The secret history of Boulder’s socialist book store


American young people (or those aged 18 to 29) have a more positive attitude toward socialism than to capitalism, according to a recent Pew poll. We are in the middle of “an era of tumult and protest” against global capitalism in the U.S. and abroad, argues sociologist Frances Fox Piven in The Nation.

While the “Occupy” movement has faded, a new study says many participants “have carried their political vision and activism into a variety of new venues” and most likely will continue to do so for many years to come. This is quite encouraging for lefties.

That’s why it is so painful that Boulder’s “explicitly socialist” Left Hand Books is closing on April 15. I was involved in the group that created it, and its roots run all the way back to activism in the 1970s.

It is an all-volunteer collective. All of us in the core group are retired and getting burned out. The store nearly fell apart in 2009 when Gene Rodriguez (who has put more time and energy into the store than anyone in recent years) and his wife Eva Mesmer had serious health problems.

Louise Knapp joined the store’s core group in 2009. She has been invaluable because of her business background. For 14 years, she was the owner/manager of The Word Is Out, which sold feminist, gay and gender-related literature. She also has a long history as a left-wing troublemaker. In 1975, she was the leader of a strike at a Head Ski factory in Boulder (making tennis rackets, racket balls and skis). From 1975 to 1990, she was a member of a study/action group called the Boulder Socialist Feminist Collective, which engaged in “guerrilla theater and art.” Sometimes, she says with a mysterious laugh, the actions were “extra-legal.”

For nearly 34 years, Left Hand has been, in the words of our Facebook page, “Boulder’s one-stop shop for all socialist, resistance, revolutionary, radical, alternative and anti-capitalist literature.” The guy who wrote that line is an anarchist and included the word “socialist” after I complained. Actually, we sometimes just say we feature “progressive” literature in an effort to reach out to more mainstream folks.

Located at 1200 Pearl Street (southeast corner of the Pearl Street Mall at Broadway, down the stairs), the store started in 1979 as a project of the Boulder chapter of the New American Movement (NAM), a democratic socialist group founded by activists of the 1960s student New Left. Beginning in 1971, Boulder NAM members were active in the peace, environmental and feminist movements. The group raised a lot of money for the American Indian Movement during the Wounded Knee occupation in South Dakota. There was a Marxist study group and two local free newspapers.

But Boulder NAM was unique among the city’s radicals in emphasizing economic justice issues. Among other things, we were strong union supporters.

In 1977, Coors brewery workers in Golden went on strike over many grievances. For example, employees were subjected to polygraph tests before being hired and while employed. They were asked “Are you a homosexual?” and “Are you a Communist?” and “Have you ever smoked marijuana?” The national labor movement asked people to boycott Coors. Boulder NAM decided to join the Coors Boycott and Strike Support Coalition. We picketed Liquor Mart and sponsored talks by strikers on the CU campus.

We showed a documentary on women union activists in the 1930s called “Union Maids” (made by a couple who were NAM members) at the brewery workers’ hall in Golden. Stella Nowicki (one of the women in the film) gave an explicitly feminist and socialist talk afterwards. She got a standing ovation. Jim Zarichny, our oldest member, raised the question of Boulder NAM creating a permanent institution. He was highly respected because he had been an activist since he was a kid in the labor, civil rights, student (early member of SDS) and socialist movements.

So, after a lot of discussion and planning, we formed the Left Hand Book and Record Collective.

It’s sad to see it go.

— Anderson is a retired CU librarian and a member of Democratic Socialists of America.


This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.