The Center Falls Out: The Role of the Faculty in the Columbia Strike

The Center Falls Out:[1] The Role of the Faculty in the Columbia Strike

By Richard Greeman

Most of us who teach English, Philosophy, or History of foreign languages to Columbia College undergraduates have our offices and classrooms in Hamilton Hall. When we arrived there on Wednesday morning April 24, it was already barricaded and occupied by black students, and an increasingly unruly crowd of hostile whites was gathering outside, threatening to break in and hurling racial epithets. I had participated in the original occupation of Hamilton the day before, but had gone home before the pre-dawn split between SDS and the Student Afro-American Society and the subsequent barricading of the building. Spontaneously, without any discussion or organization, a few dozen Hamilton teachers took up places between the Black students inside and the mob (or prospective police attackers) outside. These teachers were soon joined by colleagues both male and female and a second line of nonviolent white students formed in front of them. We stood there, despite a teeming rainstorm (which had the fortunate side-effect of thinning the ranks of the mob outside) for two days and nights; talking, joking, sending out for coffee, umbrellas, and dry clothes, occasionally breaking up fights or (over bull-horns provided by students) expressing our sympathy with the Hamilton sit-ins. Some of us had had experience in the civil rights or anti-war movement; others were simply anguished over the possibility of a racial clash on campus; all felt deeply that now, if ever, the time had come to stand up for our students. The origin of the so-called “faculty cordon” at Columbia was thus a spontaneous net of solidarity with the blockaded black students. It is important to emphasize this origin because of later transformations of this faculty group.

That same afternoon, a hastily-assembled meeting of the College Voting Faculty (including everyone of professorial rank, but not instructors) responded to the sit-ins by calling for the suspension of the gym construction and expressing its “trust that police action will not be used” although it did condemn the demonstrators’ use of “coercion”. Implicit in this resolution was the basically contradictory attitude of most of the senior faculty: tacit support for the demonstrators’ goals but unwillingness to break openly with the administration by sanctioning their action. The unconscious hypocrisy of this attitude is clear: the faculty would never have dared to consider taking a position on the gym of which they all disapproved had it not been for the mass student pressure from below expressed through direct action.

By Thursday morning, the occupation of Avery and Fayerweather had created a totally new situation. Although the mob pressure directed against the Blacks in front of Hamilton had decreased, a large and hostile crowd was gathering in front of Fayerweather and threatening to attack the sit-ins. Professor Etzioni (Sociology) and I managed to get between the two groups, to convince them to sit down, and to begin an impromptu debate. Although Etzioni had been a vocal opponent of the war and of secret weapons research, he opposed the strike on the ground that “nothing should interfere with education.” Somewhat shocked, I replied that as far as I was concerned, the process of education at Columbia was just beginning and that the loss of a few hours of routine sociology classes was more than compensated for by this political experience. I argued for a conception of learning that united theory and practice.

At that point, even the conservative students gathered in front of the building agreed that it was more important to debate the issues of the gym, IDA, and the right of rebellion than to listen to another hour of boring sociology. Although they still did not support the demonstrators, they were beginning to think. The slow evolution of the campus majority from initial shock and anger over the “disruption” to eventual support of the strike had begun. Nonetheless, this debate was often to be repeated, and most of the professors, like Etzioni and later Melman, Kuhns, and Morganbessor, could find no better argument to discourage vigilante counter-demonstrators than that of “two wrongs don’t make a right” or “don’t use coercion like SDS.” There was a total failure to distinguish between the two groups in terms of politics, morality, or goals. This deliberate “apolitical” attitude of the liberals made it possible for the faculty cordon to be turned into an anti-SDS blockade later on.

That afternoon, about 50 of the faculty who had remained active on campus managed to arrange a meeting with Vice-President Truman in Philosophy lounge. This was the first direct contact we had had with the administration since the crisis had begun. Truman appeared haggard and ashen and actually broke down during the meeting. He reported the administration’s attitude that it would be immoral to negotiate with the SDS students whose behavior was “illegal”, that their leaders would be expelled, and that police would likely be called. At the same time, however, he announced that he had offered virtual amnesty to the Blacks in Hamilton, although their demands were identical to those of SDS. It was an obvious attempt to split the students along racial lines, and when I asked him how he reconciled this with his high “principles”, he pleaded pressing business and left the room.

