[sixties-l] Discussion: 'Fugitive Days' and movement history (fwd)

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Date: Thu Feb 14 2002 - 20:30:12 EST

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    Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2002 13:52:24 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Discussion: 'Fugitive Days' and movement history

    From: Portside

    Discussion: 'Fugitive Days' and movement history

    Subject: Weather Underground

    I was part of the SDS "Old Guard" of the early 60s,
    socialist, if not social-democratic, pacifistic, if not
    pacifist. Marxoid, if not Marxist. I have to say that I
    was horrified at the time by the Weather Underground,
    and I remain horrified to this day. It seemed like a
    total negation of Port Huron to me.

    I was never clear enough in my own thinking to decide
    if I believed in nonviolence as a way of life, or as a
    tactic. I sure admired the "way of life" people, but
    didn't consider myself as strong or as principled. The
    tactic of nonviolence, however, seemed rock-solid to
    me, and certainly had to be a weapon in the arsenal of
    the activist.

    I have never understood how people who claimed to have
    read Marx, Lenin, Che, Mao and Ho Chi Minh could have
    adopted terrorism in the context of the U.S. in the
    60s. It looked to me like the first five volumes of
    Lenin's Collected Works were pretty much totally
    devoted to denouncing and polemicising against
    terrorism as totally counterproductive. Maybe I misread
    Lenin, but that was the strong impression I carried
    with me.

    I remember when Che gave a press conference in New
    York, and journalists asked him if he thought guerilla
    warfare would work in the U.S. Che's surprised response
    was "AQUI?"

    Even Mao and Ho stressed the need for the patient
    political organization of masses of people. Mao's
    famous comment that "power comes from the barrel of a
    gun" does not do justice to his concept of

    I can't claim that I was morally superior to anybody--I
    made plenty of mistakes of my own. (CPUSA membership is
    still more of a blot on one's record than membership in
    the Weather Underground, I discovered at an SDS

    The Weather Underground and its camp followers could
    have studied the "underground" experiences of the CPUSA
    to learn what a useless expenditure of energy such
    tactics were. The CPUSA to its credit, did not advocate
    violence whatever else it might have done. (That did
    not stop it from justifying violence, nor me, either,
    from time to time.)

    I think Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dorhn are fine people,
    who have made exemplary careers in helping people since
    they "surfaced." I am glad to know both of them. I
    think, in light of 9-11, they are being scapegoated to
    a certain extent. And while, I agree with vigorous
    criticism, we should bear in mind that others would
    gladly substitute them for Bin-Ladn.

    James H. Williams
    2666 E. 73 St., apt. 10E
    Chicago, IL 60649
    (773) 734-0155
    (773) 734-0162 fax


    Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days'

    << 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. >>

    I'll let the rest of all this pass -- but the author of
    the above lines owes us an apology for strange
    assertion that the Weather people set the stage for the
    Hampton murder by provoking cops and asserting that law
    and order was collapsing. Law and Order did collapse in
    Chicago the year before the Hampton killing, during the
    Democratic Convention and then again during the
    Conspiracy Trial frame-up that was going on when the
    Hampton murder took place. (And what better proof of
    that dramatic collapse than this state sanctioned
    murder?) The FBI/Chicago cop's lethal interest in the
    Panthers was based on the Panthers theory and practice
    and had nothing to do with the Weather people's
    posturing, actions or rhetoric. Finally, the Black
    Panthers were quite divided about the Weathermen and
    their actions. Hampton was a critic and Eldridge
    Cleaver was a booster.

    Stew Albert

    Stew Albert
    Visit my web page:
    Stew Albert's Yippie Reading Room


    Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days'

    I thought the weatherpeople were out of their minds in
    l969, and nothing that has happened since has given me
    reason to change that conviction.

    Nothing they did shortened the war by so much as five
    minutes or advanced the cause of social justice one
    inch . On the contrary, their self-indulgent violence
    and clownish antics (remember "jailbreaks,' when
    weatherwomen would run bare-breasted through a high
    school?) probably alienated a lot of potential support
    for anti-war and left activities.

