“Days of Rage” Book Review by Rich Gibson
In his book, “Days of Rage,” Bryan Burrough offers us the best take on the worst thing that ever happened to the student movement of the 1960's and ‘70.
Burrough’s work is meticulously researched and documented. It takes on a period in the US when everything appeared to be in crisis: the military, the presidency, the economy, the education system, even fundamental social values. It wasn’t a second Enlightenment but “criticize everything.” was the norm. Some naive people thought the US was on the verge of a revolution. It wasn’t.
How do I know? I was there.
I offer highlights of events in the run-up to the creation of a vast anti-war US anti-war movement in bullets:
*1964–Lyndon Johnson elected as a peace candidate, using this television ad https://youtu.be/9Id_r6pNsus
*1964–Johnson manufactured the “Gulf of Tonkin,” incident, a fiction that offered the adminstration a chance to expand the wars on Vietnam,
*1964, the student anti-war movement begins to rise from the civil rights’ movement and Mario Savio makes this speech at Berkeley https://youtu.be/tcx9BJRadfw
*1965–The war expands, as a working class war, children of the poor in the US killing other children of the poor on behalf of the rich in their homeland,
*1965--April, The Students for a Democratic Society call for a demonstration against the war in New York City. Expecting around 1000 people, max, 25 to 40 thousand arrive and march. SDS begins to boom,
*1965–activists begin anti-war teach-across the US,
*1966--Conscription: Youth begin to burn draft cards https://youtu.be/gV--rAMQoQk
*1966–The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense demonstrates, with long gun, on the steps of the California capital,
*1967--April 28th: Muhhammed Ali, heavy weight boxing champ, publicly refused induction to the US Army–he was stripped of his title,
*1967–uprisings in the cities: in Detroit, the US military returned to defeat the rebels with tanks, and the follow up US “Kerner Commission,” declared, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one white, one black; separate and unequal,”
*Summer of 1967-a mass march on and seizure of the Pentagon, memorialized by Norman Mailer in his, “Armies of the Night,”
*1967--Martin Luther King came out against the "imperialist war," and began to connect civil rights and poverty to capitalism and war, https://youtu.be/TxxeyPBB36c
*!968--In January, Vice President Humphrey: "We are winning the war in Vietnam."
*1968--Later in January-the Tet offensive attacks every major city, proving to many that the US was not in control, not at all. The once beautiful and historic city of Hue was bombed into oblivion-the US response. VC troops seized and held, briefly, the US embassy. It was a symbolic victory, if military battle defeat.US’ most famous reporter, Walter Cronkite, says the war cannot be won,
*March 31, 1968, Johnson shocked many Americans, saying, "I shall not seek and will not accept,"
*May, 1968–an uprising that began in Paris involved masses of workers and students, seeking to overthrow the government,
*April 1968-M.L. King was murdered while supporting a garbage workers' strike. Rebellions swept the USA,
*1968Bobby Kennedy killed by Sirhan Sirhan in California on June 6,
*1968–Black workers in Detroit formed the Dodge Revolutionary Union movement to fight for concessions from Chrysler and other auto-makers–as well as the racism within the United Auto Workers union. Eldon “RUM” followed along with several others. In July, DRUM led a brief strike. The many RUM’s became the League of Black Revolutionary Workers.
*1969–By this year, the GI anti-war movement was growing fast, depicted in the film, “Sir No Sir.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nPJgeg6hpA
It was a time when, indeed, “all that was solid was melting into air,” and perhaps a better world was in the offing. Perhaps.
Inside the radical Students for a Democratic Society, involving hundreds of thousands ot (mostly white) youth, a split was brewing: Weatherman arriving.
Burrough addresses more than the Weathermen. I chose to stick with them. Readers can make their own decisions about their likenesses and differences with, for example, the Black Panther Party or the Black Liberation Army.
