Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 23, 2019

James Robertson (a guest post)

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 3:01 pm

(I can’t vouch for any of this but thought it was worth sharing.)

Jim Robertson: A Fragmentary Retrospective

By Stephen Goodman

In the long run a harmful truth is better than a useful lie.
–Thomas Mann

Now that Jim Robertson has left the scene, it is only fit and proper for those who knew him, even ever so slightly as I did, to share our memories of him. I will present two conversations I had with him over the years. No one else was present then, so I remain the only witness to and participant in these events. But first I wish to offer a rather startling observation.

At Dick Fraser’s memorial on 8 January 1989 Jim Robertson said, “I first ran into Dick Fraser about 31 years ago, and he was my last personal teacher.   ……… Dick Fraser is supposed to have said, ‘One of the best things I ever did in my life was sit Jim Robertson down at a kitchen table and pound at him for a few nights.’ Well it’s funny, because I’d just said across the country, at the same time, ‘The last guy that ever convinced me of anything in an argument was Dick Fraser.”

So we learn directly and indisputably from Robertson’s own words that in the course of the 31 years after Dick Fraser’s “pounding” no one could ever get Robertson to change his mind on anything. One reads these words in jaw-dropping disbelief! That means Robertson was always right on everything and that his intellectual opposition was always wrong on everything. Seriously? Did any member of the Spartacist League ever dare to challenge this monstrous megalomania and gross grandiosity?

In very modest contrast, the Pope is hailed by the faithful as “infallible,” but only when he speaks on Catholic doctrine. Yet Robertson soared far above the Pope. He was, in his own eyes, infallible across the board. Did Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Darwin, Einstein or any other genius ever lay claim to intellectual infallibility either on one subject, or, still less, on all topics in the world? Hubris seems far too humble and puny a word to have embraced Robertson’s titanic superego. This self-proclaimed unfailing infallibility falls in squarely with the following two encounters I had with him.

Robertson certainly could evince a most revolting sense of “humor.” About 1978 we were talking in the Prometheus Research Library. He said he wanted to play me a song on his stereo. I asked him sarcastically if it was the Horst Wessel Lied, the marching song of the Nazis. “Nah, it‘s not that,” he replied dismissively. I felt ashamed for having said this. But, as it turned out, my suspicion was spot on. It was an unknown German song which I asked him to identify. “It’s a song of the Nazi submariners,” he explained smirking broadly.

“Why are you playing this?” I asked, light years beyond astonishment.

“I play this for our maritime fraction and our Jewish comrades.” (I was only an SL sympathizer, but still I qualified for this “special” treatment.)

“Why?” I persisted.

“I like to see them get angry,” he replied with a broad and self-satisfied grin. He saw absolutely nothing wrong in this outrageous and utterly contemptible behaviour. On the contrary, he joyfully exulted in it. Can anyone imagine any Bolshevik from Lenin and Trotsky on down engaging in such an egregiously obnoxious act? Why would any self-respecting Marxist even own such a record, let alone play it just to infuriate others, especially potential victims of fascism? But then, no one could convince him of anything in an argument.

The second event occurred when I met him by chance about 1982 whilst in London. I challenged him on why the SL defended Sara Jane Moore who had attempted to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. I told him that she was an FBI fink and clearly deranged, a thoroughly repulsive character by anyone’s reckoning. This argument had zero effect on him. He defended her thoroughly unpolitical and maniacal act as a legitimate protest against (in his own words) “the growing imperial presidency.” I found this to be bizarre politics, besides being utterly divorced from reality.

I then asked him if he defended Arthur Bremer, the man who had shot ultra-racist Alabama governor George Wallace. “No,” he replied, “That guy was just a nut!” As opposed to Sara Jane Moore? What was the difference? Where was the logic?

