Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 24, 2012

The Richard Aoki imbroglio

Filed under: african-american,repression — louisproyect @ 11:12 pm

Richard Aoki

Seth Rosenfeld

On August 20th an article by Seth Rosenfeld in the San Francisco Chronicle touched off a combination of soul-searching and finger-pointing on the left, particularly those segments that view Richard Aoki, a well-known activist who killed himself in 2009, as an icon. Rosenfeld claims that Aoki was an FBI informant who supplied the guns borne by the Black Panther Party in a famous photograph of the group on the steps of the state capitol building. Rosenfeld is on a publicity blitz for his new book “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power” that includes a chapter on Aoki’s alleged ties to the FBI.

For those who have a considerable stake in Aoki’s reputation, such as his biographer Diane Fujino, it became imperative to discredit Rosenfeld’s findings. It was also important for those who believe that the Panthers’ legacy is mostly positive to weigh in on Fujino and other Aoki supporters’ side. Rosenfeld became seen as a kind of gatekeeper for the 1960s who wanted to quarantine the Panthers in much the same manner as Chris Hedges was seen by black bloc supporters not only as an enemy of “diversity of tactics” but of the most effective group in the Occupy movement.

On August 23rd Rosenfeld and Fujino were the featured guests on Democracy Now where they aired out their differences. Rosenfeld stated that he has no way of knowing whether the FBI was involved in providing the guns or even if they knew Aoki was giving them to the Black Panthers. Fujino mainly urged the audience to not leap to any conclusions about Aoki based on the files obtained through FOIA since there was not enough to go on, including the incorrect reference to him having the middle name Matsui.

Fujino also raised the possibility that Aoki was the posthumous victim of “snitch jacketing”. If that was the case, one has to ask why retired FBI agent Wesley Swearingen, who reviewed the FBI files with Rosenfeld, would want to lend himself to this cause in light of what Rosenfeld reported:

One of the documents that was released was a 1967 FBI report on the Black Panthers. And this report identified Richard Aoki as an informant. It assigned him the code number, T-2, for that report. But I still wanted to find out more about it, so I spoke with a former FBI agent named Wesley Swearingen. Mr. Swearingen had been in the FBI for over 25 years. He had retired honorably. He had later become a critic of the FBI’s political surveillance, and particularly he had helped vacate the murder conviction of a Black Panther named Geronimo Pratt.

I should mention that the FBI directed Aoki to join the CP and the SWP before he ever got involved with the Panthers. Years later when the SWP sued the FBI, Swearingen proved to be more principled than the average snoop. As a witness, he revealed that the FBI was lying when it claimed that it was committed to protecting the identity of its informants. Why he would turn around years after he had retired to tarnish the reputation of Richard Aoki is something of a mystery, unless you believe that a plot is afoot to deradicalize the Occupy movement or something like that. And to establish his credibility even further, Swearingen took the trouble to write a book titled “FBI Secrets” for South End Press, with a laudatory introduction by Ward Churchill. Whew!

Scott Kurashige, the Director of Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at University of Michigan, weighed in on Aoki’s behalf the day after Rosenfeld’s article had appeared in the S.F. Chronicle. Using Facebook, Kurashige claims that Aoki was exploited by Rosenfeld to serve a liberal political agenda by focusing on Aoki’s involvement with the TWLF (Third World Liberation Front) at Berkeley that was supposedly “violent” and turned off many white students. In contrast to the TWLF, Rosenfeld endorses the “good, wholesome” Free Speech Movement. This amounts to a “white liberal narrative of the 1960s that at least in part wants to blame violent activists of color (even if in this case they are steered by the FBI) for the demise of liberalism and the rise of neoconservativism.” Well, gee whiz, who wants to be part of a “white liberal narrative” so I guess it makes sense to defend Aoki against various and sundry charges.

According to Kurashige, Rosenfeld strongly suggests that Aoki working on behalf of the FBI sparked the TWLF’s “violent” turn. Diane Fujino’s version of Richard Aoki makes it even more unlikely that he would have acted to derail the student movement at Berkeley. He simply didn’t fit the profile of a “disruptive” element:

And in another way, Richard Aoki does not fit the profile because many times, especially if they’re agent provocateurs or even infiltrators, they’re either low-key or they are people who try to get people to constantly engage in provocative and disruptive and risky behaviors. And Richard was a scholar. He’s known for giving—the things that he’s best known for—well, until this week—was giving the first guns to the Black Panther Party to support their police patrols to stop police brutality in the black neighborhoods. And Richard was a scholar also. He was advanced theoretically and could spar theoretically with anyone around him. And that is not a typical profile of an infiltrator.

Hearing all these different versions of what Richard Aoki did or did not do motivated me to plunk down $43.55 for Seth Rosenfeld’s book and read the chapter on Aoki. Was he more like a Symbionese Liberation Front member or more like someone addressing a plenary session at a Modern Language Association conference? Maybe a bit of both?

Most of it was what I expected and what has been already reported but I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this:

On March 14, the TWLF central committee debated whether to end the strike. Richard Aoki argued for escalating the violence. “I was willing to risk everything for keeping the struggle going,” he told the author. “We’d have taken on the National Guard. Then it would have gotten real violent. I figured we would have gotten more if we continued it just a bit, even though I he threat of massive escalation, because of bringing in of the National Guard, would’ve really resulted in some stuff. But we had plans. I had plans.”

The plan was to steal guns from National Guard armories. “We’d have had their weapons,” he said. At that time, Aoki recalled, there were “National Guard armories all over this area, stocked with that stuff, and we knew where they were. My faction was willing to take the strike to a higher level.” At a meeting in Stiles Hall, however, weary strikers voted overwhelmingly to end the strike.

Frankly it did not matter to me at this point whether Aoki was urging the theft of guns from the armories to use against the National Guard in a firefight upon the instructions of his ostensible FBI handler or whether he was urging this course as a “sincere” genuine ultraleft numbskull. It is practically beside the point. The 1960s movement was largely destroyed because of such adventures, from Weatherman bombs to the kind of militarism that Aoki espoused. The left has to be grounded in reality, not fantasies drawn from “Battle of Algiers” or an NLF poster.

