[sixties-l] Re: FSM credits

From: Michael Rossman (mrossman@igc.org)
Date: 10/14/00

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    Jo Freeman writes, re her post responding to Bill Mandel, "Since Michael
    Rossman thought my attempt at humor was an 'unseemly taunt' let me stick to
    facts," and goes on at delicious length.
    Jeepers, Jo, I do apologize, not least because I can hear my scold as not only
    casual but sanctimonious. What you wrote was funny indeed, but I had not
    grasped it as intentional humor. I am likely over-sensitive and -reactive to
    nuances of (projected?) nastiness, since the last substantive online
    conference I attended was a dysfunctional carnage despite its austere topic,
    the physics of consciousness. As Mandel is so concerned about his place in
    history, on reading what seemed in context an unnecessary  reminder that his
    role in the FSM is debateable, I winced from a sense of how it might strike
    him, as well as from  apprehension of the roughening of a conversation that
    had been settling to determined civility. Which my scold hardly helped.
    Meanwhile, separately, I have found myself responding to Mandel on another
    point for which he may claim credit excessively (prophesy of the New Left),
    and so risking the same dynamics. Perhaps my scold was a try to stand on the
    other side before poking him myself.
    Whatever, I hope you will hear "goes on at delicious length" not as a jab but
    as sincere tribute, with a chuckle; for every word was valuable to me,
    particularly the last paragraph. If a scold on any other topic related to the
    FSM can prompt such substantive response, I trust you'll forgive me.
    With that said, I observe that your recent posts, though informative, do not
    fully account Mandel's place in the FSM. As I haven't yet read his memoirs, my
    own recollection and assessment are neither contaminated nor corrected by
    contact with his -- save by my digestion of his recent brief post about ExCom
    and his role, and his various reminders at public gatherings over the years. I
    am hardly objective; but as I am not in his fan-club and am resistant to
    assigning excess credits, my view of Mandel's place in the FSM might be taken
    as a minimum of his credit.
    His credit surely varied, not only from person to person but between
    sub-generations of activists, depending also on when they came here. For many
    in my cohort who had been in the Bay Area since 1960, Mandel was an authentic
    hero of sorts, much less for his persistent and public scholarship of Soviet
    affairs than for his role in the anti-HUAC demonstrations. I forget whether
    his passionate rhetoric in the inquisition room, the day after they beat and
    hosed us down the steps -- "Honorable sadists and beaters of children," etc.
    -- was heard then only in that room, or in the crowded hall outside, the
    streets beyond where five thousand gathered, or live over KPFA. But surely
    word of it cheered and enthused us -- though it must be said also that his
    speech was more a delicious entertainment than uniquely inspirational, as the
    spirit was full in our massive presence already and was fed by others defying
    the inquisitors. Regardless, its repeated broadcast over KPFA and its
    publication on the station's LP record of the affair helped make it a
    (sub)cultural highlight of that era, a justly-celebrated emblem of righteous
    resistance to freedom's erosion.
    This process made Mandel perhaps the first local (and national) Hero of the
    emerging New Left -- and in retrospect provides perhaps the first example in
    this era of the way progressive media conduced to the kind of mainstream
    character amplification that later gave us Leaders identified as such. It is
    interesting to speculate about how Mandel might have fared and developed had
    he not been willingly subject to such reductive amplification, which for many
    others as willing (e.g. Jerry Rubin) or reluctant (Mario Savio) had
    unfortunate effects. Regardless, there was a paradox latent in Mandel's status
    as Hero to us, though we hardly grasped it at the time. For our relation was
    quite clear, in a way that obtained ever after: he was in the hearing-room
    facing the probers, we were outside in the hall and the streets with the cops;
    he was the Old Left proudly unbroken, we were the New being born. Our proper
    hero in that chamber was instead Doug Wachter, the nineteen-year old student
    from Berkeley whose summoning -- as a Civil Rights activist putatively tainted
    by Red background -- had been marked by us all as the clear signal that HUAC's
    persecutorial energies were turning to focus on our developing movement. 
    If Wachter's own show of resistance to the witch-hunters drew less attention
    than it merited, this was due not alone to the more fiery temper of Mandel's
    outburst and consequent selective media attention, but also to its paradoxical
    character. For though he was of Old Left age and perspective, what burst from
    him in that moment of outcry -- less as a scholar under ideological assault
    than as a parent reacting to the treatment of his child, his many children --
    was a voice that might almost have been mistaken for our own, a New Left voice
    of moral passion, stripped of ideology. That we honored his speech so was in
    part due to hearing ourselves in it, I think, in a way that could hardly be
    equalled in his later interactions with us, nor was approached, so far as I
    myself saw or heard. 
