Showing posts with label SDS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SDS. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

* From "The Rag Blog"- In Honor Of Marilyn Buck

Click on the headline to link to a "The Rag Blog" entry on Marilyn Buck.

Markin comment:

Every young leftist militant, hell, every old leftist militant and even those who have lost their way since the 1960s and forgot what we were fighting for then, and now, should read this story. It tells two tales- if you go up against the American imperial state you better be ready to win, or else. And it also tells that there really was some very, very good human material, like Marilyn Buck, in the 1960s with which we could have built that better world we were fighting for if we could have understood the first tale better. I wish, and I wish like crazy, that we had a few more, actually quite a few more, militants like Marilyn Buck these days. Let's get moving. All honor to Marilyn Buck and the other fighters, like Mumia, still behind bars for "seeking that newer world."

Saturday, March 16, 2019

From the Archives- The Fight For Women's Liberation in SDS


March Is Women's History Month

This article is passed on as an item of historical interest to the radical movement. It is a companion archival document to one posted here earlier this year about connecting the struggles to the working class, the central focus in overturning the old society. I would only comment that some of the analysis reads as though it could have been written today, although some ideas expressed here in general terms has been greatly expanded by the last generation of feminist and socialist work on the relation between class and gender.

Moreover, today there is no mass radical youth movement or other audience ready to 'storm heaven' to direct such sentiments toward. At that time radical youth, including radical black and white working class youth, were looking for ways to fundamentally change society and to fight against that generation’s war in Vietnam. In those days radicals, moreover, after the experiences of 1968, for the most part, stood point blank against the bourgeois parties and were out in the streets. Today those who are trying to ‘brain-trust’ a new SDS for this generation of youth seem to have regressed to a point early in the evolution of old SDS where the youth were directed toward 'going half-way with LBJ ( Lyndon Baines Johnson)' and the Democratic Party. We should, however, try to learn something from history. Read on.

Workers Vanguard no. 910 W March 2008

"The Fight for Women's Liberation"

Revolutionary Marxists at December 1969 SDS Conference (Young Spartacus pages)

In honor of International Women's Day {March 8), we reprint below a position paper first presented at the December 1969 New Haven conference of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) by the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus (RMC), forerunner of today's Spartacus Youth Clubs. This is a historic document of the Spartacist League, part of our struggle to bring the materialist, Marxist analysis of the nature of women's oppression to the New Left in the period of the early growth of the radical women's liberation movement We put forward the understanding that the core institution of women's oppression, the family, arose with private property (see The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Friedrich Engels). While women's oppression is distinct from and predates the oppression of the working class, it can only be ended through socialist revolution. This analysis stands against both "lifestyle liberationist" feminists who view gender as the main division in society and Stalinists (Maoist and otherwise) who hold the position that the family can be "a unit for fighting the ruling class" (as the Worker-Student Alliance [WSA] caucus in SDS argued).

SDS was originally the youth group of the Cold War, anti-Soviet "socialists" of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). SDS moved leftward under the impact of events, particularly the struggle of the civil rights movement against Jim Crow segregation in the South and, later, the struggles against the Vietnam War. In 1962, SDS's Port Huron Statement toned down the overt anti-Communism mat was the stock in trade of the LID social democrats, and in retribution SDS leaders were locked out of their offices. By the end of 1965, SDS had dropped its anti-Communist exclusion clause and split from the LID entirely. It grew rapidly, drawing in tens of thousands of young activists at its peak.

In the summer of 1969, SDS underwent a split. As part of an orientation toward revolutionary regroupment, die RMC, supporters of the Trotskyist program of the Spartacist League, critically supported the wing led by Progressive Labor (PL) and its WSA caucus, which put forward a crudely pro-working-class orientation as against the generally Maoist National Collective. PL itself had been formed from a left split from the extremely reformist Communist Party in the direction of Maoism.

The context of widespread leftward movement, fueled not least by opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft, and the politically open character of SDS provided an arena for revolutionary Marxists to struggle for our program. The RMC sought to take full advantage of this necessarily time-limited situation in winning young would-be revolutionaries to Marxism. To this end, we put forward position papers and resolutions arguing for the program of revolutionary proletarian internationalism. We fought for Marxism as a program for the liberation of all of humanity, especially highlighting the need for a materialist program to confront the oppression of women and blacks (see also "Racial Oppression and Working-Class Politics," WV No. 897,31 August 2007).

This position paper also mentions in passing the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) and Independent Socialist Clubs (ISC). The former was the youth organization of the Socialist Workers Party, a once Trotskyist organization by then degenerated into reformism—as exemplified by its leading role in the class-collaborationist National Peace Action Coalition. The Coalition's purpose was to appeal to liberal Democratic Party politicians who sought to extricate American imperialism from the losing colonial war in Vietnam and to head off a challenge to the capitalist order at home. The ISC were a left split from the Cold Warriors of the Socialist Party who purveyed the same anti-Sovietism with different trappings. Today, readers will recognize them as the still rabidly anti-Communist and helplessly liberal International Socialist Organization.

* * * *
I. SDS and Women's Liberation

SDS needs a clear, accurate class analysis of the special oppression of women and a Marxist program for women's liberation. No other radical youth group has yet undertaken this task. The YSA substitutes enthusiastic tail-ending for program; the ISC in their Statement of Principles patronizingly caters to the separatist mood by telling women that socialist revolution won't solve their problems automatically—as if other sorts of oppression would disappear without the intervention of consciousness?

The existing women's liberation movement, both liberal and radical, seems to see sex as the basic "class division" in society. This low level of theoretical development means an opportunity for Marxists to intervene with a working-class line. However, we will render our intervention useless if we cling to an oversimplified analysis that the only form of oppression is class oppression and confine our interest to the economic superexploitation of women workers.

The class question is the decisive issue in class society. However, other additional types of oppression do exist as well
—e.g., racial oppression, national oppression, women's oppression. To deny that Marxist revolutionaries must concern themselves with these issues is sectarian and blatantly anti-Leninist It is vital that revolutionaries participate in these struggles. The basis of such participation must be the realization that the class question is decisive and thus any movement which fails to identify itself with the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class is doomed to be beset by utopianism, crackpotism, liberal illusions and—ultimately—irrelevance.

The SDS resolution (which was sponsored by the WSA caucus and opposed by us) passed by our June convention (after the walk-out of the RYM [Revolutionary Youth Movement] splitters) did not provide a correct analysis or program. This failure was primarily due to an anti-historical, unMarxist method which resulted in an entirely incorrect position on the family.

II. Oppression and the Family

The June WSA resolution included the following statement: "The family does not have to be primarily reactionary. We should attempt to attack the bourgeois aspect and make the family a unit for fighting the ruling class."

This statement is flatly wrong. It ignores, in a crude anti-theoretical manner, the entire thrust of the Marxian critique of the family in order to accept as potentially revolutionary an institution which is inherently reactionary. The family can no more become a unit for fighting capitalism than can racial segregation, which is also a bourgeois institution. Both of these socio-economic institutions are oppressive and help maintain the capitalist system. Both are tools by which the ruling class maintains and strengthens false consciousness in the working class.

As a pro-working-class student organization, SDS must provide a Marxian class analysis of the social oppression of women. The primary source document for this analysis is The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, in which Frederick Engels traces the history of the increasing oppression of women through the various stages of economic development of society, showing that the appearance of private property brought with it the necessity of transferring this property through inheritance. From this flows the need to trace descent; and since the male, in the primitive division of labor, had come to be the property-owner, he is therefore given the right to exclusive sexual access to the bearer of his children. Hence, the institution of marriage emerges.

Following the method of Engels, examining the oppression of women in class society and the nature of class society itself, we must seek its roots in the primitive division of labor, which resulted in the social division of man and woman, placing the latter in a subordinate position, as class society was born. Subsequently the class divisions transcended the sexual division, and class became the dominant reality of society. To put it another way, Mrs. Rockefeller and her maid both suffer in varying degree from the pervasive oppression of females and have some issues in common, but the maid has more in common with her own husband than with Mrs. Rockefeller.

Sexual divisions continue to be socially enforced, since they bolster the capitalist system. The social inferiority of women is maintained by the entire structure of class society, including its ideologies. Many women internalize and come to believe the false ideas of class culture, and actually feel themselves to be inferior. Women today tend to be "under-achievers"; feeling rightly that there is not much future for them, they waste their talents and energies on trivialities, decide to live through their families or succumb to despair. It is our task to offer to these women a worthwhile goal: their own liberation, which cannot be a personal "self-liberation" but requires a socialist revolution and the withering away of the family. As communist revolutionaries, further, these women will lead incomparably richer lives. They will come to understand their own oppression and the origins,
the nature and the future of the family. As stated by Engels:

"We are now approaching a social revolution in which the economic foundations of monogamy as they have existed will disappear just as surely as those of its complement, prostitution. Monogamy arose from the concentration of considerable wealth in the hands of a single individual, a man, and from the need to bequeath this wealth to the children of that man and no other.

