Title: The Sixties
Subtitle: Years Of Hope, Days Of Rage
Author: Todd Gitlin
Topic: The 60s
Date: 1987
ISBN: 0-553-37212-2
Publisher: Bantam Book

    [Front Matter]

      [Title Page]


      Table of Contents

    Preface To The New Edition

      Social Equality

      Wide-Open “Life-Styles”

      The Limitation Of National Violence And The Care Of The Earth

      Democratic Activity


  Part One: Affluence And Undertow

    1. Cornucopia And Its Discontents

      The Wide Open Spaces Of Affluence



    2. Underground Channels

      Wild Ones

      “What, Me Worry?”

      “Deliver Me From The, Days Of Old”

    3 Enclaves Of Elders

      “A Camaraderie Of Loneliness”

      The Liberal Summons

      Left Remnants, Red Diapers

  Part Two: The Movement

    4. Leftward Kicking And Screaming


      Uneasy In An Anteroom In Camelot

      “Destructive Criticism Of A Destructive System”

    5. The Fused Group

      “A Band Of Brothers Standing In A Circle Of Love”

      The Importance Of Being Anti-Anti-Communist

    6. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round

      Radicals And The Liberal Glow

      A Collision Of Political Cultures

      Justice And The Department

      White Shield, White Heat

      Atlantic City

      The Revolutionary Pastorale

      Floaters And Hardliners

      “The Man Without The Uniform”

    7. “Name The System”

      Old Styles In Acrimony

      “A Frenzied One-Sided Anti-American Show”

      “If They Were Serious”

      Enter Progressive Labor, Laughing

  Part Three: The Surge

    8. “Everybody Get Together”

      All-Purpose Apocalypse

      “I Cant Get No”

      “Far From The Twisted Reach Of Crazy Sorrow”

      “Smile On Your Brother”


      “What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear”

    9. Public Nuisances

      The Theater Of Outlaws

      A Comic Collision

      The Theory And The Practice Of Yippie

      Armed Love In Fat City

    10. Fighting Back

      A Prologue To The Late Sixties

      “What Does Whitey Do?”

      From Protest To Resistance

    11. The Other Side

      “All For Vietnam”

      “No Paradise”

  Part Four: Forcing The Revolution

    12. 1968

      The Politics Of Extremity

      Sleeping Dogs

      Varieties Of Antiwar Experience

      The Loyal Opposition


      “A Giant Stampede”

    13. The Decapitation Of The Heroes

      The Last Black Hope

      The Action Faction

      Dead Center

      Violence Shock

    14. The Crunch

      Lurching Toward Chicago

      The Caldron

      The Aftertaste Of Tear Gas

    15. The Spring Of Hope, The Winter Of Despair

      The Language Of The Millennium

      The Bogey Of Race

      The Fragile Paradise Of People’s Park

    16. Women: Revolution In The Revolution

    17. The Implosion

      The Antiwar Stalemate

      The Revolutionary Loop

      The Logic Of Sectarianism

      Kicking Ass

      When Prophecy Fails

      “We Have To Create Chaos”

      “We’ve Got To Turn New York Into Saigon”

      Death Culture

    18. Fadeout

    19. Carrying On

      Settling In

      Encounter Culture

      Kicking Back

      In Search Of An Ending

[Front Matter]

[Title Page]

The Sixties

Years Of Hope, Days Of Rage

Author: Todd Gitlin

Publisher: Bantam Book

Date: 1987

ISBN: 0-553-37212-2



A Bantam Book


Bantam hardcover edition / November 1987

Bantam trade edition / March 1989

Bantam revised trade edition / August 1993

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following:

“Stories of the Street” from the album entitled “Songs of Leonard Cohen” by Leonard Cohen, copyright © Leonard Cohen. Used by permission. All rights reserved. “Get a Job” copyright © 1957; Renewed 1985 by Ol-Ric Music and Cobweb Music. All rights reserved. Used by permission. “Eve of Destruction/’ words and music by P. F. Sloan. Copyright © 1965 by MCA MUSIC PUBLISHING, a Division of MCA Inc., New York N.Y. Used by permission. All rights reserved. “Mr Tambourine Man” (Bob Dylan). Copyright © 1964 WARNER BROS.

INC. All rights reserved. Used by permission. “Blowin’ in the Wind” (Bob Dylan). Copyright © 1962 WARNER BROS. INC. All rights reserved. Used by permission. “It’s All Right Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” Copyright © 1965 WARNER BROS. INC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“Love Me. I’m a Liberal,” lyrics & music by Phil Ochs. Copyright ©

1965 BARRICADE MUSIC. INC. AH rights administered by ALMO MUSIC CORP. (ASCAP). All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1987. 1993 by Todd Gitlin.

Cover art copyright 1989 by One Plus One Studios.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 87–47575.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted In any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address; Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-37212-2

Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House. Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marco Registrada, Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway. New York, New York 10036.

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Table of Contents

Preface To The New Edition


Part One: Affluence And Undertow

1. Cornucopia And Its Discontents

2. Underground Channels

3 Enclaves Of Elders

Part Two: The Movement

4. Leftward Kicking And Screaming

5. The Fused Group

6. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round

7. “Name The System”

Part Three: The Surge

8. “Everybody Get Together”

9. Public Nuisances

10. Fighting Back

11. The Other Side

Part Four: Forcing The Revolution

12. 1968

13. The Decapitation Of The Heroes

14. The Crunch

15. The Spring Of Hope, The Winter Of Despair

16. Women: Revolution In The Revolution

17. The Implosion

18. Fadeout

19. Carrying On

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 name.

—William Morris[1]

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[2]

All times of upheaval begin as surprises and end as clichés. 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, why “the 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 selfvalidating expression” and declaring that “the central myth of the Sixties was that the wretched excess was really a serious quest for new values.”[3] 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 AIDSless 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 The 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: The 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); wideopen “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 selfdetermination 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 darkskinned 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 the antidiscrimination victories of gay rights in employment and child 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 hardened.

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 antiauthoritarianism 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 selfdetermination, 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 politics.

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 selfseeking. 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


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 clichés. 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 quackeries.”

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?[4]

So much of America in the Fifties seemed content, so many of the old promises redeemed; why 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.[5] 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.”[6]

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 the 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 cliché 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.

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[7]

1. Cornucopia And Its Discontents

The Wide Open Spaces Of Affluence

Groping for a sense of the Zeitgeist has 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 Eighties.

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 Adlai 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.[8]

“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 relief.

The flush of prosperity and the thrill of victory also translated into a baby boom.[9] 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 the demographic 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.[10] 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 mainstream?

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.”[11]

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 family.

And the family was the raison d’être 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 “togetherness.”

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, then: Where the parental generation was scourged by memories of the Depression, the children of this 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 making.

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 selfevident 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.[12] 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. [13]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.[14] 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[15] and Seymour Martin[16] 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.”[17] 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.[18] 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.[19] 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 Yorker 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, however, and the revolts of the 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.”[20] 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 highconsumption 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.[21] Total spending on public institutions of higher education rose from $742.1 million in 1945 to $6.9 billion in 1965.[22]

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.)[23] The number of degrees granted, undergraduate and graduate combined, doubled between 1956 and 1967.[24] 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!”

1976, pp. 115, 375; Milton Viorst, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 164.


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.[25] 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 nationstate. 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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29]

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.”[30] 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.[31] 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.


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 middleclass 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.[32]

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-à-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.[33] 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 The 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 generation.

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.[34] 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.[35] 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 that 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 then other publishers began to publish serious nonfiction in paperback, so that avant-garde currents and European repertories— existentialism, the absurd, all manner of philosophy, history, and sociology—could circulate to the idea-hungry and college-bound.

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 selfdefinition. 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 ingénue’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, romantic.

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 naudit, 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.[36] 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 her 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 name.”

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 the 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.[37] 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.

“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. Mad’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,

Mad 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, Mad 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, Mad 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 Mad: 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, Mad mock-recommended that pretentious types “cultivate a withering sneer.”[38] 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.”[39] In Mad’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 hilarity. 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.[40] 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 itself 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 refutation.

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.[41] 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.

“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.[42] 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[43] and in the clubs along Beale Street.[44] 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.”[45] Phillips coached Elvis in the vocal style of blues masters like Muddy Waters, B. B. King, and Howlin’ Wolf.[46] 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.[47] 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.[48]

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.[49] 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 resentments.

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).[50] 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.[51]

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 métier (“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.[52]

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-beh,” “earth angell”). 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.)[53] 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.”[54] Some liberals, more tolerant of the outcome, retained the explanation but changed blame to credit.[55] 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.[56] 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.[57] 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.[58] 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.[59]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.”

3 Enclaves Of Elders

“A Camaraderie Of Loneliness”

In 1955,[60] 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”)[61] 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.[62] 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.”[63] 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.[64]

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.[65] 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.[66] 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.[67]

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.”[68] 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.”[69] 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.[70]

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 (né 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… .[71]

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 “[72] and lumpen-proletarian intellectual manqué Neal Cassady, who was

Ginsberg’s muse (“secret hero of these poems”)[73] 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.”[74] 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.[75] “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.”[76]

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 sentencestructures 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 … .”[77]

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.[78]

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.”[79] The “best minds” of Ginsberg’s generation, “starving hysterical naked,” “threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism.”[80] William Burroughs once told Kerouac, “I am shitting out my educated Middlewest background for once and for all.”[81] 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.”[82]

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[83] 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[84] raved On the 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.”[85]

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 moon.

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.”[86] 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.”[87]

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![88]

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.”[89] Politics, they declared, was yet another boring, pointless subassembly in the grotesque machinery of Moloch.{1} 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.