I cleaned up after the Weathermen (from Bob Dylan’s “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing”) and its key leadership, like Billy Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, too much in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
The Weathermen posed as revolutionaries, extending out from tony Ann Arbor, Michigan, west to Kalamazoo and, occasionally, east to my hometown, Detroit. I trailed behind, trying to convince many young people that massive doses of LSD, speed, exploitative sex, terrorism, and running naked through schools would never create the kind of class conscious movement that could not only end the US’ wars on Vietnam–but also sustain itself for genuine social change for equality and justice.
As we shall see, what ties together the continuum of the lives of the Weathermen, and especially Ayers’ and everyone’s paramour, now his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, is their self-building opposition to forging mass, class conscious, integrated actions.
In their terrorist Weatherman days, they sought to replace that struggle with bombs, often bringing down repression on those they claimed to represent.
Later, despite felony warrants, Ayers became an Annenberg grant favorite, a liberal professor, promoting the patent medicine of “small schools,” to the mortal disease that is segregated, mystifying, capitalist mis-education.
In October, 1997, the city of Chicago, where Ayers led the “Custeristic,” suicide charge of the “Days of Rage” made Ayers a “Citizen of the Year.”
Bernadine Dohrn became a liberal professor after working her way up the SDS ranks, much like Joan Kroc eventually the wife of MacDonald’s Ray Kroc; on her back.
The sectarian, cultish, early life of Weathermen easily became the dishonest, opportunist, later lives of the Weathermen.
Opportunism and sectarianism are not a dialectical divide. Rather, they are often an equation.
The former says: the world will be remade as we jump up and down and demand it–and oh yes, kill some people.
Weatherman opportunism rather inverts Lenin’s dictum that the imperial world can bribe its workforce to support imperialism. In this case, the empire’s riches made children of the upper classes hate the working classes to the degree that they destroyed the social movement that could have played a leadership role in liberating workers and students alike: the Students for a Democratic Society.
Weatherman sectarianism says two things: we will become a more and more closed cult, driving out friends and foes alike, as we are feted by the press as “real revolutionaries,” and we will discourage thousands of kids from engaging in serious struggles for social change. Secondly, later in life, the world will be made as we mechanically help fashion it, one lock step at a time in our very privileged careers, remaking the world much as it is, but steadily worse–oh yeah, we’ll lie a lot about what we did earlier, as we grow richer.
Weathermen did considerable human damage.
In Kalamazoo, shortly after the Columbia University student strike in the spring of 1968, I met with a young man, Terry, who came from a small town in central Michigan. Terry was a talented writer, athletic, funny, buoyant–and handsome. Enamored of the appeals of the Weathermen, and perhaps the special appeal of Bernadine Dohrn, Terry was pounding down acid and speed together at an alarming rate. To shorten the story, Terry never came down: life ruined.
There were many more like Terry. In Detroit, the Weathermen I could recognize (most just vanished) became junkies. Detroit, the origin of so many things—now urban ruin—started the Weatherman “smash monogamy,” movement, exploitative sex disguised as freedom, leading to not, “Two, three, a Hundred Vietnams,” but probably two hundred cases of a variety of std’s.
The Weathermen did considerable political damage. In 1969, they demolished the Students for a Democratic Society, the largest student movement of the last century, on the eve of the massive outpouring of student action in May, 1970, opposing the bombing of Cambodia. As Weatherman Mark Rudd wrote, they destroyed the membership lists, making it nearly impossible to coordinate action. (http://www.markrudd.com/?sds-and-weather/the-death-of-sds.html)
In addition, in 1970, the working class which Weatherman insisted was completely sold out, corrupt, and rotten, was striking. There was a two week long wildcat postal strike. President Nixon had to invoke obscure laws, and call out the troops (many postal workers were Vietnam vets).
General Motors went on strike in 1970, a strike that was stage-managed by the United Auto Workers Union leadership, a charade documented in William Serrin’s, “The Company and the Union,” which concludes with most workers recognizing that the UAW was (is), at the top, a weapon of management. Even charade strikes can get out of hand. This one did not, despite the efforts of radical students who, all over the US, brought people to support the picket lines.
I was at the June, 1969, SDS convention where Weatherman cast out far more than half, perhaps two-thirds of the members assembled. By then, I was on the fringe of the Worker-Student Alliance Caucus, organized in the main by the Progressive Labor Party.
