Inspire Please

The order came from above (I will not reveal the name, unless tortured) ):

"Write something inspirational." The exact words were:

"Inspire, please." The courteous approach concealed a certain

desperation. For those not in the know, let me explain that we who write for

the progressive-radical movement have our specialties. Some specialize in

writing depressing stuff. Others write humorous pieces. Some concentrate on

trashing other Left writers. It seems that there was an opening this month for

someone to inspire, and I was chosen.

Not an easy job, when the United States government (I was about to say

"we", in Dan Rather style, but decided that my interests and those

of the White House do not coincide) has just finished dropping thousands of

cluster bombs on Yugoslavia, the victims being whoever happened to be in the

vicinity, whether Albanians or Serbs, men or women, adults or children, who

are now dead, or without limbs. And yet my editor says: "Inspire,


Okay, let me have a go at it. I’ve just returned from London, where I was

invited to speak to a gathering of socialists (I won’t get more specific than

that) who assemble every year, I learned, around the topic of

"Marxism." I confess that what enticed me was that they promised to

do a one-evening performance of my play "Marx in Soho," a one-person

play in which Marx appears in the present, saying, with a laugh (yes, Marx

really said this to someone who annoyed him): "I’m not a Marxist!")

Well (to get away from promoting my play, though it’s hard), I expected to

find assembled in London a few hundred aging, solemn Leftists who, against the

general insistence, across the political spectrum, that "Marxism is

dead," insist on the importance of the old "Moor" and the

validity of the socialist ideal.

I had the numbers wrong. Not hundreds, but six thousand were there, mostly

from the United Kingdom, many from other European countries, and some from the

United States. I also had the ages wrong. They were almost all young people,

from early twenties to early thirties. And I had the temperament wrong. They

were lively, exuberant, fun-loving people.

Maybe you won’t agree, but I found this inspiring. Or, to use less

extravagant language – encouraging. Six thousand people, assembled in one

place, who believe in socialism, and who were denouncing the actions of the

U.S. and Britain in Yugoslavia? At a time when the British Labor Party, once

committed to socialism, is Blairing forth its belief in the wonders of the

market and the miracle of bombing? Yes, that’s encouraging.

Now comes the difficult part. The gathering was sponsored by the Socialist

Workers Party. Yes, as some on the Left would say, caustically, "the

Trots." And about half of the 6000 people seemed to be trying to sell the

Party newspaper, the Socialist Worker, to the other half. I have always

been careless about security matters, and, have never checked the credentials,

or run their literature through a scanner, of people or organizations who

invited me to speak to them. I suppose I have been so hungry for listeners

that, unlike Groucho Marx, I will talk to any group that will have me.

I recall a moment during the Vietnam War when a self-appointed political

commissar of the anti-war movement phoned me: "Howard, I see you endorsed

the anti-war rally called by the SWP [yes, that same inescapable bunch]. You

really should have run that by me." Well, I was always repelled by this

scrutinizing of people who, whatever they were doing at other times, seemed to

be devoting themselves at the moment to a worthy cause. As sectarians often

say, let’s not be sectarian.

The London conference began with a spirited rally at the Friends Meeting

House (those Quakers don’t scrutinize either, the softies!) at which Tariq

Ali, the veteran English radical, subjected the New Labor honchos now ruling

Britain to an eloquent and scathing critique. And the next days were filled

with dozens and dozens of gatherings, with these young, eager people rushing

from one to another, whether the subjects were topical (East Timor, global

warming, Kosovo, blues and rock, the arms trade) or theoretical ("the

birth of historical materialism" – "is there progress in

history"), or esoteric political economy ("the labor theory of

value" – "the declining rate of profit").

It was encouraging to find people there who foreshadow a coming multiracial

generation of radicals. Like the young woman, born in Vietnam, transported to

the United States at the age of two by her parents. Her father had been in the

Saigon army and a supporter of the United States, but over the years his

daughter, now an enthusiastic socialist, had led him to rethink his views.

The evenings were filled with music, disco , plays. And movies: Kubrick’s

"Full Metal Jacket" (Vietnam at its rawest), "Gallipoli"

(one of the most powerful of anti-war films), "When We Were Kings"

(Mohammed Ali). It was not a gathering of scholars but of activists. And so

the air was filled with leaflets advertising this or that rally,

demonstration, action.

There was no coverage in the mainstream English press: not in the


the Guardian, the Independent. Which should instruct us all not

to judge the degree of dissidence in the society by what we see in the media.

Imagine how many gatherings and actions are taking place all the time that we

don’t know about because they are not covered by radio, television, or


But when you look closely, when you listen to alternative radio

broadcasting, read outside-the-mainstream periodicals (The Progressive, Z

Magazine, The Nation, In These Times), check the stories in The Nuclear

Resister, or the newsletters put out by Jonah House in Baltimore, keep your

eyes open for unorthodox sources of information, secretly check the internet –

you realize how many people in this country and all over the world do not

accept the political and economic system that now dominates.

I don’t know about you, but I am encouraged.




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