"Lefty" Hooligan -- What's Left?

column from MRR #178 - March 1998

When the axe entered the forest the trees said: "The handle is one of us."
—Turkish proverb

You belong to a very large immediate family. Four brothers and five sisters, some of whom have their own children, and two retired parents. When your parents worked, they were both excellent criminal lawyers who used the fees from their wealthier clients to subsidize their fight for the poor and downtrodden. This tradition of championing the powerless carried on to the next generation with social workers, doctors, teachers and union organizers among your siblings. Of course it's just a family and there was always this sibling rivalry between Karla, the oldest girl as well as the first child, and the oldest boy Lenny. That rivalry quickly corroded into open warfare when mom and dad died in an airplane accident, leaving no will for their substantial estate.

At first Karla and Lenny each tried to muster you and the rest of the children to support their contending claims to be named executor of the estate. This became subtle intimidation, then outright bullying as big sister and big brother jockied for legal control of the family's legacy with well-paid lawyers.

Then things got weird.

Karla's ten-year-old son was picked up from school by a stranger and never seen again. The steering failed on Lenny's truck while his wife drove it, killing her in oncoming traffic. The police investigated both incidents and were unable to press charges against either Karla or Lenny.

As the hostility between the two intensified both insisted "you're  either with me or you're against me." Cory, the youngest brother and easily the most liked sibling, tried to call a family council to peacefully settle matters, only to turn up dead, shot four times by an unknown murderer still at large. Your sister, Annie's Tucson apartment was infested with scorpions, and a speeding truck without visible license plates jumped the curb and barely missed you standing on a street corner.

You know that Karla or Lenny, perhaps both have gone homicidal. Yet you can't bring yourself to go to the police. You don't know whether you should approach your other brothers and sisters to try and organize a united front, or to just run for your life. What does being part of a "family" mean under such circumstances?

This last question is rhetorical of course. The macabre "family" I've constructed above is intentionally extreme to provide me with a very broad analogy. You see, folks are always telling me that I belong to this family called "the Left" and that I shouldn't go around attacking my fellow Leftists. I'm accused of sectarianism, of being against unity, of not getting along. Funny thing about this "family" though. Its got a couple of mass murderers and several extremely sleazy characters as members.

My politics reside somewhere between anti-authoritarianism and ultra-leftism. Social democrats have made it their practice to abandon, coopt or suppress the revolutionary social movements in which folks with my kind of politics place their hopes for radical change. Leninists, from Lenin and Trotsky to their hyphenated heirs, have made it their practice to shoot folks with my kind of politics, among many others. I'm not talking about one or two isolated incidents, what Leninists like to call "mistakes." I'm talking about example after historical example; a consistent pattern of behavior. I'm talking about thousands of revolutionaries murdered and scores of workers' uprisings or social revolutions betrayed.

So, what does being part of a "family" mean under such circumstances?

Yes, of course, history is nothing if not an interpretation of the available evidence. But I really don't think my reading of the Left's history is all that inaccurate or paranoid. I haven't even mentioned how Leninists have treated each other or how social democratics and Leninists have failed to get along, let alone how the working class has suffered at the hands of both. I won't bore you with repeating the details one more time. Dig out your back issues of MRR for my previous columns. Better yet, do your own reading in that sorry history. I'm not saying here what's an old joke on the Left; that when the Left forms a firing squad, they form a circle, guns pointed inward. Both Leninism and social democracy have made the taking of state power a central axiom of their respective socialisms, the former by revolution and the latter by democratic elections. The rest of the Left outside of these two tottering orthodoxies believe that the people, the masses, the working classes must take power directly, on their own; what I've called in past columns social power to distinguish it from state power. Thus, whereas much of the independent Left seeks to activate and organize society's base, Leninism and social democracy work to seize society's pinnacle. It is out of this battle for state power and the achieving of it that their brutality and treachery arises.

The distinction between diffuse social power and centralized state power, between working class self-activity and self-organization and the electoral or extraparliamentary machinations of political parties also reveals why the first usually goes down to defeat against the second. How social democrats can subvert popular uprisings and how Leninists can off their left opposition. I never said that working class self-emancipation was easier than seizing state power by ballot or bullet, only that it is socialism's essence.

