Friday, 31 October 2008

Behind the Songs: Joe Hill

"For 36 years he lived out his days
And he more than played his part
For the songs that he made, he was carefully paid
With a rifle bullet buried in his heart
With a rifle bullet buried in his heart"
--Phil Ochs, "Joe Hill" (1966)

Joe Hill

"Joe Hill became symbolic of the kind of individual sacrifice that would make a revolutionary new society possible. Thus labor radicals, communists, and novelists and playwrights such as John Dos Passos, Wallace Stegner, and Barrie Stavis used the circumstances of Hill's convictions and the manner of his death to create a legend that transformed 'just another forgotten migrant worker' into 'The Man Who Never Died,' as the song which Paul Robeson enthralled audiences in the 1930s and 1940s had it . . . Gibbs Smith has served us well by recapturing the memory of a man whose songs, to quote another wobbly, evoked the spirit of radicals who were the 'very epitome of guts and gallantry,' a handful of homeless heroes touched by true romance. Men and women whose spirits were stirred far above their belly-need; men and women inspired by visions of heaven on earth. Now, as then, society needs such men and women."
--Melvyn Dubofsky, The New York Times Book Review

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Behind the Songs: I'm Going to Say It Now

"I've read of other countries where the students take a stand
They've even helped to overthrow the leaders of the land
Now, I wouldn't go so far to say we're also learning how
But when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now"
--Phil Ochs, "I'm Going to Say It Now" (1965)

The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s

Were it not for Mario Savio, the book...would never have been written. As a young man, Savio played a key role in leading the Free Speech Movement (FSM) to victory in its struggle to end the restrictions the University of California had placed on campus political activity. He was the Berkeley student rebellion's most eloquent orator, the one who first spoke from atop the police car that his fellow protesters surrounded and immobilized on October 1, 1964, to prevent the arrest of Jack Weinberg, a civil rights activist whose only crime had been to defy the administration's prohibition against political advocacy on University property. Savio's rousing words and the mass protest around the police car on Sproul Plaza (the central campus thoroughfare) helped to launch the Free Speech Movement. And Savio's "operation of the machine" speech, just before the December Sproul Hall sit-in, not only set the tone for the nonviolent occupation of the administration building--which culminated in the largest mass arrest of students in American history--but also became the most famous oration in the early history of the New Left. Savio's daring attempt to speak at an administration-run meeting in Berkeley's Greek Theatre days after the sit-in electrified thousands of students, who were shocked to see campus police drag him from the podium. As both a speak and a symbol, then, Savio helped to make the Berkeley student rebellion a memorable event, one that inspired campus activists across the country and the globe in the 1960s and that still has the power to attract the attention of scholars and writers such as those represented in this book. Savio refused, however, to present himself as the Berkeley rebellion's indispensable leader. Like so many other FSMers, he preferred to see the movement as too democratic to need leaders, stressing instead that its strength came from the moral principles that gave it mass appeal. When, soon after the start of FSM, Savio heard that Dean Arleigh Williams credited him with having "organized" the first Sproul Hall sit-in, he used humor to rebut the dean's claims, quipping that while it was "gratifying" to receive such credit, there had been "little to 'organize.' For students who had shown themselves to be well-apprised of their rights the act of crossing one's legs and reclining was a relatively simple matter." Despite such disclaimers, Mario's organizational skill, intelligence, and oratory helped to breathe life into the FSM; much as he longed to escape the spotlight, he would always be seen as the central figure of the Berkeley rebellion.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Chicago Perspective

By Stewart Albert (published September 6-September 12, 1968)

In Chicago, teargas was a very democratic experience. On the last two nights, it impartially choked throats of Yippies, Women for Peace, TV cameramen, and even some delegates to the Democratic Convention.

The moderate forces tried to lead orderly marches on the sidewalk policed by monitors who must have taken a semester of piggery at some academy. Dick Gregory made an appearance, as did Eugene McCarthy, but it served for nothing.

Richard Daley saw every demonstrator in Chicago as Ho Chi Minh with a reefer in his mouth, out to rape his daughter.

The marches were broken up by teargas, rifle-butts (the National Guard occasionally joining the pigs), and nightsticks. We all went back into the streets, breaking store windows, throwing rocks at cops and tossing garbage.

The action centered around the heavily guarded Hilton Hotel, in which the delegates hoped to avoid any contact with Chicago.

