Kicking Tricky Dicky Around One Last Time BY TIM PATTERSON Would you buy a used government from this man? The opportunity to comment on the demise of as big a slug as Richard Milhous Nixon only comes around a couple of times in any writer's working lifetime. And when it does, even if the whole subject makes you want to puke, you pretty much have to go for it. In my case, as a California boy pushing 50, I've been dealing with this maggot-grade sumbitch for my entire life. My parents bought our first TV set just in time for the 1952 elections, burning the image of Nixon's cadaverous eyes and canine jowls into my young mind forever. (Indeed, this first trip to the spectacle of democracy may have been decisive in turning me into a life-long ranting red...). I saw Nixon debating JFK in 1960, and marveled at how he had managed to surround himself with handlers who forgot to remind him to shave. Everyone has probably seen by now the famous clip of Nixon, ready to kill after losing the race for Governor of California to Pat Brown in 1962, grousing to the press that they "won't have Richard Nixon to kick around any more"; I saw it live. Those of you with long memories and an eye for trivia may remember that I have previously confessed in these pages that I actually once voted for Nixon, during the 20 minutes or so that I really believed that "worse is better," Well, it wasn't. I was glued to the tube one afternoon in 1974 when Alexander Butterfield explained to the Watergate committee that Tricky Dick had it all on tape -- the beginning of the end. When Nixon was driven from office, I saved the front pages of the New York Times from the final days. I stuck them in a drawer for 20 years, pulled them out when he died, and tacked them up on a wall at work as a small educational exhibit for the younger generation. If I seem obsessed with this creep, it's because he contributed more then any other single person to the rampant and perhaps terminal degeneration of political culture in the United States. His career took off on the basis of anticommunist demagogy, from the polluted campaign that first elected to Congress to his crusade against Alger Hiss. Richard Nixon is the man who redefined "law and order" so that every waking white person in the country knew it meant undoing the changes wrought by the Civil Rights movement. In a thousand different ways, from the secret bombing of Cambodia to the "enemies list" to a million-dollar White House slush fund, he set a standard for presidential contempt for the Constitution. (If Reagan and Bush later raised the bar even further, it wasn't for Nixon's lack of trying.) So, it was naturally hard for me to keep my meals down when the press and the power boys found so many creative ways to eulogize this racist war criminal. And it ruined my day when everyone -- including straight-up crooks like Spiro Agnew and Gordon Liddy, not to mention our beloved leader of the moment -- trooped to Yorba Linda for the smarmy funeral of a well-known pathological liar. But I found more than a little solace in the fact that Nixon took his trip to the worm farm the same week Nelson Mandela and the ANC took over the government of South Africa. And ever since, I've been humming a little ditty the Red Star Singers put out in 1974, a simple, direct, eloquent tune that says it all: "Pig Nixon, you're never gonna kill us all; Pig Nixon, your genocide is bound to fall!" Best Strategy: Ethical Marxism BY RICHARD BELL Recent CrossRoads articles have attempted to refine or redefine modern Marxism's relevance within contemporary society and have brought many of Marxism's inherent weaknesses into relief. Some of those weaknesses are those not of its analytical form, but the inherent limitations of its 19th century conceptual vocabulary. Our view of ourselves as individuals and our place within a greater system as well as the imagery used for expressing those views have changed from those of the time of Marx. A prominent weakness of traditional Marxism is reliance upon an industrial age model of society and history that likens human interactions to a machine whose cogs, if well engineered, might run smoothly and efficiently. Part of the reason Marxism now struggles for acceptance is that imagery. While vital and meaningful to Marx and his contemporaries, the mechanistic model appears woefully flawed today. Industrial age theory emphasized the primacy of efficiency and a presupposition that rational, algebraic understanding and manipulation of social and economic forces was possible. Through the century and a half as the single most important image of its age, the industrial model was responsible for incredible strides in the development and distribution of food, clothing, housing, tools and a myriad of other consumer and industrial goods. But, true to the fundamental premise of Marxism, as the limits of the image's ability to effect meaningful changes in the world were approached, its usefulness as a conceptual tool decreased and its failings became more apparent. As we approach the 21st century we lean toward conceiving ourselves within environmental, cultural, political and social ecosystems. Diversity and uniqueness are more popular images than interchangeability and the smooth intermeshing of parts. Using the ecosystems of nature as a model we now value sustainability more than efficiency and recognize the broad ranging damage mono-culture and radical interventions cause. Following the "ecosystem" image, society adapts economic and social strategies to match evolving niches. With this paradigm there