    All their ideas were stupid, and so was their practice.
    Following "third world" leadership in practice meant
    robbing banks with black criminals, fetishizing
    'action" meant guilt-tripping everyone who didn't want
    to get naked or blow things up, etc., thinking the
    revolution was around the corner and that they were its
    catalyst was just a lot of macho posturing combined
    with extreme tunnel vision. They were less a movement
    than a cult, really.

    They owe the left a big apology, not more protestations
    of their good intentions. MOST people have good

    Katha Pollitt


    Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days'


    I appreciate the honesty of your observations below. It
    looks like you've come to some kind of understanding.

    I remember those days well. I was active with CORE in
    the early 60's, joined SDS when Paul Potter was pres.,
    but was most active with The Resistance doing anti-
    draft and anti-war stuff. I remember visiting Chicago
    in '68 and coming away with the feeling that those
    folks were just plain nuts, angry, looking for a fight.
    I looked at the Days of Rage as an adolescent tantrum;
    I felt the same way, of course, but America didn't
    really feel ripe for any kind of revolution. Venceremos
    wouldn't let me go cut sugar cane in Cuba in '69
    because I was "politically unreliable." They were

    I left the country in '75 after doing a bit of jail
    time, spent a couple of years looking around the
    planet, came back with an appreciation of just how
    great of a country this is, and how lucky I am to live
    here. You are, too.

    Politics isn't exactly a science. Whether an act is
    revolutionary or adventurist, reactionary, provincial,
    Custeristic (a new one on me...) or any other tortured
    adjective is for history to judge, and it probably
    won't speak with a single voice. But I do know that
    America isn't the Enemy of the People, the Great Satan,
    or any kind of monster. It's done some terrible things
    in the world, much more good than any nation in
    history. People all over the world listen to our music,
    wear our t-shirts, eat our junk food, enjoy our movies
    and tv shows, love our motorcycles, and not at the
    point of a gun. Most wish they could live like us,
    many, many would like to live here. For better and for
    worse, it is the US that is the revolutionary vanguard.
    Never has freedom and prosperity been so widely spread
    as in our country today. There's a lot that needs
    fixing, but to hate America is to hate the human race.


    Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days'


    Your response to Crawford and your timely recap of what
    the Weather folks actually said, believed and did were
    right on the money.

    Irwin Silber


    Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days' Ethan Young wrote:

    > 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.

    Just for the record: it was the SDS leadership who
    split SDS, not Progressive Labor. At the '69 convention
    PL forces argued _against_ the split, while Bernadine
    Dohrn and the rest led the walk-out, "expelling" those
    who did not "walk" with them.

    Again, not only PL, but many other groups, including
    the CPUSA, IS, SWP, and others, too, joined SDS. If PL
    "raided" SDS, so did all the rest. IMO, this is simply
    anti-communist language.

    Grover Furr


    Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days'

    Ethan - Excellent response. I was around then and
    remember well what we thought of the Weather People's
    antics and how they hurt our organizing efforts (I was
    in a different group then, of course, different times.)


    Nancy Oden,
    Green Party USA


    Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days' -- an exchange Portside-

    This discussion brings back certain youthful memories.
    I was a fairly early SDS member, and remember being
    impressed by many of the people I met at Pine Hill (the
    second national conference where they cut their ties to
    LID, etc.). It seemed the organization, although beset
    by many tendencies and overly loquacious individuals,
    was destined to find some kind of a path to a renewed
    domestic socialist movement. But later in the sixties,
    tendencies divided and multiplied, some became
    negative, and those trying to get at the roots came up
    with both complex and imaginary results. I had left SDS
    by the time most of this happened, but do remember some
    antics of PL and Weatherman (and other even crazier)
    splinters and factions. I (and many of the people in
    the "movement" I knew at the time) considered them not
    just wrong-headed, but more than somewhat suspicious.
    After all, if they weren't paid to do and say what they
    did and said, they certainly accomplished much mischief
    for free.

