[sixties-l] Re: responsibility

From: Marty Jezer (mjez@sover.net)
Date: Tue Jun 13 2000 - 00:30:57 CUT

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    In an earlier post, I wrote:

    >>I think they [the Weatherpeople] (and SDS as a whole after 69 or 70) must
    bare some
    >>responsibility for the destruction of the movement and the rise of the
    >>right. But that's a larger topic.>

    To which Don Monkerud replied:

    >But your assertion warrants discussion ... what exactly do you mean?

    To which I answer:

    Whew Don, in fifty words or less??? Here's a very brief response.

    I was in SDS during the Oglesby era, my focus later became the radical
    pacifists, CNVA, WRL, Win Magazine, The Resistance That's my perspective.
    I knew (and liked) some of the Weather leaders and was involved in actions
    and coalitions, with them and others in the New York left, including Ben
    Morea and the Motherfuckers. I was also on the office staff of Liberation
    (Dave Dellinger was editor), and was witness to the planning of the
    demonstrations in Chicago, August 68. I was also an enthusiastic Yippie.
    Indeed I wrote a pro-Yippie editorial in Liberation to which Dellinger
    wrote a critical reply. So that's where I'm coming from.

    In 1968, the anti-war movement was becoming a mainstream and popular
    movement. Students were against it, so were liberals, sectors of the
    business elite, and even moderate Republicans. Mayor Daley was against it,
    so was racist Senator Richard Russell who advised his pal LBJ to get out.
    It's well documented that leading elements within the Democratic Party
    wanted out (the so-called "wise men" organized by Clark Clifford). We were
    winning the hearts and minds of the American people. All this is
    documented in Paul Joseph's Cracks in the Empire, published in the early
    eighties by South End Press.

    To be sure, this opposition was moderate, not revolutionary, and wanted a
    negotiated withdrawal rather than the unilateral withdrawal that the
    anti-war activists rightly demanded.

    Much of this new anti-war opposition was ready to rally behind Bobby
    Kennedy, as were many older new leftists (most notably Tom Hayden). Harking
    back to our earlier discussion on generations, the older SDSers were
    willing to give the country one more chance. They saw him as the last hope
    of uniting the white working class behind the civil rights movement and
    ending the war. Maybe; maybe not. Kennedy was a man who seemed to feel the
    emotions of the sixties and, unlike Gene McCarthy, was willing to listen to
    radicals and seemingly to change and grow.

    RFK's death united people like Hayden with the younger ones who were,
    rhetorically at least, on a revolutionary path. In the period leading up to
    Chicago, activists gave up on peaceful progressive change and began calling
    themselves revolutionaries. I was one, though I was advocate of nonviolent
    revolution and advocated a different path than the Weatherpeople and its
    competing factions.
    Few people came to Chicago, because Mayor Daley frightened the movement.
    That should have been a clue that, rhetoric aside, the revolutionary agenda
    did not have wide support. In Chicago, we chanted "the whole world is
    watching" as Daley's cops beat up everyone in sight. And the whole world
    was watching and many backed the police. Even among opponents of the war
    the way activists acted in Chicago put many people off. (Those us who were
    there and who were knowledgeable about Daley's machine, expected the level
    of violence we got. We also know that a very small minority (some of them
    future Weather people) went to Chicago with plans to deliberately provoke
    the cops. (The government indicted the wrong people: Hayden, Hoffman,
    Rubin, et. al. were not among the real provocateurs).

    The movement at the time had two major goals. Ending the war and advancing
    civil rights. Another goal was economic justice, but that was more a slogan
    than a program. Both the war and civil rights got subsumed by the idea of
    revolution. But we were not in a revolutionary situation and in 1968 we
    sacrificed an opportunity to force the U.S. to end the war in pursuit of
    our revolutionary delusions.

    Leaders of a movement, among other responsibilities, are suppose to provide
    leadership, objectively analyze a situation, and steer a course towards
    their strategic goal. Our generational experience in leadership roles was
    nil (we were very young) and our process was awful. (The nonsense that
    there were no leaders is an example of bad process. There were leaders, but
    they were accountable to rank and file).

    After Chicago, the movement fractionalized, with a very small minority,
    spouting revolutionary slogans, going out on their own. In 69 or 70 I
    attended a NYC SDS meeting at NYU in which fist fights broke out between
    the various factions. There was also much inane chanting. It absurd,
    sophomoric and disgusting. Many people got turned off to politics because
    of the way the self-proclaimed vanguard was acting. I left that meeting
    believing that the movement was dead (and shortly thereafter moved back to
    my commune in Vermont -- where I was able to continue my activism). This
    was the milieu that spawned the Weatherpeople.

