Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 12, 2007

Camden 28

Filed under: antiwar,Film — louisproyect @ 6:05 pm

Howard Zinn with director Anthony Giacchino
and director of photography David Daugherty

The Camden 28 were members of the Catholic left who were arrested after breaking into a draft board in the poverty-stricken city of Camden, New Jersey on August, 1971 with the intention of destroying draft records. Anthony Giacchino’s superlative documentary “Camden 28,” which opens July 27th at the Cinema Village in New York City, consists of interviews with the Camden 28 today, as well as film and television clips from the 1960s and 70s that remind us why they would risk lengthy prison sentences to oppose the war–including the pre-credit footage of an American GI setting fire to a Vietnamese grass hut with a cigarette lighter.

Beyond the fascination that the film holds as both a historical chronicle and an insight into the character of some remarkable people, it tells a dramatic story that has almost a Biblical dimension, involving as it does faith and betrayal.

The Camden 28 relied heavily on the technical support of Bob Hardy, a parishioner in the Church led by Father Michael Doyle, an Irish immigrant who was one of the ringleaders. Hardy, a handyman by trade and a Marine veteran, went to the FBI as soon as he discovered Doyle’s intentions and agreed to serve as an agent provocateur. He supplied the plotters with the tools that they needed and the advice about how to break into windows, all at the prompting of the FBI.

But Hardy was not a one-dimensional villain. He was sympathetic to their antiwar beliefs to some degree but felt that breaking and entry violated law and order. The FBI promised him that the 28 would be arrested before the break-in took place and that they would either serve no jail time or very little. When he discovered that the FBI planned to prosecute them to the hilt, he broke with the agency and submitted an affidavit on behalf of the defense revealing the degree to which the conspiracy had been funded and organized by the FBI.

When the case finally came to trial in 1973, the jury found the Camden 28 not guilty on all counts. By this time, antiwar opposition had sunk deep roots everywhere in American society, including this jury room. One of the jurors, a widow who owned a woman’s clothing factory, said “There was a strong feeling among the jurors that they wanted to join the defendants in taking a stand against the war.”

However, the foreman of the jury told the press that it was Hardy’s affidavit that convinced them to return a not guilty verdict. By 1973, government misconduct had penetrated public opinion in the same way that it has today.

A few months before the Camden 28 had been arrested, another break-in had occurred at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. The purloined records had been circulated to the press, revealing a pattern of COINTELPRO illegality, including the use of agent provocateurs like Bob Hardy. The FBI was so incensed by the Media break-in that they decided to apply maximum pressure on the Camden 28 so as to extract the identity of the Media conspirators. This meant using an agent provocateur and pressing for long prison terms. As happens so often in cases like this, it backfired and resulted in the freedom of the 28 and another blow against the war in Vietnam. A jury had decided that when justice collided with the law, it was better to act on behalf of justice. Howard Zinn, who is one of interviewees, testified on behalf of the defense at the trial and explained to the jury that civil disobedience is as American as cherry pie.

In the period that the film chronicles, I was deeply involved with the antiwar movement as a member of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party but felt little connection with the Catholic left or any other practitioners of civil disobedience for that matter. The party had a laser-like focus on mass demonstrations and tended to discount the importance of draft card burning, break-ins at draft boards, etc. Now that I have a broader perspective on things, including the dogmatism of my own organization, I can better appreciate the courage and persistence of the Camden 28, the Berrigan brothers and others.

It would be difficult for anybody watching this very fine documentary not to be reminded of events occurring today, as is probably the intention of director Anthony Giacchino. On a depressingly regular basis, some poor souls are being charged with organizing raids on Fort Dix, plans to blow up the Sears Tower, etc. Without exception, they were being incited by an FBI agent. Entrapment of this sort has a very long and sordid history, going back to the Czar. Needless to say, breaking and entry into a draft board will never be seen in the same light as blowing up a building or bombing a subway, a striking reminder of the difference between the Catholic left and a desperate Islamic radicalism.