    Why dilate further on what developed into essentially
    negative and disappointing phenomena and personalities?
    Early SDS, in spite of its attempt to cut umbilical
    cords to right wing social democracy, was somewhat
    blinded by prevailing cold war conceptions to lessons
    of the historic world workingclass movement. The later
    SDS was surely the inevitable outcome to ignored

    Left student movements historically have been
    auxiliaries to something else much larger. SDS was an
    auxiliary without the something else, a moon without an
    earth to orbit.

    David Ecklein


    Subject: Fugitive Days

    It is difficult to develop a useful historical
    perspective, attempting to understand with backward
    glances a context that has all but dissolved while
    trying to restrain emotions that once shaken rise so
    readily to the surface. What needs to be disrupted is
    the unitary narrative imposed by those who fashion our
    cultural and historical visions, distorting it to meet
    their various purposes. The Weather experiment has been
    caricaturized as a political rock concert gone bad, a
    youthful drug fest that took its cadre into a frenzy of
    mindless action; a phenomena that can only be
    understood by evoking all the old totems: youthful
    abandonment and rebellion, seditious liberalism and the
    arrogance of privilege that produced a hiatus of
    insanity in an otherwise stable and self-correcting
    system. This is the 60s, now buried under layers of
    conformity, distortion and self-serving ideology.

    There are shards of truth in this broken vision of the
    past. There were many fiascoes: Weatherman, party
    building, industrializing, and vanguardism. So many
    missteps often packaged in macho posturing, demagoguery
    and competing formulaic recipes and submerged moralisms
    and hypocrisy that decimated and demoralized the left.
    One of my favorites was the RCP condemnation of Black
    Panthers for seeking asylum outside the country when,
    it was argued, the natural place to seek protection was
    in the heart of the Black community itself. Years
    afterwards the sands shifted and the RCP leader fled to

    We all stand on our piece of historical debris, painful
    as well as exuberant, from which we filter our memories
    and base our current interpretations of the past. I was
    a member of the Worker Student Alliance that most
    people relegate to the PL (Progressive Labor) political
    sinkhole. Ironically, there were a number of us who
    were sympathetic to Weather politics inside WSA. A
    group--to which I belonged--was quietly purged in the
    early 70s. Many of us in the Movement believed that the
    time had come to fight the war of attrition. We were
    all wrong. Student politics had not prepared us to
    adopt a long view from which to build a stable and
    self-generating left alternative free of dogmatism and
    capable of utilizing the creative energy and resistance
    that fueled the left during it best days, when it was
    still relevant and spoke in a popular idiom that
    captured the attention of thousands of people across
    the nation.

    But this is not the totality of that era. The wars of
    liberation in the Third World, the brutality that was
    unleashed against the left world wide, including the
    deaths at Kent and Jackson State, and the machinations
    of COINTELPRO, including the campaign to exterminate
    the Black Liberation Movement all created a sense of
    urgency that promoted a response. While the left
    searched for models of resistance from other histories,
    we were cut off from our own and operated without the
    benefit of insight that would allow us to understand
    the realities of the day and develop a strategy that
    could sustain progressive movement through the next

    The left imaginary of the 60s and 70s was the product
    of the apocalyptic images of Viet Nam and Mississippi.
    To the left's credit, it fought the fight that it felt
    needed to be fought, clumsy, misguided and even tragic
    though it sometimes was. Many sacrifices were made and
    lives were disrupted and lost in the process. That it
    was not able to create a long-term and less frenzied
    foundation to build an alternative vision of social
    justice was tragic, but it was not merely a matter of
    wrong strategies and wrong-headed people. We were in
    the belly of the beast and we were carried on a
    historical wave whose momentum we did not understand or
    control. History is a montage and there are many
    fragments that have yet to be ordered before an
    adequate reckoning with the past can be made.


    (Hello Ethan)

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