Preliminary reactions to "Revolution in the Air"

Peter Frase pefrase at
Tue Aug 6 12:26:12 MDT 2002

Thanks, Lou, for your clarification--I think I understand better what your
beef with Max is. This stuff all went down a decade or more before I was
born, so I can't really comment on it. I'll send your post to Max and
forward any replies he cares to write.

But let's not get bogged down with irrelevant side issues. The value of
Max's book doesn't depend on the accuracy of his characterization of the
SWP, which amounts to a handful of offhand references early in the book.
The core issue for most people who read this book, I think, is whether the
New Communist Movement deserves the respectful treatment Max gives it. I
think it does, and you clearly disagree. That's the substantive issue which
you haven't really addressed.

That whole movement had plenty of flaws, and Max Elbaum is by no means shy
about pointing them out. The more interesting question, though, is what
positive impact the NCM had. Re-centering the left on the question of
racism and anti-imperialism is one big plus I give them. So is the sort of
"serve the people" focus on grass-roots, democratic organizing that the
best of these groups cultivated. Moreover, I think people like Ted Allen,
who you mentioned, are not odd exceptions. Lots and lots of people from the
NCM went on to do good things on the left after they left the
party-building project, which I don't think can be separated from their
political roots. Some sold out, of course, but you would expect that from
any defeated left movement, and the NCM wasn't particularly unusual in this
respect. I recently found out that one of the longtime faculty patrons of
the campus left at the college I just graduated from was in the Sojourner
Truth Organization with Allen and Noel Ignatiev, who publishes the
interesting "Race Traitor" journal. Bob Wing from Line of March edited
ColorLines magazine for a long time, before starting up War Times. I bet
you even worked with some folks in this tradition when you did Central
American solidarity work in the '80s.

My question is this: why was anti-revisionism a growth industry in the
1970s, while US Trotskyism was beginning its long death spiral? No amount
of hand-waving at "ultra-leftism" can dismiss this fact--surely it can't
all have been Jack Barnes' fault. I tend to agree with Max that it was
because the New Communist Movement combined some very good ideas with some
admittedly very bad ones.

Some other things you said, particularly about the Democratic Party, are
legitimate political differences where I agree with Max and you don't, and
we'll have to agree to disagree. But I'd encourage folks not to write off a
whole wing of the socialist project because of some snotty things they said
about Trotskyists

Interesting footnote: Randy Furst now works for the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune, and he always gave us good coverage when I was a student
activist at the University of Minnesota. But then, I was working with
members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a regroupment effort of
post-Maoists. Small world...

I'm curious about something else, as well. This list is fairly
(ex-)Trot-heavy, and the posters I can think of from the anti-revisionist
wing of things aren't American (except Jack Smith, but he doesn't really
engage with discussions here). Any other veterans of the New Communist
Movement on this list? I know Carrol came from that vicinity, but he's gone

Peter Frase

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