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Movement Stories and History

Yet more on Movement history

I sometimes get the feeling that I'm the youngest person on this list (though that's probably untrue). I
make a point of noting my youth, though, because it would seem disingenuous of me not to: I am 26, and I
was not even born at the time of the last SDS convention and the emergence of Weatherman. Actually,
my parents were preparing to get married around that time. It is because of them, and because of my own
current activism, and because of my ongoing belief, deluded though it may be, that there might be something
to learn from the past, that I got interested in all this.

In 1969, my father was a professor at Grinnell College A group of students there had decided to turn the
American flag upside down (a la the international symbol of distress) as a protest against the Vietnam
war. My father spent a good part of the next two days standing beneath the flag, hand on the halyard, to
prevent anyone from doing this again.

My mother told me this story when I was a freshman in high school en route to a protest against the Persian
Gulf war. I pointed out to her that, had I been there, I probably would have been one of the people trying to
turn the flag upside down. "Yes," she said. "You and your father would have disagreed about a number of
things. Call if you need to be bailed out."

Mostly I tell this as a funny story, but in fact I've been thinking about it for many years--turning a flag
upside down may not seem like much, but in Grinnell, Iowa, it's tantamount to a very extreme tactic. As an
activist (these days, I mostly work with United Students Against Sweatshops, but I dabble in any number
of other related global justice things), I am constantly thinking about how to proceed--about how to
make the best strategic decision, about how to be true to yourself and what you believe, about how to
reconcile the difference between the Quakers who just want to witness and the ISO who want to print
everything in Impact font, and how to do this all in the face of what seem like overwhelming odds--in the
face of a system--call it global capitalism, call it what you will--that seems relentlessly determined to
walk all over most of what I consider precious in the world.

A couple years ago, I decided to start reading all the movement history I could get my hands on. I thought,
rather grandiosely, that it was my responsibility learn from history so that the terrible mistakes of the past
would not be repeated. I have now read more theories on the expulsion of whites from SNCC, the failure or
success of ERAP/the Worker Student Alliance/the Mississippi Summer project/you name it, the demise of
SDS, the rise of women's liberation, etc., etc. than I can count. I am a wealth of trivia about things that
happened in the decade before I was born. My conclusion (though I'm still engaged in this project) has been,
both sadly and oddly comfortingly, that we study history to learn that history repeats itself, willy-
nilly. This past summer I was at the USAS national gathering in Chicago and was actually at some point
amused by a group of people running around handing out leaflets and (depending on whom you talk to) either
trying to subvert the conference or trying to restore it to its true guiding principles. They were all from
the Progressive Labor party. The last night of the conference, we got dinner donated by the Heartland
Café. The last plenary went on for a very, very long time, and I didn't think there'd be any food left by
the time we got there, but Mike James had saved stuff for us. "How'd the voting go?" he asked me as he handed
me a sandwich. I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I remember some of those SDS plenaries," he said, and we nodded, and I
thanked him for the dinner, and moved on.

I don't know where I would have stood on that flag at Grinnell in 1969, or what exactly I would have thought
of the Weatherfolks, though I doubt very much I would have joined them. In truth, when I contemplate the
events, I am always so amazed by anyone in the movement who made it through the late '60s with their faculties
intact. I don't know that I would have been so lucky.

I do think, though, that this country is deeply haunted, and wounded, by a lingering and ongoing racism
(and perhaps a number of other isms as well, but I'll stick to one) and that the wounds it still inflicts
manifest themselves in kinds of violence that are hard to comprehend, whether that's the 1981 Brinks robbery
or the shooting of Amadou Diallou. I generally feel contempt for the cops who shot Diallou and pity for
those in prison from the Brinks action, which doesn't make much sense--I could here make a number of
arguments about class and privilege and those who should know better. I could also be criticized, quite
rightly, for laying blame entirely on the system, for refusing to recognize the importance of personal
accountability, for trying to see everyone as a victim.

But I also think that we need to make a very careful distinction between the action and the people behind
that action, and we need to try to understand the ways in which the systems which surround that person have
led to the kinds of actions they've taken. A number of posters to this discussion have talked about the need
to pass on certain kinds of knowledge--about organizing, coalition-building, practical, workable
tactics, what have you--to younger activists now. I think that's true--it's one of the reasons I read so
much history, and why I try to talk to older activists when I have the chance.