It did not work. The teargas seeped through the airconditioning and even Hubert Humphrey got sick and had to take a bath.

The teargas scenes were grotesque – people running, vomiting, burning, choking and praying for some decency that it all stop.

Chicago was a revolutionary wet-dream come true. One night, a thousand longhairs joined at the picket-line of striking black bus-drivers. On the following night, striking cab-drivers left a picket-line to join the march on the Amphitheatre. The white working-class motorcycle gangs did not do the Oakland Border VDC thing; they were either free neutrals or with us in Lincoln Park.

What happened that week was the prototypical formation of the alliance necessary to bring the man down and keep him down. It all happened without a single leaflet being given to anyone and without a single white missionary getting a factory job.

This wasn’t the way I was told it would happen. The catechism of orthodox American Leninism is to shave off your beard, get a haircut and stop smoking pot. A revolutionary act is to give leaflets to dockworkers.

The Progressive Labor Party, for example, sends its best people into factories and they recruit a couple of new members each year – and we are the dropout freaks doing everything we were not supposed to do, out on the same rock-throwing things as the workers, and not a single Freddy in sight.

We must realize that the fragmentation dumb-dumbs of repression fired at us in Chicago finally explode in the paycheck prisons of nine-to-five average America.

The best way we can push the workers into revolution is not by sharing in their factory slavery, but by creating our own liberated communities in every major city.

We will constantly confront the man in the battle for the street, parks and living space needed for us to humanize in. Occasionally we must interrupt the pigs’ highest ceremonies by dumping a huge pile of shit on their best rug.

We did this in Chicago, and maybe we can follow it up at Richard Nixon’s inauguration. It is nothing like going into the man’s churches on his high holy days barefooted and smelly, to make him fire his Madison Avenue front group and show off his southern sheriff soul to NBC.

It is by our example of rebellion that we will steer the workers into realizing their own dreams. We won’t do it by collapsing before the mediocratic cleanshaven alcoholic conformities and telling the prolies to read this after they have read that.

We found out in Chicago that the military man of imperialism might have at least one clay foot. There were 43 soldiers at Fort Hood who refused to come to Chicago. The National Guard obeyed orders, but they had faces and not pig-snouts. We went up and down the line telling them not to let their officers kick them around and to behave with more humanity than the Russians did in Prague. The reaction was one of embarrassed presence and rationalization. There were few true believers in the crowd.

At first, our own reaction was one of terror and frenzied running. Then a more confident move-just-as-far-back-as-you-have-to walk, and finally the discovery that tear gas canisters could be hurled back and a cop-car taken out of action if enough people surrounded it. A lot of manhood emerged in Chicago, and for that we must be ironically grateful to the Democratic party.

Our revolution is going to be a chaotic, funky mud type of thing, not fitting any Germanic isms of somebody else’s historical necessity. It is being made in the streets right now. On its appearance, you laugh with joy at its absolute originality.

In Chicago, it was a street-tough with a swastika tattooed on his arm, waving an NLF flag and giving skin to a Blackstone Ranger who had just called for the overthrow of the government. It was a Cleveland suit-and-tie sociologist belting out a pig.

It was a bloodied NBC photographer telling us the National Guard was coming and where there were rocks to throw at them. It was bearded OM-ing hippies breaking windows of scabbing buses.

And finally, it was a busload of ten-year-old black children exchanging revolutionary fists and victory signs with me, and the proud look on the face of an on-looking, and then saluting, black woman.

Our revolution is a movable feast. You can sup of it wherever you make your scene. All it takes is the guts to be free.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Behind the Songs: Here's to the State of Mississippi

"For underneath her borders, the devil draws no line
If you drag her muddy river, nameless bodies you will find
The fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes
The calender is lyin' when it reads the present time"
--Phil Ochs, "Here's to the State of Mississippi" (1964)

We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi

We Are Not Afraid is a story of high drama, indeed, true crime, replete with outsize heroes and villains, as well as a definitive account of the civil rights campaign in Mississippi that stands today in retrospect as a veritable beacon of brotherhood. The authors' meticulous retelling of the murder of civil rights martyrs Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney is a triumph for its sheer readability, for its pace, and for its suspense.