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.[90] 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.”)[91] 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 poetbookseller-publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who in 1958 published Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower}. 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 the Road “Rock and Roll Road,”[92] and dreamed of a movie version starring Marion Brando as Dean Moriarty.[93]

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 wellequipped 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.”[94] 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.[95] The fourteen-year-old Jim Morrison copied passages from On the

Road into his notebook and imitated Dean Moriarty’ laugh.[96]

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.[97] 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”[98]—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”[99]). 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.[100] Colonies of would-be artists hung out in the Village, listened to jazz, retreated to out-of-town enclaves like Woodstock and Sausalito.[101] “Underground” films (like Kenneth Anger’s homosexualmotorcycle 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 here, at last, was the good life.[102] 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.”[103]

In 1958 and 1959, in coffeehouses and student unions scattered across the 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.[104]

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.”[105] 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.[106] 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 sitin leaders, and returned to Ann Arbor a political organizer. Kerouac’s road, it turned out, might lead to some unexpected stopping-off points.

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 bigcity newspaper in the United States, shared a platform with none other than Jack Kerouac.{2} Wechsler was a liberal with fire in his belly—“one of the few unreconstructed radicals of my generation,” he called himself that night.[107] 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.

Radical or not, Wechsler was a perfect representative of the 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.[108] 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 Adlai Stevenson.[109] 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.[110]

That night at Hunter College, two worlds passed through each other like ghosts.[111] 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 knowit-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[112]—and circled the stage with it.

Wechsler did not begin to comprehend.[113] To him Kerouac’s performance was “a stream of semiconsciousness,” “a union of madness and sadness.” Kerouac sounded to him “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!”[114]

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.[115] 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.”[116] 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 Adlai 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.’”[117]

Liberals did not altogether agree on philosophical underpinnings .[x] 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.[118] Both David Riesman[119] and Paul Goodman[120] 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.[121] 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 Adlai 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.[122] 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, Adlai 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 halfcentury later, “that in both spheres, domestic and foreign, ‘government is the solution.’”[123] 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 hours.

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 generation.[124]

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 Adlai Stevenson against President Eisenhower.[125] 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.[126] 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.[127] 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.”[128] 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 work.

But the economic boom of World War II and its aftermath convinced the 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.”[129] 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.”[130] 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[131] and Hollywood’s Jack Warner.[132]

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.[133] 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 antiCommunist (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 the place to assess the moves and countermoves by which the Cold War hardened in the immediate postwar years.[134] 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 antiCommunist “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.[135] 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.[136] 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.”[137] 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.[138] Local Democratic parties were split by threat and counterthreat.[139] 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.[140]

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.[141] 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.”)[142]

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. Adlai 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.”[143] 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.”[144] 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.[145] 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.”[146]

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 Adlai 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.[147]

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.[148] 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 expertpriest. The liberals were not guilty of that famous Sixties cliché, 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 gather.

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.

(New York: Harper and Row, 1985), pp. 136–38; Richard Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr (New York: Pantheon, 1985).

See William L. O’Neill, A Better World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), pp. 59–60, 75–78.

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 Adlai 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 I960,1 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.[149] 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.[150]

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 was 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 Adlai Stevenson’s speech on the Grand Concourse; I was madly for Adlai. 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.[151] 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 risqué, as much a rite de passage, as seeing a Bardot movie.

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 twentiethcentury 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—were 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 culture.

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 1A, 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 drawingroom 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 mélange 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.[152] 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—their 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 heroism.”

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.[153] 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.[154] 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,”[155] with what another former member has called a “fortress mentality.”[156]

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.[157] Persecuted, devoid of a live social movement, the Communists drew their world more snugly about them.[158] 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.[159] The friends with whom they spent social weekends were other Communists.[160] 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.[161] 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.[162] 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.[163] 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.”[164] 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.[165] 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[166], even beaten up, but at camp they were among friends, safe, normal.[167]

Some of the children felt both terrified and neglected, and turned against politics as they matured.[168] 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.[169] 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 émigrés, 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 avantgarde 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.[170] 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 nonCommunists 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.[171] 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.[172] 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 radio.

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 Kolko, 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 thenCommunist 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.[173] (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.[174] 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”[175]—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. Dissent 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 twentiethcentury 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.”[176] 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.[177] “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.

Part Two: The Movement

Why not simply the current left? What makes it new?

—Carl Oglesby[178]

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.[179] 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.[180]

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.[181] 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.[182]

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 Correction—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 opposition.

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 élan, 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’être 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.[183] 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 the core of the movements identity. An astonishing break with the mood of the Fifties, which counseled adjustment, acceptance, and moderation at every turn. In this sense, the New Left had a practice and a spirit before—or more than—it ever had 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 business.

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 catastrophe?

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 their 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 Adlai Stevenson proposed a moratorium on bomb tests, only to be savaged by President Eisenhower and the nation’s editorial writers.[184] 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 avantgarde 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.[185] 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.[186] 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 The 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.”[187] 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.”[188] 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.[189] 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 the 1960–61 school year after my summer with Monroe 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.”)[190]

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 cloud.

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.[191] 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, Meyer 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 scienceadviser-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, Yankee!, 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 Weekly, which taught me, as it taught many of my contemporaries, that the government lied.{3} 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.[192]

Even Harvard’s dissidents took the Kennedy administration personally. To the socialdemocratic 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 Dissent 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 Adlai 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 Union.

So my friends and I grew steadily more estranged from Kennedy liberalism, and yet without sidling up to the Soviet Union.{4} 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.

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.[193] 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.’”[194] 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 indispensability.

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.[195] 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 action.

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 émigré professors of various stripes were conspicuous. By 1961, Brandeis already had seen a halfdecade 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.”[196]

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 thousand and eight thousand students to Washington in a snow-storm; we had hoped for a thousand or two. It was the largest White House demonstration since the effort to stop the execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953. Photos 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.”[197] 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.”[198] Another said: “Mr. Kennedy: We Support Your Words, Now Give Us a Chance to Support Your Actions.”[199] One hundred fifty

Young Americans for Freedom counterpicketed with “Better Brave than Slave” and “A Test a

Day Keeps the Commies Away.”[200]

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.){5} 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.”[201] Peter Goldmark grumbled aloud that the officials “had not even bothered to read our policy statement.”[202] 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.

I was finding it harder to 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.”[203] 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.{6} As the diminutive Yarmolinsky stood behind his desk and defended the administration’s civil defense program, the world went obvious on me. Men such as this 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 dislodged.

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 peaceminded 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.

A more patient soul might have thought; that 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.

“Destructive Criticism Of A Destructive System”

In the official mythic version, the 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.[204] Gar Alperovitz 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 minutes.

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 émigrés 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 moorings—

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 selfconscious 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.{7} 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 1962!)

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.”

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 Hughes in the 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.

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.[205]

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 indivisible.

Rather a rhapsodic project for a national organization with all of eleven hundred members and a dozen chapters if that![206] 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.[207]

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.[208] 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.[209]

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[210]—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.[211] 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.[212]

Moreover, the movement’s élan 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 midnineteenth 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 selfcultivation, 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.”{8} 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 Importance Of Being Anti-Anti-Communist

Port Huron was the first time our politics surfaced. (The 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-hundredtwenty-square against an interpretation of the Cold War that saw it as a Soviet plot and identified American policy fondly.

—Al Haber[214]

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.[215] 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 the topic, “HAS THE OLDER GENERATION ANYTHING LEFT TO SAY?”[216]

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.[217] 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.[218] The slowspoken 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 their Port Huron Statement they 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.”[219] 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.”[220] 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.[221]

First, a seventeen-year-old named Jim Hawley showed up, uninvited, representing the Progressive Youth Organizing Committee (PYOC), a group set up by the 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,”[222] a “relic”[223] 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.”[224] To the

Texan Robb Burlage, not cued in to the Left’s internecine history, the issue was simply “baffling.”[225] 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.”[226] In fact, the convention proved way over Hawley s head; he felt “like a kid.”[227] 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 selfprotective 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.”[228]

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.”[229] 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.”[230] 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.”[231] 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.”[232] 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.”[233] 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 leftliberal 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?”[234] 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 all-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 poohpoohed 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 antiCommunism—she wanted to make it clear that SDS was civil libertarian and not proCommunist—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.{9} 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.

While in graduate school at Michigan, 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 reddiaper 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 antiCommunism should be given its due—alongside Hayden’s critique of hysterical antiCommunism. 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 punches:

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 emancipation.[235]

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.[236] He kept Hayden’s critique of “unreasoning anti-communism” which obstructed “tentative, inquiring discussion about “the Russian question.’”[237]

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”[238]; “ … the dreams of the older left were perverted by Stalinism and never recreated.”[239]) 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.”[240] But Robb Burlage, the Texan half-outsider, remembers feeling “the beginnings of an anxiety”[241] 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. Michael 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.[242] 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.”[243] 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)[244]; 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.[245] 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.”[246] 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.[247] 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.”[248] 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.”[249]

Whereupon the LID leaders summoned SDS defendants to a “hearing” in New York.[250] 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 nonorganization? 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 Communistsponsored 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.[251]

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.”{10} So much for the hope that SDS was going to be the Grand Synthesis on the Left.[252]

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, careerdamaging public attack. Whereupon they spent three more twenty-four-hour days drafting a twenty-seven-page single-spaced appeal to the full LID Board.[253] 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.[254] 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.