"For this purpose the monogamy of the woman was required, not that of the man. But by transforming by far the greater portion, at any rate, of permanent, inheritable wealth, the means of production, into social property, the coming social revolution will reduce to a minimum all this anxiety about bequeathing and inheriting.... The position of men will be very much altered, but the position of women, of att women, also undergoes significant change. With the transfer of the means of production into common ownership, the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of the children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike whether or not they are, in bourgeois legal jargon, legitimate."

This is far from advocating that straw man of the bosses' press, that under communism men and women will live in separate barracks and all children will be brought up in a state orphanage. We are rather advocating the replacement of marriage as a compulsory economic unit with voluntary forms better suited to people's physical and emotional needs. Since the institution of the family is an integral part of the capitalist system, the struggle for women's liberation is inseparable from the struggle for a socialist revolution.

III. The Family and the Class

The WSA resolution states: "With the rise of capitalism and modern industry, the economic foundation on which the traditional family was based was destroyed. Women were taken out of the home and put into the factory. But the special exploitation of women, who became a cheap reserve labor force, continued. To justify the double exploitation of women workers, the ruling class fostered the ideology of male chauvinism."

To set the record straight, at the very beginning of the industrial revolution women and children formed the bulk of the industrial proletariat. The reasons for this are well established. Women and children were cheap, unskilled, docile labor used by the rising capitalists to batter down the wages of men (usually more highly paid) and to destroy the craft industries employing (relatively) highly paid male artisans. To quote Marx in Capital:

"The value of labor power was determined not only by the labor-time necessary to maintain the individual adult laborer, but also by that necessary to maintain his family. Machinery, by throwing every member of the family into the labor market, spreads the value of man's labor-power over his whole family. It thus depreciates his labor power."

Consequently, workers with large families were often given preference by the early capitalists who, as a matter of fact, often compelled the worker to require his entire family to work in his factory or lose his job.

The bourgeoisie of this period actually devised ideological apologia for femaie and child labor (see Jurgen Kuczynski, The Rise of the Working Class, Chapter 2, "The Working Class Emerges"). The limitation of female and child labor (by, e.g., the Factory Acts in Britain) represented concessions wrested by the "working class from capital. The progressive withdrawal of this super-exploited labor from the factory system compelled the capitalists to employ machinery in their stead if they wished to remain in business.

The destruction of the traditional family by employing women and children in production creates the possibility of founding the relationship between the sexes on a new economic basis. But, the spontaneous way this employment developed with the rise of capital was, to quote Marx, "a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery" which the advanced sections of the working class fought. The kernel of this contradiction is that under capitalism the family remains—because there is no other socio-economic institution to replace it.

An Institution of Indoctrination

The bourgeoisie and its theorists tinkered with the old institutions in order to fit them better into the new industrial capitalism. In the age of disintegrating feudalism, before the capitalists had accumulated much experience in running their own system, some of them even toyed with very radical ideas regarding the state, family and religion. They soon learned, however, that whether they themselves liked conventional family life or not, or whether they believed in God or not, the institutions of religion and the family were indispensable for inculcating the required docility, submissiveness, respect for authority and superstition in the working class. Without religion and the family the workers would be far more likely to become troublesome. For this reason the bourgeoisie learned to pay public obeisance to the ideals of religion and the family whether they personally believed in them or not. When economically necessary, the capitalist class will tolerate and even encourage female and child labor—but without allowing the development of institutions to replace the family. The working woman is not really freed from her role as household slave by obtaining work outside the home; she merely has one responsibility added to another.

Although individual families were destroyed—and are being destroyed—by capitalism, the family as an institution was not hurt, as it rises or falls with the existence of private property. When economic considerations permitted, the ruling class periodically initiated campaigns, through the media and the churches, to get women back into the home. This tendency reached a peak of brutal chauvinism and cynical barbarism with the Nazi slogan, "Kinder, Kiiche, Kirche," which portrays the woman deluded by religion and as breeder, babysitter and cook. "The family that prays together stays together": both religion and the family are bourgeois institutions of false consciousness.

Functions of the Family

Women and children left the process of production, not chiefly because the capitalists feared for the nuclear family and forced them out but in large part because under capitalism no substitute for the family is available. The domestic labor performed by the housewife has no exchange value, and the family is socially necessary to maintain the working class. The necessity of the bourgeoisie to concentrate and transfer its wealth via inheritance makes the family an ideological necessity for capitalism. Also, the struggle by the working class to limit the exploitation of women and children necessarily caused production to become more capital-intensive, hence ultimately raising the standard of living of the entire working class while in the long run diminishing the amount of labor needed in production.

In the present period, a period of capitalism in decay, there simply are not enough jobs to go around. Women, because of the domestic role they of necessity (under capitalism) must more or less fulfill, are on the fringes of the reserve army of the working class. When they are needed in production (such as World War II) the capitalists have no compunctions about the sanctity of hearth and home, and will gladly hire them to do "men's" work and will just as gladly drop them from production when they are no longer needed. (An unemployed male ex-soldiery would be a far greater threat to the bourgeois order than the more docile women unemployed workers.)

The hollow satisfactions of male supremacy within the home oppress both the men and the women and encourage false consciousness (male chauvinism). By way of comparison, segregation is similarly a tool of oppression (the hollow satisfactions of white supremacy in the U.S. encourage whites to oppress blacks) and false consciousness (racism). The working man learns to direct his anger and frustrations against his wife, rather than against the bosses. He is told that he is the boss in his own home ("a man's home is his castle"). Thus, the family as an economic and social institution is a shackle on the consciousness of the men workers as well as that of women,

The Family in Non-Capitalist States

The family serves its reactionary function not only in capitalist societies but also in the bureaucratically-deformed workers' states—i.e., Russia, China, and those other nations which have abolished the material basis of the family—private property—but which still require the family as a socio-cultural institution in order to suppress the consciousness of the masses, rendering them subservient to the parasitic bureaucracies headed by Brezhnev & Co., Mao, etc.

For example, the initial effect of the Chinese revolution—which in its need to fight imperialism found itself completing the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and establishing the property relations of a workers' state—was the unleashing of an immensely progressive social force. The feudal oppression of women was abolished. But in the absence of workers' democracy in China, policy is determined by the whim of the Maoist bureaucracy. Hence, the ambivalent attitude toward the family: thus the bureaucracy opposed birth control during the Great Leap Forward; today they encourage long periods of celibacy for the Chinese youth.

The survival of most features of bourgeois family life within the non-capitalist world simultaneously reveals something about both the family and the nature of these societies. The bourgeois family is still the family, similar in decisive respects to the family in non-capitalist but not classless (e.g., feudal and slave) societies. The family unit represents a division of social labor far older than capitalism, dating back to the first "class" division of labor, that between man and woman. As such, the family will require more than the abolition of capitalism (in and of itself) before it is superseded entirely by a freer system of relations between men and women, parents and children. Needless to say, the overthrow of the capitalists and their state by the regime of workers' power is absolutely essential to the liberation of individuals from the narrowness, authoritarianism and sexual inequality inherent in family life. But we should recognize that this task will not be fatty accomplished until the dictatorship of the proletariat has fulfilled its historic mission: until class distinctions and their vestiges have been eradicated from society, i.e., mankind has reached the stage of classless society, communism. The same holds true for other features of class societies in general—aspects not simply peculiar to capitalism, such as the need for a state power over society, the existence of a certain amount of religious superstition, what Marx called "the idiocy of rural life," etc.

No society could today be entirely free of the dark heritage of the family with its sexual oppression and shut-in, stultifying life for the children. What is most repugnant to any revolutionist about family life in the deformed workers' states, however, is the feet that the political elite ruling these societies presents the survival of an archaic and reactionary institution as a great achievement in building socialism! The Bolsheviks in Lenin's time never glorified the family as an instrument—real or potential—for revolutionary socialist struggle and development. As far as the miserably insufficient level of Russian economy and culture permitted, they passed laws and created institutions designed to free Soviet citizens, particularly the women and children, from the oppressive and stultifying influence of the family. All this was of course reversed with the advent of Stalin's bureaucratic regime, which continues on to this day. After wiping out the left wing of the Communist Party and stripping the Soviets of power, the Stalinized regime proceeded to make divorce more difficult, illegalized abortion, enhanced parental authority, and worst of all called this adaptation to brutal barefoot Russian medievalism—socialism! For reasons which Stalinists find difficult to explain, the Soviet Great Leap Backward in policy regarding women and the family was led by the same parasitic gang who murdered the Old Bolsheviks of all viewpoints, throttled the Spanish revolution and let Hitler take power without firing a shot Just as Stalin was willing to use Great Russian chauvinism against national minorities, praise the Orthodox Church and foster anti-Semitism, so he found that the backward Russian family created a base for his bureaucratic and authoritarian aims. Even where private property no longer exists, the institution of the family serves—at best—to hinder the development of a socialist society. At worst it provides a base of support in the culture for the parasitic bureaucrats who barter away the gains of the revolution. SDS cannot wish away the social and cultural significance of the family by words about making it "a unit for fighting the ruling class." Reactionary institutions serve reactionary ends.

