CounterPunch has lost a faithful friend and contributor. Louis Proyect died on August 25, peacefully in his sleep after an extended illness. He was 76 years old. He wrote many essays for CP, including scores of film reviews. Jeffrey St. Clair said that he always reserved space on Friday for Louis’s reviews and commentaries. He admired CounterPunch and Jeffrey immensely, and he always urged us to contribute to the fundraisers.
Louis had a bottomless curiosity, and he had a thirst to know everything. He was interested in and knowledgeable about nearly every subject under the sun: films, art, poetry, literature, classical music, jazz, the music of the Global South, history, physics, ecology, medicine, politics, economics, the arcana of leftist parties and sects, class struggle, agriculture, Indigenous peoples, philosophy, Marx and Marxism, labor unions, Trotsky and Trotskyism, education. On these and other topics, he must have written several million words. For many of us, he was a veritable clearinghouse of what was worth reading. We looked forward to the posts on his blog, The Unrepentant Marxist, the links he put up every day on Marxmail, the listserv he moderated for twenty years, and what he posted on his Facebook page. It was always as if we were in a free school, learning new things and re-thinking those we thought we knew something about.
Most people accept the way things are and live their lives accordingly. But a few do not. They rebel against the status quo. Some abandon the world in one way or another, living off the grid, refusing to settle down, joining a religious cult. Others dig in their heels and devote their lives to analyzing society and doing what they can to change it. Louis was one of these. He was born in Kansas City, but he grew up in the Catskills in the “Borsht Belt,” as he used to say. While raised in the Jewish faith and certainly influenced by what it meant to be a Jew in an antisemitic society, from an early age, he was a nonbeliever. He enrolled at Bard College when he was sixteen, and he did some graduate studies at the New School. He wrote much about his upbringing and his education, as well as his entire life, perhaps most openly and wittily in the comic book autobiography, in which he wrote the dialogue while Harvey Pekar, who had become a close friend, did the strips. Anyone wanting to learn about his life will want to read this. You can find it here.
Like most of us, he had to earn a living. He labored as a social worker in Harlem, and as a computer programmer at an insurance company, a hospital, on Wall Street, and finally for more than two decades at Columbia University. During this time, he moved steadily to the left, eventually joining the Socialist Workers Party, which he left after eleven years, watching it sink into sectarian irrelevance. He was active in the struggle to end the war in Vietnam. He gave technical support to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the African National Congress in South Africa. He was a steadfast supporter of the Cuban Revolution, and, without exception, he fought against racism, sexism, homophobia, and the oppression of transgender people. He believed that ours is a racial capitalism, and he stood foursquare for the end to the exploitation of Indigenous peoples, in the United States and everywhere. He took the time to make careful analyses of every matter that concerned him. He was an opponent of U.S. imperialism, but he also felt strongly that it was important to examine the class composition of all societies. He was a radical environmentalist, envisioning a world without industrial agriculture and technology that fit eco-socialism.
Louis’s political views, his arguments with numerous people who disagreed with him, and his voluminous writings are publicly available. So, there is no need here to go into details. However, we are all more than what we write, more than our politics. We are also human beings, with complex sets of relationships with others. It is impossible to know a person unless we know something about their humanity.
My personal interactions with Louis began nearly thirty years ago. We had some online discussions on the Progressive Economists Listserv, and these led to personal email exchanges. Then, he said he was going on a trip, and he offered my partner and me the use of his apartment. He sent us housekeys, even before we had met him. I visited Manhattan with my son, and Louis took us to a musical concert. Karen and I stayed with him and his wife while we searched for an apartment in 2001. And when we moved to the city, the two of them were the only people in New York City who treated us as friends. They invited us and our visiting daughter to dinner. Louis took me to an art exhibit, and we saw films together. He knew the city well, and if we had questions, he answered them. They shared a meal with us at our apartment. No one else did any of these things, even those I had known for some time. After we left New York, and right up until just before his death, we exchanged emails and occasional Skype calls. I never had to ask him to review one of my books. He just did it. If I asked him a question about a source or something else, he never failed to answer with what I needed. I know that there are many other people who could say the same about their personal interactions with him. Louis knew more people than one can imagine. A great number knew him as well. Not just as a sometimes-sharp antagonist but as a person. Those who did will tell you that he was a good man, one who never refused to offer a helping hand to those who asked.
Let us all offer our deepest condolences to Louis’s wife, Mine. And goodbye, Louis. You will live on in our hearts and in our efforts to change the world.