Yet I persisted. I told him that a defense of such an unsavoury lunatic and her unhinged act would bring nothing but opprobrium and ridicule to the SL. His amazing answer was that had I lived at the time, I would not have defended Alfred Dreyfus. Presumably he meant that though Dreyfus was an agent of French imperialism yet he still should have been defended, so likewise FBI fink Sara Jane Moore should be defended. This vacuous “logic” was worthless. I countered that I would have defended Dreyfus because he was the victim of a massive wave of anti-Semitism. Here the argument stopped cold as Robertson had nothing more to offer. He just couldn’t be wrong about anything or be convinced by anyone in an argument. Magister dixit, the master has spoken!

Robertson was the most well-read man I’d ever encountered. Bakunin once said of Marx, “He read widely and intelligently.” That was Robertson all over. One couldn’t reference an historical personage or event, however arcane, obscure or esoteric, that he hadn’t read about and knew thoroughly. Innumerable times I’d heard his brilliant public discourses. They were dazzling arabesques all. His mental landscape was breathtakingly broad and prolifically populated. Robertson was intellectually unique.

Robertson broke in turn from Stalinism, Shachtman, the SWP and Healy. He worked sedulously and patiently to restore and build Trotskyism in America and abroad. As far as I can judge, he never capitulated to reformism or anti-communism, two nearly impossible feats for the American left. For all of this he deserves to be remembered with honor.

But alcoholism warped his mind. That’s the inevitable mental end-product of that psycho-physical disease. Furthermore, his ego was both inflated and deformed by his near-apotheosis as the object of an uncritical, adoring, obsequious and worshipful personality cult. When the people around you chorus for decades on end that you are always right, you start believing in your own infallibility. Louis XIV’s regal conceit “I am the state” found a modern incarnation in Robertson’s egotistical boast “I am never wrong.”

There was a dialectical relationship between his rampant alcoholism and titanic egotism, on the one side and the cloying cultism of his membership on the other. They exacerbated each other and were the twin black holes that dragged Robertson down inexorably to his cringeworthy degeneration. They inexorably led the Spartacist League into the twilight of inconsequentiality. That was a great loss for the Spartacist League and Trotskyism. It is a sad object lesson and dire warning for the future. Alcoholism and personality cultism can be tolerated only at a Marxist organization’s greatest peril.

28 Comments »

  1. Another example of a miniature “Leninist” “party” with a leader-for-life and contempt for views other than the leader’s.

    Comment by journeesjulesdurand — May 23, 2019 @ 3:49 pm

  2. Any way you choose to look at it, the Sparts were no party.

    Not that such views and practices are confined to looney “Leninists” or tiny toon “Trotskyists.”

    Comment by Roy rollin — May 23, 2019 @ 5:18 pm

  3. I never met Robertson so can’t comment on these no doubt accurate insights. But a devil’s advocate note: The SL is the only left group I can think of that admits its errors, so fairly often one finds self-criticisms in its press and explanations for where it went wrong. That virtually never happens in other left groups, including Trotskyist groupuscules, or even, come to think of it, on the Marxmail list. Some might say that shows how often the SL has been wrong. But that’s true of most left groups, even more egregiously in the case of the ISO giving backhanded support to Obama and Democrats, or its sister group in Egypt supporting the military’s overthrow of Morsi.
    And the SL’s paper, Workers Vanguard, had the best headline ever referring to Jesse Jackson’s wearing of a bloody shirt for several days after Martin Luther King’s assassination, to make for more dramatic TV interviews, perhaps: “Jesse ‘I Have a Scheme’ Jackson.” I have no idea if Robertson can be credited with this gem, but kudos to whoever did.

    Comment by David Thorstad — May 23, 2019 @ 5:53 pm

  4. A person I used to know many years ago joined SL, after which this person tried to get me to buy their paper. I wouldn’t. Later on, due to my opposition to nuclear adventurism of the Iranian state, and my opposition to nuclear energy as a whole, this person started labeling me ‘petty bourgeois’, ‘anti-science’, and other assorted things I found bizarre and, coming from a supporter of the most sectarian left org, I took as a compliment.

    We haven’t talked in years, so I don’t know if it is true (but have heard) that SL actually advocated the position that ISIS are the real anti-imperialists and should be supported. Does anybody know if this is actually true?

