[Marxism] Weatherpeople

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Mon Jan 2 22:37:35 MST 2006

Interesting to see the discussion my comments and questions have

To Jim C: yep, I pretty much agree with all of what you wrote there.
Question still is, are people like Dohrn and Ayers to be rehabilitated
or just denounced forever?

To Ethan Young: thanks heaps for the references, which I'll take a look
at.  I also note your point that Dohrn and Ayers' "writings lack serious
political reflection [let alone self-criticism]."  This was one of the
things that disturbed me about the doco and what I've glanced at about
them on the web today: I'm impressed that they are unrepentant for
having been 60s radicals, unlike odious types like David Horowitz, but
nowhere is there any 'owning up'.  In the doco Dohrn says there were
criticisms of her and other leaders at the end, but she doesn't say (or
the doco doesn't) what these were and what she might now think about
their whole course and the destructive, self-indulgent nature of it.

To Carroll Cox: in the doco there is a clip of a Panther, not sure if it
is Hampton, denouncing the Weathermen as "narcissistic, cultist,
Custeristic" and various other things, pointing out they are playing
into the state's hands and irresponsibly putting people in situations
where there are no outs.  It's interesting, because it shows the
Panthers, whatever their faults, as not being unnecessarily reckless and
actually seeing themselves as the vanguard of a people rather than as a
substitute for the people (even against the people) as the Weather
leaders did.

To R Rubinelli: Dohrn says she was just joking in the reference to the
Manson cult murders, she was making a reference to the violence endemic
in the USA rather than romanticising the murders.  However, the quote
itself, if it's true, hardly seems like a joke, it actually seems more
like a serious comment.  

To R and to Brian Shannon: One point Bill Ayers made in the doco that I
thought was valid, but will rile some people on the list, is that the
mass antiwar protests were turning into a safe spectacle.  He said that
there was basically an understanding between the state and the antiwar
leaders that a bit of public space would be provided for the putting on
of the antiwar protest/spectacle, all very safe and respectable, and
then everyone would go home and the war would go on.

Now, we know that the antiwar protests were not quite so unsettling for
the US government, and that Nixon was paranoid about the big antiwar

However, Ayers still has a point.  A government less paranoid and more
sophisticated than Nixon might not have been so freaked out by them.
The antiwar mobes were always in danger of being a safe way of letting
of some steam.

I don't think the answer was the terrorist insanity of the
Weatherpeople, but they did highlight a real problem.

My argument is that the role of Marxists is not just to build mass,
peaceful legal demonstrations but actually to engage in a range of
activities against the war.

At the same time as watching the doco I have been in the process of
reading Todd Gitlin's 'The Sixties'.  He repeats an amusing story about
the YSA, one told by a guy called Steve Max who left the YSA and joined
SDS.  Max used to crack people in SDS up by recounting a time he was
walking through Washington Square Park with another YSAer who
scrupulously kept to the sidewalk in obedience to 'Do Not Walk on the
Grass' signs.  When Max asked him why he was so scrupulously obeying
these bourgeois signs, the YSAer responded, "We don't believe in
individual acts of heroism".

Lenin said that anarchism was the payback for opportunism. I think that
is very true.  If the SWP and YSA, which played such a dominant role in
the anti-Vietnam War movement, had have been a bit more revolutionary,
like the US Trotskyists were in the 1930s class battles for instance,
then ultraleftism, especially such nihilistic forms of ultraleftism as
began manifesting in SDS and elsewhere, might not have become so



More information about the Marxism mailing list