Friend, Scholar and Fighter

Against the Current, No. 65, November/December 1996

James Petras

STEVE VIEUX WAS a scholar, a committed intellectual and a loyal friend . . . a difficult combination to find these days. inside or outside of academia.

As a scholar he was capable of working at the macro and micro level, from theoretical critiques of Theda Skocol to close-up studies of the impact of neoliberalism on everyday life. The intellectual problems were derived from concerns derived from practical problems facing the working class. But Steve never let political commitments get in the way of a concern for rigorous analysis and thorough research of documents.

He would delight in uncovering obscure sources to illuminate crucial arguments. His theoretical and empirical work was based on a rigorous concern for historical detail to sustain lines of inquiry.

Steve was an imaginative scholar: looking for new ways to analyze old problems, addressing new questions and wrestling with new problems. But most of all Steve’s scholarly concerns always were about people, not just abstract ideas.

He produced an original study on Chile that made a significant theoretical contribution to the “transitions” debate. He is a co-author of our forthcoming book Neoliberalism and Class Conflict in Latin America, where he developed the idea of a neoliberal policy cycle.

The essays we wrote together were read by Marcos of the EZLN (Zapatistas), the landless rural workers of Brazil and the miners of Bolivia. Recently he was invited to speak to trade unions in Puerto Rico, where he was very well received.

He believed in writing what was politically relevant. Steve wrote critically against intellectuals who served established power (“Intellectuals in Uniform”) and was optimistic about the return of socialism (“The Rise, Demise and Return of Communism”).

Steve had little tolerance for academic fools and knaves–those small minds who engage in gossip. He never could understand the mean spirit of some academics who would say one thing and mean another.

Steve was a fighter. He was active as a student, factory worker in unions, anti-war and civil rights emonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s. He wrote in political as well as in academic journals. Even in pain he could get indignant over Clinton’s signing the anti-welfare bill.

Steve was a friend. We first met as student and professor, became colleagues and then developed a close friendship. Steve was a loyal and supportive person, someone I could always count on in need. He also had a sense of humor; academic pretentiousness and posturing was a subject of our private jokes.

We frequently walked in the nature preserve amidst quiet talks about politics and personal life. Steve would pull up the binoculars and show me a beaver, heron or chickadee in the early evening.

Steve grew up in Kansas, profoundly U.S. in the best sense, like Eugene Debs, with a sense of justice and fair play for the little guy. But he was also an internationalist, writing and defending popular struggles against U.S. imperialism.

Steve was also a great father and husband. He knew how to balance personal commitments with political-intellectual concerns. He would postpone writing deadlines to go for a nature walk with his wife or attend a basketball game in which his daughter was playing.

I will miss Steve because there are few people like him, here or elsewhere. The best memory we can retain of him is to follow his example of intellectual integrity, political solidarity and abiding friendship.

ATC 65, November-December 1995