Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 1, 2009

Said Sayrafiezadeh: When Skateboards will be Free

Filed under: anti-Communism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 3:02 pm

Q: So what do you say now when people start ranting about capitalism’s dying days?

A: People have been fucking saying that my whole life. I like my life, and I don’t really want to change. I don’t need society to be dismantled. I don’t want to feel guilty about the things I have. I have a 32-inch high-def flat-screen TV. I fucking love that thing, man.

So says Said Sayrafiezadeh in a New York Magazine interview. His newly published memoir “When Skateboards Will Be Free” recounts his youthful misfortunes as the son of two members of the Socialist Workers Party in Dickensian terms. Like Oliver Twist, he was on the receiving end of Fagin-like parents forcing Marxist politics down his throat while denying him  the constitutional right to own and love consumer goods, including a lowly skateboard.

Said Sayrafiezadeh: David Horowitz wannabe

Now, to my everlasting regret, this is a group that I belonged to for 11 years. As much as I dislike this sect, after reading a longish excerpt from Sayrafiezadeh’s book four years ago I almost felt like rejoining. No matter how much distaste I have for vanguardist posturing, it is dwarfed by men who get erections over a television set.

For reasons having everything to do with this great nation’s ideological insecurities and nothing to do with the book’s literary merits, it has garnered worshipful reviews in two of the most important ruling class newspapers. As befits today’s date, April Fool’s Day, the N.Y. Times review states:

Growing up in Brooklyn and Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s, the author was a good little revolutionary, at least on the outside. When asked by a friend’s father, during the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, what he thought of the situation, the author automatically replied (the caps are his): “I SUPPORT THE STRUGGLE OF THE IRANIAN WORKERS AND PEASANTS AGAINST U.S. IMPERIALISM.” This is not how you win friends and influence people in Pittsburgh.

Well, of course. To win friends and influence people, you regurgitate the ruling ideology of society, like how big television sets give you an erection or how illegal immigrants are stealing American jobs. Or, better yet, how the dirty Iranians are working feverishly to build nuclear weapons that they can launch against Israel and the U.S. because they hate Americans and their 32 inch television sets and other freedoms.

Movie inspired by Sayrafiezadeh’s memoir

The Washington Post’s Sunday Book Review was just as giddy over the book, although spending fewer words. Here is the review in its totality:

Said Sayrafiezadeh learned early and often the sacrifices — and conflicting principles — that come with being a revolutionary. His mother, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (and sister of “Bang the Drum Slowly” novelist Mark Harris) inflicted her ideology on her son at a young age. In solidarity with the United Farm Workers, she forbade him to eat grapes, leading the 4-year-old Said to steal the fruit, with his mother’s tacit approval, while sporting his “Don’t Eat Grapes” button. “I would stand leisurely in front of the mounds of grapes as if they were a buffet and I was considering my options,” he recalls in “When Skateboards Were Free.” The lesson, he explains, was ingrained: “desire + yearning = theft.” (For his mother, the calculus was more complex: “desire + yearning + theft = revolution.”)

Sayrafiezadeh looks back with wonder, even humor, at the many difficulties he faced in his childhood, the no-grapes rule being the least of them. In one unnerving scene, his mother leaves him in the care of a man she knows only as a fellow party member, who sexually abuses him. Despite his mother’s strong presence, at the center of Sayrafiezadeh’s story is his father, an Iranian math professor and socialist who left the family when Said was an infant and whose infrequent reappearances are marked by political lessons and tough love. But Sayrafiezadeh maintains a generous spirit throughout this eloquent memoir. Over dinner with his father one evening, Said even banters about his own job with one of America’s most successful capitalists, Martha Stewart.

I first ran into Sayrafiezadeh’s memoir when an excerpt appeared in Granta four years ago. It included the business about being molested. I scanned in the Granta article and posted it to a Yahoo mailing devoted to exploring the rather sick politics and culture of the Socialist Workers Party, which you can read here.

You will discover there how the book got its title:

On one occasion I mustered the courage to ask my mother to buy me a skateboard (they were all the rage at the time) and she took me to Sears to have a look. In the middle of the sports department was a bin filled with skateboards in bright bubblegum colours. A sign read $10.99.

‘Once the revolution comes,’ my mother said to me, ‘everyone will have a skateboard, because all skateboards will be free.’ Then she took me by the hand and led me out of the store. I pictured a world of long rolling grassy hills, where it was always summertime and boys skateboarded up and down the slopes.

Now I didn’t know Martha Harris, but I really find it hard to believe that the conversation between the two occurred in exactly this way. There is just something a bit too robotic about her response, calculated to convince the reader that these socialists lacked human feeling and compassion. This is not to speak of the doubt I have over a $10.99 skateboard being beyond her reach. After all, this is not like asking for a pony. But who knows.

All in all, this memoir is geared to the same market niche as David Horowitz’s “Radical Son”. As was the case with the Sayrafiezadeh’s, for Horowitz “Almost all conversation in our household was political, other than what was necessary to advance the business of daily life.” Horowitz was warned off baseball, “a form of capitalist exploitation,” and especially the Yankees, “the ruling class of baseball”. “To root for the Yankees,” as Horowitz did, “was to betray a lack of social consciousness that was unthinkable for people like us.”

Now I don’t object to somebody writing crude caricatures of Marxists if it helps them to sell a book. After all, we have survived 150 years of this kind of mudslinging hardly the worse for wear. As the New York Magazine is anxious to point out to the celebrity author, people have been “ranting about capitalism’s dying days” lately. When millions of people are losing their jobs and their homes, it does tend to make Marxism a bit more trendy than it was when Mr. Sayrafiezadeh was working for Martha Stewart.

Of greater concern to me is the charge of molestation, to which the N.Y. Times refers:

He is molested by a party member, in a scene he typically underplays. (When his mother reports the molestation, a party functionary shrugs and says, “Under capitalism, everyone has problems.”)

So, here we have it. The SWP not only forces children to go without skateboards, it shrugs it shoulders when they are buggered. What trash.

Whatever the faults of the SWP in this period, it would not tolerate child molestation. Male SWP members of long standing were expelled for using violence against their female companions so sexual abuse of a four year old would not go unpunished. This group might have had its problems, but this was not one of them. It is entirely possible that Said Sayrafiezadeh was abused, but it is impossible that such a crime would have been shrugged off using Marxist jargon. This bit of nonsense might appeal to the anti-Communist prejudices of N.Y. Times reviewers, but it is patent nonsense.

If the SWP was guilty of anything, it was turning into such a suffocating cult that the child of two of its members would turn into such a vengeful fabricator. Let’s hope that in the revolutionary party of the future we can create an environment where parents and children can relate to each other normally. I should qualify that by saying as normal as can be expected in bourgeois society, which the revolutionary party has to operate in.


  1. This is the same organization that defended Mark Curtis, though. Whatever the problems with Said’s book, I’m not inclined to disbelieve an allegation of rape simply because the SWP’s rules wouldn’t have allowed it. After all, they defended a convicted rapist for years.

    Comment by chegitz guevara — April 1, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

  2. What does defending Mark Curtis have to do with the man in the moon? Mark Curtis claimed that he was framed by the cops and the SWP had an obligation to defend him. When they subsequently learned that he was a bad guy, they expelled him. All groups on the left would have done the same. As far as being convicted is concerned, this would excuse people for not defending Mumia.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 1, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  3. The SWP didn’t try very hard to find out of Curtis was a bad guy or not, is my point. They immediately believed him and supported him without examining the facts. Given those facts, I’m not going to immediately jump to the defense of the SWP when it comes to the alleged bad conduct of their members. You raise a lot of good points about what a whiner and weasel this kid is, but given that you have no evidence to support your assertion that what he wrote could not have happened, it’s not a good idea to assert he’s lying.

    The SWP was supposed to do lots of things, like have disciplinary hearings before expelling members, and yet in the case of at least Joanna Misnik, they did not do that.