To the LID: Anti-Communism was at the 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.[255] 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 proAmerican, Cold War, State Department kind of role.”[256]

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 any 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?[257] 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]”?[258]

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.[259] Widely circulating tracts by Jean-Paul Sartre and C. Wright Mills made the same hopeful case.[260]

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”[261] 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.{11}

So this ungainly double negative, anti-anti-Communism, was for the New Left what antiCommunism 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).{12} 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.[262]

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.”[263] Communists, in contrast, could be “nice.” The self-righteousness of the rightminded 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.

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, thickheaded, 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,{13} 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.[264] 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 goodfaith 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.”[265] “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.”[266] 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.

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.”[267] 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 Communistbound 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.[268] 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.

Prophetic Minority (New York: New American Library, 1966), pp. 131—36; Michael Harrington, Fragments of the 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.

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 them—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’être. 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?”[269] SNCC-SDS connections were thick.{14} 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.”[270] 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.{15}

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 oneparty 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.

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.[271] 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.”[272] Abroad, the New Frontier had the virtue of working toward “political stabilization”[273] 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[274]—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 the 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”[275] 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.”[276] But his programs could not begin to touch the Negroes’ need for jobs and job equality, housing, school integration, and the right to vote.

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.”[277] 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.[278] 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 disagreement.”

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.”[279] 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 rights.

We were warmed by the dawn of what Marcus Raskin has called “the We Shall Overcome period of American life”[280]—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 York 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.”[281] 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 community.

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.{16}

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.

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.[282] 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.”[283] Clamor was the weapon of the weak, the voice of the voiceless.[284] 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 … .”[285]

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”[286]; he proceeded to leave the national office as often as possible to throw himself into civil rights demonstrations with the Swarthmore chapter in Chester, Pennsylvania.

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.[287]

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 mélange 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 had delivered on its promises. But it defaulted. And therefore two political cultures, each claiming the same political ground, were on a collision course.

Justice And The Department



—Sign in Jackson civil rights headquarters, summer 1964[288]

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.”[289] 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 rights program in the sense that he had 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, violenceavoiding. 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.[290]

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.[291] 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.”[292]

In good Gandhian fashion, Farmer gave advance information of CORE’s plans to the President, the attorney general, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.[293] 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.[294] 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[295] 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 braindamaged by the beating he suffered.[296]

To President Kennedy, busy preparing for his Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev, civil rights was worse than distracting, it was divisive.[297] The Berlin crisis was brewing. Frontpage 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!”[298] 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.[299] 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.[300] 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.”[301]

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.[302] 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.”[303] 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 complied.

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.[304] 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 foundations.[305]

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”[306]—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.[307] 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.”[308] 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”[309] 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 out.”[310]

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 [311]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.[312] After a summer of wrangling, with Lonnie King and some other direct actionists resigning in protest, SNCC finessed the conflict.[313] 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.[314] 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 if the federal government could be taken at its word, would see how far official power and liberal money would go.

The civil rights groups divided up the 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.[315]

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.[316] 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.”[317] A civil rights worker could tell a frightened congregation in Greenwood, Mississippi: “The government is with us. The Department of Justice is with us.”[318] Knowing that Washington sometimes kept an eye on things, local officials did relent at times.{17} 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”[319] 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.[320] 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.[321] 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.”[322]

Or worse. In August and September 1961, Bob Moses and two other SNCC field secretaries working to register voters in and around McComb 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.[323] 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 charged.

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[324]including the wiretapping of Martin Luther King. The Kennedys, guerrillas of government[325], 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.[326] 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.”[327] 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.[328] 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.[329] 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.[330] 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 … .”[331]

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.”[332]

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.[333] 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.[334] 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.[335] 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.”[336] 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.[337] 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.[338] SNCC proposed demonstrations at the Justice Department[339]; 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.[340]

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.[341]

Some SNCC organizers accompanied local people to Washington; others derided the March, just as they had long derided Martin Luther King as “De Lawd.”[342] 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 audience.

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![343]

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?”[344]

John Lewis had been a seminary student.[345] 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?”[346] Within two years, few of the SNCC stalwarts bothered asking, even rhetorically, which side the federal government was on.

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[347]

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?{18} 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.[348] 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.[349] 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.[350]

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.[351] 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.[352] 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.

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 crosscurrents 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.”[353] “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.”[354]

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.”[355] 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 than anyone else to create the 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.[356] “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.{19}

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 élan, 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.[357] 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.[358] 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.

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.[359] 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.[360] 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 liberalradical 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.[361] 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.[362] 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.[363] 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.[364]

Despite white violence, the white shield 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.[365] 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?

Atlantic City

More than eighty thousand Mississippi Negroes joined the Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) that summer.{20} 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.”[366] 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.”[367] 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.”[368]

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.”[369] 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.”[370] Some three-quarters of the delegates were small farmers.[371] 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.[372] “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 … .”[373]

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.

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 hometown:

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 firstclass citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America… .[374]

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?”[375] 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.[376]

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 MFDP an explicit condition for his nomination, Humphrey got the message and set out to round up the liberals.{21} 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.”[377] “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.”[378] A New York delegate had her job threatened.[379] 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.[380] 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.[381] Bayard Ruskin[382] persuaded Martin Luther King that the Johnson compromise amounted to a major victory, that to spurn it would amount to a “nowin policy.”[383] 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”[384]— 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?”[385] Mrs. Hamer also recalled this encounter with Hubert Humphrey:

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 answer.[386]

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.[387] 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 seats!”[388]

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.{22} 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.

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 … .”[389] 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 antiCommunist 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.’”[390]

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 no.

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.”[391] 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.[392] 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.”[393] 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.”[394] 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[395]—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.”[396] 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 tête-à-têtes. 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”[397]; 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?[398] 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 the 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.[399]

Rauh told the press he was “disappointed,” but said “we shouldn’t forget that we made great progress.”[400] “This proves that the liberal Democrats are just as racist as Goldwater,” proclaimed SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael.[401] 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.{23} That night, the MFDP delegates, using borrowed credentials, smuggled themselves onto the convention floor, seized Mississippi’s vacant seats, locked arms, and sat-in.[402] 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.

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 liberallabor-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.”[403] Martin Luther King rose to the heights of his eloquence—so testified no less a witness than the unreconstructed Stokely Carmichael.[404] 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.[405] 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.[406]

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.[407] 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.[408] Then, in a meeting closed to SNCC organizers and all other outsiders, the MFDP delegates voted 64–4 against, once and for all.[409]

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.[410]

The MFDP delegates went home to Mississippi terror and limited choices.[411] 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.”[412]

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 SNCCCORE 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-yearolds themselves, was coined by a CORE organizer. Jack Weinberg, just back on campus from Mississippi Freedom Summer. At that, reporters mistook Weinberg’s point.[413] 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.”[414] 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.”[415]

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.’”[416] Moses spoke of setting up a shadow government in Mississippi which Mississippi Negroes would honor instead of white rule.[417] 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.[418]

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.

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.[419] One SNCC poster showed a sharecropper sitting in front of his shack, a torn hat shading his face: “One Man, One Vote.”[420] 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.[421]

“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.[422] The souls who dared try register to vote under these conditions could not pronounce the word register. They said “reddish.”[423]

Years later, Mario Savio, who worked in Mississippi during the 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—was born.[424]

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.[425] 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-andmutilating 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.”[426] 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.”[427] 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.”[428] 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.”[429] 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 ghettodwellers 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. (“Ghettojumping,” 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.”[430] 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-andjelly 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 thenwife 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.[431] Their stories would show, at least, that poverty was not the fault of the poor.

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.”[432] 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[433]— 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.”[434] 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?”[435]

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.[436] 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[437]— 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.)[438] 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.[439]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.[440] 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 down.

“The Man Without The Uniform”

With Freedom Summer and Atlantic City, the burdens of SNCC leadership staggered Bob Moses. He had worked in Mississippi—and Mississippi 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.{24} “The man without the uniform,” Jane Stembridge wrote, “is wearing only scars.”{25} 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.{26} 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.{27} 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.”{28} 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.{29} 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.

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.”[441] 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 who 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,”[442] 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.”[443] 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.”[444] 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… .”[445] 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-italls.” Hayden’s “hard” quality, his “tremendous self-assurance,” his casting himself as “a hero of history,” “unnerved us a little bit.”[446]

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.[447] 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.[448]

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 most.”[449]

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?”[450] 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,”[451] while we yearned to see history go our way for once in the twentieth century.{30} 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 everreceding 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.{31} Compared to them, or their reputations, men like Irving Howe and Joseph Buttinger, for all their talk of socialism, seemed to us altogether settled.

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 ERAP 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.[452] Aha, that’s where social democracy can take you.

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.”[453] Hayden thinks the dynamic was “profoundly generational” and that “a little love and respect would have gone a long way”[454]; Howe doubts that much collaboration was in the cards anyway.[455] But I am struck most by how much they agree about the importance of style. Howe could be “a very brutal debater,”[456] 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.”[457] “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.”[458] 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.”[459] 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.[460]

In the summer 1965 issue of Dissent came Howe’s blast against what he called “New Styles in ‘Leftism,’”[461] 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.”[462] 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.”)[463] 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.”[464] 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[465]; 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.[466] (Michael Walzer[467] and David McReynolds[468], 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.

“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[469]

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[470]

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 system.

—Paul Potter to the March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam, April 17, 1965[471]

[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[472]

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.[473]

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 radicalliberal-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 default.

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.[474] 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 Vietnam.”

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.[475] 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.{32} 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.[476] 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.

In keeping with our eclectic strategy, we chose an official list of slogans, a hodgepodge including “War on Poverty—Not on People,” “Ballots Not Bombs in Vietnam,” “SelfDetermination 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.”[477]

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.[478] 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[479] released to the press a statement affirming “interest and sympathy” toward the march, hoping for selfdetermination 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[480] 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 Tayler.{33}

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.[481] 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:

It is of interest … that the very men who arc so concerned with 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?[482]

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.”[483]

“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.{34} 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.[484]

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 selfstyled 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.

