Ultra Left nostalgia

November 2, 2008 at 3:02 pm (Uncategorized)

I moved at the end of the summer. While I was unpacking, I came across a boxes of issues of the Discussion Bulletin. A small, now- defunct, but very important publication. Small publications are both a labour of love and an effort to communicate. For twenty years, the Discussion Bulletin filled a niche.  

From 1997 until 2006, I wrote, edited and published a newsletter called Red & Black Notes.  The newsletter changed considerably over its nine year history. Initially, it was a leaflet for a Safeway strike, but it morphed into a four page leaflet. This later became eight pages, and the last ten issues averaged twenty pages.  Eventually, twenty-two issues of the publication appeared. The early issues contained little original material; mostly reprints of things I liked. As the publication progressed, more and more original content appeared, although people now began to send me material.

When I first came into contact with ultra-left or left communist ideas in the mid-1990s it was through the printed medium. The internet was still in its infancy, and the vast wealth of left communist material available on the net today, simply did not exist in any readily accessible form.

In a copy of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, I read a review for the Discussion Bulletin. The magazine was mentioned as reprinting council communist, class struggle anarchist, De Leonist and other material on what was called the non-market socialist sector. I wrote for an issue and read an article from Collective Action Notes called “The USA: A Transition Period – But to Where?”   I wrote to CAN and received lots of cool material. More letters led to such magazines as Echanges, Subversion, Aufheben, Proletarian Gob, Internationalist Notes, and many more. R&BN, even inspired another, The Bad Days Will End. Most of these magazine no longer exist which is a pity.  

The Discussion Bulletin was, in many ways, a unique publication. The editor of the magazine, Frank Girard, had been a member of the Socialist Labor Party for most of his political life. He was expelled, along with the Grand Rapids branch in the early 80s. Unlike many, who after being expelled from an organization proceed to reinvent the wheel, Frank turned in a different direction.  The Discussion Bulletin was the result.

The magazine appeared like clockwork every two months. Frank published material from the non-market sector. This is defined as class struggle anarchist, Bordigist, Impossiblist, De Lenoist, council communist and assorted others. He did no editing or typesetting beyond simple layouts. The subscription fee was a ridiculously low $5 a year (six issues), but people often gave extra. The DB published a huge assortment of names and groups. The following would only be a partial list:

Red & Black Notes, Tampa Workers Association, Internationalist, Internationalist Communist group, De Leonist Society, John Zerzan, Kevin Keating, Subversion, Wildcat, Collective Action Notes, Internationalist notes, Noam Chomsky, New Union Party, New Democracy, TPTG, Solidarita, Larry Gambone, Socialist Party of Great Britain (both of them), IWW, Chicago Revolutionary Network, Chris Faatz, Internationalist Perspective, Echanges, and many many more.

Frank stopped publishing in 2003. The costs of  mailing and a feeling that the internet could replace the Discussion Bulletin prompted the move. Frank died a year later. Some of the issues are still available on-line, but the site doesn’t really convey the flavour of the magazine.

Below is the appreciation I wrote for Frank in 2003

Frank Girard  

Regular readers of Red & Black Notes will also be familiar with the Grand Rapids based publication The Discussion Bulletin.I was deeply saddened to hear last month of the passing of Frank Girard, the long time editor of the publication. Frank stopped publishing the Discussion Bulletin in July 2003 citing his age and the increasing importance of the internet, which he felt made publications like the Discussion Bulletin less and less relevant. He planned continued involvement in the socialist movement. His death at 77 is a felt loss to his many friends and comrades.

Frank worked as a machine operator and later a high school English teacher, but more important was his membership from the 1940s on in the Socialist Labor Party, the organization of followers of American socialist leader Daniel De Leon. Frank ran for political office several times in Michigan, but argued he was “running against capitalism.” Unsurprisingly, he was never elected.

In the early 1980s, as part of a seemingly endless series of schisms in the SLP, Frank was expelled from the party along with much of the Grand Rapids section (in 1991 he published a short history of the party along with another former Socialist Labor Party member Ben Perry). In 1983, Frank began to publish the Discussion Bulletin.

The Discussion Bulletin was unlike many other socialist publications in that it was simply a forum for discussion. Its contents were, aside from Frank’s editorial remarks and occasional contributions, entirely from its readership. It was also a model of regularity for socialist publications, appearing every two months like clockwork for twenty years.

Frank’s other strength was that he was genuinely committed to discussion and debate in what he called the non-market socialist sector, in which he included De Leonists, World Socialists, council and left communists, and class struggle anarchists among others. Throughout its existence the Discussion Bulletin featured, unedited, contributions from all of the above sectors. And although he never completely broke with De Leonist politics and all its incumbent weaknesses, but which had played such an important role in his life, Frank was also prepared to learn from discussion, and admit when he was wrong. Frank was a non-sectarian in the best sense of the word.

I met Frank in 1999 when he was a member of the Grand Rapids Industrial Workers of the World General Membership Branch. That a member of the “Detroit IWW” might rejoin the Chicago branch suggested an ongoing commitment to struggle for a socialist future.

The cessation of publication by the Discussion Bulletin left a hole. Frank’s passing leaves a much larger one.




  1. vivelaultragauche said,

    RB&N’s editor now is taking up editing Internationalist Perspectives. Internationalist Notes still exists and is still struggling to exist. I have not heard from CAN in some time, it is a shame as CAN was a fine publication, occasionally the editor still posts an article online. Aufheben still exists. Wildcat and Subversion, I don’t know how they are doing but I haven’t heard that they’ve collapsed. Chirevnet, I am not sure about but I think it morphed into something else, maybe they still exist maybe they do not.

  2. fischerzed said,

    A few years ago the “ultra-left” field was fairly full, but now it’s rather sparce. The editor of CAN decided not to publish anymore, but the web site does continue. It’s a shame because it was a great paper, and the one which inspired me to publish. Subversion folded over 10 years ago, and many of its members joined the Anarchist Federation. Wildcat was a former member (there are various versions of this), but it’s one guy who has moved into a direct direction. Chirevnet’s main guy no longer lives in Chicago, so I don’t know about the group’s activities. The Aufheben minority who moved in the direction of Theorie Communiste have published their own journal. A new issue of Internationalist Perspective will be out very soon. Watch for an announcement.

  3. Garco said,

    Just came across this. I am sure it is all defunct etc. Just wanted to say hello to the R&BNotes person! Only two members of Subversion joined the ACF/AF. One of them (the one who produced ‘Proletarian Gob’) didn’t last long and ended up co-producing the book, Nihilist Communism. Anyway, hope everything is well with you.

    • fischerzed said,

      Thanks for the info. I was at the 1998 London Anarchist Bookfair and spoke to a couple of people from Subversion. They had just announced their dissolution and were giving away all sorts of things. I spoke briefly with Mark Shipway, and got the impression a few were going to the ACF. Can’t remember the name of the person who stayed, but I do recall a number of exchanges with Pete Post, later of Monsieur Dupont. (I think I still have a few copies of Proletarian Gob around somewhere)

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