    Comment by chegitz guevara — April 1, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

  4. Chegitz, you are still missing the point. Perhaps the SWP did not do due diligence looking into the Curtis affair, but they operated on the basis that he was innocent. In the case of Said Sayrafiezadeh and according to his memoir, they accepted that a crime took place but simply excused it as a demonstration that “Under capitalism, everyone has problems.” As people know, I am quite harsh in my judgments on the SWP, but this is *not* how they dealt with such matters. Abuse of women and children was not tolerated.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 1, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

  5. If the allegations Said makes against the SWP are real, that’s terrible crime and abuse, and it should be exposed. Still, I’m trying to figure out why the big guns of the media circus can shed so much light on the abuse and culty behavior of a mini-sect, or why that story is so worthy of so much more attention then the barbarity the culty behavior of the mainstream political culture perpetually generates. The intentional creation of a civil war that’s wiped out over a million people in Iraq, and continues to celebrate a military culture that sacrifices its children for the sake of the automobile. Talk about child abuse. Talk about culty behavior. With lunatics like that running our world, it’s small wonder there emerges within the ranks of opposition to such a system the sort of mental illness and abuse Said alledges.

    “The miracle is that we’re not all outwardly raving.”—Bukowski

    Comment by MIchael Hureaux — April 1, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  6. So what if he’s wrong about policies? Just because the SWP says that, does not mean everyone follows it.

    Comment by Jenny — April 1, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

  7. Michael,

    Louis is correct when he points out that this is getting attention precisely because many thousands of people at this moment are questioning capitalism and looking anew at Marxism. The message is very clearly, capitalism may be in trouble, but do you want these weirdos in charge? Look how they treat their own children!

    Comment by chegitz guevara — April 1, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  8. These stories, like the one about the skateboard, sound like bullshit. People tell porkies like that in order to prove a point, they are the idiots’ parables.

    And anyway, he’s long missed his chance to make good money out of them; almost everyone nowadays wants to see bankers and politicians hang from their own entrails. There might have been a market for it in the ’90s but now? No chance. I hope he has paid off that TV already.

    I’ve seen that cartoon a long time ago. I could never figure out what’s “[commun]ism for bosses” unless it’s a prophecy about today’s bailouts.

    Harding college, Arkansas, seem to have produced almost every single anti-communist movie/lecture/cartoon i’ve ever seen, each more mind-blowing than the previous one. They often feature Clifton L. Ganus, (whose name always causes an imaginary banjo to start playing in my mind, and who looks like a wife-beater) “noted young historian” as he’s always introduced.

    And here’s another example of telling porkies to prove a point: in one movie they bring over a British person “who has lived for X years under socialism(!)” (possibly the WORST impression of a British person EVER), and who can’t believe his eyes at the abundance of goods when shown around at an American supermarket. He proceeds to ask a shopper if he is a capitalist. And then they show a “Russian communist” whose performance is just sublime (“Who owns these automobeeels?”)

    Perhaps Louis knows what happened to Harding College? Is it now renamed?

    Comment by Antonis — April 1, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

  9. Here’s the aforementioned video:

    Comment by Antonis — April 1, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

  10. “There might have been a market for it in the ’90s but now? No chance. I hope he has paid off that TV already.”

    It always fascinated me (and affirmed my belief that communist ideology is apropo for the oppressed) growing up as a Red Diaper kid in the SWP milieu how red baiting never got any traction amongst crowds of Blacks or Latin@s. There just wasn’t a market for it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 1, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

  11. Unfortunately Harding U lives on: http://www.harding.edu/ and might find a kindred spirit in Said Sayrafiezadeh — although with that Persian sounding name it’s unlikely they’d admit him no matter how much money he made off his reactionary little book.

    As the Wiki entry notes: The Harding American Studies Institute is designed to supplement students’ academic training and promote “a complete understanding of the institutions, values, and ideas of liberty and democracy.” In doing so, the ASI exhibits a generally conservative political stance, focused on going “back to the fundamental values that made this country great. Values instilled during the New England Witch Hunts, Aboriginal Genocide, Chattle Slavery, the Ludlow Massacre, Jim Crow Laws & McCarthyism.”

    I made the last sentence up but you get the idea.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 1, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

  12. Thanks for that Karl, “supplementing students’ academic training” sounds like something of less value than the paper it’s written on; i guess even right-wing students would find it a waste of time. It seems our post-modern era has no place for such outright reactionary (in the old-fashioned sense) institutions.

    Comment by Antonis — April 2, 2009 @ 2:30 am

  13. I find this similiar to a theme, the yuppie child of hippy parents, groaning over his granola upbringings. Ironically in the course of trying to potray socialism as grey and austere etc they end up offering paeons to conformity. Thats what they resent, not being able to skate or root for the yankees with the other kids, yes imagine growing up and not pursuing the dominant trends of society. Rebelling against rebellion of course is attractive to the msm hacks, who by and large tend to support the system in a more traditional manner, imagine being a rebel but with a big f’ing tv, best kind of rebel!
    The cartoon was a laugh, we never saw the hand of the market in it though, of course its invisible, though just as big as that scary big blue socialist hand!

    Comment by SGuy — April 2, 2009 @ 10:50 am

  14. Good job, Louis, calling BS on the guy. Someone has to perform this thankless public service every so often. For example, John Dolan of The Exile exposed James Frey after Oprah gave her imprimatur of Frey’s first book of lies. Dolan apparently received a mountain of hate mail for his efforts from Middle America.

    Comment by Mark S. — April 2, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  15. 8

    re: that Harding video

    The golden age of capitalism with the New Deal consensus in the United States, and European social democracy did produce more wealth, more freedom and more shared prosperity than the statist regimes in the East. Isn’t that undeniable? Income inequality was a fraction of what it is today, or was during the first gilded age. Obviously these benefits came from progressive struggles and worker mobilization within capitalism.

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — April 2, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

  16. Yes, but Western Europe and the United States were imperialist powers, not like the “statist systems in the East”. Furthermore, Harding blames the backwardness of Eastern Europe on the absence of private property, a false analysis needless to say.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 2, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

  17. Sunkara — I cannot tell from your last comment if your incrediby naive or just hostile to Marxism?

    The ABC’s of the global economy clearly show that so-called Western prosperity isn’t possible without the Super-Exploitation of the 3rd World, meaning, the standard of living people in the US enjoy is directly related to the misery Mexicans & other brown people across the Southern half of the planet. It’s virtually a “zero sum” game. In that game, and the propaganda that supports it, lies the secret to the West’s capitalist prosperity in general and Uncle Sam’s in particular.

    Now compare that dichotomy to the Warsaw pact. Before the collapse of the USSR, the 1989 CIA World Fact Book showed that Poles in Warsaw had a per capita GDP about double that of Russians in Moscow. That fact doesn’t meet anybody’s definition of Imperialism (but goes a long way toward debunking your “relative prosperity” myth).

    On the contrary. Russia historically sold crude oil to places like Cuba for LESS than the world market price in exchange for sugar at MORE than the world market price. This fact also does not meet anybody’s definition of imperialism but it does account, particularly when you look at, say, the per capita GDP of the US versus its neighbor Mexico, for the differences in so-called “prosperity” of the East versus West.

    Moreover, as Louis has pointed out previously in regards to his Russian computer programmer colleagues at Columbia U., it was precisely this consistent pattern of subsidizing the historically oppressed nations in the Soviet orbit that angered Russian chauvinists who thereby promulgated Perestroika politics leading ultimately to counterrevolution & restoration of the Tsarist flag over the Kremlin.

    That’s also why the one of the primary lessons of Marxism is that racism & reactionary politics are inseparable.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 2, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

  18. In addition: it’s probably true that in the Great Depression of that “gilded age” if one family member was lucky enough to find a job it still paid enough to support the entire family whereas nowadays the whole family has to work, so living standards have shrunk in direct proportion to the decline of Trade Unionism in the US. That’s a given.

    But as far as “wealth creation” amongst imperialist powers versus the Workers’ States, remember that “gilded age” was responsible for the deaths of a 100 million in 2 World Wars that the so-called “statist” model had nothing to do with. The arms production for wars both cold & hot was in itself a prop to the world’s predator economies whereas they were an enormous burden to a planned economy. That burden was the secret to the USSR’s collapse, the humanitarian hogwash of Reaganites notwithstanding.

    To discover where the “wealth” of the East went in terms of workers’ prosperity one need only be reminded that 70 years of imperialist blockade & encirclement required the Soviets to waste about 1/3 of their planned economy’s “wealth” towards defense expenditures. Tanks & rockets have no use value for workers and only erode their wealth. By contrast, arms manufacturing was a big boost to the Western economies, albeit artificially, like a narcotic that at first stimulates but ultimately induces sleep.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 2, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

  19. 17/18:

    Friedrich– I am not naive or hostile to Marxism. I am however hostile to totalitarianism masquerading as Marxism and Stalinist blather in general.

