Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 14, 2019

Lyndon LaRouche (1922-2019): a political assessment

Filed under: LaRouche,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:08 am

Lyndon LaRouche

On July 31, 2017, I posted the first of a series of five articles on Lyndon LaRouche that I recommend to my readers for an analysis of his movement’s place in American history. Unlike most people on the left, I do not regard Trump as a fascist. LaRouche, on the other hand, was a fascist and quite a dangerous one, especially in the 1970s and 80s when he networked with the KKK, had strategy meetings with the CIA, promoted Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and used violence against the left. In this earlier period, the man, who was psychologically unbalanced to say the least, did dream of becoming an American führer. When it became clear to him that this was an unattainable goal, he changed gears and became a hustler, bilking old and often rather dotty Reagan supporters out of millions of dollars. This led to his arrest in 1986 and being sentenced to 15 years for mail fraud two years later.

When he came out of prison, his fascist beliefs were maintained but toward a different end. Instead of positioning himself as someone destined to lead the United States into a new world order as was routinely stated in his television informercials, the role of his movement became one of influencing men at the top especially in those countries seen as a counterweight to the decadent Anglo-American empire.

Specifically, LaRouche and his lieutenants became propagandists for the Chinese and Russian governments, seeing them in terms familiar to those who keep track of websites like Consortium News. Since he had obviously become too frail to serve as a spokesman for his movement, his wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche stepped into the breach. In 2017, she was one of the keynote speakers at a Nov. 29 conference in Zhuhai, Guangdong on International Communication and Chinese Companies Going Global.

Roger Stone schmoozing with Lyndon LaRouche 

Even in his dotage, LaRouche was still capable of giving an interview to Roger Stone in November 2016 that was a remarkable meeting of the minds but probably not much more so than Stone and Randy Credico. Stone, like much of the Trump gang, shares LaRouche’s passion for Vladimir Putin. If Trump was willing to break American laws to line up a real estate deal in Moscow, LaRouche’s ambitions were far more modest. Like Helga, he only sought to promote Russian interests worldwide as an alternative to the West.

Not long after his release from prison, he and his acolytes began promoting Putin as an old-school “development” oriented strongman of the kind that the USA sorely needed. If LaRouche’s shot at playing that role had misfired, he was happy to serve as John the Baptist to the Second Coming of Alexander Hamilton, his favorite founding father (as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s). This was destined to be a tripartite Messiah: Trump, Putin and Xi JinPing.

In June 2016, LaRouche proclaimed that the future of mankind will be determined by Putin’s creative interventions over the coming period. That’s even going further than Oliver Stone. The article that made this claim sounded like it could have been written by Pepe Escobar, Mike Whitney or Diana Johnstone. It was positively breathless over these developments:

  • Xi Jinping has just completed a brilliant strategic intervention into the Eastern and Central European region with visits to Serbia and Poland, bringing win-win development policies along the New Silk Road where Obama is attempting to provoke nuclear war;
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is holding a Summit in Tashkent to expand the strategic and economic cooperation between Russia, China and the four Central Asian nations;
  • Indian President Modi will meet with President Xi on the sidelines of the SCO;
  • India and Pakistan will begin the process of joining the SCO at the Summit, while Iran is expected to join soon. Other nations of Southwest and Southeast Asia are SCO partners and may also join;
  • Putin will attend the SCO Summit, then proceed to Beijing for a state visit to China, to advance the two nations’ collaboration in development, space exploration, cultural exchange, and more. Plans for the Eastern Economic Forum, scheduled to take place in Vladivostok on Sept. 2-3, will be discussed. The Forum brings business and government representatives together to discuss the economic development of Russia’s Far East and the Asia-Pacific region.

As painful as it is for many on the left to come to terms with, the true goal of LaRouche’s movement was not that different from many on the left who began identifying with the Kremlin, the Chinese Communist Party, and other BRICS players in the early 2000s. This counter-hegemonic bloc solidified in the period circumscribed by the Arab Spring and Euromaidan. Articles that appeared in his movement’s press were not about recreating a Third Reich globally but only rescuing the world from Anglo-American imperialism.

If your politics begins and ends with anti-imperialism, there’s something seductive about recent vintage LaRouchism. That’s the only explanation for good people like Ray McGovern and Nomi Prins allowing themselves to be interviewed by his underlings. I suppose that it is this sort of thing that melts their hearts:

During the past centuries, the British Empire, through fraud and aggression, acquired vast territories throughout the world and maintained its domination over other nations and peoples in the various regions by keeping them pitted and engaged in conflict one against another. On the other hand, the United States which, by taking advantage of the disorder and confusion in Europe, had established its supremacy over the American continents spread its tentacles to the Pacific and to East Asia following its war with Spain.