I should add that it was not just febrile notions of guerrilla warfare that destroyed the left. Spared for a time from ultraleft self-immolation, the SWP also crashed and burned largely as a result of a self-deception of another sort. Instead of styling itself as urban guerrillas, the SWP bought into another fantasy, namely that the late 1970s—the time of cocaine, disco, capitalist expansion and general retreat from the 60s radicalization—marked the onset of a working-class radicalization that would culminate in a bid for power led by the party’s brilliant leader. The collapse of the SWP assumed a different dynamic than that of the SDS or the Panthers but fell into the same general category: political psychosis.

I have no idea whether Aoki was an FBI agent or not, although if I was a betting man I would put money on it. And if he was, I would not be surprised if he maintained connections with the bureau all the while he was convincing his comrades that he was on the level. The mind of such people, who get paid to infiltrate left groups, can be exceedingly complex. Ed Heisler was a national committee member of the SWP for a number of years, largely on the strength of his work in the railroad workers union. He was someone who had fully absorbed Marxist theory even if he never believed a word of it. His speeches at Oberlin conventions were always a hit with the membership. And all the while he was on the FBI payroll.

This is something that the great and late Walt Contreras Sheasby posted to Marxmail in June 2004:

Hello Friends-

Paranoia is one of the biggest problems facing the left. But occasionally we discover suspicious interventions, such as a former FBI informant who may have continuing links to the government. We need to set this former informant aside from our Green Party discussions without implying that this person is currently acting as a government informant.

Apparently there is no doubt that the 61-year-old Ed Heisler who is on many Green lists is the same Ed Heisler who was an FBI informant in the late 1960s and 1970s. I was reluctant to reach such a conclusion without fairly conclusive evidence.

Heisler himself provides sufficient circumstantial evidence in his Yahoo profile for the camejoforpresident list, which is appended below. Immediately above that I have pasted a copy of a blurb on Heisler’s book in 1976 on the dissidents in a Teamster affiliate that I discovered.

Finally I want to say a few words about the Black Panther Party. Again I have no idea whether the FBI was behind Aoki providing guns to them but it really doesn’t matter. The initial splash that was made when they appeared armed in public was very good for the Black liberation struggle in the same fashion that Robert F. Williams’s NAACP-based (!) Black Armed Guard was a step forward in 1959. The idea of self-defense against racist terror was something that most people could understand to one degree or another even when the media tries to depict people like Williams or Malcolm X as promoting violence. When the Panthers marched on the California state house in 1967 carrying weapons in protest against a law that would prevent carrying them in public, they electrified the Black community and gave many young radicals, including me, the hope that revolution was on the agenda.

But by 1971 the Black Panthers were on the ropes, victims of FBI provocations and armed assaults as well as their own detachment from reality. The August 1971 issue of their newspaper should be seen by anybody who is inclined toward rosy-tinged nostalgia for a group that made terrible mistakes despite the best of intentions (of course, the same thing was true of Che Guevara in Bolivia.) There’s an article hailing “revolutionary suicide” as well as a cartoon of a Black Panther astride a dead cop with the words “The Lumpen Will Rise to Deal With the Oppressor”.

In many ways the orientation to the “lumpen” was what destroyed the Panthers. Instead of trying to figure out a way to build an organization of Black workers, including bus drivers, Con Ed utility people and sanitation workers, they oriented to petty thieves and drug dealers. In 1971 if you boarded a city bus, chances were good that the driver had an Afro out to here and a pick comb with the red-black-and-green nationalist colors. Were they for revolution? Damned right, even if most voted Democrat.

What was needed of course was a Black political party that could have drawn in such workers and given it the social weight to withstand police attacks, even if they were bound to come. In a very real sense, the political psychoses of most of the 60s left were a function of relative working-class quiescence. Blacks were ready to move but not on the terms of “revolutionary suicide”.

Now that we are 12 years into the 21st century and 4 years into a seemingly intractable financial crisis that has left perhaps up to 12 percent of the population without a job and millions with foreclosed homes, the conditions are ripening for a new left that is based on reality and not fantasy. Let’s not blow our opportunities since too much is riding on the outcome.


  1. […] shared the link to his new essay in our discussions of recent charges against veteran revolutionary Richard Aoki. […]

    Pingback by Louis Proyect: The Richard Aoki imbroglio « Kasama — August 24, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

  2. There’s almost no evidence here beyond a retired FBI guy who wanted to inflate his importance as a handler and someone who ‘developed’ snitches.

    Also , the movement was not destroyed Weathrmanesque cliques – they were just a symptom of demise.

    Comment by purple — August 25, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

  3. Their recruitment among the lumpen elements is a bit deeper than that:

    “In this country the Black Panther Party, taking careful note of the dialectical method, taking careful note of the social trends and the ever-changing nature of things, sees that while the lumpen proletarians are the minority and the proletarians are the majority, technology is developing at such a rapid rate that automation will progress to cybernation, and cybernation probably to technocracy. As I came into town I saw MIT over the way. If the ruling circle remains in power it seems to me that capitalists will continue to develop their technological machinery because they are not interested in the people. Therefore, I expect from them the logic that they have always followed: to make as much money as possible, and pay the people as little as possible – until the people demand more, and finally demand their heads. If revolution does not occur almost immediately, and I say almost immediately because technology is making leaps (it made a leap all the way to the moon), and if the ruling circle remains in power the proletarian working class will definitely be on the decline because they will be unemployables and therefore swell the ranks of the lumpens, who are the present unemployables. Every worker is in jeopardy because of the ruling circle, which is why we say that the lumpen proletarians have the potential for revolution, will probably carry out the revolution, and in the near future will be the popular majority. Of course, I would not like to see more of my people unemployed or become unemployables, but being objective, because we’re dialectical materialists, we must acknowledge the facts.”


    Comment by Alex — August 25, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  4. The main thing Huey forgot about was the need for capital to maintain a rate of profit. Doesn’t seem to be something he or any other Maoist ever considered.

    When indeed the intrinsic limits to the valorization of capital are in the overproduction of the means of production as capital; where the limit to profitability is the overproduction of the means of production as capital, in quantity and degree, to a point where labor-power cannot be exploited intensely enough, you come to this. And petty gangsters who prey on workers aren’t the way forward out of it!