“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 remarked 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.[485]

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.{35} 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 workingclass families, and they were less intellectual, less articulate (Carl Oglesby being a crucial exception on this score). They kidded about standing for “prairie power.”[486] 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.[487]

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[488]— 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.”[489] 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.”[490] 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 i”***m, with love.”[491]

Enter Progressive Labor, Laughing

Two months after the March on Washington, Paul Potter was al ready uneasy with the position he had taken there. In a paper for the June SDS convention, Potter evoked 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 politically.[492]

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.[493] 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 grave.[494]

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 Marxist-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.[495] 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.[496]

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 overwhelmingly.[497]

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.”[498] 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.”[499]

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; ERAP and its hopes for an “interracial movement of the poor”; even PLs idea of a “workerstudent 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.

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.[500] 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.[501] 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 Communism.”[502]

Written “as a prayer, for my own pleasure”[503] 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 sermon:

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,{36} 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-atat-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.

“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.[504] 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 dropoutnonstudent radical scene in order to intuit that he had been doing some hard traveling through a familiar landscape.[505] 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 ERAP projects.[506] (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 Emergency 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, potbellied 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.{37} In the meantime, Dylan said he would sing some benefit concerts for SDS. (But afterward he didn’t answer our letters or phone calls.)

Dylan wasn’t just putting on; or if his 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.”[507] 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.[508]

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 badness.[509]

“Far From The Twisted Reach Of Crazy Sorrow”

Eve of destruction; no satisfaction … and a third 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, jazzminded 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 clichés. “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.{38} “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.

“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-doanything-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—could 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 I 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)[510], 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 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. When 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[511], 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.[512]

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”[513] 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,[514] 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.”[515]

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.[516] 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,”[517] 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.[518] Maybe there were no limits to the numbers of people who could be turned on; then all the inmates could take over the asylum.

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 newstyle 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.”[519]

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.”[520] 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.[521] For Leary and Alpert, all political systems were equal oppressors and power-trippers. Political news was game-playing, a bad trip, a bringdown, a bummer.[522]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,”[523] 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.”[524] 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.[525]

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.[526] 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 bein 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.”[527] 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.[528] 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.[529] 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,”[530] 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.”[531] 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.”[532]

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?”)[533] What did it all mean?

Interpreters and organizers went to work interpreting and organizing. At the risk of oversimplifying the currents of 1967: There 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 Oracle—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.[534] “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 transformation.

“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,[535] toward which end Owsley helped, for example, to finance the Grateful Dead.[536] 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.)[537] 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.[538] 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)[539]; 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.[540] What were the natural, the primitive, the unrefined, the holy unspoiled child, the pagan body, if not the 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, The Doors of Perception)[541]; 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 these ways of youth 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.[542] 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”[543]; they also sensationalized scientific claims that acid destroyed chromosomes.[544] 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.[545] 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.[546] (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.”[547] 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.[548] (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.)[549] 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 the knock at the door, the “narc” at the party, the sweep down Haight Street, the summons to the dean—not to mention Mom and Dad, who might 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[550] 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.[551] Newspapers played up the catastrophe stories, of course, but people under the influence did jump out windows under the misapprehension that they could fly—even Richard Alpert did it once[552]—and many young people, their egos fragile from the start, could not assimilate the ego loss that the gurus touted. Groups of “chemical freaks”[553] 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.[554]

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,”[555] 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?[556]

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.”[557] 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.[558]

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.[559] 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.”[560] 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.

Johnson, 1965–1968: A Preliminary Report,” Peace and Change, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 1984), p. 7.

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[561]

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.[562] 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.”[563] 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-footsquare “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.[564] 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, Search 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 ERAP 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.”[565]

“The executive branch of the hippie movement,” a sympathetic minister called them, wishfully.[566] 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.”[567] 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.”[568] 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.”[569] LSD was useful because it might remind you of childhood’s lost “tense of presence,”[570] 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 seventeenthcentury 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.”[571] 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.[572] 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 Chronicle’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.”)[573]

In June 1967, Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist and a countercultural impresario with a raunchy sense of humor, mentioned to the Diggers that he was going to an SDS conference in Michigan. What an opportunity to take the Digger show on the road! Visions of freaking out the stodgy New Left! Emmett Grogan liked the idea of disrupting, “calling the white radicals’ bluff.”[574] 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.

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 us.

We were rather sober-sided easterners and Midwesterners, 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 what 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 poor”?

As in the opening scene of a horror movie, rain was pouring down.[575] 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.”[576] 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-andarrows in their fuckin’ car, and that the next morning they’d be leading fuckin’ target practice.

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, this farcical showdown. 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 MarxismLeninism 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 control.

Barriers,” Washington Post, June 19, 1967, p. A3; and from my interviews with Peter Berg, Dick Flacks, Mickey Flacks, Paul Krassner, Elinor Langer, Dickie Magidoff, Bob Ross, Steve Max, Don Villarejo, Myrna Villarejo, and Nicholas von Hoffman.

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.[577] “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.[578]

“A monumental meeting, probably never to be repeated,” Abbie called the Diggers’ freakout performance.[579] 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 starryeyed,” 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.”[580] 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.”[581]

From Drawing Boards, the Diggers pushed on to New York City. A TV talk show host named

Alan Burke had invited Peter Berg to be his guest.[582] 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 The New York 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 ‘York 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.”[583] 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 The Washington Post, got up to say his notebook had been stolen. Word got around that the spunky Carol McEldowney, veteran of early SDS and now ERAP 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 Washington 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.[584] 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.[585] This time, although no one called the reporters beforehand, the word got around in a flash anyway.[586] 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)[587] … 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.”[588] Abbie (né 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.[589] 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[590]—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.”[591]

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,”[592] 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-0!” 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.’”[593] 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.[594] 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 mélange 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.[595] 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.[596] 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.)[597] 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.”[598] 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.”[599] 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!”[600] 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.”[601] 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.”[602] 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.[603] “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!”[604] It followed that “once you get the right image the details aren’t that important. Overanalyzing 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.{39} ‘Why’ was for the critics.”[605] 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 things.

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.”[606] 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 clichés.

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,[607] 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?”[608] The ideal Yippie, by contrast, would live a seamless life, totally committed. “Act first. Analyze later. Impulse—not theory—makes the great leaps forward.”[609] 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.[610] 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.

But even many who sniped at Rubin and Hoffman, like the 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.”[611]

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.[612] 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 Heil!” Two 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.[613] “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.”[614]

Armed Love In Fat City

Alongside the Diggers, there 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.”[615] 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.[616]

The affinity group suited free-floating radicals who were childless, jobless, out of school, freebootingly male, and given to high-powered theoretical debates.[617] 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-manqué-turned-revolutionaries. There was Liberation News Service, shipping parcels of syndicated articles to the burgeoning underground press.[618] 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.”[619] 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?[620] 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.

(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.

10. Fighting Back

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.[621] 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.[622] That year alone, the U.S. defoliated 1.7 million acres in South Vietnam.[623] 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.[624] That year the San Francisco Oracle claimed a national circulation of one hundred thousand.[625] 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.[626] 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 cliché 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.

“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[627] 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.)[628] I closed: “… and wear a flower in your gunbelt.”[629]

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.[630]

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.[631] 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 kneejerk 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 selfpreservation; and did not even Fidel Castro say that to speak of driving a whole nation into the sea was unconscionable?[632] Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, and Julian Bond made appearances at the New Politics convention and quickly absented themselves.[633] Meanwhile, representatives of a radical women’s caucus were hooted down.[634]

There were police agents at work in the black caucus[635]—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 selfinterrogations, 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.”)[636] In Berkeley, the radical organizer Frank Bardacke wrote, “despair became a cliché 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.”[637]

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 OneDimensional 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 gauchiste jailed in Bolivia, had written the theory to accompany Ché Guevara’s (and Fidel Castro’s) practice.[638] 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—New 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,[639] 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,”[640] 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.”[641] 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 stakes.

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.”[642] “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.

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—threw 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 Ché Guevara had been captured and killed. Ché 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 Ché 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.”[643] 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 Chronicle to behold a banner headline—“COPS BEAT PICKETS.

THE BIG DRAFT BATTLE. OAKLAND DRAFT PROTEST. A Bloody Attack by Police—Clubs, Tear 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.

Ché’s death was one more reason why I couldn’t stay away. There was going to be a followup 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.[644] Two police spies had attended planning meetings, and knew the organizers had a sit-down in mind.{40} 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 midintersection, 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.

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 CHÉ 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.”[645] 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.”[646] 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 their 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 … .”[647]

And more of my expressive politics with a vengeance: “ … the white 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 Régis 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.[648] 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.”[649]

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.[650] 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.[651] 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.[652]

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.”[653] 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.[654] 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, this suspect tortured by our freedom-loving allies, this village torched by Marines with cigarette lighters, this 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.

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’être. 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.”[655] 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[656]; the radical artisans celebrated by Staughton Lynd[657]; 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.{41} 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 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.[658] 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 despised.

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.”[659] 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 there.”

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.”[660] 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.”

Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967), pp. 79–108.

11. The Other Side

“All For Vietnam”

As the war became more militant, so did the 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.[661] 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—had 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.[662] 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 Ché 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.[663] 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.[664] 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”[665]—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.[666] 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.”[667] 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.”[668] 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.[669] 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.{42} 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,”[670] Lynd and Hayden wrote, for at the time the Johnson administration was systematically undermining North Vietnamese moves toward peace talks.[671] 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.

