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The Sixties 

Years Of Hope, Days Of Rage 

Author: Todd Gitlin 

Publisher: Bantam Book 

Date: 1987 

ISBN: 0-553-37212-2 

Table of Contents 

Preface To The New Edition 1 

Introduction 11 

Part One: Affluence And Undertow 17 

1. Cornucopia And Its Discontents 19 

2. Underground Cinanneis 38 

3 Enclaves Of Elders 50 

Part Two: Tine Movement 83 

4. Leftward Kicking And Screaming 83 

5. The Fused Group 104 

6. Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round 127 

7. "Name The System" 171 

Part Tliree: Tine Surge 191 

8. "Everybody Get Together" 191 

9. Public Nuisances 215 

10. Fighting Back 235 

11. The Other Side 253 

Part Four: Forcing Tine Revolution 273 

12. 1968 273 

13. The Decapitation Of The Heroes 292 

14. The Crunch 305 

15. The Spring Of Hope, The Winter Of Despair 327 

16. Women: Revolution In The Revolution 349 

17. The Implosion 362 

18. Fadeout 395 

19. Carrying On 407 

Preface To The New Edition 

Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about 
in spite of their defeat, and when It comes turns out not to be what they 
meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another 

—William Morris^ 

The age of lust is giving birth 

Both the parents ask 

The nurse to tell them fairy tales 

On both sides of the glass 

And now the infant with his cord 

Is hauled in like a kite 

One eye filled with blueprints 

One eye filled with night 

—Leonard Cohen^ 

All times of upheaval begin as surprises and end as cliches. Such is the fate of the great 
tidal swells of history— especially in a shorthand culture where insatiable media grind the 
flux of the world into the day's sound bites. Wondering where we stand in history, or even 
whether there exists a comprehensible history in which to stand, we grapple for ready-made 
coordinates. And so, as time passes, oversimplifications become steadily less resistible. All 
the big pictures tend to turn monochromatic. 

The cultural reputations of whole decades are particularly crude. No sooner do we enter a 
year whose final digit is nine than the great machinery of the media is flooding us with 
phrases to sum up the previous ten years and characterize the next. The phrases are 
conveniences, of course, handles for unwieldy reality. They are also ideological code, a 
symbolic repertory for the perplexed. The prefabricated images are wheeled out to enshrine 
myths. And they accomplish this neatly when the catchphrases are simplistic— thus the 
Fifties are said to have been nothing but complacent, the Sixties nothing but glorious (or 
disastrous), the Eighties nothing but self-indulgent. 

Perhaps no decade has suffered this absurd reduction more than "the Sixties," which in 
popular parlance has come to stand for a single seamless whole, an entity that presidential 
candidates and talk-show guests are pressed to take a position on. They must have been 
either wonderfully high times or else a catastrophe anyone was lucky to have survived. 
They were days of unbridled idealism or rampant destruction, youthful exuberance or 
degeneracy, moral intelligence or stupidity. They must have been an unsurpassed time of 
righteous revolt or an abyss from which only the triumph of Ronald Reagan rescued us. All 
the myths, left or right or neither of the above, today serve in part as alibis, rationales for 
the slogans of the present, relieving us of the need to understand the complex tendencies at 
work in the present and the obligation to do what can be done here and now. 

There is a specific reason, of course, winy "tine Sixties" are still so heated a subject. To put it 
briefly, the genies that the Sixties loosed are still abroad in the land, inspiring and 
unsettling and offending, making trouble. For the civil rights and antiwar and countercultural 
and women's and the rest of that decade's movements forced upon us central issues for 
Western civilization— fundamental questions of value, fundamental divides of culture, 
fundamental debates about the nature of the good life. For better and worse, the ideas and 
impulses remain, transposed into other keys, threatening, agitating, destabilizing— and, in 
1992, prevailing— as Bill Clinton brilliantly established that an antiwar activist with a feminist 
and a professional for a wife was, at the very least, not disqualified from the highest 
national leadership. 

In this sense, the 1992 campaign was the latest in a generation-long sequence of contests 
over, among other things, the question of who won the Sixties. In fact, every national 
election since 1968 has been, at least on its symbolic plane, a cultural referendum. Thus, in 
1992, a spokesman for President George Bush blamed Los Angeles's burning and looting 
(or, rather, "inner-city difficulties") on unspecified government programs of the Sixties, 
while Vice-President Dan Quayle singled out as the "unfortunate legacy of the baby-boomer 
generation" that it was at "war against traditional values." In the public limelight, George 
Will has made an expressive and self-validating career of deploring "the cult of self- 
validating expression" and declaring that "the central myth of the Sixties was that the 
wretched excess was really a serious quest for new values. "'' The absorbing question in 
coming years is whether the Clinton administration— only the second in sixty years to be 
headed by a man who was never a commander or a soldier in World War II— can further 
both the libertarian and communitarian sides of the Sixties spirit without letting a bad 
economy and Republican nastiness drive wedges into their triumphant coalition. 

In the interim, much of the talk about the Sixties has trivialized the stakes. Who isn't sick of 
hearing the songs and stories of Sixtiesiana, not to mention the rock 'n' rolling 
commercials? Young political activists who take inspiration from the civil rights and antiwar 
movements of the Sixties groan at the thought of one more Sixties song, one more 
anniversary news report about glory days gone by. The halo of "the Sixties" has weighed on 
them, as if nothing they might ever do in their own lives could match the deeds of the 
giants of yesteryear who stalked the earth leading casts of thousands. While the spirit of 
voluntary service (an underappreciated tradition in the Sixties) is reviving on campuses, 
many college students today, especially children of the New Left and the counterculture, 
regret having "missed the fun"; they are envious of AIDSIess sex, communes, VW bugs, all 
that careless rapture— and who can blame them? 

The unavoidable question, whether posed nostalgically or harshly, in disappointed or smug 
or prosecutorial tones, refuses to go away: What did "the Sixties"— the movements, the 
spirit— accomplish? I argue in the multiple endings of Tlie Sixties that assessments of the 
meaning and impact of the past are always provisional, always colored by intervening 
history. Caught in the Ice Age, one's memories turn rosy— never more than when the 
recollected past is the moment of one's one and only youth as well as a searing and 
incandescent time. During the Reagan and Bush years, the prevailing answer was: Tlie 
Sixties were a bust. Or the next worst thing: something to "put behind us," a fashion, 
"history" (to use the colloquial pejorative). Thus a savvy newsman on National Public Radio 
suggests disparagingly that the main thing that "the Sixties" changed is America's eating 
habits. A student on the Berkeley campus wonders bemusedly what to wear for the 
evening's "Sixties party" on Fraternity Row. Quaintness is the afterimage of bygone 
principles. It has been the right more than the left that has credited the Sixties movements 
with lasting accomplishments— a backhanded compliment indeed, to say that the 
movements trashed families, canons, standards, traditions, housewives, heterosexual 
dominion, and everything else holy. 

The truth is that the movements were tremendously (at best, wondrously) complex and 
self-contradictory— no wonder they developed unevenly, no wonder it is difficult to pick out 
their consequences with any precision. At least equally important, they did not give birth to 
themselves, much as they sometimes fancied they had. The cultural, political, and economic 
currents that fed them also limited them. They had great successes and squandered great 
opportunities— unsatisfactory as this answer may ring to those who think, in Hollywood 
fashion, that history is either (choose one) a chorus of angels or a bummer. 

So then, after all the qualifications, what did all the uprisings of the Sixties accomplish? A 
great deal for the good; and not nearly enough; and at a price. To reckon adequately with 
the successes, the limits, and the missed opportunities would require another book; here I 
wish only to offer a framework for thinking about the consequences and meanings of the 
Sixties insurgencies under four headings: social equality (race, gender, sexuality); wide- 
open "life-styles" (sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll); the limitation of national violence and the care 
of the earth; and the spread of democratic activity. 

Social Equality 

Whatever the subsequent disappointments and disillusionments, the civil rights movement 
relaunched the long, long trek toward racial equality. The movement's rise and fall, its 
transmutation from Southern nonviolence to black power, its insistence on the self- 
determination of the insulted and injured, was the template for every other movement of 
the decade. At stake was the rock-bottom principle of the Declaration of Independence, the 
rights of citizens not only to formal political participation (e.g., the right to vote) but also to 
the dignity of social recognition (e.g., the right to take a seat in the orchestra of a movie 
theater). White supremacy having been the original and besetting sin of the American 
nation, the struggle against it has been traumatic and unfinished and did not, could not, 
occur without a backlash. 

For in mobilizing a mass opposition to race inequality, the movement for the rights of 
African (and other dark-skinned) Americans had to aggrieve many whites. It also intensified 
the counterresentments of the many white have-a-littles who felt hard-pressed by the dark- 
skinned have-nots— just at a time when the American economy was forfeiting its post-World 
War II dominance and starring downward. Instead of the class solidarity of a majority, there 
ensued racial panic, blockbusting, white flight, declining schools, resegregation, intractable 
ghettoes, and a shrinking tax base for the increasingly nonwhite cities. Once the lines of 
cleavage became economic, the fight for rising shares of a dwindling bounty made for 
lasting wedges. 

Panic, rancor, recrimination: a situation tailor-made for the Republican politics of racial 
resentment. As long as race was a more salient fact than class in American lives, and the 
economy was in decline, the pursuit of racial justice for minorities had the partly unintended 
consequence of suppressing the deep but less acknowledged inequality of American life— the 
inequality of treatment by class— affecting life expectancy, health, education, and the many 
other goods of a modern society. Already back in the Sixties, even before busing and 
affirmative action polarized the population. Republican politicians had begun to make capital 
by splitting the white South off from the Democratic Party, undermining the liberal majority, 
composing a new alliance by convincing the white steelworker that he had more in common 
with the steel executive who moved the plant to Mexico than with the unemployed son of 
the black janitor. The partially integrated black middle classes abandoned the ghetto, 
leaving it more desperate. The result was to strangle the resources available for cities 
(meaning, increasingly, minorities) which in turn accelerated the rage and withdrawal of 
blacks, a rising rate of violent crime especially on the part of blacks (and the perception that 
it was rising even faster than it was), rampant fear, and a penchant for short-term 
"solutions" by force. 

To abolish legal segregation, to bring African-Americans and their concerns into American 
politics and professional life, to enlarge the black middle-class— all this was long overdue, 
and crucial. But the aftermath of slavery remains grotesque and, since the Sixties, 
worsening. Now, men in Harlem live shorter lives than men in Bangladesh. Two-thirds of 
black households have zero or negative net financial assets, compared to thirty percent for 
whites. On top of the insults imposed by poverty and racial discrimination come the dangers 
imposed by criminals, disproportionately the hard-core, disproportionately black poor— who 
find in the drug trade the income and opportunity which they cannot find in the legitimate 
economy. Nihilism spirals. Punishment begets crime begets punishment. 

"The problem of the twentieth century," wrote W. E. B. DuBois in 1903, understating the 
issue, "is the problem of the color line." The twenty-first century will begin on the same 
shaky footing. 

The women's movement broke down so many barriers as to have transformed American 
social relations (at least outside the U.S. Senate and its Judiciary Committee) beyond 
recognition. Careers opened up, laws were altered, assumptions about women's place were 
sent reeling. The movement for the civil rights of women succeeded brilliantly— so much so 
that many women under thirty take these conquests for granted and conclude that there 
remains no need for feminism. As a cultural force, likewise, if we compare the present with 
a generation ago, feminism has to be counted a tremendous success, whatever the 
rollbacks and the periodic declarations that, except for a few cranks, we're all "postfeminist" 
now. The women's movement, built on the irreversible entry of women into the work force, 
has remade much of daily life and language. The insistence on "chairperson" is easily 
mocked, but hardly cancels the moral advances in vocabulary marked by "sexism," "sexual 
harassment," "marital rape," "battered women," the public acknowledgment of incest— the 
very terms, and the activism attached to them, owe their currency to feminists. Whatever 
legal and judicial decisions are made on the right to abortion, the women's movement can 
take credit for having mobilized a vociferous pro-choice majority. The sex war is being 
fought on more equal terms— which doesn't keep it from being bloody. 

Men, in general, have not been grateful for the chance to vary their styles of manliness and 
shed the skins of John Wayne, Superman, and that contemporary reincarnation of the Man 
of Steel and apostle of "family values," Arnold Schwarzenegger. How could there not have 
been backlash, in the face of a movement whose very object was to overturn the habits, 
laws, and power arrangements ingrained over centuries? Of course, as a cultural icon, the 
relatively prosperous dressed-for-success feminist has been far more visible than the nurse 
and the bus driver who have found advancement and dignity from the women's 
movement— but despite schisms of class and race, most women have benefited. Still, 
women's advances into the workplace have not been matched by men's advances into 
housework and child care. 

Feminists now have to hold onto their, our, successes while opening up new territory. They 
cannot afford to cede "the family" to conservatives whose idea of helping children is to send 
them to orphanages while their mothers are forced off welfare; whose idea of helping young 
children is to veto public child care; who offer no remedy for the domestic violence of men 
but to throw more of them out of meaningful work. Happily, the era of Bill and Hillary 
Clinton stands to normalize feminism— not. God knows, to solve all the problems of women, 
but at last to take serious account of the troubles and conflicts that truly stifle their (and 
men's) lives. 

The right of men to love men and of women to love women is still embattled, but at least 
the fight is on. 

Measured against the unapologetic oppression of prior decades, one must be impressed by 
tine antidiscrimination victories of gay rigints in employment and ciniid custody, in general 
public standing. Of course, no one can say that gay men and lesbian women have become 
legitimate as long as they are the targets of violence for no other reason than that they 
claim the right to live differently. Police abuse and gay-bashing remain rife, for all that the 
press generally doesn't notice. Other forms of discrimination, both noisy and quiet, persist, 
although many ritual condemnations, as in the psychiatric profession, have been beaten 
back. Symbolically, same-sex lovers are still automatic outcasts in the eyes of Hollywood 
plotters looking for prefabricated plot devices. And AIDS, the epidemic whose name could 
barely be spoken by the Reagan White House until Rock Hudson died, has torn through the 
body of the gay world with a force that can scarcely be comprehended. 

To much of America, as to most of the rest of the world, homosexual love is a disease, a 
sin, or a crime. Nonetheless, the question of what is normal sexual life has been thrown 
open among much of the population, never to be slammed shut. This longest of all 
transformations is well launched. 

Wide-Open "Life-Styles" 

The counterculture of the young tried to combine two impulses at once— the libertarian and 
the spiritual. Over the past two decades, the two have split apart and the halves have 

The libertarian side wanted to overturn repression in the name of id. Young bodies wanted 
release. The separation of sex from procreation was the prerequisite and the prod. Styles 
followed to suit— long hair, let-it-hang-out rock music, public cursing, gestures of wild 
affection and disaffection. All those currents continue. But desire unleashed is not 
necessarily desire fulfilled; it is more likely to be desire entertained. Anarchic anti- 
authoritarianism came to take the form of what Norman 0. Brown called polymorphous 
perversity: teenage sex, sex released from procreation, oral and anal sex, above-ground 
pornography, profanity and obscenity in public discourse and media. But liberation also took 
forms cultivated by the consumer society. Marketers learned how to channel the demands 
of the senses. Much of the libertarian longing was processed into fashion by what might be 
called the rebellion industry. The commercialization of sex reached beyond prostitution to 
encompass sex shops, the X-rated movie and magazine industries, the sadomasochistic 
savagery of blockbuster movies, the sex-slave gimmickry of music television. As lids were 
thrown off, sexual tastes, like gourmet and musical tastes, proliferated. At the edge of 
popular culture, would-be musical and literary vanguards, from Hustler to rap, seemed 
driven by nothing more than the desire to transgress, to offend, to shock— the traditional 
trap of the avant-garde— while civil libertarians scrambled to protect the First Amendment 
but failed to offer the vision of a culture that would amount to more than cacophony. 

Meanwhile, the transcendental promise of drugs was overwhelmed by their anesthetic use 
and the addiction that followed. The least discriminating "anything goes" attitude was 
assimilated into America's fun culture. As marijuana yielded to cocaine, drugs ceased to be 
peace-inducing and magic-making, became more dangerous and intoxicating. As the drugs 
became nastier, their sale became inextricable from organized violence. Devotional uses 
were supplanted by addiction, a fraudulent and momentary balm in a disorienting society 
that promises more fun, more goods, more deliverance than it can deliver. 

The bitter truth, the irony of freedom, is that choice opens doors to anterooms— that is all. 
The good life always remains to be made. The freedom to divorce and to abort, normalized 
in recent decades, are inseparable from the main movement of modernity— toward "the 
pursuit of happiness"— but they cannot deliver happiness any more than emancipation could 
deliver slaves to the promised land. Every freedom comes wrapped in an anguish. But 
collectivist conservatives like George Will are wrong to declare that unbridled freedom was 
the sole principle of Sixties rebellion. For the other side of the counterculture was 
communitarian and— overused word— spiritual, a longing for group experience that would 
transcend the limits of the individual ego. Alongside the claims of the counterculture for 
instant ecstasy, there coexisted a craving for a sort of public love, a communal self- 
determination, access to one or another kind of God. Frightened by spiritual chaos, longing 
for community and links to past and future, many eventually found company among the 
varieties of institutional religion or religiosity— Christian, Jewish, "New Age." Here, 
widespread suspicion of central authority— of government as well as business, of orthodox 
medicine as well as the law— fuses with a suspicion of science and universal morality. The 
result is confusion: cultural multiplicity, authoritarian cults, nihilism. Strong cultural ferment 
goes accompanied by triviality and quackery. America's spongy culture of excess, cynicism, 
and sentimentality seems to absorb every tendency at once. 

The Limitation Of National Violence And The Care Of The Earth 

Until 1991, it could be said that the main legacy of the movement against the Vietnam war 
was America's reluctance to ship its troops abroad for long against left-wing revolutions. To 
serve as a veto force was no small achievement, though hardly the millennium. The empire 
fought back with surrogate strategies for securing Cold War victories. To avoid stirring up 
popular protest, the Pentagon supported clandestine proxy wars ("low-intensity conflict") in 
behalf of favored right-wing forces like those in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, 
Indonesia, and the Philippines. Faced with legal obstacles in Nicaragua and Iraq, the 
Republican White House devised the Iran-Contra exercise and the pro-Saddam Hussein tilt 
to subvert the laws and the Constitution. Still, to the chagrin of the White House, full-blown 
war was staved off for more than fifteen years. 

Eager to recover from the hamstringing of the executive branch, George Bush came to 
office committed to roust the hobgoblins of the "Vietnam syndrome." When his strategy of 
appeasing Iraq's Saddam Hussein broke down, he found the awaited opportunity to crank 
up America's military machine. With the Cold War melted down, he could use the tool of 
sanctions to mobilize the United Nations and to frame the Persian Gulf war in the language 
of collective security. Thus he overcame a significant split in public and Congressional 
sentiment and, locked in embrace with television, isolated a dwindling, deeply divided, and 
indeed largely self-isolating antiwar movement. In the end, he could crow that he had 
"kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." 

But perhaps his celebration was premature. Unlike Iraq— loathsome in the eyes of 
neighboring rulers, devoid of mountains and neighboring sanctuaries, and susceptible to air 
assault— most of the world's dictatorships and violent zones are not primed for quick 
American victories with minimal American casualties. The Vietnam syndrome may have 
been dented, but America is still reluctant to throw itself into long, murky wars. And, as I 
write, the debates over American intervention in Somalia and Yugoslavia signal the 
emergence of whole new questions about collective security and global obligations. 
Whatever the rights and wrongs, there is unlikely to be a replay of Vietnam. 

The tidal shift of opinion that began in the Sixties eased the way for an end to the Cold War. 
Indeed, had President John F. Kennedy seized available opportunities during his (and Nikita 
Khrushchev's) brief time in office, and not instead succumbed to the lure of adventure in the 
Indochinese jungle, the Cold War might even have ended several trillion fewer dollars 
sooner. Not until two more decades had been squandered did the unlikely convergence of 
Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan turn the trick— principally because of Gorbachev's 
farsightedness. The peace movements of the Sixties and early Eighties deserve credit for 
helping create a climate in which it was politically advantageous for Ronald Reagan to step 
back from the doomsday talk of his earlier years— though not before he wrecked the 
American economy in a misguided quest for "military supremacy." 

Two decades after the unity of the earth was "discovered," there is general awareness that 
we live on a single, interlocked, fragile planet, and that the industrialized world bears the 
main responsibility for sustaining or destroying it. While clear-cutting corporations accuse 
chi-chi environmentalists of preferring spotted owls to people, local activists of every social 
class are at work to purge the earth of toxins. Environmentalist rhetoric has become central 
to political discussion, so much so that George Bush felt the need to present himself as an 
"environmental president," and Senator Al Gore announced to the 1992 Democratic 
Convention that "just as the false assumption that we are not connected to the Earth has 
led to the ecological crisis, so the equally false assumption that we are not connected to 
each other has led to our social crisis"— two points whose interconnection was first stated by 
the eco-anarchist movement philosopher Murray Bookchin in the early Seventies. 

Democratic Activity 

The principle of direct citizen action has become normal. No one is surprised or scandalized 
to see a demonstration anymore. Sit-ins and Washington rallies are everyday events, while 
direct mail and door-to-door solicitation suit the more bureaucratic needs of long-running 
lobbies and interest groups. Even the right mobilizes local movements— even to the point of 
civil disobedience, as with the militant wing of the anti-abortion movement. Still, unions are 
in precipitous decline, while single-issue groups are maligned as "special" when they 
represent millions of workers or women. 

Whatever the misleading cultural archetype of the Yippie-turned-Yuppie, as enshrined in The 
Big Chill, a significant proportion of Sixties activists pursue their original principles— usually 
by less photogenic, possibly more enduring, means. However, the sum is no more than the 
whole of the parts, and sometimes less. Too often, insurgent movements choose tactics for 
strictly theatrical purposes, as if for an unseen audience, and fail to devise forms of action 
that appeal outside the immediate circle. Aside from single-issue movements, the political 
outcomes are, so far, more apparent in state and local government than nationally— partly 
because of demographic shifts toward the suburbs, partly because New Leftists were hostile 
to the organization and hierarchy, the compromises and discipline of organized national 

The troubling side of the movement's most countercultural, participatory spirit is a certain 
tendency toward know-nothing leveling. One hears the assumption that all knowledge is 
bankrupt, all claims to authority or objectivity fraudulent, all expertise a mask for raw 
power. There is a recklessness to this spirit which sometimes willingly risks the destruction 
of liberal institutions sooner than accept less than total victory. In education, alongside 
important achievements in opening up history, sociology, and literature to hitherto buried 
problems and vantage points, there are self-righteous new orthodoxies which, while hardly 
as widespread or uniform as the cultural Right maintains, do tend to stifle thought— as do 
right-wing orthodoxies in, say, economics. 

Movements that seek to represent underrepresented people too often harden into self- 
seeking. The result is balkanization fueled by a narcissism of small differences, each group 
claiming the high ground of principle, squandering moral energy in behalf of what has come 
to be called "identity politics"— in which the principal purpose of organizing is to express a 
distinct social identity rather than achieve the collective good. In this radical extension of 
the politics of the late Sixties, difference and victimization are prized, ranked against the 
victimization of other groups. We crown our good with victimhood. While conservatives 
claim to speak in the name of a majority, the standard-bearers of identity politics cultivate 
their own marginality, practicing a separatism that incapacitates them for alliances and 
collective improvements. When African-American nationalists single out Korean 
storekeepers or Jewish academics for their antagonism, racial purism veers toward fascism. 

At their strongest, the movements of the Sixties amounted to an incomplete Reformation. 
As in sixteenth-century Germany, the urgent young, disgusted by the corruption of values, 
beat on the doors of established power in the name of reform. Rebuffed, they reconsidered 
not only their institutions but their identities, their nature, their mission. Their dissidence 
deepened. They developed rituals of self-transformation and unification. While diffuse and at 
times self-contradictory in their purposes, they were unified by a common enemy, and came 
to see themselves as a common onslaught on wrong-headed power— and alternatives to it. 

In the Sixties, the power centers of American society lost connection with the depths of 
popular spirit and resisted the reform impulse. The movements coalesced into a heartfelt if 
frequently inchoate insurgency. Converging with the parallel uprisings of the young in many 
parts of the world— in Paris and Berlin, in Prague, in Mexico City— they challenged 
illegitimate authority of many stripes. They not only undermined illegitimate power, they 
honored the unity-in-diversity of the human project. Even when speaking the language of 
Marxism, they foreshadowed the collapse of Marxism as a globally unifying ideology of 
change. They groped toward new principles of revolt, new codes of authority. As in the case 
of the so-called Counterreformation, the power centers of society responded with fright— 
and calculation. They rebuffed the invaders but also, in some measure, reformed. In the 
course of this running battle, a new agenda of politics took shape. 

So, too, in America. In the closing decades of the twentieth century, the centers of power 
likewise mix repression with reform. In the case of the Reformation and 
Counterreformation, a century and a half of confusion, travail, and bloodshed passed before 
the reformers worked out a form of coexistence with the established Church and the shape 
of the new world had become less unclear. We are thrashing around in that troubled 
aftermath, which is always, and perpetually, a beginning. 

A final note on this edition: I have said too little in the pages to follow about the growth of 
the American right in the Sixties, about domestic policy initiatives and debates, about 
economic changes, about the impact of political assassinations, about international 
reverberations of America's student movements. But I have resisted the temptation to 
recast the book fundamentally, to interrupt the flow of the narrative for such major 
discussions, or to elaborate my subsequent views of many events and people I wrote about 
half a decade earlier. Instead, for this new edition, I have confined myself to making 
corrections, clarifications, updates and amplifications of fact, while respecting the book's 
essential unity. 

July-December 1992 

^ William Morris: A Dream of John Ball and A King's Lesson (London: Longmans, Green, 
1886), p. 31. 

^ Leonard Cohen: "Stories of the Street." 

^ George Will: "Slamming The Doors," Newsweek, March 25, 1991, pp. 85-86. In a 
subsequent column (Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1992, p. B7), Will, stalwart defender of the 
right of corporate executives to move their factories anywhere in the world they please, 
blames the post-1960 left for advocating "more 'rights' for Americans to throw sharp elbows 
against one another, and less deference to social norms." 


On New Year's Eve, as 1958 slipped into 1959, I wasn't especially aware I was living in the 
dead, dreary Fifties. I was a high school senior about to turn sixteen. I had little sense of 
living in any kind of "Fifties" at all; I wasn't old enough to think in decades. I was simply 
living my life: striving for grades, wondering about sex, matching my exploits against 
those— real and imagined— of my rivals, watching the tides of adolescence rip through me. 
The only threshold I thought about was the one I would cross later that year, on the way to 
college. I was not living in history, but in biography. 

Which is not to say I was devoid of political interests. I read The New York Times and my 
parents were liberal. I stayed up late on election nights and rooted for Democrats almost as 
passionately as I followed the New York Giants baseball team (until they broke my heart by 
running off to San Francisco in 1958). I thought President Dwight David Eisenhower was a 
genial deadhead, a semiliterate fuddy-duddy who deserved to be chastised almost as much 
for excessive golfing and tangled sentences as for embracing Generalisimo Franco. I 
thought Richard Nixon was sinister. I delighted in Jules Feiffer's worldly spoofs of 
Eisenhower's syntax, the phone company's arrogance, and the middle class's cliches. I liked 
Herblock's liberal cartoons, including one in which Bernard Baruch said that Eisenhower's 
stinginess with the military budget would make the United States "the richest man in the 
graveyard." A friend introduced me to H. L. Mencken's tilts at the philistine American 
"booboisie," and when I wrote the valedictory speech at the Bronx High School of Science 
later that year, the only quotation was from Mencken: "We live in a land of abounding 

My closest friends, the children of Jewish civil servants and skilled workers, held similar 
opinions. As we celebrated the coming of 1959, around midnight, in a fragment of news 
squeezed into Guy Lombardo's orchestral schmaltz, we saw the black-and-white footage of 
bearded Cubans wearing fatigues, smoking big cigars, grinning big grins to the cheers of 
throngs deliriously happy at the news that Batista had fled; and we cheered too. The 
overthrow of a brutal dictator, yes. But more, on the faces of the striding, strutting 
barbudos surrounded by adoring crowds we read redemption— a revolt of young people, 
underdogs, who might just cleanse one scrap of earth of the bloodletting and misery we had 
heard about all our lives. From a living room in the Bronx we saluted our unruly champions. 

I was studious and clean-cut. I won scholarships and mathematics awards. In three years I 
cut one day of classes. At the Sputnik-era Bronx High School of Science, one of the alumni 
held up to us as a model was a physicist named Harold Brown, then a rising star among 
President Eisenhower's scientific advisers, later secretary of defense under President Jimmy 
Carter. I went off to Harvard that fall wearing a blue blazer. What was I doing cheering a 
bunch of bearded revolutionaries? What were ten thousand Americans doing in Harvard 
Stadium that April, chanting "Viva! Viva!" to the same Fidel Castro?^ 


So much of America in tine Fifties seemed content, so many of tine old promises redeemed; 
winy were middle-class children of the Fifties looking in such strange places for heroes? I 
was far from the only one, as it turned out, and my next ten years, if hardly typical of a 
whole generation's, belonged to a larger drama. In my sophomore year, I960, I was swept 
up in a Harvard-Radcliff peace group called Tocsin. I identified with a scatter of campus 
organizer-intellectuals who called themselves the New Left. In 1963, at twenty, I was 
elected president of their organizational center. Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, 
which numbered a grand total of six hundred paid members and harbored the modest 
ambition of shaking America to its roots. ^ In the spring of 1965 I helped organize a Wall 
Street sit-in at the Chase Manhattan Bank against loans to South Africa, then the first 
sizable demonstration at the White House against the war in Vietnam— and soon thereafter 
smoked my first marijuana (which I had previously thought to be a demon "narcotic"). I was 
moved by the idea that "people should make the decisions that affect their lives," knocked 
on doors trying to organize Appalachian white migrants to Chicago into an "interracial 
movement of the poor," wrote for and sometimes edited "underground" newspapers, gave 
speeches against the war, went to interminable conferences, walked innumerable picket 
lines, visited Cuba and was stirred by it late in 1967, scampered through clouds of tear gas 
to get away from billy clubs and bayonets (and get near the action) at the Democratic 
Convention in 1968, then again at San Francisco State College and Berkeley's People's Park 
in 1968 and 1969. I started growing my first beard the day I came to California in the fall of 
1967, then shaved it off aiming to ease my way past customs to and from Cuba. I saw a 
comrade gashed by a chunk of concrete as we integrated an amusement park in 1963, 
heard a racist mob scream itself shrill surrounding our nonviolent group, until we were 
rescued— and arrested— by the police. A few years later, I watched police destroy my 
camera after I snapped them illegally searching my car in Chicago; I saw our organizing 
office reduced to rubble when Chicago police turned it upside down in a raid for planted 
drugs. I sat through the conspiracy trials of my friends, watched others try to overturn a 
police van in the Chicago streets, knew still others were planting stink bombs in the 
Democratic delegates' hotel— and admired their courage. I dreaded guns, refused to smash 
windows— and at the same time learned to scorn nonviolence, which seemed helpless 
against the juggernaut of the war and the police. From mildly socialist I became "radical," 
"anti-imperialist," a partisan of "resistance," a half-serious advocate of "destroying 
America," and then, gingerly, ambivalently, found myself caught up in the collective 
hallucination (or was it?) of "the revolution." 

And then the movement's— and my— forward motion was broken: In 1969, SDS, at the peak 
of its size and militancy, with some hundred thousand members, hundreds of chapters, 
millions of supporters, and under the intense scrutiny (to say the least) of the White House 
and the FBI, broke into screaming factions, one of which, the Weathermen, began to build 
bombs. One movement friend was assaulted (probably by a right-wing lunatic) and nearly 
killed; others were blown up, went underground, or died by their own hands. History, as 
Czeslaw Milosz has said in a different connection, came off its leash. The student 
movement, having spawned a women's movement which both denounced and continued it, 
marched into a cul-de-sac and disbanded. I was one of those old New Leftists, anathema to 
all factions, who was broken up by the movement's whirling destruction and self-destruction 
as much as I had been inspired— even formed— by its birth. Reproached for "revisionism" 
and dangerously "liberal" tendencies, I ended up identifying with something Martin Buber 
said about his friend the German socialist Gustav Landauer, murdered by soldiers in 1919: 
He "fought in the revolution against the revolution for the sake of the revolution. "'' 


By the early Seventies the upheaval was over— as mysteriously as it had appeared, and as 
worldwide. Neoconservatives wobbled between relief and vindication; old radicals felt 
mixtures of despair, regret, chagrin, pride, resolve, and got on with their lives. "The Sixties" 
receded into haze and myth: lingering images of nobility and violence, occasional news clips 
of Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy, Beatles and Bob Dylan retrospectives, the 
jumble of images this culture shares instead of a sense of continuous, lived history. "The 
Sixties": a collage of fragments scooped together as if a whole decade took place in an 
instant. It is to reclaim the actual Sixties from "the Sixties," from this big-bang theory of 
history, as well as to find out what I think, that I have written this book. 

I have worked at the edge of history and autobiography, from inside and outside the 
Sixties, writing at different focal lengths, in first and third persons, hoping that by 
describing the texture of certain episodes I could gain in sharpness what I had to sacrifice in 
breadth, at other times backing off to expose a larger picture. So this is part historical 
reconstruction, part analysis, part memoir, part criticism, part celebration, part meditation. 
Pride, chagrin, embarrassment have their places, but beyond them, I hope to have evoked 
the spirit of the time from the interior, yet without succumbing to the hallucinatory 
giddiness of the late Sixties especially, whose sheer wildness, even now, seems the stuff of 
another century. At the hub is the youth movement, principally the white student part of it, 
and its self-conscious core, the New Left, which borrowed from the black movement the 
habit of calling itself "the movement." For along with the black movement (and under the 
mighty pressure of the Pentagon) the New Left became the dynamic center of the decade, 
pushing the young forward, declaring that change was here, forming the template for the 
revolts of hippies, women, and gays. I have stressed the strips of history I knew firsthand, 
taking my experience as primary evidence, material to be fathomed for the sake of a larger 
understanding. (In a few cases I lacked more than passing acquaintance but the segments 
were too important to pass over: the beats, the southern civil rights movement, the hippie 
scene.) The American youth upheaval was but part of a worldwide surge which cannot be 
explained simply by the baby boom, the economic boom, the growth and bureaucratization 
of universities, civil rights, the Vietnam war. Dr. Spock, the Democratic Party's defaults, the 
mass media, or any other single factor. It was partly a product of social structure— there 
had to be a critical mass of students, and enough economic fat to cushion them— but more, 
the upsurge was made from the living elements of a unique, unrepeatable history, under 
the spreading wings of the Zeitgeist. A grander analysis would require painstaking 
international comparisons; I hope I have found at least a point of entry. The result is a kind 
of record of a conversation with myself, and with friends and comrades, teachers and 
students, colleagues and (sometimes) opponents, over the course of some twenty years of 
reflection about where the upheaval came from, how it developed, why it disbanded, what it 
did and did not accomplish, what was and was not possible, why apparently sensible people 
got swept into maelstroms, why solid landscapes dissolved into maelstroms, and what 
maelstroms are good and bad for. 


Most of this book is organized around pivotal moments. Some were turning points in tine life 
of the movement, episodes when the movement collided with surrounding forces, or when 
the movement's own tensions erupted: the SDS Port Huron convention of 1962, when the 
radical veteran Michael Harrington (age thirty-four) attacked the draft manifesto by Tom 
Hayden (age twenty-two), with fateful consequences; the clash between SNCC and Hubert 
H. Humphrey, Walter Reuther, and other liberals at the Atlantic City Democratic Convention 
of 1964; the confrontations of Stop the Draft Week in 1967, Chicago in 1968, People's Park 
in 1969; SDS's factional death in 1969; the Weatherman townhouse explosion and Kent 
State killings in 1970. Some were moments of truth when the movement's predicaments 
came clear, at least after the fact, though the incidents were not necessarily momentous in 
themselves: a 1958 debate between Jack Kerouac and the liberal editor James Wechsler; a 
speech by a radical professor during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962; a 1963 encounter 
between Tom Hayden and the editor of the social democratic journal Dissent, Irving Howe; 
Wechsler's attack on SDS on the eve of the first national antiwar demonstration in 1965; 
Ken Kesey's appearance at a Berkeley Vietnam protest in 1965; a 1967 New Left conference 
disrupted by countercultural toughs called the Diggers; the heckling of a representative of 
the women's movement on an antiwar platform in 1969. To establish the setting there are 
also prologues and entr'actes and side-stories: about the roots of the Sixties in the rock 
music, movies, spoofs, and folk culture of the Fifties, and in the suburbs and the H-bomb; 
about the freaks of the Haight-Ashbury and Lower East Side, about drugs and living 
together in unmatrimonial bliss, about Bob Dylan's odyssey and the San Francisco Sound 
and the Rolling Stones; about visits to Cuba and Vietnam; about the Black Panthers, 
government crackdowns, and the idea of The Revolution. And still I feel daunted by how 
many moments, collisions, social forces, movement predicaments I have had to bypass. 

The course of the student movement was of course inseparable from its historical moment: 
affluence, civil rights, the Cold War, Vietnam; Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon; the assassinations 
of Kennedy, Malcolm X, King, and another Kennedy; worldwide upheavals seeming to 
promise the founding of a new age in the ashes of the old. From social tensions came a 
tumult of movements aiming to remake virtually every social arrangement America had 
settled into after World War II. Yet, from the beginning, the student movement also faced 
structural tensions, built-in dilemmas. From its attempts to resolve them came the 
movement's dynamics. Whatever answers the movement came up with, it was not free to 
choose the questions thrust upon it. One of my running meditations is precisely about how 
much freedom there was, under which circumstances, to make events come out differently 
than they did. 

The unavoidable dilemmas are my leitmotifs. For example: 

Because the Old Left had suffered political defeat and moral collapse in the Fifties, the New 
Left resolved to be a student movement and a left at the same time. Twenty-two-year-olds 
set out to change the world. Starting from such ambition, the movement oscillated between 
narcissism (imagining itself to be the instrument of change) and self-disparagement 
(searching for the real instrument of change), eventually succumbing to the false solution of 
Leninism, which was the first in the guise of the second. 

Because it rose from the ashes of the American left, the movement was inclined to feel that 
it had given birth to itself— and came to overvalue the power of sheer will, which had 
apparently created something from nothing. 

The movement wanted to be both strategic and expressive, political and cultural: to change 
the world (end the war, win civil rights) while freeing life in the here and now. Sometimes 
these poles were compatible, sometimes not. The idea of the youth revolution was an 
exercise in finessing the difference. 


The movement had to find the right relation to the American nation; having taken America's 
dream of itself seriously, it was quick to feel betrayed when the dream turned into 
nightmare, quick to relocate the promised land on some revolutionary soil elsewhere. 

The rock 'n' roll generation, having grown up on popular culture, took images very seriously 
indeed; beholding itself magnified in the funhouse mirror, it grew addicted to media which 
had agendas of their own— celebrity-making, violence-mongering, sensationalism. 

The movement took liberalism for granted, but at crucial junctures found itself obstructed 
by liberals. Once liberalism had sacrificed itself on the altar of the Vietnam war and race 
polarization, what were radicals to do? 

Influenced by remnants of the Old Left, yet eager to make its own way, the New Left had to 
decide whether the holdovers were victims, instructors, exemplars, rivals, or opponents. 

Nourished on cultural opposition, the New Left had to confront a counterculture that was in 
many ways more attractive than radical politics. Should it outflank? Accommodate? 
Especially in California, the hip-political synthesis— along with violence— was the siren song 
of the late Sixties. 

I have tried to be guided by Alfred North Whitehead's injunction: "Seek simplicity and 
distrust it." The onetime mathematician in me yearns for crystalline conclusions, and at 
times this book records, and complicates, my best efforts at them. As I strain to 
comprehend— that is, to simplify— historical narrative is the form my distrust takes. 

Life is always lived in common, whatever rugged individualists may think, but in the Sixties 
it seemed especially true that History with a capital H had come down to earth, either 
interfering with life or making it possible; and that within History, or threaded through it, 
people were more than themselves, they were supercharged: lives were bound up with one 
another, making claims on one another, drawing one another into the common project. And 
so the boundary between memoir and history has to be blurred. I have tried to use my own 
recollections and records (I kept letters and journals) to bring some of the larger story alive. 
I have crosschecked and supplemented my memory, as much as possible, by interviewing 
several score of my contemporaries and consulting documents and published accounts. I 
have tried to convey the grain of other voices than my own, tried to be fair to those I have 
disagreed with (and to an earlier self, and those I agreed with but no longer do). Plunging 
into a tumult of memory, documents, interviews, I have tried to skirt the pitfalls of nostalgia 
and cheap second-guessing. 

I have left traces of my debates with myself, for some of the outstanding questions of the 
Sixties do not settle themselves, if they can be settled at all, and I think there may be some 
value in the frictions I have felt, as actor, recorder, and analyst. The work of thinking out a 
position can be more valuable than the position itself— especially in a time when public 
matters are reduced to slogans, taken in capsules. It is a cliche that radical politics and 
culture suffer from excesses of certainty. (So, too, those of right and center.) True enough, 
polarization chews up doubt. But especially at the start, beneath the Sixties' dramatic 
displays of iron certainty, invisible from the outside, there were questions, endless 
questions, running debates that took their point from the divine premise that everything 
was possible and therefore it was important to think, because ideas have consequences. 
Unraveling, rethinking, refusing to take for granted, thinking without limits— that calling was 
some of what I loved most in the spirit of the Sixties. 

^ Harvard Stadium: New York Times, April 26, 1959, p. 3. 


paid members: Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 663. 

•^ "fought in tine revolution": Martin Buber, Pointing the Way, trans. Maurice Friedman 
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), p. 120. 


Part One: Affluence And Undertow 

The radical of the thirties came out of a system that had stopped and the 
Important job was to organize new production relations which would start it 
up again. The sixties radical opened his eyes to a system pouring its junk 
over everybody, or nearly everybody, and the problem was to stop just that, 
to escape being overwhelmed by a mindless, goalless flood which marooned 
each individual on his little island of commodities. 

—Arthur Miller^ 

^ Arthur Miller: Introduction to Ken Kesey, Kesey's Garage Sale (New York: Viking, 1973), p. 



1. Cornucopia And Its Discontents 

The Wide Open Spaces Of Affluence 

Groping for a sense of the Zeitgeist inas been an intellectual stock-in-trade since the ancient 
Greek thinkers, who discovered they were living in history. If they could name the 
immediate past, they could locate themselves in relation to it; they could perhaps 
comprehend and certainly criticize it. Kings, naturally, have always wanted to know where 
they stood in the winds of their time, and so, of course, have the opponents of kings, as 
well as those who simply wanted to make do in the crevices of power. Today, the habit of 
naming the Zeitgeist has grown widespread, even frantic. As a convenience sport, it is most 
frequently practiced by journalists and publicists with deadlines to meet and headlines to 
write; there is profit in getting the right handle on the moment and making it marketable. 
Zeitgeist-mongering is the stuff of cocktail party chat for an age in which capsule 
stereotypes masquerading as ideas help us master the flood of incoming information. But 
the Zeitgeist is an elusive wind, and the worst temptation is to oversimplify. There are many 
cross-breezes, eddies, local variations, rippling shifts of direction; even Sturm und Drang 
blows in fits and starts. The Zeitgeist mutters, like the oracle of Delphi, and like the oracle it 
requires interpreters. What the Zeitgeist mutters depends in good part on what questions it 
is asked. 

"The Fifties" were multiple, of course, according to whether you lived on Manhattan Island 
or in Manhattan, Kansas, in Southern California or North Carolina; different too depending 
on whether you were eight or eighteen or fifty-eight, female or male, black or white, Irish 
Catholic or Protestant or Jewish, an electrical worker or a salesman of appliances or a 
housewife with an all-electric kitchen or the president of General Electric; and this is not yet 
to speak of differences in family style and personality. But one thing we know is that the 
presumably placid, complacent Fifties were succeeded by the unsettling Sixties. The Fifties 
were, in a sense, rewritten by the Sixties, as the Sixties have been rewritten by the 

I am going to look at the Fifties, then, as a seedbed as well as a cemetery. The surprises of 
the Sixties were planted there. I want to look closely at the culture and institutions of the 
Fifties, look at how the Fifties presented themselves to the young in general, and in 
particular to that minority who were about to claim the right, if not the capacity, to remake 
history: those of us who were born during or just after World War II; who were roughly 
eight to fourteen years old in 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adiai Stevenson for 
the second time and "Heartbreak Hotel" was a smash hit; who were thus twelve to eighteen 
in I960, when the sit-ins began and John Kennedy was elected President over Richard 
Nixon; who were then seventeen to twenty-three in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson began the 
systematic bombing of North Vietnam. I offer something of a composite of those who were 
middle- or upper-middle class in origin and poised to go to college in the late Fifties and 
early Sixties; and in particular those who spawned the civil rights and antiwar movements 
and the New Left within them, as well as the hippies and other cultural movers and shakers 
of the Sixties. How did we understand the world and ourselves in it? How did the spirit and 
structures of that decade shape our sensibilities? How, from closure, did openings come? 

A first approximation: this generation was formed in the jaws of an extreme and wrenching 
tension between the assumption of affluence and its opposite, a terror of loss, destruction, 
and failure.^ 


"Affluence": so much a word of the Fifties, with its cognate connotations of flow, flux, 
fullness. The word had already achieved currency by the time John Kenneth Galbraith 
published the bestselling The Affluent Society in 1958; it was far more American than "rich," 
harnessed as that brutal syllable is to its natural counterpart, "poor," thus bringing 
inequality to mind. "Affluence" sounds general, and in the Fifties it was assumed to be a 
national condition, not just a personal standing. Indeed, affluence was an irresistible 
economic and psychological fact in a society that had long since made material production 
and acquisition its central activities. The boom of 1945 to 1973, occasionally interrupted by 
recessions only to roll on seemingly undiminished, was the longest in American history. 
Starting late in war-blasted Western Europe and Japan, the boom rolled, however unevenly, 
through the rest of the industrialized world. But America was the richest, richer than any 
other country or bloc had ever been. 

By 1945, the United States found itself an economic lord set far above the destroyed 
powers, its once and future competitors among both Allies and Axis powers. Inflation was 
negligible, so the increase in available dollars was actually buying more goods. Natural 
resources seemed plentiful, their supplies stable; only small think-tanks and obscure writers 
worried about whether they might ever prove exhaustible. And if, as some critics charged, 
the distribution of income had not materially changed since the Thirties, the fact remained 
that all segments of the population were improving their positions— not necessarily in 
relation to one another, but in relation to their pasts and those of their families. And it was 
the relation to the past that struck most people as the salient comparison. The Depression 
was over. And so were the deprivations of World War II, which also brought relative 
blessings: While European and Japanese factories were being pulverized, new American 
factories were being built and old ones were back at work, shrinking unemployment to 
relatively negligible proportions. Once the war was over, consumer demand was a dynamo. 
Science was mobilized by industry, and capital was channeled by government as never 
before. The boom was on, and the cornucopia seemed all the more impressive because the 
miseries of Depression and war were near enough to suffuse the present with a sense of 

The flush of prosperity and the thrill of victory also translated into a baby boom.^ The 
number of births jumped by 19 percent from 1945 to 1946, then another 12 percent the 
next year, and after settling down for three years boomed again and continued to boom into 
the early Sixties. More babies were born in 1948-53 than in the previous thirty years. The 
first boom could be understood as a makeup for wartime deprivations, but then why did it 
resume and, astonishingly, go on? As Landon Y Jones has pointed out, the sustained boom 
took place only in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, countries that 
were left unscathed by the war, blessed with land, robust with confidence, feverish with 
what Lord Keynes once called "relentless consumption." Couples were marrying earlier, 
starting their children earlier, and having more of them. The baby boom was widely touted 
as a tribute to the national glory. Whatever the exact explanation, babies were the measure 
and the extension of the economic boom; they were good for its markers; they were its 
pride; in some ways they were its point. 


So affluence was not just an economic fact but a demographic one, and tine demograpinic 
bulge matched the affluent state of mind. The idea of America had long been shaped by the 
promise of opportunity in a land of plenty, but at long last the dream seemed to be coming 
true.'' The world seemed newly spacious, full of possibilities. Americans were acquiring 
consumer goods at an unprecedented pace; indeed, with the housing boom, and the great 
treks from the country to the city, from the city to the suburbs, from the South to the 
North, millions of Americans were acquiring whole new spaces to live in. The cities were 
being "renewed," "redeveloped," their faces lifted, while the upbeat language of "renewal" 
concealed the injuries done to millions who were unwillingly shunted away from the valuable 
parcels of real estate they had called home; but there was presumably nothing to worry 
about, for wasn't progress (as General Electric advertised) our most important product, and 
didn't the language of affluence imply that there was room for all in the great gushing 

Most of the newly affluent were happy to forget, and the media had little interest in 
reminding them, that even with easy credit and higher incomes and the growing number of 
white-collar jobs, not everyone could afford a new house, a new car, TV set, high fidelity 
sound, or the rest of the appurtenances of the American good life. The evident fact 
remained: in the course of the Fifties, television, high fidelity, jet travel, and multiple cars 
became middle-class staples. Galbraith charged that private affluence was crowding out 
public goods, causing and obscuring the impoverishment of the public sector. If you looked 
at American schools, if you contrasted the condition of trains and subways with the 
condition of suburban houses and cars, you could see that public services were being 
starved, that public funds were going to fuel the boom in private spaces and private goods. 
For after 1945, the government had been enlisted in behalf of private comfort and 
convenience for the vast reaches of the middle classes. But who looked? 

The Puritan Utopia of a "city upon a hill" found its strange completion in the flatlands of the 
American suburb. For growing numbers, daily life was delivered from the cramp of the city, 
lifted out to the half-wide, half-open spaces, where the long-sought and long-feared 
American wilderness could be trimmed back and made habitable. The prairie became the 
lawn; the ranch, the ranch house; the saloon, the Formica bar. The postwar American 
families wanted space for stretching out, space for their children (and from them), space 
from their parents and in-laws; and they wanted their private domains loaded with the 
latest appliances: partly for the convenience, partly to confirm that they were making a 
fresh start, freed from Depression cramp. In 1945, a mere 19 percent of the people polled 
by The Saturday Evening Post said they were willing to live in an apartment or a "used 
house. ""^ 


Fueled by federal financing, by low interest rates and mortgage guarantees for veterans, 
builders constructed vast suburban developments. Between 1946 and 1958, outside the 
farms, 85 percent of all new housing was built beyond the central cities. And when the vets 
and newlyweds beheld the grass and trees and the panoply of their private properties, they 
must have felt at least for a moment that the American dream had come true, that in 
America even the butchery of the war could have a happy ending. With the kitchen spilling 
directly into the dining room, the glass doors opening from the living room into the outdoor 
barbecue and play area, the picture window bringing the lawn right up to the wall-to-wall 
carpet, the ideal suburban home was an intertwining of nature and civilization; it was as if 
the suburban family had realized Karl Marx's vision of a blending of countryside and city. 
Magazines advertised these houses, television featured them, relatives admired and envied 
them, and the suburbanites reveled in the space— the "spaciousness"— of their new 
quarters, jumping at the chance to stuff them with washers and dryers, electric kitchens 
and garage openers and do-it-yourself workshops. Spread out laterally, like the lords of tiny 
manors, they enlarged their domains and cushioned their days with television, a kind of 
electronic upholstery. Apparently the whole world was at the fingertips of the American 

And the family was the raison d'etre of affluence, its point and its locale. The ostensible 
beneficiaries of all the plenitude were the most dependent members of the family unit: 
Mom, who would spend the bulk other life supervising her conveniences, and the kids, who 
would grow up knowing how good the things of life could be. Dad's wage underwrote the 
whole family's division of labor and pleasures; after the jarring wartime years, when vast 
numbers of women were mobilized into jobs, women were now expected— and expected 
themselves— to secure the home front. This delicate bargain was secured by an unwritten 
contract, a division of labor, that was trumpeted through all the linkage networks of the 
modern mass media. Against the centrifugal pressures inherent in Mom and Dad's division 
of labor, the nuclear family was bound together through the cementing idea of 

The suburb .was of course inconceivable without quick, reliable transportation to work, and 
the instrument of choice, the incarnation of power, comfort, and freedom all at once, was 
the automobile. This was the time of the automatic transmission, of power steering, power 
brakes, and more powerful engines. The long stabbing fins, easily mocked, were only the 
extreme and outward signs that the car, like a yacht, was meant for cruising. The 
conspicuous adornment of chrome was a sign that America had metal to waste. And what 
could be more deluxe than to bring the car under one's own roof, in the two-car garage? 
Shopping and leisure were retailored for an age of easy access. The shopping center 
represented the possibility of consumption without limits, the logical extension of the 
department store. The drive-in theater, a bonus of auto-convenience, created a social space 
perfectly adapted for the newly mobile. 


Improved roads also heightened the sense of freedom— even as the breadwinner followed 
the same route day after day. Even city dwellers could slip away to the countryside for 
weekends and summer vacations. The expressways were especially efficient conduits. And 
what the local expressway made possible every day, the interstate highway made possible 
on a national scale. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 authorized forty-one thousand 
miles of interstate roads, great sleek limited-access superhighways where nature was 
trimmed back for smooth passage, and Americans could begin to feel that the whole of their 
vast country was coming within reach. The open road had long been a symbol of American 
freedom from overcivilization; it meant adventure and sex and joyrides before it meant 
commuting. For now, few worried aloud about the congestion, the carnage and pollution 
which the private automobile brought with it, or about its consequences for the cities, or 
about the future of America's dependence on petroleum. The car was still the incarnation of 
personal power, freedom, leisure, sex, access, efficiency, ease, comfort, and convenience all 
wrapped in a single machine; both a symbol and a symptom of the American search for 
ways to liberate the self from social restraints. It was personal power in a private 
compartment tooling its way toward the horizon. 

Middle-class Americans were becoming cultural omnivores, traveling abroad in growing 
numbers, visiting national parks and historical sites, going to theaters, museums, and 
concerts as never before. Cultural ambitions ratcheted upward; New York became the world 
center of the arts. Growing numbers of middle-class consumers felt it their responsibility to 
be au courant. They were accumulating coffee-table books, subscribing to Saturday Review 
and the Book-of-the-Month Club, buying records, briefing themselves about art. The 
wealthier were buying paintings, propelling Abstract Expressionists to stardom and 
unanticipated wealth; the less wealthy bought prints. Amateurs tried their hands at acting 
and choral singing, or tinkered with crafts at home. Painting by the numbers was one fad 
that all by itself contained the contradictory aspirations of the middle-class Fifties: creativity 
and security at the same time. Movie attendance shrank, largely because of competition 
from television, but campuses and museums spawned film (not just movie) societies, and 
by the late Fifties, amid the overall decline, Americans were for the first time getting to see 
a good number of foreign films: the British comedies starring Alee Guinness and Peter 
Sellers; Brigitte Bardot; then, in the cosmopolitan centers and university towns, Bergman, 
Fellini, the French New Wave, even the Russians. 

For the multitudes who could afford the ticket, then, the payoff for hard work and a 
willingness to accept authority promised to be a generous share in the national plenitude. 
Even when the goods were not at hand, the ads cataloged a beckoning future. For decades, 
advertising had barraged Americans with images of a world without horizons, but now, in 
television, it had the most powerful and— in Madison Avenue's language— most "penetrating" 
conduit ever devised. In the early Fifties, when the tube was a new toy, people lined up in 
the streets to stare at the new models in store windows. Television rewarded, tantalized, 
cozened, flattered; it congratulated Americans for being so sensible or fortunate as to live in 
a land where television was available. For most viewers, television's world, however 
sanitized and upbeat, hovered close enough to the reality of their lives and their immediate 
aspirations to render the image of abundance plausible. No longer did you have to be a 
criminal poseur to believe, with Jay Gatsby, "in the green light, the orgiastic future that year 
by year recedes before us." Tomorrow we could all "run faster, stretch out our arms 
farther ... ." And so, when the majority of Americans called themselves middle class, they 
meant at the least that they were on their way. 


By way of a summary of the economic underpinnings, tinen : Winere tine parental generation 
was scourged by memories of tine Depression, tine ciniidren of tinis middle class in the late 
Forties and Fifties were raised to take affluence for granted. The breadwinners were acutely 
aware of how hard they had worked to afford the picture window, the lawn, the car, the 
Lionel trains; and since they could, most of them, remember a time when the sweat of their 
brow availed them little, they were flooded with relief and gratitude, and expected their 
children to feel the same. Many were the parents who policed their rambunctious children 
with when-I-was-your-age tales of the Depression. Here was generational cleavage in the 

And yet children also live out potentials that lie dormant in their parents; the discontinuities 
can be overdrawn. For all their comforts, the middle-class parents were afflicted by 
"insecurity," to use another of the decade's code words. One was not supposed to feel 
"insecure." It was a mark of "maladjustment." Yet no matter how much consumer debt they 
piled up to feed their hunger for consumption, no matter how eagerly they accumulated 
space and goods to convince themselves that their self-sacrificial struggles had been 
worthwhile (and to placate the Puritan's nameless guilts), they were not always convinced 
that their well-upholstered consumer paradise was here to stay. Nor was it always self- 
evident that the price was worth paying. Many are the signs that Americans were ill at ease 
in Eden, and although they lay scattered throughout the culture, susceptible to rival 
interpretations, their cumulative weight is impressive. Strikingly, for example, Americans 
spent a growing portion of their incomes on life insurance.^ While disposable family income 
rose by a considerable 49 percent between 1950 and I960, sales of individual life insurance 
policies rose by more than 200 percent in dollar value; and this did not even include the 
increase in employee-benefit plans. It is also worthy of note that the number of 
psychiatrists multiplied almost sixfold between 1940 and 1964; and presumably, although 
statistics are hard to come by, the number of patients who thought they needed their heads 
examined mushroomed accordingly. ^The temptation grew to define "maladjustment" as a 
medical problem susceptible to personal "cure." 

The middle class's choice of everyday reading matter also tells us something of its 
preoccupations. Bestsellers, of course, do not directly transcribe popular moods, but their 
readers have to find the shifts palatable, recognize new styles of heroism as plausible. 
Between 1945 and the early 1950s, the typical bestseller hero was a go-getting individual 
who goes after what he wants, straightforwardly, and gets it.^ But starting with Sloan 
Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar (both 
1955), among other bestsellers, success costs. A hard-driving man discovers conflicts 
between work and family commitments. Heroes no longer conquer, but try to adapt and 
balance. Success is no longer a good that justifies itself; now it has to be justified as an 
instrument of self-fulfillment. 


Likewise, popular social criticism tells us a good deal about widespread middle-class 
apprehension. True, there was a curious rift dividing the writers of social analysis. Some 
prominent intellectuals, many of them ex-radicals, were busily settling their accounts with 
the postwar order. These celebrants of affluence, however uneasy, presumed that America 
was melting down to a single sea of national satisfaction. Their intellectual style was to 
celebrate American unity, "the American way of life"— singular, not plural. The dangers 
came from resentful arrivistes, authoritarian workers, brutish anti-intellectuals— ingrates, in 
short. The melting pot was invoked sentimentally, as an ideal, without irony: differences in 
America were meant to be melted down. America was "exceptional," exempt from European 
passions and dangers, as it had been spared not only fascism but the temptations of 
socialism and communism; there was only one "American way of life." Daniel Bell* and 
Seymour Martin^ Lipset, socialists turned sociologists, wrote that we had attained that 
blessed state in which ideology was defunct, exhausted; social problems were now discrete, 
isolated, manageable by clear-headed professionals. And as important organs of intellectual 
opinion closed ranks, officialdom also closed doors. "Those who do not believe in the 
ideology of the United States," declared the attorney general of the United States, Tom 
Clark, in 1948, "shall not be allowed to stay in the United States. "^° But when McCarthyism 
overreached, going after not just defenseless Communists and helpless innocents but the 
U.S. Army itself, it was beaten back, replaced by a more popular, plausible, and stable 
consensus that these intellectuals helped formulate: that America was the very model of the 
best possible society; that economic growth would make opportunity universal; that 
domestic differences could be bargained out; that Communism could be contained by a 
combination of military might and free enterprise. 


The consensus intellectuals had their influence; they were much cited in popular journals, 
much honored in their professions. At least one of their journals was financed, as it turned 
out, by the Central Intelligence Agency." But later analysts, impressed by the chasm 
between the Fifties and the Sixties, may have set too high an estimate on their impact; they 
may have left more of a mark on their disciplines than on the public at large. At least they 
were not unopposed. In the early Sixties, the New Left also built up its oppositional identity, 
its hard-and-fast generational definition, by decrying this "dominant ideology." But in the 
process we overlooked our debts to the dissonant voices of the Fifties. What has to be 
remembered is that Bell and Lipset were not the authors of the bestselling Fifties polemics; 
and some of the popular social critics told a different tale indeed. ^^ For all their 
overemphasis on social equilibrium, the bestselling social critics agreed that the heroic 
individual was paying a steep price— in autonomy and meaning— for the security and 
comfort he was reaping from the managed, bureaucratically organized society. David 
Riesman's The Lonely Crowd (WO; paperback edition, 1953) delivered an elegy for the 
"inner-directed" Protestant soul and deplored the degradation of work, arguing that the new 
"outer-directed" America had forfeited the liberating potentials of leisure time for shallow 
conformity, and that even "peer groups," which buffered individuals against the citadels of 
power, could prove suffocating. C. Wright Mills s White Collar {1951) lamented the spread of 
the sales mentality and the ebbing of the independent middle class. William H. Whyte's The 
Organization Man (1956) deplored the displacement of the entrepreneurial ethos by smooth, 
manipulative adjustment. More radically, Mills's The Power Elite (1956) made the argument 
that history was in the hands of irresponsible corporate, political, and military circles. But 
even the less radical— usually ex-radical— (critics agreed that authentic community and 
tradition were being flattened by a "mass society." Later in the Fifties, muckrakers scraped 
at the surface of the consumer society: Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders (1957), 
John Keats in The Crack in the Picture Window (1957) and The Insolent Chariots (1958), 
while John Kenneth Galbraith, of course, struck at the giddiness of The Affluent Society. 
"Conformity" became something else to feel anxious about, whether in books like Robert 
Lindner's Must You Conform? (1956) or New Vor/cer cartoons. The point is that some critical 
mass of readers wanted to be warned. And these books were lying on the coffee tables of 
many a curious adolescent. 

In the years to come, many words would be spilled about the "generation gap," many of 
them in hysteria and bravado on each side. In retrospect, all the claims seem overblown— 
and yet, what about the fierce sense of difference? The young insisted that their life 
situation was unprecedented (and therefore they had no one to follow); the older, that they 
did understand, so well, and with so many years' advantage, that they knew better (and 
therefore should be followed). As many studies revealed, student radicals of the New Left 
shared many more sentiments and values with their parents than with the rest of American 
society. Children of the relatively democratic families of the educated middle class, they 
wanted to live out the commitments to justice, peace, equality, and personal freedom which 
their parents professed. But about the meaning of affluence there was a divide of 
experience which could never be erased. Parents could never quite convey how they were 
haunted by the Depression and relieved by the arrival of affluence; the young could never 
quite convey how tired they were of being reminded how bad things had once been, and 
therefore how graced and grateful they should feel to live normally in a normal America. 


The opportunities were real, inowever, and tine revolts of tine following decade would have 
been unimaginable without them. For the middle-class children who came of age in those 
years, there was an approved track for running faster and stretching farther: college and 
university training. Credentials were tickets— indeed, the only sure tickets— to the affluent 
society. The service sector of the economy was growing, the manufacturing sector 
shrinking. More employees than ever before were handling people and paper, not soil, ore, 
lumber, and steel. And if most of the white-collar workers— even most of the professionals- 
were performing repetitive labors in large organizations at less than spectacular wages, it 
still wasn't hard for them to feel, to know, that they were doing better than their parents 
did. They had reason to think that, with higher education, their children could move up 
higher still, perhaps to become secure, self-employed professionals like doctors and 
lawyers, even though the self-employed middle class was shrinking while the bureaucratized 
sector boomed. In this respect, the secretaries and clerks and low-level bureaucrats who 
made up the bulk of the white-collar sector shared the aspirations of the professionals and 
managers who made up the cream of it. 

Even before the closing of the frontier, the American middle class had believed that 
education marked the route upward to membership in the republic of plenty. By the late 
Fifties, the demand from below for higher education was more than matched by a demand 
from above. The economic explosion detonated an educational one. During World War II, 
big science at the service of big government had begun to demonstrate what it could do for 
warfare: the Manhattan Project's atomic bomb was the supreme product of this partnership. 
And the Cold War extended the partnership into peacetime, in the form of what radicals 
called "the permanent war economy. "^^ Big industry systematically enlisted science both to 
organize itself and to develop and market the peacetime cornucopia of consumer goods. The 
centers of power wanted better-trained personnel and government-subsidized knowledge. 
To harness knowledge to power, no institution was more important than the university. In 
the permanent ideological as well as military mobilization which the Cold War and high- 
consumption economy promised, managerial styles would have to be taught; specific 
techniques for the manipulation of the physical world would have to be instilled; the 
American celebration would have to be refined and rendered plausible. But military 
arguments did the most to promote the cause of higher education. Especially after the 
Russians shattered American pride by getting into the heavens first with their Sputnik in 
1957, public funds poured into the universities. "Intellect has ... become an instrument of 
national purpose, a component part of the "military-industrial complex,'" wrote Clark Kerr.^"* 
Total spending on public institutions of higher education rose from $742.1 million in 1945 to 
$6.9 billion in 1965.^^ 

The universities boomed even faster than the college-age population. The result was that by 
1960 the United States was the first society in the history of the world with more college 
students than farmers. (By 1969 the number of students had nearly doubled, to three times 
the number of farmers.)" The number of degrees granted, undergraduate and graduate 
combined, doubled between 1956 and 1967.^^ The proportion enrolled in public institutions 
rose especially fast. The elite universities still trained gentlemen, but increasingly the 
gentlemen were being trained as managers and professors, not bankers, diplomats, and 
coupon clippers with a taste for higher things. In the postwar meritocratic mood, there was 
more room— though still not as much as sheer academic merit would have commanded— for 
high school graduates like me whose background was not particularly gentlemanly. Science 
was our faith: Golly gee, Mr. Wizard. Knowledge solved problems; it worked. Even the 
pandemic fear of polio had a happy ending when Dr. Jonas Salk developed his vaccine in 
1954; what miracles could not be wrought by scientific knowledge? (Nor was it lost on my 
family and friends that Dr. Salk, as well as Einstein and many atomic scientists, were Jews 
like us.) 


So it was fully within the spirit of the moment when Alexander Taffel, the principal of the 
Bronx High School of Science, wrote in my class yearbook: 

About a century ago, the great editor, Horace Greeley, pointed the way of 
opportunity to the youth of his day in the words, "Go west, young man!" 
Today, there are no more undeveloped western territories but there is a new 
and limitless "west" of opportunity. Its trails lead through the schools, 
colleges and university to the peaks of higher learning. Never in history has 
there been so promising an opportunity for the young men and women who 
can make the ascent. 

As you of the class of 1959 go on to higher education, you are in full accord 
with the rimes. The road you are taking is not an easy one but you will find it 
interesting and rewarding. For those who pursue it with devotion and 
sincerity, the signposts everywhere read, "Opportunity Unlimited!" 

^ assumption of affluence: Edward Shils ("Dreams of Plenitude, Nightmares of Scarcity," in 
Seymour M. Lipset and Philip G. Altbach, eds.. Students in Revolt [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 
1969]) has pointed to the role of affluence in forming the consciousness of the student 
movement, stressing the relation between affluence and authority. 

^ baby boom: Landon Y. Jones, Great Expectations: America and tlie Baby Boom Generation 
(New York: Ballantine, 1981), pp. 20-23, 26-27, 396. 

•^ land of plenty: David Potter, People of Plenty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954). 

'^ American suburb: My discussion is indebted to Gwendolyn Wright, Building the Interstate 
Roads: Godfrey Hodgson, >Amer/ca in Our Time (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976), p. 51. 

^ life insurance: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1976 
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976), p. 499, tables 811-12. 

^ number of psychiatrists: Robert Castel, Francoise Castel, and Anna Lowell, The Psychiatric 
Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 60. 

^ typical bestseller hero: Elizabeth Long, The American Dream and the Popular Novel 
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), pp. 63, 82, 91. 

® Daniel Bell: The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties 
(Glencoe, III.: Free Press, I960). 

^ Seymour Martin Lipset: Political Man (Garden City, N.Y. : Anchor, 1963). See also Pells, 
Liberal Mind, pp. 131-33, 138. 

^° "Those who do not believe": In David Caute, The Great Fear {New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1978), p. 15. 

" Central Intelligence Agency: The journal financed by the CIA was Encounter. New York 
Times, April 27, 1966; Christopher Lasch, "The Cultural Cold War," in The Agony of the 
American Left (New York: Vintage, 1969), pp. 98-110. 

^^ popular social critics: Long, American Dream, pp. 150—64. 

^^ "permanent war economy": Walter J. Oakes, "Toward a Permanent War Economy?" 
Politics 1 (February 1944), pp. 11—17. 

^"^ "Intellect": Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 


^^ Total spending: Cyril Levitt, Children of Privilege: Student Revolt in the Sixties (Toronto: 
University of Toronto Press, 1984), p. 31. 

^^ number of students: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 
1976, pp. 115, 375; Milton Viorst, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s (New York: 
Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 164. 

" number of degrees: Levitt, Children of Privilege, p. 31. 


Yet the affluent Fifties were, as I. F. Stone wrote, haunted. Conformity was supposed to buy 
contentment, cornucopia promised both private and public Utopia, but satisfaction kept 
slipping out of reach. Opportunity meant competition; even the middle class had to wonder 
whether the great meritocratic race was really wide open. Plenitude beckoned, but there 
was no finish line, no place to rest and assure oneself, once and for all, "I've made it." And 
there were fears that could barely be kept at bay. The affluent society was awash with fear 
of the uncontrollable. The personal jitters matched the country's obsession with "national 
security." Republicans and Democrats disputed whether the primary agent of insecurity was 
internal or external Communism, but virtually the whole society agreed that the Soviet state 
posed a serious threat to peace and the American way of life. The daily newspaper, the TV 
news. Time and Life and Reader's Digest, and at school the Weekly Reader, were all full of 
thick red arrows and black tides swooping and oozing across the West. The Bomb, which felt 
like a shield in 1945, turned into a menace again in 1949, when the Russians exploded their 
own. The supporters of Senator Joseph McCarthy feared the Communist Party of the United 
States of America. Liberal and left-wing enclaves feared McCarthyism. Conservatives feared 
social dissolution, immorality, rock 'n' roll, even fluoridation. Intellectuals feared their own 
past, and the mass mind. 

The middle class furnished its islands of affluence, but around it the waters kept rising. 
Popular culture and politics ran rife with foreboding. While the actual rate of juvenile 
delinquency probably declined in comparison with that of a half-century earlier, adults 
panicked.^ Juvenile delinquents haunted the imaginations if not the streets of the middle 
class; even if the barbarians could be kept away from the nation's gates, they might sneak 
into the house through the kids' bedrooms. Movies and comic books bent the prevailing 
insecurity into concrete fears of alien invaders who, descending from outer space or rising 
from the black lagoon, threatened the land, the lives, even the souls of harried America. 
Blobs, things, creatures, body-snatchers, and all manner of other monsters crept into the 
sacrosanct household, infiltrated the bodies and minds of loved ones, stole their 
personalities, left them as standardized, emotionless hulks who could be read as Communist 
or conformist or just plain alien, depending on the terms of one's ideological paranoia. 


There may not have been a single master fear, but to many in my generation, especially the 
incipient New Left, the grimmest and least acknowledged underside of affluence was the 
Bomb. Everything might be possible? So might annihilation. Whatever the national pride in 
the blasts that pulverized Bikini and Eniwetok atolls, whatever the Atomic Energy 
Commission's bland assurances, the Bomb actually disrupted our daily lives. We grew up 
taking cover in school drills— the first American generation compelled from infancy to fear 
not only war but the end of days. Every so often, out of the blue, a teacher would pause in 
the middle of class and call out, "Take cover!" We knew, then, to scramble under our 
miniature desks and to stay there, cramped, heads folded under our arms, until the teacher 
called out, "All clear!" Sometimes the whole school was taken out into the halls, away from 
the windows, and instructed to crouch down, heads to the walls, our eyes scrunched closed, 
until further notice. Sometimes air raid sirens went off out in the wider world, and whole 
cities were told to stay indoors. Who knew what to believe? Under the desks and crouched 
in the hallways, terrors were ignited, existentialists were made. Whether or not we believed 
that hiding under a school desk or in a hallway was really going to protect us from the furies 
of an atomic blast, we could never quite take for granted that the world we had been born 
into was destined to endure. 

The Bomb also drew a knife-edge line between the generations. Our parents remembered 
World War II as The War, "The Good War," which, whatever its horrors, had drawn the 
country together and launched America upon its unprecedented prosperity. And if the 
memory of horrors lingered into peacetime, they associated the Bomb not so much with war 
as with the end of The War, deliverance for American boys spared the need to storm the 
beaches of Japan; and then, by the standard Cold War arguments, with the keeping of the 
postwar peace. The memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was either repressed or 
transfigured, forged into a shield against the hypothetically world-conquering Soviet 
aggressors. In government propaganda, the Bomb was either too terrible to be used or not 
so terrible that it couldn't be weathered. General-turned-President Eisenhower, the first 
professional military man to hold the office in three-quarters of a century, spoke soothingly 
of "Atoms for Peace," a slogan cheerfully used as an official postmark. If the Cold War was 
nerve-racking, the Bomb could tranquilize. 

What was to become the New Left generation (at first only a small minority of the whole 
generation, of course) had a different angle of vision. For us, the future was necessarily 
more salient than the past. The Bomb threatened that future, and therefore undermined the 
ground on which affluence was built. Rather than feel grateful for the Bomb, we felt 
menaced. The Bomb was the shadow hanging over all human endeavor. It threatened all 
the prizes. It might, if one thought about it radically, undermine the rationale of the nation- 
state. It might also throw the traditional religious and ethical justifications of existence into 
disarray, if riot disrepute. The Bomb that exploded in Hiroshima gave the lie to official 
proclamations that the ultimate weapon was too terrible to be used. It had been used. And 
worse was being prepared. We did not even know that genial Ike thought of the Bomb as a 
weapon like any other, one that might actually be used, one that, indeed, he threatened to 
drop in Korea and offered to the French in Indochina.^ 

But this is one of those moments when I do not know exactly how many of "us" I am 
speaking about. There are no scientific-sounding numbers to wield. Much of the nuclear 
terror probably hovered just beneath the threshold of awareness. Several observers have 
reported what my own impressions and interviews confirm: children who grew up in the 
Fifties often dreamed, vividly, terrifyingly, about nuclear war.^ 


This cannot have been simply because of the presence of the Bomb: there were far more 
missiles in the Seventies, when college students were not dreaming the same dreams. To 
some extent it must have been the stress of amply reported East-West confrontations. As 
the air raid drills confirmed, the Bomb was not just a shadow falling on some distant 
horizon. Bombs were actually going off. H-bomb tests obliterated atolls in the South Pacific; 
A-bombs regularly scorched the Nevada desert. President Eisenhower was benignly 
reassuring, except that East-West relations failed to improve— culminating in the collapse of 
the summit conference of I960, when the Russians brought down Francis Gary Powers's U-2 
spy plane and Ike was caught in a lie. Such reassurances did not altogether reassure. 

Popular culture, that ever-quivering barometer, also registered some of the anxieties that 
Washington sought to dissolve with official elixirs. In many science fiction films of the 
Fifties, the Bomb was conspicuously the off-screen nemesis."^ Aliens sometimes recognized 
the atomic peril before the stupid humans did; they came to help us, and if we didn't get 
the point (nations of the world, unite), so much the worse for us. The Day the Earth Stood 
Still ^1951) portrayed an otherworldly agent sent to warn earthlings that they had better 
not loose their military destructiveness into the heavens; paranoid American soldiers 
panicked and shot him. In Them! (1954), as in low-budget Japanese releases, it was atomic 
testing that created the bug-eyed monsters in the first place. On the Beach, about the 
aftermath of thermonuclear war, was a bestseller in 1957; the star-studded movie of 1959, 
the first to show a bomb-blasted planet more or less "realistically," suggested (in a speech 
by Fred Astaire) that the prewar world had been to blame for not taking the danger 
seriously enough. 

The same Bronx High School of Science yearbook which contained the principal's paean to 
opportunity included these words, not from ban-the-bomb activists (none of those were 
visible in the class of '59) but from the student editors: 

In today's atomic age ... the flames of war would write finis not only to our 
civilization, but to our very existence. Mankind may find itself unable to rise 
again should it be consumed in a nuclear pyre of its own making. In years to 
come, members of this class will bear an ever-increasing responsibility for the 
preservation of the heritage given us. Those of us who will become scientists 
must make certain that the Vanguards and Sputniks of the future herald the 
coming of an era of light and not an epoch of never-ending darkness.^ 


The Bomb was not the only offstage presence to shake what C. Wright Mills called the 
American Celebration. For Jewish adolescents in particular, the Nazis were not so long 
defeated, and Hitler was the most compelling of all bogeymen. "Camp" did not mean only a 
place to go for the summer. Protective parents were reluctant to remind us, but rumors and 
images and random facts did seep into our consciousness. Photos of camp survivors, not yet 
stereotyped, floated through popular culture like stray bones, and lodged, once in a while, 
in our collective throat. One of my grandmother's brothers had stayed behind in Lithuania 
when she, three sisters, and another brother came to America, for example, and I was 
vaguely aware that all but one member of his family had been murdered; I remember my 
excitement when we learned, in the early Fifties, that one of her nephews had turned up, 
having apparently run off to join the Red Army near Vilna as the Nazi troops approached. 
The Holocaust had not yet acquired that name, at least in my hearing; the catastrophe was 
simply a mangled piece of history, incomprehensibly real, unique to the twentieth century: 
our century. Meredith Tax, who grew up in the Milwaukee of the Fifties, has written : "Every 
night I looked under the bed for men from Mars, witches, and Nazis. My little brother slept 
with a German Luger, war booty of my father's, unloaded but with magic potency."^ The 
heavily German-American Milwaukee had an active Nazi Bund during the war, as she points 
out, and so the main downtown street was full of "war memorabilia" stores displaying 
swastikas. But even in New York my father once or twice referred darkly to Yorkville, the 
German section of Manhattan, as if once, in prehistory, something terrible— I was not to 
know what— had happened there. 

We were survivors, in short, or our friends were, without haying suffered in the flesh, 
thanks to our (or our friends') grandparents for having journeyed halfway around the world 
to Ellis Island. But our luck was tainted, confused. For some parents, the relief they felt was 
another form and measure of America's bounty, the gift of affluence. But questions nagged: 
Why should we have been so lucky? How close was the close call? Again a spiritual gulf 
opened between the generations, a divide which led us in later years to our different ways 
of reliving World War II. Our parents had lived through these horrors. Later, childishly 
thinking them omnipotent, we wanted to know: How could they have let this happen? How 
could they not have known? Some felt tremors of guilt, perhaps just beneath the threshold, 
that they had let the slaughter take place without quite knowing, without making a point of 
knowing, without doing much, or anything, or in any case enough— but what would have 
been enough?— to help their European cousins, to press the sainted FDR to bomb the tracks 
to Auschwitz or open the immigration gates. One might even surmise that some of their 
guilt was later fought out over Vietnam, that the Jewish Cold Warriors of the Fifties and 
early Sixties were dead set on stopping Communism precisely because they had failed to 
stop the Nazis— whereas to me and people I knew, it was American bombs which were the 
closest thing to an immoral equivalent of Auschwitz in our lifetimes.^ When the time came, 
we jumped at the chance to purge ourselves of the nearest thing to the original trauma. And 
then atrocities committed by innocent America rang the old alarms— even if the parallels 
were drawn too easily, overdrawn, with crucial differences obscured. (Killing peasants 
because they were supposed to be Vietcong, even destroying villages "in order to save 
them," as an American officer once famously said, was not the same as killing Jews 
systematically because they were Jews.) We were going to be active where our parents' 
generation had been passive, potent where (having once looked omnipotent) they had 
finally proved impotent. Then we could tell our parents: We learned when we were children 
that massacres really happen and the private life is not enough; and if not now, when? 


So the generational divide was not just an economic but a spiritual fact. And if Jews were 
transfixed by their unforgettable knowledge, it was not only Jews who were haunted. Many 
gentiles (as well as Jews) converted the Holocaust into yet another reason to love America, 
but some brooded about what it implied for the human heart and the human project, even 
for redemptive dreams of affluence. The massacre of the Jews was a huge fact lying 
overturned, square in the middle of the through route to progress. There were some, or 
many, for whom the Holocaust meant that nothing— neither private satisfactions nor the 
nation's greater glory— could ever supplant the need for a public morality. There were 
Christians as well as Jews who concluded that they would never end up "good Germans" if 
they could help it. 

^ rate of juvenile delinquency: David Matza, "Subterranean Traditions of Youth," The Annals 
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 338 (November 1961), p. 104. 

^ genial Ike: On his attitudes toward the atomic bomb in general, and its possible use in 
Korea: John Colville, The Fringes of Power {London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. 685. 
On Indochina: Georges Bidault, in Peter Davis's film Hearts and Minds. 

^ children who grew up: Personal communication, David Riesman, 1975. 

"* science fiction films: Susan Sontag, "The Imagination of Disaster," in Against 
Interpretation (New York: Dell, 1969), pp. 220-22. 

^ "In today's atomic age": Gil Einstein and Elaine Digrande, "From the Editors," Observatory, 
Bronx High School of Science (New York, 1959), p. 6. 

^ "Every night": Meredith Tax, "Speak, Memory: Primo Levi's Living History," Voice Literary 
Supplement, March 1986, p. 12. 

^ Jewish Cold Warriors: This suggestion comes from Michael Rogin. 



The fact of affluence and the terror of destruction: the tension was especially sharp among 
a minority: the largely urban and suburban, disproportionately Jewish children of the more- 
or-less affluent but discomfited middle class. And this minority was located within huge 
institutions, the elite but mass universities, which collected these forces, as a magnifying 
glass collects the rays of the sun, and brought them to a smolder. For neither economic 
tendencies nor even political issues by themselves could generate a student movement. 
First there had to be an igniting minority. 

This early New Left of the early Sixties, which I will sometimes call the old New Left, the 
pre- Vietnam New Left, aspired to become the voice, conscience, and goad of its generation. 
It was never quite typical: it was morally more serious, intellectually and culturally more 
ambitious than the rest of its generation. It shared its generation's obsessions, and then 
some, but focused them in an original way. Itself ignited by the civil rights movement, it 
was the small motor that later turned the larger motor of the mass student movement of 
the late Sixties. Within a few years this minority created a tradition— a culture, a style, an 
approach to society, a set of tactics— that played itself out in the movement's subsequent 
history. It was on the achievements as well as the paradoxes and tensions of the old New 
Left that the later movement foundered. 

The old New Left was acutely, even sentimentally, conscious that they were of a particular 
age. "We are people of this generation," the 1962 Port Huron Statement of Students for a 
Democratic Society opens, "bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, 
looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit." But the authors of this document were 
aware that they were not altogether typical of their affluent peers. "Our work is guided by 
the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living," they wrote. 
"But we are a minority— the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums 
of our society and world as eternally-functional parts." 

This minority turned out to be, as Jack Newfield later wrote, "prophetic," but at the time 
they could not be sure. (Anyway, many people feel like prophets and turn out to be wrong.) 
They were not only willing to be marginal, they felt there was a kind of nobility in being 
devoted to the public good in an unconventional way. In a nation devoted to private 
pursuits, they believed in public action. In a culture devoted to the celebration of middle- 
class security, they labeled it smugness and expressed solidarity with people who were 
systematically excluded from a fair share in prosperity. The revelation that there were 
people blocked from affluence not only offended them, it discredited the dream— a dream 
they already felt ambivalent about, even estranged from. They felt cramped by the normal 
middle-class pursuits of career, family, and success, and they brandished their alienation as 
a badge. They were not satisfied to take up public participation as a sideline, whether in 
political parties, PTAs, or professional associations. Their peers wanted to make families; 
this tiny group wanted to make history.^ 


The New Left, when it erupted, insisted that above all it was new, tailored to a new time, 
exempt from the vices that had afflicted the various factions of the Old Left. There was truth 
in the insistence. The Old Left had been shattered by McCarthy ism, the Cold War, the 
postwar consensus, and its own moral obtuseness vis-a-vis the Soviet Union; partly for this 
reason, partly because of the prevailing fear of getting out of line, and partly because of the 
rewards of gray-flannelled conformity, there was (with few exceptions) a "missing 
generation" on the Left.^ Few were the radicals twenty to thirty years old in the Fifties who 
might have served as exemplars for the next generation, a link between experience and 
innocence. The self-flattering idea of a virgin birth enabled the early New Left to think its 
way past defeat, to break from both pro-Soviet and Cold War rigidities. From this reality 
came much of the famous New Left spunk, the impulse to go it alone. But the heady truth in 
this image of self-creation also concealed continuities. The movers and shakers of the 
Sixties did not invent a new political culture from scratch. 

Even in the ranch-housed, well-laundered Fifties, while the bulk of the middle class busied 
itself with PTA meetings, piano lessons, and The Saturday Evening Post, there were, dotted 
around the country, enclaves where groups of adults carried on in opposition to prevailing 
values. Moreover, within the very mass youth culture which affluence made possible, the 
self-satisfied Fifties were crisscrossed by underground channels where the conventional 
wisdoms of the time were resisted, undermined, weakened. It was in these enclaves of 
elders and subterranean channels, rivulets, deep-running springs— or backwaters and 
swamps, depending on your point of view— that unconventional wisdoms, moods, and 
mystiques were nurtured. 

With left-wing politics in a state of collapse, most of these oppositional spaces were 
cultural— ways of living, thinking, and fighting oneself free of the affluent consensus. Most 
were indifferent or hostile to politics, which they saw as yet another squandering of energy. 
But even the antipolitical enclaves opened a space for later and larger oppositions, both the 
New Left and the counterculture, oppositions compounded— however contradictorily— of 
politics and culture. The beats were the main channel; hostile to the postwar bargain of 
workaday routine in exchange for material acquisition, they devoted themselves to 
principled poverty, indulged their taste for sexual libertinism, and looked eastward for 
enlightenment. Overlapping, there were other tiny bohemias of avant-garde culture and 
political dissonance, notably the radical pacifists of Liberation, New York's Living Theatre, 
San Francisco's anarchist and East-minded poets, jazz connoisseurs, readers of Tlie Village 
Voice and Evergreen Review. Battered remnants of the Old Left carried their torches for 
some kind of socialism, rejected the orthodoxies of the Cold War to one degree or another, 
and felt the national security state to be a menace rather than a guarantor of true-blue 
liberties; they maintained a "folk culture" in the absence of an actual folk. These were, to 
use the shorthand, subcultures where exotic practices attracted a hard core of rebels, a 
fringe of hangers-on, and a larger penumbra of the part-time, the tempted, and the 
vicarious participants. More narrowly political were the invisible communities clustered 
around the social-democratic Dissent and I. F. Stone's anti-Cold War Weekly, trying in 
different ways to think in the name of a Left that did not exist. In their studies, and among 
their students, obscure critical intellectuals like Paul Goodman, Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. 
Brown, William Appleman Williams, and Betty Friedan were writing the books, many of them 
not even published until well into the next decade, which set a tone for rebellion when 
rebels came up from the underground streams, looked around, and decided to make 
history. There was anger collecting in these nodes, but they also were governed by a happy 
sense of their distance from the normal. It was as if they were living in color while the rest 
of America was living in black and white. They radiated jarring signals to the next 


At the same time, usually less angry, certainly less focused, and far more extensive, 
popular music and the movies and other forms of mass-distributed culture began speaking 
in their own ways directly to the young, challenging the affluent society's claims that its 
social arrangements were sufficient nourishment for the human spirit. Some of the initiative 
came from the entrepreneurs of popular culture, who, to keep the mainstream entertained, 
scouted the margins, absorbing outsiders and outsideness, packaging them in marketable 
form, relaying the idea that authorities were questionable and that to be young was to be 
weird, angry, marginal, dispossessed. So hoods acquired a shadow life as folk heroes. But 
more important than the hoods themselves, their culture of delinquency turned out to be 
the outer edge of a more vast and amorphous teenage culture. To put it another way, what 
happened in the mid-Fifties is that the normal teenage culture borrowed the mystique of the 
subterraneans in order to express its own uneasy and ambivalent relation to the society of 
parents. The adolescent society depended on affluence— on time and money of its own to 
spend— but it also flirted with the harmless part of the culture of delinquency: the spirit of 
fun and adventure, the disdain for studies, the drinking, smoking, making out, swearing, 
staying out late.'^ Never before had so many of the leisured young had a chance to spend so 
much so relentlessly to indulge their tastes. The marketplace sold adolescent society its 
banners. To call the resulting spectacle an "adversary culture" would be to lend it too much 
coherence and to miss its ambiguities."* But this cultural display was certainly far from an 
uncritical embrace of the social order. Where the narrower enclaves and channels of the 
beats, the bohemians, and the remnant Left opened spaces for the New Left in the early 
Sixties, and for the pure counterculture later on, the shallower channels of the Fifties' 
teenage culture marked the territory for the far larger youth upheaval of the late Sixties. 

Rock and roll and its dances were the opening wedge, hollowing out the cultural ground 
beneath the tranquilized center. Marion Brando and James Dean embodied styles and 
gestures of disaffection. On the fringes, satirists of all kinds— Mad, Lenny Bruce, Tom 
Lehrer, Mort Sahl, Chicago's Compass and Second City cabarets— ridiculed a host of pieties. 
TV's Steve Allen and Sid Caesar and their offshoots and imitators carried some of the 
rambunctious spirit into the mainstream. Late in the decade, domestic avant-garde films as 
well as foreign dramas of dislocation helped a new college generation feel that angst was 
normal. As America exported Hollywood movies, it imported parables of estrangement. 

Literary culture was also piled high with maps of a devastated social landscape; struggles 
with the absurd resounded in the heart of every half-alienated student. Lost souls and 
embattled antiheroes paraded their losses of meaning. J. D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield was 
revolted by "phoniness," and his other dislocated adolescents dabbled in Zen. In the 
legitimate theater, Arthur Millers Willy Loman matched the spiritually uprooted souls of 
Riesman's and Mills's sociology. To Beckett's and Genet's and lonesco's characters, the 
postwar cornucopia looked absolutely beside the point. Off Broadway, "communication" was 
problematic, "togetherness" a bad joke, happy endings the real absurdity; and Grove 
Press's Evergreen Review carried the news outside New York. In Lady Chatterley's Lover 
and Henry Miller's Tropic novels, finally available over the counter, raw sex was posed as 
the oasis in an arid society. Existentialism started from the premise of meaninglessness, 
and then executed a brilliant judo move: it declared t\r\at precisely because humanity is 
deserted by God and values are not inscribed in the natural order of things, human beings 
are responsible for making their own meanings. (It followed, then, that authority would 
always have to prove itself, minute to minute. If Norman Mailer could bend existentialism to 
support John F. Kennedy in I960, he could just as easily turn it against Kennedy's successor 
and the Vietnam war in 1965.) Book marketing itself pried open a new cultural space: 


Starting in 1952, first Doubleday and tinen otiner pubiisiners began to pubiisin serious 
nonfiction in paperback, so tinat avant-garde currents and European repertories- 
existentialism, tine absurd, all manner of philosophy, history, and sociology— could circulate 
to the idea-hungry and college-bound. 

^ Their peers: The terms of this sentence are adapted from Richard Flacks, "Making History 
vs. Making Life," Sociological Inquiry 46 (1976). 

^ "missing generation": Irving Howe, "New Styles in 'Leftism,'" reprinted in Howe, Beyond 
the New Left (New York: McCall, 1970), p. 23. 

^ harmless part: Matza, "Subterranean Traditions," p. 116. 

"* "adversary culture": Lionel Trilling, Beyond Culture (New York: Viking, 1965), pp. xii-xiii; 
Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York: Basic, 1976), pp. 40-41. 

2. Underground Channels 

Wild Ones 

The future New Left read David Riesman and C. Wright Mills and Albert Camus, and found in 
them warrants for estrangement, but nothing influenced me, or the baby-boom generation 
as a whole, as much as movies, music, and comics did. On the big screen, on posters, and 
in popular magazines, America was mass-producing images of white youth on the move yet 
with nowhere to go. What moved the new sullen heroes was the famous rebellion without a 
cause, partly because McCarthyism and the Cold War had rendered cause anathema. But 
the very point of this particular rebellion was to claw one's way toward libertine self- 
definition. Disaffiliation came first. Alienated, made into aliens, the causeless rebels tried to 
revel in marginality. To them, the best the adult world had to offer was flimsy, phony, 
hypocritical. Figures of authority were proprietors without a cause. If it was necessary for 
young people to act unmanageable in order to sidestep the management, so be it; they 
were giving back to the society just what they got, but double. In return, the authorities 
looked askance. In the eyes of a managerial society and a therapeutic culture, the young 
and estranged were "juvenile" (i.e., not adult) and "delinquent" (i.e., deficient); they didn't 
deserve the dignity of real crooks. 

The new specters on the movie screen were white-skinned, but they wore black motorcycle 
jackets and combed their hair with greasy kid stuff. They were private, hopeless, 
misunderstood— and heroic for all these reasons. First came Marion Brando, cast as a 
motorcycle-riding gangster bent on disrupting a folksy American town in The Wild One 
(1953). To the ingenue's naively rational question, "What are you rebelling against?" Brando 
snarls his classic answer, "Whadda ya got?"— declaring that he is happy to be every bit as 
bad as his uncomprehending accusers (and victims) claim. To which the patronizing sheriff 
lamely answers back: "I don't think you know what you're trying to do, or how to go about 
it." Organized society expects a young man to have a purpose; pragmatism requires that he 
look to his methods. But rationalism to Brando— and to the film— is a collaboration between 
weaklings: a woman and a mild-mannered authority figure. To be without either purpose or 
technique is to be not only subversive but strong, autonomous. It is also, it turns out, 


Perhaps because he was older (already twenty-nine when The Wild One was released), 
Brando never became the teen idol James Dean was. Dean's persona wasn't so angry; he 
was more the sensitive, brooding type. His masculine and feminine appeals were delicately 
balanced: to teenaged girls he was an awkward darling, to boys a lost companion of the 
soul. Dean's meteoric career, moreover, seemed the perfect embodiment of doomed, 
estranged youth. Considering his reputation, it is astonishing to realize that he lived only 
long enough to star in three movies before flaring out, with poetic justice, in an auto wreck 
at age twenty-four, in 1955. When he wrecked his custom racing car in a spurt of bravado 
on a California highway, only East of Eden had been released; Rebel Without a Cause 
opened three days later. But James Dean's importance as a loner r?aud/t, an incarnation of 
lost hopes, soared at his death. His ghostly appearance in Rebel Without a Cause became a 
vivid symbol of how precarious was youth-who-had-everything. The road, promising 
everything, could take everything. Dean's martyrdom gave an aura both mysterious and 
grim to the famous scene in which he and his rival raced their cars to the edge of a cliff in a 
game of Chicken. A year after he died, as many as eight thousand fans a month were 
writing to the dead James Dean, more than were writing to any living star.^ In the Fifties, 
death on the road at high speed before one's time held the poignancy that had earlier been 
reserved for death in battle. 

Rebel Without a Cause was therefore instant mythology, and it prefigures an astonishing 
amount of the oppositional mood of the Sixties, especially in what it displays of the 
dynamics of fathers and sons. The fathers' capacity to bring home the goods is not in 
question; everyone takes for granted that high school boys own cars. What is at issue is 
what fathers fail to provide: authority to boys, love to girls. Fathers without authority 
produce sons without purpose. When fathers are absent (Sal Mineo's Plato) or feminine 
(James Dean's Jim), the sons are thrown into aimless crime; a daughter (Natalie Wood's 
Judy) becomes a "bad girl" because /7er father, confronted with her tight-sweatered 
sexuality, pulls away. Dean's father, played by Jim Backus (best known as the voice of Mr. 
Magoo), wears a fur coat in one scene, an apron in another, and lets his loud-mouthed wife 
tell him what to do. "I don't ever want to be like him," says the disgusted Dean. Rather than 
give his son a model of manhood, the flabby Backus does nothing but provide ("Don't I buy 
you anything you want?") and permit ("Jim, did I ever stop you from anything?"). He 
doesn't understand that young Jim simply wants an old-fashioned father, strong enough to 
test himself against. When Jim goes so far as to engage Dad in hand-to-hand combat, he 
has to grab the pushover and force him to stand up— only to shove him down again and try 
to strangle him. Jim's mother wears the family pants, and her men resent her for it: trapped 
in her perfect house, stronger than Dad, but with nothing to do but carp, in a backhanded 
way she anticipates Betty Friedans expose of the suburban housewife's "disease with no 

Against Dad's wishy-washy hypocrisy, Jim stands for directness. He is, as Plato says, 
"sincere," and he signals his sincerity by speaking in off-rhythm cadences, failing to finish 
sentences, erupting in anger. He grows up by becoming a good symbolic father himself— to 
the errant, eventually martyred Plato. His exercise of kindness and responsibility, however 
doomed, serves a purpose: it compels the fatuous Backus to reclaim his own rightful 
authority from his wife's usurpation. The possibility of benign authority is underscored by a 
good cop, who speaks a therapeutic language of sensitivity and human relations and does 
what he can to save the day. But this double redemption of authority comes too late for 
Plato, the rich and innocent waif who had been preoccupied with the end of the world. 
Despite the good cop's intervention, Plato is shot down by reckless police. The core of adult 
society remains unforgiving. 


To the impassioned audiences of tine time, not trained as film analysts, the intricacies of plot 
were probably less important than Dean's persona. Alongside the movies themselves, fan 
magazines kept his image in circulation. Between them. Dean and Brando gave the 
dislocated young a repertoire of stances and gestures. Unlike Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, or 
Humphrey Bogart, say, heroes who knew what they wanted and went after it, Brando and 
Dean went looking for trouble because they had nothing better to do. They were refusers, 
defined by what they weren't. Their halting speech was a sign of their essential confusion 
and passivity. Who needed to be articulate anyway? They said no, therefore they were. 

As often happens in popular culture. Dean sharpened a vague mood, then amplified it with a 
precise sound and look. In Hibbing, Minnesota, for example, the young Robert Zimmerman 
devoured Dean's fan magazines.^ In working-class Detroit, David Wellman, later a New Left 
activist, remembers imitating Dean's haircut and his "sullen, sour, nasty, angry look"— one 
common interpretation, if not the only one possible. In the middle and late Fifties, Wellman 
wore motorcycle boots and a Sam Browne belt with sharpened buckle, aiming to look like a 
hood and freak out his father— a Communist, in this case. In Wellman's high school and 
college circles— he entered Wayne State University in 1958— Brando and especially Dean 
were romantic prototypes. In photos taken of Wellman in the late Fifties, he recalls, he was 
never smiling. "People said it was because of McCarthy ism, because my father went to jail 
under the Smith Act. Hell no! It was James Dean. And his death was very heavy to me. 

"He was Camus," Wellman adds, and the metaphor is worth pausing over for a moment. 
Needless to say, James Dean was no intellectual. His message was neither more nor less 
than his look and whatever his fans took it to mean. To many, that message meant: Live for 
the moment, without guarantees, in a world that doesn't deliver. Or more: Homelessness is 
the truth of the human condition when society, all organized, sanitized, and insured to 
provide security, denies the rock-bottom fact that life ends. So James Dean's reckless death 
put the seal on the myth of his life. Here was a mass-circulation version of the aura that in 
America later surrounded Camus, who was to die at forty-six in an auto crash (in the first 
week of I960), thereby seeming to testify that rebellion is the essence of freedom because, 
after all, life is lived "for keeps." It was the looming fact of death, framing life, that made it 
possible— necessary— to mean something. Myself, I remember the M.I.T. freshman, a friend 
of my roommate, who when Camus died told me that The Myth of Sisyphus had saved him 
from suicide, and now he had to rethink his commitment to live. 

This sense of a fatal connection to young martyrs, of death as the final refutation of 
plenitude, ran strong through all the phases of Sixties' culture. C. Wright Mills, for example, 
renewed the original impetus when he died in 1962, at age forty-five, of a heart attack— a 
natural cause, in a sense, but brought on prematurely when Mills burned himself out 
cramming for a national television debate over Kennedy's Cuba policy. Mills was a hero in 
student radical circles for his books, of course, but it was no small part of the persona for 
which he was cherished that he was a motorcycle-riding, cabin-building Texan, cultivating 
the image of a gunslinging homesteader of the old frontier who springs into virtuous action 
crying, "Don't tread on me!" The Christian passion of the wanderer who dies trying to help 
the uncomprehending was even affixed onto the assassinated John F. Kennedy, who 
succeeded, mythologically, in becoming both outsider and insider at once. The legend 
absorbed Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy in turn. Bob Dylan narrowly 
escaped his mythic fate when he succeeded in recovering from his 1966 motorcycle 
accident— but he was hurt badly enough to remind the counterculture that behind its 
charmed existence there were close calls. The myth of the doomed outsider surfaced again, 
in fictional form, with Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider. Finally, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, 
and Janis Joplin, by dying young, famous, and drugged, certified once and for all that ritual 
sacrifices were necessary to placate the battered gods of order. 


James Dean's death inaugurated the idea that living fast is living right, and yet that there is 
something ineluctably poignant at stake when youth commits itself to go beyond limits. In 
the Sixties' own hand-made mythology, not just the media's canned summary of it. Dean's 
death was epochal. Dean, like Keats, was "half in love with easeful Death": that is what 
gave his death its sting. And James Dean's death erupted in the midst of an affluent society 
which was supposed to have had no more need of risk because it was organized to make 
happiness mandatory and adaptation the irresistible flagstone path of least resistance. 

^ eight thousand fans: Ezra Goodman, "Delirium Over Dead Star," Life, September 24, 
1956, p. 75. 

^ Zimmerman: Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan (New York: Grosser and Dunlap, 1971), p. 9. 

"What, Me Worry?" 

In 1962 Paul Goodman remarked that a recent eastern high school poll had found Mad a 
close second to Life as the most widely read magazine. ("That is," he added deftly, "the 
picture magazine that publishes the slick ads, and the cartoon magazine that scoffs at 
them.") Mad appeared first in 1952 as the mock-grotesque Mad comics ("Tales Calculated to 
Drive You MAD: Humor in a Jugular Vein"), but in 1955, when comics came under fire for 
allegedly causing juvenile delinquency, was reincarnated in the tamer magazine form, lead's 
benign parodies started out mocking the formulas of popular comic strips, movies, ads, and 
the new living room fixture, television; eventually they turned their attention to suburbia, 
Eisenhower, the smugness of "the American way of life." If official America radiated health, 
l^ad insisted on the importance of the "sick." (This was also the moment of "sick" jokes— 
"Mrs. Anderson, can Joey come out and play?" "But you know he has no arms and legs." 
"Yeah, but we need a second base.") If America was whiter-than-white clean, l^ad played 
on the allure of the disgusting, pointing the finger at people picking their noses. If consumer 
culture achieved some of its power by taking itself hyperseriously, as the achievement of a 
high order of civilization, l^ad pulled the plug and said, "Hey, the Lone Ranger, Wonder 
Bread, and TV commercials— even Marion Brando— are ridiculous\ Clark Kent is a creep! 
Superduperman can't get off the ground!" 

No affirmations for l^ad: it also scorned the possibility of any alternative to the scorned 
American way of life. It badgered nonconformists and high-cultured intellectuals along with 
Marion Brando and "sick-making, soft-sell" advertisements. In "How to Be Smart," for 
example, l^ad mock-recommended that pretentious types "cultivate a withering sneer. "^ In 
"The Bulletin of Alfred E. Neuman University, 1958-59," it proclaimed "how ridiculous 
anthropology really is" for concerning itself with "nasty little people" with their "pygmy 
smell. "^ In lead's world, the normal and the abnormal, the American and the un-American, 
were melted down in the universal solvent of silliness. 


It was a popular attitude, this indiscriminate Jniiarity. On television, Sid Caesar, Steve Allen, 
and Ernie Kovacs played in the same key. They spoke through the boob tube about its own 
boobery. Not that their aesthetics were automatically left-of-center in a political sense. 
Kovacs's burlesque could even slide right over into racism, in a brilliant skit featuring three 
droll apes in a rock band called "The Nairobi Trio." At the same time, Stan Freberg was 
producing spoof records like "St. George and the Dragonet," ridiculing the hardened 
conventions of adult popular culture. In his "History of the United States," Freberg chided an 
"Un-British Activities Committee"; but he also mocked rock records like "Sh-Boom," "The 
Great Pretender," and "Heartbreak Hotel," echoing the conventional wisdom of adults that 
rock was simply incompetent.^ These amiable comics were teases, even of themselves, in 
sharp contrast to Lenny Bruce and the beats, scourges of bourgeois morality all. 
Endearingly, Mad even called /tse/f trash: high-level trash, as if this were the appropriate 
level of comment in a trash culture. In junior high and high school, I devoured it. 

