A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family’s Century of Conscience

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A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family’s Century of Conscience is the product of a college journalism class, with author Thai Jones writing a personal history of his family and their activities as part of the American left. Jones’ parents, Eleanor Stein and Jeff Jones were both active in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Weatherman, and the Weather Underground and were for many years sought by the FBI as fugitives for their participation in the bombing of the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other symbols of state and corporate power during the 1970s. A Radical Line joins a wealth of new material about the Weather Underground–Bill Ayers Fugitive Days, Jeremy Varon’s Bringing the War Home, and The Weather Underground in presenting a well-considered appraisal of New Left militancy in the 1960s and 1970s.

While right-wing commentators have made a cottage industry out of criticizing “sixties radicals” for their excesses and inconsistencies, A Radical Line confronts the common myth that the radicals of the 1960s were acting in a vacuum without tradition and were merely selfish youth–putting the activism of two SDS and Weather Underground members into the context of their families mutual struggles for social justice. Jones’ parents did not simply act out of a newfound consciousness in the 1960s but rather they were embracing their family history and traditions, and to a certain extent, the history and traditions of the American left. Eleanor Stein’s family had a long history of participation in the Communist movement and both her parents were part of the Communist underground (an underground which Jones humorously describes as “the most boring ever” with members simply discussing things and having meetings without any actions) and her father appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) while both of her parents were frequently monitored by the FBI. Stein’s parents were also active in the struggle for civil rights in Washington DC, participating in the movement that would provide the gateway for Eleanor Stein’s involvement in radical politics. A Radical Line describes how she walked out on a class at Columbia to join the demonstrations that would lead to the 1968 “Columbia Uprising” and spent the next ten years involved in the militant fringes of the New Left. Similarly, Jeff Jones father was involved in radical politics, albeit of a much more subtle nature than Stein’s parents were. Jeff’s father was a pacifist and spent World War II at a camp for Conscientious Objectors, dedicating his life to teaching about peace and justice, instilling the values that would lead Jeff Jones from a student at Antioch College to a position as a national organizer for SDS and later the inner circle of the Weather Underground.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of A Radical Line is its honesty and sincerity. Thai Jones is not afraid to identify the many and varied mistakes his parents made during their antiwar activism–from crafting terribly dogmatic Leninist justifications for what was essentially symbolic civil disobedience via bombing during the 1970s and using “toughness” as a means of recruiting youth to their revolution. Jones’ book is full of disagreements between the generations, with neither Jeff Jones’ or Eleanor Stein’s parents fully supporting what their children were doing, demonstrating the ways in which the “Old Left” felt the New Left was failing to learn from their parents’ struggles. One of the most telling passages in the book is a description of the type of “organizing” that Jeff Jones did as a part of Weatherman before the Days of Rage in 1969. Thai writes how his father went to an SDS meeting with a few other Weathermen at the University of Wisconsin Madison, pushed an SDS speaker off the stage as the other Weatherman struck up karate poses behind him and shouted, “You don’t see any motherfucking students at any motherfucking college up here on this stage. All of us up here are stone communist revolutionaries,” while encouraging the confused and annoyed crowd to go “trash” the Army Math Research Center. Of course, the group ignored him, just as the larger antiwar movement ignored both Weatherman and the Weather Underground. While their analysis was almost a step forward and a catalyst towards a truly revolutionary antiwar movement, the macho militancy and praxis of Weatherman, specifically the abandonment of the mass antiwar movement, ended up relegating the group to irrelevancy. Rather than learn from the so-called “Old Left” of which Eleanor Stein’s mother Annie Stein participated in, Weatherman failed to take into account the destructive nature of sectarianism and fractured the student movement. When they realized the error in their politics and turned to Annie Stein and others to teach them about the history of leftwing theory and practice it was too late, and the Weather Underground split apart with most members turning themselves in while others went on to participate in even more irrelevant “armed struggle” groups.

