Monthly Archives: February 2023

Book Review (Partial): Medhurst, John, “No Less Than Mystic. A History of Lenin and the Russian Revolution for a 21st Century Left.” Repeater Books, London, 2017

Somebody sent me a book anonymously. The package just said “Pearl Books” Wisconsin. I don’t know if everybody is getting one or if I was singled out. Even in paperback, this one costs $19.95 so whoever sent it must have either been strong of purpose or just has a lot of money. I get a lot of books because book salesmen mis-read “Workers Beat” the title of my radio show, and send me business management stuff. They think it’s “Beat Workers,” I guess.

Nevertheless, I liked the “21st Century Left” part of the title, so I’m trying to read it. Also, it led off with an interesting quote, “The Marxist doctrine is omnipresent because it is true.” –V.I. Lenin.

But I got really worried as soon as I got to the top of the second page of the Introduction: “In the end I suggest that that anti-capitalist writers such as …Noam Chomsky… have more constructive options to offer the left today than do the sages of Bolshevism.” I flipped back to the cover and, sure enough, there was a flagrant endorsement from the world’s champion armchair socialist himself, Chomsky!

Determined as I am to hear both sides of the story, I’m still trying to read it and have accomplished all the way to page 127 now. There are 467 to go. It’s pretty easy to see, from the git-go, that the author is against all revolutionaries and for all back-biting intellectual splitters. It reads very much like a treatise on theology – lots of name dropping, obscure quotes, and hardly any commitment to a course of action.

Since the author rules out revolution in the first few pages, I was eager to see what he does recommend, so I skipped to the last chapter. It wasn’t exactly clear, but he seems to favor early anarchism – the idea that capitalism has an on/off switch that needs no process. He likes the occupy movement, whether on the large scale like the Zapatistas in Mexico or the small scale such as what occurred recently in America’s parks and public places. He likes employee stock option plans in which laborers own a controlling stock in (usually small) businesses. He likes the word “libertarian,” but I don’t think he means America’s Libertarian Party. I think he means “more liberal.” Oh yes, I nearly forgot, he favors the counterculture idea – in which no revolutionary activity, or any activity at all, is required because the bosses are about to capsize on their own and all we have to do is grow our hair long, listen to music, and recycle our trash until they’re gone. All of the people he quotes that I recognize were gradualists who believed that the bosses will stand by while we elect revolutionary socialists to replace them.

When it suits him, the author finds anti-revolutionary quotes from Rosa Luxemburg or even Leon Trotsky to discredit the people who actually did make a difference in their lifetimes.

As I spent considerable time as a counter-culturalist and, later, as a Trotskyite, I felt that I had a special need to set the record straight on Luxemburg and Trotsky. Both of them were lifetime revolutionaries with slightly divergent views on how to overcome the bosses. Luxemburg, in fact, wrote what is probably the best refutation of people like Medhurst, the present author, in her short book “Reform and Revolution.” She spoke the truth and paid for it with her life. She’s essential reading.

I don’t like dissing somebody’s thinking without offering an alternative, so let me explain a short version of the actual situation. It begins by asking “what’s wrong?”

What’s Wrong?

Nothing is wrong. Everything is going swimmingly – but only for the bosses. The people who are running most of the world are running it very well, from their point of view. Working families may not like constant wars and environmental disaster, but oil stocks are skyrocketing. Racism and police misconduct may be ugly from our point of view, but they have always paid off nicely, from slavery thru Jim Crow to the present state of things, for our employers. Mass murders may be unseemly to us, but they are just fine for arms manufacturers. For our bosses, hunger and disease are just the cost of doing busines

Anybody who is thinking clearly will see it. Working families’ problems come from our bosses, and the only long-term solution is to remove them from power. I figured that out without any help from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Mao Tse-Tung, Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba or Fidel Castro, and certainly not from Noam Chomsky. In my own case, I was simply an elementary school teacher who thought, at first, that the world would change if I could end corporal punishment. When I paused being a knee-jerk activist and thought about it, though, I realized that America’s system of public and private education has not “gone astray” or “missed the point.” They may not always be good for working families, but they function pretty well for the bosses. The same is true for all the other of society’s “ills.”