Though Mad never sympathized with student radicalism, it playfully anticipated one of its 
curious features: it used the far-flung distribution systems of mass society to circulate a 
sense of self-disarming superiority. This was elitism with a bad conscience. Mad chided its 
mass of readers— each of them addressed as if more intelligent and discriminating than the 
average— for wasting time on the "idiotic garbage" produced by the "clods" at Mad. (It was 
hard to know exactly where the mockery meant to stop— which uncertainty helped to 
convey the absurdist effect.) With the help of Mad and its ilk, a subgeneration crystallized 
on the curious premise that, en masse, it was made up of singularly discerning, superior 
spirits— who were, at the same time, just plain knuckleheads. Mad's club of nonconformists 
was committed to vulgar snobbery. And so Mad's style was perfectly expressed in the 
slogan of its deliberately dopey-looking mascot, Alfred E. Neuman: "What, me worry?" In 
his grinning caricature of a cherub was the bubble-gum nihilism of the late Fifties— and its 

It would be absurd to retrofit Mad and its electronic equivalents as subversive forces that by 
themselves, automatically, undermined middle-class values. Both radicals in search of a 
cultural pedigree and conservatives scouting for cultural subversion have given Mad too 
much credit."* Mad was usually as sweet-tempered as it was sweeping, and it was no friend 
of political action; indeed, convinced that deviance and orthodoxy blurred together in a 
consumer culture, it giggled at all the plagued houses. But a more modest credit is due to 
all these instruments of hilarity. They pried open a cultural territory which became available 
for radical transmutation— as it was also available for a good-humored liberalism or an 
utterly apolitical cynicism. In a world that adult ideologies had defined as black and white- 
America versus totalitarianism, respectability versus crime, obedience versus delinquency, 
affluence versus barbarism, suburbia versus degradation and filth— they did help establish 
the possibility of gray. 

^ "withering sneer": Reprinted in Son of Mad (New York: Warner 1973), n.p. 

^ "nasty little people": In Albert B. Feldstein, ed., William M. Games' The Mad Frontier (New 
York: Signet, 1962), p. 35. 

•^ Freber: Charlie Gillett, The Sound of the City, rev. and expanded ed. (New York: 
Pantheon, 1983), p. 60. 

"* Mad too much credit: Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis, "The 'Mad' Generation," New York Times 
Magazine, July 31, 1977, pp. 14 ff.; Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter, Roots of 
Radicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 108. 


"Deliver Me From The, Days Of Old" 

The electric subcurrent of the Fifties was above all rock n roll, the live wire that linked 
bedazzled teenagers around the nation— and quickly around the world— into the common 
enterprise of being young. Rock was rough, raw, insistent, especially by comparison with 
the music it replaced; it whooped and groaned, shook, rattled, and rolled. Rock was clamor, 
the noise of youth submerged by order and affluence, now frantically clawing their way out. 
The lyrics were usually about the anguish and sincerity of adolescent romance. But far more 
than any lyrics, it was the thump and throb and quaver of rock that electrified the young. 
Even the tamed stuff repackaged by clean-cut, crew-cut white bands went right into the 
body. Rock was itself a moment of abundance, energy in profusion. It was an invitation to 
dance, and at some fantasy level— just as the bluenoses protested— it was an invitation to 
make love. Even if the lyrics said so subliminally, the beat said it directly: express yourself, 
move yourself around, get going. Rock announced: Being young means being able to feel 
rock. Whatever it is you're in, kid, you're not in it alone; you and your crowd are where it's 
at, spirited or truculent or misunderstood, and anyone who doesn't get it is, well, square. 

Rock's beginnings, of course, were black. Cultural segregation had the unintended effect of 
shoring up diversity by protecting the space in which a discordant subculture could thrive. 
Rock had its origins in blues and gospel, songs of travail and exultation written and 
performed by and for blacks, going back to the late nineteenth century. The blacks who 
migrated from the land to the cities in the Thirties and Forties brought with them their blues 
rituals of anguish and sex, search and release. Finding its way onto local record labels, sold 
in ghetto stores and played on black radio, this is what the record industry unsubtly called 
"race music" until the late Forties, when, embarrassed, it changed the label to "rhythm and 
blues," R & B. White radio considered R & B disreputable, and barred it. By now the music 
had changed, too: the accents were still southern, the voices raw and untrained, but the 
younger musicians, born or raised in the northern and western cities, played faster and 
more raucously. R & B was dance music, built on the singular style of the wailing or 
shouting or otherwise feelingful singer. Sometimes a lone saxophone was in effect a second 
voice, wailing, lamenting, rasping, mocking. Most of all, R & B was inescapably rhythm, built 
on a beat. 

By the mid-Fifties, in spite of de facto segregation, small groups of white teenagers living in 
or near black neighborhoods in northern cities were buying these records that seemed sexy 
and made them want to dance. A Cleveland disk jockey named Alan Freed was the first to 
scout the new market.^ Told about these crossover sales by a store owner, he liked both the 
music and the commercial possibilities, and in June 1951, on his mostly white radio station, 
he started a rhythm and blues show for which he coined the euphemism "rock 'n' roll." 

Rock 'n' roll was rhythm and blues whitened, in two senses. Rock brought the pulse of R & B 
to places where blacks themselves never dreamed of going; at the same time it blanched 
the music. The right technology was there at the right time to serve— and help form— the 
youth market. Even more than the saxophone or the electric guitar, the instrument that 
made rock culture possible was the radio, then a medium in search of a message. For in the 
early Fifties television was replacing radio as the ideal vehicle for advertising and mass 
entertainment. But if the family no longer huddled around the living-room radio console 
together, radios, plural, were now available for other purposes, especially as they became 
steadily cheaper and— with the advent of plastic cases and transistor models— more 
portable. Watching the handwriting on the screen, radio stations switched to low-cost, 
audience-segmented formats. Recorded music was ideal. Rock, augmented by jukeboxes, 
proved most ideal of all. 


Rock lore justly repeats the tale about the white Mississippi boy, Elvis Presley, who learned 
rhythm and blues from blacks he heard on Memphis radio^ and in the clubs along Beale 
Street.'^ As R & B took off, a white Memphis producer, Sam Phillips, had taken to saying, "If 
I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a 
million dollars.""^ Phillips coached Elvis in the vocal style of blues masters like Muddy Waters, 
B. B. King, and Howlin' Wolf.^ The black blues, with guitar throbs and drums, fused with the 
country-western hitches of Elvis's rangy, racy voice. Two styles of American restlessness 
smoldered together. Elvis's live shows— curling lips, rolling hips— ignited the screams of 
thousands of teenage girls across the South. Then a northern disk jockey was persuaded to 
try out Elvis's early records on the radio— in Cleveland, again— only to have his switchboard 
light up with an unprecedented frenzy of excited calls. These enthusiasts hadn't even seen 
Elvis sneer, shake, and swivel his famous pelvis. They were responding to a sound, an 
incandescence that seemed intimate, thanks to Sam Phillips's echo chamber recording 
technique, which made his voice sound as if it were ricocheting around inside the listener's 
skull. ^ It was Elvis Presley, the white boy with the black beat and the hitch in his voice, who 
(to answer Barry Mann's question) put the bop in the bop-da-bop-da-bop. In two years, 
Elvis Presley, then on the RCA label, with national reach, sold more than 28 million records.^ 

In the sphere of music as in the sphere of justice, white America was drawing its juice from 
blacks. To R & B purists, Elvis's rockabilly style was bleached blackness, vanilla-coated 
chocolate. As Greil Marcus reminds us, Elvis was imitating no one so much as himself, 
founding a sound more than inheriting one.^ Still, he skated close to many a cultural edge: 
class, sex, race. By the Tin Pan Alley standards of commercial pop music, Elvis and his 
promoters were committing cultural miscegenation. Now, thanks to the radio, Elvis, Carl 
Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and other southern white boys coexisted with Chuck 
Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino, the wizards of R & B who would not have been 
permitted to break bread at the same lunch counter. The breakthrough year was 1955, 
when the airwaves rocked with Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," Bill Haley and His 
Comets' "Rock Around the Clock," Chuck Berry's "Maybelline," and Little Richard's "Tutti 
Frutti." That same year. The Blackboard Jungle linked the boiled-down "Rock Around the 
Clock" with the dread juvenile delinquency. Joyriding, rampaging white youth made trouble 
for teachers and caused panic in the city while God-fearing crowds screamed back 
helplessly. That December 1, a seamstress and civil rights activist named Rosa Parks 
refused to give up her seat to a white man in a Montgomery, Alabama, bus and got arrested 
for refusing to "know her place," kicking off a bus boycott that established the power of 
nonviolence and catapulted Martin Luther King to national fame. The parallels between rock 
and civil rights were far from exact, but such imperfect coincidences are the updrafts on 
which the Zeitgeist spreads its wings. What news photographers and television did for civil 
rights, breaking blacks out of their social ghetto, radio did in a different way for musical 
rights. And in both cases, black dependence on white goodwill carried the seeds of later 


Black and white, the rockers also represented the South brought North. Music trailed 
demographics, and now, in a rush, caught up. Blacks and working-class whites had been 
fleeing the job-poor South for the industrial North for two decades, especially during World 
War II. Rock amounted to cultural carpetbagging in reverse, and it had important cultural 
and political counterparts in the mind of the white North. Since the Civil War, the South had 
played the part of the national feminine: sometimes genteel (Gone with the Wind), 
sometimes brooding, sexy, and violent (Birth of a Nation, Tobacco Road).^ In the midst of 
the rationalizing Fifties, the Montgomery bus boycott and the Little Rock school 
desegregation crisis disrupted the calm of national politics, and the North again saw the 
South as the incubator of the tempting and dangerous. The southern invasion started with 
the 1951 success of Elia Kazan's movie version of Tennessee Williams's >A Streetcar Named 
Desire; Brando's uncouth Stanley Kowalski played out in a domestic setting the seething 
archetype which Elvis, the onetime truck driver, would later take on the road for the kids. 
While northern middle-class parents were deploring the sexual innuendo of rock and 
loathing the racist white violence they saw on television, without any sense of irony they 
were trooping to the movies to see a succession of Tennessee Williams movies— five in five 
years starting in 1955— about sexual trauma, incest, and the barely suppressed passion and 
violence lurking in the family living room. Families fascinated by Williams's neurotic passions 
were the nests of rock and rockers. Youth, blackness, and Southernness: three national 
symbols of the uncontrollable, unfathomed id-stuff surging beneath the suburban surface, 
fused into rock 'n' roll. 

The rock market ballooned. The blues had been adult music, but now market-sensitive rock 
producers focused on teenage problems: desire, jealousy, loneliness, romantic 
mistreatment, misunderstanding by adults. To sing the market-tailored lyrics, the record 
companies hired whites to "cover" black songs, to sound (to young white ears) just black 
enough. They stripped down the beat, cleared up their enunciation, sanded off the grit of 
regional dialect and R & B realism. Bill Haley, for example, was a longtime country-western 
bandleader in search of a commercial style. Even the stylized spit curl hanging over his 
forehead marked him as a man whose wildness was deliberate and ornamental. He sounded 
cooked rather than raw. Yet his simplified beat was still emphatic enough— more than 
enough— to rouse dancers and irritate adults. Haley and other whites like him even desexed 
the lyrics. Joe Turner's 1954 R & B hit version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll," for example, said: 

Well you wear low dresses. 

The sun comes shinin' through.^" 

The cover-version hit by Bill Haley and His Comets was sanitized: 

You wear those dresses. 
Your hair done up so nice. 

White singers ran away with the mass market for years before blacks regeared to meet 
radio specifications and found their way into the white teenage heart. 


Thus processed, rock quickly became the music of choice on records, on the radio, at 
afterschool and weekend dances. Concerts drew big teenage crowds, white and black, 
sometimes together. Rock movies harnessed the image of shakin', rattlin' and rollin' to 
teenagers' generational surge. The pulsating effect was the musical equivalent of petting. 
The lyrics were usually expressions of longing, even in the religious metier ("Crying in the 
Chapel," "Earth Angel," "Book of Love"), but language was only one channel through which 
the songs conveyed emotion. (That is why we shouldn't exaggerate the importance of 
expurgated lyrics, although the radio censors did so themselves. Most of the audience was 
probably less concerned with the nuances than were station managers.) White adults 
cringed at the strings of nonsense syllables which turned the voice into percussion and pure 
sound, a kind of sub- (or trans-) linguistic expression of the inexpressible, as in the 
memorable opening lines of the Silhouettes' 1957 "Get a Job": 

Sha da da da 

Sha da da da da 

Ba do 

Sha da da da 

Sha da da da da 

Ba do 

Sha da da da 

Sha da da da da 

Ba do 

Sha da da da 

Sha da da da da 

Bah do 

Bah yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip 

Mum mum mum mum mum mum 

Get a job." 

In riffs like this, black or pseudoblack voices cut loose from the practical language of the 
wider world. They slurred their words, stylized their pronunciation ("bay-be\r\," "earth an- 
gell"). Choruses kept up the beat with nonsense ("do-wop, do-wop"). Singers grunted 
(Screamin' Jay Hawkins), shrieked (Little Richard), and whined (Shirley and Lee). What 
adult critics heard as incoherence, primitive regression, was indeed part of the music's 
appeal. But all these devices could be heard— were heard, by me entering into puberty, for 
one— another way: as distrust of language, distrust of the correct, distrust of practicality 
itself. Percussive language was a rush of sound so urgent it stuttered, as if to say: What 
we're feeling is so deep, so difficult, so amazing, it can only be expressed if we leave behind 
the middle-class manners, undo the lessons of school, stop trying to sound correct. With a 
catch in its collective throat, rock announced to unbelievers: Before your very ears we 
invent a new vocabulary, a generation's private language. Distrusting the currency, we coin 
our own. 


To accomplish this, though, the music was not enough. The music had to be packaged- 
selected, produced, amplified, and channeled to the millions of teenagers looking for ways 
to declare who they were and were not. The packagers— producers, record company 
executives, disk jockeys, station owners, all in hot pursuit of market appeal— therefore had 
a great deal to do with defining what it meant to be a teenager in the Fifties. So did the 
naysayers, also adults: proprietors of the obsolete pop sounds, popular magazines who 
dismissed rock as regressive music, white southern churches who defined it as the devil's 
work, segregationists who boycotted what they thought was an NAACP plot. (In 1956, six 
men committed to keeping music segregated— one of them a director of the local White 
Citizens' Council— assaulted Nat King Cole in the middle of his concert at Birmingham, 
Alabama, thinking him a rock 'n' roller.)^^ Parents who winced, like mine, "How can you 
stand that noise!" also helped define what it meant to like rock: If there had ever been any 
doubt, "that noise" now meant, "Something my parents can't stand." To the question, "How 
can you listen to that stuff?" the teenager answered, in effect: "I've got what it takes, and 
you, the old, the over-the-hill, don't." 

In the late Sixties, it became fashionable for conservatives to blame the youth upsurge on 
Dr. Spock, whose bestselling manuals were supposed to have encouraged "permissive" 
parents to (in Spiro Agnew's words) "throw discipline out the window. "^•^ Some liberals, 
more tolerant of the outcome, retained the explanation but changed blame to credit. ^"^ As 
either charge or credit, however, the theory neglected three important facts. First, 
childrearing manuals had been telling parents to loosen restraints on their children as far 
back as the Twenties. ^^ Second, the mothers who bought millions of copies of successive 
editions of Spock's Baby and Child Care were receptive to his easygoing advice in the first 
place; their children were already at the center of household life. "Let's do it for the 
children" was the guiding spirit of the postwar period. Third, as the Seventies and Eighties 
made clear, it was entirely possible to raise children pliably without turning them into 
dissidents. But if there was a distinctly permissive parent who encouraged the young to "let 
it all hang out," it may have been less Mom and Dad than the disk jockey. 

This presiding angel (or devil) of adolescence underwrote the sense of generational 
difference. He invaded the home, flattered the kids' taste (while helping mold it), lured 
them into an imaginary world in which they were free to take their pleasures. His stylized 
rapid-fire language of melodramatic thrill and age-graded romance made them feel as much 
like insiders as their parents were outsiders. When his wild singsong voice excitedly 
announced that the next song was "going out for Joey and Janie, Barbara and Johnny and 
Karen and Beth and Mary Jo and all the seniors down at Seventy-seventh Street," Alan 
Freed or "Murray the K" Kaufman helped draw a charmed circle around youth and its 
obsessions. Even if— like me— you didn't date yet, and felt socially inept, you could consort 
with Joey and Janie, like what they liked, belong, by proxy, to their crowd. So the disk 
jockeys played an important part in extending the peer group, certifying rock lovers as 
members of a huge subsociety of the knowing. Even as I sat home doing my homework to 
the top forty countdown, I felt plugged in. For those of us who were ten or twelve when 
Elvis Presley came along, it was rock 'n' roll that named us a generation. 


The shift was abrupt and amazing. One moment parents and children were listening 
together to the easygoing likes of Dean Martin's "Memories Are Made of This" or Rosemary 
Clooney's "Hey There" ("you with the stars in your eyes"), and gathering together on 
Saturday night to watch the regulars of Your Hit Parade cover the week's hits; the next, the 
spectacle of those crooners trying to simulate Elvis Presley and straddle the widening 
cultural chasm was too laughable to behold. True, earlier generations of parents had also 
been disturbed to see their children writhing with abandon, treating their bodies as erotic 
instruments, screaming at idols like Frank Sinatra. Popular music often serves to insulate 
young people against the authority of the previous generation, and the commercial search 
for The Latest makes generational tension over music virtually automatic. But in rock's 
heyday there was a special intensity on both sides. On one side, generational defiance: "Hail 
hail rock 'n' roll/Deliver me from the days of old" (Chuck Berry); "Rock and roll is here to 
stay" (Danny and the Juniors). On the other: Perry Como, Patti Page, Tony Bennett, adult 
fear and loathing. When teenagers screamed themselves hoarse at Frank Sinatra in the 
Forties, whatever quality it was that teens celebrated and editorialists deplored was the 
possession of a single skinny singer. Now both sides agreed that rock was all of a piece, 
love it or leave it. 

The American mainstream greeted the challenge in its usual way: trying partly to expunge 
the menace, partly to domesticate it. And sometimes both at once: Ed Sullivan first insisted 
that Elvis Presley would never darken his Sunday night television variety door, then relented 
under commercial pressure and paid fifty thousand dollars for Elvis's three famous 1956 
appearances." Contrary to youth culture myth, Elvis's famous pelvis was shown on the first 
two shows; it was only the third time that the censors refused to let the camera descend 
below his waist. ^^ No matter: with all the advance publicity, it wasn't hard for the viewers to 
imagine what all the fuss was about. In similar fashion, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, 
nationally telecast from Philadelphia beginning in 1957, when rock was already sinking into 
formula, went on distributing the music and flattening it at the same time. With his boyish, 
round-cheeked good looks, Clark was to Alan Freed as Pat Boone was to Fats Domino: a 
cover artist even a middle-class mother could love. After school every afternoon, American 
Bandstands smartly dressed and generally white teens rocked, snuggled, and showed off 
the latest steps and styles. Who cared if the only Negroes dark showed on camera were 
bands lip-synching to the music? Even packaged for mass consumption, American 
Bandstand rolled over Beethoven and insisted rock and roll was here to stay, out in the 
suburbs and small towns where flesh-and-blood blacks did not tread. 

With spread went normalization. By 1957, carefully overproduced teenage crooners like 
Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, and Fabian were all the rage. How far was the mainstream from 
the margins? The critics' consensus is that when the likes of Bobby Vinton and Fabian rose 
to the top of the charts, the real music went into cryogenic death for several years until the 
Beatles kissed it back to life in 1963. But one can get excessively nostalgic for the Golden 
Age of Rock. The truth is that raw and cooked rock the coarse and the refined, coexisted 
and interpenetrated from the beginning. Even Paul Anka was not a throwback to Perry 
Como. To this sixteen-year-old, Anka's wailing "Diana" of 1959— "I'm so young and you're 
so old/This my darling I've been told/I don't care just what they say/With you forever I will 
stay"— expressed as much rebellion as the Coasters' "Yakety Yak." Boy loves woman, boy 
talks back to father: two sides of the same Oedipal drama. 


The initial outrage subsided. A wise cop in The Blackboard Jungle already knew that the 
rock-happy delinquents were like the rest of the world: mixed up and scared. But even 
sanded-down rock defined the new generation as sexy, noisy, uncouth— if not necessarily 
subversive. When Elvis Presley was inducted into the army in 1958, no questions asked. Life 
pictured him, newly crew-cut, happy in khaki, an icon of the rock and roller's ultimate 
normalcy. ^^That sneering, vibrating kid denounced by teachers and preachers and politicians 
turned out to be a good American boy after all. Mainstream culture sighed in relief. Perhaps 
rock itself, like juvenile delinquency and awkward teenage self-consciousness, was nothing 
more than a "phase": "growing pains." 

^ Alan Freed: Gillett, Sound, p. 13. 

^ Memphis radio: Albert Goldman, Elvis (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), pp. 101-5. 

•^ In the clubs: Greil Marcus, "Lies About Elvis, Lies About Us," Voice Literary Supplement, 
November 18-24, 1981, citing Margaret McKee and Fred Chisenall, Beale Black and Blue 
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981). 

'^ "If I could find": Marcus, ibid., p. 16, citing Jerry Hopkins, Elvis (New York: Simon & 
Schuster, 1971) and his own telephone interview with Marion Keisker, Phillips's co-manager 
at Sun. I thank Marcus for setting me straight that the widely quoted version of this remark 
on p. 110 of Goldman's Elvis (with "nigger" for "Negro" and "boy" for "man") distorts 
Phillips's commitment to racial equality. 

^ Phillips coached: Arnold Shaw, The Rock Revolution (New York: Crowell-Collier, 1969), p. 

^ echo chamber: Gillett, Sound, p. 27. 

^ RCA label: Shaw, Rock Revolution, p. 16. 

^ Greil Marcus: Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music (New York: Button, 
1976), pp. 179-82. 

^ national feminine: In French writing of the nineteenth century, the European "South"— 
Spain, Italy, Egypt, North Africa— played a similar part in national iconography. See Cesar 
Grana, Bohemian versus Bourgeois: French Society and the French Man of Letters in the 
Nineteenth Century (New York: Basic, 1964), pp. 131-34. 

^° "Well you wear": Quoted in Gillett, Sound, pp. 20-21. 

" "Sha da da da": Adapted from Richard Goldstein, The Poetry of Rock (New York: Bantam, 
1969), p. 29. 

^^ Nat King Cole: Gillett, Sound, pp. 17-18. 

^^ "throw discipline": Spiro T. Agnew, address of April 28, 1970, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 
reprinted in John R. Coyne, Jr., The Impudent Snobs: Agnew vs. the Intellectual 
Establishment {New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1972), p. 319. 

^"^ Some liberals: Christopher Jencks, "Is It All Dr. Spock's Fault?" New York Times 
Magazine, March 3, 1968, pp. 27 ff. 

^^ the Twenties: Paula S. Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 
1920's (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 102, 106-7. 


^^ Ed Sullivan: Douglas T. Miller and Marion Nowak, The Fifties: Tlie Way We Really Were 
(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), p. 410; Goldman, Elvis, p. 203. 

" pelvis: Goldman, Elvis, p. 203; Robert Palmer, "Elvis Presley: Homage to a Rock King," 
New York Times, November 18, 1984, pp. 21, 23. 

^® newly crew-cut: Goldman, Elvis, p. 270. 

3 Enclaves Of Elders 

"A Camaraderie Of Loneliness" 

In 1955,^ not long after Marlon Brando grunted "Whadda ya got," Allen Ginsberg read 
"Howl" to an enthralled audience in a San Francisco gallery (Jack Kerouac urging him on 
with shouts of "GO")^ and answered the well-meaning question "What are you rebelling 
against?" with a rumbling indictment: 

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! 
Moloch the heavy judger of men! ... 

Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch 
the stunned governments! 

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! 

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers 
stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! ... Moloch whose love is 
endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch 
whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of 
sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind! 

And for the first time in the American twentieth century, poetry read aloud became a public 
act that changed lives. 

Despite the alarms sounded by the press and the intellectuals, there were never so many 
beats, perhaps a few thousand at the peak, not nearly so many as there were actual and 
aspiring rockers and, eventually, hippies.^ Most of the beats were inconspicuous; indeed, 
that was part of the point of being beat, whether that meant self-consciously beaten or 
beatified. Most of them dressed simply, as the sociologist Ned Polsky wrote, "in an ordinary 
working-class manner, distinctive only to middle-class eyes.""* Only a minority wore the 
notorious beards as badges of identity. Probably fewer than 10 percent, perhaps 150 in the 
entire country, published any writing at all.^ 


But a handful of beat writers spread the news, retailing legends which both repelled and 
attracted the great washed. I will concentrate here on the famous among them, those who 
were ferociously articulate, wrote furiously, and— as virtually all the mass and not-so-mass 
media demonstrated in chorus— scraped an American nerve. America's crisis of spirit, they 
thought, required not just new thinking but right action. If the mind of Moloch, the false 
god, was "pure machinery," and its soul "electricity and banks," then the right action was to 
unplug. In the name of some larger Buddhist quest, they assailed the national obsession 
with family and property. They felt cramped by the postwar bargain of homes and 
mortgages, steady jobs, organized suffering; they wanted to run around, hang out, get 
away, find spiritual bedrock.^ If the true-blue Fifties was affluence, the beats' counter-Fifties 
was voluntary poverty. They aimed to refute the ranch house and the barbecue pit with 
plain apartments and strewn mattresses. They unplugged from the standard circuits of 
family, job, and good behavior in order to overthrow sexual taboos, to commit uncivil 
disobedience against a national dress code which required trimmed minds to match trimmed 
lawns. If Moloch was "the heavy judger of men," its towers a long line of "endless 
Jehovahs"— if Moloch was the harsh social superego making insupportable demands of the 
human spirit— then an intensely, polymorphously perverse life was the right rebuttal. With 
the help of the mainstream's moral panic, the beats' vivid, incessant writings carried word 
of their exploits and style everywhere. Astonishingly, these bad boys were anointed as 
shamans; through them, far greater numbers of the grumbling and disgruntled young 
learned to recognize one another. Myself, I was too young for the beats, too straight, too 
studious, and too timid, but I was impressed by high school classmates who spoke 
knowingly about going out on the road. 

The road was their central symbol, Walt Whitman's open road that always led to the next 
horizon. Whenever the scene got dull or entangling, as sooner or later it always did, the 
beats took off from New York to Berkeley and San Francisco, Denver, Mexico City, or, on 
special occasions, Tangier. They were hitchhikers upon a landscape already occupied; they 
depended upon the automobile as much as did any garaged suburbanite, though Jack 
Kerouac, the poet laureate of the endless American highway, never learned to drive. ^ Like 
many another American bad boy, he had to go to enormous lengths to deny his most 
profound and binding social attachment: his fierce dependence on the demanding mother to 
whom he always returned and with whom he spent his last, miserable, alcoholic days.^ 

The beats were adept at turning established values against the society that enshrined them. 
Was this the era of worship, when families were supposed to "pray together" in order to 
"stay together"? The bears preached love, too, and spoke their own home-style Buddhist 
language of the spirit. Were the suburbs clannish about "togetherness"? The beats 
celebrated epiphanies of companionship in the form of their own selective and exclusive 
human buddyhood— a fragile community, for the buddies were always having lovers' 
quarrels. To Joyce Johnson, drawn to them while a student at Barnard College, the beat 
world stood for the chance "to be lonely within a camaraderie of loneliness."^ In their 
mythmaking imaginations, and in fugitive moments of reality, the beats were true brothers 
on the road together sharing wine, women, and mantras. Allen Ginsberg dreamed that the 
beat novelist John Clellon Holmes wrote him, "The social organization which is most true of 
itself to the artist is the boy gang."^° To which the waking Ginsberg added, "Not society's 
perfum'd marriage." Instead of martinis, they offered marijuana. Meditation and drugs were 
the vehicles of their spiritual experiments and ecstasies. Marijuana and wine by the jugful 
transformed the everyday into the extraordinary; for special occasions there were also 
peyote, mescaline, and barbiturates. According to Ned Polsky, about 10 percent tried heroin 
at one time or another." 


To guard against what they saw as the deathly pallor of middle-class culture, the beats 
followed a traditional romantic and bohemian route: they sought out noble savages. 
Interracial sex was an affirmation of raw impulse against the overupholstered paleface 
mind. They grooved on white working-class men, familiar to Jack (ne Jean) Kerouac from 
his French-Canadian upbringing; and on Mexicans and blacks, as in this incantation from On 
the Road: 

At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching ... in the Denver colored 
section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had 
offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, 
music, not enough night ... . I was only myself, Sal Paradise, sad, strolling in 
this violet dark, this unbearably sweet night, wishing I could exchange worlds 
with the happy, true-hearted, ecstatic Negroes of America... .^^ 

Sex was the cusp in their manic-depressive adventures. The legends they wrote for 
themselves smashed through literary niceties and obscenity laws. They were blunt about 
sexual adventure: with women, with each other, with many partners, occasionally in 
groups— though if one is to judge from their writings, rarely more happily for long than the 
benighted suburbanites who gave them the creeps. Their prototype was the fast-talking 
"holy goof "^^ and lumpen-proletarian intellectual manque Neal Cassady, who was 
Ginsberg's muse ("secret hero of these poems")^"* and Kerouac's star (the model for Dean 
Moriarty in On the Road and the enlightened, angelic Cody in other books). Cassady's 
unrestrained talk was analogous to his prodigious sowing of seed, which qualified him for 
rhapsodies like Kerouac's: " 'Oh, I love, love, love women! I think women are wonderful! I 
love women!' He spat out the window; he groaned; he clutched his head. Great beads of 
sweat fell from his forehead from pure excitement and exhaustion. "^^ Nor did it hurt 
Cassady's legend that he was sometimes married to more than one wife at a time. "Real life 
was sexual": this was the impression the beat world gave the young Joyce Johnson. ^^ "Or 
rather, it often seemed to take the form of sex. This was the area of ultimate adventure, 
where you would dare or not dare. It was much less a question of desire." Johnson, who 
had an affair with Kerouac, saw the beats bonded together in "some pursuit of the 
heightened moment, intensity for its own sake, something they apparently find only when 
they're with each other."^^ 

But Johnson, one of the women in the margins of the men's scene, is exaggerating to make 
a point— they also came to life in the act of writing. Their styles and ways of work were 
transcriptions of their ideals. In keeping with their refusal to separate art from life, they 
even devised appropriate technologies. Ginsberg resurrected Christopher Smart's long 
loping line; Kerouac typed his novel-length manuscripts on long, continuous rolls of paper 
feeding nonstop into his typewriter over strenuous days and weeks; William Burroughs 
scissored apart his manuscripts to slice up rational order. Their methods were extrapolated 
from the spontaneities of Rimbaud, the late Yeats, and the Surrealists, but the greatest 
influence was jazz, which sometimes accompanied the poetry readings. Kerouac insisted 
that language be "undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing 
(as per jazz musician) on subject of image"; that there be "no periods separating sentence- 
structures already arbitrarily riddled by false colons and timid usually needless commas— 
but the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing 
breath between outblown phrases)"; "not 'selectivity' of expression but following free 
deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought, swimming in 
sea of English with no discipline other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and 
expostulated statement, like a fist coming down on a table with each complete utterance, 
bang!"; that there be "no pause to think of proper word but the infantile pileup of 
scatological buildup words till satisfaction is gained ... ."^* 


The result, at its best, was a fierce kinetic prose, its leaps reproducing the discontinuity of 
the mind, its sheer onrushing velocity Ginsberg's long poems— especially "Howl" and 
"Kaddish"— still crackle and inspire with their reclaimed emotion thirty years on. But a good 
deal of beat writing was flat, dry cataloguing. Even the best of the beat writers wrote 
interminable pages meant as tributes to the sacraments of experience, but reading (perhaps 
to unenlightened minds) like dull indiscriminate blurs, as if a burned-up world were 
showering them with a storm of sparks and ashes glimpsed through the windshield of a car 
hurtling down the road at high speed. They went to great lengths— literally! — refusing to 
observe hierarchies of value; life was a succession of stopping-off points, each just as 
sacred and (un)important as the others. All beginning and end was artifice, all life 
momentary— and exquisite. They were consistent, then, when, cultivating Rimbaud's 
"systematic derangement of the senses," they used crazy as an affirmation. Their 
exuberance knew despair. The trip, spree, rendezvous, binge landed in gloom. The fear of 
"schiz," of "flipping," was epidemic. ^^ 

Necessarily they scorned conventional literary schooling, "colleges being nothing but 
grooming schools for the middle class non-identity," Kerouac wrote, "... rows of well-to-do 
houses with lawns and TV sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same 
thing. "^° The "best minds" of Ginsberg's generation, "starving hysterical naked," "threw 
potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism."^^ William Burroughs once told Kerouac, "I am 
shitting out my educated Middlewest background for once and for all."^^ Especially at 
Columbia University, where Kerouac and Ginsberg met and where Lionel Trilling's gentility 
reigned supreme, literary studies emphasized cool distance, teeth-gritting irony, the 
decorous play of literary reference. Ex- and anti-Communism had widened into a general 
program of moderation. To even the erudite Ginsberg, who knew his literary sources, 
academia smelled of the fustiness of yellowing libraries and easy chairs. About academic 
critics Ginsberg wrote to his old college friend, the poet John Hollander: "The whole problem 
is these types want money & security and not ART."^'^ 

So the beats should hardly have been surprised when academic and highbrow critics, who 
specialized in rational objection, rose to the bait. (The outsiders, blasting away at the 
dullards who commanded the culture's heights, still wanted the insiders to love them.) 
Although the poet Richard Eberhart^"^ generously greeted Ginsberg's work in The New York 
Times Book Review, and (through the fluke of a regular reviewer's vacation schedule) a 
Times pinch-hitter^^ raved On tlie Road onto the bestseller list, the beat writers yelped when 
they were savaged from the heights of Partisan Review. Where the beats saw beatitude, 
Norman Podhoretz saw "a revolt of all the forces hostile to civilization itself," "a movement 
of brute stupidity and know-nothingism that is trying to take over the country from a middle 
class which is supposed to be the guardian of civilization but which has practically dislocated 
its shoulder in its eagerness to throw in the towel... . [W]hat juvenile delinquency is to life, 
the San Francisco writers are to literature. "^^ 

The beats, of course, were no social theorists, but they were rooted in their moment, 
recoiling not only from squareness but from plenitude. The image of profusion recurs, most 
memorably in Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California," which begins by invoking the 
master transcendentalist: 

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the 
sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full 

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit 
supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! 


What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles 
full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!— and you, 
Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons? 

Yet the pilgrimage to material plenitude only reminds Ginsberg of his loneliness. "When can 
I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?" he asks in "America." 
Plenitude tantalizes, then thwarts. One thing Kerouac finds attractive in the poet Gary 
Snyder (who becomes the hero of The Dharma Bums) is that he "refuse[s] to subscribe to 
consumption."^^ In a 1955 conversation Kerouac and Snyder even conjure up the hippie 
movement: "a 'rucksack revolution' with all over America "millions of Dharma bums' going 
up to the hills to meditate and ignore society. "^^ 

For real abundance was to be found in illumination; or in the flow of experience, culminating 
in illumination; in either case, in the act of transcribing the ripples of feeling into torrents of 
writing. In the act of writing, the god of prohibitions was dead and everything was 
permitted— and possible. What resulted, presumably, was an affluence of the soul: 
Cassady's "wild yea-saying overburst of American joy." And so Kerouac's notion of writing 
as "infantile pileup of scatological buildup" could be understood as a tactic for creating 
abundance from within. The unrevised associations of automatic prose would create an 
inexhaustible world. It was an old American story, from Walt Whitman's ecstatic catalogs to 
Henry Miller's gruff affirmations. Ginsberg concluded "Howl" with the bodily equivalent of 
the Emersonian idea that the self in its infinite variety is the source of all good: 

The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! 
The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! 

Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in 
eternity! Everyman's an angel!^^ 

But behind the celebration was a profound passivity in the face of experience, a passivity 
matched by the antipolirics of most beats. They knew they were "beaten," and wanted to 
make the most of defeat. Living in the rubble of a once-confident Old Left, they didn't want 
to change society so much as sidestep it. John Clellon Holmes made the point: "In the 
wildest hipster, making a mystique of bop, drugs, and the night life, there is no desire to 
shatter the 'square' society in which he lives, only to elude it. To get on a soapbox or write a 
manifesto would seem to him absurd. "^° Politics, they declared, was yet another boring, 
pointless subassembly in the grotesque machinery of Moloch.* Their clubbiness echoed the 
general withdrawal from political activity; echoed the New Critics' strategy for extricating 
the literary text from historical context; echoed the do-it-yourself movement, which sent 
husbands into their basements to muster the small autarkies of leisure time; echoed, 
overall, the American infatuation with private stratagems for social troubles. 

' Kerouac in particular, though a tcind of Franciscan pacifist, was no political radical. From his devout Catholic 
family he inherited a formidable anti-Communism. In 1956, on Desolation Mountain, longing for God, he read The 
God That Failed and vented his fear of "totalitarian beastliness," of "Russia's and plots to assassinate whole 
people's souls." ["totalitarian beastliness": Kerouac, Desolation Angels, pp. 18-19.] America, in contrast, with its 
football scores and its endless roads and endless promises of adventure, was "as free as that wild wind." Reading 
about the presidential campaign, he sneered at the liberals' darling, "Adiai Stevenson so elegant so snide so 
proud." ["AdIai Stevenson": Ibid., p. 113.] 


Among the well-known beats, Allen Ginsberg was exceptional in skating along the radical 
edge. When Ginsberg read the "Moloch" choruses of "Howl" to a Berkeley audience in 1956, 
there were boos and hisses each time he denounced the demonic superforce.'^^ In fact, 
much of beat quietism was savvy, only momentarily "beaten," unreconciled to Eisenhower 
and a permanent Cold War. What was to be done in the age of smiling Ike? The beat scenes 
in New York and San Francisco were interlaced with motley defeated ex-Communists and 
Trotskyists and anarchists, one eye cocked for changes in the political weather. Ginsberg's 
red-diaper vocabulary, even if wistful rather than militant about radical possibilities, was at 
least intelligible there. ("When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?/ ... /America I 
feel sentimental about the Wobblies./America I used to be a communist when I was a kid 
I'm not sorry. ")'^^ Thus, when the Zeitgeist shifted direction, retreat passed out of style, and 
other beats grew steadily more forlorn, Ginsberg could make the transit into the political 
Sixties with grace, along with the one time left-wing activist Gary Snyder and the poet- 
bookseller-publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who in 1958 published Tentative Description of a 
Dinner Given to Promote tlie Impeacliment of President Eisenliower}. Still, differences 
should not be overestimated: the beats recognized one another as brothers, all taking cover 
in the crevices of a society they could not begin to imagine changing. 

And then the brothers found themselves adopted by spiritual children— youth circles, 
especially high-school intellectuals who were far too estranged, even from their peers, to 
care about rock music. Some readers picked up Kerouac's Buddhism; probably many more 
took him as a guide to back-roads escape and backseat sex. The burgeoning commercial 
youth culture widened the beats' following, and they acknowledged their debt to it. Though 
partial to jazz, for example, Kerouac toyed with renaming On tlie Road "Rock and Roll 
Road,"^^ and dreamed of a movie version starring Marion Brando as Dean Moriarty.'^'* 

The beats, however, were at the mercy of the mass media, which, horrified and titillated, 
blew their lurid images far and wide. Time savaged Ginsberg. (No wonder Ginsberg, 
"obsessed by Time Magazine," asked in "America": "Are you going to let your emotional life 
be run by Time Magazine?") Life hatcheted "The Only Rebellion Around" (subtitle: "But the 
Shabby Beats Bungle the Job in Arguing, Sulking and Bad Poetry"), complete with a posed 
studio photo, spilling over more than a full page, of what the caption called "the well- 
equipped pad" featuring "beat chick dressed in black," "naked light bulb," "crates which 
serve as tables and closets," "Italian wine bottle," "beat baby, who has gone to sleep on 
floor after playing with beer cans," and "bearded beat wearing sandals, chinos and 
turtlenecked sweater and studying a record by the late saxophonist Charlie Parker. "^^ The 
police played their part, stirring up hysteria, most notoriously by arresting Lawrence 
Ferlinghetti in 1956 and charging him with selling obscene material including, among other 
items, "Howl." The results? Containment, yes. But what Time thought appalling about Allen 
Ginsberg made him sound appealing to the young Robert Zimmerman (soon to be Dylan) in 
Hibbing, Minnesota. •^^ The fourteen-year-old Jim Morrison copied passages from On the 
Road into his notebook and imitated Dean Moriarty' laugh. '^^ 


The beats wrote on, energy undiminished. By 1960, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder had 
left the country in serious pursuit of Buddhist enlightenment— returning later to bring 
ecological consciousness and engage spirituality to the Sixties rebellion. But omnivorous 
mass media chewed the beats' reputations to pulp for popular horror and amusement. 
Trend-scouting gossip columnists like San Francisco's Herb Caen (who invented the 
patronizing label beatnik) convened the beats into comic relief. By the final days of 1959 a 
New York entrepreneur— himself a photographer in the beat scene— could make some 
money on the side by offering partygivers a "Rent-a-Beatnik" service. ^^ By that time, in 
college towns and big cities, even abroad, young folksingers, guitar pickers, and would-be 
expatriates— what David Marza has called "morose Bohemians"'^^- were affecting black 
tunlenecks, tights, and jeans (black was the negation of affluence's false colors), going to 
poetry-with-jazz readings, sitting in cheap cafeterias drinking endless cups of strong coffee 
and talking about books and foreign films. Student intellectuals, trained in literary finesse, 
could disdain the beats' sloppier writing but still smoke their marijuana and absorb their 
reflected energy. By the early Sixties, for every full-time beat there must have been dozens 
of hangers-on, part-timers and weekenders— and high school straights like me— who 
dropped into the Village or North Beach or Venice, California, window-shopping for forbidden 
auras (as Jack Newfield wrote, "Bronx boys picking up Brooklyn girls on MacDougal Street in 
the Village""*"). Which meant that as a cultural insurgency the beat scene was finished. As 
the tourists arrived, the rents went up and the original beats moved on. 

Sometimes subcultures like this soften into freakshows for the delectation of the cultural 
mainstream— bounded zones where more adventurous normals can indulge impulses usually 
kept in harness, and even the conventional can safely slum. The Fifties' subcultures might 
have hardened into self-enclosed spores. But other forces intersected: the dialectic of 
affluence and fear among the young; the growth of college campuses; the celebrity 
machinery of the media. Something was happening and Mr. Kerouac didn't know what it 
was. As the beats' energy rippled outward in the late Fifties, they left behind more than 
modish jadedness and touristic coffeehouses. Evergreen Review mixed the beats with 
European absurdists and other miscellaneous literati, and carried their word beyond their 
small circles. Some of the beat spoor rubbed off on other bohemians, even those like Paul 
Goodman who disdained the frantic and shapeless romanticism of the beats. "^^ Colonies of 
would-be artists hung out in the Village, listened to jazz, retreated to out-of-town enclaves 
like Woodstock and Sausalito."*^ "Underground" films (like Kenneth Anger's homosexual- 
motorcycle pseudoepic, Scorpio Rising) drew long lines of students looking for images of 
exotic sex. Late-night free-form parties, spaghetti dinners and cheap Italian wine, talk of art 
and sex, the hovering possibility (and threat) of seduction ... the whole scene lured 
teenagers yearning to flee their middle-class parents— a Long Island high school girl named 
Barbara Jacobs, for example, wanting to be an artist, who spent the summer of her 
seventeenth year, 1955, in upstate Woodstock, and felt that liere, at last, was the good 
life."*^ Like many others, she was attracted to Brandeis University because, hospitable to the 
arts, it cultivated a bohemian atmosphere. Bohemianism overlapped with left-wing politics 
at Brandeis; students were divided into bohemian "Bos" and straight "Rahs." Jacobs, later a 
civil rights activist who attended the Port Huron convention of SDS, was "a semirespectable 
Bo"; another Brandeis contemporary who described himself as "semi-'bo"' was Abbie 
Hoffman, whose father later blamed Brandeis for his "corruption."'*'* 


In 1958 and 1959, in coffeehouses and student unions scattered across tine country, beat 
talk, pseudobeat talk, avant-garde talk, political talk, sex talk, and literature and art talk 
were buzzing and mingling, not always logically, at neighboring tables. The enclaves 
required low rents and high turnover, which meant that districts just off major campuses- 
Columbia's Upper West Side, Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue— filled with hangouts. The circles 
of disengagement and reengagement overlapped; one might lead to another. Even beat 
antipolitics could be permuted into politics. One of the few to grasp this was David 
McReynolds, an activist of the avant-garde New York pacifist cluster called the War Resisters 
League. Listening with a third ear, McReynolds heard, beneath the beat disengagement, a 
desire to live a life in which personal action mattered: 

[The] beat generation by its very existence serves notice on all of us who are 
political that if we want to involve youth in politics we must develop a politics 
of action. The beat generation can understand Gandhi much better than they 
understand Roosevelt. They can understand Martin Luther King much better 
than they can understand Hubert Humphrey. They can understand the 
Hungarian workers much better than they can understand Mikoyan."*^ 

One of the legion of Jack Kerouac's readers was the editor of the University of Michigan 
student paper, a fervent existentialist named Tom Hayden, who said later he "was 
interested in the bohemians, the beatniks, the coffeehouse set, the interracial crowd, but I 
wasn't really part of them.""^^ Inspired by a reading of On The Road, Hayden set out in June 
1960 to hitchhike around the country, "trying to mimic the life of James Dean," heading for 
San Francisco's North Beach and the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. "^^ To get 
involved in politics at this point was "unimaginable" to him; he had never even seen a 
demonstration. In Berkeley, someone stuck a political leaflet into his hand and gave him a 
place to stay for a few weeks. He was told about farm workers, nuclear weapons research, 
and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Inducted into the ways of radical politics, 
he went to the Democratic Convention, marched in a picket line with Martin Luther King, 
stopped in Minneapolis to cover the National Student Association meeting, met southern sit- 
in leaders, and returned to Ann Arbor a political organizer. Kerouac's road, it turned out, 
might lead to some unexpected stopping-off points. 

^ In 1955: My discussion of the beats benefits from the enlightening criticism of Allen 
Ginsberg in telephone conversations of May 20 and 29, 1987. 

^ Jack Kerouac urging: Michael McClure, Scratching the Beat Surface (San Francisco: North 
Point, 1982), p. 13. 

•^ a few thousand: Ned Polsky, "The Village Beat Scene: Summer I960," in Hustlers, Beats, 
and Others (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), p. 174. 

"* "in an ordinary working-class manner": Polsky, Hustlers, p. 147. 

^ fewer than 10 percent: Ibid., p. 174. 

^ They felt cramped: Dennis McNally, Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, 
and America (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), p. 136; Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men 
(Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1983), pp. 52-67. 

^ never learned to drive: Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983), 
pp. 195-96. 

® demanding mother: McNally, Desolate Angel, passim. 


^ "camaraderie of loneliness": Johnson, Minor Characters, p. 27. See also Thomas 
Parkinson, "Phenomenon or Generation," in Parkinson, ed., A Casebook on the Beat (New 
York: Crowell, 1961), p. 278. Compare Norman Podhoretz's half-perceptive, half-lurid 
remark in the December 1958 Esquire (p. 150): the beats were a "conspiracy" to replace 
civilization with "the world of the adolescent street gang." 

^° "boy gang": Allen Ginsberg, in Johnson, Minor Characters, p. 79. 

" heroin: Polsky, Hustlers, pp. 161-62. 

^^ "At lilac evening": Jack Kerouac, On the Road (New York: Signet, 1957), pp. 148-49. 

^^ "holy goof: Ibid., p. 160. 

^"^ "secret hero": Allen Ginsberg, "Howl," in Howl and Other Poems (San Francisco: City 
Lights, 1956), p. 12. 

^^ "Oh, I love": Kerouac, On the Road, p. 117. 

^^ "Real life was sexual": Johnson, Minor Characters, p. 30. 

" "some pursuit": Ibid., p. 171. 

^^ "undisturbed flow": Jack Kerouac, "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," Evergreen Review, 
Summer 1958, pp. 72—73, reprinted in Parkinson, ed., A Casebook on the Beat, pp. 65-66. 

^^ "schiz": Johnson, Minor Characters, p. 83. 

^° "colleges being nothing": Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums (New York: Signet, 1958), p. 

2^ "best minds": Ginsberg, "Howl," p. 15. 

^^ "I am shitting": William Burroughs, in Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels (New York: 
Coward-McCann, 1965), p. 311. 

^^ "The whole problem": In Jane Kramer, Allen Ginsberg in America (New York: Random 
House, 1969), p. 177. 

^"^ Eberhart: Richard Eberhart, "West Coast Rhythms," New York Times Book Review, 
September 2, 1956, p. 7. 

^^ Times pinch-hitter: McNally, Desolate Angel, p. 240. 

^^ "a revolt of all": Norman Podhoretz, "Where Is the Beat Generation Going?" Esquire, 
December 1958, pp. 148-50. 

^^ "subscribe to consumption": Kerouac, Dharma Bums, p. 97. 

^* "rucksack revolution": Kerouac, Desolation Angels, p. 62. 50 "wild yea-saying": Kerouac, 
On the Road, p. 11. 

" "The world is holy!": Ginsberg, "Footnote to Howl," Howl, p. 21. 

^° "In the wildest hipster": John Clellon Holmes, "This Is the Beat Generation,'" New York 
Times Magazine, November 16, 1952, p. 22. 

•^^ When Ginsberg read: Johnson, Minor Characters, p. 116. 

•^^ "When will you": Ginsberg, "America," in Howl, p. 31. 

^^ Kerouac toyed: McNally, Desolate Angel, p. 235. 


•^"^ movie version: Ibid., p. 212. Kerouac tinougint tine beats' inijacking of literature from tine 
academy was comparable to the way rock 'n' roll lifted music "from Tin Pan Alley to the 
folk." McNally, Desolate Angel, p. 298. 

^^ Life: Paul O'Neil, "The Only Rebellion Around," Life, November 30, 1959, pp. 114-30. 

•^^ Zimmerman: Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1971), p. 13. 

•^^ Morrison: Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive (New York: 
Warner, 1981), pp. 11-12. 

•^® Rent-a-Beatnik: Joseph Morgenstern, "Beatniks for Rent," New York Herald Tribune, May 
1, 1960, reprinted in Fred W. MacDarrah, ed., Kerouac and Friends (New York: Morrow, 
1985), pp. 243 ff. 

•^^ "morose Bohemians": David Matza, "Subterranean Traditions of Youth," The Annals of the 
American Academy of Political and Social Science 338 (November 1961), p. 117. 

'^° "Bronx boys": Jack Newfield, A Prophetic Minority (New York: New American Library, 
1966), p. 45. 

"^^ Paul Goodman: Growing Up Absurd (New York: Vintage, I960), chap. 9. 

"^^ Paul Goodman: Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals (New York: Vintage, 1964), p. 

'^■^ Barbara Jacobs: Interview, Barbara Haber, November 17, 1984. 

"^"^ "semi-'bo'": Abbie Hoffman, Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture (New York: Perigee, 
1980), pp. 23, 27. 

"^^ "[The] beat generation": David McReynolds, "Youth 'Disaffiliated' from a Phony World," 
Village Voice, March 11, 1959, in MacDarrah, ed., Kerouac and Friends, p. 215. 

"^^ "interested in the bohemians": In Milton Viorst, Fire in the Streets (New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1979), p. 166. 

"^^ "trying to mimic": "Tom Hayden: Rolling Stone Interview," by Tim Findlay, Rolling Stone, 
October 26, 1972, p. 38. 

The Liberal Summons 

There are moments when the Zeitgeist struts on stage so theatrically it fairly screams. On 
November 6, 1958, in front of a boisterous, overflow, standing-room-only crowd at Hunter 
College, James A. Wechsler, the editor of the New York Post, the most reliably liberal big- 
city newspaper in the United States, shared a platform with none other than Jack Kerouac* 
Wechsler was a liberal with fire in his belly— "one of the few unreconstructed radicals of my 
generation," he called himself that night. ^ Many left-wingers would have disputed 
Wechsler's claim to the embattled and noble label of "radical," but the point is that on this 
occasion, at least, Wechsler was proud to embrace it. At least it would distinguish him from 
the beats. 

The occasion was sponsored by Brandeis University. The other invited panelists, the British novelist Kingsley Amis 
and the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, were incidental to the main action. 


Radical or not, Wechsler was a perfect representative of tine anti-Communist liberalism of 
his time. He had joined the Young Communist League in 1934, had been a leader of the 
Communist-controlled American Student Union, and had quit the YCL in 1937, when he was 
all of twenty-two. After World War II, he had plunged into the thick of the political wars 
then raging between pro-Soviet and anti-Communist liberals; he left the newspaper PM in 
1946, charging it was run by Communists; he fought against Communists in the American 
Veterans Committee and the American Newspaper Guild; he was a founder of Americans for 
Democratic Action and an early member of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom 
(but left it in 1956, when he thought it was veering too far to the Right). In 1953, a series 
of anti-McCarthy articles in the Post earned him an appearance before McCarthy's Senate 
committee, where he was asked to name the names of other former or present Communists 
at the paper; and, reasoning that silence would work to McCarthy's benefit, he named 
names, to his later regret.^ He was fiercely committed to civil rights for Negroes; when the 
young Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi, in 1955, he wrote a letter about the case 
strong enough to exasperate a cautious Adiai Stevenson.^ In 1958, by Wechsler's own 
account, he felt "out of touch" with the preoccupations of the young, including the beats, so 
tantalizing to his sixteen-year-old son and his son's friends."^ 

That night at Hunter College, two worlds passed through each other like ghosts.^ By the 
time Wechsler arrived, a drunken Kerouac in checked lumberjack shirt and black jeans and 
boots was already reading his rambling, moving, anecdotal manifesto. "It is because I am 
beat, that is, I believe in beatitude," said Kerouac, swaying over the podium, "and that God 
so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to it... .So you're all big smart know- 
it-all Marxists and Freudians, hey?" he jeered. "Why don't you come back in a million years 
and tell me all about it, angels? ... Who knows, my God, but that the universe is not one 
vast sea of compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of 
personality and cruelty." Kerouac talked Buddhism, nonviolence, and the love of all 
creatures, sliding saxophonically (sometimes subtly, sometimes obscurely) across the 
registers in a manner not calculated to make sense to the likes of James Wechsler. He 
swigged brandy. He celebrated "the glee of America, the honesty of America," its "wild 
selfbelieving individuality." He proclaimed that the beat generation was "a swinging group of 
new American men intent on joy," rooted in his father's wild parties and the exploits of his 
noble Breton ancestors, in Popeye and Laurel and Hardy. He deplored the blindness of 
media label mongers and those who concocted "beatnik routines on TV." He read a poem 
dedicated to Harpo Marx. He stomped offstage and dragged Allen Ginsberg out from the 
wings. Hearing Wechsler speak of "fighting for peace," Kerouac laughed, plucked up 
Wechsler's hat— "a Zen move," Ginsberg says^— and circled the stage with it. 


Wechsler did not begin to comprelnend7 To inim Kerouac's performance was "a stream of 
semiconsciousness," "a union of madness and sadness." Kerouac sounded to inim "like a 
jaded traveling salesman telling obscene bedtime stories to the young." Kerouac's writings 
were "raucous hedonism," "vulgar ramblings on a latrine wall." "I was grappling with a man 
from outer space," Wechsler wrote, "and it was only for the briefest of intervals that we 
even seemed to occupy the same mat." Wechsler was at times condescending, at times 
snide, dotting his comments with phrases like "I am obliged," "with due respect to Mr. 
Kerouac," "if I may say so." Kerouac, for his part, was belligerent: "Who's James Wechsler? 
Right over there. James Wechsler, you believe in the destruction of America, don't you? ... I 
want to know what you do believe in ... . I believe in love, I vote for love." The audience 
applauded. Kerouac had put Wechsler on the spot, and Wechsler's answering credo could 
hardly fail to be pompous: "I believe in the capacity of the human intelligence to create a 
world in which there is love, compassion, justice and freedom." Wechsler sputtered, "I think 
what you are doing is to try to destroy anybody's instinct to care about this world... . There 
is no valor in the beats' flight and irresponsibility." He disagreed with end-of-ideology 
theorists who claimed "that everything was settled by the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and 
that there really aren't any great differences in political life." For there were two outstanding 
issues that seemed to him "to be worthy of everything within us": the hydrogen bomb and 
the quest for human equality. 

It would be an understatement to say that Wechsler was exasperated. "It is a sad thing 
about America now," he told the audience, "that what is regarded as the great revolt and 
the great representation of dissent and unorthodoxy is what is called the beat generation... . 
(A]fter listening to its spokesman tonight, I must say that I find myself groping in the 
darkest confusion as to what the hell this is about." From the hall came shouts of "Shame 
on you!"^ 

The evening made a great impression on James Wechsler. He opened his next book with an 
account of it; indeed, he said it provoked him into writing the book in the first place. The 
book. Reflections of an Angry Middle-Aged Editor, published in I960, is a passionate liberal 
manifesto. It makes robust polemic against the Bomb, for racial integration and civil 
liberties, against the siren song of false affluence, against the trivialization of politics by 
television.' It deplores a decline in public-mindedness, even in the trade union movement, 
whose revitalization Wechsler devoutly hopes for and does not expect. Although a 
Democratic president is about to be elected for the first time in eight years, Wechsler, like 
many liberal activists, expresses not even the most tentative jubilation about the credentials 
of John F. Kennedy. 

His book is not forward-looking but haunted, and the specter that haunts it is none other 
than Jack Kerouac and his beat friends. Wechsler says at the outset that he wants to 
"explain what the rest of us look like to the beat and why it is they seem so self-righteously 
convinced that it is their elders who are the sad specimens."^" Again and again Wechsler 
bemoans the fact that the younger generation is not quickened by political combat. He 
knows which side the audience was on at Hunter College. The beats are more prominent 
than they deserve to be, he says, because they care, even if what they practice is "the cult 
of not caring." He is haunted by the fear that the young will desert the liberal cause and 
become "beatniks." He sees himself surrounded by "liberals suffering from tired blood, 
dismayed by their failure to communicate with the new generation, doubting their own 
strength, saddened by the seeming treacheries of men who win elections under their 
banner." He is tormented by the sense of being a failed political parent, wondering whether 
his cohort should bear the blame for the apathy of the young. He wonders "whether the 
confusions and disappointments of the last two decades have destroyed our will and desire 
to do anything, and whether we have communicated— however indistinctly and fakeringly— 
to those younger than ourselves the sense that our failure justifies their apathy." 


Wechsler's lament may seem overdrawn. One might think that in I960 the precincts of 
liberalism should have been bursting with gusto. Was not the Eisenhower interregnum 
drawing to an end? Despite their suspicions of Kennedy money, Kennedy glamour, and 
Kennedy family connections to McCarthy ism, despite long-standing attachments to 
Stevenson and Humphrey, many top liberals were anticipating a return to power with the 
Senator from Massachusetts. Liberalism should have been able to look forward to a robust 
future and a cheerful vindication. For over a quarter of a century, ever since Franklin 
Roosevelt came to power, American liberals had claimed title to the future. Their tones were 
optimistic, their rhetoric redolent of progress. It was this faith in unending progress that set 
them apart— or so they maintained— from conservatives. When Adiai Stevenson attempted 
to define liberalism, in a somewhat murky 1956 speech, he listed first the liberal's belief in 
the future: "He believes in the existence of the future as well as the past ... . In answer to 
the conservative's classic question, 'Whither are we drifting?' the liberal says, 'We cannot 
drift, we must go.'"" 

Liberals did not altogether agree on philosophical underpinnings ."Some thought society 
perfectible, although the influentials, chastened by Nazism, Stalinism, and the Bomb, and 
impressed by Reinhold Niebuhr's antiutopian theology, thought humanity fundamentally 
flawed and social action intrinsically subject to moral limitations.^^ Both David Riesman^'^ 
and Paul Goodman^"^ deplored the dearth of Utopian thinking now that liberals had grown fat 
from the postwar cornucopia. Innocent or chastened, however, liberals traced their common 
lineage to the Enlightenment. They believed that society could be understood and, once 
understood, rationally steered through responsible action. Reason was the name of their 
faith, and the government its instrument. Leaders were to embody reason by standing for 
moderation. ^^ But the brooding Wechsler caught a real deficiency in the liberal spirit, an 
undertow at work beneath the forward-looking rhetoric that cascaded through the speeches 
and articles of such liberal spokesmen as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Hubert Humphrey, and 
AdIai Stevenson. At just the moment when liberalism was apparently about to renew the 
mission it had inherited from Roosevelt and Truman, after eight long, demoralizing 
Eisenhower years and two humiliating defeats, why the tone of pathos, the sense of doubt, 
the "tired blood" which Wechsler observed in his generation? 

Allow that Wechsler was exaggerating— for Kennedy's Camelot soon stirred much of the 
liberal blood. And yet Wechsler still deserves credit for suspecting, in his bones, that liberals 
could lose, were going to lose the young. (Not that Jack Kerouac was going to inherit them 
either; the beats had their moment and were superseded.) As things turned out, Wechsler 
was absolutely right to be dismayed by his generation's "failure to communicate with the 
new generation," and to wonder about the fragility of what was being communicated. One 
key question about the Sixties is why it wasn't liberalism that reaped the harvest of the 
young's growing disgruntlement. Why a New Left? Why not a new liberalism? (Later we 
shall also ask. Why not a revival of the Old Left? And eventually. Why did the New Left 
refuse in the end to be New any longer?) Understanding requires a closer look at the 
experience of the liberal generation. 


Most of the leading liberals of the Fifties were men (rarely women) who were born around 
World War I and came of political age during the Great Depression. They entered politics 
under the sign of the New Deal, which meant for them that the government was the natural 
ally of the common people at home and the natural enemy of totalitarianism abroad. Now 
middle-class themselves, though many came from working-class homes, they believed in 
government protection for trade unions, collective bargaining, works programs. Social 
Security— in short, a welfare state with a floor under it and some protection for the weak 
against the corporate rich whom Roosevelt called "economic royalists"; they wanted 
capitalism without its most brutal inequities and injustices. Some of them were onetime 
socialists or Communists, like Wechsler. Many were first-generation Americans; childhoods 
in poverty and parents' escapes from political oppression were fresh in their minds. Some 
were organizers, people of working-class origins who learned the political ropes in the 
parties of the Left and battled their way to positions of influence. ^^ A good many were 
professors or editors or writers or clergymen, college-educated men who were taught the 
power of human action by the government of Franklin Roosevelt. 

In the Fifties, Adiai Stevenson, the veritable "egghead" and a reluctant politician, was their 
symbolic representative, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was their permanent hero. For them 
the government was the prime instrument of collective will, the embodiment of political 
reason, the finest expression of public-spirited virtue— because the New Deal had 
established that kind of government. "Roosevelt taught us," one of them wrote a half- 
century later, "that in both spheres, domestic and foreign, 'government is the solution. '"^^ 
Some were stirred by the suffering of the unemployed, some more offended by the 
irrationality of the market— committed, therefore, to create a government that would 
enforce a rational order. But whether motivated more by heart or by mind, they had a 
loyalty in common: the jaunty FDR delivered them from marginality, and they never forgot 
it. In the great ferment of New Deal legislation, some of them rolled up their sleeves and 
went to work drafting bills and writing speeches. These were heady times for idealists in 
their twenties, full of ideas and pragmatism, eager to apply themselves. Decades later they 
held reunions and celebrated their enlistment in the New Deal cause as among their finest 

One of this generation was Samuel Beer, briefly a speechwriter for FDR, later a professor of 
government at Harvard and simultaneously (in 1959-62) national chairman of Americans for 
Democratic Action. Beer turned twenty-one in 1932, just before Roosevelt's election. 
Reading his political memoir, I am struck by the same mood which carried me into the early 
New Left almost thirty years later: 

In 1932 I could have cast my vote for FDR. I did not. I did not vote at all... .1 
belonged to that huge pool of eligibles who were in the habit of not voting in 
those days, but who were later mobilized by Roosevelt. Insofar as these 
nonvoters were like me, they were smart-alecky college kids who felt 
themselves superior to the whole business of politics. We had been taught by 
Charles Beard that politics was simply business carried on by other means, 
and by Sinclair Lewis that businessmen were a bunch of Babbitts, and by H. 
L. Mencken that the American people as a whole were the "booboisie." 

Today (1984] we would be called alienated. Yet we became incorrigible 
followers of Roosevelt and the New Deal, and made the Democratic party the 
dominant majority party until well into the 1960s. We were a true political 


Theirs was the creed into which I and a majority of the early leaders of the New Left were 
raised. It was not terribly far removed from the creed that came to power in I960 with John 
F. Kennedy, and "got the country moving again" after the political somnolence of the Fifties. 
By all evidence, it should have had a bright future, especially among the college-educated. 
It was, after all, well represented on campuses, where in 1956 60 percent of American 
college professors had supported Adiai Stevenson against President Eisenhower. ^^ But Sam 
Beer and the rest of his generation were fathers who lost their political children. (The social 
democrats who had still grander hopes— who hoped that the unions would stir up a 
European-style social-democratic movement that would push beyond welfare-state 
liberalism— also ended up bereft of political progeny.) Their students and sometimes their 
biological children were among the founding generation of the New Left. The son of an 
economist who helped write the Social Security Act founded Students for a Democratic 
Society. The son of another liberal economist, a member of Harry S. Truman's Council of 
Economic Advisers, coordinated SDS's community-organizing projects, then helped organize 
the demonstrations that disrupted the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. My own 
parents, high school teachers and not activists, were committed New Dealers of the 
Roosevelt-Truman-Stevenson stripe; my father hung pictures of Lincoln and FDR on his 
office wall. How could the liberal generation, so well situated, apparently so clear in its 
purposes, fail to pass on its mission to its young? 

Part of the answer is that the liberal generation half-succeeded. In politics, nothing is so 
unsettling as half a success. After a catastrophe, the next generation rebuilds from scratch. 
After a heroic victory, they inherit the triumph. But half a success tantalizes and confuses: it 
dangles before the eyes a glaring discrepancy between promise and performance. The 
liberal generation stood for opening access to the regime of affluence, which sent their 
children to college, where they learned to find names and remedies for the spiritual poverty 
they attached to that selfsame affluence. Liberalism stood for equality, but lacked the 
means, or the will, or the blood-and-guts desire, to bring it about. The leadership, if not all 
of the base, also stood for permanent Cold War mobilization, which to many in the next 
generation seemed much too dangerous. So liberalism accomplished enough to launch the 
next generation— not enough to keep them. 

The leading liberals after World War II thought they knew the way to social justice.^" They 
wanted to extend the New Deal, to buffer the majority of people against the abuse of power 
in a capitalist economy. They detested monopoly and liked public services. Capitalism itself, 
the private control (though with public regulation) of the economy, they endorsed with 
greater or lesser enthusiasm. For some it was a matter of first principles— Hubert 
Humphrey, for example, the son of a druggist, always took it as an article of faith that 
private property was the cornerstone of liberty. ^^ Others, more reluctant, concluded from 
the history of the Soviet Union that socialism meant authoritarianism, or totalitarianism; in 
any event, it was unnecessarily disruptive medicine in an America that didn't need socialism 
to head toward equality or deliver the goods. In the crucial campaign year of 1948, the 
compendium of their economic wisdom was entitled Saving American Capitalism; its editor, 
the prominent liberal economist Seymour E. Harris, introduced the book— intended to serve 
as a bible for the Truman administration— by saying, "Like the National Association of 
Manufacturers and the United States Chamber of Commerce, we too are anxious to save 
capitalism. "^^ In the Thirties, socialism had appealed to many of them not so much on 
ethical or philosophical grounds but pragmatically and by default— because in the 
Depression, capitalism had thrown millions out of work and reduced them to penury. 
Capitalism didn't worl<. 


But the economic boom of World War II and its aftermatin convinced tine leading liberals that 
they didn't need to go out on a political limb for socialism. Capitalism could be saved 
through an extension of New Deal principles, could promote prosperity and political 
democracy at the same time through an adroit use of Keynesian economics, a limited 
welfare state, and collective bargaining. As long as investment and productivity were 
increasing, increased business profits would finance increased wages; workers would buy 
more goods and keep the boom fueled. With class conflict institutionalized in the form of 
collective bargaining, the unions would be integrated into this state-supervised capitalist 
economy. By hitching liberalism to growth, liberals would keep the allegiance of a 
hardheaded public accustomed to bread-and-butter results. If the government could 
manage the economy with fiscal and monetary policies, minimize unemployment and 
control inflation, and satisfy the working class by giving it a share in material progress, who 
needed socialism? 

Surveying the postwar boom, most prominent liberals were convinced not only that America 
was prosperous— who could doubt it?— but that it was becoming steadily more equal. 
Economic growth was apparently the solvent for social problems, which would be addressed 
by skilled managers. Class conflict would not need to get out of hand. If some people were 
left out of the mainstream, if there were still (in a common phrase) "pockets of poverty," 
these were exceptional; they could soon and easily be taken care of. Social problems were, 
in another well-worn phrase, "unfinished business." The American model of well-managed 
capitalism was a model for the rest of the world; it would bring middle-class democracy in 
its wake; in any event, it was still preferable to the depredations of Stalinism. 

This last point was the key to the mood of postwar liberalism: increasingly, before all else, 
at least in leading pronouncements, it was anti-Communist. All its other passions were 
nestled in this obligatory one. It outlasted McCarthyism by agreeing that America was 
besieged; the difference was that liberalism thought the principal menace lurked outside. "It 
is still up to us," Seymour Harris wrote, "to prove that capitalism is not but a passing phase 
in the historical process from feudalism to socialism. "^•^ In the public arena, the same note 
was mandatory. To take one of a myriad examples: Hubert Humphrey's famous debut in 
national politics— his passionate speech on behalf of a strong civil rights plank at the 1948 
Democratic Convention— began with a reference to the American airlift against the Soviet 
blockade of Berlin. "Our demands for democratic practice in other lands will be no more 
effective than the guarantee of those practices in our own country," Humphrey said, adding: 
"Our land is now, more than ever before, the last best hope on earth. "^"^ To put this rhetoric 
down to simple opportunism would, I think, be playing false with the liberals' passion. They 
were not hypocrites. They were not violating principle. For the most part they had been 
anti-Communist for years, although during the war years they had submerged the impulse 
in the interest of the U.S. -Soviet alliance— they, the White House, and many others in the 
upper reaches of American power, including Life magazine^^ and Hollywood's Jack Warner. ^^ 

The liberal leadership's anti-Communist fervor was not reserved for resounding phrases on 
ceremonial occasions. Anti-Communism was the very crucible of their political identity. ^^ 
They were activists, not political philosophers, these pragmatists-on-principle, and it was in 
the postwar battles that they defined themselves. They collaborated with their opposite 
numbers in the fellow traveling Left to draw a line in the dirt: Either one was anti- 
Communist (in which case one supported the main lines of American foreign policy) or one 
subscribed to the Popular Front (in which case one either wholeheartedly subscribed to 
Soviet foreign policy or, in the name of unity on the Left, refused to say that one did not). 


This is not tine place to assess tine moves and countermoves by winicin tine Cold War 
hardened in the immediate postwar years. ^* Suffice to say that the Cold War, like a powerful 
electromagnetic field, induced its domestic counterpart. The Roosevelt heritage divided 
along sharp lines. The "progressives"— among them the war-swelled numbers of the 
American Communist Party— blamed a rightward-veering American foreign policy. In their 
view, the Truman administration was violating wartime Roosevelt-Stalin accords, the West 
was acting aggressively, and the tightening Soviet grip on Eastern Europe— insofar as they 
acknowledged it at all— was a legitimate effort to protect Soviet security. The anti- 
Communist "liberals" supported Truman's containment policies, and more: They became 
convinced, with good reason, that wherever the two camps coexisted within the same 
organizations, the disciplined, single-minded Communist-liners and their apologists would 
be able to dominate debate, smuggle in their hidden agendas, and stifle the more easygoing 
liberals. Even rank-and-file liberals whose priorities were domestic had grown weary of 
factional wars against Stalinists— and Trotskyists— who were boring (in both senses) from 
within group after group. Standing up against Communism became organized liberalism's 
driving purpose. ^^ The camps dug in. 

The Cold War came home. Move spiraled into countermove. In May 1946, the prominent 
liberal activist James Loeb threw down the gauntlet in a much-noticed letter to The New 
Republic.^° Liberals, said Loeb, would have to decide whether East-West tensions were 
solely the West's fault, whether economic security should be pursued to the exclusion of 
intellectual freedom, and whether those who answered no could work with Communists who 
thought yes. Late in December, Popular Front advocates founded a new national 
organization. Progressive Citizens of America. A few days later, the anti-Communists 
founded their new organization, Americans for Democratic Action, ADA. ADAs founding 
statement supported "the general framework of present American foreign policy" more 
vehemently than it supported anything else, and closed by "reject[ing] any association with 
Communists or sympathizers with communism in the United States as completely as we 
reject any association with Fascists or their sympathizers."^^ As the whole political center of 
gravity slid to the Right (the 1947 Tart-Hartley Act required that union leaders swear they 
were not Communists, for example), most liberal leaders slid with it. Under pressure from 
the Catholic Church, the CIO unions were ripped apart, the Communists defeated or 
expelled. The American Veterans Committee and many other political groups were riven. ^^ 
Local Democratic parties were split by threat and counterthreat.^^ Caucuses were organized; 
politicians maneuvered and countermaneuvered. Mailing lists were stolen, partisans hooted 
down. In battle after battle, the postwar liberals crushed the progressives. Within the ADA, 
the aggressive Cold Warriors triumphed over the activists who, while anti-Communist, 
preferred to take their stand for domestic reforms. Positions polarized. As in the larger Cold 
War, each side mirrored and caricatured the other. The liberals denied that American policy 
bore any substantial responsibility for worsening East-West relations. The progressives 
refused to blame the Russians for anything: At the founding convention of the Progressive 
Party in 1948, for example, a mildly worded proposal stating that no nation's foreign policy 
should be beyond criticism was roundly defeated by Communist-liners.'^'* 

The Cold War in American liberalism replayed the breakdown of the wartime alliance, and in 
retrospect it is hard to see how the progressives could ever have competed successfully, if 
for no other reason than that Stalin was the pro-Communist Left's worst enemy. In Central 
Europe, Truman and Stalin traded hostile moves. But the American moves took place behind 
closed doors, and were easily forgotten by liberal observers. They included, for example, 
what Stalin could legitimately regard as American reneging on Lend-Lease, on credits, and 
on the promise of billions of dollars in German reparations.^^ By contrast, the Russian 
seizures of power in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia were transparently, horribly 
repressive. In 1948, the Berlin blockade and the Communist coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia 
undermined whatever auld lang syne credit the progressives still retained. 


Henry Wallace's 1948 Progressive campaign for the presidency was the progressives' last 
hurrah. When Wallace went down to humiliating defeat, with a mere 2.4 percent of the 
popular vote, the Popular Front alternative shriveled to a shadow of its wartime self. Liberal 
housecleaning routed what McCarthy ism and self-doubt did not; the ranks of Soviet 
sympathizers dwindled, and among visible writers only a few social democrats and hardy 
independents, like I. F. Stone and C. Wright Mills, refused to let the combination stampede 
them into Cold War orthodoxy. Liberals like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who had been warning 
against Soviet-lining Communists for years, felt vindicated. A good many liberals were 
troubled by Senator Joe McCarthy and his fellow inquisitors, by House Un-American 
Activities Committee hearings and their local equivalents, by the questionable trials of Alger 
Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, by the spectacle of Communists and fellow travelers 
and principled leftists and liberals hounded out of universities, out of teaching and other 
jobs. But others seized the hour and joined the punitive edge of the anti-Communist 
crusade: In 1954, for example. Senator Hubert Humphrey, vice chairman of ADA, liberal's 
liberal, candidate for reelection, in a move that was part tactical ploy and part ideological 
me-tooism, devised and sponsored the Communist Control Act, which would have made 
membership in the Communist Party a criminal act. (According to his biographer, 
Humphrey's measure "infuriated his ADA friends, but mostly they looked upon it as a 
momentary aberration and forgave him.")'^^ 

Whatever their reactions to American society's great purge— and they ranged from the 
horrified to the apologetic— when the dust cleared, the liberals had essentially cornered the 
left-of-center world of American politics. Yet the Eisenhower years were still hard for them. 
Adiai Stevenson, their standard-bearer, was clobbered in two successive elections. Even 
worse, their spirit was stalled. They were, Bert Cochran wrote, "demoralized and in 
retreat. "^^ They had fought for material security, and now the American economy had 
rewarded their crusade with suburbanized affluence, which was not precisely what they had 
had in mind. They went on talking the old New Deal language of equality and justice, but 
the old slogans seemed stale. And where they were passionate, about the evils of 
Communism, they were trapped in a terrible bind. They were committed to the Cold War, 
but victimized by the passions the Cold War ignited. As Cochran put it, the liberals "had 
grown conservative but were frightened by the furies of McCarthy ism, and they were 
choking in the thickening know-nothing atmosphere."'^* Rank-and-file liberals with 
impeccably anti-Communist credentials were smeared by gossips, harassed by threatening 
phone calls, or found the Daily Worker left on their doormats by local vigilantes— all for 
daring to organize in the Parent-Teachers Association and like groups. •^^ Even the ADA, 
which excluded Communists, was controversial. 

In the Thirties, liberals had rested their hopes on the unions and the state. But in the 
Eisenhower years, the state was no longer theirs, and the gloss had worn off the unions, 
whose "countervailing power," as John Kenneth Galbraith termed it, had been set back by 
Taft-Hartley, by the purge of the Communists, by the shrinkage of the blue-collar work 
force, and by Eisenhower's antagonism. The unions had grown bureaucratized, committed 
more to bread-and-butter gains than crusades for justice. The merger of the AFL and CIO in 
1955 betokened the normalization of the latter, not the radicalization of the former. Now, 
cleansed of the Communist taint, liberals beheld a society afflicted by a malaise they could 
not grasp. They too had been reading The Lonely Crowd and The Organization Man and 
wondering whether the well-upholstered world of "other-directed" man, the world that 
liberal capitalism had made, was the world their hearts had once beat for. Wistful for new 
crusades, liberals spoke of "the quality of life."'*° 


This was a middle-class mood and they were unabashedly middle-class people. A good 
number of them were established, or about to be. They held respected positions in 
journalism, the academy, and liberal organizations. If the unions no longer made their blood 
race, if sweeping Utopian visions now had to be ruled out as illusions or, worse, invitations 
to Stalinism, the liberals could fall back on themselves. Perhaps their own success 
represented the good society, or progressively unfolding reason, at work. Many of them 
lived lives which depended on language and knowledge, after all. Many of them were Jews, 
the children of impoverished immigrants, and they had made a place for themselves in 
America, it seemed to them, against long odds, by turning to good use their intelligence, 
their command of acquired knowledge. There was good reason why they were thrilled by 
Adiai Stevenson, whose elegant phrases made them feel that a materialistic America 
deserved a well-schooled tongue— the source of their own status. Although Stevenson was 
twice beaten by Eisenhower, he swept a new generation of liberals into politics— the 
California Democratic Council, a revived Independent Voters of Illinois, reform Democratic 
clubs in machine-dominated New York City, groups that kept liberal politics alive and also 
became proving grounds and sometimes allies for parts of the New Left."*^ 

Many of the liberals were content to surrender their old values like outworn suits. Cheerfully 
disillusioned with socialist and Stalinist dreams, they signed up for the American Celebration 
by concluding, with the ex-socialist Seymour Martin Lipset, that America was a country in 
which "leftist values" already prevailed. "^^ They could dream trimmer dreams. Having carved 
out personal niches, they now had something to lose. And here was another source of the 
generational chasm. Some of their children, feeling disaffiliated, identified with the 
dispossessed. Organized liberalism, by contrast, had made its bargain with affluence; it 
passed on its ideals to its children, but spoke in the voice of the proprietor, or his expert- 
priest. The liberals were not guilty of that famous Sixties cliche, a "failure to communicate"; 
in the unspoken language of property and complacency, they "communicated" all too well. 

Whatever James Wechsler's forebodings, most of the liberals went over to John F. 
Kennedy's side when he won the I960 nomination. They came to power with him, and he 
spoke for them in his inaugural address, in the self-conscious accents of a generation: "Let 
the word go forth ... that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans— born 
in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our 
ancient heritage." How strikingly different is this tone from the keynote of the tiny New 
Left's manifesto eighteen months later: "We are people of this generation, bred in at least 
modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit." 
But notice: both are speaking the language of generations. In John F. Kennedy's manifesto 
the strenuous life is rearing up— and riding for a fall; in the obscure Port Huron Statement 
there is a brooding. The proud have come to power, but the uncomfortable are beginning to 

^ "unreconstructed radicals": James A. Wechsler, Reflections of an Angry Middle-Aged Editor 
(New York: Random House, 1960), p. 9. 

^ McCarthy's Senate committee: Wechsler, Reflections, p. 168; Victor S. Navasky, Naming 
Names (New York: Viking, 1980), pp. 58 ff. 

^ AdIai Stevenson: Walter Johnson, ed.. The Papers of AdIai E. Stevenson (Boston: Little, 
Brown, 1972), p. 22. 

"* "out of touch": Wechsler, Reflections, p. 4. 


^ That night at Hunter College: Marc D. Schleifer, "The Beat Debated— Is It Or Is It Not?" 
Village Voice, November 19, 1958, reprinted in MacDarrah, ed., Kerouac, pp 79-80; 
Kerouac, "The Origins of the Beat Generation" (based on his Hunter College speech), 
originally published in Playboy, June 1959, pp. 31-32, 42, 79, reprinted in Parkinson, ed.. 
Casebook on the Beat; McNally, Desolate Angel, pp. 258-59; Newfield, Prophetic Minority, 
p. 44; telephone conversations, Allen Ginsberg, May 20 and 29, 1987. 

^ "a Zen move": Telephone conversation, Allen Ginsberg, May 20, 1987. 

^ Wechsler did not begin: Wechsler, Reflections, pp. 5, 6, 7, 11, 13; Schleifer, "The Beat 
Debated," pp. 79-80; Newfield, Prophetic Minority, p. 44. 

* "Shame on youl": Wechsler, Reflections, pp. 10-11. 

^ robust polemic: Ibid., pp. 38-39. 

^° "explain what the rest": Ibid., pp. 18, 16-17, 221, 223, 234. 

" "He believes": Adiai E. Stevenson, The New America, eds. Seymour E. Harris, John 
Barrlow Martin, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (New York: Harper and Bros., 1957), p. 256. 

^^ humanity fundamentally flawed: Richard H. Pells, The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age 
(New York: Harper and Row, 1985), pp. 136-38; Richard Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr {Nevj York: 
Pantheon, 1985). 

^^ David Riesman: "Some Observations on Community Plans and Utopia," in Individualism 
Reconsidered{G\er\coe: Free Press, 1954), pp. 70-75 (written in 1946-47). 

^"^ Paul Goodman: "Utopian Thinking," Commentary, July 1961, reprinted in Utopian Essays 
and Practical Proposals (New York: Vintage, 1964), pp. 3-21. 

^^ Leaders were to embody reason: Pells, Liberal Mind, p. 146. 

^^ learned the political ropes: Richard Flacks, Making History vs. Making Life (New York: 
Columbia University Press, forthcoming). 

" "Roosevelt taught us": Samuel Beer, "Memoirs of a Political Junkie," Harvard Magazine, 
September-October 1984, pp. 165-70. 

^^ "In 1932": Ibid., p. 165. 

^^ American college professors: Lawrence Howard, "The Academic and the Ballot," School 
and Society, vol. 86, no. 2141 (November 22, 1958), p. 416. 

^° The leading liberals after World War II: This discussion is indebted to Godfrey Hodgson, 
America in Our Time (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), pp. 78-83. 

^^ Hubert Humphrey: Carl Solberg, Hubert Humphrey (New York: Norton, 1984), pp. 75-76; 
John Earl Haynes, Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota's DFL Party (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 123-24, 204. 

^^ "anxious to save capitalism": Seymour E. Harris, ed.. Saving American Capitalism (New 
York: Knopf, 1948), p. 4. 

" "It is still up to us": Ibid., p. 4. 

^"^ "last best hope": Solberg, Hubert Humphrey, p. 18. 

^^ Life: The issue of March 29, 1943, was devoted to apologias for the Soviet Union. 


^^ Jack Warner: Warner's production of Mission to Moscow (1942), like tine memoir by 
Ambassador Josepin P. Davies from winicin it derived, apologized for Stalin's Moscow trials. 
See William L. O'Neill, A Better World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), pp. 59-60, 

^^ the very crucible: Haynes, Dubious Alliance, and Mary Sperling McAuliffe, Crisis on the 
Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954 (Amherst: University of 
Massachusetts Press, 1978). 

^* moves and countermoves: The literature is, of course, voluminous. The strengths of both 
orthodox and revisionist views emerge in Daniel Yergin, Shattered Peacel (Boston: 
Houghton Mifflin, 1977). 

^^ rank-and-file liberals: Personal communication, Herbert J. Gans, December 3, 1986. 

^° In May 1946: James Loeb, letter to the editor. The New Republic, May 13, 1946, p. 699. 

^^ "the general framework": Curcis D. MacDougall, Gideon's Army (New York: Marzani and 
Munsell, 1965), vol. 1, pp. 121-22. 

^^ American Veterans Committee: Michael Straight, >4fter/.of?g Silence (New York: Norton, 
1983), pp. 234-39. 

^^ Local Democratic parties: For a case of intimidation by the pro-Communist Left, see 
Solberg, Hubert Humphrey, p. 113. On the general atmosphere, a good case study is 
Haynes, Dubious Alliance. 

•^"^ a mildly worded proposal: MacDougall, Gideon's Army, vol. 2, p. 571. 

^^ American reneging: Yergin, Shattered Peace, pp. 64-65, 94, 95-97, 227-29, 297-300, 

^^ "infuriated his ADA friends": Solberg, Hubert Humphrey, pp. 158-59. 

^^ "demoralized": Bert Cochran, Adiai Stevenson: Patrician among the Politicians (New York: 
Funk and Wagnalls, 1969), p. 9. 

^^ "had grown conservative": Ibid., pp. 242-43. 

■^^ Daily Worker. Interview, Barbara Haber, November 17, 1984. 

^° "quality of life": Pells, Liberal Mind, pp. 130 ff. 

"^^ new generation of liberals: Cochran, Adiai Stevenson, p. 161. 

"^^ Seymour Martin Lipset: Political Man (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1963), p. xxi. 


Left Remnants, Red Diapers 

I, for one, was a liberal youth, raised by liberal parents, dreaming liberal dreams, moved by 
liberal heroes, who threw himself into political activity and moved leftward in the early 
Sixties. If the New Deal generation was going to hold the loyalty of its successors, it should 
have been able to hold people like me— teenagers who sat before the TV set on election 
nights cheering the Democrats (all but the southerners) and thronged into the Bronx's 
Grand Concourse to hear Adiai Stevenson orate in 1956. One reason the New Dealers failed 
to hold their own was that the liberal summons had some political competition. 

I arrived at Harvard in the fall of 1959. My freshman year, I schooled myself in the pursuit 
and perfection of first-year-away-from-home alienation. I read The Catcher in the Rye and 
Lady Chatterley's Lover, saw Bergman's The Magician twice, signed a telegram opposing the 
execution of Caryl Chessman at San Quentin, shot pool (not very well) after dinner, and 
played poker (better) almost every night. Ostensibly I was studying mathematics, which 
came easily and lacked soul. Actually I was excited by philosophy and moved by 
Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Kafka, and most of all Camus s The Myth of Sisyphus. During the 
summer of 1960,1 continued reading in this vein— principally Camus's The Rebel and Kafka's 
diaries— on the long commute to my job, programming one of the early desk-size computers 
for the Monroe Calculating Machine Company in suburban New Jersey. My free-floating 
alienation here discovered alienated labor: the machine I was programming was stupid, the 
work uninspiring, my coworkers affable but narrow. Conveniently, I fell in love. 

The object of my affections, whom I shall call Madeleine, was a red-diaper baby: the 
daughter of onetime Communists. This may sound like falling-into-the-clutches, but it did 
happen this way. I was seventeen and in every sense ready for clutches of this sort. My 
political attitudes were muddled. Earlier that summer, I'd been wearing a Stevenson button, 
and when I saw Kennedy trounce my hero for the Democratic nomination, on television, I 
cried. I had heard on the radio that real liberals like Eleanor Roosevelt were leery about 
Kennedy— thought he was too confirmed a Cold Warrior, for one thing— and so I was ready 
to listen to letter voices. Now, as Madeleine and I dawdled around on long summer weekend 
afternoons, next door to my parents' place in upstate New York, I got into the habit of 
picking up the left-wing weekly newspaper her parents subscribed to, the "progressive" 
National Guardian. I don't remember any enthusiasm for the Guardian's rather 
apologetically pro-Soviet slant; The Nation or The New Republic might have served my 
purposes, and indeed did so in liberal families. I liked the fact that the Guardian was 
undisguisedly dissident. 

To the more or less liberal youth of my generation, with no family tradition of activism to 
draw on, red-diaper babies were frequently our first contacts with the forbidden world of 
wholesale political criticism. They had grown up breathing a left-wing air; their sense of 
being different, touched by nobility and consecrated by persecution, was magnetic; they 
had a perch from which to criticize. I had no inkling of this at the time, but I have 
subsequently learned from interviews that, romance aside, mine was a common experience: 
The majority of the original New Leftists were not the children of Communist or socialist 
parents, but sometime in adolescence were touched, influenced, fascinated, by children who 
were. From them the rest of us absorbed, by osmosis, the idea and precedent and romance 
of a Left. 


In fact, as far back as junior high school, I was tantalized, intrigued, by the idea of a Left. 
Then too, my corruptor was the child of a onetime left-winger. In 1955 or 1956, one of my 
best friends, whom I shall call David, played for me a record that came in a jacket unlike 
anything I'd seen before— black and white, no names, no credits, the only words a headline: 
THE INVESTIGATOR. The reverse side was a blank white. Like a magazine wrapped in the 
proverbial plain brown wrapper. The Investigator exuded an aura of irresistible taboo. The 
author, I learned years later, was Reuben Shipp, a Canadian who had worked in American 
radio until blacklisted, then deported.^ First broadcast in Canada, then smuggled onto a 
disk. The Investigator came as a "ray of hope" into the households of the American Left— so 
remembers Jessica Mitford.^ 

The unnamed Investigator did a splendid rendition of Senator Joseph McCarthy's giggle and 
his blustering, wheedling tone. After perishing in a plane crash, the Investigator finds 
himself in Heaven, which, appallingly, is running wild with subversive elements like 
Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, and John Milton. He takes charge of ideological purification, 
subpoenas these worthies, and, unimpressed by their ringing self-defenses, deports them 
"from Up Here to [significant pause] Down There." ("Naturally they say the same thing," he 
explains. "They're part of the same conspiracy.") He also subpoenas a succession of Karl 
Marxes, who on interrogation turn out to be Karl Marx the watchmaker, Karl Marx the piano 
tuner, and Karl Marx the pastry chef, whereupon all persons named Karl Marx are deported. 
The political atmosphere, needless to say, is chilled. But the Investigator runs out of 
important witnesses and ends up subpoenaing the Chief, intoning that "there is no one so 
high as to be immune from investigation." His voice cracking, he takes to ranting, "I am the 
Chief!" which hubris sends him pell-mell down to The Other Place, shrieking, "I'm the 
Chief"— only to be refused entry by the Devil himself. 

Although I did not understand this at the time. The Investigator vjas typical of Popular Front 
anti-McCarthy culture, which presented McCarthyism as an assault on all free thought— 
which it was, though of course McCarthyism gnashed its teeth over certain lines of thought 
in particular. But the thinness of the American radical tradition, the residues of Earl 
Browder's Stalin-era line ("Communism is twentieth-century Americanism"), and the habits 
of Stalinist duplicity, along with the terrors of McCarthyite inquisitions, led Popular Front 
culture to defend Thought in general, not socialism in particular. The Investigator placed 
Karl Marx, whoever he was, on the side of the diffuse heresies with which, time after time, 
humanity had battered (with eventual success) against the princes of narrow-mindedness. 

It was taken for granted around my house that McCarthy was a force of evil, though not 
much was said about him (or any other politician, for that matter). I watched pieces of the 
1954 all-day live broadcasts of the army-McCarthy hearings on our new television set, 
enthralled as McCarthy tried to dig himself out of a hole by impugning the record of one of 
the army's attorneys until the impeccably patrician Joseph Welch, the army's chief attorney, 
got the better of the bully by asking the famous question, "Have you no sense of decency?" 
It was a showdown even better than High Noon, itself an ex-Communist's parable about 
McCarthyism. McCarthy's comeuppance is the most-remembered televised event among the 
early New Left generation; it meant there were limits to bullying, that the bad guys, once 
exposed, could be stopped because, like the Investigator, they didn't know where to stop. 
But what made the saga of Joseph McCarthy all the more real to me was my friend David's 
father. David confided that in the Thirties, a long-gone time whose heroism was poignant 
because ancient, his father had joined a Communist group at City College— or so his 
employer had come to believe. Twenty years later, his employer had gotten wind of this sin; 
he had been forced to change not only jobs but careers. The details were vague. Like many 
red-diaper babies, David knew little about his father's political past. In the haunted Fifties, 
parents did not speak of these things, and children— and children's friends— did not ask. But 
the fact that David's father had to shift to a second-best career jarred me. 


In the fall of 1956 David and I made the move to the Bronx High School of Science, and he 
introduced me to my second political artifact. The big political event that fall was Adiai 
Stevenson's speech on the Grand Concourse; I was madly for AdIai. In the spring, the big 
event on the Concourse was something different: David and I went to see a double bill of 
Brigitte Bardot movies, all the rage. That day, or another like it, we stopped to rummage in 
a bookstore, and David pointed out to me a paperback called Heavenly Discourse, by one 
Colonel Charles Erskine Scott Wood.^ Not that David was full of politics; he, like me, was far 
more interested in the empyrean realm of differential calculus, and the enjoyment of all 
sorts of curves. We talked about logarithms much more than we ever talked about the logic 
of history. I bought the book, the first in my life I can remember spending scarce cash for. 
The very act of buying a book was as risque, as much a rite de passage, as seeing a Bardot 

Heavenly Discourse consisted of dialogues originally written for the pre-World War I Masses; 
most of them were published only in 1927, though, in book form, because Woodrow 
Wilson's wartime government withdrew the magazine's mailing permit and forced it to fold. 
In Colonel Wood's heaven, the likes of Tom Paine, Mark Twain, Mary Wollstonecraft, 
Voltaire, Rabelais, Socrates, Confucius, and other paragons of free-thinking, free love, 
bohemianism, pacifism, socialism, and all-around wisdom disported themselves with God 
and Jesus in the realm of eternal ideas, aiming their wit at thickheaded goons the likes of 
the warmongering President Wilson, the fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan, and the 
censorious Carrie Nation and Anthony Comstock. Heavenly Discourse, like The Investigator, 
represented one big ecumenical radicalism against one big enemy. I suddenly understood 
that McCarthyism had a history. 

Like Wood's purehearted heroes, I was devoted to freethinking dilettantism; like most 
callow academic achievers, I cared more about the existence of ideas than about their 
consistency. But there were patterns. While my main preoccupation was going to the top of 
my class, I sympathized with underdogs and suspected the masses. During the tenth grade, 
a dissenting English teacher, a substitute, blessedly excused us from the Silas Marner 
imposed upon every other tenth grader, and had us read instead A Tale of Two Cities and 
Les Miserables. I was enthralled by embattled heroes, whether aristocratic or impoverished. 
When we read American poets, I loved most of all Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg; 
Whitman's omnivore ego, sounding its barbaric yawp, appealed to both my solitude and my 
desire to feel at home among Americans, and I liked the idea of Sandburg's folksy if 
abstract "the people, yes," who would eventually triumph over all the philistines and 
merchandisers. I read through Tom Paine's collected works, which my father had bought in 
the Thirties, and Howard Fast's Popular Front novel. Citizen Tom Paine, a library find; I was 
moved to tears by the fate of the great pamphleteer eventually spurned by the Americans 
for whom he had harbored such hopes, and whose ashes were scattered, "for the world was 
his village." 


Colonel Wood's version of heavenly thinkers striving to redeem humanity for the good 
carried me to George Bernard Shaw, another white-bearded demigod on whom I wrote a 
paper in a creative-writing class my junior year. Shaw convinced me that socialism, the 
common ownership and planning of socially produced property, was simply the twentieth- 
century version of common sense. But there was a paradox. Apparently socialism was an 
ideology for discriminating people: the thinking man's ideology, to paraphrase a commercial 
slogan of the time. Through no fault of socialists themselves, then, socialism was opposed 
to the society of ordinary people. Wood's and Shaw's heroes— like Tom Paine and the 
glorious dead of The Investigator— v\iere apostles of popular salvation martyred by the 
populace. The people as ingrates, the elite as spurned prophets: I was bothered, moved, 
and probably more than a bit attracted by the contradiction; indeed, the whole New Left can 
be seen as an extended attempt to find a solution to it. In a more severe spirit, I devoured 
H. L. Mencken, whose glorious broadsides against American Philistinism were perfectly 
suited to upward-bound Jewish boys and girls, for we were fearful of the anti-intellectual, 
goyish, McCarthyite mass of Americans and at the same time eager to get in on elite 

Communists and ex-Communists were the largest blocs of the Left holding on to their 
niches by their fingernails in the Fifties, but there were other radical holdovers, and one of 
them affected me in a curious way. One sweltering spring day in 1958, the word went 
around my school that a socialist rally was going to take place outside, that afternoon. I 
knew instantly I wanted to be there. An actual socialist here and now, in the Bronx! I would 
have to cut class during the last period, something I, as a well-behaved boy, had never 
done, but it turned out that many of my friends were planning to go. 

When the hour arrived, the street, astonishingly, was filled with students. Across the street, 
standing on an honest-to-God soapbox, a young man in a dark suit and tie was giving a 
rational, step-by-step exposition of what, years later, I could recognize as the theory of 
surplus value— that all value derives from labor, not bosses. I hadn't been standing there 
long, taking in this oversimple elegance of Marxism lA, when from behind me eggs began 
to fly. Unbelievable! I wheeled around. The eggs were being flung by one of the more 
disagreeable Science boys I knew: a rah-rah booster type, active in student government, 
notable for wearing loud madras sport jackets to school. One egg flew by the speaker and 
splattered against a brick wall; he ducked; the other one hit him on the back and proceeded 
to drip, slowly, down his suit. 

The socialist went on unfazed. "Charlie Wilson," he said, referring to the General Motors 
president turned secretary of defense, renowned for his statement that "What's good for 
General Motors is good for the country"— "Charlie Wilson put nothin' into that car." It 
seemed eminently reasonable. The speaker went on to say some kind words in favor of 
Swedish social democracy. A young child pushed toward him screaming: "Dirty Communist, 
go back to Russia!" One of my classmates shouted out, "We don't wanna have open minds!" 
I had thought what was bad about Russia was that it was harsh on free thought. 

On my way home on the bus, shaken, I scribbled the somber, pretentious phrases of what I 
think was my first poem, called "Egg-Stain," soaked in sarcasm toward "The American 
Way." I'd learned in a small way something red-diaper babies had already learned, 
something I hadn't picked up from George Bernard Shaw's otherwise persuasive drawing- 
room Fabianism— that ideas have consequences; that people who make a point of flouting 
popular prejudices shouldn't necessarily expect public acclaim for their trouble. 


Years later, I found out that the rally at Bronx Science had been organized by a small 
Marxist group called the Young Socialist Alliance, then a stopping-off point for red-diaper 
babies on their way out of the Communist Party with their parents. (Later it became 
explicitly Trotskyist.) With Khrushchev's speech denouncing Stalin's crimes at the Soviet 
Party Congress of 1956, whatever McCarthyism and affluence had left unspared in the 
Church of World Revolution was defunct, leaving a melange of sects scrambling for the 
mantle. Not all the enclaves of the Old Left derived from the Communist Party and its front 
groups; various Trotskyist remnants were vigorously if complexly anti-Soviet, which did not, 
however, protect them from the harassment of the FBI and the campus cold-shoulder."* 
Trotskyist and social-democratic splinter groups spoke of socialism, and often argued for a 
labor party along Western European lines; Communist and ex-Communist groups spoke of 
the "progressive" cause, and usually tried to work through the Democratic Party. But 
regardless of political position, most of America's puny Marxist sects spoke self-enclosed 
languages. They had lost virtually all their base in the labor movement. And yet they 
insisted that organization— t/7e/r organization— was all-important. Steve Max, briefly part of 
the Young Socialist Alliance, later entertained his comrades in early SDS with a story about 
walking across Washington Square Park with another YSAer who, seeing a DO NOT WALK 
ON GRASS sign, dutifully kept to the sidewalk. "Why pay attention?" Max asked. "That's a 
capitalist DO NOT WALK ON GRASS sign." The reply: "We don't believe in individual acts of 

Within a year after Khrushchev's tirade against Stalin in 1956, followed by his brutal 
suppression of the Hungarian uprising, the American Communist Party numbered a mere 
5,000 or 6,000 members— down from its peak of 60,000-80,000 during and after World War 
II, and 43,000 as late as 1950.^ In 1951, top Party leaders were convicted of "teaching and 
advocating the overthrow of the United States government by force and violence" under the 
Smith Act; the Party, fearing the worst, sent many other leaders into hiding, isolating them 
from one another. The Party line twisted toward revolutionary delusions at a time when 
members were suffering from the McCarthyite purge; thousands dropped out in disgust. 
Finally, with Khrushchev's speech, most of the cadres who had resisted knowing about 
Stalin's crimes heard enough to persuade them to exit en masse. ^ The remaining Party 
faithful turned further and further inward, preoccupied with internal purity, living in what 
one former Party official has called "a mental Comintern,"^ with what another former 
member has called a "fortress mentality."^ 


As a political force, the Communist Party and its satellites were spent, but what survived 
through the Fifties was a social world and a cultural enclave.^ Persecuted, devoid of a live 
social movement, the Communists drew their world more snugly about them." They had 
long since composed a world unto themselves; now it tightened. Partly for financial reasons, 
their doctors and dentists and lawyers were Communists or sympathizers.^^ The friends with 
whom they spent social weekends were other Communists. ^^ Their babysitters were 
Communists. They sent their children to Jewish shuls, where they were taught Yiddish, 
Yiddish culture, and politics, and to special summer camps (like Kinderland and Wo-Chi-Ca, 
which stood for "Workers' Children's Camp," not a Seneca chief) where they learned union 
and folk songs and were graced by visits from cultural heroes like Paul Robeson and Pete 
Seeger.^'^ They took their children to picket lines (one red-diaper child I interviewed thought 
they were barbecues). Some even lived in neighborhoods where, in the Old Left's heyday, 
virtually everyone turned out for the May Day parade. Most former members, the peripheral 
and the sympathizers, turned their backs on the internecine strife, which enabled them to 
sustain a rosy memory of the Party, the Popular Front, and "progressive" politics in 
general.^"* Those in middle-class professions, for whom Party membership no longer squared 
with the rest of their lives, remained members in their hearts, and kept up their old 
subcultural bonds. ^^ Many, perhaps the majority, never thought through what had gone so 
catastrophically wrong in the Soviet Union, or in their own subservient Party. They were no 
longer Communists, but they were not exactly anti-Communist. As the McCarthyite storm 
passed, many kept up their old contacts, rolled up their sleeves, and enlisted in civil rights 
and other single-issue causes. 

The life of the Old Left was self-enclosed, but the other side of self-enclosure is firmness- 
even rigidity— of identity. One of the Old Left's major legacies was the sense of a world 
divided between us and them. We were different, special. We, however isolated in the 
United States, were part of "a worldwide community"— led, of course, by "the socialist 
countries," the Soviet Union usually ranked foremost (despite what were euphemistically 
called "mistakes"). We lived by distinct values: justice, equality, peace. They, the rest of 
America, were persecutors, or pawns in the hands of neocolonialists, or (the few "advanced" 
ones) more or less "developed. "^^ They were reaping the harvest of affluence, but right here 
in America we were victims of war— or, the children of the Party core were told, conquerors 
on the side of the future. In 1949, one boy told his parents he had heard in school that "our 
side lost in China." "No," said his father, "our side won." Children absorbed all of this and 
made sense of it in various ways, but my sense is that what they absorbed most— less from 
ideology than from the home experience— was the sense of a we/they world. In one survey 
of fifty-six red-diaper babies in the early Eighties, the sense of "difference" was ranked most 
significant, the sense of the "worldwide community" was ranked third, the sense of values 
fourth. Many took in a powerful moralism: there are rights and wrongs, and it is important 
to live by the rights. This sense affected even the children of parents who had long since 
dropped out of left-wing politics, who discovered the truth about their parents only later, 
when they were activists themselves. 


According to the survey, the second most salient aspect of the red-diaper identity was fear; 
and in my own interviews with red-diaper babies, fear is what they recall more vividly than 
anything else.^^ D., whose father went underground, was taught never to open the door 
without asking who was there, and never to use names on the phone. V. knew FBI men 
were waiting outside her door, waiting to serve her mother with a subpoena to testify before 
the House Un-American Activities Committee; her father was driven out of his career as an 
actor and had to take up selling bathroom equipment. R., whose father went underground, 
remembers his mother telling him that his father was away "helping people," from which he 
concluded that his father was a fireman. R. remembers coming home from school to find his 
mother sprawled across her bed, weeping— Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had just been 
executed. Red-diaper children were often kept in the dark for years about just what their 
parents were doing, or had done— all the more so when their parents were mysteriously 
away from home for months on end, except for fugitive visits. But they all heard a great 
deal over the dinner table about the "ruling class" that rode roughshod over American 
workers, about the "class struggle," the Cold War, McCarthy ism, civil rights. They knew 
there were books and magazines that had to be hidden from outsiders. Many of those who 
were Jewish absorbed a sense of trauma added to the echoes of the Holocaust; there were 
things in the world too painful to think about. Some of them grew up in working-class, 
integrated communities, fusing their sense of otherness with that of black friends. Many 
came to cherish their protected social zone, the summer camps above all. They might be 
isolated during the year, ostracized by schoolmates^^, even beaten up, but at camp they 
were among friends, safe, normal. ^^ 

Some of the children felt both terrified and neglected, and turned against politics as they 
matured.^" But a large number gravitated easily into the New Left. Many brought Old Left 
styles with them— hostility toward Western imperialism and a sardonic attitude toward 
America's democratic and pacific pretensions, coupled with a lingering nostalgia for the 
Soviet Union as a fallen but still noble ideological homeland— and many also rebelled against 
the hand-me-down pieties. Some were so traumatized by their childhood experience that, 
when they later moved into the New Left, they held back from leadership, cautious lest by 
becoming visible they might endanger their own careers. Some were cautioned by their 
parents not to get arrested, for that might draw attention to the family name. Some later 
decided that the Communist Party had failed because it had played the tail to the New 
Deal's dog; or that the subpoenaed Communists should have declared that yes, they were 
Communists and proud of it; or that their parents, taking up careers and moving to the 
suburbs, had "sold out"— and they rebelled by becoming more revolutionary when the New 
Left afforded them the opportunity.^^ Others concluded that they had to become more 
coalition-minded, more anti-Soviet, less dogmatic, or more spiritualist. Burdened with 
secrets to keep, some grew up resentful, some excited, but all knew they belonged to a 
virtual secret society of the elect. 

