The Weathermen Redeemed, Part 1: The Provocateur Exhumed
by Jared Israel
Nov. 2, 2008
The Republicans’ accusation has been made from the far Right perspective that Obama’s alleged links to Weathermen, whom the Republicans say are representative of the radical student movement of the ’60s, show he is a hidden socialist. This is all quite misleading. To see why, we need to answer the question: who were the Weathermen?
That done, we can examine what Obama and McCain are saying – and not saying. Starting with Obama’s defense, we will see that it incriminates him in ways not raised by McCain. And then turning to McCain, we will see that the Republican attacks on Obama’s connections with the Weatherman are not only completely misleading, but hypocritical.
Snobs with a License
I have an unusual perspective on Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. You see, I know them. Not as friends. Quite the contrary. In the late 1960s, I was co-leader of the Worker-Student Alliance (WSA) caucus, the force within Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that opposed the Dohrn/Ayers/Mike Klonsky alliance of Weathermen and the like-minded.
The struggle within SDS was complex. Put briefly, the bone of contention was how SDS, which had become a mass-based student organization first because of the civil rights movement and then especially by organizing student opposition to the Vietnam war, should view the American people – working people. Worker Student Alliance (WSA) caucus members argued that working people – white and non-white – were the key force for social change, that students should be won to a pro-working class attitude, and that in our campus struggles, for example as related to the Vietnam war, we should fight for that attitude. (E.g., many people argued that the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) should not be allowed to recruit and meet on campus because ROTC polluted the University as a Temple of Knowledge, and so on. We argued that this argument reflected a contemptuous elitism, implied a (non-existent) superiority towards the students who joined ROTC, and moreover misdescribed the university, which was an institution reflecting the nature of society, not some superior, ivory tower. We said ROTC should be banned from campus because it lured students, especially poorer students, into becoming officers in an unjust war. We said that, instead, these students should be given scholarships and decent jobs.) While we believed white people could overcome racism in common struggle with non-white people, over shared problems, the Weathermen viewed white American working people as being the problem. The Weathermen hid their ideology of contempt behind rhetoric about what they, oblivious to the irony, called “white skin privilege.” I say “oblivious to the irony” because the Weathermen and their allies disproportionately came from upper class backgrounds. In any case, whatever their backgrounds, their ideology was a trendy adaptation of the contempt for supposedly ‘crude’ working people they had absorbed during their upbringings. They were snobs with a license.
Self-scrutiny? Please. Self-indulgence and self-glorification were their watchwords, as they demonstrated.
Today, it is distressing to see on the internet young people looking up to Ayers and Dohrn as heroes of the student movement of the ’60s. It means that the Weathermen’s terribly harmful effects are being recycled.
In fact, the Weathermen were heroes only in their own minds. By the time the Weatherman faction crystallized as such in 1969, its members had precious little connection to campus campaigns against the war and racism. (Some, like Bernardine Dohrn never had.)
The Republican Right calls the Weathermen Marxists and says everyone in SDS was a Marxist. This is wrong on both counts:
1) Many and possibly most of the rank and file people in SDS were liberals and even conservatives, angry about the war and racism.
2) And while it is true that virtually all leaders of the factions contending on a national level – leaders of the Weathermen and their allies, on one side, and leaders of the Worker Student Alliance (WSA) caucus on the other – did call themselves Marxists, to assert that the Weathermen were in fact Marxists is nonsense, not to mention unfair to Marx.
The Weatherman ideology was a mush of de Sade, Marcuse, Timothy Leary, Frantz Fanon (from whom they got deification of third world leaders and a tragically wrong-minded notion of the cleansing virtue of violence) and the PLO. (This at a time when the American Left, broadly defined, was not enamored of the PLO.) The Weathermen were into self-righteous, false-revolutionary posturing, extreme anti-Americanism, glorification of any demagogue who happened to be non-white, and grotesque self-indulgence. (They boasted that they all slept with each other all the time, but how they had enough brain cells left to remember doing so is a mystery since they routinely smoked anything that would burn and couldn’t escape.) To see how little Weatherman ‘thinking’ had (and has) in common with Karl Marx, check out the articles Marx wrote during the U.S. Civil War. 