A Radical Line is not a history of the Weather Underground and readers looking for such a book should look elsewhere. However, it is an entertaining a well-written history of one radical family and their missteps, which, to a large extent, were indicative of the historical missteps of the left in the United States. While occasionally suffering from vague descriptions of historical events, A Radical Line is an examination of the human side of historical actors that risked everything they had for what they believed would make a concrete difference in the struggle for social justice and the human consequences of their actions.

Thai Jones, A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family’s Century of Conscience, (Free Press, 2004).

Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention

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Frank Kusch’s Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention is an attempt to give the “other side” of the 1968 Democratic National Convention by seeking to interview a group of participants that have been largely ignored in previous studies, the Chicago Police Department, whom he interviewed during the period of 1999 to 2003. The results of the interviews are not particularly surprising, they reveal that many members of the Chicago Police Department feared the antiwar protestors and the Civil Rights movement, a fact that resulted in the willingness of large numbers of the Chicago Police Department to use considerable force to suppress dissent during the week of the convention. A number of factors contributed to this use of force–the riots in Chicago after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Mayor Richard Daley’s personal hatred of the protestors, and pressure from the local government and the Democrats to appear strong and “control” the protests.

Rather than provide an honest appraisal of the actions of the police, Kusch largely sanctions their actions, arguing that they were motivated by their perceptions of the protestors–as indeed all actions are–and uses the officers’ feelings as a means of absolving them of responsibility for what happened. Battleground Chicago explains how the Chicago Police Department was made up of officers from the ethnically homogenous neighborhoods of Chicago, primarily Irish and Polish, where the officers, both on duty and off, cultivated a form of “traditional” life and values which they felt were threatened by the growing social movements of the 1960s. Amidst stories of traditional, family-oriented lives, Kusch intersperses quotes from various police officers about their hatred of the Civil Rights movement and their attitude that African Americans brought crime to the community, as well as the officers’ hatred of hippies and their opinion that “the youth” had no respect for authority. Kusch portrays these communities as under attack from the social movements of the sixties and projects the opinions of the police onto the greater Chicago community–frequently extending police officers’ comments that the community viewed them as a line of defense from outside “turbulence” without questioning it or consulting additional sources.

When Kusch discusses the events of the convention week, his analysis shifts somewhat. Whereas the police are portrayed as a misunderstood entity that are not given the opportunity to tell their side of the story, Kusch’s accounts provide numerous examples of a police force that acted with excessive and, by most evaluations, unjustifiable brutality. While the Chicago Police Department was faced with a considerable amount of abuse during the protests, most of the verbal variety–the sensationalized accounts of protestor violence, coming from both the underground left press and the corporate press, were not an omnipresent feature of the protests. For the most part, poor orders and decisions to provoke confrontations radicalized protests and contributed to the “street battles” that the police and protestors so vividly remember. However, Kusch does his best to absolve the police of responsibility for their actions (and echoes the opinions of the police), and charges that they were under attack from protestors and journalists. Kusch gives considerable space to the police interviewees to describe how the journalists sought to provoke fights and were allies of the movement, but Kusch rarely points out the errors of these assertions nor does he seek to analyze the attitudes of the officers.

While Kusch succeeds in interviewing a number of different police officers and conveying their viewpoints, thereby making some contribution to scholarship on the Convention, the interviews cannot mask glaring problems with Kusch’s book. While Kusch did indeed interview a seemingly large number of police, he gives no account of the exact numbers nor does he provide the format used–it is unclear whether he used a set questionnaire, a freewheeling conversation, or asked questions in order to elicit a specific response. Too often, the attitudes of former police officers–echoing the stereotypical denunciations of the sixties’ so-called “excesses”–are projected onto the residents of Chicago. Kusch uses the police officers’ opinions to conclude that most Chicago residents supported the police and welcomed their efforts to protect the city, and backs his assertion with a tally of “pro-police” letters in the Chicago newspapers. Finally, Kusch himself seems to be biased in favor of the police, accepting the premise that the protestors were “dangerous” as indicated by his repeated assertions that the protestors did not seek a legitimate form of dissent but rather were anarchists who sought only chaos. These conclusions are backed up by citing various corporate media reports of protestors carrying weapons, an imperfect means of supporting arguments as the corporate press has long distorted facts pertaining to protests. Notably absent in the book are differing opinions–no protestors were interviewed–and Kusch instead chooses to piece together their perspective the various books that have been published, and quite frequently, from only a limited bibliography of works with their own anti-radical bias, especially Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage.

