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Steve Otto strived to unite different trends of Communist camp, confronted dogmatism

By Harsh Thakor 

One of my closest comrades Steve Otto, expired last week while sitting on the porch of his house. Some months ago, he lost his wife Cammy. He ran blogs ‘Ottos War Room’ and ‘Idiot Factor.’
I may not have personally met him but I don't have words to express my sense of loss at his demise and my gratitude for his support to my work. A writer who dipped his pen for service of the oppressed peoples. Few have ever been so supportive to me, giving such a platform to project my view. Such figures create avenues for young writers to blossom in the revolutionary movement. In hardest times, he helped me stand afloat. I deeply admire how he supported my writings on struggles in Punjab, Naxalbari, Maoism and progressive cultural activists, Hindi film actresses and actors, philosophers and swimming.
Overall he was manifestation of the Marxist revolutionary as a spiritual being, revealing a subtle human touch. Steve portrayed why a Marxist or Maoist was creative. I recommend everyone to read his blogs. One of the most creative and broad minded comrades who rejected dogmatism of any type.
Steve claimed his style was Gonzo-journalism invented by Hunter S. Thomson and politics primarily Maoism , or Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (including ​Frederick Engels), with Maoism being the highest stage of Marxist development. However he asserted that he refrained from dogmatic approach and respected views of other Marxist theoreticians and was not against new methods of organizing politics. He was willing to give a hearing to most people on the left of the political spectrum, New ideas and methods.
I was happy that in reactionary society like America, many were inspired by the writings on his blogs. His language was plain, simple and readable. Very cogeally he illustrated why Marxism is still most relevant. Blog Ottos War Room reveals considerable diversity.
Afro-American activist Candice Yemaya thanks Steve Otto for nurturing her as a radical Communist Joni Taylor Gold can never forget how he worked jointly with Steve in humanitarian actions and projects. Son Etah Otto stated “He was a political activist with a big heart and keen sense of knowledge. He owned and operated his own newspaper in South Hutchinson, Kansas before writing numerous books, blogs and articles throughout his life. I'm proud of Steve Otto and I wish him well.
I regret his blog Ottos War Room was disallowed on Facebook.

Ideology

What was remarkable was his diversity and open mindedness inspite of being a Marxist-Maoist.
He gave considerable respect to New Left writers like Herbert Marcuse and views of the Frankfurt School and philosophers like Carl Rovelli who wrote on how physics and philosophy mutually needed one another. He also expressed admiration for philosophers like Joshua Moufawad Paul who wrote about the Continuity and rupture of Maoism. Steve also expressed admiration for Chinese philosophers like Lao Tzu and other Taoists, projecting their similarity with Mao Zedong’s thoughts. Steve's blog highlighted positive philosophers even of the Greek times of Epicurean period.
He had respect for the positive aspects of religious philosophy be it Christianity or Islam. In his view there was no need to launch unscathing criticism on religion or religious people. Although supporting atheism he had respect for parts of Buddhism or even Hinduism.
He strived to unite different trends within the Communist or Maoist camp and at the very backbone confronted sectarianism or dogmatism. Otto was great admirer of late Chairman Gonzalo of Peru and Joma Sison of Phillipines. Although critical of Gonzolaite followers; he defended the contribution of Gonzalo to the Peoples War and the positive aspects of such organizations.
Otto to the very skin challenged dogmas of Stalinism or Maoism. Steve placed Gonzalo and Joma Sison on the same footing and admired the C.P.I. (Maoist).Steve wholeheartedly defended the armed struggles of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Communist Party of Phillipines. His blog published progressive anti-imperialist statements of all the Maoist parties encompassing the world.
He gave wide scope for debate on blog posting contending views within the Communist camp. A few years ago Otto posted a series of most fruitful debates within the International Marxist camp on aspects of whether Maoism was a rupture from Leninism, retracted peoples war was universal and on Leninist vanguard party.
Otto permitted posting of a wide range of trends within the Indian Communist camp, from Maoist to those who advocated path of Socialist Revolution. He gave wide scope for debate on blog posting contending views within the Communist camp.
Otto was critical of the rebuking of the Gonzolaites by Joma Sison and vice-versa and also gave a broad perspective to events like the Chinese Cultural Revolution. H e openly revoked the factional or fratricidal fights between different Marxist groups .Steve diligently defended the positive aspects of Maoist China be it the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution.
He did not dogmatically uphold concept of party as vanguard, questioning its absolute legitimacy. Steve’s blog reproduced many a statement projecting progressive views of groups be it the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, Bob Avakian, International party of Kazakhstan, and Russian Maoist party.
His writings held Cuba in the highest esteem. On a visit to Cuba he researched on why it was more democratic than any other nation today.
During Ukraine War with great consistency he projected the evil designs of NATO and America, but never condoned the invasion of Russia.
He wrote tributes to Comrades like late Chiang Ching of China on International Women's day.
Even if revoking Bob Avakian's cult or departure from Marxism, he upheld his positive writings against the American govt, religious fundamentalism and Imperialist policies.
Steve had a good word for even leaders like M.K. Gandhi, able to detect his positive features. Although critical of many of Gandhi’s practices collaborating with oppressors, overall he felt he was good man. He also saw the positive side of comrades like Lin Biao, who were condemned by the CCP.
He also wrote an imaginative essay on “Drifting Towards Maoism.” Which gave democratic credibility to the Cultural Revolution in China, comparing it to the Civil Rights Movement in America. and superficiality of Western style Democracy. In recent months he also wrote a small but most objective article defending Russia in its Socialist stage.
At the very core he illustrated the neo-fascist nature of America. Steve’s blog routinely threw light on the hypocritical cultural practices of America and the wretched living conditions of it's people be it in housing, health, employment etc. His writings fully defended the anti-imperialist resistance of North Korea, the preacher of NATO count rise and America in the Ukraine War ,Iraq's challenge to American hegemony in the War, and struggles of American immigrants. Steve’s best reports on America include on the sheer futility of the scientists, doctors and experts in Florida during Covid crisis, US mercenaries in the Ukraine War ,hypocrisy of Kansas lawmakers refusing to enforce a ban on strips in controlling morality over saving lives, US Supreme Court Ruling which has protect not only abortion rights, but now gay marriage and other types of protections for transgender and gay people, US policy in Venezuela, insurance and business of fear, miserable housing condition sin Portland, Orgeon, the superficiality of Christmas patronising capitalism, Conservatives creating culture of gun worship and political murder ,anti-people aspect of Thanksgiving, the lies of the State on Veterans day .ISIS children languishing in American prisons.etc.

