PREFACE: THE GOLDFISH BOWL
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"A popularized mythology is like a goldfish bowl. No matter how cleverly the fish chooses his direction within the bowl, he can never escape it in such a fashion. No matter how cleverly he adapts to the environment of the bowl’s medium (e.g., popular mythologies), whoever moves the bowl moves him in a corresponding direction."
One night in the winter of 1986 I found myself in the Les Halles district of Paris talking with the French artist and writer Jean-Jacques Lebel. Once the conversation finally got around to the craziness of the 1960s, Lebel quoted a saying popular in his anarchist circle. It went like this: “The theory of one person is madness but the madness of three people is theory.” In the case of the NCLC, however, it seems clear that the madness of one person really was theory. The rest of this book attempts to explain just why that was so.
Now a brief description of how this text came into existence. Smiling Man from a Dead Planet: The Mystery of Lyndon LaRouche began in 1986-87 as an attempt to better understand the NCLC’s trajectory from a Marxist sect to an anti-Marxist political cult by 1979, the year my study concludes. Thanks to Dennis King’s book Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism , the interested reader can pursue the story into the late 1980s. Even though King and I fundamentally differ over his claim that the NCLC is a conscious neo-Nazi or crypto-Nazi organization, his book provides much invaluable information and reflects years of dogged investigative reporting. I personally learned a lot from it. All that said, even with this work and King’s, the last two-and-a-half decades of the NCLC’s history from 1990 until today largely remain terra incognito. The NCLC also operated in Europe as well as America. The European side of the NCLC’s saga remains largely unknown, although in 1994 a former member of the German organization named Aglaja Beyes-Corleis wrote a memoir entitled Verirrt: mein Leben in einer radikalen Politorganisation (http://larouche-danger.com/html/verirrt_overview.html). In short, there is a tremendous amount that we simply don’t know.
As I note in the conclusion to this study, if one had to translate LaRouche's erratic hobgoblin of ideology and practice into more conventional sociological terms, the NCLC could be described (especially from the late 1970s forward) as a highly idiosyncratic version of "Third Position fascism." Yet to do so runs the risk of gerrymandering what is essentially a sui generis "political cult" into a genuine social movement capable of mobilizing thousands (if not millions) of people like fascism or communism. Perhaps a better model may lie in the examination of "New Age"-like political formations from the 1920s and 1930s such as the "I Am" movement or The Silver Shirts, both of whom became ultra-right formations but both of whom were essentially one-leader messiah cults. Technocracy, Inc., has similar internal features although it was entirely secular and operated outside more conventional political norms. In this case of the Labor Committee, however, its foundations were rooted in the radical upheavals of the late 1960s, where Marxism dominated ideological discourse. In this context, one might examine a similar political formation in England, Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party or Marlene Dixon's San Francisco-based Democratic Workers Party. The role of coercive psychological techniques such as those employed on Weatherman cadre as well as the widespread use of Maoist-inspired "self-criticism" sessions may prove helpful as well. Alexandria Stein's book Inside Out documents the workings of a particularly insidious Maoist cult in Minnesota.
In pioneering works like The Occult Underground and The Occult Establishment, the late James Webb tried to examine the relationship between quasi-religious/quasi-political formations that conventional sociological analysis and its highly conventional way of categorizing social formations simply can not understand. If Webb is right, then the difficulty in easily categorizing a group like the Labor Committee may underscore the broader weakness of conventional sociological models. Whatever one's ultimate evaluation of the Labor Committee, my intent here and in my related study How It All Began is to offer some basic historical outline of the organization's emergence in the late 1960s to the late 1970s rather than construct a paint-by-numbers sociological category or classification scheme for an organization I personally consider at its core a political messiah cult.
