Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 5, 2016

Mike Vanderboegh: portrait of an agent-provocateur

Filed under: entrapment — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

A former Marxist? Hardly.

Four years ago Mother Jones published an article on Mike Vanderboegh, the ultrarightist who has been falsely associated with the armed occupation of buildings in a bird sanctuary in Oregon, that referred to his leftist past:

Fiery rhetoric about resistance and revolution isn’t new for Vanderboegh, though the origins of his activism may seem a bit incongruous. “I used to be a communist,” he says. Vanderboegh, who is in his late 50s, claims he joined the anti-war movement in 1967, first with Students for a Democratic Society, then the Socialist Workers Party, and eventually the Maoist Progressive Labor Party.

Vanderboegh says his days as a left-wing radical came to an end in 1977. At the time, he was working as an aide in an Ohio hospital and an ex-Wehrmacht surgeon being treated there “wrestle[d] the devil for my soul.” “Herr Doktor,” as Vanderboegh called him, gave him a copy of Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, a 1944 tome that is one of the intellectual pillars of libertarianism. Through Hayek and some tutoring from Herr Doktor on the evils of communism, Vanderboegh says, he saw the light and gave up the class struggle and even politics in general—at least for a while.

I don’t have much interest in the man’s involvement with the Burns, Oregon action but I am interested in the allegation that he once belonged to the SWP, a group I spent 11 years in. Vanderboegh’s “conversion” is recounted in a post on Sipsey Street Irregulars, a blog that describes itself as “The ORIGINAL gathering place for a merry band of Three Percenters. (As denounced by Bill Clinton on CNN!)”.

I can understand the progression from SDS into the SWP, a path followed by many as the New Left degenerated into Weatherman type antics. But hardly anybody ever went from the SWP to the PLP, unless it was Arne Swabeck, the octogenarian who became a Maoist in the 1960s after decades in the Trotskyist movement. In fact my first SWP meeting in NYC took up his expulsion.

But check out what Vanderboegh says about his work with the PLP:

Toward the end, I became a member of the PLP’s “secret party,” dropped from public view and on instructions began to organize a “worker’s militia” in central Ohio. We’d start out vetting new members by having them break into National Guard armory parking lots and slash vehicle tires. In the end, we’d rob dope dealers to raise the money to buy weapons, all kinds of weapons. We were very good at what we did. And very, very lucky. Don’t believe me? Most of my “Benedict Arnold” period papers are part of a collection at the Ohio Historical Society. Look it up. You can look up the statute of limitations too. Nobody died. Like I said, we were very, very lucky.

This sounds like utter bullshit to me. If you know anything about the PLP, you know that the last thing they would be up to is robbing dope dealers or slashing tires in National Guard armory parking lots. Most likely, a PLP member would be selling their unreadable newspaper in front of plant gates, the same kind of activity that the SWP would eventually take up. The PLP was a workerist sect that was involved with some major campus struggles such as the San Francisco State student strike of 1968. But its working class intervention was pretty focused on “serving the people” trade union organizing that was anything but adventuristic. In Boston, they were focused on getting their members into the GE plant in Lynn or into the local hospitals.

Basically Vanderburgh sounds like he is telling tales or more ominously had conned some inexperienced PLP members into what looked like the typical FBI entrapment. I remember an invitation from a guy in NYC to take part in similar dubious activities. We knew him as Carl “Mustafa” Jones, an African-American who showed up at our upper west side HQ one afternoon. He told us that he was an ex-con who was at Attica during the rebellion. He was serving time for robbing drug dealers—the same story told by Vanderboegh. After a few weeks of coming to Friday night forums, Jones sat down with the branch organizer and me to invite us to come to a firing range where “revolutionaries” were preparing for armed struggle. At that point we began to have our doubts.

Finally, on his “Benedict Arnold” period at the Ohio Historical Society. I just got off the phone with the librarian there and she told me that the box contains nothing but pamphlets, buttons, leaflets, newspapers, posters, etc. and not a single thing he produced. I was interested in any of his personal correspondence since that would give me some clues into his likely agent-provocateur past. Since there was none, I had to assume that he joined leftist groups without even a modicum of familiarity with socialist politics that allowed Ed Heisler, another FBI informant, to end up on the SWP national committee.


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