Please allow me to introduce myself . . . and pardon the dreadful punning on
Mick the demonic. I'm Jeremy Varon, a young(ish) scholar, whose primary
research has been on the Weather Underground. Let's me say, for starters,
what a treat it is to "listen in" on the dialogue of scholars, activists, and
activist-scholars of your caliber and significance. Us younger folks -- I"ll
at least speak for myself -- get something of a thrill to interact with
"history" so vividly and participate in a kind of living legacy as the spirit
of the 60s evolves and gets represented in various ways.
Regarding the generational question, I have a few thoughts. There is a kind
of assumtption nowadays -- and particularly among younger hsitroians -- that
historical revision is good and that the "old," hegemonic narratives and
anaysis of the 60s must be wrong or over-simple viturally because they have
been hegemonic. But some of the standard frames do have some merit. The
notion of an intra-generational divide within sub-cohrots of the New Left --
and with it a periodization of 63, 67, 70 (give or take) as the endpoints of
various shifts -- does seem to make sense. In my research, the "older"
activists generally had initially a more favorable, or at least ambvalent,
relationship to America and then experienced a fairly grave disillusionment.
One of the people in my study -- a guy who took up "armed struggle in 69 --
had ben a korean war vet (albeit a conscientious objector), cried for joy
when Johnson signed the civil rights act, but, just a few years later, had
had his "sentimentalities about democracy rid by the Vietnam war. He and
some others seemed to go through almost a conversion experience in which they
grew to radically question American values and the great liberal mission
Kennedy et. al. seemed to embody. So being radicalized was a rather
drawn-out process in which one reinvented one's identity as an
(anti-)American. Some even framed their turn to violence as a form of
patriotism that had its roots in AMerica's own Minutement. Some even used
the term the "americong" (much like JA's "volunteers of America) to link the
NLF struggle, with that of American revolutionaries of yore, with their own
"revolutionary" struggle. As an aside, I wonder how and to what extent a
childhood fascination with war -- most likely experienced through the playful
recreation of the great drama of WWII -- eventually influenced the desire of
some to take up arms. I, for example, played extensively with war toys,
became a pacifist as an adolescent, and them became quite "militant" in
college -- I always sensed that the American toy soldiers I'd play with as a
kid ( against the evil Nazi soldiers, who were nonetheless cool) were my
young imagination's first embodiement of the good soldier willing to fight
and die for something he thought good. When my value system changed, I clung
at some level to that image.
In any event, the younger activists -- and some of the Weathermen were born
as late as 1950 -- radicalized much more quickly, which makes sense. Whereas
older folks had undergone a gradual radicalization, someone entering the
movement in, say, 1966, could go zero to sixty pretty quickly and within a
couple of years position him- or herself as a declared enemy of the state.
That said, all the younger folks recall being stirred by the images of the
civl rights movement and having a sense -- learned from parents or just as a
mysterious aspect of their personalities -- of being very disturbed by racial
and other forms of inequality. Indeed, one of the difficulties the movement
faced was the acceleration of the radicalization process. By the late 60s
even high schoolers were organizing and calling themselves revolutionary.
But that didn't mean that these "kids" were willing to throw everything away
and go join a bombing collective. In trying to organize "youth militants,"
the Wmen and others wrongly assume that large numbers of teens had fully
crossed the threshold of disenchantment. The failure of the efforts to
organzie "white woking-class youths" bear that out.
There was also great diversity, even in small groups like Weatherman -- a
range of ages, experiences, and ways of becoming politicized -- which makes
My main question is where all this is going? Yes, we can build more refined
generational models, acknowledge that there was lots of important activism
and cultural radicalism in the early 60s, and tryt to "place" individual
experiences within a sub-generational model. But such stratification would
like confirm the shifts in the big 60s narrative -- one that includes growing
disenchantment with the war and with the mainstream CR mvmnt by the mid-60s,
the fuller flowering of the counterculture, and the growing militancy of the
movement itself. Once we have this more detailed emplotment, what then? Do
we want to "recover" or valorize the achievements of a particular sub-group.
The Beats, for instance, have been rediscovered as exceedingly hip, creative,
rad, and culturally important. Perhaps one could do something about entry
points into social movements and how the arc of the movement both creates and
is attractive to different kinds of activists and people. I don't quite know
what new stuff opens up by discussing in detail generational shifts that
even Sale, years ago, addressed, Any perspective?
Also, as a question -- and this could solicit very lengthy answers, just
throwing it out -- I'd love to know from folks what continuities and
differences they see between the anti-imperialism of the 60s and this new
movement fighting the inequities of globalization. My sense is that the
later is really a successor to the former, and that big global shifts in
politics, culture, and economy have determined the qualities of the new
movement, much as "the times" influenced how and around what 60s leftists
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