Town v. country: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, February 2023

I’m a city boy. I call myself a flâneur, an individual who strolls city streets for personal freedom, independence, and enjoyment. I’ve lived in cities pretty much all my life and the very brief periods I resided in the countryside drove me bats.

It was love at first sight when I visited New York City in autumn, 1988. People I befriended living in San Diego invited me to holiday in the City and I returned nearly every year thereafter for a decade. That initial trip I was a total tourist. I got a crick in my neck the first day from walking around, looking up and marveling at all the tall buildings. I’d leave the collective household’s Park Slope brownstone where I was staying, maybe stop by the nearby Food Coop for some breakfast, then catch early morning subway rides into Manhattan neighborhoods. Graffiti was everywhere, and the subway cars were rolling works of underground art. I hit the main sightseeing spots.[A] I spent afternoons in St. Mark’s Comics and the Strand just browsing. Missing Foundation’s overturned martini glass tag was ubiquitous on the Lower East Side. Because I was a drunk, a 16-oz can of cheap malt liquor and a couple of hot dogs or slices of pizza from street food stands were all I needed.[1]

Most of my friends had day jobs—bike messengers, temps, low-level secretarial or warehouse grunts—as well as office workers, librarians and academics. I’d arrange to meet them after work at the Cube at St. Marks Place where we regrouped for more food, drinks, and partying. We’d go out for inexpensive ethnic dinners where it was always BYO. And we’d end most evenings talking politics, either socially over more food and drinks or at meetings of Neither East Nor West, Anarchist Black Cross or the Libertarian Book Club.  Several of my friends had “red-eye” radio shows on WBAI, so we would sometimes stumble home at 2-3-4 in the morning. The sidewalks were crowded curb-to-wall with people, pedestrians on the streets all hours of the day and night. There was always something happening. Anything you wanted to do or transact, legal or illegal, was available if you only looked hard enough or had enough money.

I also experienced New York during the late Koch, Dinkins and early Giuliani years when city cops were fat, and stop-and-frisk, “zero tolerance” and “broken windows” policing were at their height. Enforcing “quality of life” violations meant racial profiling, rousting the homeless, and harassing nonconformists. Punk was raging as was hip-hop. The Tompkins Square Park riots of unruly countercultural teens and the homeless occurred in the summer of 1988, resulting in 35 injured and 9 arrested, with over 100 complaints lodged against the police. The New York Times called it a “police riot.”

New York had a reputation for filth, vermin, noise, crime, corruption, homelessness, disorder, brutal cops and racial antagonisms. But it was also known as the capital of the world, the city that never sleeps, and the city of dreams. Some 80+ ethnicities spoke over 200 languages, serving up 35 different global cuisines, worshipping in 150 different religious denominations, residing and conducting business in 278 neighborhoods in 5 boroughs. As the line goes, “there are 8 million stories in the Naked City,” only it’s closer to nine million now. I admired the direct, no nonsense, practical attitude of New Yorkers, their irritated impatience embodied in the term “New York minute,” their borough-distinctive street accents, their raised middle finger stance toward the world. I always returned from my NYC vacations reinvigorated and renewed. Yet I could see how living permanently there and experiencing the City’s monumental indifference and relentless grind could wear on a person’s body, mind, and spirit.

Karl Hess once argued that Ireland had an anarchist society for centuries, how its cities of tens of thousands of people operated without a government and avoided crime without a police force, and how the English took hundreds of years to conquer the Irish because they had no national government to surrender for them. When I remember back to my New York City experiences I sometimes think it’s just the opposite, that it’s a city with lots of police and government but which is fundamentally ungovernable. I’ve lived in West Coast cities[B] and visited various world-class cities[C] sometimes for extended periods. Nothing, no city can compare with New York. But maybe it’s useful to find alternatives to city life. Perhaps socialism can provide different options to the typical urban experience.

Murray Bookchin gained notice for his 1969 pamphlet Listen, Marxist! which presented a left-anarchist critique of Marxism using orthodox Marxist categories (means of production vs relations of production, proletariat vs bourgeoisie, objective vs subjective forces, etc.) Bookchin was a Trotskyist whose acquired anarchism retained a flavor of vulgar Marxism thanks to that stodgy vocabulary. He would eventually develop politically beyond these origins in the 1980s and 1990s but his 1971 book, a collection of essays entitled Post-Scarcity Anarchism (P-SA), still had that crude feel. P-SA proposed a utopia of small decentralized communities founded on communal property that integrated town and country, industry and agriculture, manual and intellectual labor, individualism and collectivism, etc.[2] Federations of such integral communes constituted an idealized stateless, anarchist-communist society of abundance where all social, economic and political contradictions would be resolved.

