I Saw the Best Socialists of My Generation Cancel Allen Ginsberg

by James Cactus

He’s written worse, but the line “I smoke marijuana every chance that I get” should in a just world be adequate to condemn Allen Ginsberg to hell and obscurity. It’s so plainly stupid that you think there must be some Sun Tzu feint at work, but we’ve got recordings of his audiences giggling at his buffonery, confirming the obvious. Behind the mask of the edgelord git is revealed none other than more of the same edgelord git—and with that haircut. His defense was “it’s just a joke,” but the joke was Allen Ginsberg. He was a caricature of a radical, earning his wage by shitting his pants for laughs. Naturally, he despised everything sincere and honest. “I feel sentimental about the Wobblies,” he said. The Wobblies died fighting for humanity. All Allen Ginsberg ever did for humanity was die.

As Earth bears his body and Hell his soul, the poem from which that line came has been reincarnated as the title of a Jacobin piece honoring the life of Ginsberg as poet and political figure. We don’t need his politics. He was an activist until it stopped being useful, and readily sold out his comrades whenever it helped his career. He claimed socialism, or something he called socialism, but always with a pratfall (“America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry”) to make himself and the people he pretended to be look stupid. All that seriousness was harshing his vibe, or whatever only-borrowed phrase he used to liven up his vaudeville versions of the people and their struggles. And yeah, it was also a way of spooking the Cold Warriors who actually believed all that Flag Day shit, but he ruined that too by not even hating them for a decent reason. Ginsberg just thought they were uncool. There was in fact no contradiction between his “racist, sexist facade” (that phrase from Jacobin) and the Utopianism he cribbed from a Kumbaya sing-along to piss off the Stalinists. Ginsberg’s politics were consistent only in how he proclaimed whatever it took to convince his willing following that there was something dangerous in attending a poetry reading. His was a career as utterly ordinary as that which was more recently crashed by Gavin McInnes. Also — and I didn’t start with this because you can hear him in Hell getting into how sanctimonious people get about their taboos — there was the pedophilia.

Allen Ginsberg was a pedophile. He wasn’t even one of the “good” pedophiles who wants a parade with another float in his image for every time he didn’t do something. He advocated vociferously for the rights of other pedophiles, and used his fame to help NAMBLA legitimize their dangerous bullshit and enforce their interminable terminological pedantry. On a number of occasions, he admitted outright that he was a pedophile. But whenever the feminazis thought they had the predator cornered, he morphed into a vampire bat, skittering into the moonless night without a trace save distant squeaks of “free speech” and “[i]n the early 1980s, the FBI had conducted a campaign of entrapment and “dirty tricks” [read: offering to fly pedophiles to Mexico to rape children, and arresting those who accepted the offer] against NAMBLA members just as they had against black and anti-war leaders in previous decades.” What terrible spiritual carnage he must have leveled upon the sacred hearts of anyone gullible enough to believe a word he said in his life.

I didn’t, but I figure there must have been somebody who got the joke—maybe just Ginsberg, but perhaps others as well. He was a dedicated careerist (what poet isn’t?), which makes his association with NAMBLA all the more remarkable. It was for one the first organization he joined where he wasn’t always the creepiest character at the chapter meetings. He made a career on his ability to keep track of all the people listening at once (that’s what it takes to go pro line-breaking), but through the 80s would blow a lot of patience with the gag (if that’s what it was) needed to keep some part of your audience not alienated so there’s somebody to buy your next book. Funding matters, and poets and the arts in general were touted at the time as evidence of how much of an asshole you could be in the Land of the Free and still make rent. That was all America had going for it next to life in the big sad commie fortress where everybody has a doctor. But that was enough to do it, and with the fall of the fortress, so too fell anti-communism—which, as it happened, was the only argument poets knew when it came time to talk about grant money and budget cuts. With their role in preserving capitalism completed, George H.W. Bush would be the first president to make good on Nixon’s promise to cut the NEA’s budget in a significant way. If I for some reason feel the need to like him, maybe it’s possible to point to his nosediving relevance as a contributing factor in his reassertion of support for NAMBLA in 1994. But that’s the most charitable picture we can paint of him: somewhere between a doofus and a monster. See what I mean about him and Gavin McInnes?

Whatever criticism of Jacobin one has, Sunkara and the gang have pulled off an incredible feat of media and political prowess, positioning the Democratic Socialists of America at the center of national politics. That can’t be just luck. I won’t try to guess exactly how this piece ended up in Jacobin (I’m a poet, after all, and I got a career of my own to think about), but in the meanwhile, we can state the obvious. I’ll cop to being the tankiest name on the masthead (Stanza Legend is considered the Hamas of the Protean media empire), but I struggle all the same to think of a more compelling indictment of democratic socialism than the example of Allen Ginsberg. By replacing “the freedom of whom to do what” with the freedom of Allen Ginsberg, we’re left with nothing except freedom for Allen Ginsberg. 

Keep reading him if you want, and for God’s sake don’t bully rubes for not figuring it out yet. Truth be told, there’s plenty of bad people who made and make good art, and even some bad people who occasionally find a way to lend a hand to a good and noble cause without causing more trouble than they’re worth. But if you’re going to go through the hassle of doing the Dr. Frankenstein routine on a dead celebrity to enlist them in the lutte finale against the bourgeoisie, do it right and swap out their bad limbs with something decent. As for Ginsberg, if we keep digging, we’ll find something usable that he wrote, but I doubt the soundness of a political framework which was marked by the inability to distinguish meaningfully between the Andrea Dworkin in her glorious war against patriarchy from the cockroach logic of the fucking Nazis. Who gives a shit if he called himself a socialist? He creeps people out.