Friday, July 06, 2007



This summer marks the 35th year of my commitment to Marxism. Those who have been reading my commentaries for a while know that I try to commemorate, and comment on, important anniversaries in our common working class and leftist history like those of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti or the start of the Paris Commune. Those same readers also know that I have been rather short with bourgeois politicians like John Kerry who have a habit of commemorating every little political action they have taken. The winner for me was Kerry’s very public celebration at historic Fanueil Hall in Boston in 2006 of the 35th anniversary of his anti-war testimony before Congress in 1971. Christ, I still chuckle over the absurdity of that one. But hear me out on this. I want no pat on the back but to just make a comment about why, despite the current historic trend away from socialist solutions to the world’s problems, I still proudly carry the title communist.

I once remarked in a review of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto that the third section of that document where he polemicized against the various other liberal and so-called socialist groups of his day that in my search for political solutions in my early days I had probably held virtually every position that he argued against. And believe me, dear reader, that is no exaggeration-except maybe I did not advocate for feudal socialism. But the rest, liberalism, both tactical and principled versions of pacifism, anarchism, guerilla warfare, well you get the drift. This is probably why when I headed, reluctantly I might add, to Marxism it stuck. And that is the main idea I am trying to get at in this piece. That is the power of Marxism as a tool for looking at and changing the world. The only other point I would add is that over the past thirty-five years nothing in politics, our few victories and our many, too many defeats at the hands of the capitalists, has made me regret that I took the road back to my working class roots. I have made many a political mistake in my life, that is for sure. But this is not one of them. LONG LIVE THE WORLD SOCIALIST REVOLUTION!!!


Click on title to link to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee web site.



By now everyone in the civilized world knows that President George W. Bush has commuted the 30 month federal sentence of his Vice President’s man, Scooter Libby. Apparently the thought that one of the boys who helped pull off the disinformation debacle in the lead up to the Iraq war would actually serve time was too much for Bush to bear. That has led me to think that while the man is in one of his thoughtful moods that this would be an excellent time to bring up the case of Leonard Peltier the Native American leader wrongly convicted almost thirty years ago for his part in the action at the infamous Pine Ridge Reservation. If there is a crying case of injustice that needs correction it is Peltier’s case. However, we being realistic know what El Presidente would say to a pardon request for brother Peltier. After all his name is not Scooter or Biff or Muffy or Buffy or any one of THEIR tribal names but only the righteous symbol of the fate of the Native American in this unjust capitalist system.

For those unfamiliar with the current (or at least my knowledge of it) status of Leonard Peltier’s case check my April 2006 archives. Or Google the Partisan Defense Committee or Free Leonard Peltier Committee. FREE LEONARD PELTIER!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

*WHEN DID THE 1960'S END?-The Anti-Vietnam War Events Of May Day 1971

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for background on the anti-Vietnam War actions of May Day 1971.

Markin comment:

I have recently been reviewing books and documentaries about radical developments in the 1960’s. They included reviews of the Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the memoirs of Bill Ayers, a central figure in that movement. Throughout this work one thing that I noticed was that the various interviewees had different takes on when that period ended. Although in the end the periodization of history is a convenient journalistic or academic convention in the case of the 1960’s it may produce a useful political guide line.

It is almost universally the case that there is agreement on when the 1960’s started. That is with the inauguration of Democratic President John F. Kennedy and his call to social activism. While there is no agreement on what that course of action might entail political figures as diverse as liberals Bill Clinton and John Kerry on to radicals like Mark Rudd, Bill Ayers and this writer agree that this event and its immediate aftermath figured in their politicization.

What is not clear is when it ended. For those committed to parliamentary action it seems to have been the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the events around the Democratic Convention in 1968 that led to the election of one Richard Milhous Nixon as President of the United States. For mainstream black activists its seems to have been the assassination of Martin Luther King that same year ending the dream that pacifist resistance could eradicate racial injustice. For mainstream SDSers apparently it was the split up of that student organization in 1969. For the Black Panthers, the deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark proving for all to see who wanted to see that the American government was really out to get militant blacks off the streets. For those who thought that the counterculture might be the revolution the bloody Rolling Stone’s concert at Altamont in California in 1969 seems to have signaled the end. For the Weather Underground the 1970 New York townhouse explosion and death of their comrades was the signpost. Since everyone can play this game here is my take.