In the end, it is fitting that Kusch cites David Horowitz and Peter Collier’s Destructive Generation, as Horowitz, Collier, and Kusch share a similar goal in rethinking the sixties and reinterpreting the ways in which the history has been presented. While it is important to rethink the history of the sixties, and indeed there is a great opportunity to do so with the growing amount of scholarship coming from authors who were not a part of the sixties movements, Kusch falls into the same trap that critics often attribute to those on the left–he creates a narrow book that reinforces a preconceived position in a frequently dubious manner. Rather than presenting new insights, Kusch’s book simply rehashes the tired old positions of critics of “the sixties,” and consequently, contributes little to scholarship on the period.

Frank Kusch, Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, (Praeger, 2004).

Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies

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For many historians and participants in the various social movements commonly referred to as “the sixties,” the formation of Weatherman in 1969 as the faction that eventually came to control Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the largest student-based organization opposed to the war in Vietnam, was the beginning of the end of the antiwar movement. Rather than engaging in a serious evaluation of both Weatherman’s critique of non-violence and United States imperialism, as well as the tactical efficacy of their approach, numerous historians and movement participants have chose instead to ignore questions raised by Weatherman and dismiss the group as a sectarian cult of violence that led to the destruction of the antiwar movement. Of course, while such an analysis ignores many pivotal events that happened both after and during Weatherman’s actions, all of which-Kent State, the Winter Soldier investigation, and protests at Nixon’s 1972 inauguration reflect an antiwar movement that did not simply fall apart with the shift of some in the movement towards more militant tactics. While Varon states that Weatherman’s violence was “a dramatic failure from a tactical standpoint,” he is investigating the political violence of Weatherman to examine the broader revolutionary impetus of the late 1960s and early 1970s-a period in which there were innumerable physical confrontations with the state and, in the period from January 1969 to April 1970, 2,800 attacks on state and corporate property in response to the Vietnam war, with 281 attacks on ROTC buildings and 7,200 arrests on campuses alone.

Numerous individuals and collectives within the United States shifted towards attacks on state and corporate property during the late 1960s and early 1970s in response to the United States’ war on Vietnam-Weatherman was the largest and most well known group to make the shift. As such, Varon concentrates on Weatherman to construct an analysis of the wider violence of the New Left. In Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies, the history of Weather is broken down into three distinct events-the Days of Rage in October 1969 and the Flint “War Council” in December of 1969 as examples of Weatherman’s politics, and focuses on the Weather Underground (the organization was renamed after going underground) by way of the townhouse explosion in 1971. These three events, while pivotal events in the history of the Weather Underground, are frequently misinterpreted and used as the basis for dismissing the group, and to each event Varon brings a level of analysis and interpretation that has been sorely lacking from previous examinations of the Weather Underground. Weatherman’s ideology is examined in the discussion of the Days of Rage, a week-long series of “militant” actions that Weatherman hoped would “bring the war home” and inspire working-class youth throughout the United States to engage in militant action against the state in support of black radicals and in solidarity with the Viet Cong. Of course, the Days of Rage was poorly attended-the projected attendance of “thousands” ended up being a few hundred-and many key leaders ended up with multiple felony charges-while fe, if any, working class youth joined the revolution. Varon uses the failure of the Days of Rage as a springboard for a detailed critique of Weatherman’s politics, specifically looking at its attitudes towards class and its conception of revolutionary communism. The December 1969 “War Council” showed the isolation of Weatherman from both the majority of people in the United States, as well as those in the antiwar movement-and cemented the group’s resolve to engage in “exemplary” violence to “inspire” others to “pick up the gun” against the state-violence that, had the townhouse explosion not occurred in 1971, would have likely progressed towards individual representatives of state and corporate power. The Flint War Council allows Varon to examine the popular support of the Weatherman and examine how their isolation led to increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Finally, Varon interprets the townhouse explosion, long a target of scorn from those on the right and the left, as a “recasting” of the Weather Underground’s politics and a shift from violence to the multifaceted antiwar movement that it previously berated rather than just n example of sixties “excesses” as it has been portrayed by many.