But most remarkable, perhaps, is the book's recapturing of those times in 1964. It was an amazing time, when whites, a majority of them northern college students, converged on Mississippi to help blacks win their voting rights and access to public places. Cagin and Dray marvelously re-create the environment and circumstances of the Mississippi Summer Project and freedom summer, the sit-ins, the terrifying encounters between southern blacks and the white police. It meant the opening up, finally, of the last redoubt of prejudice, Mississippi.

The great distinction of their work is its quality of definitiveness, one's sense that the massive research and interviews the authors conducted have eventuated in not only a great story but an essential history. Here is, after all, a story of success, the belated triumph of the American constitutional system to secure for blacks the guarantees of equal protection under the law, due process, the Bill of Rights, and most fundamentally, the ballot.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Get Rubin!

While currently many Americans find themselves in the net of surveillance activities by intelligence agencies, in the past violating privacy in this manner required a couple of pages of justification. For example, when Phil Ochs' friend Jerry Rubin proved to be a menace to the U.S. government, the FBI wrote the following memo to the Attorney General:
May 13, 1968



Jerry Clyde Rubin traveled to communist Cuba 1964 via Czechoslovakia in violation of a Government ban on travel to Cuba. Thereafter, he was the founder and served as cochairman of the Vietnam Day Committee, Berkeley, California, a vigorous sponsor of antiwar demonstrations and protest rallies between 1965 to 1967 in the San Francisco area. Demonstrations sponsored by this organization under the leadership of Rubin led to numerous arrests and injuries to demonstrators. Rubin, himself, was arrested in August, 1965, in a demonstration which virtually trapped General Maxwell D. Taylor in a hotel office.

Since this period, Rubin became the Project Director for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam in New York, New York. In this capacity, he was the coordinator of demonstrations at the Pentagon and in Washington, D.C., October 20-22,1967. These activities also led to violence and mass arrests, including the arrest of Rubin for refusing to move from a restricted area.

In January, 1968, he was the founder and is now employed as a staff member of the Youth International Party, New York, New York. This group was reportedly organized to promote a "festival of life" demonstration at the National Democratic Convention in Chicago in August, 1968.

With little apparent effort or planning, this organization has already backed two impressive demonstrations. One of these, called a "yip-in," was held at Grand Central Stations in New York City on a late Saturday night for the purpose of celebrating the coming of spring. Violence and mass arrests occurred and the demonstration developed antidraft and antiwar implications. This organization presently plans another demonstration for Macy's Department Store in New York City on June 8, 1968.

Rubin constitutes a danger to the national security as evidenced by revolutionary statements. On the occasion of a public speech June 26, 1965, he stated the following must be included as a part of the peace movement: "massive civil disobedience and picketing," "working in slum areas," "teach-ins against labor unions," and "we must consider treason--deliberate sabotage of the war machine." He ended the speech by stating members of the peace movement must be willing to "put their bodies on the line." Participating in a panel discussion on November 27, 1965, he said the power structure in the United States had to be changed and he wanted demonstrations and civil disobedience rather than liberal means.

Coverage of Rubin's activities at the headquarters of the Youth International Party has been established and efforts are currently being made to increase this coverage. It is to be noted that many of the Youth International Party followers are "hippie types" and such would normally include numerous students. It could reasonably be expected that many of Rubin's contacts and organizational efforts would be made at night from his residence telephone. For this reason, a telephone surveillance of his residence would afford vital information as to organizational plans and the identity of key organizers, which would not be otherwise obtained through coverage of his place of employment.

The history of this individual in the direction of demonstrations which lead to violence has been established. It is recognized that he is capable of creating, through such demonstrations, a major civil disturbance if complete coverage of his activities is not effected.

Accordingly, I recommend the installation of a telephone surveillance on the residence of Jerry Clyde Rubin at 13 East 3rd Street, New York, New York, or any address to which he may move in the future.

Very truly yours,

John Edgar Hoover

Approved ___________________
Date _______________________

Later that year, Rubin caught on to the surveillance:

"Merry Jerry Bugged," Berkeley Barb (December 20-December 26, 1968)
By Stew Albert

“The FBI has been bugging me for years," Jerry Rubin told BARB over a bugged phone from New York. "Now they've admitted it publicly."

"The shit all came out on the appeal of my conviction on the Pentagon bust,” Jerry rapped. “The Supreme Court says the FBI has to admit and tell the judge if any evidence in the case came as a result of electronic tapping.”

