---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 13:04:34 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: On 'Fugitive Days
>From Ethan Young
It was a thrill to read the responses to Cathy Wilkerson's review of Bill
Ayers's 'Fugitive Days' and to my 2 cents on the first year of the Weather
fiasco. I was tempted to write back about Stew Albert's comments and some
others who took issue with my take on Weather, Fred Hampton, etc. But as
much fun as that might be, behind all this is a political task: the need to
address the issue of trashing.
After SDS was dead and buried and W went underground, many activists began
to sort out the various arguments for and against street violence as a means
of opposing the war, fighting imperialism, building the movement, or living
the revolution. Some turned to community-level service: free health clinics,
food co-ops, storefront law offices. Some moved to working class
neighborhoods, got factory or service jobs and joined unions. Study groups
sprang up, spurring an increased identification with Marxism in its manifold
schools and tendencies. By 1973 or so, a simple citation of Lenin pointing
out the negative aspects of running through the streets breaking windows
could get the attention of young people who previously would have considered
Well, the issue has returned but the means of resolving it are no longer so
easily summoned up. Marx and Lenin are no longer movement icons, which some
might consider a shame but I call a mixed blessing. Along with a lack of
enthusiasm (at least) in social movements for the geniuses of 1848 and 1917,
the role of the organized left itself is just a shell. In these post-1989
circumstances the reemergence of anarchism and the defensive, inward-looking
political culture in social movements are not surprising. And that's the
perfect breeding ground for the fad of proving one's revolutionary-ness in
That's the significance of the Black Bloc and less zealous pro-trashing
tendencies in the antiglobalization events. This is not a manifestation of
anarchism as an ideology or movement but of missionary romanticism left
unchallenged. Those who argue against are conciliatory, splitting the
movement, thinking hierarchically, buying into the legitimacy of private
property and police power.
To counter this tendency we - Portside readers and other Boondocks fans -
have to reintroduce the idea of organizing as a political duty outweighing
everything 'symbolic' in the social movements. No more self-identified
bubbles of righteousness in a sea of hypocrisy - the tide of public opinion
must be turned. This was the appropriate response to 'exemplary violence and
confrontation politics' at the height of the Indochina war, and it's more
We have to warn about the serious state violence lurking around the corner.
But this must be done patiently and analytically, without resorting to
demagogy or conspiracy-mongering. At the same time, we need to encourage
real, systematic, fearless outreach and education to the general public in
its many forms, to link problems on the ground to capital's new global power
and Bush's war drive. All this, in plain language, without insulting
anyone's intelligence by claiming a higher moral sense or political
sophistication. Or, as we so often do, expecting anyone to get excited about
so-and-so's language or such-and-such politician's conduct - unless we can
be funny about it.
As Cathy pointed out in her review, movement democracy was given short
shrift back then. This is less the case today, but democracy also implies an
expectation that the massive majority - unpoliticized, unmobilized - have
the potential capacity to run the world. And that expectation is no more in
evidence among the new streetfighters than it was with the Weatherpeople.
Once again, the more they take an isolated stand of disdain for capitalist
power, the further they get from identifying with those who are being
screwed en masse, those who can potentially uproot capitalism and not just
bloody cops' nightsticks.
Another revoltin' development, this is.
Cathy, I wasn't reproaching you in any way for your excellent
article. You, of all people, have the right to say anything you want. (And
My comments about Bill and Bernardine were mostly directed to the "rest of
us." Us Old White Men tend to pontificate a lot, and my point was the need
to keep some current perspective.
Here in Chicago, Bill and Bernardine are under a lot of fire from
Conservative groups of alumni who are trying to get them fired. To this
group, they have become surrogates for Bin Ladn. While we criticize Bill's
book (and it certainly is insouciant and glib!) we should also keep this in
That was my only caveat.
James H. Williams
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