But I think another thing we need to try to understand, respect, and deal with, is the terrible toll that
living in this world and to resist and change its systems can take on us. I know kids now who are
involved in Black Bloc stuff. I don't join them. When I can, I try to persuade them that smashing up the
windows of Star$$$$, while satisfying in a certain way, is not going to help--and that undoubtedly that
destruction will have to be cleaned up low-wage laborers--the very people whose side (I'd like to
think) we are on. But I know also that there are days when I want to smash things, as much as there are days
when I want to move to the mountains, become a hermit, and pray, though to me neither of these is a
strategically viable way to build a movement or a better world. I think what we owe one another is some
attempt at understanding, and some attempt at forgiveness, and at reconciliation.

I hope that this discussion can continue, and perhaps even move in that direction.

Laura E. Crossett
Nonfiction Writing Program
University of Iowa

----- Original Message -----
From: "portsideMod" <>
To: "ps" <>
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2002 9:29 PM
Subject: 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
> organization.
> 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
> reunion.)
> 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

> 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

> ===
> 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
> intentions.
> Katha Pollitt
> ===
> Subject: Re: 'Fugitive Days'
> Ethan,
> 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
> right.
> 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'
> Ethan:
> 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 BernadineDohrn 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.)
> Thanks.
> 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 experience.
> 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 Paris.
> 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
> phase.
> 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.
> Leonard
> Chicago
> (Hello Ethan)


> portside (the left side in nautical parlance) is a
> news, discussion and debate service of the Committees
> of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It
> aims to provide varied material of interest to people
> on the left.

