[Marxism] Review of Stan Goff's "Full Spectrum Disorder"

Derek S. dws_1980 at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 20 14:41:14 MDT 2004

> I haven't read the book, but having read similar
> books by former members of 
> the establishment who've changed sides, or who claim
> to have changed sides, I 
> suspect that it contains more than a fair amount of
> self justification for 
> former acts of wanton cruelty and barbarity.

I don't think he did. Stan doesn't engage in any
melodramatic self-pitying or apologizing. But you can
read it and decide for yourself.  

And no one ever said anything about ambiguity over the
need to end "exploitation, militarism, racism
and imperialism". Any disagreement on this is simply
imagined-- perhaps you didn't read the whole review
before making your comments. The ambiguity (or
complexity, contradictions, unevenness, whatever you
want to call it) has to do with the political
consciousness of the people in the USA that we're
trying to reach and how to go about it in the climate
we've been dealt. Within the web of contradictory
pressures and loyalties that entangle people, how do
we hone in on openings which arise-- when oppression
triggers off enough discontent to make people open to
more radical ideas and solutions-- that give us a
chance to push people further in our direction, even
if they might not live up to some pure, idealized,
unambiguous revolutionary litmus test? There's been
some fantastic discussions on this list before (for
instance, around the demand "Bring Them Home Now")
that touch on how to build a movement to reach people
where they're at. They're well worth taking a look at.

Stan's book isn't a bible, but it's got some great
insights and ideas. Here's a little more of the
review, mostly quoting FSD. Hopefully it'll make more
clear what I'm talking about. 
In the last chapter, Goff writes about his stepson
Jessie, who had entered the military and is now in
Iraq. It is a short, heartfelt chapter, both nostalgic
and forward-looking, very honest- a fitting ending to
the book. In one part he tells us: 

"I wrote something to an email list about my emotional
reaction to Jesse's military service, and a
self-righteous shit wrote me back that Jessie had
chosen his course of action, he had made his decision,
and if he is lost in the gangster's project of
international plunder, oh fucking well… 

"I didn't bother to tell him that I was as concerned
with the possibility that Jesse would learn
xenophobia, that Jesse would be called upon to kill,
that Jessie would have his human trust buried, as I
was with the prospect of Jessie being killed in
action-a dreadful possibility to be sure, but one I
considered more remote that others. Things are just
never simple enough for an ideologue that soldiers are
all robot killers, and that the world is divided into
good and evil" (190) 

If the Left hopes to make some real inroads, it needs
to recognize and stomach complexities and the
coexistence of seemingly contradictory things, and
learn how to approach them effectively. There's an
incredible diversity and unevenness is the political
consciousness of people in the USA, and often
progressive impulses are channeled into reactionary
outlets (for which the Left should feel in some part
responsible, since it has not done as well as it could
have to provide an alternative). These circumstances
might not be ideal, but they are the hand we've been
dealt. A sense of certainty can put the mind at ease,
but it can lull a revolutionary towards irrelevance.
If we wish to see a better world, it is in our
interest to not shy away from the tough things that
don't fit like a piece of a puzzle into some textbook
of revolution. This will take a lot of creativity,
open-mindedness, and a willingness to listen to and
learn from the people we're trying to reach. Again:
"If we want simple, we'd best avoid life". 

This is the thrust is of one of Goff's most poignant
chapters, "The Left and the Military". Here the reader
gets some insights that they would hope an author like
Goff could offer up. Like much of the book, the
chapter is written with a determination to tackle a
tough and complex issue. It's an honest attempt to
push the Left past lazy thinking with regards to

After the "Beltway Sniper" run a few years back, many
on the Left pointed to John Muhammad's military
training in the early nineties as an explanation for
his more recent actions. Goff argues convincingly that
this is not only wrong-laziness, in fact: an
all-too-common instance of simple reduction by a Left
that thinks it has an easy materialist answer for
everything-but that it is very much to our detriment
in efforts to reach out to soldiers: 

"We need credibility when we pop off on military
matters, and the left surrenders its credibility all
the time when it masks complexities in the interest of
some short-term polemical advantage. 

"In particular, if we are to reach out to the people
inside the military, most of them working class, and a
disproportionate number of them oppressed
nationalities, then we have to do two things. We have
to get our facts straight. And we have to think about
their experience critically." (144) 



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