Jacket endorsements - Doris Lessing, Dennis Tourish, Janja Lalich
New Statesman - Christian Wolmar
Utne Reader - Craig Cox
Cultic Studies Review - Dennis Tourish
Hometownsource.com - Dave Wood
Midwest Book Review
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"If you want to know how sensible and educated people can be hooked into a cult run by a psychopath, this honest and intelligent book will tell you. It will be invaluable in the effort to expose the mechanisms of cults and sects."
"The most gripping inside account of a cult that I have ever read. It is also a literary masterpiece, and a classic of autobiographical writing. By the end, readers will care passionately about the author, her family and the many characters that illuminate these pages."
Dr. Dennis Tourish, Department of Communication and Management
Aberdeen University, Scotland
CCoauthor: On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left
"Inside Out tells a riveting story of life inside a fringe group of political activists, not unlike the SLA and others that emerged from the U.S. Left in the 1970s. With passion, insight, and wit, Stein unravels the mystery of this secretive cult called the O. – a tale made all the more real because of the author’s frankness about her own 10-year involvement with the group. The processes of induction and indoctrination, and the increasing devotion of O. members, who over time are exploited by a corrupt leader, come alive in absorbing detail. This book makes a significant contribution to the study of the social psychology of closed groups, as well as to our understanding of fanaticism and idealism gone astray – all subjects of compelling importance in this post-9/11 world."
Janja Lalich, Ph.D. Department of Sociology
California State University, Chico
Coauthor: Captive Hearts, Captive Minds and Cults in our Midst
Review from the New Statesman
by Christian Wolmar
6 January, 2003
Alexandra Stein, Inside Out, A memoir of entering and breaking out of a Minneapolis political cult, North Star Press of St. Cloud.
The political movements that sprang up in the 1960s around the new agendas of women’s rights, community activity, housing and third world liberation were easy prey for all kinds of entryists. The very nature of their loose-knit structure laid them open to exploitation by those with a much harder and more specific agenda. Alexandra Stein was active, in the 1970s, in a variety of radical groups on the west coast of the United States. She had fled there following a dysfunctional but highly political adolescence in north London. Dissatisfied with the shapelessness of so much political activity, she sought out a more disciplined environment for her activism. She soon discovered the “O” (short for “organisation”).
From the beginning, there are clues that all is not well within the O, such as stories about boxing matches between members to “heighten struggle”, and a paranoid security system that results in all meetings being held with the radio on so as to block out the possibility of eavesdropping. Stein finds that the O controls every aspect of its members’ lives. On their entry into the organisation, they are assessed for the nature of their “ideological form” on the basis “that any relationship between people in capitalism can be looked at strictly as class relationships between implying domination [sic] and subordination”. Stein, a committed and active feminist, is rather incredulous to discover that she has the ideological form of a “male chauvinist”.
The members work long, punishing hours: in addition to their normal day jobs, they are expected to work in any one of the O’s own businesses, such as the wholemeal bakery. There is seldom time for more than four or five hours sleep, which means that members, who in any case are isolated from each other for security reasons, have scant energy to think about what is happening to them. The key point here is that Stein, and the other members, are unaware that they have entered a cult, because it was disguised as a Marxist-Leninist political organisation dedicated to creating cadres ready to fight for the cause. The penny drops only when she tries to leave the organisation and is able to predict how her questioning of the O and, in particular, of its stream of failed business initiatives, will be met by criticism of her.
It takes courage for her to begin to challenge the organisation, not least because her husband, a fellow O member, is unable to understand the enormity of the con perpetrated on all of them. It is only in retrospect that Stein realises that the O has every facet of a cult, as much as the Branch Davidians or the Moonies. All the elements are there: the control, the emphasis on shared ideology, the suspicion of outsiders, the need for purity and so on. The last section of the book reads like a detective story as she uncovers the true nature of the man running the O.
