Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 23, 2020

The Return of the Chicago Seven

Filed under: Counterpunch,Vietnam — louisproyect @ 1:17 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 23, 2020

Looking back at the choices I made, I often rue the 11 years I wasted in the SWP. While other people from my generation like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were having fun, I was something of a worker bee. I remember one cold and drizzly night in September 1967, when I was with a team of comrades wheat-pasting posters on Broadway between 59th and 96th streets for the October demonstration in Washington. Just after we finished, the cops told us to take them all down. Our only reward was seeing a massive turnout that included Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Hoffman and Rubin trying to levitate the Pentagon. During the trial of the Chicago 7, Hoffman used his puckish sense of humor to make prosecutor Richard Schultz look foolish as he tried to make an amalgam between this stunt and the charge of fomenting a riot in August 1968. When Schultz asked Hoffman to explain why he urinated on the Pentagon that day, you could not help but laugh at the exchange.

After having seen Adam Sorkin’s Netflix docudrama and one that aired on HBO in 1987, I can’t remember which film recreated this exchange. What I can remember, however, is the significant political differences between the two, as well as my take on the Chicago protests and the ensuing trial at the time. The seven men on trial were committed to the politics of the spectacle, to put it in DeBordian terms. By the summer of 1968, Dellinger et al. had grown frustrated with the failure of the mass demonstrations to end the war. They believed that “resistance” was necessary as a tantrum by several thousand young people could force the warmakers into withdrawing from South Vietnam. On December 29, 1968, SWP leader Fred Halstead debated Jerry Rubin over “What Policy for the Antiwar Movement.” The Militant newspaper carried excerpts from Rubin’s speech:

The war in Vietnam will be stopped when the embarrassment of carrying on the war becomes greater than the embarrassment of admitting defeat. A lot of things embarrass America. A lot of things embarrass a country so dependent on image: Youth alienation, campus demonstrations and disruptions, peace candidates, underground railroads of draft dodgers to Canada, trips to banned countries, thousands of people giving their middle finger to the Pentagon over national television …

The long-haired beasts, smoking pot, evading the draft and stopping traffic during demonstrations is a hell of a more threat to the system than the so-called politico with leaflets of support for the Vietcong and the coming working-class revolution. Politics is how you live your life, not who you vote for or who you support . . .

Only seven months later, the Chicago Seven led actions based on these premises. Unsurprisingly, the war continued despite the embarrassment generated by the police riots and the kangaroo court that the two documentaries depicted.

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5 Comments »

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences from back in the day and for your rich commentary on the Chicago 8/7 films.

    Comment by Stephen S Gosch — October 23, 2020 @ 4:16 pm

  2. I really like your “witness statement” about the Vietnam War antiwar movement in the U.S. (Chicago, etc.) (the entire article at CP). Forgive me if I sound like a critic, but: I also like your tone, your editorializing and clear statements of lessons-that should-have-been-learned, and your movie reviews/recommendation of the two versions of the Chicago 7 movies. I have memories of the times and the events, but nowhere near as organically integrated, and perceptively analyzed as you have presented. My only question, in the sentence:

    They believed that “resistance” was necessary as a tantrum by several thousand young people could force the warmakers into withdrawing from South Vietnam.

    Did you intend to insert “if” between “as” and “a”?

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — October 23, 2020 @ 5:10 pm

  3. If you are interested in the historical truth behind those times, I’d recommend Jonah Raskin’s masterful, very readable biography of Abbie Hofmann. In it, Hofmann’s particular blend of genius and flaw are depicted with scrupulous fidelity and commanding writing.
    Hofmann confided to Raskn that he was guilty of the cocaine sale, and had turned to large-scale drug-dealing to finance his threatened life.
    Ranking concluded that Hofmann committed suicide after a long descent in the 80s.
    What a character – both grandiose and arrestingly fraudulent. 60s in a nutshell.

    Comment by Martin — October 24, 2020 @ 10:52 am

  4. The radicals of the 60’s were middle class college kids. It’s no surprise they all gave up on “revolution” and went to join the rest of their class in the banks, investment houses and professions.

    The workers of the 60’s had to keep on working in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. They instinctively knew this when the college kids came to “colonize” them with ideologies from peasant countries like Russia and China. That’s why they never went for it.

    Communism comes from the working class struggle against the bosses, or it doesn’t come at all.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — October 25, 2020 @ 1:56 pm

  5. Thanks for reminding us that you are a genuine communist revolutionary. We don’t get such proclamations on the Internet very often.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 25, 2020 @ 2:10 pm


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