The first three sections of the following are essentially Chapter 1 of Beyond Classical Marxism.
My father was rather conservative, but very strong on civil rights. He worked in an executive capacity for private social service funding organizations in a number of cities (“United Fund”, the capitalists’ answer to government funding of social services). My mother was a liberal pacifist, and she tried to inculcate me to never defend myself against violence. She functioned as a housewife, servicing at least once as a PTA president, until she became a social worker after I graduated from high school.
When I was in the first through fourth school grades in New Haven (1948-1952), my family was living in a housing project which was segregated into white and Black components. After living for awhile in the white section, my parents demanded to know why such segregation occurred, and they were told that we were welcome to move into the Black section. And this we did. The only name I remember from that early time is that of my best friend, who was Black, of course.
In 1952 we moved to Savannah, Georgia and I got a taste of real segregation (separate water fountains, for example!). I had essentially no contact with Black people there, but I understand that my parents were members of the local NAACP. It was there that I started my electronics hobby, and I taught myself to fix television sets.
In the middle of my eighth grade we moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, but my father didn’t last long there: as head of the United Fund, he refused to allow the YMCA to continue to control this organization for its own benefit. So I spent tenth through twelfth grades in Stamford, Connecticut. Stamford High School had many Black students, but I had very little contact with them since they were practically all in the lower class divisions. One person whom I did know, however, was my (white) friend Joe Lieberman1. I did start an extracurricular philosophy club while there, and I graduated with the honor of being named, in the yearbook, as the best mathematics student.
I spent my four years of undergraduate study at Cornell University, 1960-1964, and it was there, associating for the first time with radicals, that I began my transformation from a liberal to a radical. I joined, and became president of, Watermargin, a fraternal living house (not one of the ubiquitous Greek “fraternity houses”); Watermargin had been founded by liberal-minded World War II veterans.
At Cornell I concentrated on learning physics and mathematics, and I took a special advanced mathematics course for three semesters. This course started off with about 25 high-ranking mathematics students, but by its third semester we were down to six or seven students, three of whom were “A” students. I was one of these “A” students, and another was Paul Wolfowitz2. The surprising thing about Wolfowitz was that he was still in high school – truly a brilliant person! (This fact will be relevant in Chapter 4.)
I was starting to understand how the real world works, reading the National Guardian and I.F Stone’s Weekly. However, I remained a liberal while at Cornell. I recall going to a speech on campus by Malcolm X, and remarking afterwards to a friend that he was “crazy”. (My friend immediately contradicted this assertion.) I was most fortunate to have witnessed in person Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech, and I recall thinking that his speech and that of John Lewis (of SNCC) were the (only) two outstanding ones at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Kennedy assassination3 in November 1963 greatly disturbed me, for as a physicist I knew that the official story couldn’t possibly be true. Even more disturbing was the escalating Vietnam War, and I signed a statement, published in May 1964 in the New York Herald Tribune, that I would refuse to fight in Vietnam “for the suppression of the Vietnamese struggle for national independence”. (This statement is given as the Appendix.)
During the summer of 1964 (“Freedom Summer”) I did Black voter registration in Fayette County, Tennessee which, bordering Mississippi, was one of the two remaining counties in Tennessee that could be considered to be “Deep South”. This project was to be partially funded by (Cornell) student dues, and there was strong opposition among the students to such funding; a referendum among the students was held, and (surprisingly) the funding was approved. (A portent of things to come, regarding student activism!) Joining the Cornell contingent was a large group of persons from New York City, and I subsequently deduced from circumstantial evidence that this had probably been a clandestine Communist Party project.
I spent the next three years obtaining a Master’s degree in physics at Brandeis University under a National Science Foundation scholarship. This was a time when I was finally radicalized by the Vietnam War (specifically, by its sharp escalation in February 1965) and by Malcolm’s assassination in that same month. I just had to do something with my life, beyond a normal academic career. I was strongly attracted to the (then-)Maoist Progressive Labor Party (“PL”), and although I never joined it, I did at least get myself ejected and arrested at the HUAC hearings for creating a disturbance in support of the in-your-face testimony by some PL leaders.
At this time I was reading about the amazing human progress being made in China, in books such as Fanshen by William Hinton and The Other Side of the River by Edgar Snow. Further, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was raging in China under Chairman Mao’s direction, promising to rid the country of capitalist-road leaders. I regarded my scientific ability as being first-rate, and my future became obvious: I would go to Canada to concentrate fully on obtaining my Ph.D. degree (without having to deal with distracting PL activity), and then move to China to support their building a socialist country, as a scientist.
So I spent the next three years earning my Ph.D. degree in theoretical physics at the University of Calgary, completely inactive politically except for applying to move to China. I received my degree at the end of 1970 and moved to Vancouver awaiting word back from China (which never came). In the fall of 1971 I joined the Partisan Organization, a self-styled revolutionary organization of some 25 members, and, as is my wont, I quickly rose to leadership in it.
But in the fall of 1972 the Partisans incredibly committed hari-kari by disbanding in order to join the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). The six-person Central Committee of the Partisan Organization figured out that the Partisans were actually already a party of the vanguard Party, that it was in fact just its “unorganized tendency” while CPC(M-L) was its “organized tendency”. I am most embarrassed to have played such an active role in railroading the Partisan Organization’s demise through the organization4.
Far more embarrassing was my political naivete in trying to join CPC(M-L), which was an utter caricature of a Leninist party. (For example, one issue of their national newspaper started off with “Blood Debts Must Be Paid in Blood!” in large red letters.) I had applied to join in November 1972, but by January I had had enough, having been thoroughly trashed at a branch meeting for circulating a twelve-page paper entitled “Overthrow the Bourgeois Reactionary Line in Vancouver” which thoroughly criticized local political work. (Yes, I had gone whole-hog in accepting the polemical methods of CPC(M-L) and yes, I could write these lengthy polemics with the best of them.) I then wrote and circulated a paper entitled “The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) vs. ‘The Scum of the Earth’ [referring to myself]” which included my original paper and thoroughly lambasted CPC(M-L). The organization replied exposing me as “the Anti-Marxist-Leninist”, covering six 11″x17″ pages of tiny print in their national newspaper. And so ended my pretentions of joining the vanguard party!
Now alone, I did what was to be expected of budding middle-class revolutionaries: I started working in a sawmill as an unskilled laborer (on the “green chain”), and this lasted – rather unproductively – for two years before I decided to go back to the U.S. to start a new life. But in spite of my unfortunate experiences in Vancouver, I remained psychologically committed to advancing the Revolution. My state of mind at that time is well indicated by the poem which comprises Appendix B.
C. BACK IN THE UNITED STATES
Living in Chicago from 1976 to 1983, I got involved in various minor political projects, and then my wife and I moved to Seattle, where we’ve lived ever since. For the past two decades I’ve been quite active in the Green Party at the local, state, and national levels, serving as treasurer and secretary. This activity with the Greens and other progressive organizations is listed at the end of my book A Reformulation of Dialectical Materialism5.
One political experience in Seattle worth relating concerns the Rainbow Coalition initiated in the 1980’s by Jesse Jackson. In the aftermath of the 1988 presidential election, the Washington State Rainbow Coalition was formed with about 1000 members. I was elected the state Corresponding Secretary, joining seven others to comprise the WSRC Executive Committee. On March 3, 1989 I attended a meeting of the National Rainbow Coalition in Chicago as an invited representative of the WSRC. There Jackson laid out a plan, which was duly approved, to essentially transform the state Rainbow chapters into his personal campaign committee. The new National Rainbow Coalition was to be a completely top-down organization, with the NRC president (Jackson) able to appoint and remove chapter officers, determine the operating procedures of chapters, and reorganize, suspend, or terminate any state or Congressional District chapter. I don’t begrudge Jackson’s wanting to convert the Rainbow Coalition for personal use, for he had created the organization in the first place, but what was abhorrent was the reaction of the WSRC leadership to this travesty of democratic functioning in what we were hoping to build.
As soon as I got back from Chicago, I gave a written report to the WSRC Executive Committee which explained in full detail what Jackson was intent on doing. To my amazement, there was no stated opposition (except mine) to the planned transformation of the National Rainbow Coalition. One ExCom member even stated that she would never circulate my report to her constituents! (She was a member of the Communist Party, but I don’t believe any of the other ExCom members were in socialist organizations.) The ExCom evidently didn’t want to do anything about the coming transformation of the WSRC, so I did the only honorable thing: as Corresponding Secretary, I maintained the organization’s mailing list, so I mailed out my report to the officers of all the chapters. This action didn’t bode too well with the ExCom (sorry, my bad!), but amid the furor there was nothing they could do but hold an organization-wide meeting to discuss the matter. At that meeting they presented a majority report and I countered with a detailed minority report, and I had managed to spike the liquidation of the WSRC into Jackson’s transformed National Rainbow Coalition. This minority report is given on this website.
As mentioned above, in 1976 I moved to Chicago to start a new life (and with a new wife, Cecile Disenhouse, who has endured me to this day!). I was most fortunate to stumble on the field of medical physics, and after two years of a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health I was able to build an academic career in that field at a major medical university in Chicago, as summarized at the end of my book3. I should just mention here that I retired as a full Professor of Medical Physics at Rush University, having published 32 research papers in peer-review medical physics journals and mentored three Ph.D. students. (Two of these papers received an award as the best paper published that year in the main medical physics journal.) My research has been fully rewarding, concerning improving the treatment of cancer using radiation beams, and I was considered internationally by my colleagues as being an expert in my particular research field. (One indication of this is that I wrote a chapter in an authoritative book on various aspects of radiation therapy physics6.) So I’ve actually led two lives, although my political life has always been what was most important to me.
D. RECENT POLITICAL ACTIVITIY
1996: Secretary, Washington State Campaign for Democracy (supporting Ralph Nader’s 1996 Presidential campaign in Seattle)
1999: Treasurer, Curt Firestone for Seattle City Council
2000: Treasurer, Joe Szwaja for U.S. Congress
2001: Treasurer,Curt Firestone for Seattle City Council
2003: Secretary, Larry Gossett for King County Council (successful)
2003: Treasurer, Brita Butler-Wall for Seattle School Board (successful)
2003: Treasurer, Brent McMillan for Seattle Monorail Board
2006: Treasurer, Aaron Dixon for U.S. Senate
2007: Treasurer, Joe Szwaja for Seattle City Council
2008: Treasurer, Divest from War (Seattle initiative against Israeli occupation of Palestine; terminated early by court order)
2010: Treasurer, Richard Curtis for U.S. Senate (aborted early)
2012: Treasurer, Sue Gunn for U.S. Congress (in Olympia)
2014-16: Treasurer (2014-15) and Secretary (2016), Washington State Coalition to Amend the Constitution (successful statewide Initiative I-735 to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and get big money out of politics, receiving 62% of the vote in November 2016). During 2015 we collected some 330,000 signatures to place this initiative on the ballot, and I handled the finances for 90 employees, mainly paid signature-gatherers during the last three months of the year.
2016: One of two consultants to Jill Stein’s Green Party Presidential campaign, to ensure that FEC regulations were being followed
2018: Treasurer, Stonewall Bird for U.S. Congress (in Bellingham)
1989-90: Corresponding Secretary, Washington State Rainbow Coalition (arose from Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Presidential campaign)
1999: Secretary, Seattle Progressive Coalition
2001: Secretary, Green Party of Seattle
2006-08: Secretary, Green Party of Seattle
2007-08: Deputy Treasurer, Green Party of Washington State
2008: Treasurer, Green Senate Campaign Committee (of national Green Party)
2008: Treasurer, Progressive Action Committee (short-lived fundraising committee based in Seattle)
2010: Treasurer, Washington State Progressive Electoral Coalition
2011-17: Treasurer, Justice Party (arose from Rocky Anderson’s 2012 Presidential campaign)
2012-13: Treasurer, Justice Party of Washington State
2014-17: Treasurer, Green Party of Washington State
2015: Treasurer, Green Party of Seattle
2003: Treasurer, Peace Action of Washington
2011-present: Trustee, Tom Warner Workers’ Defense Fund which donates approximately $70,000 annually to progressive organizations. (Managing Trustee, 2018-2020.)
E. CURRENT POLITICAL OUTLOOK
In the past I’ve considered myself to be a Marxist-Leninist, but now I can’t think of any reason to be a “Leninist”. In practice, Leninism came out of the terrible conditions of the civil war following the Bolshevik Revolution. As advanced by Stalinism, it came to mean a one-party state with the Party ruling completely top-down purportedly on behalf of the proletariat, as well as completely top-down functioning with the Party itself. I’ve never been a fan of Trotskyism, but I do believe they generally make a conscious effort to effect democratic functioning within the Party. (But presumably, as stalwart Leninists, they also uphold the one-party state.) In any case, “Leninism” refers to military-type organization (presumably) necessary to effect a socialist revolution and to develop the ensuing socialist society, hardly something which is appropriate to the present-day United States. Thus I have made a definitive break with what I term “classical Marxism”, as I explain in my lengthy essay “The Ghost of Marxism” https://bcmsocialism.org/the-ghost-of-marxism/).
As made clear in other writings on www.bcmsocialism.org, I remain a totally committed socialist, recognizing that we shall never be able to construct a humanly decent society so long as capitalism remains in charge. Where I break with what I term “classical Marxism” is the insistence that the transition to socialism must be effected “from the bottom up”, through the ascendence of the wide range of struggles for a decent life, not simply in the economic sphere (workers vs. capitalists) but throughout society (Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism causes, reproductive rights, adequate health care and housing, restoration of the rights of indigenous people, mitigating climate change, and countless other progressive struggles). Moreover, the amorphous “middle class” must play an integral role in many of these struggles, not relegated to the sidelines while the proletariat does battle with the bourgeoisie, upon whose victory these “secondary issues” will be all cleared up, nice and dandy (the outlook of classical Marxism). Straying even further from classical Marxism, I think that the ensuing “socialist” society must include, indefinitely, small-scale private enterprise, as espoused by the British intellectual Ralph Miliband (https://bcmsocialism.org/socialist-economy/.
We realize that the transformation to socialism must be effected mainly through progressive mass struggles, but the electoral sphere still has an important, if secondary, role to play in this process. In fact, at times such as now when it is absolutely imperative to deny Trump another four years in office, it can have primacy in our political activities. Realizing that the “lesser of evils” game leads nowhere, and that the Democratic Party functions as a tool of the 1% to dilute and absorb struggles which seriously challenge the status quo, I had always been vehement in insisting on having nothing to do with the Democratic Party. Over the course of the last two decades I was highly active in the Green Party at the state, local, and national levels, but no more, for their current presidential candidate refuses to call for voting for Biden in swing states in which voting for him could conceivably throw the election to Trump. I now consider the Green Party to be irrelevant and at times antithetical to the struggle for socialism, and I think that its strategy of running against Democrats is simply a waste of time at best. Instead, I advocate, as a possible course of action, supporting truly progressive Democrats in primary elections (without diluting our unequivocally socialist politics), and if the mainstream Democratic wins the primary, to cease any political attacks on her/him. Running as an independent would also be possible, but I would be strongly opposed to creating a socialist party which challenges the Democratic Party electorally. (And we certainly do need a socialist party with an effective presence in the electoral sphere, but such a party will be able to be created by activists highly active in progressive mass struggles, rather than by a handful of socialist intellectuals.)
Statement published in the May 28, 1964 issue of the New York Herald Tribune and signed by 150 persons:
We the undersigned
Are young Americans of draft age. We understand our obligations to defend our country and to serve in the armed forces but we object to being asked to support the war in South Vietnam.
Believing that United States participation in that war is for suppression of the Vietnamese struggle for national independence, we see no justification for our involvement. We agree with Senator Wayne Morse, who said on the floor of Senate on March 4, 1964, regarding South Vietnam, that “We should never have gone in. We should never have stayed in. We should get out.”
Believing that we should not be asked to fight against the people of Vietnam, we herewith state our refusal to do so.
1. Joe Lieberman served as a U.S. Senator from Connecticut for eighteen years, commencing in 1989, and ran for vice-president on the Democratic ticket in 2000. He supported some progressive struggles, such as for abortion rights and repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but he critically opposed having a public option in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). He was a hawk concerning foreign policy, supporting American military action against Grenada, Libya, Panama, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Yemen. He also supported the suppression of civil liberties in the name of national security, including suppression of Wikileaks.
2. Paul Wolfowitz served as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2001-2005, and played a major role in promoting U.S. attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan during that period.
3. There have been many books written about the Kennedy assassination, mostly incomplete and sometimes giving false information. I have found incontrovertible and complete JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass (2008). This book explains in full detail how the “Deep State” murdered Kennedy, the Deep State being the highest levels of our security apparatus (CIA, FBI, Secret Service, military) which intervenes when the Empire is acutely threatened by U.S. politicians.
4. There were other factors accelerating the Partisan Organization’s demise, include the need of its top leadership (not including me) to avoid being replaced because of major organizational errors. I published a lengthy analysis of the experience of the Partisan Organization in Theoretical Review #13 (November-December 1979) of the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective. This article, entitled “The Partisan Experience”, is on pages 41-46, and it is also available on this website.
5. A Reformulation of Dialectical Materialism by Dave Jette. Self-published in 2019 and available from Lulu.com in soft-cover ($9) and hard-cover ($19) editions.
6. Radiation Therapy Physics, edited by Alfred R. Smith (Springer-Verlag, 1995): Chapter 5, “Electron Beam Dose Calculations”, by David Jette (pages 95-121).