP had all the answers to all questions," he said. "I was a cultist of the SWP."

Kulchur puts the question to Rebecca pointblank: Is the SWP a cult?

"That's ridiculous!" she exclaims with a cross look. "No one's forced to do anything. We're politically convinced. I'm politically convinced that I want to do this." Visibly annoyed now, she leans back in her chair and gazes down at her food, perhaps contemplating a dash for the door.

Kulchur's tribal radar is pinging, which suggests a different tack. You're Jewish, aren't you?

A bit surprised, Rebecca answers yes.

I know Jewish moms. Doesn't your mother ever call you up and say, "Enough with all this socialist meshugaas! Find a nice Jewish doctor, settle down, make me some grandchildren!"

Rebecca smiles and chooses her words carefully: "My mother respects me as an adult who can make her own decisions." A conspiratorial grin appears on her face and she adds, "She knows that I do what I want to do."

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