What I couldn’t figure out, and, like most people, what I’m still grappling with, is what to do about it. History’s great revolutionaries may have had minor differences in their strategies and tactics, but they all agreed that the bosses need to go. In some parts of his long book, Medhurst hints that he thinks so, too, but, for the most part, his contribution provides comfort for those who don’t really intend to do anything at all.

One can live a long and comfortable life writing books about the need for change as long as they stay away from doing anything, or advocating anything that might work. They can advocate for change – heck, they can even get big financial grants from the bosses for their projects – as long as no real challenge to the bosses is involved.

Clever writers can rise to fame and fortune if they defame the people and ideas that might actually make a difference. The armchair socialist, like the cockroach, will survive after all.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. My “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts usually go up on Soundcloud every Wednesday morning. If you are curious about what I really think, look at my personal web site

book review: Virginia Hamilton, “Anthony Burns. The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave.” Knopf, 1988

Here’s a great book to read during Black History Month, especially while Republicans are fuming about “The 1619 Project” and trying to shut down history classes and ban books. This one is in the Dallas library and can be read on kindle, or at least it is now but it might not be if the Texas governor finds out about it.

Anthony Burns escaped slavery in 1854 and made his way to Boston. The Fugitive Slave Act was already in effect. Anthony was a practicing minister and was eager to join a local church, but they required a letter of transfer from his former church. Foolishly, Anthony wrote the letter. Later in 1854, his former master showed up with a gang of hoodlums and a lawyer to reclaim his “property.” The federal law seemed to be in conflict with Massachusetts law and apparently had not been tested. I suppose that the Dred Scott case settled the legal questions in 1855, but they weren’t completely settled when hoodlums and local officials grabbed Anthony Burns off the street.

I thought it was interesting that Burns’ pro-bono lawyer was Richard Henry Dana, famous novelist who wrote “Two Years Before the Mast.” I didn’t even know he was an abolitionist. In this book, lots of people were. At one point, according to the author, 50,000 people mobilized for and against the extradition of Anthony Burns! Also, the slaver was apparently scared he’d be lynched!

The way the book is written is interesting in itself. Instead of just recounting and embellishing the historical facts and the great suffering of the runaway slave, this author tries to get into the head of Anthony Burns. That’s the imaginary part, and it’s quite interesting, but the historical part could stand alone. There were really a lot of people involved in trying to help Burns. The period is called “Boston Riots!” Makes me proud!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM and I podcast “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud every Wednesday. If you’re curious about what I really think, check out my 2014 personal web site.

An editorial in the Washington Post says that labor’s share of GDP is 56%, an all-time low. “The key [to understanding our oddball economic situation] is what happens to wages. For all the talk of workers having so much power, union membership reached an all-time low in 2022, and wages for most workers have not been keeping up with inflation. Companies made hefty profits because they raised prices faster than their labor and other costs.” –Heather Long in WAPO

Heather Long’s opinion is quite a bit different from what we in labor normally publish about labor’s situation. Recently, for example, we pointed out the large number of new union members nationwide, but we failed to point out that our organized percentage of the overall working class is still falling, just as it has since the 1950s. To start winning, we have to do something different from what we have been doing.

I’m in the Auto Workers Union. One side of the current national election says that we must do something dramatically different no matter how scary that may sound. The other side says they’re the ones with experience who know how to run things because they have been running them absolutely since 1947. In their literature, neither side takes note of the incredibly low turnout in the national election: 11% in the first round. There are some projections that it may rise to 16% in the runoff, but I doubt it. No matter which side wins, their main problem is going to be regaining the kind of membership participation that they had before 1947.

I would like to suggest that the “something different” for the UAW and all of American labor is to take advantage of our unprecedented popularity with all workers, unionized or not unionized. Over 70% of the American people approve of labor unions while not a single Democrat or Republican person or organization can get over 45%! I think we could win a nationwide boycott or a united nationwide organizing drive or even a nationwide general strike. Should labor give change a try or should we keep on slowly circling the drain? –genelantz

I’m still on’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site at