I had met, became friends with, Alan Spector, a regional traveler for SDS-WSA. WSA’s view as I saw it: patiently building a movement that aligned workers, the troops, and students for direct, mass, action for social change–democracy the numerator, equality the denominator. (Spector has written extensively about SDS online–the only good book on SDS is by Alan Adelson, “SDS”)
PL assuredly, was fighting for communism: Maoist.
I respected the idea of workers, students, and troops together. Maoism? No. I was appalled that the headless “Little Red Books,” existed.
I valued Ho Chi Minh more as I believed that, though a nationalist, he wasn’t going to move into the finest house in the country. Still, even back then I had encountered Chalmers Johnson’s earliest essays on “Peasant Nationalism,” and guessed Vietnam, when they won, would lose—as they did.
It follows that while I worked hard for SDS, had been jailed for demonstrations, beaten by police, and suspended from school, I was on the outside of the split debate, rooting for WSA, but utterly lost, and saddened, by chants of “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh,” howled by Weatherman, and “Mao, Mao Mao Tse Tung,” screamed by WSA and PL.
I was crestfallen when the split happened. It was clear to me that SDS was done.
I didn’t go to the October, 1969, “Days of Rage,” even if I was furious at the Chicago police for what they did to thousands of us during the Democratic Convention (police riot) in 1968. (See the book, “Rights in Conflict” for a description of the convention).
I knew “Days of Rage” was coming. Ayers and Dohrn and their pals traveled all over Michigan promising “Thousands, tens of thousands, of kids would descend on Chicago and start the revolution.”
That was crap. I trailed behind them telling people rich and middle class white children alone don’t make revolutions (an idea Weatherman seemed to pick up from, among others, a distorted reading of Herbert Marcuse).
“Chicago will be a police trap, on both sides,” was my refrain.
Burrough says maybe 200 showed up. Weatherman, always quoting Ho Chi Minh, descendant of Sun Tzu’s, “The Art of War,” didn’t know their own weaknesses, didn’t know the enemy, didn’t know the terrain, and didn’t win “a thousand battles”
In predictable crazed fashion, they stormed the streets of Chicago, got arrested, freed ($2.3 million in bail raised–how?), went underground, planned to kill people, and did–then turned to living well and blowing up toilets.
Only one of the Weathermen, Mark Rudd–cast out of leadership early in the underground days-- didn’t repeatedly lie about their activity. Ayers, in particular, did.
At last, we have this new and accurate book, that brings us more details about the damage Weathermen did, “Days of Rage,” by Bryan Burrough.
Burrough explodes Ayer’s (and Dohrn’s) many lies.
Here’s a central lie: “I never killed or injured anyone....The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.
“Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.” (Ayers, letter to New York Times, November 9, 2008).
What Ayers, slippery as ever, seeks to do here is build a moat between Weatherman and the Weather Underground. One pre-townhouse; one after–a name change in form only. More on the townhouse soon.
Burrough knows better.
Mark Rudd reiterates: The line was, “Fight the people! All white people are the enemy...Weather’s history was cleaned..a myth was born.”
“The myth, and this is always Bill Ayers’ line, is that Weather never set out to kill people, and its not true, we did—policemen were always fair game. What Terry was gonna do (the Boudin townhouse)...wasn’t far over our line, not like everyone said later. I mean he wasn’t on a different planet from where we were.” (Weatherman leader Howie Machtinger on p.123).
Following the Mussolini-like “action faction’s” bungled Chicago “Rage” demonstration, late fall of 1969, in Flint, about 45 minutes north of Detroit, they held the “Wargasm” council. There, Dohrn raised her hand in a Nazi-like salute, four fingers straight out, and said to the effect, “This symbolizes the fork that was driven into the stomach of that pig Sharon Tate (pregnant, murdered by the Manson family). Dig it!” (P.86).
Dohrn lied about this ever since she resurfaced.
“Off the pigs. Bomb the military.” (Cathy Wilkerson p.92).
