[Marxism] Richard Aoki reconsidered

Jeff meisner at xs4all.nl
Wed Sep 5 12:44:00 MDT 2012

At 12:37 05-09-12 -0400, Louis Proyect wrote:
>Richard Aoki Reconsidered
>by Louis Proyect,

I don't think that determining the true loyalty of a deceased person should
ever be considered of great political importance. Rather, I (like others)
find the historical facts/interpretations/fallacies greatly interesting in
this case which involves relatively recent and memorable history. Yes, it
would properly be considered disrespectful to the memory of a person for a
false accusation to be recorded about them, however allegations,
counter-allegations, and varied interpretations of the past are what the
study of history involves;  any person of historical interest will face a
wide range of views by historians after their death, some of which could
well have been classified as slander had they been voiced during the
person's life.

As a number of people have pointed out, there isn't enough information out
there to draw definite conclusions about the nature and extent of Aoki's
relationship with the FBI, and definite knowledge to that end may well
never be obtained. I find Lou's following musings very reasonable, though
of course not proven:

>Although I never had a definitive opinion on whether Aoki was an FBI 
>informant, I think that there might be a plausible explanation. When he was 
>approached originally in the late 50s, he was a poverty-stricken 
>working-class youth with no strong feelings about communism. He likely began 
>informing on the CP and then the SWP mostly as a way to make ends meet.....
>Somewhere along the line he began to think about world politics for the same 
>reason that everybody else began thinking about them, including me. My guess 
>is that he stopped dealing with the FBI and became a full-tilt radical. 

That's as consistent with the evidence as any other hypothesis. I find it
much more believable than the reaction of some of Aoki's friends and
comrades (although understandable) which absolutely deny that there was any
truth at all to the allegation of him having ever informed. For my part, I
cannot believe that based on the recorded phone call Rosenfeld made to him.
A person who had never been an informant at all would have denied that
right away if asked by a journalist interviewing him, rather than stumbling
for words as Aoki did. But this isn't a point I want to argue, for the
reasons stated above. I also believe Rosenfeld has gone beyond what the
evidence shows in order to assume that Aoki remained an informant
throughout the 60s, though I'm not sure if he makes that as a definite
claim (does he?) or just suggests it.

I do disagree with Louis (and many others!) in the various analyses
regarding what an undercover agent "would do or say." There is no such
thing! The whole point of being undercover is to pretend to be what you are
not. So this can be mathematically disproved. If I were to say that police
agents take position A instead of B, and my logic were widely accepted,
then the FBI would tell its agents to never say A and always say B! Now,
with the police agents saying B instead of A, I would have to point out
that people who strongly believe B might be cops. So now the FBI will tell
their agents to express no strong position on A or B. Then someone will
point out that people who don't say either A or B are more likely to be
cops, etc. etc. By definition, there isn't generally any way of detecting
by a person's actions or words whether they are sincere or just pretending
to be sincere. Only a crumby informer can be detected in such a way.

Finally, I am dismayed that anyone should find news of someone in the past
having possibly been a cop so devastating or requiring a reinterpretation
of the past. People who dealt with Aoki on the basis of what he appeared to
be, regardless of the truth, were doing exactly what people do in the
situation that they were in, and there is no shame or necessity for
re-evaluation when you find out that you worked with or agreed with someone
who was doing the right thing (or the wrong thing) for the wrong reasons.
The role Aoki played is the one that he publicly played, whether or not he
was also feeding information to the FBI at the same time. It is simply a
matter for historians at this point.

- Jeff

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