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Bill Livant (May 24, 1932-June 2, 2008)

Bill Livant was an independent Marxist intellectual whose main purpose was to provide theoretical tools to people engaged in revolutionary struggles. The Red Scare after the Second World War did not diminish the admiration he had felt for the Soviet Union during the war. The subsequent execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was an ideological turning point for him. While working on his PhD in psychology at the University of Michigan, Bill stood out as a prominent radical. He was part of the Students for a Democratic Society movement that produced the Port Huron Statement. He also helped organize opposition to U.S. imperialism in Vietnam. As a professor at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, he was notorious among administrators for aligning himself with the students when they demonstrated. He was a charter member of the Waffle, an offshoot of the New Democratic Party (NDP) formed to take the new political formation in a thoroughly anti-capitalist direction. He engaged in union solidarity and was able to influence the writing of occupational health and safety legislation eventually adopted by the NDP government. Bill actively supported third world national liberation developments, participating in grassroots diplomacy and trade with various nations emerging from colonialism and fighting against neocolonialism. In this, he was loyal to Cuba from 1959 onward and exhilarated by what is happening in Venezuela today.

But most of all, Bill was an advanced theoretician consistently guided by Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” In regard to his teaching approach, he was deeply inspired by Mao’s mandate to make Marxist methodology accessible to the masses. Thus, he taught what might be called “dialectical literacy.” Focusing on a diverse range of problems in the fields of social psychology, practical linguistics, media studies, evolutionary biology, and the philosophy of labor, Bill categorically examined the movement of material contradictions and asymmetrical relations in motion. That he was able to make his complex abstractions immediately relevant, increasingly intelligible, and ultimately fertile for the praxis of his students was his special skill. As a lifelong reader of Monthly Review, Bill regularly incorporated MR in his teaching and activism. For a number of years he received fifty copies a month for use in the classroom and distribution at political events. As an independent socialist himself, the independent socialism of MR was for Bill an absolutely indispensable element of his critical consciousness and faith in the future.

Ben Livant

2008, Volume 60, Issue 03 (July-August)
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