“I cherished my hate as a badge of moral superiority.”
Mark Rudd (The Weather Underground).
In 1969, the Weathermen (later referred to as the Weather Underground) took over the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and from then lead an anti-government charge focussed at first on opposition to the Vietnam war, and then attaching itself to the black liberation movement. The WUO became a youth counter-revolution, based on a line from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, and claimed responsibility for approximately 25 bombs from 1969 to 1975, although no civilian was seriously injured, except for 3 of their own members who were killed after a bomb went off accidentally at a Greenwich Village townhouse in March 1970. It would seem strange to compare this violent movement to the watered-down Facebook activism of the modern left, however the intentions and some of the rhetoric is hauntingly similar. Does this mean a new Weatherman-style group will form? Probably not, but the group could just as easily have formed today.
The rise of certain political figures like Jeremy Corbyn, or Bernie Sanders in America is testament to a growing opinion from (mostly middle-class) youth; an embrace of socialist ideas. In 4 days from the posting of this article I will be graduating university with an Arts degree, and I can see this undying yearn for revolution still present today in modern campuses. Maybe there’s something about the student brain that lends itself to anti-government or anti-capitalist ideas, or maybe it is a lack of student brain I don’t know, and maybe we’ll save the “why” for a separate topic, but the embracing of communist ideas was something the Weathermen also prided themselves on. In You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows, the WUO manifesto, they state that “the goal is the destruction of US imperialism and the achievement of a classless world: world communism,” and that “imperialism is a predatory international stage of capitalism. Defeating imperialism within the US couldn’t possibly have the content, which it could in a semi-feudal country, of replacing imperialism with capitalism or new democracy; when imperialism is defeated in the US, it will be replaced with socialism- nothing else.” Although perhaps the difference between their manifesto and the unwritten cult of the student-left is that they acknowledge that “any conception of ‘socialist revolution’ simply in terms of the working people of the United States, failing to recognise the full scope of interests of the most oppressed peoples of the world, is a conception of a fight for a particular privileged interest.”
Another comparison that can be made between the modern left and the WUO, is their expression of white guilt, and certainly the affiliation with the Black Panthers and the black liberation movement. In May 1970, the Weathermen issued a declaration of a state of war with the United States after recent retaliatory efforts to the Panther 21 trial; accused of coordinating bombings and rifle attacks on two New York city police stations. After the death of black anti-cop activist Fred Hampton in 1969, the Weathermen first began latching themselves on to the anti-law enforcement movement with the Panthers, taking the assumption (which has been debated over several decades) whether Hampton’s death was justified. Whatever your opinion on that is, there are undeniable similarities with a similar black, anti-cop movement that the modern left has attached themselves on to: Black Lives Matter. However, while the Panthers had arguable motive, BLM often proceeds to attack white people on the streets solely because they’re white (as seen in Charlotte, when a white kid was stripped naked in a car park and beaten by a group of young “activists”). What underpins this collaboration between the wish-they-weren’t-white left and black activism is the notion of a clear cut American two-class system; the oppressors, and the oppressed. It would take only one of the several videos from BLM chanting “what do we want? Dead cops!” to liken them to the rhetoric of the Panthers, the only real argument is whether or not the cases are equally valid. The Weathermen held their own slogans above their heads, the words of which were praised as being above the heads of others, which read that “the streets belong to the people”. As architects of white guilt, the Weather Underground arguably began the notion that white skin is comparable in itself to a form of privilege, a recurring talking point of the regressive left.
Another interesting comparison that can be made is the idea of breaking down personal identity and “traditional” sexuality. Whilst the sexual revolution in the 60s may not have been orchestrated by the Weathermen, they certainly participated in it and I think it was along the same revolutionary track. In a documentary about the Weather Underground by Sam Green in 2002, they quote from an unpublished memoir by Mark Rudd; “it was a moment of extreme sexual experimentation. Group sex, homosexuality, casual sex hookups, were all tried as we attempted to break out of the repression of the past into the revolutionary future… legs, arms, genitals, interlocked with no particular identity attached.” Anyone reading that quote should instantly tell the connection I’m trying to make, from the break down of monogamy or “smash monogamy”, to the modern day Gender fluidity, and hyper-bisexualism.
There is a certain trend among youth, and I think it’s important to identify the external reasons why the young feel so imperatively to break free from what they’re taught. Maybe it’s the way they’re taught, or maybe it’s just a tenet of youth itself, and I certainly feel like it’s healthy to want to challenge the system, but to challenge something for the sake of that challenge rather than the real issues within the system is a facade that I don’t believe is healthy – and I think the modern left probably falls into the latter of those two categories. The WUO maybe had some cause, although their actions can be queried, the modern left seem hellbent to bring those same causes and fight in similar shoes to activists like the WUO, without being able to preach necessity. To be honest, I think more and more people are starting to realise that the true youth revolution of the modern day is a conservative one, and a nationalist one, not a communist revolution like the left may want it to be. Although any revolution breeds extremism, and whether you are right or wrong, “when you feel that you have right on your side, you can do some horrific things.” (Brian Flanagan, member of the WUO.)
(Image by Weather Underground [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)