By any other name: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, August 2021

I picked up an archaic paper flyer pinned to an obsolete cork board in the now-defunct Market Street branch of FLAX Art Supplies. The handbill advertised a web designer and mobile app developer—Daniel Goodwyn—who offered to teach virtually any platform or software. I wanted to learn social media to prepare for self-publishing my novel 1% Free, so I called. He was cheap. We arranged to meet at Philz Coffee on 24th Street.

“I only drink Philz coffee,” Daniel said.

We met six or seven times at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016. Daniel was an evangelical Christian favorable to fundamentalism, but he wore his religious beliefs close to the vest. He didn’t proselytize. Instead, he would produce his worn King James Bible from his backpack before starting each lesson. I pulled out my Handbook of Denominations by Mead, Hill and Atwood our third meeting and we were off discussing Christianity between social media tutoring. We talked dispensationalism, cessationism, and biblical inerrancy. He’d attended 24/7 worship and prayer events, and would soon do web design for the messianic Jews for Jesus organization.

Donald Trump was beginning his presidential campaign so our conversations weren’t overtly political. Several years later, on September 15, 2020,  Goodwyn was arrested for not wearing a COVID mask riding a Muni bus. On October 17, 2020, he co-sponsored a sparsely attended SF Civic Center far right Free Speech/anti-Big Tech rally with fellow self-proclaimed Proud Boy Philip Anderson. A much larger riotous antifa protest crowd attacked the ersatz Proud Boys and shut down their rally. On January 2, 2021, Goodwyn refused to mask up, leave, or identify himself at a Wyoming gas station and was arrested by local authorities. Finally, on January 6, 2021, he attended the “Stop The Steal” Trump rally and stormed the Capitol building, for which he was indicted by the FBI on January 15 and arrested on January 29, 2021. He was pictured proudly wearing his red MAGA hat to both the Civic Center and Capitol building riots.

I was appalled reading Goodwyn’s story in the SF Chronicle. And not just because of how quickly he went from relative normality to the fascist fringes, but because of how a significant portion of the country went along with him. It’s one thing to wholeheartedly buy into a mythology—reincarnating some imagined Davidic order of ancient Hebrew worship as primitive Christianity versus contesting the nonexistent voting irregularities and fantasy fraud of a supposedly “stolen election.” But when is belief in virgin birth considered normal and belief that COVID is a hoax considered extreme? It’s a distinction without much of a difference. Why debate your location once you’re already in cloud cuckoo land?

There are fascist forms of Christianity: Christian nationalism, Dominionism, Christian Identity. But Goodwyn’s mainstream Christian beliefs—like most religion—are fantasy, not fascism. I’m not interested in distinguishing between spirituality and religion so much as in keeping the two at arms length. I’ve dabbled in both but I consider them interconnected, subjective, and personal in contrast to my more objective historical, scientific, and materialist mindset. I’ve always had religious/spiritual tendencies, experiences, and affiliations; sometimes central and other times peripheral. I was a Sunday school Catholic raised by parents who wanted me to receive the first four sacraments but also enrolled me in public schools. I hung out with liberal Unitarian ministers, Quaker draft counselors, itinerant Catholic Workers, and committed Liberation Theology advocates in high school during the anti-Vietnam War movement. And I was religious-adjacent to all the crap New Age spirituality for which my generation can be blamed.

During my first semester at Ventura College in 1970 I fell in with the Campus Crusade for Christ crowd and became a born-again Christian for five months. My first mystical experiences were spiritual not psychedelic. But I was a far left Christian anarchist who held up the example of the anti-war civil disobedience of the Berrigan brothers and waved about David Kirk’s little red book Quotations From Chairman Jesus, to the distress of my fellow Christians. I’d calligraphied two slogans on the glove compartment door of my 1958 VW Beetle to summarize my worldview at the time: “He is risen” and “peace, love and smash the state.” “Forget the politics,” an exasperated friend once snarled, “just read your Bible.” I lapsed into agnosticism, if not outright atheism, soon thereafter. Or as I quipped at the time: I gave up Catholicism for Lent and saw the light when I smoked marijuana. My involvement with Zen Buddhism through my alcoholic recovery practice beginning in 2010 meant simultaneously reviving my spirituality and reinforcing my atheism. After all, Zen Buddhism is the closest thing you can get to atheism and remain religious.