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[672]… . 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 … .”[673] 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.”[674] 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.”[675] 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 York Times—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.”[676]

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.”[677]

Lynd took little pleasure in the diplomatic role.[678] 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-à-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.[679] 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.[680] 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).[681] 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)… .[682]

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.”[683]

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 SDSstyle 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[684]—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.”[685] 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 not.[686]

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.”[687] 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.{43} 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.

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.[688] “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.”[689] 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.”[690] 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.”[691]

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.”[692] “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.”[693]

Max Horkheimer and T. W. Adomo, Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), p. 230, translation amended by Martin Jay in The Dialectical Imagination (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973), p. 267.

“No Paradise”

Many were the New Left travelers who came back from Cuba burdened by inspiration, too. I was one. My 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 unAmerican 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 Christmas, in time for the 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 dictu!) the importance of literary freedoms. The leftwing 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.[694] 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 Ché 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-abeat. 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-offactly, 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 Ché.” “This is not,” I wrote in my journal, “the way to make men like Ché.”

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 Ché 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 awake 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 had 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 Ché and proclaiming “VIETNAM, WE ARE WITH YOU.” My favorite, standing behind Fidel as he dedicated a new town outside Havana, read: “CUANDO LO EXTRAOR-DINARIO SE CONVIERTE EN COTIDIANO, ES QUE EXISTE UNA REVOLUCION.” (“WHEN THE EXTRAORDINARY BECOMES 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.)[695] 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.[696] 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.[697] 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.[698] 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.[699] 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).[700] 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.”)[701] I wrote one white-heat paean for SDS’s New Left Notes, explaining to Carl Davidson that it was the first of a hypothetical twoparter, 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”[702]—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 things happened. On January 18, before leaving Havana, I had 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.[703] 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.”)[704] 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-andbroad-neck. We make history and also suffer it … .” What exactly had he been trying to tell me?

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.”[705] 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 May 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”[706] powers grown fat and lazy and uncomprehending. Just after returning to California, I read Ché’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 Ché 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 (not the 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.

Part Four: Forcing The Revolution

The New Left was a series of epiphanies. —Michael Rogin[707]

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[708]

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.”[709]

“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.[710] 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.[711] 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 revolution.”

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.”[712] 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.”[713] 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, they were uptight, uniformed, helmeted goons; we were loose, free, loving freaks. They harrumphed about law and order; we desecrated their temples. They threw tear gas canisters; we threw them back. They swung their clubs; we threw rocks and trashed windows. They brought up their battalions of National Guardsmen; we sang, “We Shall Not Be Moved.” They put us on trial; we denounced “Amerika,” with its Teutonic look, or “Amerikkka.” Eventually, they fired, and we were wounded, killed. We, being young, were going to beat, or at least outlive, them.

Sleeping Dogs

At the risk of belaboring the obvious: while the slogans and justifications were deceptively simple, the movement’s motives were intricate. Even years after the fact, motives were tangled, perhaps impenetrably.[714] 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.”[715]

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.[716] 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 ERAP 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.{44}

“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 stretch.

Varieties Of Antiwar Experience

Strategies always exist in relation to other strategies. Confrontation, then, in relation to what?

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.[717] 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 objectors.

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 protofeminists 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,”[718] 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.[719] 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.[720] 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.[721] Profuse and varied were the efforts to give the antiwar movement a presence in common American life, from the tough-talking militance of draftresistance 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.{45}

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.”[722] 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.[723] 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,”[724] 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!”

Johnson, 1965–1968: A Preliminary Report,” Peace and Change, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 1984), p. 7.

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 polis, 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, wellplaced, 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, Ché Guevara, and Malcolm X. But whether they came with beards to shave or not, these were kids who reacted against the violent antiAmericanism 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.”[725] 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.[726] 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.”[727] 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 Gans, was an early SDSer-turnedADAer, 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.”[728]

No one roused the liberal will more than Allard Lowenstein. Lowenstein was the quintessential Cold War liberal activist.{46} 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.[729] Like McCarthy and Robert Kennedy he thought the war mistaken and unwinnable but opposed complete withdrawal and favored “deescalation,” 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.[730] 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.”[731] “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.”[732]

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.”[733] (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-atease in politics. Some had fond memories of his stirring nominating speech for Adlai 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.[734]

True, over the years he kept the loyalty of top NSA alumni and their liberal activist ilk, including those who were “witting” to the ClAs 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 gladhanding 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.[735] 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.[736] 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.


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.[737] 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 Communist 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 them.

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 ClAs “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.”[738] 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.”[739] 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.[740]

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.”[741] 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.[742] 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.[743] 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, Newsweek, the New York Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and no less a beacon of respectable opinion than The Wall Street Journal chimed in to like effect,[744] 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 government.”[745]

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.[746] 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.[747] Still, once the citizenry had rallied round the flag, Johnson had no easy move to keep them rallied.[748] 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.[749] 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.

“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 billiondollar 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.[750] 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, 1967!), and gone into deficit financing—for that year, in fact, the war cost $20 billion.[751] 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.[752] 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.[753] 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?”[754] His family and aides were distressed by the pickets.[755] He had to alter his travel plans at the last minute, even cancel speeches.[756] 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.”[757]

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, the pragmatism of America’s managers is formidable. The technocrat Robert McNamara had lost heart for the war.[758] 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.”[759] 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.”[760] 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.[761]

Clifford thought Johnson “needed some stiff medicine,”[762] 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.[763] 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.”[764] 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.”[765] “The meeting with the Wise Men served the purpose that I hoped it would,” Clifford said later. “It really shook the president.”[766]

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.”[767] 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.”[768] 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.[769]

Johnson later maintained he had toyed for months with backing out of the race. On March 28, the Wise Men confirmed his worst fears. Johnson’s speech three nights 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.”[770] 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.”)[771] 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.[772] The stock market soared[773]; 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?

Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did (New York: Morrow, 1985), p. 182,

13. The Decapitation Of The Heroes

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.[774] 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 restraint.

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 passé, 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 clear field 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 necessary.[775]

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.”[776] 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.[777] Longstanding 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)[778] 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.)[779] Some of the Occupation forces specialized in desecrating symbols[780]; 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.[781] 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.)[782] 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.[783]

Finally, as even uninvolved” students could not help but note, the press built a containing wall against the radical tide.[784] A. M. Rosenthal, assistant managing editor of The New York Times, broke with the tradition that insulates editing from reporting and produced a frontpage by-lined story condemning the students’ loutish behavior, quoting Kirk: “My God, how could human beings do such a thing?” (It did not pass unnoticed that the Times’s publisher was a member of the Columbia Board of Trustees.) Newsweek editors axed their own reporter’s story, although he was an eyewitness, in favor of the Times’s version.[785] The press cast a blind eye at Columbia’s owning slums, cooperating with the military, disdaining students; apparently it agreed with the radicals that “the issue is not the issue.”

For the moment, Columbia’s liberators were heady with success. In their self-accelerating euphoria, there was no such thing as bad publicity. The police bust led to a student strike; campus support mushroomed. The bust and the Times’s distortions, in tandem, seemed to confirm SDSs notions that the university was a bastion of reaction and that students were “radicalized” at the point of a billy club—a prevalent misjudgment that confused (in Carl Oglesby’s words) “radical insight, radical commitment of the whole person, and on the other hand, amazing spikes of rage and terror.”[786] Underground papers ran a picture of a sweetfaced and slightly dazed-looking college boy, blood streaming down over his forehead, displaying his shaky but triumphant two-fingered V. The Rat’s cover said “HEIL COLUMBIA” and showed a swastika’d helmet resting on a colonnaded building marked “TPF [for the elite bone-crushing Tactical Patrol Force] Library.” In Ramparts, Tom Hayden called for “two, three, many Columbias.”

From the mainstream point of view, SDS was irresponsible to blame the nearest authorities for the sins of the larger society; Kirk was to be faulted for poor management, but SDS was guilty of manipulating issues and trampling civility underfoot. There was truth to the charge, though SDS could respond that a university involved in war research had done its own trampling. Among themselves, radical leaders at Columbia and other embattled universities were quite prepared to admit that “the issue is not the issue.” They knew that in order to mobilize a mass of students, they had to point their fingers at the hinge where the university intersected some large evil; they had to cast university authorities (often eager to oblige) in the villain role, and to that end, nothing was more compelling than to dare them to call the police. Reform-minded protesters set out to reconstruct Columbia, but for SDS changing the university was now beside the point. The occupation was a ritual of unmasking. Of course Columbia had its seats in the boardrooms of power; of course, push comes to shove, they would mow down whoever stood in their way, from ghetto blacks to antiwar students. Meanwhile, weren’t Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown and the Black Panthers and anonymous blacks waving guns? Weren’t students and workers building barricades in Paris? Liberal values evaporated in the scales. All that mattered was to build a base for the glimmering revolution.

Taped to an administrator’s wall during the occupation was the hand-lettered sign: “WE WANT THE WORLD AND WE WANT IT NOW!”[787] It was a paraphrase of a line from Peter Weiss’s brilliant, popular Marat/Sade, in which the inmates rehearse taking over the asylum.

Dead Center

The week of the Columbia uprising, Hubert Humphrey entered the race for the presidential nomination, proclaiming “the politics of joy” against those Irish bearers of bad tidings, Kennedy and McCarthy.