Whoa, that’s right on as we used to say in the 1960s. Guess who said it. None other than Prime Minister Tojo in a speech to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere on November 5th 1943.

For those interested in a blow-by-blow account of the rise of Lyndon LaRouche, I recommend my articles that relied heavily on Dennis King’s great reporting. The first of my articles appear here and Dennis’s “Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism” can be read here.

We are in a strange political period. With people like Oliver Stone, Max Blumenthal and Stephen F. Cohen on the left doing everything they can to burnish the reputation of Vladimir Putin, perhaps Lyndon LaRouche might be regarded as someone who left his fascist beliefs behind him insofar as his ideas and those of the men and women who will take his place now  overlap so much with this wing of the left.

With people like Xi Jinping, Putin, Modi, Bolsonaro, Orban, Trump, and Marine LePen, you are not quite in the same political universe as the 1930s. Indeed, for much of the left China is a city on the hill with its “ecological civilization”. Yes, it is bad to force a million Uyghurs into de facto concentration camps, but isn’t that compensated by its Green New Deal type reforms?

The LaRouche movement has been pretty much defanged, compared to what it was in the 1970s and 80s. Helga Zepp-LaRouche will continue to attend conferences in China and Russia while politically muddled sorts such as Nomi Prins and Ray McGovern will always accept an invitation to be interviewed. That’s not much different from Norman Finkelstein allowing himself to be named as a columnist on Ron Unz’s neo-Nazi website.

The real task is to educate the left about class politics. LaRouche’s appeal to SDS’ers at Columbia in 1968 was based on his peculiar interpretation of Karl Marx as a prophet of economic growth. In that respect, he was similar to Frank Furedi whose narrow “productivist” understanding of Marxism led him down the primrose path to Reason magazine type libertarianism.

Instead of being preoccupied about uniting the “anti-imperialist” powers like China, the left has to orient to class. Wage labor is rising up in China against the ruling party and the billionaires whose interests it defends. When Maoist students solidarize themselves with the workers, isn’t it time to find ways to connect with them rather than a government that invites Helga Zepp-LaRouche to speak at one of their conferences?

Class matters.

18 Comments »

  1. For anyone interested in the early history of LaRouche and the SDS Labor Committee, you can read about it here. in How It All Began:

    http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.HIAB

    I devote an entire chapter to Columbia in it.

    For more on LaRouche’s background and the collapse of the group into a cult by the mid-1970s, here is a link to Smiling Man from a Dead Planet:

    http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.UnityNow

    I don’t know about Frank Furedi but LaRouche was certainly a “productionist” (sounds scary) in the sense that he was trying to apply ideas in cybernetic theory to a re-read of Marxism, a process whose roots were really in Boston of MIT and the Macy Foundation Conferences in the 1940s and 1950s with echoes in Russia as well.

    In that sense, he was part of a current that included the authors of the Triple Revolution statement in the 1960s, although they were reformers and LaRouche believed reform was impossible under capitalism. LaRouche did some corporate work in consulting with computers in the late 1950s (or tried to) but without much success. Yet he was very interested in computers. I always wondered if he didn’t try to crib from Barry Sheppard, who really knew something and also stayed in LaRouche’s place during an SWP conference.

    Also for SWP, SL, and WL fans, I devote two chapters to the SWP and an appendix to Gerry Healy in Smiling Man from a Dead Planet.

    As for LaRouche sucking up to the Chinese and Russians, it is true but I also think both the Chinese and Russians liked some of their economic views. In a weird way LaRouche came out of a Marxist past and turned super-capitalist but of a certain kind. The Chinese and Russians also went through something similar. I believe they certainly have far deeper ties to both nations than someone like Roger Stone.

    Comment by HH — February 14, 2019 @ 12:53 am

  2. Yet another brilliantly terse & eloquent historical reckoning by Proyect because what’s always missing from virtually all the conflicting and sometimes converging worldviews about this historical movement and that historical figure is the sense of overarching class morality described by Trotsky in “Their Morals and Ours” — that is to say that none of the names of powerful figures mentioned above ever believed in a world where working people could actually organize sufficently to take state power and remake the world in their interests. Ironically however the prospects of a proletarian morality taking root in the minds of the global masses suddenly realizing that 16 individuals have the same wealth as 50% of the planet portends a seismic paradigm shift in class consciousness — so all bets are off as we ancient lefties occupy the twilight of our years.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 14, 2019 @ 1:43 am

  3. I wonder why people behave as if LaRouche was an intellectually significant presence. He may at times have been superficially brilliant in the way in which paranoid schizophrenics can be brilliant, but in essence he was nothing but a great big logorrhoeic nothing, whose success as a grifter speaks volumes about the lowest depths of human potential.

