Saturday, July 07, 2012

Book notes: Michael Staudenmaier on the Sojourner Truth Organization

I am in the middle of reading Michael Staudenmaier's Truth and Revolution: A History of the Sojourner Truth Organization, 1969-1986. 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.

STO's approach to the threat of fascism also helped lay the groundwork for this blog, Three Way Fight. STO rejected two ideas common on the left -- on one side, that fascism is simply a tool of the capitalist state or ruling class; on the other, that the way to defeat far rightists is to rely on the state and its liberal allies. Instead, STO argued that fascism represents an autonomous current with the potential to gain a mass following, and that it "contains an anti-capitalist 'revolutionary' side that is not reducible to simple demagogy" (p. 294). And within the framework of building a broad United Front against fascism, STO helped promote a militant, direct-action approach to antifa work that was later taken up by groups such as Anti-Racist Action.

Staudenmaier's book is the first in-depth study of STO, and it has a lot to say about how STO's story speaks to current political struggles. The book is published by AK Press and is available through major distributors. You can check out online reviews by Ian Scott Horst on the Kasama website and by Nate Hawthorne at Ideas and Action. Also check out Hawthorne's longer essay "Truth and Revolution and Parenting," on the Black Orchid Collective site, which takes Staudenmaier's book as a starting point to explore the issue of parenting in STO and in current left groups.

Many of STO's writings and publications can be found at the Sojourner Truth Organization Digital Archive. For STO's distinctive approach to fascism, see in particular the group's "Theses on Fascism" (1981), Noel Ignatin, "Fascism: Some Common Misconceptions" (1978), and Ken Lawrence, "The Ku Klux Klan and Fascism" (1982).

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