    It also doesn’t explain the purely nationalist “support black business” “black community” identity politics that came as the BPP begining to fall apart. A long way from Fred Hampton talking about class divides in the community, that class comes first and that there are black and white capitalists, both who are enemies of black workers.

    Comment by Salo — August 26, 2012 @ 2:27 am

  5. This is the start of a great discussion that cannot help remind one of the way the Bolsheviks dissected the sociology of nascent revolutionary factions in Russia after the turn of the last century and hearkens back to some great points raised in Richard Rubenstein”s invaluable book” “The Alchemists of Revolution” (1988) which utilizes great obscure quotes from Lenin & Trotsky that subtly but effectively undermine the typical Maoist perspective yet still ring true for revolutionists today, particularly youth attracted to the OWS movement but are turned off by obscurantism & the futility of frustrated intellectuals acting outrageously in substitute of the organized masses rising up angry — for human history proves there is no harder task than organizing the downtrodden masses to act against social injustice, notwithstanding Mao’s enduring credit for organizing the Long March.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 26, 2012 @ 5:24 am

  6. Salo’s point re: brother Fred Hampton is on the money and I was there in Chicago when his martyrdom went down, an incident I’ve never let anybody I’ve ever known well forget, a state sponsored crime that will never be forgotten so long as the state doesn’t invent a way to obliterate social history & class consciousness.

    Fred Hampton Presente!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 26, 2012 @ 5:39 am

  7. Whatever Aoki may have done, the notion that the late-sixties Left was destroyed by what we might call “violentism” on the part of e.g. the Black Panthers and the Weathermen is a cliche that has only to be uttered to disable critical thinking in the minds of many people.

    In reality the end came about through a very complex series of developments including the rise of the Vietnam war issue, which led a new movement based on war protests fueled by draft resistance. By the end of the war, with civil rights legislation a reality and college students and recent graduates no longer having to fear being drafted, much of the wind went out of the movement’s sails. The Nixon recession, which foreshadowed the present economic crisis–and probably marked the beginning of the lowered economic horizons that all now must accept–among its many desirable effects from the viewpoint of the ruling classes, sent many radicals scampering for shelter.

    Among the available shelters: graduate school, where senior faculty–still seething with passive-aggressive rage against student radicals–had the opportunity to “weed out” dissidents under cover of austerity and the ideology of contracts (as systematized by Richard Rorty and other Holy Joes). Universities in particular were seen–above all by their own ostensibly freedom-loving senior faculty–as organizations needing a thorough purge to set them back on the newly invented moral path of providing employment services under contract to the families of students and business. This dovetailed nicely with the discovery–astonishing, if one believed the academic mobsters in charge at the time (who of course brought the whole thing about)–that graduate departments–especially in the so-called humanities–had metastasized to grotesque proportions during the education boom of the sixties. To guarantee tenured jobs, this swollen FTE had to be maintained through the assiduous recruitment and career assassination of graduate students, who could carry out low-level teaching assignments for slave wages and then be dispatched without protest like the psalm-singing pacifist schmoos that most of them were.

    In fact a very good case could be made that the Left prospered to the extent that it did in the late Sixties and early Seventies not in spite of the violent background of the period but at least in part because of it, just as the working-class movements around the turn of the last century–at least in the United States–grew stronger for a time in the context of bloody resistance. The fear caused by the riots following the King assassination at least had a salutary restraining effect on the urban bourgeoisie who are now resurgent in the particularly nauseating form of second-generation yuppie enclaves. How much better would “neighborhoods” like Washington, DC’s nauseous Logan Circle be for a swingeing riot or two?

    However that may be, it is clear that the decline in left-wing violence in the mid-Seventies and eighties was accompanied by the rise of what, for want of a better term, we can only call the fascism of Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, and Obama. It’s a fact that this only took hold after the left stopped physically fighting and threatening to fight. The production of mealy-mouthed pieties about peace, love, Gandhi, The Entrepreneur, etcetera, on the other hand, has never stopped.

    Occupy–which alas must now be referred to in the past tense, since nobody really knows for sure who is in it now or of what the movement now consists–was predicated on two circumstances. One was that the proletarianization of formerly privileged youth now appears permanent, unlike the proletarianization of the late Sixties/early Seventies cohort. That lowered middle-class expectations, administered terrible blows to the self-esteem of the struggling in all classes, and made life uncertain and terribly anxious, but did not ultimately destroy “normal” petty-bourgeois expectations completely. What was heartening above all in Occupy was the proof that people under such severe downward pressure could and would turn and stand up in their own defense and in defense of working people in general. This remains a source of hope. But the other circumstance was that to a very considerable extent, the Occupiers eschewed any thought of violence, loved the police as brothers, and mostly based their ideology on the assumption I mentioned earlier that the Sixties/Seventies proved the futility of violence as demonstrated by the stupidity and weakness of Baby Boomers. In effect, most Occupiers accepted on some level the contemporary myth that present austerity, however unjust, is in someways a legitimate consequence of violence by a criminal older generation.

    Of course, a few anarchists in Occupy broke windows and even attempted, horrors! to fight our dear friends, the police. Worse, they said “fuck” in public and called names! These “black bloc tactics” will be blamed by prudes for the “destruction” of Occupy, when in reality they are an epiphenomenon that would have been–and in fact was–lost in the noise of earlier and in some ways more vigorous protest movements.

    Please understand that I do not espouse “violentism” myself. The embrace by the Panthers, for example, of self-dramatizing romantic violence–they accepted as their own and propagated Nechayev’s futile revolutionary catechism, among other scary absurdities–certainly deserves to be criticized as do many other currents in the alleged revolutionary thought of the time. One can’t in any case simply buy few pounds of violence in the Marketplace of Ideas and throw them willy-nilly into demonstrations with any good effect. Perhaps the greatest stupidity of at least some Black Bloc “tacticians” in the United States at was to assume–perhaps on the basis of some half-baked Jeffersonian conception of self-evident right–that one could do precisely that.

    What I am saying is that the Left has up to now lost out in the U.S. not because of violence but because the Right has been winning–in effect, not because Baby Boomer violence was deservedly rejected by society, but because the left ran out of effective ways to fight.

    Fighting is fighting. To exclude “violence” a priori as does most of Occupy is at least as dangerous as promoting violence in the abstract.

    The whole history of twentieth-century revolutionism can be seen as the history of the Right proving stronger and more resourceful than by rights it ought to be–witness the right-wing triumph over Bolshevism in Germany, followed by the triumph of Stalinism in the Soviet Union (leading eventually to the triumph of Putinism), the triumph of anticommunism in the United States, etc., etc.

    We must continue to search for ways to fight, excluding nothing historically appropriate that may prove effective, whatever history’s judgment on Aoki.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — August 26, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

  8. Joe, how old are you?

    Comment by louisproyect — August 26, 2012 @ 6:26 pm

  9. Suffice it to say that on a recent road trip I was in line with all the other sixty-somethings, grimly trying not to hop from foot to foot while waiting to use the urinals at the rest stops.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — August 27, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  10. In the not-too-distant future, I may have information which will definitively settle this controversy.

    There are many different ways to establish, conclusively, whether or not Richard Aoki was, indeed, an FBI informant — especially if he was a “paid” informant.

    First, a comment about T-symbols used by the FBI.

    A T-symbol assigned to a source of information would not necessarily mean he/she was an actual informant.

    T-symbols were used by the FBI to designate from whom they obtained raw information about a particular subject. It could be from employers, or from postal service employees, electronic surveillance, a neighbor of a subject, a credit reporting agency, financial institutions, military service records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, as well as persons interviewed by the FBI who may or may not have had reliable information. Sometimes a T-symbol was identified as a “confidential investigative technique” — which could refer to a wiretap or a mail cover or a trash cover.

    In short, a T-symbol does not necessarily indicate that a specific person was an FBI informant. There is also the matter of definition of terms (see below). The FBI utilized various categories of information sources who were not, however, “informants” in Bureau parlance.

    Typically, an actual FBI informant would have a symbol number which would start with an abbreviation for his/her location such as “SF” for San Francisco or “NY” for New York or “CG” for Chicago.

    However, if Aoki truly was a paid informant of the FBI, he would have been assigned a code name and a symbol number and there would definitely be a “main file” created for him in both San Francisco and at FBI HQ in Washington DC — and he would have been listed on the FBI’s “Informant Index”.

    Usually, the FBI file on one of its informants would consist of many hundreds or thousands of pages–if only because each of their verbal or written reports is contained in their file along with numerous memos from the field office to FBI HQ which would summarize information provided, whether or not it was determined to be reliable, and then, the field office might request permission from HQ to continue using the informant and, in many cases, request to pay their informant for services performed and/or expenses incurred (such as travel, member dues, purchasing publications, etc.)

    One famous FBI informant (Matt Cvetic) was assigned a code name of Bob Lee and his symbol was CNDI C-113 (Confidential National Defense Informant C-113). His HQ and field office files total more than 6000 pages.

    Perhaps the most famous (and most productive) FBI informant of all times was Morris Childs who was a highly placed mole inside the Communist Party. His code name was Harold Lasky and his symbol was CG-5824-S*. His brother, Jack Childs, was also a major FBI informant inside the CPUSA. Jack’s code name was Marat and his symbol number NY-694-S*. The HQ and field office files on the Childs’ brothers total more than 200,000 pages!!!

    All FBI field offices kept an index of their active and inactive informants — so it should be possible to determine if Richard Aoki was listed by the FBI’s San Francisco field office and/or if his name appeared on the FBI HQ “Informant Index.”

    In addition, if Richard Aoki was a “paid” informant, his FBI field office case agent (and the Special Agent in Charge of San Francisco) would have prepared a memo sent to FBI HQ to (1) request authorization to use Aoki as an informant and (2) request permission to pay him whatever amount was deemed necessary for expenses and services.

    As I told Seth Rosenfeld, if Aoki was a paid FBI informant, there MUST BE a “main file” on Aoki (both HQ and San Francisco) to archive all these documents plus copies of his reports and FBI employee evaluations of his information plus details regarding how that information was used.

    HOWEVER, it is possible that Aoki was only an information source — not a paid informant. Space limitations here prevent me from going into details but new FOIA requests would seem to be in order to ascertain if he was actually a paid informant.

    Comment by ernie1241 — August 30, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

  11. There’s also another way, that is, when somebody in such a group advocates attacking cops violently, as Aoki did at one point, they act as an agent provocateur and historically such agents were almost always paid.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 31, 2012 @ 3:41 am

  12. “Historically such agents were almost always paid” ???

    Obviously, when dealing with radicals (left or right) who intellectually believe the current system is corrupt and worthless, there is the distinct possibility that they will engage in, or advocate, illegal activities.

    One of the better articles about this subject is Gary T. Marx’s 1974 article in the American Journal of Sociology, entitled “Thoughts on a Neglected Category of Social Movement Participant: The Agent Provocateur and the Informant” — which may be found here:

    Comment by ernie1241 — August 31, 2012 @ 9:29 am

  13. Silver Price: You have created a flawless self-sealing argument. Any documentary evidence appearing in FBI files which does not conform to what you prefer to believe is unacceptable to you because of your hostility toward the FBI and “government” generally.

    You refer to all such information as “propaganda” but one wonders whether you apply any critical analytical methodology toward sources whose positions you agree with? Or do you just accept all of their self-serving statements and all of their propaganda?

    Comment by ernie1241 — September 1, 2012 @ 2:04 am

  14. Turncoats are sometimes among the baddest motherfuckers in the groups they abandon–think of the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus or Benedict Arnold. Others, like Ernest Withers, are at least prominent and unsuspected. What about “the renegade Kautsky”–to say nothing of contemporary ex-Leftists who turn to neo-conservatism?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — September 1, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

  15. Joe Vaughan:

    Political extremists (left wing or right wing) suffer from an intellectual fever. Many of the most virulent left-wing radicals ultimately decided to cross the ideological street and associate themselves with radical right-wing organizations and movements — which (to me) makes perfect sense because their intellectual fever did not suddenly disappear, i.e. the defective mental processes which made them susceptible to extreme left-wing ideas and causes did not miraculously disappear. They were just transferred.