The internal struggle in SDS came to a head at the June 1969 convention in Chicago. That convention opened with a debate between me, as a leader of WSA, and Mike Klonsky, an ally of the Weathermen and one of three elected SDS national officers. (The others were Bernardine Dohrn, the Weatherman chief who is now Bill Ayers’ wife, and Fred Gordon, from WSA.) Klonsky attempted a sucker punch from the Super-Duper Left (that was Klonsky’s pose - he should have had a cape), reading a purported letter from Anna Louise Strong, an American living in China, purportedly conveying a message from no less than Mao Tse Tung, stating that those opposing the Weathermen et al. were counter-revolutionary, or words to that effect.
In brief, I replied that I didn’t know whether or not the letter was authentic, and if it wasn’t, then shame on Mike Klonsky. However, I said, the letter might be authentic. If so, Mao was trying to dictate policy to the American student movement, which was struggling to work through very complicated problems about which he knew not a thing, and in which arguments he had no business interfering anyway, and if this was the case, then shame on Mao Tse Tung. This was received with tumultuous applause from the majority of delegates, including many who did not belong to any faction. They were much relieved to hear somebody challenge Klonsky’s demagogic appeal to a new conformity.
That opening debate was a disturbing omen for Dohrn and Ayers and Klonsky et al. As the convention progressed, the WSA delegates – serious-minded people, who had joined SDS based on participation in various campaigns on campus and the appeal of good thinking – these WSA delegates, who were experienced and thoughtful, were having productive discussions with other delegates who weren’t in any faction about the politics and tactics of campus struggles, which the WSA people, unlike the Weathermen and the Klonsky-bots, actually knew something about. Seeing they could not defeat WSA politically, the Weathermen and friends tried various disruptive tactics, and finally instituted a plan to destroy SDS, with Bernadine Dohrn taking the floor and announcing to a stunned majority that those who opposed the Weathermen were henceforth and forever expelled – poof! – and then, in mercifully oblivious self-contradiction, leading a walkout of some hundreds of delegates – i.e., a minority – while the majority chanted “Shame!”
I initiated that chant. In retrospect, I was mistaken. The Weathermen had no shame.
Dohrn of the Living Dead
Following their walkout, the Weathermen formed their own SDS, competing with the legitimately constituted organization – “legitimately” because, after all, it was the Weathermen who had walked out. Now there were two national SDSs, each with its own version of the SDS newsletter, New Left Notes. With no WSAers present to scold them with talk about elitist attitudes and winning students to pro-working class ideas in the context of on-campus struggle against war and racism and in support of working people, Weatherman was free to express its essence. Which it did.
For example, the Weathermen adopted as their hero one Marion Delgado, who they claimed was a Mexican-American child that put a slab of concrete on some railroad tracks, derailing a train and killing many people. I don’t know if this tragedy in fact occurred, but that’s what the Weathermen wrote in their version of New Left Notes. And they adopted as their slogan “Marion Delgado - Live Like Him!” So, a) Weatherman advocated emulating a murderously disturbed child. And b) in specifically choosing a murderously disturbed Chicano child, and presenting him as the poster-child of their “revolutionary struggle,” in what they called “the belly of the beast,” they revealed the profound depth of racism that underlay their phony fight against “white skin privilege.” Yeah, they wanted to serve third world people. On a plate. In the same way, their pose of adulation for manifestly corrupt and/or demagogic and/or undignified non-white leaders – exactly the kind of leaders nobody would wish on anybody they respected – was and is the flip side of the standard racist attitude, that it is natural for non-white people to have such leaders.
The media ate it up and spewed it out. Weatherman, made large by media coverage, larger than death, had two terrible effects:
1) For many people, the widespread publicity about the Weathermen’s ideas and actions discredited the very possibility of decent-minded social change, pushing people to the hard Right and greatly reinforcing racist attitudes. Big surprise there.
2) At the same time the massive media coverage falsely romanticized the Weathermen into bizarre celebrities – Zorro, stoned – encouraging young people who were upset about war and injustice to emulate these media provocateurs, who cloaked the worst ideas in left-wing rhetoric.