“...what we were gonna be was undiluted terrorist action....I remember talking with Teddy Gold about putting a bomb on the (Chicago railroad) tracks at rush hour to blow up people coming home from work.” (Weatherman Jon Lerner p.92).
I will leave it to the reader to make the interesting discovery: who were the key Weatherman bomb-makers after the townhouse?
March, 1970: in a New York townhouse, owned by Diana Oughton’s (Ayer’s ex-girlfriend), wealthy father, five Weathermen planned to blow up a dance of young, low-level, military officers and their dates at Fort Dix. They had 200 sticks of dynamite, surrounded by shrapnel. The plan would have killed and wounded dozens, perhaps a hundred and more.
If that plan succeeded, known radicals of all kinds, all over the country, would likely have been swept up.
Instead, the Weathermen blew themselves up. Three Weathermen, committed to mass terrorist murder, died: Terry Robbins, Oughton, and Ted Gold. Two inside, Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson, escaped.
Burrough shows that Ayers and Dohrn, while not at the townhouse, knew the plan–and much more. Weatherman was planning to kill not just young women and men, but cops, and Burrough, who repeatedly and rightly calls Ayers a liar, shows that most of the levels of the group knew that. They were surely trying.
What produced Weatherman, with so many children of wealth (Ayer’s father was the head of Commonwealth Edison in Chicago, served on innumerable bank boards; Dohrn was a high school cheerleader and held a J.D. degree from University of Chicago School of law—in 1967–shortly before she became the Weatherman who recruited with self-exploited sexuality–“power doesn’t come out of the barrel of a gun, it comes out of Bernadine’s cunt”--of all kinds)?
While Burrough does explain Weatherman deeds in remarkable detail, and he touches on the Weatherman ideology, (and what is the grand strategy of terrorists?) he leaves it to us to discover more about where all their money came from, and what of their many ties to the limpid leafleting wing of the Democratic Party, the “Communist” Party USA, thoroughly infiltrated by both Soviet and US intelligence? There is a lot yet to be learned.
I was in my hometown, Detroit, when Weatherman was coming into being. I had worked in factories, usually auto feeder plants that would hire me, from seventeen on, sometimes summers, sometimes year round when I finished high school.
I worked, briefly, with the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam, then took their ideas to Kalamazoo where I deepened my involvement with the Students for a Democratic Society. A self-appointed, if not terribly self-assured (most were older) organizer, I traveled southern and central Michigan, urging people to join SDS, not just in opposing the war, but surely that, but also to build an integrated movement to fight racism, exploitation on an off campus. SDS was, then, a multi-issue movement drawing in youth, mostly white, into what was becoming a Marxist (pick your marx) movement.
Weatherman came out of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (which itself split, then split again, one side led for decades by Bob Avakian, “Chairman Bob,” who formed a zombie-like cult from the Left Bank in Paris–nice exile!–and another led by Ayers’ current pal, Mike Klonsky, also an Annenberg boy).
History was not moving fast enough to satisfy them.
I first heard of RYM, and got a taste of the comings of Weatherman, when I watched my prof, and later friend, Freddy Perlman debate the RYM leadership in Kalamazoo at Western Michigan University.
That would be, I believe, late 1967 or early 1968. Freddy, one of the most sophisticated anarchists in the US, had a good go at them. He was the first that I know of who pointed at the RYMs and yelled, “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” He underlined their psycho-emotion which was not solidarity, but poisonous benevolence targeting black people and the Vietnamese.
What interested me was indeed, on the one hand, the guilt that drove them, and on the other hand, the contempt they voiced for the vast majority of people in the industrialized world, working people and veterans I knew and liked.
Guilt led them to idolize the common street thug, Eldridge Cleaver, who wrote a book, “Soul on Ice,” praising rape as a revolutionary act.
“We wanted to follow the blacks. They wanted to kill cops. We did too.”
Cleaver, who Burrough has urging Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to preposterous, un-thought-out levels of violence against cops, was likely a police agent from the outset. He wound up issuing idiot proclamations from Algeria, then China, then returned to the US to hawk a line of mens’ and women’s underwear, passed through born-again Christianity, the Unification Church, and Mormonism. He’s dead. Like many others in this saga, if he wasn’t a cop, he missed a paycheck–and missing a payday was not like Cleaver.
