Dear Emily Post-Avant,

I am a student at UC-Davis, where three semesters past I took an English class with Professor and poet Joshua Clover. Professor Clover, a self-professed communist who has written a book arguing (as I best understand it ) that the working class trade unions have more or less become sclerotic, reactionary entities, and that therefore the only revolutionary option for real Marxists is to foment libidinal, anarchic riots, has gotten into trouble of late. Because it’s all over the international media that over the last two or three years, and on more than a couple occasions, he has openly called, on the record, for the actual killing of cops. While I consider myself a leftist (I supported Bernie last time and plan to again, if he stays alive through the primaries), I cannot agree that calling for the killing of cops is a healthy thing. In fact, I think it is wrong ethically and stupid politically. Am I just a boring progressive liberal? Sorry if this sounds like a letter to the Paris Review Poetry RX!

–English Major in the Bay Area



Dear English Major in the Bay Area,

Not that you should settle for being a boring liberal, darling, but if it’s a choice between petit-bourgeois ultra-left adventurism and the relatively staid progressive liberalism of the left trade-union movement, it’s usually advisable to choose the latter, at least as a holding action. You can try to kill all the cops you want, but it’s not going to get you any closer to socialism and au contraire. Gramsci said that, more or less. Luxemburg said that, more or less. So did Andres Nin and C.L.R. James and Maurice Bishop, more or less. So did Marx, actually. And Lenin and Trotsky, too, who both wrote full critiques of the self-defeating idealism practiced by 19th century Narodniks and their early 20th century Socialist Revolutionary descendants, of the Maximalist faction. Joshua Clover, for whatever reason, seems to be a kind of early 21st century Narodnik-Maximalist.

Except that he doesn’t commit himself to doing what his big mouth says, like the old, suicidal Narodniks and Maximalists would, at least, do. Instead, he makes his knuckleheaded, irresponsible appeals for violence from his comfy office in the English Department at UC/Davis.

His failure to put into practice what he preaches can only lead one to believe he wants other folks to start killing cops, and if it can be done while rioters (presumably with an elaborated socialist program for the seizure of power) smash the windows of coffee shops or the occasional Asian or Indian shopkeeper, so much the better. Such is the vanguard revolutionary praxis advocated by Professor Clover, leaping over, in a bold and tenured bound, the overrated, distracting business of defending and renewing the historical collective instruments of the working class.

Objectively speaking, English Major sweetie, such adventurist language by your former prof is the language of the provocateur—and I mean of the State provocateur. All the venerable Marxist folk I mention above said that, too. They understood, unlike Professor Clover, that it benefits the repressive stratagems and policies of the State when loony, voluntarist radicals advocate or commit acts of isolated terror. I could have written that sentence in one elegant clause, I’m sorry. But that’s why at certain junctures, you see, the police agencies plant agents inside the left movement to advocate such things, and sometimes, even, to enact them.

For those interested in esoteric political poetry history, there is a sort of precedent for Professor Clover’s ultra-left grandstanding. In the early 1930s, at the height of the Comintern’s ultra-sectarian “Third Period,” there was a great controversy in France around the Surrealist poet Louis Aragon, whose long poem “Red Front” called for the killing of both cops on the beat and the French socialist leader Léon Blum. For publishing the poem, Aragon was threatened by the state with imprisonment. Even though Aragon had already made his peace with Stalinism when the poem was written (he would serve for life as an apparatchik of the horrid French Communist Party), and even though most of the other Surrealists were fierce critics of Stalinism and allied with Trotsky’s opposition, revolutionary poets like Breton and Péret came to Aragon’s defense, supporting his freedom of creative expression and arguing that the calls for homicide were “metaphorical” extensions of the poem’s political passions.

Unfortunately, Professor Clover seems to have made his own calls for assassination in a non-poetic and entirely non-metaphorical sense—doing so on the record in journalistic interviews and articles. So it is much harder to figure out how to come to his defense in a broader, poetic  solidarity. (Though at least he didn’t also call for the murder of Bernie Sanders, whose social-democratic politics are more or less like Léon Blum’s. Maybe an oversight. Dunno, can’t say 100%.)

Anyway, revolutionary thrills and spills aside, it’s quite an irony that this tenured cop-killer guy with a conference stipend is the same person who’s widely rumored in the left community to have literally narced on a fellow Marxist professor. Clover and Commune pal Juliana Spahr have gone running, wagging their tails to institutional higher ups (as in the Board of Regents), tattling about this other professor’s partying. Isn’t it funny, as a far-left friend of mine said, how the most anti-cop peeps so often turn out to be the cops, in practice.

Now, I would say that it’s generally not a wise idea, if you’re a prof, to do any kind of partying where students are present, granted. It’s probably not a wise idea to do illegal drugs, either, though admittedly, I’m a somewhat dull, standard alcoholic who doesn’t do anything other than the occasional pipe bowl. But all that aside, it’s downright reprehensible for an avowed commie to rat out another commie to the authorities. “It’s just not proper, Robert,” as Elizabeth Bishop was fond of writing to her confidant, “for revolutionary poets to behave like stool pigeons and snitches!”

Actually, the editors at Dispatches (I would never narc them out to anyone, even though they sometimes treat me like poop) exposed Professor Clover’s dubious political line last year, in their typically debonair and clement way. Make sure you read this:

OK, so there you have it. That’s all for now on this rather depressing affair. I know it seems like I’m stopping too brusquely, without summing up by reminding readers of my thesis and alluding back to my more important paragraph topics. But my four-month old Golden Doodle, Ben Jonson, who is the cutest puppy in all the poetry world (I attach a photo below), needs to be taken out to go piddle. And actually, I have to go piddle, too. In fact, I might even go piddle right where he does, I have to go so bad.

Be well, my darling, and don’t let them get you down. Written poetry is at least 5000 years old.

–Emily Post-Avant