It was just this sense of unanswered questions that motivated me some two decades ago to return to the weird world of Lyndon LaRouche. My original text was a one draft affair of some 230 single-spaced pages written on an electric typewriter in under five weeks. After completing the manuscript, I shared it with a few other researchers with a specialized interest in LaRouche but decided to best leave it “to the gnawing criticism of the mice” (so to speak) rather than turn it into a book as I felt the degree of detail that I brought to the subject would only interest a very limited specialist readership. I wrote the manuscript primarily as an attempt to clarify many of the issue raised by the NCLC in my own mind. My initial attempt, quite simply, was meant most of all to enable me to think outside “the goldfish bowl.” I had three basic tasks in writing Smiling Man from a Dead Planet. The first was to examine just where LaRouche came from and his activities before the creation of the Labor Committee. The second was to document the strange circumstances surrounding the late December 1973 NCLC convention that culminated in the "Chris White Affair," and the events that led up to that astonishing event. Finally, I wanted to take a closer look at the murky connections between the Labor Committee and the far right that would lead LaRouche in the fall of 1978 to publicly claim that the Nazis "only killed 1.5 million Jews." How had an organization that started out on the left wind up publicly endorsing Holocaust Denial?
Trying to answer these questions led me to approach this study less as a conventional narrative history of the Labor Committee and more as a detective story centered on solving the mystery of just how the organization more or less went collectively insane. I have not written a full history of the Labor Committee, particularly after 1973-74 although How It All Began does provide a more structured historical approach to the period from 1966 to 1971. But with Smiling Man, my focus is much more narrow. Hence I have ignored a great deal of day-to-day life in the organization, its internal divisions, its regional and international affiliates, its front organizations such as the Fusion Energy Foundation (FEF) or the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) and much much more. In any case, my approach is limited in its ambitions by design. For that reason alone, I felt that this study would only have limited interest for non-specialist readers.
More recently, however, the success of LaRouche Planet has convinced me that even though the demand for such a specialized text will remain modest, there are enough people who might be interested enough in some aspects of this topic to justify publishing a revised electronic version of the original study. Besides updating the chapters, I have added some later research. My chapters on “Wiener World,” for example, are new as is my study of Technocracy, Inc. In preparing the LaRouche Planet version of Smiling Man from a Dead Planet, however, I have omitted one long section from my original manuscript that focused on the period from April to November-early December 1973 (or from “Operation Mop-Up” to “Beyond Psychoanalysis”). Instead, I have tried to incorporate much of this material throughout the revised manuscript. The role "BP" played in helping to transform the organization into a political messiah cult cannot be overemphasized when one is trying to grasp the internal dynamics of the cult and it is most thoroughly explored in Aglaja Beyes-Corleis's memoir of her almost two-decades-long involvement in the German wing of the LaRouche organization. Hence I have added a discussion of her memoir in the final chapter of my examination of the Chris White affair. For a reader who does not know German, Don Veitch's memoir Beyond Common Sense focuses on how this same thought-control system was used in the Australian branch of the LaRouche movement. Finally, in looking at the NCLC, it is always wise to ask whether or not it really is worth the time and effort to understand such a strange organization. While the obvious answer is “no,” I believe it is still worth the effort by at least a few people to take a closer look, if only so that the rest of us don’t have to. My peculiar fate was to be one of these few people. The result of my effort now lies before you.
15 September 2009
Bouquets and brickbats (Jeff, that’s a metaphor) can be sent to HylozoicHedgehog@gmail.com
JUNE 2013 UPDATE: My new book How It All Began: The Origins and History of the National Caucus of Labor Committees in New York and Philadelphia (1966-1971) is now available at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.HIABcover. Finally, a detailed study of the LaRouche movement in Australia, Don Veitch's book Beyond Common Sense: Psycho-Politics in Australia, is now available on LaRouche Planet at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.BeyondCommonSense.
MAY 2016 NOTE: I have significantly updated sections of both SMDP and HIAB. The PDF versions have not been updated and are now extremely outdated so users of the PDF versions should check the electronic texts for the most current version of the research.