By contrast, the violence of the Red Army Faction (RAF) was undertaken for a less direct purpose, and in many ways, seemed more random than that of the Weather Underground. As with the Weather Underground, the RAF attacked state and corporate targets in an effort to challenge the West German government’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The RAF engaged in “armed struggle” as a result of its sense of “proletarian solidarity” with the Vietnamese and West Germany’s role in supporting the Vietnam War as well as a vague sense that West Germany was becoming “fascist” in its response to domestic dissent. Student radicalism in Germany was met with draconian laws restricting dissent, many of which students and university faculty viewed as the harbinger of a new fascism and as such extreme forms of protest including violence towards property were justified. However, unlike the Weather Underground and New Left violence in the United States, the RAF moved its war from attacking property to attacking people complicit in “the system” and by 1978 and the end of the “second wave” of the RAF, 43 people had lost their lives as a result of the RAF’s “guerilla warfare,” including 28 people who were victims of left-wing violence and 15 guerrillas.

Varon argues that had members of the Weather Underground not been killed in the “townhouse explosion” in 1971 where Terry Gold, Diana Oughton, Cathy Wilkerson, and Kathy Boudin were preparing anti-personnel bombs to use at an uncomissioned officers’ dance, the Weather Underground’s attack on the state would have likely been comparable to the RAF’s and many more people would have lost their lives in a form of “armed struggle” that would have served no end other than to increase state repression. This thesis sheds new light on the Weather Underground, illuminating a shift in the Weather Underground’s approach after the townhouse explosion as Weather purposely shifted towards “armed actions” in which bombings were used to draw attention and embarrass the state while precautions were made to ensure that no lives would be lost. While critics of the Weather Underground have dismissed the group as being ineffective and counter-productive for any number of frivolous reasons, Varon’s analysis allows for a more accurate appraisal of the use of violence by the New Left and a reevaluation of tactics and the New Left, specifically in terms of the role of “violence” and the gains of the movement. Tom Wells’ The War Within has long been cited as proof of the effectiveness of the non-violence of the New Left; with Wells going to great lengths to show how protest directly limited the state’s capacity to wage war, specifically Richard Nixon’s November 1969 withdrawal of a plan to unleash “savage” attacks on North Vietnam, likely with some form of tactical nuclear weapons. However, Varon concludes that it was the diversity of tactics that helped limit the war, not one particular approach, while pointing out that the actions of the New Left succeeded only in adjusting the magnitude of destruction. Rather than reading Wells’ book simply as a testament to the power of non-violent protest as is often done, Varon argues that the book repeatedly makes it clear that the state was worried about the militant attacks on the legitimacy of state power and the very stability of the state while pointing out that had more been known about the United States’ actions in Vietnam, it is likely that more would have embraced militancy. In the end, despite “thousands of violent acts,” New Left violence in the United States unintentionally killed three people (two at the townhouse and one innocent bystander in an attack unaffiliated with the Weather Underground)-a small number compared to the “countless deaths, the toppling of governments, and deliberate assaults on domestic dissidents” by the state, the war continued and no form of domestic protest was able to stop the war.

With the lack of writing on the Weatherman, Bringing the War Home stands out as the best analysis of the movement. While Ron Jacob’s The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, the only other history of Weatherman, provides a more detailed account of some of the specifics of Weatherman, it suffers from a lack of research and analysis. Bringing the War Home‘s contribution to the history of the Red Army Faction is slightly more difficult given the reviewers limited knowledge of the German New Left, but given Varon’s well-crafted analysis of the Weather Underground, it can be generally assumed that he has presented a similarly competent portrayal of the Red Army Faction. By way of comparing the violence of Weatherman and the Weather Underground with the Red Army Faction Varon strengthens his analysis of the effectiveness of political violence. Bringing the War Home makes an important contribution to both scholarship on the antiwar movement in addition to providing an important evaluation of violent forms of protest in the United States and West Germany and the potential ramifications and likelihood of success should contemporary anti-war movements make similar decisions.

Jeremy Varon, Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies, (University of California Press, 2004).

The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War

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Andrew E. Hunt’s The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War is an incredibly important book for students of the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as a study of Vietnam Veterans Against the War presents an essential counterpoise to all of the literature that attacks those movements as consisting primarily of the children of the elite.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War were one of the most visible anti-war organizations in the United States after the break-up of Students for a Democratic Society and the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice. While SDS was an organization made up of largely radical students and campus intellectuals, and thus easy for the Nixon White House to dismiss, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was an organization made up entirely of veterans. These veterans had seen the horror of Vietnam and as a result of their experiences, came back opposed to the war and increasingly radicalized. While many members were radicalized by their post-Vietnam experience–the failure of the Democratic Party to end the war, the unresponsiveness of politicians to the veterans’ lobbying, and the other movements of the period–there was always a tension between the traditionally “liberal” members and the more radical members. Nevertheless, by the end of the war, the group was denouncing sexism, racism, imperialism, and capitalism and understanding the Vietnam War within the framework of global capitalism and imperialism.

The tactics of Vietnam Veterans Against the War were often dramatic, and consequently, the group was able to draw a considerable amount of media and popular attention. They staged a multiple-day guerilla theatre march through Pennsylvania, dubbed “Operation RAW” in which veterans dressed in military uniforms and carried fake M-16s and reenacting the “search and destroy” missions of Vietnam. At another demonstration they threw their medals on the steps of the capitol in Washington DC and denounced the war. They held highly visible investigations of atrocities in Vietnam and organized veterans to speak at the investigations. They tried to organize services for veterans, and while they lacked the infrastructure to do so, they were one of the earliest groups to make the effort. They tried to directly organize veterans returning from Vietnam by obtaining exit rolls, but the military denied them access while providing the lists to the VFW and the American Legion, and instead Vietnam Veterans Against the War was left to the lengthy process of contacting veterans by word of mouth.

The Turning is essential reading for students of the social movements of the sixties and the Vietnam War. While the ruling class and its media outlets have tried to rewrite the history of the antiwar movement, portraying it as hostile to soldiers and the working-class, The Turning refutes this argument by chronicling the history of a group that consisted of soldiers and primarily members of the working class.

Andrew E. Hunt, The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, (NYU Press, 2001).

The Black Panthers Speak

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This is a reprint of Foner’s 1970 collection of documents from the Black Panther Party. Of course, given the date of publication there is a good amount of material from the Panthers that is not included, but this is nevertheless an excellent resource for anyone interested in the Black Panthers as it does something that most books do not do–allow the Panthers to speak for themselves. One does not have to deal with either critics convinced that the Panthers were going to cause the breakdown of American society, nor does one have to deal with white leftists who have an almost fetish-like fascination with the Panthers. There are theoretical essays and other writings from a number of well-known Panthers including Huey P. Newton, Fred Hampton, Bobby Seale, and David Hillard; selections from their newspaper, The Black Panther; a collection of writings by female Panthers; and writings about the various social programs they instituted.

Ishmael Reed is quoted on cover of the book as saying that the book is ìa rebuttal to [the current] organized attempt to destroy the Panthersí legacyîóa statement that is indicative of the importance of this book. The Panthers are generally portrayed as a group of armed racist separatists that wanted to violently overthrow the government of the United States, and as one learns from this book, such a portrayal is fraught with inaccuracies. The Black Panthers, while armed, did so for reasons of self-defense, believing it was the only way to protect their communities from the racist police that patrol the ghettos. Moreover, the Black Panthers were not racist separatists; rather they were willing to work with oppressed peoples of all colors as a way of building a movement of international solidarity. The Panthers were committed Marxist-Leninists who sought the replacement of capitalism with the dictatorship of the proletariat which was a theoretical threat to the state and ruling class in the United States.

The Black Panther Party saw themselves as the vanguard of the black movement in the 1960s, but rather than merely issuing proclamations and presenting their “line” to the masses, the Panthers made it their goal to get out into the community and help people by talking to them and finding out what it was that they needed. The Black Panthers initiated a number of programs in response to their conversations with the black communities–free breakfast programs, health clinics, and education classes–all of which are discussed in the book. These programs are what is left out in many books on the 1960s or the civil rights movementóthe fact that the Panthers tried, and had success, in addressing the needs of the people in the black community, does not fit in with the image of the Panthers as gun-toting racists bent on the destruction of the United States.

This is essential reading for anyone interested in the Civil Rights Movement or the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s. With so much of the New Left’s later theoretical orientation being influenced by the Black Panthers, it would be impossible to understand their decisions without being familiar with the Panthers’ ideology and praxis.

Philip S. Foner, ed., The Black Panthers Speak, (Da Capo Press, 2002).

Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up

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This book is a study of activists involved in radical politics during the movement of the 1960s, centered on a group of students at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The authors selected a core group of students who were arrested for their role (or presumed role) in a series of riots in the city of Isla Vista, one of which culminated in the burning of the local branch of the Bank of America. The authors believe that this group, by virtue of their actions, can be considered radicals, and from that premise, Whalen and Flacks interviewed the students over a period of about fifteen years to determine how radical politics influenced their lives and how involved they were in politics as they grew older.

The book was written to examine whether the common belief, that hippies and student activists grew up and became yuppies and conservatives was accurate. According to Whalen and Flacks, the belief is a myth–most activists, while less politically active than during the 1960s, are still influenced by the radical politics of their youth. Most of the activists remained politically active, although their politics shifted to more local issues with the lack of a national “left” movement in the United States. In addition, the authors also interviewed sorority and fraternity students as a point of comparison, using these two groups as a way of contrasting how the former activists and non-activists lived. Not surprisingly, the non-activists were more likely to support conservative candidates and work for large corporations.

While this study is dated, it is an interesting look at how a group of student radicals confronted the end of a social movement and how they struggled to remain active. I would like to see if these people are still active, especially in light of the anti-globalization movement and the international movement against the recent invasion and continued occupation of Iraq, as these two movements provide many opportunities to get involved.

Jack Whalen and Richard Flacks, Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up, (Temple University Press, 1989).

Put Your Bodies Upon The Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s

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Heineman begins his short 226 page history of the student movement of the 1960s with the statement that the book is “not a celebration of the 1960s New Left and the violent confrontation written by a participant turned scholar–nor is it an attack on every social reform movement that arose in the sixties.” Instead, he says that he has “tried to be evenhanded but cleareyed,” although it does not take long to realize that Heineman is quite biased against the student movement (xi).

This bias is not necessarily a problem, as there is much to criticize in the politics of the student movement’s adoption of Leninist ideology, a lack of work to develop a strong base of support outside the student and counter-cultural ghettos, and a late embrace of women’s liberation–just to name a few. However, Heineman is not particularly interested in criticizing the student movement for its political and tactical mistakes, rather he is intent on portraying the movement as one made of upper-class “radicals” who were out of touch with the opinions of most in the United States, and more damning, were against the “working class” and using their class status to avoid fighting the Vietnam War. In other words, he presents a typical right-wing argument.

Heineman has an interesting thesis, and there may indeed be something to it, but he never really moves to the level of analysis, instead choosing to state the thesis at a number of different points in his text without establishing the necessary level of support. Moreover, the book does not feature a single footnote–quite the feat for a professor of history writing a history of the student movement with a rather controversial thesis! While I realize that oftentimes works of historical synthesis forego the use of footnotes, I believe a failure to use footnotes is inexcusable, especially when Heineman makes a number of questionable statements:

  • He quotes Robert Timberg, a reporter from the Washington Post, who relates the media myth that student activists spit on returning veterans (18). This myth has been refuted in detail in Jerry Lembcke’s The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.
  • He argues that professors were more enthusiastic than students in supporting the New Left, a statement “supported” by some undocumented statistics about radical faculty in the university while stating that “barely a quarter of [students] participated in antiwar demonstrations on a regular basis,” a point that Heineman never tires of making (20). Almost every time he discusses a protest, he cites statistics stating that most students either supported the war or were indifferent–a fact that may be true, but sources are never provided.
  • Malcom X, whom Heineman dubs “a secular saint of the New Left,” A-frequently called Jews parasites, slum lords, and leaders of the pre-Civil War slave trade,” while he also “dismissed the Nazi Holocaust, arguing that the Jews had it coming (42).” Perhaps this is true–I have not read much by Malcom X, but it is a statement one needs a footnote to verify.
  • When discussing the Black Panthers, Heineman says that “nearly all the Panthers were habitual criminals” and that “their two-thousand well-armed members included killers, drug dealers, rapists, and extortionists” and that their criminal histories was one of the main motivation for wanting white police out of black communities (46). Again, this is a statement that raises a flag and needs a footnote for clarification, but of course, there is not one.
  • According to Heineman, “[University of] Wisconsin SDS members believed that anyone who show up at their meetings wearing a wedding ring had to be a police spy in needs of a beating (151).”

The problem with the preceding statements is that they cannot be verified easily, and when history cannot be verified, it is easy to manipulate it to fit one’s own interpretation, something Heineman should certainly know as a professor of history.

In addition to statements that seem questionable, there are also inaccuracies in his book, which renders the aforementioned statements even more suspect. He claims that SDS liberated Timothy Leary, but SDS had nothing to do with that action, it was the Weather Underground that participated in Leary’s escape from prison–SDS was no longer a group at the time (181). Such sloppy history is always inexcusable, but with a rather bitter conflict still raging between partisans of “the Left” and “the Right” over the legacy of the Vietnam War and the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s, it is even more important to provide accurate and well-documented history.

Kenneth J. Heineman, Put Your Bodies Upon The Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s, (Ivan R. Dee, 2001).

The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground

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Earlier this year, I read an anthology published by Ramparts Press back in the early 1970s with a collection of writings by and about the Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Due to the age of the book, it naturally focused more on Weatherman as opposed to the Weather Underground, as many of the actions undertaken by the Weather Underground took place after the publication of the Weatherman anthology.

The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground is the only book I have found that attempts to create a history of the Weather Underground and the Weatherman, and unfortunately, it does not accomplish the task as well I would have hoped. There are certainly problems with the tactics of the Weatherman/Weather Underground as well as with their theoretical writings, but I still feel that a good history of the movement is necessary if “the left” in the United States wants to learn from the errors of the Weather People. The main problem with this book is that it lacks depth, especially in terms of its look at the theory that informed the actions of the Weather People. Jacobs fails to make a detailed analysis of Weatherman theory compared to other groups at the time, as the analysis presented in the book lacks depth. Moreover, the book relies primarily on secondary sources (although he did interview some former members of Weatherman), many of which I was already familiar with due to my reading of Weatherman.

Despite its flaws, The Way the Wind Blew is an important book for the time being because it is the only book that documents the history of Weatherman/Weather Underground. However, I highly suggest that anyone interested in the group read both The Way the Wind Blew and Weatherman, as the two volumes together will allow one to judge the historical and theoretical significance of the group.

Ron Jacobs, The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, (Verso, 1997).

Love in the Days of Rage

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I was pleased to find this book, a fictional account of two lovers living in France during the revolutionary period of May-June 1968. One of them is an anarchist banker, with all the contradictions that such a title implies, and the other is a professor at L’Acadamie des Beaux Arts in Paris. Much of the book traces the tension between different views of how one best can participate in and support the revolutionary students.

I have to admit, the primary reason I enjoyed this book was its setting–I find the May-June events to be fascinating. The book captures the spirit of the events pretty well, including many of the famous graffiti slogans that were found on Paris walls, incorporating many of the events that took place, and relaying the overall context of the events quite well. As a piece of historical fiction, it works well and for people who are familiar with the events, it is an entertaining read–I found myself reading it in one sitting (it’s short at 118 pages), eagerly turning the pages to see how Ferlinghetti would work in the various philosophies present in May-June 1968.

However, like most works of fiction, there are some errors. The most striking error is found in a passage where Annie, the professor, finds herself marching in the middle of a group of International Situationist marching under the banner of philosopher Henri LeFebvre, who had planted the early seeds of revolt among his students in Strasbourg with his manifesto “on the misery of student life.” While there is no date given to verify the accuracy of this statement, it seems highly unlikely as the Situationists had a falling out with LeFebvre in the early 1960s and the “manifesto” being referred to is most likely the Situationists’ own pamphlet, On the Poverty of Student Life.

Even with a few errors, this was an entertaining and fast read, one that will be especially enjoyable for people who are fascinated by France in May-June 1968.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Love in the Days of Rage, (E.P. Dutton, 1988).

French Communist Party Versus the Students: Revolutionary Politics in May-June 1968

During my senior year in college, I attempted to write an intellectual history of the Situationist International, a group of radical theorists in France who published scathing critiques of the capitalist system and consumerism, while seeking to find a new revolutionary praxis. The paper was an ambitious project to be sure, attempting to cover a group as complex as the Situationist International in only 25 pages is probably not possible, especially for a student who is unfamiliar with the history of Marxism and radicalism in France.

Nevertheless, I was able to place the Situationists within the context of their contemporaries and thus was able to explain why they rejected the policies of the majority of the Marxist left. In order to do that, I had to rely on a variety of different works, including a couple by the scholar Tony Judt, working slowly to make sense of a political milieu that was completely unfamiliar. After reading French Communist Party Versus the Students: Revolutionary Politics in May-June 1968, I realize that there was a lot more I could have addressed within the paper.

The French Communist Party Versus the Students is essentially a history of the French Communist Party (PCF) and their relationship to both the student movement as well as other radical parties in France during the 1950s and 1960s. The book examines how the party was structured and how it functioned, a necessary study if one is to consider the PCFís role in the May-June events of 1968. Granted, most of this book is a rather dry history of a party that by the 1960s had lost most of its radicalism, and indeed has little contemporary relevance. While it lacks the sense of immediacy as well as the readability of Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, a book that covers the way in which the PCF and other “radical” parties acted as counter-revolutionary forces, The French Communist Party Versus the Students explores the role of the PCF in a broader historical context and is an important book for people wanting to understand the Communists role in May and June of 1968.

Richard Johnson, French Communist Party Versus the Students: Revolutionary Politics in May-June 1968, (Yale University Press, 1972).