I can name the day and event exactly when my 1960’s ended. The day- May Day 1971 in Washington D.C. The event- a massive attempt by thousands, including myself, to shut down the government over the Vietnam War. We proceeded under the slogan- IF THE GOVERNMENT WILL NOT SHUT DOWN THE WAR-WE WILL SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT. At that time I was a radical but hardly a communist. However, the endless mass marches and small local individual acts of resistance seemed to me to be leading to a dead end. But the war nevertheless continued on its savagely endless way. In any case, that day we formed up in collectives with appropriate gear to take over the streets of Washington and try to get to various government buildings. While none of us believed that this would be an easy task we definitely believed that it was doable. Needless to say the Nixon government and its agents were infinitely better prepared and determined to sweep us from the streets-by any means necessary. The long and short of it was that we were swept off the streets in fairly short order, taking many, many arrests.

I walked away from that event with my eyes finally opened about what it would take to made fundamental societal changes. On reflection, on that day we were somewhat like those naïve marchers in St. Petersburg, Russia that were bloodily suppressed by the Czarist forces at the start of the revolution there in January 1905. Nevertheless, in my case, from that point on I vowed that a lot more than a few thousand convinced radicals and revolutionaries working in an ad hoc manner were going to have to come together if we were to succeed against a determined and ruthless enemy. Not a pretty thought but hard reality nevertheless. Enough said.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007




Recently in this space I reviewed the documentary Weather Underground so that it also makes sense to review the present book by Bill Ayers, one of the ‘talking heads’ in that film and a central leader of both the old Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground that split off from that movement in 1969 to go its own way. Readers should see the documentary as it gives a fairly good presentation of the events around the formation of the Underground, what they tried to accomplish and what happened to them after the demise of the anti-war movement in the early 1970’s.

To get a better understanding of what drove thousands of young American students into opposition to the American government at that time the documentary Rebels With A Cause (also reviewed in this space) is worth looking at as well. Between those two sources you will get a better understanding of what drove Professor Ayers and many others, including myself, over the edge. Professor Ayers makes many of those same points in the book. Thus, I only want to make a couple of political comments about the question of the underground here. They were also used in my review of the Weather Underground documentary and apply to Professor Ayers thoughts as well. I would also make it very clear here that unlike many other leftists, who ran for cover, in the 1970’s I called for the political defense of the Weather Underground despite my political differences with their strategy under the old leftist principle that an injury to one is an injury to all. Moreover, and be shocked if you will, the courageous, if misguided, actions of the Weather Underground require no apology today. I stand with the Professor on that count. Here are the comments.

“In a time when I, among others, are questioning where the extra-parliamentary opposition to the Iraq War is going and why it has not made more of an impact on American society it was rather refreshing to view this documentary about the seemingly forgotten Weather Underground that as things got grimmer dramatically epitomized one aspect of opposition to the Vietnam War. If opposition to the Iraq war is the political fight of my old age Vietnam was the fight of my youth and in this film brought back very strong memories of why I fought tooth and nail against it. And the people portrayed in this film, the core of the Weather Underground, while not politically kindred spirits then or now, were certainly on the same page as I was- a no holds- barred fight against the American Empire. We lost that round, and there were reasons for that, but that kind of attitude is what it takes to bring down the monster. But a revolutionary strategy is needed. That is where we parted company. ......

"One of the paradoxical things about the documentary is that the Weather Underground survivors interviewed had only a vague notion about what went wrong. This was clearly detailed in the remarks of Mark Rudd, a central leader, when he stated that the Weathermen were trying to create a communist cadre. He also stated, however, that after going underground he realized that he was out of the loop as far as being politically effective. And that is the point. There is no virtue in underground activity if it is not necessary, romantic as that may be. To the extent that any of us read history in those days it was certainly not about the origins of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 19th century. If we had we would have found that the above-mentioned fight in 1969 was also fought out by that movement. Mass action vs. individual acts, heroic or otherwise, of terror. The Weather strategy of acting as the American component of the world-wide revolutionary movement in order to bring the Empire to its knees certainly had (and still does) have a very appealing quality. However, a moral gesture did not (and will not) bring this beast down. While the Weather Underground was made up a small group of very appealing subjective revolutionaries its political/moral strategy led to a dead end. The lesson to be learned; you most definitely do need weather people to know which way the winds blow. Start with Karl Marx.”

