Remembering Abbie Hoffman
bstoller at utopia2000.org
Sat Nov 30 07:37:28 MST 2002
Born 30 November 1936, Abbie Hoffman is now, more than ever, an activist
for these times. I really cannot think of a better figurehead to unite
anarchists and communists. He would have been a helluva antiglobalist!
Many people recall Abbie Hoffman strictly as an anarchist. That
perception, I believe, is inaccurate.
Open his first book -- Revolution For the Hell of It -- and from the
very first pages you will see his overflowing admiration for Fidel and
Che, and the Cuban model of revolution (which leaped over the
conservatism of Cuba's Moscow-beholden Communist Party).
"This Byzantine discussion about the ways and means of struggle, whether
it should be peaceful or non-peaceful, armed or unarmed -- the essence
of this discussion, which we call Byzantine because it is like an
argument between two deaf and dumb people, is what distinguishes those
who want to promote revolution and those who do not want to promote it"
(Castro speech at OLAS conference, 10 August 1967, quoted in Revolution
For the Hell of It, 1968).
Hence Hoffman's famous dictum, "The first duty of a revolutionary is to
get away with it," arrived via Castro.
"A whole series of old cliches must be abolished. Marxist literature
itself, revolutionary political literature itself, should be renewed
because repeating the same old cliches, phraseology and verbiage that
have been repeated for 35 years wins over no one, convinces no one at
all... The communist movement developed a method, a style, and in some
aspects, even took on the characteristics of a religion. And we
sincerely believe that the character should be left behind" (ibid.).
Is Hoffman talking there -- or Castro?
Would such an admonishment be out of place today, considering, say, the
Spartacist League -- who so proudly boycotted Seattle in 1999? Or
considering, say, the old farts at the CPUSA plugging away for Dasche
In his second book, Hoffman again returns to communism -- this time to
critique the very sort of hip rebellion culture he, in part, created:
"Heroes of the people, do they have responsibilities? What are you going
to do with your bread, brother rock stars?...Here's a word of advice
from one of the biggest dudes around. His name is Chairman Mao. He and
his rock band built a whole fuckin Nation of 700,000,000 people when
they said it couldn't be done. This quote is for me as much as you cause
when I get through with this book I'm gonna learn how to sing...
'"You have many good qualities and have rendered great service, but you
must always remember not to become conceited. You are respected by all,
and quite rightly, but this easily leads to conceit. If you become
conceited, if you are not modest and cease to exert yourselves, and if
you do not respect others, do not respect the cadres and the masses,
then you will cease to be heroes and models. There have been such people
in the past, and I hope you will not follow their example ('We must
learn to do economic work' January 10, 1945, Selected Works volume III,
"The Beatles may be more popular than Jesus but heavy cats like Chairman
Mao, Uncle Ho and beautiful long-haired Che Guevara are more popular
than even the Beatles. You ought to check out that other 'free world'
and see. Don't take my world for it -- but don't believe Variety or
Billboard or even Rolling Stone either. Any of you guys want to play in
Havana Square for free just get in touch. We've already made the
arrangements. Long live the Cultural Revolution!" (Woodstock Nation,
And, in his fantasy as Che, these words:
"For a revolution, in order to be a true revolution, must be a world
revolution. To achieve that revolution, you the children of the Yankees
must lend a hand. You must vomit forth your cynicism in the streets of
your cities. You must mount an unrelenting attack on everything the
bastards that rule your country hold dear. You must refuse to serve in
their armies, you must reject the heroin offered in their universities,
you must become cogs in their productive machinery" (ibid.).
Not bad advice nowadays.
None of this is to suggest that Abbie Hoffman was a revolutionary -- at
least not in the sense of Lenin. He was an activist. (What else, really,
can the US produce?)
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to simply see him as a reformist.
Take Abbie Hoffman's famous American flag shirt, for example. It
wouldn't surprise me to see that image on some Apple computer ad --
suggesting a rebellious patriotism. But let us put his feelings about
Old Glory in their proper context:
Speaking about the first manned moon mission, "some day we too will fly
off in some communal capsule, Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Hippies, liberated
women, young workers on the line, and GI's sitting in stockades because
they don't want to go to Vietnam. There will be a whole mess of us
laughing and getting stoned on our way to Outerspace , and the first
thing, the very first thing we're gonna do out there is to rip down that
fuckin flag on the moon" (ibid.).
I am reminded of Abbie Hoffman more and more everyday, especially these
I'm reminded of Abbie Hoffman when anarchists hurl teddybears at the
cops, like they did in Ottawa. I'm reminded of Abbie Hoffman when a
schoolgirl slaps the Prince of Wales with a flower, as happened in
Latvia. I am reminded of Abbie Hoffman when Palestinian artists put a
replica Statue of Liberty on top of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters,
destroyed courtesy US tax dollars -- or better yet, when an
antiglobalist decapitates Thatcher's statue with a cricket bat in a
London art museum. I'm reminded of Abbie Hoffman when the National
Bolsheviks throw tomatoes at the chief of NATO, as happened in Prague.
I'm reminded of Abbie Hoffman when some troublemakers in Victoria turn
Buy Nothing Day into Steal Something Day -- ah, that sort of hands-on
activism is classic Abbie (which shows the materialist roots of his
intuitive socialism). I am reminded of Abbie Hoffman each and every time
I see some unhinged (anti-)hero risk her or his (often privileged) neck
to act out against all the TOTAL BULLSHIT the capitalist war monarchy
(aka the 'Pig Nation') has the audacity to do in the name of freedom
[snort] and democracy [honk].
Honor Abbie and rip off a capitalist today!
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