> [Published in Geoff Andrews, Richard Cockett, Alan Hooper and Michael
> Williams, eds., New Left, New Right and Beyond: Taking the Sixties Seriously
> (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan Press Ltd and New York: St. Martin1s Press,
> 1999)]
> by Marvin E. Gettleman
> Of all the western countries in which something like a new left appeared
> during the 1960s, probably the one in the United States exhibited the most
> stunted sense of historical continuity with earlier movements both in the
> U.S. and abroad (Caute,1988; McDermott, 1997). Part of the reason was
> cultural, rooted as it was in the romantic American illusion of having
> escaped from history into a realm of pure voluntarism. But the virtual
> disappearance in the preceding decade of a viable Communist old left did
> deprive the new left of a generation of elders who might have passed along
> some much-needed political wisdom and historico-internationalist
> perspective. But by the beginning of the 60s, the CP/USA had become a
> moribund dogmatic sect, its once-extensive praxis destroyed by government
> repression during what has been called the McCarthy era (Schrecker, 1983,
> 1993, 1998). New leftists saw little to admire in what was left of American
> communism, ideologically tethered to its increasingly unattractive Stalinist
> political orientation. The Port Huron Statement, the new left1s major early
> ideological manifesto flatly stated that 3we are in basic opposition to the
> communist system2 (Miller, 1987, p. 350; cf. Weinstein, chap. 7). For their
> part the Communists contemptuously dismissed the new leftists as troublesome
> anarchists, while the independent Marxists around Monthly Review magazine
> ignored them (Green, 1971; Miller, 1987, p. 162).
> Yet subtle organic ties linked these two generations of American
> leftists. For one thing many new leftists were 3red diaper babies2 with
> parents who were, or who had been, in or close to the CP/USA. Whatever
> doctrinal and tactical disputes separated these generations, the young folk
> sometimes prodded their discouraged relatives back into political action
> (Isserman, 1987, Chap. 5; Gitlin, 1987, pp. 67-77; Breines, 1982, Chap. 4)
> and to fruitful intergenerational political discussions. Another less
> wholesome and even more complex link derives from the Communist old left1s
> uncritical admiration of the Soviet Union, which the new left justifiably
> repudiated. But in a few short years, significant portions of the American
> new left would come to embrace strategies drawn from third world liberation
> movements of no less dubious relevance to circumstances in the U.S. (Here
> the difference between the British new left, which included a number of
> distinguished former Communist intellectuals, as well as an active Ban The
> Bomb movement, whose praxis had considerable impact, is instructive.)
> [Gettleman, U.S. New
> Left, p. 2]
> Some early new left activists did seek political guidance as they began
> to plan their assault on the all-too-evident faults in American society, and
> although a few individual old leftists played an advisory role, that whole
> generation of trusted, experienced elders from whom these activists might
> have learned more, was no longer available. Pacifists contributed as much
> as any group, especially on the level of demonstration tactics (DeBeneditti,
> 1990, passim) Of the old left groupings, the Trotskskyist Socialist Workers
> Party (SWP) probably had the best working relationship with the new left,
> because of the SWP1s occasionally acrimonious but generally responsible work
> in the Vietnam era anti-war movement -- bringing needed good sense into a
> movement that was constantly in danger of breaking out into ultra-left
> fantasies (Halstead, 1978). Progressive Labor (PL), although it only
> emerged in the 60s, was definitely old left in orientation, ideology and
> agenda. Its aim was to replace the CP/USA as the keeper of the flame of
> Stalinist orthodoxy, and also to infiltrate and take over the major new
> left youth organization -- Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As we
> shall see, by 1968 PL had succeeded in this latter aim, revealing what was
> by then the new left1s volatile vulnerability, and its already precipitous
> decline.
> Could the collapse of the new left have been averted? Or to pose the
> counterfactual question in a narrower form: what lessons might the new left
> have drawn if it had available a more respected and credible set of
> political ancestors? For one thing new left radicals might have been
> diverted from the naive but tempting analysis that the major problem of the
> era was America1s moral failure to live up to its supposed ideals. A more
> nuanced and realistic approach, less parochial, focusing not on dubious
> ideological terrain, but instead invoking and applying Marxist categories of
> economic interests that had to be overcome in the hoped-for transformation
> to a brave new world. Such a perspective could have helped counter the
> debilitating despair (and its attendant tactical consequences) when the
> inevitable discovery came -- that neither the U.S. nor any other country
> invariably lives up to its announced ideals. Contact with trusted elders
> might also have militated against the romantic fascination about
> revolutions elsewhere (and their dashing heroes) that impeded sober
> appraisals of actual conditions in the U.S.1 Nor, as will be mentioned
> later, was the potentially useful wisdom of Antonio Gramsci yet available to
> American radicals.
> Even so, the U.S. new left, undeterred by hostility from old left
> spokespersons, and not yet stalked by PL, managed to produce a movement of