IV. The Working Woman

The economic aspects of the inferior position of women in our society provide the most immediate benefits to capitalism. Whenever capital needs to draw women out into the labor force, it has been able to use the ideology of male superiority to justify the super-exploitation of women workers—that is, women being paid less for doing the same work as the men. After all, "a woman's place is in the home," "a man has the responsibility of supporting a family, a woman only works because she wants to."

The assumption is that the woman's main role is that of the tender mother; hence, she is forced to take care of her children, even if they are unwanted, even when she is divorced. Any woman who wants more out of life is termed "unnatural" or "unfit." The lie is pushed that women are fit only for domestic chores and that therefore their labor is not worth as much as the labor of men.

Women make up one third of the American labor force, but the wages of the full-time working woman average only 60% of those of the average male working full-time. The non-white working woman, suffering under a double load of exploitation and oppression, must indeed be the most victimized category in American capitalist society. In itself, the lower average income of women workers roughly indicates the degree of their oppression, not their super-exploitation relative to working men. (They might—and do—take home less money because they are concentrated in less productive jobs.) But women, even more than other oppressed groups such as Black male workers, frequently receive less for work identical to that performed by more highly paid men. In addition to suffering oppression and discrimination, working -women are super-exploited in the literal and technical sense of the term.

Militancy or Passivity?

In the months ahead, many SDS members expect to have jobs, either full-time or temporary, in factories, on campus, in offices and hospitals, wherever labor struggles are going on. Those of us involved in assisting striking unions will be able to establish contacts with workers on the picket lines. As socialists, we must support the working class in its struggles and seek to raise consciousness, pointing out that male chauvinism divides the workers, that lower wages for women means lower wages for everyone. In Britain, where unions have calculated that wages would increase 11% if women received the same pay as men, equal pay for equal work has become a major union demand. In the U.S., a related process of awakening is going on.

Male chauvinism has made many women workers passive in accepting their lower wages and generally poorer working conditions. Many women are convinced that it isn't "ladylike" or "feminine" to be really militant, that political activity is only for men, that the picket line is too dangerous a place for women. These attitudes serve the bosses and most be fought Radicals should encourage militancy among women workers and relate women's oppression to the oppression and alienation that all workers experience under capitalism. Thus, women's liberation has an important role to play in the struggles of the working class. Further, situations sometimes arise where the women—because they are more oppressed by poor working conditions, low wages and speed-up—are more militant than the men. Women are not pale, fragile, helpless creatures; as workers engaged in industrial production, they can wield workers' power!

V. Male Chauvinism in the Student Movement

The student movement is infected with male chauvinism, a bourgeois ideology, as is the rest of society under capitalism. Long ago most of us faced up to our own deeply imbedded racist attitudes and began to conquer them. Now we must root out our male chauvinism as carefully. Here we are dealing with the social and psychological forms of discrimination rather than the economic aspects of male chauvinism. We must recognize also that no one—including our women members—is automatically exempt from male chauvinist attitudes. We must, by scrupulous attention to the content of a pro-women's liberation position, prevent the subject from becoming a bandwagon which intimidates free political debate in SDS the way that some Black hustlers have sought to racist-bait other radicals into accepting their positions as gospel.

Male chauvinism—perhaps a misleading term since it tends to obscure the feet that women's male chauvinist attitudes can oppress them or other women—has hurt the radical movement. Many potentially radical women are unwilling to join an organization which they believe is indifferent to women's oppression, It is a fact that a good number of the ersatz, crackpot and separatist tendencies in the existing women's liberation groups are a reaction to the male chauvinism in the student movement. These groups blur over class lines and stress "individual liberation" and other Utopian schemes.

Many of the women who do enter radical politics tend to play supportive roles and are not encouraged to develop politically or exercise leadership. SDS must rid itself of male chauvinism and utilize the full talents of all its members.

VI. SDS and Special Groups

It is not enough to fight individual aspects of women's oppression within the labor movement and in SDS. Separate women's liberation groups offer an opportunity to tie together all aspects of women's oppression in the minds of their members, and hence to suggest a single solution—which is socialism. As Marxists, we recognize that special oppression calls for special defensive and combative organizations of the oppressed. For this reason, SDS should give critical support (determined by program) to Black groups which fight the special oppression of Black people; similarly SDS should support women's groups which fight on the basis of a Marxist program for the special needs of women.

Armed with a more developed political and economic analysis of society, SDS members should be able to win the more serious groups away from petty-bourgeois amateur therapy sessions, liberalism, female separatism and vicarious anti-male terrorism, to a working-class perspective. Women's liberation groups are a good arena for winning militant 'women over to SDS and to socialism.

VII. Program for Women's Liberation

When SDS members make a political entry into a special group such as a women's liberation group, they should be armed with a program that raises consciousness by relating specific felt needs to the broader struggle for socialism. We carry through this program by raising a series of transitional demands—that is, demands which flow from the specific struggle but which lead the struggle to a higher level of militancy and political

We move that SDS accept the following program for struggle and agitate around the following demands:

For the abolition of family restrictions;

1. Abolition of abortion laws; each woman must be free to make her own decisions.

2. Free abortions, as part of demand for free quality medical care for everybody, so poor women will have the same freedom of choice as middle-class women.

3. Freely available birth control devices and information.

4. Free full-time child-care facilities for all children, the expenses to be borne by the employer or the state. Free pre-natal, maternity and post-natal care with no loss in pay for time off.

5. Establishment of free voluntary cafeterias in the factories and other places of work.

6. Divorce at the request of either partner. Abolition of alimony. Expenses for children to be paid by the state.

7. Lower the legal age of adulthood to 16. State stipend for schooling or training for any child who wishes to leave home. Free education for all children, with housing, food and stipend. No loco parentis. Student-teacher-worker control of all schools and colleges.

To fight the super-exploitation of women workers:

8. Full and equal pay for equal work.

9. Equal work: equal access to all job categories. Shorter work week with no loss in pay ("30 for 40") to eliminate unemployment at the capitalists* expense.

To fight male chauvinism:

10. An end to all forms of discrimination—legal, political, social and cultural.

SDS should seek the creation of a non-exclusionist class-conscious women's liberation organization in which SDS members can participate and struggle on the basis of the above program. Toward this end, we should direct interested SDS members to seek to initiate, along with other radical women, a nationally-oriented women's liberation publication.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Tom Wolfe-Fashionista Of His Own Kind-And A Hell Of A Writer When The Deal Went Down Has Cashed His Check -From The Archives-The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now- Chicago 1968-Norman Mailer's View

Tom Wolfe-Fashionista Of His Own Kind-And A Hell Of A Writer When The Deal Went Down Has Cashed His Check

By Bart Webber

I had been, strangely enough, in La Jolla out in California attending yet another writers’ conference which seems to be the makings of my days these days, attending writers’ conferences that is instead of taking pen to paper or rather fingers to word processor keyboard, when I heard Tom Wolfe had cashed his check. “Cashed his check” a term (along with synonymous “cashed his ticket”) grabbed from memory bank as a term used when I was “on the bum” hanging out in hobo jungle camps and the whole trail of flop houses and Salvation Army digs to signify that a kindred had passed to the great beyond. Was now resting in some better place that a stinking stew-bitten, flea –bitten, foul-aired and foul-person place. No more worries about the next flop, the next jug of cheapjack wine, the next run-in with vicious coppers and railroad bulls, and the next guy who was ready to rip whatever you had off to feed his own sullen addiction.