    The first part of your pontification:

    “The ABC’s of the global economy clearly show that so-called Western prosperity isn’t possible without the Super-Exploitation of the 3rd World, meaning, the standard of living people in the US enjoy is directly related to the misery Mexicans & other brown people across the Southern half of the planet. It’s virtually a “zero sum” game. In that game, and the propaganda that supports it, lies the secret to the West’s capitalist prosperity in general and Uncle Sam’s in particular.”

    Bullshit. Your repeating a fallacy from Lenin’s theory of imperialism. It’s easy to see how Lenin made his mistakes, but in 2009, almost a century after the fact, its amazing to see this repeated.

    Lenin was wrong. The affluence of the first world did not depend on the exploitation the poor in the third world. No way a “zero sum” game.

    To those who didn’t read Lenin: The export of capital to the periphery was necessary because domestically surplus could not be absorbed because if it was incapable of mass consumption.
    Made sense in 1916 (?), because Lenin could not anticipate the erection of the welfare state and the more equally shared prosperity of the post-War era.

    To quote Harrington, “[the fact that Lenin was wrong] in no way meant that the North had become more benevolent in its behavior towards the South. The profits made from the wretched of the earth were now more a cruel convenience than a matter of survival.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attacking the ideas about the emergence of finance capital through the merging of industry and finance— what I am attacking is this notion that the affluence of the west is the complete result of colonial and neo-colonial extraction.

    With the successes (albeit grossly uneven and chaotic) of building productive produces through market mechanisms in Brazil, India and China, among others. It’s hard to argue that the bourgeoisie is a completely undynamic, decadent class in the way that feudal aristocracy was in the 18th century.

    Who said the Soviet Union was imperialistic? I didn’t argue that point.


    And as for your second comment what the hell are you talking about? “The Gilded Age” is a PEGORATIVE term used to describe an era of gross inequality, without shared prosperity.

    The height of capitalism was after the post-war boom until the collapse of the Keynesian consensus in the 1970s.

    And “worker’s states”? Seriously? Surplus labor might have been funneled back in the collective through state planning, but are you seriously claiming that these states were free societies, with LESS alienation that even bourgeois democracies?

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — April 2, 2009 @ 9:52 pm

  20. Bhaskar, the process is not a crude extraction of superprofits that keeps the G7 countries wealthy. That oversimplifies it. The true problem with imperialism is that it smashes any attempt at independent, nationalistic production, from Peron in Argentina to Saddam Hussein–not to speak of socialist societies like Cuba. As long as imperialism prevents local development, even one guided by the national bourgeoisie, there will be suffering.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 2, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

  21. Mr. Sunkara: I’m assuming the “Harrington” you are quoting is the social democrat leader of the DSA.

    You appear to sympathize with Trade Unionism but are you aware his mentor and founder of the DSA, Norman Thomas, admitted in the late 60s, (according to direct quotes printed at the time in the NY Times) that he accepted $50,000 from the CIA with the express purpose of eliminating alleged communist sympathizing leaders from the Latin American Trade Union Movement? Some were undoubtedly murdered as a result of that blood money so if you want to regurgitate diatribes about “totalitarianism” then please stick to the NY Times as this forum has no sympathizers with politics like, as Wikipedia puts it: “…most of [DSA’s] members are Democrats [but]the organization has maintained ties with both major political parties and has, in the past, supported a strongly interventionist foreign policy. It has been unwavering in its support for Israel, strongly supported the 2003 war in Iraq, and has come to generally favor the international policies of the United States under George W. Bush, a stance which is also at odds with the views of the Continental European social democratic parties.

    My suspicions were right: you’re hostile to Marxism insofar as nobody but garden variety DSAers argue that Harrington’s understanding of Imperialism have supplanted Lenin’s. In fact your argument is simply the threadbare social democratic classic: Bolshevism = Totalitarianism.

    You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you’re going to find a kindred spirit sharing that view on this website.

    You may not have said outright that the USSR was imperialistic but Harrington certainly did. You definitely implied it since how else could a “totalitarian” regime be expected to treat its neigbors but exploitatively?

    If you really want to learn more about the paucity of Harrington’s ideas just ask Louis to send you a link on the 1976 Presidential Debate between DSA Candidate Michael Harrington & SWP Candidate Peter Camejo (Louis’s mentor) wherein the outcome was unanimous: Camejo wiped the floor with him.

    I said it was “virtually a zero sum game.” That doesn’t mean totally. Nobody said capitalism’s not “dynamic.” After all, it produced the rancid hole in our culture that allows miserable punks like this Horowitz wannabe to cowardly ridicule his own self-sacrificing parents & get mindless erections fondling big screen TVs.

    No, the world’s not so black & white to be sure. But lets say, for the sake of argument, that during this “gilded age” all of the 3rd World’s economies underwent revolutions like, say, Cuba’s. Do you really think it would be possible for the West to sustain its priviledged lifestyle without the incalcuable superprofits generated from Third World exploitation? The most influential thinker that’s lived in the last 100 years is still V.I. Lenin.

    As far as this Keynesian era you seem to idealize it sounds like you’re searching for the “new paradigm for today’s democrats” that Alan Nasser exposed in a recent article on CounterPunch.Org that demonstrates conclusively how close the New Deal actually was to becoming the Thousand Year Reich:


    A Paradigm for Today’s Democrats?
    FDR’s Response to the Plot to Overthrow Him

    Perhaps the most alarming slice of twentieth-century U.S. political history is virtually unknown to the general public, including most scholars of American history.

    In 1934 a special Congressional committee was appointed to conduct an investigation of a possible planned coup intended to topple the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace it with a government modelled on the policies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The shocking results of the investigation were promptly scotched and stashed in the National Archives. While the coup attempt was reported at the time in a few newspapers, including The New York Times, the story disappeared from public memory shortly after the Congressional findings were made available to president Roosevelt. It was the recent release from the Archives of the Congressional report that prompted the BBC and Horton commentaries.

    The Congressional committee had discovered that some of the foremost members of the economic elite, many of them household names at the time, had indeed hatched a meticulously detailed and massively funded plot to effect a fascist coup in America. The plotters represented prominent families – Rockefeller, Mellon, Pew, enterprises like Morgan, Dupont, Pew, Remington, Anaconda, Bethlehem and Goodyear, along with the owners of Bird’s Eye, Maxwell House and Heinz. Totaling about twenty four major businessmen and Wall Street financiers, they planned to assemble a private army of half a million men, composed largely of unemployed veterans. These troops would both constitute the armed force behind the coup and defeat any resistance this in-house revolution might generate. The economic elite would provide the material resources required to sustain the new government.

    The plotters hoped that widespread working-class discouragement at the stubborn persistence of the Great Depression would have sufficiently disenchanted the masses with FDR’s policies to make the coup an easy ride. And they were appalled at Roosevelt’s willingness after 1933 to initiate economic policies that economists and businessmen considered dangerously Leftist departures from economic orthodoxy. Only a fascist-style government, they thought, could enforce the kind of economic “discipline” that would reverse the Great Depression and restore profits.

    Interestingly, it was a military man, Major General Smedley D. Butler*, assigned the task of raising the 500,000-man army, who blew the whistle after uncovering the details of the operation he was asked to lead. FDR was thus able to nip the plot in the bud.

    The president might have used the occasion to alert the public to the anti-democratic impulses of a major segment of the capitalist class. But this would only have bolstered the fortunes of Communist, Socialist and other anti-capitalist political tendencies here, which were already gaining some ground among artists, intellectuals and a surprising number of working people. It is well known that Hollywood screenwriting in the 1930s was replete with Communist-inspired sentiment.

    And we must not forget that FDR was himself a (somewhat renegade) member of the very class that would have toppled him. While FDR was open to watered-down Keynesian policies in a way that very few of his class comrades were, his commitment (like Keynes’s) to the “free enterprise” system was unconditional. He had no interest in publicizing a plot that might constitute a public-relations victory for anti-capitalist politics. He therefore refused to out the plotters, and sought no punitive measures against them. In the end, class solidarity carried the day for Roosevelt. The Congressional committee cooperated by refusing to reveal the names of many of the key plotters.

