Communist work

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Mon Jul 31 16:06:37 MDT 1995


Mark, responding to Anthony McLaughlin, wrote:

> My reason for relating such a tedious anecdote is this:  what  have Marxist
> philosophers, and activists, said about the tendency for "utopian"
> enterprises, particularly in the areas of housing and schooling, to be
> almost entirely the province of the bourgeois classes?  It's an immensely
> frustrating problem for working-class activists.
>
> This is my first post to the list, so please forgive any gaucheries I may
> have committed.
>
First, welcome aboard! Everyone who is on the list is welcome to write or
ask anything that they believe to be relevant and important.

Second, concerning your specific question, I can't think of any
references off-hand, however we have been discussing a thread on
"socialist utopia" (a somewhat different subject) for some time. If you
are interested in utopian thought in literature and philosophy, I would
recommend a book I recently read (which was recommended to the list by
someone else) by Marie Louise Berneri JOURNEY THROUGH UTOPIA (Boston,
Beacon, 1950).  Berneri, an Italian anarchist who died in 1949, wrote a
work that you might find interesting precisely because it was written
from an original perspective.

Third, I'm sure that the experience that you related concerning the
housing co-op was experienced by many others who have been members of
co-ops and communes, etc.  It has been my experience that many people,
whether they call themselves Hippies, Rainbows, anarchists, or Marxists,
often behave in ways that are not consistent with their alleged beliefs and
ideologies.

A few examples:

-- there was a left anarchist bookstore in the East Village called
"Sabotage" that was run as a collective.  In 1990, a split emerged in the
collective that originally developed due to political differences (one
side objected to a poster of Nelson Mandela -- a communist -- in the store
window).  Although all of the participants were anarchists they related
to each other in very authoritarian ways.  For instance, after one side
had a member expelled, someone crazy glued the locks to the store.
Another member of the collective decided on his own to turn over the keys
and the lease to the landlord and the bookstore was evicted.  We
shouldn't expect peoples' ideologies and personal lives to be entirely
consistent.  Frequently, there is a large and antagonistic gulf between a
person's beliefs and their actions.

-- another anarchist from this neighborhood, who had been a victim of
police repression, married an anarchist friend of mine and then beat her
up in full view of their 1-year-old son.  A person called "John the
Communist", who publishes a newsletter called the _Class War Organizer_,
also has a reputation for abusing women.  He was heard to tell others
that the only reason he continued to have a relationship with a friend of
mine, was because she had a job and her money was needed for leaflets and
posters!  Again, there can be a ocean between a person's politics and
their personal behavior.

-- one might think that a college department where the majority of
faculty and students considered themselves to be Marxists might result in
forms of behavior and cooperation somewhat better than the average
department.  Yet, it has been my experience that this is not necessarily
the case.  Faculty continued to relate to each other in authoritarian
ways and some behaved in more unprincipled ways towards students than
might be expected at other schools.  I was told once by a faculty member,
in full view of many witnesses, that he was "going to get" me because I
didn't support a faculty candidate that he supported (at the time I was a
student).  True to his word, years later he attempted to get even by
failing me on a critical exam (that exam, on my insistence, was re-read
by two other faculty members who overturned the failing grade and passed
me -- something that, to my knowledge, had never happened before at this
school).  That faculty member, a well-known and respected Marxist
economist, attempted to screw me in a more unprincipled and treacherous
way than any reactionary faculty member at other schools had ever attempted.

-- I had occasion to be a union representative at a so-called Labor
College, where the entire administration considered themselves to be
pro-labor and progressive.  The former Dean, a supporter of the CPUSA,
backed by other "progressive" administrators had a mass firing of
faculty, most of whom were members of the Black and Latino Caucus
and/or a radical activist faculty group.  One person, a Black South
African exile trade unionist, was summarily fired by our "progressive"
Dean after working 7 1/2 years at the school.  No explanation or reason
was given, he was ordered out of the building within a few hours and the
locks on the doors were changed.  The pro-labor Dean then refused to
discuss this -- and other -- firings with the union representative.
Although I had worked on the shop floor in automobile assembly plants, I
had never encountered such a anti-labor, racist, and corrupt management
team. Although the person above had been tortured by the South African
Security Police for his political activism, he encountered the same types
of discrimination and abuse at the hands of "progressive" administrators
at a school devoted to labor studies and workers' education.

Fourth, Anthony suggests that we discuss more practical political
experiences and less theoretical issues.  In my opinion, this can and
should be a forum to discuss both.  If anyone has anything that they want
to discuss concerning their political activities (or their theoretical
conceptions), they should feel free to do so.  The more who participate,
the better.

Jerry


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