By Michael J. Smith on Sunday September 25, 2011 09:26 PM

Louis Proyect and I -- we have Had Our Differences, as the saying goes. But we found something to agree about today. I think.

Somebody posted an item to Louis' email list asking "What Happened to the American Left." My response, predictably, was "The Democratic Party". Louis replied:

... the real problem is not the DP but the radical implosion of the 1970s and 80s when the Maoists and the SWP went off the deep end. The real need is to break out of that framework altogether and get organized on a class struggle basis but without the insanity. We had a chance to build something significant out of the 2000 Nader campaign but the god-damned Demogreens sabotaged it. I guess that the DP still is the turd in the punch bowl after all...
I grant the space-cadettery of both Maoists and SWP. I saw the Maoist version at first hand, but know little about the Trotskyite side, except what I hear from some friends of mine who were there.

Still, that's a long time ago, though to people of Louis' and my vintage it seems like only yesterday. But the DP is still alive and well and poisoning well-intended minds daily, hourly, and on a mass scale.

Louis has made me little reminiscent here. Shall I tell a story that captures the characteristic flavor of Maoist nuttiness back in the day? -- Well, what's the harm?

Late 70s. I was part of a little Maoist cell here in New York, led by a guy -- let's call him Dave Manchester -- who was really the classic commie ironbutt: he could outlast anybody at a meeting, and never, as far as I know, had to get up and go pee. Owen will remember Dave. In fact I think it was Owen who came up with the term 'ironbutt'.

The moment I'm thinking of is shortly after the Three Mile Island nuke-plant scare. The streets were full of people riled up about nuclear power. Dave didn't quite know which way to jump on this one. On the one hand, the "masses are mobilized." On the other hand -- wait for it -- "after we take state power, we'll have to run these reactors."

True story.

I should add that Dave grew up to be a union bureaucrat and is now a thorn in the side of a friend of mine who runs a union. I gather he is no longer a Maoist but still an ironbutt; and nobody has ever seen him take a leak, from that day to this.

Comments (16)

How they do it: these folks are reptiles who excrete uric acid as a solid.

I was 22 at the time, just about to finish college, and one of those people in the streets, and as I recall, our goal wasn't to take over and run the nuke plants, but to shut the motherfuckers down.

Run the reactors? Jeezus, that guy didn't just have iron in his goddamn' butt, man.


There seemed to be a pretty widespread consensus at the time that shutting the motherfuckers down would be a good idea. And yet here was my sectarian comrade -- about as far from State Power as you could hope to get, in his poky little apartment in the East Village before it was chic -- trying to devise a nuanced position. It's difficult to do justice to the bizarreness of it all.

Oddly, I don't regret my time in this strange world, or feel embarrassed about it. Quite the contrary, in fact. But this deserves more thought than I ought to spend on a comment.


On the one hand, the "masses are mobilized." On the other hand—wait for it—"after we take state power, we'll have to run these reactors."

Apparently, Trots also have fertile imagination when it comes to operation of things like nuclear reactors and carrier-based fighters:

At one public meeting during my membership in the organization, we were discussing (what else?) the Russian Revolution and the reasons for its failure. The principle problems, the ISO contended, were isolation, foreign invasion, and counter-revolutionary violence. At this point, though, the commissar stood up to assuage the fears of the wary: have no fear, she pointed out, when we have a revolution in this country, we will have no trouble defending it, because as in all revolutions the army will come to our side. She specifically mentioned that the Revolution would have access to tanks and F-14s. Tanks and F-14s in the service of humanity: what an image, huh?


The germans call it "Sitzfleisch", a chess players virtue from before the introduction of chess clocks.

A good springboard position: the Dems have it easier than they ought because there is no Left left to speak of. I don't mean that there are no lefty people. Quite a few Americans might surprise themselves with how not-moderate they really are, but: between stupid Maoists, Avakianists (nah, that's a just a funny), company unions and New Left academics, the Dems had all the leeway in the world to make noises about being not-Republicans.

I don't think the Dems would be any less corporate with a really active and organized leftist front, but they'd look the less lesser evil.