The importance of this well-written book is not only in its insight into the workings of a cult, but of how damaging such organisations have been to the wider left. One of the causes of the demise of the 1960s movements was the way that cultish groups infiltrated them, and one has only to look at the ever-present Socialist Workers banners at demonstrations today to understand that entryism remains a destructive force. It is not too difficult, for example, to characterise most of the extreme left-wing organisations that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and Militant, as cults of differing varieties of extremity.
It is often said that cults have only two real purposes: recruiting other members and raising money. One could add a third, which is sexual opportunities for its leaders, a constant theme to which the O is no exception. Nor is it too far-fetched to argue that some of the current trends in corporate capitalism – the obsession with leadership, the incomprehensible management-speak, the emphasis on corporate culture and the need for long hours – have resonances with Stein’s story.
Christian Wolmar’s latest book is Down the Tube, the battle for London’s Underground, published by Aurum, £9 99.
Review from the Utne Reader
by Craig Cox
Stein describes in vivid detail her 10-year struggle with a bizarre 1980s cult of Marxist revolutionaries that caught her imagination but ultimately stole her soul. A remarkable case study of psychological engineering, Stein's odyssey from committed radical to cult prisoner is a chilling reminder of the treachery that sometimes lurks within revolutionary movements.
Review from the Cultic Studies Review
by Dennis Tourish, Ph.D.
Department of Communication and Management
Aberdeen University, Scotland
Coauthor: On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left
In recent years, a growing number of volumes have been published, detailing stories of various cults from the inside. These autobiographical accounts have contributed much to our understanding of cultic phenomenon. We now know more about the processes of recruitment, emotional affiliation, indoctrination and about how many people find the inner resources to eventually escape. This book details the author’s experiences inside a little known leftist cult in Minneapolis, and adds substantially to that literature. But to say only this understates the towering achievement which this reviewer believes that it represents. I had the pleasure of reading the manuscript in draft form, and am quoted on the book’s cover saying that the book is ‘a literary masterpiece, and a classic of autobiographical writing.’ It is the best inside account of as cult that I have yet read, and one of the very best written books that I have ever encountered. Irrespective of anyone’s interest in cults, the book will be taken to heart by readers simply interested in stories of other people’s lives and in good writing. It is that rare achievement – a book which is so unputdownable that those who buy it are likely to become addicts, resenting other intrusions on their time until it is finished.
Alexandra Stein was born in South Africa, and her narrative movingly recounts how her family left the country in the late 1950s in a semi-voluntary exile from Apartheid. Like many reaching maturity in the 1960s she found much to protest about, and adopted an itinerant lifestyle, leaving home at an early age to live in Paris, and then surfacing in California in the dying days of the 1960s. In these times (simultaneously so remote, yet still so recent), political action was the norm rather than the exception. In the course of leftist political activity Stein eventually encountered members of a secretive organisation called simply ‘The O.’ Her book recounts her history in this group, mostly in Minneapolis, where she moved in order to be more active in the organisation.
Stein’s narrative crosses genres in doing so. This is much more than the chronological tale of ideological infatuation, disillusionment and (thankfully, in her case) a rediscovery of the self. It is the story of a generation of baby boomers, aware that something was wrong in society, conscious that individual protest would be insufficient to right social wrongs, and desperate to find an appropriate form of organisation and a coherent ideology to underpin it. There were many who, like Stein, thought that Leninism and its organisational manifestations would offer a way forward. Instead, it chained them to impenetrable walls within a psychic prison. Intolerance stood guard, demanding extreme conformity and enacting the standard panoply of abuses that we know exist in all manner of cults. A leitmotif that begins on page one of the book and recurs as it moves towards a gripping climax is the murder of a young man. It would give too much away to say more, other than that Stein’s struggle to find out what happened is typical of this quite exceptional book, its highly original narrative structure, and its ability to have the reader at times quite literally on the edge of their seat. One turns pages barely able to read on, but too engrossed to possibly stop reading.