can be no "perfect" model of social or economic organization because we must constantly balance ourselves within a dynamic equilibrium. Sustainable systems are incredibly varied and never static, and changing conditions may demand a range of strategies for survival. Social diversity, once accepted, leads to political and systemic diversity as inevitable extensions. In today's philosophical climate, socialism sold as a "near perfect" system has all the appeal of a "near perfect" factory in which to raise our children and live our lives. Our function within our society's industrial engine is not of prime importance to the identification of the post-industrial individual. Diversity, admittedly, implies acceptance of inequality, but if "honoring diversity" is a concept in ascendancy, perhaps we should focus upon mitigating the abuses of inequality and not put forth visions of "planned" social or political systems. In the present era, engineered mono-culture systems, whether agricultural, political, or economic suggest systems without the flexibility and sustainability of the incalculable niches that bring vitality and freedom to life. Though class remains a basic determining factor to society, modern class distinctions are blurred and race, gender, culture, language, religion and geography are often felt to be more significant. As recognized by the general public, class lines are not felt to be co-terminus with those of power, income, access, adequate housing and other differences. Either the class aspect of society must be effectively "sold" or we should de-emphasize it in our rhetoric in exchange for more widely recognized divisions. Discussion of class distinctions often sounds dated and irrelevant in the popular press. The political implications of these evolving metaphors must be acknowledged if Marxism is to be palatable and meaningful to 21st century culture. One vehicle for this may be the reinclusion of ethics and an acceptance of diversity into our discussion of Marxist thought. The Communists of the 1930s, with their soup lines and clothing distribution and communal values, were among the more ethical groups of that time, but ethics have long been divorced from theoretical discussion of Marxism. "The ends justifies the means" dispensed with ethical objections to the efficient (mechanical) implementation of our socialist dream and we have never recovered from that mistake. Marx's political and economic philosophies were based upon his ethical belief that deplorable conditions should be corrected. His ethics led him into economics and political theory, not the other way around. The theories he developed of economics, social history, and politics were necessarily products of their time. If we seek to be true to his legacy perhaps we should be guided by our own sense of ethics and allow ourselves to be products of our own unique point in history. Perhaps we should seek out the issues of most significance and devise appropriate strategies through which to address them rather than treat Marxism as a revealed religion that must be true to the written word. Social ethics, as a political tool, can both embrace diversity and speak to a great range of social and cultural divisions. It may provide the "overall strategy for social change" many of us feel is of great importance to meaningful politics. Perhaps such a philosophic re-setting of sail, leaving behind our outdated "industrial" social imagery for the softer metaphors of social ecosystems and ethics, can breathe new life into the recently sunken chest of Marxist thought. Richard Bell is a writer, environmental toxicologist and red diaper baby living in Portland. DANGER ON THE RIGHT Thank you for Tom Patterson's "An Idle Left Is the Far Right's Workshop" ("Season of the Weird," CrossRoads No. 39). Every once in awhile we need a reminder that while the left is trying to chart new directions for the future the religious right in America is out there with a very definite blueprint. I have no problem with Patterson poking fun at some of the, what I imagine to be, huge amounts of right-wing fundraising appeals that he receives. But looked at in another light, it is rather incredible the number of organizations that exist, the number of new ones being created and the kind of grassroots fundamentalist organizing that the right is carrying out. In light of several much-publicized recent events -- the dropping of Alice Walker's story from a California statewide public school test, the conviction of Michael Griffith for the murder of pro-choice doctor David Gunn, the Christian Coalition bringing its one-millionth member into the organization, the school board takeovers throughout the nation by "stealth" and not-so-"stealth" candidates supported by Raymond Simmonds' Citizens for Excellence in Education, and the growing onslaught of anti-gay initiatives throughout the country -- the left needs to be better informed about the political and social agenda of the religious right. CultureWatch is a newsletter published by the DataCenter in Oakland that provides activist individuals and organizations with up-to-date, readable and interesting information on all of these issues. Published 10 times in 1994, subscriptions are available from the DataCenter, 464 19th Street, Oakland, CA 94612. If any CrossRoads readers are interested, please drop us a note and we will send them a free sample copy. --Bill Berkowitz, Editor, CultureWatch, Oakland, California TOWARD HUMANE THEORY In recent articles, you have examined the relationship (if any) between Marxism and post-structuralism. May