Pick of the Day: “Truth and Revolution” by Michael Staudenmaier
Joining a growing body of work on radical movements of the seventies, Michael Staudenmaier’s new book has revived interest in the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO). Small but influential, it is probably most often referenced these days because its members included Noel Ignatiev and Ted Allen, both of whom produced major intellectual contributions to understanding racism in the U.S.
Writing at libcom, Nate Hawthorne suggests there are several lessons relevant for contemporary anarchist groups in STO’s history. He notes “I think its priorities and the way it set priorities were a problem in that the group repeatedly put long term projects on the back burner in response to a new development that was treated like either an emergency (sometimes because it really was, involving serious state repression) or treated like a new opportunity not to be missed. I think the limits of how STO set its priorities are part of what makes Staudenmaier’s book valuable for anarchists – we learn as much or more from failures as from successes.” He goes on to say “While many anarchists are and should be anti-Leninist, the “anti-“ there means something different from our being, say, anti-police. That is, the character of our opposition is different. Seeing how much STO managed to accomplish within (and despite!) its Leninism is useful for remembering that we are able to disagree strongly but still find points of commonality politically.” At threewayfight, Matthew N. Lyons writes “This is a detailed, thoughtful account of one of the most interesting radical groups to emerge from the 1960s left. STO was one of very few Marxist groups in the U.S. that promoted both revolutionary politics and open debate and discussion. They had important things to say about racial oppression in the U.S., the working class as complex political actors, and how dialectics can be a useful, practical tool — not just dogma or dead theory.” Finally, “ish”, writing at The Cahokian, offers a more autobiographical perspective: “I joined the communist left in Chicago, which was in fact the home base of STO. The descriptions of STO’s work, first in factory-floor organizing, and later in anti-imperialist solidarity work, anti-fascist activism and in regroupment-oriented party-building on the left, were all intensely familiar. The language that STO used to discuss its work and direction was the language I learned. The era of post-radicalization “lull” and de-industrialization was the era I grew up in politically; these were the same issues the RSL (Revolutionary Socialist League) dealt with as well. I left Chicago for New York in 1981, but many of the scenes and issues and forces described in “Truth and Revolution” were as I remembered them. It made me wonder if all the groups struggling to stay relevant in that dark time of counterrevolution were all going through the same process without realizing that a period of organizational decline was universal among communist and socialist groups.”
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