I was shocked and really sad to hear about the death of Louis Proyect. Lou had a major impact on my life. I discovered his Marxmail list about 20 years ago, when I was reeling after I left a toxic Trotskyist sect. I didn’t yet know how to imagine being a committed Marxist in a healthier way. I was pretty young at the time. Marxmail, and Lou’s writings – on Lenin, Mariátegui, etc – were the first things I came across that really cracked open a new, non-sectarian way for me to approach Marxist politics. It was the same with his cultural writings.
So I emailed him. I told him how disillusioned I was, but also how inspiring I found his writings. He responded and was so supportive. He had obviously gone through similar shit leaving the SWP. We started a long friendship.
It’s clear from reading everyone’s tributes that Lou and Marxmail played some significant sort of role in transitioning the Marxist left from then to now, especially among younger people, that many are still trying to process. For me, in addition to his writings and the space of Marxmail, I can’t count how many great people who are now lifelong friends he personally connected me with.
Also, he was singularly supportive of Left Hook, a radical youth project that the late M. Junaid Alam and I oversaw from around 2003 to 2006, and through which we met a ton of great people who remain comrades. Lou offered all kinds of support for Left Hook, including fundraising support.
In the mid-aughts I used to visit him and his wife Mine, bringing distributor-priced liquor from the spirits shop I worked at in NYC. They’d make me amazing dinners (Lou loved to cook) and we’d have really fun nights talking about everything, sometimes with other interesting guests. It was a real trip to browse his mountains of shelves stacked with books about almost everything in the world.
I participated in the Marxmail list just for a few years but always remained a “lurker,” as Lou called it. We only communicated a few times over the past decade, but just a few weeks ago I emailed him to ask what happened to the “Last 100 emails” page on the Marxmail list. He responded with a single URL. I thought it was weird – no hello, how ya doing? – but I didn’t make anything of it. I had no idea he was dying.
Lou’s love of life, history, culture and politics was inspiring. Thinking about it now, it wasn’t just the content of his writings that drew me in, but also the autodidacticism behind them, his drive to learn and write and contribute through channels and in styles that flouted academic etiquette and circumvented institutions open only to the credentialed and well-networked.
Lou often admired people who lived into their 90s and stayed sharp, like Paul Sweezy and others, writing and reading and commenting. He always said he hoped to do the same. He had an extremely healthy lifestyle filled with exercise and nutritious food. He really wanted to live a long life.
As almost everyone has noted, Louis was also a total curmudgeon and could be an unbelievable asshole. I never bore the brunt of it, but I had friends who did. I mostly enjoyed his “Unrepentant Marxist” public persona and how he railed against his chosen enemies, often hilariously, but he could be petty, mean, reckless, and at times hurtful to people who didn’t deserve it.
Lou ended up reconciling with a lot of people he got into feuds with, many of who are now remembering him with some fondness. Frustrating as he could be at times, Louis made the world and the Left a much richer place. I’m going to miss him.