In Defense Of Marxism-A Fortieth Anniversary, of Sorts- Workers Of The World Unite-Long Live The Struggle For The World Socialist Revolution!
Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the May Day 1971 events mentioned below.
One of my early posts a few years back in this American Left History blog concerned a certain scathing polemic centered on ex-Democratic Party 2004 presidential candidate Massachusetts U.S. Senator John Forbes Kerry’s “celebration” of the 35th anniversary of his giving anti-war veteran (VVAW) testimony before some Senate committee in 1971. At that time I noted that these odd-ball year anniversary commemorations seemed absurd. I also noted there that certain events like the 135th anniversary of the Paris Commune in 1871 or the 89th anniversary of the great October Revolution in Russia in 1917 that were world-historic exceptions to the trend and worthy of commemoration each and every year by the international working class movement. Since then I have on more than one occasion been guilty of that same sin that I castigated Senator John Forbes Kerry for and today I confess to that same sin as I meander on about the fortieth anniversary of my “conversion” to the Marxist worldview in my understanding of the political universe we struggle in.
Certainly, like Kerry’s belated testimony before that Senate committee in 1971, my “conversion” experience is no world-historic event. However I have no qualms about making some points for today’s (and the future’s) young labor militants based on that conversion. Without going into the totality of my prior political trajectory I would just observe that, like many in the generation of ’68 of which I am a card-carrying member, events, serious and disturbing events in this country like the black liberation struggle (in all its manifestations) and the Vietnam War, my era’s American imperial war of the day, drove me leftward during the 1960s. Leftward from a Catholic Worker-tinged liberalism to a sturdier left-liberalism a la Robert Kennedy to what I would call street social democracy prior to my immersion in the Marxist milieu in 1972.
Two events kind of form the bookends of that pre-Marxist radicalization period from about 1968 (after the assassination of Robert Kennedy and my subsequent, ouch, active support for Hubert H. Humphrey in his presidential bid against the main bourgeois political villain of the age, one Richard Milhous Nixon). The first was my draft induction in the American imperial army which was an instant catalyst for reforming my political views and almost needs no further exposition. The second was the thwarted attempt on May Day 1971 by my fellow ragtag radical elements and I to “shut down the government if it does not shut down the war” which ended in abysmal failure and does need some explanation.
Without going into the sordid details we attempted, as “vanguard” elements (SDS, Mayday Tribe, etc.), with an inadequate force facing a massive police, military and government counteroffensive to substitute ourselves for mass action. As a result of that isolated fiasco I had to rethink my worldview about the nature of social change and, more importantly, with what forces, under what conditions, and with what program were we going to fight for that “newer world” we kept talking about all through the 1960s and early 1970s
I should mention that I came “kicking and screaming” to the Marxist worldview. I had held just as many prejudices against the doctrine as the next anti-communist, liberal, left-liberal, soft-sell social democrat, radical, or non-Marxist revolutionary. Although, and here is where the whole thing comes together a little more coherently, I always was a little “pink” on the question of the Soviet Union, “red” hot on the Vietnamese revolution after my army experiences, and agnostic about the “perfidious” communists that I always wound up working with on various social issues of the day. Still I resisted, looking to various anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist doctrines first, but the power of the Marxist analysis was like a siren call in the end.
Of course coming from the working poor I should have been a Marxist from about age fourteen, the age when I first took up street politics. Why? Any doctrine that calls for the laboring masses, those who create the wealth, to rule and declares that all workers should unite in one great international body should have been like catnip. Well, it took a while, and I (and we) have taken our lumps in defense of the doctrine since then, including the current marginalization of our views. But like the phoenix from the ashes I can sense that we will have our day again and we had better do a better job of creating those classless societies that will make this sorry old world less hungry, less driven by sexual anxieties, and less fearful of death than those who came before us.
Right now though let’s consecrate on taking that hunger and struggle for the daily bread question off the human agenda, the question that Marxists have set out to conquer and make the rest easier to handle. I came to Marxism a little later in life than some of my contemporaries but I believe in the end that steeled me a little better against the hard times. In any case, hard times or good, I have never regretted my “conversion". Workers Of The World Unite! Long Live The World Socialist Revolution!