    I gather that he really is dead at any rate. Cheers to that.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — February 14, 2019 @ 1:56 am

  4. Yes Farans, whatever success he had, and I always considered it minimal, yet profound in the same way as Jim Jones, it was merely the success of a shameful opportunist. If they happen to bury him near me I’ll go out of my way to piss on his grave.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 14, 2019 @ 3:01 am

  5. gt big logorrhoeic nothing -> g.b.l. nutcase

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — February 14, 2019 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Just noticed—Max Blumenthal’s recurring column on Russia Insider (mm-hmm) has a piece on an alleged anti-Russian smear campaign in the US orchestrated by British intelligence. (https://russia-insider.com/en/covert-british-military-intelligence-smear-machine-infiltrating-us/ri25853)

    No reference–as yet–to the Queen, but we do have to do our research!)

    Among the joys–MB takes a (justified) swipe at the “Nazi linked” Sebastian Gorka while at the top of column to the right is a link to the infamous Ron Unz piece on the Jewish Question.

    Stuff like this must have gladdened the old crackpot’s final days.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — February 14, 2019 @ 3:17 pm

  7. I just posted this little personal story I posted at Leftist Trainspotters Facebook page about a guy I used to know, who was a leftist sympathizer of domestic oppressed peoples nationalism, and then apparently became a LaRouche-ite in the early 90s.

    A little personal story to launch into some questions and discussion. In the late 1980s I was in my early 20s, a student at an urban campus in Denver, and a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L); an organization that believed that Chicanos in the SW constituted a nation with the right to self-determination. At this time I came to make the acquaintance of this other leftist guy named Bill, an Anglo and about the same age. Rumor also had it that Bill came from a bourgeois family, but I don’t know for sure. Bill was either a member of, or closely involved with another organization/people that believed in the socialist reunification of the U.S. southwest with Mexico. Sorry, but for the life of me I can’t remember what this organization was called. I don’t think they even really had a paper or anything. Anybody have an idea? Does any such organization still exist? Allegedly they also had ties with some other small Mexican sect that also believed in the same program.

    So me and this Bill guy had discussions on leftists politics including these competing ideas of Chicano nationhood versus reunification of tthe SW with Mexico. Bill was a strange bird. On the one hand he also really liked the CP-USA because he was very pro-Soviet. But he also had this affinity for domestic oppressed nation nationalism, African-American, and Mexican nationalisms. He argued that white Americans could not be part of the working class because of settler colonialism. He also sang the praises of the Nation of Islam and enjoyed listening to tapes of Louis Farrakhan speeches. Then several years later after the collapse of then existing socialism in the SU and the Eastern Bloc, I saw Bill again on the street pushing another paper. That paper was the LaRouchite paper. LaRouche’s recent death is what brought these memories up. So, can somebody comment on the relationship of LaRouche and leftism? I always wondered how he went from this white leftists sympathizer of Black and Mexican nationalism, to a LaRouchite.

    Comment by Sheldon — February 15, 2019 @ 6:23 pm

  8. Since I wrote two e-books on LaRouche and leftism which you can find at the first post here, I won’t comment on that.

    I will say that in the 1980s, the LaRouchies developed close ties to Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam so it’s possible the guy made some connection there. In any case, their ties to Farrakhan were pretty strong. In the 1970s, they initially were linked to the NOI leader (the real leader) Wallace Deen Muhammad. The NOI and the LaRouche people were cooperating in the LaRouche group’s “War on Drugs” campaign, which was just getting started in the late 1970s around the time I left. For reasons that elude me, in the 1980s they wound up working with Farrakhan’s people, particularly in Washington DC. Recall that Farrakhan’s group was a split from Muhammad’s organization because Muhammad wanted the NOI to reflect actual Muslim religious teaching while Farrakhan was still into the Elijah Muhammad hocus pocus version of “Islam.” In any case, for all I know, the LaRouchies may still have ties to Farrakhan.