    Many political scientists suggest that we consider a political spectrum in the form of a circle (not a vertical line with extremes at either end). In a circle, the radicals (left and right) meet at the top of the circle.– and, therefore, the distance between them is minimal.

    Another way of thinking about this comes from research done on highly ideological people.

    Researchers asked their subjects to read a short document which presented a narrative whose ideas were opposite to what the subjects believed. So, for example, a left-wing radical was asked to read a right-wing document and vice-versa.

    Then, each group was asked to summarize the arguments made in the document they just read.

    Researchers discovered that highly ideological people cannot accurately summarize such material — probably because they filter everything through their own preconceptions and their ideological hostility toward what they read.

    Although many ex-leftists have subsequently associated themselves with the extreme right, the reverse situation does not seem to be very common. It would be interesting to figure out why.

    Comment by ernie1241 — September 1, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

  16. ernie1241: As it happens, I reject the equation of left and right “extremism”, which seems to underlie your post. The kind of academic “social science” research you allude to, I think, is at best highly questionable scientifically; at worst mere paid propaganda carried out by what William Blake called “hirelings in the court and universities.”

    The validity of professorial output cannot be inferred from the mere fact that it emanates from professors, no matter how many tenured frauds insist that this must be so.

    Have you ever heard of Sir Cyril Burt?

    In any case, we were talking about the character of traitors or turncoats, which I think is a somewhat different subject.

    Did Josephus go from left to right? After he was defeated as a general he decided to run with the Roman hounds but apparently saw himself as defending the historical reputation of the defeated Jews whom he had led in battle. This may not seem commendable, but it isn’t the simple “flipping” of a natural fanatic which your theory requires. Benedict Arnold seems to have been motivated by egoism and a sense of having been underestimated. Again, not conformable to your theory of extremism.

    Withers took wonderful photographs that remain icons of the civil rights movement. I’m not familiar in great detail with his case, but it doesn’t seem to be one of a fanatic flipping allegiances.

    As to your point about reactionaries not moving left–which in any case seems to go against the theory of right-left absolute equivalence–plenty of reactionaries do eventually move to the left–Doug Henwood and any number of disillusioned soldiers, such as Ron Kovic, for example. I don’t think either of them can be described as a fanatic, but as I see it that merely underlies the fallacy of false equivalence.

    As I understand it, Lenin blamed “the renegade Kautsky” and the SPD for the failure of the German revolution, and thus of the world socialist revolution that he hoped would soon follow the Bolshevik Revolution. Whatever the rights of that may be, in view of what followed in Germany, Kautsky after the split with Lenin can’t accurately be described as a right-wing fanatic. Nor, as far as I know, did Lenin describe him as such, although he said plenty. (Lars Lih forgive me if I’ve got this wrong.)

    My point is that turncoats–or perceived turncoats–are not necessarily mere negative images of whatever they are betraying or rejecting. Many of them are intensely ambivalent about what they have done, and their their motivations and character can be complex. Not all have the same makeup.

    Concretely this means that Aoki could have been an FBI informant even if he was, in Muhammed Ali’s delightful phrase, “a bad man.” It doesn’t mean that he actually was an informant. Other evidence would have to determine that. But he could have been.

    Maybe this just shows the limits of basing politics on the imputed moral qualities of heroes.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — September 1, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

  17. Here is The Chronicle of Higher Education. Includes statements from historians Donna Jean Murch and Yohuru R. Williams, in addition to Diane C. Fujino and Scott Kurashige. The full article is behind the Chronicle’s paywall.



    August 31, 2012

    Scholars Challenge Author’s Assertion That 1960s Activist Worked for FBI

    By Peter Monaghan

    [clip]”If you’re going to make that a central claim of a book, you’re going to be held to a high standard of proof,” says Donna Jean Murch, author of Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

    Historians like Ms. Murch, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University, say Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim is unsubstantiated and warrants a more rigorous investigation than he gave it.

    His allegation came to public attention in August when the San Francisco Chronicle published his article on the subject, timed to the release of his book; Mr. Rosenfeld also released a video report on the Web site of the Center for Investigative Reporting. The charges against Mr. Aoki account for only about 10 pages of the more than 700 in his book, which examines FBI activities concerning the University of California at Berkeley during the cold war. The evidence it relies on includes some 300,000 pages of FBI records released as a result of Mr. Rosenfeld’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.

    But Mr. Rosenfeld’s critics say that his accusations against Mr. Aoki rely on one former FBI agent, now deceased, who said he was Mr. Aoki’s handler in the years before his political activism, and one FBI document, redacted and, critics say, ambiguous.


    While Mr. Aoki might conceivably have had entanglements with law-enforcement figures early in his adult life, and been singled out as a possible informant by FBI agents, his actions, over all, hardly seem consistent with expectations of how an FBI informant would behave, says Diane C. Fujino, a scholar of Asian-American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her biography of Mr. Aoki, Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life has just been published by the University of Minnesota Press. “Anything is possible, and so I’m open to the truth,” she says. “But I’d need to see substantial evidence.”


    In response, Mr. Rosenfeld says he makes no assertion that Mr. Aoki helped the FBI disrupt political movements. (In an e-mail to The Chronicle, he said would not have time before this article went to print to respond to the specific criticisms that researchers have made about his allegations.) But his book does include such statements as: “Did Aoki help the Panthers fight for justice, or did he set them up? During the same period Aoki was arming the Panthers, he was informing for the FBI,” and “he had given the Black Panthers some of their first guns and weapons training, encouraging them on a course that would contribute to shootouts with police and the organization’s demise.”

    The evidence Mr. Rosenfeld presents dates from the period in which Mr. Aoki attended activists’ meetings but before the Black Panther Party was even formed. A key consideration, says Yohuru R. Williams, an associate professor of African-American history at Fairfield University, would be to assess what kind of information he might have provided authorities, and under what circumstances. Mr. Williams, who has written extensively about the Black Panthers, says that Mr. Rosenfeld appears to draw a conclusion based on slight evidence, then projects it forward as a surmise about Mr. Aoki’s role in key events in Panther history.