"The Justice Department claims they didn’t get any evidence on the Pentagon bust as the result of tapping but they might be bullshitting,” Jerry charged.

"Because I cannot hear any of the tapes and we just have to take their word. The government says they used electronic devices. They might have been either phone tapping or apartment bugging, or maybe both.”

Jerry’s lawyer in New York, Bill Kunstler, has gotten a delay on his New York pot trial.

"He will demand that the judge in the grass case hear the tapes and find out if the prosecution got any of their evidence from bugging,” Rubin continued.

"If that happens we’ll get the case thrown out. Because the pigs have previously claimed they got all their info from a stool pigeon!!

"The Justice Department says they were tapping someone else in the interests of their security, and only accidentally heard me,” Jerry scoffed. “But my lawyer, who was also Rap’s lawyer, says this is what they always claim. They did this in Rap Brown’s case.”

Rubin calls it a “weird feeling to think that the federal pigs have been listening to my phone calls and dinner conversations for the last year.”

He pictures them “drunk and fat, a can of beer in their hands, trying to figure out what half the words I use mean. I hope it drives them crazy,” he said.

Merry Jerry used to be the easiest going guy when it came to wire-tapping. He always thought a lot of people were uptight about Big Brother having his ear to the wall. He has now learned, as we all must, that a bit of paranoia is pure reality.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Dylan Meets the Press - March 3, 1965

The press: Bobby, We know you changed your name. Come on now, what's your real name?

Dylan: Philip Ochs. I'm gonna change it back when I see it pays.

The press: Was Woody Guthrie your greatest influence?

Dylan: I don't know that I'd say that, but for a spell, the idea of him affected me quite much.

The press: How about Brecht? Read much of him?

Dylan: No. But I've read him.

The press: Rimbaud?

Dylan: I've read his tiny little book 'evil flowers' too.

The press: How about Hank Williams? Do you consider him an influence?

Dylan: Hey look, I consider Hank Williams, Captain Marvel, Marlon Brando, The Tennessee Stud, Clark Kent, Walter Cronkite and J. Carrol Neish all influences. Now what is it - please - what is it exactly you people want to know?

The press: Tell us about your movie.

Dylan: It's gonna be in black and white.

The press: Will it be in the Andy Warhol style?

Dylan: Who's Andy Warhol? Listen, my movie will be - I can say definitely - it will be in the style of the early Puerto Rican films.

The press: Who's writing it?

Dylan: Allen Ginsberg. I'm going to rewrite it.

The press: Who will you play in the film?

Dylan: The hero.

The press: Who is it that you're going to be?

Dylan: My mother.

The press: What about your friends The Beatles? Did you see them when you were there?

Dylan: John Lennon and I came down to the Village early one morning. They wouldn't let us in The Figaro or The Hip Bagel or The Feenjon. This time I'm going to England. This April. I'll see 'em if they're there.

The press: Bob, what about the situation of American poets? Kenneth Roxroth has estimated that since 1900 about thirty American poets have committed suicide.

Dylan: Thirty poets! What about American housewifes, mailmen, street cleaners, miners? Jesus Christ, what's so special about thirty people that are called poets? I've known some very good people that have committed suicide. One didn't do nothing but work in a gas station all his life. Nobody referred to him as poet, but if you're gonna call people like Robert Frost a poet, then I got to say this gas station boy was a poet too.

The press: Bob, to sum up - don't you have any important philosophy for the world?

Dylan: Are you kidding? The world don't need me. Christ, I'm only five feet ten. The world could get along fine without me. Don'cha know, everybody dies. It don't matter how important you think you are. Look at Shakespeare, Napoleon, Edgar Allan Poe, for that matter. They are all dead, right?

The press: Well, Bob, in your opinion, then, is there one man who can save the world?

Dylan: Al Aronowitz.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

2009 International Folk Alliance Conference reports that Phil Ochs will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 International Folk Alliance Conference (February 18-22, 2009 at the Marriott Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee), along with Guy and Candie Carawan. The keynote speaker will be Roger McGuinn.

Janis Ian on Dylan and Ochs

RH: Was it all camaraderie, or was there competition as well?

JI: There was a lot of camaraderie. I don’t mean to gloss over anything, because it was also true that Bob Dylan, for instance, was publicly using Phil Ochs as a whipping boy. There was also some backbiting and jealousy after I had success with “Society’s Child.”