The larger world was prattling on about affluence, but here were people cut out of the 
celebration. They were internal exiles, an outlaw culture and proud of it. To people like me, 
alternately offended and unimpressed by Communism but in search of a mooring for my 
own sense of difference, that was appealing. One thing I liked about my feisty girlfriend 
Madeleine was her feisty, intellectual parents. They read, they talked about the world. 
(Once I showed up at her house carrying the ex-and anti-Communist Arthur Koestler's 
autobiography, and her father twitted me; but that was also a way of taking me seriously.) 
They were cultural emigres, but safely middle-class— not nearly as threatening as the beats. 


Most of all, their subworld had cultural appeal. Madeleine brought me the gift of folk music. 
This was the main bridge between red-diaper babydom as a whole and the rest of their 
generation. From the Forties through the early Sixties, the music of the Weavers, Woody 
Guthrie, and others was an embattled minority's way of conjuring an ideal folk. The Old Left 
was confined to its enclaves, but it could invent an artificial "people" to sing about; folk 
music was "for the masses" the way the Communist Party had stood for "the people," 
whether the actual people embraced it or not. The folk taste could also be a way of 
expressing distance from and disdain for mainstream popular culture, yet without the avant- 
garde aura of jazz; thus the continuing Swarthmore College folk festivals of the Fifties. In 
I960, folk was coming out of its hermitage; Harry Belafonte had Americanized Caribbean 
songs; the Kingston Trio was in vogue, with its slick, upbeat, pop version of folk ballads; 
around Harvard Square, Joan Baez began reviving the Elizabethan folk tradition. But 
Madeleine's Forest Hills, Queens, version of folk was rooted in the cultural soil of the 
Communist Party, whose postwar "cultural workers" carried on the tradition of audience 
participation "hootenannies." Banished from the mass media, Pete Seeger, the rest of the 
Weavers, and a few lesser lights warmed the hearts of the faithful at left-wing summer 
camps, sympathetic campuses, civil rights rallies and small meetings. ^^ Among Madeleine's 
circle of friends, there were songs of rough-and-tumble proletarians, like "Sloop John B." ("I 
want to go home/Please let me go home/I feel so break-up/I want to go home.") There 
were political song-parables like "If I Had a Hammer," "This Land Is Your Land," and "The 
Banks Are Made of Marble." The Popular Front was dead, but the idea of it could be sung. 
The sentimentality of folk music was a measure of the Old Left's distance from the actual 
working class. The political generation of the Fifties was missing, but folk was the living 
prayer of a defunct movement, the consolation and penumbra of its children, gingerly 
holding the place of a Left in American culture. 

Aside from the songs, the greatest achievement of the scattered Old Left of the Fifties was 
to keep up what Irving Howe called "steady work," and to wait. There were non- 
Communists who worked in the Henry Wallace campaign, opposed blacklists and 
deportations and lynchings, supported racial integration. Their roots were in the wartime 
resistance against fascism; they were not given to doctrine. They did not necessarily like 
the CP but they did not want to crusade against it. The smallest actions required courage: 
The early Fifties were a time when a Queens woman, a refugee from the Nazis, could be 
hounded out of her PTA for urging the group to take up a collection for UNICEF at 
Halloween. ^•^ In the hills of Tennessee, a former Socialist Party organizer named Myles 
Horton ran the Highlander Folk School, with workshops for southern civil rights workers 
(one of whom was Rosa Parks) under the nose of the Ku Klux Klan, providing a safe haven 
for civil rights visionaries from a variety of Old Left backgrounds, including Ella Baker, later 
the presiding spiritual and political mother of SNCC, and Anne and Carl Braden, 
indefatigable Louisville organizers. (Carl Braden spent a year in jail for refusing to testify 
before HUAC.) Ripples crossed: In 1947 Horton's wife Zilphia learned an old gospel song 
called "I'll Overcome" from striking North Carolina tobacco workers, turned it into "I Will 
Overcome," and taught it to Pete Seeger, who converted the title to "We Shall Overcome," 
added lines like "We'll walk hand in hand," and spread it around.^"* A couple of teachings 
later, in 1959, "We Shall Overcome" landed back at Highlander with a singer-organizer 
named Guy Carawan, who taught it to civil rights workers— all without benefit of records or 


In New York, outside the old CP circles, the minuscule Old Left remnants debated more than 
they sang. In the late Fifties, all the activists could easily have fit into a single musty walkup 
loft near Union Square, and often did. Their political culture was one of Talmudic 
disputation; they argued out correct lines with the ferocious energy of itinerant rabbis 
hoping to scrape up a congregation. What they had instead of living movements were 
symbolic confrontations. Each had a lineage which had harbored heroic hopes for the Left, 
whether in the Soviet Union or in the American Thirties; each was prone to blame the others 
for the ensuing debacle. There was an alphabet soup of tiny self-fissuring socialist and 
Trotskyist sects, of whom the most talented exceptions to the missing generation gravitated 
to and through Max Shachtman's orbit, in flight from both Stalinism and the American 
capitalist celebration. Shachtman, once one of Trotsky's secretaries, was by all accounts a 
riveting orator, impressing radicals from Irving Howe to Bayard Rustin. To the Right, the 
moribund social democrats of the League for Industrial Democracy sent organizers 
(including James Farmer, Gabriel Koiko, Aryeh Neier, and Andre Schiffrin) to the 
unfavorable student hinterlands, where some of the main events of the Fifties were 
debates— for example, at Brandeis University, between Irving Howe and the then- 
Communist Howard Fast in the winter of 1955—56, and between Howe (pro) and Herbert 
Marcuse (equivocal) on the Hungarian revolution in the fall of 1956.^^ (Brandeis was one of 
perhaps only three campuses which experienced much political continuity from the Fifties 
into the Sixties— the others were Madison and Berkeley.) All the way into the early Sixties, 
the buzz of sectarian remnants stayed most alive in New York City's political-cultural 
pressure cooker (which is why SDS, started by Midwesterners and aspiring to be 
homegrown but saddled with a New York national office because that was where its parent 
group was, eventually had to move its offices to Ann Arbor and Chicago). In the 
conservative mood, all these groups adapted to their ecological niches in the wilderness- 
each isolated in its purity, insisting on its difference from the others. And some took on 
protective coloration— the Student League for Industrial Democracy abandoned the word 
socialist for liberal.^^ Whatever the politics, all agreed that the pivotal events were taking 
place overseas, whether in Hungary or, later, Cuba. 

Not least, there were the placemarkers, the grouplets who tried in competing ways to find a 
voice for becalmed socialism, to wind their way beyond both Stalinism and liberalism. 
"When intellectuals can do nothing else they start a magazine""— thus Irving Howe on the 
founding of the anti-Communist, anti-McCarthyite, democratic socialist quarterly Dissent in 
1954. With a circulation of a bare few thousand. D/sser?t quickly became a polemical center 
for radical outriders of American intellectual life, railing against Popular Front evasions, yet 
still a place where Howe and A. J. Muste, say, could debate C. Wright Mills's critique of the 
Cold War, where Norman Mailer could trumpet "The White Negro," where Herbert Marcuse 
and Erich Fromm could debate Marcuses Eros and Civilization, where Paul Goodman could 
make his anarchist raids on contemporary centralization and where, in 1960, Michael Walzer 
could celebrate the North Carolina sit-ins. Harsh-toned, proud to display its twentieth- 
century scars, much of it written in a somber tone of aftermath. Dissent prided itself on its 
freedom from illusion, its ability to face what Howe later called "the sheer terribleness of our 
time." Writing about Albert Camus in 1961, Howe noted that Camus, like the rest of the 
Democratic Left, had failed "to move from abstract position to a concrete program and then 
from a concrete program to an active politics... . This was our dilemma: the one we felt to 
be an essential part of our experience."^* Dissent's pathos was to represent a dangling 
ethics, another form of culture, really, but not— not yet?— a movement. 


The most buoyant of the holdouts, and probably the most influential do-it-yourselfer of the 
Fifties, was the one-man grouplet I. F. Stone, who started his four-page Weekly newsletter 
in 1953 with 5,300 subscribers and his wife as circulation manager. ^^ "Izzy" specialized in 
ferreting out neglected facts in government hearings and wire-service reports, making 
sense of the news, showing week to week how the government fudged and obfuscated. 
Gradually he built up his mailing list with reports on the McCarthyite persecutions and a 
running critique of the Eisenhower-Dulles foreign policy; he survived some four hundred 
cancellations in 1956 when he went to Moscow for the Party Congress and painted an 
unpretty picture of the Soviet Union. Willfully uninterested in the Left's internal polemics, 
Jeffersonian about civil liberties, Marxist (but not Leninist) in his hopes for a socialist 
working class, a romantic of the heart and an Enlightenment skeptic of the head, Izzy had 
formed his political views as a partisan of the Popular Front against fascism; he saw no 
reason to change now. Unlike the socialist intellectuals of New York, he had grown up in a 
small town and he was used to living in the wilderness. In an America of giant news 
corporations, he was an authentic loner, something of a holdover from the America of 
Charles Erskine Scott Wood. The Weekly was appealing partly because Stone's colorful, 
literate prose style didn't sound like a corporate product; it read like something edited at 
home, which it was. 

^ Reuben Shipp: Interview, Al Levitt, April 5, 1986. 

^ "ray of hope": Interview, Jessica Mitford, March 27, 1986. 

•^ Heavenly Discourse: Charles E. S. Wood, Heavenly Discourse (New York: Vanguard, 
1927). Years later I learned that the young Wood had been an Indian fighter, the jailer— and 
then friend— of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, before leaving the army and acquiring renown 
as a civil libertarian lawyer. 

"* Trotskyist remnants: Frank J. Donner, The Age of Surveillance (New York: Vintage, 1981), 
pp. 195 ff. 

^ Communist Party numbered: Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, The American Communist 
Party: A Critical History (New York: Praeger, 1962), p. 497; David Caute, The Great Fear 
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 185. 

^ Party line twisted: Howe and Coser, American Communist Party, p. 488. 

^ "mental Comintern": Joseph Starobin, American Communism in Crisis, 1943-19571 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 103, 224, 232. 

^ "fortress mentality": Jessica Mitford, A Fine Old Conflict (New York: Knopf, 1977), p. 116. 

^ what survived: The following discussion is based on my interviews where not otherwise 

^° drew their world: Mitford, Fine Old Conflict, p. 117. 

" doctors and dentists: Navasky, Naming Names, passim. 

^^ social weekends: Linn Shapiro, "Beginning the Exploration: Taking Over the Family 
Business," in Judy Kaplan and Linn Shapiro, eds.. Red Diaper Babies: Children of the Left, 
privately printed, 1985, p. 2. 

^•^ They sent their children: Kaplan and Shapiro, Red D/'aper, p. 54. 

^"^ turned their backs: Starobin, American Communism, pp. 224 ff. 


^^ members in their inearts: Kaplan and Sinapiro, Red Diaper, p. 36. 

^^ "developed": Ibid., p. 49. 73 one survey: Ibid., p. 120. 

" the survey: Ibid. 

^^ ostracized: Kim Chernin, In My Mother's House (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1983), pp. 
225 ff., 255 ft.; Kaplan and Shapiro, Red Diaper, p. 10. 

^^ at camp: Kaplan and Shapiro, Red Diaper, pp. 14, 15, 20, 21, 25, 28. 

^° turned against politics: Chernin, Motlier's House, pp. 291-92; Kaplan and Shapiro, Red 
Diaper, p. 35. 

^^ subpoenaed Communists: Kaplan and Shapiro, Red Diaper, p. 19. 

^^ warmed the hearts: R. Serge Denisoff, Great Day Coming; Foll< Music and tlie American 
Left {\Jrbar\a: University of Illinois Press, 1971), p. 166. 

^^ a Queens woman: Interview, Gerda Lerner, March 21, 1988. 

^"^ "We Shall Overcome": David King Dunaway, How Can I Keep from Singing: Pete Seeger 
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), p. 222. 

^^ At Brandeis University: Interview, Jeremy Larner, May 5, 1987. 

^^ Student League for Industrial Democracy: Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random 
House, 1973), p. 689. 

^^ "When intellectuals": Irving Howe, A Margin of Hope (New York: Harcourt Brace 
Jovanovich, 1982), p. 234. 

^^ Howe noted: Irving Howe, review of Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death, Dissent, 
vol. 8, no. 2 (Spring 1961), p. 211. On Dissent I am also indebted to David Plotke's 
unpublished paper, "Marxism in the United States, 1960-1980: Culture and the Problem of 
Politics." "the sheer terribleness": Ibid., p. 244. 

" I. F. Stone: Interview, I. F. Stone, March 2, 1985. 


Part Two: The Movement 

Why not simply the current left? What makes it new? 
—Carl Oglesby^ 

^ "Why not": Carl Oglesby, ed., "The Idea of the New Left," in The New Left Reader {Nevj 
York: Grove, 1969), p. 1. 

4. Leftward Kicking And Screaming 


History rarely follows the decimal system as neatly as it did in 1960. Suddenly the campus 
mood seemed to shift. Without question a major reason was that the end of the Eisenhower 
era was looming; whatever doubts attached to John F. Kennedy, one could anticipate a 
thaw, a sense of the possible. What had been underground flowed to the surface. After all 
the prologues and precursors, an insurgency materialized, and the climate of opinion began 
to shift, the way spring announces itself with scents and a scatter of birdsong before the 
temperature climbs to stay. And then it was as if, all over the country, young people had 
been waiting for just these signals. 

In Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, four black (then known as Negro) students 
from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, wearing jackets and ties, sat down 
at a Woolworth's whites-only lunch counter, claimed their right to be served, and refused to 
leave. Contrary to movement legend, these four— Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph 
McNeil, and David Richmond— did not spring full-blown from the abstract idea of resistance 
to segregation. They had belonged to the Youth Council of the National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and knew of earlier sit-ins in Durham, North 
Carolina, and elsewhere. (Indeed, without benefit of mass publicity or a mass base, but with 
the help of black churches, the NAACP, and the Congress of Racial Equality, there had been 
sit-ins in at least sixteen cities since 1957.) They had been nourished in a tradition of 
liberation passed on to them by parents, ministers, and teachers; by an active NAACP; by 
the Montgomery bus boycott, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and its 
leader Martin Luther King; by participants in earlier Freedom Rides; by the writings of black 
heroes; by a television documentary about Gandhi. The four returned on February 2 with 
twenty-five other young people, some wearing ROTC uniforms. Twice as many went back to 
Woolworth's the day after that; by the fifth day, there were more than three hundred. Their 
audacious refusal to "know their place" touched off a wave of sit-ins at lunch counters 
across the urban South. The word spread through church networks and civil rights 
movement clusters, and within days sit-ins were organized in other cities in North Carolina; 
within two weeks, the same impulse brought sit-ins to other southern states. A generation 
had been reared to expect that the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision truly spelled 
the end of segregation; by I960, it was clear that popular action was necessary. Meanwhile, 
in northern cities, blacks and whites organized picket lines at local Woolworth's outlets. 
Within two months, sit-ins had been organized in fifty-four cities in nine states.^ The civil 
rights stalwart Ella Baker called a conference of sit-in activists; in April that conference 
organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to fight segregation 
through direct action.^ 


And under the rotunda of San Francisco's City Hall, on May 13, another body of upstarts 
insisted on their right to attend hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. 
Kept outside the hearing room, the demonstrators, most of them students, sat down in the 
rotunda and started to sing "We Shall Not Be Moved," a song of the Thirties.^ The police 
attacked them with high-pressure fire hoses, clubbed them, and hurled them down the 
marble steps, charging one demonstrator with a felony charge they could not, in the end, 
make stick. The anti-HUAC demonstrations also brought to the surface a tradition that had 
been in the making for several years: an underground stream combining Berkeley campus 
politics, local anti-HUAC sentiment, and the relatively strong local Communist Party and its 
fellow travelers."* 

Thinking to capitalize on the disruption, HUAC produced Operation Abolition, a film which 
scrambled footage and invented facts to present the Committee as the victim of a 
Communist-run campaign. Its soundtrack and pictures met at odd angles. Posing in front of 
a faked backdrop of the Capitol dome. Committee members with small-town demeanors 
spoke clumsily of "well-trained Communist agents" mobilizing their "dupes" to discredit the 
Committee, while their footage showed no such thing. Kept out of the hearing room, 
demonstrators chanted, "What are you afraid of?" and, "Open the doors!"— hardly signs of 
conspiracy or insurrection. The police, called "especially trained" (twice for good measure), 
looked brutal. The demonstrators, called "unruly," sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and 
were shown being washed down the steps. To anyone not convinced that HUAC had the 
corner on truth, the unfriendly witnesses sounded heroic. And so Operation Abolition proved 
a camp favorite and an inspiration to campus activists more than a cautionary tale. Civil 
liberties activists accompanied it to campuses, even refuted it with their own film. Operation 
Correct/or?— pointing out along the way that one reason "identified Communists" had been 
present was that the Committee had subpoenaed them. But the refutation was scarcely 
necessary. The Committee radiated thickheadedness and ineffectuality; the anti-Committee 
Left stood for eloquence and humor. When liberal audiences heard the congressmen's 
grade-B gangster movie lines and Dragnet-style melodramatic music, they laughed. The 
mere appearance of a Communist on the screen no longer provoked universal horror. The 
Committee could still punish— merely being served with HUAC subpoenas cost several San 
Francisco teachers their jobs— but it was losing its power to intimidate. The lumbering 
Committee had made a recruiting film for a New Left that barely existed. 

Between the sit-ins and the anti-HUAC demonstration, the Fifties expired. The sit-ins were 
the main dynamo that powered the white movement, galvanizing the little nodes of 
opposition that had been forming in New York City, in the Boston and San Francisco Bay 
areas, in Chicago's Hyde Park, in Ann Arbor and Madison— wherever the booming 
universities, thick with students, were promoting the value of reflection, cultivating 
intellectual alienation, and providing sites for both. The sit-ins could only have reverberated 
across the country (as did the news of San Francisco three months later, though less so) 
because there were already cultural and political enclaves, zones of negativity, which had 
withstood the leveling pressures of affluence and, now that McCarthyism was no longer in 
the saddle, were ready to move. But without the civil rights movement, the beat and Old 
Left and bohemian enclaves would not have opened into a revived politics. Youth culture 
might have remained just that— the transitional subculture of the young, a rite of passage 
on the route to normal adulthood— had it not been for the revolt of black youth, disrupting 
the American celebration in ways no one had imagined possible. From expressing youthful 
difference, many of the alienated, though hardly all, leaped into a self-conscious sense of 


McCarthyism and the Old Left together had discredited the idea of a general multi-issue 
Left. The result was that the New Left made its appearance in the guise of single-issue 
movements: civil rights, civil liberties, campus reform, peace. But beneath was a common 
elan, a tangle of common principles, eventually a generational identity: New left, meaning 
neither Old Left nor liberal. Over the next years, this opposition groped for a language and a 
way of understanding itself. Aiming to become a political force, it had to work out its 
relations to other forces— entrenched enemies, possible allies, and political parents. The 
black student movement had to come to terms with the bastions of the civil rights 
movement— the long-lived NAACP and the clergymen of Martin Luther King's Southern 
Christian Leadership Conference. The budding white student movement had to feel out its 
relations to the Communist and social-democratic sectors of the Old Left, and to organized 
liberals. Both, crucially, had to figure out where they stood in relation to the Kennedy and 
then Johnson administrations. The history of what became the New Left in the early Sixties 
is in large part the history of these struggles for self-definition. 

But first there had to be a movement: that which moves. The common chord in Greensboro 
and San Francisco was direct action. Following these precedents, what came to call itself 
"the movement" was a fusion of collective will and moral style. The movement didn't simply 
demand, it did. By taking action, not just a position, it affirmed the right to do so; by 
refusing to defer, it deprived the authorities of authority itself. How did you "join" the 
movement? An old-fashioned question from unhip reporters and congressmen, to which the 
answer was: You put your body on the line. Actions were believed to be the guarantees and 
preconditions of ideas. The New Left's first raison d'etre was to take actions which testified 
not only to the existence of injustice but to the imperative— and possibility— of fighting it. 
The second was to take action in common, and to constitute, in here-and-now community, 
the future commonweal itself. First, though, came the decision. The movement was not 
going to take evil lying down— this practical moralism was a good part of the movement's 
appeal. As many studies have shown, most of the movement's young people, black or 
white, took their parents' liberal or radical values seriously.^ They tended to think that, in 
succeeding, their parents had failed— some by giving up, some by settling for material 
rewards, some by beating their heads against stone walls. Now they wanted to live out what 
their parents had repressed or abandoned. 

This generation was haunted by history. They had been taught that political failure or 
apathy can have the direst consequences; they had extracted the lesson that the fate of the 
world is not something automatically to be entrusted to authorities. The red-diaper babies 
among them were often especially eager not to be cowed; their own passivity might confirm 
their parents' defeats. The black students, whose parents and teachers had stood up firmly 
and quietly against the humiliations and terrors of white supremacy, had felt strong enough 
to stop putting up with the Jim Crow their parents had been forced to eat. The Jews— but 
not the Jews alone— were not going to walk into any more gas chambers, or see any other 
good Germans go on about their business. All wanted to redeem their parents' ideals in the 
face of their parents' failures. All breathed the intellectual air of existentialism: action might 
not avail, but one is responsible for choosing. And so, from under the dead hand of history, 
they leaped to a paradoxical conclusion: that history was alive and open. Once touched by 
the example of others taking history into their own hands— there, Cubans, and here, in the 
American South, blacks— they took the leap of faith expressed in the words of one civil 
rights song: 

One man's hands can't tear a prison down 
Two men's hands can't tear a prison down 
But if two plus two plus fifty make a million 
We'll see that day come round 
We'll see that day come round. 


Action in common was not just a means, it was tine core of tine movements identity. An 
astonisining break witin tine mood of tine Fifties, winicin counseled adjustment, acceptance, 
and moderation at every turn. In tinis sense, tine New Left inad a practice and a spirit 
before— or more tinan— it ever inad an ideology. At its luminous best, what the movement 
did was stamped with imagination. The sit-in, for example, was a powerful tactic partly 
because the act itself was unexceptionable. What were the Greensboro students doing, after 
all, but sitting at a lunch counter, trying to order a hamburger or a cup of coffee? They did 
not petition the authorities, who, in any case, would have paid no heed; in strict Gandhian 
fashion, they asserted that they had a right to sit at the counter by sitting at it, and threw 
the burden of disruption onto the upholders of white supremacy. Instead of saying that 
segregation ought to stop, they acted as if segregation no longer existed. That was the 
definitive movement style, squarely in the American grain, harking back to Thoreau's idea of 
civil disobedience, to the Utopian communards' idea of establishing the good society right 
here and now— but also to the pragmatists' insistence that experience is the measure of 
knowledge, and the do-it-yourselfers' (and entrepreneurs'!) belief in getting down to 

^ Within two months: William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Riglits: Greensboro, North 
Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 
pp. 99-120; Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Free 
Press, 1984), pp. 188-201. 

^ Ella Baker: Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 19-20. 

^ "We Shall Not Be Moved": R. Serge Denisoff, Great Day Coming: Folk Music and the 
American Left (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), p. 168. 

"* underground stream: David Horowitz, Student (New York: Ballantine, 1962). 

^ many studies: The first of these was Richard Flacks, "The Liberated Generation: An 
Exploration of the Roots of Student Protest," Journal of Social Issues 23 (1967), pp. 52-75. 

Uneasy In An Anteroom In Camelot 

Small groups of scouts cracked the self-satisfaction of the affluent society and declared that 
history-making was their business. Now this spirit moved on to the issue to end all issues: 
the Bomb hovering just over the horizon. If it was possible to act on behalf of racial equality 
and civil liberties, wasn't there a chance that collective action could prevent the ultimate 

Mickey Flacks, then a student at the City College of New York and later one of the early SDS 
cadre, recalls that in May I960 someone— not the old-line left-wing student groups she 
knew— called a campus demonstration against a civil defense take-cover drill. She expected 
that "the usual suspects" would show up to be counted. To her amazement, hundreds 
stayed aboveground to demonstrate. When a dean appeared to collect the offenders' 
registration cards, the demonstrators, instead of running away, crowded around him to 
make sure t/7e/r cards were included. The Old Left remnants on campus had been fighting to 
keep their membership lists secret from the administration; here were students insisting on 
giving out their names! 


More underground streams were surfacing. For years the Bomb had been invulnerable to 
normal politics. Some liberals had poked away at the usual clogged channels. During the 
1956 presidential campaign. Senator Hubert Humphrey held hearings on disarmament; a 
few weeks later, candidate Adiai Stevenson proposed a moratorium on bomb tests, only to 
be savaged by President Eisenhower and the nation's editorial writers.^ When the Russians 
launched the first intercontinental ballistic missile and Sputnik, in 1957, they blasted the 
national pride and stoked a national panic. Liberals flailed away, helpless to arrest the 
momentum of the arms race. 

Enter the spirit of direct action. Small knots of New York pacifists, intermixed with avant- 
garde artists and intellectuals, demonstrated against civil defense drills and bomb tests as 
far back as 1955, sometimes getting arrested in the course of their moral witness.^ In 1956, 
the onetime Trotskyist turned pacifist A. J. Muste pulled together a group to publish the 
monthly Liberation, which pieced together a synthesis of Gandhian nonviolence and "Third 
Camp" plague-on-both-their-houses socialism. The editorial board, which included Dave 
Dellinger and Bayard Rustin, worked out editorial positions and action plans at the same 
meetings. In 1958, Muste also founded the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), a 
network of pacifists who in 1958 and 1959 tried to sail small boats into Pacific bomb-test 
zones and ritualistically climbed over the fences of missile bases. ^ A more respectable 
opposition formed among liberal celebrities and intellectuals: A newspaper ad against bomb 
tests late in 1957 led to a blue-ribbon National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy, which 
spawned some active local chapters. 

A variety of well-known writers also took cognizance of the Bomb. John Kenneth Galbraith 
expressed a larger intellectual gloom when he wrote, early in Tlie Affluent Society; "No 
student of social matters in these days can escape feeling how precarious is the existence of 
that with which he deals... . The unearthly light of a handful of nuclear explosions would 
signal [Western man's] return to utter deprivation if, indeed, he survived at all.""^ Galbraith's 
Bomb was the threat to the affluent society, while Allen Ginsberg's was its extension, 
Moloch's phallic instrument: 

"America when will we end the human war?/Go fuck yourself with your atomic bomb."^ Was 
the problem of nuclear weapons rooted in bad political-military strategy or a fundamentally 
wrong-thinking civilization? Galbraith's Bomb and Ginsberg's, the reformist and the radical 
challenge, later quarreled for imaginative possession of the ban-the-bomb movement. 

Student sentiment quickened. In 1958, as thousands in Great Britain marched on the 
nuclear base at Aldermaston, a Student SANE formed in the United States. In the spring of 
1959, the American Friends Service Committee spun off a Midwestern Student Peace Union, 
which the next year went national with a grand total of 150 members scattered among fifty 
campuses. By 1962 the SPU numbered 2,000, by 1963, 4,000.^ Even aloof Harvard had a 
Student SANE chapter in 1959-60, my freshman year, albeit one so quiet I never heard of it 
at the time. Still, Student SANE and the SPU mobilized only a small fraction of the 
subsurface anxiety. Even where the student groups failed to reach, there were new tremors. 
I was one who felt them. 


Back in Cambridge for tine 1960-61 scinooi year after my summer witin IMonroe Calculating 
Machines and Madeleine, I discovered I was breathing different air, and not for private 
reasons alone. Although John E Kennedy was outdoing Richard Nixon in sounding alarms 
about a purported "missile gap," dissidents were taking heart from the impending change of 
administration. Walking through Harvard Square, I saw a poster tacked on a telephone pole. 
The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy was sponsoring a rally October 1 at the Boston 
Arena starring Erich Fromm, the liberal Governor G. Mennen ("Soapy") Williams of Michigan, 
and Steve Allen, with music by Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. The previous year, I might have 
passed such a notice with barely a glance, but this one was irresistible. Several of my 
friends, who had also gotten through freshman year without strong political feelings (even 
about the southern sit-ins), were independently planning to go. Boston SANE was reviving 
too. Many of the new leaders, graduates of Brandeis now studying at Harvard, had been 
inspired by the recent Woolworth's pickets in support of the southern sit-ins. "After all," one 
later wrote, "if one could march for Negro rights, why not for disarmament as well?" That 
August, SANE began sending soapbox speakers to the Boston Common during rush hour. 
(Passersby yelled "Where's Castro?"; "Go back to Russia"; "You aren't real Americans"; 
"Draft dodgers"— and occasionally "That takes guts" and "Keep it up— I'm with you.")^ 

The night of October 1, the arena was jammed with six thousand people. Somebody threw 
an egg at Steve Allen. Soapy Williams said that John F. Kennedy was on the side of peace— 
which, from talks with Madeleine and another red-diaper friend, and from reading the 
Guardian, I doubted. SANE gave everyone a packet of readings (including an excerpt from 
C. Wright Mills s The Causes of World War III) and a button: a black X over a mushroom 

The next day, on the serving line at Quincy House, I was wearing the button, and a stranger 
with an unplaceable accent (southern Indiana, as it turned out) suggested I join him for 
lunch. Thus was I organized, imposingly enough by a senior. His name was Robert Weil and 
he was the chairman of Tocsin, a new Harvard-Radcliffe peace group whose idea, as best I 
could make out, was not to take positions but to expedite whatever projects its members 
wanted to undertake. Weil himself was a pacifist who had taken part in a CNVA protest, but 
Tocsin itself was not pacifist. The name notwithstanding (an alarm bell of the French 
Revolution), it was not in any sense radical either. Indeed, the group had no particular 
position on the rights and wrongs of Cold War and military issues. I found the group's 
agnosticism strangely appealing; it was an ingenious way of catering to the prevailing style 
of tough-minded Harvard individualism.^ Weil told me Tocsin was sending carloads of 
students to Vermont to work for the incumbent congressman, William Meyer, a forester and, 
of all things, a pacifist who had been elected with a handful of other peaceniks in the 
Democratic wave of 1958. The next thing I knew, I was on my way to Brattleboro (in a 
station wagon belonging to David Riesman, one of Tocsin's faculty advisers) for a weekend 
of knocking on doors. 


The contact with actual citizens was bracing, and I agreed to organize subsequent 
expeditions to Vermont. Came November, IMeyer lost badly, but who thought we were going 
to turn the arms race around overnight? Tocsin made me feel useful, gave me good 
company, books to read, intellectual energy. I was boosted onto the executive committee, 
dazzled to find myself among articulate juniors and seniors. An endearing crowd they were, 
quintessentially Harvard, several of them preppy, prematurely serious and whimsical at the 
same time, like Fitzgerald characters mysteriously outfitted with a social conscience. It was 
as if they had been born, raised, and schooled to talk sense into the thick heads of power, if 
not themselves to rule. During summers, while I was practicing mathematics for large 
corporations, they were off to Africa to teach refugees or practice journalism, contracting 
malaria and coming under gunfire, all in good causes. What we had in common, this 
seventeen-year-old son of Bronx high school teachers and the children of corporate 
executives and newspaper editors, was that we felt not only endangered but insulted when 
power behaved stupidly. 

After all. Harvard in I960 was fully— and smugly— aware of its proximity to power. During 
the era of (as The Harvard Crimson always called him) John F. Kennedy '40, Tocsin thought 
we had a right too to expect that now, at last, intelligence was going to reign. More than a 
few of the faculty were shuttling to Washington; Henry Kissinger, professor of government, 
taught seminars on defense policy and was in the habit of pronouncing, "Everything is more 
complex than it seems," which some of us liked to render, "Everything is more complex 
than it is. " The Tocsin leadership set out to master the technical arguments well enough to 
play in the big leagues. When we decided to hold an all-day "walk" to express "concern" 
about bomb tests and the arms race in general ("walk" sounded more genteel than 
"march"), only forty Tocsin members, in eight groups of five, were permitted to be official 
"walkers." To prepare, we spent weeks in study groups poring through learned arguments 
about inspectable test bans, minimum deterrents, first- and second-strike capabilities. Our 
meticulously argued leaflet got some unofficial help from the incoming president's science- 
adviser-to-be, Jerome Wiesner, a family friend of our vice chairman, Peter Goldmark. Good 
Harvard-Radcliffe boys and girls, we behaved as if we lived in a community of reason. 

The walk, on December 6, was a huge success. A thousand students and a few faculty wore 
blue armbands to signal their sympathy. At lunch tables all over Harvard, students debated 
the issues we'd posed; a demonstration was a novelty, like a tornado in Massachusetts. 
Three of our leaders flew off to Washington to visit with friendly congressmen and deliver 
our proposals for a test ban to State Department officials. Samuel Beer, professor of 
government and ADA chairman, addressed our rally and anointed us. Outside our rally, a 
group of right-wingers hung a long banner quoting Bertrand Russell: "I'D RATHER CRAWL 
TO MOSCOW ON MY KNEES THAN DIE IN A NUCLEAR WAR." (They were members of Young 
Americans for Freedom, organized that September at William F. Buckley's family manor in 
Connecticut.) We felt the double thrill of having enemies along with friends. And I crossed a 
personal divide. My parents found out what I was doing with my Harvard education and 
were not pleased. I spent hours disputing with my father. Eventually he said my arguments 
mostly made sense, but I shouldn't be the one to be acting on them. I felt vindicated. 


Tocsin's inner circle, like a cabinet in exile, was saturated with politics. We devoured books 
and articles both polemical and technical. Teetering between the two, I was swept up by C. 
Wright Mills's radical critique of the Cold War— his argument that "the balance of blame" was 
shifting from East to West, in The Causes of World War III. Still an aspiring mathematician, 
if only by default, I was stirred by Robert Jungk's cautionary tale about the Manhattan 
Project, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, with its implicit call for the social responsibility of 
science. I grew partial to Gandhi. Yet moralism pure and simple felt lame, so I threw myself 
into practical Tocsin. I spent days compiling notes on treatises by Herman Kahn and other 
heavy thinkers of arms race theology. Tocsin deferred to professors who were lobbying for 
sweet reason. We did the leg work to solicit signatures for faculty ads against civil defense 
and the arms race. (There was one chastening and memorable moment. The famously 
iconoclastic literary historian Perry Miller refused to sign one mild ad, grumbling that things 
had gone too far, we wouldn't do any good. I was shocked— both that the great man 
thought things had gone so far, and that he would weasel out of signing.) At lunch tables, 
over many cups of coffee, we debated "the balance of blame" and the intricacies of nuclear 
strategy. And then Washington jolted us out of balance at the Bay of Pigs. 

In our circle there were varying degrees of sympathy for Fidel Castro. C. Wright Mills's cri 
de coeur. Listen, Yanl<ee!, made an impact, but the view that impressed me most was that 
of Robert Paul Wolff, a young philosophy instructor and the only faculty member at Harvard 
in 1961 who taught the work of Marx in a rigorous way. Wolff, something of an anarchist, 
visited Cuba and reported that the revolution had accomplished great good for the 
majority— even though it was not a society that intellectuals would want to live in. We were, 
like Wolff, sympathetic to revolutionary change but disabused of illusions about paradise 
abroad. We applauded I. F. Stone when he came to Cambridge to speak with unillusioned 
sympathy about Castro's Cuba, and I subscribed to his beacon Weel<ly, which taught me, as 
it taught many of my contemporaries, that the government lied.* I liked the fact that Stone 
was alert to Fidel's authoritarian tendencies; he had an eye for the tragic as the United 
States mobilized against what President Kennedy called a "dagger" ninety miles off Florida.^ 

Even Harvard's dissidents took the Kennedy administration personally. To the social- 
democratic and left-liberal instructors, the Bay of Pigs was not just a crime, it was a 
violation of the implied contract binding John F. Kennedy '40 to Harvard. A group of young 
instructors and graduate students (among them Wolff, Martin Peretz, and D/sser?t affiliate 
Michael Walzer, all teachers of mine) organized a rally against the invasion. Three hundred 
students heard history professor H. Stuart Hughes call upon his former colleague Arthur 
Schlesinger, Jr., to resign from the administration. The spectacle of Adiai Stevenson lying at 
the United Nations and Schlesinger serving as a figurehead liberal was sickening. To make 
things worse, we worried (as did Norman Mailer in an influential piece in The Village Voice) 
that Kennedy's truculence was forcing the daring Castro to subordinate himself to the Soviet 

stone says that when he gave speeches at Harvard in the Fifties, his audiences were older townspeople, veteran 
leftists— and barely a student. But students were very much in evidence in 1961. 


So my friends and I grew steadily more estranged from Kennedy liberalism, and yet without 
sidling up to the Soviet Union.* Reading with horror about Lenin and Leninism, I was coming 
to think that the rebel's task was necessarily quixotic, bittersweet: to work against the old 
regime, and then, after a brief celebration, to go into opposition against the new. 
Permanent opposition was the rebel's way to avoid the corruptions of power, remain an 
underdog. Both principle and practicality demanded that we keep a distance from the peace 
propaganda of the USSR. In April 1961, Tocsin decided on an act of indisputable 
evenhandedness: We organized a caravan to New York City and picketed the Soviet Mission 
to the United Nations, urging them to act constructively at the Geneva test-ban talks and 
specifically to accept the principle of inspection. There were people in the Tocsin ranks, 
mostly red-diaper babies, who were offended; one friend screamed at me the night before, 
like a sloganeer in a bad Cold War melodrama, "The Soviet Union is the greatest hope for 
peace in the world!" Twenty-five of us picketed the Russians, to no apparent effect. At least 
we could say that we'd "told it to the Russians." 

Some of the Tocsin leadership, unabashed reformers, felt like the Cambridge outpost of 
enlightened Washington; others, reformers by default, myself among them, thought 
ourselves their left flank. At times we were seduced by the prospect of influence, at times 
we simply played our strongest hand. But in either case, although we did not think of it this 
way, we were playing our part in that postwar rapprochement of government and higher 
education which Kennedy had refined to a mystique. At the highest levels of Camelot, the 
idea was that will and intelligence would be united and placed at the service of a 
reinvigorated superpower. The arms race would be made more efficient, counterinsurgency 
leaner and tougher: reason would be more muscular, more manly, while manliness would 
become wittier, more elegant. Robert S. McNamara, the former Harvard Business School 
professor with the steel-rimmed glasses, was technocratic reason and cynical vigor (to use 
one of Kennedy's favorite words) in person; we saw ourselves as counterwill and 
counterintelligence. Harvard professors— not least the liberals and arms controllers we were 
close to— were commuting to Washington so frequently to consult for the administration 
that they might as well have organized a private air shuttle service; the Tocsin high 
command constituted itself the student counterpart. More than once we made expeditions 
to Washington to meet with young low-level officials and friendly congressional assistants 
who formed an informal left-liberal caucus in Washington. We wanted to know what we 
could do to make a difference, and these might be the people to tell us. It was heady stuff 
for world-savers still in their teens, getting taken seriously in middling-high places. 

' And when Dissent published a pamphlet by Michael Walzer attacking the CIA but supporting a democratic radical 
alternative to Castro, I shared their apprehensions about Castro but thought it naive in the extreme to expect the 
United States, with its imperial history in the Caribbean, to install a radical democrat in Havana. And what gave the 
United States— "we" in Walzer's language— the right to try? [Dissent published: Michael Walzer, "Cuba: The 
Invasion and the Consequences" (New York: Dissent Publishing, June 1961).] 


Heady too for a generation of liberals then in their mid-twenties, spotted throughout the 
Kennedy bureaucracies, quickly outgrowing their own early hopes, isolated in the middle 
levels of power, alarmed about the drift of American policy. Garry Wills has argued that 
Kennedy and his immediate circle operated as "guerrillas," trying to outmaneuver their own 
bureaucracy; the young liberals were an outmanned version of the same, jockeying around 
the margins of Camelot, testing the limits of rationality and conscience.^" We were their 
naive but promising younger political brothers. One of these bright and disaffected young 
men was Marcus Raskin, an assistant to McGeorge Bundy on the staff of the National 
Security Council, maneuvering to stop Kennedy's civil defense program; we needed to run a 
gauntlet of phone clearances to get to see him in the Executive Office Building, next to the 
White House. Another was the legislative assistant to the liberal Representative Robert 
Kastenmeier of Wisconsin, Gar Alperovitz, who urged us to try to mobilize the sleeping 
American public to pressure the administration to move toward disarmament initiatives. 
That Raskin, Alperovitz, and others in their circle took us seriously swelled our heads, of 
course; it also encouraged us to think strategically about just what we might accomplish. No 
pure and simple moralists were we; the very chance of having an effect was already a 
transport to the realm of real politics. 

From many discussions in Cambridge and Washington we distilled a rudimentary political 
analysis; having a political analysis certified us as serious. (All the way through the Sixties, 
an "analysis" was a ticket to the elite world of movement cadres. It was a sign that one was 
not beholden to authorities, that one was potentially an authority oneself. To be without an 
"analysis" was to be dependent on those who "had" one.) Our analysis was this: The 
American and Soviet elites were divided between pacific and belligerent sectors. The two 
great powers were wired together: a rise in the fortunes of one side's belligerents would 
boost the influence of the belligerents on the other side, and vice versa. Kennedy was a 
political animal; without pressure from his Left, he would remain the prisoner of the 
military, the Dixiecrats, and what David Riesman called the "bomber liberals," of whom 
Senator Henry Jackson of Washington State and Boeing was the archetype. From this 
analysis, a strategy followed. If mainstream Americans— in churches, unions, business and 
civic groups, high schools— could be mobilized, liberal members of Congress would no longer 
feel constrained by their retrograde constituents, and Kennedy would have "permission" to 
end the arms race. We were educators, "disseminating 'downward' and suggesting (and 
prodding) 'upward.'"" Alperovitz impressed this strategy upon us so forcefully, we dubbed it 
"alperovitzing." It harnessed our energy and desire to be useful to our sense of 

Back in Cambridge in the fall of 1961, we set up a speaker's bureau and did a bit of 
alperovitzing, but the world was getting too dangerous too fast, and we felt impatient. At 
their Vienna summit in June, Kennedy and Khrushchev had come to loggerheads. Tension 
mounted over divided Berlin. Aggressive moves on one side generated aggressive 
countermoves on the other. In July, Kennedy called for a crash fallout-shelter program, 
boosted the military budget, doubled draft calls, and called up the army reserves. ^^ In 
August, the Berlin Wall went up and the Russians announced they would resume nuclear 
tests in the atmosphere. Kennedy gave his imprimatur to a Life magazine feature on civil 
defense, and the United States started testing. Some of us started fidgeting for direct 


We weren't the only ones to feel the pull. It was widely reported that the fallout from bomb 
tests was poisoning grasslands, lacing cow's milk with strontium 90 and other radioactive 
isotopes. A group of professional women in Washington, D.C., circulated a statement 
against bomb tests and for disarmament. Galvanized, some fifty thousand women 
demonstrated around the country against the resumption of tests on November 1, 1961. 
(Many Tocsin people and our Brandeis Student SANE counterparts joined the Boston-area 
march.) This was the beginning of the Women Strike for Peace movement, and a harbinger 
of a still more profound women's movement to come. 

Now it felt less like giving Kennedy "permission" to push past the Cold War impasse, more 
like letting him know he was going to have to reckon with a political force to his left. Angry 
and more than a little desperate, Peter Goldmark and I decided to organize a march on 
Washington as soon as possible: February 16-17, 1962. Tocsin set out to improvise a 
political alliance. 

First we knit together a Boston Area Coordinating Committee in which we shared leadership 
with the Brandeis Student SANE people. The two political cultures could not have been more 
different. The Brandeis leaders were red-diaper babies; they counterbalanced the Harvard 
politics of pragmatic maneuver. Brandeis was ensconced in radical history. Radical emigre 
professors of various stripes were conspicuous. By 1961, Brandeis already had seen a half- 
decade of left-wing politics, much of it organized around the followings of rival professors, 
especially the social democrat Irving Howe and the revolutionary Marxist Herbert Marcuse. 
While the Tocsin elite was discussing the intricacies of inspection systems for a test ban, 
Brandeis SANE was passionately debating responsibility for the Cold War. The red-diaper 
babies at Brandeis lived— as one of them put it years later— "in a we/they world of political 
paranoia"; in their eyes, the "high-powered" Tocsin group "moved around as if knighted. "^•^ 

Next, needing a national base, we talked the national Student Peace Union into 
cosponsorship, along with Student SANE and a minute group called Students for a 
Democratic Society. At planning meetings in New York, the War Resisters League's staff 
diplomat, David McReynolds, successfully brokered our differences in style— we respectable, 
though more ambivalent about Kennedy's power than showed from outside; SPU, with its 
roots in the "Third Camp" wing of the Old Left, forthrightly moralistic and wholeheartedly 
estranged from Kennedy liberalism. We insisted from the start on not just picketing the 
White House but lobbying officials— to "prove our credibility," as a later lingo put it. A 
skeptical SPU, properly suspicious of our accommodating politics, went along. Respectful of 
selected elders, we accumulated an ecumenical list of notable sponsors (many of them 
literary lights, such was our bent) and printed it on our stationery: the likes of Hannah 
Arendt, W. H. Auden (who handwrote me that he supported unilateral disarmament). Van 
Wyck Brooks, Henry Steele Commager, Norman Cousins, Jules Feiffer, Robert Hutchins, 
Alfred Kazin, Robert Lowell, A. J. Muste, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bayard Rustin, Ben Shahn, 
Norman Thomas, Mark Van Doren, Richard Wilbur, and Edmund Wilson. 

Passionate as was the impetus, the tone of the enterprise remained moderate. I straddled a 
political divide. Interminable Harvard-Brandeis meetings, and the influential counsel of 
Michael Walzer (my "section man" in a social science course), produced the official "call": 
opposition to the resumption of nuclear tests and to the civil defense program; an appeal 
for "unilateral initiatives," tension-reducing moves, like the removal of American missile 
bases in Turkey, which the United States could make in hopes that the Russians would 
reciprocate; support for economic aid to the Third World, the better to bolster alternatives 
to Soviet-style Communism. The statement (neither widely read nor cited in the press) 
ended up reading as if it had been stitched together— which it had. 


The two-day demonstration drew— by various accounts— between four tinousand and eigint 
tinousand students to Wasinington in a snow-storm; we inad inoped for a tinousand or two. It 
was tine largest Winite House demonstration since tine effort to stop tine execution of tine 
Rosenbergs in 1953. Pinotos reveal earnest short-haired young men wearing jackets and 
ties, even while picketing the White House, marching to Arlington National Cemetery to lay 
a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and rallying at the Washington Monument to 
hear Norman Thomas, nuclear physicist William Higinbotham, and United Auto Workers 
official Emil Mazey. A reporter from The Harvard Crimson drew a contrast to the "traditional 
'peace' activity," presumably in the style of Student SANE, with its "old images— beards, 
guitars, a political philosophy tinged with the rosy hue of the nondemocratic left. "^"^ The 
approved picket signs threw some of Kennedy's slogans back at him: "Let us call a truce to 
terror"; "Neither Red nor Dead but alive and free."^^ Another said: "Mr. Kennedy: We 
Support Your Words, Now Give Us a Chance to Support Your Actions. "^^ One hundred fifty 
Young Americans for Freedom counterpicketed with "Better Brave than Slave" and "A Test a 
Day Keeps the Commies Away."^^ 

By prearrangement, delegations lobbied most of the members of Congress and a 
considerable number of administration officials. A few dozen of us were suffering through 
the pomposities and irrelevancies of middle-level bureaucrats in the State Department 
auditorium at the moment when President Kennedy, with his fine eye for public relations, 
dispatched a liveried White House butler with a huge urn of hot coffee to the demonstrators 
picketing in the snow— who proceeded to debate whether drinking the President's coffee 
amounted to selling out. (The pragmatists won the debate, drank the coffee, and felt 
heartened by Kennedy's gesture. Over at the State Department, I felt chagrined. We didn't 
want to be patronized; we wanted Kennedy to meet with us, not keep us warm. But of 
course I was already warm.)* Later, a group of us met in the White House basement with 
national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen, and 
science adviser Jerome Wiesner, in what felt to me at the time like a dialogue of the moral 
with the deaf. Bundy, trying to sway us toward the strategy of creating "permission," said 
he appreciated the counterweight we had thrown against "the Cold Warriors," but defended 
the White House's fallout-shelter program and invoked the hoary realist's maxim, "Politics is 
the art of the possible." 

Demonstrators who remembered the benighted Fifties were delighted with the turnout, 
encouraged by the access to government offices and the occasional ripple of agreement. But 
some of us felt the official reactions had ranged from "barely concealed condescension to 
political dismissal."^* Peter Goldmark grumbled aloud that the officials "had not even 
bothered to read our policy statement. "^^ Now what? In stray late-night moments during 
months of day-in, day-out work, we had fretted about what we called "the February 18th 
problem"— what to do next. For a chosen few, semi-influence still beckoned: In March, after 
Kennedy decided to resume nuclear testing, Jerome Wiesner, the key test-ban campaigner 
in the White House, asked for our help, whereupon Peter Goldmark and I wrote a crisp, mild 
memo (try harder in the negotiations, and stop waving the big stick); Wiesner said he took 
it to a meeting of the National Security Council. More heady stuff, yet nothing seemed to 
follow. We had apprenticed to insiders, fine-tuned our expertise, made the right friends, 
tried to influence the right people, spoken their language— now where were the signs that 
knowledge meant power? I read avidly, even wrote for, the erudite Newsletter of the 
Council for Correspondence, published under David Riesman's aegis, but the academics who 
wrote there were also displaying various shades of bleakness. 

Jules Feiffer appreciated the ironical position Kennedy's gesture put us in. He later sent me an unpublished 
cartoon in which a picket carries a picket sign that reads "COFFEE." 


I was finding it inarderto keep my personal truce between two warring sensibilities. More 
and more I acted reformist but felt radical. Even as a part-time insider, peering inside the 
world of power, I was flooded with existential alienation. I read technical treatises about 
nuclear strategies; at the same time I read some Marx and was impressed. I read romantic 
novels about wartime resistance movements in Europe, and wrote a long paper attacking 
the idea that there could be such a thing as "the national interest." I thought— and argued 
in print— that the entire structure of deterrence was "bound to fail," and that it "must be 
condemned not merely because some upper-story bricks are loose, but because the 
foundation is rotten."^" At the very same time, I thought— and also argued in print— that a 
minimum nuclear deterrent would be less dangerous than the so-called counterforce 
strategy for building up the American missile force, aiming at Russian bases, and preparing 
to fight an "acceptable" nuclear war. In a paper I wrote that summer for the Liberal Study 
Group cosponsored by SDS and Campus Americans for Democratic Action at the National 
Student Association (sign of the times, the name of this lobby and the nature of this 
coalition), I repeated the argument for a minimum deterrent, and tried to persuade activists 
to prime themselves to win arguments about nuclear strategy. 

I ask myself now, how could I think both these ways at once? I still saw hope in a strategy 
of reforms, and none in any alternative. To set out to remake America root and branch 
seemed a sure path to irrelevance. There were radical graduate students at Berkeley 
(Robert Scheer, Maurice Zeitlin, and David Horowitz among them) beginning to publish a 
journal called, indeed. Root and Branch, but in Cambridge's reformist air that seemed 
romantic and imprecise. If radical transformation was no more than a pious wish, the only 
choice was to attach my romantic feelings about resistance and fundamental change to the 
tiny dramas of reformism, push them to their limit, and be glad for the chance. Perhaps a 
more methodical approach to reform would work ... . At the beginning of the summer of 
1962, for example, Marcus Raskin told me that a demonstration against civil defense in 
front of the White House in the first few months after May 1961 (when Kennedy first 
broached the subject) might have succeeded in scotching the program. I thought this 
important enough to detail in my journal, adding: "Best to come in at start of (long-running) 
decision like ... [civil defense]— then your attitude is "part of the calculus.'" Then came 
Raskin's larger conclusion: "You can't meddle with what JFK considers "national interest.'" 
Then my disgusted conclusion: "But— eating away at the edges won't give you anything but 
a stomach ache." I argued with myself: Wasn't it best to walk the last mile for practical 
reforms? Raskin thought so, but that year, blasted for dangerous liberalism by 
congressional Republicans, he was forced out of his job. How did you know when you had 
reached the last mile? 


For me, two milestones, one private, one excruciatingly public, made radical politics appear 
necessary, even possible. In 1962, one of our young insider Washington friends— Arthur 
Waskow, another former assistant to Representative Kastenmeier— invited me to be a 
summer research fellow at a modest Washington think-tank called the Peace Research 
Institute. Waskow was writing a book (eventually published as The Worried Man's Guide to 
World Peace) about how the peace movement could change government policies; my job 
was to interview officials, congresspeople, journalists, and lobbyists, and gather their 
wisdom. One day Waskow and I went to the Pentagon and made our way through the 
tangle of corridors to interview Adam Yarmolinsky, McNamara's special assistant for civil 
defense. To my horror, there was a child's drawing of a battleship taped to the glass in 
Yarmolinsky's bookcase. A small thing, no doubt normal in a capital obsessed by the 
mystique of PT-109, yet it meant to me, somehow, that clever arguments were beside the 
point, that the people in power really took their games for granted. No matter if they spoke 
with rigor and erudition. No matter if they were blessed— like Adam Yarmolinsky, the son of 
two eminent writers— with impeccable liberal credentials.* As the diminutive Yarmolinsky 
stood behind his desk and defended the administration's civil defense program, the world 
went obvious on me. I^en sucli as tliis were not going to be persuaded to be sensible. They 
were grotesque, these clever and confident men, they were unbudgeable, their language 
was evasion, their rationality unreasonable, and therefore they were going to have to be 

If ever I might have wanted to fashion myself into a hipster playing it cool through long 
rounds of office politics to boost my chances of influence, someday, in the corridors of 
Camelot— if ever I had felt twinges of that impulse, I abandoned them that day. I left the 
Pentagon a convinced outsider. 

In the short run, what could this mean if not electoral politics? At the end of the summer, I 
spent a day working for Village Independent Democrats in Greenwich Village (their 
aintimachine ticket was headed by a liberal named Ed Koch). I rang doorbells for the peace- 
minded Congressman William Fitts Ryan in upper Manhattan. Back at Harvard for the fall, 
and now elected chairman of Tocsin, I was thrilled that we could fill an auditorium for an 
introductory meeting and pull in 130 members. Many of the Tocsin faithful turned out to 
campaign for Stuart Hughes, who had decided to run for the Senate against the family 
scions Ted Kennedy and George Cabot Lodge— the standard-bearer of our Harvard against 
theirs of the upper-crust management styles and Green Berets. But although I liked Hughes 
himself and his unilateralist politics, I couldn't get excited about his prospects. Hughes's 
political base was flimsy. It was heartening that delegates to the state AFL-CIO convention 
gave our debonair candidate a warm reception; I heard black voters sound sympathetic 
during one canvass in Boston; but whites in a different district said they'd never heard of 
any of the candidates, even Kennedy. 

' Yarmolinsky had also organized the anti-Communist caucus of the American Veterans Committee after World War 
II. [Yarmolinsky had also organized: Harris Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 
1980), p. 297.] 


A more patient soul might inave tinougint; tinat peace campaigning needed time. But the 
movement had already acquired a history, and with it a loathing of repetition. Meetings 
were dull, and knocking on doors, after the initial frisson of an encounter with "ordinary 
people," unrewarding. Moreover, my friends and I were imprisoned by our own recruiting 
strategy. The louder we sounded the alarm— the veritable tocsin— the more frightening 
seemed the apocalypse we were warning against, to us if no one else. For two solid years 
now, we had been living with the sense that apocalypse was hanging just over the horizon. 
We had immersed ourselves in the official speeches and congressional transcripts and 
technical papers in which the experts routinely, b anally, rehearsed the world's catastrophe. 
Kennedy's and Khrushchev's bellicose maneuvers were the drumbeat of our one and only 
youth. The sense of crisis seemed interminable. A movement is a passion: it has to keep 
moving or it withers. We may have been on the move, but it felt to me like impasse. ^A 
movement is a passion: Paraphrased from the film Le Milieu du Monde, written by Alain 
Tanner and John Berger.] 

My political equilibrium was ready to tip: ready for the Cuban missile crisis, my second 
radical milestone. 

^ Hubert Humphrey: Carl Solberg, l-lubert l-lumphrey (New York: Norton, 1984), pp. 185-86. 

^ Small knots: Judith Malina, Tiie Diaries of Judith Malina, 1947-1957 (New York: Grove, 
1984), pp. 377, 442 ff.; Nat Hentoff, Peace Agitator: Thie Stor/ of A.J. Muste (New York: 
Macmillan, 1963), p. 157. 

^ In 1958: Hentoff, Peace Agitator, pp. 150-57. 

"* "No student": John Kenneth Galbraith, Tlie Affluent Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 
1958), p. 5. 

^ "America when": Allen Ginsberg, "America," Howl and Other Poems (San Francisco: City 
Lights, 1956), p. 31. 

^ the SPU: George R. Vickers, The Formation of the New Left (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. 
Heath, 1975), pp. 28, 51. 

^ Passersby yelled: N. Gordon Levin, "Boston SANE," New University Thought, Spring 1962, 
p. 123. 

® prevailing style: Ferber and Lynd, The Resistance, p. 146. 

^ Stone was alert: For example, "Two Months Before the Bay of Pigs," in I. F. Stone, The 
Haunted Fifties (New York: Random House, 1963), pp. 339-47 (first published February 27, 

^° Garry Wills: The Kennedy Imprisonment (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982), part 5. 

" "disseminating 'downward'": Todd Gitlin to Roger Fisher, August 25, 1961 (author's file). 

^^ Kennedy called: David Burner and Thomas R. West, The Torch Is Passed (New York: 
Atheneum, 1984), pp. 120-21. 

^^ "in a we/they world": Interview, Victoria Bonnell, October 12, 1984. 

^"^ "traditional 'peace' activity": Steven V. Roberts, "Project Washington," Crimson Review, 
March 2, 1962, p. 8. 

^^ approved picket signs: Ibid., p. 9. 


^^ Another said: "Nuclear Testing: Youtin For and Against," New York Herald Tribune, 
February 18, 1962. 

^^ Young Americans for Freedom: George Tinayer, The Farther Shores of Politics (New York: 
Simon and Scinuster, 1967), p. 171. 

^* "barely concealed condescension": Christopher Z. Hobson, in Amy Perry, 
"Harvard/Radcliffe Students for a Democratic Society, 1960-1972," unpublished 
undergraduate thesis. Department of History, Harvard University, 1986, p. 14. 

^^ "had not even bothered": In Joseph Russin, "Peace Marchers Coolly Received in 
Washington," The Harvard Crimson, February 16, 1962, p. 1. 

^° "bound to fail": Todd Gitlin, essay-review of Arthur I. Waskow, The Limits of Defense, in 
Council for Correspondence Newsletter, May 1962, p. 11. 


"Destructive Criticism Of A Destructive System" 

In the official mytinic version, tine missile crises was at once the world's climactic moment 
and the supreme test 'for the Kennedy high command: serious men in shirtsleeves debating 
through all-night meetings, cultivating the right toughness and the right moderation, 
proving themselves strenuous enough for the nuclear age and ourselves lucky enough to 
have deserved, for "one brief shining moment," such steady hands. This is supposed to 
have been the moment when the nuclear age proved viable. Apocalypse was, after all, 
averted. Kennedy resisted the counsel that would have bombed the missile sites or invaded 
Cuba; his precision was vindicated by Khrushchev's decision to withdraw his missiles. When 
the chips were down, the superpowers wised up. But the hindsight is pat, a luxury. Another 
ending was possible, the ending of all endings, and then we would not be alive, most likely, 
to challenge the official myth. 

Kennedy gave his "quarantine" (better called by a less medicinal term, blockade) speech on 
Monday night, October 22, 1962. For six days, time was deformed, everyday life suddenly 
dwarfed and illuminated, as if by the glare of an explosion that had not yet taken place. 
Until the news was broadcast that Khrushchev was backing down, the country lived out the 
awe and truculence and simmering near-panic always implicit in the thermonuclear age. At 
colleges in New England, some students piled into their cars and took off for Canada until 
further notice. 

In the basement of Quincy House, the Tocsin core watched Kennedy's speech on television, 
then Launched into— what else?— a meeting. For the first time, we were seriously divided. 
According to the dominant Tocsin outlook, which I shared, this was just the sort of 
emergency the arms race was bound to produce. Khrushchev's missiles were analogous to 
the American missiles in Turkey; they were a shortcut to catch up with the Americans. Since 
the missile's represented no clear danger to American life and limb (the Russians already 
had ICBMs, after all), the blockade was indefensible. The Marxists, principally red-diaper 
babies, who had not spoken up as a bloc before, said the heart of the matter was that 
Khrushchev was trying to protect Cuba. How could we oppose Kennedy's blockade, they 
wanted to know, without at the same time rising to the defense of the Cuban revolution, 
which was his true target? 

I think I opposed the Marxists that night— by temperament and politics, I wanted to find the 
narrowest possible grounds (and therefore largest possible political base) for opposing 
Kennedy But the argument from the Left gnawed at me. Kennedy's move was out of all 
proportion to any reasonable fears of Khrushchev's missiles. Kennedy was furious at Cuba 
for defying him. I had my critical sympathy with Castro's Cuba, but until that night I had 
succeeded in keeping it sealed away from Tocsin. Revolutionary Cuba touched my heart; 
Tocsin was about mind and effectiveness. 


The phone brought the news: the national hysteria made protest both necessary and 
dangerous.^ Gar Aiperovitz called from Washington to say we had to demonstrate if civil 
liberties were going to be preserved. At Indiana University, a handful of antiadministration 
picketers were heckled, chased by a mob of two thousand students, finally forced to take 
refuge in a library. At Cornell, two professors were forced off the platform by stones and 
clumps of dirt. At the University of Minnesota, professors were splattered by eggs and 
oranges. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, four hundred demonstrators organized by SDS and 
Women for Peace passed out a leaflet urging an end to the "game of Chicken, with mankind 
on the bumpers." Condemning the Russians for their provocative move, and urging that the 
missiles be withdrawn, they also demanded that the United States guarantee Cuba's safety 
and accept the "inevitable revolutions coming throughout Latin America in the Sixties." Six 
hundred students jeered at them, hurled eggs and stones (at Tom Hayden among other 
speakers), and blockaded their line of march. (A few of the attackers were so revolted by 
the attack, they joined the protesters.) In major cities there was virtually no dissent. In 
Atlanta, for example, the grand total of demonstrators, mostly civil rights activists, was 
thirty; one of them, Alice Lynd, was fired from her childcare job as a result. 

What was Tocsin to do? We debated whether to cosponsor a Boston-wide open-air rally on 
Saturday— assuming we should live till Saturday— and a Tocsin member passed me a note 
headlined: "DEMONSTRATION IS WRONG!" (History mocks our innocence: two years later 
this conservative became assistant national secretary of SDS.) Our main response, though, 
was a Wednesday-night rally. Stuart Hughes was one obvious choice of speaker. A friend 
brought up the name of Barrington Moore, Jr., who held a research appointment, taught 
only seminars, and was reputed to be something of a Marxist eminence grise. Moore sent 
back word that he would be happy to speak and, moreover, wished to have forty-five 

Across the street from our rally, Martin Luther King was speaking that night in a larger hall. 
(We sent an emissary to him, asking him to combine the two rallies and address them 
jointly, but he declined.) Each rally drew a capacity crowd of a thousand or more and a 
larger overflow. Outside our hall, several dozen anti-Castro emigres who had showed up 
late banged on the doors and windows. In one corner, right-wingers from Young Americans 
for Freedom hoisted black umbrellas, intimating that we were Munich-minded equivalents of 
Neville Chamberlain, and hissed sporadically throughout the evening. 

The mysterious Barrington Moore, Jr., dressed in a three-piece suit, gold watch-chain 
dangling across his lean frame, looked for all the world like the Boston banker his father had 
been. Calmly he stood at the podium and in plain sentences dismantled my politics. Trying 
to take existential heart, I had stood there a few minutes earlier and rattled off the news of 
demonstrations around the country. Now Moore was saying, in the most reasonable of 
tones, that the only sensible protest was "critical exposure." "The standard pacifist 
reaction," he said, "stressing the horrors of war, with an appeal to the United Nations ... is 
utterly inadequate... . It doesn't expose the roots of the situation. It merely contributes to 
the general mystification." 

I was aghast. We had spent two nights trying to work out precise proposals to distribute on 
the Boston Common, as if they mattered, and here was Moore telling us that 

the attempt to make practical proposals, constructive proposals, moderate 
and realistic proposals, is the most unrealistic thing you can do at this 
point ... . It just looks silly. In the government, they know a great many more 
of the facts than you do ... . Leave the constructive alternatives to Bundy ... . 
He has an interest in surviving that is probably at least as strong as ours. 


We had to understand, Moore said, that the Cuban revolution was the latest in a line that 
began with the French revolution and continued through the Russian and the Chinese. A few 
years later, such grand tours of History were commonplace, but that electric night, with 
humanity hanging in the balance, Moore seemed to be bringing us fresh Old Testament 
truth. People did not say these things! We were wasting our time and dodging the truth, 
Moore said, unless we "face the fact that at least in regard to the backward nations, the 
United States is a bastion of reaction ... . In other words, if there is a protest, to make 
sense, it has to take the form of destructive criticism of a destructive system." What was 
required to save the world, finally, were "simultaneous revolutions in the United States and 
the Soviet Union." 

Moore was in the midst of his homily when Stuart Hughes, fresh from another speech, 
strode onto the stage— and inspired a standing ovation. Moore broke off his critique of 
pathetic, ineffectual protest, walked over to Hughes, and shook his hand warmly. No matter 
that Hughes, in his own talk, issued his own "concrete proposals" and called upon us to be 
"the loyal opposition." I was moved by the handshake; in person if not in logic, a 
rapprochement of critical analysis and practical politics might be possible. 

Moore's ideological bomb went on exploding for days. When the rally ended, my friends and 
I went back to my room and stayed up for hours debating the implications of his speech. If 
Moore was right, what did Tocsin and its politics matter? We had put aside our romantic 
attachments to socialism, anarchism, resistance, and staked everything on the chimera of 
practicality. Now, when push came to shove, the powers in Washington— and Moscow— 
couldn't care less what a darling bunch of articulate college students thought. The great 
powers could drag the world to the brink of annihilation whenever they damned well 
pleased. -That night, for me. Tocsin went up in smoke. 

On Friday, I drove off to a Washington demonstration with Robb Burlage, a graduate 
student in economics full of hilarity and Texas sass, along with an SDS buddy of his and 
another Tocsinite, all of us ready to die a happy if premature death. (Just as we piled into 
Robb's '55 Chevy, a friend came up and asked if we'd heard the latest news on the radio: 
Kennedy was said to have called Congress into special session. We bought a bottle of wine 
and spent hours telling one another the self-dramatizing stories of our lives, until, 
distracted, we ran out of gas just south of Baltimore.) Robb, formerly the editor of the 
University of Texas newspaper, was the one-man New England outpost of Students for a 
Democratic Society. He scouted out local talent, and dazzled us with his omnivorous 
intelligence, his rapid-fire punning, and his knack for seeing how every wisp of political work 
was part of a hypothetical whole. 

In Washington, we hooked up with some of the SDS inner circle from Ann Arbor: Tom and 
Casey Hayden, Dick and Mickey Flacks. We heard I. F. Stone tell a meeting that an invasion 
of Cuba was imminent and that thousands of years of civilization were hanging by a thread; 
we sent Fidel Castro a telegram urging him to dismantle the missiles. I felt my center of 
gravity shift toward SDS. There was a warmth these people exuded— a moral warmth, if 
that makes any sense— and I loved the clean passion in their prose. The previous spring, I 
had read the draft of what became their Port Huron Statement, had felt that their statement 
of values and attack on the American bleakness spoke for me (though the programmatic 
particulars got tedious, and I didn't read to the end); only timidity and my commitment to 
take up my job in Washington kept me from flying off to their convention in Michigan. In the 
flesh, they personified intelligence at the service of moral clarity. I wanted to be like them, 
with them. These exalted, clear, somehow devout souls so loved the world... . My most vivid 
memory: When we heard the joyous Saturday night radio news that Khrushchev was 
withdrawing the missiles and the crisis was subsiding, Mary Varela, a Catholic student 
activist from Boston, ran into a cathedral to give thanks. I felt as though I'd come home. 


Over the next weeks, I went through the motions as chairman of Tocsin, but against the 
feeling that the organization's purpose was played out. My closest friends in the group were, 
like me, painfully aware of our nearly complete isolation from the rest of the country and 
our lack of power to influence the course of events. Stuart Hughes drew all of 1/2 percent of 
the Massachusetts senatorial vote. At best, we were irrelevant; in some quarters, people 
like us had been assaulted as traitors. The consensus we had basted together for the 
February 1962 demonstration had come apart. If we were to forego the slim hope of 
influence on a rational Establishment, now that the apparently practical was revealed to be 
impractical, then what? Committed to "destructive criticism," we were also without 

Except in the living idea of a student movement. The student movement itself, by default, 
would have to become the base of whatever potential power could be organized against the 
drift toward war. A month after the missile crisis, SDS held a regional conference at Harvard 
Divinity School: "The Role of the Student in Social Change" it was called, the quotation 
marks included on the indifferently mimeographed agenda, as if the writer were self- 
conscious about this daring and still tentative idea. A caravan of heavyweights— Al Haber, 
Tom Hayden, and Paul Potter— drove in from Ann Arbor, and again I was more than 
impressed by the caliber of these individuals: I felt graced to be in their company. 

I was particularly taken by Potter, a sinew-lean Midwesterner with burning globes for eyes, 
past vice president of the National Student Association, impeccably middle-American. Potter 
exuded a sense of having earned the right to every eloquent syllable he spoke with his own 
hard-won thoughtfulness. Looking for a safe harbor on the radical side of the political 
watershed, I thought these new politics must be right if someone as dignified as Paul Potter, 
his manner deliberate but never academic, had found fresh language to say that we and the 
Cuban revolutionaries were somehow fighting the same battle.* Hayden was coiled, 
relentless, an intellectual boxer coming out of the crouch. His acne-pitted face and quick 
eyes made less of an impression than the fluidity of his speech. He seemed to have read 
everything. Hayden's every word seemed chosen; he never hesitated, never stumbled, as 
he crisply assaulted the social science establishment, especially the idea of "the end of 
ideology" then in circulation from the influential sociologists Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin 
Lipset. Haber, mild and slow-spoken in a way that suggested infinite care, spoke on 
"American Imperialism and the Emerging Nations." (How astonishing to see these words in 

I have kept the notes I made for my own little talk on "Peace." The Barrington Moore mood 
is evident. We have to face up to the fact that "peace has no social base"— no social 
institution wants it enough. Peace requires "changing the international system, but that is, it 
seems, out of our hands." We would have to make ourselves "relevant" to "labor, Negroes, 
intellectuals"; we would have to "link issues." We would have to fight "the alienation of men 
from the decision-making process"; without any illusions about our strength, we would have 
to "struggle for the means of struggle." 

' In a letter around that time, Potter wrote about the missile crisis in terms similar to mine: "What the crisis did 
was make clear the face that American power had reached the point of menace. America had to be curbed... . My 
feelings after were that you sensed yourself as part of a tiny, but very just minority. Enormous frustration at our 
inability to convince people." 


It is the tone of these notes that interests me: full of yearning for a movement that could 
comprehend, in both senses, all the American nightmares and injustices. I had already been 
influenced by the idea of participatory democracy, in which, as The Port Huron Statement 
says, "the individual [should] share in those social decisions determining the quality and 
direction of his life," and "society [should] be organized to encourage independence in men 
and provide the media for their common participation." This metaphysics of participation 
could only have made sense if there was already an arena in which to participate— the 
movement itself. The idea of participatory democracy made it possible to leapfrog over the 
futility of Tocsin-style reform. If reform was blocked, the movement itself could be the point 
of the movement. One of SDS's slogans was, "The issues are interrelated," and I was also 
reflecting that. "The issues arise together and need to be addressed together": this was how 
Hayden put it. In Robb Burlage's weekly SDS study group, which met in the back room of a 
local bar, I read Paul Goodman's just-published Growing Up Absurd and liked its way of 
groping for a total analysis. There and in The Port Huron Statement I liked both the longing 
for a total explanation and the uncertainty as to what it might be. 

One thing was clear: Tocsin was too confining a vessel. In February, I resigned as chairman. 
In my last semester before the abyss of commencement, unencumbered by the 
responsibility for the next demonstration and the next after that, I could finally try to think 
straight! In a seminar with Stuart Hughes, I was riveted by European ideological novels— 
among them Malraux's Man's Hope, de Beauvoir's The Mandarins, and Hermann Hesse's 
Steppenwolf, so far from being a cult book it was not yet available in paperback. I took a 
course on modern China, thought romantic thoughts about Mao and Chou En-lai, and 
especially about the 1919 student movement in which the Chinese Communist Party had 
originated, and also about the briefly flourishing intellectuals of the "hundred flowers" 
period, brutally uprooted for flowering too vigorously. I also read about the Hungarian 
rebels of 1956, on whom my roommate Chris Hobson was writing an undergraduate thesis; 
we were disgusted when over the lunch table one of the red-diaper Marxists of Quincy 
House tried to convince us these revolutionaries were "fascists." 

I wrote earnest poems about the need to break through to some more authentic reality. I 
met unimaginably brave civil rights workers from SNCC and set up a rally for them at 
Harvard. I worked on a big Boston march in support of the southern movement. I watched 
police with cattle prods and dogs attack Birmingham demonstrators on television, and felt 
guilty about not doing enough. I went to Bogart movies (the two-week Bogart festival had 
become an exam-time institution at the Brattle Theatre): I was overpowered by Casablanca, 
of course, but also by To Have and Have Not and even the hypersentimental Key Largo and 
Passage to Marseilles, all allegories about the passage from cynicism to political 
commitment. I also loved Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player, I think because it illustrated so 
brilliantly how things don't work out as you plan; I needed the irony to hedge my passionate 
bets. At Tom Hayden's urging, I visited Ann Arbor for two days, met more of the SDS group, 
and felt the holy communion again listening to Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome" in the 
Flacks living room. The trip cinched my decision to go to graduate school at the University 
of Michigan— not so much to study political science (my ostensible purpose) as to breathe 
the air of the SDS circle. In a last-ditch effort to yoke my expertise to my passions, I wrote 
a mathematics thesis called "Archetypical Mathematical Models in International Relations." 


My last week in Cambridge, I wrote a paper for Stuart Hugines in tine form of a playlet called 
"Six Characters in Search of Commitment." Figures from Man's Hope, The Mandarins, 
Steppenwolf, and All Quiet on the Western Front debated the urgencies of politics. My heart 
was with the hesitant heroes who, without illusions, even against their better judgment, 
chose to plunge themselves into the miserable and necessary life of society; but I also 
understood Harry Haller, Hesse's Steppenwolf, once an organizer against World War I, now 
an outsider content to live furtively in the social margins, alert to magic. I drew my 
epigraph from the most powerful allegory I knew: "It's still the same old story/A fight for 
love and glory/A case of do or die/The fundamental things apply/As time goes by" 

I had come to my restlessness by my own route, but my quirk was not mine alone. All over 
America, little knots of students were looking for ways to forsake the predictable paths of 
career, propriety, family. Some were going south to work with SNCC; some into northern 
ghettoes, to run tutorial projects or start free schools with the Northern Student Movement; 
some, suspected by the "serious" movement people, into the Peace Corps; some simply out, 
to live by themselves, think, write. Without thinking about it, we all took the fat of the land 
for granted. 

Sometime that spring, Leo Szilard, the atomic physicist who in 1939 convinced Albert 
Einstein to write to President Roosevelt urging a crash program to develop the atomic 
bomb, asked me avuncularly what I was going to do when I graduated. Appalled by 
Hiroshima and the arms race, Szilard had organized a fund-raising group to finance peace 
candidates in senatorial elections (one of his first beneficiaries was George McGovern of 
South Dakota). I had gotten to know Szilard when he gave a speech in Cambridge and kept 
in touch with him on visits to Washington. I gave him a pompous schoolboy answer about 
studying political science in order to understand society, blah blah blah... . "Don't study 
society," Szilard proclaimed, echoing Marx. "Change it!" 

Then, in June, just after commencement, I went to the SDS convention in a camp near the 
Hudson River at Pine Hill, New York, and for reasons I didn't quite understand, among 
people I scarcely knew, but loved, in an organization with which I had identified my hopes 
but had never worked in, at age twenty I found myself— let myself be— elected president. 

^ protest both necessary and dangerous: The following facts about protest during the missile 
crisis, and quotations, are from my unpublished 1963 article, "Dissent During the Crisis," 
and from my interviews with Dickie Magidoff, February 9, 1985. and Staughton Lynd, 
October 5, 1985. 102 "What the crisis did": Paul Potter, undated letter (late 1962) (Potter 

5. The Fused Group 

"A Band Of Brothers Standing In A Circle Of Love" 

The curious thing is that I went to the Pine Hill convention without the slightest intention of 
getting involved with SDS. I went to see people I cared about. ^ 


On the last day, Tom Hayden declined to run for a second term as president, and Robb 
Burlage also declined the nomination, claiming personal obligations, leaving Rennie Davis 
and Paul Potter and me, also desirous of living our private lives, to drop out too. While the 
delegates squirmed, Rennie, Paul, and I walked around on the lawn, discovered we all 
craved a certain distance from politics, and tried to figure out whose life would be disrupted 
least. I had barely met Paul, had never met Rennie at all before the convention. I thought of 
my "Six Characters in Search of Commitment," and felt an obligation to these strangers. 
The bond made my decision for me. 

I had been to only one previous national SDS gathering: a meeting of the National 
Executive Committee that spring of 1963. The official talk had been all business, nothing 
momentous. The main thing that struck me then was that at the party afterward one of the 
original Ann Arbor people was crying her eyes out because she and her boyfriend were 
breaking up. 

A strange thing to remember, and yet this is what moved me most about the SDS circle: 
everything these people did was charged with intensity. They moved and attracted me as 
people in the same spirit that The Port Huron Statement first moved and attracted me as a 
manifesto. It wasn't just that they were bright, though bright they were, and mostly without 
the polish and snobbery and arrogance that often went with brightness at Harvard. They 
were at once analytically keen and politically committed, but also, with a thousand gestures 
of affection, these unabashed moralists cared about one another. They lived as if life 
mattered profoundly, as if— this is hard to say without sounding mawkish, yet it seemed this 
way at the time— as if you could actually take life in your hands and live it deliberately, as if 
it were an artwork. They seemed to live as if life were all of a piece, love and commitment 

Rather a rhapsodic project for a national organization with all of eleven hundred members 
and a dozen chapters if that!^ The few dozen of the elite spoke of making SDS an 
"ideological home" for activists from civil rights and peace and university reform 
movements. To my eyes, they personified those movements and that home. Inducted into 
the inner circle, I was clued into the news of who was breaking up and taking up with whom 
in the extended family. In a way, it was by being made privy to the mesh of personal 
relations that I was inducted. Even in private life, there was a collective passion to find the 
right thing to do— a kind of erotics of morality. Most of them were a few years older than I; 
they seemed adult about romance and suffering where I was unlucky and inept and mostly 
inexperienced. I did have a chaste penchant for one lovely woman in particular, the 
girlfriend of one of the leaders, but, absurd as it sounds from this distance, I was really 
falling in love with a cadre— though this is too harsh and purposive a word; the SDS elite 
was more like what Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., called a "karass," a far-flung network joined in a 
common destiny. Organized one by one, face to face, most of the early SDS people were 
drawn into the circle and kept there by powerful personal bonds— bonds which were more 
important than political analyses or positions. "Brute love," the newcomer Carl Oglesby said 
he felt upon being elected president of SDS in 1965. People who didn't feel the same charge 
found it hard to break into the inner circle of power. •^ 

So there was substance, real life, behind the language of love, which the movement spoke 
without embarrassment. "Love is the central motif of nonviolence," said SNCC's founding 
statement at its outset."^ The Port Huron Statement discussed "human relationships" before 
it got to the political principle of participatory democracy: 


Human relationships should involve fraternity and honesty... . [H]uman 
brotherhood must be willed ... as the most appropriate form of social 
relations. Personal links between man and man [sic] are needed, especially to 
go beyond the partial and fragmentary bonds of function that bind men only 
as worker to worker, employer to employee, teacher to student, American to 
Russian... . 

Loneliness, estrangement, isolation describe the vast distance between man 
and man today. These dominant tendencies cannot be overcome by better 
personnel management, nor by improved gadgets, but only when a love of 
man overcomes the idolatrous worship of things by man.^ 

Notice that "human brotherhood must be willed": it does not come naturally. Over the next 
few years the principle came to be honored in the breach, and eventually a good deal of the 
community of the SDS elite unraveled in disputes of ideology and personality. What is 
interesting is that the passion was so strong in the first place. 

The SDS circle had founded a surrogate family, where for long stretches of time horizontal 
relations of trust replaced vertical relations of authority. Letters, still the premium linkage, 
were round-robin affairs, passed on among brothers and sisters, full of well-wishing. "A 
band of brothers standing in a circle of love"— this was James Forman's phrase for SNCC, 
popularized by Staughton Lynd, its sexual exclusivity not yet apparent. True, the circle 
faced outward, to a world that had to be remade. But the movement constantly tended to 
become its own end, its own "program"; more energy flowed into maintaining the collective 
bond than into making clear where it wanted to take the world, and how. The movement 
was in this way a living protest against both isolation and fragmentation. There was a 
longing to "unite the fragmented parts of personal history," as The Port Huron Statement 
put it^— to transcend the multiplicity and confusion of roles that become normal in a 
rationalized society: the rifts between work and family, between public and private, between 
strategic, calculating reason and spontaneous, expressive emotion.^ At the same time, at 
least for some of us, the circle evoked a more primitive fantasy of fusion with a symbolic, 
all-enfolding mother: the movement, the beloved community itself, where we might be able 
to find, in Kenneth Keniston's words, "the qualities of warmth, communion, acceptedness, 
dependence and intimacy which existed in childhood ... ." 

Which is to say that in some measure some of us were bent on overcoming the traumas of 
our own troubled families. By rough count, as many as one-third or one-half of the early 
SDS elite came from visibly broken or unstable families: a disproportionately large number 
for that generation. But even those who grew up in more stable families shared the fervent 
desire to find a community of peers to take seriously and be taken seriously by. In no strict 
sense was the movement simply a surrogate for amniotic bliss. If vulgar psychoanalytic 
interpretations were sufficient, the early SDS circle might have been a religious cult or a 
Utopian commune, not the complicated and paradoxical, inward- and outward-facing 
community it was.^ 


Moreover, the movement's elan and language were utterly American. It did not speak in 
Marxese dialects. If anything— mixed blessing!— the SDS Old Guard were steeped in a most 
traditional American individualism, especially the Utopian edge of it expressed in the mid- 
nineteenth century middle-class transcendentalism of Emerson and Whitman. They were 
striking and distinct figures, the ethereal Potter with his androgynous style, the uproarious 
Burlage, the burning Hayden never at a loss for cogency— far from the faceless herd viewed 
with such alarm (and so predictably!) by the Fifties' "mature" critics of social movements. 
Who were Emerson's "representative men" if not these intensely rugged individualists? 
When Hayden wrote his master's thesis on C. Wright Mills, another lone radical from the 
American heartland, he gave it a subtitle that expressed his own utter Americanism: 
"Radical Nomad." The movement family was irresistible to me precisely because its 
members, one by one, were extraordinary. 

Thus one of the lasting movement paradoxes: longing for fusion, we were equally fearful of 
it. I, among others, lived out this ambivalence in a decade-long dialectic between total 
immersion and skittish withdrawal. The internal drama also entered into SDS ideology, for 
The Port Huron Statement ingeniously sketched a vision of human nature which made it 
possible to straddle. Even before the singing its psalm to "human relationships," SDS 
affirmed (with the automatic sexist language of 1962) this lyrical idea of human nature: 

We regard men as infinitely precious and possessed of unfulfilled capacities 
for reason, freedom, and love... . 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 
{or} popularity but with finding a meaning in life that is personally authentic... 


Only in America could an organization of the Left have sounded such ringing praise of 
"human independence." Emerson, the prophet of self-reliance, could have trumpeted the 
selfsame notes. 


And so SDS's allure was condensed, for me, into the symbolic sight of a woman crying at a 
party I was beginning to sense, dimly, that the SDS circle was not just any family: it was an 
incestuous clan. My first year in Ann Arbor, a member of the Old Guard, fresh from one of 
the quickie entanglements that "campus traveling" made possible, said to me half-ironically: 
"The movement hangs together on the head of a penis."* The circle was made of triangles, 
consummated and not, constantly forming, collapsing, reforming, overlapping. The sexual 
intensity matched the political and intellectual; or was it the other way round? Each national 
meeting was not only a reconnection among people who, after all, lived scattered across the 
country; it was also an enclave in time where the normal social rules were suspended. No 
national meeting took place without its sexual liaisons— and integral to them, the 
protracted, anguished, frequently all-night discussions about where the new and old 
relationships should go from there. Some of these dramas bumped on, semipublicly, for 
years. Many a time, the big reason why so-and-so of the Old Guard didn't play much part in 
a particular meeting was that, alongside the workshops and plenary sessions, he (or less 
frequently, she, there being fewer women in the inner circle from the start) was back in the 
bunk, tending to personal affairs. 

This was the decade of the Pill, after all; we were young; the so-called sexual revolution 
was not simply media hype. But the extraordinary thing was that The Port Huron 
Statement's appeal for "honesty" was not empty. Lovers almost always forged and 
disbanded their romances out in the open, and tried to be kind. Such was the norm, at 
least, and it was remarkably honored. The exceptions— as when a married SDS leader fell 
into extramarital love and abandoned his wife— shocked the community precisely because 
they were violations of the prevailing decency. 

I was drawn into a circle of energy, then, whose bonds were intellectual and moral, political 
and sexual at once. I must have half-imagined the chance I might be admitted— not so 
much to sex as such, I think, but to the mutual love and reliance and the sense of 
possibility which sex can stand for. Even to be in the presence of all this transpersonal libido 
awed me. That it should accompany intelligence and political passion seemed to prove that 
thought, morality, and feeling could form a whole way of life. 

Robb Burlage used to say SDS ought to change its name to Students for a Small Society. 
Sex was less a motive than a cement. The movement's coherence required a circle of 
triangles. The vulgar way to say it was that the clan was consolidated through the exchange 
of women— yet one should not cheapen or oversimplify. These were accomplished people, 
"junior achiever" types— newspaper editors, student government leaders, academic stars, 
big men (and women) on campus— trained in the ways of competition. Only the strongest 
personal bonds could have held the Small Society together. The sexual crisscross meant 
generational force, meant innocence, meant starting fresh— and meant the grand illusion 
that we, the New Left, could solve the problems of the Left by being young. 

The same woman whose tears made such an impression on me— she was one of the few women in the early SDS 
circle— was regaled with the same motto by another Old Guardsman at Port Huron. Lacking a language for her 
complaint in 1962, she still felt annoyed by this sexist way of describing a sexy reality in which she, after all, 
shared happily But who would have dreamed, then, of saying, "The movement hangs together in the depths of a 
vagina"? Not only were women outnumbered, but such language might have made the homoerotic implication of 
male bonding too uncomfortably Stark. 


^ The Fused Group: This is Sartre's term (Critique of Dialectical Reason [London: NLB, 
1976], pp. 345-404), but I am taking the liberty of appropriating it while leaving Sartre's 
precise meaning (and baggage) behind. Sartre refers to an action-group that forms in the 
midst of upheaval in the streets; I mean the movement elite with its powerful sense of unity 
and mission. 

^ Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 663. ' 

^ Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 663. ' 

"* "Love is the central": In Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of 
the 1960s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 24. 

^ "Human relationships": Students for a Democratic Society, The Port Huron Statement, 
mimeographed ed., 1962, pp. 3-4 (author's file). 

^ "unite the fragmented": Ibid., p. 4. 

^ rifts between: Kenneth Keniston, The Uncommitted (New York: Dell, 1965), pp. 241-72. 
107 "the qualities of warmth": Ibid., p. 191. 

^ vulgar psychoanalytic interpretations: Lewis Feuer, The Conflict of Generations (New York: 
Basic, 1969); Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter, Roots a/Rebellion (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1982). 

^ "We regard men": Port Huron Statement, p. 4 (emphasis added). 


The Importance Of Being Anti-Anti-Communist 

Port Huron was the first time our politics surfaced. (Tine League for Industrial 
Democracy] could tolerate searching young minds but not a group of people 
who were four-square against anti-Communism, eight-square against 
American culture, twelve-square against sell-out unions, one-hundred- 
twenty-square against an interpretation of the Cold War that saw it as a 
Soviet plot and identified American policy fondly. 
-Al Haber^ 

But SDS did not forge its identity in love and trust alone. It was hurt into independence. As 
this "band of brothers and sisters" struggled for a language and vision adequate to its 
historical moment, the parent organization, the League for Industrial Democracy (LID), tried 
to impose its own. What resulted was a collision, inevitable and fateful, between a would-be 
New Left, bound for glory, and a leftover segment of the moribund social-democratic 
segment of the Old Left, huddling around its embers. From the "child's" point of view, 
nothing was more important than its claim to be taken seriously; from the "parent's" point 
of view, nothing was more important than the question of what to say and do about 
Communism and Communists. Precisely because anti-Communism was the core of the LID's 
faith, it became the fulcrum of SDS's heresy. The "child" flexed its muscles; the "parent" 
clamped down, losing its chance of control. The New Left declared independence and won it, 
but not without a price. It turned out to be more difficult to start afresh than the upstarts 
had imagined. 

That SDS began as the student department of the League for Industrial Democracy was in 
one way a fluke, in another the most melodramatically apt of circumstances. For the LID— 
the lid, as SDS came to call it— was the musty relic of a bygone past. One of a galaxy of 
New York-based offices rotating around the shell of the Socialist Party, the LID could trace 
its lineage to the Intercollegiate Socialist Society of 1905, whose first president was Jack 
London and which numbered Upton Sinclair, John Reed, and Walter Lippmann among its 
adherents.^ But many years and sectarian battles later, its abiding passions were a vigorous 
anti-Communism and a celebration of trade unions. In the early Sixties, the LID was not 
much more than a letterhead and a budget, an executive committee in search of a 
membership— but it did have one entry into the future, a student affiliate which the 
assiduous Al Haber, virtually single-handedly, had stirred into existence, renaming it 
Students for a Democratic Society. In September I960, one board member wrote to the 
head of the LID Executive Committee: "Since last May, the LID has not even made a 
pretense of activity ... . I do not think we can afford to prolong the current inactivity unless 
we resign ourselves to the LID as a functionless sponsor for SDS activities"— this at a time 
when SDS had barely begun. He proposed, "in all seriousness," a conference starting with 


Like the liberals of James Wechsler's ADA, the social democrats of the LID needed a youth 
organization to establish a toehold in the future— and to impress the unions, chiefly the 
International Ladies Garment Workers, from which they raised funds. The LID preferred a 
youth affiliate that was a paper replica of itself. As Al Haber said, they wanted neat 
meetings, coherent chapters, the orderly collection of dues."^ What they got was Haber, a 
stolid-seeming visionary who spoke of the campuses as the base for a "radical liberal" force 
and who dropped out of the University of Michigan to create a hypothetical SDS.^ The slow- 
spoken and studious Haber had gravitated to jazz and folk music at the University of 
Michigan; he approved of the beats, read Evergreen Review and /. F. Stone's Weekly. His 
memoranda were extensive and amazingly methodical, orderly little encyclopedias of 
political points and tasks. Balding, round-faced, brooding, he had something of the sweet 
and retiring look of a wise man; he spoke slowly, as if making room for his listeners in the 
spaces between his words. But the LID didn't like the fact that in 1961, for example, Haber 
planned to send a civil rights newsletter to a mailing list ten thousand strong, which he had 
compiled from campus petitions and such. Faced with the possibility that their student 
department would be flooded with potentially mindless activists (with potential risk to their 
tax exemption as an educational organization), they fired him. When they relented and took 
him back (partly because Haber's father, an economist with impeccable credentials, 
intervened to vouch for him), they forbade SDS to hold a convention in 1961. But Haber 
persisted. Starting with his small circle of friends at Michigan— Sharon Jeffrey, Bob Ross, 
Dickie Magidoff, and the student newspaper editor Tom Hayden— he drew in Dorothy 
Dawson and Robb Burlage from Texas, Paul Potter and Rennie Davis from Oberlin, and other 
campus live wires. The circle widened. In December 1961 Tom Hayden was appointed to 
draft a manifesto for a June convention at the Michigan AFL-CIO camp in Port Huron, north 
of Detroit. It was time for SDS to declare what it was about. 

In later years, the founders of SDS basked in the glow of solidarity they felt at Port Huron, 
the exhilarating sense that in reworking Hayden's draft and producing t\r\e\r Port Huron 
Statement t\r\ey had collectively found the language for a fresh political start. Most of the 
Old Guard remembered above all the glow of solidarity: the sense that they had "found 
home," had "signed up to a good world. "^ Some remember singing civil rights songs and 
"feeling high the whole time" even if they felt overwhelmed by the collective intellect and 
incompetent to enter into the inner circle. Some remember nights too intense for sleep, 
workshops followed by drafting sessions, and finally the twenty-four-hour-long plenary 
when they finished revising their declaration— all fifty pages of it, about one page per 
delegate— and went outside to watch the sun come up over Lake Huron, and felt pure 
exaltation. At the end of five days, says Rebecca (Becky) Adams, "I think we knew we'd 
done something big."^ Fighting for language, they were founding their intellectual and 
political home. 

It was not a moment for modesty. But amid this shimmering feeling that the New Left had 
succeeded in giving birth to itself, two major conflicts erupted at Port Huron: what to do 
about a Communist and what to say about Communism. The gnarled politics of the Fifties 
were not going to wither away on their own.^ 


First, a seventeen-year-old named Jim Hawley sinowed up, uninvited, representing tine 
Progressive Youtin Organizing Committee (PYOC), a group set up by tine Communist Party, 
and asked to be seated as a nonvoting observer. Delegates Richard Roman and Rachelle 
Horowitz were incensed at the thought that SDS would tolerate such a presence; they were 
officers of the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL), the "Third Camp" Socialist Party 
group, and their wing of the YPSL saw SDS (and the LID's budget) as a worthy arena for 
maneuver. To most other delegates, the debate over something so innocuous as the official 
"seating" of observers was "silly, "^ a "relic"^° of obsolete bureaucratic rules. To Roman and 
Horowitz, says Steve Max, seating Hawley was "like recognizing Cuba... . For the rest of us, 
it wasn't anything." To Max, the argument was simply the product of a culture clash. To 
Sharon Jeffrey, such issues were scarcely "paramount," but although she had grown up in a 
militant trade-unionist family that steadfastly took the anti-Communist side in the United 
Automobile Workers' factional wars, she wasn't afraid that factional history would repeat 
itself; she wanted Hawley seated. "It gave people a new way of seeing things to have a 
Communist in the room," she said years later. "It was raising consciousness. My position 
was, if we're going to get along in the world, we have to be able to talk to anyone."" To the 
Texan Robb Burlage, not cued in to the Left's internecine history, the issue was simply 
"baffling. "^^ Hawley didn't speak on his own behalf, didn't talk politics; what was really 
going on? 

What was going on was that SDS didn't want to be told whom it could and couldn't let 
observe. By a lopsided vote, Hawley was permitted to observe, with the stipulation— so the 
SDS leadership wrote later— "that this indicated neither approval nor fraternal relations with 
him."^^ In fact, the convention proved way over Hawley s head; he felt "like a kid."^"* 
Indeed, this walking symbol of Popular Front politics was just out of suburban high school, 
where he had been a civil rights and peace activist in the Communist Party orbit (though not 
a member himself). By his own testimony, years later, he knew "zilch about SDS." Cowed, 
traumatized by having been thrust to the center of attention, he spoke not a word in public 
and left Port Huron before the convention ended. His silence only illustrated the Old Left 
tendency to look like victims rather than conveyors of a politics to be debated— a self- 
protective Popular Front tendency that did nothing to clarify political issues. 

The Hawley issue was pure symbolism, but in politics symbols are substance whenever 
groups take them seriously— especially when they collide. The other symbols at issue were 
Tom Hayden's words. Port Huron was the scene of a late-night brouhaha over the draft 
manifesto. Michael Harrington— the thirty-four-year-old veteran of socialist and sectarian 
wars of the Fifties, and a leading member of the LID's Student Activities Committee— saw 
red. A fluid orator, Harrington argued strenuously that Tom Hayden's draft wasn't critical 
enough of the Soviet Union— that it "seemed to imply the United States was the prime 
source of evil in the Cold War."^^ 


How did the document read? Hayden had indeed decried the way Americans "have 
abstracted Russians to demonic proportions, projecting upon them all blame for the Cold 
War," choking off "rational and full debate." Russia, he wrote, was "a conservative status 
quo nation state... . The forceful take-over of East Europe signaled not the first stage of 
European conquest but a clumsy and brutal establishment of a security zone by a harassed 
and weakened nation."" Radical and liberal elders were using their obsession with 
Communists to "mask ... their own timidity," "trying to "get by' in a society that would be 
hostile in the extreme were they to ever let down their anti-communist shield. "^^ Their 
"paranoid quest for decontamination" and "replays of the old fights" contributed "to the 
mood of public hysteria," and were thus more dangerous than "the small cluster of people 
who, tired of Official America, project their wishful humanism onto the Soviet Union. "^^ 
Hayden might have been anticipating Harrington's response. But there was real bait for 
Harrington to rise to. He must have been horrified that Hayden would refer to trials, 
executions, and invasions in Eastern Europe as "irresponsibility" and "small and large 
denials of human dignity. "^^ With Hungary still burning in his heart, Harrington could not 
have warmed to Hayden's statement that "the savage repression of the Hungarian 
Revolution was a defensive action-rooted in Soviet fear that its empire would collapse." 

If SDS didn't take a harder line against the Russians, Harrington said, the LID was going to 
"go through the roof."^° He also thought the draft far too harsh toward liberals and, in 
particular, labor unions, which in his eyes were the only conceivable center of a united left- 
liberal coalition. You didn't wash labor's dirty laundry in public if you expected to work with 
them— not to mention taking the LID's money. As he put it later, "if one dismissed the 
entire American labor movement and the liberal middle class, what hope was there of ever 
building a majority coalition that could transform the most powerful and imperial capitalist 
power in human history?"^^ SDS said it wanted to "realign" the Democrats into a liberal 
party, forcing the southern "Dixiecrats" to merge with the Republican Right; but who was 
going to do the realigning? 

As the beer flowed, Harrington took on all comers. To some SDSers, he was patronizing, 
unimaginative, long-winded. Robb Burlage, predisposed to admire this elder-brother figure, 
found him guilty of "some special pleading which I didn't exactly understand." Becky Adams 
found him impressively stylish but domineering. Sharon Jeffrey thought he "fueled the 
flames." But for all the qualms, Harrington proved more persuasive than he knew. When the 
convention broke into workshops to revise the document, his criticisms lingered. 

But Harrington left Port Huron before the workshops got to work. The discussions he missed 
felt sublime to the SDS core. The workshop on values decided that the document ought to 
state its principles— by far its most memorable and influential section— at the outset, before 
proceeding to policies. The values were ail-American in their attempt to fuse individualism 
with participatory democracy; but whatever the instability of the mixture, there was no way 
it could be confused with sympathy for Communism. The one serious argument that broke 
out there was about whether humankind was really infinitely perfectible. In the economics 
group and the final plenary, though, Robb Burlage was disappointed: he thought it high 
time to get more specific about positive programs. 


The final document did display a seam— joining Utopian values to reform proposals at the 
leftmost reaches of liberalism and social democracy. Was it seam, though, or rupture? The 
Port Huron Statement exhibited the same divide that ran through every political declaration, 
from the League for Industrial Democracy to the political parties— the distance between 
ends and means, between the rhetoric of the desirable and the agenda of the attainable. 
Later on, it was charged against the student movement that it lacked a positive program- 
as if any political force in American life had more of one. But no one truly expected the 
Democratic or the Republican Party to live out its Fourth of July rhetoric. Radicals, aiming 
higher, are judged by higher standards— by protectors of the status quo, and by 
themselves. The movement bristled at the accusation, and suffered from the split, because 
the values it proclaimed were so luminous, so ambitious; because it insisted that means 
were ends. 

Port Huron's big controversy burst out at the workshop on anti-anti-Communism, chaired by 
Becky Adams, the earnest former student body president at Swarthmore College. The 
daughter of a civil libertarian Republican corporate lawyer in Marin County, California, 
Adams herself not long before had trembled at being asked to sign a petition against the 
McCarran Act: a single false move, after all, might jeopardize a career. No generational 
rebel, she was, like most SDSers, living out her parents' latent values— her father's civil 
libertarianism, her mother's democratic-mindedness. "I wanted very badly to have a 
meeting of the minds," she recalls, but the minds in her workshop ranged from the 
crusading anti-Communist YPSL chairman Richard Roman to the red-diaper baby and former 
Old Left activist Dick Racks. Adams didn't know much about Soviet crimes; she pooh- 
poohed Roman's litany. Above all she wanted the New Left to say what it was for. Even 
though she had been bothered by some of the draft's blithe dismissals of anti- 
Communism— she wanted to make it clear that SDS was civil libertarian and not pro- 
Communist— she was put off by Roman's style. "This was the first time I was exposed to 
Socialist Party provocations," Adams recalls. "It seemed to me that Roman's only interest 
was in getting his language into the statement. It was obvious he was on a mission for his 
Party. He was insensitive and stubborn. He repeated himself again and again. You couldn't 
get through the workshop in that style." 

Dick Flacks, for his part, was ecumenical too. The LID's concerns, he thought, should be 
part of the New Left grand synthesis. Revising Hayden's language, he says, "I tried to figure 
out the minimum Dick Roman would accept." 

Port Huron was Flacks's epiphany Characteristic of his Old Left generation (he was born in 
1938), he had started out in student politics by submerging his own radicalism. His Popular 
Front approach had been to nudge liberals toward a more committed liberalism: In 1955, 
while active in the Communist Party's youth organization, the Labor Youth League (LYL), he 
had been elected president of the Brooklyn College Young Democratic Club.* Disquieted by 
Hungary, antagonistic to Stalin, Flacks had been "thrilled" by Khrushchev's 1956 speech 
denouncing Stalin's crimes; finally he could say out loud what he already thought, that 
Stalin was atrocious and the entire Soviet system "questionable." He concluded that the LYL 
should break with the Communist Party. But the Party moved first, and disbanded the LYL; 
most of his peers never went back to active politics. 

' Note to supporters of loyalty oaths: A friend of his, also a member of the Labor Youth League, simultaneously 
became president of Students for Democratic Action, which, like its parent organization, the ADA, had an exclusion 


While in graduate scinooi at IMiclnigan, Flacks got involved in civil rights and peace work; the 
larger non-Communist Left was his lifeblood. But he held back from leadership for fear that 
his past would prove "discrediting." Then Flacks encountered the Ann Arbor SDS circle. 
Clearly not Communists, "these people were from America." At first Flacks trod lightly, 
defensively, in SDS too, but he— and his wife, Mickey, also a red-diaper activist— were 
relieved to discover that these straight-arrow Americans welcomed them precisely as red- 
diaper babies, to be "supported and brought into the synthesis," as he put it later. When the 
Port Huron convention voted to seat Jim Hawley, Flacks says, "I knew we were home." 

At home. Flacks thought, no voice on the Left should be excluded. Resolute anti- 
Communism should be given its due— alongside Hayden's critique of hysterical anti- 
Communism. He asked Roman, in so many words, what the statement should say against 
Communism, and incorporated many of his points, resulting in a passage that pulled no 

As democrats we are in basic opposition to the communist system. The Soviet 
Union, as a system, rests on the total suppression of organized opposition, as 
well as a vision of the future in the name of which much human life has been 
sacrificed, and numerous small and large denials of human dignity 
rationalized... . The Soviet state lacks independent labor organizations and 
other liberties we consider basic... . Communist parties throughout the rest of 
the world are generally undemocratic in internal structure and mode of action. 
Moreover, in most cases they subordinate radical programs to requirements 
of Soviet foreign policy. The communist movement has failed, in every sense, 
to achieve its stated intentions of leading a worldwide movement for human 

But Flacks retained Hayden's point that Soviet "tyrannies" and "oppressive institutions" did 
not mean that the Soviet Union was inherently expansionist. Russia was "becoming a 
conservative status quo nation state," not the aggressive monster beloved of Cold War 
orthodoxy. ^•^ He kept Hayden's critique of "unreasoning anti-communism" which obstructed 
"tentative, inquiring discussion about "the Russian question.'"^"* 

Surely, Flacks thought, the LID would be satisfied now! Both the draft and the final 
document were studded with slams at the Soviet bloc. (For example: "The conventional 
moral terms of the age, the politician moralities— 'free world,' 'people's democracies'— reflect 
realities poorly, if at all, and seem to function more as ruling myths than as descriptive 
principles""; " ... the dreams of the older left were perverted by Stalinism and never 
recreated."") When the convention approved the essence of his revision (leaving the final 
wording up to a "styles committee"). Flacks felt for one long exhilarating moment that SDS 
had averted a collision with the LID, had left the Fifties (and Forties and Thirties) behind, 
had found a fresh language— beyond both pro-Communism and anti-Communism— adequate 
to the moment. 

