[Marxism] Author of “When Skateboards Will Be Free” continues to milk his parents' SWP membership

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 29 07:33:25 MDT 2016

NY Times Op-Ed, Oct. 29 2016
The Ultimate Protest Vote

On Nov. 8 I will be going to the polls and voting, without hesitation or 
disinclination, for Hillary Clinton. But what a treacherous and 
unforgivable act this will be for my father, who will no doubt be 
supporting the only presidential candidate he believes has any chance of 
saving the United States from almost certain ruin: Alyson Kennedy.

You have probably never heard of Alyson Kennedy until now, and neither 
have you heard of her running mate, Osborne Hart, unless you happen to 
be a member of the Socialist Workers Party, as my father has been for 
the past 50 years, or you happen to have passed in recent months a 
folding table on a city street and been handed campaign literature 
explaining that “the only way forward is to organize independent 
working-class struggles that point toward overturning the dictatorship 
of capital.” This is the exact sentiment, word for word, that my family 
subscribed to when I was growing up, a sentiment that can be traced all 
the way back to Marx, and that held great power over me as a child, and 
that holds some power over me still, but that seems to hold no power 
over almost anyone else, including the working class.

It’s worth noting that Ms. Kennedy is a white woman, and Mr. Hart is a 
black man. But lest you think the Socialist Workers Party is 
opportunistically mimicking the Democratic Party, you should know that 
it has a long record of nominating women and nonwhite men for national 
office. Forty-four years before Barack Obama, there was Clifton DeBerry, 
and before Mrs. Clinton, there was Linda Jenness in 1972. The party once 
even nominated a man born in a foreign country and a woman under the age 
of 35, running together on the same ticket, neither of whom, needless to 
say, would have been constitutionally eligible to assume office if they 
had somehow managed to get elected.

How many votes has any Socialist Workers Party candidate received? 
Sometimes a few thousand, sometimes tens of thousands, once 90,000, but 
that was 1976. No matter. The objective is not to amass votes but to 
participate in politics using whatever means the capitalist system has 
allowed so as to eventually be able to overthrow the capitalist system. 
To vote for a Socialist Workers Party candidate is not necessarily a 
“protest vote,” or at least not the kind we have come to associate with 
third-party candidates like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, but rather it is 
a protest vote insofar as one’s entire existence is a state of protest — 
which was certainly true for my family.

What was also true for my family was that there was no delineation 
between our political outlook and our home life. We disapproved of 
America and thus took little interest in its popular culture, including 
television, music and fashion, leaving us with a severely limited 
understanding of the society we were hoping to change. We seldom 
celebrated holidays, we were impervious to advertising, and when the 
Pittsburgh Steelers, my hometown team, went to the Super Bowl, I was not 
permitted to watch.

Yet for a family — and a political party — so hermetically sealed off 
from American culture, we were certain that we had our finger on the 
pulse of the country, offering as certain inspiration to the average 
American citizen the paradigms of the Russian and Cuban revolutions. And 
when we were rebuffed by the average American citizen, which was often 
if not always, we felt validated, as it confirmed the purity of our 
ideas. But it never made us wonder if our methods, be they the Marxist 
rhetoric we employed or the candidates we nominated, were really used in 
the spirit of engagement.

A few weeks ago I was walking through Greenwich Village in Manhattan 
when I passed a folding table of a Communist organization, the name of 
which I did not catch, but which shared with the Socialist Workers Party 
the notion that the forthcoming election was a meaningless choice 
between “the twin parties of capitalism and imperialism.” Standing in 
front of the table was an elderly woman, about the same age as my 
parents, trying to appeal to the people on the street, none of whom 
seemed interested.

I realized I had been operating under the naïve assumption that, given 
the stark contrast between Mrs. Clinton and Donald J. Trump, the broad 
Communist brush strokes would have been set aside, at least this time 
around. I also recalled a story from a friend who had grown up in the 
Jehovah’s Witnesses, and who, years after he had left the group, had 
passed a woman selling its Watchtower magazine. Momentarily gripped by 
the damage that the privations of membership had wrought on his 
childhood, he had retaliated by approaching her and whispering, “El diablo.”

Seeing the Communist woman on the street I did a remarkably similar 
thing. “We have to vote for Hillary Clinton,” I told her. There was a 
friendliness in my voice, but there was also a smugness. I was aware of 
the smugness, as I was aware of the earbuds I was fitting into my ears, 
and I knew that all of this — including my ability to speak aloud 
without fear of ridicule — was what it meant to belong to the mainstream.

The woman seemed to take it in stride. She gave a little smile and a 
shrug but didn’t engage. I was not the first person who had made a 
comment like this, nor would I be the last. As a little boy, I often 
witnessed people mocking the noble ideas my family was offering. Now I 
had become that self-satisfied passer-by, and whatever fleeting 
gratification I might have derived from speaking to her this way was 
replaced, as I walked away, by an overwhelming sense of guilt and sadness.

She was an old woman, standing on a street among an indifferent 
populace, trying in her small way to make the world a better place. If 
there was any consolation for me, it was in the understanding that her 
goal in life was not really to resolve or rectify anything, but to 
remain forever on the outside.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh is the author of the short-story collection “Brief 
Encounters With the Enemy” and the memoir “When Skateboards Will Be Free.”

More information about the Marxism mailing list