Cleaver praised Malcolm X. The latter spent most of his life in a dedicated fight against racism. At several turning points, when he discovered he was making the wrong fight, he changed his mind and direction; at the end costing his life. Malcolm X, however, for most of his adult life worshiped Elijah Mohamed, who in turn, built a religion on a series of fantasies originating in a fellow named, among other things, Wallace Fard from, of course, Detroit. The Nation of “Islam,” is now an identified racist hate group, not so strangely involved with Scientology. They share ideas about UFO-gods.
Cleaver and Malcolm X didn’t have an education.
Weatherman did, from some of the finest schools in the US, in Ayers’ case, the University of Michigan.
Even though Billy Ayers’ brother, Rick, was a military deserter and was with Weatherman along the way, Weatherman also held the troops, who played key leadership roles in the anti-war movement, in contempt.
In 1971, early in Weatherman’s terrorist days, Vietnam Vets assembled in Detroit for the “Winter Soldier,” investigation. I attended as often as possible. The vets, who described the war crimes they were ordered to commit in Vietnam, went on to play key roles in the anti-war movement. Some of them never abandoned their struggle for justice and equality. Remember, Weatherman wanted to explode people like them months earlier. Weatherman held, and holds, contempt for the processes of history.
One of the vets, John Rollins, returned from Vietnam so angry that he joined the 1969 Days of Rage.
Substance editor George Schmidt comments here: “Rollins went AWOL..and joined the Days of Rage.” Like many others, he was arrested.
“But because he wasn’t wealthy...he was left behind as the arrested Weatherkids were bailed out, one by one, by their families’ high-priced lawyers. Rollins did about a year in a county jail...”
Rollins kept up his anti-war work, “but he didn’t express his disagreements by blowing things up and killing people.” (Schmidt letter to Sun Times, 9/2/01).
Ayers and Dohrn lived comfortably “underground” in a Sausalito houseboat, a gaited home in Tiburon, and another beach house in California. Most other top level Weathermen lived well too, but a few, like Ayers’ brother Rick, lived hand to mouth. How to explain that?
By mid-1970, students despised Weatherman, an 8% approval rate (p.155). But most students didn’t know Weatherman was not, ever, SDS; that they were terrorists of the most common sort. Many youth just drifted away from organized action, even after the risings of May, 1970. More and more also walked away from Weatherman.
So, Weatherman, led I believe mainly by Dohrn who was smarter and older, shifted gears.
At base it was, “hell with the blacks–up the Hippies!” Instead of Weatherman, they became the “Weather Underground.” Ayers, disingenuous as ever, wants to pretend Weatherman was not the Weather Underground. The Black Panther Party, with its own problems, attacked them as one and the same (and robbed them once) much to Weatherman humiliation.
The toilet bombing began. Scary revolutionaries! Weatherman numbers continued to shrink.
In the book Ayers claimed to write, “Prairie Fire,” he reserved a special dedication to Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert Kennedy. Christopher Kennedy, Robert’s son, made sure Ayers didn’t get emeritus status from his nice perch in his university. (Newsweek, 11/26/10).
Despite Burrough’s thoroughgoing research (he deals with much more than Weatherman) mysteries remain.
One would be: It may be easy to break the police agent, Timothy Leary out of a low-security jail, for cash, but how easy is it to get him out of the USA?
What of the Weatherman ties to Cuba?
Dohrn led a trip to Cuba, pre-townhouse explosion, where they were treated like “royalty.” One person told Burrough that a N. Vietnamese delegation told them to go home and wage armed struggle. That may be, but everyone I have interviewed from the groups before the Venceremos Brigades, and the Brigadistas themselves–the Vietnamese told the eager participants to go home and vote Democratic.