> great vitality in the early and mid 60s. A Civil Rights movement, a
> student movement, an anti-war
> movement and a women1s movement were considerable achievements, even if not
> all of these can be credited solely to the new left. Furthermore, these
> radical projects at
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 3]
> first developed with the characteristic North American sense of
> near-limitless possibility. This illusion that these students and other
> young people could remake the world (more or less instantly) reflected a
> giddily optimistic mood American of the 60s that many of us later came to
> look back upon with wonder -- and some shame. Why didn1t we know it
> wouldn1t be so easy? What attenuated our realism and tragic sensibilities?
> Why were we so unprepared for movement-building and long-haul struggle?
> The new left1s initial improvisational and non-ideological approach
> derived in great measure from the example of young black protestors in the
> upper south who courageously challenged segregation. The spark was struck at
> Greensboro, North Carolina, in early 1960 when students at the local
> Agricultural and Technical College refused to leave a segregated Woolworth1s
> lunch counter and immediately inspired imitators all through the region. Out
> of this wave of lunch counter sit ins would eventually emerge the main new
> left civil rights organization -- the Student Non Violent-Coordinating
> Committee (SNCC), which, along with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE),
> galvanized young people white and black all over the country -- and worried
> older, established groups.
> When white college radicals in the north began demanding an end to
> segregation and racial oppression, and themselves joined SNCC or
> SNCC-support groups, the new left was born. Racial injustice, along with
> the threat of nuclear annihilation, the prevalence of bureaucratic
> insensitivity to injustice (and later, when it became possible to utter the
> words, imperialism and sexism too) became the perceived by-products of of a
> debased American liberalism. The University of Wisconsin-based
> journal,Studies on the Left (1959-1967), which along with SDS1s New Left
> Notes, became the closest approximations of theoretical journals of the new
> left, also helped focus the nascent movement1s ideological energies on 3Cold
> War Liberalism,2 deemed the new left1s main ideological enemy (Weinstein and
> Eakins, 1970; Buhle, 1990, Chap. 10). The colleges became the initial
> incubators for the upsurges of both black militancy and the closely-linked
> white struggle that comprised much of the early new left, as well as for the
> anti-war and the women1s liberation struggle that eventually emerged, but
> whose outlines were taking shape earlier (Matusow, 321-325; Evans, 1979;
> Echols, 1989).
> The ur-text of the New Left, containing some of its most compelling
> ideas, as well as its unresolved and unrecognized dilemmas (the woman
> question is totally absent from its pages) was Tom Hayden1s 1962 SDS
> manifesto, the Port Huron Statement.. The Students for a Democratic Society
> had its roots in the obscure, moderate leftist Student League for Industrial
> Democracy, which in order to reinvigorate itself, in 1960 hired
> University of Michigan graduate student Al Haber as Field Secretary. Haber1s
> vision was of a radical organization that seeks the 3root causes2 of the
> 3inadequate society of today2 and pursues solutions 3with vigor,
> [Gettleman,
> U.S. New Left, p. 4]
> idealism and urgency, supporting our words with picket lines, demonstrations
> and even our own bodies. . . .2 The conservative older LID leadership fired
> Haber, but then reluctantly reengaged him in chastened recognition that only
> his new youthful enthusiasm (or that of someone like him) would enliven the
> near-moribund parent organization and its student offshoot. Haber hired Tom
> Hayden, a recent Michigan graduate, who had studied the writings of
> dissident Columbia University sociologist C. Wright Mills, and then traveled
> around the country (making contact with SNCC activists in the South).
> Debating with critics who attacked the vague utopianism of his draft
> manifesto and retaining much of Mills1s influence,2 Hayden revised the
> position paper he was planning to present at the SDS convention scheduled
> for June, 1962, at Port Huron, Michigan (Sale, 1973).
> The final version of the Statement adopted at Port Huron was, as the
> historian of SDS put it, 3unabashedly middle class2 (Sale, 1973, p. 50).
> Although sympathy for the
> poor and suffering pervaded the document, it spoke not primarily for the
> downtrodden masses but for 3university people. . . bred at least in modest
> comfort,2 who were uneasy about the world they were about to inherit. Two
> immediate situations shaped that unease: the struggle against racial
> bigotry, which 3compelled most of us from silence to activism;2 and the
> 3common peril2 of nuclear annihilation, which similarly challenged us to
> take active personal responsibility 3for encounter and resolution.2 To
> Hayden, who on this matter voiced the common views of an entire political
> generation, the threshold for effective action comes with the escape from
> 3subjective apathy2 into active citizenship, a sundering of 3shell of moral
> call[o]us2 that deadens sensitivity to human suffering, even our own. The
> prevalence of such apathy within the American population allows the dominant
> business community to eviscerate democracy, while hypocritically
> rhetorically upholding its tenets. The notion of active democratic
> citizenship along with its correlate, 3participatory democracy,2 was the
> main theme of Port Huron. And it soon became the core idea of a vast reborn