Janis Ian Looks Back At The ’60s

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Behind the Songs: United Fruit

"Oh the companies keep a sharp eye
And pay their respects to the army
To watch for the hot-blooded leaders
And be prepared for the junta to
crush them like flies"
--Phil Ochs, "United Fruit" (1965)

Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

"United Fruit was a phenomenon. In its day . . . it was not so much a company as an unrecognized state."
--The Times Literary Supplement

In 1975, Eli Black, the CEO of conglomerate United Brands and an ordained Rabbi, smashed a window on the forty-fourth floor of the Pan Am building in New York and leapt to his death. What he left behind was the bloody history of the United Fruit Company's corporate subterfuge and a Wall Street takeover gone horribly wrong.

In this dramatic exploration of one of the world's most controversial multinational corporations, Financial Times journalist Peter Chapman shows how the banana importer United Fruit created the blueprint for how global corporations wield influence and power at nearly any cost. Bananas is a sharp and lively history of the rise and fall of this infamous company, from the jungles of Costa Rica to the halls of power in Washington D.C. Along the way the company fostered covert links with U.S. power brokers such as Richard Nixon and CIA operative Howard Hunt, manipulated the press, stoked the revolutionary ire of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and inspired the literary mind of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

From the groundbreaking national marketing of the banana as the first fast food, to the company's involvement in an invasion of Honduras, the Bay of Pigs crisis, and a deadly coup in Guatemala, Chapman weaves a gripping tale of big business and political deceit, as well as exploring the tenuous ecology of the banana itself. With institutionalized business-bullying practices and cozy relationships with governments throughout the Central American "banana republics," the United Fruit Company story continues to echo in today's world of rapid globalizationl, mutually dependent markets, and peaking natural resources.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Fog is Red

By Stew Albert (published August 30-September 5, 1968)

CHICAGO (3 AM Thurs Aug. 22, by phone) – Chicago tonite reeks of teargas. It is an ugly gasping fog and it is being inhaled by the entire City.

There is rioting in the streets.

Shop windows are being shattered. Fires are being started. The major sections of midtown Chicago have been in the mobile hands of the new revolutionary people of the street.

The National Guard has been called up and Mayor Daley’s Chicago pig force are running amuck.

The Yippies have asked for UN observers to be sent to Chicago to investigate this latest trampling upon human rights.

I have spent most of my time in Lincoln Park and in the streets. The park is seven miles from the Amphitheater where the Democrats curse and tear at each others throats.

The park was supposed to be where the Yippies would hold their Festival of Life, rejoicing and making love. Now, because Mayor Daley denied us a permit to sleep in the park, Yippie nights are spent in the streets taking on the cops on a block-to-block basis.

The human composition of Lincoln Park during the day is the “what’s happening” of the revolution.

There are the usual middle-class dropouts, but they have been joined by the working class dropouts of the motorcycle gangs, by the black and Puerto Rican dropouts from the Mother country.

They have been joined by the press (who have had their asses beaten like the rest of us) and by Catholic priests (who have been teargassed like the rest of us).

They have been joined by striking black bus drivers wearing Free Huey buttons and by those soldiers at Ft. Hood who would not come to Chicago to beat and kill their brothers.

On Tuesday in the park there was a huge wooden cross, NLF flags, red flags, black flags, Yippie flags. The tear gas drove this symbolic diversity into the streets and into revolutionary brotherhood.

If Daley and the Democrats had been smart, they would have given the park to the Yipipes and allowed a march to the Ampitheater. But the triumphant mood in the backrooms of hack politics is fascism.

They denied us everything and in doing that they pulled us together. Maybe they thought we’d fold up and go home. I guess they had the same opinion of long-hairs as some of the left wing groupings in Berkeley.

Perhaps Daley had the image of the apolitical love-generation hippy who offered America a flower and sixty minutes of cuteness on a TV special.

But we’ve all been beaten on the heads a little too much. We decided to stay and fight, and when we did we were joined by the others who have been beaten on the head too much. The forces were joined, and the battle began.

The motorcycle gangs were dubious of this kind of alliance at first, dubious of the willingness of the children of the suburbs to fight cops; but when the point was proved the new brotherhood was formed. They came to fight for the park in the streets.

