Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 13, 2010

Allen Ginsberg’s photograph of William S. Burroughs

Filed under: beatniks — louisproyect @ 5:49 pm

From a slide show accompanying the article on Ginsberg’s photographs of his friends from the beat generation.

I don’t know much about Burroughs’s politics but this should persuade anybody that he was not a rightwinger.


  1. I love Ginsberg, but the more I hear about Kerouac’s personality, the more my distaste for him grows. When I took a contemporary poetry class, I was amused to discover that some of the best art to come from the Beat movement was from the “background Beats”; the ones no one ever talks about like Jack Spicer, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (although he’s discussed a bit more than some others), not to mention the undiscovered world and works of the Beat women.
    I love Burroughs’ work, but didn’t he become a libertarian towards the end? It kind of makes sense. His work was just as full of hedonism as it was of social decay.

    Comment by Rob — September 13, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

  2. Check the youtube clip I just added to the post.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

  3. Burrough’s first book, a home-made job, when he was a very young man, is a vicious satiric attack on FDR and the New Deal. His immediate class background comes right through.

    Libertarian characterizes his later politics accurately. but it needs to be qualified as anarchist and democratic.

    The Wild Boys probably exemplifies that politics best. People living mobile lives, creating self-run communal entities, where making porn and doing drugs play a central role. Of course, the queer boys have a special place.

    Now whether you consider that decay or not is another question. Leave out the porn, and the politics could be compared to Ken MacLeod’s sci fi.

    Comment by Chuckie K — September 13, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

  4. My libertarian comment was based on something I read a couple years ago. Something to the extent that while most Beats gravitated to the left, Burroughs adopted some libertarian attitudes. I just did a rundown of his Wikipedia page, and nothing explicitly mentioning libertarianism is there. In fact, he ran with some pretty left wing cats in the late 70’s through the 80’s.
    Chuckie: Would you describe his libertarianism as left or right wing? When the word is used alone, I tend to assume it refers to right-wing libertarianism.
    Also, when I mentioned decay, I was referring to his comments on the society he was living in, not the one he wished to see. The video above is an excellent example of that.

    Comment by Rob — September 13, 2010 @ 11:48 pm

  5. I was trying to suggest left whne I said anarchist and democratic. Sorry to have misunderstood your point about his critique of bourgeois society. I’d agree, he has an eye for the effluvia of this way of life.

    Comment by Chuckie K — September 14, 2010 @ 3:26 am

  6. Burroughs of course joined the demonstration at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, marching with Ginsberg, Terry Southern and Jean Genet. (The ‘political’ Norman Mailer stayed on the sidelines.) But it’s hard to categorize these writers as political or non-political. Take Genet. He had put himself forward as a complete nihilist, totally anti-social. But he would support the Black Panthers and at home in France run real risks in opposing the Algerian war.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — September 14, 2010 @ 7:57 am

  7. A friend of mine produced a couple of Burroughs’ records and said that Burroughs, with his partner James Grauerholz, lived a rather simple life in a modest house in suburban Lawrence, Kansas. WSB drank rot gut vodka with Coke, smoked weed, and shot his many guns, usually just at targets, but many times creating “shotgun art.” My friend has a couple of WSB’s shotgun portraits — blasted wood panels with a splattered picture or painting on top. You can feel the intensity up close.

    Comment by Dennis Perrin — September 15, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

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