September 21, 2020:
Conversion came suddenly, although there'd been signs.
I could no longer take seriously the Anarchist notion of spontaneous, leaderless insurrection. There is no example of such a thing in history. At that time the Velvet Revolutions were a decade in the future; when they come they'll be nationalist uprisings against collaborationist governments no longer propped by foreign occupation. This is not the Anarchist model. Anarchists are expecting working people to spontaneously replace capitalism with some form of co-operative collectivism, like the co-ops and collectives at UCSD. The strategy is unrealistic primarily because it fails to account for the impact of ideology. Why do people vote for their enemies? The Anarchist theory I'd encountered was incapable of even posing that question.
The Marxists were so much more sophisticated. But I resisted Marxism vehemently. To me, as to nearly all Americans in that era, it was associated with the crimes of the Soviet Union. It seemed to be statist, anti-democratic, totalitarian. That absurd ten-dollar phrase "the dictatorship of the proletariat" wasn't helping. In reality Marx would have been the first to fight against the Russian dictatorship, but the Cold War and the Russians themselves had buried that reality under an alp of misinformation. I accepted the Cold War caricature and rejected the Marxist current.
There was also the extreme sectarianism, where the practice of the minuscule grouplets was to counterpose themselves to the movements. In many cases, to actively subvert movements they saw as rivals. I was and remain all about self-organization, where the movements are the people's expression and their chosen organizational form. We're for democracy, we're for self-determination: we build the movements. Because the sectarians described themselves as Marxists I was not open to the term.
Yet I knew at some point I'd have to engage. There was history there, and strategy, and considerable methodological superiority to the milieu I'd experienced thus far. There was the working-class orientation, the pro-union orientation. If there had been such a thing as a non-sectarian Marxism it might have attracted me much earlier.
It was Perry Anderson's beautiful Passages From Antiquity to Feudalism which broke the dam.
I bought it in part for the lovely Robert Natkin cover. It suggested sophistication, a kind of nontriviality I was ready for. It was Marxist and I was seeking to engage. It blew me away because it offered a meticulously rigorous explanation of social evolution which I immediately realized could be a basis for strategy. In time I came to understand that was Marx's purpose: his analytical framework(s) exist as tools for analysis, where analysis forms the basis for strategy and strategy is the foundation for leadership.
I realized even at the time my subjective emphases on strategy and leadership were legacies of my decade-long immersion in military history and strategy. Later I learned Lenin had read Clausewitz and accepted Clausewitz' definitions of strategy and tactics. This all seemed intuitive to me because I'd already encountered it in depth. In fact rather more so than most Marxists ever do.
Still later I learned that Marx had two contrasting and conflicting conceptual frameworks, probably without realizing this himself. On the one hand there's the teleology of the productive forces bursting their societal bounds, where history leads step by step to an inevitable destination known in advance. On the other hand is class struggle, with its defeats and mistakes and disasters, its forward-backward-sideways motion, and, with the triumph of Neoliberalism, the in-your-face undeniability that working people have had their asses kicked. At this moment that wasn't the point. I'd found the way forward to an analytical framework enabling strategy. With a deep breath and a couple of last vestiges of kicking and screaming I dragged myself to the altar, where Anderson not only opened me to Marx but prepared me for Althusser, whose eventual arrival was less traumatic than it might otherwise have been.