Re: [sixties-l] Lemisch critique of SDS film

From: John Johnson (
Date: Thu Mar 22 2001 - 19:46:08 EST

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    It wasn't the film I would have made either.

    I suggested strongly to Helen that someone like me, representing a Los
    Angeles Branch, with a different take than the NO would have had, should be
    in the film, but alas she said it was too late.

      Im not sure a better tact would have been to delve deeply into the
    internal disputes. It seems those that have a similar critique are unhappy
    because it didn't criticize either or both the Weathermen and Progressive
    Labor Party.

    One could rarely get through an SDS meeting without some turmoil and
    dispute. There was a wide range of factions, Trots, CP'ers, hippies,
    liberals, anarchists, (the Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers for one),
    street kids and intellectuals, working class and upper middle class folk.

    For the most part after some heavy fight we could then go and party
    together, there was a sense of the whole being greater than the segments.
    I don't mind revisiting about some of those disputes, they were often fun
    and in others I still feel I was right.

    By 1969 the very nature of the movement was changing. The Panthers had
    been and were engaged in all out warfare with the government. There was a
    broad move to working in the community and work place rather than on campuses.

    In late 1968 and 1969 the NO was going in a direction I did not agree with,
    that is the so-called "revolutionary youth movements" and they had a
    lackadaisical attitude towards PL until it was too late.

    As we entered the Seventies we also enter the politics of identity, the
    "me" generation, the divisiveness of the women's movement, the burn-out
    of the hippy culture and the massive and purposeful co-option of the
    culture of the Sixties by capitalist and the more adept governmental

    So I wouldn't lay the demise of SDS on the Weathermen. The closing of the
    Chicago National Office shouldn't have stopped anyone from organizing. It
    didn't stop me, till this very minute.

    I certainly think it would be good if we had an SDS type organization today
    and I propose we do just that.

    > While "Rebels With a Cause" is often moving and evocative, I also find
    >it stunningly uncritical, self-congratulatory, first-person heroic,
    >triumphalist -- and thus at odds with much that the SDS I knew stood for.
    >Largely avoiding the question of why SDS collapsed, and presenting little
    >about internal conflicts within SDS, the film won't help younger people who
    >encounter related conflicts and dangers in the new movements that they are
    > Focusing on but moving beyond the film itself, my critique also deals
    >with larger issues of left aesthetics and truth-telling. Why can't we build
    >conflict into our films? Can't we get beyond old-time Popular Front
    >agitprop? Can't we move beyond this stodgy stuff to edgier left film-making?
    >And why can't we tell the truth?
    > This critique is in some ways continuous with an article that I
    >published in The Nation, "Pop Front Culture: I Dreamed I Saw MTV Last
    >Night," October 18, 1986. This created a great deal of controversy, to which
    >I responded in a second article, "The Politics of Left Culture," The Nation,
    >December 20, 1986.
    > I welcome comments, criticism, discussion, forwardings, postings, etc.
    > Jesse Lemisch

    John Johnson
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