We were told that the Blackstone Rangers (an organization of black streetfighters – ed.) were being paid off by the Mayor to drive us out of town. But I stood next to a Ranger speaking from a microphone in the park, and he said that in this battle there were no separations and that the thing to do was to make a revolution.

The Chicago fuzz have an international reputation of sleek, brutal piggery, but what the people have seen in Chicago has blown their minds, and they are scared.

When they see motorcycle gangs doing security for Bobby Seale while he speaks, or bodyguarding Jerry Rubin day and night, they must realize that the balance of forces is undergoing changes.

When we first arrived in Chicago the pigs put 24-hour tails on the Yippie leadership and boasted to the press that everything was under control. They followed us wherever we went, into restaurants and into theatres. They saw to it that our phone service was disconnected and they blocked us from going to meetings in hotel rooms.

But when we started fighting back the […]

Seven of us spent the day in jail for bringing a 200 pound pig into the center of Chicago and calling for his nomination by the Democrat Party. If Americans have unconsciously chosen to be ruled by pigs, they should be awakened and made to see what their leaders really look like. That time the cops were positively sweet to us and insisted they were for Wallace only because he is an honest man.

[…] for us someday and that they are interested in protecting their pensions.

It’s been very rough. One kid was killed when he was stopped on the street for a curfew violation. The pigs claim he had a gun but they have not yet come up with it. My six stitches came soon after that, and then as our revolutionary gangs began to move around town the cops really began to escalate.

Hundreds of young people have been arrested and there has been a special concentration on the most radical of the leadership. Tom Hayden has been arrested three times and beaten up in the station. Rennie Davis has had his head cracked open.

Jerry Rubin has been busted twice and at this writing is still in jail. Wolf Lowenthal, a kind of all-around bodyguard and bringer together of the gang, has been arrested three times and brutally beaten.

Marvin Garson, a visiting journalist from San Francisco, had four stitches put into his head and a charge of aggravated assault laid on him.

The cops have suffered their casualties too. They have had their cars and their faces smashed by bottles and rocks. Estimates are that between 50 and 70 police cars have been put out of commission, and on several occasions the police have been caught in their own tear gas.

I have never felt the essence of American power as I have on those nights leaving Lincoln Park at midnight. Seeing the gas floating up into the sky and the distorted masked faces of the police moving through it. Following as if it was a guru in hell, an electronic monster armored car moving slowly forward with the same contempt that advanced disease has for its victims.

There has been very little rock music in the park. The Miss Yippie contest has been cancelled, as well as Paul Krassner’s Pin the Contraceptive on the Pope game. Ed Sanders of the Fugs said music somehow wasn’t appropriate, and Joe McDonald of the Fish, whose nose was broken in the hotel lobby, left town.

The Yippies have shown themselves to be a two-edged sword. They can lure children away from the mediocrity of suburban supermarkets and graveyards by showing through their own groovy actions the possibility of another and more exciting form of life. Rock music and the dadaist puton is at the center of this approach.

But Chicago has shown that there is another side to this Yippie madness. We have cultivated our courage, we can fight, we can be tough, and we can talk to workers better than any old Marxist owl I ever met on the Cal terrace.

Berkeleyans know a lot about the Yippies media games, but about their clenched fists they know very little.

In the next week’s issue of the BARB, I want to go into the significance of this for the American revolution. I have learned much from Chicago that I never heard out of the mouth of a Hal Draper or a Pete Camejo.

I have always believed as a matter of DIALECTICAL faith that there would be a revolution in America.

Here in Chicago I know there will be a revolution; because it has begun and I am in the red and black center of it.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Bill Ayers

With the Weather Underground and in particular Bill Ayers back in the media spotlight due to his previous associations with Barack Obama, here is a look back at the late 1960s and early 1970s with a summary written by the FBI in 1976, which sought to connect the group with foreign influences:

Michael Joseph Rafferty, Jr.
Julies Michael Taylor,
Hank Anderson

BILL AYERS is a white male who was born on December 26, 1944, in Oak Park, Illinois. AYERS was one of the authors of the "Weatherman Statement" upon which the WUO was founded in 1969 and has been considered to be one of the leaders of the organization since its founding. Although AYERS was not arrested during the WUO "Days of Rage" he was one of the leaders of these riots. AYERS was also one of the more influential people attending the WUO "Flint, Michigan War Council." AYERS submerged into the underground in early 1970 and remains therein. AYERS' younger brother RICHARD JAMES AYERS, who is presently being sought by the FBI for desertion from the military service, and his former sister-in-law MELODY KAY ERMACHILD have also been active in the WUO underground.