This time, however, we did not just pick up and go home as usual. In an unprecedented move, Professor Allen Westin, a long-time associate of Truman, took the floor and declared that “our great love and respect for David Truman” should not prevent us from seeing that he was in the wrong or from taking Independent action “to save him from himself.” Within the hour, an Ad Hoc Faculty Committee was formed, pledged “to stand before the occupied buildings to prevent forcible entry by police and others.” Until “this crisis is settled” to its satisfaction. By evening, the group had grown to nearly 200, opened negotiations with the students, elected a steering committee, and resolved to remain in permanent session. Speakers like Sam Coleman, Marvin Harris, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Jeff Kaplow reflected the sense of urgency we felt over the issues of university racism and and noted that the demonstrating students had in fact liberated us to take a political stand for the first time in History – something we should have done long before. They were applauded. There was a tremendous sense of exhilaration and release as professors began to realize how long they had been infantilized by the administration and prepared to assert themselves at last. Again, it is essential to note that the origin of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee was a spontaneous and essentially anti-administration act made possible by the power-vacuum created by the students’ rebellions. In consequence, both its founders and the demonstrating students expected that it would result in a fundamental shift in the balance of power at the university. Events were to show that this was an illusion.

The Ad hoc Group faced its first test that night, and it passed well. Although we had been told that the administration recognized our efforts and respected our views, at 1:05 a.m. David Truman entered Philosophy Hall and announced that the police were being called to arrest the strikers, ostensibly to “prevent violent clashes between opposing student groups.” He was hooted out of the room under cries of “shame!” and “liar!” It would be noted that where the faculty, merely through its moral authority, had successfully prevented such clashes, the administration had done nothing to contain the right-wing student vigilante groups who were openly threatening violence. In fact, it actually encouraged them through members of the Dean’s staff. Where the sit-ins were nonviolent from the beginning, the administration created violence first by sponsoring the student right and then by invoking police violence to resolve the crisis it had created.

The faculty responded immediately by taking up positions in front of the occupied buildings while simultaneously appealing to the Mayor’s office to call off the cops. The strategy worked, at least for the moment. I was stationed with a group of about 30 in front of Low Library. We had carefully cleared the area of students so that it would be clear to the press, the administration, and the cops that we were faculty. Contrary to the Cox Commission and other accounts, we had been allowing police officers and Mayor’s aides to pass through, since we were aware that our own representatives were inside Low trying to convince them to forestall the police action. At about 2:00 a.m., a group of about 25 burly men in raincoats charged us across the open area in front of the line. We challenged them to identify themselves and state their business; announcing that we were Columbia faculty. They neither spoke nor showed police badges, but beat their way through the line. I was grabbed from behind, held, and clubbed on the head. Several of my colleagues, including two women, were punched or kicked. A few minutes later, David Truman came to the door and saw me bleeding profusely. “How did this happen, Mr. Greeman?” he asked. “What did you expect when you called the cops?” I replied. Dr. Truman was kind enough to lead me inside for medical attention, and I noticed my assailants drinking coffee at the police canteen in the corridor outside his office. The later false reports (1) that the attack was not calculated and (2) that I injured myself by slipping on the steps were deliberate lies spread by a member of the Dean’s staff and accepted by the Cox Commission.

The sight off blood must have convinced the administration that the faculty was serious. As a result, at 3.30 a.m., the police action was called off. Construction on the gym was suspended and the school was declared closed until Monday. The result of this action was that the occupation could be prolonged for another four days, during which time the justice of the strikers’ demands became more and more evident to the majority of the students who began to rally in their support. Paradoxically, however, the possibility of a student-faculty alliance against the administration began to decline from that moment on.