The O. was, even by the standards of the far left, a bizarre grouping. For the most part, it seemed more devoted to running small businesses (invariably, with a highly skilled degree of incompetence) than in the tasks of political organisation. Its leader communicated to the members mostly be memo, and rejoiced in the improbable acronym of P.O.O – one would have thought that this was a somewhat unfortunate choice, for a leader ultimately revealed to have more farmyard than human qualities. No one ever knew what it stood for, and Stein herself only realised the identity of the shadowy P.O.O. towards the end of her period of membership. The group nevertheless managed to completely dominate the lives of its members. It dictated where they lived, how many hours they slept, whom they lived with and whom they were to marry. Stein’s account of her own marriage, and her attempt to exit the group with her husband and with their family intact, is one of the most moving parts of this book. At one point, and in pages that tear at the heart, The O. attempted to separate Stein from her two adoptive children. One wills her to succeed, and again it would be telling too much to say how she eventually fared. Her account of these experiences brings home the intense cruelty and deceptiveness that we find in all cults, regardless of how liberating their ideology purports to be.
Ultimately, the book is redemptive. Stein often writes with great comic effect, as in describing how when she left the group its impenetrable jargon (only weeks earlier regarded as so revealing) now made literally no sense at all. Against heavy odds, she began to struggle against this oppressive environment, to understand what it really represented and to break free. Some of the best writing in the book, and some of the best writing that you will find anywhere, describes this process. I cannot resist one quotation. Stein describes getting in touch with the real world outside the cult, in all its wonder, beauty and complexity. She writes: ‘Nature was there to tell me that winter ends and spring begins and I, too, was beginning again. Every morning, rain or shine, I visited the lilac, bowing my face into its purple sprockets; this was my meditation when the dirt was lodged in me and through the coming months when the dirt had to be faced. The love of my friends and the miracle of a Minnesota spring returned me to the land of the living.’ It is impossible for anyone who has ever endured anything remotely similar not to be deeply moved and informed by this book, and the many passages like that just quoted.
What ultimately distinguishes Inside Out from many other memoirs is the author’s own deep knowledge of cultic phenomenon. She manages to seamlessly include references to various theories of cult processes, illustrate them with fascinating personal experiences and enriches our theoretical understanding of cultism while doing so. The word classic is often overused. Not to use it here would be to do this marvellous book a disservice. I urge you to buy it! And then pass it on.
On the regional front, we have two very different books, the first, “Inside Out,” by Alexandra Stein (North Star Press of St. Cloud, $16.95 paper) is a very revealing look from the inside of the counterculture which ran rampant during and after the Vietnam War. Stein is a native of South Africa who lived in London, then San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and ended up in Minneapolis, of all places.
That’s because she joined a Minneapolis political cult. Stein is well-educated, looks something like the actress Haley Mills. Obviously she was blessed--or cursed--with a social and political conscience a mile wide. When close friends successively dropped out of hippiedom, she was left looking for a cause and that’s when she joined the cult.
The cult of course mistreated her badly, forced her to become a machinist to make her humble, fiddled with her mind for many years. “Inside Out” is the story of her finally breaking away to lead a more normal life in Minneapolis. Stein writes very well, tells her story straightforwardly. What grabs this reader most notably is how someone who is so obviously intelligent and multi-talented could fall for the hogwash the corrupt leader of the cult dished out. Coming on the heels of the Sarah Jane Olson mess, this book might really have legs.
Midwest Book Review
Volume 13, Number 2 February 2003
Inside Out: A Memoir Of Entering And Breaking Out Of A Minneapolis Political Cult is the true, compelling, and personal testimony of Alexandra Stein, an intelligent, sensible woman who was lured into a secretive and exploitative political cult called the O. A cautionary tale of corruption run rampant, the dangerous psychology of insulated groups, and the spiraling demands for money and more that cults and the psychopathic, sociopathic, charismatic leaders can exact from their unwitting members, Inside Out is a gripping read and a solid warning of the downside of human nature.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
April 6, 2003
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