Most of the sleepless brothers and sisters exulted too. "We were very aware we were taking 
a position different from the LID's," Sharon Jeffrey recalls with a laugh, "and we were very 
willing to do it."^^ But Robb Burlage, the Texan half-outsider, remembers feeling "the 
beginnings of an anxiety"^^ as the sun came up over the shores of the Port Huron 
consensus, for Roman and Horowitz, whom he liked, "weren't sharing in the sense of 
sunrise. It was very sunset to them." 


The sense of triumph was short-lived. IMichael Harrington went back to New York— along 
with another ex-Shachtmanite, Donald Slaiman of the AFL-CIO— and sounded the alarm to 
the LID staff.^^ Rachelle Horowitz, of the YPSL faction in SDS, told him the convention had 
ratified the draft manifesto without making any changes. In fact, Harrington realized later, 
"SDS had responded quite generously to my criticisms. But before I found that out, I 
committed myself, emotionally and politically, to attacking the SDS leaders— my friends and 
comrades. "•^° As Shakespeare knew, accident slides into tragedy. Why was Harrington quick 
to assume the worst? 

Harrington was pivotal, for he was the one person who might have mediated across the 
generational divide. Among the older, largely Jewish trade unionists, he was the LID's one 
younger hope ("the 'oldest young socialist' alive," he joshingly called himself)^^; he was as 
much a man of the Fifties as they were of the Thirties— a one-man stand-in for the "missing 
generation." At the same time, he was excited about the impending New Left. He was close 
to Hayden, had drunk and traveled with him, had gone to his wedding— they were both 
fluent-tongued, fervent, middle-class Irish Catholic boys from the Midwest. ^^ Harrington had 
just published an article in Dissent, in fact, cautioning democratic socialists not to come 
crashing down on the just-radicalized New Left— to remember that their romanticism toward 
Fidel, however "fuzzy," was not "a finished ideology" but a "complex feeling" that had to be 
"faced and changed" but could not be done so "from a lecture platform," "through a recital 
of the old categories or by a magisterial act." "The persuasion must come," he wrote, "from 
someone who is actually involved in changing the status quo here, and from someone who 
has a sympathy for the genuine and good emotions which are just behind the bad 
theories. "•^•^ But anti-Communism was Harrington's emotional touchstone. He had formed his 
politics with the brilliant and bitter Max Shachtman, who had suffered the anguish of seeing 
his revolution— forever, by rights, his revolution— perverted. ^"^ And there was the irrevocable 
fact of generation. Harrington was a mature twenty-eight when the Hungarian revolution— 
the living, burning epitome of his politics— was crucified by the Red Army. To the radicals of 
SDS, on the contrary, "Hungary" was ancient history, something out of their early teens; it 
signified not so much a crushed revolution as a tattered banner in the Cold War, and roused 
their hearts far less than Fidel Castro and the Bay of Pigs. Moreover, Harrington had come 
into radical politics at a time when the Left was minuscule, self-enclosed, doctrinal. Those 
who learn to make their homes in the wilderness can bristle when the next generation has 
the audacity to dash toward the promised land. It was hard for Harrington to admit that he 
was "no longer the youthful maverick of the 1950s." The title had passed to the brash New 
Left, and he felt— he was— threatened. 

Whereupon the LID rushed to judgment. Whatever one wants to say about the "balance of 
blame" for the Cold War, the LID resorted— in SDS's words— to "a morally dubious intrusion 
by a paternal hand."^^ Their tone was legalistic and hysterical at once, their maneuvers the 
blind and rageful blunders of petty proprietors fearful of losing their franchise to the new 
boys and girls on the block— which guaranteed exactly that outcome. The LID Executive 
Committee met (without notice to Haber, an ex-officio member) and decided that the 
convention had not only been unrepresentative (too many delegates from Ann Arbor) but 
had "disagreed with us on basic principles and adopted a popular front position." Without 
having seen the final document, LID executive director Vera Rony told her board that the 
SDS convention had "adopted a policy statement which placed the blame for the cold war 
largely upon the U.S. and affirmed that the Soviet Union was not an expansionist power and 
was more disposed to disarmament ... . In addition. Communist youth observers were 
seated at the convention and given speaking rights. "•^^ 


Whereupon the LID leaders summoned SDS defendants to a "hearing" in New York.'^^ 
Harrington played the role, Haber said years later, of the Grand Inquisitor. Much was made 
of the excessive voting power of the Michigan delegation at Port Huron, when in fact they 
had only one-fifth of the convention votes. Harrington, speaking for an organization that 
was nothing but an executive committee and a letterhead, hammered away on the theme 
that the convention was illegitimate: "There is no SDS as a functioning organization with a 
political life. It does not exist. How can you get a representative convention from a non- 
organization? On only ten days' or two weeks' notice, a document of cosmic scope was 
given to delegates. It requires a year's discussion." Hayden bounced back that SDS needed 
a political position before it could grow. 

So it went. Harrington said that the seating of Jim Hawley amounted to "United Frontism," 
long discredited. Another LIDer, Harry Fleischman, wanted to know, "Would you give seats 
to Nazis too?" Rony focused on the document: "There's no mention of the Russians breaking 
the test ban; no reference... . Hungary is dismissed, the Berlin wall, nuclear testing. It's 
here, we can read it: the bias against criticizing the Soviet Union. You don't mention their 
faults." Fleischman added that the document lacked a "single standard. It lambastes the 
U.S. and taps the Soviets on the wrist." Hayden denied the charge, insisting the document's 
"Values" section imposed a single standard. Haber reminded the prosecutors that the final 
document had not yet been edited (it would be ready within a week) and that Harrington's 
and Slaiman's objections had been "taken to heart." 

The LID tribunal was not impressed. An hour passed, and Rony called Haber with the 
verdict. The LID was throwing SDS staffers Haber, Hayden, and the newly hired Steve Max 
(the son of a Communist, after all, and once a teenage member of the Communist- 
sponsored Labor Youth League) off salary. From now on the parent organization would have 
to approve all SDS documents; Dick Roman was to be SDS's interim secretary, replacing 
Haber. At the same time, without breathing a word to Haber, the LID cut off all SDS funds 
and took direct action to keep exclusive access to that most crucial of all organizational 
resources, the mailing list: they changed the lock on the SDS office door. 

Flabbergasted and furious, most of the SDS National Executive Committee gathered from 
near and far in Steve Max's Riverside Drive apartment. Nothing could have done more to 
fuse this group, already bonded at Port Huron. They listened to a tape of the hearing, then 
met around the clock for two days and nights, camping out on the floor, living on pizza. 
Outlanders like Burlage and Potter had to be briefed on the ins and outs (mostly outs) of 
left-wing history. There was talk about sneaking the SDS mailing list out of the office before 
the LID could lock it up. Memories fade and clash about whether the deed was actually 
done. Flacks thinks someone was dispatched to get the list; Haber, for one, thinks no one 
got it but somebody should have.'^* 


The moment of truth came in a confrontation between the Shachtmanite Tom Kahn and the 
SDS regulars. Kahn had been elected to the NEC as a sop to his YPSL faction, but his 
sympathies were plainly with the LID. The LID had a perfect right to the SDS files, said 
Kahn. Moreover, people were going to call SDS "Communist"; wasn't SDS in touch with 
known pro-Castroites? "People are going to attack us," said Kahn. Hayden turned to Kahn 
and said, disgustedly, "Yeah, and you're going to be one of them." There was a collective 
gasp. "Treacherous," Hayden called Kahn, and threw a pencil at him. "Our greatest enemy 
is not HUAC or the Right, it's you. You will try to destroy us." Paul Potter concluded on the 
spot that Kahn and Dick Roman were "the enemy," the LID "paranoid."* So much for the 
hope that SDS was going to be the Grand Synthesis on the Left.^^ 

After two days in Max's apartment, the SDS phalanx, welded into a unit (less Roman and 
Kahn, one of whom voted against and the other abstained), resolved to stand their ground 
and appeal their way back into the LID. If they could weather the immediate crisis, they 
could still use the LID affiliation and spare themselves the agony of a wholehearted, career- 
damaging public attack. Whereupon they spent three more twenty-four-hour days drafting a 
twenty-seven-page single-spaced appeal to the full LID Board. "^^ The fury of its composition 
is forever inscribed in the appeals improvised look: The writing and typing were parceled 
out, so that the mimeographed brief came out in a patchwork of styles and typefaces, 
mixing a due-process technical defense with substantive political argument. The basic 
problem, it concluded, was that the LID was unwilling to accept SDS as the voice of "a 
different generation." 

The appeal succeeded in cooling the larger LID Board into compromise."*^ Former Sarah 
Lawrence College president Harold Taylor, who had been at Port Huron, led the forces of 
moderation; Norman Thomas, among others, also sympathized. Although the LID still 
insisted Haber play the sacrificial lamb, the office was returned to SDS and The Port Huron 
Statement was permitted to stand. But the clash was burned into the organization's primal 
memory. The tale of the magnificent manifesto written around the clock by a convention 
that stayed up to watch the sun rising over Lake Huron, followed in short order by the saga 
of the brilliant brief worked up by sleepless cadres fighting off a sneak attack by paranoid 
elders— this was the stuff of SDS's founding legend. Although I wasn't yet involved in the 
organization, I have my own myth-sized memory: I was having dinner with Haber and 
Hayden in my Washington apartment, early in July, when they got the call from New York 
alerting them that the LID had summoned them to the emergency hearing. They left for 
New York, as I recall, without finishing dinner. Summary hearings, legalistic diatribes, 
locking a staff out of its office: This sounded to me like an Alice in Wonderland version of 
what I had read about the long-gone internecine left-wing strife of the Thirties. It was not 
the sort of thing to make my heart beat fast for the "democratic Left." 

The patchwork could not last. Errors and accidents aside, two generations glowered at each 
other across a deep historical divide of experience as well as belief. 

' For his part, Kahn, the son of a manual laborer from Brooklyn, was full of class resentment of an SDS elite which 
he remembered, years later, as coming from "Ivy League-type" schools, although only two of them were graced, or 
tarnished, with that affiliation. "I thought they were sort of playing a lot of intellectual games," he says. "I thought 
they were elitist, their attitude towards the labor movement, the liberal establishment. They were very wrapped up 
in their own political and intellectual creativity. They really believed that they were defining the goals of the 
generation, setting forth the new political doctrine. And to a large extent they succeeded. 1, in that sense, probably 
underestimated them." Kahn went on to become executive secretary of the LID, a speechwriter for Hubert 
Humphrey in 1968 and Senator Henry Jackson in 1972, and a top aide to presidents George Meany and Lane 
Kirkland of the AFL-CIO. 


To the LID: Anti-Communism was at tine core of political identity Bitter battles with 
Communists had been their proving grounds. There was an LID board member who at one 
meeting tore at his shirt to show Al Haber the scars Communists had inflicted on him at a 
Madison Square Garden rally more than a quarter of a century before. In the League for 
Industrial Democracy, the danger of cooperating with Communists had long since been 
settled: In 1935, their student department had deserted the parent organization, helped 
form the Communist Party-lining American Student Union, and been submerged."*^ Almost 
three decades later, the experience still quivered in the LID's institutional memory. And that 
history served their present interest. The unions which supported the LID— especially the 
International Ladies Garment Workers and Walter Reuther's United Automobile Workers- 
had signed up for the duration with American prosperity, demanding only a fairer share. 
Anti-Communism, alongside its intrinsic merits, was more than a matter of principle: it 
underwrote the postwar social contract. Curiously, too, the specter of Stalinism safeguarded 
the LID'S standing as proprietor of a democratic Left. Stalinism was a spent force in 
American life, but its lingering aura enabled the feeble LID to feel important. Soviet 
aggression in Hungary was alive to them not simply because the Hungarian revolutionaries 
deserved all the solidarity in the world— a good enough reason in itself— but also because 
there was no longer a real American movement to stir the blood. It was absolutely central 
to these anti-Communists that their student group play what Harrington later called "a pro- 
American, Cold War, State Department kind of role."'*'^ 

Meanwhile, to SDS: The formative fact was the domestic void. Despite ritualistic 
incantations to "the trade union movement," the Old Left— Marxists and social democrats 
alike— had lost their popular base. Why take anti-Communist moralism seriously when the 
old moralists had so little to show for it? Anyway, the old pro-Communist Left was more a 
ghostly remnant than a live rival. Outside the lurid imagination of the House Un-American 
Activities Committee, who could fear such a shriveled ghost? At the same time, there were 
huge new facts. Stalin, after all, was dead, and Khrushchev had brought a thaw if not full 
spring. If the Russians were such a military threat, the Soviet bloc so monolithic, how 
account for Tito's successful break in 1948 and the growing rift between Russia and China? 
The Soviet system had so little hold on the SDS founders, they couldn't take it seriously, 
even as an enemy; it was an aged and obsolete "dinosaur," not a monster in its prime. 

What haunted this generation was not the specter of Communism but the force and mood of 
McCarthy ism. When Becky Adams was growing up civil-libertarian in Marin County, 
California, for example, suspect books were being publicly burned, and she was revolted; if 
this was anti-Communism, she thought, then anti-anti-Communism became a moral 
necessity. Communism was a remote abstraction, anti-Communism a clear and present 
rampage against ar?/ American Left. Intellectuals were cowed, radicals purged, students 
largely submissive. All radical and Utopian thought was suspect: didn't respected 
intellectuals warn that it was Utopian passion as such, the very will to believe, that had 
blinded them to Soviet crimes?"*"* SDS reversed this logic. If the prevailing view was that all 
Utopias were mortally wounded by the horrendous example of Soviet Communism, the early 
New Left theory was that any resurrection of Utopia was going to require a dampening of 
anti-Soviet passion. 

So anti-Communism, the LID's automatic reflex, became SDS's dirty word. But why didn't 
SDS settle for a more careful anti-Communism? Why not what Harrington later called "a 
progressive. Leftist anti-Communis[m]"?'*^ 


There was much more of a discriminating opposition to Soviet-style Communism in The Port 
Huron Statement than Harrington could acknowledge then. In standing up for detente and 
recognizing that both sides were complicit in the Cold War, SDS was only a year ahead of 
President John F. Kennedy. But SDS's view of revolutions was indeed more muddled. Unlike 
Harrington's Trotskyists, who had watched the socialist dream devour its dreamers in the 
Soviet Union, SDSers weren't old enough to have had their primal hopes dashed. Children of 
the open spaces of the Fifties, their sense of plenitude craved a reason to believe that the 
world was not finished, that the history of socialism, so savagely sidetracked after 1917, 
could start again freshly. However hostile to the USSR, SDS devoutly wanted Third World 
revolutions to overturn the Soviet model, whose crimes were taken to be the results of 
overcentralization and encrusted bureaucracy, even gerontocracy. 

Thus the particular importance of Castro's Cuba for the New Left. Cuba was the 
revolutionary frontier, the not-yet-known. Here, apparently, was the model of a revolution 
led by students, not by a Communist Party— indeed, in many ways against it. The triumph 
over a brutal American-sponsored dictatorship had been improbable, dramatic, hard to 
categorize. In its early years, moreover, Castro's Cuba with its several newspapers and 
freewheeling style seemed far from both Stalinism and stolidity On trips to Cuba in 1959, 
I960, and 1961, before U.S. government restrictions made travel harder, Americans like 
Paul Potter mixed with Cuban students, identified with their esprit and their defiance of the 
Colossus of the North. Even the National Student Association expedited these trips; so, on a 
smaller scale, did the budding Students for a Democratic Society, which provided a desk in 
its office for a group arranging travel to Cuba. Fidel Castro might turn out to be a dictator, 
but in The Port Huron Statement's words, anticolonial revolutions embodied "individual 
initiative and aspiration" along with a "social sense of organicism"— precisely the image New 
Left activists had of themselves as they took history in their own hands. "^^ Widely circulating 
tracts by Jean-Paul Sartre and C. Wright Mills made the same hopeful case."*^ 

The proper attitude toward Third World revolutions, then, was what SDS called "critical 
support." The Port Huron Statement anticipated "more or less authoritarian variants of 
socialism and collectivism""^^ in the Third World, but said Americans could help the cause of 
democracy "not by moralizing" but by identifying with them critically and working to keep 
them independent. (What radicals should say about revolutionary regimes which didn't 
protect dissent was left dangling.) 

At the same time, SDS didn't want to bog down in passing resolutions for or against 
anyone's pet regimes. The way to break with the Cold War was not to leap from one side to 
the other. Even to dwell on politics abroad was the politics of the armchair, a surrogate for 
activity, and for it SDS reserved the ironic term statementism. An American radical's first 
and overwhelming priority was radical change in America.* 

' A younger Michael Harrington had once argued this way himself, for example against an American Committee for 
Cultural Freedom which was obsessed with "absolute freedom in Russia (where the ACCF does not yet have any 
influence)" and yet ambiguous "with regard to freedom in the U.S. (where it does have influence)." [A younger 
Michael Harrington: Michael Harrington, "Liberalism— A Moral Crisis: The American Committee for Cultural 
Freedom," Dissent, vol. 2, no. 2 (Spring 1955), p. 122.] No one saw the snag in this argument: The movement 
wanted to be a voice of universal morality, beyond all boundaries, yet when it refused to be anti-Communist on 
purely pragmatic grounds ("our job is in the U.S."), it forfeited its claim to universality. The turn to international 
revolution in the late Sixties— including revolution in the U.S.— was an abstract and futile way to regain the moral 


So this ungainly double negative, anti-anti-Communism, was for the New Left what anti- 
Communism was for postwar liberals and social democrats: the crucible of a political 
identity. Obviously there was more at work than a strictly rational dispute (although it was 
that too); the SDS/ LID imbroglio also amounted to a family fight. One of the dynamics of 
transgression was Oedipal, as the partisans of patriarchal order declare triumphantly, but 
their crude version of this notorious parricide is nothing more than a simplistic way of 
discounting the revolt of the sons (not to mention daughters, who get short shrift from the 
oversimplifiers).* Generational politics takes two generations to play; each was spoiling for a 
fight on precisely the ground closest to the other's heart. So part of the answer to 
Harrington's question, why not a leftist anti-Communism, is that too many fine distinctions 
between different varieties of anti-Communism would have dampened SDS's abiding 
passion: to start afresh. In this sense the appeal brief was disingenuous, a legalistic 
response to a quasi-judicial kangaroo court. But if SDS was in some ways naive (especially 
in failing to anticipate the parental onslaught), the LID was vindictive. The vigorous children 
had to fight back the possessive fathers to go out into the world on their own."*^ 

Thus the vertical dimension of SDS's revolt. There was also a horizontal dimension: what to 
do about old Communists and their children, as actual persons. To the LID, respect or 
affection for Communists or fellow travelers was simply beside the point; what counted was 
political principles, period. You could like a Communist-liner as a drinking buddy but you 
were still bound to exclude him and his positions from your organization, even your 
convention. But for SDS the question was not so much what to think as how to change life. 
This was the legacy of bohemia, deepened in the exalting experience of the fused group, 
solidified by the belief that the old answers led into the political desert— thus it would take 
transgression to break new ground. The pro-Communist Old Left was moribund as a Left; it 
therefore looked like a series of individuals, to be taken (or left) one at a time. There were 
individuals of Old Left vintage who had earned the respect of SDS leaders. They were 
courageous civil rights activists in the South, peace activists in the North. They might or 
might not be members of the CP, but who cared? They were to be judged by their actions, 
not their memberships. SDS also rebelled against an impersonal society by refusing to 
respect the normal boundary between private feeling and public position. At the very least 
you didn't want to purge miscreants, especially if you weren't sure where the truth lay in 
the first place. Social democrats were right to abhor totalitarianism, but their tempers were 
distorted, as Barbara Haber put it, by the "rabid anti-Communism at the center of their 
lives. "^° Communists, in contrast, could be "nice." The self-righteousness of the right- 
minded was off-putting in a way the wrong doctrine was not. This sort of calculus was not 
something the veterans of the ideological wars of the Thirties and Forties could view with 
equanimity— nor, since they lacked standing as a living Left, could they easily sway the New 
Left by pontificating at them. 

' Even Sophocles's story is far more complicated than is dreamt of in neoconservative philosophy. The original 
"back Story" begins, let us recall, with Laius receiving news from an oracle that a son of his, not yet born, is going 
to grow up to l<ill him. When Oedipus is three days old, Laius therefore pierces his ankles, pins them together, and 
casts him into the wilderness to die. The son survives, but, years later, an oracle tells him he is fated to sleep with 
his mother and murder his father. Horrified, Oedipus flees. One day he happens upon a carriage-drawn old man 
who tries to force him out of the road. The coachman pushes Oedipus, who strikes back; the old man attacks 
Oedipus, who batters back and kills this man who, of course, turns out to have been Laius. Father and son, each 
desperate to escape from a dire rate, end up fulfilling it. The moral difference is that Laius fulfills the first prophecy 
by leaving his son to die, while Oedipus fulfills the second in the course of trying to avoid doing wrong to his father. 


And then, crucially, SDS had an active respect for some particular children of the Old Left, 
above all the red-diaper babies of the Old Guard itself: principally Dick and Mickey Flacks 
and Steve Max, bright, knowledgeable, dedicated, full of lore about the multiple absurdities 
as well as decencies of the Communist side of the Old Left, yet living links to a radical past 
that, however "perverted by Stalinism," as The Port Huron Statement put it, was at least 
devoted to radical change. The majority of SDSers, from liberal or social-democratic 
backgrounds, had been drawn (like me) to red-diaper babies as living, breathing carriers of 
the radical tradition, conscientious objectors to the American Celebration. Then again, what 
was to fear? In the heady days of the dawning Sixties, who cared whether stodgy, obvious 
Communists came around? Communists and fellow travelers were heavy-handed, thick- 
headed, laughably attached to their cautious formulas— some of these, in fact, not so 
different from the LID's ("liberal-labor coalition," "support the party of the workers"). They 
were glued to electoral politics, glued to the Democratic Party; they didn't hear the music of 
direct action. Anyway, there were few live Communists in sight,* no sign of any 
antidemocratic influx into SDS, no apparent danger that Old Left authoritarians could ever 
count for anything in an organization so resolutely anti-Soviet. In this mood, to exclude 
observers, even members, seemed absurdly fearful. And as Sharon Jeffrey typically, 
gleefully, puts it, "I didn't have fear in me!" 

New Left pluck was built on a supreme faith in the power of face-to-face persuasion— the 
pure liberal nineteenth-century rationalism of John Stuart Mill, unscarred by factional wars. 
For two years, Al Haber had sparred with the LID over the proper way to deal with 
"Stalinoids"; he respected their energy and commitment, wanted to keep channels open, 
thought it possible to win them over one at a time.^^ In the good society which SDS hoped 
not only to bring about but to be, good arguments would surely defeat bad. From 
conversation would come conversion. In any event, the overriding need was to leave the 
Thirties and Forties in their grave, to start again. By calling itself a New Left, SDS could 
automatically solve, transcend, the problems of the Old. 

Could the post-Port Huron collision have been avoided? Probably not for long. With good- 
faith diplomacy, and under calmer political circumstances, tempers might have been 
soothed for a time; the two sides might have negotiated a truce, a modus vivendi. But with 
so much at stake, on both sides, there wasn't much interest in finesse, let alone experience 
at it. SDS, with far less experience, bent more; the LID, with far more experience, panicked 
more— in this sense the LID was more deeply at fault. But given the two camps' 
fundamentally different political histories, and the aggravating pressure of events over the 
next few years, the odds were that sooner or later any truce would have collapsed. The 
tensions were too severe. 

For SDS, barely founded, the crisis was formative— a rite of passage. The fused group was 
welded together in that heat. The LID's "inquisition" made the SDS paper Executive 
Committee into a group committed to an organization," said Al Haber years later. "That 
attack is what made our community real."" "It taught me that Social Democrats aren't 
radicals and can't be trusted in a radical movement," Tom Hayden told Jack Newfield. "It 
taught me what Social Democrats really think about civil liberties and organizational 
integrity."" SDS won, more or less. Victory left them cocky, and scarred in ways they didn't 
understand. For anti-anti-Communism, the fulcrum of independence, could become an 
imprisonment. The LID, by reacting hysterically, had made it vastly more difficult for SDS to 
establish itself in the clear light of affirmation. 

At Port Huron, during the debate on seating Jim Hawley, one observer said to l^icl<ey Flacks, "You mean to say 
there's a Communist in this room? I want to see this guy. I've never seen a Communist." 


The New Left habit of negation was learned all too well from the social democrats 
themselves, who proved more anti-Communist than democratic and excluded themselves 
from the movement. Most of the LID, in the meantime, learned its own tribal lesson: This 
was the moment when the bad children showed their true colors. For Tom Kahn, soon to 
become executive director of the LID, it spurred the conviction "that to the extent the 
student left separated itself from the traditional liberal coalition, it would go off the deep 
end in every possible respect."^"* All parties felt they had passed a point of no return. 

One final irony. The LID thought SDS was being sucked into the vortex of the Communist- 
bound Old Left, but the Old Left, trapped in its own dogmas, refused to be impressed. The 
two most widely circulated organs of the independent Old Left were Monthly Review and the 
National Guardian. Just after Port Huron, Dick and Mickey Flacks happened to run into 
Monthly Review co-editor Leo Huberman at his fellow editor Paul Sweezy's vacation house 
on Martha's Vineyard. ^^ Still glowing from SDS's convention, they regaled Huberman with 
the news. "Are they socialists?" Huberman wanted to know. "I don't know," Dick Flacks said. 
"Some are, some aren't." "If they are socialists," Huberman said, "what are they doing 
about it?" Flacks bridled: what, after all, was socialism exactly? Huberman said it was a 
planned economy under government control. "You expect Americans to get excited about a 
planned economy?" Flacks asked. What really counted, in Huberman's eyes, were the Cuban 
revolution and Cheddi Jagans socialist government in Guyana. "Anyway," Huberman said, 
"this is all academic because ten years from now we'll have a nuclear war." Flacks threw up 
his hands— all Huberman was offering the young was a vision of closed America surrounded 
by the revolutionary wonders of the Third World. 

Flacks, meanwhile, had covered Port Huron for the National Guardian (and had been 
pleased when Haber and Hayden told him that was acceptable). He sent in a long report on 
the proceedings, but all that appeared was a three-line item: SDS had held a founding 
convention. He wrote a long letter of protest. A Guardian editor wrote back that they hadn't 
had the space, and moreover that SDS should have understood that the Guardian still 
suffered from the wounds of exclusion; why hadn't they been put on the Port Huron 
program? They had passed their own bill of attainder: to them, the youth group of the 
profoundly anti-Communist LID could not have been up to any good. Flacks, disgusted, 
concluded that the Guardian was living in the past; the New Left was going to have to make 
its own way. 

^ "Port Huron was": Al Haber, December 31, 1969, interview with George Abbott White 
(Potter papers). 

^ Intercollegiate Socialist Society: Sale, SDS, pp. 674, 676. 

^ "Since last May": Memo from Andre Schiffrin to Frank Trager, September 28, I960 (SDS 
papers. Series 1, no. 7). Spelling corrected. 

'^ As Al Haber said: Material on Haber is from my interviews of March 27—28, 1985, unless 
otherwise attributed. 



"radical liberal": Al Haber to Frank Trager, March 11, 1961, in Sale, SDS, p. 24. 
"signed up to a good world": Interview, Barbara Haber, November 17, 1984. 
^ "I think we knew": Interview, Rebecca Adams Mills, March 17, 1985. 


two major conflicts: This account draws from Sale, SDS, pp. 47-59; Jack Newfield, A 
Prophetic Minority {Nevj York: New American Library, 1966), pp. 131—36; Michael 
Harrington, Fragments of tlie Century (New York: Saturday Review, 1973), pp. 143-50; and 
interviews with Alan Haber, Barbara Haber, Sharon Jeffrey, Richard Flacks, Mickey Flacks, 
Robb Burlage, Steve Max, Michael Harrington, Rebecca Adams Mills, and Tom Kahn. Unless 
otherwise attributed, all quotes are from my interviews. 

^ "silly": Interview, Steve Max, April 14, 1985. 

^° "relic": Interview, Robb Burlage, April 14, 1985. 

" "It gave people": Interview, Sharon Jeffrey, February 13, 1985. 

^^ "baffling": Interview, Robb Burlage, April 14, 1985. 

^^ stipulation: Memo from SDS National Executive Committee to LID Executive Committee, 
July 12, 1962, p. 5 (authors file). The convention also voted to grant observer status to the 
representatives of two student Christian groups, and seated representatives of the Young 
Democrats and SNCC as voting delegates. 

^'^ "like a kid": Interview, James Hawley, April 20, 1985. 




'seemed to imply": Harrington, Fragments, p. 145. 

'have abstracted Russians": [Tom Hayden], "Draft Paper for S. D. S. Manifesto," 1962, 
. 22-23 (author's file). 

'mask ... their own": Hayden, "Draft," pp. 20-21. 

'paranoid quest": Ibid., p. 21. 

'irresponsibility": Ibid., pp. 22-23. 

'go through the roof: In Sale, SDS, p. 60; interview, Richard Flacks, December 24, 1984. 

'if one dismissed": Harrington, Fragments, pp. 146, 147. 

'As democrats": Port Huron Statement, pp. 25-26. 

Russia was: Hayden, "Draft," pp. 22-23. 

'unreasoning anti-communism": Port Huron Statement, p. 25. 

'The conventional moral terms": Ibid., p. 3; Hayden, "Draft," p. 28. This sentence and 
the next loom larger in the final version because the convention voted to move the drafts 
"Values" section up to the front. 

^^ "dreams of the older left": Port Huron Statement, p. 3; a minor modification of Hayden, 
"Draft," p. 29. For other examples, see Port Huron Statement, p. 20 (Hayden, "Draft," p. 
15); p. 30 ("Draft," p. 32); p. 36 ("Draft," p. 37); pp. 22, 33 (referring to "the totalitarian 
regime of East Germany"). 

^^ "We were very aware": Interview, Sharon Jeffrey, February 13, 1985. 

^* "beginnings of an anxiety": Interview, Robb Burlage, April 14, 1985. 

^^ Michael Harrington went: Interview, Michael Harrington, April 13, 1985. 

■^° "SDS had responded": Harrington, Fragments, p. 147. 

•^^ "oldest young socialist": Harrington, "The American Campus: 1962," Dissent, vol. 9, no. 2 
(Spring 1962), p. 164. 


^^ close to Hayden: Sale, SDS, p. 65. 

^^ "a finished ideology": Harrington, "The American Campus," pp. 165-66. 

■^"^ Max Shachtman: Harrington, Fragments, pp. 60—11. 

^^ "a morally dubious intrusion": Memo from SDS National Executive Committee, p. 22. 

^^ "adopted a policy statement": Memo, Vera Rony to LID Executive Board, n.d. (between 
July 6 and July 12, 1962) (SDS papers. Series 1, no. 9). 

^^ Whereupon the LID leaders: Notes taken at SDS/LID hearing by Robb Burlage, July 6, 
1962 (SDS papers. Series 1, no. 9). 

^^ Flabbergasted and furious: This discussion is based on interviews with Robb Burlage, 
Richard Flacks, Al Haber, Tom Hayden, Tom Kahn, and Steve Max. 

•^^ Potter concluded: Interview with George Abbott White, January 3, 1970 (Potter papers). 

"^^ single-spaced appeal: Memo from SDS National Executive Committee, pp. 14, 16, 21, 22. 

"^^ The appeal succeeded: Sale, SDS, pp. 60-68. 

^'^ In 1935: Ibid., pp. 682-84. 

"^^ "a pro-American": In Sale, SDS, p. 691. 

'^'^ All radical and Utopian: Richard H. Pells, The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age (New 
York: Harper and Row, 1985), pp. 76 ff. 

"^^ "a progressive. Leftist": Harrington, Fragments, p. 145. 

"^^ "individual initiative": Port Huron Statement, pp. 37-38. 

"^^ Jean-Paul Sartre and C. Wright Mills: Sartre on Cuba and Mills's Listen, Yanl<ee! were 
published as inexpensive paperbacks in 1961. 

'^^ "more or less authoritarian": Port Huron Statement, p. 22. 

'^^ discounting the revolt: Lewis Feuer, Tlie Conflict of Generations (New York: Basic: 1969); 
Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter, Roots of Rebellion (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 1982). 

^° "rabid anti-Communism": Interview, Barbara Haber, November 17, 1984, referring to her 
professor Irving Howe at Brandeis. 

^^ Haber had sparred: Al Haber, "Memorandum on the Students for a Democratic Society," 
May 20, 1961 (SDS papers. Series 1, no. 10); Memo from SDS National Executive 
Committee, p. 5. 

" LID'S "inquisition": Interview, Alan Haber, March 27, 1985. 

^^ "It taught me": In Newfield, Prophetic Minority, p. 134. 

^"^ Tom Kahn: Interview, Tom Kahn, March 5, 1985. 

^^ Just after Port Huron: Interview, Richard Flacks, December 24, 1984. 


6. Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round 

Radicals And The Liberal Glow 

One of the core narratives of the Sixties is the story of the love-hate relations of radicals 
and liberals. To oversimplify: Radicals needed liberals, presupposed them, borrowed rising 
expectations from them, were disappointed by t\r\evr\— radically disappointed— infuriated by 
them, made trouble for them, then concluded that liberals— suspicious, possessive, and 
quellers of trouble— were "the enemy." Liberals were the most receptive, sometimes 
admiring enemies; they might argue, or scheme, but they wouldn't shoot. Competing for 
the same constituency, liberals in turn could capitalize on radicals' political energy, but they 
grew just as disappointed, just as angry, when radicals wouldn't see reason their way. On 
two main testing grounds the New Left worked out its uneasy attitude toward liberals (and 
vice versa). One was the East-West confrontation and the problem of Communism— which in 
1964—65 became compressed into the problem of Vietnam. The other was the question of 
liberals' attachment to the civil rights movement— in particular to SNCC, the movement's 
radical edge. 


If Port Huron was skeptical about the future of organized liberalism, SDS's Pine Hill 
convention of June 1963 was even more so. The brotherly and sisterly love I went there to 
revel in was a love that felt its strength in opposition to established liberals; and no 
inspiration was more important than the civil rights surge. For northern supporters were 
swept into SNCC's force field. SNCC moved us, seized our imaginations. From I960 on, SDS 
felt wired to these staggeringly brave, overalled, work-shirted college students and the local 
people who were their inspirations, recruits, allies, raisons d'etre. SNCC had suffered, SNCC 
was there, bodies on the line, moral authority incarnate. "[T]hose Negroes are down there," 
Tom Hayden wrote of McComb, Mississippi, in the fall of 1961, "digging in, and in more 
danger than nearly any student in this American generation has faced... . When do we begin 
to see it all not as remote but as breathing urgency into our beings and meaning into our 
ideals?"^ SNCC-SDS connections were thick.* Hayden spent months traveling around SNCC 
projects that fall, firing off vivid descriptions to the SDS mailing list (later gathered into a 
pamphlet. Revolution in Mississippi). Writing to Al Haber after attending a SNCC meeting in 
Mississippi, Hayden welcomed the new, more militant SNCC that had carried direct action 
into the terrorized hinterland: "In our future dealings we should be aware that they have 
changed down there, and we should speak their revolutionary language without mocking it, 
for it is not lip service, nor is it the ego fulfillment of a rising Negro class. "^ The southern 
movement, he said, had "turned itself into the revolution we hoped for, and we didn't have 
much to do with its turning at all." SNCC was "miles ahead of us, looking back, chuckling 
knowingly about the sterility of liberals ... ." A few weeks later, in McComb, Mississippi, 
Hayden and Paul Potter, equipped with stringers' credentials from James Wechsler's New 
York Post, got punched around by a local ultra while trying to help SNCC workers.^ 

And the SNCC-SDS alliance was strategic, not just moral. In the Port Huron analysis, and 
subsequent speeches and articles by Hayden, the South's reactionary politics held the rest 
of the nation in thrall because the Dixiecrats faced no serious political opposition in the one- 
party South. Therefore they accumulated seniority; therefore they dominated the key 
committees of Congress. To identify with SNCC was not only an act of solidarity, it was an 
alliance with brothers and sisters against the old white men who deadlocked the Democratic 
Party and fueled future wars. 

' North-South connections were thick in general. Among Al Haber's first SDS recruits outside Ann Arbor were the 
white Texans Dorothy Dawson (later Burlage), Sandra (Casey) Cason (later Hayden), and Robb Burlage. Chuck 
McDew, SNCC's second chairman, attended Port Huron; SNCC workers Casey Hayden, Jim Monsonis, and Bob 
Zeilner, along with SNCC cofounder Tim Jenkins (later NSA national affairs vice president) were SDS officers up 
through 1963; other SDSers (including Betty Garman, l^ary Varela, and Casey Hayden again after 1963) went 
south to work in SNCC, and stayed there for years— several up through the bitter days when whites were expelled. 
And of course many non-SDS northerners also went South. 

^ Because a photographer was on the scene, the beating drew national publicity and a Washington press 
conference. Afterward, Potter, then national affairs vice president of the National Student Association, was privately 
furious. With a blow across the kidneys, a cut lip, and a bloody nose— so Potter wrote to his brother— two white 
boys had become a cause celebre. [Potter wrote to his brother: Paul Potter to Norm Potter, n.d. (1961) (Potter 
papers).] Just a few weeks before, in a neighboring county, the Negro farmer Herbert Lee had been shot dead by a 
Mississippi State representative— without any national notice whatsoever. (See p. 141 below.) [Herbert Lee: 
Howard Zinn, SNCC: The New Abolitionists (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), pp. 73-74.] 


Through SNCC, the South came North. Whenever civil rights workers were shot at, 
assaulted, and indicted, SNCC relayed the word to Friends of SNCC groups, SDS chapters, 
and other sympathizers. We invited southern heroes to speak on our campuses. In northern 
movement circles, the names of SNCC leaders became legendary, along with the sites of 
SNCC's passion, the Delta, Parchman Penitentiary, and the rest. The southern martyrs 
became our saints; cherishing them, we crossed the Mason-Dixon line of imagination, 
transubstantiated. In emergencies, we mobilized our slender networks, activated our phone 
trees, called the Justice Department, implored friendly members of Congress to intervene, 
sent telegrams of protest. 

And so, in the year between 1962's Port Huron and 1963's Pine Hill conventions, as SNCC's 
staff grew to 200 organizers and the Birmingham demonstration electrified a national 
television audience, SDS was swept with excitement about the movement's prospects. 
During 1963, according to one estimate, 930 civil rights demonstrations took place in at 
least 115 cities in 11 southern states; over 20,000 people were arrested.'^ The country was 
bubbling with what the 1963 SDS convention document, America and the New Era, called 
"local insurgency." In the North, CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, and NSM, the 
Northern Student Movement, were organizing in the ghettoes. Belatedly, President Kennedy 
was paying attention; liberals were forced to address the movement's agenda. The 1963 
SDS convention's first day of speeches by older-than-student luminaries could be called, 
without too much self-consciousness, "New Left Day." 

America and the New Era lacked the lilt and drive of The Port Huron Statement, partly 
because the Port Huron values and rhetoric were already in place. But it did show how SDS 
was symbiotically connected with the very Kennedy liberalism it aimed to transcend. Drafted 
by Dick Flacks, the document half-recognized that the new insurgency presupposed the New 
Frontier. "The new era" (a lame Old Leftish atavism) referred to Kennedy's promising, 
vigorous attempt to manage a world whose old stabilities had broken down. Kennedy got 
credit for recognizing that international and domestic crises required an active response, 
even if that response was "mediating, rationalizing, and managerial," a policy of "aggressive 
tokenism.""^ Abroad, the New Frontier had the virtue of working toward "political 
stabilization"^ with the Russians; it was deeply committed to avoiding nuclear war— although 
it showed no interest in general disarmament. Just a few days before the convention, in 
fact, Kennedy gave his most pacific speech, at American University. "Let us re-examine our 
attitude toward the Cold War," Kennedy said, eight months after the Cuban missile crisis, 
"remembering that we are not engaged in a debate, seeking to pile up debating points. We 
are not here distributing blame or pointing the finger. We must deal with the world as it is... 
." He called for East-West accommodation, announced that test-ban negotiations would 
begin soon, and proclaimed that the United States would cease nuclear testing in the 
atmosphere as long as other nations did likewise. Yet SDS smelled trouble in Kennedy's 
commitment to military counterinsurgency in the Third World^— although Kennedy said he 
accepted anticolonial revolutions and nonalignment policies as legitimate, "the 
Administration has not yet abandoned its resolve to meet revolution with force if necessary, 
and this means the sure devastation of country after country in the Third World, as 
Vietnam, for instance, is now being destroyed." 


At home, said America and the New Era, the Kennedy administration was mired in what— 
following the Wisconsin Marxists of Studies on tlie Left— SDS called "corporate liberalism," 
meaning that Kennedy was tinkering with the corporate economy in order to maintain it. His 
Keynesian economics was mixed with "faith in the essential genius of the American 
corporate system." Kennedy was skimpy with jobs, health, and antipoverty action. Central 
economic planning was necessary, but the New Frontier was inching, if anything, toward an 
"elitist"^ brand of national planning under corporate aegis. Kennedy had supported Negro 
voter registration in the South; indeed, the day after his American University speech, he 
had finally, ringingly, spoken out for civil rights as "a moral issue ... as old as the scriptures 
and ... as clear as the American Constitution."^ But his programs could not begin to touch 
the Negroes' need for jobs and job equality, housing, school integration, and the right to 

And the traditional liberal-labor forces? Faced with the civil rights upsurge, they were weak, 
overly polite, and defensive. Automation— the economic bugaboo of many manifestos in the 
early Sixties— was rapidly eroding the traditional industrial sources of union strength, while 
reformers were trapped within "the limitations of the Democratic Party. "^ Liberals had let 
their militance decay. They had to take some of the blame for the political stalemate, for a 
"style of politics which emphasizes cocktail parties and seminars rather than protest 
marches, local reform movements, and independent bases of power" was doomed to 
political weakness.^" The "hope for real reform" lay with "the re-creation of a popular left 
opposition— an opposition that expresses anger when it is called for, not mild 

On that note, SDS ended its last consensual manifesto. 

Even in 1963, America and the New Era was striking for what it omitted as well as what it 
said. Much more than The Port Huron Statement, it stood silent about the world outside 
American borders. The explanation for this silence points to later troubles. There was a 
workshop on foreign policy; fresh from Tocsin, with a reputation for expertise, I was 
appointed its chairman. There we debated the degree to which "American imperialism" 
could be held responsible for tyranny and poverty in the Third World. American imperialism 
was the issue, some argued in Old Left tones; I, as best I recall, took the position that it 
was an issue, albeit an important one. In the end, with no consensus in sight, we decided 
not to write a report at all. Better agnosticism— or ambivalence— than division. 

Afterward, no one noticed that anything important was missing. A manifesto was now only a 
puff of smoky words. After 1963, in fact, SDS conventions stopped trying to produce 
sweeping analyses. One reason was that in subsequent years the organization came to 
focus on action programs. But successive leadership circles also intuited that if SDS strained 
too hard to describe the world it wanted, rifts might emerge. The fused group made its 
claims; consensus was best preserved by smothering conflict. "In a world where countless 
forces work to create feelings of powerlessness in ordinary men," said America and the New 
Era, "an attempt by political leaders to manipulate and control conflict destroys the 
conditions of a democratic policy and robs men of their initiative and autonomy ... . In the 
long run, the encroachment of the engineered consensus will permanently frustrate the long 
human struggle to establish a genuinely democratic community."" Wise words. In a small 
but significant way, SDS proceeded to muffle itself, to slip toward precisely what it criticized 
in smooth, orthodox America. 


Pine Hill was happy, though, about the promise of "the new insurgency." There was an 
exuberant sense of a political space opening up, movements converging, community 
expanding. If "the issues were interrelated," as SDS liked to proclaim, it was partly because 
the people were. Even my own election as president was considered a sign that yet another 
constituency was coming around to the grand synthesis: Just after the convention, Paul 
Potter wrote that in my person SDS was reaching outside the Ann Arbor group, to "eastern 
intellectuals"; I was the first top officer whose main work had been for peace, not civil 

We were warmed by the dawn of what Marcus Raskin has called "the We Shall Overcome 
period of American life"^^— the fourteen months from American University to the Gulf of 
Tonkin, a moment when the democratic promise came alive, the arms race, racism, and 
poverty seemed solvable problems, and the New Left looked as though it might push 
liberalism beyond its old limits. Kennedy's American University speech convinced us that the 
old Cold War was thawing. The axis of international confrontation was now rotating from 
East-West to North-South; the dangers of counterinsurgency were real, but at least 
thermonuclear war seemed to have been staved off. So we left Pine Hill exhilarated. Not 
only was the society moving in the right direction, but we had a privileged understanding of 
it. I remember the thrill and vindication a number of us felt when we got our first look at a 
New York Times after several days in the woods without one. The front-page was full of 
news about Kennedy's detente with the Russians, about civil rights demonstrations, about 
the middle-class discovery of poverty (for which Michael Harrington's book. The Other 
America, was heavily responsible). The New Yorl< Times might as well have been printed on 
tea leaves, so avidly did we inspect it for clues not only to what the Establishment was 
thinking, but to the nature of reality itself, not to mention our own fates. 

That whole year was full of signs of opening. The movement against the Bomb subsided 
with detente and the test ban, but the civil rights movement continued unrelenting. And the 
movement moved North. A few weeks after the convention, I was one of the SDSers who 
got swept into a July Fourth demonstration to integrate a whites-only amusement park in 
the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, the northernmost state of the South. It was my first 
taste of the spirit of the southern movement. We launched ourselves with freedom songs 
from a Negro church, where the good citizens in their Sunday finest smiled upon us as if we 
were visiting diplomats, and I could begin to feel an approximation of what Martin Luther 
King had called "the beloved community. "^•^ Prominent white church leaders were in the 
front lines. After decorously stepping across a line the police had drawn on the sidewalk, we 
were carted away. In the democracy of the local jail I was moved to meet a real prisoner, a 
soft-spoken Negro man up on larceny charges. He maintained that a racist witness had 
falsely identified him, and I believed him. His modesty and dignity struck me as preferable 
to the egocentric clamor of my fellow demonstrators, some of whom had made private 
arrangements to get themselves bailed out early while the rest of us huddled up head to 
foot for a night on the cold concrete floor. I wondered what had become of the beloved 


Three days later, I went back to Baltimore County for more. This time, while the main 
arrests were going on in an orderly fashion at the police line in front, twenty of us forded a 
stream at the rear and sneaked in. A white teenager spotted us and hurled a chunk of 
concrete which hit one of our group— an organizer for the Northern Student Movement— just 
above the eye. Blood streaming down from what, for all anyone knew, was the eye itself, 
she turned to the rest of us and yelled, "Let's get into the goddamned park!" Now there 
were only seven of us— two Negro, five white— the others having been left behind in the 
fracas. We plunged in. Turning a corner, we ran up against a white mob. Before we could 
make a move, another mob pushed up behind us. To our left was a wall, to our right a high 
fence. The taunts starred: "Nigger lovers!" Uncountable time elapsed. The mob started 
shoving from behind. Our line stumbled, held. We said nothing. I thought of singing, then 
thought better of it. After who knows how long, the cops arrived and led us away Then and 
only then did we sing "We Shall Overcome." It was official: I was in the movement* 

Gwynn Oak was, of course, a weak echo of the bloody movement down South. Northern 
activists were excruciatingly aware of the terror being inflicted by the white South wherever 
civil rights workers penetrated. It would take an entire book to describe the bombings, 
beatings, and tortures, the assassinations well known and obscure, of the early Sixties. This 
extraordinary terrorism extended the ordinary terror with which white power had held down 
the Negro population for a century after emancipation. Shaken by sit-ins and Freedom Rides 
and voter registration, an entire social system, fighting for its violent life, went into 
convulsion. Negroes of the Deep South stepped out of the shadows to shake the pillars, 
even as they shook with their own fear. In churches, on marches, in prison, through all the 
spasms of liberation, they sang "We will never turn hack," "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me 
'round," "Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on," "We shall overcome. " 

And the Kennedy administration, that incarnation of normal politics and the liberal promise, 
moved crabwise. In the years to come, blacks in sharecropper shacks and tenement 
apartments throughout America would adorn their walls with portraits of the martyred John 
F. Kennedy. But in the crucial years 1961-64, when the civil rights movement was searching 
for strategies and working out its political identity, the federal government at key junctures 
proved a halfhearted ally. Tantalizing with the promise of change, timid in performance— a 
volatile mixture indeed. 

^ "Those Negroes": Tom Hayden, Revolution in l^ississippi (New York: Students for a 
Democratic Society, 1962), p. 21. 

^ "In our future dealings": In Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening 
of the 1960s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 176. 

•^ 930 civil rights: Southern Regional Council figures cited in Carson, In Struggle, p. 90. 

"* "mediating, rationalizing": Students for a Democratic Society, America in the New Era 
(1963), excerpted in Massimo Teodori, ed.. The New Left: A Documentary History 
(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969), pp. 175-76, 177-78. 

^"political stabilization": New Era, in Teodori, p. 176. 

^ SDS smelled trouble: Ibid., p. 178.130 "corporate liberalism": Ibid., p. 177. 

^ "elitist": Ibid., p. 178. 

' The next day the Baltimore County executive called the second demonstration "hasty and immature" (orderly 
steps were being taken to desegregate the park in due time, after all) and said we were victims of "emotional 
self-hypnosis." His name: Spiro T. Agnew. [Spiro T. Agnew: Baltimore News-Post, July 8, 1963, p. 1.] 


"a moral issue": In William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 1986), p. 213. 

^ "the limitations": New Era, in Teodori, p. 179. 

^° "style of politics": Ibid., p. 181. 

" "In a world": Ibid., p. 177. 

^^ "We Shall Overcome period": Interview, Marcus Raskin, March 3, 1985. 

^^ "the beloved community": In Cleveland Sellers, with Robert Terrell, The River of No 
Return: The Autobiography of a Blacl< Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC (New York: 
Morrow, 1973), p. 35. 

A Collision Of Political Cultures 

The promise and the timidity were two facets of a larger political culture, what might be 
called custodial or managerial liberalism. Beneath the language of justice, in SDS's eyes, 
the liberal manager is a custodian of order. Whenever movements rock the boat, his 
imperative is to hoist it back on an even keel. Where the movement takes sharp action, he 
fears above all a sharp right-wing reaction. To neutralize the danger, he prefers to proceed 
with caution, gradually— "with all deliberate speed," in the language of the Supreme Court's 
1954 school desegregation decision. Social issues are fine for idealists to crusade about, but 
politics is the art of the possible. He faces "real world" problems: how to get what he can 
while he maintains, consolidates, expands his political base. So the managerial imperative is 
a matter of principle, but it is also the custom of his tribe. ^ In a complex world of conflicting 
interests, what choice is there but to balance the many competing claims of their 
representatives? The militancy of masses may have its time and place— to muscle an issue 
onto the political agenda— but then it gets out of hand, loses sight of its goal. So the 
manager believes the place to settle political problems is in the back room. For many 
reasons he feels uncomfortable on the streets, comfortable where arms can be twisted and 
squeezed, backs scratched, palms greased, dissonant voices coaxed and orchestrated, deals 
made. How else are limits to be respected in a democracy? 

The New Left's political culture reared up opposed. It presupposed the liberal promises- 
wielded them, in fact, as bludgeons against the failings of liberal performance. What liberal 
managers called seeing reason, the New Left called rationalizations for unjust power. The 
method of politics was at least as important as extrinsic results. The New Left style was an 
extension of a much older small-d democratic tradition. It wanted decisions made by 
publics, in public, not just announced there. It valued informality, tolerated chaos, scorned 
order. Clamor was the necessary overture to a genuine harmony. The motto might have 
been Frederick Douglass's 1857 cry: "Those who profess to favor freedom and yet 
deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing... . Power concedes nothing 
without a demand; it never did and it never will."^ Clamor was the weapon of the weak, the 
voice of the voiceless.'^ What passed for neutral order actually secured the privileges of the 
few. "Normal" channels were clogged, civility therefore expendable. If nonviolent direct 
action resulted in violence, even against the demonstrators themselves, so be it; the issue 
had to be forced, the price had to be paid, to crack through the fraudulent facade. Speaking 
of the white supremacists who met civil rights demonstrations with savagery, SCLC's James 
Bevel put it this way: "Maybe the Devil has got to come out of these people before we will 
have peace ... ."* 


Alongside political strategy, there was an expressive side to the movement culture, rooted 
in the subterranean ethos of the Fifties, and in a longer-run revolt against the containment 
of feeling and initiative in a society growing steadily more rationalized. Participatory 
democracy entailed the right of universal assertion. It meant inserting yourself where the 
social rules said you didn't belong— in fancy meeting halls if you were a sharecropper, off 
limits and off campus if you were a student. The expressive tendency was in revolt against 
all formal boundaries and qualifications, which it saw as rationalizations for illegitimate or 
tedious power. It couldn't abide the life of waiting in line— or even the bureaucracy of its 
own organizations. One small example: After Pine Hill, Lee Webb was elected SDS's national 
secretary— its chief bureaucrat— despite his declaration of "moral dislike for [the] 
administrative process"^; he proceeded to leave the national office as often as possible to 
throw himself into civil rights demonstrations with the Swarthmore chapter in Chester, 

Expressive politics wanted the pain to stop, now. In the Gandhian form of expression, you 
wagered your body as the sign of your witness. In the later Sixties, a less restrained 
expressive dramaturgy emerged. Demonstrators should refuse to sit still; politics should 
shake, rattle, and roll, move body and soul. Gandhian or raucous, expressive politics wanted 
you to "put your body on the line"— not only to win demands, but to feel good. It wanted to 
"do what the spirit say do," as a SNCC song put it. It trusted feeling and wanted to "let it all 
hang out." The implicit theory of expressive politics was that the structures of private 
feeling begin before the individual, in capitalist acquisition and the patriarchal family; public 
its origins, private feeling should therefore be expressed where it in belongs, in public. Its 
faith was that a politics of universal expression would make the right things happen— and be 
its own reward.^ 

A caution: Strategy and expression, far from being pure alternatives, are coordinates like 
latitude and longitude; any action partakes of both, in degrees hard to measure. All politics, 
oppositional or establishmentarian, proceeds from a melange of motives. So it was not 
always crystal-clear just when the movement was acting strategically, when expressively. 
One person's demonstration of feeling was another's stratagem. When the movement 
couldn't tell what it was accomplishing (which was the case much of the time), its strategic 
and expressive motives grew especially tangled. 

But note: The belief that political style is central to political substance— a fetishism of style, 
to those dismayed by the idea— was not something plucked by the New Left out of thin air. 
We shared it, in fact, with Kennedy's managerial liberalism. Managers claim reason and 
sneer at the opposition's "irrational" tactics, but obscure their own prideful attachments to 
the symbols of power. They have their own quite emotional needs to hold on to the social 
territories where their writs run. The New Left's disruption of established procedure was a 
counterpolitics to the managed world of institutions— a system which professes the glory of 
democracy while its bureaucratic rules mask the ways in which correct procedure has taken 
on a weight of its own. The New Left thought America was a society whose cost-benefit 
analyses and body-counts mask systematic violence. People who are offered channels that 
don't lead where they are supposed to lead usually feel fatalistic at first. Then, if they come 
to think they have a right and a need and a chance to go where the channels are supposed 
to go, they may end up not only dredging their own channels, but declaring them to be 
precious and fundamental— precisely because they are the only channels where the 
movement flows freely. On both sides, channels become identity. 


So two political styles faced off in the early Sixties: one managerial and liberal, the other 
participatory and radical. I have exaggerated the differences between them, perhaps— in the 
manner each came to see the other. But division is not necessarily the stuff of social 
explosions. Managerial liberalism might have kept the upper hand and dampened the 
insurgent political culture if it liad delivered on its promises. But it defaulted. And therefore 
two political cultures, each claiming the same political ground, were on a collision course. 

^ managerial imperative: The phrase comes from a work in progress by W. Russell Ellis. 

^ "Those who profess": Frederick Douglass, August 4, 1857, in Philip S. Foner, ed., Tlie Life 
and Writings of Fredericl< Douglass, vol. 2 (New York: International, 1950), p. 437. 

•^ voice of the voiceless: "We arc the voiceless voice" was a motto of the Japanese 
Zengakuren student movement in the early Sixties. David Riesman, personal 
communication, 1962. 

"* "Maybe the Devil": In Zinn, SNCC, p. 14. 

^ "moral dislike": Minutes of SDS National Executive Committee meeting, June 1963, Nyack, 
N.Y. (SDS papers). 

^ theory of expressive politics: One history-minded locus of this idea was Norman 0. Brown's 
Life Against Death (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1959); a therapeutic 
version was Abraham Maslow's Toward a Psychology of Being (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 

Justice And The Department 

—Sign in Jackson civil rights headquarters, summer 1964^ 

Even two historians sympathetic to President Kennedy can say nothing kinder for his race 
policy than to refer to its "peculiar pace ... : conciliatory, slow, incremental reform 
punctuated in the end by dramatic televised responses to the great civil rights events of the 
day."^ What is striking is how little this assessment differs from Victor Navasky's critical 
summary of the administration's first two-and-a-half years in office: 


From 1961 to 1963 Robert Kennedy had no civil rigints program in tine sense 
tinat ine inad an organized-crime program. Civil rights was in the rear ranks of 
the Kennedy Administration's early priorities. "I did not lie awake worrying 
about the problems of Negroes," Robert Kennedy freely conceded in later 
reminiscing. And as each crisis surfaced, the [Attorney] General confidently 
approached it on the assumption that it was a temporary eruption which he 
and his remarkable team could cool... . His most visible and most significant 
civil rights activities were responsive, reactive, crisis-managing, violence- 
avoiding. He and his people were cool, creative, imaginative, effective and 
risk-taking reactors, and they should be credited with converting the freedom 
rides into an ICC order desegregating interstate bus travel; with calling out 
the troops to back up court orders integrating Ole Miss (in response to James 
Meredith's initiative) and the University of Alabama (Governor Wallace in the 
doorway notwithstanding); with not calling out the troops and nevertheless 
preventing a racially explosive Birmingham from exploding into a bloody race 
war. But the civil rights program of the new Administration was more limited 
than John Kennedy's campaign rhetoric would have suggested or than civil 
rights activists hoped. •^ 

Activists in the Deep South, daring to take the Bill of Rights at face value, kept banging up 
against the Kennedy brothers' caution. At the time of the 1961 Freedom Rides, for example, 
when civil rights crusaders were having their skulls cracked, their clothes set afire, their 
teeth kicked in, their bus blown up, all for daring to take seriously a Supreme Court decision 
banning segregation in bus terminals, the administration's response was late and 
ambivalent."* A year after the I960 Greensboro sit-in, CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, 
had a new national director, James Farmer, and an idea for forcing federal action. No less 
an authority than the Supreme Court had just ruled that segregated interstate terminals 
were unconstitutional, just as it had ruled fifteen years earlier that interstate buses had to 
be integrated. "Our intention," Farmer said, "was to provoke the southern authorities into 
arresting us and thereby prod the Justice Department into enforcing the law of the land."^ 

In good Gandhian fashion. Farmer gave advance information of CORE'S plans to the 
President, the attorney general, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.^ Robert Kennedy said 
later that the information never got to his desk; the first he knew of the Freedom Ride was 
when a mob turned over the integrated bus and burned it outside Anniston, Alabama, on 
May 14, 1961.^ When a second bus reached Birmingham later that day, it was met by a 
mob led by Ku Klux Klansmen carrying pipes, chains, and baseball bats. Not a single 
policeman appeared. One of the Klansmen was a paid FBI informant who had briefed his 
"handler" about the Klan's plans, whereupon the Birmingham FBI office had sent a teletype 
to J. Edgar Hoover about the impending ambush. Hoover therefore knew^ that police chief 
Bull Connor had promised the Klan enough time to attack the Freedom Riders, whom 
Connor wanted beaten until "it looked like a bulldog got a hold of them." Hoover notified no 
one and did nothing. A sixty-one-year-old Freedom Rider was left permanently brain- 
damaged by the beating he suffered.^ 


To President Kennedy, busy preparing for inis Vienna summit witin Nikita Kinrusincinev, civil 
rigints was worse tinan distracting, it was divisive." Tine Berlin crisis was brewing. Front- 
page photos of mayhem in Alabama were giving American racial policy a bad press the 
world over. The President's first reaction to the news of the Freedom Ride was therefore to 
growl at his civil rights adviser: "Tell them to call it off. Stop them!"" The Cold War was top 
priority; what business did these agitators have kicking up a fuss about bus stations? Still, 
the crisis had to be managed. To his credit, the President sent a representative, John 
Seigenthaler, to Alabama. ^^ For days the governor, a Kennedy supporter, refused to return 
phone calls from either the attorney general or the President; finally he promised to protect 
the Freedom Riders on the next leg of their journey. Armed state troopers did accompany 
their next bus to Montgomery— only to melt away as soon as the bus arrived. With no local 
police in sight, the waiting mob ran amok, bashing Freedom Riders and reporters with fists, 
sticks, metal pipes, and baseball bats, setting one person afire. Seigenthaler, on the scene, 
saw two women slapped around and tried to help them into his car. He was jumped, beaten 
unconscious, and left lying on the ground by the police for twenty-five minutes before they 
drove him to a hospital. FBI agents stood around taking notes. ^^ Rioters took turns 
smashing one Freedom Rider in the head while others chanted, "Kill the nigger-loving son of 
a bitch"; he lay bleeding, in shock, with a damaged spinal cord, for more than two hours 
before he was taken to the hospital. The police commissioner of Montgomery declared: "We 
have no intention of standing guard for a bunch of troublemakers coming into our city." ^"^ 

John F. Kennedy was painfully aware that he had won election by a mere 119,000 votes— by 
the grace of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and his Illinois machine, many believed. The 
white South had deserted the Democratic Party and had to be wooed back. Once in office, 
Kennedy kept his distance from congressional liberals. He appointed southern 
segregationists to the federal bench, and for almost two years delayed signing a promised 
executive order to ban racial discrimination in federally assisted housing. But now the state 
of Alabama was openly and brutally defying federal authority, and the managerial 
imperative had to be asserted. However eager Kennedy was to cover his political flank in 
the white South, he finally felt compelled to send federal marshals to protect the battered 
Freedom Riders. 

In Montgomery, the day after the bus station riot, Martin Luther King and James Farmer 
were addressing a huge church rally. ^^ Again a white mob gathered. Again Negroes were 
beaten. Whites threw stones, bottles, stench bombs, and firebombs through the church 
windows. Inside, the congregation tried to barricade the doors, but the mob kicked them 
open. Just then the marshals materialized, like movie cavalry— this time called out to 
protect the Indians. Even then, in the midst of the siege, the attorney general asked the 
Freedom Riders to observe a "cooling-off period." Happy to have provoked Washington into 
acting at last. Farmer sounded off to King: "We have been cooling off for three hundred fifty 
years. If we cool off any more, we will be in a deep freeze. The Freedom Ride will go on."^^ 
Eventually, the governor sent the Alabama National Guard to rescue the congregation and 
the outnumbered marshals. Robert Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce 
Commission to ban discrimination in interstate bus stations; four months later, the ICC 


But the Freedom Rides left the Kennedy administration fearful that civil rights hotheads 
would set the South to boiling again. More confrontation would mean more bloodshed, more 
racial polarization, further jeopardizing Kennedy's standing in the South. As soon as the 
Freedom Ride crisis was quelled, therefore, Robert Kennedy went to work persuading the 
major civil rights groups to shift from direct action to voter registration.^^ It was a tempting 
proposition, this alliance of convenience— the Kennedy Democrats stood to gain, but so did 
civil rights; on his own, Martin Luther King had already been thinking along the same lines. 
Administration officials proceeded to line up funds from their friends in the liberal 

That June, Robert Kennedy met with representatives of CORE, SCLC, SNCC, and the 
National Student Association, and unveiled his master plan. "If you'll cut out this Freedom 
Riding and sitting-in stuff," the attorney general said, "and concentrate on voter 
registration, I'll get you a tax exemption"^^— provoking a shouting match with one of the 
SNCC people. The core issue concerned protection for would-be voters and civil rights 
organizers. Only protection against reprisals could make the bargain tenable to the 
movement. Individuals close to the administration later denied that any promise had been 
made in so many words. From an insider point of view, to expect any such promise was 
naive; the organizers must have succumbed to wishful thinking.^" But Martin Luther King 
left the meeting convinced that SCLC, CORE, and SNCC had been guaranteed "all steps 
necessary to protect those rights in danger. "^^ Timothy Jenkins, then vice president of the 
National Student Association (and later, at Port Huron, elected for a year to SDS's National 
Executive Committee), recalled "very vividly"^^ that one administration official— he thinks it 
was Harris Wofford— said "that if necessary in the course of protecting people's rights to 
vote, that the Kennedy Administration would fill every jail in the South." Lonnie King, a 
SNCC organizer, remembered that "Bobby pledged marshals and what have you to help us 

SNCC was split. A direct-action faction wanted to keep up mass demonstrations, fearing 
that the quieter work of voter registration would stall their momentum, while any practical 
results would serve mainly to gild Kennedy's image. Others in SNCC thought that. Justice 
Department or no, voter registration was the logical next step toward changing the balance 
of political power in the South. If the foundations would fund it ^"^and the Justice 
Department would protect it, all the better; Jenkins argued that this was the only way to get 
the Justice Department to go to court against repressive state and local governments.^^ 
After a summer of wrangling, with Lonnie King and some other direct actionists resigning in 
protest, SNCC finessed the conflict. ^^ The incoming executive director, James Forman, 
convinced doubters that voter registration in the Black Belt would meet with such hard-core 
resistance, would so disrupt the old patterns, it would amount to direct action in itself. Ella 
Baker, the longtime southern activist who had midwifed SNCC into existence, convinced 
both sides they could coexist in the same organization. 

In the fall of 1961, the bargain was struck. ^^ A Voter Education Project was established, 
funded by the foundations; Attorney General Kennedy intervened with the Internal Revenue 
Service to procure a rapid tax exemption. SNCC was skeptical, but it would act as //the 
federal government could be taken at its word, would see how far official power and liberal 
money would go. 


The civil rigints groups divided up tine front lines of the South; SNCC took hardcore Alabama 
and Mississippi. SNCC's Robert Moses had already arrived in McComb, in embattled 
southwest Mississippi, to set up a voter-registration school. While the Kennedys were 
tacking and veering, Moses and other SNCC organizers lived with daily terror. In dusty 
towns and on back-country highways they were running the gauntlet of sheriffs and night 
riders, facing arson, bombings, bearings, brutal jail conditions, assassinations, and an 
avalanche of threats— knowing that the terror was at least tolerated, often instigated, even 
inflicted directly with fists and bullets and electric prods, by the local representatives of the 
law. The writ of the First Amendment, with its freedoms of speech and assembly, did not 
run through the Deep South, no matter that the Fourteenth Amendment forbade any stare 
to "abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States." In Amite County, 
near McComb, for example, Negroes were the majority, 3,560 of them of voting age, but 
only one had succeeded in registering, and he had never voted. ^* 

What was the law worth? Even apart from the bargain they thought they had struck with 
the Justice Department, SNCC workers were primed about their rights. Looking for legal 
protections, SNCC lawyers discovered Reconstruction-era federal laws on the books since 
1870 prohibiting any attempt to impede citizens in their exercise of rights guaranteed under 
the Constitution or U.S. law.^' SNCC supporters, confronting doubters, could rattle off 
section and title numbers to clinch the case. And it was encouraging that sympathetic 
subalterns at the Justice Department would take calls from menaced SNCC workers filing 
complaints. SNCC organizer Charles Sherrod could assure a group of southwest Georgia 
Negroes that the federal government was "as close as the telephone. "•^° A civil rights worker 
could tell a frightened congregation in Greenwood, Mississippi: "The government is with us. 
The Department of Justice is with us."^^ Knowing that Washington sometimes kept an eye 
on things, local officials did relent at times.* Under the glare of publicity, federal power was 
sometimes deployed against particularly egregious officials; for example, when Robert E 
Kennedy called for a "cooling-off period"^^ during the heat of the Freedom Rides, he 
simultaneously went to federal court seeking to enjoin Birmingham chief Bull Connor and 
other police from interfering with interstate travel. 

But in the face of everyday terror, spotty federal intervention seemed less than sufficient. 
The normal sight was of local FBI agents standing by, taking notes, while SNCC workers 
were being bashed bloody. •^•^ The FBI was in the habit of working with local officials; 
personal attitudes aside— many were southern whites— they weren't about to antagonize 
their partners in law enforcement. Hoover, like a feudal chief, even refused to attend Robert 
Kennedy's staff luncheons.'^'* According to one civil rights lawyer, the FBI "would interrogate 
a black and scare him out of his pants. They'd interrogate a white sheriff and then report his 
version straight-faced without 'evaluating' it."'^^ 

' On one occasion, for example, in August 1961, Bob looses drew a reduced sentence (on a fraudulent charge) 
when a McComb jailer heard him phone a complaint, collect, to the Justice Department. [Moses drew a reduced 
sentence: Ibid., pp. 67-68.] 


Or worse. In August and September 1961, Bob Moses and two other SNCC field secretaries 
working to register voters in and around IMcComb were brutally beaten. Then a Negro 
farmer named Herbert Lee, the father of nine, an NAACP member who braved the terror to 
attend voter meetings and drive Moses around the county, was shot dead, in broad daylight, 
by a state legislator named E. H. Hurst. ^^ There were several Negro eyewitnesses, one of 
whom, Louis Allen, told a coroner's jury, in a courtroom full of white farmers carrying guns, 
that Lee was wielding a tire iron and that Hurst had shot him in self-defense. Soon 
thereafter, Allen told Bob Moses that he had been instructed to lie, that he had now told the 
FBI the truth, and that he would repeat it to the grand jury if he could get protection. The 
Justice Department— which protects witnesses who agree to testify against organized 
crime— told Moses they could offer no protection to Louis Allen. Nine months later, the 
deputy sheriff broke Allen's jaw while he was in custody. A year and a half after that. Allen 
was ambushed, shot in the face by two loads of buckshot, and killed. No one was ever 

Instead of taking on the FBI, Attorney General Kennedy prodded, coaxed, and outflanked it, 
congratulating himself on small victories like a middle manager outfoxing his clumsy 
superior, not a cabinet member (and the President's brother!) dealing with a staff 
subordinate. Above all else, he aimed to avoid a showdown with J. Edgar Hoover. Thus the 
FBI, when it did yield, was able to exact a quid for its quo'^^- including the wiretapping of 
Martin Luther King. The Kennedys, guerrillas of government'^®, were usually not so retiring 
in the face of recalcitrant bureaucrats; why such uncharacteristic deference? Garry Wills's 
hypothesis is that the Kennedys knew that Hoover was in possession of tape recordings 
from 1941 in which John F. Kennedy chatted about his naval intelligence work with a Danish 
lover suspected of Nazi connections— an affair that cost the young Kennedy his position in 
naval intelligence.^^ Or perhaps the Kennedys thought the top national cop politically 
untouchable. In any event, the Kennedys' servility toward Hoover seemed the perfect 
expression of the futility, or helplessness, or hypocrisy, of managerial liberalism. 

Under movement pressure, gradually and gingerly, Robert Kennedy did nudge the FBI into a 
more aggressive posture. During his years at the Justice Department, the number of FBI 
agents in Mississippi soared from three to more than one hundred fifty. The Bureau did 
infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. To bitter-end whites, the FBI became the "Federal Bureau of 
Integration. "'^° In July 1964, after the murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, 
Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney (the first two northern whites) near Philadelphia, 
Mississippi, it even opened a field office in the state capital. "^^ But even then, J. Edgar 
Hoover was not going to let his Bureau get pushed around by uppity blacks demanding that 
the authorities deliver on their rights. When Hoover opened his Mississippi office, he 
conferred with the governor, the mayor, the head of the state highway patrol, the local 
police chief— the entire local white-supremacist political establishment, in short— and then 
told a press conference that the protection of civil rights workers was strictly a local 
matter."*^ Civil rights workers were not reassured. 

SNCC organizers were scouring the back country of the Mississippi Delta and southwest 
Georgia, trying to coax sharecroppers to dare register to vote knowing that all of them 
might be ambushed and shot to death for their pains. The niceties of the Kennedys' 
restraint, their federalist scruples about challenging the southern states' rights, their refusal 
to alienate the Dixiecrat South, all seemed beside the point. Any positive gestures from 
Washington the movement understood as halfhearted responses to its own militancy; at 
worst, Kennedy stood convicted of exploiting the movement for dubious political ends. 
Between 1961 and 1964, SNCC repeatedly, doggedly, sometimes desperately appealed for 
federal help. Their appeals were usually unavailing. Until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 
Justice Department only twice took legal action on behalf of assaulted civil rights workers.'*'^ 


Organizers who had staked their strategy on promises of protection felt betrayed. They 
weren't privy to, or interested in, Robert Kennedy's management problems, or the in-house 
politics of the Justice Department and the FBI. They had either taken Kennedy at his word 
or had felt it necessary to act as if they did, to stand a chance of breaking the cycle of fear 
in the rural South. Harold Fleming, one of the foundation executives behind the Voter 
Education Project, said later that "not protecting the kids was a moral shock, more than a 
cold-blooded, calculated reckoning. It was bruising and deeply emotional. To have the FBI 
looking out of the courthouse windows while you were being chased down the street by 
brick throwers deeply offends the sensibilities. So people wept and cursed Robert Kennedy 
and [Assistant Attorney General] Burke Marshall more than the FBI, whom they never had 
any confidence in to begin with. 

"Project yourself back to '61 or '62," Fleming added. "There was a totally unjustified 
euphoria. The climate of expectation was created not by the Kennedys with an intention to 
deceive, but by the ethos of the moment. The feeling was: After Ike, at least we'll have an 
activist Administration. We were all unsophisticated about power. We thought it was there 
to be used. This was exciting. We didn't know about the inhibitions of power... . [E]verybody 
overestimated the capacity of the Administration to intervene in an unlimited way. And 
everybody underestimated the prospective need for intervention. The sense of betrayal 
which came later, was the inevitable hangover from the binge ... ."'*'* 

Fleming's "we," the liberal elite of foundation executives, labor and church leaders, and 
legislators, made the mistake of thinking they were "part of the Administration"— an illusion 
that SNCC organizers could not begin to harbor. The youth of SNCC were on fire; they were 
not in a mood to hear about the fire department's difficulties arranging the transport of 
water. In the meantime, Robert Kennedy's staff— as Victor Navasky has written— "brought 
with them the code of the Ivy League Gentleman, which involved, among other things, the 
assumption that negotiation and settlement are preferable to litigation; the idea that 
winning in a higher court is preferable— for precedential purposes— to winning in a lower 
court; the notion that reasonable men can always work things out; patience at the prospect 
of endlessly protracted litigation; the preference for defined structures, for order... . Without 
disputing the dynamism, good will, ingenuity or capacity of these men, without 
underestimating the unique benefits of an Ivy League education, without suggesting that 
they were genteel assembly-line products who thought and felt alike, one can still argue 
that the system by which they defined themselves predisposed them to peaceful 
coexistence with present injustice— especially where they could see light at the end of the 
appellate tunnel. ""^^ 


Then, in the midst of a long series of disappointments, the Justice Department committed 
one absolute betrayal. In August 1963, a federal grand jury indicted nine civil rights 
activists in Albany, Georgia, charging them with obstructing justice and perjury for picketing 
a supermarket owned by a white man who had recently served on a federal jury."*^ That 
jury, all white, had acquitted a rural sheriff who had been charged with shooting a 
handcuffed Negro prisoner four times. Albany supermarkets had been picketed for more 
than a year, as part of a general boycott, and the picket signs around this particular store 
said nothing about the sheriffs trial; they simply demanded that Negroes be hired. It was 
not Attorney General Kennedy who had brought these charges, but he had refused to 
exercise his authority to quash them."^^ Moreover, the same Federal Bureau of Investigation 
which had proved royally disdainful of Albany's Negroes when they were brutalized by local 
officials had supplied at least thirty-eight agents to help prosecute the civil rights workers."^* 
In the presence of a Justice Department representative from Washington, the U.S. attorney 
argued that the civil rights workers would get a fair verdict from an all-white jury, and 
proceeded to drive all Negroes off the jury by peremptory challenge. Slater King, president 
of the Albany Movement, and one of those indicted, wrote: "It seems to be a great disparity 
when my pregnant wife is kicked to the ground and beaten by a police in Camilla, Georgia. 
She later loses the baby and yet the Federal Government says that there is nothing that 
they can do.""*^ All but one of the nine were convicted; some were sentenced to up to one 
year in jail, although eventually the convictions were reversed on appeal. The same month, 
in nearby Americus, three SNCC field secretaries and a CORE worker were charged with 
inciting insurrection, which in Georgia was a capital crime. The national media spotlight was 
not drawn there, but the movement's own channels made these cases notorious. 

What commandeered the TV cameras that spring were the thousands of Negro 
demonstrators in Birmingham, and Bull Connor's cattle prods, fire hoses, and police dogs 
that greeted them. The national liberal conscience was galvanized; civil rights groups now 
found themselves the cutting edge of a coalition of unions, churches, and students. White 
police and racist mobs were now the conspicuous disorder that Kennedy had to manage. 
When Governor George Wallace grandstanded against Negro admissions at the University of 
Alabama, Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and faced him down. 

A. Philip Randolph, the Negro trade unionist who had founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping 
Car Porters, and Bayard Rustin, the Negro pacifist and adviser to Martin Luther King, seized 
the opportunity to propose a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Aided by the 
League for Industrial Democracy's Tom Kahn, Rustin mobilized King, James Farmer, and 
SNCC's John Lewis, along with the NAACP's Roy Wilkins, church leaders, and the UAW's 
Walter Reuther, among others, into the perfect model of the liberal-labor coalition. Fearful 
as always of losing control, worried lest an unruly demonstration could "give some members 
of Congress an out," President Kennedy tried to talk the organizers out of marching, but 
Randolph, King, and Farmer convinced Kennedy that they could control the crowds.^" SNCC, 
with some support from CORE, proposed civil disobedience, including sitting down in the 
streets, sit-ins in the offices of southern members of Congress, mass arrests; but any 
thought of civil disobedience was discarded at Wilkins's and Reuther's insistence. ^^ SNCC 
proposed demonstrations at the Justice Departments^; the other groups vetoed the idea. 
Kennedy, placated, pledged to introduce sweeping new civil rights legislation, including 
provisions for desegregating public facilities and for withholding federal funds from 
discriminatory programs." 


Faced with a polarized public, Kennedy at last seemed to be delivering on the civil rights 
rhetoric of his I960 campaign. SNCC, however, was underwhelmed, for the Justice 
Department wasn't enforcing laws that were already on the books. Although the attorney 
general had consistently argued that he didn't have the authority to protect civil rights 
workers, the new bill failed to contain any new authority along these lines; indeed, when a 
House subcommittee later tried to amend the bill to give it to him, he testified against the 
amendment, and the new language was removed.^"* 

Some SNCC organizers accompanied local people to Washington; others derided the March, 
just as they had long derided Martin Luther King as "De Lawd."" On August 28, the nearly 
quarter of a million people who came to the Lincoln Memorial, one-third of them white, were 
a walking advertisement for racial integration. Negroes from the Deep South, brought to 
Washington by SNCC and CORE organizers, took heart: perhaps there was a national 
conscience after all. They were on the national stage, and there was apparently a national 

To the media, indeed to the bulk of the participants at the time, the memorable speech that 
day was Martin Luther King's unsurpassable vision: 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former 
slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together 
at the table of brotherhood... . 

What brought tears to their eyes, and has brought tears to millions of eyes since, was his 
glorious peroration: 

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every 
hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day 
when all God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, 
Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of 
that old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we 
are free at last!^^ 

The cadences rolled out over this Utopian camp-meeting of "all God's children," of 
sharecroppers and students, trade unionists and professionals, and, via the television 
cameras, over a nation converted for one brief moment into a national revival, aching to be 
redeemed from the legacy of enslavement. 

But for SNCC's trajectory (and by reflection SDS's) the most important speech that day was 
the one that wasn't delivered in its entirety. Chairman John Lewis of SNCC softened his 
words after the Catholic archbishop of Washington let it be known that he would otherwise 
withdraw his support. At the last minute, inside the Lincoln Memorial, a committee rewrote 
Lewis's speech. The prepared text, already distributed to the press, had him saying: "In 
good conscience, we cannot support the Administration's civil rights bill, for it is too little, 
and too late. There's not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police 
brutality." Even as delivered there was strong criticism: "True, we support the 
Administration's civil rights bill, but this bill will not protect young children and old women 
from police dogs and fire hoses ... ." Lewis told of the government's inaction when police 
assaulted Slater King's pregnant wife, and wrote but didn't deliver the statement that "the 
Albany indictment is part of a conspiracy on the part of the Federal Government and local 
politicians in the interest of expedience." He called the movement "a serious revolution," 
albeit a "nonviolent" one. He wrote but didn't say: "The next time we march, we won't 
march on Washington, but we will march through the South, through the Heart of Dixie, the 
way Sherman did. And we will make the action of the past few months look petty." 

He wrote but didn't say: "I want to know— which side is the federal government on?"^^ 


John Lewis had been a seminary student.^® He had preached in the churches of rural 
Alabama since high school. Many times beaten and arrested, he was the nonviolent gospel 
incarnate. If John Lewis was speaking this language, it should have been clear that the 
moment of SNCC's ambivalence toward federal power was passing. Battered SNCC field 
secretaries were already asking why, if they were going to be battered, it should be in the 
name of integration and nonviolence. As the liberal-labor-Kennedy coalition reached high 
tide, it was difficult to imagine a plausible alternative. But a growing number of militants 
were starting to pay close attention to an avenging angel named Malcolm X, a Black Muslim 
who spoke of armed self-defense, dismissed the "Farce on Washington," and asked: "Who 
ever heard of angry revolutionists swinging their bare feet together with their oppressor in 
lily-pad park pools, with gospels and guitars and 'I Have a Dream' speeches?"^' Within two 
years, few of the SNCC stalwarts bothered asking, even rhetorically, which side the federal 
government was on. 

^ THERE'S A TOWN IN MISSISSIPPI: Nicholas von Hoffman, Mississippi Notebool< (New 
York: David White, 1965), p. 28. 

^ peculiar pace: David Burner and Thomas R. West, Tlie Torcli Is Passed (New York: 
Atheneum, 1984), p. 177. 

^ "From 1961 to 1963": Victor S. Navasky, Kennedy Justice (New York: Atheneum, 1971), 
p. 97. 

"* Freedom Rides: Harvard Sitkoff, Tlie Struggle for Blacl< Equality, 1954-1980 (New York: 
Hill and Wang, 1981), pp. 97-113. 

^ "Our intention": In Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 98. 

^ Farmer gave advance information: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography 
of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Arbor House, 1985), p. 197. 

^ Robert Kennedy said: Harris Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties 
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980), p. 151. 

® Hoover therefore knew: Ibid., p. 152. 

^ permanently brain-damaged: Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 102. 

^° Vienna summit: Ibid., p. 107. 

" "Tell them to call": In Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, p. 153. 

^^ John Seigenthaler: Navasky, Kennedy Justice, p. 20; Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, p. 
152; Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 104. 

^^ FBI agents: Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, p. 154. 

^"^ "We have no intention": In Sitkoff, Struggle, pp. 103-5. 

^^ huge church rally: Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 107; Farmer, Lay Bare, p. 206. 

^^ "We have been cooling": In Farmer, Lay Bare, pp. 205-6. 

" Robert Kennedy went to work: Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, p. 159. 

^® liberal foundations: Ibid.; Carl M. Brauer, John F. Kennedy and the Second Reconstruction 
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 14. 

^^ "If you'll cut out": Farmer, Lay Bare, p. 219. 

^° insider point of view: Harold Fleming, in Navasky, Kennedy Justice, pp. 117-18. 


^^ "all steps necessary": Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 114. 

22 "very vividly": Timothy Jenkins, in Howell Raines, ed.. My Soul Is Rested (New York: 
Bantam, 1978), p. 245. 

^^ "Bobby pledged": Lonnie King, in Raines, My Soul, p. 246. 

^"^ If the foundations: Carson, In Struggle, pp. 39-42; Sitkoff, Struggle, pp. 114-16; Lonnie 
King, in Raines, My Soul, p. 246. 

^^ Jenkins argued: Zinn, SNCC, p. 59. 

^^ SNCC finessed the conflict: CORE had a similar debate and resolved it the same way. 
August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 174-75. 

" In the fall of 1961: Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, p. 159. 

^® Amite County: Jack Mendelsohn, The Martyrs (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 24. 

" federal laws: Zinn, SNCC, pp. 194, 195. 

•^° "as close as the telephone": In Carson, In Struggle, p. 85. 

•^^ "The government is with us": In Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi (New York: 
Dell, 1968), p. 92. 

^^ "cooling-off period": Zinn, SNCC, p. 52. 

•^•^ FBI agents: For an example, see Moody, Coming of Age, p. 374. 

•^"^ Kennedy's staff luncheons: Navasky, Just/ce, p. 100. 

•^^ "interrogate a black": In Navasky, Kennedy Justice, p. 103. 

^^ E. H. Hurst: Mendelsohn, The Martyrs, pp. 21-37; Robert Penn Warren, Who Speaks for 
the Negro? (New York: Random House, 1965), pp. 93-94. 

•^^ quid for its quo: Navasky, Kennedy Justice, pp. 107, 155. 

•^^ guerrillas of government: Garry Wills, The Kennedy Imprisonment (Boston: Little, Brown, 
1982), pp. 35-36. 

^^ tape recordings from 1941: Ibid., pp. 20-21; Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The 
Kennedys (New York: Summit, 1984), pp. 122-24; Richard Sid Powers, Secrecy and Power: 
The Life of J. Edgar Hoover (New York: Free Press, 1987), p. 359. 

'^° "Federal Bureau of Integration": von Hoffman, Mississippi Notebook, p. 28. 

"^^ opened a field office: Navasky, Kennedy Justice, p. 101. 

"^^ When Hoover opened: Ibid., pp. 106-7. 

"^^ Justice Department only twice: Pat Waiters and Reese Cleghorn, Climbing Jacob's Ladder: 
The Arrival of Negroes in Southern Politics (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967), 
pp. 61-62. 

"^"^ "Project yourself back": Harold Fleming, in Navasky, Kennedy Justice, pp. 117-18. 

'^^ "brought with them the code": Navasky, Kennedy Justice, p. 163. 

'^^ In August 1963: Howard Zinn, The Politics of History (Boston: Beacon, 1970), p. 192. 

'^^ refused to exercise his authority: Brauer, John F. Kennedy, p. 289. 


"^^ thirty-eight agents: Zinn, Politics of l-iistory, p. 193. 

"^^ "It seems to be": Letter from Slater King to Constance Baker IMotley, in Brauer, Jolin F. 
Kennedy, p. 289. 

^° Randolph, King, and Farmer: Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 160. 

^^ civil disobedience: Farmer, Lay Bare, p. 243. 

^^ SNCC proposed: Carson, In Struggle, p. 92. 

^^ new civil rights legislation: Farmer, Lay Bare, p. 243. 

^"^ Although the attorney general: Zinn, SNCC, pp. 207-8. 

^^ Some SNCC organizers: Interview, Mickey Flacks, December 24, 1984. 

^^ "I have a dream": In Sitkoff, Struggle, pp. 163-64. 

^^ "I want to know": John Lewis, in Joanne Grant, ed.. Black Protest: History, Documents, 
and Analyses, 1619 to the Present (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Premier, 1968), p. 375. 

^® John Lewis: Carson, In Struggle, pp. 21-22. 146 Battered SNCC: Ibid., p. 83. 

^^ "Who ever heard": Malcolm X, in Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 165. 

White Shield, White Heat 

Only when metal has been brought to white heat can it be shaped and 
molded. This is what we intend to do to the South and the country, bring 
them to white heat and then remold them. 
—Bob Moses, November 1963^ 

Vivid days like August 28, 1963, become watersheds. The next day, everyone agrees that 
time has parted into time before and time after. The conflicts come in the interpretation. 
What has become possible and impossible now? What else is to be done? 


Many of the SNCC workers returned from Washington convinced that the age of Jim Crow 
was fading. Little doubt remained that Kennedy's civil rights bill, inadequate and even 
retrograde as it was, was going to pass. (It passed, in fact, after a filibuster, the following 
summer, when Kennedy himself was dead.) But most of SNCC now thought desegregation a 
bourgeois business at best; symbolically, what good was the right to eat a hamburger when 
the Negro couldn't afford one in the first place?* If liberal-labor allies were problematic, 
perhaps others could be found: That month Stokely Carmichael of SNCC met with Tom 
Hayden and proposed that SDS organize poor whites to ally with SNCC's poor blacks in a 
class-based alliance— and SDS agreed to try.^ But the interracial movement of the poor was 
a long shot. SNCC's main idea was to build local power bases for the mass of Negroes, the 
impoverished ones. For that, it was necessary to get the vote. Again, Mississippi was the 
key. Negroes constituted a majority in more than one-third of Mississippi's counties; overall, 
they were over 40 percent of the state population.'^ Bob Moses had dug in and recruited a 
cadre of talented, energetic young Mississippi Negroes. Shortly after the March on 
Washington, SNCC agreed to pursue a "one man, one vote" campaign in Mississippi, and to 
pour all necessary resources into it."* 

Moses's cadre possessed courage beyond measure, but to this point, after two years of 
voter registration, they had few voters to show for their labors. Between 1961 and 1963, 
70,000 Mississippi Negroes tried to register; only 4,700, a mere 5 percent of Mississippi's 
voting-age Negroes, succeeded.^ In November, the Voter Education Project cut off almost all 
the funds it had been sending into Mississippi, arguing that the money would be better 
spent in less hard-bitten states, and criticizing the Justice Department for failing to back the 
drive with lawsuits and protection.^ To crack Mississippi would require new tactics. To 
accomplish the Kennedys' own strategy— voter registration— in the face of the 
administration's failure to provide protection, the movement would have to force the very 
confrontation that the Kennedys' strategy had been intended to avoid. Timid liberalism had 
outfitted the commandos who were wearying of liberal promises. 

SNCC teetered on a knife-edge paradox of its own. To register voters, it would have to force 
precisely that federal intervention which increasingly it doubted possible. It would have to 
act against its doubt, as if the Justice Department's hesitant liberals might be compelled to 
be real liberals. That was its radical wager, the rock-bottom "as if which defines the 
dilemma of a radical movement acting in a liberal political culture. 

It wasn't only SNCC militants who raised such questions. The LID'S Tom Kahn wrote a pamphlet, "The Economics 
of Equality," which asked: "Did the right to use public accommodation amount to much without the means to 
exercise that right? What difference did the integration of hotels and restaurants make to the unemployed black 
workers?"' Once economic reform became the goal, though, the routes diverged. One pointed toward the solidarity 
of the excluded (thus Tom Hayden and Carl Wittman's 1964 SDS paper, "An Interracial Movement of the Poor?"), 
["An Interracial Movement of the Poor?" Reprinted in Mitchell Cohen and Dennis Hale, eds.. The New Student Left 
(Boston: Beacon, 1966), pp. 180-219.] the other coward a liberal-labor-civil rights coalition (whose most influential 
and controversial formulation was Bayard Rustin's "From Protest to Politics," published in Commentary in February 
1965). [Rustin's: Commentary, February 1965, reprinted in Bayard Rustin, Down the Line (Chicago: Quadrangle, 
1971), pp. 111-22.] 


As a student of Camus, Bob Moses must have appreciated that this exercise in the absurd 
was Sisyphean— as Sisyphean as it was necessary. The movement's agonies and cross- 
currents took up residence in this Harlem-born Harvard philosophy M.A. who had quit his 
job teaching math in a prep school to work for SNCC at bare subsistence. Moses was the 
quintessence of SNCC and its foremost saint, trusted by northern supporters as by 
Mississippi organizers and sharecroppers for courage, clarity, and selfless incorruptible 
grace. His move into Mississippi, his steadiness, and his defiance of murderous deputies 
were the stuff of movement legend. Stokely Carmichael told Robert Penn Warren about a 
time in Mississippi when he and Moses and a third SNCC organizer were followed by three 
cars: "The men in the cars had guns hanging out of the windows. George started off driving. 
Bob asked why he was driving so fast. George said: 'God dammit, Moses, we're being 
chased.' Bob looked back and could see the headlights. He said: "Well, they won't bother 
us.' And Bob turned over and went to sleep. "^ "I thought Bob Moses ... was Jesus Christ in 
the flesh," wrote Anne Moody, a young Mississippi CORE organizer. "A lot of other people 
thought of him as Jesus Christ, too."^ 

Born in 1935, Moses was several years older than the students, at an age when a few years' 
difference amount to a generation. He was something of an older brother to a movement 
suspicious of fathers. He read Camus in college, reread The Rebel and The Plague in jail, 
and cited them in public. He absorbed from Camus the idea that the Negro should be 
"neither victim nor executioner," and that race hatred was a universal plague to be found 
and fought in every human heart. 

The light-skinned Moses's slight frame and large, somber eyes gave him an ascetic look. His 
voice was mild, even-toned. He spoke slowly, plainly, pausing frequently to gather his 
thoughts, or to think things through one more time, giving the impression that every 
occasion was unique and required something unique of him. He lacked high-flown rhetoric, 
or adornment, or what is conventionally called charisma— but charisma is the property of a 
specific culture, and what passes for charisma in one setting goes over poorly in a culture 
that honors something different. The reporter Nicholas von Hoffman called Moses "an 
outstandingly poor speaker" whose "cadences are monotonous" and "words ... 
unimaginative" compared with the "huge-voiced men who thrill people with the King James 
Bible English they learned in a thousand Baptist churches."^ Von Hoffman was accurate, but 
he missed the point. Moses was "perhaps the most trusted, the most loved, the most gifted 
organizationally of any southern Negro leader" precisely because he seemed humble, 
ordinary, accessible. The early New Left distrusted flourishes. It wanted elemental talk, not 
grand rhetoric. 


In voice and gesture, Moses did more tinan anyone else to create tine premium movement 
style: diffidence over bravado; quiet assertion rather than driving crescendos; plain, halting 
speech rather than rolling phrases. He liked to make his points with his hand, starting with 
palm down-turned, then opening his hand outward toward his audience, as if delivering the 
point for inspection, nothing up his sleeve. The words seemed to be extruded, with 
difficulty, out of his depths. What he said seemed earned. "He's like someone you only read 
about in novels," a Freedom Summer volunteer said.^° "He has great currents of moral 
perplexity running through him." Unintimidated, so was he curiously unintimidating. He 
believed in leading by example; he seemed to sacrifice himself on behalf of the universality 
of the democratic impulse. To teach his unimportance, he was wont to crouch in the corner 
or speak from the back of the room, hoping to hear the popular voice reveal itself. If 
persuaded to the platform, he was in the habit of asking questions. To preach from the 
rostrum he deemed manipulative, especially when the folks in the audience were 
uneducated. His leadership style spread throughout the movement, including SDS in the 
North, and as Moses's mannerisms separated themselves from the flesh-and-blood Moses 
they sometimes lent themselves to a cultivation of the inarticulate. When imitators stumbled 
on, vaguely and interminably, the plainspoken stop-and-start style became a caricature of 
itself. Worse, in the hands of leaders less scrupulous than Moses, the self-abnegating style 
of participatory democracy didn't eliminate leadership, only disguised it. The de facto 
leaders were still influential; followers were swayed willy-nilly. Diffident leaders in disguise 
couldn't be held accountable, and ended up more manipulative than when they stood up 
tall, made their authority explicit, presented solid targets.* 

It is a semantic curiosity, if not the Zeitgeist's trick, that the movement's chief exponent of 
this tender and ambivalent style of leadership should have carried the name of the primal 
liberating patriarch in Western history. His namesake, of course, wasn't permitted to enter 
the Promised Land; he didn't survive the wilderness. 

The March on Washington seemed to have infused local activists with new elan, but SNCC 
workers were exhausted. The March on Washington also provoked a renewal of Mississippi 
terror: a new Society for the Preservation of the White Race had been stitched together 
statewide, able to organize as many as eighty cross burnings in a single night. ^^ The 
perennial problem returned: how to crack the Mississippi terror? Moses and others devised a 
twofold strategy. To take a step toward political power, the Council of Federated 
Organizations, or COFO (with SNCC the pivotal component, CORE strong in one 
congressional district, and SCLC and the NAACP nominal partners), founded the Mississippi 
Freedom Democratic Party, mostly Negro but open to people of all races. ^^ The MFDP tried 
to attend official Democratic Party meetings, and when repelled, proceeded (with SNCC's 
leadership) to hold its own precinct and county gatherings. 

' The UD's Tom Kahn tried to convince me of this in 1965 or 1966; as a loyalist of participatory democracy, I 
argued back. Events of the late Sixties convinced me that, up to a point, Kahn was tight; accountability matters 
more than the leaderless style. But there are no formulaic solutions to the conundrums of authority. 


Influenced by the peripatetic freelance organizer Allard Lowenstein, who brought news of 
South African tactics, Moses also decided to import white students from the North. At the 
beginning of November, COFO staged a Freedom Ballot. Disenfranchised Negroes cast 
unofficial votes in a symbolic election, demonstrating for all the world to see that it wasn't 
for lack of desire that they failed to cast .their duly sanctioned ballots. Lowenstein organized 
a hundred students from Stanford and Yale to swoop into Mississippi to help. Over eighty 
thousand Negroes cast their Freedom Ballots for Aaron Henry, the Negro head of the 
Mississippi NAACP, and Edwin King, the white chaplain of Tougaloo College, for governor 
and lieutenant governor, respectively.^'^ By Mississippi standards, relatively little violence 
resulted. The reason, SNCC concluded, was that the white students had attracted northern 
reporters in their wake. The white shield had also been deployed successfully when white 
and Negro ministers had demonstrated in Greenwood the previous spring without 
violence. ^"^ Moses was heartened. Shortly after the Freedom Vote, he and Lowenstein began 
to discuss bringing a larger wave of white students to Mississippi for the summer— as 
hostages, in effect, for the national conscience and triggers for federal intervention. 

The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, did nothing to diminish 
Moses's resolve or his sense of what was necessary. If anything, Lyndon Johnson would 
need to be pushed even more than Kennedy; whoever sat in the White House, local power 
would have to be created. Still, the assassination made politics more volatile, the liberal- 
radical tension more severe. Kennedy, for all his hesitations, was at least a known and 
malleable quantity. When the assassin's bullet struck its target, some civil rights activists, 
especially those from the Deep South, were distraught; others, disoriented, dazed, blank. ^^ 
Many New Leftists speculated about right-wing and CIA conspiracies; on the cui bono 
principle, some wondered, in late-night breedings, at Lyndon Johnson's role as inheritor. A 
SNCC staff member coauthored one of the first speculations about discrepancies in the 
official story about Lee Harvey Oswald. ^^ Kennedy could be appreciated better in his 
absence; hadn't the strongest attacks on him before his death come from his Right? Within 
a few weeks it became apparent that Johnson was committed to Kennedy's domestic 
policies, if anything with greater vigor and a more sweeping popular mandate. But the 
tension between radicalism and managerial liberalism was fundamental and outlived the 
martyred Kennedy. 

It was one week after Kennedy was killed that Moses spoke of the "annealing process," 
bringing Mississippi to a "white heat." Already the strategy was ambiguous. Were the white 
students to function as a white shield or the conduits of white heat? 

The Mississippi Summer Project never resolved this tension. Nor did it ever assuage the 
suspicion of some Negro organizers that the white students would swamp the local Negro 
leadership, overwhelm them with skills and arrogance, then leave the movement disrupted 
when the autumn came and college called. It took a personal appeal from Moses to talk 
SNCC staff out of their initial opposition. ^^ But the three hundred volunteers, five-sixths of 
them white, did draw the media spotlight— and white heat as well. While SNCC organizers at 
the training session in Oxford, Ohio, were still warning the volunteers of the dangers of 
back-road Mississippi, CORE organizers Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney, and volunteer 
Andrew Goodman, were reported missing, presumed dead, near the town of Philadelphia. 
Even before the three bodies were unearthed from a dam on August 4, the summer project 
was shadowed by violence. By one tally, there were three other civil rights murders in 
Mississippi that summer, as well as eighty people beaten, thirty-five shot at (with three 
injured), thirty-five churches burned down, thirty homes and other buildings bombed 
(seventeen in McComb alone), and a thousand arrests. ^^ 


Despite white violence, tine winite sinieid was a partial success. The missing Schwerner, 
Chaney, and Goodman brought Mississippi terror into screaming headlines for the first time. 
By the end of the summer, Moses reported that harassment had subsided in most of 
Mississippi, although many SNCC people thought that the guns many Negroes were quietly 
carrying (legal in Mississippi) were a more powerful deterrent than the presence of FBI 
men.^^ Yet the shield rubbed at an old movement wound. While many Negroes were grateful 
for the help of whites— in voter registration, freedom schools, and many another summer 
project— many others were enraged that killings, bearings, and jailings were worthy of the 
ministrations of the media, the FBI, and the Justice Department only when whites were in 
jeopardy. Herbert Lee was memorialized in a civil rights song and in Bob Moses's talks on 
the campuses of the North, not on the front-page of The New York Times. Who could believe 
that the Negro James Chaney of Meridian, Mississippi, would have become a national martyr 
on his own? 

^ "Only when metal": Bob Moses, in /. F. Stone's Weekly, December 9, 1963. 

^ Stokely Carmichael: Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 102. 

^ Negroes constituted: Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 169. 

"* SNCC agreed to pursue: Carson, In Struggle, p. 97. 

^ Between 1961 and 1963: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Hearings on Voting 
(Washington: Government Printing Office, 1965), p. 10. 

^ Voter Education Project: Waiters and Cleghorn, Climbing Jacob's Ladder, pp. 213-14. 

^ "The men in the cars": Stokely Carmichael, quoted in Warren, Who Speaks, p. 403. 

^ "I thought Bob Moses": Moody, Coming of Age, p. 252. 

^ "an outstandingly poor": von Hoffman, Mississippi Notebook, p. 34. 

^° "He's like someone": Sally Belfrage, Freedom Summer {Nev\i York: Fawcett Crest, 1966), 
p. 32. 

" eighty cross burnings: Anne Romaine, " "We Come From a Distance' (The Story of the 
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Parry Through the Convention of 1965), An Oral History," 
Charlottesville, Virginia, 1969, p. 83. 

^^ Freedom Democratic Party: Carson, In Struggle, pp. 108-9. 

^^ Freedom Ballots: Ibid., pp. 97-98. 

^"^ Greenwood: Ibid., p. 97. 

^^ assassin's bullet: Moody, Coming of Age, pp. 352-55. 

^^ SNCC staff member: Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd, "Seeds of Doubt," The New 
Republic, December 21, 1963, pp. 14-20. 

" personal appeal from Moses: Staughton Lynd, personal communication, 1985, citing what 
he was told in 1967 by CORE'S Dave Dennis. 

^^ By one tally: Pat Waiters of the Southern Regional Council, cited in Carson, In Struggle, 
pp. 122, 322. 

^^ many SNCC people thought: Carson, In Struggle, p. 123. 


Atlantic City 

More than eighty thousand Mississippi Negroes joined the Freedom Democratic Party 
(IMFDP) that summer.* Not only did the counterparty have right on its side, but there 
seemed a fighting chance it could displace the lily-white official party, many of whose 
delegates were pledged to Barry Goldwater, and whose leader. Governor Paul Johnson, had 
been in the habit of proclaiming from the stump that NAACP stood for "Niggers, Alligators, 
Apes, Coons, and Possums."^ In early August more than eight hundred MFDP members held 
a statewide convention, nominated sixty-eight delegates (including four whites) to the 
Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City, and pledged allegiance to the national party 
and its platform. 

"'Optimism' among Mississippi veterans," wrote the volunteer Sally Belfrage, "is a quality so 
muted as to be barely discernible."^ But who knew what might prove possible on the 
boardwalk of Atlantic City? Some in SNCC, including Bob Moses, had big strategic hopes. 
Like SDS (and Michael Harrington, Tom Kahn, Bayard Rustin, and other social democrats), 
they could imagine "realigning" the Democratic Party, establishing a new left-of-center 
majority. SNCC field secretary Cleveland Sellers wrote about the strategic sense he and Bob 
Moses shared: "We were thinking far beyond Atlantic City. If our venture there was 
successful, we intended to utilize similar tactics in other Southern states, particularly 
Georgia and South Carolina. Our ultimate goal was the destruction of the awesome power of 
the Dixiecrats, who controlled over 75 percent of the most important committees in 
Congress. With the Dixiecrats deposed, the way would have been clear for a wide-ranging 
redistribution of wealth, power and priorities throughout the nation."^ 

Even those who doubted the official Mississippi Democrats could be unseated, like SNCC's 
adviser Ella Baker, thought the attempt worth making, "an alerting process.""^ SNCC's 
pessimists, sending their caravan of buses and battered cars northward, thought of Atlantic 
City as one more necessary exercise in dramaturgy. MFDP delegates, many of whom had 
never been out of Mississippi, were more innocent. Fannie Lou Hamer, vice chairman of the 
delegation and a sharecropper's wife who had been thrown off the plantation and beaten for 
leading a vote drive, took the bus north "with all of this hope."^ Some three-quarters of the 
delegates were small farmers.^ They came a long way with their depositions on voter 
discrimination, their pictures of Negro living conditions, their lists of churches burned and 
bombed. They took with them the car in which Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner had been 
riding when they were ambushed and killed.^ "When we went to Atlantic City," Mrs. Hamer 
said later, "we didn't go there for publicity, we went there because we believed that America 
was what it said it was, 'the land of the free.' And I thought with all of my heart that the 
[official delegation] would be unseated in Atlantic City ... ."^ 

At first, a conscientious America seemed to be paying them heed, and even longtime SNCC 
staff members found themselves hoping against hope. On top of the publicity, a summer of 
lobbying seemed to be paying off. The MFDP had become the sentimental favorite of the 
liberals in several northern and western delegations. Ten percent of the Credentials 
Committee could force a minority report, carrying the issue to the convention floor; eight 
delegation chairmen on the floor could then force a roll-call ballot, shaming many delegates 
into voting for the MFDP. 