    Comment by HH — February 15, 2019 @ 11:21 pm

  9. The journey from left to right is a well-trodden trail–not just for the mentally ill LaRouche and his idiot disciples, but all sorts of other figures, from the rebarbative Whitaker Chambers to the brilliant but lamentable John Dos Passos, and neocon pseudo-luminaries like Cap Weinberger, and on and on. Repentant Marxism for many years was one of the biggest cottage industries in America–for some, a real money-maker and a reliable source of academic and intellectual repute.

    It’s his frank and sordid madness–combined with his success in bilking morons for millions–that makes LaRouche interesting and makes people grub around in the vast piles of shit he secreted for some kind of intellectual gems … .

    His links to fascism are significant, but his thought itself is of no interest except as a pathological symptom–indeed, with a few notable exceptions, there never has been a fascist thinker worth examining on a purely intellectual basis–maybe such (diverse) peripheral figures as Pareto, Jung, and Heidegger–but anybody who reads Giovanni Gentle or Dietrich Eckart today is IMHO either a poseur accessorizing a pose or a professional historian trying to get something into JSTOR.

    If only all our problems on the left were so easy to solve. Let the dead bury the dead.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — February 16, 2019 @ 6:04 pm

  10. I remember in 1984 when I was living in Seattle, the LarRouchites were distributing free copies of New Solidarity in the run-up to the election with the screaming headline “Mondale Backs Pederasty!” which featured a picture of David Thorstad and NAMBLA. See, because Mondale was backed by Jesse Jackson who was backed by mainstream LGBT which was backed something that itself was backed down several levels to NAMBLA which in turn was linked to Kissinger, Rockefeller and the Club of Rome. And of course this type of vile Wiemar like depravity means that ordinary norms of democratic rights can’t be allowed to apply to them.

    Comment by Sue Sponte — February 16, 2019 @ 9:49 pm

  11. I vaguely remember the mutual admiration between LaRouche and Farrakhan. Then again, Farrakhan has recently taken to singing the praises of L. Ron Hubbard and Dianetics, so…

    I remember the LaRouchies having a table outside of Harold Washington College in Chicago. I also remember them having a sound truck (or maybe just a car with a bullhorn) that would drive around the South Side. Most of the time you couldn’t actually make out what they were saying.

    I can sort of see how Farrakhan might appeal to people from a black nationalist perspective (even though he played essentially the same role in the assassination of Malcolm X as Roberto d’Aubuisson played in the assassination of Archbishop Romero), and of course bean pies are delicious and bow ties are very debonair, but I can’t for the life of me understand how Lyndon LaRouche could appeal to anyone.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — February 17, 2019 @ 4:15 pm

  12. This is why I don’t believe LaRouche was ever a fascist menace to America. Or a communist one for that matter. I believe he designed his group (even subconsciously) really as a kind of political religious sect in line with his own upbringing in a hyper-sectarian religious environment. His Political Tourette Syndrome style which he passed on to his most loyal acolytes (the vast majority of former members left a long time ago) was, I believe, designed to keep the group small and cult-like. Hence they function as a sort of skid row church for his worship. That’s why I think it’s best understood as a political cult. I don’t believe it began that way but by 1973-74 it had clearly gone off the rails and the original organization had been transformed into a cult, a cult that by design was meant to be small enough for LaRouche to control it. Real political movement make the transition into mass politics; something I believe LaRouche never wanted because a larger movement implied the rise of political factions and therefore a threat to his power. This is why by 1973-74, via a series of Healy-like crises, he reorganized the group into a true leadership cult.

    Comment by HH — February 17, 2019 @ 7:56 pm

  13. I don’t think mass politics existed for LaRouche; his SDS-era statements about the “revolutionary intelligentsia” becoming a “new species” that might someday raise the dumb workers up to their own superhuman level are indicative of a worldview in which history is made by elites and the masses are essentially passive receptacles. This elitism was a constant along his path from left to right, and also explains his fondness for conspiracy theories (if elites are the ones who make history, then of course evil shadowy elites must be behind everything bad in the world). It’s the worldview of a narcissistic 14-year-old. Unfortunately, there seem to be a certain number of people for whom that worldview resonates.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — February 17, 2019 @ 10:03 pm

  14. I think you are basically right about his elitism. But although he was the founder of the group, he didn’t have the kind of one-man rule that he solidified in 1973-74. In fact, the organization went through a bitter faction fight in 1970-71 that lasted almost a year. I think part of the decay of the Labor Committee was that he was crazy but also part of it was that in the political downturn in the early 1970s, there was a drop in mass movements in general as the war in Vietnam began to wind down. The Labor Committee as a group really took off at the last burst of the New Left from 1968 to 1970 and particularly the student strikes that Spring. By the mid-1970s, a lot of groups were looking inward and I include the Maoists above all. The Maoists were actually the largest tendency in the U.S. left post SDS and they really lived in a parallel universe with their love of Mao and Stalin.