    Thus, fascist tendencies gestating deep within the culture of the U.S. ruling class were effectively left to develop unhindered by mass political mobilization.

    Might this grisly episode have important implications for our understanding of the current political moment? One may be inclined to think so on the basis of the fact that one of the architects of the plot was one Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W. Bush. Bush, along with many other big businessmen, had maintained friendly relations in 1933 and 1934 with the new German government of Chancellor Adolf Hitler, and was designated to form for his class conspirators a working relationship with that government.

    While I highly recommend Bush-bashing, the implications of this unsettling piece of history for contemporary politics run deeper than many –especially soi disant “oppositional” liberals- would like to think. There is the temptation to point triumphantly to George W. Bush’s commitment to the irrelevance of the Constitution, his corresponding contempt for hitherto taken-for-granted fundamental human rights, his Hobbesian notion of unbridled sovereignty, his militarized notion of political power – there is the temptation to regard these fascist elements as the most significant contemporary remnant of the 1934 conspiracy.

    But no less important is the utter absence in 1934 of liberal attempts to educate the public to, and mobilize the population against, the fascist threat. FDR stood down.

    Although Rooseveltian/New Deal liberalism is dead, contemporary Democrats do sustain one of FDR’s least seemly qualities, namely his refusal to encourage effective mass opposition to fascist and imperialist politics. John Kerry boasted of having contributed to the drafting of the Patriot Act. And in the first round of legislation regarding continued funding of the war in Iraq, after the 2006 elections gave the Democrats a majority in the House and the Senate, the Democrats gave Bush everything he wanted. All the major presidentail contenders of both parties support a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq. None has repudiated the conceit that Uncle Sam is the permanent global hegemon. And most importantly, no mainstream Democrat has repudiated the Neoliberal Consensus, the notion that the market should be left to operate as “freely” as the public can be persuaded to allow it to act, and, crucially, that this is a model that should be imposed globally through the power of the U.S. working in tandem with such global institutions as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.

    To the extent that this policy has been successful, inequalities between national classes and between the global North and South have widened dramatically since the decline of the Keynesian consensus in the mid-1970s. Since the Mondale candidacy, no Democrat has had a full-employment plank in his presidential platform. The median wage has been in secular decline since 1973, and the distribution of national income between capital and labor has not been as skewed toward capital since the Great Depression. But no Democrat has made a major issue of this.

    These tendencies toward ever-widening inequality and the increasing immiseration of the working population will surely be exacerbated by the deepening slow-motion recession (depression?) that is certain to follow the unfolding financial meltdown. These conditions, and the deep resentment felt by masses of working people toward the lords of Wall Street and their political henchpersons, threaten to generate social “instability” in the form of increasing crime rates and a host of direct and indirect forms of resistance to the claimed legitimacy of the political order. The emergence of what Mike Whitney has called “soup kitchen America” requires a response from our rulers. And they are prepared with (literally) fascist legislation already in place for situations just like this.

    Developments over the last day or two in connection with Monday’s House rejection of the bailout package for Wall Street indicate that allegations of fascist tendencies in U.S. political culture are in these times not to be taken lightly. Influential voices in the U.S. media have lamented the susceptability of the political leadership to the will of the people. On Tuesday the Washington Post ran a piece by Michael Gerson, Bush’s former speechwriter, complaining that “It is now clear that American political elites have lost the ability to quickly respond to a national challenge by imposing their collective will.” The same day Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London headlined a column “Congress is the Best Advert For Dictatorship.” And yesterday Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), who voted against the bailout bill, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying “I’ve seen members turn to each other and say if we don’t pass this bill, we’re going to have martial law in the United States.” “going to have”? We’ve already got it, at least on the books.

    On October 17, 2006, Bush signed three Acts that instantly transformed the republic into a police state. The John Warner Defense Authorization Act (DAA) effectively repeals the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act which prohibits military operations directed against the American people. The DAA declares that “the president may employ the armed forces to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when…[among other reasons]… the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent thet the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of (or “refuse” or “fail in”) maintaining public order — in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.”

    There is of course nothing in the legislation that specifies what precisely may count as “insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” The lone Democrat to express reservations about DAA was Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who entered into the Congressional Record that the Act “[makes] it easier for the president to declare martial law… [T]he implications of changing the [Posse Comitatus] Act are enormous…Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.” Nothing was made of Leahy’s protestations by complicit Democrats.

    The Military Commissions Act permits the President, in order to “suppress public disorder”, to assign military troops anywhere in the United States in order to trump the authority of state-based National Guard units, and without the consent of the governer.

    Finally, the National Defense Authorization Act allows the President to declare martial law, dispatch National Guard units around the country and authorize military action against the domestic population should His Majesty identify a “national emergency”.

    Liberal Democrats, upon being apprised of these developments (of which the vast majority are ignorant) will declare themselves shocked, shocked that Bush has “declared himself dictator”. But Bush has not signed legislation which expires when he passes from office. Every future President will have these powers. Would President Obama seek to erase these abominations? Don’t bet on it. Obama has not jettisoned the entire legacy of FDR. Like Roosevelt, Obama will stand down.

    · Butler underwent a major political epiphany shortly before his retirement from the Marine Corps in 1931. In that same year, he addressed an American Legion convention on his assessment of his career. His audience was stunned by his reflections: “I spent 33 years being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism…. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests inb 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.” It remains a mystery why the conspirators would approach this man. But they did.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 2, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

  22. Lou, having read the Granta story you posted some time ago, and having gotten about a third of the way through the book now, I think you’re being rather unfair to Sayrafiezadeh. The book is far more nuanced.

    Keep in mind that people like us hooked up with the SWP voluntarily, while Saïd had no choice. Moreover, he seems have become politically aware exactly at the point where the SWP began in earnest its Barnes-inspired descent into lunacy. While the author’s characterization of his parents is needlessly cruel, there were points in the book where I just had to laugh out loud, so dead-on accurate are they. He captures perfectly the mindless idiocy of “Party life,” particularly after the late ’70s when the organization became so preoccupied with internal maneuvering and purges.

    From the book’s description of her, it sounds like Martha Harris’s membership in the SWP was the least of her problems.

    Moreover, on reflection I don’t find the allegation of abuse so hard to believe. Keep in mind that there is a double standard about these things in the SWP. Remember all the hapless rank & filers who were tossed for smoking a doobie while Fred Halstead got a pass?

    A wannabe David Horowitz? I don’t think so. Sayrafiezadeh has earned the right to be an apolitical noodge if he so chooses. And if his book dissuades one person from devoting his or her life to this hidebound little sect, he’s performed a very useful public service.

    Comment by John B. — April 2, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

  23. Louis: I don’t totally disagree— I would say though that Peronism and other forms of corporatism like that failed themselves, but certainly US imperialism is attacking the present day social movements in Latin America.

    Karl: It’s honestly not worth debating with you. I have read “The Lesser Evil” which had the Camejo/Harrington debate (both men you consider to be “social democrats”). Your characterization of DSA is completely incorrect.

    Your posting of a whole article from Counterpunch about the “Business Plot” against FDR is equally baffling.

    Those of us who advocate socialism-from-below really don’t have any use for those that defend statist, totalitarian societies like those found in the Eastern Bloc. They don’t even match up well against bourgeois democracy, proclaiming them to be proletarian states is ludricious.

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — April 3, 2009 @ 12:01 am

  24. Where did you get any information on DSA’s ties with the Republican Party, you claim Wikipedia, where is a ridicious source to begin with, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Socialists_of_America only shows that DSA members in 2000 were divided between Nader and Gore, and that DSA claims the CPC represents “operative” social democratic values.

    Are you actually involved in the labor, anti-war or student movement in America or do you just sit on your computer and wax nostaligatically about Stalinist states?

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — April 3, 2009 @ 12:05 am

  25. Moreover, on reflection I don’t find the allegation of abuse so hard to believe. Keep in mind that there is a double standard about these things in the SWP. Remember all the hapless rank & filers who were tossed for smoking a doobie while Fred Halstead got a pass?