Of the seventeen thousand who filled out registration forms, only about sixteen*hundred were permitted onto the 
official voting rolls. [Of the seventeen thousand: Carson, In Struggle, p. 117.] 


And thanks to live television, previously voiceless people were able to speak to America 
over the heads of the usual managers. The afternoon of August 22, the Credentials 
Committee heard the passionate testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer, who told what had 
happened when she led a group of Negroes to register in Senator James O. Eastland's 

I was carried to the county jail, ... And it wasn't too long before three white 
men came to my cell ... . I was carried out of the cell into another cell where 
they had two Negro prisoners. The state highway patrolman ordered the first 
Negro to take the blackjack. The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders 
from the stare highway patrolman, for me to lay down on the bunk bed on my 
face, and I laid on my face. The first Negro began to beat, and I was beat 
until he was exhausted... . After the first Negro ... was exhausted, the state 
highway patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack. The 
second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the state 
highway patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat to set on my feet 
and keep me from working my feet. I began to scream, and one white man 
got up and began to beat me on my head and tell me to "hush." One white 
man— my dress had worked up high— he walked over and pulled my dress 
down and he pulled my dress back, back up. I was in jail when Medgar Evers 
was murdered. All of this is on account we want to register, to become first- 
class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I 
question America... .' 

Fannie Lou Hamer's testimony was TV's close-up equivalent of its devastating 1963 footage 
of Birmingham's cattle prods, water hoses, and police dogs. This was probably the first time 
the networks had transmitted a Mississippi Negro's story at length. It was irresistible, 
uncensored television, and one of the people who thought so was Lyndon B. Johnson. In the 
middle of Mrs. Hamer's testimony, on the spur of the moment, Johnson called a press 
conference. Dutifully, the cameras cut away from Mrs. Hamer to the President of the United 
States. But the tactic backfired: that night, in prime time, the networks broadcast Mrs. 
Hamer's whole testimony. Delegates were flooded with telegrams. The next day, Johnson 
made an offer. The MFDP delegates could be "honored guests" on the convention floor- 
without votes. "A zero," thought Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. 

Joe Rauh, longtime ADA and Democratic Party stalwart, adviser to Hubert Humphrey, 
general counsel of Walter Reuther's United Automobile Workers (UAW), was the MFDP's 
counsel. He asked the Credentials Committee, "Are you going to throw out of here the 
people who want to work for Lyndon Johnson, who are willing to be beaten and shot and 
thrown in jail to work for Lyndon Johnson?"^" But sooner than chase after Negro voters, 
Johnson hastened after southern whites. Five of the regular southern delegations had 
proclaimed they would walk off the floor if the MFDP was seated. There were few enough 
Negro voters; where else could they go? Johnson was more worried about his right flank." 
Steeped in decades of realpolitik, he was acutely aware that George Wallace had picked up 
30 percent or more of the Democratic primary votes in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland. 
He needed the loyalty of Dixiecrat committee chairmen to push through his Great Society 
program. He could clinch liberal and labor support by dangling the vice-presidential 
nomination before their darling, Hubert Humphrey. Johnson was busily staking out his 
personal claim to the postassassination Democratic Party; he needed the liberals, but he 
was not a man to brook defiance from upstarts, whether Ho Chi Minh, Bobby Kennedy, or 
Fannie Lou Hamer. 


Whether or not Johnson made Humphrey's support of his position on the IMFDP an explicit 
condition for his nomination, Humphrey got the message and set out to round up the 
liberals.* Some of them did not need their arms twisted. Walter Reuther, for one, had been 
unsympathetic to the MFDP from the beginning. For months Reuther had tried to talk 
Rauh— who was, after all, the UAW's principal lawyer— out of representing the Freedom 
Democrats. At one point, in July, Rauh had given a speech to the MFDP, detailing the 
numbers of delegates they needed to win their challenge. Reuther had phoned Rauh to say, 
"The President called. He was very upset with you. Lyndon thinks if we seat those people, 
Goldwater will win."^^ "Oh come on, cut out this shit," Rauh said. "Goldwater isn't going to 
beat Johnson and you know it." "What'll I tell Johnson?" Reuther asked. "Tell him that I'm 
an incorrigible son of a bitch that you can't control," Rauh said. "I should tell Johnson that I 
don't control my own general counsel?" "Look, Walter," said Rauh, "I am acting not as your 
general counsel, but as a citizen. I've got a private law practice. If you want to fire me, for 
Christ's sake, be my guest." Reuther was "so fucking mad," Rauh recalls, "you could fry an 
egg on his heart." 

In Atlantic City, the MFDP promptly rejected Johnson's offer to make them guests without 
votes. Johnson, impressed by the breadth of the MFDP's support and eager to avoid a public 
fuss on his televised convention floor, began to float a new idea: two MFDP delegates would 
be seated alongside the regulars. While a special subcommittee headed by Minnesota 
Attorney General Walter Mondale went off to deliberate, Johnson's operatives set about 
twisting arms in the Credentials Committee. According to Rauh, one Negro California 
delegate was told "that her husband wouldn't get a judgeship if she didn't leave us, and the 
Secretary of the Army told the guy from the Canal Zone that he would lose his job if he 
didn't leave us."^'^ A New York delegate had her job threatened. ^"^ The MFDP's support began 
draining away. Johnson knew that. He also knew that the national civil rights leadership was 
weakening. For the FBI had bugged Martin Luther King's and Bayard Rustin's rooms as well 
as MFDP, SNCC, and CORE headquarters.^^ Fifty FBI men were deployed in Atlantic City, 
some posing as reporters, with NBC credentials, to ferret information from activists "on 
background." Every hour the FBI was delivering up-to-date information to Johnson aides 
Walter Jenkins and Bill Movers. 

The liberal-labor establishment pulled out the stops to talk the MFDP into accepting 
Johnson's two-delegate plan. At Johnson's behest, Walter Reuther slipped away from talks 
aimed at settling an impending strike in Detroit, and flew to Atlantic City to join Humphrey 
in Johnson's persuasion squad." Bayard Ruskin^^ persuaded Martin Luther King that the 
Johnson compromise amounted to a major victory, that to spurn it would amount to a "no- 
win policy. "^^ Rustin took at face value Johnson's campaign slogan, "We seek no wider war," 
arguing "that the peace of the world is more important than race at this moment, and the 
Negroes had to realize that Lyndon Johnson was the great candidate for peace, and if we 
wanted peace in the world, we had to support him and not upset the convention"^^— 
although Johnson, in the wake of a half-provoked, half-fabricated shooting incident in the 
Gulf of Tonkin, had just two weeks earlier procured a blank check for the Vietnam war from 
an acquiescent Congress. Roy Wilkins told Fannie Lou Hamer: "You're ignorant, you don't 
know anything about politics. I been in the business over twenty years. You people have put 
your point across. Now why don't you pack up and go home?"^° Mrs. Hamer also recalled 
this encounter with Hubert Humphrey: 

' Humphrey, however, had no good reason to fret about the right. In May, Humphrey wrote to a friend, "President 
Johnson right now has universal acceptance— he occupies the center." [Humphrey wrote: In Carl Solberg, Hubert 
Humphrey (New York; Norton, 1984), p. 244.] Early in the summer a Humphrey poll showed a Johnson-Humphrey 
ticket drubbing a hypothetical Goldwater-William Scranton ticket with more than 70 percent of the national vote. 


All that we had been hearing about ... Hubert Humphrey and his stand for civil 
rights, I was delighted to even have a chance to talk with this man. But here 
sat a little round-eyed man with his eyes full of tears, when our attorney at 
the time, Rauh, said if we didn't stop pushing like we was pushing them and 
trying to get the ... right to come to the floor, that Mr. Humphrey wouldn't be 
nominated that night for Vice President of the United States. I was amazed, 
and I said, "Well, Mr. Humphrey, do you mean to tell me that your position is 
more important to you than four hundred thousand black people's lives {the 
Negro population of Mississippi]?" You see, this was blows to me, really 
blows, and I left out of there full of tears... . He didn't give too much of an 

The morning before the Credentials Committee was due to vote on Johnson's proposal. Bob 
Moses asked the MFDP delegation whether they would accept the seating of just two of their 
delegates. Rauh urged staying open to the impending compromise. Aaron Henry, the 
delegation's official head, supported it. But many of the delegates, and the SNCC organizers 
who influenced them, viewed Henry as their titular head only; as statewide leader of the 
NAACP he brought them some of the old-line Negro middle-class cachet, but the NAACP as a 
whole was not central to the MFDP. Ella Baker argued against a "sellout" designed to save 
Hubert Humphrey's career. ^^ Fannie Lou Hamer asked "what kind of moral victory" it would 
be to be seen on television when the delegates were "subject to being killed on our way 
back" and "the masses of folk are taking the same hell." Listening to Rauh and Henry, she 
felt sick: "We didn't come all this way for no two seatsl"^'^ 

So the MFDP told Johnson no. But watching the tide turn against them, they declared that 
they would accept a compromise that had been floated by Congresswoman Edith Green of 
Oregon: any Mississippi delegate who affirmed loyalty to the national ticket would be 
seated.* But Green's plan was a dead letter. Johnson wouldn't relent. Thanks to the FBI, he 
had the informational edge. He had victory in hand; therefore he had the liberal-labor 
coalition in hand. Ever since the New Deal, the standing of the unions and the liberals had 
rested on their capacity to deliver the goods to their constituencies; they, and the social 
bargain they stood for, were lost without access to presidential power. 

' This was a variant of a hint Joe Rauh had dropped in his brief for the MFDP. "If you look at my brief," Rauh says, 
"which was approved by looses and everybody else before it was filed, it's perfectly clear that it's heading for the 
seating of both, because the appendices are just reeking with the examples of seating both." ["If you look at my 
brief: Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985; Rauh, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" pp. 335, 340; Sitkoff, 
Struggle, p. 182.] One of those examples was the seating of two Texas delegations in 1944, one of them including 
Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson. "I wanted Johnson to see what the right compromise was," he says. "So I hinted 
at the compromise as early as the brief we prepared, long before the convention," and repeated the hint again and 
again. It would have been a good deal, Rauh thought, because "if they'd offered it to both of us, we'd take it and 
the other side wouldn't." But for exactly that reason, when Johnson sounded out his southern governor friends 
John Connally of Texas and Carl Sanders of Georgia on the idea of a two-delegation compromise, Connally said, "If 
you seat those black buggers [in another version, "baboons"], the whole South will walk off." "In other words," as 
Rauh put it later, "the real resentment is not against the exclusion of Paul Johnson's crowd. The real resentment is 
against the inclusion of our crowd." 


Rauh was the man in the shrinking middle. A Washington labor lawyer since the New Deal, 
Rauh was— in the words of his old friend James A. Wechsler— "what Heywood Broun must 
have had in mind when he referred to the species 'congenital liberal': a large, warm, 
forceful and resourceful man who was probably more responsible than any other individual 
for the sustained existence of those formidable initials ADA ... ."^'^ The consummate liberal 
activist, Rauh was vehemently anti-Communist in the name of liberal ideals— ever since 
1939, when he had watched line-changing Communists try to obstruct American aid to 
Great Britain after the Hitler-Stalin pact. Yet he was also steadfastly opposed to anti- 
Communist inquisitions, and had defended Wechsler, Lillian Hellman, and Arthur Miller, 
among others, when they were dragged before McCarthy and HUAC. 

Rauh was also Humphrey's left-hand man. As Democratic Party leader from the District of 
Columbia, he had shared Humphrey's fight for a civil rights plank at the Democratic 
Convention of 1948. Now Humphrey, on the verge of the vice presidency, was fearful that 
troublemakers on the Left would cost him his chance. In Atlantic City, the two men met 
every night. With the two-delegate proposal in the air, Rauh insists that he kept driving a 
hard bargain on behalf of the MFDP: "I said, 'You've got to get more, we haven't got enough 
yet.' And he would say, "I can't get you any more, but I'll try.'"^^ 

In private, Rauh had advised the MFDP to accept the compromise. But he went to the 
decisive Credentials Committee meeting committed to represent their uncompromising 
position. No sooner had the meeting started than Detroit's Negro congressman Charles 
Diggs alerted him that Detroit's political heavyweight, Walter Reuther, wanted Rauh to call 
him, right that minute. Such was Reuther's clout that he could arrange to have the meeting 
recessed while Rauh went out to a phone booth. Reuther told Rauh that Johnson, through 
Mondale's subcommittee, was going to put forward a new compromise: Aaron Henry and Ed 
King, the Negro chairman and white vice-chairman of the MFDP delegation, would be seated 
as delegates at large, away from the Mississippi section of the floor. The regular Mississippi 
delegation would be seated if they pledged to support the Democratic ticket in November. 
Starting in 1968, no delegation could be seated unless Negro voters were enfranchised. 
Then and there Reuther ordered Rauh to support the compromise. Rauh was impressed with 
the second and third points, which he assumed Reuther had bargained for. He was sure the 
lily-white delegation would refuse to endorse Johnson; they had already said they would. 
Still, Rauh told Reuther he had promised Aaron Henry that he wouldn't abandon the MFDP 
position without Henry's approval. 

When Rauh got back to the committee room, he discovered he was not only outnumbered 
but outmaneuvered. He asked Mondale to postpone the vote so he could find Aaron Henry. 
Mondale was amenable, but Johnson's people insisted on going ahead without delay. They 
bulldozed the Johnson plan through by voice vote. Rauh tried and failed to get a 
postponement, then a roll-call vote. With the stalwarts down to a handful, Rauh shouted his 

Outside, Mondale had first claim on the TV cameras. A frustrated Rauh waited his turn, then 
told reporters he had voted against the compromise and would now see what could be done 
to force a fight on the convention floor. 


Radical and liberal political cultures were colliding again. At the instant Rauh was telling 
Reuther that he needed to find Aaron Henry, Henry was sitting a few feet away from 
Reuther, and Reuther wasn't letting on. While the Credentials Committee was in progress, 
Humphrey, Reuther, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King were closeted in a hotel room 
with Henry, Ed King, and Bob Moses. Ed King thought it inherently paternalistic of Johnson 
to name the at-large delegates over the heads of the delegation itself. In his comparatively 
mild manner, he pushed for a modification in the compromise: Break the two at-large votes 
in half, then apportion the four half-votes to Henry, King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and another 
Negro woman, Victoria Gray. Then, according to Ed King, "Humphrey said, 'The President 
has said that he will not let that illiterate woman speak on the floor of the Democratic 
convention.' Bob Moses exploded ... . He told Humphrey that he was a racist. "^^ Ed King 
thought "the real issue was that she was too emotional a speaker, and they were just afraid 
to have her as a delegate." Reuther reminded Martin Luther King how much money the UAW 
had given him over the years. About Rauh, this most fiery of the nation's labor leaders said, 
"That man worked for us, and we'll break him if we have to, destroy him. We'll fire him if he 
goes and keeps working for you people." A furious Humphrey told Moses, "Now look, Moses, 
anything you tell those people they're bound to do... . I know you're the boss of that 
delegation," to which Moses said the delegation would have to talk about it. The liberal 
managers weren't willing to let the MFDP speak in its own accent at the price of their 
control. They assumed that Moses's power over his constituents was like Lyndon Johnson's 
power over his. 

At this point, the television report on the Credentials Committee meeting came on. Mondale 
gave his account. Humphrey, Reuther, and the others listened as the reporter went on to 
declare that the vote for the Johnson plan had been unanimous. 

Bob Moses, furious, stood up. "You cheated," he said to Humphrey, and stormed out of the 
room, slamming the door.^^ He didn't stay to hear Rauh say he had, in fact, voted no. 

By the time Aaron Henry and Ed King got back to the MFDP delegation— said King later— 
"the SNCC people had gone mad. They were convinced that Ed King and Aaron Henry and 
Bob Moses had made a deal— because there it was on television. "^^ Rauh said later, "If the 
television account had been accurate, [Moses] had every right to be violent. I would have 
broken my word to him."^^ The last threads of the radical-liberal bond were frayed; it took 
only bad reporting and bad timing to break them. Paradoxically, as they had gathered 
momentum in Atlantic City's early days, SNCC and the MFDP for all their radicalism and 
cynicism had let themselves hope^°— and therefore they felt betrayed, and went looking for 
traitors. By now the SNCC people were inclined to distrust Rauh anyway. Hadn't he tried to 
talk the MFDP into accepting a compromise? Although it isn't clear how much SNCC knew at 
that moment, Rauh's own position was indeed compromised. He may have voted against 
the Johnson proposal, but he had also exulted in another TV interview that "to call [the 
Johnson proposal] a loss is a mistake ... . I think we've made a terrific gain. At a convention 
you always say there'll be no compromise. You get the best you can and you quit."'^^ Normal 
politics, in Rauh's eyes. Typical liberal sell-out, in SNCC's. For their taste Rauh was 
altogether too close to Humphrey and the rest of the liberal-labor establishment in the first 
place; some of them thought Rauh had cut a deal with the future vice president during their 
late-night tete-a-tetes. Nor did SNCC trust Rauh's middle-class allies Aaron Henry or Ed 
King. King himself was convinced "Rauh would not have made any move without our 
permission"'^^; but why should Rauh have needed to consult with Henry, SNCC organizers 
asked, when the MFDP as a whole had already gone on record against what they considered 
a "back-of-the-bus" compromise?^^ Some of the details of the Johnson-Reuther compromise 
were new, but the principle had already been settled. 


Rauh had waited since 1948 to see tine color line broken in the Democratic Party; he could 
wait till 1968. The MFDP's fight, in his eyes, was simply "a continuation" of the old struggle. 
To Bob Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer, however, 1964 was something quite different: the 
principle was that these delegates should not be turned back. What entitled the 
sharecroppers to seats was not their claim to justice alone but the quality of their suffering, 
the intensity of their bond, the witness that their entire lives bore forth. From SNCC's point 
of view— and most of the delegation's— waiting until 1968 was out of the question. It would 
represent a retreat to the NAACP's long-suffering wait-till-the-more-propitious-moment 
philosophy. The appetite for justice had been whetted, and the small farmers who were the 
majority of the MFDP delegation didn't see why they should sacrifice for the future one 
moment longer. At such moments, the symbols of privilege loom large. While Martin Luther 
King and other notables were ensconced in fancy hotels— why should they have anything 
less than the delegates?— MPDP representatives were staying at the shabby Gem Motel. 
Several SNCC staff workers were sleeping in the same Union Baptist church where the MFDP 
delegates took their meals and held their meetings. ^"^ 

Rauh told the press he was "disappointed," but said "we shouldn't forget that we made 
great progress. "•^^ "This proves that the liberal Democrats are just as racist as Goldwater," 
proclaimed SNCC's Stokely Carmichael.'^^ In SNCC's eyes, Johnson, Humphrey, Reuther & 
Co. were not only pushing the MFDP onto the back of the symbolic bus, but, to add insult to 
insult, were taking it upon themselves to name the second-class passengers.* That night, 
the MFDP delegates, using borrowed credentials, smuggled themselves onto the convention 
floor, seized Mississippi's vacant seats, locked arms, and sat-in.'^^ Security police mobilized 
to evict them; Johnson, fearing a televised brawl, let them stay. 

The credentials decision was a fait accompli, but the liberal and civil rights notables still 
weren't satisfied. Humphrey persuaded Aaron Henry to let Martin Luther King and Bayard 
Rustin address the delegates once more. They wanted the MFDP not only to acknowledge 
the inevitable but to endorse it. Liberal paternalism sought the willing acquiescence— even 
better, the enthusiastic embrace— of the weak. There was a short-term tactical side: proving 
reliability to the White House by guaranteeing decorum on the convention floor. There was 
strategy: trying to cement the MFDP into the liberal-labor-rights coalition of the future. 
There were personal motives as well: eminences like Humphrey and Walter Reuther wanted 
to be appreciated, even loved, for their devotions to the cause of civil rights. They meant 
their stated or unstated preface, "After all we've done for you ..." Getting bills passed 
wasn't sufficient reward; neither were the pure pleasures of maneuver in the corridors of 
power. Gratitude was the coin in which insiders had to be paid. Gratitude from below 
certified that through all their backstage dealing, their consciences remained intact. 

' Many years later, when Rauh finally sat down with looses to hash over Atlantic City, he expressed his belief that 
the I^FDP might have reacted differently if the seats had gone to Henry and Fannie Lou Hamer. Moses thought it 
possible. But Rauh cautions: "I don't say it would have been (different) and {Moses] didn't say it would have 
been." ["I don't say": Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985.] Earlier, during the credentials fight, liberals 
had floated another possible compromise, giving the MFDP delegation two votes to share as a whole, [liberals had 
floated: Waskow, "Notes," pp. 14-15.] Moses had not rejected the idea out of hand, but his interest was moot— the 
offer was never forthcoming from Johnson. 


The next morning, at the notables' behest, the MFDP delegation, seething with feelings of 
betrayal, met to reconsider Johnson's offer. One after another, the leaders of the liberal- 
labor-civil-rights coalition trooped to the rostrum of the church to plead with the MFDP 
delegation. Joe Rauh said it "wasn't a bad deal."'^* Martin Luther King rose to the heights of 
his eloquence— so testified no less a witness than the unreconstructed Stokely Carmichael.'^^ 
As a Negro leader. King said, he wanted the MFDP to accept the compromise: it would help 
the prospects for Negro voter registration throughout the South. "^^ If he were a Mississippi 
Negro, though, he would vote against it. King relayed a message from Humphrey: If they 
accepted, then the Civil Rights Commission would at long last hold hearings in Mississippi, 
unofficial seats on the floor would be found for the entire delegation, Johnson would meet 
with them, and the Democratic Party would leave segregation behind. Bayard Rustin's 
argument was that it was time for the movement to move "from protest to politics." People 
in politics had to give up the luxury of the pure moral act; politics always entailed 
compromise. The civil rights movement had to move toward economic reforms, for which it 
was going to need an alliance with people like Reuther and Humphrey— presumably on their 
terms. "You're a traitor. Bayard, a traitor! Sit down!" SNCC organizer Mendy Samsrein 
yelled from the audience, while a Negro organizer tried to hush him. CORE'S James Farmer 
equivocated, calling rejection of the compromise "morally right but politically wrong," 
reminding the MFDP delegates that turning it down would mean going it alone as a third 
party in hostile Mississippi. Michael Schwerner's widow, Rita, said the movement should 
scrap its hopes of getting anywhere in the Democratic Party. ''^ 

Bob Moses's soft voice was the one that rang loudest in that old church, speaking to 
delegates whom he had done more than anyone else to bring to this crossroads— and he 
opposed the deal. So did SNCC's director, James Forman."*^ At one point Moses met with 
Bayard Rustin and other high-level people in a corner of the church, but when the 
discussion turned to another possible compromise Moses walked out— high-level dealing 
would violate the principle that the people should decide.'*'^ Then, in a meeting closed to 
SNCC organizers and all other outsiders, the MFDP delegates voted 64-4 against, once and 
for a 11.^^ 

Still, the Johnson plan proved too much for the official Mississippi delegation; they walked 
off the floor in protest. Some MFDP delegates, using borrowed credentials, smuggled 
themselves again into the convention hall, but this time the shrewd guards had removed the 
vacated Mississippi seats, leaving the Freedom Democrats standing awkwardly on the floor. 
When Johnson and Humphrey were nominated by acclamation, the cluster of Negro farmers 
in a corner was barely noticeable amid the flag-waving and the cheers."*^ 

The MFDP delegates went home to Mississippi terror and limited choices."*^ In the short run, 
where else could they go but to the national Democrats? The Johnson-Humphrey ticket 
swamped Goldwater, who despite the liberal panic won only his native Arizona and five 
states in the Deep South— including Mississippi with 87 percent of the vote, although the 
MFDP remained loyal. Many of the MFDP delegates stayed with the party long enough to 
reap the proceeds of Johnson's Atlantic City concession. At the embattled Democratic 
Convention of 1968, they were official. "When we had an integrated delegation from 
Mississippi walk on the floor in 1968," Joe Rauh said years later, "that was one of the high 
points of my lifetime.""*^ 

But the world they were integrated into was a different world, in good measure because of 
the rupture at Atlantic City. The party was integrated, the movement no longer. The SNCC- 
CORE polite boardwalk vigil of 1964 was the overture to the Chicago street riots of 1968. By 
1968, virtually none of the veterans of Mississippi Summer and Atlantic City remained to 
welcome Fannie Lou Hamer's triumphal march onto the convention floor. 


For SNCC and its supporters, including SDS, Atlantic City flashed the testament: Moment of 
Truth. The very name became synonymous with liberal betrayal. To the New Left, Atlantic 
City discredited the politics of coalition— between militants and the liberal-labor 
establishment, between whites and blacks, between youth and elders. (The Berkeley slogan, 
"Don't trust anybody over thirty," more dearly beloved by reporters than by eighteen-year- 
olds themselves, was coined by a CORE organizer. Jack Weinberg, just back on campus 
from Mississippi Freedom Summer. At that, reporters mistook Weinberg's point. "^^ Enamored 
of the phrase, they omitted the context. Weinberg was insisting that the Free Speech 
Movement, far from following a Communist line, was suspicious of older Communists.) 
Apparently the right response to being consigned to the back of the bus was to arrange for 
a bus of one's own. To Stokely Carmichael, "the major moral ... was not merely that the 
national conscience was generally unreliable but that, very specifically, black people in 
Mississippi and throughout this country could not rely on their so-called allies... . Black 
people would have to organize and obtain their own power base before they could begin to 
think of coalition with others.""*^ Cleveland Sellers: "The national Democratic party's 
rejection of the MFDP at the 1964 convention was to the civil rights movement what the 
Civil War was to American history: afterward, things could never be the same. Never again 
were we lulled into believing that our task was exposing injustices so that the 'good' people 
of America could eliminate them. We left Atlantic City with the knowledge that the 
movement had turned into something else. After Atlantic City, our struggle was not for civil 
rights, but for liberation. "^° 

Both liberals and radicals fused means to ends, and so Atlantic City was a watershed on 
both sides. In an influential broadside against his old Liberation comrade Bayard Rustin, 
Staughton Lynd relayed the SNCC view that Atlantic City represented the betrayal of direct 
democracy, the rights of ordinary people. "The meaning of Atlantic City," Lynd wrote, was 
that "coalitionism" was "elitism," built on the assumption that "major political decisions are 
made by deals between the representatives of the interests included in the coalition," with 
men like Bayard Rustin "the national spokesmen who sell the line agreed-on behind doors to 
the faithful followers waiting in the street... . What was at stake," Lynd added, "as it seemed 
to the SNCC people there, was not so much the question. Should the compromise be 
accepted? as the question. Are plain people from Mississippi competent to decide? Rustin, 
Martin Luther King and Roy Wilkins answered the latter question: No... . But what [the MFDP 
and SNCC] learned at Atlantic City was simply no longer to trust these 'national civil-rights 
leaders.' ... They learned, so ... [Bob Moses said] in November, that the destiny of America 
was not in their hands, that they should seek their own objectives, 'let the chips fall where 
they may.'"^^ Moses spoke of setting up a shadow government in Mississippi which 
Mississippi Negroes would honor instead of white rule.^^ The SNCC rhetoric slid into the 
apocalyptic registers. The movement felt free— obliged, even— to skid off on its own. 

The liberal-radical rift widened from there too fast for anyone to straddle. A case in point: 
Joe Rauh. For six months, throughout an entire General Motors contract negotiation, Walter 
Reuther didn't talk to Rauh, still his chief counsel. Bob Moses didn't speak to Rauh either, or 
answer his letter, for fifteen years." 

^ "Niggers, Alligators": Paul Johnson, in Merle Miller, Lyndon: An Oral Biograpliy (New York: 
Ballantine, .1981), p. 478. 

^ Belfrage, Freedom Summer, p. 251. 

^ "We were thinking": Sellers, River of No Return, pp. 208-9. 

"an alerting process": Ella Baker, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 419. 



^ "with all of this hope": Fannie Lou Hamer, in Romaine, "'We Come,'" p. 252. 

^ small farmers: Ed King, in Romaine, "'We Come,'" pp. 200-201. 

^ They took with them: Sellers, River of No Return, p. 108. 

® "When we went": Fannie Lou Hamer, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 253. 

^ "I was carried": Fannie Lou Hamer, in Brooks, Walls Come Tumbling Down, p. 248; Sitkoff, 
Struggle, p. 181. 

^° "Are you going to throw": Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., in Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 180. 

" Johnson was more worried: Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 182. 

^^ Reuther had phoned Rauh: Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985. 

^^ According to Rauh: Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., in Romaine, '"We Come,'" pp. 335-36. 

^"^ A New York delegate: Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985. 

^^ the FBI had bugged: Testimony of Cartha DeLoach in "Intelligence Activities," vol. 6, 
Hearings before the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to 
Intelligence Activities, U.S. Senate (1975), pp. 174-80, 495-510; Allen J. Matusow, The 
Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York: Harper and Row, 
1984), p. 141; David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: Morrow, 1986), pp. 347-8. 

^^ At Johnson's behest: Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise 
of Power (New York: New American Library, 1966), pp. 476-78. 

^^ Bayard Rustin: David L. Lewis, King: A Biography, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois 
Press, 1978), p. 253. 

^^ "no-win policy": Rustin, "From Protest to Politics," in Down the Line, p. 117. 

^^ "that the peace of the world": Ed King, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 304. 

^° Roy Wilkins: Fannie Lou Hamer, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 253. 

^^ "All that we had been hearing": Ibid., pp. 253-54. 

^^ Ella Baker argued: Telephone interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 24, 1987. 

^^ "what kind of moral victory": Fannie Lou Hamer, in Romaine, " "We Come,' " pp. 270-71. 

^"^ "what Heywood Broun": James A. Wechsler, Reflections of an Angry Middle-Aged Editor 
(New York: Random-House, I960), p. 14. 

^^ Rauh insists: Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985. 

^^ according to Ed King: Romaine, "'We Come,'" pp. 307-9, 311. 

^^ Bob Moses, furious: Ed King, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 309. 

^® "the SNCC people had gone mad": Ibid., p. 311. 

^^ "If the television account": Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6. 1985. 

•^° had let themselves hope: Arthur I. Waskow, "Notes on the Democratic National 
Convention, Atlantic City, August 1964," mimeographed paper, pp. 25-26 (Waskow 
collection. State Historical Society of Wisconsin). 


^^ another TV interview: Sinown in Pan 5 of Henry Hampton's documentary Eyes on the 

^^ King himself was convinced: Ed King, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 311. 

^^ why should Rauh: Mendy Samstein, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 298. 

•^"^ Several SNCC staff: James Forman, The Making of Blacl< Revolutionaries (New York: 
Macmillan, 1972), pp. 390-91. 

•^^ "disappointed": Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985. 

•^^ "This proves that": Stokely Carmichael, in Brooks, Walls Cone Tumbling Down, p. 249. 

•^^ seized Mississippi's vacant seats: Milton Viorst, Fire in the Streets (New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1979), p. 265. 

^* "wasn't a bad deal": Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985. 

•^^ Martin Luther King rose: Lewis, King, p. 253. 

'^° As a Negro leader: Ed King, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 317; Garrow, Bearing the Cross, 
pp. 349-50. 

"^^ Speeches: Meier and Rudwick, CORE, p. 281; Sitkoff, Struggle, p. 184; Waskow, "Notes," 
pp. 29-32. Curiously, Farmer fails even to mention Atlantic City or the MFDP in his otherwise 
forthcoming autobiography. Lay Bare the Heart. 

'^^ James Forman: Forman, Making, p. 393. 

"^^ At one point: Interview, Gar Alperovitz, March 2, 1985. 

'^'^ meeting closed to SNCC: Forman, Making, p. 395. 

'^^ standing awkwardly: Viorst, Fire in the Street, pp. 266-67. 

"^^ Mississippi terror: Lawrence Guyot, in Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 96. 

"^^ "When we had": Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985. 

'^^ reporters mistook: Interview, Jack Weinberg, by Mark Kitchell (1985), for the film 
Berkeley in the Sixties. 

'^^ "the major moral": Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power (New York: 
Vintage, 1967), p. 96. 

^° "The national Democratic party's: Sellers, River of No Return, p. 111. 

^^ "The meaning of Atlantic City": Staughton Lynd, "Coalition Politics or Nonviolent 
Revolution?" Liberation, June-July 1965, p. 19. 

^^ shadow government: "Moses of Mississippi Raises Some Universal Questions," Pacific 
Scene 5 (February 1965), p. 4, in Carson, In Struggle, p. 126; Lynd, "Coalition Politics," p. 

^^ Walter Reuther didn't talk: Interview, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., March 6, 1985. 


The Revolutionary Pastorale 

Atlantic City and the Gulf of Tonkin together, in the fateful month of August 1964, drew a 
sharp line through the New Left's Sixties. Before, liberalism posed a dilemma. After, it was 
an obstacle. Now that the movement had resolved to shake loose of the liberal managers, 
what followed? 

The movement's expressive side, for one thing. A politics, too— eventually, the politics of 
going it alone, or looking for allies in revolution. But also the perfecting and proliferating of 
identities: culture as politics: the idea of "liberation"; the movement as a culture, a way of 
life apart. Cultural transformations already at work in the Fifties picked up speed. 
Subsurface tendencies showed themselves, shaping the rest of the decade: campus reform; 
black power; seeds of counterculture; the women's movement; the withering away of 
nonviolence. The North continued to follow the South. 

SNCC had been a culture as well as a politics from the time Bob Moses settled into 
Mississippi. The urban sitters-in of I960 wore uniforms of respectability: jackets and ties, 
white blouses and skirts. It was their part to look civilized, after all, as unreconstructed 
racists poured bottles of ketchup down their backs. Then, in 1961 and 1962, the SNCC 
organizers who fanned out into the Black Belt were powerfully affected by the most 
impoverished and disenfranchised Negroes: what began as strategy became identity. SNCC 
organizers, mostly city-bred, picked up the back-country look of Georgia and Mississippi: 
denim jackets, blue work shirts, bib overalls.^ One SNCC poster showed a sharecropper 
sitting in front of his shack, a torn hat shading his face: "One Man, One Vote."^ SNCC's 
clothes were physical markers of solidarity. The standard SNCC wage was ten dollars a 
week, a practical and ideological fact— it insulated SNCC from the pressures of big-money 
donors— as well as a spiritual one.^ 

"What happens with students in our movement," Bob Moses told Robert Penn Warren, "is 
that they are identifying with these people ... who come off the land— they're 
unsophisticated, and they simply voice, time and time again, the simple truths you can't 
ignore because they speak from their own lives." Other Negro leaders, Moses said, were "for 
the kind of meeting where you get well-dressed, cleaned-up Negroes. They don't want the 
other people. They're embarrassed. Those people don't speak English well. They grope for 
words." These ill-educated back-country men and women were the first in their counties in 
generations to dare register. To make the attempt, they had to brave the beatings and 
bombings of nightriders. To qualify for the state's deliberately tortuous version of literacy, 
under a Jim Crow law of 1890, they had to interpret whichever of the Mississippi 
Constitution's 285 sections the registrar chose."* The souls who dared try register to vote 
under these conditions could not pronounce the word register. They said "reddish."^ 


Years later, Mario Savio, who worked in IMississippi during tine glorious and terrifying 
Freedom Summer of 1964, said that the simple word reddish summed up the moral force of 
SNCC. The boldness of unlettered heroes was part of the spirit that summer volunteers like 
Savio and Jack Weinberg brought back to the Berkeley campus that fall— along with a 
respect for the power of civil disobedience, a fierce moralism, a lived love for racial equality, 
a distaste for bureaucratic highhandedness and euphemism, a taste for relentless talk at 
intense mass meetings on the way toward consensus. There were already five years of 
student protest to build on at Berkeley, but the usual organizers did not expect much to 
flare up that fall. A demographer might have noticed that 1964 was the year the first cohort 
of the baby boom was reaching college in force (freshman enrollments were up 37 percent 
that fall), but still, no one expected students to rise up en masse. Mississippi was the 
ignition. When University of California administrators knuckled under to local right-wing 
politicians and refused to permit the recruitment of civil rights demonstrators or the raising 
of movement money on campus, Savio, Weinberg, and others recognized a paternalism 
familiar from Mississippi and Atlantic City On October 1, 1964, Jack Weinberg sat down at 
his "unauthorized" recruitment table in Sproul Plaza, violating campus rules, and was 
arrested; the police put him in the back of their car; other students sat down and blocked it 
for thirty-two hours; Savio among others spoke from its roof; and the Free Speech 
Movement— a movement of students claiming for themselves something of the innocence 
that went with the word reddish— \Nas born.^ 

The romance of intellectuals for the poor and uneducated is not new, of course. Consider 
the various ways of anthropology, Gauguin, Cubism, anticolonialism, and Malraux (and Jack 
Kerouac, as we saw). The whole of modernity is streaked with a passion for the premodern. 
The political form is especially potent: Ever since Rousseau and the Enlightenment, from the 
French Revolution through the Russian Narodniks who tried to organize peasants in the 
1870s, from Tolstoy to James Agee, from Thoreau to Gandhi, a strain of radical intellectuals 
has insisted not only that simple people, especially peasants, are entitled to justice but that 
they are unspoiled repositories of wisdom, insulated from the corruptions of modern urban 
commercial life; that despite the injuries meted out to them, or perhaps because of those 
injuries, they remember something about living which the prosperous have forgotten. The 
ideals of equality and fraternity meet in the presence of the noble savage. A pastorale 
becomes the folk belief of populist revolutionaries; Marx's scorn for "the idiocy of rural life" 
is alien to them.^ Displaced, ill-at-ease, they seek precedents for their own fused group. 
Inspired by the solidarity of the resisting oppressed, they convince themselves that 
simplicity is the cultural soil from which a new society, purged of marketeering 
impersonality and trivial excess, grows. In the extreme form of the revolutionary romance, 
this simplicity fuses with what looks like absolute commitment: the peasants, pushed to the 
wall, have nothing to lose; not only their revolt but their ordinary lives become exemplary. 


What existentialist radicals of the New Left cherished was variously what they saw as the 
stoicism, wholeness, community, and expressiveness of the poor farmer, which stood as 
alternatives to suburban blandness middle-class impersonality, and folding-spindling-and- 
mutilating universities. Jane Stembridge, a onetime theology student from Virginia, one of 
the early SNCC staff" members, a poet, and a consistent opponent of strategic thinking and 
tight organization in SNCC, knew that "poverty negates the strength of being poor."^ But in 
1965, in an internal SNCC memo, she wrote that in contrast to revolutionaries, who in their 
adherence to the "party line" are "afraid to be free," rural Negroes had "a closeness with the 
earth ... a closeness with each other in the sense of community developed out of 
dependence ... the strength of being poor."^ Howard Zinn's influential book on SNCC made 
much of the group's "renunciation, without the pretense of martyrdom, of the fraud and 
glitter of a distorted prosperity. It is also a recapturing from some time and place long 
forgotten of an emotional approach to life, aiming, beyond politics and economics, simply to 
remove the barriers that prevent human beings from making contact with one another."^" In 
a sympathetic review of Zinn, Tom Hayden wrote from SDS's Newark Community Union 
Project that SNCC's "strength comes from the humanism of rural people who are immune to 
the ravages of competitive society." Hayden added: "The honesty, insight and leadership of 
rural Negroes demonstrate to the students that their upbringing has been based on a 
framework of lies."^^ The alternative to the false promises of coalition was "the construction 
of alternative institutions— freedom schools, cooperatives, the FDP— which carry at least the 
seeds of a new consciousness." The movement's hope was to preserve its worthy alienation 
while deploying it against the pyramids of power, not squandering it in withdrawal as the 
beats did. 

So it was that the community organizers of SDS's Economic Research and Action Project 
(ERAP), inspired by SNCC (via the Carmichael-Hayden conversation of August 1963), 
transposed the pastorale into an urban key by digging in among black and white ghetto- 
dwellers of the North in the summer of 1964. At the same time three hundred northern 
students were flocking to Mississippi, SDS recruited a hundred more to move into the slums 
of Newark, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and half a dozen other cities, looking to stir up 
an interracial movement of the poor. Most went back to school at the end of the summer, 
but others came and stayed a year or two, which passes for permanency at age twenty-two. 
There were strategic notions: We believed automation was about to send the economy into 
crisis, dumping millions out of jobs, stoking up poor white backlash against blacks unless we 
created a class-based alternative on the Left. Some of the ERAP strategists, unlike Hayden, 
thought the poor could build a fire under the liberal-labor establishment, keeping it honest. 
But the expressive motives were at least equally strong: middle-class guilt, and the search 
for a congenial Other. 

And so most of SDS's practiced cadres vacated the campuses in 1964 and 1965. ("Ghetto- 
jumping," ERAP's antagonists in SDS called it, preferring electoral politics and campus 
work.) In a world where gouging landlords and local tycoons were tied to Democratic 
machines professing liberal values, the organizers diverged even further from the tainted 
liberal-labor establishment. Not for the first time, the tendency was led by Tom Hayden. 
Paul Potter wrote privately, early in 1965: "Tom seems to be moving closer and closer to a 
position that the liberal establishment (if not all liberals) constitutes the most dangerous 
enemy we confront. Without debating that point of view, it should simply be pointed out 
that it stands in direct and polar opposition to the public attitude of SDS in the past. We 
have tried to be fraternal critics of liberal institutions and organizations... . We have avoided 
direct and personal confrontations in favor of arguments over issues, and we have searched 
for common ground and not the numerous bases of division. "^^ No longer. 


In the ERAP projects, expenses were kept down and the organizing groups fused by 
installing the organizers in staff apartments, proto-communes inspired by SNCC's "freedom 
houses." Spending money was scarce, but the projects were devoted to peanut-butter-and- 
jelly lunches and macaroni dinners by mystique as well as necessity. In a few cases, the 
obligatory giant-size peanut butter jar was supplemented with a steak or two swiped from 
the local supermarket. Some organizers wanted to go further, forcing themselves to eat on 
the welfare budget— twenty-five cents per person per meal, or less. I felt the force of the 
spirit of pastorale myself, or its literary equivalent. Having learned in the SDS summer 
project in Chicago during the summer of 1964 that I hated knocking on doors, trying to 
entice people into an organization difficult to explain, I came back in 1965 with my then- 
wife to work on a book about the Appalachian migrants whom our ERAP friends were trying 
to organize. In the spirit of James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Oscar Lewis's 
The Children of Sanchez, the idea was to become instruments of the voiceless voices, those 
who if not exalted by suffering, exactly, still spoke with dignity. ^^ Their stories would show, 
at least, that poverty was not the fault of the poor. 

^ back-country look: Sellers, River of No Return, pp. 53-54. 

^ One SNCC poster: This poster (photo by Danny Lyon) was singled out for comment by 
Tom Hayden, "SNCC: The Qualities of Protest," Studies on the Left 5 (Winter 1965), p. 118. 

•^ SNCC wage: Carson, In Struggle, p. 71. 

"* Jim Crow law of 1890: Romaine, '"We Come,'" p. 28. 

^ "reddish": Warren, Who Speaks, p. 98. 

^ Free Speech Movement: Max Heirich, The Beginning: Berkeley 1964 (New York: Columbia 
University Press, 1970). 

^ "idiocy of rural life": Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party 
(New York: International, 1948), p. 13. 

* "poverty negates": Jane Stembridge, "The Dark," in Todd Gitlin, ed., Campfires of the 
Resistance; Poetry from trte Movement (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), p. 27. 

^ "closeness with the earth": Jane Stembridge, "Some Notes on Education," in Carson, In 
Struggle, p. 155. 

^° "renunciation, without the pretense": Zinn, SNCC, p. 237. 

" Hayden wrote: Tom Hayden, "SNCC: The Qualities of Protest," pp. 123, 119, 120. 

^^ "Tom seems to be": Paul Potter to Clark Kissinger, Tom Hayden, Carl Wittman, Rennie 
Davis, Dick Flacks, Todd Gitlin, Paul Booth, January 22, 1965 (Flacks file). 

^^ instruments of the voiceless voices: The outcome was Todd Gitlin and Nanci Hollander, 
Uptown: Poor Whites in Chicago (New York: Harper and Row, 1970). 


Floaters And Hardliners 

As SNCC and SDS loosed the restraints of respectability, new dilemmas surfaced. The habit 
of participatory democracy was hard to stop. If all authority was suspect, why not the 
authority of the organizers themselves? The revolutionary pastorale easily slipped into an 
anguish. By what right did outsiders, these self-appointed partisans of the future, disturb 
the fragile equilibrium of the oppressed, exposing them to the reprisals of landlords, welfare 
bureaus, and police? When outsiders knocked on doors and tried to mobilize people around 
immediate issues, keeping their radical agendas in abeyance, was this not manipulation? 
When the outsiders had degrees from fancy colleges, and knew how to talk a good show, 
were they another breed of colonizers not so different, perhaps, from the highfalutin 
liberals, the social workers, the war-on-poverty operatives from Washington? 

A tormented few quit organizing altogether. But a larger number of SNCC and ERAP 
organizers (and some who migrated from one organization to the other) stayed, and 
became a loosely knit anarchist caucus, a counterculture in the making. In the post-Atlantic 
City mood, they resonated to Jane Sternbridge's poems, one of which denounced "all 
executive committees," and to Bob Dylan's line, "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking 
meters," from "Subterranean Homesick Blues." SNCC began to divide into self-proclaimed 
"hardliners," mostly black, and the group, half-black, half-white, they derided as "floaters," 
"philosophers," "existentialists," "anarchists," and "freedom-high niggers."^ As early as 
1965, the floaters were describing their mission in the prophetic words, "Do your thing." 
They sang, "Do what the spirit say do," an early SNCC motto, with particular relish. Against 
them, James Forman, for one, complained about "an ailment known as local-people-itis^— 
the romanticization of poor Mississippians. This carried with it the idea that local people 
could do no wrong; that no one, especially somebody from outside the community, should 
initiate any kind of action or assume any form of leadership." In the only somewhat 
jaundiced eyes of hardliner Cleveland Sellers, who wanted a more disciplined and 
centralized organization, "They were 'high' on Freedom, against all forms of organization 
and regimentation... . No one ever knew for certain what they were going to do or where 
they might turn up next. They were great talkers, who generally ended up dominating those 
meetings and conferences they saw fit to attend... . They loved to bring meetings to a 
screeching halt with open-ended, theoretical questions. In the midst of a crucial strategy 
session on the problems of community leaders in rural areas, one of them might get the 
floor and begin to hold forth on the true meaning of the word leader... . I considered them 
impractical. SNCC was not a debating society. It was an action organization."^ You did not 
decide on a demonstration simply because of the "freedom-high argument" that it made you 
feel good. 

Sellers has described one confrontation, in October 1964, when battle fatigue from Freedom 
Summer and disillusionment from Atlantic City brought simmering factionalism to a boil. 
Sellers and two other hardliners got wind of a floater caucus meeting one night. They 
rushed over. A hush fell when the three of them walked in. Casey Hayden was saying: "Do 
you remember when you were a child? Do you remember how people oppressed you, not 
with chains or anything, but because they were always trying to get you to do things you 
didn't really want to do?" 


"What has that got to do with SNCC and the work before us?" Sellers yelled at her. "We are 
trying to move people from one place to another. Sometimes we have to coerce them. 
Sometimes we have to shame them. They're frequently afraid and reluctant to do the things 
we want, but that's the way it is. We are not oppressors. We aren't doing anything we 
should be ashamed of. We have to establish priorities. Getting people to deal with their 
fears and insecurities is a SNCC priority. There's nothing wrong with that! We don't need to 
get hung up on a lot of philosophy. What we ought to be discussing is strategy and 
programs. Where are your programs?""* 

SNCC's floaters and their SDS equivalents weren't politicians in any conventional sense— all 
the less so after Atlantic City discredited the big-league politics of coalition. They only felt 
comfortable working on a scale they could control: among themselves. It wasn't in their 
characters to relish the movement's own back-room decisions and power plays, the 
compromises and deferred dreams of practical politics. Few such characters were active in 
the New Left in the first place; as the baby-boom generation reached the campuses, 
antiauthority flourished all the more, and the movement attracted people who liked to float. 

At the same time, SNCC was tilting toward an angry nationalism. The Selma-to-Montgomery 
March led by Martin Luther King in March 1965 was the high-water mark of integrationism. 
Its televised dignity, juxtaposed to racist violence, spurred Johnson to declare "We Shall 
Overcome," and push through an overdue Voting Rights Act. But SNCC militants felt 
betrayed by King's decision to draw back from confrontation. Moreover, the reforms once 
and for all deprived SNCC of its old strategic rationales. After public accommodations came 
voter registration; after voter registration came— what? Blacks had rioted in Harlem in the 
summer of 1964; in August 1965 came an enormous and bloody uprising in Watts; perhaps 
the anger released in such "rebellions"— as SNCC called them— pointed the way to SNCC's 
future in the cities. Racial antagonism, stoked by Freedom Summer and Atlantic City, burst 
through to the surface. 

Late in the fall of 1965, a newly elected hardliner SNCC Executive Committee told the 
floaters on the staff that they had to start complying with rules (specifically, to report on 
their activities) or be thrown off the payroll forthwith. Arriving at a staff meeting, the 
floaters burned their meal tickets and refused to register, provoking a near-brawl.^ But they 
were outnumbered and outorganized. SNCC's center of gravity was tilting toward black 
nationalism. In 1965 and 1966, SNCC's white staff— almost all of them floaters— were forced 
out. Expelled from their political home, burned out, most left the South. Doubly uprooted, 
they looked up from the pits of their pain for transcendence, and turned to marijuana^— 
already widespread in Mississippi in 1964— and to LSD, the just-spreading drug that 
promised to unleash the spirit even more than a mass meeting in the Delta swelling with 
"We Shall Overcome." 


As the old SNCC exploded, it threw off centrifugal energies like a dying star. Some of the 
ex-SNCC outcasts turned to antiwar work. (One of them, a Stanford student named Dennis 
Sweeney, in 1967 was one of the founders of The Resistance, the major national network of 
draft resisters.) Some, like Casey Hayden, tried to organize poor whites. Some migrated to 
low-rent districts which were on their way to becoming the hippie enclaves of New York 
City, Vermont, and San Francisco. (One floater extraordinaire, Abbie Hoffman, opened a 
store on Manhattan's Lower East Side to sell Mississippi co-op-made goods. )^ Veterans of 
freedom houses, these pioneers of the counterculture were partial to the collective life. 
Some devoted themselves to cultivating the authentic. At an SDS meeting in 1965, just 
after the first big march against the Vietnam war, an ex-SNCC floater, a black man, tried to 
talk us student radicals into the virtues of "soul sessions," something akin to what would 
later be called encounter groups. Organizing be damned; how dare we presume to organize 
anyone else before we got straight about who we were and how we felt? In their revolt 
against hierarchies, the floaters also floated something extraordinary: a women's 
movement. Late in 1964, Mary King and Casey Hayden of SNCC wrote an anonymous memo 
protesting the fact that women were automatically consigned to menial office tasks, were 
not heeded at meetings, were undervalued, and undervalued themselves, like blacks up 
against whites. ^Stokely Carmichael's Stokely Carmichael's famous response line, "The 
position of women in SNCC is prone," was actually spoken in jest, but although Carmichael 
himself sympathized with the protest, plenty of SNCC men did not.' A year later, Hayden 
and King extended their argument into a modest manifesto they mailed around the 
movement, where it was greeted by tremors of recognition. From the beginning, hadn't 
SNCC's idea, and SDS's, been that a subject people had the right, the duty, to master their 
own fate? 

Black nationalism, hippiness, feminism: the old movement unities were certainly breaking 

^ "hardliners": Sellers, River of No Return, p. 131. 

^ "local-people-itis": Forman, Making, p. 422. 

^ "They were 'high'": Sellers, River of No Return, pp. 131-32. 

"* Sellers has described: Ibid., pp. 134-35. 

^ burned their meal tickets: Ibid., pp. 142-46. 

^ marijuana: David Harris, Dreams Die Hard (New York: St. Marrin's/Marek, 1982), p. 67; 
Carson, In Struggle, p. 149. 

^ Abbie Hoffman: Abbie Hoffman, Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture (New York: Perigee, 
1980), pp. 79, 81-82. 

* King and Hayden: Mary King, Freedom Song (New York: Morrow, 1987), pp 443-55, 
456-68, 567-74. 

' Stokely Carmichael's: Ibid., pp. 451-52. 


"The Man Without The Uniform" 

With Freedom Summer and Atlantic City, tine burdens of SNCC ieadersinip staggered Bob 
IMoses. He inad worked in IMississippi— and IMississippi had worked in him— for more than 
three years. At a time when battle fatigue was normal for organizers who had been there 
three months, his nerves and spirit were worn ragged.^ "The man without the uniform," 
Jane Stembridge wrote, "is wearing only scars. "^ In 1961, Moses had cast his lot with voter 
registration against direct action, as if protection would be forthcoming from Kennedy's 
Washington. The wager was one thing but the murder of Herbert Lee was another, bitter 
and irreversible. He felt responsible.^ Three years later, he threw his whole weight and 
prestige behind the white heat/shield strategy. During the Freedom Summer training 
session in Oxford, Ohio, when Chancy, Schwerner, and Goodman were discovered missing, 
he spoke of J. R. R. Tolkien's Frodo, corrupted by the Ring of Power he carried."^ Now Moses 
felt frayed by what felt to him like liberal-labor betrayal. What more illusions could he 
imagine or endure? 

From the beginning, Moses had wanted to be a catalyst, not a formal leader. Even under the 
best of circumstances, the dilemmas of leadership were severe. Now, with no route visible 
out of the strategic wilderness, he retreated. Late in 1964, he resigned as head of the 
unified Mississippi movement and moved to Alabama, telling a reporter he had become "too 
strong, too central, so that people who did not need to, began to lean on me, to use me as 
a crutch."^ Early in 1965, Moses stood up at a SNCC staff retreat to announce that he would 
no longer be known as Robert Moses. He would be Robert Parris, after his middle name, 
which was his mother's maiden name.^ He spoke of his mother, who had once broken down 
under family strain and the strain of being poor. He passed around a hunk of cheese and an 
empty bottle of wine, as if to say that in this ceremony of his abdication, no one should 
expect miracles. 

The tenuous ground he tried to occupy had turned to quicksand. Soon this exemplar of 
integration resigned from SNCC altogether. Robert Parris's last political acts in the United 
States were speeches and marches against the war boiling up in Vietnam. His self-abasing 
style, tailored to dusty Delta towns, was already beginning to be drowned out by apostles 
more in tune with the stridencies of ghetto streets: a line of succession that proceeded from 
Malcolm X to Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown and eventually to Huey Newton and 
Eldridge Cleaver. Under pressure from the draft, Robert Parris Moses banished himself to 
Tanzania, to teach, and stayed away from America for more than a decade. 

^ battle fatigue was normal: Belfrage, Freedom Summer, pp. 203-5. 

^ "The man without the uniform": Jane Stembridge, "The Man without the Uniform," in 
Gitlin, ed.. Camp fires of the Resistance, p. 26. 

•^ He felt responsible: Jack Newfield, A Prophetic Minority (New York: New American Library, 
1966), p. 81. 

"* Tolkien's Frodo: Staughron Lynd, personal communication, 1985. 

^ "too strong, too central": Bob Moses, in Lerone Bennett, Jr., "SNCC: Rebels with a Cause," 
Ebony, July 1965, p. 148, as quoted in Carson, p. 156. 

^ his mother: Sellers, River of No Return, pp. 138-39; Nancy Stoller, "The Ins and Outs of 
SNCC," Studies in Brandeis Sociology, Brandeis University, n.d., p. 18, quoting her own 
1965 letter. 


7. "Name The System" 

Old Styles In Acrimony 

Despite the post-Port Huron imbroglio of 1962, it was only reluctantly, fitfully, that SDS 
dissolved the bands that bound it to the social-democratic Left and the liberal-labor 
coalition. In 1963, we weren't so cocky or desperate, yet, as to think we could go it alone. 
There were well-disposed social democrats who also hoped, as Irving Howe later put it, 
"there might be a joining of two generations of the Left."^ So it was that in October 1963 a 
group from SDS met with a group of Dissent editors, Irving Howe and my old teacher 
Michael Walzer (Howe's former student) among them. We would talk to anyone who would 
talk to us about the modest undertaking of changing the world. 

Perhaps this stab at amity was ill-starred by its setting: the elegant Upper East Side 
Manhattan home of Joseph Buttinger, an editor and patron of Dissent vj\r\o had been one of 
the leaders of the Austrian Socialist Party and its underground resistance against Hitler. 
Later he became one of the first American scholars of Vietnam. Although I wasn't aware of 
it at the time, Buttinger was married to the psychoanalyst Muriel Gardiner, the courageous 
heiress who had rescued many Jews in prewar Vienna, and whom many now regard as the 
model for Lillian Hellman's famous "Julia." Most of the first floor of their house was taken up 
by a library; there was a private elevator. I was dazzled. 

The gemutlich Buttinger and the taut, indignant Howe played grandfather and father, the 
elders scouting the upstarts; Tom Hayden, Lee Webb, Paul Potter, Steve Max, and I played 
the rambunctious youth. I have carried for years a memory of this occasion's sting. Howe 
has written about it himself, twice in fact: in a New Republic article and again in his memoir. 
We have both felt the pain of what failed that day. More than twenty years after the fact, 
we talked over that afternoon, and I have also discussed it with Hayden. Generations 
crystallize around their memories. So do political rifts. 

Howe has set the scene nicely: "At this meeting two generations sat facing each other, 
fumbling to reach across the spaces of time. We were scarred, they untouched. We bore 
marks of 'corrosion and distrust,"^ they looked forward to clusterings of fraternity. We had 
grown skeptical of Marxism, they were still unchained to system. We had pulled ourselves 
out of an immigrant working class, an experience not likely to induce romantic views about 
the poor; they, children of warm liberals and cooled radicals, were hoping to find a way into 
the lives and wisdom of the oppressed." Is it the fate of the middle-aged to read the present 
in the flickering half-light of their youth? When Howe's group heard SDS contrast 
participatory democracy to representative democracy, it was "as if somehow the two were 
contraries."^ The Dissenters winced: "It sounded a little too much like the fecklessness of 
our youth, when Stalinists and even a few Socialists used to put down 'mere' bourgeois 
democracy." Even worse, Howe thought, "was the readiness of SDS people to excuse the 
lack of freedom in Cuba, a country that seemed to them the home of a better or more 
glamorous kind of communism. They, in turn, made quite clear their distaste for our 'rigid 
anticommunism' and our lack of responsiveness to the new moods of the young." 


Confrontations tear deepest when they are one-to-one. Hayden made the biggest 
impression on Howe, and their collision made the lasting impression on them, and on me. 
Of the SDS group, Howe wrote, Hayden was "the most rigid, perhaps even fanatical.""* 
Fanatical? Does this signify anything aside from passion you disagree with? In truth Hayden 
was a dynamo. The two of us shared a house that year; I was awed by his nonstop 
schedule, and asked him once how he kept it up; he replied, apparently without irony, "I 
have an ideology." But Howe was reacting to more than Tom's intense commitment: 
"Hayden did not suffer from illusions about the democratic character of North Vietnam or 
Cuba; he spoke with the clenched authority of a party leader... ."^ In Howe's recollection, 
Cuba was the flash point. As he saw it, Hayden defended Castro's Cuba, whereupon Dissent 
editor Emanuel Geltman lost his temper— "rose to Tom's bait, in a way," as Howe put it— 
and launched into his own diatribe. All these years later, Howe could admit that he and 
Geltman, while correct about Cuba, were "heavyhanded and didactic and no doubt 
patronizing, or at least so it must have seemed to you people... . We came on as know-it- 
alls." Hayden's "hard" quality, his "tremendous self-assurance," his casting himself as "a 
hero of history," "unnerved us a little bit."^ 

In the memory I have carried with me for years— equally selective, no doubt— the "clenched 
authority" was shared but the edge went to Howe. The debate about Cuba left no imprint on 
me. What has stuck in my mind is another moment: Hayden expounding the pure Gandhian 
theory of nonviolence— the idea that loving your enemy while suffering his violence not only 
changes society but redeems the enemy himself. You had to love everyone, Hayden 
insisted, in the voice of his southern experience. To me, this was Hayden at his most 
eloquent, the New Left at its most stirring. The question wasn't academic; Hayden was 
wrestling with this question because around that time his draft board was interrogating him 
about the absoluteness of his nonviolence.^ What I remember most vividly is Howe, the 
hard-nailed disbeliever, sneering: "Could you love a fascist, Tom?" Backed into a corner, 
Tom insisted he could indeed. Howe, aghast, declared that he couldn't love Hitler.^ 

Two decades after the fact, I ask Hayden about this as he takes a break from a state 
assembly committee hearing in the Capitol building in Sacramento. "I don't know if I could 
then love a fascist or now love a fascist," he says, "but if Irving Howe insisted that I couldn't 
then, I would probably say I could. It's that kind of unhealthy dynamic that I remember the 

When I exchange fragments of memory with Irving Howe, we are two grizzled veterans. I 
am the same age, forty-two, that Howe was in 1963. We agree about more today than we 
did when I was twenty. I know what it is like, now, to be attacked from my left— how galling 
when the attacker is twenty years younger, how hard to forge the link between innocence 
and experience. Howe says he was exasperated by Hayden's illogic: "How can you be in 
favor of Castro, who speaks of exporting revolution to South America, and then also be in 
favor of nonviolence?"^" To be attacked by the same person from both right and left at the 
same time got on Howe's nerves. In fact, there is a way to make sense of the contradiction: 
Above all, Hayden was inspired by, and loyal to, the handfuls of students who had 
succeeded in making history, whether through sitting-in at southern lunch counters or 
storming the Moncada barracks in Cuba. 


To the SDS contingent, Howe and his colleagues stood, precisely, for dissent: naysaying 
from the side of the parade. However noble, they were reconciled to their failure to change 
the course of history; they were indeed, as Howe said, "antiheroes of history,"" while we 
yearned to see history go our way for once in the twentieth century.* Moreover, by dint of 
being intellectuals, they were, in our eyes, inactivists. They had politics; we were politics. 
We wanted to know what people were prepared to do; what they thought was secondary. 
Like it or not, these vigorous anti-Communists were cousins of the state socialist Monthly 
Review editor Leo Huberman, who had offended Dick Flacks on Martha's Vineyard after Port 
Huron. They shared a position: in the armchair. All of them were waiting until that ever- 
receding moment when pure politics would shimmer into existence. They were the Utopians, 
we the realists. We were out organizing the masses, or at least we aspired to be. It didn't 
matter to us that Howe went to some of our meetings, spoke at some rallies, or (least of all, 
perhaps) published a journal which had embraced the early student movement. 

About to flee the university in search of a revolutionary populace, we scorned "mere" 
intellectuals unless— like C. Wright Mills and Paul Goodman— they broke unequivocally with 
the tone and texture of established America. Mills with his outlaw Texan-in-New-York 
persona— his motorcycle, his handwrought house in the country, his bad odor in the 
academy, not to mention his assault on "the power elite"— possessed the unreconciled allure 
that Hayden, in the master's thesis on Mills he was writing at that moment, referred to in 
his title: "Radical Nomad." Goodman was the insider's outsider, the peripatetic freelance 
philosopher, enormously learned yet economically and socially (and sexually, though we 
didn't know it yet) a man of the margins. We loved them for their bad manners.^ Compared 
to them, or their reputations, men like Irving Howe and Joseph Buttinger, for all their talk of 
socialism, seemed to us altogether sett/ed. 

For which the lovely Buttinger house, of course, fairly screamed as symbol. As we left, 
Buttinger took Tom and me aside and gave us copies of a thick book he had written about 
the collapse of the underground socialist opposition to Hitler's Anschluss. The title was In 
the Twilight of Socialism. I was touched by his grandfatherly gesture, and both moved and 
uneasy about the title. Tom and I exchanged knowing glances. We sensed Buttinger's 
kindness and tolerance, respected his heroism. But through no fault of his own, history had 
condemned him to be a loser. Not for us elegies to the twilight; for us the celebration of 
sunrises! (Which didn't stop us from going to Buttinger's family foundation, the next spring, 
for a few thousand dollars to help us set up an FRAP training institute— a request he 
graciously granted.) By the time I learned that Buttinger had been one of the earliest 
American supporters of Ngo Dinh Diem (although he had turned actively against him in 
1962), I was ready to say.^^ Aha, that's where social democracy can take you. 

In 1967, with just this distinction in mind, the Berkeley activist Steve Weissman set out to edit a volume of 
original New Left essays to be entitled, self-consciously. Beyond Dissent. Typically, half the authors never wrote 
their essays, and the book never saw print. Touche Department: Howe edited a 1970 collection called Beyond the 
New Left. 

^ Actually, I was considerably more enamored of Goodman, and his bad-boy reputation, before meeting the man. 
He came to Ann Arbor in the winter of 1965, fresh from Berkeley, and gave a speech heralding the Free Speech 
Movement as the vanguard proletariat-in-training of the knowledge industry. He was blunt about knocking SDS as 
old-fashioned left-wing dreamers, hung up on the poor. A version of his speech ended up in— where else?— D/ssent. 


For years I have thought that the Dissent people forfeited an opportunity that day. Howe 
too concludes that they were guilty of a "tactical incapacity," that they "should have played 
it more calmly, more quietly... . We should have expressed the difference with Tom, but we 
shouldn't have made it into an immediate ideological confrontation."" Hayden thinks the 
dynamic was "profoundly generational" and that "a little love and respect would have gone 
a long way"^"^; Howe doubts that much collaboration was in the cards anyway. ^^ But I am 
struck most by how much they agree about the importance of style. Howe could be "a very 
brutal debater,"^^ says his onetime student Martin Peretz; "nastier than the others," says 
Hayden. But the harsh, moralistic style was characteristic of Howe's entire political crowd. 
Hayden attributes it to "the New York intellectual culture, and a style of debate that I still 
don't think is helpful in arriving at the truth or arriving at consensus. "^^ "People like 
Harrington and myself," Howe says, by the early Sixties "really had a social democratic 
politics, but we didn't yet have a social democratic style. "^* These seasoned scrappers, 
trained in the Talmudic disputation characteristic of Trotskyism, could not sit there sagely 
while we, young and inexperienced pishers, apparently ducked the lessons of Stalinism. 

Howe says today that another reason for the head-on collision, "paradoxically— and that we 
couldn't have understood at that time— was that we were so eager to make a connection. 
The thing was so important to us that we overloaded, so to say."^' They had high hopes for 
us because we might— who knows?— embody the possibility of the mass movement they 
believed in. We represented their tendrils into the future. At the same time, I would add, all 
but Buttinger were young enough to feel that we might be a threat. Their democratic Left 
was small and weak, but for ten years it had been theirs. They wanted us to need them, 
and resented the fact that, as the student movement grew, we didn't. For the New Left, 
there was no worse limbo to which an enemy could be consigned than the outer reaches of 
"irrelevance." What could be more unkind, to a onetime Trotskyist, than to threaten to 
sweep him into— Trotsky's malevolent phrase— "the dustbin of history"? 

After the meeting, both sides tried to put on diplomatic faces. Paul Potter and I wrote a 
report on SDS which Dissent published. Later I submitted to Howe an exchange Arthur 
Waskow and I had written about American expansionism. Howe rejected it, I believe for its 
epistolary style, but he seemed genuinely interested in getting me to write about the 
Vietnam war. Either because Dissent was plunged into the outer darkness of "irrelevance," 
or because I was daunted at the prospect of spelling out precisely what I thought— or 
because the first reason enabled me to mask the second— I passed up the invitation. 
Hayden and Howe tangled on other occasions, each rising to the other's poisoned bait. At a 
New York debate, Hayden said that you couldn't call the countries of Eastern Europe 
totalitarian. "What would you call them, Tom?" asked Howe with great scorn and to great 
effect, filling Hayden with rage and contempt.^" 

In the summer 1965 issue of D/ssent came Howe's blast against what he called "New Styles 
in 'Leftism, '"^^ an essay that was crucial in drawing the social democrats' line against the 
New Left. "New Styles" spotted an "extreme, sometimes unwarranted, hostility toward 
liberalism"; an impatience with the old debates about Stalinism; "a vicarious indulgence in 
violence"; unconsidered enmity toward a vaguely defined "Establishment"; "an unreflective 
belief in 'the decline of the West'"; "a crude, unqualified anti-Americanism"; and "an 
increasing identification with that sector of the "third world' in which 'radical' nationalism 
and Communist authoritarianism merge." 


"New Styles" had the keen and partial truth of caricature. It pointed to the importance of 
style, posture, gesture, dress, in defining the New Left revolt, although underplaying the 
importance of style in defining all manner of modern attitudes— even, holy of holies, those 
of intellectual life. As sociology it gave possibly the first notice in print that the "inordinate 
difficulty in communication" between the two generations was a consequence of the missing 
radical generation, "the generation that would now be in its late thirties, the generation that 
did not show up."^^ I ask myself, therefore, why I was so annoyed by Howe's piece at the 
time. Partly, I think, because it was smug, dismissive, and badgering. ("You cannot stand 
the deceits of official anti-Communism? Then respond with a rejection equally blatant... . 
You are weary of Sidney Hook's messages in The New York Times Magazine? Then respond 
as if talk about Communist totalitarianism were simply irrelevant or a bogey to frighten 
infants. ")^'^ Today, Howe recognizes that there were two quite different political styles at 
work against social democracy— one of individual moral rectitude along the lines of Thoreau, 
the other "Leninist-Maoist." "One of the reasons that we had difficulty coding the whole 
phenomenon of the Sixties," he says, "is that at first we couldn't see the interweaving of 
these two ... and secondly, even if we could see it, we didn't know how to cope with this."^"^ 
At the time, though, Howe couldn't say anything generous about the New Left without 
quickly canceling it, even in the same sentence. Another part of the trouble was that, up 
through the end of 1966, Howe held onto the idea that the U.S. had legitimate purposes in 
Vietnam^^; even as he grew disabused of the war, he was still, as Jeremy Larner points out, 
reluctant to offend his old Shachtmanite comrades Bayard Rustin and Tom Kahn, Dissent's 
right wing, who were holding on to a hard-line position.^* (Michael Walzer^^ and David 
McReynolds^*, meanwhile, argued straightforwardly for immediate withdrawal in Dissent's 
pages.) But partly, I think, I recoiled from "New Styles" because I feared that too much of 
Howe's description was accurate, or might turn out to be, something I couldn't bear to 
recognize, let alone act on. For if Howe were right, what followed, so it seemed to me then, 
was high-level politicking for a few and the armchair for the many. After Atlantic City and 
the Gulf of Tonkin, the liberal-labor coalition, that presumed alternative to the 
"revolutionary" style, seemed no alternative at all. 

Hindsight tantalizes. Might it have been useful to keep up relations with Dissent? Might a 
continuing tie have encouraged those of us in the New Left who tried to keep the movement 
from running off its rails? Pleasant it would have been to try, instructive to have the benefit 
of their thinking, but such a tie would probably not have altered the movement's larger 
direction. As the Vietnam war spilled its venom into American life, whatever bridge might 
have been built between Dissent and the New Left would probably have collapsed. It would 
have taken a surplus of wisdom all around to keep the two sides from ending up tilting 
against each other, like jilted lovers huddled in bitterness, launching curses into the void. 

^ "there might be a joining": Irving Howe, A l^argin of Hope (New York: Harcourt Brace 
Jovanovich, 1983), p. 292. 

^ "At this meeting": Ibid., pp. 291-92. 

^ "as if somehow": Ibid., p. 293. 

"^ "the most rigid": Ibid., pp. 292-93. 

^ "Hayden did not suffer": Irving Howe, "The Fleeting New Left: Historical Memory, Political 
Vision," Ttie New Republic, November 9, 1974, p. 26. 

^ "heavyhanded and didactic": Interview, Irving Howe, April 15, 1985. 

^ Hayden was wrestling: Interview, Tom Hayden, August 20, 1985. 


Howe, aghast: Interview, Irving Howe, April 15, 1985. 

^ "I don't know": Interview, Tom Hayden, August 20, 1985. 

^° "How can you be": Interview, Irving Howe, April 15, 1985. 

" "antiheroes of history": Ibid. 

^^ Ngo Dinh Diem: Robert Scheer, How the United States Got Involved in Vietnam (Santa 
Barbara: Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1965), pp. 23-25; Joseph 
Buttinger, Vietnam: Tlie Unforgettable Tragedy (New York: Horizon, 1977), pp. 35, 39-52. 

^^ "tactical incapacity": Interview, Irving Howe, April 15, 1985. 

^"^ "profoundly generational": Interview, Tom Hayden, August 20, 1985. 

^^ Howe doubts: Interview, Irving Howe, April 15, 1985. 

^^ "a very brutal debater": Interview, Martin Peretz, March 5, 1985. 

" "the New York intellectual": Interview, Tom Hayden, August 20, 1985. 

^* "People like Harrington": Interview, Irving Howe, April 15, 1985. 

^^ "paradoxically": Ibid. 

^° Hayden walked out: Interview, Jeremy Larner, March 12, 1987. 

^^ "New Styles": Irving Howe, "New Styles in 'Leftism,'" reprinted in Howe, ed.. Beyond the 
New Left {Ne\N York: McCall, 1970), pp. 19-32. 

^^ "inordinate difficulty": Howe, "New Styles," p. 23. 

" "You cannot stand": Ibid., p. 22. 

^"^ "One of the reasons": Interview, Irving Howe, April 15, 1985. 

^^ Howe held onto: Irving Howe, "Vietnam: The Fruits of Blindness," Dissent, Fall 1963, p. 
314; "Vietnam: The Costs and Lessons of Defeat," Dissent, Spring 1965, pp. 151-55; 
"Vietnam: The Politics of Disaster," Dissent, November-December 1966, pp. 660-75. 

^^ Jeremy Larner: Interview, Jeremy Larner, March 12, 1987. 

^^ Michael Walzer: Michael Walzer, "Comment," Dissent, Spring 1965, pp. 155-56. 

^* David McReynolds: David McReynolds, contribution to Vietnam symposium. Dissent, 
Autumn 1965, pp. 401-3. 

"A Frenzied One-Sided Anti-American Show" 

... we must tread delicately on the Vietnam question because lots of SDS 
people are far from being for withdrawal... . 
—Paul Booth to Paul Potter, July 1, 1964^ 

The demand [of the March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam] will be 
non-specific since there is dispute within SDS as to whether we should be for 
withdrawal, negotiation, U.N. presence or whatever; but the important thing 
is to state the overriding demand: end the war. 
—Todd Gitlin to Martin Peretz, January 19, 1965^ 


On the eve of this weekend's peace march on Washington, several leaders of 
the peace movement have taken clear note of attempts to convert the event 
into a pro-Communist production... . Americans may reasonably differ with 
some aspects of the President's course. But, especially in the aftermath of Mr. 
Johnson's call for "unconditional" negotiations, there is no justification for 
transforming the march into a frenzied one-sided anti-American show. 
—Editorial, New York Post, April 17, 1965 

... those people who insist now that Vietnam can be neutralized are for the 
most part looking for a sugar coating co cover the bitter pill. We must accept 
the consequences that calling for an end of the war in Vietnam is in fact 
allowing for the likelihood that a Vietnam without war will be a self-styled 
Communist Vietnam ... . I must say to you that I would rather see Vietnam 
Communist than see it under continuous subjugation of the ruin that 
American domination has brought... . [I]n a strange way the people of 
Vietnam and the people on this demonstration are united in much more than 
a common concern that the war be ended. In both countries there are people 
struggling to build a movement that has the power to change their condition. 
The system that frustrates these movements is the same. All our lives, our 
destinies, our very hopes to live, depend on our ability to overcome that 

—Paul Potter to the March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam, April 
17, 1965^ 

[The Post editorial was] a very clever smear ... . It makes me sick to read 
it ... . The article portends much of what is to come. Some people are clearly 
going to link us to the far left sectarian groups and rub our faces in the same 
mud that is slung at them... . 

I guess I like being on that fence that makes SDS both risky and relevant... . 
—Paul Potter to his mother and brother. May 3, 1965"* 

SDS compressed a lifetime of politics into a handful of years— or rather, it was compressed 
into us. We were force-fed with history. The pace of change was dizzying— still feels that 
way, even at two decades' remove. Some of the vertigo can be traced in these five 
quotations. Ten months separate the last from the first. But they belong to two different 
political universes. 

The short explanation is: Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policy, which ratcheted decisively 
upward during those months. First came the Gulf of Tonkin incidents of August 2-3, 1964. 
Johnson had long since readied a congressional resolution authorizing him to "take all 
necessary measures" to protect American forces and "prevent further aggression." After he 
assumed office, American ships helped the South Vietnamese mount clandestine raids 
against North Vietnam in the waters just off their coast. As an American destroyer nosed 
offshore, probing Hanoi's defenses. North Vietnamese gunboats opened fire. The Americans 
destroyed them. Then a nervous commander imagined a second attack. Johnson, guarding 
his right flank against Goldwater, found the moment auspicious for reprisals; he launched 
sixty-four sorties against North Vietnamese bases and an oil depot, and brought his 
resolution before Congress. Liberal doubters were assured that the President had no 
intention of getting drawn into a land war; the Tonkin Gulf resolution passed the Senate 
with two dissenting votes (Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska), the 
House of Representatives unanimously.^ 


The Gulf of Tonkin and Atlantic City in the same month: the combination fatefully turned the 
movement. Johnson's twin triumphs crushed whatever possibility remained of a radical- 
liberal-labor coalition. Committed to the welfare-warfare beneficence of his hero FDR, 
Johnson hadn't the faintest idea that his war also passed a death sentence on his Great 
Society and killed his chance for a second full term. Cold War liberalism was forced to 
choose between the two terms of its definition, and chose war. The puny radicals Johnson 
thought he was sweeping aside came back to devastate him. The movement's whole 
constellation of attitudes for the rest of the decade was shaped by its experience of liberal 

With the Tonkin Gulf resolution in hand, Johnson was ready for Step 2: the steady bombing 
of the North beginning on February 7, 1965, on the heels of a Vietcong attack on the 
American barracks at Pleiku. Years later, national security adviser McGeorge Bundy said that 
Pleikus were "like streetcars," they came along every so often; the administration had been 
waiting for the right moment to expand the war.^ U.S. Marine units in full combat regalia, 
no longer isolated "advisers," started to pour into South Vietnam, followed by tens of 
thousands of other combat troops. Again, there was barely a squeak of liberal dissent. 

A brief version of SDS's antiwar trajectory from then on would read: We were outraged; 
isolated; suspicious of those who damned us or counseled caution. The defaults and 
assaults of liberals and social democrats blew us leftward; so did SDS's increasingly 
plausible commitment to go it alone; so did the growing social base for alienation on the 
American campus. Were the results inevitable? That is a question for metaphysics, not this 
more modest inquiry. But many forces certainly lined up in the same direction. 

In late December 1964, when SDS decided to organize a national demonstration against the 
war, I didn't think of it as our major foreign policy project for the spring. My pet project, 
actually, was a sit-in at the Chase Manhattan Bank, protesting its loans to South Africa, 
which helped shore up the regime. The issue was both morally compelling and intellectually 
interesting, raising the question of American business's role in foreign policy. CHASE 
MANHATTAN, PARTNER IN APARTHEID, read our buttons, which the bank went to court to 
enjoin us from wearing. But Vietnam also made its moral claims. And so Paul Booth and I, 
the coordinators of SDS's Peace Research and Education Project, invited I. F. Stone to give 
a speech about Vietnam at the December National Council meeting. We talked about 
circulating a declaration that would say: "I will not be drafted until the U.S. gets out of 

Revulsion against the growing war was our main motive, but we were also looking over our 
left shoulders. As the campus mood tilted leftward, competition was setting in. First came 
the W. E. B. DuBois Clubs, dominated by the children of Communist and fellow traveler 
activists, especially strong on the West Coast. ^ We mocked them as Da Boys, called them 
"doctrinaire," and suspected their tricky tactics, including hiding their sponsorship of 
meetings to which SDS was invited. At one point national secretary C. Clark Kissinger, a 
veteran of ideological wars at the University of Wisconsin (and no relation to the future 
secretary of state), lamented that "the Worker keeps running stories on demonstrations 
cosponsored by DuBois and SDS. Some of them we never even heard of until we read about 
it in the Worker. Unfortunately, the LID also read about it in the Worker." Kissinger also 
sagely wrote that "Da Boys ... only exists where there is a concentration of kids from old left 
homes (e.g. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Antioch, NYC, etc.). In contrast to this SDS is able to 
crop up most anywheres (e.g. North Texas State, Western Kentucky State, Tufts, etc.) ... 
[But] second generation radicals ... are able to organize circles about our bushy tailed kids 
brought in by reading the PHS [Port Huron Statement]." 


If DuBois wasn't enough, there also materialized in the spring of 1964 the May 2nd 
Movement (M2M), named after a New York City antiwar demonstration. It wasn't entirely 
clear yet, except to the cognoscenti, that a majority of M2M's leadership came from the 
Progressive Labor Movement (PLM, or PL for short), a 1962 Maoist breakaway from the 
Communist Party. In the fall of 1964, M2M circulated a "We Won't Go" petition.* Many in 
SDS agreed with it. If SDS hoped to be the campuses' main act on the Left, plainly we 
would have to confront the war head-on, Clark Kissinger, the first SDS bureaucrat to bring a 
relish for order and infighting to the job, thought SDS could get a jump on the competition 
by being the first to call for a national rally in Washington. If we could attract two or three 
thousand students, we could not only send Johnson a message, we could "build SDS." 

After much debate, SDS shelved the "We Won't Go" statement, along with a proposal to 
send medical supplies to the National Liberation Front (NLF). SDS's electoral-politics faction, 
which had successfully pushed for a "Part of the Way with LBJ" slogan the previous 
September, worried that SDS would be tarred with a pro-Communist brush. Many thought a 
march too tame; to the ERAP contingent, it was too national; still, the idea of a 
demonstration in Washington on April 17, during spring vacation, passed. 

What, then, would we demonstrate for? Booth and I submitted a resolution.® We finessed 
our doubts about Communist-led movements by saying that the war was a "civil war," the 
NLF "an indigenous rebel movement." As in The Port Huron Statement, we rooted for 
"neutralist forces" and "democratic revolutionaries," worried that "the American military 
presence and the continuing backing for right-wing regimes" had undercut them, and 
thought the NLF, "despite its Communist leadership, may still be the major vehicle of these 
[democratic] revolutionaries." Then we tried to force together the different positions about 
what to do, in a kind of arithmetic sum of two incompatible positions: 

We believe there is only one alternative to escalation— American withdrawal 
from South Vietnam. We believe there is only one chance for democracy and 
development in South Vietnam— a negotiated settlement of the war. 
Accordingly, we call on President Johnson to withdraw American troops from 
their undeclared war, and to use American influence to expedite a negotiated 
neutralist settlement in that beleaguered country. 

The discussion bobbed and weaved. Finally somebody moved to maximize turnout while 
minimizing division with a baby-simple statement, which passed overwhelmingly: "SDS 
advocates that the U.S. get out of Vietnam for the following reasons: (a) the war hurts the 
Vietnamese people; (b) the war hurts the American people; (c) SDS is concerned about the 
Vietnamese and American people." Anyone who endorsed the three-point position was 
welcome to march. 

An earlier version, calling upon students not to fight in Vietnam, had been published in the National Guardian and 
the New Yorl< Herald Tribune by an ad hoc committee headed by PLer Philip Abbott Luce. Perhaps its greatest effect 
was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which set out to interrogate the signatories. In one case the FBI called 
the parents of a Haverford student— how they got the parents' number remains a mystery— and terrified them, 
which was no doubt one of their purposes. The student agreed to meet the FBI men on a street corner, wearing a 
yellow carnation— he too had read spy novels. They interrogated him for an hour or more about his motives and 
those of other signers, scaring him so badly he never signed another petition or joined an organization despite his 
radical sympathies, [a Haverford student: Interview with a signer who wishes to remain anonymous. 180 SDS 
shelved: Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), pp. 170-72.] Luce soon changed sides and 
blasted the New Left before the House Un-American Activities Committee. 


In keeping with our eclectic strategy, we cinose an official list of slogans, a hodgepodge 
including "War on Poverty— Not on People," "Ballots Not Bombs in Vietnam," "Self- 
Determination for Vietnam," "Freedom Now in Vietnam," and both "Withdraw Now" and 
"Negotiate." Marchers would be permitted to bring signs identifying their cities or campuses, 
but not their organizations. Peace groups like the Student Peace Union and Women Strike 
for Peace were permitted to "co-sponsor," the DuBois Club and M2M only to "endorse." I. F. 
Stone and Senator Ernest Gruening quickly agreed to speak at the rally. The official call, 
hoping to appeal to a broad opposition, maintained that the war was "fundamentally a civil 
war," as well as "losing," "self-defeating," "dangerous," "never declared by Congress," and 
"hideously immoral." Campus interest ballooned after Johnson began the regular bombing of 
the North in February. SDS drew (for the first and last time) a long, respectful piece in The 
New York Times, headlined: "The New Student Left: Movement Represents Serious Activists 
in Drive for Changes."^ 

Then once again the gooseflesh rose in the LID. The specter of "United Frontism," laid to 
troubled rest after the post-Port Huron inquisition, again rustled its robes. In the eyes of the 
LID'S Tom Kahn, for example, SDS, having slipped away from the liberal-labor alliance, was 
sliding irrevocably into the gravitational pull of the hereditary Marxist-Leninist Left. ^° To 
Kahn the situation presented a precise analogue to the orthodox Cold War view of an 
either/or world. A student movement could never really go it alone; it was bound to become 
the satellite of one side or the other. SDS, having escaped the correct orbit, was on the 
verge of choosing the wrong. Communist, side. Could the Left ever establish itself in 
American life unless it appealed to the majority on its Right? Did not the principal danger lie 
on the Right, as Johnson in his own way believed, always conceiving that his war moves 
were ways of deflecting pressure for still more destructive moves? 

Port Huron hadn't been terribly public, and the LID's parental inquisition had been kept in 
the family. This time SDS was out in the world; so was the response. On Friday, April 16, 
the day before the march, a group of peace movement notables" released to the press a 
statement affirming "interest and sympathy" toward the march, hoping for self- 
determination and free dissent in Vietnam, lauding Lyndon Johnson for presumed moves in 
this direction— and then the kicker: "In the effort to register such concerns with our 
government and people, we welcome the cooperation of all those groups and individuals 
who, like ourselves, believe in the need for an independent peace movement, not 
committed to any form of totalitarianism nor drawing inspiration or direction from the 
foreign policy of any government." Among the signatories^^ were not only leaders of the 
Student Peace Union (an endorser of the March) and the pacifist Fellowship of 
Reconciliation, but, surprisingly, SDS friends A. J. Muste and H. Stuart Hughes, along with 
Bayard Rustin and SDS's erstwhile defenders in the LID, Norman Thomas and Harold 

The best to be said for this eleventh-hour warning was that the elders were desperate to 
build a maximum bloc against the war. But it could not have been simple prudence which 
led the statement's galvanizer. Turn Toward Peace leader Robert Gilmore, to tell I. F. Stone 
the outlandish tale that the students intended to urinate on the White House. ^^ The open 
letter mixed political platform-building with pure panic, and once again sorely damaged the 
standing of SDS's critics. As Martin Peretz, the heiress Anne Farnsworth (from whom Peretz 
had raised twenty-five thousand dollars to help finance the March), and another donor, Mrs. 
Gardner Cox, wrote in an open letter: 

Thomas and Hughes subsequently apologized to SOS, and when pressure was put on Senator Gruening to 
withdraw from the Washington Monument rally, Taylor persuaded him to stay. 


It is of interest ... tinat tine very men wino arc so concerned witin totalitarian 
influences arc themselves prepared to censure any activity which falls within 
what they consider their purview and with which they might disagree. Will not 
the libertarians allow a plurality of opinion in the peace ranks, and even a 
plurality of style? Particularly as the commitment of SDS to liberty and 
democracy is above reproach. Or will any independence on the part of the 
young be used as an excuse to shower opprobrium on what they do?^"^ 

To make matters worse, on the very day of the March the liberal New York Post ran a 
hysterical editorial quoting the open letter and referring to "attempts to convert the event 
into a pro-Communist production" and "a frenzied one-sided anti-American show." To 
continue the saga of liberal anti-Communism, the Post's editorial page was edited by the 
"angry middle-aged editor" James A. Wechsler. 

Wechsler's frenzied exercise may not have kept a soul away from Washington. Twenty or 
twenty-five thousand people, mostly students, streamed around the White House on April 
17. It was the largest peace march in American history. But if the statement and the 
editorial failed to dampen what we celebrated as a glorious day of public opposition, many 
of us were sickened by what Paul Potter called liberal anti-Communism's "very clever 
smear." When the celebration had faded, and SDS found itself flooded with recruits and 
uncertain what to do next. Potter wrote with foreboding that the Post editorial "portends 
much of what is to come."^^ 

^ "we must tread": Paul Booth to Paul Potter, July 1, 1964 (SDS papers. Series 2A, no. 30). 

^ "The demand will be": Todd Gitlin to Martin Peretz, January 19, 1965 (SDS papers. Series 
2A, no. 59). 

•^ "those people who insist": Paul Potter speech, April 17, 1965 (SDS papers. Series 2A, no. 

"* "Paul Potter to Eve and Norm Potter, May 3, 1965 (Potter papers). 

^ Tonkin Gulf: Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 
1984), pp. 360-76. 

^ "like streetcars": McGeorge Bundy, in Karnow, Vietnam, p. 411. 

^ W. E. B. DuBois Clubs: C. Clark Kissinger to Todd Gitlin, July 23, 1964 (author's files); 
Kissinger to Paul Booth, October 23, 1964; Kissinger to Bob Ross, November 20, 1964 (SDS 
papers. Series 2A, nos. 23, 29). 

^ Booth and I submitted ... "SDS advocates": SDS papers. Series 12A, no. 12. 

^ "The New Student Left": For a discussion of this piece, see Todd Gitlin, Tlie Wliole World Is 
Watcliing: Mass Media in tlie Mal<ing and Unmalaing of the New Left (Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1980), pp. 35-39. 

^° Tom Kahn: Interview, Tom Kahn, March 5, 1985. 

" peace movement notables: SDS papers. Series 2A, no. 48. 

^^ Among the signatories: Sale, SDS, p. 178; SDS Work List mailing. May 27, 1965 (author's 

^^ outlandish tale: Open letter from Martin Peretz, Anne Parnsworth, Mrs. Gardner Cox, SDS 
Work List Mailing, May 1, 1965 (SDS papers. Series 2A, no. 48). 

^"^ "It is of interest": Peretz, Parnsworth, Cox letter. May 1, 1965. 



"portends much": Paul Potter letter. May 3, 1965 (Potter papers). 

"If They Were Serious" 

The radical-liberal rift also burst into the open at the Washington Monument. "Love Me, I'm 
a Liberal," sang Phil Ochs, the folksinger, with a sneer.* I. F. Stone didn't like it. He'd been a 
liberal himself all these years, he told the crowd. Senator Gruening, who had voted against 
the Tonkin Gulf resolution, was a liberal. "I've seen snot-nosed Marxist-Leninists come and 
go," said Stone. ^ 

I vote for the Democratic Party 
They want the U.N. to be strong. 
I attend all the Pete Seeger concerts. 
He sure gets me singing those songs. 
And I'll send all the money you ask for 
But don't ask me to come on along. 

So love me, love me, love me— 
I'm a liberal. 

Bob Moses, now Parris, also spoke, saying that the prosecutors of the war were the same 
people who refused to protect civil rights in the South. But the New Left position emerged 
most sharply in the closing speech by SDS president Paul Potter. Potter insisted with 
characteristic honesty that "we must accept the consequences that calling for an end of the 
war in Vietnam is in fact allowing for the likelihood that a Vietnam without war will be a self- 
styled Communist Vietnam ... . I must say to you that I would rather see Vietnam 
Communist than see it under continuous subjugation or the ruin that American domination 
has brought." Potter's reason was fundamentally different from Old Left pro-Communism. 
Potter caught the spirit of New Left thinking, as the picket-sign slogans did not. For one 
thing, he was not allergic to a tragic vision; unlike Old Left purists and liberal sugar-coaters. 
Potter acknowledged that the choice in Vietnam was agonizing, that the result was not likely 
to be the best of all possible worlds, and that moral choices had consequences which were 
not necessarily intended. What was striking was the manner in which he identified with the 
Vietnamese revolutionaries nevertheless. 

Potter's speech was pure New Left, at once electrifying and vague in its invocation of "the 
system" of which the war was but a symptom, a system of generalized brutality and 
domination that had not yet been given its proper name. In a soaring, impassioned 
summation of what SDS stood for, he declared: 

We must name that system. We must name it, describe it, analyze it, 
understand it and change it. For it is only when that system is changed and 
brought under control that there can be any hope for stopping the forces that 
create a war in Vietnam today or a murder in the South tomorrow or all the 
incalculable, innumerable more subtle atrocities that are worked on people all 
over— all the time. 

Typical verse: 


"If the war has its roots deep in the institutions of American society," Potter asked, "how do 
you stop it? ..." His answer was SDS's all-purpose answer to many vexing questions 
(including the classic "What do you people want?"): change your life, "build a movement." 
In theory, the movement itself was going to be that means in which the luminous end was 
inherent. It would be the solvent of all its internal contradictions. The collective will would 
be self-fulfilling. "Twenty thousand people," Potter said, "the people here, if they were 
serious, if they were willing to break out of their isolation and to accept the consequences of 
a decision to end the war and commit themselves to building a movement wherever they 
are and in whatever way they effectively can, would be, I'm convinced, enough." In the 
presence of Potter's spectral eloquence, several thousand people, for that moment if none 
other, probably believed it. The sheer fact of being there, in that hushed communion, 
seemed so remarkable to begin with; who knew what else might turn out to be possible? 

Potter's peroration provided the key to the New Left's evolving identification with 
Vietnamese guerrillas halfway around the world: 

... in a strange way the people of Vietnam and the people on this 
demonstration are united in much more than a common concern that the war 
be ended. In both countries there are people struggling to build a movement 
that has the power to change their condition. The system that frustrates 
these movements is the same. All our lives, our destinies, our very hopes to 
live, depend on our ability to overcome that system. 

The crowd was stunned; then stood and applauded long and hard. Many of us felt that we 
ourselves— searchers and strugglers— had truly been named. 

Over the subsequent years, SDS did variously "name the system." "Corporate liberalism," 
Potter's successor Carl Oglesby called it in another memorable (and even more influential) 
speech that fall, distinguishing bad, "corporate" liberals from good, "humanist" liberals. 
Soon "imperialism" and "capitalism" became the terms of choice, stressing the war's linkage 
to America's wealth and global reach. Years later. Potter recounted that a friend of his had 

how far we had come from the name-the-system speech in 1965, since we 
were now unembarrassed to say what we all knew then— that the system is 
capitalism ... . I didn't feel free to say that capitalism was not the name I was 
looking for in 1965... . I did not fail to call the system capitalism because I 
was a coward or an opportunist. I refused to call it capitalism because 
capitalism was for me and my generation an inadequate description of the 
evils of America— a hollow, dead word tied to the thirties ... . I talked about 
the system not because I was afraid of the term capitalism but because I 
wanted ambiguity, because I sensed there was something new afoot in the 
world that we were part of that made the rejection of the old terminology part 
of the new hope for radical change in America.^ 


What Potter thought "afoot in the world," the "name for ourselves" he was groping for, was 
self-definition and self-determination against all forces of management from on high.* 
Vietnam was a screen onto which he projected the American New Left's political culture, its 
struggle for self-definition against managerial power. "The people of Vietnam" slid 
imperceptibly into "people struggling to build a movement," which in turn, over the next few 
years, could blur into the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front apparatus. 
Without knowing much about the particulars of Vietnam, Potter assumed— as many of us 
did— that the Vietnamese revolutionaries were a more victimized and better organized 
version of ourselves. If, like myself, we knew that Ho Chi Minh had massacred the 
Vietnamese Trotskyists, we buried the information in parentheses. If there was a single 
system of domination in the world— management— then it neatened the world to assume 
that the forms of resistance were equivalent. Then the opposition in America was that much 
less alone in the world. One oppression, one revolution: unthought through, in the heat of 
the war, this oversimplified logic swept through the New Left. 

The pressure toward this sort of identification was fierce. Much of it came from the new 
generation that swooped into SDS in the wake of the March on Washington. (Generation is 
an extreme term, but from close up, campus populations undergo major shifts every two or 
three years.) Several years younger than the Old Guard, they tended to come from the 
Midwest and Southwest, they were not Jewish, they were more likely to come from working- 
class families, and they were less intellectual, less articulate (Carl Oglesby being a crucial 
exception on this score). They kidded about standing for "prairie power. "^ Many hailed from 
frontier country, had long, shaggy, swooping mustaches, wore blue work shirts and cowboy 
boots, and smoked marijuana at a time when the Old Guard was either faintly curious or 
frightened of it. Children of Goldwater voters, students at schools that hadn't progressed to 
paternalism, sometimes veterans of the armed forces, they were instinctive anarchists, 
principled and practiced antiauthoritarians. Many had broken with their parents— had been 
driven to, once they got labeled "nigger-lovers" or "liberals" or "Communists" simply for 
supporting civil rights. Once outlawed from family and town for what northerners would 
have considered mild positions, they encountered no obstacles to moving further leftward. 
They didn't have to be talked out of relying on the liberal-labor coalition; they distrusted its 
eastern-style moderation from the start. If the U.S. government told them it was good to 
fight Communism in Southeast Asia, that seemed a good prima facie reason to sympathize 
with the Vietcong, for didn't the authorities call them Communists too? 

Moreover, the hinterland generation was not— in Carl Oglesby's words— "intellectually 
forewarned" of an American propensity toward empire-building. They were brought up to 
believe in American institutions; unlike the grandchildren of immigrants, they had not 
started out disposed to be alienated. When they discovered alienation, they looked to 
Thomas Pynchon more than Karl Marx, John Lennon more than V. I. Lenin. They had 
inherited neither Stalinism nor a bitter anti-Stalinism as what Oglesby years later called "a 
personal burden." They had started out innocent, credulous about America: and thus the 
news of American violence in Vietnam came as an utter shock, a radical challenge to their 
fundamental morality. Therefore, the newer SDSers later would prove quicker than the 
founders to gravitate toward violence of their own— "their trauma had no prelude," as 
Oglesby says."* 

' Potter was typically Old Guard SDS in his insistence that the movement be collective and individualized at once. 
In a May 3 letter, he recommended a Lift magazine picture of the March because "people don't seem to be reacting 
as a mass, ... expressions and reactions are individuated." ["people don't seem": Paul Potter to Eve and Norm 
Potter, May 3, 1965 (Potter papers).] 


The Old Guard, preoccupied with ERAP and the we-happy-few mystique of the early years of 
face-to-face organizing, failed to take these "prairie people" into our old-boy networks^— 
and perhaps could not have succeeded, given the cultural differences. Whereupon a 
generational chasm opened up within the student movement, reproducing the one that was 
opening up in the wider society. 

But the prairie people were by no means wholly responsible for the identification Potter 
evoked at the Washington Monument. In some measure we were all feeling it. For me the 
turning point came not because of Vietnam but because of Santo Domingo— or rather, the 
televised version of it. A week after the March on Washington, generals allied with the 
previously elected and ousted social-democratic president of the Dominican Republic, Juan 
Bosch, launched an assault on the incumbent regime. President Johnson claimed first that 
American lives were in danger, then that Communists were going to turn the country into 
"another Cuba." Within days, twenty-two thousand American Marines and airborne troops 
were occupying the capital city of Santo Domingo. I remember turning on NBC News, 
watching young Dominicans riding a ramshackle tank scrawled PUEBLO as it wheeled 
around the city, making a last stand against junta troops protected by the Americans. 
Choked by fellow-feeling I wrote a clumsy poem, which ended: "O Santo Domingo! I would 
gladly walk your streets/with your young lovers, bearing only a rifle and a sad song."^ The 
U.S. was throwing its armed might against us. I felt for the first time that I belonged to a 
"we" that had no choice but to fight against America's armed power. Four months earlier, I 
had signed my name to an SDS resolution that referred to the United States government as 
"we." From now on, whenever I spoke of my country and its government, the pronoun stuck 
in my throat. 

Another bellwether: For two years, since I had graduated from college and moved Left with 
SDS, my old friend Chris Hobson, much more knowledgeable about the Third World than I, 
had been tending my anti-Communist conscience. "Vietnam worries me," he wrote, for 
example, in February 1965. "I can't really get enthused about the Viet Cong— maybe I am 
too influenced by our propaganda. But even if we won I don't see much ahead for South 
Vietnam— no more than if they won, which is little enough."^ Right after April 17, he thought 
that our bad press (from Max Lerner in the New York Post and James Reston in The Times) 
was "partly our own fault for obscuring the real issues with a lot of liberal gobbledegook 
(Stone-Grueningite Sub-tendency) and having slogans like 'Freedom Now in Vietnam.'" But 
when I sent him my Santo Domingo poem, he wrote back that "somehow the simple fact, 
that they are us, never had occurred to me, though I was for them all the time ... ." Juan 
Bosch and his supporters were not, in fact, Marxist-Leninists like the Communists of 
Vietnam. But the more important thing was that the United States was acting like an 
empire, and that fraternity with revolutionaries abroad had become compelling. 

And therefore a curious nonevent at the National Teach-in on May 15 also struck me hard. 
A month before the March on Washington, a group of young University of Michigan 
instructors thought the time had come for radical antiwar action, and proposed a campus 
strike, to be coupled with off-campus classes about the war. Hearing of this. Republican 
state legislators screamed, the university administration fretted, and the faculty antiwar 
group swelled with more cautious souls, whereupon the radicals were talked into an 
apparently more moderate tactic, a free-for-all colloquium at night (thus not interfering with 
classes) in which local experts would teach about Vietnam: a "teach-in," the political 
philosopher Arnold Kaufman called it. Some three thousand students attended Ann Arbor's 
all-night teach-in; the atmosphere was electric, and copies sprang up on campuses 
everywhere— even in Europe and Japan. The State Department even agreed to send out 
speakers, most of whom got trounced. With its emphasis on educational process, its 
overcoming of barriers between faculty and students, the teach-in was characteristically 
New Left. 


Whereupon an all-day National Teach-in, in Washington, was organized two months later, 
to be piped by radio and television around the country, with Johnson defenders up against 
the cream of antiwar expertise. National security adviser McGeorge Bundy was to represent 
the administration. We looked forward to the comeuppance of the nations leading official 
intellectual. But at the last minute Bundy absented himself. Johnson had sent him on an 
errand— to Santo Domingo. To me, the most significant thing about the National Teach-in 
was the man who wasn't there. While we were arguing rights and wrongs, the men in 
power, heedless, were off settling the affairs of small, weak nations. Now I could close a 
letter to Hobson, only half in jest, "Crush j"*********m, with love."^ 

^ "I've seen": Interview, C. Z. Hobson, April 27, 1986. 

^ "how far we had come": Paul Potter, A Name for Ourselves (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), 
p. 101. 

^ "prairie power": Sale, SDS, pp. 204-8; Gitlin, Whole World, pp. 130-31. 

'^ "their trauma": Carl Oglesby, personal communication, October 30, 1986. 

^ old-boy networks: Robert J. Ross, "Primary Groups in Social Movements: A Memoir and 
Interpretation, "Journal of Voluntary Action Research 6 (July-October 1977), pp. 139-52; 
Gitlin, Whole World, pp. 131-33. 

^ "O Santo Domingo!": Todd Gitlin, "Watching NBC News," Liberation, June-July 1965, p. 28. 

^ "Vietnam worries me": C. Z. Hobson letters to Todd Gitlin, February 20, April 27, and n.d., 
1965 (author's file). 

^ "Crush i"*********m": Todd Gitlin to C. Z. Hobson, May 17, 1965 (author's file). 


Enter Progressive Labor, Laughing 

Two months after the March on Washington, Paul Potter was al ready uneasy with the position he 
had tal<en there. In a paper for the June SDS convention. Potter evol<ed the shade of 
George Washington. SDS up to this point had avoided "foreign entanglements." It had 
wanted to organize people inductively, step by step, according to "immediate grievances." 
But in four months, all seemed to have changed. New members were streaming into SDS on 
the premise that it was an antiwar organization, or ought to be. As a result. Potter wrote, 

the pressure has increased for us to begin to cake positions on foreign policy 
questions that are much more detailed and specific than we have ever wanted 
to undertake before. Increasingly, people who I speak to not only oppose the 
American intervention in Vietnam, but actively identify with the National 
Liberation Front and the Viet Cong ... although the complexities of making 
judgments about those forces on the basis of confused, incomplete and 
almost universally ideologically distorted information remains as difficult as 
ever. We tend to be suspicious of sources that depict the Viet Cong as 
depraved or some such and accepting of sources that support our growing 
inclination that they are popular, humane and even democratic. Perhaps, 
although I am not certain, we will come soon to a juncture where we have to 
decide whether we support the Viet Cong or some other revolutionary group 

Potter, a radical pragmatist in the grain of William James and John Dewey, wanted SDS to 
return to its original epistemological spirit— its insistence on working from the world at hand, 
refusing to accept secondhand versions: 

I am worried about the situation in which we begin to make critical and 
difficult judgments about groups that are thousands of miles away operating 
in environments and under conditions that we have never perceived or 
witnessed. I am also worried about a situation in which the involvement of 
people in SDS depends on their identification with movements outside of the 
country which they cannot participate in or develop through. 

SDS's business was domestic change. Potter concluded, and so we should leave foreign 
revolutions to foreign revolutionaries (and their American supporters like M2M), and stay 
out of Cold War disputes. 

The convention did default on Vietnam, though not principally for Potter's reasons. Held at a 
camp near the northern Michigan town of Kewadin, it was flooded by recruits who had 
joined SDS only weeks or months before. Prairie anticentralism ran high. Plenary sessions 
were chaired by people who had never chaired meetings before; votes went uncounted, 
credentials unchecked. The pressure against any national program was considerable; having 
just organized the largest antiwar demonstration in American history, SDS seriously 
contemplated abolishing its offices of president and vice president.^ Many of the Old Guard 
were preoccupied with ERAP and unable or unwilling to think seriously about campus 
activities; some, as in earlier days, were obsessed with personal dramas of separation and 
recoupling. Moreover, not even those who thought the war was SDS's key issue knew what 
to do about it. With liberals impotent or co-opted, and the country enthusiastic about 
Johnson's martial moves, we brooded. Perhaps all that could be done was to "build a 
movement" that would be able to stop "the seventh war from now." Staughton Lynd 
proposed "nonviolent revolution" as the alternative to the Bayard Rustin position, which he 
called "coalition with the Marines," but that felt to me a romantic gesture: leaping into the 


Kewadin was most noteworthy for two benchmarks on SDS's long march away from its 
origins. It was the first convention at which the cadres of a IMarxist-Leninist party showed 
up to participate and inspect. There may not have been more than a dozen members of 
Progressive Labor on the lawns and beaches of Camp Maplehurst, but to the Old Guard they 
were conspicuous— sometimes by the lameness of their anti-imperialist rhetoric, sometimes 
by the lameness of their efforts to tiptoe around it. Now that SDS was going places and 
moving leftward, PL sniffed out a recruiting ground. 

Kewadin's other achievement was to strike the "exclusion clauses" from the SDS 
constitution (and thus the membership card). Two amendments were circulated by Clark 
Kissinger. Since Port Huron, the preamble had said that SDS "put forth a radical, democratic 
program counterposed to authoritarian movements both of Communism and the domestic 
Right"; Kissinger proposed a change to " ... a radical, democratic program whose methods 
embody the democratic vision." Another clause had read: 

SDS is an organization of democrats. It is civil libertarian in its treatment of 
those with whom it disagrees, but clear in its opposition to any totalitarian 
principle as a basis for government or social organization. Advocates or 
apologists for such a principle are not eligible for membership. 

Kissinger moved that "totalitarian" be changed to "anti-democratic" and that the last 
sentence be struck altogether."* The exclusions were relics of a bygone era, he argued, and 
good riddance to them. In Washington, while accepting cosponsorship from other groups, 
SDS had reserved the right to dictate the March's policy and slogans. But by changing the 
membership clauses, SDS was going considerably further: it was welcoming one and all, 
including the members of a disciplined cadre organization, into the deliberations that would 
produce the policy in the first place. No caution would be allowed to keep the organization 
beholden to its anti-Communist elders. 

Faint opposition there was. When Kissinger first proposed the changes, a Princeton member 
named David Garson wrote a cogent argument against it: 

I think that this is very wrong in principle and in tactics. In principle because 
we do believe in democracy and moreover have some standards, however 
minimal, to judge whether a system is democratic. We do not share basic 
values with those who see democracy in Russia, China, or Cuba, all of which 
are clearly lacking in civil liberties for organized political opposition, which is 
essential for any standard of democracy. (This is not to say that we cannot 
critically defend countries like Cuba. I personally would rather live in Cuba 
than anywhere else in Latin America.) ... Tactically, however, the strategy is 
far worse. I think it will force not only a break with LID but with most of the 
left liberals with whom I at least want to work. The fact of the matter is that if 
we are to grow into a large movement we have to appeal to, recruit, and 
radicalize liberals. These liberals will be concerned with the issue of 
Communism... . I'm not against working with Communists if they want to 
support any of our programs, like the March, but I insist that we as an 
organization be critical of them. ^ 


Only a few, if anyone, paid attention. Atlantic City, and the peace leaders' attack on the 
April 17 March, had fatally undermined what would have been a tenuous position in the best 
of circumstances. With prairie power on the march, who cared what a lone Princetonian 
thought? The LID's Tom Kahn, a futile emissary, argued that the constitutional changes, on 
top of SDS's general drift to the Left, would fatally rupture the bond between the youth and 
the parent organization. If any clincher was needed, Kahn's point was it. The capacity of a 
disciplined cadre to take over or paralyze a mass organization had been amply 
demonstrated in the Left of the Thirties and Forties, but that thread of history was either 
lost— like most other knowledge of what had happened in ancient times, i.e., before I960— 
or glibly discounted as a useless relic, or worse, a recrudescence of bankrupt "anti- 
Communism" (the very term now becoming a curse word). The amendments passed 

It would have been in bad taste to note the irony: SDS stripped itself of its strongest line of 
defense at just the moment PL was moving in. But who could believe there was anything to 
fear? SDS now had several thousand members on paper and many more in spirit; PL 
numbered a few hundred, if that. Anyway, we were the New Left, vigorously 
antiauthoritarian, purely American, no suckers for a bunch of tight-assed Stalinists. Prairie 
power innocence merged with post-Port Huron cockiness to double our faith that 
rambunctious small-d democracy was bound to prevail; the Nietzschean mood was that, as 
incoming president Carl Oglesby later put it, "democracy is nothing if it is not dangerous."^ 
Meanwhile, a year earlier, PL had declared itself no longer a mere Movement but a Party. 
The Progressive Labor Movement had had a bohemian flair, but the Party, to "organize the 
working class," set about to get disciplined. "Bourgeois tendencies"— long hair, beards, 
marijuana, cohabitation without benefit of matrimony— had to be dispensed with. Eight 
months after Kewadin, PL dissolved the relatively unruly M2M, and its cadres promptly 
flocked into the happy hunting ground of SDS. "In principle," Steve Max wrote to me, "an 
agent for the FBI and an agent for PL are the same thing. Both have our welfare at heart 
and both are dispatched by the same manipulative mentality."* 

It was the symbolism of antiexclusion that mattered, of course; no one in SDS would ever 
have scrutinized anyone's wallet to see which cards he or she was carrying. But why should 
SDS have chosen this moment to throw open its doors? On top of all the motives and 
conditions operating since I960— the breakdown of the Stalinist monolith, the enthusiasm 
for Cuba, the disgust with McCarthyism and its replicas, the desire to start afresh, the 
absence of a buffer generation between ourselves and the generation of the Thirties, the 
generational bravado— there was now the promise of something new in the world: a genuine 
rollicking free-form movement of American youth. 

From the start, SDS had known in its bones that it was a tiny minority among students who 
were themselves a minority It followed that the student movement had to go in search of 
longer levers of change. Thus the successive strategic notions: Port Huron's idea of 
realigning the Democratic Party into a vehicle of the liberal-labor alliance; the short-lived 
vision of the university as a repository of socially responsible reason in an unreasoning land; 
FRAP and its hopes for an "interracial movement of the poor"; even PLs idea of a "worker- 
student alliance" that would send students to organize the industrial working class. For all 
the differences, such lines of thought were attempts to solve the same rock-bottom 
problem: the country was vast, the New Left small. 


The largely unconscious intuition of 1965 was this: Suppose the New Left were only 
apparently small. Suppose it were actually the thoughtful, active "vanguard" of a swelling 
social force, one that embodied the future forming in the cocoon of the present the way 
Marx's proletariat was supposed to do. Suppose that SDS stood for students-as-a-whole, 
and students-as-a-whole stood for the young. The first major cohort of the baby boom, the 
postwar babies of 1946, turned eighteen in 1964; between 1964 and 1970, 20 million more 
turned that magical corner. America's young were not only multiplying, not only relatively 
rich, not only concentrated on campuses and— thanks to the mass media— visible as never 
before. Suppose they were, en masse, in motion, breaking out of the postwar consensus, 
out of complacency, out of good behavior and middle-class mores, out of the bureaucratic 
order and the Cold War mood. Then the unthinkable might be actual, the unprecedented 
possible. You could safely kick out the jams, dissolve the old hesitations, break with adults, 
be done with compromises, get on with it. Not only did the imagery of popular culture 
belong to the young, but political upheaval, even— dare one think it?— "revolution." With a 
bit of subconscious imagination, the longhaired, dope-smoking Texans who showed up at 
Kewadin could be seen as the advance guard of the new generational armies. 

If you were disabused of the liberal-labor coalition, you were already disposed to search out 
a self-sufficient movement of the young. But you didn't have to strain your eyes to see 
signs of youth upheaval everywhere. The Free Speech Movement ... the March on 
Washington ... the prairie-fueled SDS boom ... and here and there, the low-rent districts on 
the coasts where dropouts were beginning to congregate. John F. Kennedy, with his call to 
ideals, was already the fading memory of their childhoods; Vietnam was getting tattooed 
into their adolescence. The subterranean youth culture of the Fifties was coming of age. 

^ "the pressure has increased": Paul Potter, "SDS and Foreign Policy," SDS convention 
working paper, June 1965 (SDS papers. Series 2A, no. 16). 

^ abolishing its offices: Sale, SDS, pp. 206—8; SDS papers. Series 2A, no. 35. 

•^ "nonviolent revolution": Staughton Lynd, "Coalition Politics or Nonviolent Revolution?" 
Liberation, June-July 1965, pp. 19-20. 

"* Kissinger moved: Sale, SDS, p. 665. 

^ "I think that this": David Garson memo, SDS convention papers, June 1965 (SDS papers). 

^ The amendments passed: Sale, SDS, pp. 210-12. 

^ "democracy is nothing": Carl Oglesby, speech to National Guardian dinner, in National 
Guardian, November 20, 1965, p. 6. 

^ "an agent for the FBI": Steve Max to Todd Gitlin (n.d., 1965) (author's file). 


Part Three: The Surge 

8. "Everybody Get Together" 

All-Purpose Apocalypse 

Nothing put the category youth on my own political map more resoundingly than a song 
called "Eve of Destruction." 

In August 1965, within five weeks after its release, "Eve of Destruction" surged to the top of 
the sales charts.^ It was, disk jockeys said, the fastest-rising song in rock history. Even in 
an age when commercial fads materialize overnight, a success like this was amazing. For 
"Eve of Destruction" took off while a good many stations were banning it— including all of 
the ABC network's— and a good many others were playing it only infrequently.^ This was a 
song which a vociferous group of campus barnstormers called the Christian Anti-Communist 
Crusade said was "obviously aimed at instilling fear in our teenagers as well as a sense of 
hopelessness," helping "induce the American public to surrender to atheistic international 

Written "as a prayer, for my own pleasure""^ by a nineteen-year-old named P. F. Sloan, "Eve 
of Destruction" began with two funereal thumps of the kettledrum, leading into a pounding 
drumbeat. Then the surly voice of Barry McGuire ground out a thunder-and-brimstone 

The Eastern world, it is explodin' 

Violence flarin', bullets loadin' 

You're old enough to kill but not for votin' 

You don't believe in war but what's that gun you're totin' 

And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin' 

Then the refrain: 

And you tell me over and over and over again, my friend. 
You don't believe we're on the eve of destruction. 

There had been no song remotely like this one in the decade-long history of rock music, 
although the objections of the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade suggest that here, at long 
last, was the song fundamentalists had been anticipating through all their years of panic, 
the one that would confirm their dire prophecies about the dark, inexorable logic of "nigger 
music." Nothing could have been in starker contrast to the previous year, 1964, when the 
Number 1 hits had included the Shangri Las' "Leader of the Pack," the Beach Boys' "Deuce 
Coupe" and "California Girls," the Supremes' "Baby Love," and the Beatles' "A Hard Day's 
Night"— all bouncy. "Eve" was strident and bitter, its references bluntly topical— no 
precedent for that, not even in Bob Dylan's allegorical "Blowin' in the Wind." Its structure 
came from folk: simple guitar strum, repeated refrain, forced rhymes. With an off-balance 
rhythm, it wasn't much to dance to; it brooded. McGuire's voice started with a whimper but 
got surlier as it went along, punctuated by the occasional ripping whine of a Dylanesque 
harmonica. The all-purpose apocalypse took in the Bomb— "When the button is pushed 
there's no runnin' away/There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave"— and even civil 
rights, which by now, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act that spring, had become an 
apple-pie issue: 


... Handful of Senators don't pass legislation 
And marches alone can't bring integration 
When human respect is disintegratin' 
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'... . 
Look at all the hate there is in Red China 
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama... . 

Protest even engendered protest. An ad hoc group called the Spokesmen recorded an 
answer song, "Dawn of Correction"— which flopped. 

The Christian Anti-Communist Crusade was on the right track about what the song implied, 
though wrong that its aim was to demoralize. Growing numbers of the young had to have 
been demoralized in the first place or they couldn't have relished McGuire's growls. Students 
of popular culture later tried to downplay the significance of the lyrics,* but the lyrics 
conveyed only part of the song's meaning. Pop music devotees react to the mood of a song 
whether or not they grasp the lyrics. The sound carried the point: "Eve of Destruction" 
didn't well up with all-American high spirits; its drumbeat wasn't martial but ominous. 

If any doubt was left about what the song meant, the superintendents and interpreters of 
popular culture (including right-wing alarmists) went to work to clear things up. Shortly 
after "Eve of Destruction," a hearty ditty called "Ballad of the Green Berets," sung by Staff 
Sergeant Barry Sadler, rose to the top of the charts in march tempo with a display of rat-a- 
tat-tat. That fall of 1965, Chicago's leading rock station sponsored a "battle of the Barrys," 
McGuire versus Sadler. On the decisive day, listeners were invited to call in and cast a ballot 
for their favorite: "Eve of Destruction" or "Green Berets." "Berets" won — by a single vote out 
of thousands cast. For promotion's sake, at least, the programmers of WCFL knew there 
was circulation to be gained by hyping their contest as if an entire culture were at stake. 
Plainly a new constellation of moods was in the air. "Eve of Destruction" seemed to certify 
that a mass movement of the American young was upon us. 

^ within five weeks: R. Serge Denisoffand Mark H. Levine, "The Popular Protest Song: The 
Case of 'Eve of Destruction,'" Public Opinion Quarterly 35 (Spring 1971), p. 119. 

^ many stations were banning: R. Serge Denisoff, Sing a Song of Social Significance, 2nd 
ed. (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1983), p. 162. 

•^ "obviously aimed at instilling fear": In Denisoff, Sing a Song, pp. 155-56. 

'^ "as a prayer": Telephone interview, P. F. Sloan, January 27, 1990. 

' A study of a sample of undergraduates at the time showed that only 14 percent understood the song's "total" 
theme; 44 percent understood it "partially." [sample of undergraduates: Denisoff and Levine, "Popular Protest 
Song," pp. 117-22.] A junior college survey showed 36 percent interpreting the song correctly, [junior college 
survey: Denisoff, Sing a Song, p. 162.] 


"I Cant Get No" 

Not out of the blue, of course. Bob Dylan had groaned out his triptych of wasteland passions 
and rebellions for two years now, in the albums The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and The Times 
They Are A-Changin'. The Zimmerman boy from up-country Minnesota had adopted a name 
that was both literary (the besotted and lyrical Dylan Thomas) and true-gritty American 
(Gunsmoke's Marshal Matt Dillon), had gone to Greenwich Village and picked up a following 
with his folk anthems and antiestablishment gags.^ The tiny New Left delighted in one of our 
own generation and mind singing earnest ballads about racist murderers ("The Lonesome 
Death of Hattie Carroll"), the compensatory racism of poor whites ("Only a Pawn in Their 
Game"), Cold War ideology ("Masters of War" and "With God on Our Side"). Insiders knew 
Dylan had written the chilling "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" during the Cuban missile crisis, 
evoking the end of the world; the anthem "The Times They Are A-Changin'" sounded like a 
musical version of the "new insurgency" rhetoric of America and the New Era. To make it all 
more marvelous, Dylan did all this not on the marginal, faintly do-it-yourself Vanguard or 
Folkways label, redolent of Pete Seeger and the fight against the blacklist, but on big-league 
commercial Columbia Records. Teased by the idea of a popular movement, we admired 
Dylan's ability to smuggle the subversive into mass-circulated trappings. Whether he liked it 
or not, Dylan sang for us: we didn't have to know he had hung out in Minneapolis's dropout- 
nonstudent radical scene in order to intuit that he had been doing some hard traveling 
through a familiar landscape.^ We followed his career as if he were singing our song; we got 
in the habit of asking where he was taking us next. 

It was a delight but not altogether a surprise, then, when Dylan dropped in on SDS's 
December 1963 National Council meeting. We were beginning to feel that we— all fifty of us 
in the room— were the vibrating center of the new cyclonic Left. Alger Hiss came to visit the 
same meeting, and drew an ovation; Allard Lowenstein also dropped in, and sat in the 
corner, anonymous. Dylan arrived unceremoniously with a Mississippi civil rights lawyer, sat 
shyly in the back, listened to a discussion about our plans for community organizing, and 
said nothing. (We'd been alerted he was coming, and decided not to put him on the spot 
with a public introduction.) A recess came, and Dylan told a group of us he'd be interested 
in working in one of our incipient FRAP projects.^ (Too exciting to believe! This proved we 
were the center!) But Dylan warned us to be careful— of him. A few weeks earlier, just days 
after the Kennedy assassination, he told us, he had appeared at the banquet of the Old 
Leftish Fmergency Civil Liberties Committee. He thought he'd been invited to sing; he didn't 
know he was about to be given their Tom Paine Award. "Then I see these bald-headed, pot- 
bellied people sitting out there in suits," he told us. He tanked up at the backstage bar, 
contemplated the assemblage, then "went crazy," ranted that old people in furs and jewels 
should retire, announced that he could see some of himself in Lee Harvey Oswald, and 
stalked off the platform. He was half warning us, half apologizing for his bad-boy behavior.* 
In the meantime, Dylan said he would sing some benefit concerts for SDS. (But afterward 
he didn't answer our letters or phone calls.) 

' In another version of the Tom Paine Award episode, Dylan reworked the experience to sound purely and simply 
dismissive of the spectacle of ridiculous old-fart left-wingers: "All they can see is a cause, and using people for 
their cause." ["All they can see": Bob Dylan, in Scaduto, Bob Dylan, p. 163.] 


Dylan wasn't just putting on; or if inis political commitment was a put-on phase designed to 
catapult him to stardom, as he said in a later and cynical incarnation, he was probably 
putting himself on as well. The woman he lived with on and off for years worked for CORE. 
He sang to Negroes in the Mississippi cotton fields (there is a touching sequence from this 
trip in the Pennebaker-Leacock documentary Don't Look Back). He visited movement 
organizers in the mining country of eastern Kentucky, where he wrote "The Chimes of 
Freedom Flashing.""* And so his next album. Another Side of Bob Dylan, struck the politicos 
as something of a personal betrayal, especially the line directed at the onetime lover: "I've 
heard you say many a time that you're better than no one and no one is better than you/If 
you really believe that, you know you have nothing to win and nothing to lose." 

Through all this, Dylan's albums were never big successes by American pop standards (they 
sold better in England). When two of his songs made the top ten— "Blowin' in the Wind" and 
"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"— it was in sweetened versions by Peter, Paul and Mary. By 
contrast, the astonishing trajectory of "Eve of Destruction" signaled a new mentality on a 
grand scale, stretching far beyond Berkeley and Ann Arbor and Swarthmore and other 
havens of the educated. For popular music was suddenly brooding and snarling all over the 
place. That same month, folk's princess, Joan Baez, broke into the hit parade for the first 
time in five years of recording, with an elegiacal Phil Ochs ballad called "There But for 
Fortune," which oozed universal compassion, included sympathy for winos, and referred to 
"the city where the bombs had to fall," which I took to mean Hiroshima. Dylan had just 
converted to electrified folk-rock— a few hundred purists (out of twenty thousand fans) had 
booed him when he unveiled the new style at the Newport Folk Festival in July— and his 
commercial instinct was rewarded: the folksinger who wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star finally 
burst through to Number 1 with the private, electric, rocked-up hostilities of "Like a Rolling 
Stone." His stylistic breakthrough made "Eve of Destruction" and all its folk-rock successors 
possible, in fact, by "dragging [folk] screaming," as Charlie Gillett writes, into the pop world, 
breaking the back of orthodox folk music in the process.^ 

And if these sullen bursts weren't enough, what they followed to the Number 1 spot were 
the grinding riffs of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," which announced its intent with a 
guitar lick that sounded like a sour buzz saw, and never stopped snarling. The verses were 
hard to understand— in fact they were digs at the banality of radio, TV, and advertising, if 
you could decipher them— but it was hard to miss the sexual insinuation of the repeated "I 
can't get no satisfaction"; the interruptus of "And I try, and I try, and I try"; the dare and 
taunt in the stop-starting "I can't get no—"; the strut of all kinds of pleasure-hungry, 
thwarted, ravaged and— what the hell— ravaging selves proclaiming once and for all that no 
one was going to stop them when they cruised into the world to get whatever it was they 
hadn't gotten. Angrier than the Stones' earlier blues, and far more popular in the States, 
"Satisfaction" was a cross-class yelp of resentment that could appeal to waitresses and 
mechanics and students, all stomping in unison. The Stones' rough-tough bad-boy personae 
were as much a contrivance as the Beatles' famous sweetness; with the help of clever 
counselors, the Stones discovered to their own satisfaction just how vast was the market for 

^ adopted a name: Robert Shekon, No Direction Home: Tlie Life and Music of Bob Dylan 
(New York: Morrow, 1986), pp. 49-50. 

^ radical scene: Anthony Scaduto, Bob Dylan (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1971), p. 36. 

^ Dylan told a group of us: Interview, Richard Flacks, February 8, 1985. See the transcript 
of Dylan's Tom Paine Award remarks in Shelton, No Direction Home, pp. 200-201: 

"* mining country: Shelton, No Direction Home, p. 241. 


^ "dragging [folk] screaming": Cinariie Gillett, The Sound of the City, rev. and expanded ed. 
(New York: Pantineon, 1983), p. 287. 

^ market for badness: Piniiip Norman, Symphony for the Devil (New York: Linden/Simon and 
Scinuster, 1984), p. 112. 

"Far From The Twisted Reach Of Crazy Sorrow" 

Eve of destruction; no satisfaction ... and a tinird motif went rippling through the baby-boom 
culture: adhesive love, that luminous remedy without which the popular imagination of the 
young would have dissolved into nothing more than paranoia and rampant aggression. If 
the apocalypse was impending, your every hope for pleasure thwarted; if you found yourself 
"on your own, no direction home, like a complete unknown" (Bob Dylan's version of 
alienation in "Like a Rolling Stone"); if this was a dog-eat-dog world, as Dylan seemed to be 
sneering, it was still possible to imagine transcendence. 

Popular culture conjured up both private and public compensations, actually. One theme 
was implicit in the double entendre of Dylan's next hit single, "Rainy Day Women #12 and 
35": "Everybody must get stoned," meaning both that the great man incurs the wrath of the 
uncomprehending mob (as at Newport), and that the way out is through the magic of 
wonder drugs, especially marijuana, just then seeping out of its black and Hispanic, jazz- 
minded enclaves to the outlying zones of the white middle-class young. Dylan's taunt had 
its hard edge; there was a more persuasive, Utopian version in his dreamy spring 1965 "Mr. 
Tambourine Man," a myth of pure sensuality which was also widely and laughingly 
interpreted, at least in Ann Arbor's hermeneutic circles, as an ode to a dope dealer, but was 
really a traditional Romantic vision: 

Yes to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free 

Silhouetted by the sea 

Circled by the circus sands 

With all memory and fate 

Driven deep beneath the waves 

Let me forget about today until tomorrow 

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me 
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to 
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me 
In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you. 

Thus did Dylan lilt of absolute liberty in an infinite present time severed from the past: this 
was the transcendentalist fantasy of the wholly, abstractly free individual, finally released 
from the pains and distortions of society's traps, liberated to the embrace of nature and the 
wonder of essential things, in an America capable of starting the world again. 

Although Dylan sang "Mr. Tambourine Man" as sweetly as he was able, the lyric was still 
scarred by the rough edges of his voice; as with "primitive" painting and sculpture, the 
roughness, coupled with innocence, was part of the attraction: Dylan had earned his 
fantasy. For side 1 of his last pre-electric album. Bringing It All Back Home, was full of 
nightmare visions, not least the sadistic torments of "Maggie's Farm." Once you had paid 
your dues— Dylan seemed to be saying— and made your escape from Maggie's Farm, then 
you could cavort down to the beach with Mr. Tambourine Man. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was 
all the more luminous and poignant because on the Hieronymous Boschian side 2 of 
Bringing It All Back Home it led directly to "Gates of Eden," "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only 
Bleeding)," and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." 


Stoned, my friends and I and many another movement circle would fish Dylan's torrent of 
images, confirming our own revolts and hungers. As Dylan lurched through the doggerel 
stations of his personal cross, his betes noires were a gallery of our own grotesques. Even 
his irony about his own failed flight from the straight world spoke for an anguish we shared 
about the ambiguities of privilege: "Disillusioned words like bullets bark/ As human gods aim 
for their mark/Make everything from toy guns that spark/To flesh-colored Christs that glow 
in the dark/It's easy to see without looking too far/That not much is really sacred... . But 
though the masters make the rules/For the wise men and the fools/I've got nothing. Ma, to 
live up to... . For them that must obey authority/That they do not respect in any 
degree/Who despite their jobs, their destinies/Speak jealously of them who are free/Do 
what they do just to be/Nothing more than something they invest in ... . Money doesn't talk, 
it swears/Obscenity, who really cares/ Propaganda, all is phony." ("It's Alright Ma [I'm Only 
Bleeding]" alone donated dozens of headlines to the just-invented underground press.) And 
this "Baby Blue" with whom it was "all over," was it possibly America itself? Dylan's 
celebration of the solitary singer burst upon educated circles like ours in Ann Arbor just as 
high school seeker-intellectuals were discovering Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, equally a 
celebration of magic among the illuminati for the benefit of the lone wolf (once himself, like 
Dylan, an antiwar partisan). 

"Mr. Tambourine Man" went down especially well with marijuana, just then making its way 
into dissident campus circles. The word got around that in order to "get" the song, and 
others like it, you had to smoke this apparently angelic drug. It wasn't just peer pressure; 
more and more, to get access to youth culture, you had to get high. Lyrics became more 
elaborate, compressed, and obscure, images more gnarled, the total effect nonlinear, 
translinear. Without grass, you were an outsider looking in. 

"Circles" was the right word for the developing counterculture, in fact, because marijuana 
and music made up a collective ritual. It didn't matter that Dylan's lyrics, for example, were 
celebrations of strictly private experience; by playing the music together we transformed it 
into a celebration of our own collective intimacy, love, hilarity. In groups— rarely anything so 
formal as a preannounced "party"— we would sit around, listening, awed, all sensation, to 
Dylan's or somebody else's images bursting one out of the other like Roman candles, while 
we jabbered and giggled at anything at all ("Can you dig it?"), the afternoons and evenings 
seeming to stretch, the present liquidly filling all time past and time future, not just the 
words but the spaces between notes saturated by significance, the instruments sounding-in 
the ear more distinctly than could have been imagined before. The songs drifted on, and on, 
leisurely, taking their sweet time; no longer were they being written for efficient two-minute 
jabs on AM radio. 

The point was to open up a new space, an inner space, so that we could space out, live for 
the sheer exultant point of living. Go to class stoned; shop for food stoned; go to the 
movies stoned— see, all is transformed, the world just started again! On these luminous 
occasions, the tension of a political life dissolved; you could take refuge from the Vietnam 
war, from your own hope, terror, anguish. Even if you weren't "political," you had 
something in common with those who were: the ideal of an aesthetic existence, existence 
for its own sake, seemed within reach. Drugs planted Utopia in your own mind. Call it a 
spiritual search? Fine, if you please. Or the ultimate giggle. Or both. In any event, grass 
seemed to have outfitted us with a more acute set of senses. Taste buds multiplied a 
thousandfold: pass the peanut butter, M & Ms, whipped cream, pepperoni. Light took on 
properties of its own: take a look through this prism, this kaleidoscope, check out the color 
TV. And sex ... sex was ethereal. Did anybody ever do this before? The straights talk about 
martinis, but they're so uptight, they don't know how to wonder, they don't know what 
they're missing. They don't get the joke. Love is already here. "I'd love to turn you on... ." 


New popular experience breeds new cliches. "Oh wow," "out of sight," "far out," or the more 
intense "far fucking out" (or "far fucking Rockaway," in the cynical-affectionate words of a 
journalist friend rejuvenated by grass)— these were easily parodied attempts to express the 
fact that delight was possible, the world was not entirely signed, sealed, and delivered over 
to the powers of instrumental reason. "Weird" was an easy label for the mysteries that 
opened up while you were stoned; then, banal and overused, it enshrined the strangeness 
of real unfolded-unspindled-unmutilated life, the sort of strangeness you could domesticate, 
like a house pet. Domesticated strangeness also showed up in "flashes" of free association. 
Stoned consciousness darted, flowed, went where it wanted to go, freed of rectilinear 
purpose and instruction. Routine talk seemed laughable; weird juxtapositions made perfect 
sense; sense made no sense at all. Rarely did dope flashes look as good the morning after, 
but who cared? Meanwhile, virtually nothing was really weird, because anything might prove 
significant, or hilarious, or both— "Do ... you ... believe ... this?"— just as anything you looked 
at, really looked at, might be transfigured in the seeing. The universe was drenched by 
meaning. Stoned people called up WBAI in New York to argue earnestly about what Dylan 
meant by "The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles," or some other line. 
"He's rewriting the Bible," a Berkeleyite told me once in all seriousness. So Dylan's 
cascading lyrics matched the marijuana experience of snapping the normal links, breaking 
the usual associations, quilting together patterns from rags. The combination of a joint, the 
right company, and the right long-playing record seemed to have redeemed the traditional 
Romantic promise, Blake's "eternity in an hour" : to see and feel truly the grain of the world, 
the steady miracle ordinarily muffled by busyness but still lurking in the interstices, a 
revelation of your astonishing existence in an electric universe. The everyday had been 
converted into the extraordinary. 

As one cut on a less-than-best-selling album, Dylan's 1965 fantasy remained the property 
of small circles of the disaffected initiati. But "Mr. Tambourine Man" soon achieved a 
national audience in the crisper, smoothed-down, mechanical L.A. single version recorded 
by the Byrds. This was folk-rock's first commercial hit, danceable with or without a diamond 
sky or indeed any deep comprehension of Dylan's words at all. Plainly there was a national 
teen market for the spacey lyric, the invitation to drop out into a kingdom of druggy 
satisfaction— even the Byrds' metronomic version (created by professional backup 
sessionmen brought in by the producer to give the Byrds a steadiness they ordinarily 
lacked!) retained some of Dylan's original meaning.^ "Take me on a trip/Upon your magic 
swirling ship"; '"lake me disappearing/Through the smoke rings of my mind"— the message, 
however imperfectly translated, got across. 

^ Byrds' metronomic version: Gillett, Sound, p. 338. 


"Smile On Your Brother" 

Mr. Tambourine Man was the individualist's fantasy writ large: the hippie as lone ranger. 
The other Utopia that swooped into popular music at the same time was that of the hippie 
as communard: the ideal of a social bond that could bring all hurt, yearning souls into sweet 
collectivity, beyond the realm of scarcity and the resulting pettiness and aggression. With 
the benefit of hind-hearing one can even hear the tribal love-sound foreshadowed in the 
exuberant innocence and joie de vivre of the Beatles' early harmonies: "Love Me Do," "From 
Me to You," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "All My Loving." Like the Stones, 
the Beatles had discarded their earlier, raunchier, black-based blues in order to rise as stars 
for the teenage audience. But as they brought new jubilation to the traditional "I'll-do- 
anything-for-you" puppy-love theme, they also succeeded in tapping a deeper sensibility. 
Their own love-quartet— at least the version retailed to the adoring hordes live and in 
Richard Lester's mock documentary A Hard Day's Night— cou\d be taken to embody the ethic 
of brotherly love: harmony through diversity. 

But the idea of a loving society only took full shape with what publicists called the San 
Francisco Sound, especially the Jefferson Airplane's languid invocation: "Hey people 
now/Smile on your brother/ Let me see you get together/Love one another right now." 
Already a staple at Bay Area concerts in 1965, released nationally on their first album in 
August 1966, and eventually popularized in a version by the Youngbloods, "Let's Get 
Together" brought religious yearning into Sixties pop. Unlike religiosities such as 1953's 
smash "I Believe" and the 1958 gospel hit "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," the 
Airplane's sermon implored the beloved community to take the whole world in their own 
hands and remake it under the sign of love: "You can make the mountains ring/Hear the 
angels cry ... . You hold the key to love and fear/All in your trembling hand/One key unlocks 
them both/It's at your command." 

Yet there was something curious here. One second the Airplane told their audience that 
everything was up to them; the next, they veered toward a kind of Taoist fatalism: "Some 
will come and some will go/We shall surely pass/When the wind that left us here/Returns for 
us at last/We are but a moments sunlight/Fading on the grass." Their wistfulness fought 
against the frantic all-for-the-future self-sacrifice of the Protestant ethic, but equally against 
the profound existentialist will which the counterculture itself tried to coax forth. The 
counterculture made immense demands on young multitudes unplugging from the normal 
social circuits— and hedged its bets with mysticism. If "logic and proportion have fallen 
soggy dead," as the Airplane sang later, there was still a transcendent logic to fall back on. 

Thus the looming popularity of astrology, the I Ching, and other founts of mystical wisdom 
and explanation. The stars (or the Book of Changes, or the chakras, or the more esoteric 
systems of yoga, Sufism, etc. to which the real cognoscenti graduated) were all at once a 
relief, a link to a mysterious past, a connection to the ultimate, a guarantee of personal 
meaning, a grid of "rationality," and an alibi. The burden of existentialism could be 
backbreaking; no wonder the Airplane's hand was "trembling." Who, on the other hand, 
could get all worked up trying to push the stars around? They simply were. If you believed, 
you gained access to ancient stockpiles of lore, once left pulverized and scattered by the 
bulldozer age of science and industrialism, the shards miraculously preserved to provide 
proof of the continuing life of the spirit. Moreover, the fact that the constellations sent forth 
their cosmic emanations to shape your life was the very proof— otherwise lacking— of your 
significance down here in San Francisco on Planet Earth. 


Normally, schools, corporations, armies, and other institutions provide people with enough 
everyday rationality to get by. If the question arises, "Why do things this way?" the 
workaday answer springs up: "Those are the rules. That's the way we do things around 
here." Or, "That's the way we've always done it." Or, "It makes sense because the 
authorities say so." The multitudes of young dropouts lost the cushion of those rules, even if 
it was a cushion they were happy to have chucked. Their new cushions, embroidered with 
hip lingo, were at once ancient and avant-garde; the personally tailored star-charts were 
distinguished from the banalities of the supermarket checkout stand and the syndicated 
newspaper columns with which the hoi polloi had to content themselves. The question of the 
hour was, "What's your sign?" ("Flashing yellow," I used to like to answer.) Astrology, the I 
Ching, etc., were perfectly suited for transcendental alibis because their instructions were so 
vague. If you didn't like what was written in your heavens, the skilled chart-maker could 
always remind you that "the stars impel, they don't compel," and get off the hook. If the / 
Ching coins turned up an abstract lesson you couldn't grasp or didn't like, you could stretch 
for another interpretation, or toss the coins again. These were systems you could relax into. 

Coupled-up love had long been a staple of pop music. Now, for the first time, the normal 
culture of teenagers was becoming infiltrated by grander ideals: freedom, license, 
religiosity, loving community. Blurry as the pop images were, they added up to intimations 
of a different way of life. Thanks to modern mass media, and to drugs— perhaps the most 
potent form of mass communication— notions which had been the currency of tiny groups 
were percolating through the vast demographics of the baby boom. Life, Time, and the 
trend-spotters of the evening news outdid themselves trumpeting the new youth culture. As 
with the beats, the cultural panic spread the news and image of hippiehood. Alarmists and 
proselytizers alike collaborated in the belief that American youth en masse were abandoning 
the stable routes of American society and striking out onto unprecedented trails (or into 
unprecedented thickets). Even as the editors deplored the current excesses (although the 
Luces themselves had taken LSD, and it was a Life article that stimulated a psychologist 
named Timothy Leary to try his first psychedelic mushrooms)^ they were usually less than 
scrupulous in reminding their audience that most of the young were not, after all, dropping 
acid and fleeing to the Haight-Ashbury. There was enormous anxiety about whether the 
prevailing culture could hold the young; and on the liberal side, anxiety about whether it 
deserved to. It became easy to imagine that the whole of youth was regressing, or evolving, 
into— what? Barbarism? A new society unto itself, a Woodstock Nation? A children's 
crusade? A subversive army? A revolutionary class? 

Astonishingly soon. Governor George Wallace and Dr. Timothy Leary agreed that what was 
at stake was nothing less than Western Civilization, the only question being whether its 
demise was auspicious. 

^ the Luces: Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shiain, Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD, and the Sixties 
Rebellion (New York: Grove, 1986), pp. 71-73. 


The tension between the individualist ethos of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the communality 
of "Let's Get Together" was, for the time being, submerged in a great surge of animal joy. 
The emerging counterculture longed for both, for the fusion of the two. Why not have it all? 
Contradictions were a drag. The old world was coming to an end, and square logic with it. 
So let the good times roll! It was time for Better Living through Chemistry. 


Human culture is ingenious. Winen people believe incompatible things at the same time, the 
contradictions become lived out, institutionalized, in rituals and habits. The counterculture 
thus devised institutions in which hip collectivity and the cultivation of individual experience 
could cohabit. Among them: 

The Acid Tests. What could be more private than a drug trip? But both the defrocked 
Harvard professor Timothy Leary in the East and the let-it-all-hang-out novelist Ken Kesey 
in the West agreed that the miracle drugs should be ingested in company; moreover, that 
they were truth serums, agents of change that would tear apart the flimsy stupidities of life 
and get down to universals. Thrown out of Harvard in 1963 for tampering with unwary 
undergraduates^, Leary and his colleague Richard Alpert took their drug experiments to a 
millionaire heir's mansion in upstate New York, a quasi-religious ashram for what Leary 
called the International Federation for Internal Freedom, where psilocybin was superseded 
by the even more mind-blowing chemical LSD. At first Leary and Alpert specialized in 
ancient wisdoms, cosmic imagery. Eastern meditations, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 
but Leary, eager to save the world in a flash, was also adept at arousing the media with 
slogans like "Tune in, turn on, drop out" and "Get out of your mind and into your senses." 
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Kesey, who had been turned on to LSD by a Veterans 
Administration hospital experiment in I960, wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with its 
romance of crazy-like-a-fox heroes up against the Combine (a.k.a. System), and founded a 
countercombine of Merry Pranksters.^ 

How to summon up the enormous innocence, not to say heedlessness, of the Pranksters? In 
their reckless abandon, their sheer ingenuity and bravado, they were strangely of a piece 
with the nodules of the civil rights movement and the New Left— not in ideology, obviously, 
but in the absolute audacity it took for a small squad to seize the moment and believe they 
could actually change the world with exemplary acts. (The real achievement of Tom White's 
prose in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, still unsurpassed as a chronicle of the 
counterculture, is not simply its breathless sense of fun but its capacity to evoke the animal 
magnitude, and nuttiness, of what the Pranksters were about.) In the summer of 1964 a 
dozen Pranksters careened around the country in a beat-up Day-Glo-painted super-stereo'd 
bus named FURTHER, gobbling and smoking vast quantities of drugs, freaking out local 
citizens (thus carrying the good tidings to the democratic multitude), having a high old time 
punctuated with bursts of stark raving madness. With mythic appropriateness, Further's 
cannonball driver was none other than the beat hero, pill-popping, nonstop talker and wild 
man Neal Cassady. The Pranksters were indeed a wilder, western, electronic, vastly more 
raucous version of the beats— in large part because LSD, destroyer of tidy psychic worlds, 
was their thing. "Freak freely"^ was the idea: drop acid, smoke grass, eat speed, whatever 
drug was around, paint your faces, paint your scene, change everything, go after cosmic 
unity, "tool up for some incredible breakthrough," as Tom Wolfe summed it up,"* but 
whatever happened, go with it in hot pursuit of the old bohemian vision, enlightenment by 
any means necessary. "Either you're on the bus or off the bus."^ 


By the fall of 1965, Kesey and friends, back in the Bay Area, were passing the word and the 
acid, come one, come all, first to friends, then to all comers, in public happenings they 
called Acid Tests. ^ The dozens, then hundreds who caught wind of these occasions were 
given the purest LSD (still legal in California), treated to costumes, paint, pulsating colored 
lights. Prankster movies, barrages of sound and music, weirdly looped tape-recorders, 
assorted instruments, a flood of amplified talk. For Kesey, like Leary, was a proselytizer at a 
moment when millions were seeking a way to live beyond limits; he had a "vision of turning 
on the world, "^ electrifying it courtesy of the most advanced products of American 
technology. The Pranksters had fantasies of slipping LSD into the public skin with solvents; 
and eventually, in Watts, while Kesey himself was on the lam in Mexico from marijuana 
charges, other Pranksters dispensed Kool-Aid spiked with LSD, didn't notify the novices, and 
treated one woman's bad trip by having her rant over the PA system to the dazzled, dazed 
assemblage. But the Watts test made Life magazine.^ Maybe there were no limits to the 
numbers of people who could be turned on; then all the inmates could take over the 

The Pranksters were irregulars, with irregular schedules; they organized events as they 
pleased, on a moment's notice. In the hands of a hip household quaintly called the Family 
Dog, and the entrepreneur Bill Graham, who got the idea while he was business manager of 
the New Leftish San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Acid Tests evolved into Trips Festivals and 
scheduled concerts, with a new sound— spacey, unbounded whorls, not discrete songs: acid 
rock. By the tall of 1965, young people were flocking to San Francisco ballrooms every 
weekend to dance, to listen, just to be there, usually stoned, in the all-over sensual 
massage. By projecting light through glass slides smeared with swirling paints, artists 
created light shows— an evolution from the Pranksters' colored lights. Strobe lights turned 
the dancers into unearthly mobiles themselves. Just so, the acid-inspired swirls of the new- 
style psychedelic posters were barely comprehensible, but that was precisely their point: 
they turned letters into art-objects themselves, liberated them from the burden of literal 
signification. In the new dances, individuals didn't touch; they communed, dug each other 
by occupying the same space. The bands got their names from the sort of inspired and 
often inexplicable juxtapositions that came in dope flashes: Iron Butterfly, Quicksilver 
Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane (a major theme: transport and flight). Big Brother 
and the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead, Electric Flag. Or they shined up the banalities 
of everyday life by stuffing them with double entendres: Loading Zone, Cleveland Wrecking 
Company. For special occasions (and word traveled fast), the concerts moved outdoors, and 
what could be more appropriate, for wasn't music part of nature, and was there any 
purpose higher than the celebration of being young in the fullness of time, with no reason to 
be anywhere else in the world? 

In January 1967, the San Francisco Bay Area effusion was summoned to a "Human Be-In," 
also known as "A Gathering of the Tribes." The attempt was to bring together political 
radicals and acid devotees, in Golden Gate Park, to celebrate what the editor of a new freak 
paper, the San Francisco Oracle, called "a union of love and activism previously separated 
by categorical dogma and label mongering."^ 


Not a union too easily consummated. All such collaborations were suspect from the start, for 
beneath the giddy New Age rhetoric a fierce competition was shaping up between the 
radicals and the hippie-gurus, jealous-eyed world-savers, each eyeing the young unplugging 
from school and job and flag, jamming into the Haight-Ashbury, up for grabs. The Oracle 
itself normally leaned away from politics and toward psychedelic-looking headlines. Eastern 
arcana, dope news, and personal testimonials to New Age drugs; it was designed, its editor 
said, "to aid people on their trips. "^° It didn't look like the staid, linear Left: it was printed in 
many colors, with some pieces set in pictorial shapes, as if to say that words had to take 
second place to images. A few old beat-turned-countercultural hands, especially Allen 
Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, believed devoutly in a confluence of politics (on behalf of the 
outside and the future) and psychedelia (on behalf of the inside and the present), but the 
Haight-Ashbury merchants, rock impresarios, and dope dealers who financed the Oracle, 
and the hip influentials who starred in the media, were antipolitical purists. ^^ For Leary and 
Alpert, all political systems were equal oppressors and power-trippers. Political news was 
game-playing, a bad trip, a bringdown, a Summer. "indeed, all social institutions were 
games; the LSD game was simply the best game in town. The antidote to destructive games 
was— more playful games. Hadn't Bob Dylan sung, "It's only people's games that you've got 
to dodge"? 

For their part, hearing the siren songs of the counterculture, political radicals polarized. 
Some, mostly PL types, lashed themselves to the mast of Puritanism. Drugs, they thought, 
were bourgeois self-indulgences, distractions from discipline. But many more radicals— 
especially in Berkeley— were stunned by the wonders of marijuana and LSD. Even if they 
feared that the Haight-Ashbury stood for an unsupportable "flower-child innocence,"^'' that 
drugs "divorced the will from political action," the force of acid itself could not be denied, or 
forgotten, or assimilated. It hung there, apart from the rest of experience, terra incognita, a 
gaping hole in their mental maps. Just as graduate students had dipped into North Beach 
coffeehouses ten years earlier, so now did Berkeley antiwar activists join the crowds 
grooving over to the concerts at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms on the other side of the 
Bay, and screw colored bulbs into their lamps for hometown dance parties. Perhaps it was 
no longer necessary for politicos to defend themselves against the media charge of being 
beatniks; perhaps looking shaggy and sandaled was something to be proud of. And as with 
everything that had happened in Berkeley since the Free Speech Movement, the instigators 
(like the reporters) quivered to the feeling that as Berkeley went today, so would the rest of 
America go tomorrow. 

If you watched with an optimistic eye— was not All One?— perhaps all revolutions would 
converge. There were sporadic experiments in synthesis, and some grand failures. In 
October 1965, the organizers of Vietnam Day, the round-the-clock antiwar teach-in on the 
Berkeley campus, invited no less a guru than Ken Kesey, who showed up in Day-Glo regalia, 
sized up the crowd and the bombastic speakers as some kind of ego-clamoring fascist rally, 
and announced that "you're not gonna stop this war with this rally, by marching... . That's 
what they do," marching was their game, whereupon he honked a chorus of "Home on the 
Range" with his harmonica, a backwoods American boy to the end, and told the fifteen 
thousand antiwarriors the only thing that would do any good was to "look at the war, and 
turn your backs and say ... Fuck it."^"^ This was not what the organizers wanted to hear on 
the verge of a march into fearsome Oakland to confront the army base. 


But a year later, quicksilver Berkeley seemed to be building sturdier bridges between freaks 
and politicos. In December 1966, Berkeley antiwar protestors tried to evict a Navy recruiting 
table from the student union. The police intervened. Afterward, at a mass meeting to 
discuss a campus strike, someone started singing the old union standby, "Solidarity 
Forever." Voices stumbled, few knew the words. Then someone started "Yellow Submarine," 
and the entire roomful rollicked into it, chorus after chorus. With a bit of effort, the Beatles' 
song could be taken as the communion of hippies and activists, students and nonstudents, 
all who at long last felt they could express their beloved single-hearted community. (It did 
not cross the collective mind that "Yellow Submarine" might also be taken as a smug 
anthem of the happy few snug in their little Utopia.) One who felt vindicated in that musical 
moment was the Free Speech Movement veteran, ex-mathematician, poet, leafleteer and 
romantic, Michael Rossman. Rossman, though a red-diaper baby, was the most original and 
least formulaic spokesman for the movement's transcendent side— a man who respected the 
God-force of acid too much to issue programmatic statements about it. Rossman promptly 
ran off a leaflet which showed a little submarine adorned by the semi-psychedelic words 
"NO CONFIDENCE" (in the university administration, that is) with this explanation: 

The Yellow Submarine was first proposed by the Beatles, who taught us a new 
style of song. It was launched by hip pacifists in a New York harbor, and then 
led a peace parade of 10,000 down a New York street. Last night we 
celebrated the growing fusion of head, heart and hands; of hippies and 
activists; and our joy and confidence in our ability to care for and take care of 
ourselves and what is ours. And so we made a resolution which broke into 
song; and we adopt for today this unexpected symbol of our trust in our 
future, and of our longing for a place fit for us all to live in. Please post, 
especially where prohibited. We love you.^^ 

So it seemed no mean symbolic rapprochement when on January 14, 1967, there gathered 
on the same platform in Golden Gate Park Allen Ginsberg chanting Hindu phrases to the 
young hordes; Gary Snyder, converted to Buddhism, blowing on a conch shell; Timothy 
Leary chanting, "Turn on, tune in, drop out"; Jerry Rubin, who had risen to celebrity as 
leader of the militant Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley, appealing for bail money, to no 
apparent effect; and the usual bands playing. Off the platform, where most of the action 
characteristically was, twenty thousand young people, more or less, reveled, dropped acid, 
burned incense, tootled flutes, jingled tambourines, passed out flowers, admired on 
another, felt the immensity of their collective spectacle. Berkeleykes and Haight-Ashbury 
weirdos gawked at one another. A group of anarchists called the Diggers, of whom more 
later, passed out thousands of tablets of highest-quality (and now-illegal) LSD, 
manufactured for the occasion by the renowned acid chemist Augustus Owsley Stanley III, 
known universally as Owsley; and handed out thousands of free sandwiches made from 
turkeys that Owsley donated too. The police treated the spectacle with benign neglect. 


While the micrograms flowed freely, the Hell's Angels guarded the microphone. ^^ The 
Angels, malevolent shaggy toughs, were the counterculture's resident bad guys, stark 
embodiments of California's stark media-pumped nightmare, striking fear into even the 
hippest middle-class heart, making Marion Brando's wild ones look like Mickey Mouse. And 
therefore to make peace with the undisputed barbarians was a challenge no countercultural 
vanguard could refuse, for to succeed would mean making peace with the bogeymen of the 
freaks' collective psyche, proving that they had snipped the last umbilical cord binding them 
to the suburbs. To federate with the Angels, even better, would be to prove that lambs and 
lions could make a home together on the outskirts of town (while reminding the worried 
mother in yourselves that you weren't the real barbarians). The Angels, for their part, 
garnered LSD from the Pranksters and respect from Haight Street hipsters. They were not 
easily tamed, of course. The bad boys wanted to be ultragood patriots. When the Vietnam 
Day peace march from Berkeley was stopped at the Oakland line on the way to the army 
terminal, the day after Kesey's performance, the Angels roared in to bash the marchers, 
apparently with the collusion of Oakland police. By the time of the Human Be-In, though, 
they had become fixtures of the Haight-Ashbury, celebrated by Allen Ginsberg as the 
current version of the "saintly motorcyclists" of whom, a decade before, he had howled. 

The media delighted in the infinitely photogenic Be-In; whatever this strangeness was, it 
was certainly A Story. "Hippie," the beats' once-derogatory term for the half-hip, caught on, 
circulated by the mass media, which alternated scare stories with travelogues of local color. 
Using affordable offset presses, the counterculture conjured its own channels, weekly or 
occasional papers sold on the street by the reserve armies of the runaway young: the 
Oracle for the hippies; Berkeley's ejaculatory left-wing Barb for the politicos. A failing San 
Francisco FM station, KMPX, began to play lengthy album cuts for the growing hip 
population, all night long, and found its listenership turning up (and, probably, on). The be- 
in was apparently becoming a way of life. 

Hard-core counterculturalists were not persuaded to abandon the ways of the spirit for the 
ways of power. The guru Alan Watts told the Oracle; "whenever the insights one derives 
from mystical vision become politically active, they always create their own opposite ... a 
parody. "^^ But politicos did not abandon their efforts to fuse the technologies of personal 
transcendence with the passions of politics. That spring, Jerry Rubin ran for mayor of 
Berkeley, calling for an end to the war, support of Black Power— and the legalization of 
marijuana— all with psychedelic posters. ^^ His campaign manager was Stew Albert, a 
bohemian ex-PLer with curly blond locks and a guileless manner who had turned Rubin on 
to marijuana and for years enjoyed flirting with the idea of a hip-radical fusion. ^^ Even in 
PLs palmy days, Albert hadn't seen much contradiction between bohemianism and radical 
politics: his attitude was, "After the revolution, we'll be beats again." As the campaign 
wound on, Rubin wanted to play less and win more; he put on a jacket and tie and started 
to talk straighter, though not straight enough to win more than 22 percent of the vote. 


Rituals on the be-in model even started filtering into the American interior. Prairie-power 
SDSers were among the carriers. In the fall of 1965 SDSers at the University of Oklahoma 
were smoking marijuana, and in 1966 a few of them were arrested for it. (When the arrest 
drew comment in the press, the national organization debated whether to defend them or, 
rather, proclaim that their personal habits were their own business and leave them to their 
own devices. No position could be agreed upon.) At the University of Texas, SDS and a new 
underground paper called the Rag organized "Gentle Thursday, "^° a day for smiling on your 
brother and festooning the old jet parked in front of the ROTC building with signs saying 
"MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR" (a favorite slogan that year, this clever attempt to deploy pleasure 
for political purposes) and "FLY GENTLY, SWEET PLANE." On Mother's Day, the be-in even 
arrived on the shores of Lake Michigan, in benighted Chicago, courtesy of a newly organized 
underground paper called the Seed. One young woman who painted her legs in great 
psychedelic swirls for the occasion was a University of Chicago law student, civil rights 
activist, and acid-lover named Bernardine Dohrn. 

Other politicos, including myself, were edgy. We'd been smoking grass regularly since an 
organizer brought the habit from Berkeley at Christmas of 1965; but we feared that utter 
frivolity would short-circuit American youth's still tenuous sense of moral obligation to the 
world's oppressed. Love should feel ashamed, I thought, when it was founded on privilege. 
The hip-youth-drug thing, whatever it was, was beyond our control, and we must have 
sensed that the disciplines of politics (including our own) were in danger of being 
overwhelmed. Paradigm case: There was talk in those days that the scraped interiors of 
banana skins, dried and smoked, would get you high: "Mellow Yellow," in the vernacular and 
the Donovan song immortalizing it. Just before the Chicago Be-In, I joked about organizing 
a group to pass out leaflets saying that "The Bananas You Smoke Were Picked by Men 
Earning So-Many Cents a Day and Whose Land Was Taken Away by United Fruit. "^^ I wasn't 
quite grouchy enough to write the leaflet, but I did spot a young woman wearing a Chiquita 
sticker on her forehead, and sourly raised the issue of United Fruit's exploitation of Central 
American labor. "Oh, don't be so hung up on United Fruit," she said. (Soon thereafter I 
wrote an "Open Letter to the Hippies" making my case, circulated that fall to underground 
papers via the new Liberation News Service.) Political forebodings notwithstanding, the 
Seed trumpeted afterward that this modest event was "the Midwest's confirmation that She, 
too, belonged within the folds of Love that have gathered the tribes together everywhere 
across the continent... . The crowds relaxed, forgot the cold, the police, the hate, war, and 
all the petty flaws that keep men's scattered souls from uniting in love."^^ 

The Utopian meanings might be disputed, but it was hard to miss the fact that the young 
everywhere seemed to be deserting their scripts. Even in the Midwest, for example, casual 
hitchhiking became a premium mode of transport for the young; people flashed the antiwar 
V-for-victory sign at strangers. Friends of mine driving through Michigan in a car with 
California plates were honked at by the car in the next lane; barreling down the 
expressway, the driver rolled down his window, grinned, and passed the strangers a joint. 
Robb Burlage wrote me from Washington with a new lyric, "Which Drug Are You On, Boys?" 
to the tune of the classic Thirties class-struggle song, "Which Side Are You On?" ("My rather 
owns a drugstore/He's in the bourgeoisie/And when he comes home at night/He brings a 
drug to me/Which drug are you on, boys?/Which drug are you on?")^'^ What did it all mean? 


Interpreters and organizers went to work interpreting and organizing. At tine risk of 
oversimplifying tine currents of 1967: Tinere were tensions galore between the radical idea of 
political strategy— with discipline, organization, commitment to results out there at a 
distance— and the countercultural idea of living life to the fullest, right here, for oneself, or 
for the part of the universe embodied in oneself, or for the community of the enlightened 
who were capable of loving one another— and the rest of the world be damned (which it was 
already). Radicalism's tradition had one of its greatest voices in Marx, whose oeuvre is a 
series of glosses on the theme: change the world! The main battalions of the 
counterculture— Leary, the Pranksters, the Orac/e- were descended from Emerson, Thoreau, 
Rimbaud: change consciousness, change life! (In a 1966 speech at a Boston church, for 
example, Allen Ginsberg claimed the mantle of Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman for his own 
millennial yawp: that every American over age fourteen and in good health should take LSD 
at least once.^"^ "If there be necessary revolution in America," he said, "it will come that 
way.") There were hybrids: change the world by changing your life! Perhaps each style of 
revolt would soften the edges of the other. Perhaps logical knots were only illusions of the 
overly rational mind. 

Despite these tensions, there was a direct line from the expressive politics of the New Left 
to the counterculture's let-it-all-hang-out way of life. Some of the SNCC "floaters" followed 
it, in fact, when they shifted to LSD; SDS's prairie-power generation of 1965 saw no barrier 
between radical politics and drug culture. The New Left's founding impulse said from the 
start: Create the future in the present; sit in right now at the lunch counter, as if race didn't 
count. Historically the traditions were tangled, intertwined. The synthesizers took up a 
grand American tradition of trying to fuse public service and private joy: The Masses, for 
example, the pre-World War I magazine that brought the cultivation of self and youth cheek 
to jowl with socialism, feminism, and the antiwar crusade (and published my old inspiration 
Charles Erskine Scott Wood). Now there was a populace on which to dream: the unleashed 
young. On the verge of the 1967 "Summer of Love," many were the radicals and cultural 
revolutionaries in search of convergence, trying to nudge the New Left and the 
counterculture together, to imagine them as yin and yang of the same epochal 

^ Thrown out of Harvard: Ibid., pp. 96-102. 

^ Kesey: Ibid., pp. 119-20. 

•^ "Freak freely": Charles Perry, The Haight-Ashbury: A History (New York: Random House, 
1984), p. 13. 

"* "tool up": Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (New York: Bantam, 1968), p. 147. 

^ "Either you're on": Ibid., p. 74. 

^ Acid Tests: Perry, Haight-Ashbury, pp. 34-35. 

^ "vision of turning on": Wolfe, Kool-Aid, p. 203. 

^ Watts test: Ibid., pp. 253-54. 

^ "a union of love": In Perry, Haight-Ashbury, p. 122. 

^° "to aid people": Allen Cohen, in Abe Peck, Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of 
the Underground Press (New York: Pantheon, 1985), p. 37. 

" financed the Oracle: Peck, Uncovering, p. 37. 

^^ Political news: Perry, Haight-Ashbury, p. 124. 


^^ "flower-child innocence": Michael Rossman, The Wedding Within the 1/1/ar (Garden City: 
Anchor, 1971), p. 161. 

^"^ Vietnam Day: Wolfe. Kool-Aid, pp. 195-200. 

^^ "The Yellow Submarine": Rossman, Wedding, p. 164. 

^^ Hell's Angels: Perry, Haight-Ashbury, p. 125. 

^^ "whenever the insights": Alan Watts, in Peck, Uncovering, p. 38. 

^^ Jerry Rubin: Milton Viorst, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960's (New York: Simon 
and Schuster, 1979), p. 428. 

" Stew Albert: Interview, Stew Albert, July 18, 1985. 

^° "Gentle Thursday": Peck, Uncovering, p. 59. 

^^ "The Bananas You Smoke": Todd Gitlin to Staughton Lynd, May 3, 1967 (author's file). 

^^ "the Midwest's confirmation": Peck, Uncovering, p. 50. 

" "Which Drug": Robb Burlage to Todd Gitlin, April 4, 1967 (author's file). 

^"^ every American over age fourteen: David Zane Mairowitz, The Radical Soap Opera: Roots 
of Failure in the American Left (New York: Avon, 1976), pp. 181-82. ', 214 weekend 
dope-smokers: Kenneth Keniston, Youth and Dissent (New York: Harcourt Brace 
Jovanovich, 1971), pp. 230 ff. 


"What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear" 

Youth culture seemed a counterculture. There were many more weekend dope-smokers 
than hard-core "heads"; many more readers of the Oracle than writers for it; many more 
cohabitors than orgiasts; many more turners-on than droppers-out. Thanks to the sheer 
numbers and concentration of youth, the torrent of drugs, the sexual revolution, the 
traumatic war, the general stampede away from authority, and the trend-spotting media, it 
was easy to assume that all the styles of revolt and disaffection were spilling together, 
tributaries into a common torrent of youth and euphoria, life against death, joy over 
sacrifice, now over later, remaking the whole bleeding world. 

Of preconditions in society there were many, but the core of what came to be called the 
counterculture was organized— by intellectual entrepreneurs, streetcorner theorists of 
postscarcity, campus dropouts with advanced degrees, visionary seekers quickened by 
drugs. For every Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, or Ken Kesey there were a dozen of the 
unfamous. Cloistered at first like monks preserving ancient rites in the midst of the Dark 
Ages, they later took their shows on the road to bring enlightenment to the young: today 
the Haight-Ashbury, tomorrow the world. Expert chemists like the Bay Area's Owsley, who 
set up underground laboratories and fabricated potent and pure LSD tablets in the hundreds 
of thousands, were not in it just for the money; they kept their prices down, gave out plenty 
of free samples, and fancied themselves dispensers of miracles at the service of a new 
age— "architects of social change" with a "mission ... to change the world," in the words of 
one of Owsley's apprentices,^ toward which end Owsley helped, for example, to finance the 
Grateful Dead.^ A goodly number of small-scale entrepreneurs first dipped into the 
marijuana or acid trade as true believers helping their friends; only later did some of their 
businesses grow into the impersonal operations of big-time dealership. "Counterinstitutions" 
mushroomed, offering excitement, collectivity, and employment: underground newspapers; 
pamphleteering publishers; rock bands and promoters; hip FM radio; all manner of 
cooperatives; drug distribution networks; crash pads for runaways; free medical clinics; 
antiauthoritarian free schools. 

The ideologues of the counterculture found ready listeners, of course. Above all means of 
communication were the electric ones: drugs, rock, mass media, pumping the cultural 
entrepreneurs' news into a receptive baby-boom generation, captivated audiences gathered 
in colleges and high schools— even in the armed services. (In 1967, more American troops 
in Vietnam were arrested for smoking marijuana than for any other major crime. )'^ Millions, 
cushioned by affluence, desirous of fun or relief, out of joint, were in an experimental mood. 
In the Thirties, Woody Guthrie had sung of "pastures of plenty"; in 1967 his son Arlo sang, 
"You can get anything you want in Alice's Restaurant." (In thirty years the image of 
plenitude had shifted from agriculture to consumption.) Only fifty or seventy-five thousand 
young pilgrims poured into the Haight-Ashbury for the Summer of Love, but they were at 
the center of the nation's fantasy life.'' Music, dress, language, sex, and intoxicant habits 
changed with breathtaking speed. Countercultural entrepreneurs couldn't help thinking that 
enlightened youth were going to bring down Pharaoh and found the New Jerusalem. 


In fact, they had gotten hold of some sociological truth. Dope, hair, beads, easy sex, all that 
might have started as symbols of teenage difference or deviance, were fast transformed 
into signs of cultural dissidence (or what both protagonists and critics considered dissidence, 
which amounted to the same thing). As the styles spread, their secondhand versions 
seemed to swell into a whole cultural climate. Consider the outward looks, the wild and 
various antiuniforms that took on especial meaning as the nation sent its armed forces off 
to war. Boys with long and unkempt hair, pony tails, beards, old-timey mustaches and 
sideburns; girls unpermed, without rollers, without curlers, stringy-haired, underarms and 
legs unshaven, free of makeup and bras. To orthodox eyes, this meant slovenliness and 
sexual ambiguity (like many of the androgynous-sounding rock voices)^; to the freaks 
themselves, a turn from straight to curved, from uptight to loose, from cramped to free- 
above all, from contrived to natural. A beard could be understood as an attempt to leap into 
manhood, even to age into one's own grandfather— thus to become spiritual father to one's 
own failed, draggy Dad. Clothes were a riot of costumes, with preferences for the old and 
marginal, which meant the unspoiled: India's beads, Indians' headbands, cowboy-style 
boots and hides, granny glasses, long dresses, working-class jeans and flannels; most 
tantalizingly, army jackets. Colors were pulled toward both plain and fancy— toward 
psychedelic disorder, homemade to suit via tie-dying, and toward the unadorned, basic, 
earthy: blues, grays, greens, browns. Food tended toward the "organic," simple ingredients, 
unrefined. Beads and amulets, for both sexes, represented the primitive. The antiuniforms 
became uniform. 

Feeling "out there," giddily launched into uncharted territory, abandoned in history ("lost in 
a Roman wilderness of pain/all the children are insane," as the Doors put it), disordered by 
a fragmented culture, trying to invent roots, the freak entrepreneurs turned to bypassed 
worlds. Freak culture was a pastiche, stirring together intoxicating brews from extracts of 
bygone tradition. Thus the fascination with Eastern religions, especially in the Westernized 
versions of Hermann Hesse. Thus identification with the American Indians, who were, as 
Bennett Berger has pointed out, triply attractive: oppressed, "nobly savage" (wise enough 
to regard drugs as sacraments, too), and more deeply American than anyone else.^ What 
were the natural, the primitive, the unrefined, the holy unspoiled child, the pagan body, if 
not tlie repressed, the culture from the black lagoon, the animal spirit now reviving from 
beneath the fraudulent surface of American life, for which the most damning word possible 
was plastic. Get back, as the Beatles would sing, to where you once belonged. 

Even more than in the Fifties, mass-circulation youth music seemed impenetrably, 
exclusively coded now. Self-respecting hits now had to be written by the singers 
themselves; what self-respecting shaman would hire a ghostwriter? Concerts ran from the 
Grateful Dead's acid-spacey interminables to the raunchy chants ("Gimme an F ... U ... C ... 
K") and antiwar bluntness ("One, two, three, what are we fighting for?") of Country Joe and 
the Fish. Even the Beach Boys surged into the top forty of the annus mirabilis 1967 with the 
druggy "Good Vibrations," along with the Doors' Dionysian "Light My Fire" (their name was 
inspired by a line of William Blake's borrowed by Aldous Huxley for his prose poem to 
mescaline, Tlie Doors of Perception)^ ; the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" ("one pill 
makes you taller/and one pill makes you small/ and the ones that mother gives you/don't 
do anything at all"); Scott McKenzie's plastic-hippie "San Francisco" ("if you're going to San 
Francisco/be sure to wear a flower in your hair"); Procol Harum's spooky, arcane "A Whiter 
Shade of Pale," which seemed to require either a Ph.D., or drugs, or both, for clarification; 
the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields." ... And then, stunningly, came their brilliant, intricate Sgt. 
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with its touching, backhanded tribute to the English 
music-hall tradition. If the Beatles were getting high with a little help from their friends, 
loving to turn you on, flying with Lucy in the sky with diamonds, then just what was 
marginal anymore, where was the mainstream anyway? 


Yet authorities proceeded to define tinese ways of youtin as illicit, immoral, dangerous. The 
Fifties panic over juvenile delinquency, having slid into a horror at "beatnik" demonstrators, 
now took the form of a drug-crazed-hippie scare. ^ As in the Fifties, the labels stuck and the 
victims converted them into badges of identity. If you were bashed over the head and 
labeled a freak, well then, you were reminded why you had felt like a freak and gravitated 
toward drugs and weirdness in the first place. If you had started out smoking dope, growing 
your hair, discarding your bra partly to join the crowd and partly to shock adults, if you had 
gone along for the ride because it seemed the most interesting ride in town, only to end up 
getting harassed and busted, it was natural to ask questions about the society that was 
treating you like a freak. Police busted dope-smokers, dealers, the keepers and occupants 
of crash pads, troublemakers and innocents at rock concerts, and a lot of other young 
people whose looks they didn't like. Restaurateurs threw young longhairs off their premises. 
City officials deployed housing-code violations, zoning and vagrancy laws, and all manner of 
obscure regulations against them. With some justification, headlines screamed against what 
Life called "LSD: The Exploding Threat of the Mind Drug That Got Out of Control"^ they also 
sensationalized scientific claims that acid destroyed chromosomes.^" The Senate 
Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held hearings on the dangers of LSD; liberals 
denounced Timothy Leary for urging everyone to turn on and then washing his hands of all 
the bad trips. As old authorities lost their hold, politicians got mileage out of denouncing 
student radicals and hippies and black militants, all clumped together as battalions 
undermining the rule of the father-state and the family's own father. ^^ The personable 
Ronald Reagan, singled out as a plausible California gubernatorial candidate by a group of 
right-wing businessmen, won the 1966 Republican nomination and then parlayed antiblack, 
antiobscenity, and antistudent backlash, along with time-for-a-change sentiment, into a 
million-vote victory against the two-time incumbent, Pat Brown. ^^ (The freak population, 
meanwhile, affected indifference. From the spring of 1966 through the November election, 
the Berkeley Barb mentioned Reagan exactly once, and then only in passing.) Newly 
elected, the governor said a hippie was someone who "dresses like Tarzan, has hair like 
Jane, and smells like Cheetah. "^•^ Parents complained about their children's looks, 
threatened to cut their hair, worried they would run away, placed ads in the underground 
papers to find them. Newspapers and television vacillated between shrieking about the hairy 
menace and cooing over how cute the kids were; proclaiming that hordes of fledgling 
hippies were about to wander to the Haight-Ashbury for the Summer of Love, they 
guaranteed it would happen. 

Drugs, rock 'n' roll ... sex: they were amalgamated, whether as liberation or scandal. There 
probably was more youthful sex, although reliable information is hard to pinpoint; what is 
certain is that the sense of a sexual revolution was fueled by vastly more public talk about 
sex, accelerating with Playboy and the end of the Hollywood Production Code in the Fifties, 
the overthrow of book censorship in the early Sixties. The birth control pill, spreading year 
by year from I960 on, made sex virtually procreation-free, helped undermine parental (and 
in loco parentis) control over teenage sexual bodies. Starting then, and accelerating through 
the mid-Sixties, thousands of students moved off campus, popularizing that old bohemian 
custom of housekeeping without matrimony— and most assuredly without parental approval. 
Parents were shocked, and so were other parental authorities: the conspicuous cohabitation 
of a Barnard student and her boyfriend, and the university's crackdown, was a newsworthy 
item as late as 1968.^"* (But within a few years, according to a study at the decidedly 
middle-American Penn State, about half of the seniors reported they had "lived with" 
someone of the opposite sex.)^^ Meanwhile, interracial couples, rarities not so long before, 
became common sights around northern campuses and hippie ghettos. Sex was not simply 
a pleasure but a statement. 


But freer pleasures brought more retribution and more fear: of tine knock at tine door, tine 
"narc" at tine party, tine sweep down Haigint Street, tine summons to tine dean— not to 
mention IMom and Dad, wino migint find your pills or diaphragm, smell your grass, find the 
wrong undergarments in the hamper. If you were politically active, there was yet more 
reason to worry— about being watched, bugged, tapped. The sheer knowledge that smoking 
pot was illegal, and that the police were on the lookout for it, injected routine apprehension 
into the marrow of everyday life. Teenagers who casually indulged these tastes, even as 
hedonists and crowd-followers, found themselves labeled outsiders, even criminals. Why 
were the authorities cracking down on harmless indulgences, they wanted to know? What 
was it about these authorities that marijuana— an acceptable sacrament in Morocco and 
India^^ and elsewhere— should so disturb them? The crackdown may have contained the 
counterculture, but it also weakened the authority of authorities. 

As drug trips became commonplace, less care was taken with their settings. Especially given 
a bad mind-set and an uncongenial setting, drugs were capable of driving anxiety to a high 
pitch. Drug tourism (and perhaps expectations of trouble) led to bad trips— very rare with 
marijuana, more common with hashish, most common of all with LSD, especially the 
amphetamine-laced or otherwise polluted stuff increasingly sold on the street in the later 
Sixties. A sizable number of the experimenters lived through episodes of acute terror, the 
memory of which could be hard to shake. ^^ Newspapers played up the catastrophe stories, 
of course, but people under the influence d/'d jump out windows under the misapprehension 
that they could fly— even Richard Alpert did it once^^— and many young people, their egos 
fragile from the start, could not assimilate the ego loss that the gurus touted. Groups of 
"chemical freaks"^' formed, with indiscriminate tastes for barbiturates and amphetamines— 
speed— as well as LSD, mescaline, and whatever else was around. "Speed Kills," said street 
graffiti, but amphetamines spread. In the presence of bad trips and overarching fear, the 
youth culture had need of a term to describe the vague sensation of surrounding menace: 
"paranoia." The feeling became so commonplace, it worked its way into one of the key lyrics 
of 1967, the Buffalo Springfield's edgy, ambiguous, portentous "For What It's Worth": 
"Paranoia strikes deep/Into your life it will creep/It starts when you're always afraid/Step 
out of line and the man will come and take you away"— written by Stephen Stills after he 
watched a TV news piece about police smashing longhairs who were demonstrating against 
storekeepers who refused to serve them on Sunset Strip. ^° 

As sex lost the sheen of taboo, it was violence that took on the frisson. The sepulchral voice 
of the Doors' Jim Morrison, like an echo in a marble mausoleum, fused the two in his 
eleven-minute "The End." ("Father, I'm going to kill you/Mother I'm going to ..." he 
screamed on the record; " ... fuck you,"^^ it came out the first time he performed it live, 
smashed on a huge dose of LSD.) Hip ideologues might pin all the violence on the cops, but 
most of the young on the streets knew better. With the demographic youth bulge came 
more young criminals, and crimes; with illegal drugs came "burns," gang muscle, street 
wars. For the children of the suburbs, this was an unexpected shock. Drug-crazed 
murderers and LSD-inspired suicides did sell papers, but that didn't mean they weren't 
happening. Three months after the Haight-Ashbury Be-In, a group of savvy leafleteers who 
called themselves the Communication Company wrote about "Uncle Tim's Children": 

Pretty little sixteen-year-old middle-class chick comes to the Haight to see 
what it's all about & gets picked up by a seventeen-year-old street dealer who 
spends all day shooting her full of speed again & again, then feeds her 3000 
mikes [micrograms of LSD, twelve times the standard dose] & raffles off her 
temporarily unemployed body for the biggest Haight Street gang bang since 
the night before last... . 


Rape is as common as bullshit on Haight Street. Kids are starving on The 
Street. Minds & bodies are being maimed as we watch, a scale model of 
Vietnam... . 

Are you aware that Haight Street is as bad as the squares say it is?^^ 

The white kids' less-than-delighted neighbors in the low-rent youth enclaves, moreover, 
were usually blacks (as in the Haight-Ashbury) and Hispanics (as on the Lower East Side). 
To them, the freaks were the invaders. The hippies proclaimed their culture was universal; 
they didn't see why they should concede much to people who had other ideas. Maybe 
straight society was right, the blacks were getting too pushy and riotous... . Inevitably there 
were turf fights, culture wars, and neither protagonists nor police were always subtle in 
handling them. Parks and festivals, scarce resources, were especially contested areas. 
Typically, on Memorial Day 1967 in Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side, Puerto 
Ricans were fuming because, as Don McNeill wrote in The Village Voice, "they had heard the 
'LSD music' and they thought that the hippies were taking over the park... . [A] group of 
Puerto Ricans came to the bandshell and demanded Latin music. Some words were 
exchanged, and a scuffle started... . The kids then ... knocked over a couple of sanitation 
barrels, and began to work on a Latin beat. A tall blonde, Wendy Allen, went up to protest. 
The kids attacked her and tore her clothes. A mob formed around her and hurtled toward 
the park entrance at East 7th Street and Avenue B. There, a police sergeant rescued her 
and summoned reinforcements."^'^ The crowds confronted each other until heavily armored 
police arrived to disperse them, sealing off the park for the night. There were summit 
meetings to cool out these frictions. Savvy organizers and underground papers— many of 
whose writers came from the New Left— tried to analyze the situation into peace and placate 
all sides, with some success. But the points of division remained: scarce goods; hippie 
racism; the resentment of white slummers by people of color. ^"^ 

And to nudge the sense of paranoia and apocalypse onward there was also, not least, the 
Vietnam war. Youth culture stared and trembled at the enormity of what was happening on 
the other side of the world. By June 30, 1967, there were 448,800 American troops 
stationed on Vietnamese soil." With draft calls up, and student deferments pared down in 
1966, the war moved a lot closer to the hitherto exempt, and the student antiwar 
movement boomed as a direct result. But even beyond the students and the militantly 
opposed, the war was a steady, hovering curse. Many of the freaks knew soldiers, had been 
soldiers themselves, or feared becoming soldiers. With the test ban, the Bomb had receded 
to the status of an abstract threat, but the Vietnam war was actual, nothing potential or 
abstract about it; napalm was scorching actual flesh, bombs were tearing apart actual 
bodies, and there, right there, were the traces, smeared across the tube and the daily 
paper— every day you had to go out of your way to duck them. The New Age was streaked 
with nightmares. 

Thus the bewilderment about where the world was tending. "There's something happening 
here/What it is ain't exactly clear": so began the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," 
relaying youth culture's confusion. Developments broke so fast, who could absorb them, let 
alone insert them into the mind's polarities of left/right, politics/culture, rational/irrational 
(or, for that matter, strategic/expressive)? Extravagance was common currency. Whatever 
was happening, it was far out, too much, out of sight. 

So youth culture became the hope, and therefore the target, of countercultural 
entrepreneurs and New Left organizers alike. But major differences were masked. 

According to youth culture proper, the enemy was adults, their institutions and culture. 

According to countercultural entrepreneurs, the enemy was the established culture, or 
civilization itself, neither of which was necessarily organized by age. 


According to the New Left, the enemy was the political and social system, and/or the 
dominant institutions, and/or the inhabitants of the commanding heights. 

According to liberal reformers, the enemy was particular policies. 

In all the excitement, the rush of events, the multiple paranoia and hysteria, the mad 
overlap of millenarian hopes, profound tensions were obscured. But the stakes were high, 
and therefore so was the pressure to imagine the situation starkly. There are moments in 
history when the sense of extremity takes on a life of its own. The media said the stakes 
were high, the police said so (and the FBI, in terms the New Left barely began to grasp), 
politicians said so, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutionaries said so, black rioters laying waste 
to Watts and then the Newark and Detroit ghettos seemed to say so, SNCC chairman 
Stokely Carmichael and then the Black Panthers said so. Was not the old order, however 
one understood it, passing? That all these uprisings should have materialized in the first 
place from anesthetized America was altogether astounding. From various angles, 
insurgents mused: What if, whether they knew it or not, young whites smoking grass and 
students burning draft cards and blacks burning storefronts were detachments in common 
battle against a single occupying army? 

The moment carried many names, aliases: "the new age," "the age of Aquarius," according 
to hip gurus; "from protest to resistance," according to the war-attuned politicos of SDS. If 
necessary, said Allen Ginsberg, there should be "a mass emotional nervous breakdown in 
these states once and for all."^^ But all these voices of, or for, the young agreed we were on 
a knife edge in national if not global (or cosmic) consciousness. It was not a moment for 
thinking small. 

^ "architects of social change": Tim Scully, in Lee and S\r\\a'm, Acid Dreams, p. 147. 

^ Grateful Dead: Lee and S\r\\a'm, Acid Dreams, p. 146. 

•^ more American troops: John Steinbeck IV, in Lester Grinspoon, Mariliuana Reconsidered 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 97. 

"* Summer of Love: Don McNeill, Moving Through Here (New York: Knopf, 1970), p. 137; 
Perry, Haight-Ashbury, p. 293. 

^ androgynous-sounding: Bennett Berger, Lool<ing for America (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: 
Prentice-Hall, 1971), pp. 128-29. 

^ Bennett Berger: Lool<ing for America, p. 123. 

^ Doors of Perception: Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive 
(New York: Warner, 1980), p. 45. 

® Fifties panic: James Gilbert, A Cycle of Outrage: America's Reaction to the Juvenile 
Delinquent in the 1950s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 142. 

^ Life: In Lee and S\r\\a'm, Acid Dreams, p. 150. 

^° scientific claims: Maimon M. Cohen, Michelle J. Marinello, and Nathan Back, 
"Chromosomal Damage in Human Leukocytes Inducted by Lysergic Acid Diethylamide," 
Science 155 (1967), pp. 1417-19; S. Irwin and J. Egozcue, "Chromosomal Abnormalities in 
Leukocytes from LSD-25 Users," Science 157 (1967), p. 313; Lee and S\r\\a'm, Acid Dreams, 
pp. 154-55. 


" politicians got mileage: Richard Bunce, "Social and Political Sources of Drug Effects: The 
Case of Bad Trips on Psychedelics," Journal of Drug Issues, Spring 1979, p. 227. 

^^ Ronald Reagan: Lou Cannon, Reagan (New York: Perigee, 1982), pp. 103-17. 

^^ "dresses like Tarzan": Ronald Reagan, in McNeill, Moving, p. 154. 

^"^ Barnard student: Deirdre Carmody, "Co-ed Disciplined by College Becomes a Dropout at 
Barnard," New York Times, September 4, 1968. 

^^ Penn State: Dan J. Peterman, Carl A. Ridley, and Scott M. Anderson, "A Comparison of 
Cohabiting and Noncohabiting College Students," Journal of Marriage and the Family, May 
1974, p. 347. 

^^ India: Grinspoon, Marihuana, pp. 331-33. 

" acute terror: Bunce ("Social and Political Sources," p. 218) cites a national survey of 
young men: Of those who ever used psychedelics, 50 percent of those who started between 
1961 and 1967 said they had ever had a bad trip. The rate tends to decline with later 
starting dates (to 32 percent of those who started in 1973-75), from which Bunce concludes 
that bad trips were in part a function of the supercharged political atmosphere and resulting 
"paranoia." But 32 percent is still a considerable proportion. 

^® Richard Alpert: Lee and S\r\\a'm, Acid Dreams, pp. 101-2. 

^^ "chemical freaks": Manuel R. Ramos, "The Hippies: Where Arc They Now?" in Frank R. 
Scarpitti and Susan K. Datesman, eds.. Drugs and the Youth Culture (Beverly Hills: Sage, 
1980), pp. 237-38. 

^° written by Steven Stills: Gillett, Sound, p. 344. 

^^ "... fuck you": Hopkins and Sugerman, No One Here, p. 96. 

^^ "Pretty little sixteen-year-old": In Peck, Uncovering, p. 47. 

^^ Tompkins Square Park: McNeill, Moving, pp. 100-101. 

^"^ hippie racism: David T. Wellman, Portraits of White Racism (Cambridge, England: 
Cambridge University Press, 1977), pp. 194-215. 

25 448,800 American troops: Melvin Small, "The Impact of the Antiwar Movement on Lyndon 
Johnson, 1965-1968: A Preliminary Report," Peace and Change, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 
1984), p. 7. 

^^ "a mass emotional nervous": Allen Ginsberg, in Perry, Haight-Ashbury, p. 123. 

9. Public Nuisances 

[After the triumph of Soviet Russia and bureaucratic American trade unions] 
power itself was now the spook, and the only alternative, if humankind was to 
show a human face again, was to break the engagement with the future and, 
above all, the psychic power upon people which the future held— and that was 
sublimation itself. You lived now. lied now. loved now, died now. And the 
thirties people, whether radicals or bourgeois, were equally horrified and 
threatened by this reversal because they shared the same inner relation to 
the future, the same self-abnegating masochism which living for any future 
entails... . 
—Arthur Miller^ 


The Theater Of Outlaws 

The Haight-Ashbury drew all manner of avant-gardes in search of constituencies who might 
be ready to think big. The organizers with the greatest flair called themselves Diggers. 

They practiced street theater, with performances and leaflets as their two forms. ^ They 
declared "The Death of Money and the Birth of Free," trudged down Haight Street as 
pallbearers wearing five-foot animal masks and carrying a coffin, giving away flutes and 
flowers, mocking the law banning "public nuisance," which they said was only "new sense. "^ 
They raised money from Owsley, and stole sides of beef which ended up in the stew they 
ladled out every afternoon for a year at 4 P.M. in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. They 
broke a donated brick of marijuana into baggies, went into Haight-Ashbury stores, and 
yelled, "Free marijuana. Does anybody want this?" They ran a Free Store with "liberated 
goods," and gave out "free money." They burned dollar bills. They erected a twelve-foot- 
square "Free Frame of Reference"— walk through it and remind yourself how constructed 
consciousness is. They put on the media by exchanging names, claiming credit for some 
demonstrations, disowning others. One of them, Peter Berg, once convinced each of two 
reporters, one from The Saturday Evening Post, the other from Time, each having dressed 
down for his foray into the wild and mysterious Haight, that the other was the manager of 
the Digger Free Store. (The two interviewed each other for some time before they caught 
on.) They shanghaied the Grateful Dead into giving a free concert in Golden Gate Park. "^ To 
protest an execution at San Quentin, they butchered a horse. 

"We were doing a piece of theater called the Diggers," Peter Berg said years later, "and it 
involved the audience." There was theater, indeed, in their background. Berg, the most 
book-learned of the bunch, had roots as a beat poet, then wrote plays and acted in the San 
Francisco Mime Troupe. (In the first "guerrilla theater" piece he wrote, American MPs 
simulated beating German POWs to death in the middle of Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, with no 
announcement that this was Theater; in the second, Searcli and Seizure, an acidhead 
subverted the police by being so stoned he simply didn't know he was being interrogated.) 
Emmett Grogan, an ex-junkie, had also acted with the Mime Troupe; he and Billy Murcutt 
were working-class Irish boys from Brooklyn. Billy Fritsch was a longshoreman married to 
the beat poet Lenore Kandel. Others came and went. 

There was considerable theory to the Diggers' practice. Though they became famous for 
giveaway services and acquired a reputation as Robin Hoods, they were not social workers 
any more than SNCC or FRAP organizers were. They were anarchists of the deed, and their 
flair, in the full spirit of the time, was to carry a romantic idea to its logical endpoint. Not 
that they were romantic about the dropouts flooding into the Haight-Ashbury; they thought 
that "hippies" were cute, unserious, and innocent, "white kids who weren't that hip." A 
decade older than most hippies, the Diggers moved into the Haight deliberately to infuse 
the new culture with their ethos. It was time to live in a world beyond scarcity, they 
thought, and they wanted to bring the news: live off the abundant fat of the land. Or, in the 
words of a leaflet, "SEW THE RAGS OF SURPLUS INTO TEPEES."^ 


"The executive branch of the hippie movement," a sympathetic minister called them, 
wishfully.^ The Diggers were a cadre organization, actually— radical existentialists, artists of 
the will. They didn't demand because, as they saw it, demanding was dependency, it taught 
that authorities are legitimate enough to be targets of demands. Don't demand food, they 
said; get the food and give it away. They had no illusions about loving the world into a new 
shape with a smile, a two-finger V, a chestful of buttons, and a psychedelic shop. "When 
Love does its thing," they proclaimed in an early broadside, "it does it for itself, not for 
profit ... . To Show Love is to fail."^ They had a theory of society in which theatrical 
disruptions and recreations were central. Social institutions, left to themselves, calcified into 
"horizontal and vertical pyramid hierarchies boxed and frozen for coordinating programmed 
corpses."^ Life took place in breaking through the "games," making life happen— why not 
now?— by force of sheer audacity. As the young journalist Don McNeill wrote, "The Diggers 
declared war on conditioned responses. They blew minds by breaking subtle mores. They 
practiced public nuisance."^ LSD was useful because it might remind you of childhood's lost 
"tense of presence,"^" but drugs by themselves wouldn't change the world. For that there 
would have to be action that would— in a phrase Berg pulled out of a theater history book— 
"create the condition it describes." History was theater if you "assumed freedom"; the 
protagonists who made things happen were "life-actors"— life was their act— who "amped" 
their theater by pumping it into the right audience in the right place at the right time. 

Since history could be picked up by the scruff of the neck and made to dance, the Diggers 
dredged up precedent wherever they could. They took their name from the seventeenth- 
century English revolutionaries who declared their faith in Love and "endeavour[ed] to shut 
out of the Creation, the cursed thing, called Particular Propriety, which is the cause of all 
war, blood-shed, theft, and enslaving Laws, that hold the people under miserie."^^ Those 
righteous small-c communists thought the way to celebrate universal divinity was to 
unearth glory here and now by treating all the earth as a "Common Treasury," and they 
proceeded, without asking permission, to treat it that way; at a time of great privation they 
took over common land and, by God, started to dig it.^^ Beyond protests and demands— 
although eventually, after being run off the common lands, they humbly addressed their 
Utopian proposals to Oliver Cromwell— the original Diggers weren't satisfied to disobey 
authority civilly; they utterly ignored it. From the Futurists and Dadaists of the early 
twentieth century, the twentieth-century Diggers derived the precedent of artists injecting 
art like some wild drug into the veins of society; from the civil rights movement came the 
as-if, the idea of forcing the future by living in it, as if the obstacles, brought to a white 
heat, could be made to melt. 

The Diggers were prone to compression: compressed language (Ezra Pound: "DICHTEN = 
CONDENSARE"), compressed history, compressed events. Their prose style, descending 
from Pound via Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, was breathless, extravagant, desperate, as 
if they had only an instant to pass on the latest bulletin before moving on to the next 
emergency. Like hip admen they floated pithy slogans like "Today is the first day of the rest 
of your life" (originally a line from the beat poet Gregory Corso, actually) which as a caption 
to a poster showing a little girl marveling at the ocean found its way onto many a hip wall. 
They were either/or and they liked hard-and-fast formulations: "if you're not a digger/you're 
property"; "if you Really believe it/do it." And although the Diggers loathed the media for 
faking experience, they were willing to use them as public address systems. When they 
were trying to scare up resources to take care of the anticipated Summer of Love influx, for 
example, they happily participated in a community press conference. ("Huge Invasion" was 
the San Francisco Clironicle's tag, over "HIPPIES WARN S. E" in gigantic black letters at the 
top of the front-page. Whereupon the Diggers passed out photocopies of the article with an 
addendum that read: "Two predictions absolutely free: I. They won't believe it till it 
happens. II. When it does, they'll try to bust it.")^^ 


In June 1967, Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist and a countercultural impresario with a 
raunciny sense of inumor, mentioned to tine Diggers tinat ine was going to an SDS conference 
in IMiclnigan. Winat an opportunity to take tine Digger sinow on tine road! Visions of freaking 
out tine stodgy New Left! Emmett Grogan liked the idea of disrupting, "calling the white 
radicals' bluff."^"^ Peter Berg, who had read The Port Huron Statement (he thought it "pallid" 
and "elusive"), was mildly less antagonistic; he thought the Diggers might make some 
converts, but he agreed that the New Left was square and hypocritical— middle-class kids 
comforting themselves with plans for the future while supporting themselves with checks 
from Mommy in their dull-eyed present. An SDS conference might be interesting enough to 
warrant blowing its collective mind. 

There was no time like the present. They got in a car with plenty of whiskey and wine and 
speed pills, and drove at breakneck speed from San Francisco to the middle of Michigan. 

^ "power itself was now": Arthur Miller, introduction to Ken Kesey, Kesey's Garage Sale 
(New York: Viking, 1973), p. xv. 

^ They practiced: All information about the Diggers not otherwise attributed comes from my 
interview with Peter Berg, July 19, 1985. 

•^ They declared: Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shiain, Acid Dreams (New York: Grove, 1985), p. 

"* Grateful Dead ... horse: Lee and Shiain, Acid Dreams, p. 173: Don McNeill, Moving Through 
Here (New York: Knopf, 1970), pp. 125-30. 

^ "SEW THE RAGS": Communications Company leaflet, n.d. (Spring 1967): Bancroft Library, 
University of California, Berkeley, Social Action Collection, Communications Company file. 

^ "The executive branch": Rev. Leon Harris, in '"Huge Invasion': HIPPIES WARN S. P.," San 
Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 1967, p. 1. 

^ "When Love does its thing": Digger leaflet, in Charles Perry, The Haight-Ashbury: A 
History (New York: Random House, 1984), p. 260. 

^ "horizontal and vertical": Ibid., p. 261. 

^ "The Diggers declared": McNeill, Moving, p. 125. 

^° "tense of presence": Digger leaflet, in Lee and Shiain, Acid Dreams, p. 183. 

" "endeavour[ed] to shut out": Gerrard Winstanley, et al., June 1, 1649, in Digger leaflet, 
n.d. (1967): Bancroft Library, Social Action Collection, Communications Company file. 

^^ righteous small-c communists: Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down 
(Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1972), chap. 7. 

^•^ "Two predictions": Digger leaflet, March 22, 1967: Bancroft Library, Social Action 
Collection, Communications Company file. 

^"^ "calling the white radicals'": Emmett Grogan, Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps (Boston: 
Little, Brown, 1972), p. 385. 227 "a plot of aging": Todd Gitlin to Carol McEldowney, n.d. 
(probably May or June 1967) (author's file). 

A Comic Collision 

What the Diggers drove cross-country toward was not, in fact, an SDS conference, though 
the distinction was lost on them. It was the SDS Old Guard's attempt to regather an 
extended version of the original fused group. 


The Old Guard was trying to think big in its own way. We were not giddy about the youth 
surge; but we too had been infected by the sense that something unprecedented was upon 

We were rather sober-sided easterners and IMidwesterners, nothing hippie-dippie about us. 
In 1967, I doubt whether a single one of the Old Guard had sampled the mystery drug LSD. 
Most were leery even of marijuana. (When Tom Hayden saw me weaving under the 
influence of grass at a party during the 1967 SDS convention, he gave me a suspicious look, 
as if to say that no serious radical should be messing around with this stuff.) We had 
streamed off the campuses, many of us into ERAP projects, a few into professional careers. 
In various ways we had tried to dig in, on a small scale, "for the duration." But that spring 
we were more than usually restive. Plunging off campus to find a constituency large and 
committed enough for radical change, we had kicked away our onetime base. In our middle 
and late twenties, we felt too old for Students for a Democratic Society. With the benefit of 
a bit of experience in the larger world, we knew that students, no matter how many and 
how estranged and militant, hadn't the leverage, by themselves, for enormous social 
change. It was, moreover, dawning upon the community organizing wing, at least 
subliminally, that ERAP's much-touted "interracial movement of the poor" was not 
materializing, at least not fast enough to outrun nationalism among blacks and George 
Wallace's popularity among whites. To win the simplest reforms— housing repairs, a traffic 
light at a dangerous intersection, more money for welfare recipients and their children than 
22 cents per meal (the Chicago rate)— proved Herculean. It was a moment when many on 
the Left wanted to push outward. Some organized Vietnam Summer, a canvassing program 
to channel antiwar activists into the untouched heart of middle-class America. An older 
cadre including Marcus Raskin and Arthur Waskow put together a National Conference for 
New Politics (NCNP), which aimed to be a new coalition in the making; some anticipated a 
national effort to form an electoral campaign against Johnson, with hopes that Martin Luther 
King and Dr. Benjamin Spock would be the candidates. 

What some of the Old Guard wanted was a post-SDS, some sort of organization to fuse 
political passions and professional commitments for onetime student activists. The 
movement's heart was still ecumenical: come one, come all. Whatever your skill and calling, 
there was a place for you. For poets and fiction writers, SDS had spun off a literary 
magazine called Caw! (after Whitman). For architects, computer specialists, artists, you 
name it, there was New York City's loose-knit federation. Movement for a Democratic 
Society. For journalists, including myself, there were meetings to organize a radical 
newsweekly. Playwrights, take your work out on the road to SDS projects! (This was the 
scheme that had first drawn an Ann Arbor dramatist named Carl Oglesby to SDS.) City 
planners, draw up plans that community groups can embrace! For every hundred schemes, 
a handful materialized— but never mind, the spirit of One Big Movement was alive. In June 
there was a conference to coordinate "Radicals in the Professions": incipient doctors, 
lawyers, teachers, planners. But old SDSers felt that something more sweeping, something 
national, was needed. As early as 1964 Dick Flacks had proposed that SDS expedite an 
organization of alumni; the SDS National Council had sagely nodded approval, and nothing 
had happened, graduate students, young professors, and community organizers all having 
other priorities. But an Old Guard kernel in Chicago had been searching, in fits and starts, 
for a way to act collectively as political intellectuals. We put together a conference we 
called, mock-grandly, "Back to the Drawing Boards." 


We didn't quite agree on winat we wanted: electoral politics, post-student organization, a 
canvass of the state of local activity and movement ideology. The incumbent SDS officers, 
of the prairie-power persuasion, suspected the Old Guard of social-democratic heresies; I 
tried to convince them that the conference wasn't "a plot of aging, jealous sell-outs to 
deliver the movement into NCNP." At bottom, the "Drawing Boards" group wanted to rally 
old faces and see what they had to say to one another. We put out the word, however 
vague, to old SDSers, young radical professionals and intellectuals, antiwar activists, and lo 
and behold, a couple of hundred agreed to spend a June weekend at a camp in the woods 
between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, Michigan, to discuss next steps. It was exactly five 
years since Port Huron. 

What everyone remembers from Drawing Boards is the melodrama, or farce. Tom Hayden 
was giving the keynote speech in the wood-beamed camp dining hall. The context was 
emergency: the war was burning, the ghettos were burning. Hayden was mixing militant 
rhetoric and reform goals. On the one hand, with the radical upsurge, rifle practice was the 
next step; we might need to know how to break off friendships and become urban 
guerrillas. On the other, radical organizers had to consider joining Johnson's war on 
poverty, boring from within, for was not the Economic Opportunity Act making a pass at 
participatory democracy with its commitment to "maximum feasible participation of the 

As in the opening scene of a horror movie, rain was pouring down.^ The door burst open 
and three men barged in. "Is there a fuckin' lawyer here? We need a lawyer." 

Confusion and astonishment in the hall. Hayden ground to a halt. 

One of the invaders wore a leather vest, another a fur hat. The one in the vest, long-legged 
and long-jawed, called himself Emmett Grogan. They were the Diggers, they said. They 
represented all the kids fleeing to the Haight-Ashbury to act out their vision. They had just 
driven all the way from San Francisco, stopping exclusively at Phillips 66 gas stations 
because that was the credit card they had hustled; they had been nabbed by the highway 
patrol for swimming naked in the Platte River, then nabbed for speeding, then narrowly 
squeaked out of a shoplifting episode and a barroom brawl ... and then, just down the road, 
their car had skidded into a canal, and now one of their comrades was in jail. 

A lawyer in the audience volunteered to go off with Grogan to do his lawyerly thing. 

By now enough of the assembled had recovered from their shock to demand. Who are you 
guys? The one in the far hat, Billy Fritsch, started banging his tambourine in time. 
Questions came from the dumbfounded audience, quivers of interest and fear. What are you 
doing here? What are you about? Are you provocateurs? More than one person in the 
audience thought of The Wild One. 


Peter Berg, short and coiled, calling himself Emmett Grogan, started to talk, prowling across 
the room as if it were a stage. Someone came up front to turn on a tape-recorder. Berg 
grimaced with his actorly face. This is not going to be tape-recorded, he roared, because if 
you tape-record it, you're not going to listen. This isn't for posterity, it isn't literature! The 
New Left didn't know what was happening. Berg laid out in jumbled illumination; it was 
abstract, ineffectual, hopelessly middle-class, irrelevant, derivative— without Vietnam, 
without Cuba, there wouldn't be any New Left at all. What were your politics anyway? You 
could be a rich dentist and protest against American intervention. The only thing worth 
doing was to make up your own civilization! "Property is the enemy— burn it, destroy it, give 
it away. Don't let them make a machine out of you, get out of the system, do your thing. 
Don't organize students, teachers, Negroes, organize your head. Find out where you are, 
what you want to do and go out and do it. The Kremlin is more fucked up than Alabama. 
Don't organize the schools, burn them. Leave them, they will rot."^ Look at the Diggers, 
taking direct action. They had a community of people who needed help in San Francisco, 
and they were helping with free food, free crash-pad housing, free clothes, a free 
information switchboard, free medicine, free tie-dying. That was politics. 

Yells from the audience: That's not much! What gives you the right to come in here and 
criticize us? 

His legal mission successfully accomplished, Grogan returned, jumped up on a table. "We're 
trying to understand you," one woman said. "Are you a mother?" Grogan asked. "Yes." 
Grogan: "You'll never understand us. Your children will understand us. We're going to take 
your children." He leaped down, kicked over the table, smashed down a chair. He knocked 
down one woman and slapped around some others, or went through the stage motions- 
accounts disagree. "Faggots! Fags! Take off your ties, they are chains around your necks. 
You haven't got the balls to go mad. You're gonna make a revolution?— you'll piss in your 
pants when the violence erupts. You, spade— you're a nigger, what are you doing here? 
Your people need you. There's a war on. They got fuckin' concentration camps ready, the 
world's going to end any day." Grogan unrolled a scroll of wrapping paper, declaimed a 
poem by Gary Snyder called "A Curse on the Men in the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.," 
including the line, "I hunt the white man down/in my heart." Periodically the Diggers turned 
off the lights, and Grogan held a flashlight under his face for horror-movie effect. 

"If the CIA wanted to disrupt this meeting," yelled straight ex-SDSer Bob Ross, sitting in 
front, "they couldn't have done it any better than by sending you." Grogan, grimacing, 
leaped over to Ross, shook his finger at Ross's nose, and barked out, "What an ugly face!" 
Ross assumed that Grogan was anti-Semitically singling out what Ross called his 
"misshapen Jewish nose." 

One of the Diggers announced that he was going to chase women. He was going to spread 
love. He wanted to get laid by one of the SDS ladies, he said. At one point he crawled 
around the floor and moaned, "Nobody wants me. Nobody wants to go to bed with me. I'm 
a poor dog that nobody wants." 

"Please give us back our meeting," somebody said. 

Eventually one of the Grogans announced that they had fuckin' guns and fuckin' bows-and- 
arrows in their fuckin' car, and that the next morning they'd be leading fuckin' target 

Whereupon Mickey Flacks said, "There isn't going to be any fucking if you people don't 
register." This brought the house down, and the opening plenary session of Back to the 
Drawing Boards came to an end. 


A quirk, in a way, tinis farcical sinowdown. But quirks also explode into moments of truth. 
For the interesting thing about Drawing Boards is what didn't happen there. What has to be 
understood— what tells us a truth about where the New Left was tending in 1967— is why 
dozens of experienced organizers, who had set up the conference with a sense of high if 
vague purpose, permitted three Diggers to derail it. Even after the Diggers left the next 
morning, the conference never gathered momentum, never broke out of the Diggers' 
gravitational field. No organization was founded, no further plans sketched. That failure 
prefigured a larger chasm between political and cultural radicals— and also indicates why the 
New Left's attempt to outgrow the student movement never got off the ground. 

The Diggers, for their part, fall of stagecraft and menace, fueled by class resentments as 
well as politics, knew how to take over a crowd. "We were a pretty swaggering bunch in 
those days ... cocky and outrageous, and sometimes rude, disrespectful," as Peter Berg 
says. ("Insufferably self-confident" is how the journalist Nicholas von Hoffman puts it.) The 
New Left was not into street theater, let alone streetfighting. The Diggers had the 
advantage of planning and surprise; they had spent days on the road putting together their 
performance (although not the accident that gave them their dramatic entree). A few of the 
Old Guard, myself included, were distracted by marital crises. But earlier conferences had 
weathered worse. 

No, the Old New Left didn't quite accept the fact, but its moment had passed. SDS, under 
prairie-power leadership, was moving "from protest to resistance," the premise being the 
idea long in the making that radicalized youth culture presaged a movement that could go it 
alone, building to the young and left, with limited reliance on coalitions to the elder and 
right. The swelling war seemed to discredit anything less than "resistance"; and there was 
now a mass youth base for upping the ante of militancy, which might even impress the 
middle class. Thus there were both strategic and expressive motives for leaving the Old 
Guard behind. Of all the New Left, we at Drawing Boards were the most hostile to Marxism- 
Leninism and the most skeptical of the political significance of new cultural styles. Yet even 
we were cowed by anyone who said he was a revolutionary. The Diggers, who liked to talk 
about freeing "the Digger in yourself," were our anarchist bad conscience, and so they 
paralyzed us. We shared in the antileadership mood— our own countercultural roots again. 
We had built a politics on the accusation that liberals were hypocritical: thus we made 
ourselves vulnerable to the charge that we were hypocritical ourselves. We had cast 
ourselves adrift from conventional ideas of legitimate authority, but we possessed no clear 
authority principle to mobilize against the Diggers' takeover style. Most of the Old New 
Leftists who believed in formal leadership had long since been discredited by their belief in 
boring from within the Democratic Party. If the conference organizers had linked arms, say, 
and rallied the audience to throw the Diggers out, they might indeed have been thrown out. 
But the idea never dawned. The fact that the Diggers were left free to do their particular 
thing was both cause and effect of Drawing Boards' fragility. It was the SDS alumni crowd 
who were shaken, intrigued, and tempted by the Diggers, not the other way around. 

The Diggers got exactly the effect they had angled for. Some of the SDS alumni were 
turned on by their theater of cruelty, some were transfixed, some repelled. The Old New 
Left not only was incapable of pulling anything together, its seams were showing. Bob Ross, 
for example, came away absolutely convinced that the Diggers represented antipolitics, 
"frenetic madness," "disaster" pure and simple. Some said the hippies would be "co-opted" 
by a business culture: wasn't there already a hot-dog stand in the Haight-Ashbury selling 
"love burgers," a Bay Area radio station advertising its "flower power"? Others were 
fascinated by the Diggers' flair and force. Many saw portents of trouble in a New Left out of 


^ As in the opening: Parts of tinis account are drawn from "Free" (Abbie Hoffman), 
Revolution/or the Hell of It (New York: Dial, 1968), pp. 33-36; Grogan, Ringolevio, pp. 
385-402; Nicinoias von Hoffman, "Hippiedom IMeets tine New Left: A Study in Language 
Barriers," Washington Post, June 19, 1967, p. A3; and from my interviews witin Peter Berg, 
Dick Flacks, Mickey Flacks, Paul Krassner, Elinor Langer, Dickie Magidoff, Bob Ross, Steve 
Max, Don Villarejo, Myrna Villarejo, and Nicholas von Hoffman. 