During the next four days, the Ad Hoc Group’s activities were two-fold: attempts at mediation and attempts at keeping order through faculty cordons in front of the buildings. Both aspects were aimed at “preventing violence” or “resolving the crisis.” Attempts to get the Group to take a consistent political stand of its own were constantly sidetracked by the Steering Committee, and the vital question of amnesty for the students never even came to a vote. As a result, the group slowly lost whatever influence, prestige, and chance of power it ever had and was effectively transformed into its opposite. Having no political position of its own, and faced with an unyielding administration, the professors’ “possibilist” outlook turned them into their own and the students’ worst enemy. Thus the faculty lines, originally organized to protect the students in the buildings, got turned into a kind of blockade of the buildings. The mediation efforts turned to “get them out of the buildings at any cost.” Finally, the urge to assert faculty independence and take an independent stand was transformed, through the self-imposed role of mediator, into pressure to “resolve the crisis.” A goal that implied siding with the stronger party, the administration.

The faculty attempts to mediate went through several stages. The first was direct negotiations with the students. That is, liberal professors attempted to get the strikers to soften their line, especially on amnesty, in exchange for vague promises which they, the negotiators, had no power to deliver. The logic of this situation led to such unseemly scenes as the one in Fayerwether Hall, the “softest” of the Communes, where two associated professors, Seymour Melman and Sidney Morganbesser, harangued an already divided and discouraged student assembly for over an hour, arguing that their revolt was dangerous and absurd because it was “unrealistic.” The two ex-student-radicals were attempting to influence the internal politics of the strikers, apparently oblivious of the facts that (1) as non-strikers they would not have to live by the result of the decision and (2) that they were now professors with a vested interest in the stability of Columbia. One wonders where the students found the patience to listen to them.

Soon, however, these pseudo-negotiations were totally undercut by a statement from the President of the Board of Trustees, who declared that the decision to halt construction on the gym was only “temporary” and that the President had the sole power to discipline students. This was a direct slap in the face to the faculty and a reminder that they were mere employees with no real power. If anything, this should have convinced the faculty that their only chance for any real dignity or power then or in the future was to join the students. It did convince some, but the Steering Committee was so convinced of the need for compromise and consensus and so incapable of conceiving its role in terms of any fundamental change in power relationships that it ran in the opposite direction.

The result was a turn toward public mediation embodied in a series of compromise solutions presented to both the administration and striking students as a “bitter pill” for both sides to swallow but the only fair resolution to the crisis. This attempt to bolster up the center in a situation where there was increasing polarization was futile from the beginning. Meanwhile, the administration, backed by some conservative professors, had engineered an “official” faculty meeting in the hope of gaining a vote of confidence and undermining the legitimacy of the Ad Hoc Group. From this meeting were excluded the younger faculty members and those from the more “liberal” faculties like Art, Arts & Sciences, while those from conservative Law and Business – few, if any, of whose students were involved – were invited. Despite the disadvantage of a packed assembly, the leadership of the Ad Hoc Steering Committee could have presented its proposals at this meeting, as the Ad Hoc membership had directed it to. They might have carried on a close vote, and such a show of force would have undermined the legitimacy of Kirk and Truman. To their shame, the Westin group refused to pick up the challenge, apparently because they didn’t want “to split the faculty.”

The younger and more radical members of the Ad Hoc Group were naturally unhappy with the behavior of the Steering Committee. But they, too, were inhibited by a desire not to break up the Ad Hoc Group, which they saw as the only place where they had a voice. Moreover, they still hoped that the Ad Hoc Assembly could be brought to vote for Amnesty. Unfortunately, their opponents lacked such scruples. The conservatives sent scores of establishment-type professors to pack the Ad Hoc meetings, and the Steering Committee allowed them to vote, even though they had not signed the statement committing them to any action and were in fact opposed to the group’s original principles. Moreover, the meetings were increasingly subject to manipulation. The Steering Committee, meeting in camera, took over all decision-making, only reporting to the body after the fact. The Assembly was thus turned into a talk-shop or an errand-boy. On the rare occasions when it was actually functioning and it looked as if the key question of amnesty was about to come to a vote, the Assembly was broken up by a sudden adjournment. A member of the Dean’s staff or some conservative professor might run breathlessly into the room at the crucial moment and call everyone out to prevent some “disastrous” clash among students; by the time the group could be called back together, the tension would be broken and more conservatives would miraculously appear. On one notable occasion, Westin himself simply adjourned the meeting just before the vote.