Monday, July 02, 2007





In previous reviews in this space this writer has alluded several times to the 1960’s movements for social change –the defense of the Cuban Revolution, the fight for nuclear disarmament, the centrally important black civil rights fight, the struggle against the Vietnam War and the emerging struggles for women’s and gay rights. And ultimately, for a few (too few) of us, the necessary struggle to change the social organization of American society-the fight for socialism. In short, all the signposts for that part of a political generation, my generation, which in shorthand I will call the Generation of ’68. Let us be clear, nostalgia and the ravages of time on the memory on the part of this writer aside, this was a short but intense period that he believes requires serious study.

Militant leftists today face many, if not all, of the social problems that confronted the generation of ’68. Thus, a careful viewing of this film is warranted by those who want to understand what went right and what went wrong with student movement centered on the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) of the 1960’s that held out much promise but in the end left the field to the ugly predator capitalists and their agents. Many of the points discussed in this documentary parallel those made in Professor Todd Gitlin’s seminal book: THE SIXTIES: YEARS OF HOPE, DAYS OF RAGE. I have fully reviewed that important book elsewhere. One can profit from using both sources, although Professor Gitlin is now as then a political opponent of mine.

I would make two additional comments concerning the ‘talking heads’ that are used to tell the story of the student struggles. I found that not one of interviewees mentioned the word socialism as an animating force behind their very deeply held convictions of the time. Now that is neither her nor there except that in the end the fight for socialism was dictated by those struggles not only for its positive social value but as the only way to effectively fight in the ‘belly of the beast’. That tells part of the tale. The other is that these people have ‘made it’ in capitalist society, as the final credits make clear, since that time. However, we have a little problem that the ‘monster’ is still with us. No one would surely deny that racism, the question of class, sexism and other social problems that we had just begun to address are any less pressing now. And I will not belabor the point about American militarism. That is self-evident. I would be the last to begrudge anyone from that time their memories of a time ‘when to be young was very heaven’. But I prefer the slogan – Don’t Reminisce-Organize!

V.I. Lenin-Voice Of The World Socialist Revolution



Every militant who wants to fight for socialism, or put the fight for socialism back on the front burner, needs to come to terms with the legacy of Vladimir Lenin and his impact on 20th century revolutionary thought. Every radical who believes that society can be changed by just a few adjustments needs to address this question as well in order to understand the limits of such a position. Thus, it is necessary for any politically literate person of this new generation to go through the arguments both politically and organizationally associated with Lenin’s name. Before delving into his works a review of his life and times would help to orient those unfamiliar with the period. Obviously the best way to do this is read one of the many biographies about him. There is not dearth of such biographies although they overwhelmingly tend to be hostile. But so be it. For those who prefer a quick snapshot view of his life this documentary, although much, much too simply is an adequate sketch of the highlights of his life. It is worth an hour of your time, in any case.

The film goes through Lenin's early childhood, the key role that the execution of older brother Alexander for an assassination attempt on the Czar played in driving him to revolution, his early involvement in the revolutionary socialist movement, his imprisonment and various internal and external exiles, his role in the 1905 Revolution, his role in the 1917 Revolution, his consolidation of power through the Bolshevik Party and his untimely death in 1924. An added feature, as usual in these kinds of films, is the use of ‘talking heads’ who periodically explain what it all meant. I would caution those who are unfamiliar with the history of the anti-Bolshevik movement that three of the commentators, Adam Ulam, Richard Daniels and Robert Conquest were ‘stars’ of that movement at the height of the anti-Soviet Cold War. I would also add that nothing presented in this biography, despite the alleged additional materials available with the ‘opening’ of the Soviet files, that has not been familiar for a long time.