P-SA created a stir among anarchists in the 1970s and not merely because it repurposed Marxist ideas and terminology to defend left-anarchism. Anarchist study groups based on the book emerged, while criticisms arose from classical anarchists of various stripes. P-SA’s pro-technology bent, in particular, elicited negative reactions in Luddite and primitivist circles. As a left-anarchist I realized Bookchin’s integral commune sounded a lot like the Israeli kibbutz I lived in for six months in 1974.

I consider Israel a settler-colonial apartheid state that failed primarily because Labor Zionism practiced an exclusionary “socialism for one people,” placing ethnic identity over class identity. At the same time I consider the Jewish socialism that established Israel to be one of the more autonomous, communitarian, emancipatory forms of socialism I’ve experienced. I consider both true.

Kibbutz Mizra was established by the Hashomer Hatzair socialist-Zionist youth movement in the Jezreel Valley under the slogan “from commune to communism.” The commune members practiced “from each according to ability, to each according to need” where, for their community labor, they received free housing, food, clothing, education, entertainment, even a monthly stipend to purchase luxuries at the general store. Property was held in common and children were raised collectively. Mizra was a small town communal farm on 1915 acres of land purchased from an absentee Arab feudal landowner whose Arab peasant tenants had been evicted by the Jewish National Fund. Located between the Arab cities of Nazareth and Afula, it had maybe a thousand adults and children and a mixed economy of agriculture (crops, orchards, eggs, chickens, dairy) and industry (meat processing plant, hydraulics machinery factory). Kibbutzim were in the vanguard of the Zionist colonization and economic development of Palestine (Hebrew land, labor, products). They were also on the frontlines of defending the Jewish Yishuv via the Hagana and Palmach (Hebrew defense).

To say life on the kibbutz was bucolic was an understatement. I worked, ate, read, hung out and slept. There was occasional communal TV or a movie available, and we took weekend trips to tourist destinations[D]. But otherwise my stay was uneventful to say the least. Commune life was excruciatingly boring. I started down my long, sordid years of alcoholism living at Mizra because I had to stop smoking marijuana when I arrived and so I purchased bottled wine from the kibbutz store to get high every day.

Jewish socialism shared the idyll of creating the “New Man” with the broader socialist/communist movements of its day. It’s the notion that, come the revolution, the free association of producers would construct a global society without a state, social classes, hierarchies or private ownership of the means of production through a fully developed communism to produce a new humanity. In P-SA Bookchin used the terms “the rounded man, the total man.” This utopian individual is described as cooperative, selfless, virtuous, hard working and comradely. Hardly a portrayal of your average New Yorker, let alone your typical Israeli kibbutznik.

The concept that the new socialist individual is the product of the new socialist society is standard-operating-procedure. Leftists contend that human nature changes depending on lifestyle (hunter-gatherer nomadism, agricultural sedentism, urban civilization) or stages of production (primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism). I consider humans to be social beings by nature, but the broader nature-versus-nurture debate over humanity’s essence remains unresolved in my mind.

The kibbutz movement, like the hippie back-to-the-land movement, was a conscious rejection of urban life. But there’s truth to the WWI song lyric that “how ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” I experienced a triumphant yet tedious rural socialism in Kibbutz Mizra, then a chaotic yet dynamic urban capitalism in New York City. Much as I favored enlightened communalism theoretically, in practice I enjoyed privatized decadence more.

SOURCES:
Personal recollections

FOOTNOTES:
[1] “The liver is a muscle! It must be exercised!” (b)ob McGlynn
[2] “Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.” (Communist Manifesto, 1848) “The first great division of labour in society is the separation of town and country.” (Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring, 1877) “Also characteristic of civilization is the establishment of a permanent opposition between town and country as basis of the whole social division of labour.” (Friedrich Engels,The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884)

THE LISTS:
[A] Museums galore, Times Square, Central Park, Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, Brooklyn Bridge, Fifth Avenue, Grand Central Station, New York Public Library, etc.
[B] Ventura, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz, San Diego, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco
[C] Jerusalem, Athens, Vienna, Warsaw, Kraków, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Bristol
[D] Jerusalem, Haifa, Baha’i Gardens Nazareth, Akko, Sachne pools, Eilat, Lake Kinnereth, Beit She’an, Dead Sea, the Sinai, Mar Saba Monastery, etc.

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Logic: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, September 2022

I was on a college track in high school getting mostly A’s and B’s. There wasn’t quite the feeding frenzy in 1970 to stack my academic CV and get into the very best institution of higher education I could. Besides, my parents were barely middle class and we’d agreed that, to save money I’d attend the local community college for two years before transferring to UC Santa Cruz.

