I'm responding (my third to you privately) with cc's to others who are
dealing in various ways to the questions you raise, and to your evident
search for a mode of interpreting the weather phenomenon of new left 60's
history -- that is a kind of "log in the eye" of our historical perception
of "our period."
My own is a mix of history and fiction, the focus being on the "micro" a
set of particular people (erap) during a specific time frame (1964-1970)
and place (Cleveland). I bring this up out a suggestion to you that if you
start from a macro point of view and assume macro patterns "transgression"
being one of your themes, you're liable like the rest of us, who were there
and still retain the biases of continued and ruptured friendships and
residual trauma, to get lost in the smoke of remembered history.
So for starts, I'd suggest you begin more empirically by looking for
patterns within the lives of individuals, and small group relationships.
There is enough mystery in the story of Terry Robbins for example to keep
several social historians-biographers at work; especially considering that
those who knew him are at a loss to explain how he got from Kenyon College
to the Townshouse. That story constitutes one of the many building blocks
on which any macro view must rest. And of now, we don't have it.
At the other end of the telescope, taking the long view, I ask whether the
questions you are now asking in search of "patterns" are barking up the
Again, it is a matter of choice; but you want to select macro patterns
that have the greatest potential for both historical and psychological
resonance -- I'm not talking about obtaining some sort of final cause and
effect formula, but simply the most convincing historical explanation - one
that connects the 60's with like periods that evidenced "apocalyptic"
movements and counter-movements.
In the end the story we work out involves a trial by error cross check of
micro -- Terry's story - against the macro patterns.
Thirdly, I would urge you not to look at Weather in isolation from the
whole banana of the SDS-Movement complex. And to depict the Weathermen
reflex as one flank of the distintegration of this big molecule. If you
look at any specific group from which Weathermen emerged, say the Cleveland
ERAP, you'll see that down to today, most of us were in the middle and
divided in sympathy - "what by the grace of God (or accident), go I,":
while others like Horowitz and Jerry Rubin reacted in a diametrical
counter-conversion way, equally as instructive as studying the micro
dynamics of a Terry Robbins.
And at the same time, there was a utopian response -- the retreat to land,
and the counter-cultural, Marcusian search for other means within the
post-revolutionary society of dealing with State repression and internal
disruption of the New Left community, e.g. traumatic disillusionment with
the impossibility of maintaining the "beloved community."
Looking at weather as one of several divergencies that began around 1967
within the New Left, begs the questions: what held us together up till
then? and what objctive events impelled the scatter-shot disintegration and
That one of the recurrent characterizations of Weather response (some say
pathology) is "apocalyptic" I would submit that as the most fruitful clues
The derivation of "apocalyptic" response historically and theologically
comes from the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. Modern New Testament scholars
agree using form text (redactive) analysis that this event (not the
execution-crucifixtion of someone called Jesus) was the "big bang" that
explains the emanating divergencies; and that of the many, the two main
ones coming down to us today are only the orthodox christian and the
reformed judaic. This school (The Turbingen School) thus regard the
subtrates of the four gospels as an attempt to come to grips historically
and relgiously with this central trauma at the heart of western civilizaiton.
The analogy with the 60's is this. The Jewish revolt against the Romans
failed, and was crushed for all time, by Titus' siege and mass destruction
of Jersusalem; millions died, and the Temple destroyed, its historical
records along with its religious centrality.
Revolt against the Roman state in this world was seen as futile, and out
of this total despair, the orthodox strain of Jewish Zealots adopted Paul's
apocalyptic hope of revolution at the end of time, and justice not in this
world, but at the conclusion of a final Armegeddon and in the court of God,
not of men.
The emmanent, a-hsitsorical replaced the immiment, historical.
The only glimpse we have of how total was the hopelessness in this world
that was bred by the utter destruction of Jerusalem comes through the one
and only history of the Fall by Josephus, a traitor who went over from the
Jewish imperialists to the Romans, in the same way that Horowitz can be
Reading between his lines, we can still surmise that what made the fall of
Jerusalem so historically traumatic that the rebellion against the Romans
also failed from within, due to factional fightings of the various Zealot,
Pharisee groups and groupings of high priests. So the hopeless that spawned
the apocalyptic response was not only a response to the futility of
defending against the power of Rome, but the inability to organize a
common defense within.