While watching “The Camden 28,” I also reflected on the differences between the antiwar movement of today and back then. As has been noted in both the mainstream and radical media, the demonstrations are smaller and less frequent today. There are also obviously fewer acts of civil disobedience today, especially on college campuses. For all of the similarities between the two wars, there is also a key difference. In many respects, the Rumsfeld doctrine was a variation on low-intensity warfare, a strategy devised by the Pentagon to stave off mass demonstrations and civil disobedience as well as the kind of mass radicalization that characterized American society in the 1960s. Warfare “on the cheap,” without the need for a draft, does have a tendency to keep the heat on simmer, but it also has the effect of undercutting the strategic goal of defeating “the enemy.” That is a contradiction for the imperialist bullies to work out. All we can do today is to heighten the contradictions as the peace and justice-loving activists of Camden 28 did in their exemplary fashion.

Film website: http://www.camden28.org/

 

14 Comments »

  1. Dear Louis,
    As one of the Camden 28, I thank you for the review. I was heartening to read. I’m now 78 years young and always surprised and happy when someone really gets the message as you did. Nice going.
    It’s now just the anti-war thing, but the government’s role in this (and the FBI) and how they work against what people want and should have out of life from their government.
    I had just come from a 13 year “stint” in the Franciscan Order (OFM), with 5 years in Costa Rica when I joined the peace movement and the Camden group to really protest the war.
    Thanks for the info on the showing in NY and the reveiw.
    Mike (#11 of the 28)

    Comment by Michael Krois Giocondo — July 12, 2007 @ 9:28 pm

  2. The ruling class has never been able to break the US population post Vietnam from what they call “The Vietnam Syndrome”. It is passed on generation to generation,

    These days even anumal rights activists are called terrorists. The stakes are higher if civil disobediance is done today.

    Good review.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — July 13, 2007 @ 5:51 am

  3. Sounds like a great movie. Seems like there hardly any action (much less direct action or civil disobedience) in today’s anti-war movement.

    I wonder though about the Rummy “doctrine.” Cockburn argues in the piece I will link below that it has a lot more to do with the drat because the war forcibly invaded the home of almost every working-class family as a result:

    http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=51&ItemID=13240

    Comment by Binh — July 13, 2007 @ 7:18 pm

  4. To follow up on your final point, another key difference is that today there is no draft. It’s hard to remain silent when your name’s on the roster. Imagine how much angrier the general public would be now if all American kids were at risk of being sent over there.

    Comment by Rowdy Theologian — July 13, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

  5. We have an economic draft today. When people are drowning in debt it’s difficult for them to get out on the streets and protest the war.

    Comment by Doug — July 15, 2007 @ 12:49 am

  6. Louis, as a Camden 28 defendant (not nearly as old as Mike Giocondo), I thank you for your EXCELLENT review of Anthony Giacchino’s fine film documenting “The Camden 28”. Thirty-five years after our action and trial, Anthony has brought back to life a grand story that would have simply died with time. He and David Dougherty spent ten years producing the film — beginning long before the current “Vietnam” war in Iraq. It’s release is, to say the least, timely. Thank you, Louis, for your keen insights and your great review. –John Swinglish

    Comment by John Swinglish — July 31, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

  7. Wait, are we supposed to support bringing back the draft or oppose it? I can’t remember…

    Comment by Stalinlover — September 10, 2007 @ 7:13 pm

  8. The protest are smaller because 19 north vietnamese did not come to America and kill 3,000 innocent people and destroy about half a dozen sky-scrapers. People see small anti-american states trying to get atomic bombs to kill US with.
    Where were all the protest against th USSR for arming the NV to attack the SV? None it appears. Where were the protest against the USSR invading Hungary, Chekoslovakia, Afganistan. None as usual.
    I was against the war, but please do not try being my conscience.