    This is the second time today I have heard about double standards. First it was Tony Thomas punching somebody in the face and now it is Fred Halstead smoking pot. I only base my judgments of the SWP on what I saw with my own eyes over 11 years and I never saw a double standard. The group was certainly fucked up but I will *never* believe that an SWP full-timer told Martha that after her 4-year son was sexually violated that there was nothing to be done about it because people have all sorts of problems under capitalism. It is insane to think that something so out of line would be dismissed in this fashion. In fact, that is the judgment of a character named Eric Kirk, who is now some kind of social democrat:

    Well, at least he read Kapital. Nobody I knew in the party had actually read it with the exception of Barry Shepherd who was the local party “intellectual.” They told me that reading the Manifesto was “enough.”

    I question the account about the dismissal of molestation incident. As dogmatic as they were, it’s not in character with the people I knew.


    Comment by louisproyect — April 3, 2009 @ 12:18 am

  26. Reply to comment #24 — According to this Wiki entry linked below, just above where it says COLD WAR in big bold letters:


    “Although most of SD USA’s members are Democrats, the organization has maintained ties with both major political parties and has, in the past, supported a strongly interventionist foreign policy. It has been unwavering in its support for Israel, strongly supported the 2003 war in Iraq, and has come to generally favor the international policies of the United States under George W. Bush, a stance which is also at odds with the views of the Continental European social democratic parties.”

    The vast majority on this blog do not need to provide “citations” for Wikipedia when it comes to the history of the DSA’s wretched politics because we’ve seen first hand over the years how they’ve “supported a strongly interventionist foreign policy” — as they still do today in Afganistan!

    We’re acutely aware of the DSA’s “unwavering in its support for Israel” — just look at their pro-Zionist stance on the latest Gaza atrocities!

    Embracing the lies of WMD and their “mushroom clouds” — we’re painfully aware that they “strongly supported the 2003 war in Iraq” and we’re eternally disgusted that they “generally favor the international policies of the United States under George W. Bush” — much to the chagrin of their colleagues in Europe.

    Needless to say they support wholehertedly the interventionist policy in Afghanistan, shamefully continued by their “peace candidate” Obama — despite the fact that predator drones continue to vaporize old women & children on the Pakistan border.

    Sorry but your ad hominem attack implying I’m some kind of arm-chair leftist won’t suffice either insofar as over the last 40 years I’ve manned more barricades & picket lines, been involved in more trade union organizing drives & marched more miles in mass anti-imperialist demos than you’ve probably ever even read about.

    I’ve broken bread with the likes of Peter Camejo & Fred Halstead. I’ve slept in the same room with organizers like Cesar Chavez & Dolores Huerta & agitators ranging from Dick Gregory to Madelyn Murray O’Hare. I’ve shook the hands of people as diverse as Daniel Ortega & Gloria Steinem to Steve Yokich & Sam Marcy.

    Along the way I’ve learned that after the bankers, bosses & landords — the biggest impediment to independent working class politics has been the strident class collaborationist reformism of DSAers like Michael Harrington.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 3, 2009 @ 1:20 am

  27. I should add that, after Harrington & the DSA, the next biggest impediments to independent working class politics that I’ve encountered in class struggles would be Gus Hall’s Democratic Party tail-ending by the CPUSA followed by the sectarian cultism of Jack Barnes’ SWP, both of which parties are now irrelevant.

    As far as waxing “nostaligatically about Stalinist states” — that’s not the first time a DSAer has levelled that typical knee jerk reaction against a Trotskyist revolutionary.

    While it’s true I firmly believe the world’s a much shittier place without the USSR to kick around anymore, multiple readings of Trotsky’s “The Revolution Betrayed” prepared me well in advance for the distinct possibility of bourgeois restoration.

    But the hallmark of science is it’s predictive success, a very rare & tricky thing in the social sciences, which is precisely why that particular work of Trotsky’s is one of the greatest contributions to the humanities ever produced and still withstands not only scrutinty but the test of time.

    As for Trotsky’s party building tactics, that’s another story. On that question I think Proyect’s extensive analysis is largely correct and a valuable contribution to the humanities in its own right.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 3, 2009 @ 2:04 am

  28. For all your experience, you seem to have some trouble with the alphabet.

    SD – USA

    SOCIAL DEMOCRATS USA (aka: state department socialists, a group that right now is a paper organization)

    D S A


    I just did a wikipedia search where I found out that Karl Marx is a veneral disease!


    I fear for Louis Proyect, the “unrepentent Marxist”. He should repent and get some medication.

    In all seriousness, DSA does not support the occupations of Iraq or Afghanistan annd in general almost all DSA members and YDS members I’ve come in contact support national liberation for the Palestinians, I would even say that the vast majority of YDS members I’ve spoke to on the topic support a one-state solution to the crisis, a stance no difference than that of the ISO.

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — April 3, 2009 @ 2:09 am

  29. Sorry to continue with what’s become OT but Sunkara – unlike the purely academic & Democratic Party building journals you’re apparently accustomed to, sites like this tend to use the term “Workers’ State” loosely because the readers are (or were) real activists, rather than “academy socialists” who prefer more academic terms like “statist” or “actually existing socialism.”

    Trotsky referred to the USSR’s character as a “degenerated workers’ state” but amongst comrades who actually understood the duality of the class nature of the USSR as the sociological equivalent of a giant trade union with its bureaucracy under imperialist seige — we’d drop the word “degenerate” for expediency. So for example, during the Vietnam War, activists used to say truisms like: “If it weren’t for the material support of the combined workers’ states (namely, China & the USSR) then the military victory of the NVA would be unthinkable.” These conversations weren’t amongst Stalinists mind you.

    The point is that historically in real activist circles & movements that term (nor that notion) is not “ludicrous” as I’m sure class conscious Vietnamese & Cubans amongst others of the world’s historically oppressed would agree.

    Or perhaps you, as I suspect, see absolutely no historical progressive significance to the existence of the USSR?

    If you believe there was none then just say so and maybe you can learn something in the replies to the contrary which I’m sure will be numerous & well articulated.

    If you believe there was progressive significance then just acknowledge what about it was exactly so we can agree on a base line of elementary leftist politics.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 3, 2009 @ 2:46 am

  30. I’m not an “academic” lefty, I’m a student activist. I have though read Leon Trotsky extensively, I have read Tony Cliff and the “state capitalism” theory of the Soviet Union, “bureaucratic collectivism” etc.

    As far as journals I am accustomed to you would mean the New Left Review, New Politics and occasionally the International Socialist Review?

    Here is something I wrote a while back:


    I am a democratic socialist, but I wouldn’t say my analysis falls far outside of the Trotskyist tradition.

    Trotsky if I’m not mistaken, still thought that the bureaucracy in the USSR was somewhat revolutionary domestically, but reactionary internationally? I would lean towards almost the opposite view.

    The USSR provided valuable material support in Vietnam, Angola, Cuba and other struggles. I would call the Soviet state under Lenin the most progressive state up to that time in human history. Most of my attacks on the Eastern Bloc come from the left and not the right.

    The idea that state accumulation and central planning could surpass countries that relied on mixed market, state intervention was tragically mistaken. The USSR post-Lenin was in no way worth “critical support” in my opinion.

    I apologize for the deviation, but broadly I wanted to establish “where I stand”, which is for what Hal Draper described as “socialism from below”.

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — April 3, 2009 @ 3:03 am

  31. He has earned nothing in my opinion, didnt get a skate board? boo hoo, cry me a river! I know a girl, a liberal lesbian who grew up in a conservative Kansas family, her upbringing is something Im much more concerned with. How many children in America are having similiar upbringings? I also reject the idea that the SWP was indifferent to abuse. Too be honest the more I learn of him the more sympathetic I become with his mother. Id like to see her book ‘My Son Sold Out For a Big Screen TV, Forget Hunger and Homlessness I can Watch Dancing With the Stars in Style!’

    Comment by SGuy — April 3, 2009 @ 5:30 am

  32. So in other words as a student activist you’d be quite comfortable lecturing Vietnamese & Cuban people that although “the USSR provided valuable material support” in their heroic victory over imperialism you’d nevertheless work objectively to undermine the USSR by not deeming them worthy of even “critical support?”

    That’d likely go over as well as admitting to Pashtun tribespeople along the AfPak border that the political party you support is firmly against this terrible war although you & 100% of your comrades & student recruits enthusiastically voted for President Obama who campaigned on further prosecuting the war by promising more foreign troops.

    You are also “mistaken” on how Trotsky viewed the class character of the USSR — since foreign policy can naturally only be an extension of domestic policy. Your view has that backwards.

