Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 12, 2015

Roger Burbach ¡Presente!

Filed under: obituary,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

Roger Burbach

I just learned that Roger Burbach died. I never met Roger but kept up an email conversation with him over the years. About five years ago he told me that he was dealing with multiple myeloma, the likely cause of his death.

Federico Fuentes, a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australian group who co-authored “Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism” (http://www.zedbooks.co.uk/node/20723) paid tribute to Roger yesterday on Facebook:

Saddened to hear that, two years to the day of the passing away of Hugo Chavez and almost exactly one year after the killing of Ali Mustafa, my friend and colleague Roger Burbach has also left us.

I had the privilege of working with Roger and Michael Fox on our book Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions. Without a doubt, despite being almost double our age, he was the driving force that keep me and Mike inline and ensured we completed what turned out to be the last book he published while alive.

Roger was truly a remarkable man who never let adversity hold him back. He had been in a wheelchair since 1989 after a terrible swimming accident, and lived most of the last decade with multiple myeloma and constant medical treatment. Despite these hurdles that life threw at him he accomplished so much in his life. Although completely inadequate in describing all that he did, i am posting his bio from our book to give you some idea:

“Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written extensively on Latin America and US foreign policy for over four decades. His first book, Agribusiness in the Americas (1980), co-authored with Patricia Flynn, is regarded as a classic in the research of transnational agribusiness corporations and their exploitative role in Latin America. His most notable book is Fire in the Americas (1987), co-authored with Orlando Núñez, which is an informal manifesto of the Nicaraguan revolution during the 1980s. With the collapse of twentieth-century socialism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe he began to study the emergent system of globalization and to write about the new Latin American social movements and the renewed quest for socialism in the twenty-first century.”

Rest in power Roger. You may have left us, but your work and example will live on.

I also received email this morning announcing a memorial service:

Dear Friends,

Please join us in commemorating the life and work of ROGER BURBACH who passed away on March 5, 2015.

A memorial will be held:

Sunday, March 15, 2015
2:30 p.m.
Berkeley City Club
2315 Durant Avenue
Berkeley, CA

We also invite you to join us afterwards for a celebration in honor of Roger at the garden patio of Gather Restaurant, 2200 Oxford Street, Berkeley.

There will be opportunities for you to share at the memorial. If you cannot attend but have anything you would like to share at the memorial or with the family, please feel free to email Roger’s son Matthew at salvadorburbach@gmail.com

We look forward to seeing you.

The Burbach Family

I want to add a few words in remembrance of Roger that I would have said if I had the opportunity to be at the memorial meeting.

In 1988 I picked up a copy of “Fire in the Americas” alluded to above and was so impressed with its analysis that I bought 10 copies and sent them to friends around the country who had left the SWP in disgust. This was before the days of email so I told them over the phone that I was sending them a book that applied the lessons of the Sandinista revolution to the United States. Unlike the misguided attempts of the 1920s to adopt “Bolshevist” norms, “Fire in the Americas” was simply a call for a socialist movement that abandoned those norms. About twenty years ago, I wrote an article titled “Lenin in Context” that was strongly influenced by “Fire in the Americas”, an analysis that has a lot more traction today given the exhaustion of the “Leninist” project.

Fortunately you can now read this book that is as timely and relevant today as it was when it was written on Open Library (https://openlibrary.org/books/OL2393527M/Fire_in_the_Americas), a project initiated by the martyred Aaron Swartz. It certainly is a fitting tribute to both Roger and Aaron that the book found a home there.

Just in case you don’t have the time to read “Fire in the Americas” right now, here’s a brief excerpt starting with “Pluralism in the Revolution” to give you a feel for its analysis:

Screen shot 2015-03-12 at 8.14.47 AM


Screen shot 2015-03-12 at 8.15.05 AM


  1. So, “… the exhaustion of the ‘Leninist’ project.” The Bernsteinian project of endlessly hoping to make capitalism serve the working class is not exhausted. Not much pride to be taken in that.

    In non-revolutionary times, some people explore for the way to forge ahead. Others carp at them.

    Comment by Searchin — March 13, 2015 @ 3:54 am

  2. Idiot, the “Leninist” project is dead, a necessary first step in the creation of authentic revolutionary parties.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 13, 2015 @ 1:07 pm

  3. Here is my take. Take it for what it is worth. I come at it from a fresh perspecitve. It could be said that my perspective makes me unifromed if you want to carp. The way I perfer to see it though is that I am now traveling light with out a lot of excess baggage.
    The reason the capitalists have been kicking the ass of socialists for the last century is a chain of command issue. Capitalism has a very clear and simple military like chain of command. LIke a virus it is easy to carry around and replicate. Socialism on the other hand has no unified theory about the chain of command. Oh yea right the workers. Well words, like the word worker, have different meanings to different people. So socialism is handicapped from its inception.
    I do not offer a solution so go ahead and crucify me. Capitalism is the middle of the Sahara desert. If we stay where we are and keep doing what we have been doing we are certianly all going to die at some point at one time. Socialism is a distant mirage of an oasis. It motivates us to keep moving. Are chances are still slim to none that we will ever reach an oasis. I prefer slim. I prefer either the economics department at the U of Kansas City as my guides or the economists at Z net. I have never crossed the Sahara before but I think that all signs that say Lennin or Stalin or Mao can all be ignored as being placed by a civilization whose volcabulary is Latin to most people in America who are fed up with the system.
    Oh by the way did you catch how my voice was dripping with sarcasim when I mentioned the idea that the workers will be in control. Parecon, that mirage of an Oasis in the distance, might actually be a real place . But the idea that humanity can get there by democratic means seems to me far less likely than it can get there by imposing a neo Confuscian dictatorship. What is a neo Confuscian dictatorship? It is something that I make up as we go along.

    Comment by Left Overs t — March 13, 2015 @ 4:25 pm

  4. I never met him either, but I have nothing but respect for my fellow volunteer in Nicaragua and anyone who tried to put some new analysis on the situations in Latin America from the Carter era forward. There is much truth not yet told and much reflection to work for justice in our post soviet age. My condolences to the friends, family and comrades of this man and my respect to all the works in progress he left us to continue.

    Comment by Donald Macleay — March 13, 2015 @ 8:15 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: