[Marxism] Bernie Sanders’s Revolutionary Roots Were Nurtured in ’60s Vermont

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 3 08:15:12 MDT 2015


(When a NY Times reporter got in touch with me to find out about Bill De 
Blasio's participation in Nicaragua Network meetings in the late 80s, 
the goal was obviously to help him write an article that would persuade 
voters that he was too far to the left. Well, that obviously backfired 
since New Yorkers were ready to vote for a leftist--too bad that De 
Blasio turned out to be more like Michael Bloomberg than Daniel Ortega. 
Then again, Daniel Ortega has more in common with Michael Bloomberg 
today than he has with the Daniel Ortega of yore. I have a feeling that 
this article will have the same effect. I doubt that Sanders will amount 
to much in the primaries but if he does, it will because articles like 
this will persuade voters that he means business. I should say that he 
probably does but in the final analysis, his endorsement of Hillary 
Clinton will help maintain the two-party system.)

NY Times, July 3 2015
Bernie Sanders’s Revolutionary Roots Were Nurtured in ’60s Vermont
By SARAH LYALL

BURLINGTON, Vt. — When he came to Vermont in the late 1960s to help plan 
the upending of the old social order, the future presidential candidate 
Bernie Sanders brought with him the belief that the United States was 
starkly divided into two groups: the establishment and the 
revolutionaries. He was a revolutionary.

“The Revolution Is Life Versus Death,” in fact, was the title of an 
article he wrote for The Vermont Freeman, an alternative, 
authority-challenging newspaper published for a few years back then. The 
piece began with an apocalyptically alarmist account of the unbearable 
horror of having an office job in New York City, of being among “the 
mass of hot dazed humanity heading uptown for the 9-5,” sentenced to 
endless days of “moron work, monotonous work.”

“The years come and go,” Mr. Sanders wrote, in all apparent seriousness. 
“Suicide, nervous breakdown, cancer, sexual deadness, heart attack, 
alcoholism, senility at 50. Slow death, fast death. DEATH.”

Chalk some of this up to being young and unemployed. Mr. Sanders, now 
73, has had a steady, nonrevolutionary job for quite some time now. His 
current workplace, the United States Senate, is not exactly known for 
its thrill-a-minute dynamism. But through his long evolution from 
outraged outsider to mainstream man in a suit, Mr. Sanders has remained 
true to his original message: sympathy for the downtrodden, the 
impoverished and the disenfranchised in the face of the rich and the 
powerful.

Back then, he was part of a crowd of like-minded young people who 
converged on Burlington at a time when America seemed to be rewriting 
its history on the spot. Students, hippies, labor organizers, trust fund 
kids, urban escapees, impoverished anti-Vietnam War campaigners and 
environmentalists yearning to be closer to the land — they came because 
they believed that change was coming and that they had found the right 
place for a revolution.

Mr. Sanders was barely 30, full of restless energy, with wild curly 
hair, a brash Brooklyn manner and a mind fizzing with plans to remake 
the world. Short on money but long on ideas, he found employment where 
he could, supporting himself through odd jobs like carpentry work.

“Freelance journalist” has always been on the list of things he did 
before he began running for statewide office, futilely, as a Liberty 
Union Party candidate in the 1970s. But the description is a bit of a 
stretch. A look through his journalistic output, such as it was, reveals 
that he had perhaps a dozen pieces published — interviews, essays, 
state-of-the-nation diatribes — most in The Freeman.

They provide a useful insight into the formative thinking of the man who 
would go on to become Burlington’s first socialist mayor, then a senator 
and now a presidential candidate who is drawing crowds in the thousands 
with his unapologetic leftist message. The writings also reflect the 
particular mood in this one little spot in Vermont in an era of 
extraordinary turmoil in America, when the social fabric seemed in 
danger of ripping apart over issues like the Vietnam War, race and poverty.

Among Mr. Sanders’s efforts was a 1972 essay on sexual politics, “Man — 
and Woman,” which drew unflattering attention recently after Mother 
Jones magazine included it in an article about him. Its opening passage, 
which deals with men’s sexual fantasies, is meant to be satirically 
provocative but comes across as crassly sexist. (Mr. Sanders’s 
underlying point, expressed less feverishly further down in the article, 
is that men and women should rethink how they deal with each other.)

Another essay mocked what Mr. Sanders felt to be the soul-destroying 
nature of conventional education.