One of my English teachers my senior year was Lynn Bjorkman who instructed us on how to write a proper nonfiction essay and academic paper in preparation for our college careers. His specialty was the “science of logic,” both the formal logic of propositions, proofs and inferences and the informal logic of natural language argumentation and logical fallacies. He was a singularly unappealing individual who gave milquetoast a bad name. In the days when Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was the fascinating poster boy for logic, we would pass around notes depicting Bjorkman as an addled cube-headed robot spewing logical nonsense.

I was into pro-Summerhill/Skool Abolition/student liberation politics, so I decided to write an academic-style term paper using Marshall McLuhan’s famous catchphrase “the medium is the message.” In education that meant the message (content) of freedom and democracy was being taught in educational institutions (forms) that were profoundly authoritarian and hierarchical. So I argued that the form/medium invariably prevailed over the content/message, using plenty of quotes, footnotes and a respectable bibliography that included AS Neill’s Summerhill, Paul Goodman’s Compulsory Miseducation, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Jerry Farber’s The Student as Nigger. I got a C- on the paper. Bjorkman commented that my writing was bright and sparkling on the surface but deeply flawed logically. He also remarked that I was actually dangerous and unfortunately would make a persuasive propagandist. But aside from noting an occasional logical fallacy in the margins, he never engaged with my argument’s logic point-by-point nor did he try to refute my conclusions.

Continue reading

Manhunt: Deadly Games review: “Lefty” Hooligan, March 2021

There’s a point in the Netflix series Manhunt: Deadly Games when ATF agent, explosives expert and good-ol-boy Earl Embry says of Richard Jewell—the man falsely accused of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing by the FBI and the media—that he was an easy target.

“Fat. Southern. Poor.” Played by Arliss Howard, Embry drawls. “He’s presumed guilty ‘cause he’s a bubba. Yeah, well … Hey, I’m a bubba.”

During the media feeding frenzy following the bombing, a newspaper posts the libelous headline “The Bubba Bomber” over Jewell’s picture. A subplot in Deadly Games involves the North Carolina Regulators militia that might as well be called bubba anarchism. Welcome to this installment of American Exceptionalism: Extremist Edition. Continue reading

Writing nonfiction: “What’s Left?” February 2021

Rule #1: If an idea cannot be expressed in language that a reasonably attentive seventh-grader can understand, someone’s jiving someone else.
Neil Postman, Charles Weingartner, The Soft Revolution, 1971

I wrote an essay in the early 1970s called “Polarity Thinking vs Integrative Thinking.” It was a highfalutin pseudo-philosophical screed that proposed going beyond the politics of Left and Right from a libertarian perspective, following along the lines of Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought run by Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard from 1965 to 1968. I’m a writer who was into self-publishing what eventually became known as fanzines—zines for short—a subculture of small format hand-made xeroxed or printed magazines published in limited quantities about whatever the creators found interesting. I think this essay first appeared in something I created called ELF: A Journal of Creative, Practical Anarchy. I even ran a crossover libertarian study group in Santa Cruz for a time with a couple of anarchist capitalists and me and a fellow left anarchist. Fortunately, the “integrative thinking” of my libertarian if clueless “third positionism” was blissfully short-lived. I realized that having anything to do with rightwing anarchists was bullshit as I reaffirmed my commitment to revolutionary leftwing anarchism. Continue reading

Revolutionary v reactionary decentralism: “What’s Left?” October 2020

I was seven when I lived in San Bernardino in 1959. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Dictator Juan Batista fled Cuba as revolutionary hero Fidel Castro entered Havana. China suppressed an uprising in Tibet, forcing the Dalai Lama to escape to India. Alaska and Hawaii joined the union. San Bernardino was suburban, often hot, and almost always smoggy. Only when Santa Ana winds scoured the basin of smog blown in from Los Angeles did I clearly see the surrounding, magnificent mountain ranges. There were more and more days growing up when I couldn’t see the mountains at all from my neighborhood, which was home to the first MacDonald’s in the nation.

I watched Disney’s 1959 series The Swamp Fox on our family’s tiny black and white TV.  Filmed in color, the series depicted the exploits of Francis Marion as played by a young Leslie Nielsen. A commissioned officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, Marion ably led the irregular militiamen of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment as they ruthlessly terrorized fellow American Loyalists and engaged in asymmetric warfare against British Army regulars known as Redcoats. He avoided direct frontal assaults against larger bodies of troops, instead confusing his enemies in the field with swift surprise attacks and equally sudden withdrawals. Considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare, Marion successfully used irregular methods and maneuver tactics to outwit his opponents. He has been credited in the birth of the US Army Special Forces known as the Green Berets. Continue reading

Political upsurge vs ideological decay: “What’s Left?” August 2018, MRR #423

Metaphors are powerful. Metaphors are poetry disguised as prose. People who use metaphors claim they’re a shortcut to truth and meaning.