    Another, less-fleeting dynamic was involved in Mandel's lingering esteem among
    us. In that era of recovery from savagery and cowardice, we were hungry for
    elders whom we could respect, and treasured the few faculty like Tom Parkinson
    and Richard Drinnon who descended to picket and vigil with us. This hunger by
    itself was enough to elevate Mandel to our small pantheon of elders, and was
    only assisted by media pushing, or so I reckon. (Among others who spoke
    vividly under inquisition, Archy Brown had been quite as entertaining -- but
    he had about him the feel of a worn hack, unlike Mandel, whose rhetoric,
    though artful, came from the heart; and was burdened moreover by being an
    official Red, whereas Mandel was merely tainted by association, a status we
    felt emboldened by then to appreciate openly.) Though I don't mention this
    hunger as such below, I've written elsewhere of how strongly it was evoked
    during the FSM, in a psychic substratum affecting our reception then of Mandel
    as well as of some others.
    In this way, Mandel -- or at least his media version, which I'll call MMandel
    -- came to be enshrined in proud memory of our movement's public birth, not
    only for those active then but for succeeding activists up to the FSM, insofar
    as they were attentive to the history they were extending, through the tales
    veterans told and such means as Horowitz's first book, Student. My impression
    is that this pantheonic MMandel endured unchanged until the FSM, and in some
    essential regards long after, even to this day, unaffected by the further
    career of Mandel himself, or by the abrasive rubbing of the person on the
    image that some besides myself have perceived. (Its endurance for me was
    probably deepened by my work in the Bay Area Student Committee for Abolition
    of HUAC during 1960/61 [61/62?], for we prized the MMandel emblem and played a
    role in propagating it perhaps second only to KPFA.)
    Though Mandel's commentary on Soviet affairs was audible weekly on KPFA, and
    particularly pertinent during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, I myself
    cannot recall his active presence in any gathering more formal or larger than
    a party, from HUAC till the FSM. This can hardly be taken as an adequate
    assessment, since I was reclusive and peripheral as an activist for much of
    this period. Still, as the Civil Rights mainstream was far from his turf and
    active in the street, I'd not be surprised to learn that Mandel had nearly as
    little direct interaction with it as I witnessed. But in any case, I suppose I
    was more representative of FSM activists in general than were those who had
    more direct interaction with him during this time. If I can be taken so, we
    saw him at the FSM's start in three kinds of closeness and distance -- as the
    historical MMandel; as the working journalist Mandel, dependably opening a
    cousin world to our community's eyes (or ears); and as fond-pappa Mandel, for
    his son Dave was well-known in the activist community -- all in ways nearly
    unaffected by direct interaction.
    With this background, I consider Mandel's role in the FSM -- simply as I
    recall it, for as Jo Freeman observes, there is virtually no documentary
    evidence from that era to stimulate or correct anyone's recollection of his role.
    I don't recall whether he spoke from atop the cop-car, at a rally, or only in
    ExCom meetings. In whichever venue(s), he was surely identified briefly as
    MMandel, with his status in this regard freshly publicized among a wider
    audience; and his contribution amounted principally to a symbolic blessing
    from our forbears in dissent -- not only the Old Left generation, but the
    older generation of the New, for he was equally an emblem of our HUAC protests.
    Though I don't recall exactly how or when Mandel was enrolled formally in
    ExCom, I do recall a distinct impression of his personal pushiness in getting
    there -- for he was as eager as I would have been in his place to be affirmed
    so among the admirable young, if doubtless more forward in expressing this.
    Though this aggressive edge somewhat put me off, it seemed at the time merely
    an ordinary display of a certain type, quite understandable; and seemed (and
    was) in context well tolerable, as that excited company had so many vivid
    speakers that Mandel simply richened its carnival. Such reserve as I felt was
    quite overruled by my pleasure in having him there, which was shared by many
    (probably most strongly in my cohort) on similar grounds.
    For as I saw and felt it, his main role was symbolic, and hardly trivial in
    this, or in being peripheral rather than central. Though attendant issues were
    surely debated, on balance we were grateful and proud to incorporate MMandel
    as a bivalent emblem of our heritage -- less perhaps for the emblem's overt
    value, than for what the choice to so incorporate it signified about **us**,
    to ourselves and the world: that we did have a heritage, that we were proud
    and unafraid to embrace it, and that our community of democratic action was
    open and non-discriminatory, combatting ageism before it had even been named.
    Beyond this, there was the person Mandel, in context nearly the only candidate
    for the perhaps-necessary post of Wise Elder in our company. Faculty members
    were excluded from candidacy both by definition of our "student" movement and
    operationally, for as Young Turks they had their own colleagues to influence;
    and the sympathetic ACLUish lawyers who functioned in fact among our leaders
    in clarifying and directing our legalistic approach were barred from such
    candidacy by their own needs to keep at distance for sake of eventual
    helpfulness. Given this, the field of other potential candidates was reduced
    nearly to Hal Draper, who was more directly qualified by having indeed served
    as Wise Elder in a conclave of independent Socialists, whose members
    functioned importantly in local Civil Rights activism in ways leading to their
    important roles in the FSM. 
    In this way, reinforced by the continual operation of the ISC during the
    conflict, Draper served indirectly yet substantively as a Wise Elder within
    the FSM orbit. He might well have been placed on ExCom, more legitimately than
    Mandel, as he figured actively in an organization in the (apparent) coalition.