For those who want to follow trade-craft tracks where I have had to leave off to meet my own deadline; I believe that Dohrn had to meet with Julius Rizzo, a top Cuban intelligence officer, through his wife, and ex-Weatherman, Gail Reed Rizzo. It would be a natural connection that I cannot pin down. The Rizzo’s were later involved in Fidel Castro’s efforts to overthrow the government of Grenada, in 1983. How the social nationalist Fidel Castro would have wanted to opportunistically use Weatherman to his own ends is unknown, now.
Follow the money. The Weatherman adventures were expensive. Burrough traces a good deal of it to Weatherman lawyers, most of them in the once-Communist Party USA front, the National Lawyers Guild. That money made Weatherman possible. There had to be more. Rich parents?
And then we go back to the “Communist” Party USA, not communist but Democrats for decades.
Kathy Boudin’s father was CP lawyer Leonard Boudin. William Kunstler of the CP, aided them.
Cper Van Lydegraf not only took over Weatherman for a bit, he assisted in the Leary escape.
Judy Clark, a Weatherman who was convicted of murder in a unnecessarily vicious robbery, was a red-diaper baby. Clark is still in jail. Mind made right now–she’s a very well educated—chaplain.
Elaine Stein, of the CPUSA, had enough consistent contact with Weatherman to convince them to surface from “underground” life..
Her daughter, Eleanor, was a red-diaper baby who married Jeff Jones, a top Weatherman. “She is currently an administrative law judge at the New York State Public Service Commission.” (Wiki)
Ted Gold, blown up in the townhouse, was a red diaper baby.
Cathy Wilkerson’s father owned a radio station She graduated from high school at Abbot Academy, an elite girls school. She’s a Swarthmore grad. She met with the NLF in Cambodia in 67.She too went to Cuba.
Wilkerson, who has her own excuses for what Weatherman did, doesn’t think much of Ayers. She posted on Znet, about his book “Fugitive Days:” a cynical, superficial romp . . . making these struggles seem like a glorious carnival . . . Ayers relates his relentless sexual encounters without the slightest trace of awareness that some of these encounters might not have been so positive for the woman." She insists Ayers was fully aware of the townhouse plans.
One woman, a red diaper baby who was a dedicated social activist, felt like most of the others I interviewed. “I hated Dohrn. She was an arrogant common slut with an open blouse and open skirt and little else, except men sniffing behind–this as Women’s Liberation was getting its footing.”
Then, the ties to CPUSA ideology: Weatherman knew the empty-headed Stalinist line of founding a “Negro Nation,” in the US. And they mimicked it.
A last Ayers’ maneuver to witness: his implications that there was no alternative to Weatherman terrorism. There was: the vast majority of the people in the organization Weatherman destroyed–SDS.
What came of the prosecutions of the Weatherman “most wanted” criminals?
Police misbehavior undermined cases against them. The reader may be surprised who those cops would turn out to be, later. It’s worth the read.
One of the two top bomb makers did about a year in jail. The other one was never known until Burrough unveiled him/her in his book. That person was never prosecuted.
Most, like Ayers and Dohrn, got probation and a fine.
Weathermen who repeatedly denounced “white skin privilege,” were quite happy to benefit from it when it came to the feigned final confrontation between them and the law.
The core issue of our time is, and was, the reality of perpetual imperialist war and booming color-coded inequality met by the potential of a mass, activist class conscious movement for justice, democracy, and equality. The movement was being built patiently, leaflet by leaflet, small demonstration into bigger demonstration, inside SDS–until Weatherman wrecked SDS. They opposed that movement then. Rich; they oppose it now.
Weathermen Ayers and Dohrn now live in a trendy neighborhood in Chicago and did indeed host a fund-raiser for the demagogue, Obama.
It was the Hubris of rich, frequently red-diaper, children which led them to hate, and seek to blow up, people in the US–and to destroy SDS. It is the same kind of hubris that leads Ayers, Dohrn, and the living rest of them, other than Rudd, to continue to lie about what they did, and the counterfeit radicalism of what they do today.
Some of us never quit the struggle for equality, democracy and justice.
Burrough wrote the Weatherman Nemesis.
Rich Gibson: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Days of Rage,” by Bryan Burrough