Foreign Travel and/or Contacts

On August 15, 1969, it was learned that AYERS was scheduling himself to depart for Canada that date for the purpose of conferring with a group of thirty individuals who had been in Cuba during the recent past and who were due to arrive by boat on August 16, 1969. (It is noted that among those individuals returning to the United States via Canada at that time were such WUO functionaries as TED GOLD, BERNARDINE DOHRN, DIANA OUGHTON, DIONNE DONGHI and ELEANOR RASKIN.

On July 29, 1969, AYERS made a speech on the campus of the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, during which time he discussed the SDS's role in the Venceremos Brigade and promoted this trip to Cuba. During the course of this speech AYERS commented as follows in response to a question about the Brigade:

"In November and beginning January, SDS was involved in sending 150 people, both times to Cuba to cut cane, to cut sugar, as part of Cuba's program to create, to put out 50 million, or what is it 100 million, 10 million tons of sugar."

AYERS continued as follows:

"They are not being paid because they are not honkeys who need to get paid in order to do something, in order to serve the people, and what they're going to do is, there will be about 75 SDS people on each trip and about 75 people from, recruited from the Black Panther Party and Young (illegible) organizations, and other black and brown organizations that will go to Cuba, are going to live and learn about the country, by going to work to create and help the Cubans create a solid economy in the face of an economic boycott by the United States, in the face of constant threats from the United States, in fact a couple of invasions that didn't work because the Cuban people were too well armed and well educated. The Venceremos Brigade is an idea which is an attempt to show the people of the world that all Americans aren't solid in their nature of Cuba, and that all Americans aren't solid in their support of the economic boycott of Cuba, and so we are going to go and we are going to attempt to, attempt to help the Cubans in their efforts. DAVID JOHNS from the (SDS) National Office is one person who's going on that trip, other people from here who are interested should talk to BILL THOMAS from Portland afterwards because he's got, in Portland, he's got applications. It's a simple matter, if you're under 17 you need your parents' permission. Yes."

[Redacted portion]

After the WUO submerged into an underground status, BILL AYERS and NAOMI JAFFE traveled to Canada for the purpose of meeting with representatives of the Quebec Liberation Front. When the pair returned, AYERS had $2,000 in his possession that he definitely did not have when JAFFE and he went into Canada.

[From an earlier portion of the report:]

No Marxist-Leninist denies the necessity of armed struggle. The centrality of the debate on this issue among revolutionaries is primarily that of timing. Should a revolutionary situation not exist, should the masses not be sufficiently antagonized by the ruling class, the carrying out of armed violence is, within the revolutionary left, adventurism. When Weatherman engaged in sabotage and bombings in their early years they were castigated by the communist left not for having engaged in confrontations against the state but rather for engaging in such activity at a time when they had no chance of encouraging a revolutionary situation. In 1976, however, a more mature WUO makes a similar criticism against the SLA, thusly coming to grips with their own early adventuristic failures. The WUO does not reject armed struggle, however. But the WUO of 1976 recognizes that politics comes first; that violence is subsumed within a recognizable revolutionary ideology, Marxism-Leninism. Their view is summed up in the following document issued in the spring of 1976:
"Politics in Command" by CELIA SOJOURN and BILLY AYERS, Weather Underground Organization

The Necessity of Violent Revolution

There are many on the left who self-righteously condemn all violence of revolutionaries. They are keeping their own hands clean by avoiding the full consequences of revolutionary ideas. For these people, the revolution will happen only some day and hopefully be made by somebody else. But power concedes nothing without a demand. Armed struggle is an extension of political struggle, just as war is politics with bloodshed. Under certain historical conditions political struggle leads necessarily to armed conflict. When a small ruling class maintains itself in power by force and violence, when the masses of people are forced to work and live in brutalized and violent conditions, political struggle both peaceful and violent is the inevitable result.