> student movement that did not long remain only on campus.3
> Interspersed with its hard, analytic passages (on overseas investment,
> trade unions, nuclear deterrence strategies, automation and
> military-industrial politics), SDS1s new-minted ideological manifesto also
> contained naive quasi-anarchist visions of 3inherently good men and women
> liberated from hierarchic institutions and
> living in decentralized communities where the individual counted2 (Brienes,
> 1982; Sale, 1973, Chaps. 7-9). What is remarkable is that in its early years
> the new left actually created approximations of such communities, one of
> which even took shape at SDS1s bureaucratic center -- the National Office in
> New York City. Dedicated teams of new leftists elsewhere, especially in the
> segregated south, in northern ghettos, and at
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 5]
> anti-war coffee houses set up around U.S. military bases, were able for a
> time to create little 3beloved communities2 of radical activists which in
> their internal relations prefigured the good society they were attempting,
> but never quite managed, to build.
> Before the final, partially self-inflicted total defeat of the new left,
> there were also interim defeats (as well as occasional victories). 1963-64
> saw the advent of SDS1s Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP), which
> dispatched mostly white students to such northern and upper south cities as
> Philadelphia, Louisville, Boston, Cleveland, Trenton and Newark. This
> tactical shift away from campus organizing, ERAP seemed in retrospect like
> white, missionary social work (3romantic Narodnik-ism,2 the historian of SDS
> put it), paternalistic in its very striving to avoid paternalism. Years
> later Todd Gitlin conceded that ERAP 3was based on [white] guilt2 (Sale, pp.
> 143, 161). By 1965, its cadres unsure of what they were supposed to do in
> these mostly black communities, and under attack from advocates of what
> would come to be called 3black power,2 ERAP disbanded.
> Alongside the failure of ERAP there were victories, none more
> spectacular than Berkeley in 1964-1965. When University of California
> students (some of whom had spent the previous 3Freedom Summer2 working in
> the south with SNCC and other civil rights organizations) returned to the
> Berkeley campus in the fall, they found that university administrators had
> banned political activity and fund-raising on a strip of the campus where it
> had previously been allowed. SDS did not play a prominent organizational
> role in the struggle that followed. Campus civil rights groups took the
> initiative in contesting a ban they felt (with considerable justification)
> was directed against them. Just as they had battled oppression in racist
> Mississippi they did so again right on the Berkeley campus. When a CORE
> member was arrested for setting up a table and soliciting funds on the
> proscribed strip, students surrounded the police vehicle and in effect held
> the arresting officers captive. Within a short time thousands of students
> joined what had become a spontaneous sit-in and an open forum against what
> Mario Savio, a leader of the Free Speech Movement termed 3the greatest
> problem of our nation -- depersonalized, unresponsive bureaucracy.2 When
> fraternities threatened violence, the crowd sang to bolster its confidence.
> This experience of a community that had instantly come into being, and was
> shaping its own collective life became a classic new left epiphany. The
> scenario might have come right out of the Port Huron Statement, as could
> Savio1s famous speech in early December, before the Berkeley administration
> capitulated:
> There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious,
> makes you so sick at heart, that you can1t take part: you can1t even
> passively
> take part, and you1ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the
> wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you1ve got to make
> it stop. And you1ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the
> people
> who own it, that unless you1re free, the machine will be prevented from
> working at all.
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 6]
> Police arrests on campus rallied moderates, and the faculty 3roused itself
> to endorse
> the demands of the students2 (Matusow, 1984, pp. 317-318; Rorbagh, 1989;
> Kitchell,
> 1990). Victory over the Berkeley administration and trustees4 energized
> the new left
> there (and all throughout the country) for the next obvious crusade: to
> end the war in Vietnam.
> African-Americans and white new leftists, willing to fight domestic
> oppression in the name of racial justice and democracy, also came to see the
> war in Vietnam as a conflict in which the U.S. was supporting the wrong
> side. At first few would follow the logic of this position and come right
> out and say they were in favor of victory of the Communist-led forces there.
> Even Martin Luther King. Jr., who, a year before his murder, ascended the
> pulpit in New York1s Riverside Church with apologies for not having spoken
> out earlier and more forcefully against that war, would not go that far.
> But in his 1967 sermon King offered a far more truthful position on the
> conflict in Indochina than had a series of U.S. presidents and governmental
> spokespersons.5 King saw the Americans as 3strange liberators2 in Vietnam,
> supporting the post-war restoration of French colonialism there, and later
> blocking unification of the country, land reform and genuine independence.
> Still striving to preserve the image of a legitimate American aims in
> Vietnam, he pointed to the 3cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on
