Although I share many of the more libertarian proclivities of social democracy, readers of this website must have noticed that I am a fierce, obsessive critic of social democrats—a passion that may be found on either the neoliberal Right or the Marxist-Leninist Left. Today, under the Obama administration, it is almost impossible to separate social democrats (New Deal liberals/conservative reformers) from any of the Marx-derived sects that dot the landscape of liberal-leftist dissent.
In the sense that most readers will understand “the Left” I was never a hard core member of any Marxist or Leninist sect, but my positions at Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles gave me access to leading figures in the arts in Los Angeles and New York. It seemed to me during the 1970s upheavals that the leftist intellectuals were by far the best educated and incisive on the ills of society that I addressed on the radio in my coverage of the art world and its institutions. Indeed, while Program Director of KPFK-FM I put as many as possible on the air.Then, when I was fired by the manager, Jim Berland, and I lost “power” nearly all of them drifted away, or perhaps I left them.
This blog is about some of the incidents that bothered me while I was in that milieu, and that still disturb me. One reason I went to graduate school in history was to understand my own prior attachments. I will not name names, but assure the reader that my contacts were with leading figures in the arts and scholarship. Many of these nameless ones are superstars in their fields.
On Archives. One critical theorist of great note, up there with Jacques Derrida, asked me to write him a memo on “the archive”. I love archives as I do all research in primary source materials, and I did not know that “the archive” as such was under attack from both Left and Right. (Leftists claim that they are elite-controlled, hence exclude the good stuff—daily atrocities suffered by ordinary people– while one biographer of Joe McCarthy, M. Stanton Evans, is also suspicious, claiming that key documents have disappeared, owing to political hanky-panky from his enemies.)
After reading my memo in praise of archives, my friend confessed that just entering a library gives him panic attacks.
On Hitler. One Leninist read my original work on Hitler’s psyche and we met for coffee to discuss it. He excitedly told me that he agreed with Hitler on many points, but then telephoned me after I got home to deny that he had ever said such a thing. He sounded panicky, so I didn’t argue with him.
On lawlessness. I was advised (almost ordered) by one figure in the arts, to steal from some wealthy art collector so that I would have the experience of rejecting bourgeois rules and morality. This sort of duplicity was advocated by more than one lefty I knew, trying to draw me into opposition.
On fighting to win. I intuitively knew ahead of my firing as PD that it was about to happen as I would have nothing to do with the commandments of multiculturalism and populism, and warned my anti-imperialist supporters at KPFK on a Friday night that we should prepare to defend my job. Sure enough, I was fired the following Monday afternoon; we could have shut down several of the news rooms at Pacifica in protest, but the most action in the defense of the direction I was pushing the station was a letter-writing campaign. (It is interesting that this was in the midst of fund drive preparation in which the theme for the Fall Fund Drive was to be science versus myth.) I concluded that “the Left” at Pacifica was weaker than I am on my own. It was then that I went back to school to study witch hunts and the history of multiculturalism as social policy.
On switches. I had been a Democrat all my voting life, but as I read the critiques of academic neo-orthodoxy by David Horowitz and Peter Collier in the 1990s, I found their observations to be exactly accurate and in line with my own experience in graduate school—where I found myself highly critical of most of the lines handed down by senior faculty—most of whom were somewhere on the Left, either as left-feminists or as anti-Americans. Graduate school was no different than Pacifica Radio or other “liberal” institutions. I ran into David Horowitz on the street in Pacific Palisades where he was then living, and we struck up an acquaintance. When David H and his wife came to my book signing party in Brentwood (shortly after 9-11-2001), one former very prominent lefty faculty friend of mine was present and interrogated my sister regarding the anomaly of David H’s attendance. Sometime during that same period, another academic of the Left asked me if it was true that David H was a friend of mine. Neither of these scholars is speaking to me today. You can’t leave the mob.
Along these same lines, I unwarily told a mentor and close friend, a liberal, that I had voted for Bush in 2000 (on the theory that Al Gore was unstable and that “Dubya” was an acceptable alternative). I didn’t expect him to lash out at me, though, true to his self-image as a liberal, he did call me the next day to apologize for his harsh criticism. Things were never the same after that between us.
On schematic explanations for everything bad. It occurred to me after reviewing my disastrous attachments to persons on “the Left” that the attraction to Marxism and then Leninism on the part of my former friends was the simplicity of Marxist ideology. It was easy to master, and even the most sectarian memberships gave one a substitute family of like-minded individuals, all of whom were, in their own minds, morally and intellectually superior to the rest of America.
Real scholarship is messy, tentative, and you rarely know if your readings of documents or syntheses (narratives) of what really happened are even close to accuracy.
I left the Left because this sort of open-endedness and inconclusiveness is frowned upon. Seemingly, it is imagined by prominent and/or blogging leftist academics that I am either a neocon or a conservative scholar, and a dastardly turncoat. I would rather be known as a scholar with strong pluralist tendencies who never betrays evidence or prematurely draws conclusions—including why I left the Left. This is a partial inventory, nothing more, and is always subject to revision and correction.
[For a more recent blog on internal contradictions within “Marxist Leninism” see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/.%5D