Monday, January 04, 2010

By Way of Full Disclosure, Some of It Embarrassing

I've noticed that when I post a comment on other blogs, the number of visitors to this site jumps. I enjoy reading blogs and sometimes add my voice to a discussion: most of my regulars are listed on the sidebar. It probably won't reassure anybody that I really do split my internet reading between the topics of music, left-wing politics, spirituality, gay issues, and cute/funny kittens. I've commented on all these subjects. It's obvious, especially tracking the visits from left-wing blogs, that people want to know who's responsible for the comment drawing either their agreement or outrage.

Anyway, here, for the benefit especially of any leftists trying to figure me out, is the most embarrasing confession about my past. This photo, and the quote below, are from an article entitled "Campus Radicalism In These New Times," written by Leslie Lapides, which appeared in the May 17, 1978 issue of the Chicago Journal. The article interviews several student radicals who recount their journey to becoming socialist activists. The interviewer talks to members of the Young Socialist Alliance, of the Maoist Revolutionary Student Brigade, of the Trotskyist Spartacists, and a former Yippie. Most articulately detail their life's circumstances and explain the attraction of a Marxian view of the world, telling fascinating stories. Then on the other hand we get to this:

"Ian Horst of the SYL [Spartacus Youth League--ish] visited Poland after graduating from high school and thought 'It was better there. The economy ran better. It was planned and rational.'"
Yeah, that's me on the right, with my then "comrades" Gloria, Emily, Larry and David. It's really a shame this photo isn't in color because, filling in the portrait of me as some kind of Stalinist naif, I think that's a threadbare blue Mao jacket I'm wearing. And honest, despite the bizarre looks on all our faces, to my knowledge none of us was dosed with mind-altering substances. I look like I was practicing for a career selling pornography at church retreats.

I left the Spartacists that very year, when I also left the world of the campus. I would chalk it all up to youthful indiscretion except that I remained a radical activist through much of the next decade. After a brief period of involvement with the extraordinarily clandestine (if extraordinarily namby-pamby) group The Spark, I joined the Revolutionary Socialist League, a now defunct group which at the time combined gay activism, general social activism, and a lively and questioning attitude toward Leninist and Trotskyist orthodoxy. I exited the organized left about 1986 or so, mostly for reasons of personal exhaustion and demoralization.

This was all a long time ago. Some people streaked in the 1970s; some people joined hippie communes and spent the year with their minds blown out on acid; some people finished their educations and started serious careers. Me, I became a leftist. Obviously I'm not ashamed of this. I still value that lively and questioning attitude toward orthodoxy that I learned then. But I'm not sure I'd call myself any kind of Marxist--there's a lot of water under that bridge. I'd be lying if I said I paid enough attention to all the ideological jetsam floating thereunder trying to rescue elements of that core ideology after the fall of the Soviet Union. I'm proud to remain committed to social justice and to peace; I'm smart enough to recognize that the hope for a better world isn't lingering about in tiny obsolete sectlets. I'm also old enough to know better: life just isn't as simple as any one set of ideologies would have you believe.

The choices, both successes and mistakes, we make in our lives make us complete human beings. I've done things I'm proud of, and embarrassed by. Frankly, I'm proud to still be alive in this new decade. I learned a lot in my years on the left, not least I learned the fundamentals of graphic design, my actual career, from a former member of the Students for a Democratic Society who apprenticed in the old-school newspaper world; if nothing else that's a pretty cool legacy.

So, dear reader, who are you and who did you used to be?


  1. Jesus, Ian, do you really want me to bring you up to date? About the time this picture was taken I was probably clandestinely attempting to overthrow the leadership of the United Steel Workers. A dumber bunch of people than the SL's Basic Industry fraction would be hard to imagine. I was, or had recently been, sleeping with the Gloria in the picture. That fact had a lot to do with my departure from the Spartacist League. She was generally considered too hot for a low ranking member like me and certain leading members were determined to have her for themselves. I was shocked to see how plain she really was.

    As I've said, I don't consider the Sparts to have been a legitimate political organization. They were more like a cult. I'm pleasantly surprised that we both grew up to be leftists of some sort. I'm still interested in Marxism but I'm also interested in Marxism's older sister, Christianity. Without some understanding of those two systems it seems impossible to have any working understanding of Western Civ, such as it is.

    Politically, I'm mostly a trade unionist and a social democrat. Spiritually I'm more or less a liturgical Christian, a nominal member of the Anglican communion in sympathy with the left wing of the Catholic and Orthodox faithful. I'm no friend of the Church hierarchy. I'm especially unimpressed with the Roman Church hierarchy.

    Besides Marx and Jesus I worry about recovery, hillbilly jazz and other white trash musics. I play and collect ukuleles and I am developing an interest in learning either old timey banjo or dobro. I'm interested in subcultures and in historical countercultures. I'm also interested in country living and urban planning. I've driven well over a million miles. I have ADHD. Surprised?

    I wonder what happened to David. If I could remember his last name I'd google him. That's how I found you.

  2. Oh Jon I forgot about you and Gloria! Was it her party name that was the same as your real name? Wacky. It was, as I say, a very long time ago. David's last name was Kellogg; last I heard he was teaching in China. I believe he is in touch with the guy who recruited me to the SYL, who is still around albeit now a member of a Spart splinter. I will leave it at that without mentioning his name; you know how those people are. Anyway I'm sure you can guess who and I ran into him a few times during anti-Iraq war protests.

    The guy in the photo Larry and I became fairly close for a few years; he moved to Boston after his Spart days. We've now lost touch.

    You might find this article of interest: I stumbled across it today, it's from the anarchist zine my ex-RSL friends have ended up publishing.

    I don't call myself an anarchist either but there's a lot in his take on politics as religion I thought was fairly ballsy. I'm thinking about writing a response.

    I don't remember what all we've talked about since we reconnected, but I have to say that the one thing I do believe in now is God. I really love God, at least as I perceive, um, (pronoun of your choice). I see no contradiction in being spiritual or religious and radical, quite the opposite: and if the only reason a person is being a socialist is because Marx and Lenin invented a purely mathematical and soul-less equation for human progress, well, there's a recipe for ruthlessness you can count me out of.

    I view my years in politics as the first step of, well, a spiritual journey. I'm not a very good Santero, now 13 years after my initiation, as far as all the ritual obligations and community life involved. But really, I thank the religion of Santeria every day for unlocking some mystery of the universe for me that has allowed me to find a sense of centeredness and balance and inner peace. And the sense of reverence it gives me makes me not complacent, but more convinced of the cause of social justice.