Why I Became a Communist, and why I Quit
What brings me to communism? I've always been a reader. I read Marx and Engle's Communist Manifesto when I was 21 and just in the Army. I was vaguely familiar with class relations, not to say class struggle. Getting drafted while all your middle class classmates are going to college dows tend to focus the mind. Not those watching the best looking girls marry the landed bourgeoisie passed unnoticed. But they were just farmers to me. And remain farmers.
So I read the communist manifesto and it made sense. Everyone, rich or poor, would like to think that misfortunes come from without, while glory comes from within. Marx explained that. I, like all normal people, was part do gooder, and part self-
This was 1969. A third of the world was already communist, and they were knocking on America's front door. Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala. The most astounding events had just occurred, in 1968: The Tet offensive, when the Vietnamese communist cast a long shadow over President Johnson's assurances that we were winning the war; The May revolution in France, when the students, intellectuals, and workers nearly toppled the government, controlling Paris for several days. The communists could have seized power, but the leaders were cowards. They have been losing influence ever since; In America Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated. The inner cities were burning. In Mexico City the police fired on demonstrators just before the Olympics, killing some 300. During the Olympics two black sprinters gave the clenched fist Black Power salute from the stage where they had just received gold and bronze medals. They were immediately stripped of their honors. Rock and Roll, acid, and the Pill all added to those heady days. The baby boomers had swelled our side of the battle of the generations to the point where the might even win. It was a no brainer. Of course only the cremde la crem could see that. The ruling class studiously kept the masses stupid, especially about the classes struggle. Fortunately, Marx showed the inevitably of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and Lenin showed the method.
Every once in a while I get told that the ruling class is keeping the masses stupid as an explanation as to why the latest new age fad has failed to catch on. "Aren't you part of the masses? How did you escape this brainwashing?" I don't know if I evoked fate in my day, or if the question was never put to me. So for twenty years I read just about nothing but communist theory. Back in those days we used to say "you are what you eat".
I believe you are what you read.
Of course after going to great lengths to obtain "THE TRUTH" I certainly wasn't going to hide my light under a bushel. Forgive me Father, fox I have errored and led others into error. Marxism is one of the prothselizing religions. I may be kidding myself when I say I led others into error, but at least I tried.
At university I joined the Progressive Students Union, hung out with leftist students, and took classes from leftist professors. I really believe I just missed out on being asked to join the Communist Party U.S.A. by failing to answer one question correctly: Would you join in a military coup de etat? I said no, the working class wouldn't understand. This was from a big mucky muck professor quizzing me on a Marxist reading course I was taking with him. In 1981 I graduated with a Sociology degree and promptly joined the working class as a construction worker. Actually I was never comfortable with middle class pretensions.
Between 1982 and 1986 I went to Central America every winter when construction work got slow. I used to describe myself as a political tourist. In 1982 I went down to watch the El Salvador elections. The death squads kept it a race between the right and the extreme right. Napoleon Duarte won. I wrote impassioned, incoherent letters home. One year I was arrested by the El Salvador National Guard three times. The first time the American Embassy bailed me out after three days of checking my story. The second time an American in civilian clothes at an El Salvador Army base signed me out after looking through my bag and talking to me. He denied being CIA. The third time the Embassy bailed me out after a couple of hours. They told me that if I insisted on going into rebel held territory I would eventually get into trouble. I quit going. One year I did solidarity work in Nicaragua. A month picking coffee. I was the only gringo there, with a bunch of high school kids and some cadre. My Spanish really improved. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the most oppressed layer of the working class wasn't bad duty in the cool of the mountains. The kids tried to get me to sing Beatles songs. Then I went down to pick cotton. It was hot and dirty, and my arms got all scratched up. I only lasted a week there.
I spent time in Managua, Nicaragua almost every year. The rebel Sandanists had overthrown the U.S. backed dictator Somoza in 1979, and leftist from all over the world flocked in just to be there. We watched as the revolution matured. I was not impressed. There was nothing to buy property was being nationalized like crazy, but things never got any better. The cadre were riding around on Russian motor bikes and having a good time. Back home I learned that the Sandanistas were living in the expropriated homes of the very rich. This was the first hair in the communist soup.
Back home I ran into the Socialist Workers Party. There was a new branch in Omaha, and I soon joined. My first assignment was to get a job in a packing house and start to raise consciousness, which I soon did. It was a union job, which was important for at least two reasons. First, we were Trotskyist, which meant that the sector which we tried to colonize was the rank and file union movement. Without going too deeply into the arcana of revolutionary communism, let me just say that every time the left splinters, the group that breaks off has to give a reason for the split. It is all hairsplitting, of course, and the real reason for the split is probably due to one ambitious leader finding his path upward blocked. In this instance Trotsky was blocked by Stalin so Trotsky took his faction and his ideological baggage and started a new party.
The second reason is that union work is usually for 40 hours a week.
Revolutionary communism requires a high level of commitment, and a high level of commitment requires a high level of indoctrination. Meetings were held every night and every weekend. Every member was on several committees, and every committee had to examine each question of the day from its particular perspective, no matter that you were covering and recovering the same ground. Repetition is the heart of indoctrination, and we heard it until we got it straight. At best we worked out the details of implementing the decisions made at the national level. Indoctrination was the most important function of these meetings, but they also prevented the formation, or even continuation, of outside interests simply by consuming every minute of the waking day.