It was a mark of New Left pride to sneer at arrivistes seeking deliverance within the twoparty system. At the end of March, Marvin Garson, who had started the weekly San Francisco Express Times with money from his wife’s Macbird, heard a Robert Kennedy speech opposing withdrawal and urging Saigon to boost its draft calls, and called this “the vaguest, emptiest speech I have ever heard, and I have heard Lyndon Johnson speak on numerous occasions.”[788] From Berkeley, which probably had more leftists per capita who opposed working in the Democratic Party than any other city in the country, came the initiative for a Peace and Freedom Party, in loose coalition with the Black Panthers, gathering seventy-one thousand signatures to get on the fall California ballot.

California radicals watched the Kennedy-McCarthy debate on May 31 with scorn and groans. Kennedy was plainly pandering for votes to his Right.[789] McCarthy called for a coalition government in South Vietnam, including the National Liberation Front; Kennedy implied that McCarthy wanted to impose “coalition with the Communists” on Saigon. McCarthy said he wanted to build public housing in the suburbs, and Kennedy came back on the low road: “You say you are going to take ten thousand black people and move them into Orange County.” It was not an impressive spectacle.

Kennedy won the California primary, and that night was murdered. The Kennedys aroused feelings about destiny; I was far from the only person to hear the news with some sick sense that Bobby’s murder had been fated. I oscillated between Oh no and Of course; an early radio report said that the assassin was dark-skinned, and I remember hoping the bastard wasn’t going to turn out to be black—that was all we needed. In the following days, some movement people didn’t know whether the assassination was surrealism or tragedy. “Don’t waste your vote for Kennedy,” Marvin Garson had written before the shooting; “KENNEDY SHOT AGAIN,” was the postassassination headline at the Express Times, where surrealism was always sliding over the edge into bad taste. Some on the New Left wanted to brazen it out: thus Sandy Archer of the San Francisco Mime Troupe was quoted in Garson’s article with the reaction, “It’s a very interesting event. Get out of Vietnam.”[790] Who, the Left, mourn a liberal? We could not see a thread of hope or a spark of consolation in any politician or celebrity. In my own article for the Express Times the next week, sorrow was the tone—I called for a voter write-in of the Kennedy and King names in November.[791]

And then, at Kennedy’s casket in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Tom Hayden held his Cuban fatigue cap in his hand and wept.[792] It became a famous tableau. Knowing Hayden’s scorn for the electoral process—“Why are you a whore for McCarthy?” was his greeting to Jeremy Larner during the California primary campaign[793]—a good many movement people thought Hayden had, thereby, betrayed the movement’s radicalism. For my part, I was a bit baffled.

I remembered the contempt with which Hayden had told me of a meeting he and Staughton Lynd had with Bobby Kennedy, early in 1967; Kennedy, he said then, had been fixated on the dangers of a “bloodbath” in South Vietnam if the Communists succeeded in taking over. A few days before Bobby Kennedy was killed, Hayden had called him “a little fascist” to my face. It was easy for movement people, including myself, to charge Tom with hypocrisy, but the knee-jerk reaction, justified or not, missed something important. I think many of us were divided like Hayden, but in a way we refused to acknowledge. We still wanted the system to work, and hated it for failing us.

Today, Hayden acknowledges that he “liked and was drawn to Robert Kennedy”—liked his ability to scrap, to transform himself; was drawn to “that part of him that was also”—like Hayden himself—“fundamentally disenchanted and troubled, because he had been through violence.” “A voice in me,” Hayden says, “tells me that somehow, some way, Kennedy would have wrested that nomination; that he was a man of destiny, and that he would have been elected president, even though the odds were incredibly long at the time, I’m sure.” (Not pure wishfulness: there are sober analysts who think that at the last minute Kennedy might have pulled together a majority of the delegates in Chicago.) But Hayden the connoisseur of driving will was at odds with Hayden the theorist of American society’s gridlock: Kennedy’s “ability to persevere and win did not fit in with my analysis of our society.” The assassin dissolved the contradiction. Kennedy’s assassination proved to Hayden that his “analysis of society did not go far enough and that our society was even worse in terms of the opportunities for peaceful change than I had thought.” Things were worse than that. With Kennedy dead, the life went out of McCarthy. During the following weeks, McCarthy’s antiwar staffers looked on disgusted as their hero proceeded to take leave of his own campaign. What McCarthy’s devotees didn’t know was that, three days after the assassination, McCarthy had gone to Humphrey and met with him secretly for an hour, fishing for a policy change that would justify his dropping out.[794] Humphrey didn’t satisfy him, but McCarthy all but dropped out anyway. With his chance gone of squeaking through by breaking a Kennedy-Humphrey stalemate, the giant-killer had lost heart for the fight. Once more, a liberal hero had found reasons to buckle under.

Still, it was not with unmixed joy that we cast aside the last shriveled hopes for peaceable reform. Most New Left radicals were, in the end, reluctant revolutionaries. Hayden’s reaction to Kennedy’s assassination was comparable to Bernardine Dohrn’s to the murder of Martin Luther King six weeks earlier; he redoubled his energy toward the impending showdown in

Chicago. With King and Kennedy dead, a promise of redemption not only passed out of American politics, it passed out of ourselves. The rage released in us was partly a rage at the burden we were left with. Hayden felt it this way: “So now it was time to take your turn in the line of people who would probably be repressed, brutalized or killed.” Oglesby says: “When these two heroes were killed, the movement was silenced.[795] The whole procedural foundation of our politics was shattered.” What was the point of “speaking truth to power” now? We were on our own, and what we half-felt along with the stark aloneness was not simply excitement, it was terror.

To think about the enormous repercussions of the assassinations of 1968, we need to backtrack to the imagery and mood of a more general Armageddon, for which the triggering moment is the assassination of 1963. Kennedy, King, Kennedy: they sometimes felt like stations in one protracted murder of hope.

There are times when an entire culture takes the shape of a single event, like rows of iron filings lined up by the force of a magnet. What is assassination, after all, if not the ultimate reminder of the citizen’s helplessness—or even repressed murderousness? Instantly the killing creates an abrupt contest between Good and Evil, albeit with the wrong ending. The country had weathered the assassination of a president three times before, but every assassination is special in its own way; it must be for good and profound reason that virtually every aware person can remember exactly where and when he or she heard the dread news of November 22, 1963. John F. Kennedy had been relatively young, his death untimely in the extreme. The educated young felt his call, projected their ideals onto him. His murder was felt as the implosion of plenitude, the tragedy of innocence. From the Zeitgeist fantasy that everything was possible, it wasn’t hard to flip over and conclude that nothing was.

This was, after all, the first assassination in the age of television, even the first to be captured on film—the home movie of an instantly famous furrier named Abraham Zapruder, some frames destined to appear in Life, others to be brandished by assassination researchers. Thanks to the wonders of instant replay, television drove the event, and its grotesque sequel—Jack Ruby’s live on-camera assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald—like a nail into the collective brain. Mysteries multiplied. John F. Kennedy’s murder was untimely and shocking, yes, but also peculiarly hard to comprehend (who was Oswald? what did he want? who, if anyone, did he work for?); hence it begged for symbolic deciphering. American culture struggled to make sense of the apparently senseless. Fatalism flourished; the power of the will to prod history in the right direction was blunted. One common conclusion was that even the steadiest of institutions, the august presidency, was fragile indeed. The Camelot legend was recycled: moments of grace and glory don’t last. Some would-be rationalists resolved to cling to President Johnson in the storm, to find a compensatory good in the horror; others cringed from the graceless successor, who could never measure up to the dead Kennedy.

From the national mélange of rational optimism and free-floating paranoia, and in the face of widely cited mysteries drifting fog-like from cracks in the official accounts of the assassination, there emerged conspiracy theories galore. The Warren Commission Report, released on September 27, 1964, was shoddy enough, but something else was operating to discredit it: a huge cultural disbelief that an event so traumatic and vast in its consequence could be accounted for by a petty assassin. Popular books, starting with Mark Lane’s 1966 bestselling Rush to Judgment, punched holes in the Warren Commission’s finding that Oswald was the lone assassin. Serious journals like The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and Ramparts, not to mention the more sensationalist underground papers, regaled their readers with tale after tale about exit wounds, gunshots from the grassy knoll, missing frames of the Zapruder film, the accuracy of Mannlicher-Carcano rifles, exotic Cuban émigrés, mysteriously murdered witnesses, double agents, double Oswalds. Many objections to the official line were convincing, but one had to become a full-time assassination obsessive to keep up with the intricacies. Not to be outdone, the far Right looked to Oswald’s Russian period and his ostentatious Fair Play for Cuba connections, covering up its hatred of the living Kennedy by clambering onto the side of the dead one.

There was trauma for young radicals too. In the months and years after November 22, 1963, Tom Hayden, Dick Flacks, and I were given to playing with the concept of Oswald as “lurker.” History, which we aspired to make, was now being made behind our (and virtually everyone else’s) backs; we were fascinated by the conspiracy theories, impressed by their critiques of the Warren Commission, doubtful of the single-assassin idea though unconvinced of any specific conspiracy. For years thereafter, late at night, amid our sage analyses of political forces, the thoughts of lurkers would leap up, and we would muse about the havoc these apparently marginal men had wrought. We who were proud of having shed every last illusion about John F. Kennedy shared in the national trauma; up to the last possible moment we held on, white-knuckled, to the scraps of hope for legitimate heroes. Our intuition knew better than our passions that radicalism and liberalism were joined in a symbiosis.

Then the Kennedy trauma was compounded by the assassination of Malcolm X in February 1965. In the official version, it was a simple case of loyal Black Muslims shooting down the apostate; but movement people duly noted that Malcolm on his recent trip to Africa and the Middle East was departing from his racial purism and pulling closer to the white Left. A number of white New Leftists who had met Malcolm had been impressed with his thoughtfulness, his apparent freedom from personal prejudice. Although there had been rumblings of danger, Malcolm had been left unprotected by the police; how could we fail to wonder whether there was a government claw in his death?[796]

Some black activists adopted Malcolm as a martyr to black separatism, others to world revolution. His death fueled both. By the time Martin Luther King was shot down, there was no way to resurrect the nonviolence he had stood and died for.

Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart; An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Arbor House, 1985), pp. 230–38. On Malcolm X’s trip, see Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Ballantine, 1973), pp. 340–41.

Violence Shock

The enlightened Establishment’s great men gunned down, a self-proclaimed black revolutionary gunned down, common people gunned down: there was an eerie democracy of sudden death. The southern civil rights movement had been deeply bloodied, of course. Dozens of blacks were killed in the urban riots of the North from 1964 on, and, as we have already seen, the riots of the summer of 1967 magnetized the imagination of white radicals. Then, early in February 1968, black students in Orangeburg, South Carolina, demonstrating outside a bowling alley that wouldn’t permit them inside, were fired upon by police. Thirtythree were wounded; three died.[797]

Meanwhile, it was widely—and, as it turns out, accurately—surmised that the FBI, military intelligence,[798] and police Red Squads in cities like New York and Chicago, were busily tapping phones, recruiting informers, and occasionally planting dope on activists.[799] Rumors began to fly that the government was going to prepare—had prepared?—concentration camps for use in a hypothetical national emergency. Drugs inflated the spirit of Armageddon, but with conspiracy trials in progress from Boston to Oakland, who could really be certain the pipe nightmares were only that? Under the headline “LOTS OF COINCIDENCES,” Bob Novick noted in the Express Times that in the previous week “the S. F. P. D. broke up an anti-war picket line at the Fairmont after tolerating such lines for many years”[800]; cops were routinely

Macing and clubbing on Haight Street; and four warrantless cops had burst in on Eldridge Cleaver and questioned him at gunpoint. Then he felt called upon to caution against conspiracy tales, “atrocity stories and paranoia-producing articles about police brutality and concentration camps.” Not all the rumors were wrong by any means. The CIA had joined the surveillance operation.[801] I didn’t know—until I sent for my FBI records years later—that there really was a Security Index to expedite roundups, and I had been honored with a place in it.

A whole movement culture looked over its shoulder. At the Express Times, to take one example, there worked an early draft card burner and Resistance founder, Lenny Heller, an intense and darting talker (in the style of the man he took his name from, Lenny Bruce) with a knack for rapping out the larger mood, viz.:

If you want to be a revolutionary you have to be awake, you can’t have one minute’s peace, you’re alive every single moment… . When you hear a sound, the sound of the wind, the footsteps right at the door—not a wasted motion. It is intense, and there are distortions that take place under that intensity. When you see a cop you have to size him up. I mean he’s the enemy, and every time the Gestapo walks in, you go through changes. It’s a very scary feeling to think that every phone is tapped, so it’s not tapped, it’s just the idea that you have to be conscious of that, you have to be conscious of that, you feel that there’s a microphone, you know there’s been too many investigations. Every place I go someone has talked to the FBI.[802]

Rank-and-file devotees to nonviolence were defecting in droves. Lenny worried about prison. What was the point of brazening it out for martyrdom? When I met him early that summer, amid the marijuana fumes that filled the warehouse from which the Express Times emanated, he was specializing in reports on the street battles that were becoming de rigueur in Berkeley and environs. In the paper’s lower-case anti-ego style, his bylines were

“lenny the red-and-black,” “lenny the head,” “lenny the black-and-blue.”

The first of those streetfights, at the end of June, was Berkeley’s introduction to barricades and my introduction to the Berkeley style. In a year proceeding under the sign of “two, three, many Vietnams” and “two, three, many Columbias,” it was, appropriately enough, an echo of the Paris insurrection; imitation was the better part of valor. (At Columbia, in fact, a second student insurrection in May borrowed tactics directly from the French New Left.)[803] To support the French insurrection that seemed, miraculously, to have united revolutionary students and workers, the decidedly uninsurrectionary Trotskyist Young Socialist Alliance held a rally on a Telegraph Avenue streetcorner.[804] The police lined up; after a long face-off, a few demonstrators threw a few rocks; the police barraged them with tear gas, and beat whomever they caught. Bottles, rocks, and bricks came back at them; a few demonstrators heaped up barricades, lit bonfires; the police charged; the barricade-tenders retreated.

The next night, a crowd gathered for more of the same. This time the speechmakers said that the issue was not just freedom of assembly but the right to liberate Telegraph Avenue for “the people,” and the barricades went up early. “People were saying ‘riot’ like they really liked the word,” wrote “lenny the red-and-black.” “They were caressing it like ‘rebel.’” Hundreds’ of police charged, and the air was choked with the acrid fumes of tear gas. Rioters hurled rocks and bottles and smashed bank windows. Political discrimination among commercial establishments did not altogether prevail: the window of Cody’s Books, whose proprietor was a friend of the movement, was shattered as well. For hours the crowd played cat-and-mouse with the cops. Someone threw a Molotov cocktail and, in Lenny’s words, “a highway patrolman went up like a scarecrow.” The cops, enraged, beat heads; thirty-one demonstrators were hospitalized (along with a dozen police, including the burned highway patrolman) and many more of the injured didn’t go to the hospital.

A friend and I drove over from San Francisco to scout out the scene, and scurried around in the fumes, taking refuge in friendly apartment buildings, feeling exhilarated, awkward, stagy all at once. It was easy to fancy that the Telegraph Avenue street people were “white niggers,” a quasi-ghettoful of the hip in search of their liberated space. At the same time, I knew it was absurd to claim, as the chants did, “We are the people.” Lenny wrote scornfully that while ambivalent rioters chanted “Walk. Walk. Walk,” edging away from the worst concentrations of tear gas, the “bourgeois press” misreported that what they were saying was “War.” Scornful of the Trotskyists, who worried about antagonizing people, his long exuberant report also touched on a central political problem for the new insurgency: “The barricades were democracies, given that you wanted to build one.” In passing, too, he grasped the pathos of this festival of outlaw identity: “It was an exceptional feeling to dance in the crosswalk of a revolutionary street, but torture to know it’s a tease”: once again, politics as if. But the Express Times headlined “WAR DECLARED/ Foe Strikes Berkeley, Boston,” with a red-tinged photo of lurid gas clouds and the caption: “Enemy Troops Deploying on Telegraph Avenue. Allies Put Up Fierce Resistance, Then Fell Back.” A month later, Lenny was celebrating a riot of dope-smoking suburban high school kids, provoked when the owners of the shopping center where they hung out called the cops: “Young Pacifica—Revolutionary Surprise!”

The dread of confrontation was curling over, yin to yang, into anticipation. In November, the month Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, Lenny Heller, draft resister, began publishing a staccato fantasy novel, serial style, in the Express Times. “The day the White Revolutionaries took their guns onto Telegraph Avenue, Friday July 4th, 1969”: so it began. Half in bravado and half in apprehension, Lenny called his tale Berkeley Guns. There is a point at which imagination threatens to slide over into self-fulfilling prophecy. When two sides collaborate at the same prophecy, the odds of self-fulfillment go up geometrically. More than one side was preparing to play at Armageddon, not least the side with the guns.

Violence was endlessly talked about, feared, skirted, flirted with. The social psychologist Kenneth Keniston astutely wrote around this time that “the issue of violence is to this generation what the issue of sex was to the Victorian world the issue of violence.[805] It remained true, to the decade’s bitter end, that most of the New Left thought of violence as the harsh currency of the twentieth century, not the means of liberation. But violence also became the threat and the temptation around which the whole movement, whatever its actual disinclination to pick up stones or guns, revolved. Violence organized the movement’s fantasy life—and, through the mass media, the whole society’s. It was as if the assassinations, the riots, and the war distilled all the barely suppressed violence seething through American life. Palpably, just as Rap Brown said, violence was “as American as apple pie.” The eruptions of public violence fused murder with madness, tore the heart out of rational faith, felt like some kind of historical repressed returning with a vengeance. A drifter named Richard Speck killed eight Chicago student nurses on July 14, 1966; the exMarine Charles Whitman shot twelve people dead from the top of the University of Texas tower on August 1, 1966—apparently unmotivated crime stirred up a sense of the precariousness of life. Cultural energy clustered around the terror (and the allure) of sudden death—most poignantly, and stylishly, in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, with its romance of doomed killers and choreographed slaughter, displaying assaults on the body as stark facts far more vivid and incomprehensible than any possible causes. America’s iconography had come a long way from the innocence of On the Road and The Wild One—and not just because of technological advances in the representation of gore.

For the rest of the decade there was a lingering sense of playing in overtime, wondering when the game was going to end in sudden death. First in the somber progression, we—and I mean not every individual in the New Left, but a critical mass that included parts of people like me who still cherished nonviolence and felt a terror of real bloodshed—we felt the violence in the world like a sharp instrument on our psychic skins. The enormity of what was happening in the world, even packaged in media images, swept us into a kind of voyeuristic complicity. Traces of Auschwitz and Hiroshima were still detonating like slow-motion time bombs. The fear of ultimate planet-death, to which Vietnam often seemed an extended prologue, produced psychic defenses: an inner bravado, a fascination with precisely what was feared, eventually a powerful identification with people who seemed to be fighting back and winning. Only then did protected youth strip off their protection and expose themselves to the billy clubs: Vietnamization. And then a daring possibility opened up: Why not seize upon violence, why not will what had first been experienced as a terrible destiny?