> TV screens as they 3kill and die together for a nation that has been unable
> to seat them together in the same schools.2 In Vietnam, the U.S. was
> 3wrong from the beginning,2 exhibiting 3the deadly Western arrogance2 that
> undermines the stated goals of 3revolution, freedom and democracy.2 King
> lamented the racial oppression at home and 3violence and militarism2 abroad
> as poisoning America1s soul (King1s 1967 Sermon in Gettleman, 1995, Reading
> 46). Even earlier, SNCC had reached a similar, if not so eloquently stated,
> position on the war (SNCC, 1966; Carson, 1981, pp. 183-190), while the
> National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLFSV) was clever enough to
> post notices on Vietnam battle fields specifically directed to 3Negro army
> men,2 who were told that they were 3committing the ignominious crimes in
> South Vietnam that the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] is perpetrating against your
> family at home2 (Young, 1991, illustration facing p. 242, ).
> Appeals like these eventually undermined morale in the American armed
> forces among both black and white troops. Many soldiers who originally
> supported or went along with their country1s war changed their perspective
> once they arrived 3in country.2 The new leftists, who led the early
> opposition to the war, planned their campaigns mainly for the civilian home
> front, and only sporadically connected with
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 7]
> these largely working class 3grunts2 in ŒNam (Appy, 1993). By the late 60s
> largely spontaneous opposition to the war among U.S. armed forces, along
> with the continued unpopularity among growing numbers of Vietnamese for the
> U.S.-backed military governments there, became serious problems for
> Washington war managers (Gettle-man, 1995, Readings 30, 48, 49; Gibson,
> 1986). The image of antiwar protest taking place only among pampered youth
> seeking to escape conscription was one of the most persistent myths of the
> Vietnam war era. At first, before the draft calls increased but with the war
> greatly intensifying, students and old pacifist activists from the War
> Resisters League and other organizations, sponsored major 3actions,2 the
> seasonal demonstrations -- a spring March in Washington, then another in the
> fall -- more or less coordinated with local events of a similar kind.
> SDS1s planned demonstration on April 17, 1965 attracted over 20,000 people
> to Washington DC, the largest peace march in American history (Sale, 1973,
> Chap. 11). No one dreamed that it would go on for yet another decade,
> extend into the Nixon years, and include invasions of Laos and Cambodia. A
> complex political and social choreography ensued in which U.S. government
> escalation prompted shifts to ever more radical (but not necessarily more
> realistic) oppositional strategies within the U.S. -- all played out
> against the apparent backdrop (but really the main arena of struggle) of
> Vietnam and the neighboring countries of southeast Asia.6 U.S escalation
> of the war prompted ever more bold and daring Vietnamese military
> responses, they also seemed to demand escalation of efforts in the U.S. to
> end it -- moves from mere protest to militant, even ultra-militant,
> resistance.
> Charting in proper sequence the major steps of this three-staged
> antiwar escalation cannot be attempted here, but as the conflict dragged
> on, the domestic American advance from mere demonstration and protest to
> active resistance came to include burning draft cards,7 refusing induction,
> attempting to halt troop trains, break-ng away from legal demonstrations to
> engage in illegal actions. Beyond what these civilian antiwar militants
> did were the steps of resistance taken by U.S. military personnel --
> sometimes spontaneous acts (fragging, killing their own officers), or
> refusals to go into action, or outright desertion. Some of these were
> undertaken
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 8]
> collectively, and may have reached some outer boundary when the soldiers in
> and around the Marxist group Workers World, attempted to organize a
> Servicemen1s Union (Cortright, 1975). The ambiguous heading under which
> many of these actions took place was 3bringing the war home.2 Some antiwar
> and black power militants, along with guilt-drenched white radicals,
> interpreted this to mean the obligation to reproduce the Vietnam war on the
> streets of such American cities as Berkeley and Chicago, with them playing
> the heroic role of the Vietnamese insurgents (Farber, 1988). Gone was the
> early 3speak truth to power2 sentiment that animated the earlier, peaceful
> 3teach-in2 phase of anti-war protest.8 As it turned, what was hard to
> accept both by new leftists and right-wing American defenders of the war in
> Vietnam, was that the conflict in Indochina might be resolved in the way it
> eventually was -- by the successful military and political efforts of the
> Vietnamese themselves at long last to liberate their country, which they did
> by 1975.
> Despite their consistent opposition to U.S. aggression in Vietnam, the
> main task of leftists in the U.S. were domestic -- combating racial
> oppression, gender discrimi-nation and poverty. But internal fissures, some
> with deep historical, cultural and political roots, rendered unified
> action, and eventually any effective action, on these matters increasingly
> difficult. The civil rights movement, once the common interracial
> commitment of the entire new left, by mid decade became contested political
> terrain. Former allies (white and black civil rights activists) divided
