Kent State and why the Sixties Collapsed
jpino at SPAMkent.edu
Thu May 4 13:52:44 MDT 2000
This piece is a continuation of an earlier debate with Jack Smith on the
legacy of the anti-war movement.
On May 4, 1970 the US government brought the Viet Nam War home to Kent
and Jackson State universities.I have over the years refused to participate
in this school's(KSU)hypocritical depoliticized "conmemorations" of May 4,
because they are all built on the theme of "this was communal tragedy, an
outgrowth of the violence then sweeping American society; let's not let it
Well, bullshit!Those four kids were working-class martyrs. They are dead
because Nixon/Agnew and Ohio Governor Rhodes knew they could get away with
murder in sending the National Guard onto a campus attended largely by
children of the proletariat(as it still is today). You don't send troops
into Columbia or Yale or Harvard, for fear you might kill future
congressmen or CEO's. Likewise the students who died at Jackson State were
killed for being African-American; though they were of course unarmed, by
their very presence they raised the most feared spectre of the ruling
class, "Negroes with Guns."
Some historians, and even some anti-war activists, have argued that the
shootings that week in May of 1970 is what killed the New Left, once
protestors realized that demonstrations against war and racism would no
longer be met merely by arrests but by bullets. But I would argue the New
Left was already in its death throws, at least since 1968. Nobody in 1970
had to be convinced that the US government would use deadly force to quell
protest, not after Detroit, Watts, and Newark. The difference this time was
that white people were being shot down.And there, I think, was the
Achille's heel of what came to be known as "The Movement." While the
anti-war and civil rights movement coalesced briefly, notably in the figure
of Martin Luther King in the year before his death, the two never really
came together in one stream.True, King, and the Black Panthers, had both
declaimed that the war in Viet Nam was an extension of American racism, and
vice versa, ie, the war the American ruling class more racist, but which
tendency on the left was able to translate that profound insight into an
actual political practice? to forge an alliance between white proletarians
(including students) and African-Americans (including the black middle class)?
What is the legacy of this conumdrum today? Since the American armed
forces are disproportianally Black and Latino(plus other minorities)it
should be possible to mobilize these groups against US intervention
abroad.Yet my personal experience has been that the opposite is true. In
Los Angeles, where I lived in the Eighties, the Central American Solidarity
movement as a nearly all-white affair. During the Iraq war the
demonstrations I participated in were not exactly "rainbow coalitions" either.
Earlier, I argued that the US left is preparing for the wrong kind of
war, a repetition of the Viet Nam scenario, which is not likely to happen.
I'd say the left is also reliving the giant mistake of the Sixties, in not
uniting race and class protest into a potent coalition.
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