More on Zeskind… and spotting!

Curious as to what might have motivated Leonard Zeskind to write a hatchet job on Noam Chomsky, I thought I’d look a little closer at his bio.

According to Zeskind, in addition to winning various awards and grants over the last 20 years or so for his journalism:

I am a life time member of the NAACP, [and] have in the past served on the board of directors of the Petra Foundation and the Kansas City Jewish Community Relations Bureau… I am president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, which examines racism, anti-Semitism and far-right social movements; analyzes their intersection with civil society and social policy; educates the public; and assists in the protection and extensions of human rights.

He is also, supposedly, a former member of the (now-defunct) Leninist ‘Sojourner Truth Organization’. According to one source, Zeskind was, along with Elaine Zeskind (his wife), responsible for establishing the STO in Kansas City in 1973. The STO itself was established in 1969 (or possibly 1970), and departed this world 16 years later, in 1985. Some of those formerly involved in the group (?) have established an online archive of STO publications (Insurgent Worker, Urgent Tasks: Journal of the Revolutionary Left, and various pamphlets); elsewhere, a fella called Michael Staudenmaier has a blog — The Sojourner Truth Organization: Notes Toward a History — with a view to publishing his research as a book. According to Mike:

I intend for my book to be a political intervention, aimed at anarchists and other revolutionaries, encouraging a rethinking of contemporary theory and strategy by drawing on the experiences and perspectives of a largely forgotten group of revolutionaries. I’m not interested in what one former member called “sociology” (by which I think he meant depoliticized, academic assessments), but rather in the lessons that can be learned by present-day and future radicals from this particular corner of hidden history.

One blog entry (May 26, 2006) explores ‘The Legacy for Anarchists’ of the STO. On a spotterly note, Mike writes that:

From beginning to end of STO’s existence, one of the group’s guiding principles was the notion that white people, including white workers and poor white folks, have certain privileges that give them advantages relative to any and all people of color. The idea of white skin privilege is now probably best known among anarchists through the journal Race Traitor, which not coincidentally was co-edited by Noel Ignatiev, who was a founding and long-time member of STO. Race Traitor was particularly popular with some segments of the membership of the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, and again Ignatiev was briefly a member of L&R in the mid-90’s. A different version of the white skin privilege analysis has gained currency among those anarchists inspired by the writings of Chris Crass and in turn by the work of feminists of color like Elizabeth Betita Martinez.

Mike makes passing reference to Leonard, contrasting the approach adopted by those supportive of the concept of a ‘threewayfight’ to that being pursued by Zeskind. Thus:

It is worth noting that a different, more institutional and less confrontational version of anti-fascism draws on roots inside STO as well. The work done by Lenny Zeskind, a long-time member of STO, with the Center for Democratic Renewal in the nineties, contributed to the emergence of a variety of community-based, but definitely not anti-capitalist, anti-fascist coalitions in many parts of the US. The CDR, in turn, was originally founded as the National Anti-Klan Network, one of the initial left responses to the Greensboro Massacre; STO members were among the founders of the NAKN in late 1979.

In summary, Zeskind is a former (?) Leninist and member of the STO, responsible for establishing the groupuscule in Kansas City, and having written articles for its publications. In 1979, following the Greensboro massacre, he helped form the ‘Anti-Klan Network’; subsequently, the Network transformed itself (1980? 1985?) into the ‘Center for Democratic Renewal’ (CDR). The CDR closed its doors in

With regards the political and social milieu from which STO emerged, Mike further notes:

When STO came into existence, the New Left was reeling from the sudden collapse of SDS in 1969, and the founders of the group were drawn away from student organizing and toward workplace organizing as a venue for challenging white supremacy and building a revolutionary movement. From the start, members of STO took jobs in factories and attempted to make connections among the various forms of spontaneous resistance that were then common in a variety of industrial contexts. For the first several years of STO’s existence, this approach was the defining characteristic of the group, which was referred to in left circles in Chicago as “those people who organize in factories.”

Which fact gives me an opportunity for another spotterly digression, this time in the direction of the New York based zine Next Left Notes, which has a kick-arse family tree tracing the (mis-)fortunes of the various children of SDS. The STO’s ‘industrial turn’ also brings to mind similar efforts by members of what was then known as the Socialist Workers Party (now the Democratic Socialist Perspective) during roughly the same period (see : The Fourth International and the circle spirit).

And ah, a whole lotta other stuff, which I’ll elaborate on later — if I could be arsed.

In the meantime, SDS spawned a monster. Many monsters in fact. (Semi-)Contemporary descendants include:

Zeskind also once wrote for British anti-fascist publication Searchlight. On Searchlight (1975–), see : ‘Searchlight & the State’ (KSL/Anarchy, No.36, 1983).

See also : F*** Off, We’re Full (Of Shit) : Part the 2nd : Timmy! (June 10, 2009) | The Invention of the White Race (May 29, 2009) | The assault on American Indian tribal relationships… (May 21, 2009) | Whites not all right! Anti-White Conference bad! Exclamation marks good!!! (December 5, 2008) | Scrutinising the religious and political right (Alan Matheson) (November 8, 2008) | White Privilege // Whiteness Studies (October 7, 2008) | Let’s invite the CIA too! (July 13, 2006) | ‘The Anti-Nazi League as social movement’, David Renton, Paper presented at the ‘New Socialist Approaches to History’ seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, June 6, 2005 [PDF].

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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4 Responses to More on Zeskind… and spotting!

  1. Mike S. says:

    Hey Andy,

    Thanks for the props! A couple clarifications:

    1) The good folks who do the STO web archive are not ex-members; in fact they were born around the time STO went into its terminal decline. I’m a bit older, but also too young to have been a member (plus I’m not a Leninist!).

    2) Zeskind helped form an independent group in Kansas City in the early 70s that subsequently merged with STO in 1976. At this point I believe it is more than fair to say that he is definitely a former Leninist.

    3) Spotterly trivia: several groups on your list have at best a tenuous connection to SDS. Ray O Light, the CoC (then part of the CPUSA), and the LRNA (then the Communist League) only had a passing connection to SDS; PLP’s involvement was more intensive, but all four groups pre-date the heyday of SDS in the late sixties.

    Solidarity,
    Mike

  2. @ndy says:

    Sweet.

    Thanks Mike.

    I shoulda beena clearer: the dozen groups listed are the ones what are at the bottom of the family tree @ Left Notes. The CPUSA is the grand-daddy, of course.

    Quicker than a Ray O Light apparently traces responsibility for its superbly evocative name back to hot ’60s act ‘Youth for Stalin’; SDS got born 1960…

    I sometimes wish whichever US Government Department keeps a track of these things would spring a leak, and a kick-arse wallmap of the hundreds of revolutionary f(r)actions was finally produced for the spotter market. That, or some IT geek collates all the data, shoves it into a program, and creates a neat, 3-D game of some kind… maybe even a Choose-Your-Own-Commie-Adventure.

    Probably just me.

    They’re creepy and they’re kooky / Mysterious and spooky / They’re all together ooky / The Marxist Family!

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