I offer you a few pre-post-structuralist ideas of my own? The first lesson that all Marxists need to learn is the lesson that Socrates learned: We have to learn how to say "I don't know." Marx was a human being, not a god, and did not know what the future would bring. Science is based on not- knowing, on openness. By now it is probably trite to mention Einstein, who dared to question Newtonian mechanics: his questions led to a revolution. Dialogue requires openness of the participants. It is a joint exploration: we gain tentative ground in some areas and cede tentative ground in others because we realize that the other person's experience is as valid as our own. No matter how great the injustice, it can never be great enough to justify the closing of our minds. What then is the role of theory? Theory is not a guide to action: it is a guide to perception. Marxist theory enables people to see the world in a new way -- to see and imagine. Theory is valuable to the extent that it serves as a framework for imagination. For example, a Marxist who knows something about Imperialism does not find it difficult to imagine the U.S. as a global aggressor. Unfortunately, our leftist theories make it difficult for us to imagine certain other things: for example, we cannot imagine the U.S. playing a constructive role in Somalia or in Bosnia. Thus we become complicit in the destruction of numerous Bosnian lives. There is a need to reground the possibility of human dignity and freedom: Restore Life to its proper place at center of the universe! We must overthrow Copernicus, but not out of adherence to some new obscurantist dogmas: We go forwards to an age of Life, not backwards to an age of superstition. Go beyond "People Before Profits": Imagine "People before Planets!" In other words, attack the whole pattern of thinking that capitalism takes for granted. -- Charles Obler, Farmville, Virginia YOU HYPOCRITES A friend of mine sent me a December '93-January '94 copy of your magazine. I found your criticism of the left very thought provoking and I agree with much of what you are saying. However, it reminds me of a psychiatrist trying to heal himself. You understand the problem, the miserable failure of the left to communicate, but you are too close to the problem to heal yourself. I am working class and come from working class parents. I remain working class by choice because I rejected the values, ethics, and goals of other classes at a very tender age and have found no reason to change my mind. I was attracted to the ideas of the Left in the '60s and have become even more convinced since that time that Socialism offers the only hope for a civilized human society. However, I also became convinced that the organized left generally doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of communicating those ideas to the people who need them the most -- the poor and working people. The problem, as I see it, is rooted in a sick culture which none of us escapes. We are nurtured by a culture that is (1) highly competitive; (2) teaches us that we are not good enough and must struggle to become something, and (3) the most complex and destructive problem, we all have two religions -- one we believe in and another which we practice, and we rarely acknowledge this dichotomy. We workers find this same hypocrisy in the Left. We do not resent your hypocrisy, that is a human problem. We resent your morally superior attitude when, in fact, the religion you practice is no better than the religion we practice. The left was and is organically a working class movement. The intellectuals entered this movement in droves after the Russian Revolution, and the workers left it. I suspect they left it because they did not need or want intellectuals to lead it for them. We do not need your condescension. We get all of that we need from our bosses. When and if the intellectual left truly sees itself and the working class as equals, the Socialist movement may be able to make headway, but not until. --Gary Cox, Northglenn, Colorado GOOD WORK -- BUT STAY AWAY FROM THE SPINELESS MAGGOT On the occasion of your 40th issue, I'll take this opportunity to congratulate you for your good work. Your articles have upped the levels of consciousness and conversation a couple of notches (among those interested) here in F block at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, IL. Also I want to thank you all, and especially whoever was responsible for putting me on your mailing list. When the day comes that these folks see fit to transfer me to a prison where I can earn a few bucks, I will gladly pay for my subscriptions. As it is, the only work available here is doing electronic cable work for U.S. military killing machines, and that, I will not work at. I'm imprisoned in the first place for bombing U.S. military installations/facilities and "defense=war" contractors, in opposition to U.S. policies. And lastly, I hope Tim Patterson is being facetious when he says Jeff Gillooly is on your board of advisors. That spineless maggot is the classic white misogynist, opportunistic, self-pitying Amerikan male who will only contaminate anything he comes into contact with (except, maybe, a Louisville Slugger contacting his high Anglo forehead at high velocity!) Anyway -- I'll continue to look for you at mail-call. The Struggle Continues! --Tom Manning, Marion, Illinois Editors Note: Tom Manning is a political prisoner sentenced to 53 years as part of the Ohio 7 convictions for political bombings. Tom's address is: #10373-016 PO Box 1000 Marion, IL, 62959.