    Comment by John Turner — September 17, 2007 @ 4:40 am

  9. i’m intrested in getting a copy of the film cam.28..had checked on the progress of this project some years ago..”unfinished-in progress” at that time…I have strong personal intrest in this ..Martha Schmeley..next to next door neighbor and my 3rd grade teacher at st. lukes parrish in stratford n.j…give her my best reguards..please respond..later..sincerly tommy palmisano.

    Comment by thomas palmisano — October 11, 2007 @ 7:54 am

  10. Tommy Palmisano,
    Always wondered what happened to you.I still live in Stratford & remember playing in the woods w/ you , the Sheehans, Ciccone etc.I was checking this site out of curiosity,remembering Mrs. Shemeley’s involvement, when I came across your name.Good to see your curiosity was piqued as well.Hope all is well with you.
    Billy Coburn
    “Killdowning”

    Comment by Bill Coburn — March 25, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  11. The Camden 28…… were not heroes, are not heroes. If there is blood any anyone’s hands it is theirs. How many tens of thousand were slaughtered by the Communists after the USA pulled out. How many tens of thousands ddrowned trying to escape by boat. 2.500,000 slaughtered in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. Oh, I forgot. Being on the left means never having to say your sorry.

    Comment by Phil Cohen — August 5, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

  12. To the John Turner post (#8) I tend to agree with Ward Churchill’s assessment that the victims in the World Trade Center, except for the food workers, janitors, etc, were not so innocent but were closer to being the “little Eichmans” that grease the gears of Imperialist machinery.

    That’s not to condone or apologize for the Narodniki type terror tactics. Like Trotsky once said: “A bomb in hand can be a wonderful thing but first let’s clarify ourselves.”

    The Bolsheviks in general and Lenin & Trotsky in particular provide some of the most useful socioloical insights into the roots of individual terror acts insofar as they showed such actions flow always from frustrated radical intellectuals who are incapable of organizing the masses.

    If he’s the one who masterminded them, and I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary — conspiracy theories notwithstanding, then Osama Bin Laden’s acts ultimately fall into this category or individual terror.

    As far as the knavish post (# 11) by Mr. Cohen — he’s got it backwards. Being a defender of Imperialist Plunder under the guise of building Democracy means there’s never a need to apologize for carpet bombing or burning villages in order to save them.

    While it’s an unfortunate truism that victorious revolutions (as opposed to the counter revolutions in the former Warswaw Pact) are often accompanied by arbitrary violence — the vast majority of the victims of the NVA in Saigon in 1975 were themselves “Little Eichmans.”

    As far as Cambodia, try reading or watching even a liberal account (such as the late Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia”) of the geo-political forces that created an entity like the Khemer Rouge (and Uncle Sam’s perfidious role in it) before you start throwing hurling stones from your glass house.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 21, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  13. I am the FBI Agent to whom Bob Hardy came to in the Camden Resident Agency and I debriefed him daily until the arrest of the Camden 28. He is an honorable man. I am sure the Camden 28 thinks they were all honorable but they violated the law and should have been found guilty. Judge Fisher (RIP) encouraged jury nullification through what he allowed as testimony, what he denied as testimony and his charge to the jury. Justice was not done. The Camden 28 hurt our war effort in Viet Nam by disrupting the Selective Service System.
    Terry Neist USMC 1963-1967 and FBI 1968-1998

    Comment by terry neist — June 20, 2010 @ 2:57 am

  14. Terry Neist:

    “The Camden 28 hurt our war effort in Viet Nam by disrupting the Selective Service System.”

    That may have YOUR war effort in Viet Nam but it sure the fuck wasn’t mine. The word OUR in your sentence doesn’t mean shit so long as the world is divided between haves and have nots.

    Or are you so naive of an Agent that you don’t get the difference between “US Interests” and the rest humanity’s interests?

    If the latter is the case then your comment makes me want to puke.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 20, 2010 @ 4:46 am


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