    Look. Since the class nature of the USSR, Cuba, etc arises constantly in leftist politics, and it’d behoove to reply on these topics like you know what you’re talking about, when you get a chance please try reading “The Revolution Betrayed” as it is extremely well written, riveting in fact, & you assuredly will not be disappointed with it’s sociological insights on the dual nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which again, is analogous to a giant trade union but which has seized state power and then finds itself encircled by a hostile, powerful & united international bourgeoisie bent on its destruction.

    Just think about the machinations of a typical trade union bureaucracy in the US like, say, the UAW, which is compelled on the one hand to act in the interests of the workers on one level, work rules, a master contract, grievance procedures, etc and on another level the bureaucracy, privileged & constantly beseiged as it is with threats & demands from the bourgeoisie, inevitably collaborates with the bosses & sells the workers out with weaker & weaker contracts, pay cuts & no-strike pledges. I cannot stress enough how sociologically useful this analogy is, particularly for a young activist.

    In addition to my other activist experiences, I’ve also taught 3 semesters of Sociolgy as a TA in a State University exactly when the Perestroika reaction collapsed the USSR.

    To those students who enquired I’d provide the following analogy. Imagine if your actions (1917 proletarian revolution) had so sufficiently angred an 800lb Silverback Gorilla (Western Imperialism) that it quickly pounced on your chest & dug in its knees, mercilessly suffocating your life out & you quickly realize you’re in mortal combat (imperialist intervention, blockade, and encirclement) — how grotesque would be your facial expression become (Stalinism) as the strength of your youth waned the longer this fight dragged on?

    Would your friends, who no longer recognized you, be right in abandoning you? Or should they fight that gorilla tooth & nail in an attempt to restore your life & dignity?

    In a second analogy i’d use: lets suppose we students (as an instructor I was just a student too) had a radical idea to greatly improve the lot of our fellow students & we formed a party, adopted a platform that was voted on and as part of that program we took over the campus in a mighty and unified student revolt that was simultaneously conjoined with other campus revolts across the country. What happens next?

    Well, sooner or later we’d be surrounded, 1st by cops then the National Guard. But our organizational prowess & solidarity held sway & they were unable to force us out so instead they instituted a blockade, 1st cutting off the power & phones, then the food & water, etc.

    We were isolated now but held fast for months though because we had the solidarity not only from within but from without as all the students in the world were rooting for us.

    Sooner or later however the trustworthy guards we dispatched to secure the back door were tempted by the smell of hamburgers & sausages wafting from the grills the national Guard set up right outside our windows.

    Suddenly one of our own defects. Then more. Another set we have to severely discipline for their weakness & irresponsibility, jeapordizing our security and all.

    Food & water are scarce so an internal police force is formed to keep order in the food lines. (Trotsky demonstrated that the Soviet Bureaucracy was the social equivalent of a policeman holding a club amidst the lines made by shortages.)

    Paranoia begins to set in on who the next defector might be? Decrees are issued, further sanctions are threatened, austerity measures are implemented, unhappiness grows exponentially, and like Orwells Animal Farm only a grotesque character of our original program remains.

    Now does that eventual defeat, largely due to the fact that we students were subjected to profound shortages over a long time & isolated from the other student revolts who couldn’t come to our aid, mean our little Bolshevik revolution, as it were, was doomed to become totalitarian, or is the reality that such totalitarianism results from strangulation?

    That’s a question young people need to consider carefully before they blindly accept anticommunist dogma.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 3, 2009 @ 5:47 am

  33. Comment #30 says: The idea that state accumulation and central planning could surpass countries that relied on mixed market, state intervention was tragically mistaken. The USSR post-Lenin was in no way worth “critical support” in my opinion.

    I know it’s still off the original topic but it’s safe to say that the vast majority who comment on this site would agree that, Baku oilfields notwithstanding, the primary reason Hitler’s armies suddenly veered East in the middle of their assault on Britain was precisely because Hilter himself was convinced that if he let those 5 Year Plans of the USSR continue unabated then the USSR would eventually surpass Germany’s economy thereby preventing the Wermacht’s ability to overwhelm the USSR by force. There was after all zero unemployment in the USSR during the Great Depression.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 3, 2009 @ 6:44 am

  34. ON TOPIC: After digesting Proyect’s review & the subsequent comments (in between my off topic lectures) re: Said Sayrafiezadeh’s book, I’ll concede that JohnB’s (is that Barzman by chance?) makes a valid point in that the book may indeed be more nuanced, and therefore have some usefulness insofar as it accurately depicts the lifeless pedantry of sectarian cults, particularly since I haven’t read it, and probably never will, not because some of its truths might hurt, but because I don’t have a morbid (or any other) fascination with that pitiful era of the party.

    Although my own parents were purged from the sect that Barnes cultivated at least 6 years before the Iranian Revolution, my own youthful experience there tells me that, on the one hand, virtually all of the dialogue attributed to his parents is pure fabrication insofar as Barnes wasn’t that skillfull of a brainwasher. On the other hand, if volunteers like JohnB can honestly laugh at the depiction of zombie-like automatons doing mindless party work — it’s probably because it rings true.

    As far as Curtis, he was probably guilty but the party was obligated to presume he wasn’t and vigorously defend him, although after he clearly lied about the circumstances of his car getting towed on the solicitation charge years later Barnes completely bungled it, in typical fashion.

    As far as the molestation charge by the kid, it rings true but the party’s alleged response to it doesn’t. His mother was probably so intimidated by the Barnesian cult that she didn’t want to make waves but had it been really brought out into the daylight of the party, its utter putrefaction well under way by that stage notwitstanding, it would have surely been dealt with appropriately.

    JohnB’s also correct in retrospect to assert that this guy is far more apolitical than Horowitz, aspiring only to his crass pleasure principles, as much of an automaton consumer as his mother was a cult soldier.

    But because this wannabe Tony Hawk doesn’t want this perfidious system of abject swindlers dismantled (and thereby objectively abets these organized crimes) — rest assured if I ever meet this cruel little prick I’ll give him shit & push him in it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 3, 2009 @ 8:28 am

  35. One last point re: Curtis. The SWP was not obligated to vigorously defend him. Curtis’s story about how he was the victim of a “political frameup” after he was arrested with his pants down in the young lady’s house was obviously bullshit, and under the circumstances the SWP should have probably quietly hired him a lawyer and just not said anything about it. But no, they had to make a huge international campaign about the “noble class warrior” Curtis, smear the accuser’s family, and extend a considerable proportion of their political capital on his defense. I think it was at this point that I concluded that these people, my former comrades, had seriously lost it. Later, Curtis was revealed to be a whoremaster, which doesn’t make him a rapist, of course, but still!

    Comment by John B. — April 3, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  36. It’s “impossible” so it must not have happened. Great.

    Comment by a — April 4, 2009 @ 7:18 am

  37. So some sell out puts it in a book so suddenly its the truth? Considering that louis is an ex SWPer who clearly states in this article in fact that he is willing to criticize the party what he says actually has legitimacy.

    Comment by SGuy — April 4, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  38. “So in other words as a student activist you’d be quite comfortable lecturing Vietnamese & Cuban people that although “the USSR provided valuable material support” in their heroic victory over imperialism you’d nevertheless work objectively to undermine the USSR by not deeming them worthy of even “critical support?””

    How does one undermine something that hasn’t existed for nearly two decades????

    Comment by isaac — April 27, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

  39. When the USSR was around he’d have WORKED against it despite it’s decisive aid to Vietnam & Cuba — to name just two of the many 3rd World countries the USSR actually helped.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 27, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

  40. “Well, sooner or later we’d be surrounded, 1st by cops then the National Guard. But our organizational prowess & solidarity held sway & they were unable to force us out so instead they instituted a blockade, 1st cutting off the power & phones, then the food & water, etc.

    We were isolated now but held fast for months though because we had the solidarity not only from within but from without as all the students in the world were rooting for us.

    Sooner or later however the trustworthy guards we dispatched to secure the back door were tempted by the smell of hamburgers & sausages wafting from the grills the national Guard set up right outside our windows.”

    So in this scenario, stability of poltical ideology is more important than nourishment?