Although this manipulation became more and more blatant, more and more frustrating, the younger and more radical faculty members were unable to deal with it. They were lulled by a false sense of community with the liberals in the leadership and so flattered by their own participation in a “real” faculty, on a basis of equality, that they were eventually co-opted. To have told the truth – to renounce one’s newfound “colleagues” as lying manipulators and the Deans as enemy agents sent in to disrupt – would have been a breech of academic decorum. Once again, the myth of the “academic community” proved on effective mask to hide the real power relationships.

The take-it-or-leave-it “bitter pill” proposal was predictably turned down by the Administration, which cleverly worded its rejection as if it were an acceptance of some kind of Amnesty. This rejection was supposed to automatically commit the Ad Hoc Group to support the strikers, but when they too rejected the proposal, it was “discovered” that the wording was ambiguous: it did not provide either for half-way acceptances or for the case of a double rejection. This let the Steering Committee off the hook.

The Steering Committee’s last feeble efforts at mediation – phoning Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay, and bringing in a professional mediator, Ted Kheel – only underlined their bankruptcy. At the 11th hour, Alex Erlich, a distinguished economics professor and thoroughly principled socialist, finally got the floor and placed the reality of the situation before the body: amnesty or the cops. There was no other choice. For a moment it looked as though the faculty, faced with political reality at last, would commit itself. But the liberals would not have it so. Professor Shenton introduced a motion to table the issue, and after much debate, it carried. The abdication was complete.

With the cops on the way, each faculty member was left to act on his/her individual conscience which, in most cases, turned out to be a more reliable guide than his/her political courage. Many professors did interpose themselves between the cops and the students that dismal night of the Bust and Shenton himself was among the most seriously injured. Paradoxically, many liberal intellectuals found it easier to face physical violence than to think about shaking up the power structure, easier to get hit on the head than to re-examine their own self-image. Self-sacrifice, “acting on principle”, became a substitute for changing one’s consciousness.

The epilogue was played out the next morning in McMillan Auditorium, which was packed with 750 faculty members – a larger group than had ever been assembled at any Ad Hoc or official meeting. By then the bloody-headed students and teachers had begun returning to the campus and the moderate student leaders had called for a general strike against the administration. The mood was one of total revulsion toward the Administration. Westin appeared on the rostrum and, to everyone’s surprise, introduced a strong resolution condemning the Administration and supporting the new student strike. He was greeted by thunderous applause and an immediate motion for approval by acclamation. For a moment it looked as if all would be vindicated. But the “liberal imagination” still had a few tricks left. Insisting that acclamation would be undemocratic, Westin proceeded to open the debate by calling on known conservatives in the faculty – the very men who had boycotted the poor Ad Hoc Group during its earlier struggles. When, one after another, Michael Sovern, Quentin Anderson, and Fritz Stern voiced their disapproval, Westin did an about-face, withdrew his proposals, and left the room taking half the Steering Committee with him and muttering something about being unable to decide anything without consulting Daniel Bell (the “End of Ideology” man) who was evidently still in bed. The meeting was thus effectively broken up and the vast majority, who were ready to vote for the resolution as a group, turned into a confused mass of individuals. For Westin, the opinions of Daniel Bell were clearly more important than those of a majority of his colleagues (not surprisingly, both of them, along with Sovern, turned up on the administration-sponsored Faculty Executive Committee created later that day). The abdication was sealed by a sell-out.