Now, as you might have noticed, the longer I write this column, the more I repeat myself. It happens to everyone writing monthly for any length of time. A fellow columnist says that it really doesn't matter that we endlessly rehash, restate and recapitulate the same old shit because MRR's readership completely changes every few months. I'm not so sure.
The last nine months or so of columns I've redone themes familiar to longtime readers of this space; the evils of capitalism, unionism's limitations, going beyond democracy, the nature of social power and social revolution... To be sure, I try to do this in different ways every time as hopefully clever variations on a set of themes. Occasionally I find topics I've never really discussed before, such as the column before last month's on how I feel about guns, and even then I manage to bring things back to certain well worn topics.

I've also done mild departures—most recently with the fully cited Mexico series, a little science fiction a while back—in my continuous quest to make this column interesting for me to write. The series on Mexico though might be considered a throwback to the days when I did my column for MRR's old news section. In any case, I do intend to follow up with the US class struggle series sometime in the future (honest!), thus repeating that format. Finally my critics say all my columns are sci-fi.
Getting interesting items from readers and others via the post to comment on,  finding interesting stuff at local bookstores and newsstands to review, dispensing contacts and causes to MRR readers; my "...All The News That Fits..." is ultimately little different from other columnists' "End Notes." Again, a variation on what's already been done. I can still get a point-of-view out of keeping up with current events, and I still have a few tricks up my sleeve for the meat of any column—the commentary—but over time certain hooligan themes always come around and go around. Hooligan themes because "Lefty" Hooligan is a pseudonym after all.

The pen name (non de plume) has served several functions throughout history and literature, so its more precise to call "Lefty" Hooligan a war name. Nom de guerre. Always combative, "Lefty" Hooligan is a certain modestly honed instrument of analysis and attack. I don't write as "Lefty" Hooligan to hide my true identity so much as to draw a very particular, very pure target on this world. I couldn't write "Lefty" Hooligan if I couldn't clarify a certain left communist strand out of my overall political and social thinking. There are other ways in which I see and experience the world outside of "Lefty" Hooligan however, some of which creep into the column despite my efforts at keeping the type pure. And believe it or not, I know folks who don't consider "Lefty" Hooligan pure enough!

I've always had a penchant for pseudonyms. My other, punk name is actually in the MRR staff box; George Impulse. Comes from doing a 'zine in San Diego called the Daily Impulse, for which I wrote under a number of other pseudonyms, the main one being Sammy Blue. I've written as "anonymous" and "name withheld." I've used Emmett Grogan a time or two in tribute to that Digger hero, one of those "ultimate pseudonyms." I use other pseudonyms when I write outside of MRR; "Lefty" Hooligan being a creature of this column and this 'zine. I've used many, many, many pen names and war names over my writing years, again mostly in my political and social work, mainly self-published but also published or reprinted in other underground newspapers, magazines, etc. Even the way I do my fiction—first two real initials, full real last name—is considered a pseudonym when applying for an official copyright from the Library of Congress.

I wouldn't make a laundry list of them, even if I could remember all of my pen names. I have no need for my FBI files thank you, though I'd like to think that several of my more effective war names earned themselves separate files in their paranoid archives. I'm not thinking of dumping old "Lefty" Hooligan 'cause the name's associated with descernable themes. Any ongoing pseudonym, if it's a good one, is by definition a constructed character of certain traits and viewpoints and even contradictions. I think there's a lot more play in that moniker, even while it's understood that in time I'll also retire "Lefty" Hooligan.

These ruminations on the column—its attitude and author—are also something I do now and again. To keep this commentary lively I have recently tried to get out more on the Left, attending public events here and there to take stock of what's left, reviewing them in this column like other columnists review bands, records or shows. It's time for another installment of...


The Workers World Party's style of organizing—lots of superficially independent, fake popular/united front type organizations calling and running a demo—described last issue can be contrasted with the approach taken by the December 6 Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Your typical lowest-common-denominator-to-get-the-broadest-possible-support leftist coalition, I'll refer to it as the D6M from now on.

