These Marxist Hacks Are Hackers, Too
Online pioneers of the kooky left.

New York City Tribune, Tuesday, August 7, 1990

"U.S. Occupation Forces Out of Puerto Rico Before Any Referendum! Britain Out of Ireland! End Anti-Labor and Counter-Intelligence Spying!" The messages fly by on my computer screen: "Hands Off Labor and All Labor Organizations! Multi-Nationals Hands Off Americas and All Nations!"

I've just logged onto the Tentra Red Flag BBS (212-406-9108), a 2-year-old Manhattan computer bulletin board system described as a "Socialist Labor/Art net." I was invited to call by a sticker I spied during a stroll on the Lower East Side. With communism on the decline in Eastern Europe, what, I wondered, were American leftists doing to keep themselves going?

Not too much, based on my quick read of the last couple months' messages. Most of the messages on the system, it turns out, are about music and martial arts. The political discussion is dominated by two rather strident leftists who use the names Andi Anderson and Raymond Brant. (These may or may not be their real names; users are encouraged to adopt pseudonyms if they must do so for "security reasons.")

Communists love to brag about the improved literacy rates since they took power in places like Cuba. (Of course, literacy is worth considerably less when the only books available are the complete works of Lenin.) The operator of Tentra can make no such boast: Messages here are atrociously written, rife with misspellings, grammatical errors and incoherent babble. For example, Anderson opens a message by declaring: "I maybe I'm unusual because of different discipline I submit myself and enjoy while others don't but: a person can't deal on a personal level with of what this guy thinks or that guy." Huh?

So, what do these Marxist hackers think about the situation in Eastern Europe? According to Brant, it's all a nefarious capitalist plot. He explains (henceforth, all quotes are edited for spelling and grammar): "The so-called Solidarity groups in Poland and Gorbachev/Yeltsin in the USSR . . . seem either dupes or stooges for the Western penetration of Eastern Europe through the mask of 'Social Democratic' rhetoric that never lives up to its high-sounding pretensions and for the most part [is] used to extract all that can be extracted from the working class."

Anderson, for her part, doesn't understand all the fuss about the Baltics. "Why Lithuania and not Puerto Rico or Northern Ireland?" she asks. She, too, is convinced that there's a grand capitalist conspiracy. "We are being systematically lied to by elements in the pay of some higher powers. And until the political intelligence files are opened without reservation . . . I don't feel safe."

What's amazing is the similarity between the rhetoric of left-wing kooks and that of right-wing kooks. "I have great respect for all honest, patriotic, loyal Americans," writes Anderson, "but this government doesn't represent American interests but the mega-multi-national corporations."

Her worries get rather specific. "The language of 'our government' is defining a fascistic if not fascist state where they regulate the times people have to go to the toilet," she writes. No doubt those rotten multi-nationals would rake in billions in profits if the government imposed strict restrictions on our bathroom habits.

This bulletin board is not for children or the impressionable; you could end up seriously confused if you call here not knowing what you're doing. Consider, for example, the following exchange between Anderson and one Joe Comeau:

Comeau: "Socialism is not communism. It is a system in which all the wealth is shared (thus the phrase: 'Share the wealth') in areas such as medical health. Underclass persons would not have to worry about insurance and/or getting into a hospital. There is much more involved and it would take a whole book to explain it fully (like one by Karl Marx) but it is a very practical idea. It is used in some European countries and I think Canada (I'm not sure about Canada)."

Anderson: "It's not a question of sharing but equitably distributing through a process of law by government and council both democratic and utilitarian functional under workers' control and no other."

Comeau: "Thanks for explaining that. I knew I had the right idea, it's just hard to put it into words."

When another caller says he objects to mass murder by both Hitler and Stalin, Brant says he's "obviously immature"--and lectures him for some 625 words. Obviously, Brant is a man with too much time on his hands.

If you're interested in monitoring the leftist press, Tentra can be a convenient way to do it: The system offers online excerpts from People's Daily World (the newspaper of the Communist Party USA) as well as other far-left organs such as Frontline and Worker's World.

The operator of Tentra describes his system as "a serious attempt to bring forth a progressive presence" into the computer world, "a field that up to now has been dominated by . . . white males under 30, from middle to upper class, [with] apolitical or libertarian to fascist anti-socialist/communist backgrounds."

It's rather ironic to see adherents of an antiquated and discredited ideology use a relatively new technology to spread their message. This irony is underscored by the comments of one user, who's more an environmentalist than a Marxist: "I wish we could all go back to the days when we had to hitch up the horse to travel the 10 miles into town--which was the farthest most people traveled in their lifetimes."

What's next, a computer network for Luddites?

Next article: Daniel Ortega Plots a Sequel to 'Revenge of the Nerds' (New York City Tribune, 8/15/90)

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