[Marxism] Chicago 1968, a different kind of convention

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Sun Jul 25 19:08:36 MDT 2004

Thanks for sharing the memories, Brian.

I was getting out of high school that spring.  It was politically one
hell of a senior year.  Public opinion generally flipped on the war in
1967-68, and even in my small blue collar Missouri town, opposition to
the war made for an educational year.  All of us facing college and/or
the draft had soaring hopes with the Democratic primaries that destroyed
the LBJ relection bid.  Johnson pulled out after the New Hampshire
primary, Robert F. Kennedy jumped in, but Martin Luther King was
brutally killed that April.  Nobody in my circle actually believed it
was another lone nut.

That summer, a cluster of us were having our first taste of factory life
with a few months broiling under a thin roof that baked the insides up
to 120 degrees and thereabouts.  We were all the kids of people who
worked there and it certainly gave us all a real appreciation of class.
During breaks and at lunch, the college-bound kids sat around and
discussed the work experience, politics, and the connection between
them.  I had just gotten my paws on a biography of Gene Debs and decided
that I certainly must be some sort of "socialist," but practical enough
to hope that our first champion in the primaries Gene McCarthy would get
the nomination and fully realistic enough to expect that the more
popular Kennedy would win in the end.  After all, as far as I knew,
there were no more of those people called "socialists" in America.

We were full of energy at that age, and would pop out of work, hurry
home and then get out and spend a couple of hours socializing before
having to turn in.  I still remember us hanging out drinking beer in a
bowling alley parking lot wondering what the White House would do when
Bobby Kennedy won the California primary.  I remember like yesterday,
going home with a rather nice buzz, turning on the tube and finding out.

We had hoped to BS our way into getting a week off and driving to
Chicago, but one of the fellow's father nipped that idea in the bud.  He
said there was going to be trouble.  What trouble could he possibly have
meant?  We were so naïve.

It is said that the policeman's billy, not tracts, makes
revolutionaries.  The Democratic convention of 1968 marked a major shift
in the history of American politics.  In that decade, confidence in the
political parties and the electoral system collapsed.  The Democratic
Party betrayed the stated will of its voting base and it has rarely
looked back in its headlong rush to the orientation of what became the
Democratic Leadership Council in the mid-1970s. 

In any event, that week in 1968 clarified everything for many of us.
>From that point on, we had a gut-level understanding of the place of
American citizens in the system, of the nature of imperialism, and of
the importance of class and ideology that could make you a target just
as completely as race.  

Another old friend from Chicago used the expression "68-er" to define
the experience of that year--rather hearkening back to that of the
"48-ers" of the last century.  However, we were not driven into exile.

That fall, when I joined the SDS, the grand old timers of the movement
were 21 or 22-year olds, some of them returning Vietnam veterans.  We
had few to tell us much about previous movement experience.  The upsurge
we face will be different.  And, in part, we have the experience of 1968
to thank for it.

Mark L.

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