Subsequent to those events, various attempts to revive the Ad Hoc Group all failed. The rump group which remained in Mc Millan was able to vote the original Westin proposal and continued for a few days under the leadership of Marvin Harris and Eric Bentley. Then the moderates created an Independent Faculty Group under Melman, Morgenbesser and others, which again tried to take a centrist position and dissolved when its membership proved “too radical” for its leaders. A junior Faculty Group, formed when the younger faculty realized that they were excluded even from the phony decision-making bodies created by the administration, also folded. Today, six months later, most of the faculty – if they think about it at all – look back on the revolt as if it were some king of strange dream. Most have fallen back into business-as-usual, including grumbling as usual, more than content to believe the new administration’s promises about “restructuring” and to let management manage. A few have been radicalized, especially among the younger people; more interestingly, many of the allegedly intellectual radicals have been shown as establishment liberals, tied by their comfort and prestige to the status quo.

Yet the issues at Columbia were clear from the start. The students’ demands – an end to IDA, to the construction of a Columbia gym in a Harlem public park, and to arbitrary discipline against student radicals – were surprisingly moderate. Moreover, they symbolized the three key issues of the day: the imperialist war, institutionalized racism, and law and order versus the right to resist. Issues on which most Columbia professors are “liberals”. Finally, the Kirk administration had already discredited itself, even in the faculty’s eyes, through its consistent arrogance, remoteness, and incompetence (as witnessed by their disbanding of earlier student protests and the scandal over an underhanded cigarette filter deal.) If ever the conditions were ripe for a faculty to take advantage of a student revolt and assert itself, it was at Columbia, where the faculty had plenty of grievances of its own: low salaries, poor housing, slow promotion, academic decline, and the absence of anything like a tradition (such as a faculty senate to ensure their participation in decision-making).

The fact that this faculty could not even split openly with the administration on principled positions, much less join with the students is a fact to be reckoned with. Now that the initial shock has worn off, this fact has enabled Columbia radicals to take a fresh look at the role of the intellectual in bourgeois society and the nature of the university in a capitalist economy. Significantly, many of the professors who took the lead in the anti-war Teach-in movement two years ago turned up as our worst enemies in the Columbia revolt. The centrist role they played reveals the basic contradiction between their liberal ideals and their social position. Totally disoriented by the rupture in their secure existence and the revelation of their contamination by the forces of war and racism, as an assembly they could only abdicate although as individuals they might bravely face the cops. Professors are not the power structure, merely its unwitting tools. Neither are they potential revolutionaries, as a group. And in a crisis, the center falls out.

To the student rebels, this means allies must be sought in the black ghettoes and in the ranks of labor, not on campus. It means that “a free university” will only exist after we have won a “free society”, through a total social revolution. To young faculty rebels, it means we must organize on the basis of our own constituency, not as part of a fictitious academic community, which will either exclude or co-opt us. Rather than fighting for positions within a sort of faculty senate, we must fight for unions to defend our positions as a group whose interests are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the administration and of the faculty that is tied to it.

P.S. I wrote the above in September 1968. Soon thereafter, the Columbia faculty has slid even deeper back into its ante-April apathy. The Faculty Executive Committee personnel has been changed to include even more administration supporters and its proposal for a Faculty Senate is heavily weighted in favor of the administration. Moreover, only a handful of students or faculty turned out for its “open hearings” on “restructuring”. On the other hand, a group of junior faculty around NUC (has formed a union organizing committee. We will have to wait to see the response.


[1] « In a crisis, the center falls out » famously wrote Leon Trotsky referring to the polarization in Russia in 1917. In the open conflict between the revolutionaries and the reactionaries, there was no longer a place for the liberals and moderate socialists of the Provisional Government. It seemed to fit the the left-liberal faculty during the Columbia confrontation. Only a few of my friends got the allusion. The others thought I was quoting W.B. Yeats 1919 poem « The Second Coming » :

“Things fall apart ; the centre cannot hold ;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”

1968: ‘What Did You Do in the Columbia War, Dad?’

1968: ‘What Did You Do in the Columbia War, Dad?’