As much as anyone, Tom Hayden embodied these moods and advanced them. By the middle of 1968 he—like many others in the movement—was suffering from a state that could be called violence shock. Looking back from the calm of the mid-Eighties, he reconstructs this terrible sequence: First, violence in the South, which touched him directly enough to be unforgettable. Then everyday violence in the Newark ghetto, especially the violence meted out by the police. (In March 1965, after only nine months in Newark, Hayden already had inflamed reactions to the police. Protesting loans to South Africa, fortyone SDSers sat on the sidewalk in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank headquarters near Wall Street, mannerly, well dressed, and with arms linked, until, one by one, we were lifted not ungently into the paddy wagons. As I sat awaiting my turn, I heard Hayden yelling, from the plaza above: “Fascist cops!”) Then his trips to North Vietnam, where he saw the antipersonnel bombs, the napalm and white phosphorus, and came under bombardment himself. Then the Newark riots, where twenty-six blacks were killed, two of them before his eyes. Then police clubs against antiwarriors. Then the assassinations. Overall, “it just had to have been a terrible stripping away of my feelings down to the rawest possible point,” Hayden says.

Rage was becoming the common coin of American culture. There are cultures in which people are not seared by acquaintance with bloodshed; their martial traditions steel them. But despite Rap Brown’s rhetoric, violence was scarcely “as American as apple pie” for middle-class American youth. This was a generation not only impatient, not only primed for plenitude and instant gratification, but protected. We were unacquainted even with street crime in a way that today defies belief. (In the private housing development where I grew up in the Bronx, the police were elderly men who strolled about without so much as a nightstick. Our standard joke was: “What does your father do for a living?” “Nothing, he’s a Parkchester cop.”) The Bomb was a menace but a dangling one, not only abstract but oddly impersonal. Vietnam, whose flattened TV images were the culture’s cliché, was at once remote and queerly, heartbreakingly present. So were the ghetto firestorms. So violence and the threat of violence became stark and factual to us in an eerie way—as abstractions. Having stepped into the aura of violence, many of the middle-class young were stunned into a tolerance, a fascination, even a taste for it. I doubt that movement cadres grew up any more—or less—rageful than an equivalent population of law school students, more “violence-prone” than ROTC cadets or bomber pilots.[806] Perhaps less so—whence the shock of Vietnam. Our emotions were flooded. Along with Lyndon Johnson and Richard J. Daley and James Earl Ray, Ronald Reagan and J. Edgar Hoover and Sirhan Sirhan, “Eve of Destruction” and Bourne and Clyde, Green Berets and Black Panthers and the N.Y.P.D., we were churning in a sea of rage.

And rage sometimes dovetailed with strategy. When in doubt about the rational course of action, people choose the strategy that “feels right.”[807] Tom Hayden had, as we have seen, a strategic rationale for a confrontation in Chicago. It was probably on his mind, and some other planners’, more than the rank and file’s. But my guess is that most of the demonstrators who went to Chicago were driven, like Hayden, to test themselves. It was a matter, he says, of “finding out how far you were willing to go for your beliefs, and finding out how far the American government was willing to go in suspending the better part of its tradition to stop you. You wouldn’t know without entering the amphitheatre.” You would go because not going would tell the powers that be that you had broken your head against the Vietnam wall; you would go as if your going would teach them a lesson. Hayden was “expecting death, expecting the worst.”[808] I told friends I was going to Chicago with the instinct of the moth for the flame.

Berkeley, 1966–1969 (New York: Pocket Books, 1973), p. 79.

Let the People Decide,” Ramparts, August 24, 1968, pp. 22–27; Lenny the Red-and-Black

[Lenny Helleri, “War Zone Report,” San Francisco Express Times, July 3, 1968, pp. 9–11; Lenny the Head [Lenny Heller], “Young Pacifica—Revolutionary Surprise!” San Francisco Express Times, July 30, 1968.

Christians, and the New Left (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982]) have argued that New Left activists were distinctly rage-prone from an early age, but the evidence is far from convincing (see Richard Flacks’s review in Society, January/ February 1984, pp. 89–92); and even if the predisposition could somehow be established, the political focus of this predetermined rage would remain to be explained. Why New Left politics? Why not, say, frantic music, nihilist violence, or sheer militarism?

14. The Crunch

Chicago became Götterdammerung because all the protagonists thought polarization served their larger purposes. Everyone hardened—the phallic imagery is deliberate. The movement’s irresistible force collided with Mayor Daley’s immovable object, while the television cameras floodlit the clash into national theater. Self-fulfilling prophecies coiled around each other like vines. It was as if everyone were playing out a fantasy version of Vietnam: act tough, try to intimidate, win over the center with a show of force, draw the other side into acting every bit as monstrous as you said it was.

Given the movement decision to go to Chicago, Daley had by far the greater latitude to keep the peace, and infinitely the greater armament: the purported demonstrators’ weapons he displayed afterward were largely improvised (the piece de resistance was a black widow spider in a jar) or decidedly nonlethal—not a single gun. Therefore by far the greater responsibility for the spilling of blood was the mayor’s. Daley hewed to the hard line from the start. Hoping to keep demonstrators out of Chicago in the first place, he talked tough, refused to grant permits, and called up his troops. Afterward, as his warrant, the mayor brandished death threats against the major candidates and himself. Even had there been such threats—and no evidence was ever produced—what was the danger of all-night sleepers miles from the convention site, or demonstrators across the street from the delegates’ hotel? What were squads of police charging into a crowd going to do about hypothetical gunmen? No, the assassination card was the last refuge of a man with power but not arguments. Judging from their conduct, Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Chicago police headed full tilt toward a riot. It is impossible to know how many movement people surged into the Chicago streets eager to fight; probably a few hundred at most. More were willing to fight back under attack. The great majority of the demonstrators simply wanted to march and chant, to stand up and proverbially be counted; when the cops charged, gassed, smashed, they ran.

Part of the New Left wanted a riot, then, but the Streetfighters could not by themselves have brought it about. For that they needed the police. The sleeping dogs sat bolt upright, howled, bared their teeth, bit.

Lurching Toward Chicago

Marching across the Potomac River en route to the Pentagon in October 1967, Rennie Davis and

Dave Dellinger had started talking about some sort of militant nonviolence at the upcoming Democratic Convention. The movement could continue its turn “from protest to resistance,” and present a sort of alternative convention to the eyes of a watching world. As far as Dellinger was concerned, the Pentagon confrontation confirmed the power of nonviolence[809]; the radiant image of the young antiwarrior sticking his flower into a soldier’s gun barrel confirmed his hopes. Soon Tom Hayden joined the planning for Chicago. But the rest of the movement held back, fearful of being drawn into a trap. No one had illusions about the Chicago police or federal authorities—less and less as bloody 1968 wore on—and it was common knowledge that organizers had talked loosely about disrupting the Democratic Convention, forcing it to a halt unless it voted to stop the war. Leaders of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (familiarly known as “the Mobe”) were adamant about proceeding nonviolently—on the record they were unanimous—but some worried that disruptions by marginal affinity groups could “open the door for provocateurs.”[810] Meanwhile, the SDS leadership, though not in principle averse to confrontations, was deeply suspicious of Hayden and Davis, thought they might be stalking horses for the hated liberals in the Democratic Party; along with many local Chicago organizers (including my old comrades from JOIN, the ERAP project in Uptown), the SDS officers were also afraid that the police, once stirred up during convention week, would come after them once the outside agitators had slipped out of town.

Yet since Johnson was sure to run for a second term, and the Vietnam issue was likely to be smothered in Democratic Party unity, movement eyes turned toward Chicago as the irresistible arena for—something. Hayden and Davis opened a Chicago office for the Mobe in February, and wrote a proposal for “nonviolent and legal” demonstrations; they were speaking the Mobe’s language, but there were disturbing overtones. In the last week of March, just as the Wise Men were meeting in the White House, a movement conference at a

YMCA camp near Chicago heard Hayden and Davis present their idea of an “Election Year Offensive,” but couldn’t agree what to do about it. At one point Staughton Lynd argued against a national spectacle in favor of a strategy of digging in and creating local groups, and won a vote to that effect;[811] Hayden kept the meeting going for another two hours, waited for attendance to thin out, and got the original vote rescinded. Fresh from the Yip-In at Grand Central Station, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and friends arrived to trumpet the Yippie platform—including the abolition of pay toilets, to the consternation of the straight

Left—then declared themselves bored with the meeting, announced that their “Festival of Life” would go on, and scampered out. In the end, the conference failed to formulate a goal which might be worth the possible massacre, and broke down in confusion.[812]

When Johnson plucked himself out of the race, confusion mounted further. “When Johnson dropped out,” Rennie Davis told Marvin Garson, “that nearly killed it. It was mid-May before you could even get the thing discussed.”[813] One reason was that life was flooding back into the Democratic Party like blood to a sleeping limb. Another was that Mayor Daley was devoted to making the city look forbidding. Daley’s “shoot to kill” order during the riots after King’s assassination was one thunderous statement to potential demonstrators. A few days later, sympathetic whites marched in protest against the police attacks in the ghetto, and the cops battered and tear-gassed them, too.[814] Then, on April 27, while a hundred thousand marched placidly and predictably against the war to New York City’s Central Park, Daley’s police waded, clubbing and Macing, into a crowd of several thousand equally placid in downtown Chicago.{47} Daley denounced “hoodlums and Communists.” In this supercharged atmosphere, rock stars and counterculture heroes were not flocking to the Yippies’ hypothetical “Festival of Life”; even Jerry Rubin was thinking of calling off his show.[815]

Then Robert F. Kennedy was killed, and the idea of massive protest in Chicago regained its rationale and momentum.{48}