    Mr. Williams, like Scott Kurashige, a professor of American culture and history at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who specializes in the history of Asian-American political and social activism, criticizes Mr. Rosenfeld for apparently relying on one FBI document, and on his interviews with one former FBI agent, Burney Threadgill Jr., who died in 2005. While Mr. Rosenfeld writes that the FBI document—which has recently circulated among scholars, including Mr. Williams and Mr. Kurashige—identifies Mr. Aoki as an informant, it is in reality far more ambiguous, say the critics.


    critics say Mr. Rosenfeld’s sourcing is irresponsible. In his San Francisco Chronicle account, Mr. Rosenfeld writes in reference to a taped 2007 interview between himself and Mr. Aoki: “Asked if this reporter was mistaken that Aoki had been an informant, Aoki said, ‘I think you are,’ but added: ‘People change. It is complex. Layer upon layer.'” But in Mr. Rosenfeld’s video feature, the words “people change” are not heard on the tape and appear not to have been in that part of the interview.

    As other evidence for his case, he cites a second former FBI agent, M. Wesley Swearingen, who made a sworn declaration as part of one of Mr. Rosenfeld’s lawsuits against the FBI, saying he “concluded … that Aoki had been an informant.” In the video feature, Mr. Swearingen explains that part of his reasoning was that Mr. Aoki could have spied unsuspected in Black Panther ranks because he was “Japanese”—reasoning that Mr. Rosenfeld’s critics disparage as absurd.

    What also bothers the critics is that Mr. Rosenfeld does not cite recent books by historians and other scholars—people like them—on topics like surveillance and the role of state “subversion” during the Panther era.

    “If this were a scholarly work, it would not survive academic peer review,” says Mr. Kurashige. “I dare say that it would likely fail even a dissertation defense.”

    [end clips]

    Comment by X Y — September 3, 2012 @ 12:06 am

  18. Speaking as somebody whose spent more years than most immersed in the academic milieu, turns out all the petty scholarly journals & academic cul de sacs in the world will never outweigh the tried & true revolutionary logic that dictates the irrefragable fact that anybody who would advocate a group like the Panthers, at their height, at that historical juncture, should plan to terrorize the cops with their own violent offensive is either, at worst, a paid informant/agent provocateur — or at best, a delusional & frustrated intellectual Narodniki style Weatherman who longs to substitute their small group, usually out of laziness & inability, for the enormous task of actually organizing the masses, for which there is no substitute for revolution.

    Moreover, such a person who actually planned to supply the arms to such rebels for such an ill concieved mission is even more suspect since the end game is inexorably the long incarceration in dungeons of cats like Geronimo Pratt & others who might not otherwise have have that illicit shit in their possession.

    Res Ipsa Loquitor

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 3, 2012 @ 2:29 am

  19. Irrefragable. Thanks for a new word of the day. I’ll try to use it in a sentence so that it will imprint properly on my neurons.. Meanwhile, Louis himself says, “When the Panthers marched on the California state house in 1967 carrying weapons in protest against a law that would prevent carrying them in public, they electrified the Black community and gave many young radicals, including me, the hope that revolution was on the agenda.”

    When you’re in the moment, you don’t have the benefit of hindsight and historical perspective. From what I’ve observed, many of the online, self-described Marxist critics of the Panthers who so easily believed Rosenfeld’s allegation are largely white and male. Seems so easy for such types to believe that only “crazies” and “agents” could have been so angered, hopeless and/or frustrated at society (including at the white left) to go to such extremes.

    Comment by X Y — September 3, 2012 @ 4:26 am

  20. You don’t get it. There was no bigger fan of the Panther’s than myself, one loathe to criticize the historically oppressed whom took history into their hands, that is, until they were sabotaged into ruin & self destruction by the likes of those individuals (not the masses who looked up to them for leadership) who would advocate an armed and violent counter offensive against the CA state at that historical juncture, that is, not just misguided stalwarts of the revolution but more than likely police agents bent on the organization’s ruin.

    You want to hearken back to what Proyect said then you better read closer because he concluded that the dude was most likely a police agent, a conclusion he based not on the gossip but rather the logic of the fact that typically, in the history of left activism, only paid goon police agents advocate & cajole other members to take violent actions that are fruitless and without hope unless they are degenerate spies.

    So just ask Louis again. Which side of this debate is he on? Mine or Yours?

    Fact is while he might not conclude this Aoki cat is a paid spy, it may be the case he’s a very twisted unpaid spy, or it may well be the case he’s innocent of all charges, but I doubt it and so far Proyect doubts it too, but we’re both willing to be proven wrong when it comes to the defense of a figure from a historically oppressed background that’s been unjust maligned.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 3, 2012 @ 6:18 am

  21. I too have never been absolutely certain of his guilt but rather only the futility of lazily substituting terrorist tactics for organizing the masses when it comes to structural change. That Aoki would come to agree with that truism is beside the point.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 3, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  22. I have obtained dozens of FBI files on FBI informants.

    If Aoki truly was a “paid” informant of the FBI, then there will be documentary proof of his status contained in more than one FBI file (HQ and field office). Like all government bureaucracies, FBI employees were quite meticulous about creating records concerning the people who were paid by them. However, one must keep in mind that the Bureau utilized many different types of information sources—-many of whom were never categorized as an actual FBI informant.

    The “one” document which Seth Rosenfeld found has not, in my judgment, been properly interpreted and I do not believe that Wesley Swearingen is necessarily a credible source.

    I recently requested Burney Threadgill’s personnel file — which may provide further insights into this matter.

    In reply to Joe Vaughan’s rejoinder to my previous comment:

    It is interesting that you reject the research I previously cited even though you have never seen it nor are you even aware of the identity of its authors. Obviously, you reveal your bias and closed-mind when you eliminate from consideration any evidence which challenges something you prefer to believe.

    With respect to your comment asserting that there is no “equation” between left and right extremism –suggests that you have never read the appropriate literature nor have you had any first-person contacts with any significant number of political extremists.