    From 1966-73, LaRouche’s ideas were important and he was revered in the way a favorite professor might be admired but his ideas were not fiat. He only managed to achieve total control through a long process that I have written about elsewhere and won’t repeat here. But he never did have respect per se for the “workers” and identified himself with the revolutionary intelligentsia. He was an elitist in that sense. He viewed Marx and Lenin as elitists as well. He thought the old leadership of the SWP burnt out cases although he admired James Cannon personally.

    That said, he spent 15 years in the SWP so it’s not as if he didn’t dismiss workers completely either. He just thought them as stupid as everyone else, including students. His argument was that in rare instances in history, such as mass strike moments, people could make intellectual advancements in weeks that would take them years otherwise. He didn’t think workers were biologically stupid nor did he think so about students.

    What happened at Columbia in particular is that the SDS Labor Committee emerged out of the 1968 strike (in fact it helped lead it). In the wake of the strike a faction from the “workerist” PLP at Columbia led by Tony Papert broke with PL and this group and some others formed the core of the first SDS Labor Committee.

    Comment by HH — February 17, 2019 @ 11:44 pm

  15. HH, I started reading your book on the history of the Labor Committees and it is a fascinating glimpse into the early days of what became the LaRouche cult. It’s interesting that the Labor Committees started out with a Luxemburgist political line, since in many ways Rosa Luxemburg embodied the exact opposite of LaRouche’s elitism. It’s also interesting that PL, which to this day has a hard Stalinist political line (they abandoned Mao towards the end of the Cultural Revolution), never really developed into that kind of leadership personality cult. I’ve known some PLP members, and while the group is somewhat cult-like and has some fairly awful political theory and practice, they don’t seem to have the equivalent of a Bob Avakian or a Jack Barnes.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — February 18, 2019 @ 6:59 pm

  16. I don’t see PL as a cult either. Milt Rosen was an old time CPUSA guy and neither the old CP nor the old SWP strike me as cults. Gus Hall was the definition of an apparatchik; he had no personality and hence no personality cult.

    As for the Labor Committee and PL when I wrote How It All Began, I knew the FBI really went after the Labor Committee in New York and even more in Philly but I couldn’t really understand why. Thanks to Art Eckstein’s book on Weatherman and Aaron Leonard’s Heavy Radicals, we know that the FBi considered PL, of all groups, the greatest threat. The FBI ordered its SDS informants to bloc vote RYMI/RYM II at the 1969 convention against PL. I think the FBI saw the Labor Committee as some kind of weird mutation out of PL and decided it had to be attacked as well before the mutation spread. The great irony of PL is that if they just backed Papert’s play at Columbia, they could have walked into the SDS convention with Columbia as a prize kill; instead Mark Rudd claimed the honor for RYM I.

    Comment by HH — February 18, 2019 @ 7:59 pm

  17. My knowledge of PLP dates from after Milt Rosen’s retirement in 1995 — but can anyone imagine Bob Avakian or Jack Barnes ever retiring? (Gus Hall never retired, either, but I think you’re right that he belongs in a totally different category).

    I think you’re also right that the “old” SWP (i.e. prior to the late 1970s/early 1980s) was not a cult, although it certainly is now (and, since 2016, a pro-Trump cult at that!). For that matter, the RCP didn’t become a full-on Avakian cult until around that time. You are probably right that the overall ebb of radicalism in the 1970s contributed to this, but it’s interesting that other groups with similar political perspectives didn’t suffer the same fate.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — February 18, 2019 @ 10:22 pm

  18. Dave is absolutely correct. The downturn in the mass movements from around 1973 created a crisis of perspective in the SWP. Barnes found himself open to Farrell Dobbs’s advice that the party had to take a “turn to industry” that was basically the “proletarian orientation” of the 1971 convention. I wrote something a while back that summarized what the SWP should have done if I had been in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately for me, I was never feral enough to climb my way to the top. I was much more comfortable in the ranks.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/american_left/barnes.htm

    Comment by louisproyect — February 18, 2019 @ 10:45 pm


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