I stayed with the Socialist Workers Party for 18 months, but it became increasingly tedious near the end. The idealism began to wear off and I began to notice that the upper echelon had feet of clay. Under the theory the best rise to the top. In reality leaders were, for the most part, those who could talk the fastest, who were never short of an answer, no matter that it made no sense, extracted the maximum from their surroundings (i.e., their fellow devotees), and implemented any and all directives coming from above. Courtesans and syncopates. But the (rather large) straw that broke the camels back was the fall of the iron curtain, always a weak spot in my argument, and one that I preferred not looking to closely at. When openings in the iron curtain appeared, first in Hungary and then in Berlin, and thousands of communists started heading west in whatever they could get to move, the scales fell from my eyes. I didn't have enough invested to try to explain the anomolly of workers fleeing the workers’ paradise. I was acutely embarassed. The Socialist Workers Party blamed it on Stalinism, as usual, but in my heart of heart I knew that the Trotskyist dogma of revolution from below was a lie. The present is the embryo of the future. Every day I saw decisions made at the top work their way down. At what point did the revolution from below begin? Obviously never.
Within a month I quit the party. It was pretty quick. A few missed meetings and an interview. They didn't harass me, like some cults who don't want their secrets known. Dejected, I returned to my home town, with which I had never cut ties. (I sold a lot of propaganda down there.) I quit the meat packers and went back to construction, sold my collection of left wing books, and watched as the pendulum swung the other way.
Female lions form bands because their hormones demand that they protect their cubs at any price up tip, but not including, their own lives. Alone they can't prevent the male lions from killing their cubs, together they can. These bands are often comprised of sisters. The beginning of the family. Inject a male mouse with female hormones and he will exhibit female behavior, i.e. bringing baby mice back into a nest, something that male mice do not do. Primates (monkeys, apes, etc.) form groups that will protect an area from intruders. These groups are arranged hierarchically with a dominant male and a dominant female. The dominant male gets privileged access to fertile females. The dominant female gets privileged protection for her children. Communists and closet communists hold that human society supersedes human nature. They are wrong. Karl Marx believed that human nature was benevolent until it was corrupted by capitalism. He was wrong.
Society formed for purposes of mutual protection, not due to man's innate sociability. at no time was the interest of society put above the interest of the family, or especially the interests of the individual. That is, everyone looks out for himself first, his family next, and society a distant third. It is possible to find instances of people risking, or even forfeiting, their lives for the greater good, as in war or in the case of suicide bombers. I hold that in those cases a degree of coercion and or manipulation is nearly always present.
A lot of Marxism looks very good on paper, but doesn't work very good in practice. Consider the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," first propounded by Marx in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. If only everyone would work for the state as hard as they could, and take from the state only what they needed, there would be plenty for all. If only. From society's point of view the above quoted principal would be rational. From the perspective of the individual it would be rational to give as little as possible and take as much as possible. The wisdom of the body is to store fat, and you don't do that by working hard and eating only a little. Early in its modern history the state of Israel had a definite socialist character. It became a '"Paradise for Parasites" and had to adopt free market principles. If a state with 4000 years of religious background could not make the slogan "From each....to each..." work, how could Soviet Russia, with its founding document some 75 years old? I remember reading an interview with a Russian worker during the time of Gorbachev, when a certain amount of openness was encouraged. Consumer goods had always been practically nonexistent, the economy being focused on producing capital goods and military goods. The quip of this worker, "They pretend to pay us, so we pretend to work." If there is nothing to spend money on, you just as well not be paid. Since the government provides all the basic necessities of the workers in exchange for work, there is no need to work more than the hare minimum.
I have run across some people, young and idealistic mostly, who announce that in order to make the world better, we should all share things more equally. To put this theory into practice one needs only do as Christ said and give your money to the poor. My guess is that if all the rich gave all their money to the poor it would disappear like rain into the ocean, leaving the ocean infinitely less salty. There are that many poor people and that few rich. My guess is also that people who want things shared more equally want the rich to share with them, but do not want to share what they have with the poor.
I finally bit the bullet reguarding my rapidly approaching old age and bought a piece of property where I can throw up a shack and live on my paltry social security, hopefully. I console myself with the notion that this is the NEW WORLD ORDER that we've heard so much about. Consider: an ever shrinking birth rate demands an ever increasing immigration rate to feed social security and keep the cost of labor at a reasonable level. The immigrants send boucoup bucks back to their families in the third world, tieing their economy to ours and keeping the third world pot from boiling over. Meanwhile an ever increasing portion of the working class discovers that their retirement plans are seriously out of joint, and they must either keep working or leave the homes they love and seek cheaper pastures. Always in the avant guarde when it comes to shirking work, I propose the Largo Atitlan solution. Give up on the idea of watching the grandchildren grow up, sell out everything and come on down to a much nicer climate.
I just bought a lot 20 yards by 40 yards, with two avocado trees (which won't bear for 5-
That is an exaduration, the workers get $5 a day, but it remains to be seen how much the general contractor gets. Whatever it is it will be cheap. The lawyer who looked everything over and typed up the new papers charged me $100, and I gave the Indian who led me to the place and helped me get the price down (at least that is what he told me) $50. At $750 everyone says I got a bargain. My Indian friend is trying to get me the very cheapest price (so he says) on another piece of land which is bigger (20 yards by 60 yards), better situated, and more expensive. It has electricity on its perimeter (it will be expensive to get electricity to the other), and a cobblestone walkway to the village (the other has a path), two shade trees, and a better view of the lake. We are at $2300 now, and if I can get him down another $200 I think we got a deal. I think I have enough money to buy both, throw up a shack and still stay down south till spring trucking season resumes, but it will be close. Oh, and my Indian friend wants $100 for this transaction.
Lakefront property is still available, but it is expensive. But if you get a good price for the house you are in now you can probably swing it.
Once you get settled in living is cheap. Everyone who is anyone has a maid and gardener who are grateful for the work. The temperature seems to range between 60 and 80. Learn a little Spanish. Brian