The final flyer for the D6M's San Francisco march and rally had a list of endorsers that was a who's who of the Left in the Bay Area and beyond. Lots of Trot splinter groups as well as the Maoist RCP and its fronts Refuse & Resist and the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, along with a plethera of church, community, political, peace, labor, women's, third party, student, minority and alternative media organizations. Notably absent; of course Mumia Abu-Jamal's supporters to the "left" of the D6M such as the Trot Spartacist League's Partisan Defense Committee. Also, neither the WWP nor its myriad fronts made the exhaustively "partial" list. It's absurd to draw more than offhand speculation on the alliances and antagonisms of the 1997 leftover Left from just one flyer given that other folks never made the list; to include most environmental groups, old Left CP-associated organizations, actual unions instead of endorsing unionists etc. Besides, that's not the point of this review.
The stock Leftist march-and-rally of several thousand was as boring and predictable as can be. I attended because past Free Mumia actions in SF had shown some street action. The Anarchist Contingent did manage a slight detour from the march route, toward the end briefly blocking Market Street, but that didn't last given the police presence at the demo. (They also had better chants: "No Justice, No Peace/Fuck The Police;" "They Say Execution/We Say Revolution.") There were lot's of  low key D6M security keeping things tidy, and endless self-important, self-congratulatory speakers dragging things on and on from the stage. The event became a fishing expedition for me. In other words, I went around collecting all that free left-wing literature. The myriad Trot groups competed for marks. The RCP, one of the last Maoist formations around, seemed a bit lonely. Everybody had a table or leafleters at the demo, with folks who didn't make the endorsement list giving out their shit as well. Ecumenical as all hell, and as equally depressing.

This is the leftover Left, after all.

I'm fond of the term. The D6M event certainly had that feel. Had the D6M been all-inclusive and gotten endorsements from every possible progressive Bay Area organization, their demonstration-as-usual would have felt even more leftover. Leftover from the 1950's, '60's, '70's and '80's. Leftover from the Cold War and a New Left grown old. Leftover from the collapse of the Soviet empire and then the Soviet Union.

This leftover Left has nothing in common with Michael Moore's "nutty left," though I do agree that the Left isn't really interested in getting real working folks to come to Free Mumia or any other Leftist event. A two plus hour march and I left after an hour and half of goddawful speeches! The overall D6M event was an overlong, not very entertaining thiree-ring left-wing political circus with only marginal relevance to what working people are going through in this country and around the world. Not that the relevence of the death penalty and police brutality can't be made to working people. No worker in his or her right mind is gonna waste the better part of a precious day off to participate in such a tired spectacle of leftists endlessly talking to other leftists however. I also concur with Moore that the Left is entirely removed from this country's working class and "middle class" struggles against corporate capitalism. Moore calls these struggles New Politics, but it's really only narrow union politics brought into the '90's that he wants to emphasize. Boring, bureaucratic, often compromised, sometimes corrupt union politics.
A barely reformed AFL-CIO and a half-assed Labor Party.

Nothing new in any of that.

There are many radical ways working people can and do respond to the new world order of globalizing capitalism outside of unionism. I've talked about the tactics and strategy of some of these responses in past columns, and publications such as Collective Action Notes (POB 22962, Baltimore, MD 21203) do a good job covering working class activity from around the world. My hope for a new politics comes from workers finding effective non-union, anti-work, international forms of class struggle that reinvent the class war for the next century.

That's also why it's the leftover Left. Left over from when all you had to do was "look for the union label." Left over from when "full employment," "jobs and justice," "guaranteed work or a living wage," etc. etc. etc. were appropriate slogans for a militant labor movement. Left over from when a workerist/work-ethic socialism at its very best fought for the workers' "right" to manage their own daily grind. The D6M demo was such a generous slice of this leftover Left I couldn't help getting thoroughly depressed.

I did collect a hefty pile of leftist propaganda. When I'm not being "Lefty" Hooligan I enjoy tracking extremist or quasi-cult like thinking—left, right or off the spectrum—and I now have plenty of raw material thanks to the December 6 Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. (My favorite is the flyer "Concentration Camps for Blacks" from a Black Israelite group out of Sacramento.) Whether or not I can comfortably toss unions and unionism into the leftover Left category aside, the leftover Left shares with unionism the simple fact that neither are likely to go away in the near future. There are plenty of fools willing to revive the AFL-CIO or graft a third, labor party movement upon that trade union federation. And after two recent die-offs (1973-75/end of Vietnam war; 1989-91/complete Soviet collapse) the leftover Left is alive if miserably self-ghettoized through such formulaic events as the December 6 "mass march and rally" to "free Mumia Abu-Jamal, end the death penalty," and "stop  police brutality."

