In 1972, I got involved with the Socialist Labor Party, commonly known as the SLP, one of the oldest political parties in the United States, with roots going back to 1876. At a political protest rally of some sort outside of Boston City Hall in 1972, I chanced to pick up a Weekly People newspaper, or perhaps an SLP leaflet, as well as literature from other organizations. When I took it home to digest it all, the SLP's seemingly scholarly approach and appearance of being well grounded in history impressed me enough to want to follow up and learn more about socialism from the SLP.
To give the reader a perspective on why anyone would want to learn anything about socialism, a little of my background might be in order. While growing up near the coast of Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts, I became conscious at the age of 11 of a feeling of alienation, which worsened during my adolescence. After three years of Mechanical Engineering studies at a respectable college, I dropped out due to a profound lack of motivation. While struggling to figure out what was wrong, I read psychological texts, and before long convinced myself that my entire problem was caused by a deep neurosis. The texts led me to believe that my case was hopeless, especially without psychoanalysis, which I couldn't afford. I wallowed in sufficient misery for a while to finally get myself sent off to an analyst anyway, who lectured to me and prescribed pills which I didn't really want to take, and the first radical I met easily convinced me to stop taking them. A year of listening to an analyst's repetitive boring lecture finally inspired me to quit psychoanalysis altogether, though against the analyst's advice.
Not long after quitting the psychotropics, I also accidentally stumbled on a technique to deal with negative feelings, which consisted of trying to feel them to extremes, or to amplify them, and to listen to what came out of the ensuing silence. Years later, I became aware that other analysts had already used this technique in their practices. After a number of such sessions, which finally ended in a sense of inner peace, I felt as though that particular kind of work on myself had been completed, though I didn't feel as though everything was "perfect".
After studying more psychology for a while in hopes of finding out why everything was the way it was, I began to detect different schools of thought in psychology, and the more I dug into them, the more I began to appreciate the radical psychologists. From there I moved on to appreciate sociology and then to radical sociologists and finally, to psychologists who espoused socialism. Dr. Franz Fanon's classic book "Wretched of the Earth" told of Algerians who seemed driven to despair from living in a society with enormous differences in wealth between different economic classes, but when Algeria liberated itself from French colonial domination in the early 50's, a lot of 'mental illnesses' suddenly cleared up by themselves, and people were not being committed, or did not commit themselves into mental institutions, at anywhere near the usual rate. From this revelation, I jumped into the camp of the socialists overnight and nearly stopped paying attention to psychology altogether. Fanon's book was one more nail in the coffin of the belief that psychological understanding alone could be the simple answer to all of my problems, as well as to the problems of others. I then developed an interest in whether there were any general laws to describe the direction that society takes, where we have been as a society, where we were going, and what socialism really was.
As my curiosity about socialism developed, I felt frustrated over not being able to find a satisfactory definition, so I eventually did something I never thought I would have the guts to do, which was to break with a previous prejudice against people who stood on street corners and handed out leaflets. I began a search for representatives of the socialist ideal, which is what took me to that demonstration outside Boston City Hall. When I finished reading what I had gotten there, perhaps it was the simple socialist message and the sense of deep historical roots that appealed to me, but having little to lose, I decided to see what I could learn at the advertised SLP study class.
In retrospect, my experience with the SLP was, in a sense, a repeat of my experience with psychology. I became infatuated with the first bit of socialist truth at the age of 30 as I had with the first bit of psychological truth I discovered at the age of 21. A more careful analysis brought out the differences between classical and the radical psychology, and on the other hand, between the various shades of socialism. An educational process occurred in both cases.
With that brief introduction, let's proceed to the period of my active involvement with the Party.

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Dec 29 2014 16:55


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