Sy Landy, National Secretary of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) since its founding in 1976, died of cancer at the age of 76 on November 28, 2007. As we continue our political activities, the members of the LRP and our international organization COFI (Communist Organization for the Fourth International) have been mourning our profound loss, while beginning to reflect on the lessons of his life.
Born of the working class on May 7, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York, Sy (Seymour) Landy remained a champion of his class’s struggles to the end. Living modestly and fighting boldly for revolutionary politics, Sy resisted pressures to accommodate to this wretched imperialist world – in contrast to so much of the left of his and subsequent generations. He told his comrades that the struggle for socialism had given his life its meaning and remains humanity’s only hope. As a political thinker and leader, Sy Landy contributed more than any other individual in the past half century to resurrecting and advancing genuine proletarian revolutionary Marxism in the aftermath of the Fourth International’s decisive degeneration in 1952.
Sy entered political life as a student at Brooklyn College in the early 1950’s, when there was no authentic revolutionary organization. Under the impact of the expansion of the middle classes and labor aristocracy during the post-World War II economic boom, the various left groups had in reality given up on Marxism’s first principle: that the emancipation of the working class must be the task of the working class itself.
Sy joined the Independent Socialist League led by Max Shachtman, an organization which had separated from Trotskyism in 1940 in the name of the supposed “Third Camp” and which had increasingly accommodated to American “democratic” imperialism and its trade-union bureaucracy. He was a leader of a left current in the Shachtmanite tendency that opposed Shachtman’s shift toward the bourgeois Democratic Party and broke with Shachtman over his support for the U.S.’s “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in 1961. Sy helped found and lead the Independent Socialist Clubs (ISC), which changed its name to the International Socialists (IS) in 1969.
The late 1960’s saw the real turning point in Sy’s political life, the beginning of a break that eventually led to the existence of the LRP today. He was inspired both by the Black ghetto uprisings that shook the major cities of the U.S. and by the powerful general strike of the working class in France in 1968. As he often explained, such mass upheavals were a demand for revolutionary leadership. Combined with a period of international travel and intensive re-study of Trotsky’s writings, these events drove Sy to fully grasp the power of the working class as a class, as well as the vital role that would have to be played by Black and other racially and ethnically oppressed workers around the world in building the international vanguard party.
Sy became convinced of the need to revive the essentials of Trotskyism as the revolutionary Marxism of our time. It was necessary to “say what is” to the working class so that it could develop its own consciousness and capacity to make the revolution. And it was necessary above all to demonstrate in theory and practice to our fellow workers that, as Trotsky taught us, “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” Building the revolutionary party as the expression of the advanced communist consciousness of our class was the key to uniting the working class and the oppressed in the fight for socialist revolution. (See our list of pamphlets for information about Marxism, Interracialism, and the Black Struggle and other pamphlets by Sy Landy and the LRP.)
Sy was the main leader of the Revolutionary Tendency in the IS, which became the Revolutionary Socialist League when it was expelled in 1973. He led a fight in the RSL against its degeneration, which led to the formation of the LRP to preserve and extend the RSL’s gains. The full lessons of the mass struggles of the period were drawn out in these factional struggles.
Our understanding of the centrality of the working class and its revolutionary consciousness is fundamental to all of the LRP’s politics. In particular, within the international left, the LRP has become best known for its theoretical viewpoint on Stalinism and the “Russian Question.” The analysis of Stalinism, the “Russian Question” and the epoch of imperialist decay is developed in detail in our book, The Life and Death of Stalinism, A Resurrection of Marxist Theory, by Walter Daum, for which Sy wrote the foreword.
In writing this initial brief statement about Sy’s life and work, we must speak frankly. Since our birth in 1976, the level of class struggle, in the U.S. especially, has remained far more stagnant than all of us hoped for. Since the LRP bases itself on the advancing class consciousness of our fellow workers, we have always understood that our growth would inherently be tied to the resurgence of class struggle and the desire of more workers to look for genuine communist politics as a result of direct experience. So we know that our feelings of profound debt to Sy and our admiration for him might be discounted by many – since our group is still small and our program of workers’ socialist revolution seems so outlandish to many who have given up on it. But it would be a cynical mistake to discount our theoretical and practical accomplishments for such reasons.
As Sy wrote in reflecting on the LRP, “Trotsky taught us to have little patience with those who judged an organization by size alone. Such people, he said, had only achieved trade union consciousness, not revolutionary consciousness. The decisive question in evaluating a political organization is the power and relevance of its political ideas. If our politics actually reflect the real interests of the working class and point out the road ahead, then with the necessary initiative and courage the numbers will come.” (“Twenty Years of the LRP”.)
Sy loved life passionately and wore his heart on his sleeve. He could not suppress his affection for all his friends any more than he could hide his hatred of capitalism, a bestial world system that was destroying humanity. Full of personality, Sy certainly had his own human frailties. But he was an outstandingly fine leader to comrades young and old, extraordinarily patient and a deep source of support for many friends and comrades. Sy Landy leaves behind no traditional nuclear family but a large chosen family of comrades and personal friends here and abroad. We loved him so.
For an introduction to the political history and views of Sy Landy and the LRP, see the following:
Other important writings by Sy Landy: