Guts and Tenacity

Scott McLemee

A few months ago, I made – well, a historical discovery” would be much too grand. But a discovery, of a kind. At any rate, the kind of documentary tidbit that is useful in trying to narrate the past. 

I meant to draw Jimmy’s attention to it, but never did. Now it’s too late. Let it go here, then, as a belated footnote to his place in the history of the American left.

During the 70s, quite a few people in the United States wanted to build a new communist party. This time (they figured) they’d get things right. At least several thousand people were involved, and not all of them were crazy. One of the groups consisted largely of graduate students in Tucson, Arizona. They based themselves, not just on Chairman Mao, but on the structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser; and they brought out a journal called Theoretical Review that ran some original (indeed, pioneering) work on the history of the American left. They were also pretty smart about cultural matters – punk rock, for example. (That made a big impression on me at the time.)

Intelligent and serious as the Tucson crew were, they were blindsided by history. Sometime around 1980, they published an analysis of the situation facing American revolutionaries, and they noted, in particular, the danger coming from … the reformism of Jimmy Weinstein and In These Times.

You can probably guess how this story turns out. 

About 18 months into the first Reagan administration, whatever remained of the new communist movement–Theoretical Review included – pretty much vanished, like a bank of fog under the rays of the sun. (“Morning in America,” indeed.)

Jimmy made his share of contributions at the intellectual level. He did work that stood the test of decades; some of it is, I think, of permanent importance. But for the left, smarts aren’t enough. If it were, we’d have taken state power and established a democratic society by now. Guts and tenacity also count, and perhaps count more. Jimmy had them. We have his example. We are rich.

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Scott McLemee, a former In These Times contributing editor, writes a bi-weekly column for Inside Higher Education.
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