    Comment by Reza — May 23, 2019 @ 6:09 pm

  5. “SL actually advocated the position that ISIS are the real anti-imperialists and should be supported?”

    Yes, we did. I don’t know whether they say it now, but during the best time of this juhadist salafi-takfiri pseudo-state – yes.

    Comment by MED. — May 23, 2019 @ 7:10 pm

  6. @5/MED Wow! Some Marxism!

    Thanks for the frank response. And, if you don’t mind a follow-up: What exactly were the criteria for determining the “the best time of this juhadist salafi-takfiri pseudo-state”?

    Comment by Reza — May 23, 2019 @ 8:23 pm

  7. “There was a dialectical relationship between his rampant alcoholism and titanic egotism, on the one side and the cloying cultism of his membership on the other.”

    Not sure what politico-theoretical role alcoholism might have played. (I myself enjoy a good bourbon.) But …

    In sect-like groupings, the ‘rampant egotism’ of the leader who cannot be wrong *also* goes along with the rampant egotism of the sect members. Just like their great leader, they also consider themselves infallible and correct on all matters under the sun. They have this easy-looking certainty.

    That’s the thing that gives cults and sects their internal cohesion and sets them up in completely comfortable negation of the world outside. Really scientific inquiry is packed with constant lack of total certainty about things under consideration, as well as with doubt and hence ceaseless search for the truth and real explanations. Sects, like religious groupings, are about stubborn and assured certainty in the face of real chaos and lack of real knowing.

    In all demonstrations I have been to (including in Boston area, NYC, Washington DC, and even Tokyo), I’ve seen the customary SL two-person unit selling their paper. Not talking to anybody, not having real conversations with anybody about their lives, their concerns. No. Just pushing the paper. It’s always a one-way thing. They’re there to tell you in what ways you’re wrong and they’re right. Their mission is to tell you why you should buy their paper to see the true path, and why you should repent and get on the righteous path set by the great leader with absolute knowledge of all things.

    Any wonder they ended up in ideological parallels with ISIS?

    Comment by Reza — May 24, 2019 @ 3:42 am

  8. “What exactly were the criteria for determining” that ISIS should be supported? Of course they never supported ISIS as such, but they determined that since the actual (as opposed to left-fantasy) intervention of US imperialism in Syria was in a war against ISIS, where the forces the US were supporting with a massive campaign of devastating and murderous aerial bombing, was the YPG, that the position of “anti-imperialists” (whatever that means these days) had to be to support ISIS in the military struggle to defeat the “proxies of US imperialism” YPG, and of course the US itself. Nuts, of course, yet politically consistent with a way of thinking of many on the left, who however were less consistent than the SL. The SL’s position is only slightly less crazy than the position of a great portion of the left, which put the Assad regime – which has killed probably 20 times as many people as ISIS has – in the place of ISIS – despite the fact that there was never any US intervention against Assad. So if the SL position was nuts, much of the left is hyper-nuts.

    Comment by mkaradjis — May 24, 2019 @ 8:17 am

  9. I met Jim Robertson quite a few years back when he attended an editorial meeting of Revolutionary History in London. He wore a KGB badge on his coat, which I thought was a little odd, as the Soviet secret police had not had a high opinion of Trotskyists since the late 1920s. He asked if he could speak and we happily agreed, and our chair, George Leslie, told him that as we had a full agenda and limited time, he could have five minutes. So off Jim went, and after five minutes George said, ‘That’s it, comrade, time’s up.’ Jim stopped dead in his tracks, standing there in stunned silence. I guess nobody had called him to stop since he started his own group many years before.

    A few months later, the Sparts pulled out of the RH EB in a huff, claiming that they didn’t like the proposal to run an issue on Ukrainian left-wingers. As Jim Cannon once said — and something the Sparts liked to repeat — with any dispute there’s a good reason and the real reason; we were under no illusion that the Sparts’ resignation was George Leslie’s blatant demonstration of lèse-majesté.

    As it is, the Sparts have always puzzled me. Few groups have managed consistently to produce material that is thought-provoking and intelligent alongside the most absurd position-mongering and dishonest polemics against rival groups. Even the Healyites never managed this remarkable balance.

    Finally, despite it all, I do feel that one has to have a soft spot, if only a small one, for Jim Robertson, the man who said that if you get three veteran British Trotskyists together in a room, you’ve got a fight on your hands. It’s very difficult to top that.

    Comment by Dr Paul — May 24, 2019 @ 2:29 pm

  10. @mkaradjis, Thank you for your input. I’ve appreciated your Syria analysis for some years.

    With apologies to Louis, since Mr. Karadjis is here, I hope you don’t mind a question that has nothing to do with SL:

    What do you think is behind the current heating up of rhetorical tensions between the Trump admin and Iran’s regime? (I hope you’re still here!)

    Comment by Reza — May 24, 2019 @ 3:38 pm

  11. Hi Reza, I also don’t think the US and Iran will end up in a war and I dfon’t think either side wants one, though of course that could end up wrong because not everything that happens in world politics is necessarily rational, and little errors can lead to unintended consequences. I’m not exactly sure why the US is turning up the tensions and issuing threats and moving in warships. One thing that is obvious is that there are at least three difference voices here: 1. Trump, 2. Bolton (and to an extent Pompeo), 3. The Pentagon. They’re saying quite different things. Bolton is of course a loose cannon and has advocated an attack on Iran more or less forever, he is a neocon relic, and a little extra besides. I don’t think his own obsessions can be explained rationally, but I think Trump has him on a leash and finds it useful to stoke his ego as he acts as attack dog. We can always rationalise irrational war moves by saying that US imperialism needs to cultivate enemies to justify its massive war budgets and its more importantly its role in the world as world cop, and its better if the “enemy” is big enough to be convincing (which Iran is), better still if there is a history to draw on (the Iranian revolution back in ancient history, and more specifically, the US embassy occupation); and that probably partly explains this, or at least why more rational US leaders tolerate Bolton; but it seems a little too general to fully explain what’s going on here. Trump himself I expect to do North Korea act at some point, though probably less gushingly. He is far from a neocon, but also far from a pacifist. There’s a bit of neocon influence, but also a bit of paleocon and “muscular realist”, but then all those terms sound simply too rationally-based to describe a leader as impulsive as Trump. I see nothing rational about ripping up the nuclear agreement; I see Obama’s approach to Iran, and that of the European Union, as completely rational from the point of view of imperialist interests. However, there is enormous real sub-imperial rivalry in the region between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and from the start Trump has been very closely associated with the Saudi monarchy and the UAE, and I guess that is just the traditional US alignment and the dollar-oil-arms nexus. The Saudis hated the Iran deal and I think Trump’s ratcheting up of tensions is in part designed to demonstrate the ongoing role of US imperialism as lead cop supporting (sorry “defending”) its key ally, with the aim of getting “a better nuclear deal”, as Trump has often stated, which he can then contrast to Obama’s legacy. With that aim, Trump can use Bolton as his attack dog to apply pressure, and then just pull back on his leash when necessary. Just last week we saw Trump – and Netanyahu – quite clearly draw back against actual confrontation, with trump making some veiled criticisms of Bolton (I reckon once Bolton and Pompeo have served their use they will got he way of everyone else who has ever been in the Trump regime). By the way, that incident also seemed to give evidence to the view I’ve always held, that the Israel-Iran clash (unlike the reality-based Saudi-Iran clash) is elaborate theatre, mediated by safe geographic distance. As for the Pentagon, all their statements have been about calming the tensions, stressing there will be no war, that Iran has not been threatening US forces (as claimed by others) and so on. I think they see that this whole circus undermines their position in Iraq, and they feel confident that they can contain Iran via maintaining the occupation of eastern Syria in alliance with the SDF, until some kind of deal can be made. Beyond all this, there is a broader theory around that keeping Iran in crisis and under sanction is a useful way to block China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in which Iran – even if only due to its geographic position -is a key linchpin. Seems a little conspiratorial to me, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