    That he was not, reflected  not only his comparative modesty about his innate
    fitness for the Wise Elder post, but his own concern (as well as ours) for the
    disadvantages of having an elder "Red" agitator identified formally with our
    movement -- for in this regard he was significantly more problemmatic than
    Mandel. The political infighting of the FSM itself may also have played a part
    in this, more strongly than I recall; for Draper was so identified with a
    particular faction presently, whereas Mandel had hardly any such
    identification, let alone one current. But I imagine the strongest reason for
    Draper's formal absence lay in his own committment to producing his excellent
    political history of the FSM. In its Preface, he emphasizes how peripheral and
    distant from the FSM's operations he was; and in being forced to argue that
    even this little was not "inconsistent with the demands of objectivity"
    reveals some of the forces bearing on his decision to carry through this
    important role. (During the FSM itself, his most visible role was as author of
    the pamphlet The Mind of Clark Kerr, which confirmed him usefully as a Wise
    Elder in a way transcending all factional distinctions.)
    (Ralph Gleason -- the S.F. Chronicle "jazz columnist," our most prominent
    public explicator/defender -- functioned also as a Wise Elder of sorts in the
    FSM's operation, in a completely informal and personal fashion exercised
    mainly in his living-room, where Mario and I and others on Steering Committee
    repaired at times to consider the mediated public front.)
    This left Mandel as the only active candidate for Wise Elder. As I would
    argue, the post's filling was at least desireable psychically, if not fully
    necessary. It was also intrinsically contested, for we were so determinedly
    autonomous as youth and so full of ourselves as to be automatically somewhat
    resistant to advice from elders of any sort; and tended moreover to be
    resentful of those who presumed to advise us. Given this conflict, the post of
    W.E. among us was necessarily titular rather than functional; and in serving
    so, Mandel's role was essentially symbolic, as was MMandel's. In the
    circumstance, the most that could be granted was to hear him as an equal in
    discussion and debate -- which was no more than his better instincts hungered
    for, nor than any other merited in our democratic company.
    In this way, Mandel came to play on ExCom, besides his symbolic roles, some
    actual role in the operation of the FSM. In this regard, his contribution was
    surely more substantive than the zero summed in the records Jo Freeman has
    surveyed, though probably not much more significant. Though I'm certain that I
    heard him speak in more than one ExCom deliberation, I can't recall any
    particular occasion or contribution, or unique pertinence or distemper. I
    expect that his contributions were as I recall them generally, and as I have
    viewed them generally ever since, after editing out the parts concerned with
    his self-promotion and my irritation at this -- which is to say, that they
    were pertinent, thoughtful, and well-perspectived, if not God's Word. I am
    virtually certain that if they had been of less substantive or more
    objectionable character, I would have noted and remembered this. I'm sure also
    that his tendency to claim speakers' time was strongly regulated there not
    only by the presence of so many equally-entitled competitors, but by
    collective discouragement of excessive contribution by one who remained, in
    vital regards, an outside visitor rather than one of us.
    In this regard, I wonder about the details of his way of arriving on ExCom;
    for I had recalled only that we had decided to place him there, with some
    glee. As Freeman says that he qualified as an alternate from some
    organization, I suppose that my memory refers only to our discussion of
    whether and why we should incorporate the anomality of his elderhood and
    notoriety -- discussion of a sort that would have attended no other
    representative chosen by an organization of the "coalition." I put the term in
    quotes because the FSM by then had metamorphosed significantly from a
    conventional coalition, in ways I'm pondering separately. As I'd recalled
    Mandel's election to ExCom, it was among the facts demonstrating this change
    -- and it remains so, even with Freeman's elaboration. For though Mandel was
    apparently accredited as some organization's representative, my impression is
    that this was an operational subterfuge to enable his placement on ExCom; and
    certainly ExCom's explicit decision to accept him as such was in effect a
    direct act of recruitment. Such recruitment extended to others who could not
    be said fairly to represent particular constituencies -- including myself and
    Lynne Hollander, for though we were given seats on ExCom nominally as
    representatives of the large workforce that produced the "repression report,"
    our brief ad-hoc band had already fulfilled its purpose and disbanded. No more
    than I could Mandel have been said truly to represent a student group; instead
    we each were selected directly by this body for its own purposes.
    (I'd appreciate any further information about **which** organization Mandel
    represented, and how he came to do so.)
    Though Mandel's role in the FSM was essentially symbolic, and in this
    represented more its heritage than the FSM itself, the formal status of his
    ExCom position gave him as much ground as any of a hundred others there, and
    hundreds beyond, to declare himself a veteran of the FSM, as he has actively
    since then. Due to the circumstances I've sketched, he came to be nearly the
    only one of his generation ostensibly qualified to do so -- although a wider
    understanding of the movement will recognize many other elder veterans, from
    the Young Turks on up. In social terms, this fact endowed him with a certain
    capital -- inferior to the post-HUAC capital of MMandel that it supplemented,
    but still considerable -- which he exploited subsequently in his own style, in
    commemorative proceedings concerned with the FSM as well as elsewhere; but
    that's a story beyond the strict bounds of this memoir.\
                Michael Rossman <mrossman@igc.org>

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