> sharply on both tactics and strategies. One one level it was a replay of
> SDS1s failed ERAP program -- sending white volunteers into the black ghettos
> of northern cities to facilitate community action. Similar problems came up
> as Freedom Summer 1964 approached.
> The Freedom Summer Project brought 700 white college students to
> Missi-ssippi. Segregationists greeted the Freedom Summer pilgrims with the
> same savage hostility that had shown to local black civil rights militants.
> Three civil rights workers -- James Chaney, an black Mississippian, Michael
> Schwerner a white CORE member from New York City, and Andrew Goodman, a
> student at New York1s Queens College -- were brutally murdered near the town
> of Philadelphia (Carson, 1981, pp. 114-115; Branch, 1998, Part 3). Working
> under harrowing danger, the Project volunteers also experienced tensions
> internal to the movement, especially what was perceived as the contradiction
> within an effort to empower poor southern blacks that also needed to call
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 9]
> upon whites to carry out. Another was the delicate problem of interracial
> sex, especially between white women and black men, which became a divisive
> one among the beleaguered civil rights communities under constant assault.
> The effort that summer to organize a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
> (MFDP) that would unseat the segregationist delegation at the Democratic
> Party1s national convention in that tense election year was blocked, and the
> disenchantment of blacks with what they considered, with considerable
> justification, as a betrayal, contributed to the growth of black separatism
> (Carson, 1981, Chap. 9). By the end of the summer the racial coalition had
> begun to unravel; despair, discouragement pessimism soon led to the
> appearance of the divisive program of 3black power.2
> The complicated roots of the black power tendency cannot be extensively
> explored in this essay, but it had profound effects on the new left, greatly
> hastening its dissolution. A 1966 SNCC paper argued that after 3400 years
> of oppression and slavery,2 blacks in America had good reason to feel
> intimidated by whites 3no matter what their liberal leanings are.2
> Therefore, since the racial problem in the U.S. is far
> more a white problem -- even a colonial problem -- whites should battle
> racism where
> it mainly exists, in white communities. To help preserve the group
> identity and organizational integrity of black communities, the work that
> hitherto was done by interracial teams, would be handled by blacks alone
> (Carson, 1981, Chap. 14; Carmichael, 1967). Soon it was made clear to
> whites in SNCC and CORE that their presence was no longer wanted. Also
> contributing to this separatist trend was the growth of the Nation of Islam,
> and also the Black Panther Party, which on the basis of its revolutionary
> program, demanded leadership over the entire new left (Matusow, Chap 12;
> Branch 1998, passim).
> Partially independent of these developments in the black movement, and
> in the white new left, but affecting both, was the amorphous set of
> Dionysian impulses that are collectively termed the counterculture of the
> Œ60s. Loosely uniting rock Œn1 roll enthusiasts with advocates of sexual
> freedom, drug use and 3far out2 gestures, a segment of the counterculture
> became allied with a segments of the anti-war and black power movements that
> celebrated and even practiced revolutionary violence. This was the
> movement1s anarchist fringe, followers (most unknowingly) of Mikhail Bakunin
> and practitioners of 3propaganda of the deed2 (Carr, 1961). Many in the
> counter-culture remained non-violent flower children, pacific distributors
> of free food, macro-biotic vegetarians and erotic experimenters. But in
> such locales as San Francisco1s Haight-Ashbury, an unstable, 3far out,2
> drug-crazed fringe 3became willing cannon fodder for the increasingly
> violent demonstrations2 planned by new left leaders (Gitlin, 1987, Chap. 13;
> Matusow, 1984, Chap. 10). Having abandoned rationalism and embraced
> mindless ultra-radicalism, these final new leftists (Weathermen and the
> other splinter groups thrown up when PL took over SDS in 1968-9) were ready
> to bring about the violent end of a vulnerable 3Amerika3 of their
> imagination. One such group in early March 1970 were preparing explosives
> in an elegant borrowed house in New York1s Greenwich Village when it blew
> up, killing three of them (Sale, 1973, pp.
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 10]
> 3-5). Since the Vietnamese were actively and successfully challenging the
> U.S. by armed defense of their country, it seemed that the only way for
> Americans to be 3true
> revolutionaries2 was to emulate the Vietnamese by picking up a gun, or
> making bombs -- to bring the U.S. closer to its deserved and destined
> apocalyptic extinction.9
> Contributing to this embrace of violence in the new left was a
> heightened sensitivity to the media, and the temptation offered by media
> coverage to stage
> spectacular but ephemeral spectacles instead of pursuing serious, political
> strategies and movement-building. The laid-back counter-culture contributed
> greatly to the impatience with sustained activity of any kind, political or
> otherwise. Former SDS leader Todd Gitlin has analysed the temptation to
> become 3celebrity leaders2 before TV cameras, and to conform to the gaudy
> image of what the news media assumed radicals 3had to be.2 Hum-drum work of
> non-charismatic rank and filers was not 3news2 (Gitlin, 1980). While
> internal forces in the movement and in the surrounding society undoubtably