    Comment by mkaradjis — May 26, 2019 @ 3:44 pm

  12. Mr. Karadjis, Thank you for your explanation. Much in agreement on improbability of Iran-US war. The countries that the US has attacked recently (e.g., Afghanistan and Iraq) were on the verge of collapse right before the US attacked. (Incidentally, Iran participated alongside the US in both attacks!) Iran, by contrast, has THREE sets of militaries, at least two or all of which have been training in real brutal wars for some decades, and Iran has its own military industry. If the US attacks, it will be another Vietnam for the US, and all they have achieved in Iraq will go up in smoke in one day. Also, Iranian regime will readily sacrifice millions of its own citizens (if that’s what it takes) to stay in power. Our mullahs have said as much; when Iran-Iraq war started, one of the leading mullahs said (paraphrasing), ‘all we need is five million pious people’. Meaning the rest of (at that time) 35 million can be sacrificed. It’s almost impossible to win against an enemy with that kind of dedication!

    Also agreed on your suspicions that Iran-Israel conflict is mostly for show and internal consumption. Each state rationalizes itself to their subjects by pointing to the other guy. We have a phrase in Farsi for their kind of ‘fight’; jang-e zargari. ‘Zargar’ is a metalsmith, ‘jang’ means fight or war. The image is one of two metalsmith dudes banging on their anvils wildly, while throwing insults at each other, never meaning to engage in an actual physical fight. But in the meantime a crowd gathers, and both metalsmiths may benefit from attracting potential customers.

    Anyway, thank you again for your explanations.

    Comment by Reza — May 26, 2019 @ 5:23 pm

  13. Yes Reza, that metaphor you give of the Iran-Israel “clash” is more or less perfect. Some would say, but Israel hits Iranian assets in Syria. Yes it does, but not because, as 99% of media (including left media) suggests, that Iran is “threatening” Israel (whether that statement is considered positive or negative); that idea is a laugh. If Iran was a “threat”, then it is strange that while Israel has hit Iranian or Hezbollah assets hundreds of times, Iran/Hezbollah has only ever *retaliated* twice (once each), and *never* initiated attacks; moreover, after Iran’s only retaliation last year, Israel wiped out, according to its spokespeople, half the Iranian assets in Syria (in a couple of hours). Some “threat”. But when you’re playing the game that you and I agree they are playing, it relies on safe geographic distance; so when all these pro-Iranian militias are running around in Syria shouting hollow, toothless slogans like “death to Israel”, even if in reality their only role in Syria is killing Syrian people on behalf of Assad, well, Israel needs to show some “action” against this embarrassment in its backyard, since it has built up Iran as a dangerous “Fourth Reich” for a few decades. If Israel saw Iran as that fundamental an enemy, it would try to knock out the Assad regime; clearly, it sees other dangers as much worse, such as a democratic victory of the Syrian people over Assad, hence its strikes on Iranian targets are always clearly designed to not touch the regime and certainly not to weaken it against the opposition. By the way, these were just my views on why the US is ratcheting up the war drums against Iran now; not sure if they are explanations, because I’m not entirely sure of the answer. Just ideas.

    Comment by mkaradjis — May 27, 2019 @ 1:40 pm

  14. Does anyone have any insight into SL’s vocal support for NAMBLA and pedophile Catholic priests? That’s always been one of the more troubling and inexplicable aspects of SL for me. Their positions on other issues — though often strange, usually expressed in bizarre and off-putting ways, and sometimes contradictory — could usually be jusified based in their reading (however flawed) of Trotskyist texts, but there is nothing in Marx/Engels/Lenin/Trotsky/et al that even remotely condones child sexual abuse. There have been open pedophiles in the anarchist movement who defended sexual abuse of children as a form of “freedom” (Paul Goodman and Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey, come to mind), and there have been Marxists who were pedophiles behind closed doors (Herbery Aptheker and Daniel Ortega), but I can’t imagine a Marxist defense of the sexual abuse of children.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — May 27, 2019 @ 7:45 pm

  15. “and there have been Marxists who were pedophiles behind closed doors (Herbery Aptheker and Daniel Ortega)”

    I have heard this accusation against Daniel Ortega before. Any substantiation of this? (I’m not disputing the accusation, I’m not an Ortega fan, just asking if any substantiation exists, since this is a pretty serious charge.)

