---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 17:26:54 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days' [Ethan Young]
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 11:07:57 -0500
Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days'
Re: 'Fugitive Days'
Poster John Crawford takes issue with my introduction
to Cathy Wilkerson's review of 'Fugitive Days' by Bill
Ayers. He implies that I imposed my own views on
Wilkerson's because my remarks reflect some bitterness
about the Weather fiasco. He calls it 'moral
condemnation' and asks for 'a true history of the
period, an examination of actions and mistakes.' He
goes on to charge that I 'mechanically [draw] a line
between violence and non-violence.'
My views are my own - that's why I signed them and
separated them from Wilkerson's. Crawford jumps to
conclusions again, by assuming that because I question
the use of violence as practiced by Ayers and the
bunch, I must be a pacifist. I'm not, but I hope I'll
always be sane enough to listen to principled pacifists
before I give credence to anyone who would encourage
teenagers to fight armed cops. Or who call beating up
high school teachers and planting bombs 'exemplary' and
call organizing 'wimpy,' as the Weatherpeople did. I
wasn't so sane in 1969.
Fresh out of high school in Chicago, I fully identified
with the multiracial movement forming around local
SDSers and the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther
Party, led by the young, charismatic, and daring Fred
Hampton. From their first appearance in June of that
year, I was attracted to the Weatherman faction, first
of all, because they seemed to have no designs on other
movement groups - unlike Progressive Labor, who raided
and split SDS, or Young Socialist Alliance, who had
taken over the Student Mobilization Committee. The
Weather folks did not seek to dictate to the Vietnamese
or the Panthers in the Calvinist style of more orthodox
groups. Their stand was full support for actually
existing struggles - they cited Che, Mao and Lin Piao
to argue that these were all battlefronts in one anti-
imperialist struggle. And they displayed a sense of
humor, unlike their former co-factionalists in SDS, the
The Weathermen were on fire. For them, there wasn't
time for party-building or organizing - the revolution
was already here, and it was another kind of party.
(They called it a 'wargasm.') I found the idea of
street fighting much more appealing than trying to
persuade working people inclined toward cultural
conservatism to overthrow U.S. imperialism.
Soon enough, the Weatherpeople began disparaging all
other whites in the movement, in a crude caricature of
the expulsion of whites from SNCC a few years earlier.
Promoting 'confrontation politics,' they acted out a
campus fantasy of juvenile delinquency in order to
build a 'youth army' to 'aid' the third world
liberation struggles. They held little putsch-like
rallies at high schools and fronted off like gangsters
against cops, teachers, and anyone who wanted to argue
with them. If this practice makes sense to you in 2002
I may not be able to communicate why Weather was not
just a 'section of the movement' but a direct, and
effective, threat to it.
I can't express how embarrassing it is to admit that
this actually happened, no exaggeration, and I bought
into it as a 'weather-symp.'
Before the end of summer of 1969, the Weatherpeople and
the Panthers were at loggerheads. Fred Hampton publicly
backed up RYM-2's charge that Weather was
'adventurist.' It seems the BPP didn't actually go
around looking for fights with cops - they were too
busy trying to feed children and care for the sick.
Alluding to an early target of Lenin's polemical fire,
Hampton called the Weathermen 'anarchistic,
Custeristic, narodnik muddleheads.' Ayers responded in
a much-quoted speech called 'A Strategy to Win.' To
paraphrase, he said that as long the U.S. is killing
blacks and Vietnamese, 'nothing we do could be
adventurist.' In other words, if our actions are
militant and violent, they're justified and therefore
appropriate. Conversely, nonmilitant action objectively
condones, and therefore abets, war and repression.
Besides being suicidal, this sophomoric posturing
undermined the work of real movement activists:
respectfully and patiently organizing the majority of
working people to oppose the war and racism and to
stand up for themselves as human beings. Even worse, it
gave public credibility to the state's main
justification for its anti-movement bloodshed: that
revolutionaries were violent criminals.
That summer the Weatherpeople agitated in major cities
for a violent national action in Chicago in October,
aka the 'days of rage.' They predicted hundreds of
thousands would come. A few hundred showed up,
including me. There were some minor dust-ups with the
cops. The only direct results were hysterical
headlines, jail for some, and a disabling injury to a
political underling of Mayor Daley, who later parlayed
his sacrifice to become sheriff of Cook County.
Two months later state's attorney's police murdered
Fred Hampton. Of course, the Weatherpeople can't be
held responsible for this tragedy. But they helped set
the stage by provoking the cops and by backing up the
false assertion that law and order was collapsing.
While attacking all other whites as racist, Weatherman,
the Weather Underground, and their political offspring
always claimed to be following third world leadership.
But when the Panthers denounced them, they just ignored
it and waited for another black group to emerge that
better fit their idea of a 'vanguard.' That is, more
nationalistic and more concerned with 'armed struggle'
over organizing. This pattern was repeated time and
again, as they avoided dealing with criticism from 'of-
color' leftists in the name of 'following their
Weather twisted out of all historical context the
concepts of 'armed struggle,' 'people's war,' and
'right to revolution,' in order to lend unearned
importance to their grandstanding. Read the various
defenses of the Black Bloc and you will find the same
mangling of history and revolutionary politics.
The problem is not whether violence should be discussed
as a matter of strategy or tactics. It's in the nature
of politics that the question comes around, whether in
a boardroom or a strike meeting. But when it is
discussed, the first concern for left activists must
always be WHO WILL BE PUT AT RISK. The second concern
is WHO WILL ULTIMATELY BE SERVED. When I'm in a meeting
I look for the ones who understand this, especially if
they have yet to face real violence for the first time
in their lives.
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