Similarly, the often-contradictory beliefs of the right-wing MAGA milieu—distrust of powerful “liberal” elites, COVID as hoax or Chinese bioweapon, vaccines as ruse or social control mechanism, Democrats “stealing” the election from Trump, etc—are certainly delusional but not explicitly fascist. The worldview that a shadowy cabal secretly controls things undergirds both QAnon’s outright idiocy of a secret sect of devil-worshipping pedophiles who dominate Hollywood, big business, the media, and government and more traditional fascist/Nazi/white supremacist antisemitic tropes like the canard that the Jews run the world. Fascism had been building during the four years of Trump’s presidency with the increasing radicalization of right-wing MAGA populism; the mobilization of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, III Percenters, QAnon; and the sense of Weimar deja vu. It’s a wonder those yahoos proudly selfied their own comically failed Keystone Kops insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Spencer Sunshine addresses the hardcore threat posed by the rise of overtly fascist/neo-Nazi/white supremacist tendencies and groups:
We see how they make other right-wing movements more extreme, how they take over cultural and religious milieus, as well as organize in geographical communities—and of course see (and are often subjected to) the violence that inevitably follows. Of course, we do also worry that they will expand into a significant political force, although this has been a rare phenomenon in the United States. It is these movements directly in front of us that are our main concern, not the looming fear that a Nazi administration will be in power in the near future.
But how to think about all the ordinary conservatives apparently going along for the ride? They seem hellbent on asserting their precious individualism while practicing an insipid herd behavior.

Personally, I was stunned I’d gotten to know one of the default ultra-right players in this drama. I’d set up my Facebook account under his tutelage so he was my “friend zero.” He stayed off my posts until this last year when he made a couple of loose comments here and there. Then January 6 happened and he dropped off most social media. At 32, Goodwyn has left behind his so-called “impetuous youth.” “He’s very principled but not always over the right things,” his father told the judge presiding over his case. I’m tempted to offer him the same advice I got back when I was 18 to “forget the politics, just read your Bible.” But I guess the feeling of having god on your side is pretty overwhelming.

I’m also tempted to call Goodwyn what I’ve been called as part of the Left for a half century—a fellow traveler. What else to make of a semi-normie evangelical Christian who willingly bought into the reactionary, meta-fascist MAGA narrative and wholeheartedly participated in the January 6 quasi-putschist assault on the US Capitol building? I’ve been on the left of the Left for over 50 years—first as a left anarchist and then as a left communist. As a libertarian socialist/Marxist I disdained social democrats and denigrated Leninists: disagreeing, arguing, and fighting with them while organizing, demonstrating, and protesting with them around so many causes. I’ve been called a pinko, fellow traveler, and useful idiot by folks on the right. So it’s nice to claim turnabout is fair play labelling useful idiots like Daniel Goodwyn with what Nazi Party sympathizers were called—Mitläufer or “tag-along.” The American occupiers of West Germany had a five-tiered hierarchy in their denazification program after the defeat of Hitler, with Mitläufer the most controversial category. Above Entlastete (exonerated) and below Minderbelastete (minor offenders), Mitläufer were loosely defined indirect supporters of Nazi war crimes not directly implicated in any formal Nazi criminal activity.

Technically, Goodwyn is Minderbelastete with his co-sponsorship of the San Francisco riot and participation in the Capitol riot. But the US government has a long, sorry history of accommodating right-wing extremism, from aborting Reconstruction in restoring the defeated Confederacy to the Union to the superficial denazification of Germany and Austria after WWII.(1) With Trump and his minions still at large, there will be no foreseeable de-Trumpification of America. Sympathizer, ally, collaborator—at what point does it cease to matter? Daniel Goodwyn is indicted on several conspiracy-related Federal charges and his saga remains Great Dictator Chaplinesque.(2) I expect he will be handled with kid gloves.(3)