> did more than media distortions to shape the new left1s downward trajectory,
> it is a factor that must be acknowledged.
> As both antiwar and civil rights wings of new left collapsed, another
> movement arose, phoenix-like, out of the political ruins of the late 60s --
> the woman1s movement. Its intellectual and political core took shape around
> the recognition of male oppression of female comrades, and it broadened to a
> general theory of patriarchy. Going far beyond Betty Friedan1s poignant
> critique of the oppressive domesticity that affected white middle-class
> women (Friedan, 1963), movement women began tentatively, and then more
> forcefully to protest not only against imperialism and racism, but against
> sexism as well -- including the attitudes and behavior of male comrades. As
> early as 1964 a SNCC position paper credited women as being the crucial
> cohort 3that keeps the movement running on a day-to-day basis,2 but are
> excluded from policy-making (SNCC, 1964). The next year two white women
> working in SNCC raised the question within SDS (Hayden, 1965). The new
> left1s male 3heavies2 did not like to hear of this new internal protest in
> the ranks, and fought against it as a 3diversion2 from more important
> matters, like ending the Vietnam war. Eventually, in ways that Sara Evans
> and Alice Echols have made fairly clear (Evans, 1979; Echols, 1989; cf.
> Gitlin, 1987, Chap. 16), an independent women1s movement did grow out of
> the new left, forming at first those 3beloved communities2 that neither SDS
> or SNCC were able to sustain. But even this new movement was not able to
> escape some of the splits and inter-necine feuds similar to those that
> affected the new left itself -- and a few original ones as well. Few of the
> other new left organizations and publications survived the 1970s,
> [Gettleman, U.S.
> New Left, p. 11]
> and thus the new left1s major institutional creation within civil society
> is the woman1s movement.
> The importance of the creation of such institutions as the woman1s
> movement to contest oppressive social hegemonies is of course a central part
> of the legacy of Antonio Gramsci, which unfortunately was not available to
> American new leftists in their brief and troubled history.10 Had his
> Lettere dal Carcere been translated earlier into English or had his ideas
> been given wider, earlier currency by the U.S. Communist movement, there
> might have been a stronger collective voice raised against several of the
> more bizarre and unfortunate forms of sectarianism that marked the American
> new left1s precipitous decline, and its almost total subsequent effacement
> from the U.S. political scene. Some pockets of 60s radicalism still survive
> under the leaky umbrella provided by a few academic institutions in the U.S.
> And as has been noted, there still is a woman1s movement of sorts. Few of
> the great battles the new left entered were won, and some of them (race
> relations, poverty, just to name two arenas of struggle), despite a
> decorative veneer of reform, remain as critical and as far from
> satisfactory solution as ever.
> What newer historians of the new left are now stressing is that, even as
> leftists were waging their battles of the 60s, there was forming beneath the
> surface of American life a deep popular current of anti-revolutionary
> sentiment and a resurgent hegemonic value system virtually deifying 3the
> market2 (Farber, 1994c). Proponents of triumphant post-cold war global
> capitalism have met some of their most vehement opponents on the loony
> fringes of the American right, people who are also the left1s enemies.
> Clearly if a 3newer2 American left were to emerge, there are many lessons
> about sectarianism, about political unity, about clear-sighted political
> realism, about media distortions and about the use of tact in trying to win
> people over, that will have to be pondered. When the present doldrums for
> the left have ended, when appropriate praxis is developed, there will be
> many texts -- not the least of them Gramsci1s writings -- to be studied and
> discussed. Historical amnesia will then be, as it was in the 1960s, a
> costly error that must be overcome.
> # # #
> AUTHOR IDENTIFICATION: Educated in the New York City schools, including its
> City College, and then at The Johns Hopkins University, Marvin Gettleman is
> now Emeritus Professor of history at Brooklyn Polytech, a member of the
> editorial board of the Marxist scholarly quarterly, Science & Society, and a
> former Staff Associate of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He
> considers himself an 3old new leftist,2 and was active in the civil rights
> and anti-war movements, as well as the now-defunct
> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 12]
> New American Movement, considered an ancestor of the present Democratic
> Socialists of America. Author and editor of a dozen books, he is now at
> work on a historical study of the U.S. Communist Party1s educational work
> before 1957.
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> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 13]
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> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 13]
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> ------------------------ (1993). 3McCarthyism and the Decline of American
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> -------- (1966). 3Statement on Vietnam,2 in Grant (1986), pp. 416-418.
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> Essays in History and Politics from Studies on the Left (New York:
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> [Gettleman, U.S. New Left, p. 14]
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