    Comment by Jenny — April 30, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

  41. The point is thanks to the blockade from without the soviets under Stalin began to substitute ideology for nourishment and bureaucracy for socialism but to blame that on Lenin & Trotsky is ridiculous.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 30, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

  42. Oh okay, your wodering was just confusing. My apologies.

    Comment by Jenny — May 1, 2009 @ 6:11 am

  43. Oh,and.. straight from Chomsky: http://www.chomsky.info/articles/1986—-.htm

    Comment by Jenny — May 5, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  44. Hey Jen — I love the smug self-satisfaction in that opening word “Oh” of your last post, as if most everybody here isn’t familiar with Chomsky in general or that article in particular.

    Rest assured you’re not the 1st liberal who mistook Chomsky for a Marxist.

    Like the previous poster Sheldon advised you, “how about you familiarize with Marxism” before you get all bunched up about the Bolsheviks and try and pass off an anarchist critique as somehow nullifying the progresive significance of the Russian Revolution.

    If Chomsky had any political credibility it was ruined by the outset of the 1st Gulf War in 1991 where he was for “sanctions” as an alternative to invading Iraq. The cruel irony is that Iraq got both in the end: invasion and UN sanctions which killed about a million Iraqis through the 90s, mostly old people & children. Turns out bombing would have been more humane!

    Speaking of Chomsky around the time of the 1st Gulf War, you should also try reading or listening Chomsky’s 1991-92 lectures on “The 500 Year Reich” detailing how the collapse of the USSR was a BAD thing for the majority on the planet’s inhabitants — the Third World.

    I once met a Latin American Studies grad student who travelled South as part of her dissertation to poll homeless women squatting in tin shacks on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The question posed to the squatter women was, if given a choice, what kind of society they would prefer: one in which they had no economic rights except to sell their labor (or body) but were free to jump onto a soapbox in the town square and preach whatever popped into their head; or a society in which basic human needs were met, housing, medicine, employment, education, etc, but preaching on a soapbox could get you arrested — which society do you think the poor women chose?

    Jen — The discussion here was about the SWP in particular and then drifted to Marxism in general. Chomsky describes himself as an “anarchist” and his article here is essentially a rehash of the “Hue and Cry over Kronstadt” that anarchists have levelled against the bolsheviks since the early 20s:


    If you wish to persist in criticizing socialist revolutions on a Marxist forum it’d behoove you to 1st familiarize your self with the actual revolutionaries rather than their critics.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 5, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  45. Only a narrowminded little prick charlatan punk would equate socialist revoluton with having to give up a plasma TV. As if the so-called socialist “dismantling of society” would be preoccupied with picture quality & the size of ones screen!

    Some final food for Jenny’s thought. Since you are equally critical of Mao & the toilers’ revolt in China as you are of the Russian Revolution, just take a quick look at a map of Asia and notice the 2 most populated countries on the planet are India & China — which happen to border each other (mountains notwitstanding) — which means, historically speaking, the toilers there have a lot in common with each other, particularly since they’re all brown people under imperialism’s thumb.

    Now note that approximately in the middle of the 20th century one of those hugely populated Asian countries had a “peaceful” revolution a la Ghandi, the kind of revolution preferred by most liberals, pacifists & social democrats, yet tonight over 10 million Indians will go to bed hungry, being on the brink of starvation, forced to defecate in public, while a hundred or so Indian farmers will commit suicide, and another hundred or so daughters of Indian farmers will be murdered as result of medieval caste relations that consider female offspring a familial burden.

    Unfortunately this “Pacifist” Revolution has not only overseen decades of chronic mass malnurishment & disease but notably also didn’t earn a seat on the UN Security Council, where violence truly holds sway.

    Now juxtapose that condition with neighboring China, which despite all its strange & terrible careening from ultra-left to right & back & forth, especially it’s more recent trend of odious concessions to private property, capitalist production methods & its consequent displacement of peasants in the steady (but not yet necessarily intractable) abandonment of collective farming, still has relatively fat babies that, from the looks of any recent pictures in National Geographic, won’t go hungry tonight, & peasant women, instead of getting their feet shrunk, still hold some affirmative action sway in the universities, albeit quickly eroding from its heights after the cultural revolution.

    Why is it Jen that China’s poor in the same time period, approximately the middle of the 20th century, don’t compare at all to India’s poor yet they started out about the same more or less, billions of hungry toiling brown people that share the same geographic corner of the globe?

    Greens, even the most anti-communist ones, if they were honest would concede in their annual “state of the world” publication that, despite its faults, China’s “one child policy” is far better for the planet than all the world’s solar & wind technology combined!

    The point is that — not because of Mao’s machinations but despite them — China’s “violent” revolution acheived more for the toilers than India’s precisely because their leadership understood that “power flows from the barrell of a gun.” That’s why China earned a seat on the UN Security Council and a better living standard for its toilers despite a larger population.

    Meanwhile India still exalts the queen of anti-contraception — Mother Teresa — who even Christopher Hitchen’s rightly describes as “The Ghoul of Calcutta.”

    That’s not to say China’s past doesn’t have it share of ghouls, but to compare the 2 countries that would have otherwise been in the same Third World boat without their distinctly different respective revolutions is… futile at best and naive at worst.

    One can cite a hundred anti-bolshevik articles by anarchists, liberals, social democrats or pacifists and the fact will still stubbornly remain that for good or ill the person who most influenced the political trajectory of the 20th century is still V.I. Lenin.

    You got that Jenny? No matter what you or Chomsky think the objective reality is that Lenin’s ideas & actions have had more progressive significance on the lives of the toiling billions than anybody who ever lived and if you disagree then please name another name & enlighten us.

    Predictive success is the hallmark of science and since I predict in advance that no answer will be forthcoming the question for 21st century revolutionists is this: has Lenin’s worldview and ideas on building a revolutionary party been rendered obsolete and therefore worthless in regards to the question of what is to be done in the current age? Only if you’re convinced that Uncle Sam’s empire is not inherently predatory could the answer be yes.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 6, 2009 @ 6:23 am

  46. Karl’s comparison of India and China does have some merit, but I’m not sure how “Marxist” a lot of Maoist policy was. The idea of a peasant army overthrowing largely feudal relations, reorganizing farms into communes and attempting to build productive forces through state capitalist accumulation doesn’t give me much connection to Marxism. Mao himself was more of an agrarian populist than a real Marxist. During the upsurge upon the urban proletariat in China in the late 1920s Stalin acted in a counterrevolutionary capacity to undermine that attempt, Mao’s peasant Red Army wasn’t onboard either during the Shanghai Commune.

    As far as Lenin, here’s how I break down the Russian Revolution:

    Ultra-reactionaries say that the Feburary Revolution was the mistake.
    Social democratic forces, liberals say that the October Revolution was were it went wrong.
    Anarchists, left-communists, some others will say that during Lenin’s rule too much of the worker was taken from the Soviets and concentrated in the party.
    Trotskyists will say of course that the revolutionary was betrayed when the Stalinist clique took power and embarked on “socialism in one country”

    Im between the 3rd and the last. Ownership of the means of production doesn’t mean as much as the relations to production. Labor in state capitalism is just as alienated as labor in bourgeois capitalism, even if the surplus is meant to be siphoned back into the collective.

    This is an iconic left-communist text on the Russian Revolution: http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/russia/sp001861/bolintro.html

    Comment by leftofgreenland — May 6, 2009 @ 6:54 am

  47. that was my post. was logged in under another wordpress account. I would also argue that the development of productive forces in China has been a positive thing despite the pain it has caused for many peasants and marginalized people, I don’t see how someone could read Das Kapital and completely discount a Stagist reading of it.

    Comment by bhaskar — May 6, 2009 @ 6:57 am

  48. A “positive thing” on the whole was my main point. When it comes to the subject of “alienation” I’m with you there brother!

    As far as all the stages of the russian revolution it boils down to which side were you on vis-a-vis the imperialist warmongers at any given stage?

    In so-called backward countries, revolting in the age of unbridled imperialist militarism & encirclement — it’s hard to pin blame solely on Lenin or Mao doncha think?

    When a historically oppressed brown person organizes something as incredible as the “Long march” I instictively tend to give defference to their erstwhile bizarre interpretations of Marx.

    When I first began studying sexually sadistic serial killers in the 70s I noticed they were all white males from the imperialist democracies, the controversial case of Atlanta’s Wayne Williams in the 80s notwitstanding. Then one was discovered in Soviet Russia. Instead of assuming that meant the USSR was also imperialist I hypothesized that it had something more to do with industrial society. More recently the Phoenix Strangler in South Africa, a black man who preyed on black women, lead me to dwell on the causality of human alienation from the means of production.