Telephone Interview between Richard Greeman (in France) and Jenny Greeman (in N.Y.)


Jenny: So, Dad, the 50th Reunion of the Columbia University Strike is coming up, and it’s all over the papers again. A book of reminiscences has just been reviewed in the Times[1] and the Columbia library is holding a three day conference [2]. I’ve got some great clippings here from April 1968, with pictures of you the front page of the N.Y. Post and even of the Times. That strike was a big deal! It’s too bad that you can’t fly in to participate.

Richard: I think the issues at Columbia crystallized major problems that were national – even international – questions of racism, the imperialist war in Vietnam, and what became known as the youth revolt or student rebellion. But of course the Columbia revolt was far overshadowed by the student-worker near-revolution in France, which broke out a week later. Right now, here in France, once again the students are occupying the universities, the high-schoolers are in the streets, and the workers are organizing nation-wide strikes against the counter-reforms being imposed on the French by their arrogant new President, Macron. So echoes of 1968 are very much in the air, as I reported in the Indypendant last month [3].

Jenny: Getting back to Columbia, let’s start our interview by going through these old copies of the NY Post and the Times. The first headline reads ‘STUDENTS TAKE DEAN HOSTAGE.’ What were you doing, Dad, on that fateful day of Tuesday, April 23rd when all of this began?

Richard: That day, as usual, I taught some French classes in the morning; then at noon I turned out to the SDS rally at the sundial in the middle of the campus, where I had often spoken about the War in Vietnam, based on my knowledge of French imperialism’s early failure there. A good-sized crowd had gathered and was hesitating about whether or not to do an ‘action.’ Participatory democracy in practice. Everyone was frustrated because our attempts to negotiate with the administration over the construction of the Jim Crow gym had failed. With my prompting Mark Rudd, the leaders of the SDS ‘action-faction’ and good friend, decided to lead the group over to Morningside Park, which had just been blocked off by a chain-link fence and where Columbia had already started excavating.

Jenny: The gym.

Richard: Yes, Columbia was planning to take over Morningside Park; to rip up this public park to build a private gym for Ivy League atheletes, and there was outcry in the neighborhood and on the campus about this. So eventually we all swarmed over the site and broke down the fence.

Jenny: Just to get our bearings here, Morningside Park runs from W. 110th Street to W. 125th street in the valley between Columbus Avenue and Harlem Proper. This is my neighborhood. There’s now a fountain and pond with geese at the excavation site and a very popular baseball diamond. I remember we once celebrated July 4th there with a live band playing patriotic music and the whole neighborhood having picnics and cook-outs.

Richard: Yes. It was a beautiful moment for me. I really believe we saved that Park and it’s wonderful that you and your friends are enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Jenny: If you guys hadn’t knocked down that fence, we wouldn’t have been sitting there…. What happened next?

Richard: After some pushing and shoving with cops, we finally filtered back to the campus and ended up in the lobby of Hamilton Hall, where I had my office and was supposed to teach a mid-afternoon class in Humanities. This was the ‘Great Books’ course that Columbia had put into the curriculum at the time of WWI so that young ROTC’s who would then go off and fight for democracy would know the canon/tradition for which they were laying down their lives… We read everything from Homer and Plato through Old and New Testaments and on through Montaigne and Voltaire (my specialty). Enough culture to give a sense of superiority and help breed a native American officer class. But the canon can also be read against the grain.

Jenny: What do you mean, Dad?

Richard: Today they call it ‘deconstruction.’ Back in 1968, I had a whole back row of Navy ROTC students (Columbia was all-male) who regularly came to class in beautiful navy blue and white uniforms. In the next row I had young orthodox Jews in the class who knew the Old Testament 10 times better than their bearded (to look older) professor. In fact I was barely 6 years older than the freshmen and only 3 years older than the seniors who were taking the course late. With these guys we read Thucydides’ account of the war between Athens and Sparta in which Athens (a democratic, but imperialist power) sent an army over across the water to Sicily to conquer Sparta’s ally, Syracuse – just like the US invading Vietnam in the long war with Russia. Of course, the Athenians ended up losing both their army and their democracy. These were very bright NY students. The young officer candidates were well aware of the analogies. Then we went on to analyze the Old Testament with genuine Yeshivabuchas who knew it in Hebrew. It was a great class and a great time to be a teacher, full of what today we call ‘teaching moments.’ The campus was already very sharply polarized between pro- and anti-war and right and left – and the class was held in Hamilton Hall, by now occupied by SDS-ers , Black students from the Afro-American Society, and others. They were sort of besieging the Dean’s office and would eventually sequester him there.