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
“Statement of Facts, re: Daniel Goodwyn,” Case: 1:21-mj00063, filed 1-15-2021
“Feds Track Down Bearded Proud Boy Seen Smashing Capitol Windows With Police Shield” by Adam Rawnsley and Pilar Melendez (Daily Beast, 1-15-2021)
“SF Proud Boy the Latest Charged by FBI for Storming the Capitol” by Joe Kukura (SFist, 1-15-2021)
“S.F. man, a self-proclaimed Proud Boy, charged by FBI in Capitol riot” by Trisha Thadani (San Francisco Chronicle, 1-16-2021)
“SF web developer, allegedly seen on Baked Alaska’s livestream, charged in Capitol riot” by Katie Dowd (SFGATE, 1-17-2021)
“Web designer who allegedly stormed Capitol refused to wear mask after arrest, feds say” by Kevin Krause (Dallas Morning News, 2-12-2021)
“United States of America v. Daniel Goodwyn,” Case 1:21-cr-00153-RBW, filed 7-28-2021
“FBI says Capitol riot suspect tried to chew through his mask after agents made him put it on during arrest” by Natalie Musumeci, Madison Hall and Michelle Mark (Insider, 7-29-2021)
“Unfinished Thoughts on Fascism #2: Real Existing Fascism in the United States” by Spencer Sunshine (unpublished, Patreon only, 7-5-2021)

FOOTNOTE 1:
The exception was the 1775-83 American Revolutionary War. More Loyalist colonials were forced into exile—mainly to Canada—than were Royalists exiled during the 1789 French Revolution.FOOTNOTE 2:
Daniel Goodwyn, a “self-proclaimed” Proud Boy, was charged Friday with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricting building without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

According to a criminal complaint, Anthime Gionet, a far-right social media personality who goes by the name “Baked Alaska,” called out Goodwyn’s full name while live-streaming the riot.

Goodwyn then asked Baked Alaska to stop “doxxing” him and stated Gionet’s full name. As a Capitol Police officer tried to usher Goodwyn out of the building, he called the cop an “oathbreaker” and yelled for people to get the officer’s badge number, the complaint states.

Gionet also referred to Goodwyn in the live-stream as “SFThoughtCriminal,” the name of a far-right Telegram account popular with members of the Proud Boys.

Goodwyn was later identified when an associate contacted the FBI. He messaged the associate on Instagram while still inside the Capitol, saying, “Tell your dad if he doesn’t want his guns I can find some folks who will.”

Later, Goodwyn wrote on Instagram, “I didn’t break or take anything but I went inside for a couple of minutes.” (from the Daily Beast, 1-15-2021)

FOOTNOTE 3:
Daniel Goodwyn calls himself a citizen journalist and this claim will likely be his main defense in challenging the Federal charges brought against him. I have long supported the alternative media that arose beginning in the 1960s which in turn gave birth to citizen journalism. Also known as participatory, democratic, guerrilla, or street journalism, this type of reporting is proudly opinionated, subjective, activist, and embedded in the communities it covers. But the right to take pictures and record videos in public and then blog about it afterwards doesn’t mean you’re not also a fascist fellow traveler or wannabe who can be arrested and convicted or sued and bankrupted or doxxed and taken down for your sketchy behavior. Whether or not I agree there’s such a thing as objective journalism as claimed by the mainstream media, I consider Daniel Goodwyn and his ilk (James O’Keefe, Andy Ngô, et al) at best as selfie journalists who make themselves the story and take great pleasure in streaming themselves doing so. At worst they work hand-in-glove with the far right, tailoring their activities and messages as propagandists for if not outright members of the right-wing groups they purport to report on.

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Boutique capitalism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, June 2021

I’d gotten high on marijuana, hashish, LSD, MDA, cocaine, amphetamine, barbiturates, heroin, jimson weed, nitrous oxide, peyote, mescaline and psilocybin by 1972 living in Ventura, California. But I still hadn’t gotten drunk. I didn’t start drinking alcohol with any frequency until late 1974, over a year after I turned 21 and had already moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC. But in the spring of 1972 I didn’t like booze. I didn’t like people who drank instead of getting stoned, and I hated loud bar scenes. So I was jealous and miffed when a friend regaled me with the news that “Hey, I was drinking at John’s At The Beach and John Lennon just showed up, jumped on stage and played ‘Norwegian Wood’.” And I was seriously annoyed to learn that Lennon returned two days later to play another brief set, this time backed by a few local musicians.

John’s At The Beach was a local restaurant on Seaward Avenue that offered surf-and-turf dining and a separate full bar with tap beer and live folk music all in a bohemian ambiance. John Lennon—under heavy scrutiny by the Nixon administration as well as by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI—showed up both times accompanied by Yoko Ono. I’d heard the rumors that John and Yoko were secretly hanging out in nearby Ojai to consult with Jiddu Krishnamurti. They’d been spotted eating dinner at the Ranch House restaurant in Meiners Oak and walking around in the secluded, toney East End neighborhood. Krishnamurti had lived in Ojai on and off, but he’d long disassociated himself from the Theosophical Society which had groomed him to be their next “World Teacher.” And Krishnamurti had been in Europe at the time so the gossip was false.

