Fw: [A-List] Marxist Utahpia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 20 07:35:42 MST 2002

Jim Farmelant wrote:
> Feature - December 19, 2002
> Marxist Utahpia
> And you thought it was dead. Marxism is alive and well at the University
> of Utah.
> by Shane McCammon
> http://www.slweekly.com/editorial/2002/feat_2002-12-19.cfm

Marxist Utahpia

When Al Campbell was drafted, he couldn’t afford the one-way trip to
Canada. Instead, he told the Army he was a Marxist and that he would
continue to actively organize opposition to the Vietnam War. He wasn’t
lying, but they took him anyway, and taught him how to repair
chemical-weapon equipment. Not a bad skill to have, especially if the
revolution gets nasty.

“I can repair flamethrowers, repair gas masks, I can make napalm. In
basic training, I took the marksmanship test and did very well,” he
says. “I used to always joke about it, and tell the officers, ‘You guys
are doing a great job training me—these skills may be useful later on.’”

He didn’t learn to sew in the Army. That came after the war, when
Campbell moved to Boston and got a job making women’s clothes in a
garment factory. He wasn’t there out of love of brassieres and
blouses—he was there to organize, to spread the word according to Marx
and to find some believers to join him in the workers’ paradise. His two
years there were peaceful—no napalm was used, not even when his bosses
talked about canning him—but pretty ineffective. His co-workers were
upset about the war in Nicaragua and about Ronald Reagan’s lies, but
hell, it’s hard to say you want a revolution when you’ve got mouths to feed.

Hans Ehrbar can relate. He spent seven or eight years—he can’t quite
remember—trying his damnedest to first not get knocked upside the head
and, second, to help organize his auto assembly-line co-workers. They
weren’t interested, and plus, they were too busy making sure the German
dude with a Ph.D. in math survived the Dodge plant and the streets of

“I wasn’t a very effective organizer. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it for
so long,” he says. “I couldn’t lead those people—they were too busy
looking out for me.”


For comrades' information, Al Campbell was in the same party as Fred
Feldman, Jose Perez and me. I run into him every so often at the
Socialist Scholars Conference in NYC where we exchange pleasantries and
discuss the state of the left. He participated in a terrific panel on
markets and socialism that I wrote up at:

Even though Hans was involved with a Maoist rather than a Trotskyist
sect, I would dare say that there was not much difference in their
fruitless effort to proselytize fellow workers. For that matter, the
experience in the CPUSA in industry after the glory days of the CIO was
pretty much the same. If you read Vivian Gornick's "Romance of American
Communism", you will come across a poignant account of a former school
teacher trying to adjust to life in an auto plant after WWII. Not only
was he ignored by fellow workers, he could barely keep up with the
assembly line rigors.

In any case, both Al and Hans are doing exactly the right thing now.
Eventually the loose network of Marxists who decided to break with
sectarianism will come together with a new generation of radicals who
largely because of the moving hand of history feel no special compulsion
to join a "Marxist-Leninist" group that sees itself as the living
continuity with Lenin's party. That process will surely be accelerated
by the three horsemen of the apocalypse: economic collapse, imperialist
war and environmental degradation.


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