^ "Property is the enemy": Peter Berg, in Hoffman, Revolution, p. 35. 228 "Faggots!": 
Emmett Grogan, in Hoffman, Revolution, p. 35. 230 clown face: Fred Halstead, Out Now! 
(New York: Monad Press, 1978), p. 314. 230 "Think of it": Abbie Hoffman, in McNeill, 
Moving, p. 99. 

The Theory And The Practice Of Yippie 

It the Digger diatribes sound a bit familiar, it is probably because a version of their rap 
became household lore— a television version. 

One of those agog about the Diggers at Drawing Boards was a former civil rights organizer 
with a clown face who had moved to the Lower East Side to open a store selling the 
products of Mississippi cooperatives, until he was eased out when SNCC went for Black 
Power, and Stokely Carmichael advised him to hurl his formidable energies into the antiwar 
movement. Abbie Hoffman did that. He grew his brown curly hair long, discovered LSD, and 
rollicked through the swelling Lower East Side hip scene, an East Coast sort of street Digger 
(complete with Broadway-Catskill shtick and a Massachusetts accent), organizing against 
police brutality, picketing here and there, social-working on behalf of the dropouts, trying to 
cool out violent scenes, joining community goodwill committees, then trying to disband 
them. ("Think of it," he said once. "A committee disbanding after two days. It'd be a whole 
turn in American political life.") Digger emissaries from the Haight had started showing up in 
Manhattan in the spring of 1967, "received in the hippie community like visiting royalty," as 
the astute Don McNeill wrote in The Village Voice.^ "They rapped to a series of meetings 
about free stores and fucking the leaders and turning-on Puerto Ricans, but between their 
visits the momentum would die and the torch would be snuffed." Abbie was one of the 
turned-on, although by Haight-Ashbury standards the Lower East Side imitation-Digger 
scene was uninspired. In beads, boots, bellbottoms, and Mexican cowboy hat, Abbie 
Hoffman flew to Kalamazoo with Central Park Be-In organizer Jim Fouratt (in purple pants) 
and Paul Krassner, to make the scene at Drawing Boards.^ 

"A monumental meeting, probably never to be repeated," Abbie called the Diggers' freak- 
out performance.^ In Revolution for the Hell of It, published under the name "Free," he 
rhapsodized about the Diggers (exaggerating their violence as he went), and about staying 
up talking all night with them, getting stoned, while the Old New Leftists, "shitting, really 
scared of acid ... losing control, Marx with flowers in his hair, can't deal with contradictory 
stimuli, simultaneous bombardment ... slept all night very soundly... ." "Abbie was starry- 
eyed," Peter Berg recalls. "It was like a revelation had been committed to him." When the 
Diggers took off, Abbie and his fellow travelers stayed on. "The seminars drag on ... a total 
bore ..." Abbie recorded. "Jim and I are avoided, except by a small group. They do 
socialism, we blow pot in the grass, they do imperialism, we go swimming, they do racism, 
we do flowers for everybody and clean up the rooms. ""^ Bob Ross has another memory: the 
gay Jim Fouratt coming up to him the next day, trying to argue him into the politics of Love, 
and to prove the point kissing him full on the lips, making Ross feel he was "the first New 
Left victim of sexual harassment."^ 


From Drawing Boards, the Diggers pusined on to New York City. A TV talk sinow inost named 
Alan Burke had invited Peter Berg to be his guest. ^ Berg, who had read his Marshall 
McLuhan, went on the air with hijacking in his heart. He launched into a lecture on the 
unreality of media portrayals. Watching people on the box, he said, you put yourself in a 
box. Did Berg know someone named Emmett Grogan? Burke asked. "No," said Berg, "there 
is no one named Emmett Grogan. There is, however, an Emma Goldman in the audience." 
At this point an older woman in the audience got up, perplexed, and asked what young 
people stood for these days. "Emma can handle your question," Berg said, and told the 
cameramen to focus on "Emma," a Digger plant who approached the microphone carrying a 
box, opened it, took out a pie, and shoved it right in the straight woman's face. Burke 
turned white. Berg addressed the audience and the camera: "This is how you get out of the 
box. You stand up, and you at home can join me in this. Stand up, and start walking to get 
out of the box. Now, here I go, now, just keep the camera on me, and I'll keep walking." He 
walked to the exit door, opened it, looked right into the camera, said, "Now turn off your 
television sets and go to bed," and walked out. 

Berg later maintained that his stunt was what started Abbie Hoffman thinking about the 
curious notion of organizing through ... television. But the priority matters less than the 
confluence. For the movement as a whole, countercultural and political alike, this was just 
the moment when the media were becoming problematic. To become a political force was to 
become media fodder: a fact at once inescapable, important, and confusing. Plainly the 
media helped define the collective sense of reality which underlay politics. The nightly news 
was bringing images of bloody war into the living room— was that the revelation of an awful 
reality, a trivializing of that reality, an obscuring of the war's imperial core, or all three? 
Administration spokesmen periodically blamed the press for insufficient patriotism, but the 
worst of the news of the Vietnam war, reported in Liberation and other movement journals, 
generally wasn't deemed fit to print in Tlie New Yorl< Times. As black ghetto riots polarized 
race feeling, the white movement got its share of flamboyant coverage. The media had 
discovered youthful protest, and in the process bent the images toward the sensational. The 
problem arose: what should one do with inquiring reporters? Credentials were scrutinized 
with increasingly narrowing eyes. Just a month before Drawing Boards, a New 'Yorl< Times 
reporter had converted an extravagant metaphor into this front-page lead: " 'We are 
working to build a guerrilla force in an urban environment,' said the national secretary of 
the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society, Gregory Calvert, one day recently. 'We are 
actively organizing sedition,' he said."^ Distortions were being committed by professionals: 
what should we make of that? 

Even Drawing Boards had brought some of these cross-currents to the surface. After the 
Diggers left, Nicholas von Hoffman, covering the event for Tlie Wasliington Post, got up to 
say his notebook had been stolen. Word got around that the spunky Carol McEldowney, 
veteran of early SDS and now FRAP cadre, had (with accomplices) "liberated" this 
instrument of establishment scrutiny. For hours the meeting buzzed over whether the 
offending notebook should be returned. Was von Hoffman, a sympathizer and a former 
community organizer himself, an ally (in fact, he had had to convince skeptical editors that 
the meeting was worth covering at all)— or an unwitting tool of the Establishment? 
Protracted and earnest discussions ensued, in public, until the perpetrators were persuaded 
to return the notebook. Here was 1967 New Left ambivalence in perfect microcosm: even 
the more rambunctious among us could be persuaded, after hours of participatory 
democracy, to be nice to liberals. Pulled between the Diggers and a Wasliington Post 
reporter, the Old New Left lost ground to the countercultural side. The express train of 
antiauthority was hard to brake. 


Therefore the antics of Abbie Hoffman were hard to stop or outdo. If the New Left didn't 
believe in its own leadership— if leaders denied they were leaders and the rank-and-file 
thought leadership illegitimate— then the movement, in effect, turned over to the media the 
capacity to anoint leaders in its name.* Abbie's story is that he stumbled into the spotlight. 
In August, two months after Drawing Boards, he led a group to drop dollar bills on the floor 
of the New York Stock Exchange, watching the brokers scramble for them and the ticker 
tape stop dead, then burning bills for the hordes of reporters as they asked their 
uncomprehending questions. It wasn't original: the Diggers burned money first, at a 
demonstration outside the druggy-spiritualist paper East Village Other.^ This time, although 
no one called the reporters beforehand, the word got around in a flash anyway.^" Thus did 
Abbie Hoffman the dramatist grasp that The Hippies were one of the Hottest Stories in 
town. Next time, and the time after that, he could lure them with a phone call or a flashy 
press release. 

One stunt led to another. Soot bombs going off at Con Edison headquarters ... The army 
recruiting booth in Times Square plastered with "SEE CANADA NOW" ... A tree planted in 
the middle of a Lower East Side street (the second tree Abbie uprooted, that is; the first one 
died during the transplant)" ... Joints of marijuana mailed to three thousand people selected 
"at random" from the phone book, one of whom happened to be a TV newsman ... Reporters 
loved Abbie Hoffman; he was quotable, colorful, guaranteed good copy. "Recognizing the 
limited time span of someone staring at a lighted square in their living room," he wrote 
later, "I trained for the one-liner, the retort jab, or sudden knockout put-ons."^^ Abbie (ne 
Abbott) and Jerry Rubin, like Abbott and Costello, might as well have been sent over from 
Central Casting. 

With the counsel of Ronnie Davis, the founder of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Jerry 
Rubin had already discovered the theatrical virtues of costuming. Subpoenaed by HUAC, he 
had appeared in an American Revolutionary War uniform, stoned, blowing bubbles, making 
headlines, and (with the help of his fellow subpoenaees, the Nazi-saluting, finger-giving, 
put-on artists of PL, still in its bohemian phase) puncturing the bubble of the feared 
Committee's fearsomeness.^^ He arrived in the East to coordinate the October 1967 antiwar 
demonstration in Washington, just in time to join Abbie's desecration of the Stock Exchange 
temple. Abbie's theatrics— he was wearing flowers in his hair when they met for the first 
time^"*- gravitated toward Jerry's politics. But it would be mistaken to make too much of 
their differences. "Personally," Abbie wrote later, "I always held my flower in a clenched fist. 
A semi-structure freak among the love children, I was determined to bring the hippie 
movement into a broader protest. "^^ 

The Hoffman-Rubin offspring was a politics of display. Jerry, weary of orderly 
demonstrations, wanted to confront the Pentagon. Why stop, he asked, at what had become 
the predictable semiannual antiwar show of strength? Weren't these mobilizations like 
working for a living, just another case of sacrificing the vivid, vibrating present on the altar 
of some hypothetical future? The movement's twice-yearly body count, for the sake of 
impressing a dubious "public opinion," had the worst possible attribute in the eyes of a 
subculture devoted to killing conventional time: it was boring. New tactics were called upon 
to infuse the movement with countercultural spunk. Since five-sided shapes were evil, why 
not apply for a permit to levitate the Pentagon, then invite witches and incantations to do 
the deed? 


Abbie and Jerry proceeded to discover that the authorities could be trusted, in their own 
self-protective hysteria, to raise the stakes. Like skilled judo wrestlers, they could flip huge 
and clumsy opponents by using their own weight and ineptitude against them. When the 
Washington police announced they were ready to use a new stinging, temporarily blinding 
spray called Mace, Abbie sprang into symbolic counteraction, announcing a new drug, 
"Lace,"^^ ostensibly "LSD combined with DMSO, a skin-penetrating agent. When squirted on 
the skin or clothes, it penetrates quickly to the bloodstream, causing the subject to disrobe 
and get sexually aroused." Before bemused reporters, two couples sprayed each other with 
water pistols full of a fluid actually called "Schwartz Disappear-O!" imported from Taiwan, 
which was as good as its name: it made purple stains, then disappeared. The couples 
proceeded to tear off their clothes and make love, not war. 

The point was to get reported, it didn't matter in what spirit, through what frame. In fact, if 
the point was to force the authorities to rise to the bait, to commit their cumbersome bulk 
and lose their balance, then the more offensive the image, the better. If someone was 
attracted by watching the story, great. If someone was alarmed, also great. Jerry's 
contributions tended to evolve in this direction: "to grab the imagination of the world and 
play on appropriate paranoias," in announcing the Pentagon demonstration, for example, 
"we needed the help of Amerika's baddest, meanest, most violent nigger— then [SNCC's] H. 
Rap Brown... . We began the press conference by identifying the Peace Movement with the 
Detroit and Newark riots. The newsmen quickly asked Rap if he would bring a gun to the 
Pentagon. He answered: 'I'd be unwise to say I'm going with a gun because you all took my 
gun last time. / may bring a bomb, sucker.'"^^ No one brought a bomb, of course, and the 
only people who brought guns to the Pentagon that October were the federal marshals who 
occasionally poked their bayonets and bashed their rifle barrels into the symbolic siege. 

It remained only to turn up the spotlight, broadcast the image far and wide. To Rubin, "A 
new man was born smoking pot while besieging the Pentagon, but there was no myth to 
describe him.^^ There were no images to describe all the 14-year-old freaks in Kansas, 
dropping acid, growing their hair long and deserting their homes and their schools... . The 
Marxist acidhead, the psychedelic Bolshevik. He didn't feel at home in SDS, and he wasn't a 
flower-power hippie or a campus intellectual. A stoned politico ... A streetfighting freek 
[sic], a dropout, who carries a gun at his hip. So ugly that middle-class society is frightened 
by how he looks. A longhaired, bearded, hairy, crazy motherfucker whose life is theater, 
every moment creating the new society as he destroys the old." A melange of Digger, 
prairie power, heaven's demon, in short: Rubin's ideal of himself. 


Like all purist pioneers, the Diggers thought the popularizers violated the spirit and missed 
the point. ^^ The Diggers were virtually anonymous, came and went; Abbie and Jerry 
collaborated with the media, became celebrities. The Diggers wanted to expose the media 
as fraudulent; Abbie and Jerry wanted to go through the channels, use them for good ends, 
take the theater to the enemy camp. Abbie did collect food, clothing, and blankets on the 
Lower East Side, then trucked them through police lines to Newark blacks when the ghetto 
was cut off during the ferocious riots of August 1967.^° But that was his last performance 
from the old Digger repertory. Within a few months, a decade in drug-hyped wind-tunnel 
time, the Digger idea of direct service toward a new society in the making was submerged 
by the Prankster idea of organizing a youth revolution electronically. Why think small and 
slow? On December 31, 1967, Abbie, Jerry, Paul Krassner, Dick Gregory, and friends 
decided to pronounce themselves the Yippies. (The name came first, then the acronym that 
would satisfy literal-minded reporters: Youth International Party. )^^ They would coax, 
goose, entice, and dazzle thousands of freaks to Chicago for the August Democratic 
Convention, create there a "Festival of Life" against the "Convention of Death," a "blending 
of pot and politics ... a cross-fertilization of the hippie and New Left philosophies."^^ In an 
age of instant panaceas, commercial promises of instant gratification, this was the first 
instant organization, if in fact it was an organization at all. The underground press as well as 
the Establishment media, relaying the prophecy, would fulfill it. The myth would "inspire 
potential yippies in every small town and city throughout the country to throw down their 
textbooks and be free."" Slogans: "We will burn Chicago to the ground!" "We will fuck on 
the beaches!" "We demand the Politics of Ecstasy!" "Acid for all!" "Abandon the Creeping 
Meatball!"^"* Yell Yippie! at the moment of orgasm. 

Rubin and Hoffman went to great lengths to commandeer the media, which had their own 
reasons for playing along. But chutzpah aside, their siren song of hip-Left harmony was a 
consummation with a logic. Since revolutionaries couldn't count enough real allies for a 
revolution, they conjured images— images that permitted them to elude, for a while, the 
difficulties of practical politics. Yippie followed directly from the belief that the turned-on 
baby-boom generation was already "the revolution" in embryo; that what the media were 
calling its "lifestyle" prefigured a kind of small-c communism remaining only to be taken up 
by the rest of sluggish America. With the pleasure principle as their guide, Rubin and 
Hoffman committed themselves to two as if propositions. First, act as if the young 
everywhere were dropping out and slouching toward Chicago to be born, and they would, in 
fact, appear in Chicago on cue. "The myth is real," Rubin wrote, "if it builds a stage for 
people to play out their own dreams and fantasies."" The Diggers' "create the situation you 
describe" had been transformed into the huckster's "People all over America are switching 
to ..." The myth, properly amplified, would engineer the impression that the State was losing 
its capacity to govern. Thus the second proposition: act as if the State were falling apart, 
and it would fall apart. In Chicago, "we'd steal the media away from the Democrats and 
create the specter of 'yippies' overthrowing Amerika." As if specters overthrow nations once 
the latter have been renamed to make them sound Germanic. 


Sometimes the Yippies seemed to think that the media were transparent channels. Abbie: 
"The media in a real sense never lie when you relate to them in a non-linear mythical 
manner."^^ The young, after all, were the first generation who could not remember a time 
before television. "Runaways are the backbone of the youth revolution," Abbie decided. ^^ "A 
fifteen-year-old kid who takes off from middle-class American life is an escaped slave 
crossing the Mason-Dixie line ... . It seems America has lost her children." The young were 
so primed to escape middle-class banality, like runaway slaves, that with just a flash of the 
new Yippie image they could be enticed, presto, to join up. "We tear through the streets. 
Kids love it. They understand it on an internal level. We are living TV ads, movies. Yippie!"^® 
It followed that "once you get the right image the details aren't that important. Over- 
analyzing reduced the myth. A big insight we learned during this period was that you didn't 
have to explain why. That's what advertising was all about.* 'Why' was for the critics. "^^ 
Drugs were the guiding metaphor, the pole of experience around which all their other 
images orbited. Everything Abbie and Jerry said about television, they might have said 
about drugs. If drugs were usually used to keep people tranquilized, the right drugs, rightly 
used, would flood you with ecstasy and the giggles, open your eyes to the true nature of 

At other moments, Abbie recognized that the media didn't simply reproduce reality, they 
distorted and muffled it. Far from transparent, they were smoked glasses, funhouse mirrors. 
Justifying his Yippie stunts on talk shows, he wrote: "The goal of this nameless art form- 
part vaudeville, part insurrection, part communal recreation— was to shatter the pretense of 
objectivity ... rouse viewers from the video stupor. "•^° There was no such thing as bad 
publicity. But whether wearing a flag-shirt, uttering dirty words, or violating the aplomb of 
the master of equanimities, Abbie and Jerry had to perform according to the media's 
standards for newsworthy stunts: flamboyant, outrageous, mock violent, "anti-American." 
They had to outrage according to the censors' definition of outrage. They were trapped in a 
media loop, dependent on media standards, media sufferance, and goodwill. These apostles 
of freedom couldn't grasp that they were destined to become cliches. 

In the process, they also contributed to the very polarization of counterculture and radical 
politics which they claimed to overcome. "Ideology is a brain disease," Jerry wrote of the 
left-wing sects, ■'^ Progressive Labor above all, who doubted the gospel of the youth 
revolution and preferred their own versions of working-class romance. "The left turns 
Communism into a church with priests defining 'the line.'" These dogmatic Puritans stood for 
sacrifice, not fun. They turned people off— they were also, Puritans might have said, 
competition for the holy grail of revolution. Their meetings were deadly boring. Not only 
that, the "ideological left" was "made up of part-time people whose life-style mocks their 
rhetoric... . How can you be a revolutionary going to school during the day and attending 
meetings at night?"'^^ The ideal Yippie, by contrast, would live a seamless life, totally 
committed. "Act first. Analyze later. Impulse— not theory— makes the great leaps forward. "^^ 
Freaks of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your brains. Jerry was right about 
the tedium of Old Left true-believing politics, of course, right to recognize that the New Left 
in 1967 was already careening in that direction. But his own impulses were hardly free of 
ideology— flaunting the NLF flag, embracing "white middle-class youth as a revolutionary 
class," etc.^"^ Meanwhile, not a few partisans of the counterculture saw that the jester had 
aspirations toward priesthood himself. Envy, unacknowledged, churned through the 
movement's ultrademocracy. 

Indeed, after Chicago, Abbie and Jerry received job offers from three advertising agencies. [Indeed, after 
Chicago: Ibid., p. 146.] 


But even many who sniped at Rubin and Hoffman, like tine original Diggers, shared their 
fundamental premises. For the Yippie affirmation of impulse was squarely in the American 
vein— back to Walt Whitman's barbaric yawp from the rooftops. The new wrinkle was to 
assert that the very act of engorging the self, unplugging from all the sacrificial social 
networks, would transform society. An audacious notion, that id could be made to do the 
work of superego! Yippie electronics wanted to short-circuit the obstacles, "break on 
through to the other side," bring to completion the gambit of the Pranksters and Diggers. 
Arthur Miller caught the innocent spirit of the counterculture's extraordinary gambol: "If 
responsibility can be reached through pleasure, then something new is on the earth. "•^^ 

And yet there was a less innocent side to the Yippie sublime. When the freaked-out children 
insisted on frolicking in their parents' world, the freaked-out parental bullies were bound to 
rise to the bait. 

The collision came at Grand Central Station, midnight, March 22, 1968. •^^ What better place 
to stage a grand symbolic confrontation over the possession of time and space? From the 
Yippie point of view this was the frantic hub of the straight world's working life. Abbie's 
Yippies called for a celebration of the spring equinox, the media amplified the word, and in 
that night six thousand people streamed into the great vaulted cavern to celebrate the 
natural cycle of seasons. But if a great number of the celebrants were there to whoop 
"Yippie!" and play with balloons, not everyone felt benign. A few kids climbed onto the roof 
of the information booth to lead incendiary chants: "Long Hot Summer!" "Burn, Baby, 
Burn!" Someone unfurled a banner: "UP AGAINST THE WALL, MOTHERFUCKER'." Two cherry 
bombs went off. Someone tore off the hands from one of the clocks on top of the 
information booth. Having seized the straight world's space, like NLF guerrillas roving at 
night through rice paddies which Saigon patrolled during the day, some of the hips were 
now commandeering its time. It was an evocative image; during the Paris Commune, 
workers shot up the clocks. 

The trouble was, fifty cops were waiting outside— "quivering in formation," as The Village 
Voices appalled Don McNeill put it. Without warning or order to disperse, they charged into 
the crowd, smashing people with nightsticks. People fell trying to run the gauntlets; cops 
kicked them where they lay sprawled. A soda bottle flew out of the crowd; five cops 
grabbed one seventeen-year-old— the wrong one, according to a reporter eyewitness— and 
started beating him with their sticks; the crowd chanted, "Sieg Heill"Tvjo cops looked at 
Don McNeill's press credentials and then "cursed The Voice, grabbed my arms behind my 
back, and, joined by two others, rushed me back toward the street, deliberately ramming 
my head into the closed glass doors, which cracked with the impact." A squad went for 
Abbie Hoffman; trying to protect him, a twenty-two-year-old Yippie was thrown through a 
plate-glass door; the broken glass severed the tendons and nerves of his left hand. Abbie 
himself was clubbed on the back until he was unconscious.'^^ "It was the most extraordinary 
display of unprovoked police brutality I've seen outside of Mississippi," said a lawyer from 
the New York Civil Liberties Union. Some called it a "police riot." McNeill was mainly 
horrified by the police, but he also blamed the Yippies for dodging the obligations of 
leadership— they failed to anticipate, lacked megaphones, and led their masses into a trap. 
"It was a pointless confrontation in a box canyon," concluded McNeill, innocence lost, "and 
somehow it seemed to be a prophecy of Chicago."'^* 

^ "received in the hippie": McNeill, Moving, pp. 125-26. 
^ beads, boots: Hoffman, Revolution, p. 34. 
^ "A monumental meeting": Ibid., pp. 34-36. 


"* "The seminars drag": Ibid., p. 36. 

^ "tine first New Left": Teiepinone interview. Bob Ross, June 12, 1985 


Alan Burke: Interview, Peter Berg, July 19, 1985. 

^ " 'We are working'": Paul Hofmann, "The New Left Turns to Mood of Violence in Place of 
Protest," New York Times, May 7, 1967, p. 1. 

^ If the New Left: Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and 
Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), chap. 5. 

^ Diggers burned money: Interview, Peter Berg, July 19, 1985. 

^° no one called: Abbie Hoffman, Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture (New York: Perigee, 
1980), p. 101. 

" A tree planted: McNeill, Moving, p. 120. 233 Soot bombs ... Joints of marijuana: Hoffman, 
Motion Picture, pp. 108-9, 111-12. 

^^ "Recognizing the limited": Ibid., p. 116. 

^^ Subpoenaed by HUAC: Jerry Rubin, Do It! Scenarios of the Revolution (New York: Simon 
and Schuster, 1970), pp. 64-65. 

^"^ flowers in his hair: Milton Viorst, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960's (New York: 
Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 430. 

^^ "Personally, I always": Hoffman, Motion Picture, p. 99. 

^^ "Lace": Ibid., p. 132. 

" "to grab the imagination": Rubin, Do //, p. 69. 

^^ "A new man was born": Ibid., p. 82. 

^^ the Diggers thought: Interview, Peter Berg, July 19, 1985. 

^° Abbie did collect: Hoffman, Motion Picture, p. 98. 

^^ The name came first: Interview, Paul Krassner, April 7, 1986. 

^^ "blending of pot": Hoffman, Revolution, p. 102. 

^•^ "inspire potential yippies": Rubin, Do//, p. 83. 

^"^ "We will burn Chicago": Hoffman, Revolution, p. 102. 

" "The myth is real": Rubin, Do It, p. 83. 

^^ "The media in a real sense": Hoffman, Revolution, p. 92. 

^^ "Runaways are the backbone": Ibid., p. 74. Boldface in original. 

^^ "We tear": Ibid., p. 80. 

^^ "once you get": Hoffman, Motion Picture, p. 108. 

•^° "The goal of this nameless": Ibid., p. 114. Emphasis added. 

•^^ "Ideology is a brain disease": Rubin, Do//, p. 113. 

^^ "ideological left": Ibid., p. 114. 

^^ "Act first": Ibid., p. 116. Boldface in original. 


^"^ "white middle-class youth": Ibid., p. 114. 

•^^ "If responsibility": Arthur Miller, introduction to Kesey's Garage Sale, p. xvi. 

^^ Grand Central Station: McNeill, Moving, pp. 225-26. 

^^ Abbie Hoffman himself: Hoffman, Motion Picture, pp. 142-43. 

^* "It was a pointless": McNeill, Moving, pp. 224-30. 


Armed Love In Fat City 

Alongside the Diggers, tinere emerged a profusion of named and unnamed clusters of smart 
rough cultural revolutionaries, aiming to carry the avant-garde spirits of the arts— Dada, 
Artaud— into the streets. Their common thrust was to overcome the distances between art 
and everyday life, artists and audience. The Lower East Side, overstuffed with young 
uprooteds trying to root, was hospitable to guerrilla theater and similar interruptions. So 
was the historical moment: Vietnam and riots smashing up America's innocent image of 
itself; drugs smashing up the quotidian; prosperity taken for granted; social connections 
coming unstuck. Even the larger New York art scene was filling up with happenings. 
Performance Art, Conceptual Art: the idea made act. 

One Lower East Side cluster, formed in the fall of 1967, became movement legend. Their 
name alone guaranteed it: Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker, taken from a line in a poem 
by beat-turned-black-nationalist LeRoi Jones. (The next line was: "This is a stick-up.") 
Cultural revolutionaries weren't content to name themselves as a Committee "for" This or 
That— "for" something out there, separate from themselves; they wanted to embody direct 
statement. Their theoretical inspiration was a hybrid of European anarchism (especially the 
idea that there is no higher principle of organization than free association) and the Marxism 
of the Frankfurt School, whose best known exponent was Herbert Marcuse, according to 
whom mass entertainment distracted attention from the "one-dimensional" closure of 
society, while high art had sunk into an affirmation of the status quo. The Motherfuckers' 
core idea was organizational: the "affinity group," "a street gang with an analysis."^ In 
theory, affinity groups were all-purpose: fighting units in the midst of riots, "armed cadres 
at the centers of conflict" during "the revolutionary period itself," intimations of the new 
society after the revolution.^ 

The affinity group suited free-floating radicals who were childless, jobless, out of school, 
freebootingly male, and given to high-powered theoretical debates.'^ The Motherfuckers 
included the anarchist publisher of a magazine called Black Mask; a Dutchman from the 
brilliant, difficult, sectarian group of Europeans called Situationists, who liked to theorize 
about "the society of the spectacle"; an actor-artist who was the stepson of Herbert Marcuse 
himself; another actor from a Lower East Side theater troupe; an organizer from Movement 
for a Democratic Society, an attempt to form a poststudent radical enterprise in New York 
(he thought straitlaced SDSish politics needed a strong dose of cultural radicalism); and a 
dropout filmmaker from the U.S. Information Agency. Their actions were less survivalist 
than the Diggers', more aggressive, more hostile to high art and intellect. When 
garbagemen went on strike and the stench of garbage overflowed the Lower East Side, the 
Motherfuckers carried a load of garbage on the subway to the just-inaugurated Lincoln 
Center. (They talked macho, but at this stage only one rambunctious fellow had the nerve 
to dump the garbage in the fountain.) In the style of Dada, the spirit was: bring the 
garbage to the real temple of garbage, an upper-class mausoleum that uprooted the 
inconveniently located poor and kept art sealed away from "the people." At another point, 
they performed a street-theater piece to defend Valerie Solanis, an underling in Andy 
Warhol's arts factory who had shot Warhol in the name of her one-woman Society for 
Cutting Up Men, S. C. U. M. Over time they talked themselves into toughness, practiced the 
martial arts, urged hippies to interfere with police (already "pigs") trying to make busts, 
barged into the office of underground papers, threw their weight around. Their slogan was 
"Armed Love"; they used for a logo the exotic (Moroccan?) smoker who appeared on 
packets of Zig-Zag cigarette papers. 


In New York's whirl of avant-garde molecules, the Motherfuckers mixed with other ginger 
groups— what were later called "collectives"— of artists-manque-turned-revolutionaries. 
There was Liberation News Service, shipping parcels of syndicated articles to the burgeoning 
underground press."* There was the underground Rat, which let the Motherfuckers lay out 
their own full-page spreads: one, for example, included a picture of the rifle-toting 
Geronimo and another of a revolver juxtaposed to the old art-school slogan, "We're looking 
for people who like to draw."^ There was Newsreel, a collective of filmmakers rolling out 
quick films about exemplary movement actions. (An early one was Garbage, about the 
Lincoln Center "action.") Newsreel's idea was that there was no time for art films aiming to 
please armchair-sitting cineastes, no point in argumentative exposes aiming to win over 
naifs. With experience and contacts in New York's film world, they could beg and borrow 
film stock, make films that were grainy and looked improvised (modeled on National 
Liberation Front films edited under fire), distribute on their own. At the beginning of every 
Newsreel, their logo stuttered to the sound of a machine gun: film was a weapon. 

The Motherfuckers, like the Diggers, held milky student politics in contempt, but went even 
further in taking their show to the straight Left. They constituted themselves the Lower East 
Side chapter of SDS, which in true ecumenical spirit (no applicants for an SDS charter were 
ever refused) welcomed them. They journeyed to the SDS National Council meeting in 
Lexington, Kentucky, at the end of March 1968, where at a plenary session the 
Motherfuckers took the stage, and while two of them held up a brick wrapped in gold foil, 
the third smashed it in half with a karate chop, explaining passionately: we are going to 
smash capitalism, smash the state, just like that. They wowed a gaggle of gullible 
Midwesterners by telling them they had organized the patients in the terminal ward of a 
New York hospital to become the cutting edge of The Revolution— nothing to lose, right?^ At 
the June SDS convention, they seemed to be having the best time: dressing in black, giving 
outlandish anti-PL speeches, waving the black flag of anarchism while straight SDSers 
waved the red, and passing out a leaflet pushing affinity groups, illustrated with a drawing 
of men and women joined in a circle of oral sex. 

Many were the new SDSers thrilled that tough hippies were taking the time to bother with 
stodgy SDS. Progressive Labor and its principal opponents in the SDS leadership were 
building up their titles to the revolutionary future, lining up on behalf of their various 
Marxism-Leninisms. What an Old Left drag! Enter the Motherfuckers, postbeat, postbiker, 
would-be Hell's Angels with manifestos, like the Diggers deploying direct action against 
strategy, extravagance against tedium. "Cultural revolution" looked like a plausible 
alternative to the thickheaded mumbo-jumbo artists, top-heavy with jargon and Old Left 
ideas of organization. Direct action, that was the New Left idea at its best! Wasn't it growing 
obvious that a revolution by and for youth was ricocheting around the world? In 
Amsterdam, the Proves (for Provocateurs) were publicly smoking grass, taunting police, 
smokebombing Princess Beatrix's wedding procession, leaving white bicycles all over town 
for anyone to ride, even winning elections. In China, Red Guards were beating up 
bureaucrats, making professors wear dunce caps. By the spring of 1968, Columbia had 
ignited. Most stunning of all, behold the first post-industrial revolution to celebrate "ALL 
POWER TO THE IMAGINATION"— Paris's May, destined (were it not for the treasonous 
Communist Party) to seize the imagination of the twenty-first century as the 1789 version 
had the nineteenth. 


^ "a street gang": "Affinity Group: A Street Gang witii an Analysis," IMotinerfucker leaflet 
(1968?), reprinted in Peter Stansill and David Zane Mairowitz, eds., BAMN (By Any Means 
Necessary): Outlaw Manifestos and Ephemera 1965-70 (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 
1971), p. 156. 

^ "armed cadres at the centers": Stansill and Mairowitz, BAMN, p. 156. 

•^ high-powered theoretical: Interview, Bob Gottlieb, November 1, 1985. 

"* Liberation News Service: Raymond Mungo, Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times 
witli Liberation News Service (Boston: Beacon, 1970); Abe Peck, Uncovering the Sixties: 
The Life and Times of the Underground Press (New Yorlc: Pantheon, 1985). 

^ "We're looking for people": Motherfucker leaflet (1968?), in Stansill and Mairowitz, BAMN, 
p. 160. 

^ They wowed a gaggle: Interview with a midwestern participant who wishes to remain 

10. Fighting Bacl< 

A Prologue To The Late Sixties 

n April 17, 1965, when 25,000 students marched in Washington against the Vietnam war, 
there were about 25,000 American troops in Vietnam. At the end of 1965 there were 
184,000 troops; at the end of 1966, 385,000. By the end of 1967. the number was 
486,000, and 15,000 had been killed, 60 percent of them in the single year 1967. Those 
were the prominent figures, numbers of Americans.^ Figures about the air war and the 
Vietnamese casualties were, and remain, far harder to come by. In 1967 the air force was 
flying two thousand sorties per week.^ That year alone, the U.S. defoliated 1.7 million acres 
in South Vietnam.^ By the end of the year more than a million and a half tons of bombs had 
been dropped on the North and the South together."* That year the San Francisco Oracle 
claimed a national circulation of one hundred thousand.^ On April 15, a New York crowd 
variously assessed at anywhere from 125,000 to 400,000 heard Martin Luther King 
denounce the war, but not a single congressman or senator would sponsor or speak. ^ 
Congress passed war appropriations by huge majorities. George Wallace laid plans to run 
for the Democratic nomination for President. 

How can I convey the texture of this gone time so that you and I, reader, will be able to 
grasp, remember, believe that astonishing things actually happened, and made sense to the 
many who made them happen and were overtaken by them? Statistics are "background," 
we do not feel them tearing into our flesh. The years 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1970 were a 
cyclone in a wind tunnel. Little justice has been done to them in realistic fiction; perhaps 
one reason is that fiction requires, as Norman Mailer once said, a sense of the real. When 
history comes off the leash, when reality appears illusory and illusions take on lives of their 
own, the novelist loses the platform on which imagination builds its plausible appearances. 
Readers caught in a maelstrom want to recover distance. No wonder the fiction that young 
freaks and radicals read in those years tended toward postmodern weirdness, the false calm 
of allegory, or the eerie simplicities of the saucer's-eye abstraction: Thomas Pynchon, Kurt 
Vonnegut, Jr., Hermann Hesse. 


Years later, I still struggle to recollect in tranquility. But it is no easy thing to reconstruct 
the hallucinatory state in which the space between illusion and plausibility has shrunk to the 
vanishing point. Reality was reckless, and so there is the temptation to dismiss it— say with 
the cliche of compilation, snippets of pure spectacle, in the style of a ticker tape or a clunky 
documentary: draft card burnings ... the Pentagon ... Stop the Draft Week ... the Tet 
offensive ... the McCarthy campaign ... Johnson decides not to run for another term ... Martin 
Luther King killed ... Columbia buildings occupied ... Paris ... Prague ... trips to Hanoi ... Robert 
Kennedy killed ... Democratic Convention riots ... hundreds of students massacred in Mexico 
City ... Miss America protest ... Nixon elected ... deserters, flights to Canada and Sweden, 
mutinies, "fragging" in Vietnam ... Eldridge Cleaver underground ... San Francisco State, 
Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, etc., etc. besieged ... People's Park ... police shootouts with 
Black Panthers ... student, freak, black, homosexual riots ... SDS splits ... Woodstock ... 
women's consciousness-raising ... the Chicago Conspiracy trial ... Charles Manson ... 
Altamont ... My Lai ... Weatherman bombs ... Cambodia ... Kent State ... Jackson State ... a 
fatal bombing in Madison ... trials, bombings, fires, agents provocateurs, and the grand 
abstractions, "resistance," "liberation," "revolution," "repression"— to name only some of 
what was swirling. Images spewed forth from television every night, hyping excitement and 
dread and overload and the sense of America at war with itself. The matter-of-factness of a 
list does not diminish the knowledge that "reality," an exercise in surreal theater, had to be 
slipped into quotation marks. 

The liberal-labor coalition fragmented past the point of recognition. Urban blacks rioted. The 
backlashing Right gathered momentum. Students moved to the Left, and as the youth 
movement grew, so did the idea of fighting back against the State. So did the idea of a 
single world revolution. Of forcing a confrontation between the forces of light and the forces 
of darkness. Of cultural secession: carving out zones where the new culture could feel and 
test its strength— Black Power, women's power, gay power ... while State power gathered for 
its own showdowns. 

^ Troop figures: Loren Baritz, Backfire (New York: Morrow, 1985), pp. 145, 176; Stanley 
Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin, 1984), p. 512. 

^ air force: William H. Chafe, Tlie Unfinislied Journey (New York: Oxford University Press, 
1986), p. 290. 

^ the U.S. defoliated: Gabriel Ko\ko, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, tlie United States, and tfie 
Modem Historical Experience (New York: Pantheon, 1985), p. 145. 

"* million and a half tons: Karnow, Vietnam, p. 512. 

^ San Francisco Oracle: Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shiain, Acid Dreams (New York: Grove, 
1985), p. 185. 

^ On April 15: Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, Wlio Spol<e Up? American Protest against 
tfie War in Vietnam (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984), p. 110. 


"What Does Whitey Do?" 

For the New Left, the summer of love was the summer of desperation. By the end of July 
1967, eighty-three people were dead (twenty-six in Newark, forty-three in Detroit) and 
thousands wounded in scores of black riots (or "rebellions," as we insisted they be called). 
Detroit was in flames, snipers were shooting, forty-seven hundred U.S. Army paratroopers 
occupied the flaming ghetto^ along with eight thousand National Guardsmen, and it was 
reported that some poor whites, Appalachians like the ones the SDS projects were still 
trying gamely to organize in Chicago and Cleveland, had joined the assault. During the 
Detroit showdown I wrote from Chicago to Carol McEldowney in Cleveland: 

All of us are on the brink of madness, and so much the worse that we are all 
marginal to what is going on. Andy [Kopkind] called last night, checking in, 
reporting that Washington was about to blow, the mood crackling up and 
down the length of 18th St., and we talked about the end of the movement as 
we've known it; so we live in the space between the end of the movement 
and the beginning of revolution. Of course ("of course") the insurrections are 
not revolution, but they sound like it and the fires burn close to revolution, as 
close as we have seen. "Oh Mama, can this really be the end?/To be stuck 
down here in Uptown while the blacks go wild again." 

Relatively sober soul that I was, haunted and horrified by violence, I mentioned having 
gotten together with a few others to "make crazy plans" to distract the Chicago police in 
case the black ghetto erupted. (Bluster more than plans, actually. But it is interesting that 
the freelance organizer most enthusiastic about diversionary actions later surfaced as an 
FBI informant.)^ I closed: "... and wear a flower in your gunbelt."'^ 

This sort of desperation and bravado (with boosts from various police agents) rippled 
through radical circles across the country. Carol McEldowney wrote me back from Cleveland, 
for example: 

I talked last night with a local black guy— a real man of the streets— about the 
riots. Trouble, by the way, is rumored for tonight. This guy plans to firebomb 
a rotten tenement building. His chief complaint was that things aren't 
organized— anyplace. He thought the riots should start systematically in the 
suburbs, should utilize tactics like cutting power lines, and strongly felt there 
should be efforts to get all the black boys in Vietnam to drop their guns and 
come on home. Probably not a typical guy— but the question remains, what 
does whitey do? He was really turned on by the integrated aspect of Detroit. 
I've been wondering what I'd do if and when a riot broke in [the Cleveland 
ghetto of) Glenville.'* 

The Vietnam war seemed to be coming home. 


The war itself went on, swollen and unrelenting, like an irreversible plague. By the spring of 
1967, Johnson had been boosting both air strikes and ground combat for two years. Some 
more coalition-minded people in and around the New Left, including early SDSers like Lee 
Webb and Washington hands like Gar Alperovitz, had organized Vietnam Summer, with the 
idea of putting students, mostly, to work mobilizing new, largely middle-class forces against 
the war and in favor of a larger radical program.^ Perhaps seven hundred people had 
worked more or less full-time in Vietnam Summer, and up to twenty thousand part-time. To 
what effect? Not much was visible— not as visible as televised carnage, at any rate. But 
radicals had doubted all along whether a summer project could accomplish much when most 
of the cadres would go back to school in the fall. It was like Mississippi Summer without the 
SNCC and CORE cadres who would keep up the arduous work. No one had anticipated that 
this sort of slow nibbling would actually end the war, but by September the radicals tended 
to conclude that few Americans cared enough about the war to do what was necessary- 
whatever that was— to end it. 

Most of the New Left pulled inward, toward self-rectification. The politics of identity swept 
across the movement. Black nationalists argued that blacks, oppressed as a caste, deserved 
representation as a caste. Attempts to create political alliances therefore fell afoul of 
bombast and purification rituals. At the chaotic National Conference for New Politics 
convention in a Chicago hotel over Labor Day weekend, some three hundred blacks in a 
conference of two or three thousand demanded— and in an orgy of white guilt were 
granted— half the votes on all resolutions, including a condemnation of Israel for the Six Day 
"imperialist Zionist war." Jews with attachments to Israel, even ambivalent ones, saw knee- 
jerk anti-Semitism. There were radicals with anti-imperialist credentials fully in order who 
had felt called upon to fight for Israel in what seemed to them a war of national self- 
preservation; and did not even Fidel Castro say that to speak of driving a whole nation into 
the sea was unconscionable?^ Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, and Julian Bond made 
appearances at the New Politics convention and quickly absented themselves.^ Meanwhile, 
representatives of a radical women's caucus were hooted down.* 

There were police agents at work in the black caucus^— possibly a good many, for the major 
organization behind the conference was the Communist Party, surely the most heavily 
infiltrated organization in the United States. But provocateurs could not have fanned the 
flames of reckless nationalism had not those flames already been burning. The season of 
rage had arrived; in the aftermath of Newark and Detroit, there was no real chance for a 
genuine alliance of equals. And black militancy held the New Left in thrall. In September, 
the authorities were called "pigs" in SDS's New Left Notes for the first time. We were 
preoccupied with the hardening of official power and the question of our courage to meet it; 
across the country, in hundreds of late-night conversations, in small boasts and self- 
interrogations, we asked ourselves whether "when the time comes," which might be 
tomorrow, we were ready to do "whatever it takes," Andrew Kopkind, the clearest 
journalistic chronicler of movement moods, began an article in The New York Review of 
Books with the thumpingly accurate sentence: "To be white and a radical in America this 
summer is to see horror and feel impotence." ("Together," he added, "the active, 
organizing, risk-taking white radicals would fill a quarter of a big football stadium.")^" In 
Berkeley, the radical organizer Frank Bardacke wrote, "despair became a cliche among 
young white radicals. Many of us in Berkeley talked incessantly about political impotence. 
We were enthralled by apocalyptic novels like The Crying of Lot 49 and Cat's Cradle. The 
New Left looked sick ... near death."" 


We were drawn to books that seemed to reveal the magnitude of what we were up against, 
to explain our helplessness. Probably the most compelling was Herbert Marcuses One- 
Dimensional Man, with its stark Hegelian dirge for the Marxist dream of an insurgent 
proletariat: a book of the Fifties, really, though not published until 1964 (paperback 1966). 
Gradually its reputation swelled among the New Left for its magisterial account of a society 
that, Marcuse argued, had lost the very ability to think or speak opposition, and whose 
working class was neutered by material goods and technology. Some unimaginable radical 
break, some "Great Refusal," was apparently impossible but deeply necessary. Impossible 
and necessary: that is how we felt about our task. 

It was in that spirit that many also pored over Regis Debray's Revolution in the Revolution?, 
first published as the summer 1967 issue of Monthly Review, which sold out its printing. 
Debray, a well-born French gauc/7/ste jailed in Bolivia, had written the theory to accompany 
Che Guevara's (and Fidel Castro's) practice. ^^ The idea was that political and military 
leadership should fuse to form a foco, a rural guerrilla unit, freed of the caution and urban 
bias of traditional Latin American Communist parties. Debray was not talking about the 
flatlands of Berkeley but about the high plateau of Bolivia (not that his confident advice 
proved so apt there either). But during this overheated summer a critical mass of American 
New Leftists toyed with his detailed prescriptions as if they were metaphors for their own 
future: small bands of revolutionaries should not be tied to larger parties or fronts, which 
cannot understand their practical problems; the foco, winning victories, is "the 'small motor' 
that sets the 'big motor' of the masses in motion." The idea spread that at least 
symbolically, it was more important for intellectuals to acquire the right guerrilla boots than 
to debate the right books. At a moment when conventional channels seemed blocked, there 
was intense concentration on the powers of the will. The New Left had always valued the 
power of the deed to blowtorch through an apparently frozen situation; now a desperate 
intensity heightened the feeling that with sheer audacity we must— and therefore could— bull 
our way past the apparent obstacles. Debray popularized a Fidel Castro slogan: "The duty of 
the revolutionary is to make the revolution." Debray's focos seemed to lead the way out of 
Marcuse's labyrinth. 

The unstated background murmur: Liberals had defaulted, even the good ones were 
helpless, they made lousy allies. Liberals! The very word had become the New Left's curse. 
The litany crystallized: Atlantic City— LID— A/ei/v York Post. Then, in the spring. Ramparts 
had spilled the lurid details about liberals in the National Student Association who for years 
had taken money from the CIA and run a secret recruitment program. Liberal foundations 
were found to have served as conduits as well. Carl Oglesby's 1965 distinction between 
"corporate" and "humanist" liberals was getting murkier. 


Frank Bardacke described the movement's sea change. The antiwar movement had 
successfully "dramatize[d] the existence of a sizable minority who opposed the war, thereby 
stimulating a debate about it," he wrote/'^ but even the respectable opposition seemed 
ineffectual. Martin Luther King thundered against the war, but Johnson seemed 
unrestrained. Robert Scheer pulled 45 percent of the Democratic primary vote on an antiwar 
platform in Berkeley and Oakland in 1966, running against a pro-Johnson liberal— which 
might have been encouraging, for a first outing, but this was one of the most antiwar 
districts in the country; could Vietnam wait for piecemeal change at this rate? If you 
monitored elections, the more conspicuous fact was that Ronald Reagan had swept with 
ease into the governor's mansion in Sacramento. Anyway, as Bardacke said, radicals 
believed in a political community "for whom voting is only one of many public acts." Hippies, 
who might once have looked like an alternative to normal politics, looked "scared, lonely, 
and frantic... . Some of my friends," Bardacke wrote, "started playing with guns as a way to 
forget their own hopelessness... . But the guns just depressed me." Whatever the 
revolutionary fantasies of whites watching Detroit in flames on television, "the talk of 
running guns to the ghetto was the hopeful nonsense of young white men who could not 
admit that we actually had nothing to offer the people in Detroit." And the constant chatter 
about sabotage, de rigueur at radical parties, was nothing more than "complete fantasy." 
Meanwhile, SDS-style community organizing was at a dead end. 

The only radical work with life in it, Bardacke wrote, was active opposition to the draft. 
There was The Resistance, founded at Berkeley and Stanford, burning or turning in draft 
cards, promising to fill the jails with civil disobeyers who insisted on "putting their bodies on 
the line." The Resistance was gathering momentum, chapters spreading across the country, 
organizing toward a mass turn-in of draft cards for October 16, the now-traditional date for 
coordinated antiwar actions. Closer to the New Left spirit of trying to cross the class 
boundary, there were sporadic attempts to help working-class opponents of the war. But 
the class barriers were real. Like it or not, most students were still shielded from induction. 
Most of the young men reached by draft counseling were middle class. 

In keeping with what one Resistance organizer called "vicarious intoxication by the summer 
riots, "^"^ a group of Bay Area radicals decided that the only way to break out of the charmed 
middle-class circle and attract working-class kids to the antiwar movement was to show 
muscle. The working class, after all, supplied most of the cannon fodder. The developing 
New Left theory was that even the working-class kids who weren't victims of war 
propaganda stayed away from the Left because they saw radicals as pushovers. Suppose 
they were ready to resist; what was the Left going to do for them? High school graduates 
and dropouts didn't have student deferments, after all. Some radicals, like Berkeley's Mike 
Smith, wanted to inspire a GI movement against the war: "It was every revolutionary's 
dream: to get the soldiers to lay down their guns."^^ Moreover, wasn't the Black Panther 
Party for Self-Defense growing in Northern California by carrying guns, following the police, 
refusing to be scared, thereby impressing young ghetto toughs? Hadn't SNCC organizers 
and Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana blacks long since carried guns for self-defense, 
abandoning nonviolence on anything but tactical occasions, though without advertising the 
fact? The movement's antiwar tone was shifting from sympathy for slaughtered Vietnamese 
to identification with powerful Vietnamese whose victory would surely come. To get serious, 
it seemed, whites had at least to declare their right to defend themselves. Anyway, 
peaceable antiwar protesters had been bashed by police while picketing Lyndon Johnson in 
Los Angeles's Century City just that June, so of what avail was mannerliness? Those who 
took this tack ,said they had spotted inductees raising clenched fists of solidarity as they 
were being bused through induction center picket lines. Fearful of isolation. Bay Area 
militants convinced themselves they could break through their self-enclosure by raising the 


Whence the week of October 16 was declared Stop the Draft Week, to block off and shut 
down the downtown Oakland building to which potential inductees were bused from all of 
Northern California. At last protest would go beyond the merely symbolic; at the very least, 
an obstructive demonstration could "gum up the works for quite a while. "^^ "By our decree 
there will be a draft holiday," one poster modestly announced. David Harris, the charismatic 
former Stanford student body president who was one of the quadrumvirate who had started 
The Resistance, argued vehemently for keeping up the movement's high moral tone, and 
against anything that might smack of fighting the police. The streetfighting tendency 
thought The Resistance gutsy and inspiring but mired in moral witness; why risk five years 
in jail for burning your draft card, to no apparent political end? The factions parceled out the 
week. The pacifists would have Monday for a conventional sit-in; they would keep the police 
apprised of their plans, they would sit down, go limp, get carried away. After that, the 
militants were on their own. 

^ U.S. Army paratroopers: Abe Peck, Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the 
Underground Press (New York: Pantheon, 1985), p. 64. 

^ FBI informant: Testimony of Thomas Edward Mosher, Hearings before the Subcommittee 
to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security 
Laws, of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 92nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1, 
February 11, 1971, p. 6; T. Edward Mosher, "Inside the Revolutionary Left," Reader's 
Digest, September 1971, p. 53. 

^ "All of us ... gunbelt": Todd Gitlin to Carol McEldowney, July 25, 1967 (author's file). 

"* "I talked last night": Carol McEldowney to Todd Gitlin, July 29, 1967 (author's file). 

^ Vietnam Summer: Kenneth Keniston, Young Radicals (New York: Harcourt, Brace and 
World, 1968), pp. 4-8. 

^ Fidel Castro: "True revolutionaries never threaten a whole country with extermination. We 
have spoken out clearly against Israel's policy, but we don't deny her right to exist." Fidel 
Castro in an interview with K. S. Karol, September 1967, in Robert Scheer, "A Nasser 
Thesis," Ramparts, November 1967, p. 85. 

^ New Politics convention: Zaroulis and Sullivan, Who Spol<e Up?, pp. 128-29. 

^ women's caucus: Sara Evans, Personal Politics (New York: Vintage, 1980), pp. 198-99. 

^ police agents: Two Chicago police infiltrators supporting the black caucus demands were 
identified by the longtime Chicago activist Sidney Lens. Zaroulis and Sullivan, Who Spoke 
Up?, p. 129. 

^° Andrew Kopkind: "They'd Rather Be Left," New York Review of Books, September 1967, 
p. 3. 

" Frank Bardacke: "Stop-the-Draft Week," Steps, December 1967, reprinted in Mitchell 
Goodman, ed.. The Movement Toward a New America (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, and New 
York: Knopf, 1970), p. 476. 

^^ Regis Debray: Revolution in the Revolution? (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967), pp. 
70, 84. 

" "dramatize[d] the existence": Bardacke, "Stop-the-Draft Week," p. 476. 

^"^ "vicarious intoxication": Stuart McRae, "Oakland Week," Resist, December, 1967, in 
Michael Ferber and Staughton Lynd, The Resistance (Boston: Beacon, 1971), p. 142. 


^^ "It was every revolutionary's": Interview, IMike Smitin, July 6, 1985. 

^^ "gum up the works": Steve Hamilton, in Ferber and Lynd, Resistance, p. 140. 

From Protest To Resistance 

I moved to California at the beginning of October 1967. I came to lick my wounds, I to 
recover from the breakup of my marriage two bruising years in the white slums, to start a 
book about the Appalachian exiles, to retreat from the consequences of a bleak political 
diagnosis, to plot next moves, and not least to see if I was in love. I was. And like many 
another migrant in those years, I came to shed restraints. California felt like deliverance in 
every way. "The West is the best," Jim Morrison sang (ironically?), and so it seemed to this 
eastern boy suddenly lifted from brutal Chicago to perch on the cliffs of the Carmel 
Highlands and look out to sea contemplating Asia in flames. At the edge of the continent, I 
was overwhelmed by disbelief at the luminosity of the light, which seemed to radiate from 
within every tree and stone in the late afternoons; I was delirious at the monarch butterflies 
of October. The day I arrived, I started growing a beard and— unaware that I was 
anticipating Easy Rider— t\r\re\N my watch in a drawer. I was flooded with relief to discover 
that imperial America did not stretch out forever. 

In those years I used to keep over my desk a quotation from Thoreau: "The memory of my 
country spoils my walk." I had filed for draft exemption as a conscientious objector two 
years before, had been turned down, knew that my appeals were going to come to naught, 
and then what? I knew the Pentagon demonstration was coming up, and wondered which of 
my friends were going and who was going to get hurt. I was shaken by the news, first 
reported October 10, then apparently corroborated with a photograph of the corpse the next 
day, that Che Guevara had been captured and killed. Che the irreconcilable, restless 
moralist, embodiment of permanent revolution, the eternal internationalist (or exile, for he 
was Argentine by birth), matching my own sense of estrangement ... . If Che could be killed, 
then "the revolution" was more vulnerable than the Left wanted to think. 

On October 16 the ritual sit-in took place on schedule in downtown Oakland, with 124 
arrested, including Joan Baez, all walking sedately into the paddy wagons in what one 
newspaper called a "charade."^ The Alameda County Board of Supervisors obtained an 
injunction against a campus rally to launch the Tuesday action, and six thousand students 
defied it. I read about the sit-in, and The Resistance's turn-in of some four hundred draft 
cards at the San Francisco Federal Building, and felt moved, even guilty for not being there 
(Thoreau to Emerson : "What are you doing out there?"), but not quite galvanized. But the 
Tuesday event was the confrontation I had known, in my bones, was coming. The next day 
I picked up the San Francisco Clironicle to behold a banner headline— "COPS BEAT PICKETS. 
Gas, Boots. Many Are Injured— 20 Arrested." And this lead: "Police swinging clubs like 
scythes cut a bloody path through 2500 antiwar demonstrators who had closed down the 
Oakland Armed Forces Examining Station yesterday for three hours." A big front-page 
picture showed two Oakland cops, each with a club in one hand, spraying the incapacitating 
chemical Mace with the other. The article was replete with accounts of laughing cops, "their 
hard wooden sticks mechanically flailing up and down, like peasants mowing down wheat"; 
cops beating doctors and priests, and students trying to protect other students; cops 
singling out reporters and photographers for clubbings and Macings. Some demonstrators 
had responded by throwing cans, bottles, and smoke bombs. 


Che's death was one more reason why I couldn't stay away. There was going to be a follow- 
up action that Friday; my lover and I drove up to the Bay Area for it. Long before dawn, the 
day felt supercharged; simply to be awake in the gray dark, on the way into mysterious 
Oakland to "stop the draft," meant that the sense of rendezvous was irreversible. We 
grinned and flashed Vs at all the longhairs astonishingly streaming down across the 
Berkeley-Oakland line in their Volkswagen bugs and late-Fifties Chevies, and crawled with 
care past Oakland police cars, and tried to pretend we weren't afraid. 

On what was now enshrined as "Bloody Tuesday," the organizers had expected the cops 
simply to seal off the downtown area around the induction center.^ Two police spies had 
attended planning meetings, and knew the organizers had a sit-down in mind.* It was hard 
to resist the conclusion that the cops had deliberately suckered them. On Friday many came 
ready for "mobile tactics," modeled partly on French student actions, partly on ghetto riots. 
At a launch-point park, instructions circulated: stay in the streets and keep moving. There 
were motorcycle helmets, construction hardhats, shields. A Berkeley sporting-goods store 
was said to have sold out of protective cups. Many people smeared their faces with 
Vaseline, reputed to protect against Mace. One SDS organizer passed out ball bearings to 
scatter on the street, the better to deter police on horseback. In the predawn chill, a playful 
and resolute crowd estimated variously at between four and ten thousand, probably twice 
as many as on Tuesday, proceeded to choke off at least ten square blocks around the 
induction center. 

We deployed for hours against more than two thousand cops, in a kind of scrimmage, or 
was it warfare? "An amalgam of riot and high school high jinks," a reporter called it. The 
cops charged. Some got surrounded, some broke ranks to bash or Mace. The crowd 
retreated to seize more intersections. When the cops pulled back to redeploy, the crowd 
took back the block, sealed it off from traffic, spray-painted the pavement and sidewalks. 
People hauled parked cars into the streets (the U.S. attorney's, for one), disconnected their 
distributors, let the air out of their tires, punctured them; and hauled anything else that 
could be moved: benches, newspaper racks, parking meters, garbage cans, trees in 
concrete pots. ("Careful with the trees!" onlookers cried out.) Crowds pulled the wires out of 
a public bus here, a Coca-Cola truck there. One bus was commandeered, emptied, and 
pushed into a line of cops. I saw a group mount a truck, stand one foot away from a line of 
Oakland cops, clubs at the ready, and burn draft cards in their faces. (After their bad press 
Tuesday, the cops were on a tight leash.) I watched a crowd block off a white truck in mid- 
intersection, saw the driver shrug good-naturedly— what did he care about a delay in his 
daily rounds when he was forced to punch a time clock for The Man? Some demonstrators 
were put off, even near tears by the casual assault on property, at least according to the 
Chronicle: '"For God's sake, stop it,' a bearded youth shouted to his contemporaries as they 
dragged and pushed a car out into an intersection at Clay and 13th streets. 'Don't you 
understand you're defeating the whole movement. You're going to kill us with the public!' 
They paid no attention to him." From time to time, a metallic blare came from a police 
bullhorn : "In the name of the people of the state of California ..." "WE ARE THE PEOPLE!" 
came the immediate roar. We looked for signs of popular approval, and noted that black 
onlookers seemed friendly. 

' It gradually dawned on the organizers that these two short-haired gentlemen didn't fit, but they were reluctant to 
point the finger— after all, weren't they trying to organize working-class toughs? Eventually, suspicion peaked. 
Early Tuesday morning, one of the organizers drove the two deviants to a remote section of the Oakland hills, gave 
them a pair of binoculars, and told them to keep lookout. They materialized next as witnesses for the prosecution 
at the conspiracy trial of the organizers, known as the Oakland 7. 


Demonstrators were festive, exultant— precisely what had been reported about black riots 
and deplored by white politicians. The streets and sidewalks were coated with slogans, of 
which the most popular were variations on CHE IS ALIVE AND WELL IN OAKLAND. The 
windows of parking meters ("don't follow leaders ...") were painted opaque, some green 
lights sprayed red. Late in the morning, word went around that the National Guard was 
about to be called, and the organizers, not wanting to take a chance on getting a lot of 
people hurt, decided to leave. The crowd disbanded. A column marched back to Berkeley, 
singing antiwar songs, whistling "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again." In Oakland, 
the induction buses finally went through, a few hours delayed. 

The organizers were elated. On Bloody Tuesday, only a few people had fought back. One 
organizer, for example, had wrested a billy club from a charging cop, hit him in the face 
with it, then scampered away. The wife of another had succeeded in leading a group to free 
her husband— not once but three times— from the grip of the cops. Other demonstrators, 
meanwhile, had contented themselves with restatements of Christian nonviolence. A 
monitor, "his lip torn by a riot stick," had told a reporter, "We will be back on Wednesday. 
We can bleed just as long as the cops can swing. "•^ But by Friday a watershed had been 
crossed. The point now was to conduct yourself in a disorderly way, close off the streets, 
retreat when attacked, make interesting trouble, and protect yourself. Exhilaration became 
a mystique of The Street: The street belongs to us, the insurgents, not to them, the 
custodians of power and the tenders of commerce. As Frank Bardacke put it, "We blocked 
traffic and changed the streets from thoroughfares of business into a place for people to 
walk, talk, argue, and even dance. We felt liberated and we called our barricaded streets 
liberated territory.""* If we half-remembered that we were not quite all of "the people," at 
least we had not been cowed by the authorities' claim to speak in the name of t/7e/r official 
"people." For those who had grown up fearing what "the people" can accomplish when they 
run amok, "WE ARE THE PEOPLE!" amounted to self-protective wishfulness. The mirage was 
vivid enough to overcome the question George Wallace and Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew 
shortly set out to answer: Who are all those other people? 

What should we name this thing that had happened? "Militant self-defense," said the 
organizers. "We consider ourselves political outlaws," Bardacke wrote. "Insurrection," I 
gushed in letters to friends: "It was not revolution, but it was insurrection in the legal sense 
and in the spirit... . Anarcho-syndicalism in vivo, vindicated... . Leaders were everywhere. 
Ordinary students became something else ... barricading the intersections on their own, 
without a signal from leaders ... . If balls are not equivalent to revolution— they are not— 
they are prerequisite to an honorable resistance... . The old movement symbol was the 
overhauls; now it's the hard-hat. It comes in handy, or heady, in this resistance. Now I take 
the idea of resistance damned seriously ... ."^ 


And more of my expressive politics witin a vengeance: " ... tine winite movement came into 
its own last week. I hear that some SNCC guys were saying, after Washington [the 
Pentagon demonstration], OK boys, you've become men now, we're ready to talk. They're 
right... . So into the grave we leap together, or into something ... . Of course the politics of 
the Oakland insurrection like those of the Mobilization are hazy. The point is that people 
have demonstrated their seriousness... . No one has yet really decided to put the induction 
center out of commission, but I think the time is not far off. Should blacks in Oakland move, 
... whites can throw the cops into all sorts of disarray, even knock radio stations, telephone 
stations, etc. out of action ... as if to say, we take a lot of shit and we know this is not 
revolution but for Christ's sake there are some things that are ours— these color TVs, or 
these intersections— and we will take them if only for a while; we will give them back (under 
threat of the Guard) but we will not give ourselves back to authority, because we have 
changed ourselves— the very same picnic atmosphere that Gov. Hughes found so 
reprehensible in Newark. Of course I romanticize... . [T]he motion from 'protest to 
resistance' is halting and reversible; yet still I think something has changed." 

Blocking the intersections to stop the buses declared, in effect, "this is the sort of power we 
have, it may be hollow but we intend to use it ... . On the streets, [the cops] were often 
outmaneuvered by one foco or another (and the Berkeley mystique is no bullshit: the best 
political minds are also the military directorate ...)." Hollowness as power, indeed! The 
person who wrote these words, myself, was half-aware of the contradiction, just as he knew 
that Regis Debray's foco's had nothing to do with Berkeley. Delaying the buses was 
symbolic; the draft machinery simply worked a few hours overtime. But when in doubt, why 
be patient? Better to suspend disbelief. If we had already accomplished one astonishing 
thing, stopping business-as-usual, then why not two? If we had no good evidence that 
raising the ante had an effect, there was no evidence that milder tactics worked either. 

This as-if-mood was all-surrounding. Which raises the question of the part played by drugs, 
especially LSD, whose glory and terror is precisely to suspend the sense of the real. If 
trippers thought they were meeting God or dissolving their egos, experiencing cosmic love 
or watching the boundaries between things shimmer, did drugs dispose them to think that 
the world and their place in it was more fluid, less predictable, than they would otherwise 
have imagined? A question as tantalizing as it is impossible, alas, to answer. True, LSD 
percolated through the New Left, especially its inventive California wing, at just the same 
time as the surge in militancy. It is also one of the truisms of drug research that the impact 
of psychedelics, even of marijuana, depends heavily on one's mind-set and the social 
setting.^ But drugs or no drugs, young radicals in 1967 were feeling acute pressures to raise 
the stakes— from the war, from blacks, from an identity in flux. We had started the decade 
with grand if not grandiose hopes, with no help from drugs; now drugs certainly did nothing 
to diminish the feeling of political possibility— or impending apocalypse. The need to make a 
difference felt extreme, and so did the cost of failing, at least failing to try to one's utmost. 
That is why the sense of unreality was intoxicating, not paralyzing. 


The willful suspension of disbelief was the spiritual heart of the new militancy. It had many 
uses. It warded off fear. Most of the organizers of Stop the Draft Week were surprised at 
how brutal the cops turned out to be on Bloody Tuesday; to the last minute, these notorious 
radicals had remained innocent about what the authorities would do about a threat to the 
smooth running of the draft machine. Suspending disbelief was also a way to suspend what 
otherwise might have been an imprisoning sense of our isolation in America: the nagging 
apprehension that as we toughened up, fought back, and mobilized more of the young, we 
were at the same time stretching to the outer rim of what our generation, by itself, could 
accomplish. The perception was roughly: We are so many, yet, since the war rages, so 
helpless. To keep from being paralyzed by fear, we had to believe that what we were 
leaping into was the unknown; that we had outdistanced known reality, therefore also the 
judgment of elders and cool heads and internal restraints. 

The total political amalgam— the war, the alienated youth boom, the overextension and 
collapse of liberalism— defined a new terrain, as surreal as it was unprecedented. Reality 
shimmered. Extremities of hope led to extremities of despair, and this cycle fogged our 
vision. That is why perceptions could shift so radically from one moment to the next. The 
honest Frank Bardacke, for example, gave vent to the prevailing mood when he 
acknowledged that "Americans did not understand our message. They called us vandals and 
said the demonstration was chaos"; then immediately shifted to the language of strategy: 
"And if we can actually convince them that we can cause chaos in this country as long as 
the war continues, so much the better. We may have even stumbled on a strategy that 
could end the war"; then, in the next breath, worried: "But maybe we have only moved one 
step closer to the concentration camps. If we succeed in organizing something like Stop the 
Draft Week again, the Government will begin to consider organizing a Stop the Left Week"; 
and in the next breath, determined: "But that is a risk we have to take."^ 

The surge "from protest to resistance," as that fall's slogan had it, swept across the country, 
concentrated on the two coasts but not limited to them, provoked by a common mood, at 
times amplified by mechanical imitation. Indeed, on the day after Oakland's Bloody 
Tuesday, after a day of unobstructive picketing, SDS and other activists at the University of 
Wisconsin blocked a recruiter from the Dow Chemical Company, manufacturer of napalm.^ 
When they got bashed by club-swinging riot police, thousands of students rallied, 
surrounded the police, freed demonstrators from their grip, let the air out of paddy-wagon 
tires, got tear-gassed and Maced, and fought back with rocks and bricks, sending seven 
policemen to the hospital along with sixty-five students. That fall, there were forty large 
campus demonstrations against military and Dow recruiters, at least half of them 
attempting active interference with the recruiters, followed by police intervention. On 
November 14, as limousines brought the foreign policy elite to hear Secretary of State Dean 
Rusk at a New York banquet, more than five thousand people gathered for a peaceful 
protest, while SDS cadres— recruited by a leaflet saying, "The Revolution Begins at 5:30"— 
hooted, threw bottles, bags of paint and cow's blood, then dumped trash baskets, dented 
fancy cars, and swarmed through intersections in an Oakland-style effort to disrupt.^ A 
December New York City action, designed to seal off the induction center, drew on both 
Pentagon and Oakland models. The lesson of the Pentagon, said a leaflet, was that soldiers 
could be won over to our side. Oakland's lesson was to stay loose in the streets.^" 


But as Michael Ferber and Staughton Lynd later pointed out, the lessons clashed. At the 
Pentagon, after the initial confrontation, demonstrators sat nonviolently, tried to convert the 
soldiers, chanting "Cross the lines and join us!" and "We love you!" They sang "Yellow 
Submarine" and stuck flowers in the barrels of rifles that carried fixed bayonets. For the 
most part, even when MPs and federal marshals attacked brutally, with rifle butts and 
bayonets, the civilly disobedient didn't fight back. A former Green Beret turned resistor 
spoke to the troops about the history of Vietnam. Two soldiers broke ranks; one passed out 
cigarettes to demonstrators; of these events was legend spun. Movement people were 
beginning to see that soldiers were potential allies, or at least not hard-bitten enemies. 
"Certainly we were unruly; that is, we were determined to cross the line drawn by 
illegitimate authority," wrote a scrupulous observer, the writer George Dennison. "That 
done, the protest was almost classically nonviolent."" In Oakland, by contrast, despite a 
few attempts at proselytizing cops, the prevailing style was to taunt or elude the armed 
antagonists, not to try to convince them of anything but the demonstrators' ferocious 
resolve. ^^ In subsequent movement discourse, however, the two models tended to blur into 
one grand idea: push hard, turn up the heat, confront, fight back. 

The government fought back too. In January 1968 the district attorney of Alameda County, 
California, indicted seven of the Oakland organizers (Frank Bardacke, Terry Cannon, Reese 
Ehrlich, Steve Hamilton, Bob Mandel, Jeff Segal, and Mike Smith) for conspiracy to trespass, 
to commit a public nuisance, and to resist, delay, and obstruct police officers. (But he 
refrained from indicting two key females, evidently deeming them less capable of mayhem, 
or fearing juries would be less likely to convict.) The Oakland 7, as they were instantly 
dubbed, were the first in a long line of New Left organizers who became known by their 
number and the place of their transgression. (As in most of these cases, the lawyers 
eventually made mincemeat of the charges, after months of expense and effort, and won 
acquittals.) During the Oakland 7 trial, in the winter of 1968-69, the visiting SDS officer 
(and self-proclaimed "revolutionary communist") Bernardine Dohrn told Steve Hamilton that 
Stop the Draft Week was one of the events that had convinced her that it was time for the 
antiwar movement to do battle in the streets. Hamilton remembers thinking there was a 
danger in her romance of the working-class young. Militant actions, he thought, couldn't 
take the place of grassroots organizing. But who could wait? 

A year or two was a vast time in the lives of twenty-one-year-olds. Besides, what was at 
stake now wasn't an abstract future, participatory democracy versus managerial liberalism, 
a good society versus a bad or an ambiguous one. Look at TV, Newsweek or Time: 
Interspersed between the ads for the American way of life, here was this child seared by 
napalm, tliis suspect tortured by our freedom-loving allies, tliis village torched by Marines 
with cigarette lighters, tliis forest burned to the ground ... a seemingly endless procession 
of pain and destruction. So much punishment inflicted by one nation against another: the 
sheer volume of it seemed out of line with any official, self-contradictory, incomprehensible 
reasons of state. There had to be something radically, unredeemably wrong at the dark 
heart of America. By the late Sixties many of us had concluded the problem wasn't simply 
bad policy but a wrongheaded social system, even a civilization. The weight of decades, or 
centuries, even millennia had to be thrown off overnight— because it was necessary. 

^ "charade": San Francisco Examiner, October 16, 1967. 

^ "Bloody Tuesday": My discussion of Stop the Draft Week is based on interviews with Steve 
Hamilton and Mike Smith; the San Francisco Clironicle, San Francisco Examiner, and Daily 
Californian for October 16-23, 1967; Bardacke, "Stop-the-Draft Week," p. 477; and my 
recollections and correspondence. 


•^ "his lip torn": San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 1967. 

"* "We blocked traffic": Bardacke, "Stop-the-Draft Week," p. 478. 

^ "Militant self-defense": Oakland 7 defense leaflet, n.d. (1969?): Bancroft Library, 
University of California, Berkeley, Social Action Collection, Oakland 7 file. 

^ mind-set and the social setting: Norman E. Zinberg, Drug, Set, and Setting: Tlie Basis for 
Controlled Intoxicant Use (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), pp. 1-18, 135-71. 

^ Frank Bardacke: "Stop-the-Draft Week," pp. 478-79. 

* University of Wisconsin: Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), pp. 
369-73. 254 large campus demonstrations: Ibid., pp. 380-81. 

^ Dean Rusk: Ibid., p. 378. 

^° a leaflet: Ferber and Lynd, Resistance, p. 145. 

" "Certainly we were unruly": George Dennison, "Talking with the Troops," Liberation, 
November 1967, reprinted in Goodman, Movement, pp. 473-74. 

^^ proselytizing cops: Bardacke, "Stop-the-Draft Week," p. 478. 

What Do These People Want? 

Fighting back could be defended, arguably, as part of a strategy for ending the war, since 
neither civil disobedience nor Establishment grumbling seemed sufficient by itself. But the 
militant surge was more than strategic: it was at least as much the expression of an 
identity, a romance, an existential raison d'etre. The mood of embattled defiance responded 
to the war and the suppression of ghetto riots; it also carried a life and a logic of its own. 
This political generation's decade had started with a rising hope— and its undertow, fury at 
the denial of hope and terror at the prospect of annihilation. Then came seven years of 
disillusion with liberalism, a disillusion that was neither preordained by our primal feelings 
nor simply a shadow of them: disillusion with real Kennedys, real civil rights defaults, and 
most of all a real war fought in the name of the rock-bottom principles of Cold War 
liberalism. The vision of participatory democracy was Utopian, literally nowhere, 
ungrounded in actual prospects. The New Left's affirmative commitments were murky, then, 
but one thing was not: the passion to end the war. Little to build, much to stop: the sum 
was an impulse to smash up the machine, to jam the wheels of the juggernaut, and damn 
the consequences. "My fear of America's stability is bleeding away," I wrote a friend just 
after Stop the Draft Week, "in the combination of white militance and cop stupidity. This has 
no 'political' meaning in the old sense. It has plenty of meaning if we want to stop 
America— if we submerge or even abandon intentions of changing the country purposively, 
and switch instead to modes of activity which shatter ordinary patterns of expectation. Mass 
violence of the Oakland sort is then entirely relevant. (And of course costly; somebody is 
going to get killed one of these days.)" 


The red thread winding through my recollections and letters of that summer and fall is the 
idea of stopping the war by stopping America in its tracks. There were other moods at work 
in the New Left of the late Sixties, but this was a strong one. Strategy flirted with nihilism. 
To a friend who effused about the radical potential of American working-class culture, I 
came back with my own Digger-like motif: "Don't dig America, dig it up." My teasing 
defense of patience was "Rome wasn't destroyed in a day." On Bloody Tuesday, before I'd 
even heard the news from Oakland, I wrote to an old SDSer: "The politics that makes sense 
to me now aims to stop this country, not change it; to help revolutionaries, not pretend to 
be them." 

My friends and I found it hard to imagine that America was susceptible to radical change. 
The majority seemed entrenched, devoted to conserving what property they had 
accumulated or looked forward to accumulating. I noted with an Aha! something Lyndon 
Johnson said on a 1966 swing through Asia: "There are 3 billion people in the world and we 
only have 200 million of them. We are outnumbered 15 to 1. If might did make right they 
would sweep over the United States and take what we have. We have what they want."^ 
After two years in a poor white community, while trying to convince myself of the prospects 
for "an interracial movement of the poor," I had few illusions about the ability of class 
consciousness to override either white racism or patriotic gore. I avidly followed New Left 
historians' efforts to root us in an American past, with American heroes— the Revolutionary 
War seamen celebrated by Jesse Lemisch^; the radical artisans celebrated by Staughton 
Lynd'^; the Populists; Debs's Socialists. But in the end, while these excavations moved me, I 
found myself thinking the quest for American roots forced and sentimental.* Hadn't the 
United States been founded in slavery and a quite literal genocide against the Indians? It 
seemed that the decent traditions were as good as dead in the American breast. America 
stood damned by original sins, compounded by an impressive history of imperial 
expeditions. Manifest Destiny and the forging of national identity seemed far more salient 
than class consciousness. "America is a crime," I concluded with no apparent irony. Against 
the weight of this history, if we thought we could stand for a positive ideal, we were kidding 
ourselves. The only affirmative position was negation. To put it mildly, this was not the 
mood to generate ideas about a reconstruction of politics. The best that could be claimed for 
it was the purity of a scourging— the aesthetic of the apocalypse, not a political vision. 

' In fact, early in 1969, I set out to write a children's book (later abandoned) celebrating the Sons of Liberty. The 
biographical subject I was drawn to— whom I took to be representative of the sad fate of the American promise- 
was one Isaac Sears, a formidable anti-British rabble-rouser who prospered during the Revolution and then became 
a pillar of the new Establishment, dying, in fact, on the first U.S. trade mission to China. 


In the middle and late Sixties, you could get a sure laugh in New Left circles by intoning a 
mock version of the reporter's earnest (or liberal's exasperated) inquiry, "But what do these 
people want?" The question was utterly reasonable but seemed to us absurdly naive— or 
worse, intended to discredit. From our hermetic point of view, it was sufficient to be on the 
side of the angels, certified by Vietnam and race and poverty and our own sense of mission. 
In fact, there was a dilemma in our objectives that was hard to face. The early New Left 
program mixed liberal reforms with visionary ideals of participatory democracy. The reforms 
were substantive, participatory democracy was procedural, and there was always a tension 
between them. As civil rights and antipoverty reforms became national policy, the idea of 
participatory democracy grew both more prominent and hazier. It had the virtue of 
distinguishing us from managerial liberals; it gave voice to a widespread suspicion of 
bureaucratic organization and central authority. But it disguised our own real power 
relations and posed profound conundrums."* Disbelieving in any principle of authority, 
including that of its own leaders, SNCC and SDS rested their case on slogans like "Let the 
people decide," which begged the questions of how leaders could be held accountable, of 
whether anything "the people" wanted was right, and of which people ought to be deciding 
which particular issues. SDS's last serious effort to clarify what it stood for, in December 
1965, failed badly. Asked to write a statement of purpose for a New Republic series called 
"Thoughts of the Young Radicals," I agonized for weeks about what it was, in fact, I wanted. 
The movement's all-purpose answer to "What do you want?" and "How do you intend to get 
it?" was: "Build the movement." By contrast, much of the counterculture's appeal was its 
earthy answer: "We want to live life like this, voila!" 

Participatory democracy was the ideology of a middling social group caught between power 
and powerlessness, and soaked in ambivalence toward both. The principal property of 
educated radicals was its knowledge credentials. We were angry at managers whose power 
outran the knowledge that would entitle them to legitimate authority. We were queasy 
about dominating the voiceless, yet we knew that education had equipped us to fuse 
knowledge and power as professionals. We believed in equality but experienced superiority. 
Fearful of giving up the de facto authority we possessed by virtue of education and 
articulateness, we were unwilling to pin ourselves down to policies and formal authority. 
Still, left to these pressures alone, the New Left would have been strained, but might have 
evolved toward a reformist social democracy mixed with direct action. As it was, the war 
made its demands on us, and stripped our politics bare. 


I puzzled endlessly about who we were. It was my passion to think out loud with people of a 
similar bent; personally, I preferred running off at the mouth (or typewriter) late into the 
night to running in the streets. An intellectual preoccupation with the nature of our 
maelstrom was also a way of trying to cope with velocity and runaway emotions; this was 
how I scrambled to assimilate the enormity of what was happening in the world. Throughout 
the late Sixties I looked forward most to long conversations with Carl Oglesby, 
conversations which felt like fragments of one long conversation starting when we spent the 
overnight bus ride from Ann Arbor to Washington for the April 1965 March on Washington 
telling each other the stories of our lives. The lean, taut, Ohio-born Oglesby, with his trimly 
bearded Lincolnesque profile, was eight years my elder. A produced playwright with roots in 
a working-class childhood and a bit of a beat past, he first gravitated to the SDS crowd, in 
fact, to talk about putting together a radical theater troupe. The fact that he wrote plays 
and acted was by no means incidental to Oglesby's style; the man was a dazzling talker and 
stunning writer of Faulknerian cadences, adept at turning anecdote into high drama. Never 
having been trimmed back by graduate school, he was universally curious and intellectually 
independent in the high style of the autodidact. Working as a writer for a Pentagon-funded 
think-tank, supporting a wife and three small children, he took the time to master the 
history of the Cold War. His flair with words— along with his respectable age (thirty), his 
family normality, his willingness to drop out of the military industry, and his Midwestern 
proto-prairie origins— catapulted him to the presidency of SDS in 1965; his momentous 
November 1965 Washington speech on Vietnam as a liberals' war brilliantly stated the New 
Left's leftward turn. In the spring and summer of 1967, in Chicago and Ann Arbor and 
Yellow Springs (it was part of the drama of these conversations that they would start in one 
place and continue in another, a movable bull session), Oglesby and I had some long talks 
which convinced me that the New Left had to be seen as a part of a history of movements 
against progress. The Communist-centered Old Left, starry-eyed about industrialization, had 
delivered itself over to dreadful illusions about Stalin. Liberals and social democrats, for 
their part, had let their own belief in Western-style progress blind them to the dark side of 
the American dream. We were going to be wiser than all the glib, myopic optimists we 

Meanwhile, our skepticism about power would shield us from pure nihilism. That fall, from 
Carmel, I wrote one letter after another about the need to "stop America," adding that we 
had to be "alert, exquisitely alert, to the dangers inherent": "There are risks as yet 
unexplored: the CP [Communist Party] trap of becoming tail on the foreign dog; 
discouraging people who still want to organize Americans."^ As this mood grew, the main 
danger would be "fixing our work too rigidly to one star or another (China, the North 
[Vietnam], NLF, OLAS [the Cuban-sponsored Organization of Latin American Solidarity]), 
and running into changes of line, etc. We are better protected than movements of the 20s 
and 30s in two ways: we're not centralist (quite the opposite, congenitally), and we're more 
interested in small countries and small movements than in great powers. Still, the danger is 

Sensing the danger was one thing, averting it was another. If the goal was "stopping 
America," after all, then the risk of isolating yourself from potential allies by aligning with 
"small countries and small movements" could easily be overlooked. Anyway, those potential 
liberal-labor allies of whom social democrats spoke were altogether too potential, not very 
actual. Compared to hypothetical allies, the "small countries and small movements" had two 
supreme virtues: they found themselves at the wrong end of American guns, and they 
actually existed. 


Earlier that fall, I had talked with Tom Hayden about the coming disruptions. It was our 
style then to speak in ironies, as we watched ourselves slide into an all-or-nothing politics 
we both longed for and dreaded. I said jokingly, "Remember when we used to talk about 
values?" Hayden grinned and replied, "Remember when we used to talk about organizing 
people?" It was one of those not infrequent moments when Hayden stated something many 
of us felt and stretched it one important inch. In the backs of our heads, we had given up 
on the America that existed. But still I wrote, "we have to force ourselves, carefully, 
compulsively, rigidly, not to give up on the possibility of intentional change, i.e. 
reconstruction."^ Not a very attractive project. We had to believe because it was absurd. 

"How to pursue it practically?" that letter ended. "I don't know. Temperamentally I am more 
interested in stopping Leviathan ... ." That was the tone that ascended. Temperament took 
charge. "Year of the Heroic Guerrilla," the Fidelistas called 1968. I got into the habit of 
writing it beneath the date of my letters, sometimes whimsically— "Year of the Up-Tight 
Intellectual" was one variant. At the turn of 1969, I was writing the dateline "Year of the 
Heroic Convict." 

^ "There are 3 billion": "The President's Remarks to Troops and Speech to Korean National 
Assembly," New Yorl< Times, November 2, 1966, p. 16. 

^ Revolutionary War seamen: Jesse Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the 
Bottom Up," in Barton J. Bernstein, ed.. Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American 
Histor/ (New York: Pantheon, 1968), pp. 3-45. 

^ radical artisans: Staughton L. Lynd, "The Mechanics in New York Politics, 1774-1785," in 
Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 
1967), pp. 79-108. 

"* profound conundrums: Robert Dahl, After the Revolution? Authority in a Good Society 
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971). 

^ one letter after another: Todd Gitlin to Don McKelvey, October 16, 1967; Todd Gitlin to 
Carl Davidson, October 24, 1967; Todd Gitlin to Robert Kramer, October 23, 1967, and 
November 21, 1967 (author's file). 

^ "we have to force": Todd Gitlin to Carol McEldowney, November 28, 1967 (author's file). 


11. The other Side 

"All For Vietnam" 

As the war became more militant, so did tine antiwar movement— in demands, in spirit, in 
tactics. Between 1965 and 1967, as American troops in Vietnam doubled and redoubled and 
redoubled twice more, most antiwar movers and shakers shook off their leftover faith in 
negotiations and endorsed immediate withdrawal. When doubters asked, "How can we get 
out of Vietnam?" the quick answer was: on boats. But the New Left wing, young and sick at 
heart at what it reasonably took to be empire flexing its muscles, moved beyond rebellion 
against American foreign policy. Much of the leadership, and some of the rank and file— it is 
hard to say exactly how many— slid into romance with the other side. To wear a button 
calling for "Victory to the National Liberation Front," to wave an NLF flag or shout, "Ho, Ho, 
Ho Chi Minh/The NLF is gonna win," meant more than believing that the NLF was the most 
popular force in South Vietnam, or that Vietnamese had flocked to it for compelling reasons, 
or that it represented the least bad practical alternative for Vietnam— all defensible 
propositions. It meant feeling the passion of the alignment and placing it at the heart of 
one's political identity. It meant finding heroes where the American superstate found villains 
and pointed its guns. It meant imagining comrades riding to our rescue. 

This was a tendency, not the only one, not final or unopposed even in SDS. Its significance 
was certainly inflated by the prowar Right and by the attentions of a demagogic press. ^ 
Although almost always greatly outnumbered by American flags turned to patriotic antiwar 
use, NLF flags seized a disproportionate share of the media spotlight at the giant antiwar 
marches. And so a too-uncomplicated endorsement of Third World revolutions— and 
revolutionary organizations— built a firebreak around the New Left part of the antiwar 
movement, sealing it off from the underbrush sympathy of the unconvinced. Surely those 
NLF flags were part of the explanation for one of the stunning political facts of the decade: 
that as the war steadily lost popularity in the late Sixties, so did the antiwar movement. At 
the growing edge of the New Left, it was as if there had to be a loyalty oath for working 
against the war, or American dominion in general. The napalm had to be stopped for the 
correct reasons. Strategy-minded antiwar liberals rudely reminded us that we were 
forfeiting the respect of Americans who were turning against the war but were unwilling to 
do so at the price of their own sense of patriotism. But the hell with them! Which side were 
they on, anyway? 

The consequence of the New Left's Third World turn— both product and impetus of our 
isolation— was yet more isolation. But the reporters had not invented those NLF flags out of 
proverbial whole cloth. Desperate for moral companionship— America having forfeited our 
love— a part of ourselves looked with respect, even awe, even love, on an ideal version of 
ourselves who we thought existed— /7ad to exist— out there in the hot climates. We needed 
to feel that someone, somewhere in the world, was fighting the good fight and winning. 
Better: that the world's good guys formed a solid front. Even better: that out of the rubble, 
someone, somewhere, might be constructing a good society, at least one that was decent to 
the impoverished and colonized. If the United States was no longer humanity's beacon— and 
if the movement was not building a new society itself— the light had to be found outside. 
The melodrama of American innocence was alive and well in the anti-American left. Henry 
Luce had been deluded when he anticipated "the American Century"; we thought this was 
going to be the anti-American Century, just as pure, just as irresistible, with a different 
although equivalently happy ending. 


And always there was the war, which we took to be the definitive moral test of America's 
intentions toward the vast poor and dark-skinned world. The Third Worldist movement route 
began in McComb, Mississippi, and led to the Mekong Delta. With the United States 
pulverizing and bullying small countries, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to go 
prospecting among them for heroes. Their resistance was so brave, their enemies so 
implacable, their nationalism so noble, we could take their passions, even their slogans and 
styles of speech, even— in fantasy— their forms of organization for our own. And so we 
identified with victims who were in the process of repossessing their homelands, as we were 
straining to overcome our own sense of homelessness. We loved them for what we took to 
be their struggle for independence, as we were struggling— no mere hackneyed word— for 
our own.^ We started out feeling the suffering of peasants, defending their right to rebel, 
and ended up taking sides with the organizations and leaders who commanded the 
rebellion— all the while knowing, in anguish, that guerrilla organizations usurp the freedom 
which rebels are willing to die for, yet also knowing, also in anguish, that without 
organization (even, often, the wrong organization: dictatorship in embryo) all the bravery in 
the world is squandered. Some of us took seriously the dreadful histories that Communist 
groups had imposed, and some didn't, but the New Left tendency was to agree that 
American occupation was so clear and present an evil— a homegrown evil— that the other 
side would have to be forgiven its crimes. Even the movement's antiutopians thought the 
future of "the other side," and the morality of guerrilla war, were questions to be left until 
later, luxuries, or, worst of all, potential weapons in the hands of the napalmers, the 
question for the present being simply whether the guerrillas, or the enemy nation (the two 
were often confused), were entitled to have any future of their own. The issue became how 
we felt more than what would end the war. We would settle for nothing less than a cleaning 
of the historical slate. 

And so, increasingly, we found our exemplars and heroes in Cuba, in China, in the Third 
World guerrilla movements, in Mao and Frantz Fanon and Che and Debray, most of all— 
decisively— in Vietnam. It no longer felt sufficient— sufficiently estranged, sufficiently 
furious— to say no to aggressive war; we felt driven to say yes to revolt, and unless we were 
careful, that yes could easily be transferred onto the Marxism-Leninism which had 
commandeered the revolt in the interest of practicality.'^ Apocalypse was outfitted with a 
bright side. If the American flag was dripping napalm, the NLF flag was clean. If the deluded 
make-Vietnam-safe-for-democracy barbarism of the war could be glibly equated with the 
deliberate slaughter of millions in Nazi gas chambers— if the American Christ turned out to 
look like the Antichrist— then by this cramped either-or logic the Communist Antichrist must 
really have been Christ. America had betrayed us; the war, Carl Oglesby movingly said in 
1965, "broke my American heart." Only true-blue believers in the promise of America could 
have felt so anti-American. Ours was the fury of a lover spurned. But a fury so intense, left 
to itself, would have consumed us. "Don't you want somebody to love?" as the Jefferson 
Airplane sang. So we turned where romantics have traditionally turned: to the hot-blooded 
peoples of the subtropics and the mysterious East."* The Manichaean all-or-nothing logic of 
the Cold War was conserved, though inverted, as if costumes from Central Wardrobe had 
been rotated. 


No formal links were forged, of course. What I am about to describe about the New Left's 
relations with revolutionary movements abroad has nothing in common with the notion that 
the antiwar movement "stabbed America in the back," obstructed an otherwise splendid and 
attainable victory on behalf of freedom and democracy in Vietnam; nor with the claim that 
the many and grave crimes of the victorious revolutionaries retroactively justify the crimes 
of the expeditionary forces, or the specious logic that sent them to Vietnam (it is far more 
likely that the longer the war went on, the crueler the victors became). Nor, finally, is there 
a shred of truth in the paranoid view that the movement was controlled or financed by The 
Enemy (leave aside that no war was declared), whether Hanoi, Moscow, or as Secretary of 
State Dean Rusk used to say, "Peiping." That shallow premise was the inversion of quite a 
different fact: it was the Saigon government that depended on funds from abroad. No less a 
personage than Lyndon Johnson was obsessed by the theory of foreign direction; what else 
could explain these unruly young? Pressed by Johnson on the eve of the Pentagon siege to 
investigate the peace movement's international connections, the CIA reported back that 
"many [leaders] have close Communist associations but they do not appear to be under 
Communist direction," and that "connections between ... US activists and foreign 
governments are limited"^— whereupon Rusk said the CIA simply hadn't searched well 
enough, and Johnson was reportedly so unhappy he shook his finger in the face of CIA 
director Richard Helms and said, "I simply don't understand why it is that you can't find out 
about that foreign money" Members of Congress more than once proclaimed that "superior 
forces," "manipulators," "architects behind closed doors" were responsible for antiwar 
protests; that they had been "cranked up" in Hanoi. ^ What the officials could not grasp was 
the convoluted linkage of spirit— or the depth of our revulsion, or the lengths to which 
unbridled revulsion could run. 

Visits to "the other side" started as explorations and diplomatic missions and became 
pilgrimages. If bumper stickers said "America, Love It or Leave It," we eventually accepted 
the dare: spiritually, we left. We had started the decade "spiritually unemployed," in a 
phrase Robb Burlage had reinvented from Van Wyck Brooks; toward the end, it seemed that 
the best way to feel useful was to settle into a sort of alliance with the real revolutionaries. I 
remember a conversation circa 1966, in which my anti-Stalinist movement friend Chris 
Hobson and I felt moved by the Cultural Revolution in China, which we saw as old Mao's 
last-ditch effort to crush state bureaucracy, to shake off the heavy hand of Stalinism. (We 
didn't know, or chose to overlook, the fact that Stalin remained prominent in Maoism's 
pantheon.) In 1967, Paul Potter gave a speech supporting the Cultural Revolutionaries on 
the grounds that the Chinese purgers of corruption, like us, were bands of brothers and 
sisters seeking meaningful work. 

But the supreme repositories of New Left trust were the Vietnamese revolutionaries, 
especially the National Liberation Front cadres of the South. The whole movement felt the 
pull of these devoted, long-suffering people. Those lucky enough to meet them came away 
with an "NLF high."^ Not everyone yielded to it in the same way, not every report was 
equally glowing, not every private attitude as uncritically positive as the speeches. 
Essentially, though, the New Left agreed that the North Vietnamese, however authoritarian, 
were the legitimate heirs of a fundamentally just anticolonial war against France; and even 
if "Uncle Ho" had at times resorted to ugly methods, there was still the NLF, with its aura of 
autonomy. However dominated by the Communist Party, the NLF was still a front, a 
coalition, fundamentally independent of Hanoi, which we believed (with good reason) had 
even discouraged its formation in I960. There were doubts, but it was suspicious indeed 
that most of the nasty charges came from the State Department and its academic 
supporters. The war had narrowed discussion to either-or, and the naysayers had 
discredited themselves by placing their anti-Communism at the service of napalm. 


Anyway, attitudes were cheap; what counted was stopping the war. Information was 
ammunition. News about life and death in Vietnam was hard to come by. In the prevailing 
discourse, the war was fought against voiceless abstractions: Communism, Hanoi, 
infiltration. Ho. The American media either repeated U.S. government claims or, when they 
were skeptical, failed to convey how the world looked to "the other side."* Given the 
demonology that prevailed on both sides. Communist sources were unavailable to the 
American public; travel to Hanoi was forbidden by both U.S. and North Vietnamese 
governments.^ One reason to build bridges was practical: information pure and simple. But 
of course information is never pure and simple. Hanoi and the NLF passed out the 
information that served them, and true, we were innocents abroad— yet about the war itself, 
their scourge and ours, they brought mostly plausible testimony There was no testimony 
like their territories themselves. 

Major contacts began in July 1965. A delegation of ten American women, organized by 
Women Strike for Peace, met in Indonesia with six high-ranking North Vietnamese and 
three NLF women, including the impressive Mme. Nguyen Thi Binh, later the NLF's foreign 
minister and chief negotiator. The NLF delegates said they had had to walk for two weeks 
just to get out of South Vietnam, and their undeniable suffering lent force to the rosy 
picture they painted of the Front. The Northerners spoke convincingly, in frightening detail, 
of the repeated bombing of hospitals, schools, churches, and villages. They described 
fragmentation bombs that peppered the body with tiny pellets which scattered under the 
skin of the victims and which surgery could not remove. Back in the States, such stories 
were blithely dismissed by American reporters. I was married at the time to one of the 
American delegates, Nanci Hollander; I was moved to tears by NLF accounts of the 
bombardment raining down on them in their countryside tunnels. If half of what they said 
was true, even a quarter of it, then even if their picture of Front politics was disingenuous, 
the war went real now. There were witnesses, individuals with names and faces at stake, 
asking for help. 

At Christmas 1965, during a bombing "pause" declared by President Johnson, Tom Hayden 
and Staughton Lynd accompanied the American Communist historian Herbert Aptheker on 
the first wartime American trip to Hanoi.* From then on, many of the movement's missions 
to "the other side" had a second purpose: informal diplomacy. "Fact-finding about 'the other 
sides' negotiating positions for ending the war was our principal purpose,"^" Lynd and 
Hayden wrote, for at the time the Johnson administration was systematically undermining 
North Vietnamese moves toward peace talks." Lynd, a Quaker whose sweet-tempered 
generosity was the stuff of movement legend, was inspired by the example of Dr. George 
Logan, the American Quaker physician who traveled to revolutionary France in 1798, 
brought its views back to President John Adams, won the release of imprisoned American 
seamen, and helped avert war with the United States. Lynd and Hayden stayed in Hanoi for 
two weeks, met with North Vietnamese officials, witnessed some bomb damage, and wrote 
a short book called The Other Side. Lynd was thirty-six, Hayden twenty-six, and this was 
Hayden's first trip outside North America. 

' Aptheker had been approached by the North Vietnamese (it was probably the last time the American Old Left was 
Hanoi's main link to the United States); he in turn approached Lynd, then teaching at Yale, who in turn recruited 
Hayden. SDS, initially approached by Aptheker, didn't wane to be associated with him. 


Most of The Other Side recounted the world views of their North Vietnamese hosts; the 
authors remained politely in the background, like masters of ceremonies. At some points the 
authors wrestled selfconsciously with the Left's grim lineage of self-deception: "We are 
conscious of the ways in which some intellectuals during the nineteen-thirties sought to 
excuse the evil side of Soviet communism, and we have made every effort to avoid those 
habits of thought... . We are not arguing that First Amendment liberties thrive in North 
Vietnam, and we do not believe we are Sartres who require a Camus to remind us of the 
existence of slave labor camps^^... . On the whole we think the information given us was 
accurate," they wrote, "although our hosts were superficial in describing certain of the 
grimmer aspects of their revolution's history ... ."^^ They tried to honor the distinction 
between explaining something and explaining it away. And yet they frequently took at face 
value their hosts' claims about North Vietnam's achievements. At certain moments, 
searching for points of resemblance between Vietnamese Communism and the American 
New Left, they bent over backward to give their hosts the benefit of the doubt. For 
example: "We suspect that colonial American town meetings and current Vietnamese village 
meetings, Asian peasants leagues and Black Belt sharecroppers' unions have much in 
common, especially the concept of a 'grassroots' or 'rice-roots' democracy."^"* They strained 
to render the strangeness of Communist Vietnam familiar, to force it into the terms of their 
own experience. Impressed by the character of some of their hosts, they were moved by 
"the possibilities for a socialism of the heart. "^^ They were disarmed by assurances that a 
postwar Vietnam would be democratic in a Western sense. 

Today, rereading Lynd's and Hayden's book for the first time in almost twenty years, I find 
its refusal to honor the standard Cold War demonology touching, naive, and saddening all at 
once. Lynd himself calls it "a poor book." He already had reasons to suspect the North 
Vietnamese, in fact, but muted his doubts in the writing. While in Hanoi, he had been asked 
to address a cultural congress; he reluctantly complied, feeling it would be awkward to 
refuse. (The dean of Yale Law School had cautioned Lynd, then an assistant professor of 
history at Yale, not to do anything to "embarrass" the university— though how he knew 
about Lynd's impending trip was not exactly clear, since Lynd had not made it public.) After 
Lynd left North Vietnam, Hanoi released the text of his remarks to the world press, and a 
few sentences ended up in The New Yorl< T/mes— stripped of Lynd's light voice and tone of 
Quaker modesty. It "left a bad taste in my mouth," Lynd says, that Hanoi had left him 
exposed. For another thing, Lynd recalls, "I went out of my way to ask them whether North 
Vietnamese troops were fighting in the South. I subsequently became absolutely convinced 
that there were North Vietnamese troops fighting in the South in large numbers at the time 
that we were there. They may very well have been persons who originally came from South 
Vietnam and had volunteered to return and so forth and so on, but the long and the short of 
it is that there were armed troops going from the North to the South and it was a question 
that I had asked in writing, in as blunt a way as I could, and the answer was no, and I felt 
that I had been lied to. I think I had this sense of uneasiness from the outset, and that it 
was perhaps a year or two later that I concluded that I had been snookered. "^^ 


But even errands on behalf of peace have their own momentum. Diplomacy is a game in 
which all appearances can be reduced to ulterior motives, and only ulterior motives count. 
Nothing is quite what meets the eye; all' statements and omissions are coded for effect. 
Aside from wanting to ferret out information, Hayden and Lynd— and all other travelers to 
the Eastern bloc from this moment on— were committed to keeping lines of communication 
open. Paul Potter was in touch with Hayden after his return, and among Potter's letters I 
find this note: "Staughton and Tom are trying to write a book on their trip to North Vietnam 
... and are at the moment tied in knots over the question of how critical they can be of the 
North Vietnamese. On the one hand they do not want to appear as the apologists for 
anybody and on the other they fear that the North Vietnamese given their total engagement 
in the war will misinterpret any criticism that they may choose to make— seriously 
undercutting the possibility of similar future contacts. "^^ 

Lynd took little pleasure in the diplomatic role.^^ One of the movement's few elder 
statesmen— he came of political age in the early Fifties, a member of the otherwise "missing 
generation"— he had lived in voluntary communities and was comfortable with right living, 
"speaking truth to power," as the Quakers say, whether on a picket line in Atlanta during 
the Cuban missile crisis or as director of the Freedom Schools during Mississippi Freedom 
Summer. His private, traumatic moment of truth came a few months after returning from 
Hanoi, in the spring of 1966. Bertrand Russell had decided to organize an international 
tribunal to gather and publicize evidence about American war crimes in Vietnam, and 
Russell's American representative, Russell Stetler, formerly of the May 2nd Movement, came 
to New Haven to feel out Lynd as a prospective member. "A crime is a crime," Lynd 
remembers telling Stetler, "no matter who commits it, and it would be my judgment that 
the Tribunal would be more credible if it would permit witnesses to appear before it, alleging 
crimes by any side." When the sums were added up, Lynd argued, "the crimes of the United 
States and the government of South Vietnam would be seen to be overwhelmingly greater 
than those of the National Liberation Front or the government of North Vietnam, but more 
credibly so." "If anyone were to torture prisoners, that would be a crime, right?" Lynd asked 
Stetler. "Anything is justified that would force the American invaders into the sea," Stetler 
replied. It was at that moment, Lynd recalls, "that I realized that this beautiful movement, 
that I thought I was part of, was going someplace where I didn't want to go." It was, for 
him, "the beginning of the long loneliness of the late Sixties and early Seventies." 

That summer, Lynd traveled to Geneva for an international meeting, but the ambience was 
all too disturbingly familiar. "This is the international Communist banquet circuit," he 
thought, "and I have seen this before. I felt if there's one place that we've all been, it's what 
happened in the 1930s and thereafter vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. My first political 
experiences had to do with ... defining how I felt toward the American Communist Party and 
various front groups of the American Communist Party." Thus fortified, Lynd found himself 
moving in a direction opposite to the younger, blither, angrier, more wishful New Left. The 
movement was coming to a boil. The avant-garde of the antiwar movement, growing 
impatient with scruples, raged against America like a drunkard against his bottle. ^^ We 
inverted the traditional American innocence, and located the "city upon a hill" in the jungles 
of the Third World. Rage against the war required a counterbalance: as not only America 
but the movement itself became less lovable, we looked for populations (and movements) 
that were more so— the more remote culturally, the better, since less could be understood 
about them. Uneasy with this turn, with media-bestowed celebrity, and with diplomacy in 
general, Lynd eased himself out of the spotlight and turned to local organizing. 