Career Evolution

Steve gained his baptism in writing in 1980 in a a newspaper job in Osceola, MO at The St. Clair Courier, a county newspaper covering St. Clair County, MO. Later he joined the Clinton Daily Democrat in Missouri town, which he fully relished.
When in high school there was an underground hippie oriented newspaper called The Wichita Free Press (KS).Reading underground comics had a great bearing in shaping Steve;s life.like ‘Yello Dog ; and ‘Zap.’ Here he revealed prowess as a cartoonist.His politics at the time were more Yippie or anarchist. Then while attending Friends University (in Wichita, KS he got a cartoon published in the university's fiction journal Nestor's Pocket Companion. That was his first real published cartoon. The publication was primitive and did not have much following outside of the college. Then I attended Kansas University and while I was there I wrote an actual cartoon and article that I got published in a local left-wing underground newspaper, The Public Notice(Lawrence, That paper lasted about two years. At about the same time he published a cartoon in the Kaw Valley Comment, a radical leftist newspaper that only lasted one issue.
By the 1970s Steve turned more political and less of a hippie. It was during his employment at The Clinton Daily Democrat that he started writing for The People's Daily World. By then he had a firm grasp of left-wing politics He was really more of a Maoist and had little interest in supporting the Soviet Union. The newspaper was actually intended as a publication for the Communist Party USA. HeI was never a member of that party. I was aware of the many "new communist" parties of the 1960s and 1970s. There was the Communist Workers Party; the Communist Party (Marxist–Leninist), a US party recognized by China; there was the Progressive Labor Party; and the Revolutionary Communist Party. By the time I stared writing for the PDW, all of those parties were gone except the Revolutionary Communist Party.
He had been trying to write for the Progressive, Mother Jones and other left-oriented publications. It was hard penetrate those markets. He could have tried for the Revolutionary Communist Party's paper Revolutionary Worker, but they didn't seem to have a format that went well with the type of articles he was trying to submit.So heended up writing for the PDW and it was a very prestigious paper. While he never got paid for writing for the PDW. It gave me some exposure as a writer and heI was getting published in a well known leftwing publication.. While the publication did not have a large readership compared to Mother Jones and such others, it was read from coast to coast in the US. The paper was originally called the Daily Worker. That was way before his time. Until the fall of the Soviet Union Otto went by the pen name Mark Milhouse. After the fall of the Soviet Union he no longer saw any reason to keep using the pen name and reverted to my own name. By the end of the Cold War the paper went weekly and changed its name to the People's Weekly World.
One of the first articles he wrote for PDW was a peace march from Noster Park to Whiteman Air Force Base, in Missouri, in April of 1986; Peace activists, most of them members of religious organizations from Missouri and Kansas, met in Warrensburg, Missouri, from April 3-5, for a Faith and Resistance Retreat. On Sunday afternoon, many of the activists participated in civil disobedience, crossing over onto Whiteman Air Force Base. He dipped his pen in solidarity with 76 peace activists arrested for trespassing a military base stocking underground missiles. Steve had contacts with several peace groups and members of Marxist parties in Kansas City that included members of the Socialist Workers Party, one member of CPUSA from the Kansas side of Kansas City.
In later stages Otto wrote on events in Kansas city, the betrayal of the FMLN in El Salvador, the Nicaraguan Revolution, the African National Congress, Maoism etc.

Books

‘I Am Pol Pot' by Steve Otto is a serious attempt to probe into circle of the rulers of Democratic Kampuchea. This book gives the reader a chance to see what the Democratic Party of Kampuchea thought they were doing and how they believed they could create the most advanced communist society in the modern world back in the 1970s. This is a fictional biography tries to interpret Pol Pot and see how things may have looked to the rulers who planned and executed Democratic Kampuchea in what is now Cambodia. The book contains quotes from the Black Papers, one of the few books ever released by Democratic Kampuchea. It is also based on many of the records from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (known as the Khmer Rouge.
In his latest semi-fictional novel, ‘Memoirs Of A Drugged-Up, Sex Crazed Yippie’, Otto explores 1970's counterculture like an archaeologist loving dusting off a Mastodon tusk. In a brisk 349 pages, Otto gives us an insight into what in Kansas few people remember --- or can't remember due to a plentiful supply of "controlled substances" that were constantly and cheaply available.
He also published My Otto biography which is a subtle account of his life story and what guided his life’s fortunes.
---
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has undertaken extensive research on Marxist writings and writers

Comments

Maya Valecha said…
I just wondered why, Trotsky was never mentioned while mentioning many trends. He has contributed both theoretically and by leading from front during Russian revolution and after the degeneration that started after Lenin's death.

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