    With respect to your comment regarding the “character” of “turncoats and traitors” — you have created a straw-man argument. I am not referring to their “character”. I am referring to comparable defects with respect to their intellectual processes.

    For a very useful discussion regarding the personality traits of political extremists, I suggest Laird Wilcox’s article: http://www.lairdwilcox.com/news/hoaxerproject.html

    Comment by ernie1241 — September 3, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  23. ernie1241:

    Character includes intellectual character. In any case, the thread (“we”) was discussing Aoki’s character whatever you, in your paranoid delusional state, may have thought you were discussing.

    I also do not cite the works of L. Ron Hubbard, Trofim D. Lysenko, Alex Jones, B.F. Skinner, S.I. Hayakawa, Lyndon LaRouche, or Sir Cyril Burt (of whom you apparently have never heard). I have never seriously considered the possibility that the moon is made of green cheese or that the earth is really flat.

    I suppose these things also prove that I have a closed mind.

    If you weren’t obviously nuts, I’d suspect you of being a Republican.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — September 5, 2012 @ 12:33 am

  24. Furthermore, lower-case ernie, you did not as you falsely state above “cite” any research at all in the post to which I originally replied.

    You began with a dogmatic assertion supported by no evidence at all:

    Political extremists (left wing or right wing) suffer from an intellectual fever. Many of the most virulent left-wing radicals ultimately decided to cross the ideological street and associate themselves with radical right-wing organizations and movements — which (to me) makes perfect sense because their intellectual fever did not suddenly disappear, i.e. the defective mental processes which made them susceptible to extreme left-wing ideas and causes did not miraculously disappear. They were just transferred.

    All of this is sheer paranoid bluster. Not a shred of evidence of any kind. You then allege research as the basis for the nutty diatribe that follows, without actually citing a single source.!

    You’re a liar as well as a crackpot.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — September 5, 2012 @ 12:44 am

  25. Joe: I do not normally respond to rude and abusive people who resort to ad hominem arguments, but just for clarity:

    (1) “Character” in normal parlance typically refers to a moral dimension in human beings as in “the principles and motives that control one’s life”.

    Obviously, someone can be an entirely admirable person in terms of their moral compass and their reputation for honesty and rectitude — BUT, nevertheless, they can be deficient in terms of their ability to analyze complex information and make appropriate, reasonable, and fair judgments and conclusions.

    (2) I have heard of all (but one) of the individuals you mentioned — but they are not pertinent to this discussion.

    (3) I still maintain that you have no knowledge about the literature regarding political extremism because if you did, you would not dispute that political extremists (right wing or left wing) intellectually are quite similar in terms of the way they demonize and de-humanize their perceived political opponents. In addition, political extremists always maintain that there is only ONE correct interpretation of any disputed matter and only ONE correct public policy option which should be chosen and that one interpretation and policy option “coincidentally” always conforms to their own political and economic preferences.

    (4) Lastly, since I have no personal experience with Richard Aoki, I cannot speak to his “character”. My contribution to this thread has been with respect to what evidence is normally contained in FBI files–particularly with respect to FBI informants. Having spent 32 years making thousands of FOIA requests for FBI files (including dozens of requests on FBI informants — some of which are listed on my webpage here: https://sites.google.com/site/ernie124102/foia) I think I may have some insights which your arrogance cannot presently comprehend.

    Comment by https://sites.google.com/site/ernie124102/home — September 5, 2012 @ 12:56 am

  26. Joe: If you actually wanted to know what specific literature about political extremists I was referring to, you could have simply asked — which is what rational people do. I note, for the record, however, that in message #13 of this thread I provided a link to the research done by Gary T. Marx. Gary goes into considerable detail regarding the motives of persons who become informants or agents provocateurs.

    In a subsequent message, I referred to the article by Laird Wilcox which is based upon his decades of studying right-wing and left-wing extremists. Laird’s collection is at the University of Kansas

    I created a webpage about relevant archives for interested parties that want to pursue research into political extremism. My webpage is here:

    In addition, I have donated a significant portion of my personal collection to New York University’s Tamiment Library — and they created a finding aid to it (link below) — although they have not updated it yet to include the 4 additional disks containing numerous additional files:

    Lastly, numerous scholars and researchers have used material from my collection in their articles, books, doctoral dissertations, and conference papers.

    I would be happy to learn of comparble information about yourself and your contributions.

    Comment by https://sites.google.com/site/ernie124102/home — September 5, 2012 @ 1:08 am

  27. To get this discussion back on track —-

    I have just created a specific webpage for sharing info about FBI informants which I hope will be useful to everyone who wants to have more detailed fact-based knowledge about the documentation which the FBI created concerning its actual informants.

    My new webpage is here:


    From time to time, I will add more information.

    I have submitted a new FOIA request targeted for specific information on whether or not Aoki was actually a FBI informant.

    In the future, I will post anything significant which I receive re: Aoki on this new webpage.

    Comment by https://sites.google.com/site/ernie124102/home — September 5, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

  28. Little ernie:

    You cited no evidence in the post to which I refer, which is paranoid, abusive, and rude in the extreme.

    Then you lied and said you had. Q.E.D. You are a liar and a crackpot.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — September 5, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

  29. Joe: If you had wanted any “evidence” you could have just asked me for it in a friendly manner but basic manners seems foreign to you.

    The post to which you refer was me making personal observations based upon 40 years of my experience debating political extremists — I was not attempting to “prove” anything.

    However, there has been voluminous research done about political extremists and, in particular, about authoritarian personalities.

    Some of the more famous early studies include Milton Rokeach’s “The Open and Closed Mind” and Gordon Allport’s, “The Nature of Prejudice”. If you have access to the JSTOR database through your local library, you can search for and find hundreds of academic studies regarding highly ideological people and the movements which they populated.

    There also is the “Routledge Studies on Extremism and Democracy” which is edited by Roger Eatwell and Cas Mudde. They publish research about extremism and democracy.

    Here in California we have the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, headed by Dr. Brian Levin.

    In Europe, there is “The Radicalism and New Media Research Group” at University of Northampton’s School of Social Sciences.