That the theme of internal betrayal is so pronounced in the accounts of
Jesus' arrest testifies to the complicity of "good and evil" within the
Zealot movement which adopted Jesus as a kind of reluctant messiah who was
ditched in the end because he saw that the movement had been corrupted by
an internal power struggle, and withdrew to Bethany and began to preach
another gospel that attempted to deal with the existential contest within
the human psyche and soul between good and evil, substituting a process of
forgiveness for revolution.
Paul's postmellenial theology based on the resurrection and divine
redemption was a stark revisionism of this historical Jesus. In this
context, the main ingredients of an apocalyptic world view are
substitutions, projections and reactions to:
a) complicity of good and evil as inexticable within us, the "good guys"
which the apocalyptists projected cosmically outside themselves and time
into an anti-thesis of Good and Evil. In 60's terms, "you're either on the
bus or off the bus," hip/straight. "It's not a question of there going to
be a revolution, it's a question of which side you're going to be on." (SDS
position paper at Kent State, 1969).
b) The "grey" sector of human motivation in which most of us fall as
complicit to historical outcomes is replaced by an absolute anti-thesis of
us as the noble vietcong against the pigs. So are "grey choices" i n this
world that get down in political terms to a moral choice of lesser evils --
voting in the real world for Hubert Humphrey over Richard Nixon -- deferred
to the one and only end of Revolution marking the beginning of a new Age.
This approach helps to explain on the micro personal level the "mystery"
of the Weathermen response.
To look at the enigma of seemingly overnight transformation of our close
friends, going from rather reformist organizing of welfare women to
building bombs (and deceiving others as they did so) as more of a
"conversion experience," of which little aside from William James study is
known. If you don't believe me, talk to anyone who was close to them. One
day, they are talking ERAP language of organizing from the bottom up; and
then the next they are screaming slogans.
In this social-psychological vein, you are asking what made one person
"flip," and not another? Can we do a standard social science study of one
set against the other, and isolated the determining factors -- e.g. the
weather were more rigidly toilet-trained? -- I doubt it because "we all
flipped" -- because we all faced the same world-hsitorical event as the
Jewish rebels faced in 70 a.d.
And that I submit was experential. Facing the end of a M-16 in your own
country. But we all did, you will insist, we all experienced in
demonstrations police brutality etc. But the critical distinction is that
some of us experienced a degree of state sponsored violence that was more
than others did. This is not an ideological explanation: if you witness a
bulldozer roll over and crush a minister leader of a civil rights
demonstration the experience is off the scale -- this is not comparable to
being busted on the head a few times at the Pentagon. It becomes like the
fall of Jerusalem, the genesis for transforming your whole view of the world.
I think that it is no coincidence that so many in Weather came out of
ERAP. It was not simply the urban riots as isolated events, but that the
organizing experiments in which SDS old guard had invested so much took
place within a context of an undeclared civil war -- an experience which is
difficult for the survivors to relate.
Since then, we've all developed our different revisionisms of that central
"Jerusalem" of the 60's.
I'd also caution you not to overlook the "internal" disillusionment and
perplexity that took place at this time. The sense of things falling apart
without -- the whacking of helicopters overhead, the constant police
surveillance, and insidious effect of informants - was intertwined with a a
feeling of our own lives indiviudally and collective falling apart in
counterpoint to external repression. To a degree we have all suppressed
this side, which has a pain of its own.
The weather response was also anti-thetical internally, a flip flop within
ERAP to the Swarthmorean approach of slow, bottom up organizing that
attempted -- much to the impatience of younger people like Robbins -- to
lead people into awareness experentially of their own oppression. This
apposiiton helps to explain the overnight embrace of "deeds and audacity"
as complementing the external realization that for all the grass roots
organizing the cleveland police had covertly embarked on a killing campaign
of black panthers, and had got away with it -- even to today.
The Weather people flipped not because of any ideas they had embraced,
but when they saw the blood on the tracks.
RD l Box 934
Hardwick Vt. 05843
At 01:45 AM 6/18/00 EDT, you wrote:
>First off, a comment on the hypothetical question of "what if" more people
>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
> 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
>of history, then, is a study of roads not taken, which can lead you either
>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
>the anti-war movement had developed an intense antiptahy for LBJ and
>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
>-- who presented himself as the steward of Johnson's legacy -- as the
>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
>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
>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.
>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
>fascinating in the tension it sustained between limits and limitlessness,
>defiance of norms and attempts to build a new, more humane normativity,
>edifying experimentation and eerie forms of excess that threatened to pull
>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.
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