Trots always want a class unifying front
and if they have to play ballot box bingo
They always want an overtly anti capitalist
Or if they've suave out some anti corporatist rigamarole

Folly !!!

Use the formations the national culture throws up at you

Key word ....use
Don't invent
don't attempt to dominate

stick with movements that keep you close to
Mcjobshitz and carefully sifted oppressed groups
Usually if there is one
the venn overlap of each is a good place to be

Pushing new Electoral parties
Is a gig for trots and unharnessed ponies


Louject has a passion for third party stuff
That to me is the wrong impetus
But hey catalytic agents like the green backers and the green skiers
Have indeed cast a shadow on the future of one or other of the big two

average trailing Green dems
are not the enemy of progress

despite their lesser evilism
they remain a target group

The obvious demote cut outs are fairly easily spotted among
the mass of true lesser evilers

Fadduh Smiff sez on 09.26.11 @01:34:
Oddly, I don't regret my time in this strange world, or feel embarrassed about it.

Hell, not only am I not embarassed by all those cartoons I did for the Yipster Times back in college, but I still like to brag about it from time to time.


On a less salad days note, "this strange world" can also serve as a nursery of those Badiou describes as "Left Renegades" and Finkelstein calls "apostates".


Ah, the hazards of analysis-paralysis.

Shoot first, then ask questions....Go where the action is....

BTW, I am getting some warm & fuzzy feelings about the Occupy Wall St activity. And I hear there's some trouble brewing in Mike's town on Oct 6.

I'll take signs of life wherever we find them.


Jack, though she makes some good points --- I like the Panther bit --- count me among those who're in favor of *doing something.* Again, looking for signs of life. Who knows where the spark comes from that ignites the wildfire.

chomskyzinn sez on 09.26.11 @16:28:
I am getting some warm & fuzzy feelings about the Occupy Wall St activity. And I hear there's some trouble brewing in Mike's town on Oct 6...

I'm getting more than warm'n'fuzzies about Occupy Wall Street; I haven't felt this excited since the week after the '99 Seattle WTO mobe, when one of my activist listservs posted up the action call for the "A16" IMF/WorldBank mobe here in DC. I was like, holy fuckin' shit, not only is the circus coming to my town next, but I'm actually gonna be in the goddamn' circus! It wasn't until OWS started catching fire this week that I realized just how long it was since I felt that kind of excitement.

Yeah, I confess; I'm a total fool for that shit. The DW derides me for being an "action junkie", but I think it's a feeling that goes much deeper.

Granted, I've got some minor gripes about the OWS crowd -- gripes about money raised for food used to buy $12 pizzas with caramelized carrot topping, and their media group's requests for $700 DV cams when they could do as well with $125 Sanyo memory-card flip cams, and their bitching about how the Boss Media are dissing them -- but that's far overshadowed by the positive responses they're getting and the way it's spreading to three or four other cities, and the joy in seeing a bunch of people finally doing something that's way the hell overdue.

As far as the October 6 thing here goes, the Posse and I had originally planned on covering it as a big sarcastic piss-take, owing to it being put on by all the ineffectual usual suspects -- Code Pink, After Downing Street, Cindy Sheehan, all that fucking bunch of epic FAIL -- and their smarmy, standard-issue fetishizing of Nonviolence™, and their same old tired tactics that didn't work for shit for the better part of a decade.

Now, though, that OWS is growing and getting press and spreading to other cities, we're thinking that it might actually turn out to be pretty jumpin', and that we might want to just hold off on the snark and cynicism until we actually go out and shoot it and see how it comes off. Still, we're kind of worried that there won't be enough anarchist and IWW presence, and we'll end up being stuck shooting the same old mainstream progressive bunch we've been shooting since '03.


Nothing wrong with being an action junkie, Mike. Better than being an inaction junkie. Or a fretting/hairsplitting/ analysis-paralysis junkie.

Nothing wrong with snark either. I've snarked my way through many a "US out of North America" march over the years. Hard not to at those things. But I marched and made noise nonetheless.

Starting to see signs of life. Go get 'em in DC, brother Mike.

I was searching for something like that for quite a long time and at last I have found it here. Your blog is better than others because of useful and meaningful posts.

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