By the way this is not Thomas Wolfe of You Can’t Go Home Again, Look Homeward, Angels, etc. but the writer, maybe journalist is a better way to put the matter of tons of interesting stuff from acid trips in the 1960s hanging with Ken Kesey and his various tribes of merry pranksters, the Hell’s Angels, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters, to marveled space flights in the 1970s to Wall Street in the reckless 1980 and back who had cashed his check. The strange part of the “strangely enough” mentioned above was that on Monday May 14th 2018, the day he died, I was walking along La Jolla Cove and commenting to my companion without knowing his fate that Tom Wolfe had made the La Jolla surfing scene in the early 1960s come alive with his tale of the Pump House Gang and related stories about the restless California tribes, you know those Hell’s Angels, Valley hot-rod freaks and the like who parents had migrated west from dustbowl Okies and Arkies to start a new life out in Eden. These next generation though lost in a thousand angsts and alienation not having to fight for every breath of fresh air (with the exception of the Angels who might as well have stayed in the Okies and McAllister Prison which would have been their fate.   

I don’t know how Tom Wolfe did at the end as a writer, or toward the end, when things seemed to glaze over and became very homogenized, lacked the verve of hard ass 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s times. Although I do note that he did a very although I note he did an interesting take on the cultural life at the Army base at Fort Bragg down in North Carolina in a book of essays around the theme of hooking up. That hooking up angle a sign that social cohesiveness in the age of the Internet was creating some strange rituals. Know this those pound for pound in his prime he along with Hunter Thompson could write the sociology of the land with simple flair and kept this guy, me, flipping the pages in the wee hours of the morning. RIP, Tom Wolfe, RIP.  

From The Archives-The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now- Chicago 1968-The Late Norman Mailer's View

Commentary/Book Review (2008)

This year, also a presidential election year, marks the 40th anniversary of the bloodbath in the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention. I have reposted Norman Mailer’s work Miami and the Siege of Chicago originally posted on this site in September 2007 that recounts many of the incidents that occurred during that week. Mailer’s work is as good example as any that I have read from a journalist’s perspective so can stand here, as well.

Parts of the review also detail my own political positions during that period. Readers can get the gist of those positions below. I would only add that during this particular week I was in Boston manning the phones while others in the Humphrey campaign had gone to Chicago. In retrospect, the most painful detail of that week was the necessity of answering many irate calls from Gene McCarthy supporters and others about the police riot in Chicago. Even stranger was being denounced as a “hawk” for supporting Humphrey’s Vietnam position. Oddly, my own position at the time- for immediate withdrawal- was actually far to the left of what the irate callers were arguing for. Such is the price of my youthful opportunism though.

The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now



As I recently noted in this space while reviewing the late Norman Mailer’s The Presidential Papers at one time, as with Ernest Hemingway, I tried to get my hands on everything that he wrote. In his prime he held out promise to match Hemingway as the preeminent male American prose writer of the 20th century. Mailer certainly has the ambition, ego and skill to do so. Although he wrote several good novels in his time like The Deer Park I believe that his journalistic work, as he himself might partially admit, especially his political, social and philosophical musings are what will insure his place in the literary pantheon.

With that in mind I recently re-read his work on the 1968 political campaign Miami and the Siege of Chicago -the one that pitted Lyndon Johnson, oops, Hubert Humphrey against Richard M. Nixon. This work is exponentially better than his scatter shot approach in the Presidential Papers and only confirms what I mentioned above as his proper place in the literary scheme of things. Theodore White may have won his spurs breaking down the mechanics of the campaign and made a niche for himself with The Making of a President, 1960 and his later incarnations on that same theme but Mailer in his pithy manner gives an overview of the personalities and the stakes involved for the America in that hell-bent election. I would note that for Mailer as for many of us, not always correctly as in my own case, this 1968 presidential campaign season and those conventions evolved in a year that saw a breakdown of the bourgeois electoral political process that had not been seen in this country since the 1850’s just prior to the Civil War.

The pure number of unsettling events of that year was a portent that this would be a watershed year for good or evil. Out of the heat, killing and destruction in Vietnam came the North Vietnamese/National Liberation Front Tet offensive that broke the back of the lying reports that American/South Vietnamese success was just around the corner. Today’s Iraq War supporters might well take note. In the aftermath of that decisive event insurgent anti-war Democratic presidential hopeful Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy’s seemingly quixotic campaign against a sitting president jumped off the ground. In the end that Tet offensive also forced Lyndon Johnson from office. And drove Robert Kennedy to enter the fray. The seemingly forgotten LBJ spear carrier Hubert Humphrey also got a new lease on life. I will have more to say about this below. Then, seemingly on a dime, in a tick we started to lose ground. The assassination of Martin Luther King and the burning down of the ghettos of major cities in its aftermath and later in the spring of Robert Kennedy at a moment of victory placed everything on hold.

That spring also witnessed turmoil on the campuses of the United States exemplified by the Columbia University shut down and internationally by the student –ignited French General Strike. These and other events held both promise and defeat that year but when I reflect on 1968 almost forty years later I am struck by the fact that in the end one political retread, Richard Milhous Nixon, was on top and the front of an almost forty year bourgeois political counter revolution had began. Not a pretty picture but certainly a cautionary tale of sorts. The ‘of sorts’ of the tale is that if you are going to try to make fundamental changes in this society you better not play around with it and better not let the enemy off the hook when you have him cornered. That now seems like the beginning of wisdom.

I have written elsewhere (see archives, Confessions of An Old Militant- A Cautionary Tale, October 2006) that while all hell was breaking loose in American society in 1968 my essentially left liberal parliamentary cretinist response was to play ‘lesser evil’ bourgeois electoral politics. My main concern, a not unworthy but nevertheless far from adequate one, was the defeat of one Richard Nixon who was making some very depressing gains toward both the Republican nomination and the presidency. As noted in the above-mentioned commentary I was willing to go half the way with LBJ in 1968 and ultimately all the way with HHH in order to cut Nixon off at the knees.

I have spent a good part of the last forty years etching the lessons of that mistake in my brain and that of others. But as I also pointed out in that commentary I was much more equivocal at the time, as Mailer was, about the effect of Robert Kennedy the candidate of my heart and my real candidate in 1968. I have mentioned before and will do so again here that if one bourgeois candidate could have held me in democratic parliamentary politics it would have been Robert Kennedy. Not John, although as pointed out in my review of The Presidential Papers, in my early youth I was fired up by his rhetoric but there was something about Robert that was different. Maybe it was our common deep Irish sense of fatalism, maybe our shared sense of the tragic in life or maybe in the end it was our ability to rub shoulders with the ‘wicked’ of this world to get a little bit of human progress. But enough of nostalgia. If you want to look seriously inside the political conventions of 1968 and what they meant in the scheme of American politics from a reasonably objective progressive partisan then Mailer is your guide here. This is the model, not Theodore White’s more mechanical model of coverage, that Hunter Thompson tapped into in his ‘gonzo’ journalistic approach in latter conventions- an insightful witness to the hypocrisy and balderdash of those processes.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

OnThe 50th Annivesary Of The May Days In France-May 1968, Student Power and the Working Class- A "Generation Of '68" Commentary

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), Old Believers edition.


I just recently posted a note passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee concerning some student activity at Evergreen State College in Washington (Defend the Evergreen State College 6, June 7, 2008). There a number of students have been charged with offenses stemming from an incident last winter. Those charges, brought after what appears to be a police riot on that small out-of-the-way liberal campus, should be dropped. Moreover, ominously, the Evergreen State College administration has banned a chapter of the Students For A Democratic Society (SDS) from campus. The details are fuzzy but some students have staged an occupation (shades of Columbia 1968?). Any more up-to-date information is welcome here. Again, all militants must call for the defense of the right of leftist political organizations to exist on campus. Those are the minimum demands we pose today around this case.

This case, however, also brings to this old militant’s mind some reflections on the student movement of forty years ago, the campus struggles of the Generation of ’68 that I am seemingly endlessly commenting on this year. One of the slogans that the Evergreen State students have been putting forth is the notion of ‘student power’. I am not quite sure what that entails in the minds of the students out there but I assume that it is some variation of students having more input into the day-to-day operations of the campus. That my friends, in any case, is usually always a good democratic propaganda point to fight around- on the road to socialism. And that combination will, in the end, be the point that I want to make here.

It is rather a truism that politics abhors a vacuum. In a proper political universe the Evergreen struggle would be taken up, as a matter of course, by any workers party worth its salt. Today, in the absence of any other social force committed to speaking in alliance with them the students have correctly moved on their own. Thus, confronted with a non-responsive campus administration the beginning of wisdom for leftist student activists is to demand more say in what is going on, and to be left alone while doing it. However, it is also true that one should try, as previous student generations,in some individual cases willfully so, have not, to learn the lessons of history.