    There are also hundreds of masters theses and doctoral dissertations which discuss political extremists, authoritarian personalities, and prejudice/intolerance. One of the more recent ones is here: http://epublications.bond.edu.au/theses/norris/

    Comment by ernie1241 — September 5, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  30. Little Joe: On a personal note, I am still waiting to learn about whatever research and writing YOU have done — particularly anything which has been published or which has been recommended or “cited” by scholars, researchers, or authors in their articles, books, theses/dissertations, conference papers or any other source?

    Your specialty seems to be ad hominem slurs and malicious personal attacks — but I certainly am willing to consider anything you would care to present so that I may correct my initial impression if I am mistaken.

    Comment by ernie1241 — September 5, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

  31. […] in my failure to do a full-scale breast-beating self-criticism, I am now ready to admit that my original take on the Richard Aoki controversy was […]

    Pingback by Richard Aoki Reconsidered — September 5, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

  32. […] in my failure to do a full-scale breast-beating self-criticism, I am now ready to admit that my original take on the Richard Aoki controversy was […]

    Pingback by Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 5, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

  33. Lowercase ernie: I’ve already pointed out a few of your innumerable errors in logic. Furthermore, you have lied and I have pointed out exactly where.

    I can’t find anything in the R.T. Marx article you cite in ass-blast 13 to support your outburst in ass-blast 17 about the supposed moral diseases of others (implicitly including, by the way, most of the contributors to this forum).

    Of course Item 17 was only you–drawing on your experience of a lifetime. How pretentious! How nakedly delusional!

    Thank you for acknowledging the truth, however accidentally, having previously made the false claim that I had failed to acknowledge your cited sources. Liar.

    Of course also, having hypocritically disavowed insult (in which you have been wallowing ever since you forced this discussion off its track in Blast 17), you add something “on a personal note.” Your alleged reply is a genuinely ad hominem irrelevancy meant to divert scrutiny from your compulsive lying and questionable intellect.

    My doctorate is in a legitimate academic field, not sociology or “education” as these alleged disciplines are practiced in the United States. My writings are mostly in the field of computers, though I have edited periodicals in space physics and once wrote and produced three short films on that subject under contract to NASA. Years later, I was a voting member of an ANSI committee that eventually produced a data communication standard that has subsequently been adopted by most banks in the United States. Etc., etc.

    Actually, for six months, as an undergraduate and graduate student, I carried out research activities for “Doctors” of education–an experience that did not increase my admiration for the social sciences, since one of the two professors I worked for was flagrantly falsifying his research in order to win a contract with a publisher of schoolbooks. The famous Sir C. Burt–an unimpeachable Cham of Tartary for years, knighted by the Queen Herself–was proved also to have falsified research allegedly proving the innate intellectual inferiority of the Lower Classes. Lying is apparently endemic to the bourgeois social sciences, especially when money and honors are in prospect. I have negative confidence in anyone flaunting those credentials.

    None of this in any way either qualifies or disqualifies me to speak in this forum or on this topic. I speak as a concerned citizen of relatively advanced Marxist views–advanced relative to the likes of you, at least. That is the only credential I acknowledge or offer.

    As to keeping the discussion on track: my original point, ages ago, in reply to someone who asserted that Aoki was too “bad” (i.e. good) to be a turncoat (an observation, btw, about character), was that he could have been one, just as were Benedict Arnold and Josephus. I based this on history, which contrary to your nutty observation, but in full accord with any number of Standard Authorities (including Shakespeare and Hegel) is full of evidence about what is commonly called character–indeed is an almost inexhaustible source of characters plural. The “common parlance” to which you allude does not exist. There’s no such thing. Typical.

    I personally don’t care whether Aoki actually was an informant or not. Anyone could be a turncoat in any organization anywhere on the political spectrum at any time. In my opinion, some of us on the left place too much stock in heroes. This is the point of my reference to character, which I think can be discussed historically but is relatively unimportant in history compared with the larger and more impersonal social forces. In speaking of a “straw man argument” you are merely, in classic paranoid fashion, repeating what Adolf Eichmann called gefluegelte Worte (“winged words”). You are mesmerized by the sound of the phrase. It’s nothing but a meaningless incantation.

    Obviously, this is far too subtle for the likes of you. But this discussion is one among avowed left-wing extremists. In my opinion, you, as a hysterical leftist-hater, have little to contribute except a few debatable facttoids about the FBI, all of which will have to be verified from multiple other sources to be usable.

    You jumped the track with your outburst in ass-blast 17, and you must both take the blame and face the consequences if the discussion subsequently went off topic. That of course was precisely the effect you were hoping for, though it doesn’t seem to have made you happy. Too bad.

    I could go on skewering you for hours, but you will only invent more lies and drag in more irrelevancies. You must find the attention deeply gratifying. Therefore I declare the fun to be at an end. Rant on in solitude, you faker. Your slip is showing.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — September 5, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

  34. Re: #23: XY admonishes me that “perhaps” I ought to “actually follow Louis’ evolving opinion on this matter more closely.”

    So XY, are you talking about his opinion 2 weeks ago, last week, or today — when he concludes Aoki really did snitch for the FBI after reading 200 pages of his files that would appear difficult to fabricate?

    Did he get paid for his services? One can only speculate — but typically only the degenerate psychopath snitches for nothing.


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 8, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  35. Karl – Your implication, as with Rosenfeld (which he has since backtracked on somewhat), was that Aoki acted not only as an informant, but as saboteur and provocateur. Louis does not seem to agree with that implication.

    Comment by X Y — September 8, 2012 @ 1:55 am

  36. Louis does not seem to agree with that implication.

    X Y should realize by this point that I am not in the business of promoting sycophancy even though I was in a party where that was the norm. Karl is free to hold ideas contrary to mine. In fact I would expect that of him.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 8, 2012 @ 2:00 am

  37. If Aoki wound up in San Quentin like some of the brothers he was informing on the debate on weather or not he did more than just snitch would be moot as he’d be dead & forgotten except as a lesson to snitches.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 8, 2012 @ 2:16 am

  38. Little Joe: My only comment to you is: Seek professional help. A person with so much venom and delusions is probably going to be our next James Holmes.

    Comment by ernie1241 — September 8, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

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