    Perhaps alienation from the means of production will always be problematic in an industrial society? And perhaps bureaucracy will always be the most efficient way to deliver the goods? And perhaps the human fear of death hardwires them to believe in afterlife?

    All of these important considerations don’t diminish my points above about China versus India & the role of Lenin in history.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 6, 2009 @ 7:48 am

  49. I have tremendous respect for LP, but I feel the review and discussion here are missing an important point–the work in question is a literary work, not a polemic. It is a subtle, often dryly funny, riveting, and often mortifying account of a childhood which had, as one of its main features, the presence of the SWP. The villains of the book are the author’s parents. That they were under the sway of a cult like ideologically driven organization is important. But the blame is clearly fundamentally with the individuals. It’s a very good book. As for the comments about his television–authors spend years saying what they mean in their work. Then they have to give interviews and are prodded to say pithy things which are printed out of context. Authors say the dumbest things in interviews, it’s the awful paradox of trying to sell your book. But judge the writer on the writing, not the 300 word blurb a magazine runs.

    Comment by Therestlessconcience — January 21, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

  50. In the interests of transparency, it should be understood that #49 was posted by somebody with a connection to Open City, a magazine that has published the large-screen TV worshiping Mr. Sayrafiezadeh. I should add that according to Mr. Sayrafiezadeh’s facebook, he is in discussions with HBO about adapting his idiotic book. Here’s some casting suggestions. His mom: Meryl Streep. She can use the extra work. His dad: James Gandolfini. He has quite a bit of experience in the evil dad role. And finally Mr. Sayrafiezadeh himself. As a child: anybody will do. As an adult: the author himself, who does have acting experience and can surely use the extra money to buy additional large-screen TV’s.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 21, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  51. Let me begin again by stating my respect for the sensibility and intelligence of LP!

    And re: #49, yes, this writer is an advocate for Sayrafiezadeh and his work, which may be worth noting but disqualifies none of the substance of these remarks.

    I wonder if the vitriol here has to do with very form of the memoir, the hyper-individualizing act which has long been tagged with narcissism, and maybe by extension some kind of materialism, especially when it is practiced by young writers, as it so often is now days.

    But the substance of the book, and even the facile quote of about the TV, does not to merit a comparison with someone like David Horowitz, a reactionary huckster. To make the comparison is verging on a kind of hysteria.

    To return to what is obviously an extremely antagonizing quote – the flat screen TV remark – I feel that the key point I made in #49 has been ignored, namely that writers should be judged by their work not their interviews especially very brief ones that appear in glossy magazines.

    I can’t fathom what is idiotic about When Skateboards Will be Free if one allows it is about a person and a family, not an ideologically driven piece of anti-socialist or pro-capitalist propaganda, which is so obviously is not.

    Can anyone really conclude that this author wants to start fund raising for reactionary think tanks and do a speaking tour at colleges across the country warning of the sinister aspects of socialism a la Horowitz? It’s would be absurd to reach this conclusion, unless one were driven to hysteria by a quote in New York Magazine.

    But should New York Magazine be such a figure of authority and significance in the world of LP?

    Comment by Therestlessconcience — January 21, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  52. What is your point? My review did not compare him to David Horowitz. You are making too big a thing about the reference to Horowitz in my title. In fact, I am renaming the article right now just to avoid such sidetracks.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 21, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  53. My over-all point was to advocate for a book I find valuable and generally excellent. Literary partisanship, I guess. And since I value the opinions on LP I took the time to express this opinion. I can’t be blamed for emphasizing the comparison to Horowitz if it is – or was – in the headline.

    I can’t help but think the subtext of this discussion about When Skateboards Will BE Free is a primal kind of revulsion at the sight of a author selling–themselves and their book. It is kind of revolting – both the spectacle and to participate in it – but these are the opportunities the culture offers, and this is your career, your life, your book. It is very hard to say no to anyone who wants to talk to you about your book or yourself if it might sell the book. I certainly have found it so. Silence, exile, and cunning are difficult choices to make.

    Comment by Therestlessconcience — January 21, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

  54. I don’t object to people trashing the SWP. I have my own comic book memoir done in conjunction with Harvey Pekar coming out in 2011, if the fucking company has not gone out of business by then. It is far more savage than anything in Skateboards. My problem with the book is that it is stupid. What do I mean by stupid? It is one-dimensional. The mother and father (especially) are cardboard figures, not that different from 1950s movies like “My Son John”. I only spent 11 years in the SWP and know how they talk and behave. Mamoud, the father, is a walking cartoon. Martha comes off a bit more three-dimensional, but only by comparison. Frankly, if the NY Times and Washington Post had not hyped it, I probably would have been a less angry at the crappy prose. I have a long-time belief, going back to 1967 at least, that these two newspapers are enemies of the American people and judge book reviews within that context. Even more to the point, the Sunday Times book review has been run by rabid anti-Communists going back decades and am surprised that Skateboards was not featured on the front page given its predilections.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 21, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

  55. There is something distressing about the guilt by association implied in the book getting praised by the WP and The Times, but let me get to the text:

    Take a look at the long central passage in which the author dines with his father, who then gets into a fight with the management because he ordered white wine but wanted red or vice versa, I can’t recall. What I can recall is the line, spoken to the manager who has appeared in place of the flustered waitress, after a solumn moment of looking down at his hands, “I pay. We go.”

    That moment is just brilliant, hilarious, dead on, and not to be found in any cartoon! I suppose you could argue that the writer has embellished, an accusation every memoirist is vulnerable to. But that whole scene is so fraught, funny, and dark–If I had to stake my claim for the book on one passage it would be that dinner. That and when the young said gets locked out of the house, tucks himself behind the storm door, and watches as two kids wlk by, suddenly faintly aware of another kid stuck inside a glass door.

    Anyway, if that publishing company does go out of business send it to Open City I will publish it in a heartbeat.

    Comment by Therestlessconcience — January 21, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  56. I did look at that passage. It is a study in exaggeration. *Everything* that his father does is gauche. From his lack of table manners to his spouting propaganda is fully intended to get a laugh out of someone like yourself who has never really spent much time around real-life Trotskyists. It is written in such a way to make the author more sympathetic. Look at the poor fellow who is simply looking for some human contact with a long-lost family member and all the father does is behave like a clod and spout commie propaganda. I should add that no matter how offensive such a characterization is, the biggest thing I have trouble with–as my review states–is the charge that he was raped by a party member and that the party did nothing about it. The SWP was fucked up in a million different ways, but it did not countenance such behavior. Not only because it was puritanical but above all concealing a felony would have allowed the cops to do a lot of damage.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 21, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  57. No I didn’t read the book, and won’t. $16.50 is actual money to me. And I read for enjoyment, not punishment.
    Adults lie to children. They lie about Santa Claus, they also lie about grown-up problems like divorce , money and politics. Maybe mom actually couldn’t afford the skateboard, and made a cowardly excuse. I hope this little shit can someday forgive his mom. I guess he will wait until the book money is gone, lest he hurt sales.
    So, the SWP finally became a small absurd cesspool filled with big fish like David Thorstead (NAMBLA), Lyndon LaRouche, and others of who seemingly will do anything for the limelight. Big deal. The fact that the SWP failed miserably does not condemn the root-ideology the SWP defiles.
    After reading reviews of this sniveling coward’s book, I am now somewhat more proud of the idealism I had at the time. When Martha Harris was a Trot, we defended the “Gains of Oktober” (1917,) now it seems radical to defend the gains of 1215 (the Magna Carta.)
    There is nothing new about anti-communist morality tales. But, I am unhappy to see, even now, anti-communist drivel makes for best-selling books. I hope someday an anti-christian story of childhood disappointments will “top the charts.” “No Skateboard for you for Christmas, you pissed off the baby Jesus”

    Comment by sdstewart — March 28, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  58. […] thought-provoking and informative. I came across a particular entry some time ago called “Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s When Skateboards Will Be Free” where Proyect reviews the memoirs of a certain Said Sayrafiezadeh, a forty-something writer […]

    Pingback by When skateboards do not matter | Rupen Savoulian — May 13, 2011 @ 1:56 am

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