Why should it be easy to reckon with the movement's troubled, troubling, wrong moves? 
But caution: Hindsight can have it too easy. Every simple categorical statement is also a 
form of forgetting.^" Lynd, today a labor lawyer, rightly says: "There's a Scylla for every 
Charybdis. One doesn't exactly want to derogate the impulse for solidarity; one doesn't 
want to stand in the way of whatever would help Americans to get beyond the parochialism 
and cultural-bound point of view that all of us, the left included, have." The danger was that 
decent impulses grew tunnel-narrow in the course of defensiveness and infatuation. And 
even if, miraculously, we could have thought our way through the entire cycle of action and 
reaction which was the Cold War, the dominating script of that time, still, how would we 
ever have gotten beyond the respective alibis to the main point, which was to stop violence? 
Hayden and Lynd were Americans awed, cowed, obliged by their visit to a country under 
brutal American bombardment. Of course, romance was not the only response to revulsion; 
it should have been possible (was possible: some antiwarriors did it) to face the grim truth 
of what the West had wrought in Indochina without glorifying the victim-resisters or 
overlooking the tragedies that the victors furthered. Still, the past is not the present read 
backward; the Vietnamese reign of terror in "re-education camps" and against boat people 
after America was expelled in 1975 is not necessarily what would have taken place if the 
war had ended with a decade's less destruction and bitterness. Then I remind myself— as 
Lynd and Hayden did— of the killing of thousands of peasants, kulak-style, in North Vietnam, 
and the imprisonment of thousands of others in forced labor camps, in 1955-56 (a 
"mistake" Hanoi had owned up to, after the fact).^^ As the Right indeed said, Hanoi had a 
history of brutality— although as the Right never asked, why should antipersonnel bombs 
have been the proper response to a vicious land policy? Were the instruments of terror 
supposed to persuade Hanoi to act more kindly? Let us remind ourselves too that the 
regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in the South was no slouch at torture, at the forced evictions of 
multitudes to "strategic hamlets," at the repression of former Vietminh cadres waiting for 
the reunification elections promised by the Geneva accords for 1956 (none of which Saigon 
had owned up to)... }^ 

So does the spiral snake around. Those who want simple conclusions should forget politics 
and stick to arithmetic. Of only one thing have I no doubt: that the war poisoned Vietnam, 
poisoned its politics and its culture as well as its crops and its soil. Lynd and Hayden were 
absolutely right to say that "if the United States is genuinely concerned to promote freedom 
for the North Vietnamese, it should stop bombing them."" 

The State Department revoked Lynd's passport. (Eventually the Court of Appeals for the 
District of Columbia restored it.) Lynd went back to teaching at Yale; in 1967, having been 
denied tenure, he was persuaded by Rennie Davis to join a new organizers' training school 
in Chicago. In his passage to local activism, he ended up crossing paths with Hayden, who 
had returned to the SDS-founded community organization in Newark but was dogged by the 
need to do something about the war. Hayden's dilemma was typical of what afflicted SDS- 
style radicals in those years— one felt bound to work on a manageable scale here, albeit 
lacking a plausible vision of a new society, all the while feeling obligated to revolutionaries 
there, on the other side of the world, but without a clear way to make that obligation 
practical. And then, with the rise of race consciousness in the ghettos— including all kinds of 
black nationalisms, from dashikis and Afros and "black is beautiful" to militant politics— what 
were whites working in black ghettos to do? Although Hayden and other Newark organizers 
were able to function there during the July 1967 riots, plainly the time of white organizers in 
black ghettos had expired. For a whole generation of New Left organizers, the antiwar 
movement— and Third World revolutions— were becoming more alluring partly because the 
war was metastasizing and partly because they were losing their base. 


Whether sensitive to the limits of brief excursions or not, Americans who met with 
revolutionaries abroad came back surrounded by a singular aura. They were in demand at 
rallies. Their passion had an apparently firm ground. Their mission was to widen their circle, 
organize other trips. Accordingly, in September 1967, Hayden and Dave Dellinger put 
together a kind of movement-to-movement summit conference, a grand encounter with 
high-level North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front delegations in Bratislava, 
Czechoslovakia. The Americans, forty of them, included experienced antiwar organizers like 
Dellinger, early SDSers (most of them now community and antidraft organizers) like Rennie 
Davis, Carol McEldowney, Dick Flacks, and Nick Egleson, and radical journalists like Andrew 
Kopkind and Sol Stern. Many had not been abroad before; at the age when many of their 
peers routinely took passage to Europe, they had been organizing the poor. 

The Vietnamese made an extraordinary impression. They were warm, charming, calm, and 
well organized to a fault: they toasted and lectured in a formal style— Communist? 
experienced revolutionary? culturally Vietnamese? diplomatic?— that sometimes bothered 
casual Americans. They were effusive in their gratitude to the antiwar movement and their 
faith in "the American people," at the same time they insisted that their struggle was their 
own and that history was on their side. Whatever their suffering— one Vietnamese woman 
was carrying two hundred pieces of American shrapnel in her body^"*- they seemed free of 
bitterness; they told their heart-rending stories in moderate tones. An American friend 
wrote me this paraphrase: "Each family digs bunkers for each member of the family; but, 
when an air raid comes, then 3 of your children go to other families, and vice versa— so 
that, if there is a direct hit, then if you had 5 children, then at least you'll have 2 left. 'You 
see,' the man says smiling, 'we must find ways to divide the suffering among the nation.'" 
"Their most extreme form of expression," my friend went on, was "the cold, didactic, 
slightly harsh and disciplined speech of long-time party members (Mme. Binh)." 

The Americans were moved— so much so, some felt called upon to declare their ringing 
solidarity on the spot. One proclaimed that the antiwar movement was "the National 
Liberation Front behind LBJ's lines," and that like the slaves in Stanley Kubrick's movie who 
refused to give Spartacus away, each one of them would tell the interrogators, "I'm 
Spartacus!" (More than one American complained afterward that the rousing rhetoric was 
out of place when the Vietnamese themselves were so modest.) Dave Dellinger told the 
Vietnamese at one point, "You are Vietnamese and you love Vietnam. You must remember 
that we are Americans and we love America too, even though we oppose our government's 
politics with all our strength. "^^ At which one American groaned and others looked 
embarrassed. Little by little, alienation from American life— contempt, even, for the 
conventions of flag, home, religion, suburbs, shopping, plain homely Norman Rockwell 
order— had become a rock-bottom prerequisite for membership in the movement core. The 
New Left felt its homelessness as a badge of identity by now; damned if it was going to love 
what it had spiritually left. 

Strange partners indeed, these marijuana-smoking Americans and ascetic Asian 
revolutionaries, united by B-52s! (Some Americans tried to finesse the difference by bruiting 
it about that the Northerners' "Dien Bien Phu"-brand cigarettes contained small amounts of 
marijuana. This news was not supposed to be spread, however, for it would discredit the 
ascetic Vietnamese.) The then-journalist Christopher Jencks, covering the meeting for The 
New Republic, was struck by "the extent to which [the young radicals] identified with the 
Viet Cong," and astutely observed: 


This New Left sympathy for the NLF is not based on any similarity of style or 
of temperament. The Vietnamese revolutionaries we met were not the joyless 
communist apparatchiks whom the Soviet Union would send to such a 
meeting, but they were dignified, restrained, disciplined and apparently 
selfless— about as unlike the loose-tongued, anarchistic, spontaneous 
Americans as any group could conceivably be. It was easy to respect their 
courage and patience under incredibly difficult conditions, and to find them 
personally charming, but it would not be very easy for a young American to 
establish an intimate personal friendship with or psychological understanding 
of such strangers. Nor do I think most of the Americans at Bratislava would 
find life in post-revolutionary Vietnam congenial; on the contrary, I suspect 
most would find themselves in opposition fairly soon. The common bond 
between the New Left and the NLF is not, then, a common dream or a 
common experience but a common enemy: the US government, the system, 
the Establishment. The young radicals' admiration for the NLF stems from the 
feeling that the NLF is resisting The Enemy successfully, whereas they are 

From Bratislava, seven of the Americans— including Hayden, Rennie Davis, and Carol 
McEldowney— went on to Hanoi, where they were thunderstruck as Hayden and Lynd had 
been, and by many of the same things. Rennie Davis was hit hard by "the magnitude of the 
war and the incredible human struggle and the widespread Vietnamese attitude toward the 
American people. In a crowd I'd be announced as an American. Immediately there was 
spontaneous applause. It could not have been programmed. "^^ He was astonished to 
discover that Norman Morrison, the American Quaker who had burned himself to death on 
the steps of the Pentagon to protest the war in 1965, was a national hero. Several 
Americans came back from Bratislava and Hanoi wearing aluminum rings— cast, they were 
told, from the scrap of an American bomber shot down during a raid. A few had bomb 
casings and antipersonnel pellets, material souvenirs of the damage. Davis came back to 
the States transfigured, his old commitment to slow, steady local organizing shattered; he 
resolved, like Hayden before him, to hurl himself into antiwar work. Over the next few 
years, several dozen antiwar Americans— young New Leftists, black militants, professors and 
writers, filmmakers and folksingers and actors— undertook the circuitous trip to Hanoi.* By 
the end of the war, several score other Americans met with North Vietnamese and NLF 
delegations in Montreal, Havana, Budapest, and Paris. Many came back wearing the 
mysterious aluminum rings— signs that the American techno-juggernaut was not, after all, 
invincible; signs of engagement if not marriage. 

' Several escorted captive bombardiers bacl< to the United States. Neither North Vietnam nor the antiwar 
movement benefited much from the prisoner releases, partly because few of the POWs were persuaded of Hanoi's 
case and partly because the Pentagon took the freed POWs off the hands of the antiwar people as soon as possible. 
On one occasion, in early 1968, Daniel Berrigan and Howard Zinn accompanied three released flyers on a plane 
that stopped in Laos on its way out of Hanoi. The American ambassador in Laos came on board the plane, delayed 
it, and left no doubt in the flyers' minds that their government expected them to leave the company of Berrigan 
and Zinn and fly back to the States with the air force. They did. 


The travelers became familiar figures in the movement's little world. Their stories of 
damage and courage were as compelling as they were predictable. Many had to take shelter 
from air raids— an unaccustomed thing for any American, all the more so when the bombs 
were American. They were dazzled and inspired. Those granted an audience with prominent 
leaders felt graced; it was like being given the Keys to the Revolution. "It was like being 
caught up in some splendid fairy tale of revolution peopled with live heroes and heroines," 
wrote Elinor Langer, who went to an East-meets-West meeting in Budapest in the fall of 
1968.^* "Each of them was wonderful: physically beautiful, warm, sensitive, smart." There 
were revolutionary fantasies, as Andrew Kopkind wrote of having been ushered into a 
private meeting with Mme. Binh at Bratislava: "I was to be appointed a master spy, I was to 
visit the Liberated Zones, I was to receive the Revolutionary Word."^^ Often they came away 
convinced that the officials and semiofficials they met— universally referred to as "the 
Vietnamese"— were a species apart, a virtual new breed of human, not only representative 
of the will of their populations (something only the American government, bombing to break 
that will, doubted) but a model for the world's revolutionary future: even our own. 

Most of all, the travelers came back resolute: something, something else, something more 
had to be done to stop the war. For many reasons— I shall come back to this— it always took 
a complex argument to think that the movement was getting anywhere against the war; 
and complex arguments are not easy to feel. But the returned travelers had an acute 
problem of their own. The stakes of the war had become vastly more vivid. They had set 
foot on its ground, felt the force of real combatants who were exemplars as well as victims. 
After Bratislava, as Andrew Kopkind put it, "I was no longer merely 'against the war,' but 
struggling in solidarity with Vietnamese revolutionaries."^" On American soil, the antiwar 
movement was embattled, liberals and the apathetic roused themselves only slowly, and 
otherwise business went on as usual. In November 1967, for example, only 10 percent of 
Americans polled favored withdrawal from Vietnam— and this after two and a half years of 
demonstrations, teach-ins, petitions, sit-ins, electoral campaigns, you name it. The 
discrepancy between America and enemy Vietnam was unbearable; many of the returning 
travelers went into shock. How could these two worlds exist on the same planet? The nation 
which trumpeted the worth of the individual was bombing the nation which not only stood 
for community and equality but— partly thanks to the bombing— apparently practiced it. 
Responsibility seemed clear: to overcome the almost unimaginable distance between the 
bombers and bombed. The route of honor led into the caldron. Feelings pared themselves 
down to slogans. Tom Hayden expressed the far limits of a larger mood when he wrote: 
"Our task: an all-out siege against the war machine. Our watchword: All for Vietnam. "^^ 

Questions that might have emerged in calmer times about the political nature of "the other 
side" felt like distractions and were swept into the shadows. If you thought too hard about 
what your allies stood for, you would be playing Washington's game. About revolutionary 
coercion you didn't want to know; the bad news would only complicate what had to remain 
child-simple to justify one's departures from normal life. The only serious question was. 
How could you possibly do enough? "My god," said one of the Americans in Budapest, "I'll 
eat peanut butter the rest of my life if that's what it'll take to help these people be free."'^^ 
"The one problem, of course," Andrew Kopkind wrote, "was what I, or anyone, was 
supposed to do with this new sense of revolutionary solidarity. Nothing that young 
Americans were doing (that is, nothing that seemed possible for me) seemed appropriate to 
the comradeship entrusted to us. And simply feeling guilty was, as people used to say, a 
stone drag." Guilt simmered, and projects came to a boil, and most of all, young influentials 
of the New Left, enraged by the casual crimes of their own country, lacking a good society 
of their own making, could not shake off the pull of that odd identity: a metaphorical 
"National Liberation Front behind Lyndon Johnson's lines. "•^•^ 


^ demagogic press: Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making 
and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 118, 
182, 229. 

^ struggle for independence: The best statement of this position is Carl Oglesby, "The 
Revolted," chap. 6 of his "Vietnamese Crucible: An Essay on the Meanings of the Cold War," 
in Oglesby and Richard Shaull, Containment and Change (New York: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 

•^ exemplars and heroes: Some of this discussion derives from Todd Gitlin, "Seizing History," 
Mother Jones, November 1983, p. 38. 

"* where romantics: Cesar Grana, Bohemian versus Bourgeois: French Society and the 
French Man of Letters in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Basic, 1964), pp. 131-34. 

^ CIA reported back: Charles DeBenedetti, "A CIA Analysis of the Anti-Vietnam-War 
Movement: October 1967," Peace and Change 9, 1 (Spring 1983), p. 35. Rusk said the CIA: 
Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (New York: 
Pocket Books, 1969), p. 315. Johnson was reportedly: Hugh Sidey in Merle Miller, Lyndon: 
An Oral Biography (New York: Ballantine, 1980), p. 594. 

^ Members of Congress: Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, Who Spoke Up? American 
Protest Against the War in Vietnam, 1963-1975 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984), p. 
142, quoting Sen. Frank Lausche (D-Ohio), Rep. Gerald Ford (R-Michigan), and others. See 
also Tom Hayden, Rebellion and Repression (New York: Meridian, 1969), pp. 121 ff. 

^ "NLF high": Elinor Langer, "Notes for Next Time," Working Papers, Fall 1973, p. 65. 

^ American media: Daniel C. Hallin, The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1986). 

^ travel to Hanoi: Zaroulis and Sullivan, Who Spoke Up?, p. 66. 

^° "Fact-finding": Staughton Lynd and Tom Hayden, The Other Side (New York: New 
American Library, 1966), p. 7. 

" undermining North Vietnamese moves: Franz Schurmann, Peter Dale Scott, and Reginald 
Zelnik, The Politics of Escalation in Vietnam (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1966). 

^^ "We are conscious": Lynd and Hayden, Other Side, pp. 13, 212. 

" "On the whole": Ibid., p. 11. 

^"^ "We suspect that colonial": Ibid., p. 200. 

^^ "socialism of the heart": Ibid., p. 63. 

^^ Lynd himself calls it ... "snookered": Telephone interview, Staughton Lynd, October 5, 

" "Staughton and Tom": Paul Potter to Eve Potter and Norm Potter, May 27, 1966 (Potter 

^* Lynd took little ...: Telephone interview, Staughton Lynd, October 5, 1985. 

^^ drunkard against his bottle: Paraphrasing Todd Gitlin, "Watching NBC News," Liberation, 
June-July 1965, p. 28. 


^° Every simple categorical: Paraphrasing T. W. Adorno's "All reification is a forgetting," from 
Max Horkheimer and T. W. Adomo, Dialectic of Enliglitenment (New York: Herder and 
Herder, 1972), p. 230, translation amended by Martin Jay in 7/76 Dialectical Imagination 
(Boston: Little, Brown, 1973), p. 267. 

^^ killing of thousands: Lynd and Hayden, Other Side, pp. 202-12; Stanley Karnow, 
Vietnam: A History (New York: Penguin, 1984), pp. 225-26. 

^^ former Vietminh cadres: Karnow, Vietnam, pp. 227-30. 

" "if the United States": Lynd and Hayden, Other Side, p. 213. 

^"^ one Vietnamese woman: Raymond Mungo, Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times 
with Liberation News Service (Boston: Beacon, 1970), p. 10. 

^^ "You are Vietnamese": Dave Dellinger, in Christopher Jencks, "Limits of the New Left," 
The New Republic, October 21, 1967, pp. 19-20. 

^^ "identified with the Viet Cong": Jencks, "Limits of the New Left," p. 19. Emphasis added. 

^^ Rennie Davis was hit: Zaroulis and Sullivan, Who Spoke Up?, pp. 131-32. 272 Daniel 
Berrigan and Howard Zinn: Daniel Berrigan, "Journal to Hanoi," Liberation, March 1968, pp. 

^* "It was like being caught": Langer, "Notes," p. 65. 

^^ "I was to be appointed": Andrew Kopkind, "The Sixties and the Movement," Ramparts, 
February 1973, p. 32. 

•^° "I was no longer merely": Ibid. 273 In November 1967: Melvin Small, "The Impact of the 
Antiwar Movement on Lyndon Johnson, 1965-1968: A Preliminary Report," Peace and 
Change, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 1984), p. 7. 

•^^ "Our task": Tom Hayden, "All for Vietnam," Ramparts, September 1970, p. 48. Emphasis 
in original. 

^^ "My god": Langer, "Notes," p. 65. 

•^•^ "The one problem": Kopkind, "The Sixties," p. 32. 


"No Paradise" 

Many were the New Left travelers who came back from Cuba burdened by inspiration, too. I 
was one. I^y experience was not typical in every respect, but it testifies to the power of the 
journey to the East. 

Just before moving to California, and just after my friends came back from Bratislava, in 
September 1967, I traveled to Expo in Montreal. It was my first trip outside the United 
States (except for a few hours driving across part of Canada in college); to breathe un- 
American air for three days felt to me like liberation. (The company of a certain young 
woman, and the hope of persuading her to fall in love with me, helped too.) I was dazzled 
by the multimedia Canadian and Czech pavilions, which were influenced by Marshall 
McLuhan and other avant-garde wizards, but what moved me most was the modest Cuban 
exhibit, showing no industrial goods or technological wonders, only a modernist photo-essay 
juxtaposing photographic blow-ups to fragments of poetry exalting the continuity of the 
fight against Batista with the revolutionary present. After a short conversation with the 
Cuban guide I swapped a JOBS OR INCOME NOW button for her Cuban pin. On the plane 
coming home, my companion translated for me K. S. Karol's interview with Fidel Castro in 
Le Nouvel Observateur, in which Fidel anticipated abolishing money and spoke of the 
superiority of moral over material incentives. A man after my own heart! I raved about the 
pavilion and the interview for weeks, and wrote a poem pitying Americans who couldn't 
understand how glorious it would be to abolish money ("the pilot pities the eagle for having 
no parachute"). 

A couple of months later, now settled in California and fortified by Stop the Draft Week, I 
was accepted onto an SDS delegation to Cuba. Knowing I was inclined toward infatuation 
and therefore unwilling to let myself off lightly, I tried self-inoculation. I brushed up my high 
school Spanish, read critical as well as adoring books, and made a list of questions: What 
did intellectuals think of restrictions on civil liberties? What kind of democracy prevailed in 
the Party and in unions? Was there any workers' control? Would there ever be 
institutionalized factions (with mass bases) in the Party? I knew all about the terrible and 
laughable history of Westerners (Lincoln Steffens, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, 
Sidney and Beatrice Webb) making their pilgrimages to the East and trapping themselves in 
apologies; it wasn't going to happen to me. 

I traveled with Carl Davidson, then one of the leaders of SDS. In Mexico City, we were 
accosted several times near the Cuban embassy— where we were getting our visas— by a 
mysterious thirtyish American who said he'd come back from Vietnam, didn't like what 
America was doing there, didn't like what America was doing in Cuba either, knew ; how to 
run bulldozers and other heavy equipment, and wanted to place ; his knowledge at the 
service of brave little Cuba. Couldn't we put in a good word for him, get him a visa? Likely 
story! We were amused at the skullduggery, surprised at its crudeness, flattered and 
apprehensive to be the targets. Then there were the routine pictures snapped by a 
photographer with an ostentatious Graflex at the Mexico City airport as we waited to take 
off on Cubana de Aviacion. 


We arrived in Cuba just after Cinristmas, in time for tine Cultural Congress of Havana, an 
international bash bringing together luminaries from First, Second, and Third Worlds. It was 
heady stuff for a first overseas visit. There were intelligent papers mimeographed on cheap 
paper in Spanish, French, and English, about cultural imperialism, the formation of a new 
man under socialism, even (mirabile dictui) the importance of literary freedoms. The left- 
wing intelligentsia of Europe and Latin America turned out in force. Sartre canceled at the 
last minute because of illness, but Julio Cortazar and David Siqueiros attended; it was said 
that someone had accosted Siqueiros in an elevator, accused him (accurately) of 
involvement in the assassination of Trotsky, and kicked him in the shins. Russians, 
Bulgarians, and East Germans wrote deadening propaganda pamphlets and bulked about in 
double-breasted suits, looking inaccessible. Our Cuban hosts did not skimp. Delegates 
hobnobbed, ate and drank spectacularly well. The visitors slept high above the waterfront at 
the Habana Libre (formerly Hilton). The Trinidad-born writer C. L. R. James, a noble 
independent radical, was said to have protested the splendor of the Congress when so many 
Cubans were poor; I sympathized, though I would have hated to give up the Cuba Libres 
and crab and shrimp cocktails that started every meal. 

I got away from the hotel as much as possible, and wandered through Havana, sometimes 
without my guide, improvising ramshackle conversations in my so-so Spanish.^ I even 
escaped Havana for several days, and toured more factories than I'd ever seen in the United 
States. I went to an exemplary farm where workers honest-to-God sang as they marched 
off into the fields. I visited a training school for teachers in the Sierra Maestra (I got a kick 
out of posing for a picture wearing my U.S. Army fatigue jacket outside the cave where Che 
Guevara was supposed to have directed guerrilla actions against Batista). I worried about 
whether these sites were typical, then decided not to worry; when in doubt, I usually shone 
the best possible light on what I saw. Mostly I saw energy, amazing commitment. Ordinary 
people seemed both mobilized and relaxed; it was . that famous Latin revolution-with-a- 
beat. A cane cutter in Oriente ' Province told me straight-faced, "Anyone who fights 
imperialism is our brother," but cheerfully acknowledged that the work was backbreaking 
and he'd happily do something else for the revolution. A tractor driver told me, matter-of- 
factly, that he had been working for twenty-four hours straight: "The people in Vietnam 
don't sleep, why should we? We're doing the same work." (Tom Hayden, also along for the 
Cultural Congress, said wryly he had heard the same thing in North Vietnam— from a cadre 
so exhausted he could hardly keep his eyes open.) The Party-line press was awful, but I was 
still impressed with how carefully people read it. An airplane mechanic said he would give 
me his copy of the paper as soon as he finished his painstaking reading of Regis Debray's 
speech of self-defense: "It's important." I was moved to read on a billboard, "REVOLUTION 
ES CONSTRUIR"— especially moved since I thought our own task in America was to destroy 
the destroyers. Intimations of workers' control of production in the future impressed me 
more than the Communist Party's (Fidel's?) monopoly of political power. The most 
disturbing thing I saw was at the one school I saw in session, near the Sierra Maestra (most 
schools were out, for the Christmas holidays). As soon as our touring group walked into the 
classroom, the students rose and chanted in unison: "The slogan for today is: We will fulfill 
production for Company Number One!" One of the major slogans in Cuba that winter was, 
"We will make men like Che." "This is not," I wrote in my journal, "the way to make men 
like Che." 


Trying to keep honest, I searched high and low for an authentic counterrevolutionary. I 
found an older man who didn't like the Leninist catechism being impressed upon his 
children, but convinced myself he was an authentic socialist who would be pleased by Fidel's 
latest reforms. In a working-class section of Havana I got into a conversation with a street 
sweeper who had earned a prettier penny in the days of the American casinos. Introducing 
myself as a norteamericano journalist, not a ruso, I asked him how he felt about the 
Revolution. "I can't say anything against the Revolution," was his answer. Aha! I thought; 
I'd finally found one. Did he mean he was afraid? No, not at all, he begged to clarify. There 
was nothing to say against the Revolution. 

My guide, a medical student named Marilu who had been found too rambunctious for the 
Party, was still a Party-liner; she thought there were no reasons why workers would ever 
strike against a workers' state, and was appalled to hear that SDS chapters were free to act 
on their own. When I asked why so many of the Che Guevara posters plastered around 
Havana had been ripped, Marilu blamed the wind, which I doubted blew so selectively. Yet 
for all her impressive resolve to defend the island revolution, Marilu told more or less 
counterrevolutionary jokes. (For example: In the year 2000, a little boy is going through an 
old photo album. He sees a photo of a line waiting in the street. "Grandpa," he says, "what's 
that?" "Well, in the early years of the Revolution, there wasn't enough to go around, so 
people lined up for goods." "What are they waiting for here. Grandpa?" "Well, the sign says 
they're waiting for meat." "Grandpa, what's 'meat'?") Stalinist bogeymen seemed 
conspicuous by their absence. Like any good norteamericano liberal, or Communist, Marilu 
tried to counsel us toward political patience. At one point she tried to convince Carl 
Davidson and me that we should love our working class, while we tried to convince her of 
the half-truth that much of the American working class had benefited from slavery and the 
slaughter of the Indians. Likewise, the North Vietnamese delegates we met with one day 
told the Americans, "We have faith in the conscience of the American people." "Sometimes I 
wish we had as much faith," Davidson told them. The Vietnamese laughed: "We have faith 
that you can awal<e the conscience of the American people." Cubans were horrified to learn 
that Americans were reading Regis Debray as a guide for the United States. 

The upbeat mood was infectious, and it didn't hurt that there were long black Cadillacs to 
whisk us around. We were told about moral incentives for work and the campaign against 
bureaucracy; no one said it, but my willful imagination champed at the bit, wondering if a 
threshold liad been crossed on the way to a higher civilization. (After one Cultural Congress 
session I sat down on a bus next to the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, who argued 
knowingly that the Cuban dependency on sugar production was leading them to disaster; I 
dismissed this as old-fashioned conservative Marxist grumpiness.) I was taken with the 
modernist posters and documentary films, the billboards invoking Che and proclaiming 
"VIETNAM, WE ARE WITH YOU." My favorite, standing behind Fidel as he dedicated a new 
EVERYDAY, THAT'S A REVOLUTION.") It was as if the surrealist (and countercultural) dream 
of the interpenetration of art and life had come to power. 


The Cubans were the most heterogeneous of delegations to the Cultural Congress. There 
were cultural power brokers who spoke in too-familiar euphemisms; there was Carlos 
Franqui, onetime director of the rebel radio and editor of a postrevolutionary newspaper, 
who won my heart when he said during a workshop that there were times in the Sierra 
Maestra when the insurgents would have given up rifles for books of poetry. (He went into 
exile not long afterward, and years later published a scathing book about Fidel as tyrant.)^ I 
spent long evenings with a group of Cuban writers and filmmakers who were my age (I 
turned twenty-five the night of Fidel's new town speech). We gobbled ice cream at the 
glorious Coppelia emporium and gabbed about movies and cultural theory, the dangers of 
socialist realism, the nature of democracy, the ins and outs of the revolution's treatment of 
intellectuals, homosexuals (there had been labor camps in the early Sixties but Fidel had 
disbanded them, I was told) and other deviants. I was delighted to hear that Isaac 
Deutscher's three-volume biography of Trotsky was due for a Cuban edition, although 
publication had been delayed in "temporary" deference to the Russians, who had just 
celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution. The Russians had just started 
shipping oil, and my friends seemed well aware of the dreadful Marxist-Leninist history it 
was their task to avoid. For a time these free spirits had edited El Caiman Barbudo ("The 
Bearded Alligator"), the literary supplement to the daily Young Communist paper (where 
they had published Rosa Luxemburg as well as other heretical Marxists); El Caiman had just 
been snatched away from them by orthodox types who called them "elitists" and preferred 
to publish doctrinaire (and unthreatening) writings from the Cuban hinterlands. I had no 
trouble deciding which side I was on. But I was impressed that these young intellectuals 
weren't bitter; they had lost one battle, they thought they would win others. (I went to 
interview the winning faction too. They were dull hacks, but it was still impressive that they 
could insist that the free spirits were not counterrevolurionary.) Unlike the culturally alien 
Vietnamese whom the New Left met at Bratislava, the young Cubans demonstrated that it 
was possible to be committed and questioning at the same time. Even our poetic styles— 
loose-jointed rhythms, Brecht's bluntness, Borges's beat-skipping— seemed similar. "There 
is a worldwide shared sensibility among the young," I wrote in my journal, "taking its force 
from pain and rejoicing and its variance from circumstances." If I were Cuban, I thought, I 
would be like them. By accident of birth, I was destined to destroy, they to construct. 

One day Tom Hayden, Carl Davidson, Dave Dellinger, and I brainstormed about 
demonstrations at the Democratic Convention in August, and joked about how delighted 
HUAC would be to know our little cabal was having this conversation in Havana. Movement 
tensions also came with us. Ralph Featherstone, Willie Ricks, and Bob Fletcher were there 
from SNCC; Ricks, who had promoted the "Black Power" slogan in Mississippi the year 
before, was bristling with hostility toward whites, and Featherstone, an old comrade, 
intervened at one point when Ricks got nasty. ^ Cuban officials, who had given Stokely 
Carmichael the royal treatment when he had stood up in Havana and called for revolution in 
the United States at an international conference six months earlier, wondered why 
Carmichael now proclaimed that socialism was irrelevant to blacks. Everywhere we went, 
the news that we were "revolucionarios norteamericanos" brought revolutionary abrazos.'^ 


We were, in short, both flattered and dazzled. I questioned much of what met my eye, but 
the Cubans I met were so compelling, and the relief from the burdens of opposition so 
great, I usually overrode my skepticism. Perhaps the neighborhood Committees for the 
Defense of the Revolution, for example, were benign block clubs to gather complaints, 
administer inoculations, and such; then again, perhaps they were control outposts for the 
state security apparatus. When in doubt, I shrugged, hoped for the best, and submerged 
the problem. Like any revolutionary tourist, I thought little about what I didn't get to see; I 
walked on the bright side, sampling some combination of reality and wishful thinking— to 
this day I do not know exactly in which proportions.^ From what I can gather, the turn of 
1967-68 was a relatively benign moment in Cuba. Fidel Castro, far from pandering to the 
Soviet Union, was denouncing it for insufficient revolutionary zeal in the Third World. ^ My 
Coppelia friends acknowledged that several years earlier, homosexuals had been rounded 
up and sent into forced labor, but said that Fidel had put a stop to this barbarism. The poet 
Heberto Padilla had not yet been jailed, beaten, and forced to confess to having fed 
information to two independent left-wing French writers (whom Castro slandered as CIA 
agents).^ About police bullying and the torture of political prisoners I had not yet any idea. 
What was palpable was the pain of reentry to my homeland, whose trade embargo and 
violence (not to mention dozens of assassination attempts, not yet publicly known) were 
certainly not helping Cuba's chances for independence. At the Mexico City airport, having a 
drink with Dave Dellinger and Robert Scheer, I looked out the window and saw a billboard 
advertising Cutty Sark. I had to change seats: after twenty-three days where public space 
was turned to revolutionary use, capitalist propaganda disgusted me. Briefly in Chicago on 
my way back to California, I started to babble about Cuba to Greg Calvert, then national 
secretary of SDS; Greg said he'd never seen me so free of cynicism. 

I helped set up other trips to Cuba, gave enthusiastic talks and wrote enthusiastic articles 
which I dotted with maybes. (The best began on a reflective note: "We look to Cuba not 
only because of what we sense Cuba to be but because of what the United States is not. For 
generations, the American Left has externalized good: we needed to tie our fates to 
someone, somewhere in the world, who was seizing the chances for a humane society. 
Perhaps we need an easy diversion from the hard business of cracking America. Now we dig 
Cuba ... . We preserve our quick optimisms with fantasies of an assault on our barracks, a 
landing in our yacht, a fight in our mountains.")* I wrote one white-heat paean for SDS's 
New Left Notes, explaining to Carl Davidson that it was the first of a hypothetical two- 
parter, the second of which would treat, among other topics, "the vitality of critical 
consciousness" and "excesses of discipline and their future." Although I wrote to Davidson 
twice urging him to print a blurb about the coming attractions— "it wouldn't be hard for 
somebody to get very wrong ideas by assuming the article was complete as printed"^— he 
ran the piece without the blurb, for whatever reason. I never got around to writing my 
follow-up (about the controlled press and mind-numbing pedagogy, among other troubling 
things)— doubts were low priority. 


I tried to keep up correspondence with my newfound Cuban friends. Upsetting tilings 
Inappened. On January 18, before leaving Havana, I Inad mailed a letter to a man I had met 
at the Cultural Congress, a professor from Santiago de Cuba. He wrote back to me in 
California: my letter had arrived on April 10. I wrote to the Cubans via a friend in Canada, 
but even so my letters seemed inordinately delayed. Then came confusing news. Just after I 
left Cuba, the regime threw into jail the members of a so-called "microfaction" of old-time 
Communists charged, of all things, with spying for the Soviet Union. This seemed not 
necessarily a bad sign— but still a bit puzzling. Then Castro announced a "revolutionary 
offensive" against bars, nightclubs, small businesses, and miniskirts. In the spring, I asked 
my Coppelia friends what they thought of the efflorescence of freedom going on in Dubcek's 
Czechoslovakia. To my delight, one of them, whom I shall call Pedro, wrote back that he 
liked it: "... in the same way there is no possible coexistence with aggression (e.g. Viet Nam 
war. Bay of Pigs, etc.), there is no possible coexistence [with] countries that won't change 
their thinking patterns inherited from the Comintern times and that will take rapid action 
against heresy (as they have done with us— the Soviets, the Chinese, etc.) ... ." There was 
also a sour note: I had sent Pedro a poem I had written on the occasion of reading Trotsky's 
History of the Russian Revolution; he liked it, but added: "—silly thing— L. D. Bronstein's 
[Trotsky's original] name is still tabu here." What did that make of the claim that 
Deutscher's biography was about to see print in Havana? 

Sometime that year, for reasons never disclosed, Fidel Castro cut short his movement away 
from the USSR. Soviet troops marched into Czechoslovakia on August 20." I was just about 
to fly to Chicago for the Democratic Convention protests. I was disturbed to hear that Fidel 
had given a bloated, tortured speech acknowledging that "not the slightest trace of legality 
exists" for the invasion, yet refusing to condemn it— for "the Czechoslovak regime was 
heading toward capitalism and was inexorably heading toward imperialism." (Amazingly, he 
had criticized the Russians for setting out the wrong arguments— failing to make "any direct 
accusation against Yankee imperialism for its responsibility in the events in 
Czechoslovakia.")^^ In Chicago during the horrendous convention week I was one of those 
who thought the Hog Butcher of the World had been transformed into "Czechago"; I 
identified wholeheartedly with the Czech students who refused to cooperate with the 
Russian invaders. In June Pedro had written me: "These are really hard years and everyone 
should see them like they are. No paradise, no all-is-well, no smile-with-strong-arm-and- 
broad-neck. We make history and also suffer it ... ." What exactly had he been trying to tell 

Within a year, influentials in SDS were saying I was "unreliable"— too unreliable to be 
included in planning for the Venceremos Brigade, which American radicals sent to Cuba to 
cut sugarcane starting in late 1969. (The same commissars were forcing Carl Oglesby— who 
had thought up the idea of the Brigade in the first place— out of the Brigade and SDS 
leadership altogether, for being "insufficiently revolutionary.") The "proof of my 
counterrevolutionary tendencies was the fact that I had spent too much time with Pedro, 
who had acquired a bad reputation for hanging out with Americans. At first I was 
flabbergasted, then stung, indignant, and disgusted— but by that time also resigned: there 
was no way to stop the movement's own loyalty oaths. I lost touch with the Coppelia 
writers. I have often wondered what became of them. 

"Leave this Europe where they are never done talking about Man," wrote Frantz Fanon, "yet 
murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in 
all the corners of the globe. "^^ That is how we felt, touring the revolutions. America, 
onetime precedent and promisor of liberation, was taking up the white man's burden, with 
anti-Communism as its mission civilisatrice. The official United States of America projected 
its demons onto foreign shores; anti-Americans did the same with our angels. 


Which is probably why the IMay 1968 incandescence in Paris and Prague Spring, each 
electrifying in its own way, didn't rank as high as Third World revolutions for the late New 
Left: although Paris in particular filled the air with the ozone of impending revolution, it was 
neither sufficiently exotic nor charged with white-skin advanced-nation guilt, albeit more 
relevant to our actual circumstances. Periodically travelers came back from Europe with 
news that the New Left was international— was informally, in fact, a New International— and 
that Americans, released from obligations to Old Left parties, were at the center of it. My 
aforementioned friend at Bratislava wrote me from Rome in November 1967 that "the new 
generations (plus the particular alliances they make in their particular countries) are the 
(we hope) 'revolutionary class.' This is a class that dramatically cuts across national lines, 
we have more in common with the young Italians (etc.) than with say anybody except the 
young in America ... ." French and West German radicals began to visit more often. News 
trickled in of Dutch Proves, of antiwar protests in Britain (where they were sometimes led 
by Americans) and Australia. Perhaps, if the French gauchistes had been able to unite with 
the workers to bring down de Gaulle in the glorious spring of 1968, we might in the end 
have rotated our axis of fascination from North-South to East-West. 

But the war, if nothing else, took the focus away from the First World. Our passionate 
alliance with the profoundly other side was psychological balm; Vietnam and Cuba 
confirmed that we had been right all along to feel displaced at home. And not only because 
the Third World revolutionaries seemed (thanks to some reality, some arranged hospitality, 
and some suspension of disbelief) more civilized than the napalming would-be civilizers. 
They proved there were models of revolution other than the Soviet kind. And most of all 
they demonstrated that victims could be transfigured into victors; their success might rub 
off on First World novices. They taught that small revolutionary bands could apparently— 
this is Tom Hayden's word— "paralyze"^'^ powers grown fat and lazy and uncomprehending. 
Just after returning to California, I read Che's Memoirs of the Revolutionary War. I was 
charmed and tickled by the revolutionaries' luck at the time of their landing in 1956. (They 
misread constellations, miscalculated their position, and could have been wiped out with a 
couple of helicopters. Seventy of the eighty-two who landed were quickly killed, wounded, 
or taken prisoner.) Their incompetence planted questions in my mind about what was to be 
learned from such a chancy victory ... but such questions were quickly suspended. We had 
been trying to be tough-minded existentialists, committed to the movement more for the 
good fight than the triumph; I wore existentialist purity like a scarf of thorns. On the other 
hand, it was nice to know somebody, somewhere, could win. 

And so "the Vietnamese" (as if there were no other Vietnamese but the NLF and Hanoi 
cadres), "the Cubans," Mozambicans, Angolans, Maoists, and the courageous, noble, 
quixotic ghost of Che were looking over our shoulders in the dramas of the late Sixties, as 
language shifted from "protest" to "resistance" and then to "revolution." To think we were 
"the NLF behind LBJ's lines" was, of course, the voice of pure fantasy, or pure wish: as if, 
once we practiced the patience (nott\r\e tactics) of guerrilla armies— once we created their 
kind of party or organized their kind of front— we might ourselves, one day, overcome. For 
now, that borrowed identity seemed to shine a pure light on us, our love and our hate. It 
preserved the drama of black hats and white hats by reversing them. It confirmed that we 
were worthy of being the enemies of the American state. To be at the wrong end of the big 
guns— it was how we had always known things were going to turn out. 

^ I got away from the hotel: This discussion draws on Todd Gitlin, "Cuba and the American 
Movement," Liberation, March 1968, pp. 13-18. 


^ scathing book: Carlos Franqui, Family Portrait witli Fidel (New York: Random House, 

•^ Ralph Featherstone: Kopkind, "Radical Bombers," in Jacobs, ed.. Weatherman, p. 498; 
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 1981), p. 297. 

'^ Carmichael now proclaimed: Stokely Carmichael, "A Declaration of War," San Francisco 
Express Times, February 22, 1968, pp. 6-7. 

^ revolutionary tourist: The phrase derives from Hans Magnus Enzensberger, "Tourists of 
the Revolution," in The Consciousness Industry, trans. Michael Roloff (New York: Seabury, 
1974), pp. 129-57. 

^ far from pandering: Tad Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait (New York: Morrow, 1986), pp. 

^ Heberto Padilla: Personal communication, Heberto Padilla, July 1981; K. S. Karol, 
"Convertible Castro," The New Republic, January 19, 1987, p. 29. 

^ "We look to Cuba": Todd Gitlin, "Cuba and the American Movement," Liberation, March 
1968, p. 13. 

^ "it wouldn't be hard": Todd Gitlin to Carl Davidson, February 16, 1968 (author's file). 

^° Sometime that year: Karol, "Convertible Castro," pp. 28-29. 

" "any direct accusation": Fidel Castro, in Granma, English language ed., August 25, 1968, 
pp. 1-4. 

^^ "Leave this Europe": Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance 
Farrington (New York: Grove paperback, 1968), p. 311. 

^^ "paralyze" powers: Interview, Tom Hayden, August 20, 1985. 


Part Four: Forcing The Revolution 

The New Left was a series of epiphanies. 
— IMichael Rogin^ 

We've got something going here and now we've just got to find out what it is. 
—A member of Columbia SDS. just after the seizure of a building and a dean, 
April 23, 1968^ 

^ "The New Left": Michael Rogin, personal communication, c. 1972. 

^ "We've got something going": Stu Gedal, in Jerry Avorn et al.. Up Against the Ivy Wall 
(New York: Atheneum, 1968), p. 52. 

12. 1968 

The Politics Of Extremity 

How to stop the war, or (as a growing segment of the New Left was putting it) make the 
revolution? If it wasn't clear what would work, it seemed clear to the New Left what 
wouldn't. "Having tried available channels and discovered them meaningless," Tom Hayden 
told the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in October 1968, 
"having recognized that the establishment does not listen to public opinion— it does not care 
to listen to the New Left— the New Left was moving toward confrontation. The turning point, 
in my opinion, was October, 1967, when resistance became the official watchword of the 
antiwar movement."^ 

"Available channels" having apparently failed, much of the New Left set out to dig its own 
trenches, or grave. Within antiwar circles, exponents of moderation pointed to growing 
numbers at mass rallies and argued that popular opinion was shifting: In November 1967, 
for example, 36 percent of the voters supported withdrawal from Vietnam on the San 
Francisco ballot, and 39 percent in Cambridge, Massachusetts.^ Always the militants felt the 
force of the rhetorical question: Is this the absolute best we can do for the Vietnamese? 
Superimposed on strategic hunches were tropisms. One impulse for confrontation came 
from the desperate feeling of having exhausted the procedures of conventional politics. A 
second line of radical thinking was that militancy could coax moderates along, and actually 
widen the antiwar coalition. A third was that the war was soon to be settled by the rational 
wing of the Establishment; radicals should therefore return to the issue that most requires 
radicals, the issue of race.'^ The conclusions were the same: turn up the militancy. Beneath 
the blur of strategic intuitions, something else was stirring. In the spreading cross-hatch 
where the student movement and the counterculture intersected, a youth identity said, in 
effect: To be young and American is to have been betrayed; to be alive is to be enraged. 
The same demonstrations which were driven by strategic purpose were also insurgent youth 
culture's way of strutting its stuff, or, as it might have preferred to say, staking out room to 
breathe in an alien land. What resulted was an unavailable channel— the mirage of "the 


What evolved from the blur of strategy and identity was a movement that was, in a sense, 
its own program. It did not merely want you to support a position; it wanted you to dive in, 
and the more total the immersion, the better. The link between feeling and action was a 
short fuse. Actions were undertaken— so it was commonly said— to "dramatize" convictions, 
and judged according to how they made the participants feel. There were actions which 
made you feel good ("highs") and actions which made you feel not so good ("bummers")— 
both terms borrowed from drug jargon. It was the immediate experience that counted most. 
To squeeze meaning out of (at best) ambiguous results was a large part of what a 
movement leader did. Even actions which made you feel not so good could be reinterpreted 
as momentary conquests of liberated space, exercises in "training" and "survival." Even a 
trial forced upon its unwilling defendants could be converted— if you were willing to hold the 
biased norms of the courtroom in contempt— to an exhibition of the youth movement's 
identity. These actions were the New Left's rituals, mirrors, festivals of self-recognition. 

The "resistance" that first declared itself in Oakland and the Pentagon, expressing at one 
and the same time a fury against the war and a frantic joy at being itself, involved only a 
minority of the antiwar movement. Meanwhile, mass marches, student strikes, pickets, 
petitions, orderly sit-ins, and civil disobediences continued apace, and grew. But the militant 
sector grew steadily more prominent, partly because the turn to confrontation produced 
headlines. There unfolded a long-running action theater: theater of the whole. Its 
incandescent high points ran from Oakland and the Pentagon through Columbia University, 
the Chicago convention, San Francisco State, People's Park, Kent State, plus hundreds of 
local student strikes, sit-ins, confrontations, melees— clashes whose images still loom large 
in the collective memory of what "The Sixties" looked and sounded like. The landscape was 
cluttered with landmarks and watersheds. How many memories begin: "After Chicago ..."; 
"After People's Park ..." How many others are punctuated: "After Johnson took himself out 
of the race ..."; "After the King assassination ..."; "After Bobby Kennedy was killed ..." It is 
scarcely movement people alone who remember the politics of the late Sixties as a 
succession of exclamation points. 

One can see the late Sixties as a long unraveling, a fresh start, a tragicomic Kulturkampf, 
the overdue demolition of a fraudulent consensus, a failed upheaval, an unkept promise, a 
valiant effort at reforms camouflaged as revolution— and it was all of those. Whatever the 
image, the contending forces labored under a cloud of impending doom, or salvation, or 
both. Everything could be lost, everything could be gained. How is it possible to hazard a 
strictly political account of even the single apocalyptic year 1968 without casting at least a 
sidelong look at the surrounding culture of politics? On every side, extremity was the 
commonplace style. To Lyndon Johnson, who longed to establish himself as the deserving 
heir of Franklin Roosevelt, the war in Vietnam was nothing less than a crusade for freedom. 
His programs amounted to nothing less than a war on poverty, a Great Society. From Barry 
Goldwater's "Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice" (the Republican Convention of 
1964) to "Burn, baby, burn" (Watts, 1965), from "Eve of Destruction" (1965) to the Doors' 
"The End" (1967), from Bonnie and Clyde (1967) to "Today's Pig Is Tomorrow's Bacon" (the 
spring 1968 headline of a radical newspaper in Richmond, California), the rhetoric of 
showdown and recklessness prevailed. The end always lay near. The Zeitgeist screamed 
until it was hoarse. 


In that setting, the movement's rites became epiphanies. Confrontations were moments of 
truth, branded into memory, bisecting life into Time Before and Time After. We collected 
these ritual punctuations as moments when the shroud that normally covers everyday life 
was torn away and we stood face to face with the true significance of things. Each round 
was an approximation of apocalypse, in the original meaning: a revelation of the way things 
actually stand. The language of showdown, shootout, and face-off tripped easily to 
movement lips, that of heroism, tragedy, cataclysm to pundits' typewriters and politicians' 
press conferences— on every side everything was written in portentous headlines. We 
dramatized ourselves while the whole of American political culture did the same: Richard 
Nixon trundled out "the new Nixon," and Hubert Humphrey, announcing his presidential 
candidacy three weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, burbled: "Here we are, 
in a spirit of dedication, happiness, the politics of purpose, and the politics of joy.""* 
Washington spoke of bringing Hanoi to its knees; we spoke of smashing the State, the State 
of smashing us. 

To work out the meanings of the movement's rites was the calling that kept you busy during 
the boring meetings and factional disputes that hung heavy between phases of 
Armageddon. The sense of an identity bubbled up, an ideal of grand fusion between radical 
politics and counterculture— drugs, sex, rock 'n' roll, smash the State. The confrontation at 
the Democratic Convention in Chicago was the grand climax of this state of mind. Music 
drove it home. Martha and the Vandellas' exuberant 1964 "Dancing in the Street" was a 
piece of early Motown which white radicals found congenial, but by the summer of 1968 the 
more common anthem was the Rolling Stones' snarling "Street Fighting Man," without which 
no dance party was complete. Everyone missed the irony of Mick Jagger's lament that "in 
sleepy London town there's just no place for street fighting man"; during the Democratic 
Convention, Chicago's leading rock station, loyally counterinsurgent, refused to play the 
Stones' song, preferring the Beatles' newly released put-down, "Revolution," which 
cautioned: "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You're not gonna make it with 
anyone anyhow." 

The hip-radical identity coalesced in the underground newspapers, over a hundred of them 
in 1968, which hundreds of thousands, then millions, read. "THE YEAR OF THE COP" 
headlined the San Francisco Express Times on February 22, 1968; "THE YEAR OF THE 
BARRICADE," proclaimed the May 30 cover, trumpeting Paris and San Francisco State as 
"INSURRECTIONS OF THE WEEK."^ In 1968 came underground "comix," above all R. 
Crumb's "Mr. Natural" and Gilbert Shekon's "Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers," celebrating hip 
radicalism, popular culture, paranoia, and fantasy, and mocking them by turns. In the 
iconography of the underground press, t/7e/ were uptight, uniformed, helmeted goons; we 
were loose, free, loving freaks. Tliey harrumphed about law and order; we desecrated their 
temples. 7/76/ threw tear gas canisters; we threw them back. 7/76/ swung their clubs; we 
threw rocks and trashed windows. 7/76/ brought up their battalions of National Guardsmen; 
we sang, "We Shall Not Be Moved." 7/76/ put us on trial; we denounced "Amerika," with its 
Teutonic look, or "Amerikkka." Eventually, t/76/ fired, and we were wounded, killed. We, 
being young, were going to beat, or at least outlive, tliem. 

^ "Having tried available": Tom Hayden, Rebellion and Repression (New York: Meridian, 
1969), p. 30. 

^ In November 1967: Fred Halstead, Out Now! A Participant's Account of the American 
Movement Against the Vietnam IVar (New York: Monad Press, 1978), pp. 348-49. 

^ the issue of race: Carl Oglesby, in Kirkparrick Sale, SDS (New York: Random House, 
1973), pp. 418-19. 


"* "Here we are": Hubert Humphrey, in Lewis Cinester, Godfrey Hodgson, and Bruce Page, An 
American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 (New York: 'Viking, 1969), p. 146. 

^ underground newspapers: Abe Peck, Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the 
Underground Press (New York: Pantineon, 1985), p. 86. 

Sleeping Dogs 

At tine risk of belaboring tine obvious: winiie tine slogans and justifications were deceptively 
simple, the movement's motives were intricate. Even years after the fact, motives were 
tangled, perhaps impenetrably.^ The political and cultural situation of the late Sixties was so 
volatile that the results of actions were particularly hard to compute. Mild actions might 
permit mass slaughter on the other side of the world; violence on the streets might spark 
the McCarthy and Kennedy reform campaigns; an election campaign might lead to 
assassination. The road to the right result was paved with unintended consequences. 
History was beside itself with perverse turns. Still, there developed styles of thinking— or 
prayer— which might serve to guide, or rationalize, action. It was as if the Buddhist idea of 
"right action" had been imported from the mysterious East along with the incense and 
Nepalese hashish— that one should take action in the right spirit, without regard to 
consequence, and let the chips fall where they may. 

In this murk, one theme resounded: the virtue of polarization. There was satisfaction in 
making the enemy reveal his true nature. This motif had been strong in the southern civil 
rights movement, even in the extravagant form of James Bevel's religious notion (above, p. 
134) that you had to make the Devil show himself, had to bring out the Klan sheets hidden 
beneath the business suits, before the beloved community could take shape. Jerry Rubin set 
out another version of what became a New Left folk belief: "A movement cannot grow 
without repression. The Left needs an attack from the Right and the Center. Life is theater, 
and we are the guerrillas attacking the shrines of authority, from the priests and the holy 
dollar to the two-party system."^ 

The particular version that haunted me, though, was Tom Hayden's. In June 1967, just 
before Drawing Boards, Hayden and I attended a Liberation-sponsored conference on 
antiwar strategy at the University of Chicago, with Dave Dellinger, Staughton Lynd, and 
Philip Berrigan among others. Even the militants had lacked for a strategy. Hayden and I 
left together. As we drove up the Outer Drive, Tom said our project now was to "arouse the 
sleeping dogs on the Right." 

It would take confrontation, disruption, Tom went on. If and only if the country polarized 
sharply enough, the war would have to end. The elites would insist. The forces of rationality, 
weak and sleepy though they were, would attend to the barks, wake up, wise up. As 
Hayden recreates his 1968 thinking, years later: "Since the country, provably, has no soul 
that is operational, no conscience that works, only a kind of tattered remnant of a 
democratic tradition that doesn't prevail when the chips are down— given that, then you 
have to make a cold calculation ... to raise the internal cost to such a high level that those 
decision-makers who only deal in cost-effectiveness terms will have to get out of Vietnam... 
. The cost in terms of internal disruption, generational conflict, choking off the number of 
reliable soldiers, the number of willing taxpayers— just make a list of everything they need 
to fight the war, and calculate what you can take away from them." The movement was "no 
longer the beloved community," as Hayden put it. The idea was now to "figure out what cost 
we can impose" upon the "heartless, cost-calculating decision-makers." It was most 
certainly not— in his tendentious description of the alternative— to become "obsessed with 
finding ways to make the antiwar cause respectable to the editors of The New York Times. "^ 


Hayden was not alone in thinking like a high commander; this was close to the strategic 
idea of "causing chaos" that Frank Bardacke was to articulate after Stop the Draft Week 
(above, p. 254). If "revolutionary" activities were necessary to bring about a "reformist" 
goal, so be it. Hadn't polarization in the South led, in the end, to civil rights laws? In 
movement rhetoric, the Mason-Dixon Line had become the Canadian border; the Pentagon 
was the Ku Klux Klan with napalm. Radicals who felt this way didn't appreciate the 
difference: the civil rights laws had presupposed a national moral consensus, but there was 
no such agreement on the wrongs of the Vietnam war. Movements like generals mislearn 
lessons and refight old battles; if Dean Rusk thought Vietnam was Munich, much of the 
movement thought Chicago was Mississippi— or the early days of Nazi Germany. Hayden 
was strategic, but at least equally moralistic: like others in the movement, he was obsessed 
by a passion not to be like "the good Germans." "I guess I thought the best of the good 
Germans were probably people who in their time were working on parliamentary reform, 
trying to keep their jobs, trying to keep their family and not make too many waves ... but 
didn't see the big picture, that there was no possibility of peaceful reform." Left to itself, the 
war, he thought, would evolve toward genocide, and the government would have to crush 
the Left. 

There was a link missing in the logic— for if social democrats and Communists had 
cooperated before 1933, they might have kept Hitler from coming to power. In fact, the 
German Communists had said "nach Hitler uns"—" after Hitler, ourselves"— thereby 
guaranteeing their destruction. But in 1968, desperation spoke louder than logic. If 
repression was coming anyway, then the risks of confrontation seemed beside the point. In 
the combat mood that came to dominate the movement, to talk about risks was to 
capitulate, period. As soon as the choice was framed as a choice between giving in to fear 
and defying it, then each ritual event was framed as a test of personal commitment. The 
outcome was foreordained: Most activists discovered a point beyond which they would not 
go, while at each stage a critical mass swallowed its fear and declared full speed ahead. The 
reform-through-polarization motif had another unintended consequence: it drew a sharp 
line between planners and troops. Planners were more apt to have a strategic reason for 
sacrifice, while the rank and file, who had to do most of the sacrificing, were 
correspondingly less devoted to it. 

Whole movements have their demons. First in the South, then in the Newark FRAP project, 
Hayden, for one, had learned the lesson that the empowerment of the weak required a 
confrontation with enemies— sitting-in at the courthouse, picketing the landlord. Now, in 
effect, he was extrapolating to the antiwar movement. But at a perhaps deeper level, his 
sleeping dog notion was at the service of a motive he called "existential." Years later he put 
it to me this way: "Not being able to be Vietnamese— those people were taking the brunt of 
the punishment— the least one could do would be to stand in front of the war machine ... to 
the extent possible. I guess not going as far as suicide, but trying to find some way to 
confront it where you would definitely pay a price, but the larger result would be that the 
system would pay a price for inflicting that punishment on you.* 

' There is an echo here of Mario Savio's famous words: "There is a time when the operation of the machine 
becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take pan; you can't even passively take pan, and 
you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and 
you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that 
unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all." ["There is a time": Mario Savio, in Max 
Heirich, The Beginning: Berlaeley 1964 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), pp. 199-200.] Note that both 
these rationales for quasi-crucifixion were uttered by young men raised in Catholic homes. 


"I would not have done something simply on existential grounds," Hayden insists. "That 
would have been total romanticism." He draws a distinction between his 1968 stance and a 
different idea that was also in the air in the late Sixties: the wealthy man's son's idea that 
social rebirth and the shedding of class privilege came through rebellion. (One fellow 
traveler of the Motherfuckers put it this way: "You don't begin to be free until your own 
blood is being shed at the end of a baton.") "I was drawn to do things that were romantic 
but could also have a rationale to them," Hayden says. "Romantic in the sense that I think it 
is noble to stand up against an evil, and that we don't get many opportunities in the normal 
course of life to do anything that's noble at all. But without a purpose or plan or strategy, it 
would be self-serving or foolish." He pauses, reflects. "To what extent it was a 
rationalization as opposed to rational is another question. It was probably sometimes a 
rationalization." Hayden was trying to merge "soul" with "strategy"— a typical movement 

^ motives are tangled: To make judgment still more difficult, Hannah Arendt has argued 
that human action intrinsically entails unpredictable and irreversible consequences. The 
Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 42-43, 144, 188-89, 

^ "A movement cannot grow": Jerry Rubin, in Militant, January 8, 1968, cited in Halstead, 
Out Now!, pp. 406-7. 

^ "Since the country ... a rationalization": Interview, Tom Hayden, August 20, 1985. 

Varieties Of Antiwar Experience 

Strategies always exist in relation to other strategies. Confrontation, then, in relation to 

Flowing from the pacifist tradition were various forms of civil disobedience. Draft resistance, 
which started in earnest in 1967, continued until President Nixon phased out the draft in 
1972-73.^ Draft card burnings and turn-ins were regular events, enraging the flag-wavers 
and inspiring even those in the movement who were doubtful about the utility of the tactic. 
Some 5,000 men turned in their cards in public, and many more did so without fanfare. 
Over 200,000 were accused of draft offenses, more than 25,000 were indicted, of whom 
8,750 were convicted and 4,000 were sentenced to prison. (Most won parole after six to 
twelve months behind bars; some served four or five years.) More than 10,000 went 
underground; many fled via underground railroads to Canada and elsewhere. 
Semiorganized networks passed the resistors, and armed-forces deserters, from one safe 
place to another. A quarter of a million never registered in the first place. One hundred 
seventy-two thousand successfully ran the gauntlet of investigation to become conscientious 


Draft resistance was also the hub for support activities from those ineligible for the draft. In 
December 1967, Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Marcus Raskin, 
Mitchell Goodman, and Michael Ferber were indicted for "counseling, aiding and abetting" 
draft resistance; many supporters over draft age followed in their wake. "Girls Say Yes to 
Men Who Say No" was a movement slogan that later embarrassed and angered the proto- 
feminists of the New Left, but in 1968, when the women's movement was just a-borning, it 
accurately registered the difficulties women faced when they insisted on participating. There 
was also what Francine du Plessix Gray called "the ultra-resistance,"^ a wave of more 
aggressive and clandestine actions against property: the pouring of blood and paint onto 
draft records; burning them with homemade napalm; destroying files of Dow Chemical and 
General Electric, companies actively engaged in the war effort. Most of these incidents were 
organized by radical priests and nuns, starting with Father Philip Berrigan and three 
colleagues a few days after Stop the Draft Week and the Pentagon.'^ Some submitted to trial 
and imprisonment; some went underground. Thousands of young men owed their de facto 
draft exemptions to sorties that destroyed their files. The larger antiwar movement greatly 
admired this direct-action derring-do, but mostly from outside. 

The Christian-inspired witness of the late Sixties was crisscrossed by regular episodes of 
antiwar normality: peaceable assemblies, striving for the utmost legality, accepting of the 
rules laid down by authorities, trying to cement maximum coalitions. The organizers of 
these events dutifully applied for parade permits, worked out routes in negotiations with the 
police, encouraged American and discouraged Vietcong flags. They went out of their way to 
keep from alienating unionists or frightening away the mothers who brought their tots in 
strollers. The events borrowed from established dramaturgy: they began with parades, a 
patriotic tradition, and ended with platform speakers. The point was obvious: to swell the 
ranks, to impress upon public officials and the media the fact that the movement was 
growing larger and broader. It was no mean feat to patch together the coalitions of 
pacifists, Trotskyists, Communists, and freelance radicals who created the occasions for 
standing up to be counted. 

These events were, in effect, lobbies in the streets. Much of the organizers' energy, 
accordingly, went to assembling the proper cast of speakers to represent actual and 
hypothetical constituent groups."* Dr. Spock, for example, could speak to suburban parents; 
Martin Luther King could hope to reactivate the moral coalition of the civil rights movement. 
Much energy, too, went to thrashing out the precise demands which the demonstration 
would stand for. Would it be "unconditional negotiations," a slogan popular in 1965 and 
1966, whatever it meant, exactly— except, perhaps, a signal to Lyndon Johnson that he 
should not dismiss the peace movement's "nervous nellies" quite so cavalierly? A halt to the 
bombing of North Vietnam— a demand adopted by Johnson at certain pivotal moments, but 
leaving unopposed the furious bombardment of the South Vietnamese countryside, not to 
mention the expeditionary force of a half-million American troops? Increasingly the demand 
for unconditional withdrawal came from more than the New Left. For example, three to five 
thousand largely middle-class women marched in Washington on January 15, 1968, calling 
for immediate withdrawal, cosponsored by such mainstream groups as the YWCA and the 
National Council of Jewish Women along with Women Strike for Peace. The movement's 
center moved leftward. 


The grand total of protesters grew steadily from 1965 into the early Seventies. Even the 
October 1967 siege of the Pentagon by a thousand or so militants was, numerically 
speaking, a sideshow to the tranquil assembly of fifty or a hundred thousand at the Lincoln 
Memorial the same day. Huge, orderly antiwar mobilizations took place twice a year, usually 
in New York and San Francisco, supplemented by local versions; there were antiwar 
candidates to support, newspaper ads to sign, lobbying expeditions, antiwar propositions to 
put on local ballots. On April 26, 1968, up to a million college and high school students took 
part in a national student strike.^ Profuse and varied were the efforts to give the antiwar 
movement a presence in common American life, from the tough-talking militance of draft- 
resistance organizers in working-class communities to the plainspoken work of antiwar 
workers in unions, town meetings, local party caucuses, and in the heart of the military 
itself. Truly the movement against the Vietnam war was a broad-based antiwar mobilization 
of a sort rarely if ever before seen in the blood-soaked history of the world.* 

In the eyes of the militants, the millions who poured into the parades hoping to see their 
bodies count against the bloodshed mattered less than the body count in Vietnam piling up 
even faster. The peaceful demonstrations had been done; they were losing wagers on the 
lingering possibility that normal politics might still matter. Around SDS, it became chic to 
call the plodding marchers "peace creeps," turning around a taunt that American Nazis had 
thrown at SDS. Early on, even Carl Oglesby, no fan of the barricades, sneered at the 
"wilderness of warmed-over speeches and increasingly irrelevant demonstrations."^ Public 
opinion, as registered in polls, turned steadily against Johnson, although measuring it was a 
tricky business, it depended on exactly what question was asked. The percentages who 
thought getting into the war had been a "mistake" leaped from 32 percent in February 1967 
to 46 percent in October, then inched up to 49 percent in April 1968, and kept rising from 
there. ^ But huge majorities were still against withdrawal, and sentiment also grew for 
harsher measures. Congress kept passing war appropriations, the troop count passed a 
half-million, the bombs streamed down, and Lyndon Johnson gave no sign of reconsidering 
his commitment to the killing. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the fallen angel of Cold 
War liberalism, told an audience of military suppliers that the Pentagon marchers were 
"incredibly ridiculous,"* that they gave aid and comfort to the enemy; and told the American 
embassy staff in Saigon that the Vietnam war stood in the line of Valley Forge and Yorktown 
and Dunkirk, that Vietnam would be "marked as the place where the family of man has 
gained the time it needed to finally break through to a new era of hope and human 
development and justice... . This is our great adventure— and a wonderful one it is!" 

^ Draft resistance: Michael Ferber and Staughton Lynd, The Resistance (Boston: Beacon, 
1970), chap. 9; Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, Who Spoke Up? American Protest 
Against the War in Vietnam 1963-1975 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984), p. 414; 
Lawrence M. Baskir and William A. Strauss, Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, the War 
and the Vietnam Generation (New York: Vintage, 1978), pp. 69, 5, 30, 104-5. 

^ "the ultra-resistance": Francine du Plessix Gray, "The Ultra-Resistance," New Yorl< Review 
of Bool<s, September 25, 1969. 

•^ Father Philip Berrigan: Ferber and Lynd, Resistance, chap. 14. 

' At a conference on Vietnam in 1983 I went out on a limb and called the movement against the Vietnam war the 
most successful antiwar movement in the history of the world, whereupon Roger Hilsman, formerly President 
Kennedy's assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, remarked to me that there had been, in fact, one stil 
more successful: the Bolshevik Revolution. Not strictly speaking an antiwar movement, of course, but he had a 


"* constituent groups: Halstead, Out Now!, passim. 

^ On April 26, 1968: Ibid., pp. 386-87. 

^ "wilderness of warmed-over": Carl Oglesby, "Peace Activism in Vietnam," Studies on the 
Left, January-February 1966, p. 54. 

^ percentages who thought: Melvin Small, "The Impact of the Antiwar Movement on Lyndon 
Johnson, 1965-1968: A Preliminary Report," Peace and Change, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 
1984), p. 7. 

^ "incredibly ridiculous": Hubert Humphrey, in Carl Solberg, Hubert Humphrey (New York: 
Norton, 1984), pp. 311-12. 

The Loyal Opposition 

Gadfly liberals thought ahead. In the fall of 1967, Allard Lowenstein tried to recruit an 
antiwar standard-bearer for a Dump Johnson movement. But even liberal senators who 
deplored escalation— Frank Church of Idaho, George McGovern of South Dakota, Robert 
Kennedy of New York— were lukewarm, at best, about challenging the incumbent President 
in the upcoming primaries. There was no precedent for a successful run of that sort. No less 
a liberal eminence than the ADAs Joseph Rauh preferred a campaign for a peace plank in 
the 1968 Democratic platform. In the person of its reluctant leaders, liberalism was 
imprisoned: by appreciation for Johnson's Great Society; by timidity and decorum; by fear 
of failure. They preferred the problems of insiders to the problems of outsiders; during the 
Eisenhower years they had felt like exiles, and now that they had come in from the cold, 
they didn't want to go back there again. 

And then suddenly it seemed that liberalism might be coming back for its seventh or eighth 
life. The collapse of the national third-party option at the National Conference for New 
Politics left a clear field for liberals who wanted to work against the war where they were 
comfortable, within the Democratic Party. Lowenstein and like-minded liberals worked 
feverishly to stir up the juices of antiwar Democrats, building on the party's old Stevenson 
base— ADA, the California Democratic Council, New York Reform Democrats. On November 
30, 1967, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, impressed by the widening base of 
respectable activists, announced he was running for President against Johnson and against 
the war. Lowenstein's vision of disinterested citizens pushing American politics to its limit 
corresponded to McCarthy's ideal of a high-minded polls, the small-r republican village 
which had been undermined by corporate, presidential, Pentagoned America. 


The hard-driving Lowenstein had a knack for galvanizing bright, competent, earnest, well- 
placed, go-getting young men and women— student government presidents, college 
newspaper editors, seminarians. Peace Corps returnees. By upbringing, training, and 
ambition, these children of affluence were winners. They had been raised and schooled to 
believe in the promise of America and they hated the war partly because it meant that the 
object of their affections, the system that rewarded their proficiency, was damaged goods. 
They were the inheritors of the vision of a moral America, and they did not want their moral 
capital squandered. Jeremy Larner, a McCarthy speechwriter, described them as "American 
optimists at heart: ... the 'A' students in their high schools and colleges. Politically they were 
inclined to some romanticization of the NLF, Che Guevara, and Malcolm X. But whether they 
came with beards to shave or not, these were kids who reacted against the violent anti- 
Americanism of the New Left, whom they far outnumbered. Though they hated the war and 
the draft, they still believed that America could be beautiful— if it would live up to its own 
principles."^ They were the children the liberal generation had always wanted, the heirs 
James Wechsler (face to face with Jack Kerouac in 1958) had despaired of: a "government 
in exile," McCarthy called them.^ They included the children of influentials, even high 
administration officials: included, in fact, McCarthy's own children, especially his daughter 
Mary, who was active in the antiwar movement at Radcliffe and pressured him for months, 
in the words of journalists, "not to go down in history as one of those who had supported 
Lyndon Johnson and the war."'^ Unswayed by the siren song of LSD, disaffected by cultural 
revolution, these straight insurgents wanted to rescue their country from its emergency. In 
style and method they resembled activists of the nascent SDS and groups like Tocsin in the 
early Sixties— one of Lowenstein's key allies, Curtis Cans, was an early SDSer-turned- 
ADAer, in fact. They flashed the antiwar V long past the time, in 1968 and 1969, when their 
New Left counterparts had switched to the clenched fist. 

The war crashed down upon these Competent Young Adults as it did upon the New Left. 
Self-interest wasn't the point, at least in any pure sense: as good students they were 
deferred from the draft. With Jack Kennedy murdered, they had no hero to bind them; yet 
in memories of an idealized Camelot they had an image of a recent Golden Age to vivify the 
promise of liberalism. In the vulgarities and bellicosity of Lyndon Johnson they beheld the 
upstart, the usurping betrayer of their dead hero's grace and style. (Their mood thus fueled 
the 1966 popularity of Barbara Garson's play Macbird, in which Johnson played murderous 
Macbeth to Kennedy's martyred Duncan.) For the New Left leadership, swooping rapidly 
leftward from 1965 on, had left a yawning vacuum to its immediate right. As Dylan and the 
Rolling Stones and the Doors roared toward an apparent counterculture-radical crossroads, 
there remained the thoughtful and perturbed students inspired by the Beatles and Beach 
Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. These wistful pragmatists were, in Larner's words, "terribly 
grateful to have a chance to do something real"— so grateful they were willing to shave and 
dress up: "Clean for Gene.""* 


No one roused the liberal will more than Allard Lowenstein. Lowenstein was the 
quintessential Cold War liberal activist.* Elected president of the National Student 
Association in 1950 with a rousing speech supporting the American intervention in Korea, he 
was anti-Franco, antiapartheid, a mover and shaker on many fronts. In 1963-64 he had 
thought up the Mississippi Freedom Ballot and (with Bob Moses) Freedom Summer, only to 
watch the movement drift off to his Left; he campaigned against SNCC's decision to take 
help from the National Lawyers Guild (which refused to exclude supporters of the 
Communist Party), only to be rebuffed. Now he was on the move making the war issue safe 
for liberalism, crisscrossing the country in search of support, drafting a critical letter to 
Johnson from a hundred student-body presidents here, prodding divinity students to 
demand changes in the draft law there. ^ Like McCarthy and Robert Kennedy he thought the 
war mistaken and unwinnable but opposed complete withdrawal and favored "de- 
escalation," negotiations, and some sort of power-sharing arrangement. He worried about 
what he called the New Left's "new politics of alienation," about its misapplication of 
southern-style direct action to the infinitely more difficult task of creating a winning national 
reform program.^ He feared that without a compelling channel into the political system, a 
whole generation would end up having to choose— in the words of Harvard's Greg Craig, a 
Lowenstein ally— "between Staughton Lynd and Lyndon Johnson."^ "There's a lot of room for 
innovation within the democratic system," Lowenstein told The Wall Street Journal in the fall 
of 1967, "but the general strain of liberalism in this country is passive... . This is dangerous 
because it leaves it up to the radicals to act."^ 

But if Senator Eugene McCarthy was the white knight of the loyal opposition, it was a 
strange life indeed liberalism was coming back to. Part of what made the senator attractive 
to the Concerned Young Adults was that he was a reluctant crusader. Very much the 
intellectual ironist, antibombastic to the core, the only published poet in the U.S. Senate, 
McCarthy was given to astringency, as in this line from his 1967 "Lament of an Aging 
Politician": "Stubbornness and penicillin hold/the aged above me." His bons mots ran in the 
same key; asked to comment on Michigan governor George Romney's remark that the army 
had "brainwashed" him in Vietnam— a remark which knocked Romney out of the running for 
the Republican nomination— McCarthy quipped, "I think in that case a light rinse would have 
been sufficient."^ (McCarthy's press aides prevailed upon reporters not to quote him.) In the 
eyes of the thousands of young activists who flooded into New Hampshire and Wisconsin, 
McCarthy resembled some ideally elegant version of themselves, the witty outsider ill-at- 
ease in politics. Some had fond memories of his stirring nominating speech for Adiai 
Stevenson at the I960 Democratic Convention— "Do not turn your back upon this man!"— 
not knowing what Kennedy supporters could never forget: that he had ended up supporting 
Lyndon Johnson against Jack Kennedy, and stayed close enough to Johnson to be a 
frontrunner for vice presidential running-mate in 1964 up to the last minute, when Johnson 
rewarded Humphrey for his service in the Atlantic City-Mississippi credentials fight. ^° 

Contrary to insinuations, there is no good evidence Lowenstein was on the Central Intelligence Agency's 
voluminous payroll, [insinuations: Most recently Cummings, The Pied Piper. See the refutation by Hendrik 
Hertzberg, "The Second Assassination of Al Lowenstein," New York Review of Books, October 10, 1985, pp. 34-41.] 
True, over the years he kept the loyalty of top NSA alumni and their liberal activist ilk, including those who were 
"witting" to the CIAs longtime subsidy of the NSAs international division, as revealed by Ramparts magazine in 
1967. ["Lament of an Aging": Eugene McCarthy, in Chester et al., American /Melodrama, p. 71.] The 
conspiracy-mongers who twist facts as they prowl for evidence of subsidy are asking the wrong question, assuming 
as they do that anti-Communism has to be bought, that it is not a passion. What is important is that Lowenstein 
fervently believed in the resilience of the American political system, and with equal fervor feared that chose more 
radical than he would prevail. 


To career liberals like Lowenstein, McCarthy's was a most diffident crusade. The candidate 
damned the war but hung back. He was noble about the problem of race but squeamish 
about campaigning in the ghettos and vague about what could be done to redress 
inequality; in fact, he had voted only unevenly liberal in the Senate, had made few waves 
there. He showed no enthusiasm for the sweaty stuff of campaigning; he thought glad- 
handing smacked of demagoguery. When Martin Luther King was assassinated he did not 
speak out in grief and anguish; he did not speak out at all.^^ He mused about the curses 
and ironies of power more than he hungered for it. He did not cultivate the press. He did not 
cultivate even his own campaign workers. Johnson supporters said McCarthy was still 
nursing resentment at the way Johnson had humiliated him by dangling the vice presidency 
before him at Atlantic City; and perhaps there was something to the suspicion that 
McCarthy's motives for running were more complicated than unvarnished idealism. 

And yet for all his wryness and distance, McCarthy's unorthodox campaigners remained 
devoted. The newsworthy "Clean for Gene" commandos who caravanned into the early state 
primaries from a hundred campuses (not least the Ivy League) smelled victory. ^^ They were 
willing to be polite and patient. In New Hampshire, the shaved and spiffed-up ones went 
door to door (three visits to each house, plus two phone calls), while the hairier ones stayed 
back at headquarters stuffing envelopes. They noted the excitement McCarthy kindled 
among suburban reformers, and were not noticeably bothered by the lack of response their 
candidate stimulated among the working class. In hawkish New Hampshire there wasn't 
much of a working class anyway. 

^ "American optimists at heart": Jeremy Larner, Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy 
Campaign of 1968 (New York: Macmillan, 1970), p. 37. 

^ "government in exile": Eugene McCarthy, in ibid., p. 52. 

^ "not to go down": Chester et al., American Melodrama, p. 76. 

"* "terribly grateful": Larner, Nobody Knows, p. 37. 

^ crisscrossing the country: Richard Cummings, The Pied Piper: Allard K. Lowenstein and the 
Liberal Dream (New York: Grove, 1985), pp. 327, 337. 

^ "new politics of alienation": Allard Lowenstein, in ibid., pp. 312-13. 

^ "between Staughton Lynd": Greg Craig, in ibid., p. 341. 

^ "There's a lot of room": Allard Lowenstein, in ibid., p. 354. 

^ "I think in that case": Eugene McCarthy, in ibid., p. 101. 

^° supporting Lyndon Johnson: Albert Eisele, Almost to the Presidency: A Biography of Two 
American Politicians (Blue Earth, Minn.: Piper, 1972), pp. 201-4, 206-12, 216-17. 

" Martin Luther King: Larner, Nobody Knows, p. 66. 

^^ "Clean for Gene": Chester et al., American Melodrama, p. 97. 


At the start of the Vietnamese New Year, Tet, on the last day of January 1968, the Tet 
offensive erupted, and overnight the imagery of the war had to be radically redrawn. 


For years the Johnson administration had been reassuring the public that there was light at 
the end of the proverbial tunnel. Meanwhile, night after night for hundreds of nights, the 
newspapers had described and the television cameras had shown American troops slogging 
through treacherous countryside, shooting, shot at, searching and destroying, "pacifying." It 
proved disconcerting to people schooled in the World War II style of warfare that American 
advances into the countryside could not be neatly marked off on the map, that territory 
secured during the day reverted to the NLF at night; but at least the Americans and their 
Saigon allies held the cities, and Pentagon spokesmen could point to the mounting body 
counts of enemy dead, which the media dutifully relayed as signs of progress. Surely the 
Vietcong were withering away. 

Suddenly, the Tet cease-fire was shattered, and for days which stretched into weeks images 
without precedent seized the small screen: gunfire and rockets bursting in Saigon and all 
other major cities and provincial capitals; NLF commandos invading the U.S. embassy 
grounds, killing GI guards, seizing Saigon's major radio station, assaulting the presidential 
palace, attacking major American bases, highways, police stations, prisons.^ Communist 
forces took the old capital of Hue and then— prolonging the shock— held it for twenty-five 
days; U.S. Marines and Saigon troops recaptured the city only at the cost of an air and 
artillery bombardment that killed 5,000 Communist troops as well as an untold number of 
civilians, while 150 Marines and 400 Saigon troops died as well. (Then the Americans 
unearthed mass graves: 3,000 people had been killed by the NLF as Saigon collaborators. 
Then the Saigon forces who retook the city reciprocated by assassinating suspected 
Commur?/st allies.) Battlefield death was concentrated as never before: 2,000 American 
fatalities, 4,000 Saigon Vietnamese, in a single month. Therefore Communist atrocities 
made less of an impression than the fact that the Communists had the capacity to inflict 

To the NLF leadership, as it turned out, the Tet offensive was far from a glorious military 
success. Their losses in both regular troops and political cadres were immense: so much so, 
in fact, that the Southern-based NLF never recovered its strength. (Then the survivors were 
decimated by the CIAs "Operation Phoenix" program for assassinating cadres. Tet and 
Phoenix together meant that the NLF command was outnumbered by Northerners for the 
duration of the war, whence whatever chance they had of retaining Southern autonomy in a 
reunified Vietnam was crushed.) After the war, a top North Vietnamese general told the 
reporter Stanley Karnow: "In all honesty, we didn't achieve our main objective (in the Tet 
offensive], which was to spur uprisings throughout the south. Still, we inflicted heavy 
casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and that was a big gain for us. As for 
making an impact in the United States, it had not been our intention— but it turned out to 
be a fortunate result."^ The NLF and North Vietnamese seemed to be everywhere they 
weren't supposed to be, all at once. General William Westmoreland stood square-jawed 
before the television cameras to assure the public that the Communists' "well-laid plans 
went afoul," but American politics was not impressed. 


Instead, the country went into shock. Tremors jolted the pragmatic case for the war, for in 
American politics there is no more drastic criticism to be made of a policy, whatever its 
moral dubiousness, than that it proves conspicuously ineffective. Tremors jolted the moral 
side too, for no more devastating criticism can be made of a president, whatever his 
policies, than that he lies. The war had been marketed at home, after all, as a victory 
waiting to happen. National leaders had declared that the national fate was tied to Vietnam, 
little calculating that the blood tie went both ways. A nation that commits itself to myth is 
traumatized when reality bursts through— in living color. American politics was now hostage 
to events on the other side of the world. Where the movement's armies of the night had 
failed to turn American policy, now the black-pajama'd armies had shunted the political 
initiative to the doubters. Newscasters were visibly shaken. "What the hell is going on?" 
asked Walter Cronkite when he heard about the offensive. "I thought we were winning this 
war."'^ In a New Hampshire campaign speech. Senator Eugene McCarthy acidly summarized 
the prevailing liberal reaction to Tet: 

In 1963, we were told that we were winning the war. In 1964, we were told 
we were winning the war. In 1964, we were told the corner was being turned. 
In 1965, we were told the enemy was being brought to its knees. In 1966, in 
1967, and now again in 1968, we hear the same hollow claims of programs 
and victory. For the fact is that the enemy is bolder than ever, while we must 
steadily enlarge our own commitment. The Democratic Party in 1964 
promised "no wider war." Yet the war is getting wider every month. Only a 
few months ago we were told that 65 per cent of the population was secure. 
Now we know that even the American Embassy is not secure."* 

For months Robert Kennedy had been agonizing whether to jump into the race against 
Johnson. In the best of all possible timetables, 1972 looked like his year. This time around, 
he and the older family advisers were afraid he would be dismissed for fighting a grudge 
match against the usurper of the family throne. They doubted he could garner the support 
of mainstream politicians. Nor were they impressed by the electoral value of volunteers, 
however clean-cut. Kennedy's more rambunctious friends and staff members urged him to 
get out ahead of the country's antiwar upsurge, yet Kennedy himself seemed bent on 
personifying liberalism's crisis of hesitation. He was disinclined to take the chance. But Tet 
provoked him into giving his strongest speech yet against the war. "Our enemy," he said, 
"savagely striking at will across all of South Vietnam, has finally shattered the mask of 
official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves."^ 


Tet, in short, breathed life into languishing American liberalism— just as it deflated Lyndon 
Johnson. In the six weeks following the first Tet attacks, Johnson's overall approval ratings 
plunged from 48 percent to 36 percent, and approval of his handling of the war from 40 
percent to 26 percent.^ The bloodiness of the war sank in as never before: Network footage 
of civilian casualties and urban destruction jumped almost fivefold during the two months of 
Tet fighting, footage of military casualties almost threefold/ The chief of South Vietnam's 
national police held his gun to a prisoner's head and shot him to death— in front of an 
Associated Press photographer and an NBC cameraman; the picture landed on many an 
American front-page. Journalists hitherto reluctant to depart from Washington's 
conventional wisdom suddenly viewed the war with alarm. "What is the end that justifies 
this slaughter?" cried James Reston of The New York Times on February 7. "How will we 
save Vietnam if we destroy it in the battle?" No less a personage than Walter Cronkite got 
up from behind his desk, flew an inspection tour to Vietnam, and then, in a half-hour CBS 
special report that aired on February 27, declared that the only "realistic, if unsatisfactory" 
conclusion was that "we are mired in stalemate" and that "the only rational way out" was 
"to negotiate not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to 
defend democracy and did the best they could." Time, Newsweel<, the New Yorl< Post, the 
St. Louis Post-Dispatcli, and no less a beacon of respectable opinion than Tlie Wall Street 
Journal chimed in to like effect,^ but no one resonated like Cronkite, who even now stoutly 
maintained that the war was about "defending democracy" Presidential press secretary 
George Christian said later that when Cronkite spoke, "the shock waves rolled through 

Tet reverberated through the rest of the country too, and the dominoes fell on Washington. 
On March 10, The New York Times reported that the military was asking for 206,000 more 
troops to supplement the 510,000 already in Vietnam— and that the administration was 
divided about whether to supply them. On March 12, the New Hampshire returns, counting 
Republican crossovers, gave McCarthy 28,791 votes to Johnson's 29,021— a margin of 230 
votes for a sitting president seeking his party's renomination. Reporters and McCarthy 
campaigners alike failed to make much of a poll showing that 60 percent of these McCarthy 
voters wanted more military action in Vietnam, not less.^° Indeed, just after the first Tet 
attack, the national percentage of self-described hawks rose from 56 percent to 60 percent 
against a mere 24 percent who called themselves doves." Still, once the citizenry had 
rallied round the flag, Johnson had no easy move to keep them rallied. ^^ Escalation would 
cost more, run the risk of war with China, and fuel the right's appetite for victory. With the 
administration racked by debate, Johnson hunkered down and said little. In March, the 
percentage of hawks plummeted to 41 percent, doves soared to 42 percent. ^•^ American 
opinion was volatile, to put it mildly. What was clearly discredited was Johnson's attempt to 
manage the war without calling up the reserves, declaring war, or pulling out one or another 
military stop. If there was to be war, Americans wanted to win it. 

Four days later, having decided the Democrats were already so deeply split he couldn't be 
blamed for splitting them, Robert Kennedy declared his own candidacy for the presidential 
nomination. If the timing of his announcement troubled some of his supporters and enraged 
McCarthy's, well, politics was a cruel game, and let the memoirists take the hindmost. 

^ Tet cease-fire: My account of Tet is based principally on Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New 
York: Penguin, 1984), pp. 523 ff. 

2 "In all honesty": Ibid., p. 545. 

^ "What the hell": Walter Cronkite, in Don Oberdorfer, Tet! (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 
1971), p. 158. 


"* "In 1963, we were told": Eugene McCarthy, in Chester et al., American Melodrama, p. 93. 

^ "Our enemy, savagely": Robert F. Kennedy, in ibid., p. 117. 

^ In the six weeks: Karnow, Vietnam, p. 546. 

^ Network footage: Daniel C. Hallin, Tlie "Uncensored War": Ttte Media and Vietnam (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 171. 

* Time, Newsweel<: Doris Kearns, Lyndon Jolinson and tlie American Dream (New York: 
Harper and Row, 1976), p. 336. 

^ "the shock waves rolled": George Christian, quoted by William Small, To Kill a Messenger: 
Television News and the Real World (New York: Hastings House, 1974), p. 123. 

^° Reporters and McCarthy campaigners: Chester et al., American Melodrama, p. 145. 

" self-described hawks: Hallin, "Uncensored War," p. 168; Allen J. Matusow, The Unraveling 
of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), p. 391. 

^^ Johnson had no easy move: Hallin, "Uncensored War," p. 169. 

^^ percentage of hawks: Matusow, Unraveling, p. 391. 


"A Giant Stampede" 

In the view from the top, the crisis was military and political and economic all at once. 
Lyndon Johnson, riding the crest of the boom, had gambled that he could war in Vietnam 
and on poverty at the same time. To win the glory of completing the New Deal, he refused 
to trim back his Great Society to pay for a war he imagined to be an extension of the New 
Deal abroad. (When, in 1965, Johnson tried to quiet Ho Chi Minh by offering him a billion- 
dollar Mekong Delta development program patterned after the Tennessee Valley Authority, 
he couldn't for the life of him fathom why this tinhorn dictator was denying him the chance 
to show himself even more benign than FDR. After all, Johnson had once parlayed a Texas 
dam into supreme power in the U.S. Senate.^ Why couldn't Ho take the hint?) Floating on 
cornucopian currents, Johnson had taken the easy way out in 1966, claimed the Vietnam 
war would cost $10 billion in fiscal year 1967 (on the assumption the war would end by June 
30, 19671), and gone into deficit financing— for that year, in fact, the war cost $20 billion.^ 
In 1967 Johnson had to add on a 10 percent tax surcharge. How often could he resort to 
that sort of squeeze? 

The premise of plenitude was just as naive for Lyndon Johnson as for Arlo Guthrie's Alice's 
Restaurant. The concealed bill for the war began to come due in the form of inflation. The 
balance of payments deficit swelled. Periodic reports of peace feelers sent the stock market 
up. With news of impending increases in the military budget, the dollar started to quiver in 
the international market.^ Speculators flocked to gold. Rumors flew that the United States 
would be forced to devalue the dollar. The day Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy, 
the London gold market had to close in order to stanch the drain on American reserves. 

Lyndon Johnson, who lived for gratitude, beheld his world crumbling. If Vietnam were not 
bad enough. North Korea had captured an American intelligence ship, the Pueblo. He was 
widely seen as a liar and, just as bad, a failure. He had given his all for paternalistic 
liberalism— his strategy for winning the gratitude of the masses since the Thirties— but no 
one appreciated the largesse."* He had delivered the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, 
intoning "We Shall Overcome," but the blacks, ingrates all, had turned to riot. His dream of 
presiding over an international Great Society was shattered. He had fought for aid to 
education, only to have students everywhere chant what he called "that horrible song": 
"Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"^ His family and aides were distressed by 
the pickets.^ He had to alter his travel plans at the last minute, even cancel speeches.^ He 
could avoid demonstrations only by speaking on military bases. "I was being forced over the 
edge by rioting blacks, demonstrating students, marching welfare mothers, squawking 
professors, and hysterical reporters," he told Doris Kearns. "And then the final straw. The 
thing I feared from the first day of my Presidency was actually coming true. Robert Kennedy 
had openly announced his intention to reclaim the throne in the memory of his brother. And 
the American people, swayed by the magic of the name, were dancing in the streets. The 
whole situation was unbearable for me ... . I felt that I was being chased on all sides by a 
giant stampede coming at me from all directions."^ 

Johnson's private demons demanded a high order of devotion; when his acts of beneficence 
were not rewarded by obedience, he resorted to punishment. The infinite love he needed 
was precisely what he could not compel: from neither blacks nor students nor intellectuals 
nor Ho Chi Minh. He thought, with some reason, that the media and the snotty Ivy League 
kids sneered at him because he sounded like a hick, not a Kennedy. But quirks of personal 
history aside, there was an ideological meaning to Johnson's crisis. He had catered to the 
Right, in Vietnam, while his popularity eroded to his Left; and in the end he could not give 
the Right the victory he had promised them. It was left to Lyndon Johnson to play out the 
impossible legacy of Cold War liberalism, to stretch its self-contradictory formulas to the 
breaking point. 


In times of national crisis, tine pragmatism of America's managers is formidable. The 
technocrat Robert McNamara had lost heart for the war.^ On March 1, 1968, Johnson 
replaced him with Clark Clifford, a canny high-priced Washington lawyer and an insiders 
insider since the Truman years. As Johnson sank into self-pity and paranoia about reporters 
and students and blacks, Clifford, hitherto no dove, brought bad news. The war of attrition 
was "hopeless."^" Instead of signing on to Johnson's war scenario, Clifford told him in late 
March that among his "friends in business and the law across the land," men who had 
supported the war until a few months ago, "there has been a tremendous erosion of support 
[for the war]... . [T]hese men now feel that we are in a hopeless bog. The idea of going 
deeper into the bog strikes them as mad. They want to see us get out of it. These are 
leaders of opinion in their communities. What they believe is sooner or later believed by 
many other people. It would be very difficult— I believe it would be impossible— for the 
President to maintain public support for the war without the support of these men."^^ 
Johnson's most trusted counselors were telling him he had to do something dramatic to 
capture the "Peace with Honor" vote or he would be clobbered in the primaries. ^^ 

Clifford thought Johnson "needed some stiff medicine, "^^ which could only be delivered by 
the bluest of blue-ribbon experts, men whose credentials established them as virtual 
proprietors of American foreign policy. And so he persuaded the President to sit down with 
the informal advisory group known as the Wise Men, a Who's Who of the elite of the 
Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations, who had been meeting 
periodically since July 1965 and blessing Johnson's war strategy: Dean Acheson, George 
Ball, McGeorge Bundy, C. Douglas Dillon, Cyrus Vance, Arthur Dean, John McCloy, General 
Omar Bradley, General Matthew Ridgeway, General Maxwell Taylor, Robert Murphy, Henry 
Cabot Lodge, Abe Fortas, and Arthur Goldberg. These impeccably trustworthy gentlemen, 
not a scruffy student or black radical or even a Robert Kennedy or Gene McCarthy devotee 
in the crowd, were troubled by America's economic decline. They hated to see the country 
jeopardize its Atlantic alliance in pursuit of an apparently hallucinatory victory across the 
Pacific. They met in the White House and heard bad news from middle-level government 
officials, and they believed it: Saigon was corrupt and overwhelmed, the war was going 
badly, there were many more Vietcong than they had been led to believe. ^"^ Cyrus Vance, 
Johnson's deputy secretary of defense, later described the Wise Men's wisdom: "We were 
weighing not only what was happening in Vietnam, but the social and political effects in the 
United States, the impact on the U.S. economy, the attitude of other nations. The 
divisiveness in the country was growing with such acuteness that it was threatening to tear 
the United States apart. "^^ They knew a bad investment when they saw one, and they hated 
throwing good money after bad. 

The Wise Men read Johnson the riot act. It wasn't unanimous, George Ball said later, but the 
"general sentiment" was, "Look, this thing is hopeless, you'd better begin to de-escalate and 
get out." Johnson looked "shocked. "^^ "The meeting with the Wise Men served the purpose 
that I hoped it would," Clifford said later. "It really shook the president. "^^ 

The antiwar movement, had it known, might have felt mightily vindicated. Just a few 
months earlier, Frank Bardacke had written that "if we can actually convince them that we 
can cause chaos in this country as long as the war continues, ... [w]e may have even 
stumbled on a strategy that could end the war."^^ Tom Hayden's sleeping dogs had 
awakened, all right. Thanks to the backlash against blacks at least as much as to the 
antiwar upsurge, the loudest of the dogs was named George C. Wallace. Wallace was in the 
habit of saying things like, "If any demonstrator lies down in front of my car when I'm 
President, that'll be the last car he lays down in front of."^^ Demonstrators and hippies, he 
said, should be "drug before the courts by the hair of their heads and thrown under a good 
strong jail." On the ballot as a third-party candidate, Wallace was drawing 15 percent in the 
polls, and rising.^" 


Johnson later maintained ine inad toyed for montins witin backing out of tine race. On IMarcin 
28, tine Wise IMen confirmed inis worst fears. Joinnson's speecin tinree nigints later, March 31, 
was pure electricity. He dampened the war, as the Wise Men had urged. He declared a halt 
to the bombing above the 20th parallel, and turned down the request for 206,000 new 
American troops. He spoke of beefing up the South Vietnamese army— what the next 
President would call "Vietnamization," and the antiwar movement would call "changing the 
color of the bodies." And then, declaring that "this country's ultimate strength lies in the 
unity of our people," that "there is division in the American house now," that nothing, not 
even "personal partisan causes," should distract him now from the search for peace, he 
announced: "I shall not seek, and will not accept, the nomination of my party for another 
term as your President. "^^ Nothing became his presidency like the leaving of it. 

At the grass roots, there was jubilation. Activists let themselves hope against hope that light 
was streaming from the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. Horns were honked and parties 
spilled into the streets in Berkeley, Madison, wherever students congregated— although 
some Lefter-than-thou movement organs and underground papers found Johnson's 
announcement beneath notice. McCarthy workers, gearing up for another showdown in 
Wisconsin, were ecstatic. ("I don't think they could stand up against five million college kids 
just shouting for peace," the candidate said. "There was too much will-power there. ")^^ Two 
days later, McCarthy drew 412,000 votes in Wisconsin to Johnson's 253,000, and if 
anything, the polls suggested, Johnson's withdrawal had averted still worse defeat. ^•^ The 
stock market soared^"*; Washington, like the antiwar campuses, turned euphoric. McCarthy 
and Kennedy forces immediately began to worry whether the king's abdication had 
damaged the prospects of the insurgent princes. Antiwar leaders worried how the news 
would affect the prospects for future demonstrations. Was the bombing pause the beginning 
of the end of the war, or a trick to build the case for a subsequent escalation? 

^ parlayed a Texas dam: Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power 
(New York: Vintage, 1983), pp. 458-68, 577-78, 627-28. 

^ deficit financing: Matusow, Unraveling, p. 160. 

•^ peace feelers: Chester et al., American Melodrama, p. 39. 

"* winning the gratitude: Caro, Lyndon Johnson, p. 273. 

^ "that horrible song": Kearns, Lyndon Johnson, p. 340. 

^ distressed by the pickets: Melvin Small, "Impact of the Antiwar Movement," pp. 8-9. 

^ alter his travel plans: Ibid. See, for example. New York Times, November 14, 1967, as 
cited in ibid., p. 18, n. 20. 

* "And then the final straw": Kearns, Lyndon Johnson, pp. 343, 340. 

^ technocrat Robert McNamara: Loren Baritz, Backfire: A History of How American Culture 
Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did (New York: Morrow, 1985), p. 182, 

^° "hopeless": Clark M. Clifford, "A Viet Nam Reappraisal," Foreign Affairs, July 1969, p. 613. 

" "friends in business": Harry McPherson, A Political Education (Boston: Little, Brown, 
1972), pp. 433-35. 

^^ Johnson's most trusted: Theodore H. White, The Making of the President, 1968 (New 
York: Atheneum, 1969), pp. 110-11. 


^^ "needed some stiff medicine": Clark Clifford, in Herbert Schandler, The Unmaking of a 
President: Lyndon Jolinson and Vietnam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 

^"^ They met in the White House: Ibid., pp. 259-65; Chester et al., American Melodrama, pp. 

^^ "We were weighing": Cyrus Vance, in Townsend Hoopes, Tlie Limits to Intervention (New 
York: David McKay, 1969), pp. 215-16. 

^^ "general sentiment": George Ball, in Merle Miller, Lyndon: An Oral History (New York: 
Ballantine, 1980), p. 613. 

^^ "The meeting with the Wise Men": Clark Clifford, in Schandler, Unmaking, p. 264. 

^^ "if we can actually": Frank Bardacke, "Stop-the-Draft Week," Steps, December 1967, 
reprinted in Mitchell Goodman, ed.. The Movement Toward a New America (Philadelphia: 
Pilgrim Press, and New York: Knopf, 1970), p. 478. 

^^ "If any demonstrator": George Wallace, in Chester et al., American Melodrama, p. 293. 

^° Wallace was drawing: Ibid., p. 293. 

^^ "this country's ultimate": Lyndon Johnson, in Kearns, Lyndon Johnson, pp. 348-49. 

^^ "I don't think": Eugene McCarthy, in White, Making, pp. 124-25. 

^^ McCarthy drew: Chester et al., American Melodrama, p. 137. 

^"^ The stock market: White, Making, pp. 93-94; Kearns, Lyndon Johnson, p. 349. 

13. The Decapitation Of The IHeroes 

The Last Black Hope 

Nineteen sixty-eight was no year for a catching of the breath. No sooner had the euphoria 
settled than the political fever soared again. In two strokes, liberalism, as Tom Hayden put 
it years later, was "decapitated." 

On April 4, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. That night, eighty riots broke 
out. Federal troops were dispatched into Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, and Wilmington. 
Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley— the same who growled openly when King came to 
Chicago in 1966 to organize for open housing— ordered the police to shoot to kill arsonists 
and to maim looters. 

King's following had fallen off in the years leading up to his death. His moment had passed. 
Since the triumph of his Selma campaign, which culminated in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, 
he had turned to the urban poor, but his strategy of nonviolence, national publicity, and 
coalition-building seemed unavailing. Just a week before his death, his hopes for a 
nonviolent march in Memphis, in support of striking garbage workers, had been dashed by 
the window-smashing of a few dozen black teenagers.^ King had become a hero without a 
strategy— but a hero he undeniably was at a moment when the larger movement craved 
heroes and disowned them with equal passion. For liberals, even for many black militants 
and radicals, he was the last black hope. When he was murdered, it seemed that 
nonviolence went to the grave with him, and the movement was "free at last" from 


Most of the New Left had long since given up its commitment to nonviolence. But it was one 
thing to think of Martin Luther King as passe, another to think of him as murdered. I think 
that for the white New Left as for the ghettos, at some level we knew he stood for our 
better selves, and the rage and grief we felt when he died was the same sour rage blacks 
felt when they torched their neighborhoods the night of April 4. Bernardine Dohrn, for 
example, who had done legal work with King's open housing campaign in Chicago, was— 
according to a friend- 
really stunned. I must admit that I was fairly jaded by then, and I remember 
saying that with King dead, the Panthers and the other militants would have a 
Clearfield to lead the revolution. But Bernardine was sincerely moved, and 
she began to cry. She cried for a while and she talked about Chicago, when 
she had worked with King. She said she hadn't always agreed with him, but 
she responded to him as a human being. Then she went home and changed 
her clothes. I'll never forget that— she said she was changing into her riot 
clothes: pants. We went up to Times Square, and there was a demonstration 
going on of pissed-off black kids and white radicals. We started ripping signs 
and getting really out of hand and then some kids trashed a jewelry store. 
Bernardine really dug it. She was still crying, but afterward we had a long talk 
about urban guerrilla warfare and what had to be done now— by any means 

^ his hopes for a nonviolent: David L. Lewis, King: A Biography, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University 
of Illinois Press, 1978), pp. 380-83. 

^ "really stunned": In Lindsy Van Gelder, "Bernardine Dohrn Is Weighed in the Balance and 
Found Heavy," Esquire, April 1971, p. 168. 

The Action Faction 

The movement, reeling, found fresh inspiration. Nineteen days after King's assassination 
came the student occupation of buildings at Columbia University, in protest over two specific 
issues: the university's sponsorship of war-related research, and its quasi-colonial disdain 
for the black community with the building of a gymnasium (with a separate entrance for the 
ghetto) in a public park. For years the haughty, old-school President Grayson Kirk had 
stonewalled the upstart radicals. As a campus reporter put it, "In the midst of prosecuting 
26 nonviolent demonstrators who had protested construction of the Morningside Park gym, 
Columbia held a memorial for Martin Luther King. The memorable scene: Grayson Kirk 
standing silent as everyone else joined hands and sang 'We Shall Overcome.' Two days later 
President Kirk made his first statement on the Vietnam War and urged that the country 
'extricate' itself from the conflict. His main objection: the war was elevating civil 
disobedience into a virtue."^ Early in 1968, the intellectually sophisticated "praxis axis" that 
had dominated the SDS chapter, arguing for educational "base-building" on campus, was 
supplanted by an "action faction" led by a tough-talking junior named Mark Rudd.^ Long- 
standing movement tensions now crackled with a new fury. For Rudd, it was disruptive 
action that changed students' heads— "raised consciousness," in a phrase becoming popular. 
To the "praxis axis," Rudd and his comrades were foolhardy "action freaks." Rudd could 
argue that the "praxis axis" had little to show for its patience. 


The confrontation at Columbia signaled four important transformations in the student 
movement. First, deference and civility were resoundingly dumped. The day before the 
occupation. Mark Rudd wrote an open letter to President Kirk which closed with a line of 
LeRoi Jones, "whom I'm sure you don't like a whole lot": "Up against the wall, 
motherfucker, this is a stick-up." (It is interesting to note the civility preserved in Rudd's 
polemic, however: the grammatically correct "whom.") Weary of rebuffs, SDS and the black 
students simply took matters— and university buildings, and even (as an afterthought)'^ a 
dean— into their own hands. The dynamic of events swept power into the hands of the less 
compromising; the black students' more militant style carried the white radicals along. 
(Even after the first building was taken, Rudd at first opposed barricading it.)"* Some of the 
Occupation forces specialized in desecrating symbols^; they smoked Grayson Kirk's cigars, 
drank his sherry, leafed through his books (discovering many uncut pages), and after five 
days of occupation left a mess.^ They pirated, or "liberated," documents, promptly 
smuggled to the underground Rat, which showed that the university administration was 
secretly maneuvering on behalf of classified war research and against community groups. 
Still, the movement committed no violence against persons, press accounts of vandalism 
were wildly exaggerated, and most of the physical damage was probably done by police. 

Second, the festival moved onto the authorities' home grounds. Counterculture and New 
Left met, however uneasily, in the corridors of the occupied buildings. Women stayed 
overnight. The movement was still aspiring to "the beloved community"; students surfeited 
with campus individualism were still breathing the spirit of SNCC's old slogan, "Freedom is 
an endless meeting"; the occupiers felt the onrushing euphoria of a "freedom high" in their 
own improvised space. In the course of that week occupied Columbia saw romances, 
ideological and tactical debates, and a wedding. Freelance organizers like Tom Hayden and 
the Motherfuckers came by to breathe the tonic air and preach. Hayden was crucial in 
holding together Mathematics, the most militant of the improvised communes; the 
freewheeling Motherfuckers dazzled Rudd. 

Third, the powers did not cede graciously. After eight days of oscillation and failed 
negotiations. Kirk called in the police. In the middle of the night, more than a thousand 
conquered the buildings, arresting 692, three-quarters of them students. As at the Grand 
Central Station Yip-In a month earlier, their brutality was unrestrained; before the eyes of 
horrified bystanders, more than a hundred students and others— including faculty trying to 
buffer— were injured, along with fourteen policemen. True enough, the barricaded occupiers 
were a force difficult to dislodge, although the clubs and brass knuckles that the police 
employed were scarcely necessary. (Mayor John V. Lindsay criticized "excessive force" by 
some police.)^ Part of the brutality, moreover, reflected a kind of class war SDS had not 
reckoned with: working-class cops' resentment of the children of privilege. Student opinion 
at large, already sympathetic to the student demands, turned decisively against the 
hardened university administration. Seeking to draw a line against what Kirk even before 
the occupation had called "turbulent and inchoate nihilism," the administration lent 
authority to SDSs hunch that repression nudged "the revolution" along.* 

Finally, as even uninvolved" students could not help but note, the press built a containing 
wall against the radical tide.^ A. M. Rosenthal, assistant managing editor of The New York 
Times, broke with the tradition that insulates editing from reporting and produced a front- 
page by-lined story condemning the students' loutish behavior, quoting Kirk: "My God, how 
could human beings do such a thing?" (I