Last month I used the biological metaphor of species complex to tease out additional structure and definition of the usual Left/Right political compass. In the process I promised to cover various social contexts in given historical periods that illustrate increased Left/Right political conversions and crossovers but instead managed to drop yet another metaphor by using Mao’s metaphor with politics and war. From the 1960s war on poverty and the 1970s war on drugs to the 21st century wars on terrorism and the truth, the metaphor of war has been much used and abused. Instead, I’ll use another metaphor from Mao to “put politics in command” in coming to terms with political change, conversion, and crossover socially and historically. In the process, I will renege on my previous promise by severely limiting the scope of this inquiry to the rise of and interplay between the New Left and the New Right. Continue reading

Switchovers and crossovers: “What’s Left?” July 2018, MRR #422

Every elementary schoolchild knows that, after 1492, two food staples common to the “New World” were introduced into the “Old World” via the trans-Atlantic exchange inaugurated by Columbus. I’m talking about potatoes and corn, or maize. What’s not so well known is that maize was substantially undigestible, that potatoes contained low level toxins, and that native Americans processed both heavily in order to make them palatable. Plant breeding and hybridization techniques since 1492 have resulted in far more edible varieties of both maize and potatoes, at the cost of the diversity of the original plant populations.

Both maize and potatoes are considered species complex (superspecies, species aggregate) which, biologically, means a group of closely related species that are so similar in appearance to the point that the boundaries between them are frequently unclear. In fact, the original maize and potato superspecies each contained hundreds, if not thousands of related individual species that could potentially hybridize. One species of maize or potato might not be able to easily cross breed with another species of maize or potato at the far range of their respective genetic spectrums, but that spectrum did allow for gradual, continuous hybridization along the way. Continue reading

Anarchism by Fools: “What’s Left?” February 2014, MRR #369

Part Two: Anarchism of-by-for Fools

I think it was Bill Clinton that once said that if you thought the ’50s were great, you’re probably a Republican, and if you thought the ’60s were great, you’re probably a Democrat.

Bill Maher, “Bill Maher Isn’t Sorry,” Politico (11-21-13)

And if you thought the ‘70s were great, you’re probably a libertarian. Libertarianism is just anarchy for rich people. Libertarians are big business fucks who don’t want to smash the state, but instead lobby the government for more tax cuts.

The number of prominent entrepreneurs, politicians and entertainers who openly declare themselves to be libertarian is legion. Mark Ames has done an excellent exposé regarding how libertarianism became the house philosophy for capitalism [“When Congress Busted Milton Friedman (And Libertarianism was Created by Big Business Lobbyists),” NSFWCORP, 11-16-12], and Bruce Gibney has revealed how libertarianism has infested the tech industry (“Silicon Valley’s Libertarian Problem,” Inc., 8-13-12). Science fiction has long speculated about the consequences of a free market capitalism run amok, from the cyberpunk of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash to mainstream SF like Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and oddities like Max Barry’s Jennifer Government.

Flipping from science fiction to history, it needs to be made clear that the use, or rather abuse of the term libertarianism in America has almost nothing to do with the use of the term libertarianism historically. Of European political origin, and synonymous with social anarchism, historic libertarianism belonged to the broad category of socialism, and for the most part was leftist in orientation. It was extremely hostile to and ardently opposed to the classical liberalism of the Manchester School of Economics. Classical liberalism propounded a limited state assigned the narrow task of strictly protecting life, liberty and property while a laissez-faire capitalist economy was allowed unfettered activity, regulated only by the invisible hand of the market. Social anarchism in the European context was the majoritarian collectivist, mutualist, syndicalist and communist anarchism advocated by Bakunin, Proudhon, Rocker and Kropotkin in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. It was challenged by the minority individualist anarchism of Mackay and Stirner. Yet even then this minority tendency was highly critical of capitalism and bourgeois individualism. Nevertheless, noted anarcho-communist Albert Meltzer raised objection that “Individualism (applying to the capitalist and not the worker) has become a right-wing doctrine […] the ‘Individualist Anarchist’ approach that differs radically from revolutionary anarchism in the first line of descent. It is sometimes too readily conceded that ‘this is, after all, anarchism’.”