    Comment by Reza — May 27, 2019 @ 8:06 pm

  16. Reza: Ortega allegedly abused his stepdaughter Zoilamérica; see https://www.independent.co.uk/news/ortega-faces-sex-abuse-case-from-his-stepdaughter-1156496.html

    Comment by Dave Palmer — May 27, 2019 @ 8:21 pm

  17. Dave: Well … That’s some messed up shit.

    Comment by Reza — May 28, 2019 @ 12:28 am

  18. “Does anyone have any insight into SL’s vocal support for NAMBLA and pedophile Catholic priests?”

    As a cofounder of Nambla and a longtime subscriber to the SL’s Workers Vanguard, I have never seen support for “pedophile Catholic priests.” Actually, virtually all intergenerational sex between priests and underage males has involved pederasty, not pedophilia. The distinction ought to mean something to Marxists, but unfortuantely, Palmer like so many takes the distortions and lies of the bourgeois media as good coin, it seems. Much of the discussion on this thread seems to be by people unfamiliar directly with the views of the SL itself, so going by hearsay and gossip. The SL has been a defender (I wouldn’t say “supporter”) of Nambla against state persecution, and that is to its credit. Its position on sex is exactly that of early gay liberation groups like Gay Activists Alliance, various European gay groups, and others, namely, that “effective consent” should be the criterion, not magical “age of consent” laws, which criminalize the best kind of sex: consensual sex. A teenage male is not comparable to a prepubescent child. Many gay teens have survived thanks to the support (and sometimes sexual discovery) they had with gay men. It is reprehensible for so-called radicals or revolutionaries to adopt the language of the bourgeois state to describe sex between consenting partners by referring to such sexual pleasure as “abuse.” Nambla never condoned real abuse, whether sexual or physical or psycological And even in cases of consent, it is unethical for a priest to have any sexual relation with a youth under his influence, especially in a church like the Roman one, where the priest is considered a pipeline to god. I would suggest reading what the SL actually says rather than dumping on it based on hearsay or heterodominant reactionary prejudices. If you’re interested in exploring facts and history pertaining to this subject, I suggest my articles here: http://www.williamapercy.com/wiki/index.php?title=David_Thorstad

    Comment by David Thorstad — May 28, 2019 @ 3:34 pm

  19. Anyone who reads the SL’s press as I have for years would know that its position is to defend Nambla against state persecution and, on sex, that only “effective consent” should be the criterion, not magical “age-of-consent” laws, which are used to criminalize the best kind of sex: consensual sex. I have never seen anywhere that the SL supports “pedophile priests.” In any case, most of the priest sex reported has involved teenage youths, not children, hence pederasty, not pedophilia. My own view is that any sex between a priest and a youth in his church is unethical, even if consensual, owing to the near godlike awe in which priests are held in the Roman church. The SL position on sex is the same as that of many early gay liberation groups, including Gay Activists Alliance and many European gay groups. It is sad to see some leftists, like Palmer, adopt the distorted language of the ruling class, regarding all consensual sex as “abuse.” If anyone is interested in a rational, historical insight into the issue, I recommend my articles here: http://www.williamapercy.com/wiki/index.php?title=David_Thorstad

    Comment by David Thorstad — May 28, 2019 @ 3:44 pm

  20. I apologize for two posts. My first one didn’t go through, from what I could tell. I was wrong.

    Comment by David Thorstad — May 28, 2019 @ 3:45 pm

  21. I think there are really two good arguments against consensual sex between the sexually functional underaged and the legal adult One is that young people are sometimes physically capable of doing things but either emotionally incapable or otherwise not in a position to deal with the unintended consequences–pregnancy, disease, drug addiction, the violent emotional effects of bitter disappointment or rejection, etc.