“If children of 5 are not taught to obey orders, sit still for 7 hours a 
day, respect their teacher, and raise their hands when they have to go 
to the bathroom, how will they learn (after 17 more years of education) 
to become the respectful clerks, technicians and soldiers who keep our 
society free, our economy strong, and such inspiring men as Richard 
Nixon and Deane Davis in political office,” Mr. Sanders wrote, referring 
to the United States president and the Vermont governor at the time.

People in Mr. Sanders’s circle back then remember visiting the future 
senator at his small apartment in Burlington. “It was subsistence 
living,” said Greg Guma, the author of “The People’s Republic: Vermont 
and the Sanders Revolution.”

Mr. Guma knew the young Mr. Sanders as a kitchen-table fulminator and 
political organizer, not as a writer. At their first meeting, he 
recalled, Mr. Sanders “kind of berated me” when Mr. Guma asked who he was.

“He said he was unimportant and it was all about the movement, and then 
it kind of escalated. ‘If you don’t support the movement, I don’t want 
your vote,’ ” Mr. Guma said. “Obviously he’s become more adept at 
cultivating voters.”

Mr. Sanders’s pieces in The Freeman were consistent with the newspaper’s 
ethos. The paper, which had humble production values and cost $10 for a 
year’s subscription in 1971, was founded in 1969 by Roger L. Albright, a 
former minister, as a place for like-minded leftists to opine in 
outraged tones about the issues of the day. Often, apparently, they did 
it for free.

“Pay? You gotta be kidding — I don’t recall ever getting paid,” said 
Marvin Fishman, now 77, who wrote about prison issues for the paper. (He 
had spent a year in prison on a marijuana charge.)

“We were broke, they were broke, everybody was broke,” said Frank 
Kochman, who was recruited for the paper when Mr. Albright rescued his 
stranded Volkswagen bug from a snowbank, and who was its general manager 
and co-publisher from 1971 to 1973. “If we had a little money, we’d try 
to pay something.”

Mr. Sanders contributed pieces only sporadically. He interviewed a 
“labor agitator” and an old-time farmer, and he wrote some articles 
about health, including one in which he cited studies claiming that 
cancer could be caused by psychological factors such as unresolved 
hostility toward one’s mother, a tendency to bury aggression beneath a 
“facade of pleasantness” and having too few orgasms.

“Sexual adjustment seemed to be very poor in those with cancer of the 
cervix,” he wrote, quoting a study in a journal called Psychosomatic 
Medicine.

One article, to observe the 10th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, 
argued that despite its many failings, Cuba had made great progress in 
health care and education. “The American press and mass media have been 
stepping up their usual distorted and inaccurate reporting,” Mr. Sanders 
wrote.

In a piece titled “Reflections on a Dying Society,” he declared that the 
United States was virtually going to hell in a handcart. Its food was 
laden with chemicals; its environment was being ruined; the threat of 
nuclear annihilation or “death by poison gas” was increasing; people 
were suffering from malaise and “psychosomatic disease”; citizens were 
being coerced and duped by the government and the advertising industry; 
and the economy was based on “useless” goods “designed to break down or 
used for the slaughter of people.”

“The general social situation, to say the least,” he wrote, “does not 
look good.”

Later in the 1970s, Mr. Sanders took a steady job with a Liberty Union 
colleague making filmstrips about important events in American history, 
many from the colonial period, and selling them door-to-door to schools. 
(He also made a half-hour film about his hero, Eugene V. Debs, the labor 
organizer who ran unsuccessfully for president five times.) They worked 
on a shoestring out of Mr. Sanders’s house, said the colleague, Ron MacNeil.

“I think our motivation was that we were interested in American 
history,” Mr. MacNeil said.

But that was after Mr. Sanders had run, and lost, various statewide 
races as a Liberty Union candidate. By 1972, when he ran as the party’s 
candidate for senator and governor (he lost both races by very wide 
margins), he had begun publishing The Movement, an occasional newsletter.

He put together the whole thing himself, said Doris Lake, another early 
Liberty Union candidate, and focused on the issues that were consuming 
him. One edition included a letter Ms. Lake had written to her 
supervisor, and had shown to Mr. Sanders, complaining about working 
conditions in the eyeglass-lens factory where she worked the night 
shift, Ms. Lake said.

But for Mr. Sanders, everything was about ideas to make the world 
better, both in real life and in The Movement.

“I believe there was a lot of editorializing on philosophy,” Ms. Lake 
said. “At the time, we were thinking that the important thing in 
politics was to educate people, to get them to understand what was 
happening in the world, rather than to get elected.”



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