    Too many of us were too enamored of our self-image as revolutionaries; our
    belief -- and it was a belief, an act of faith rather than a hard-headed
    analyses -- that the country was on a revolutionary path. The Weathermen
    and a lot of other people and groups fed on this belief/act of faith.
    Black Bear, the commune that Don has written about, shared this faith as
    did the folks at Total Loss Farm, the commune that I helped start. (An
    aside to Bill Mandell, the communal movement was a seamless part of the
    broader left. It included a spectrum of people from new age spiritual
    anti-activist drop-outs to people who very sympathetic to the Weather
    So the Weather people weren't alone in their analysis but they acted in a
    vanguardist way. Though they had little support within the movement, they
    were so full of the conceit of themselves as revolutionaries that they
    dismissed the activists who wouldn't follow their path as cop-outs and
    worst. And their path, what distinguished them from the rest of the left,
    was their cavalier approach to violence.

    In short, at the very time when the movement was becoming majoritarian,
    many of the leading activists (within the Weather and in other groups)
    created a standard of activism that very few people (being more
    clear-headed) were willing to embrace. They also gave Nixon a rationale for
    coming down hard on the movement, something he wanted to do anyway, but the
    Weather gave him an excuse.

    The Weatherpeople guessed that Nixon's repression would radicalize
    everyone. But people don't often get radicalized by the policemen's club.
    They get angry and scared, but radicalism is a much deeper way of being.
    Nixon's repression destroyed the left. In comparison with real fascism, it
    was pretty petty (except to the small number who died or had their lives
    ruined by the government's hand). We simply collapsed. Simply put, we were
    not in a revolutionary situation and most of us who thought we were
    revolutionaries were living in a fantasy, a result, in part, of youth and
    inexperience, but strengthened, in part I believe, by promiscuous use of
    psychedelic drugs (esp. LSD).

    What was the alternative? The tough choice in '68, in retrospect, would
    have been to vote for the horrible Humphrey. (This is Monday morning
    quarterbacking. I think I voted for Eldridge Cleaver in 68 (a man with even
    less character and, when push came to shove, worse politics than even
    Hubert Humphrey), that's how ridiculous our politics were in the heat of
    the struggle. Yet, the election was close and with the movement's critical
    and token support, HHH would have won. This was not a matter of voting for
    the lesser of two evils, this was a matter of making an unpopular but
    necessary choice.

    Had Humphrey, as President, continued the war, he would have destroyed his
    party, his base, and finally radicalized many of those liberals who were at
    the edge. LBJ understood what the war was doing to the Democrats and that's
    why he resigned. HHH would have also been a sympathetic voice, though not a
    radical one, on civil rights. He would not have been able to suppress the
    black movement, cause to do would, like continuing the war, have destroyed
    the Democratic Party, something that HHH, hack that he was, was not
    prepared to do. No matter what Humphrey wanted to do he was constrained as
    to what he could do. Meanwhile, the countercultural stuff: feminism, gay
    liberation, alternative lifestyles, back-to-the-land, etc. would have
    continued to make progress (no matter who was in power). As for the war,
    Humphrey would have negotiated the same kind of settlement that Nixon
    negotiated a few years later. A lot of people died and a huge part of
    Vietnam was destroyed in that interim. Had Humphrey gotten a negotiated
    settlement in 68 or 69 (which LBJ had pretty much negotiated in his final
    days, only the prospect of a Nixon victory enabled the South to successful
    stall) there would have been no invasion of Cambodia and, probably, no Pol

    I lay out the details of this interpretation in my book ABBIE HOFFMAN:
    AMERICAN REBEL. I loved Abbie back then and consider him one of the
    bravest and most innovative people of the sixties (and also the funniest!)
    . But in the events leading up to Chicago and in its aftermath he, like the
    Weather people and many many others, took a dangerous and destructive turn
    that destroyed the possibility of a meaningful shift to the left in
    American politics. (And those who wanted "the revolution" would still have
    been able to organize and would not have been so easily repressed).

    I'm not suggesting personal blame or personal guilt. We didn't kill
    millions of Vietnamese. Our government did. We were products of our time
    and experience and did our best. But we (meaning not just Weather people,
    but all of us who got caught up in revolutionary fantasy) blew it. And it's
    not trashing the sixties to acknowledge and discuss our mistakes.

    That's what I mean, Don.

    Marty Jezer

    Marty Jezer  *  22 Prospect St. *  Brattleboro, VT 05301 * p/f  802 257-5644 

    Author: Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (Basic Books) Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (Rutgers University Press) The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960 (South End Press) Rachel Carson [American Women of Achievement Series] (Chelsea House) Check out my web page: http://www.sover.net/~mjez To subscribe to my Friday commentary, simply request to be put on my mailing list. It's free!

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