Today, Ojai is an upscale residential city, a bedroom community for professionals commuting to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, and a retirement spot friendly to creatives and the spiritually minded. Long a tourist destination, Ojai has an ordinance prohibiting chain stores to encourage local small businesses and retain the city’s unique small-town flavor. Organic agriculture, farmers markets and eco-friendly art are promoted. Opportunities for hiking, camping, tennis and golf abound. With a history of cattle ranches and fruit orchards, cannabis cultivation was and is a major part of the local economy, augmented by legal marijuana sales. Ojai is often described as quaint and charming, but also as exclusive and very, very white.

Tucked away in the Western Transverse Mountain Ranges, the Ojai Valley was home to the Native American Ventureño Chumash before Rancho Ojai was established as a Mexican land grant. Once a part of the United States and initially named Nordhoff, the town’s climate gained a reputation for healthy air quality, becoming a popular wintering location for wealthy Easterners and Midwesterners. But Ojai’s repute as a spiritual center is longstanding. The Matilija Canyon hot springs were touted for their mystical healing powers and were the basis for several resort spas. The Theosophical Society established the Krotona Institute in 1926, which was initially home base for Krishnamurti before he broke with the Society in 1929. Artist, sculptor and ceramicist Beatrice Wood settled in Ojai in 1948 to be near Krishnamurti and was part of the burgeoning artists and writers colony there. Being a hippie haven in the ‘60s and ‘70s added to Ojai’s standing as a creative and spiritual locus. The city continues to call itself “Shangri-La,” alluding to the region’s idyllic health and spirituality-focused natural environment while referencing the 1937 film adaptation of James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon about an isolated, mystical sanctuary.

I liked Ojai. I had friends and dope dealers who lived in Ojai. I regularly attended the Ojai Music Festival and I once hiked into the Sespe Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest for a mescaline-fueled adventure. I also visited Krotona for occasional lectures and events. The Theosophical Society was founded by Madame H.P. Blavatsky, considered an occult philosopher or a charlatan depending on one’s point of view. Theosophy is a wacky set of ideas, based on the teachings of Blavatsky, who believed in Atlantis and Lemuria, and who claimed to have discovered a secret, universal esoteric core of wisdom to all of humanity’s major and minor religions. In turn, Theosophy styles itself a synthesis of religion, philosophy, science and metaphysics. Theosophy was mystical, New Agey horseshit before mystical, New Agey horseshit existed. In the case of Ojai as a spiritual center, this horseshit was footnoted by conjuring up a sacred geography of Ley lines, vortices, the world grid of powerful energy meridians organized in a symmetrical pattern across the planet, even the big dragon and other mystical animals supposedly traced by Xuan Kong Feng Shui along the California coast from Point Conception to the Ventura headlands.

My Ventura days were my first experience with the confluence of eco-friendly artisanal localism, hippie counterculturism, and New Age spirituality that I call boutique capitalism. I ran into another scenic artsy-craftsy town similar to Ojai when I moved to Northern California and visited Carmel-by-the-Sea. Similar picturesque touristy enclaves exist in Taos, Marfa, Sitka, Beaufort, Galena, Edgartown, Stowe and St. Augustine. They all proclaim themselves ecologically-minded, artist-friendly, local-centric communities that try so hard at being unique they’ve become an alternate cookie-cutter mold for what’s oh-so-precious.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the ’60s counterculture I belonged to, in part because the hippie milieu was riven with contradictions. Communitarian and communalist sentiments warred with an individualism reminiscent of the Wild West, with communes intent on going back to the land populated by people wearing buckskins and preaching “do your own thing.” Decentralized organic food coops gave rise to global corporations like Whole Foods while the back-to-the-land/environmental/wilderness movements produced private companies like Patagonia. Stewart Brand started the Whole Earth Catalog, the quintessential resource for back-to-the-land communal living, before endorsing a high-tech libertarian capitalism that has become the foundation of Silicon Valley. When John Lichfield argued that the rebellious youth of the ’60s “had lost politically but they had won culturally and maybe even spiritually,” it’s actually the rightwing libertarian currents that triumphed.