The question of 'student power' is hardly a new one and that is where references to the 1960’s are very germane. The 1960’s on campuses throughout the world represented the highest expression of the fight for student power. There were more theories about students as the ‘new’ working class and about the inviolability of the ‘red’ university than one could shake a stick at. Moreover, many of the early anti-Vietnam War struggles in this country were focused on the campus. The right of students to more say in the university furthermore got fully explored in the famous Columbia occupations led by Mark Rudd and SDS in 1968. In the end, however, power flowed back to the university administration. In Europe, that same year, another student uprising culminating in the May General Strike in France even more dramatically highlighted the struggle for student power. Again, power flowed back to the French capitalist state. Some ‘uppity’ students also ignited earlier struggles in France and other parts of Europe going back to the early 19th century revolutionary movements, and those effort, for the most part, failed as well.

Now that I have paid proper respect to the vices and virtues of student activism we have to come to the question of power. In short, do students control the life of the campuses today? It is almost silly to pose that question at this point. So what is the road forward? For this the May General Strike in France is illustrative. The students led the initial actions but until the social power of the working class was thrown into the balance the students were spinning their wheels. And that is the question of power in a nutshell. Until the issues that engaged the students got linked up to the social power of the working class they could not fundamentally get resolved. Although we know that the French Communist Party, in the end, sold out both workers and students the notion that students, by themselves, could fundamental change society took a beating.

The world-wide impact of the May events in France were moreover reflected in this country. SDS and the bulk radical student movement, including this son of the working class, had previously contemptuously written off the working class as hopelessly bought off or organically incapable of using its social power to change society. Sound familiar? After May the more serious student elements started dusting off their old text books that contained some words about the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx, Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution. And they were not wrong to do so.

That is what is missing in today’s student analysis of the way to obtain social power, the obviously limitation of the student power slogan. With the demise of the Soviet Union and other workers states the crying need for socialist solutions to the world’s problems, Marxism, communism and the like have been written off as failed experiments. That is why those Evergreen students, as sincere as they are in their struggles, can resurrect the student power slogan without embarrassment.

Let me make a point that shows this problem in graphic detail. Long ago, in the late 1960's, ostensible revolutionaries brought up the slogan on the campuses for worker/student/ teacher control of educational institutions(I believe that it was first brought up by Progressive Labor but I may be wrong). That is, in fact, a correct and worthy slogan. But here is the reality. Under what conditions would that slogan make more than propaganda sense? The answer- in a situation where the campuses were being nationalized under workers control.

Let’s me just present a concrete example, for now, though by way of illustration. Make a call for the nationalization of Harvard, as the young revolutionaries of the Spartacus Youth Clubs do today. But do not link that call with the struggle for a workers party and a workers government. Now, I hope, you get the point. The bourgeoisie will no more voluntarily nationalize its Harvards, its traditional sacred stomping grounds for creating its administrative elite than it will do any other progressive things. To challenge their exclusive 'right' to do so sounds to these ears like something that, in the end, can only be resolved by civil war. Under those conditions can students struggle for power by themselves? To pose the question is to give the answer. Students, right now, today make the leap and link up your struggles with those of the working class. Or, and I will play the role of professor now- at least think about it. Meanwhile- Defend the Evergreen State College 6!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Summer Of Love-1967-California Dreamin'- Berkeley In The 1960's

Click below to listen to Stanley Nelson speak about his latest documentary –The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution on the Terry Gross show Fresh Air on NPR (Sept 24, 2015)  


Berkeley in the Sixties, various interviewees, performers, etc., 1990

For those us of the Generation of '68 the political actions of the 1960's were essentially a youth-led effort. To the extent that anyone though about the situation as a separate political matter young students, mainly from the traditionally elite campuses, were the vanguard of those youth. And the vanguard of the vanguard? At least until 1969 a very strong case could be made, and is made in this documentary under review, that the University of California at Berkeley held that role. The whys and wherefores of that role are what makes this above-average documentary, complete with the inevitable `talking heads' that populate this kind of film, a very good source for what actually happened in the 1960's there for those who were around at the time and a primer on radical politics at the base of society for those who were not.

The disruption of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) meetings in San Francisco in 1960, various anti-racial discrimination actions in support of the growing national civil right movement in the early 1960's, the historic and well-known Mario Salvo-led Free Speech Movement of 1964 along with its trials an tribulations, the early anti-Vietnam War and anti-draft actions of 1965 and 1966, the drift toward an apolitical counter-cultural experience in 1967, the romance with the next door neighbor Black Panthers and the Free Huey Movement in Oakland and ending with the militarily defeated People's Park efforts in 1969. They are all resurrected here. All these events are, moreover, discussed from various later viewpoints by participants, adversaries and flat out ill-wishers. If you want a two hour capsule commentary of the highs and lows of the political and counter-cultural struggles as they occurred at Berkeley and spread to the East this is a very good documentary to bring you up to speed.

Some of the rhetoric may seem odd to today's cyberspace-driven youth. Some of the costumes, especially during the height of the Haight -Ashbury era and the Summer of Love in 1967, may be perplexing to today's fashion-conscious youth. Most of the politics may seem obscure. But know this- it may have not lasted long, we may have made every mistake in the political book, we certainly went off on more tangents that one could shake stick at but there was a fight going on then to change the nature of the way we do business in this society. Call us utopian, if you will, but we fought. A little of that spirit would come in very handy right about now. Many of the lessons of that time may be lost now. However, I sense a little of that same 1960's breeze starting to blow again in 2008 so look here for a guidepost.

I would not be a proper leftist politico if I did not mention that of all the scenes presented, all the discussions taped, all the `talking heads' giving their, seemingly sincere, takes on meaning of those times there was virtually no commentary on one very fundamental problem. Students, from elite universities or otherwise, cannot independently without joining up with some other social agency create the kind of just society that students were fighting for then. In no instant that I can recall during the course of this documentary did anyone attempt to draw the lesson that the working class, whatever its then current organization (or more correctly lack of it) and political consciousness came into play as a factor in history.

The closest anything came to understanding the need for an additional agency was the unequal, uncritical `alliance' with the Black Panthers. That is why, in the end, after the military defeat of the People's Park experiment Berkeley fell off the political map. But, my friends, the story did not end there for the 1960's. Some youth, although not nearly enough, drew that lesson about the lack of political power of students if left to their own devises and got serious about political theory and the working class. Some of us are still at that fight. From the later careers of the Berkeley interviewees credited at the end of this film that did not include most of them. They mainly people the "politically correct" professorariat of our university system. That tells the tale.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

***Speaking truth to power-The 1962 Port Huron Statement describes the goals, values, and strategies of Students for a Democratic Society -- and continues to inform and inspire. By Ken Handel / The Rag Blog / July 19, 2011

Markin comment:

Well, "spoke" half truth to power anyway. And in the end not enough, not nearly enough to the American imperial "beast." But enough of nostagia. Kick up some dust time is running out

Speaking truth to power-The 1962 Port Huron Statement describes the goals, values, and strategies of Students for a Democratic Society -- and continues to inform and inspire. By Ken Handel / The Rag Blog / July 19, 2011

“My Generation,” released by The Who in 1965, is one of that group’s most popular songs -- and a rallying cry for disaffected youth. Three years earlier, in 1962, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) created “An agenda for a generation,” an action plan for young people seeking broad societal change.

(SDS was the leading organization of the Sixties New Left. At its peak it had more than 100,000 members in 400 chapters around the country.)

The 59 SDS members who assembled in the small Michigan town of Port Huron in June 1962 could not accept a status quo that tolerated the possibility of nuclear annihilation, state-sanctioned racism, and a nation suffering from extensive poverty amidst affluence. Scholar James Miller, in Democracy Is in the Streets, described the Port Huron Statement (PHS) as being “one of the pivotal documents in post-war American history.”

In their own words

In Rebels With A Cause, a film on SDS created in 2000 by Helen Garvy, Port Huron participants reflected upon their experiences. Tom Hayden, the document’s primary author, described “sitting around in small groups talking about your values and how they applied to politics and to economics.” He also spoke of the American tradition of “decentralized democracy, or direct democracy, or town-meeting democracy.”

Sharon Jeffrey identified two key themes the document addressed: “…participatory democracy: this was something that somehow it had a resonance to it… This was really significant because it touched very deeply… sort of like the soul of who we were”; and the importance of values.

On this point, Steve Max commented, “The idea that you make your own values as a group was a new thing. That values weren’t just inherited and weren’t just transmitted from the older generation but that people could actually sit down and work out an ethical framework, as an organization…”

Political and cultural influences

In the first paragraph of the Port Huron Statement, SDS members acknowledged their privileged status: they were “bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities…” But in what Hayden has termed “a manifesto of hope,” the 41-page document envisioned an end to racism, a transformation of democracy, a reconception of the economy, and a conclusion to the cold war.

In his book, The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama, Hayden noted the influences that contributed to the document’s explicit idealism.

Port Huron participants had witnessed the independence of many African nations, and Cuba’s successful revolution. They abhorred South Africa’s policy of apartheid and its violent repression of the African National Congress. They allied themselves with other students fighting racism in the U.S. -- and in particular, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They had read inspiring books, seen influential films, and rocked around the clock. Port Huron, Hayden says, “was a spontaneous beginning, but one informed by legacy.”

Does Port Huron still resonate?

June 2012 represents the Port Huron Statement’s golden anniversary. And the alienation and apathy SDS sought to counter nearly 50 years ago is even more prevalent today: only six percent of a Harris Poll expressed confidence in Congress. In the 2010 mid-term election, 59.1 percent of registered voters chose to withhold their ballots.

To counteract hopelessness, the document offered a new definition of individual rights and of the role a person plays in the political system:

Participatory Democracy: “…we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation, governed by two central aims: that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life; that society be organized to encourage independence in men and provide the media for their common participation.”

Values: “Men have unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding, and creativity. It is this potential that we regard as crucial and to which we appeal, not to the human potentiality for violence, unreason, and submission to authority. The goal of man and society should be human independence: a concern not with image of popularity but with finding a meaning in life that is personally authentic...”

SDS succumbed to factionalism and dissolved in 1969. But the Port Huron Statement is the group’s living legacy. Just as “My Generation” continues to win new fans, so too can the Port Huron Statement assist today’s citizens in fulfilling their aspirations and in making government more responsive.

Monte Wasch offers a unique perspective on the PHS. As a 20 year-old City College student he attended the Port Huron gathering. When he returned to New York, Tom and Casey Hayden temporarily moved into his apartment. There, Hayden worked on final PHS edits, which Wasch typed up.

“I remember,” he comments, “a summer of optimism and challenge. Optimism because we all felt we were on the cusp of something exceptional and unique in the history of American progressivism. The challenge was -- as a new generation with a progressive, reform set of values -- to leave behind the narrow sectarian battles that had long characterized the Left. The PHS prescribed a new model for social change and non-sectarian progressive action by developing a new model for social change: participatory democracy.

[Ken Handel is a freelance writer and editor. This article was also posted to Suite101.]


Students for a Democratic Society
Port Huron Statement, SDS Documents
Democracy Is In the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago by James Miller (Simon and Schuster, 1987.) “Pivotal Document”: Page 13; “manifesto of hope”: Page 77
Rebels With A Cause, a documentary film written, produced, and directed by Helen Garvy, 2000.
The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama by Tom Hayden. (Paradigm Publishers. 2009). SDS influences: Page 21-23

Poll Citations:
Confidence in Congress -- The Harris Poll. "Confidence in Congress and Supreme Court Drops to Lowest Level in Many Years,” May 18, 2011.
Election Data––United States Election Project. 2010 General Election Turnout Rates

The Rag Blog

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

*For The Folkies From Muskogee And Elsewhere- The Bob Feldman Music Blog On "My Space"

Click on the headline to link to the Bob Feldman Music Blog( for lack of a better name) on My Space.

Markin comment:

This is great stuff for any music aficionado, especially of folk, social protest, and roots music. I am going to be "stealing" entries off of this site periodically but you should be checking it out yourselves. Kudos, Bob Feldman.

Monday, March 14, 2016

*Films To While the Class Struggle By- What Is The Left?- “Guerilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst”

Click on the title to link to the first part of a "YouTube" film clip of "Guerilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst".

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some films that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. In the future I expect to do the same for books under a similar heading.-Markin

DVD Review

Guerilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst, Patty Hearst, Cinque, Bill and Emily Harris and other members of the SLA, directed by Robert Stone, 2004

Some films reviewed in this space are offered with the idea that viewing them will given the reader, especially the younger reader or those who are not familiar with the tumultuous events of the period, a fairly positive sense of what it was like to live through the turbulent 1960s and the early 1970s, the high water mark for the last time that we had the “monster” of American imperialism on the run or so we thought. A prime example of that type of review was one that I did a while back on the Black Panthers. Another more recent one was the animated/ documentary film footage provided in “Chicago 10”. Other film reviews are offered to be more thought-provoking or just plain provocative. The film under review, "Guerilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst", is of the latter type.

This film does a good job of presenting the actual events around the kidnapping of the Hearst newspaper heiress, Patty Hearst, by the upstart and then unknown Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in the waning days of the militant leftist movement after the practical (in American terms) withdrawal from Vietnam War, through archival film footage, interviews and commenting by surviving members of the organization, reporters who covered the event, officials who were involved in the investigation and others with something to say about the matter. The startling, and perhaps sometimes bizarre train of events is well documented: the inexplicable murder of the Oakland Superintendent Marcus Foster; the kidnapping of UC/Berkeley college student Hearst; the ransom demand of food for the hungry of Oakland in exchange for her release that in turn ran amok; the abrupt change in the case with the apparent adaptive conversion by Hearst to the SLA cause; a serious of robberies including one in which a teller was killed; the massive, seemingly never-ending, on-going hunt for the SLA in the aftermath of that action: the widely viewed 'real time' police assault on an SLA “safe-house” that netted the leader, Cinque: the subsequent off-handed capture of new leaders Bill and Emily Harris and Patty Hearst; and, the subsequent trials, including Patty’s commutation of sentence. All in all, if you want a refresher course on the case it is all there for you.

However, above I characterized this as a thought-provoking film, and for my purposes that means what are the lessons to be learned from the experience, if any. I have tried to telegraph that concern by the phrase in the title “What is the Left?” and by the way I presented the story line in the last paragraph. So what is my problem some thirty odd years after the dust has settled on the case, which also preoccupied me at the time as well. Just this. Was the defense of the SLA then a matter of a leftist's duty, an important question to those of us on the left who take such matters seriously.

Among the things that this reviewer stands for, in addition to adherent to the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and their progeny can be summed up in the slogan of the old Industrial Workers Of The World (IWW, Wobblies)- “an injury to one, is any injury to all”. I, thus, stand in that tradition, that of the old Communist Party-led International Labor Defense, and of later groups like the one I support today, the Partisan Defense Committee. The premise underlying that slogan is that it is very much in the interest of the international working class and of the left that we defend, and defend vigorously and with all the resources we are able to muster, every individual militant and group that falls under that umbrella. Going back to that period I defended, for example, such groups as the Weatherman (Weatherpeople?) and other guerilla-oriented organizations on the American left, whole-heartedly fought under the banner of the United Front Against Fascism to defend the Black Panthers against the governmental onslaught that they faced, and the brothers and sisters of what became known as the Ohio Seven. I did not defend, nor call for the defense, of the SLA.

Why? None of the leftist groups listed above were exactly popular in the broader population, including the left itself, so that is not the question. The serious question that I faced at that time was this- "Who are these people?" Weathermen I knew their politics and their left lineage, and some sympathizers personally. I knew their political history, where they came from and their foibles. Panthers, after the thaw of their 'go-it-alone' heavily black nationalist period, when whites could again talk to young blacks without having to watch their backs, stayed at the commune that I lived in back in those California days. And were gladly welcome. Believe me I knew who they were and where they came from. I could go on and on about the local collectives, communes, etc. that sprouted up like wheat in those days and that I helped defend.

But as the late Hunter S. Thompson noted toward the end of his drug-crazed saga of weirdness and blow back, “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas”, there was a point in the very late 1960s where one could sense that the victory that seemed so near, and so righteously fought for, was slipping away. I might have held onto the dream a little longer that others, and than I should have but there you have it. And that is the point. Others, who faced that same sense that we had “lost” or that ill-thought out exemplary actions or whatever would turn things around started to get a little crazy. To speak nothing of isolating themselves and staying isolated from the harsh realities of Nixon’s America. Some went to the country or the commune, others dropped away. Still others went back to the ancient tradition of nilihism.

That is the way that I looked at the actions of the SLA. The group had no known history, as a group. When it surfaced it had all the verbiage of anti-imperialism that many students and leftists spouted at the times. Hell, I had a girlfriend then who, in the end, was nothing but a garden-variety pacifist who had the whole lingo down better than I did at the time, a time when I was just turning to Marxism. Hell, in some towns in this country you couldn’t get anywhere on campus, even campaigning for some useless bourgeois candidate on the make without the obligatory “right on” or other gesture signifying the language of “youth nation”.

