I wonder if the experience of "conversions" of the kind that you and Lou underwent isn't more common among white youths in America than among blacks and women. I doubt that Charles Brown, for instance, has ever been a right-winger.
***** Date: Wed, 29 Dec 1999 11:24:37 -0500 To: marxism at lists.panix.com From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> Subject: Young Americans for Freedom
The first Internet mailing list I ever subbed to was something called "The Sixties", which was a combination of American Studies professors, etc. and 60s veterans like myself. They held a yearly conference at a Connecticut College, where professors presented papers on things like "Jimi Hendrix and the hermeneutics of trans-gender", etc. I only went to one, where I heard Rebecca Klatch present a paper that was a defense of the ideas contained in the book Michael cites. I thought it was generally an overprojection of what YAF amounted to. Keep in mind that all such groups receive enormous funding from corporations and foundations like Olin, etc. If anything the "libertarianism" of the YAF was an adaptation to the power of the New Left.
Having said this, I must confess that I was a member of the YAF in 1960 and was actually interviewed by Rick Perlstein, a Lingua Franca editor, who is doing a book on the group. He has a chapter on YAF'ers who became radicals and wanted to hear my story, which is essentially as follows.
In the upstate village I group up in during the 1950s, New Deal liberalism was the orthodoxy. 90 percent of our parents voted Democrat and many had been around the CP as well. I found this world stifling in much the same manner as Madame Bovary found provinical France in the 19th century. The only voices of protest against middle-class conformity were both the beats and William F. Buckley, or at least that's the way it appeared to me. So I hooked up with both. I had a cousin named Louis Proyect--both named after our grandfather--and we launched a Young Americans for Freedom chapter in our highschool, mainly as a way of driving other students crazy. Of course, cousin Louis had material self-interests in being conservative. His father Mike owned a lumber yard and made lots of money during WWII in the black market, while my dad owned a fruit-store. Long after I dropped this rightwing bullshit, my cousin remained conservative. In 1967, shortly after I joined the Trotskyist movement, he told me never to darken his door again. All right, I said.
So what got me off this rightwing trip? In my freshman year at Bard College in 1961, I was in a dorm with a lot of upperclassmen who used to sit in the alcove late at night and argue politics. One night I joined in the bull session and announced that I was a conservative. WHY?, they asked. I told them that liberalism drained the life-force from the individual. Look at Sweden, I said. The government provides for people's basic needs. They don't have to worry about unemployment, etc. One of these upperclassmen, who I have remained friends with over the years, looked me in the eyes and said, "That sounds okay to me." I paused momentarily and decided he was correct. It was okay. Beyond that, it was generally not "cool" to be a conservative and I was happy to conform to peer pressure in a place where I felt at home for the first time in my life.
Later that year I joined some of these folks who had put together a "Welcome the Bomb" committee--a sardonic protest against nuclear defense drills, etc.--in a trip to NYC to protest the yearly YAF convention. That was my first act as a leftist.
By the way, Doug Henwood was a rightwinger himself as a tender youth. His story appears in the Bad Subjects article, "I Was a Teenaged Reactionary" at http://eserver.org/bs/36/henwood.html
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I myself grew up reading _Akahata [The Red Flag]_, the Japanese CP newspaper, because my father's best friend and work mate at the same steel plant was a CPer. (My father probably never joined the Party, because he was and is too much of an individualist.) Unlike Lou, I never felt the need to rebel against this heritage, though, on the other hand, I never felt like joining the Party either. The JCP still has a base among the masses (as in Italy), but one can't say it's very revolutionary. Over all, the Japanese Left seem clueless as to how to take advantage of the current economic difficulty (not that I have any clue).
Back to Zizek, I don't think that his talk of "the subversive core of the Christian legacy" and call for Marxism and Christianity fighting "together against the onslaught of new spiritualism" will find any taker in Japan. Never directly colonized by the West, Japan has few Christians. Besides, the Japanese aren't very interested in religion as a _faith_ in a serious and personal way that many other peoples are. Many Japanese celebrate New Year's Day going to a Shinto Temple, send flowers and candy to their sweethearts on St. Valentine's Day, pay respects to ancestors during Obon, buy Christmas gifts for friends and family, get married in a hotel banquet room, and invite a Buddhist monk to a funeral to say something dignified that they don't bother to understand. They like rituals of many religions (especially if well marketed) but have no particular faith, it seems.