    Here we confront the reality that up to a certain age, whether we like it or not, parents are both in the practical sense and legally responsible for their offspring, which means that the offspring really aren’t, in a practical sense, entirely free to do as they wish because, fairly or not, their parents are inescapably obliged to deal with those consequences. Likewise the mature sex partners of legally defined children are in no position to assume this responsibility. This is especially true for hard-pressed working people who have difficulty enough making ends meet without additional problems from their children and their wolud-be lovers.

    Besides, at what age and under what circumstances does a legal “child” become capable of sexual consent?

    In any case, there’s no moral imperative to “have sex” at all in any particular instance. Anyone can abstain from sex indefinitely if she has a good reason for doing so. Not that life isn’t better with, all other things being considered, but you can’t just turn traditional Christian abstinence on its head (this metaphor is getting out of control, but …) and insist that everybody has to have sex all the time as soon as they are able or go to Hell.

    And the fact remains that sexual abuse, usually by men, of others in a position of relative weakness–obviously including children–is an age-old oppression that must be ended at all costs. I don’t believe that patriarchy is the rood of all evil, but it’s certainly the root of many evils. Can anyone argue that the rape of a prepubescent child by an adult male is not a crime? Or that the seduction of a son or daughter by a father at any age is unacceptably damaging to the child?

    The widespread and comical hysteria on the transcendentalist/Stalinist “left “over “pedophilia” makes a tempting target. I once saw a bullhorn shouting contest in front of the White House between a group of Anarchists for Trump and some ostensibly “left” anti-Trump conspiracist group that asserted the validity of Pizzagate. Nobody does stupid like Americans. But IMO a more balanced view still has to err abundantly on the side of caution where the protection of children–and their hard-pressed working parents–is concerned.

    We live in a time when the sex act is conceptualized as a market transaction and sexual freedom as a function of the all-wise, all-governing Free Market. This is a pity for many reasons, not the least of which is that the role libido in holding society together has become a completely unfashionable subject. No more Norman O. Brown for the great-grandchildren of Ronald Reagan!

    Probably despite the indisputable silliness of some past thinking on the subject, the time is near when somebody should take another look at Eros and Civilization etc etc etc. Would we still read Walt Whitman if he didn’t offer us a view that the social bond is in some important way fundamentally libidinal in character? And how repugnant that must be to the double-dyed neoliberal who regards every act taking place between human beings as a market transaction and every transaction as either a comical error or the consequence of dispassionate rational choice!

    But advanced thinking on the subject of sexuality should not lead us to the justification of potential or actual abuse in any form. This IMO is another area in which the Trotsky maxim “Learn to Think” may be profitably applied.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — May 28, 2019 @ 5:20 pm

  22. “rood of all evil”=unintentional pun, “rood” being synonymous with “cross.” Meant “root” of course.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — May 28, 2019 @ 5:27 pm

  23. correction 2: can anyone argue that seduction etc. is not a crime.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — May 28, 2019 @ 5:29 pm

  24. David Thorsted: Here’s Workers Vanguard defending pedophile priests: https://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/archives/oldsite/2005/Priest-843.htm

    Comment by Dave Palmer — May 28, 2019 @ 8:26 pm

  25. David Thorsted: Here’s Workers Vanguard defending pedophile priests

    I think you meant defending falsely accused pedophile priests.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 28, 2019 @ 8:31 pm

  26. Mr. Palmer: It is astonishing that this is what you come up with to buttress your distortions. You slander both Shanley and the SL by pointing to this eminent sensible article, typical of the SL’s rational approach to sexuality. I knew Father Shanley, not well, but have friends who collaborated with him over years. Nothing in his history qualifies your portraying him as a “pedophile.” The only accurate thing in your post is that is was a priest. His is a dramatic and classic example of a man being victimized by a sex panic, particularly in his case demonizing man/boy relationships. If anyone knew firsthand that some relationships between men and boys were beneficial to the youth, it was Shanley. Nothing he did qualifies as “abuse” or even unethical behavior. The young man who is at the bottom of his case is a textbook example of someone mentally “off” and who, judging from the evidence in the case, was out to get money from the church (true of many such cases, though his is the most egregious) without the slightest proof of wrongdoing by Shanley. Shanley is, in my opinion, a victim crucified by bourgeois hysteria. If you would look into his case you would agree, of that I am certain. Unless, of course, you swallow the lies spread by the bourgeois media. It is to the SL’s credit that it was capable of seeing through all that bullshit.
    If you read closely,. you will see that nowhere in the LS article is there anything whatever that supports your uninformed beliefs. Even the youth in Shanley’s case was not a prebuescent, and there is nothing in Shanley’s history or behaviior to so designate him, nor even to show that he had sex–consensual or not–with anyone. No such thing was demonstrated in his trail. He is a gay political prisoner. Shame on too many lefties for regurgitating the lies of the ruling class and for throwing common sense out the window. Inform thyself!