The Weathermen are once again in the spotlight, and they are once again having a terrible effect. I will try to counter this effect in the context of refuting what Obama is saying about the Weathermen, and what the Republicans are saying as well.
First I will deal with the web page where Democratic candidate Barack Obama answers the charge that he is close to Weatherman leader Bill Ayers. I will show that, in answering this charge, Obama spends most of the page falsifying the record in order to prettify Bill Ayers and his Weathermen, thus indicting himself far more harshly than his opponent John McCain does. And he lies a tricky lie, which makes one wonder about his past.
After that, I will take on the Republican side, raising the question: if Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers are, as Republican nominee McCain says, monsters, then why are they unpunished monsters? Ayers and Dohrn came out in the open on December 3, 1980, a month after Ronald Reagan won the presidential election. Why didn’t the Reagan Justice Department prosecute them on numerous possible (and extreme) felony charges, such as second degree murder? Why didn’t Bush Sr. or Bush Jr.? I will show that the explanations (plural, and contradictory!) that the media has put forward for why the government failed to prosecute Ayers and Dohrn are not credible. The failure to prosecute Ayers and Dohrn, who have publicly confessed to committing murder, at least in the second degree, and other Federal and State crimes that have no statutes of limitations, and who have not confessed to, but are convincingly linked to, at least four murders in the first degree – this failure supports the charge many people made in 1969: that key Weatherman leaders were (and still are) agents provocateurs with the assignment of destroying the very possibility of a decent Left in this country, associating the notion of social change with gangsterism and corruption.
I will start my analysis with Mr. Barack Obama’s defense of Mr. William Ayers.
A Defense that Backfires
During the Obama-Clinton Democratic primary contest, a debate moderator raised the issue of Obama’s relationship with Ayers. In response, Obama’s campaign website put up a special page, 40% of which is devoted to quoting various sources rejecting the notion that Obama’s ties to Ayers are of any importance, and 60% of which is devoted to defending Weatherman Ayers. At the outset one might ask: why would Obama, who is known for brutally divesting himself of liabilities (e.g., when mentor Rev. Wright became a liability, Obama devoted one full hour to attacking him on TV), and for whom Ayers was and is certainly a liability, create a web page devoted to defending the reputation of Bill Ayers?
Relying on misleading documentation, deception and outright lies, the Obama page depicts Ayers, and through him the Weathermen, as honest idealists, who in the very distant past engaged in “violent actions,” but who have now turned into model social reformers. In this way, Obama, who is generally expected to become the next U.S. president, rehabilitates the Weathermen, thus giving a poison gift to the people of the world and attacking himself more harshly than McCain does.
Obama’s web page on Bill Ayers is 1200 words long. As noted above, less than 40% is devoted to downplaying the significance of Obama’s relationship to Ayers. I will ignore almost all of this self-defense, since I am not in a position to judge the significance of Ayers sitting on the same boards as Obama, and the like. I will discuss only what I am in a position to evaluate: Obama’s much-repeated argument that he was 8-years old when the Weathermen were active, and his arguments, taking up just over 60% of the page, defending Ayers, which I will refute point by point.
It is stunning that the McCain campaign has not produced a detailed refutation of this web page. This failure, and the message delivered by Gen. Colin Powell, essentially ordering McCain to lay off Ayers,  suggest two things: 1) Obama is the candidate of the U.S. Establishment and 2) the rehabilitated Weathermen are slated to be used as role models for the Left, such as it is, worldwide.
We are in a mess, my friends. And Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers helped get us there.
Continued in Part 2: Obama’s “I-was-only-8” Lie
 See the articles published in 1861-1862 in the New York Daily Tribune and Die Presse (Vienna), as collected in Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The Civil War in the United States, Richard Enmale ed., New York, International Publishers, 1937.
For example, see Karl Marx, “The North American Civil War,” Die Presse (Vienna), October 25, 1861, English translation in op. cit., pp. 57-71, posted at
 On October 19, 2008 Gen. Powell endorsed Obama, pointedly telling McCain to stop talking about Bill Ayers:
“And I’ve also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that’s been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign. But Mr. McCain says that he’s a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?”
The transcript of Powell’s endorsement of Obama is posted at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27266223/