[Marxism] Whatever Became Of What’s-His-Name, The Radical?
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Mon Jun 2 08:04:21 MDT 2008
Whatever Became Of What’s-His-Name, The Radical?
Reflections on Rennie Davis, Jerry Rubin, and Abbie Hoffman
by Louis Proyect
As a veteran of the American Trotskyist movement, I have a somewhat
ambivalent attitude toward the Chicago 7 (originally the Chicago 8 until
Black Panther Bobby Seale’s case was separated from the others). In the
late 1960s, there were very sharp differences over strategy and tactics
in the antiwar movement pitting the mass demonstration approach of the
Socialist Workers Party (SWP) against the Debordian spectacle politics
of Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and their allies in Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS). Now, forty years after the event, my feelings
remain ambivalent even if I no longer have any identification with the
SWP. For what they are worth, here are my impressions of the political
and personal trajectories of some of the defendants in the Chicago 7
trial, most of whom were my contemporaries.
Perhaps nothing illustrated the self-defeating approach of three of the
defendants — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Dave Dellinger (who was
twenty years older than Hoffman and Rubin) — than their role at an April
5th, 1969, protest in New York, when the antiwar movement had begun to
recruit active duty GIs to the cause. The coalition had invited
Dellinger to speak about the Chicago defendants.
During the march, a group of “Crazies,” an obscure confrontationist
split-off from Rubin and Hoffman’s Yippies that some suspected of being
agents provocateurs, carried the butchered heads of pigs on a spike with
which they taunted cops along the parade route. The march itself was so
massive that the Crazies were hardly noticed, except by the cops.
The march terminated with a rally, including a contingent of active-duty
GIs at the front of the speakers stand. You have to remember that these
soldiers were risking victimization just for being there. During
Dellinger’s speech, he invited Rubin and Hoffman to the stage and turned
over the microphone to them even though the coalition had voted against
having them speak. Keep in mind that Rubin and Hoffman had developed an
extremely hostile attitude toward mass protests that they thought lacked
“balls.” Both of them had a macho attitude toward politics that would
soon be rendered obsolete by the women’s liberation movement. When they
debated SWP leader Fred Halstead at SWP headquarters in New York over
directions for the antiwar movement, they were accompanied by several
women wearing what amounted to Playboy Bunny outfits.
As soon as Rubin and Hoffman took the mike, they began to urge the
Crazies and the crowd to attack the few cops that were lined up nearby.
The GIs were positioned between the Crazies and the cops and were in
danger of being caught up in any violence that ensued. Fortunately,
Rubin and Hoffman’s harangues fell on deaf ears.
I soldiered on in the Socialist Workers Party until 1978 when I was
effectively purged from this sect. I am not sure that my efforts were of
all that much use in changing American society, but feel somewhat
vindicated for having withstood the kind of pressures that would
eventually disorient Jerry Rubin and Rennie Davis, a former SDS leader
who shared Hoffman and Rubin’s politics but without their flamboyance.
Even as the war in Vietnam still raged, Rennie Davis became an acolyte
of Guru Maharaj Ji, the 16-year-old leader of the Divine Light Mission.
In November 1973, the Mission organized “Millennium ‘73,” a three-day
event at the Houston Astrodome, which they advertised as “the most
significant event in human history.” For those still consumed with the
need to push for an end to the war in Vietnam, it promised “a thousand
years of peace for people who want peace.” In other words, peace could
come to the world when individuals found inner peace.
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