    Comment by David Thorstad — May 28, 2019 @ 8:40 pm

  27. Ok, I’m not seeing any actual Marxist arguments in favor of “man-boy love” here — just a lot of hypocritical invokation of bourgeois right combined with denunciations of “bourgeois morality.” Sexual relations between adults and children are almost always abusive. Obviously the typical abuser is much more likely to be someone like Herbert Aptheker or Daniel Ortega (i.e. a male who self-identifies as heterosexual and abuses a female child in his care) rather than a male who self-identifies as having an attraction towards male children, which is why the idea that opposition to pedophilia is somehow “anti-gay” is absurd. That being said, one can acknowledge the contributions of Aptheker’s scholarship and Ortega’s leadership without endorsing their deplorable behavior. On the other hand, to actually advocate for such behavior (or to defend the bourgeois right of those who advocate for such behavior) is reprehensible and has nothing to do with Marxism.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — May 29, 2019 @ 1:13 am

  28. “accused pedophile priests”—

    Exactly. The fashionable pedophilia hysteria makes no distinction between accusation and guilt and sidesteps the question of what a child is when it’s at home, so to speak. It also recognizes no gradations of offense. An actual baby rapist is on the same footing as an 18-year-old who seduces a 16-year-old in a state where 16 is below the age of consent, which it sometimes isn’t. I actually knew a gay man at the University of Virginia who said he was grateful to a priest for introducing him to gay sex at a young age. Can this have been true? I don’t see why not, although it’s possible that as a victim he had internalized his victimization. The issue is not whether such “forbidden love” invariably, in and of itself, entrains a Fate Worse than Death, but rather what society has to do when even actual love relationships go disastrously wrong, as they frequently do. People can abstain from sex without mortal harm and sometimes they have a social duty to do so. Then there is rape. Beyond that lies the whole terrain of paternalistic coercion and abuse of power–something that extends far beyond mere sex and sexuality.

    Thus the reality is somewhat complex and the term “pedophile” gets slung around as a cure-all, like penicillin in an old-fashioned doctor’s office.

    According to my mother, there was a man in her neighborhood before I was born who had a reputation for making inappropriate advances to underage girls (short of actual sexual interference). Per the story, the neighborhood mothers got together and gave the man a talking-to after which he apparently ceased his depredations. He wasn’t even charged with a crime. Please note: my mother was a sort of liberal but otherwise these were deeply conservative white Midwesterners. No lynch mob; no hysteria, no posse of dads wielding baseball bats: problem apparently solved. Imagine that.

    The truth is that the automatic outrage triggered by the word “pedophile” has at least two sources–one genuine and justifiable revulsion at a subset of the acts subsumed under the heading of pedophilia; and another (nobody will agree with this but so what?) generated by the pervasive ideology and psychology of advanced capitalism which, among other things, is repelled by any passionate or emotional act of human intercourse that cannot be rationalized as a chilled-out rational market transaction demonstrating the rights of the consumer.

    The flip side of “chill out, dude” is ungovernable outrage. Both can be artifacts. There are things in nature more complex–for example the mysterious process whereby nuclear fission causes the transmutation of elements into other elements–but this is not as pure and simple as some people want to think. The fundamental issue is one of social governance, not of moral outrage. There is a subtle but very important difference.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — May 30, 2019 @ 2:32 pm


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