How can an event that is "lowest-common-denominator-to-get-the-broadest-possible-support" simultaneously be "miserably self-ghettoized." Because the broadest possible support is sought, not from the wider multi-racial, multi-gender working population, but only from the wider Left; from what some like to call the "progressive community." The Left is still talking only to the Left, using tired old Leftist forms and formulas. A losing setup if ever there was one. As I said, the leftover Left. 12/6/97 D6M march and rally to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. = µ&1/2 (one generic star plus a half star for those amusing anarchists).
To paraphrase a well-known idiot S.O.D. t-shirt; I'm not sectarian, I criticize everybody. We're gonna have to take on the state in order to take down capitalism, and we're not gonna do it with a loser leftover Left or a business-as-usual unionism. The question that I don't have the space to answer now is whether unionism and the Left actually impede something newer and better from coming along.


NEXT COLUMN, peace terrorism...

NEED A SCORECARD? Some folks who've written me say they need one with all the ideas, terms and names I drop in the course of a column. Actually, the request was for some readings to help decipher this shit. For appraisals of Marxism, get David McLellan's Karl Marx: His Life and Thought and Marxism after Marx. Danial Guerin's Anarchism is a good overview of leftwing anarchism. There's no comprehensive look at ultraleftism, though Arthur Hirsh's The French Left covers some of the major origins and ideas. There's no overall summary either of the US Left today giving ideologies, origins, histories and family trees. Jay Kinney did do witty, basic snapshots of the Left in The Last Whole Earth Catalog and The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog. AK Press (address below) and Black Rose Books (3981 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal, H2W 1Y5, Quebec, Canada) are good sources for anarchist/ultraleft/libertarian Marxist books. There's no overall clearinghouse for Marxist-Leninist stuff since every tendency has it in for every other tendency and won't carry their literature. In large urban areas the two major non-CP parties—RCP and SWP—maintain bookstores stocked with the works of their favorite mass murderers. Some really good local bookstores exist where you can find decent political sections with Trotsky next to Stalin next to Mao next to De Leon next to Kautsky next to the "left within the left"... In California I can recommend Midnight Special Books (LA-Santa Monica), and Groundwork Books (SD-La Jolla). Surprisingly, the Bay Area doesn't really have either a good ecumenical socialist bookstore, or a general bookstore with a comprehensive socialist section, although Walden Pond Bookstore in Oakland comes close. Powell's Books in Portland is so huge that it manages to provide a half decent socialist section by default.

MEXICO UPDATE... After Mexico's Conciliation and Arbitration Board struck down the October 6 election of an independent union by workers at the Tijuana Han Young truck chasis plant, the company started firing union activists and bringing in new workers from southeastern Mexico. Charging the Mexican government with violating workers' rights, four human rights and labor organizations on both sides of the border filed an "urgent complaint" under NAFTA's labor side agreement. The Campaign for Labor Rights launched an international effort to "boycott  Hyundai" because Han Young is one of Hyundai's suppliers. (12-97, Labor Notes). Under pressure, the Mexican federal government and the government of the state of Baja California went into action. New elections among the workers were scheduled and on Dec. 16, the maquiladora factory once again voted for an independent union; results that the Mexican government at all levels has promised to abide by after intense 4-hour negotiations with federal labor ministry representatives. Yeah right, promises... Independent Mexican union organizers say this is just the beginning of a new wave of labor militancy, but it's a little too early to be calling it a milestone given the PRI's penchant for resorting to everything from pro-government union goons to "white hand" death squads to get their way. (12-17/18-97, SD Union-Tribune; sent in by Karl Koons)

DRUGS... What can I say? I use 'em. Used to take a whole lot of different drugs and I've cut that down to one or two favorites. I'm part of the demand that makes a joke out of the War on Drugs. Only it's not a very good joke. The 10-10-97 SD Union-Tribune editorial sights the NY Times as revealing that more than 100 people involved in the drug trade have disappeared in Ciudad Juarez and Baja California along the US/Mexico border after being arrested by uniformed state and federal police, calling them the disappeared, and contending they are victims of overzealous Mexican anti-drug enforcement. Something about this smells, and I think there's more to the story than meets the eye. Thanks again to Karl Koons.

PERSONAL PROPAGANDA... I can be contacted at hooligan@sirius.com. My book, End Time, can be purchased from AK Press (POB 40682, SF, CA 94140-0682) for $10. Keep sending me your newsworthy items and interesting news clippings c/o MRR.