Finally, the New Age spiritualism I thoroughly despise was also a contradictory phenomenon. There were the guru/disciple communalist cults but there’s also an overpowering emphasis on the spiritual authority of the self, an “unmediated individualism” that sees the individual’s experiences as the primary source of spiritual authority. This is all wrapped in a vision of cyclical time that emphasizes discrete recurring historical ages, with our current age a time of spiritual decline and degeneracy. Such a belief is descended from the parafascist Traditionalism of René Guénon and Julius Evola that was cousin to Blavatsky’s Theosophy. In turn, the New Age has produced new gospels of prosperity and such oxymorons as “spiritual capitalism” and “conscious capitalism.”

These elements combine into a boutique capitalism that is in a highly coevolved relationship with what might be called “normie capitalism”—the dog-eat-dog capitalism of never-ending growth and ever centralizing power and wealth. The tourism and goodwill that such hip, cool enclaves depend on requires the excess wealth generated by the larger capitalist society. But if by some fluke boutique capitalism became the norm, that small-scale, individualist, conscious capitalism would inevitably evolve into some new version of corporate monopoly capitalism. That’s because of the exigencies of totalizing, self-perpetuating class dynamics generated around private property and the profit motive inherent in capitalism.

In other words, decentralized competitive capitalism develops into centralized anti-competitive capitalism by virtue of its internal logic. And efforts to curtail capitalism have invariably failed—from traditions of the commons, church anti-usury edicts and feudal reciprocity to the social democratic welfare state or the one-party rule and state nationalization of modern Communism. Cool boutique capitalism’s attempts to restrain that overarching violent, avaricious capitalism is also doomed to failure. Promoting boutique capitalism as some kind of alternative may assuage one’s conscience, but capitalism is the only and inescapable game in town.

As for John Lennon, the ex-Beatle who wrote “Working Class Hero,” “Power to the People” and “Imagine” was an abusive, rich, popstar asshole who hung out with other wealthy celebreties and occasionally went slumming. And all the drugs I took in the ’60s? Alcohol was the only one that truly kicked my ass and and took control. My 35+ years addiction to it required a year of therapy and ongoing vigilance to maintain my sobriety. It’s been said that, if you remember the ’60s you weren’t there. I was there and I remember.

POSTSCRIPT: The ’60s era was marked by small, socially conscious cities like Berkeley, Ann Arbor and Madison. They were student hubs for New Left protest that saw liberal city councils elected and were disparaged with the prefix “the People’s Republic of…”. That time also saw the evolution of Murray Bookchin’s post-scarcity anarchist communism into a libertarian socialist municipalism that has since taken root in Kurdish Rojava. Whether boutique capitalism can be transformed into a revolutionary municipalism may be the subject of a future column.

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
“John Lennon’s Ojai Weeks” by Mark Lewis (Ojaihub)
“Seeing Ojai Through the Dragon’s Eyes” by Lee Ann Manley (Ojaihub)
“Ojai, California” on Wikipedia
California’s utopian colonies by Robert V. Hine
“Egalité! Liberté! Sexualité!: Paris, May 1968” by John Lichfield (Guardian Weekly)
Capital v.1-3 by Karl Marx
Post-Scarcity Anarchism and The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism by Murray Bookchin

 

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Party like it’s the 1960s: “What’s Left?” July 2017, MRR #410

“Welcome to our humble abode,” Jake greeted us at the front door with a bow, doffing his dented black top hat with a flourish.

I was with a gaggle of fellow peaceniks from the Action Committee for Peace and Justice in Ventura. We were visiting Jake and Connie’s home, a rented two-bedroom bungalow in Ojai. It was a balmy summer night in 1970.

I turned 18 in a month and was required to register for the draft, having graduated from high school. As a peace activist in good standing, an anarchist pacifist with plans to pursue a Conscientious Objector deferment, I was freaked out. I’d also just started smoking marijuana or, more precisely, I’d just started feeling the effects after having inhaled for several weeks before. I wanted some smoke to calm my nerves.

“Hey Jake,” I said to the tall, skinny UCSB student wearing a tie-dyed vest. “Do you know where I can score some grass?”

“Connie can give you a referral,” he laughed, then tossed a thumb over his shoulder. “She’s somewhere back there.”