Reactionary capitalist violence is criminal: revolutionary violence will bring about the new society. Marxism-Leninism holds that 'the fundamental question of every revolution is the question of power.' Marx considered violence as 'the midwife of all old societies about to bring forth a new one.' The capitalist system of private property is protected forcibly by a group of violent, dangerous men. The development of mass revolutionary violence is essential to smash the state of the exploiters and to wrest power from the armed defenders of imperialism.

Politics in Command

Our job is not only to carry out action -- that is comparatively simple. Our job is to succeed in making a revolution. The guerrillas, like all revolutionaries, bear the responsibility of developing full political strategy, and a mistake in military strategy can be deadly. The stakes are high, not only for the people and organizations carrying out military work, but for the course of the revolution. Ho Chi Minh said, 'a military without politics is like a tree without roots -- useless and dangerous.' That is why we use the slogan 'Politics in Command.'

Our goal is to build communist organization toward the stage where armed struggle becomes a mass phenomenon led by a Marxist-Leninist party: a revolutionary stage. Organization is the strongest resource of the people. Organization unites and builds and means that each day's efforts add up. Organization is made up of individuals but is bigger and longer lasting than any one individual. Individuals are precious but organization is decisive. Only organization allows continuity of experience and leadership, and carries the deeds of the individual fighters beyond themselves into the future....

The strategic necessity for this period is to mobilize the oppressed and exploited people against US imperialism. Militarily this is the stage of armed propaganda; the test of action is primarily the ability to win the people....

...But revolutionary violence must be specific, comprehensible to the people, and humane. The violence of the revolution must be clearly distinguished to the oppressed and exploited people from the violence of capitalist society. People do not need us to be fearful, or to create chaos. Chaos prevails. Our task is to show the way out of the madness....

...We must never hesitate to fight, but we must never build any mystification about violence. We must be a force of armed militants, not militarists....

We do not condemn violence that originates from the left, just as we do not condemn violence against the state that originates from the working class. The oppressed peoples and the working class have a right and an obligation to develop armed struggle as a means to liberation.

It is a right wing error to argue that only legal forms of struggle are legitimate. For some, no level of mass struggle will justify armed struggle; these are naive and irresponsible people, never ready to raise the question of violence or of the need to fight and ultimately win state power....

...Our revolution will need both open and clandestine movements, legal and illegal struggle, peaceful and armed struggle -- and we will need harmony and organization among all levels of the struggle toward the goal of a revolutionized and fighting people.

[Later excerpt:]

The Weatherman move toward armed struggle was distinctly part of their internationalist approach to revolution firstly, because the Vietnamese needed such support and secondly, because they felt the revolutionary consciousness of the American masses would be heightened by the impending victory of the Third World over American imperialism. The National Action called for the fall of 1969 was deemed to be the major effort which would bring to youth a revolutionary class consciousness. The opening of another front in the international revolutionary struggle under the slogan "Bring The War Home" would both serve to defeat U.S. imperialism in Vietnam and create the conditions for real revolution in the heart of the "monster."
"I think that the national action has to be seen in the context of a strategy that's going to win, that's going to help the NLF concretely, that's going to build Weatherman, and that's going to build a fighting revolutionary youth movement...

I think people should push out this slogan 'Bring The War Home.' We're not just saying bring the troops home, bring the US troops home and deploy them some place some other time, we're saying bring the war home...

I think people understand how this kind of action at this time, given the whole thing in Paris and the situation the Vietnamese are in now, can concretely aid the Vietnamese. The other thing that people have to get confident about is that we can build a revolutionary youth movement."

Bill Ayers, Educational Secretary, SDS; National Action Conference, Cleveland, Ohio, August 29-September 1, 1969
New Left Notes; September 12, 1969

Read more of the FBI report

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Behind the Songs: Talking Birmingham Jam

"Some say they've passed their darkest hour
Those moderates are back in power
They'll listen close with open ears
They'll help us out in a couple of hundred years"
--Phil Ochs, "Talking Birmingham Jam" (1963)

Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama - The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution

"The year of Birmingham," 1963, was a cataclysmic turning point in America's long civil rights struggle. Child demonstrators faced down police dogs and fire hoses in huge nonviolent marches for desegregation. Ku Klux Klansmen retaliated by bombing the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four young black girls. Diane McWhorter, daughter of a prominent Birmingham family, weaves together police and FBI documents, interviews with black activists and former Klansmen, and personal memories into an extraordinary narrative of the personalities and events that brought about America's second emancipation.