With regard to the position that Humphrey would have ended the war had he
won the election in 68, Jeremy is right that the movement had such
antipathy towards LBJ, HHH, and the Democratic Party that supporting HHH
was not an option. In my biography of Abbie Hoffman, I make a similar
argument. But the idea of supporting HHH was not out of the ballpark as
some on the left (the Irving Howe-Michael Harrington "negotiations now"
social Democrats) took that position. Alas, there is a history to that too,
and their mistake in the early 1960s of denouncing SDS left them with no
credibility in 1968 when they may have been right on this issue.
The role of leadership: Mandela and the ANC in South Africa were willing to
make a historic strategic shift when they decided to enter negotiations
with the white power structure. That took courage and foresight. Mao
during the 1930s at the time of the civil war with the Nationalists
abruptly ended that war to make common cause with the Nationalists against
the Japanese, who he perceived as the more immediate threat to the Chinese
people and the communist movement. That was bold leadership, looking at and
acting on the basis of objective perception. Our leadership lacked that
tough objectivity to make that kind of difficult decision. Many of the
leaders even denied they were leaders rather than taking responsibility for
their acts of leadership. Too often, we were too enamored of our
self-created revolutionary mystique to willingly look at the tough reality.
But that's hind site. What really counts is what we learned from it. And I
sometimes feel that we've learned very little. Being a tiny minority we're
still reading each other out of the movement, still focusing on our
disagreements rather than building a movement around the issues on which we
The case of Gitlin is a good example. I can't comment on the Iraqi blood
donation cause I never heard of it. But the anti-Israel ad: As a Jew I
denounced the 1967 War in Win Magazine and my article cost us subscribers.
I've been a public proponent of Palestinan statehood as long as I remember.
I also opposed the invasion of Lebanon. But would I have signed Blankfort's
ad? I dunno. I'd want to know how it was worded and who else signed it.
(There was a lot of anti-semitism on the left in that period and there were
people on the left who treated the PLO as worshipfully and uncritically as
others on the left treated the Black Panthers). So Gitlin may have had good
reason to refuse to sign an ad. For this he is denounced (not just by Jeff
here on this list, but by Alex Cockburn regularly in The Nation) and purged
him from the movement.
It's the same old shit all over again. When is the movement going to learn
that there are very few easy moral and political choices in the real world
of politics (which differ from the politics of rhetoric and ideology).Ten
people in an organization in the name of "the people" denounce five of the
members because the five disagree on an issue. Now the organization has
five members, but their purity is in tact. One thing I learned from the
sixties is that "revolutionary purity" isn't worth anything in political
currency. Better to compromise when necessary and eat crow and maybe have
some effect than stand off on the sidelines smug, correct, and politically
At 01:45 AM 6/18/2000 -0400, you wrote:
>First off, a comment on the hypothetical question of "what if" more people in
>the movement had thrown in their lot with Humphrey -- would that have
>actually hastened the end of the war such that the movement's broad goals
>would have been better served? With hindsight, then, was the decsion to all
>but abandon the mainstream of the Democratic Party and, notwithstanding the
>limited push for McCarthy, the entire electoral process in 1968, a "mistake?"
> I am, for what it's worth, a "professional" historian, and we do puzzle, at
>a methodological level, over the value of counterfactual analyses and the
>question of "what if." Part of what is so exciting about history is to
>appreciate, despite the power of structures, how much agency people retain
>and the extent to which "events" are driven by contingent choices. The study
>of history, then, is a study of roads not taken, which can lead you either to
>lament bad choices, to try to rearticulate and revive supressed
>possibilities, or to view history with some combination of regret and hope.
>Nonetheless, there are constraints on choices, rendering some hypotheticals
>all but irrelevant. The case of Humphrey raised here may be one. So many in
>the anti-war movement had developed an intense antiptahy for LBJ and regarded
>him, with some validity, as a "baby killer," a "war criminal," or even a
>genocidal maniac. It's hard to imagine such an activist then seeing Humphrey
>-- who presented himself as the steward of Johnson's legacy -- as the prudent
>choice for peace. That's like asking someone to jump over their own shadow;
>can't be done. It reminds me also of a lovely line Raskin had of Abbie
>Hoffman: (something like) "Blaming Abbie for being merely a cultural
>revolutionary is like blaming a cheetah for having spots." If something
>would have been so utterly alien to the consciousness and sensibility of an
>historical actor -- like an anti-war radical seeing Humphrey as a progressive
>choice on the Vietnam issue -- then it ceases to be all that productive to
>wonder "what if" said actor had felt, thought, and done otherwise. There are
>good and bad hypotheticals, and what separates them is a judgement call . . .
>Now, to defend myself briefly against charges of the inadequacy and naivete
>of my tentative "framework" for activist awakenings, without at all meaning
>to be defensive. I in fact appreciate the comments. Nonetheless:
>-- I proposed it as only a VERY general and far from comprehensive outline.
>In addition, I wanted to keep the post short out of concerns voiced on the
>list about posts that run way too long (I was, on two occasions, very guilty
>of this -- belated apologies -- and tried to impose self-restraint). So,
>yes, I left a lot out.
>-- The cultural dimension is of course important, as is the whole issue of
>transgression. The ideological and cultural experimentation of the era
>entailed, I think, an ethos of "going further," of pushing and transgressing
>limits, of shocking, offending, disturbing, and scrambling all kinds of
>normative expectations -- all of which had a potential price. Part of what
>makes the Weathermen so fascinating is in fact their gravitation towards --
>or even celebration of -- extremes and forms of radical transgression. We're
>all familiar with the most notorious forms that took -- the Manson comment,
>the mania of Flint, plans for lethal attacks, Kamikazee actions, etc.. For
>a time, transgression was deeply embedded in the culture of the whole
>organization, which was itself just an intensification of tendencies and
>sensibilities present throughout the movement. The movement as a whole is so
>fascinating in the tension it sustained between limits and limitlessness, the
>defiance of norms and attempts to build a new, more humane normativity,
>edifying experimentation and eerie forms of excess that threatened to pull it
>back into the pathologies that defined the mainstream of American culture.
>Also fascinating, but rarely discussed (especially with reference to
>Weatherman), is the process by which individuals and groups re-drew limits
>and, both through the power of events and as the result of choices,
>reasserted the need for norms. Too often and too easily are the "excesses"
>of movement culture woven into tales of sensation, "true crime," madness, or
>In stressing in my initial model the less controversial (or exciting!)
>aspects of "the path," I meant neither to be naive nor to disregard the
>importance of transgression -- and its serious political consequences. I
>would love, in fact, to hear more from people about the process of "going
>further," losing (and regaining) control.
>The madness and depravity of the Establishment deserve sustained mention too.
-- 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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