The party was wall-to-wall, with people also crowded into the rambling backyard. Sixties rock music blared, at the moment “Buffalo Springfield.” Most in attendance wore some sort of head gear, as hats were one of the party’s themes. Long hair and marijuana smoke abounded, as did tobacco smoke and denim apparel. I was tempted to ask any of the individuals passing around joints to pass one my way, but I was shy. Besides, I was interested in quantity, an ounce at least, and I didn’t want to get fucked up before negotiating the purchase. I found Connie, a zaftig woman who also attended UCSB, in the tiny kitchen pouring shots of tequila and arranging them on a serving tray. She wore a colorful Spanish peasant dress and an incongruous brown fedora. I declined when she offered me a shot, as I hadn’t yet started drinking alcohol.

“Anybody you know selling any grass?” I asked.

“Nigel’s got weed, acid, mescaline, coke, crosses, reds, anything you want.” She smiled and downed some tequila. “He’s around somewhere. Black bowler hat.”

Just then, a pair of scruffy males in their thirties I knew all too well from various anti-war meetings barged into the kitchen, arguing and exchanging insults. One wore a teal Mao cap with a Peoples Liberation Army star, the other a dark gray Bolshevik cap a la Lenin with a Red Army star. As they upped the volume of their row, Connie rolled her eyes at me, and hastily exited the kitchen carrying the tray of tequila glasses.

“You’re a fucking moron, Roger,” the Bolshie cap bellowed. “The NLF is the legitimate armed guerrilla force of the Vietnamese people in the south. I’m no fan of people waving the VietCong flag at demonstrations, but that’s the proper flag for Vietnam’s revolution.”

“That’s a nationalist rag, not a righteous working class banner, numbnuts,” the Mao cap retorted in kind. “I’m surprised, truly shocked in fact Bill, that you can renege on your professed proletarian internationalist principles so easily and surrender to bourgeois nationalism.”

Roger followed the Progressive Labor Party line on Vietnam, and Bill the Socialist Workers Party line. They had been good friends in 1965 when they’d both been affiliated with the US-Soviet Friendship Committee. Roger had been married to Susan, a social democrat, and Susan had an affair with Bill before coming out as lesbian. A fistfight followed, and acrimony persisted. Roger drifted into Maoism, Bill into Trotskyism. They were now bitter enemies, always attacking each other at meetings, denouncing each other to acquaintances, each fantasizing how to get even with the other. As I eased out the kitchen door before the shouting match came to blows, I realized I was learning a valuable political lesson:

THE PERSONAL IS ALWAYS POLITICAL

The first outstanding example of personal enmity becoming political antagonism, indeed the archetype for this aphorism, was Trotsky versus Stalin. Both members of Lenin’s Bolshevik party, they had an abiding personal dislike for each other, apparently due to personality differences. Trotsky considered Stalin lugubrious, provincial, crude, and plodding, while Stalin thought Trotsky arrogant, Westernized, bohemian, and elitist. With the death of Lenin, a power struggle erupted between the two within the party which took on ideological overtones. Trotsky opposed the bureaucratization of the Soviet state, promoted permanent revolution, and insisted on the rapid, forced industrialization of the country while Stalin was a master of bureaucratic manipulation, defended socialism in one country, and stood behind Lenin’s mixed economic NEP program. Stalin outmaneuvered Trotsky for control of the party, expelled him from Russia, and eventually had Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.

On rarer occasions, honest political differences breed personal hostilities. We come to profound political conflicts often assuming that our opponents are detestable human beings when they’re not much different from ourselves.

I threaded through the boisterous crowd in the combined dining and living rooms as Pete Seeger boomed over the stereo system. No bowler hat in sight, but I did notice a couple of sexagenarians I knew sharing beers on a couch nearby. Frank, an Industrial Workers of the World member from the 1920s, wore a blue striped railroad engineer’s cap, and Farley, in the Socialist Labor Party since the 1930s, had on a modest tan cowboy hat. I heard snippets of their conversation—the Palmer Raids, the split between the IWW and the WIIU, the death of Haywood and De Leon—but I didn’t stop to chat. Both organizations had been moribund by 1960, but were experiencing a revitalization thanks to the 60s youthful counterculture/New Left. I even had a little red IWW membership book at the time, more out of nostalgia then anything else. The IWW continued to experience membership and organizing ups and downs, whereas for the SLP the spike in activity was only temporary before it finally became a shell of its former self, bringing me to my second political metaphor of the evening:

THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

The Left is littered with zombie organizations which refuse to die. Occasionally, groups merge, and even more rarely, cease to exist altogether. But defunct political organizations, like the defunct political ideas that spawned them, tend to persist. Just as De Leonism and syndicalism can still be found somewhere, if only on life support, so can the various iterations of Trotskyism and Schactmanism, the numerous Maoist strains of the New Communist Movement, classical anarchism and left communism, ad nauseam. Well, many of them anyway. I mean, there are still beatniks, hippies, and goths around for fucks sake. It seems that once something arises, it keeps on trucking along until a wooden stake is forcefully driven through its heart to kill it off, and then not even.

As for Frank and Farley, while I subscribed to the New Age platitude that the elderly needed to be valued and their wisdom cherished, to be honest I had little time for historical sentimentality. I was part of the New Left, with an emphasis on the new. The future of politics belonged to us, the youth of 1970, and I certainly didn’t anticipate getting old before we made The Revolution. So I averted my gaze and skirted their conversation, looking for my man.

I looked out over the backyard as people awkwardly tried to dance to Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun.” Jake and Connie had arranged lit tiki torches around the yard’s perimeter, so the grotesque shadows of partygoers contorted across the unkempt lawn. A gibbous moon silvered the night air. I returned to searching for my dealer, just not in the hosts’ bedroom which had been commandeered by three couples intent on an impromptu free love orgy. The other bedroom had been converted into a combination trips/meditation/sewing room/office, which is where I finally found the man with the bowler hat holding court. With his English accent, coal-black eye shadow, and silver nobbed cane, Nigel anticipated the droogies of “Clockwork Orange” by a scant year.

“Spectacle, spectacle, all is spectacle,” he patronizingly addressed my friend Thomas, a fellow anarchist who wore a dark gray whoopee cap like the cartoon character Jughead.

“Is smashing the state mere spectacle?” Thomas asked. “Is a spontaneous peoples revolution against the government so easily dismissed?

“Your sad sub-anarchism suffers from the mystics of nonorganization,” Nigel said with a condescending smirk. “It’s spontaneism denies the power of the revolutionary proletariat and plays into capitalism’s rigged game. What is needed are moments of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events. What is needed is the revolution of everyday life.”

Nigel talked a good Situationist game. With two slim, styling Carnaby Street girls fawning over him, I admitted he impressed me. Associated with King Mob and the Angry Brigade in England, he was an ambassador’s son with diplomatic immunity, which was how he kept himself and his drug dealing business from getting busted. The raw noise of the MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” blasted through the party as I shopped in Nigel’s briefcase drugstore emporium, sampled some seed-heavy Columbian Gold, purchased an ounce, and rolled a couple of joints to share around. As I and everybody in the room got high, or higher, I still hadn’t learned the lesson of:

LOOKING FOR THE NEXT BIG THING

The Situationists were revolutionary raconteurs and carny hustlers, a theater troupe that held one successful Paris performance in May-June of 1968 but hadn’t been active since. To me however, they were the next big thing. They certainly wowed impressionable young Leftists, anarchists in particular, with their panache and pizzazz. Situationist and post-Situ wannabes continue to proliferate to this day, but the real legacy of the Situationist International was a virulent sectarianism. Split after split reduced the SI to two remaining members by 1972, when the organization dissolved itself. I was impressed by the Situ-inspired Dutch Provos, but my real inspirations back in the day were the more wide-ranging, broadbased San Francisco Diggers and Dutch Kabouters. The search for the next big thing on the Left continues to the present, with insurrectionary anarchists and communizing ultraleftists still playing that game.

I was tripping when my Ventura friends collected me for the ride home. An owl swooped down silently to snag a mouse in the front yard as we climbed into a brightly painted VW minibus, it’s owner and driver none to sober herself. Me, I wore a soft gray British flat workers cloth cap, a newsboy cap with a snap button brim. As we meandered along Highway 33—soon to be immortalized in the godawful song “Ventura Highway” by the schlocky soft rock band America—I dreamed about becoming a political columnist for a famous future rocknroll magazine in an as yet unborn youth counterculture. Naw, that can’t happen I thought, and fell asleep.

DISCLAIMER:
This is a piece of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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