Jenny: Right. Here’s the Post front page with a big headline ‘COLUMBIA STUDENTS HOLD DEAN 24 HRS.’ But back to your afternoon class….

Richard: So first I milled about with the students, and then it was time for me to go upstairs to my Humanities class, to which everyone had unexpectedly shown up! I greeted them and said something like: ‘I know there’s a lot going on downstairs and like me, you all have opinions about it, but today we’re finishing Spinoza, which is a very hard subject and I’ve worked very hard to prepare for the class so if you’ve also prepared and you want to keep reading Spinoza, the subject is Freedom. So we took a vote and it was unanimous for holding class! We did, and it was a very lively discussion.

After 50 minutes, I went back downstairs and now the entire lobby was jammed with students. Some, mostly Blacks, were ostensibly guarding the door to the Dean’s office. It was clear that they would remain there and hold the building until they got an answer form this Dean, who was a kindly jock named Harry Coleman. I hung out with the kids and made a little speech about what the student movement was doing in Europe, and around 7 pm I got hungry and realized they would stay there all night and sleep on the floor in the classrooms. I had no interest in that so I went home to Julie for dinner. I had already had a big day.

Jenny: The next day must have been even bigger, right?

Richard: Looking back I would say it was one of the biggest and happiest days of my life! I don’t know where all that energy came from. It was like education in action.

Jenny: That’s what’s written on your sign in this picture in the Post: The sign stuck to a tree over your head reads: ‘Dick Greeman’s class, Education in Action, meets here. 2:00.’ And below a Post editor wrote a caption reading ‘Instructor Richard L. Greenman teaches outdoors.’ Like they can’t read? They’ve always got to put an extra ‘n’ in our name.

Richard: That picture was taken a few days later, after the Big Bust, during the actual strike. You can see the bald patch on my head where the doctor shaved it after I got clobbered by a cop, but we’re getting ahead of our story … The next morning I made sure to get up early and put on my ‘professor’s disguise’ (tweed jacket, rep tie, khakis, button-down collar and pipe) and return to the campus refreshed and ready. I put on an espresso and opened the N.Y. Times, which had been delivered around 6 am. Lo and behold, he headlines announced that during the night the Columbia students had occupied two more buildings! The Black students of SAS were holding out in Hamilton, and by mutual agreement, the Whites and SDS had seized two more. The hard core of SDS were ensconced in President Kirk’s luxurious office with a Rembrandt on the wall (which an art history student claimed was probably ‘school of Rembrandt’). The others were in Fayerweather, where I had lots of friends because it was occupied mainly by grad students, students from professional schools and intellectual type undergrads from Barnard and Columbia. You can imagine I was totally elated when I read the headlines, and so I ran to the subway and down to 116th Street to see what was happening. At that hour, the campus was deserted. I walked up to Low Library and the first thing I saw was my favorite SDS-er Mark Rudd sitting the window sill of President Kirk’s with one foot in and one foot out and I couldn’t tell if he was coming or going.

Jenny: The headline of the N.Y. Post reads ‘Columbia Rebels Seize More Buildings’ and there’s a front page photo of students boosting themselves up to the window into President Kirk’s office in Lowe Library.

Richard: Yes, that was taken during the excitement the night before while I was home in bed. Now it was the cold light of dawn. I had missed out on the long, lonely night the drastically reduced group of occupiers had spent in the sacro sanct of Columbia University waiting for a police bust in at any minute. It must have been scary in there cut off from the world. So there was Mark and I showed him the newspaper headlines and said, ‘Mark don’t be a schmuck, we’ve won. Get back in that building!’ We’ve laughed about that together many times over the last years.

