right-wing conspiracy to dethrone him,rnor a ridiculous article by Jay Walljasper,rnbreathlessly declaring that one yuppierntown or another should be the new socialrnmodel for the left.rnSimilar ills bedevil Mother Jones andrnthe Progressive and (worst of all) the UtnernReader. The average reader should bernforgiven for assuming that there is norngood leftist writing in this country at all.rnFor alternatives, one must turn to publicationsrnthat are either obscure (WarrenrnHinckle’s Argonaut, Paul Piccone’s Telos,rnJason McQuinn’s Alternative PressrnReview) or, more often, local. Oregonians,rnfor example, can read the PortlandrnFree Press, a sometimes amateurishrnbut freethinking and lively bimonthly.rnNorthern California is home to the bestrnleft-wing paper in the country, the AndersonrnValley Advertiser. And here inrnWashington, D.C., there is the ProgressivernReview, edited by one of the few trulyrnindependent minds left in ideologicalrnjournalism, Sam Smith.rnThe Review began as the Capitol EastrnGazette, a neighborhood paper Smithrnfounded back in 1966. The originalrnGazette folded in the wake of the riots ofrn1968. “A certain number of our readers,”rnSmith recalls, “had decided to burnrndown a certain number of our advertisers.rnThis created a very difficult marketingrnsituation.” So the Capitol EastrnGazette became the D.C. Gazette, a paperrnfor all the neighborhoods of the city.rnLike other alternative papers of therntime, the D.C. Gazette opposed the VietnamrnWar and endorsed civil rights. Butrnits chief focus was local, a voice for peoplernwho didn’t want the feds to force arnfreeway through their block. Nor was itrn”liberal,” at least in the modern sense ofrnthe word. Its readers were more likely tornbe on the receiving end of the war onrnpoverty than the dispensing side, a somewhatrndifferent vantage from which tornview the federal edifice. (“Most peoplernwho are alive today have never seen a liberalrndo anything worthwhile,” Smithrncomments. “I’m old enough to rememberrnwhen leftists and liberals actually didrnsomething, which is why I would not describernmyself as anti-liberal or anti-leftist.rnI just think the current crowd is prettyrnpathetic.” More on that later.) Andrnthere was an interest in what at the timernwas called “building alternative communityrnstructures,” such as the experimentsrnin direct democracy and communityrntechnology then taking place in thernAdams-Morgan neighborhood. (ThernAdams-Morgan experience is describedrnwell in Karl Hess’s 1979 book. CommunityrnTechnology, though Hess neglects tornmention how the most famous effort, anrnexperiment in basement-based aquacultiire,rncame to a sudden end. “They wererntrying to grow trout in the basement of arnbuilding,” Smith recalls. “This was onernof the great efforts in urban agriculture —rnwhich came to a crashing halt when wernhad our first post-trout brownout.” Allrnthe fish died, and the stench wafted deeprninto the streets. After that, “we went backrnto eating trout from natiiral streams.”)rnBy the mid-80’s, the local beat wasrnburning Smith out. Tired of repeatingrnhimself, he remade his paper yet again,rnturning his attention to the national andrnglobal scenes. But it’s hard to rinse thernsidewalks from your blood: the rechristenedrnProgressive Review has not onlyrncontinued to cover Washington issues,rnbut even its national and internationalrncoverage often hinges on a concrete, localrnangle. This reflects the editor’s distrustrnfor abstraction, his firm belief thatrn”it’s very difficult to talk in any sensiblernway about any policy” if you havern”stepped out from the real . . . into a totallyrntheoretical world.” The Reviewrnpresently exists in two forms: as a monthlyrnnewsletter, usually consisting of onernlong essay by Smith and several smallerrnitems, and as a constantiy updated websitern(emporium.tiirnpike.net/P/ProRev),rnfilled with short remarks about currentrnevents; items of interest to activists ofrngreenish, localist, or civil libertarian hue;rnand investigative reports on the misdeedsrnof the high and mighty. (The Clintonrnadministration does not fare well.) Unablernto resist the pull of city politics.rnSmith has opened a second site, thernD.C. News Service (emporium.turnpike.rnnet/P/ProRev/freedc.htm), chieflyrndedicated to overthrowing the federallyrnappointed control board that irow runsrnthe city. The control board has a bias towardsrnbureaucracy and little regard forrndemocratic input; as such, it is Smith’srnperfect foil.rnSmith is, as I’ve said, a man of the left,rnalbeit one more likely to quote Chestertonrnthan Marx. Forced to shove him ontornthe silly, constricting map called thernpolitical spectrum, I’d place him somewherernbetween Eugene McCarthy andrnPaul Goodman. Yet in recent years, he’srnfound himself increasingly alienatedrnfrom liberal and leftist elites. In this he isrnnot alone: never before has the Americanrnleft faced such a tremendous split betweenrnthe real grassroots and the foundation-rnsucking spivs who claim to speak forrnthem. Smith actually believes in decentralizationrnand individual liberty, andrnwhile his interpretation of those phrasesrnmight not always jibe with, say, MurrayrnRothbard’s, they’re an even ungainlier fitrnwith the views of the Pew CharitablernTrusts. You will find no apologias for thernClintons in the Progressive Review, nornpolitically correct jargon, no snooty condescensionrntoward rural and suburbanrnAmerica, no defenses of federal departmentsrnthat do more for their employeesrnthan for their clients.rnBack in the 1980’s, Smith made whatrnhe now calls “a rather naive effort” tornwork with Americans for Democratic Action.rnThe stormy marriage finally fellrnapart over the War on Drugs. Smith andrnsome others passed some resolutions suggestingrnthat the nation should adopt arndrug policy “that wasn’t based on thernpremise that it’s all right to send youngrnblack males to prison for preferring marijuanarnto daiquiris.” The politicians whornactually run the organization were notrnamused. Smith soon left, and today describesrnliberals as “AWOL.”rnNor is Smith a conservative. (“I thinkrnthe bind I find myself in is that too manyrnconservatives want to ignore people whornhave problems, and too many liberalsrnwant to tell them what to do.”) Nor is herna libertarian. (“I could never be an acceptablernlibertarian, although I clearlyrnhave libertarian streaks, because I believernin community too much.”) He’srnthe sort of fellow you’ll hate if you’re therntype who judges a man by how closelyrneach and every opinion he holds coincidesrnwith yours: like all those who thinkrnfor themselves, he’s sure to have somernopinions you don’t share. I can’t, for example,rnsec how he can oppose the warrnon narcotics yet want to expand governmentrnrestrictions on tobacco, even if herninsists it’s the industry he wants to target,rnnot the smokers. (That’s like locking uprnthe prostitutes and freeing the Johns.)rnBut that’s irrelevant: what matters is thernspirit that motivates his views, not everyrnview itself. Smith’s decentralist creedrnleaves plenty of room for diversity andrndebate. He recalls some early meetingsrnof the Maine Greens, in which a fellowrnfrom the Reform Party and a couple ofrnLibertarians turned up. The reformerrnstuck around, andrnwrote a piece in which he said therndifference between the Greens andrn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn