Thursday, January 12, 2006

My response to the Miriam Pawel articles in the L.A. Times

One of the central problems of the series by Miriam Pawel, an Associate Editor of the L.A. Times is that the writer strings together a long list of crises with little acknowledgement of the internal contradictions in her own presentation.

For example. Suppose that you as reader are shocked by the purges.
Then you read;

“Ganz had helped oust Jones, but by 1978 he had grown troubled by
Chavez's reluctance to tackle key issues: Should the union focus on
the vineyards, its symbolic heart, or on the vegetable fields, where
it had built a strong base of support? Should organizers try to win
more elections and add members, or consolidate and work on
administering contracts effectively? “

So Jones had helped purge people, and then he was purged.
Ganz had helped to purge Jones, and then he “decided” to leave.

It is not just that you need a scorecard to keep up. What the writer seems to have done is to tell a tale and then select statements to support her thesis. At times the statements are almost neutral, such as those by Dolores Huerta, but they are linked by placements in paragraphs to charges of conspiracy etc.

It appears to this reader that the writer has been loose with her use of evidence.
This is a problem with anyone writing this story. Each person who you turn to for “evidence” has their own view. Indeed, many have their own view of when the crises occurred. The writer, Miriam Pawel, sees the turning point in 1977-79, around the issues of the Synanon game. Her final article on Eliseo Medina focuses on this same time.

But, there were crises and purges earlier. For a first person account of an earlier “purge” read the account by Philip Vera Cruz, once Vice President and a leader of the Pilipino in the union. His autobiography tells the tale. ( full disclosure. Philip was a friend of mine). The point is that this “purge occurred without any Synanon game.
Union life was tumultuous. There are many tales of struggle.
The author selected a few of the crisis times to focus on.

There were earlier major conflicts over a variety of issues. What we have is the view of some of the participants and usually a recording of when they left. Well, many of the same participants stayed through earlier conflicts, crises, and purges which are not mentioned. So, we have a partial story.

In particular if you look at the third article Pawel offers comments that many problems emerged from the use of The Game by Synanon founder Charles Dederich. Now, I am not going to make a case for the use of the Game. I have only read about it.
However, as I read it, it seems to be a structured form of confrontation group training which was popular in the 70’s, a particular and peculiar “therapy”. Many organizations used this approach. I was personally involved in two Colleges of Education using this approach during this time. Yes, it has many problems.
But, lets not convert it to some sinister project different than what others were doing. Synanon has its own story and I do not chose to get into that. You can look it up on the web.
Other readers who took part in the Game are invited to tell me if it was more than confrontation group therapy. There is a history of poor use of therapy models and manipulation on the left.

From my own experience with a social change project I can say that we rejected the confrontation group approach because it assumes that all cultures respond to openness and criticism in a similar manner. It is a highly culturally specific project and the UFW was culturally diverse. That is precisely the environment which I would not use confrontation group gaming in.

The remnants of this approach still are used in areas of anti racism education and anti sexism education. In my experience, it usually does not work to build unity and solidarity.
I have written some more about this in “Beyond Diversity: the struggle for Justice and Solidarity”, posted as a pdf at
Duane Campbell

1 comment:

Michael Pugliese said...

Duane, good reply to the LAT. There is a chapter on Synanon w. a couple of pgs. on, "The Game, " in comrade Tim Wohlforth's co-written book on political cults right and left w/Dennis Tourish, published by M.E. Shaarpe pubs., I'll re-read it and summarize if I can tonight. I recommend the book highly.

On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left
By Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth
Published by M. E. Sharpe
Format: Hardcover 246 pp.
ISBN: 0765606399
Available from (17+ pp. on view),, and independent bookstores. Ships usually in one to two days.
This is the first book to document the extent of political cults on both the right and left and explain their significance for mainstream political organizations. The authors outline the defining characteristics of cults in general, and analyze the degree to which a variety of well-known movements fall within the spectrum of cultic organizations. The book covers such individuals and groups as Lyndon LaRouche, Fred Newman, Ted Grant, Marlene Dixon, the Christian Identity movement, Posse Commitatus, Aryan Nation, militias, and the Freemen. It explores the ideological underpinnings that predispose cult followers to cultic practices, along with the measures cults use to suppress dissent, achieve intense conformity, and extract extraordinary levels of commitment.
Critical Acclaim for On the Edge
"The Tourish and Wohlforth study has great importance not only in revealing the large gamut of cultic political movements but in suggesting the common characteristics, and the considerable danger, of cultic politics in general"
-- Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.

"Every American parent with a college-age child should read this book …."
-- Chip Berlet, Political Research Associates

"The book is wonderfully written and provides a glimpse into the mindset of some rather scary people."
-- Phillip G. Clampitt

"The misdeeds of cultists like Lyndon LaRouche and Fred Newman should be better known, and here is a book that deals with them authoritatively."
-- Werner Cohn

"Document[s] the influence of political cults in both right and left wings."
-- Booknews

"This discussion of the political dimensions of cult groups is helpful and interesting, as are a number of the detail-rich case studies"
-- D. R. Imig, University of Memphis, Choice.

"For those who need a quick reference guide to some contemporary political cults in America, On The Edge is a useful source."
-- Philip Abbott, Wayne State University, Utopian Studies.