Moreover, on the senseless killing of the Oakland school superintendent, the Patty Hearst action and subsequent bank robberies seemed well beyond the pale. Especially the logic of kidnapping Patty on the basis of her biological relationship to her family. Left politics cannot work that way. If bourgeois, or their children, get in our way that is one thing, the Hearst kidnapping is another. Nothing was right here. I will not belabor the point but this organization seemed like nothing so much as one of those nihilistic groups that Dostoevsky castigated in the mid-19th century or like the remnants that turned bandit and lumpen after the defeat of the Russian Revolution of 1905. To finish up. Would I help the authorities in their manhunt for the group? Hell, no. Did I defend them, like some others did by hiding them out or raising monies for their defense? No. But let me tell you this. At that time I was not sure that I was right, I was queasy about placing them outside the left. Reviewing this film still makes me feel I made the right decision. But I am still queasy about it. You probably will be too.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

From The-Archives Berkeley 2009, This Is Not Your Parents' Berkeley 1969


A couple of months ago(see archives for November 13, 2008) I did a review of the film documentary “Berkeley in the Sixties” that took an, on the whole, positive look at the social activism that drove some members of my political generation, “the generation of ’68". My purpose in that review, as is the general purpose of this blog, was to highlight for this generation coming of political age in the Obamiad the kinds of struggles that were necessary then in order to have any kind of shot at creating a more just society. We, as everyone is painfully aware today, failed. However, as I pointed out it was no accident that when things got heated up, particularly around opposition to the Vietnam War, Berkeley was until 1969, at least, at the epicenter of radical student opposition to those running this society.

Certain towns, mainly college towns or their environs, have historically acted as “sanctuaries” for the offbeat, the marginal, the radical, the left out and, frankly, the tired and burned out. One thinks of Ann Arbor, Madison, the University of Chicago, Harvard Square, Greenwich Village at various times and today additionally places like Durham, North Carolina and Austin, Texas. Moreover, in tough times like we have just been through with the Bush Administration those oases are necessary against the onslaught of the main culture. In its time Berkeley was the epitome of all that was fresh, strong, articulate and thoughtful about the way forward politically. Alas, as the article below gleaned from a local Boston newspaper makes abundantly clear today’s Berkeley is a very different place.

I made a point in the above-mentioned film review to note that after the People’s Park defeat in 1969 Berkeley kind of fell off the political map. Partially that was due to an ellipse of the student movement as the center of political struggle, as the whole society seemed to come unglued. But mainly it was due to an unorganized and messy political retreat of activists, once they realized how hard it was going to defeat this imperialist “monster”, going off to their own sectoral "sandbox" politics. And waiting in those enclaves for that “someday” in order to join up the various struggles. They are apparently, at last check, still waiting. But enough of that for now. As the comments by some of the interviewees in this article indicate that point that I made earlier about “sanctuaries” applies to the tired and burned out as well as those with fresh idea. Well, even an old leftie like I can read the writing on the wall- for now- and recognize that today’s Berkeley is obviously not your parents’ Berkeley. But, I still have this nagging question after reading this article- After Obama fizzles, what are you going to do?

“Something New Brews In Berkeley: Patriotic Pride", Sasha Issenberg, Boston Globe, Sunday January 4, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif. - The hundreds who massed at the University of California on election night responded to Barack Obama's victory by heading off on a route that has been for a generation the sacred way for the activist left: out the campus gates, through Sproul Plaza, and down Telegraph Avenue toward People's Park.
By the time they arrived at the intersection of Telegraph and Durant avenues, where a tie-dyed vendor occupies one corner, it became clear they did not come to challenge the system now preparing to consecrate a new regime in Washington. At one point, a man scaled a lamppost and unfurled the Stars and Stripes. The crowd broke out in the national anthem.

"People finally felt like our generation had reclaimed patriotism," said Haley Fagan, 24, a Berkeley paralegal who got stuck in a car trying to cross the street as the crowd surged. "It was a moment that we felt comfortable with it."

After generations of finding their voice in dissidence, some on America's left wing are adjusting not only to a new, post election comfort with patriotic symbols, but the political reality they represent. Believing in Obama after inauguration day will mean identifying with the machinery of American power.

"There's a left-wing tradition of being systematically opposed to the US government, knee-jerk reactionary - most of our presidents have made it fairly easy to do," said Jo Freeman, author of "At Berkeley in the Sixties," a memoir of her student activism. "Those who view everything the US does as automatically suspect already have a problem doing that with Obama."

At Berkeley, the university has, quite deliberately, chosen to host its first-ever large-scale observance of a presidential inauguration in a spot most closely identified with its radicalism, said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. At Sproul Plaza, site of the self-described Free Speech Movement protests beginning in 1964 - now commemorated with a monument declaring "this soil and the air space above it should not be part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity's jurisdiction" - students will gather around giant television screens to take in the nation's most solemn ritual.

"It will be a patriotic celebration," Birgeneau said in an interview. "That small circle will now be surrounded by a lot of students who are happy to be members of a nation that just elected its first African-American president."

Not since Franklin Roosevelt turned the federal government into an aggressive agent of liberalism - pushing the New Deal at home and confronting fascism abroad - has the left felt such a deep attachment and invested such hopes in a head of state.

"People in the '30s felt that for once the government was on their side," Pulitzer Prize-winning Berkeley historian Leon F. Litwack said in an interview. "They had never had that kind of relationship to a president before."

Disagreements with American foreign policy, particularly in Vietnam, fueled a cynicism about American might and its trappings, said Litwack. He has written in praise of Free Speech Movement leaders for "eschewing the conventional flag-waving, mindless, orchestrated patriotism. . . . They defined loyalty to one's country as disloyalty to its pretenses, a willingness to unmask its leaders, and a calling to subject its institutions, government, and wars to critical examination, not only the decisions made by rulers but often their indecision."

Such a view of patriotism was so hardened in Berkeley - where, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Fire Department removed flags from its trucks for fear that they could become targets of antiwar demonstrators - that a gathering of College Republicans made the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2003 for walking down Telegraph waving flags and singing "America the Beautiful" as a sardonic provocation.

A similar, if earnest, display on election night "did strike me as funny and ironic," said Mark Rudd, who organized campus protests in the 1960s as a national leader of Students for a Democratic Society. "For the last eight years - and probably for much longer - most radicals have been mourning for our country. . . . Obviously the empire is not going to fall overnight, but at least there's been a popular vote that changes the direction of the last 40 years."

The Star Market, a small Berkeley grocery with a robust selection of legumes, recently posted next to its cash register a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle imploring readers to fly the Stars and Stripes on the day of Obama's inauguration. "In recent times, our flag has been displayed more by one side of the political spectrum than the other," wrote Paul Templeton of Berkeley. "Let's rescue it from unreflective, knee-jerk patriotism."

Such spontaneous patriotism was the reaction to Obama's victory for many in neighborhoods where displays of Tibetan nationalism had been more common than its American equivalent. Election-night revelers in Harvard Square sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." Those in West Philadelphia chanted "USA.!" A celebrating mob in Manhattan's Union Square screamed, "This is what democracy looks like," emptied of the sarcasm that made it a favorite refrain of anti-globalization protestors.

"I think part of the new patriotism of the left is a function of folks recognizing how much certain things mattered to them - the Constitution, due process, separation of powers, basic legal and human rights - once they have been taken away, or at least radically threatened," said Jeremy Varon, a Drew University historian and editor of "The Sixties," a scholarly journal.

"We are used to alienation, but Bush has engendered an alienation so profound it has nearly shattered many of us and called us to defend core aspects of our polity that we thought were sacrosanct," Varon said. "Election night was the cathartic undoing of all that: a way to say, in Whitman-esque communion with our national identity, 'We too sing America!' "

In a photo now on the front of his website, folk singer Richie Havens stands before a large flag outside his New Jersey polling place, giving a thumbs-up after voting. Havens, 67, said he is excited to see Obama sworn in, but that the change in government is merely catching up with the democracy of popular culture.

"We are probably the first country in the world getting the chance to formalize our change," Havens said.

There are signs that Obama's success not only increased voter turnout, but has made citizens more interested in being part of government. His transition office has reported that more than 300,000 people have submitted their resumes via the Internet for federal jobs. A study this year by Harvard's Institute of Politics showed that about one-third of those between 18 and 24 were interested in joining a national, state, or local bureaucracy.

"These students are optimists," said Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow, who on election night watched students march by his house on campus singing "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful." "They don't have an idealistic view of the country. At the same time, I don't think they're cynical in the way prior generations were cynical."

As opposed to the largely upper-middle-class white students who propelled the 1960s counterculture, leftist students today are more likely to come from working-class and immigrant backgrounds and see college as a route into the middle class, according to Birgeneau.

"They don't come here as radicals who are going to overturn the system," said the UC-Berkeley chancellor. "These students want to be successful. They seem to have realized that working within the system is the way to do so. The Obama victory is evidence to them that that works."

At Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, many who have, in the past, used such occasions to rambunctiously question American power are likely to be silently saluting its transfer.

"They've already got the permits," said Freeman, who joined anti-Bush protests at his 2004 inauguration but expects to be in Washington this time as merely a spectator. "But I'm going to be looking forward to seeing what the signs say."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Films to While Away The Class Struggle By- The Halls Of Injustice 101- “Chicago 10”

Films to While Away The Class Struggle By- The Halls Of Injustice 101- “Chicago 10”

DVD Review

Chicago 10, animated and film footage, starring the Chicago 8 plus defense lawyers, government lawyers, presiding Judge Julius Hoffman, assorted rogue cops, and “youth nation", circa 1968, 2006

Okay, I have spilled plenty of ink over the past couple of years trying to look at some of the events in the key political year for my generation, 1968, and draw some conclusions, lessons if you will, from that period. And as fate would have it I am eminently qualified to do so here on this particular film, in an odd sort of way. The events of that decisive year are brought into focus by the central subject of this film, the debacle of the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in August. I know this one well.

And why am I a good witness to those events as portrayed here? In a certain sense I was on the other side of the barricades, then. As I have explained elsewhere in more detail in 1968 I was knee-deep, no waist-deep, in the main task that I had set for my political life then, beating one Richard Milhous Nixon, without question the major political villain of my youth. Starting out that year totally devoted to the Robert Kennedy campaign (and actually earlier as I was part of the movement that tried to draft him to run for president in 1967), after his assassination in June I dusted off my pants and went to work for the campaign of one Hubert Horatio Humphrey. Therefore I was inside the “big tent” of the Democratic Party at that time and no one can accuse me of anything but the mildest bemused sympathy ( on the Vietnam war question, if not the solution) with the doings outside the tent.

Fast forward. Now, however, as this film footage of the events around the convention site amply demonstrates, and as the graphically captured brutal actions by the rogue Chicago police and other officials amply reveal this was a sickening display of governmental hubris (on all levels), and authority run amok. The verdict of those governmental actions at the time? No, not, as a rational person might expect, a skewering of police and their superiors but the bringing of charges against the leaders of the demonstrators, those who were maimed, gassed and otherwise abused by governmental actions.

And the harassment did not end there. Obviously the government thought it had a slam-dunk case to put before a Chicago jury with a cast of characters like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale, who to be kind, in those days if you were respectable citizen you would not want living next door to you, particularly in Chicago. In the end, as has occurred on more than one occasion, the charges against the “conspirators” were, mostly, overturned. But there is a lesson to be learned about the price of such actions, those charges were not overturned before many financial and political resources were brought to bear for the defense. This is a hardly an argument against such actions, but rather to point out that when you go after the “monster” you best be prepared for the blow back.

This film works on two tracks as it tries, I think, to reach a younger audience not familiar with the events, the rest of us have it permanently etched in our brains. The producers use the eminently respectable one of the actual film footage interspersed with the more experimental one of using animation to do the heavy duty work of portraying the antics on both sides, in the circus, oops, of Judge Julius Hoffman’s courtroom. I believe that the jury is still out (no pun intended) on the effectiveness of that medium to bring out the drama of the events portrayed. Perhaps for a younger audience not familiar with the events this is an adequate teaching tool. However, the segueing between, let us say, defendant Yippie Abbie Hoffman in animation ridiculing the same last named as the judge presiding over the trial and then giving a pep talk to the gathered Yippie tribes is disconcerting, at least to this viewer. Still, all in all, any time that we get to look back at events which formed a decisive part of our formative youth we should grab it with both hands. And hope today’s youth now have it permanently etched on their brains as well.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

*A Norman Mailer Novel As History- Pentagon 1967-"Armies Of The Night"

Click on the headline to link to a "The New York Times" obituary for American writer Norman Mailer article, dated November 10, 2007.


Armies Of The Night, Norman Mailer, Harper Books, New York 2002

The original review of the late Norman Mailer’s "Armies of the Night" was posted just prior to the 2007 anti- Iraq War demonstration noted below. I have recently reread his book (May 2008) and have revised and expanded that review but have let that 2007 preface stand.

On March 17, 2007 various anti-Iraq War forces will converge on the Pentagon to oppose that war and to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the original protest of that symbol of American imperialism during the Vietnam War (and `levitation' of the building according to some sources then, such as the late Abbie Hoffman). Whether such a celebration is called for under the circumstances of the Iraq anti-war movement's continuing failure to stop this war is a separate question to be left to another day. Today it is nevertheless fitting that Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, about those several days forty years ago, should be reviewed with this upcoming event in mind.

In this novel as history (or history as novel depending what part you are reading at a given time) Norman Mailer tries, successfully for the most part, to use this literary trope as a means for closely investigating the action that he is witnessing (and taking part in). As I have mentioned elsewhere in other reviews of Mailer’s books he will eventually most lastingly be known in the literary pantheon for his journalism and musings on his life and his times. But not merely as a journalist in the conventional sense, those are basically a dime a dozen and eminently forgettable, but as an exemplar of the then ‘new’ journalism. That concept got its greatest expansion in the later work of Doctor Hunter Thompson (‘gonzo’ journalism) but Mailer, and to a lesser extent, Tom Wolfe gave it legitimacy.

The premise behind this mode of analysis is that the reporter is not prohibited from being an actor in the action he or she is covering contrary to the norms beaten into media students that one is suppose to be ‘objective’- detached from the action one is reporting on. Now is not the time to expound of the virtues and vices of that ‘gonzo’ method but to see whether it works in Mailer’s exposition. I believe that it does.

To set the stage the Vietnam War, by 1967, had gone through various stages of escalation by the administration of Lyndon Johnson as it attempted to find a way to deal with the quagmire that it had created for itself in South Vietnam. The opposition to the war had also gone through several stages of political activity responding to those Administration acts of escalation. By the fall of 1967, working off a successful mass demonstration that spring, the diffuse leadership of the anti-war movement (Old Left, New Left, New York intelligentsia and so forth) and especially one Dave Dellinger a central leader of the time, had decided that it was necessary to up the ante. Thus, the Pentagon, a very visible and direct symbol of American imperial power, became the focus for a proposed mass rally and various undefined acts of civil disobedience in October of that year. As a long time opponent of the war and one almost always ready, despite some personally-driven contrary instincts expressed throughout the work here, to give something to the cause Norman Mailer steps into the picture. His personal saga informs the bulk of the book.

And what is that personal saga. Mailer originally signed up to bear witness to a symbolic mass draft card turn in at the Justice Department and to speak. During the course of those few days in October, however, he got dragged into, not unwillingly for the most part, an act of civil disobedience that got him arrested, confined in various holding pens and finally released after a number of twists and turns worthy of a novel. Along the way Mailer described his fellow prisoners, their responses to their confinement, his responses to his legal situation and further musings on the nature (or rather de-nature) of American society at the time, the worthiness of the anti-war opposition movement and his own periodic leadership delusions of grandeur as he tries to place the event in context of an on-going war against...well, plastic. Thus, Mailer successfully fulfilled the basic premise of ‘gonzo’ journalism- he was able to become mired in the center of the story but was also able through that process to bring out some home truths that one expects from a good journalist…or novelist.

The irony of fate of this book is that the part that Mailer spends the most time on, essentially the bulk of the book as an updated version of his perennial scheme of advertising for himself, is some forty years out the least interesting from a historic standpoint. I would say that the last twenty pages or so are what are important today for those of us who are trying to find our way out of the current quagmire in Iraq. Mailer, I believe, consciously and correctly tried to demonstrate that mere symbolic actions (including, in the final analysis, his own) would not bring the monster down. His own prescriptions however proved totally inadequate (and as echoed in today's anti-war strategies continues to do so).

Mailer is rather unkind to the Old Left (Communists, Trotskyists of various hues, professional pacifists-the ‘plan’ types) and their dependence on the centrality of the traditional working class, as well as the New Left kids (SDS, Draft Resistance, etc.- the ‘free play’ types) and their dependence of ‘students and professionals’ as the new working class. His position then seemed to be somewhere in the vicinity of an Americanized and 'sanitized' version of Che Guevara’s theories on guerrilla warfare. Except that what Mailer is really postulating is the theory behind Guevara’s work that it was necessary for a new cleansed ‘man’ (and given his other known sentiments of the time concerning women I believe Mailer meant man literally here) to emerge to fight the monster. Norman, wherever you are, I believe that sentiment, if less articulately expressed than by you, already had its day with Bakunin and later with the Social Revolutionaries in late 19th century Russia. But Kudos for Armies. Adieu, Left Conservative.