The rugged individualism and self-reliant frontier ethic of American society proved inimical to social anarchism and nurturing to individualist anarchism. The waves of revolutionary anarchist immigrants to this country, while responsible for extensive labor unrest and the founding of May 1st as International Workers Day, tended to de-radicalize and assimilate quickly. The anarchist individualism of Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner fit right into and bolstered the American conservative mainstream, even as it remained critical of the capitalism of its day. Yet it took American conservatism’s confrontation with the ebullient, if somewhat crazed politics and counterculture of the 1960s, to separate out the individualist, pro-capitalist and limited government strains of the conservative movement proper into a bona fide anti-statist, radically individualistic quasi-anarchist capitalist movement by 1969. Anarchist capitalists like Murray Rothbard, and former Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess (before he moved to the anarchist left), actually attempted to forge alliances with compatible New Left individuals and organizations between 1965 and 1968. Jerome Tuccille’s pair of books, It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand and Radical Libertarianism, detail this history for anyone interested.

Bona fide means genuine, but the existence of American capitalist libertarianism doesn’t absolve it from being full of shit, despite having multiplied and broadened in the last fifty odd years. Today, the American libertarian spectrum includes those with libertarian tendencies like quirky liberal Bill Maher and eccentric conservative Clint Eastwood, the mainstream of corporate libertarianism described above and the Libertarian Party proper, and the pure libertarianism of anarcho-capitalist economist Murray Rothbard and free market anarchist, 3D gun printer Cody Wilson. To quote an old saying, “the dose makes the poison” (or as Tom Waits sings: “She always had that little drop of poison.”) There is plenty of evidence that toxins like arsenic or radioactive iodine, in tiny amounts, are not just harmless, but might actually be healthy (See Henry I. Miller’s “Can Tiny Amounts of Poison Actually Be Good For You?”, Forbes, 12-20-11). In science, its called hormesis. Just so with capitalist libertarianism. A little bit, in the form of Bill Maher, can be bracing, invigorating and healthy. Too much, as with corporate libertarianism, can be sickening, and the pure libertarianism of anarchist capitalism are out-and-out deadly.

The reason I extended Bill Maher’s quote above is because the 1950s didn’t actually end until 1965, and the 60s in truth spanned from roughly 1965 to 1975. Similarly, the 70s actually covered from 1975 until 1985. I attempted, with a couple of left anarchist friends, to explore some form of left-right association with an equally small group of anarchist capitalists around 1975, a story I’ve told many times before. Big mistake. Aside from constantly babbling about their secret stashes of gold and silver bullion, those free market anarchists were all talk and no action. All they pontificated about were the blessings of capitalism without a state, until I shot back that, if the US government was overthrown today, US corporations would buy and install another government tomorrow, because American capitalism needs a state to protect it, regulate it, keep it safe and healthy. Free market capitalism is a myth, because capitalism requires government. Unfortunately, corporate capitalism in this country has already bought off the government lock, stock and barrel, even as a strand of corporate capitalism advocates a privatizing, deregulatory, anti-tax libertarianism that is fundamentally unhealthy for our body politic, what Rothbard in 1994 called “Big Government libertarianism.”

The 70s were also formative to the rise of capitalist libertarianism, in part because of the anti-Keynesian turn to the right produced by the election of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States. This quasi-libertarian variant came to be known as neoliberalism, which combined domestic privatization, deregulation, financialization, rolling back organized labor, and dismantling the welfare state with an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy. In its neoconservative permutation, it preached a democratic imperialism spread internationally by military power. Most recently, the Tea Party movement has distinguished itself from both establishment Republicans and orthodox conservatives with a virulent strain of libertarianism. While libertarian-like tendencies seem to be proliferating like a plague, attempts to build alliances between rightwing libertarians and congruent left libertarians have never amounted to shit. From the demise of the Radical Libertarian Alliance to the recent hard times experienced by Lou Rockwell’s Antiwar.com, time and again the idea of libertarian left and right working together have amounted to delusion and derangement.

As you might have noticed, this discussion of American style capitalist libertarianism has veered toward ill health and affliction, from the explicit analogy with poison to the implicit comparison with pathology. Well, let’s take the metaphor a step further. Matt Taibbi, in his Rolling Stone article “The Great American Bubble Machine” (7-9-9) described the role of Goldman Sachs in crashing the economy and bringing about the Great Recession. “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Classical liberalism, capitalist libertarianism, corporate libertarianism, anarchist capitalism, neoliberalism, Tea Party libertarianism; they are all structural capitalist modifications encompassed by this vampiric theme, first explored by Karl Marx in volume one of Capital:
As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value, to make its constant factor, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labor. Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.

Time for a wooden stake, beheading, and fiery cremation.

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