[Marxism] Jesse Lemisch on the Weather Underground, Redone in Pomo, Rises from the Ashes

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Sun Jan 29 18:43:56 MST 2006

Once again, I think Jesse Lemisch has hit the nail on the head....


-----Original Message-----
From: Jesse Lemisch 
Sent: Sunday, January 29, 2006 3:43 PM
To: sds at studentsforademocraticsociety.org
Subject: Weather Underground, Redone in Pomo, Rises from the Ashes

The following was posted on Portside Friday evening. I would welcome
comments, criticisms, etc. on this list.

Jesse Lemisch

[An edited version of this paper is to be published in
New Politics, Summer 2006. See http://www.newpol.org for
information about the magazine. A previous message on
this topic prompted lively discussion, and readers'
thoughts on this would also be welcome. -- ps moderator]

Weather Underground, Redone in Pomo, Rises from the Ashes

by Jesse Lemisch submitted to portside January 27, 2006

I attended part of a January 20 "day workshop of interventions" -- aka
"a day of dialogic interventions"-- at Columbia University on "Radical
Politics and the Ethics of Life" (see below for program). The event
aimed "to bring to light... the political aporias [sic] erected by the
praxis of urban guerrilla groups in Europe and the United States from
the 1960s to the 1980s." (See below for the postmodernist context
indicated by the language.) Hosted by Columbia's Anthropology
Department, workshop speakers included Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers
of the Weather Underground, historian Jeremy Varon, poststructuralist
theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and a dozen others. The panel I sat
through was just awful.1

What seems to be happening is that veterans of Weather are on a drive to
rehabilitate, cleanse and perhaps revive it. (Consider, too, Bill
Ayers's 2001 book, Fugitive Days; also the 2002 film, "The Weather
Underground," which while well intended seems to offer the viewer a
Hobson's Choice between Weather and Todd Gitlin! I didn't know whether
to shit, or go blind.) Despite the substandard product that Weather
veterans are peddling, a sympathetic response to a bowdlerized Weather
may not be so hard to achieve in the present frustrated mood of the
left. In addition, many undergraduates, graduate students and faculty
have been infected by postmodernism in this, its terminal phase, and
therefore have little concern for concrete reality. Weather can be
discussed in appealing-sounding abstractions, without reference to the
destructive inanities of their role at the June 1969 Chicago convention
of Students for a Democratic Society, the October 1969 Days of Rage, the
bombings, the bombing fuck-ups, etc. (Nobody wants to talk about Bill
Ayers's classic September 11, 2001 New York Times interview lauding
Weather violence, published under the headline, "No Regrets for a Love
of Explosives.")

Bernardine Dohrn served up all the hoary platitudes about the everyday
violence of the standing order -- all true -- leading inevitably to a
justification of violent response by a minority substituting itself for
a mass movement; at the same time, she offered a rhetorical parenthesis
rejecting armed struggle. Neither the efficacy nor morality of Weather
tactics were scrutinized, nor any inquiry made into how you construct a
majority radical democratic movement by denouncing and writing off the
majority. Dohrn's defense of Weather included the remark that in the
face of terrible oppressions and injustices, it is necessary "to do
something about it, it almost doesn't matter what." But it does matter,
if we are interested in building rather than tearing apart a new left.
Clearly, almost forty years after the Weather disaster, she hasn't
gotten it. Indeed, she says that the actions of the Weather Underground
"made people smile."

Weather killed and buried Students for a Democratic Society -- a
catastrophe for the left. Dohrn passes lightly over this, saying that
SDS wasn't worth saving by the time Weather came on the scene. An
anarchist in the audience made the important point that how you make the
revolution will affect the kind of revolution that you get. Partly
agreeing, Dohrn insisted that, while
underground, Weatherpeople not only practiced participatory democracy,
but also got closer to the working class and to various minorities.

As I mentioned above, the discussion of the Weather Underground lacked
concrete specifics. If we look beyond the abstraction to those
specifics, Weather is a tragic laughingstock. It's the postmodern mood
that allows such weird and empty discussion. How wonderful: we have
lived to see Weather's posthumous rehabilitation in pomo hands. But we
need a new left today, and the evasion of realities of past, present and
future won't help to build this left.

There was much to laugh about, and much to weep about in all this. But
the funniest moment came when Columbia anthropologist Beth Povinelli
recalled that when she was invited to speak on urban guerrilla groups,
her first thought was that her brother is a primatologist.


1. I don't think that inclusion as a speaker in the conference
necessarily implied approval of the Weather Underground, nor of Weather.
I have commented only on the session I attended, where the speakers were
Bernardine Dohrn and Beth Povinelli.



Radical Politics and the Ethics of Life
day workshop of interventions
Columbia University Anthropology Department
Scheps Library Friday Series

January 20, 2006
9:30 am- 7:00 pm
614 Schermerhorn Hall

Urban guerrilla groups have brought into focus key political and ethical
questions about the relationships between violence and humanism,
violence and politics, and violence and the ethics of life that have
been raised and remain unanswered since the October Revolution.

This one day event will stage a series of encounters between activists,
theorists, and students in order to bring to light and to explore the
political aporias erected by the praxis of urban guerrilla groups in
Europe and the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s. Up for
discussion will be the relationships between pedagogy and activism; law
and resistance; race and the struggles of black and white worker's
movements; and the relationship of the individual to law, aesthetics,
ecology...and an ethical commitment to peace. What recourse to
resistance do we, as citizens of liberal democratic states, have when we
observe those states disregard and break the law and engage in actions
and tactics for which they have no mandate?

Join Bill Ayers (University if Illinois), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
(Columbia University), Bernadine Dohrn (Northwestern University), Georgy
Katsiaficas (Wentworth Institute of Technology), Panama Alba (Revson
Fellow, Columbia University), Sally Bermanzohn (Brooklyn College), Felix
Ensslin (Playwright, Berlin), Felicity Scott (University of California,
Irvine), Robin Kelley (Columbia University), Ritty Lukose (University of
Pennsylvania), Elizabeth Povinelli (Columbia University), Maria
Koundoura (Emerson College), Stathis Gourgouris (UCLA), Jeremy Varon
(Drew University) and students for a day of dialogic interventions on
this important question.


9:30- 9:55
Introductory remarks
Neni Panourgiá

Sally Bermanzohn and Robin Kelley
Facilitator: Jeremy Varon
Film: The Greensboro Massacre

Panama Alba and Georgy Katsiaficas
Facilitator: Maria Koundoura

LUNCH BREAK 12:30- 2:00

Afternoon Session

2:15- 3:15
Bernardine Dohrn and Beth Povinelli
Facilitator: Stathis Gourgouris


3:30- 4:30
Bill Ayers and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Facilitator: Ritty Lukose

4:45- 6:00
Round Table Discussion
Participants: Felix Ensslin, Ritty Lukose,
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Felicity Scott,
Melanie Brazzell, Daniel Shaw, Richard Kernaghan
Facilitator: Georgy Katsiaficas

6:15- 6:45
Closing Remarks
Jeremy Varon

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