Then I went over to Hamilton Hall where my office was and where the Black students had now set up a serious barricade and let it be known that they were in solidarity with SDS on the demands over the gym, Vietnam, and over the punishment of students who had demonstrated. Soon some of the other professors who taught at Hamilton started showing up, as well as an old friend of mine, Sydney Von Luther from 1199 a Black union organizer whom I had worked with for years through Columbia CORE trying to organize Columbia’s cafeteria workers (mostly Black and Puerto Rican) into a union. In fact, back in the 30’s, James Wechsler, the student editor of the Columbia daily Spectator who was later the editor of the N.Y. Post for many years) got in trouble for supporting the cafeteria workers under autocratic Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler, whose sister had the concession of the cafeteria and was as violently anti-labor as her brother, a former Republican vice-presidential candidate. When Columbia’s football cheerleaders chant ‘Who owns New York? We own New York!’ they ain’t just whistling Dixie.

My friends in CORE and I had previously tried to get help from the restaurant workers union, but that union finked out on us. Local 1199, however, did not. And thanks to our effort, all Columbia cafeteria, buildings/grounds, and later, secretarial workers are unionized and have benefits today. This – like the preservation of Morningside Park – is one of the great long-lasting victories of Columbia ’68 I’m still proud of.

Jen: That’s great, Dad. So let’s get back to when it all started. We’re at Hamilton Hall the first morning of the occupations.

Richard: So Sydney, the other teachers and I, almost spontaneously, became a nonviolent faculty cordon in front of Hamilton to avoid violence and because we sympathized with the students inside and didn’t want them attacked. Sydney had lots of Civil Rights experience, and so did some of the other sympathetic faculty members whom I knew and who were also locked out of their offices. We were thus able to fend off a crowd of aggressive, jock-like White students who wanted to charge in and mix it up with the Black students inside. Who organized this phalanx, which later took form as the anti-strike ‘Majority Coalition?’ I was told at the time that Dean Truman or people from Truman’s office had gone around to the fraternities the previous night and whipped up opposition among the conservative students. It was from this spontaneous group experience that the famous Ad Hoc Faculty Committee I talk about in my article was formed. We then fanned out to do our non-violent picket in front of the other occupied buildings.

Jenny: Where did you end up, Dad?

Richard: I was sent over to occupied Fayerweather Hall, where students were starting to gather for early morning classes (it was either 8 or 9). Again, a phalanx of athletic-looking students appeared, all fresh-faced and scrubbed, carrying piles of books and demanding to attend their classes, in pursuit of which they were willing to break through the feeble barriers erected by the Weenie grad students and beat them all up. With a few other Professors I held onto the high ground at the top of the steps leading to the doors, from which I was able to look down at the gathering mob. I recognized a student in the crowd moving up, called out his name and said: ‘Why Mr. So-and so, I’ve never known you to be up so bright and early and so eager to absorb knowledge.’ Of course, that got them laughing and I persuaded them to sit down like gentlemen and scholars and discuss the matter, rather than having a brawl which would be unseemly on an Ivy League college campus. I told them ‘if you’re so eager to learn philosophy and political science, well there is something exciting happening here and now on this campus and we’re part of it. So let’s discuss it.’ Isn’t that what college is supposed to be about? Today, we would call it an ideal ‘teaching moment;’ It was in that context that I said something about education in action which got picked up by the next day’s N.Y. Times.

Jenny: Right. Here’s your quote: ‘There can be no education and no thought that is divorced from action.’

Richard: So that’s how I got them all to sit down on the lawn in front of Fayerweather, and we held a discussion – you could call it a teach-in. Next I gave the floor to a famous sociology professor, Amatai Etzioni, who was standing next to me on the steps.

Jenny: Oh yes, here’s his picture talking in front of the crowd on page 5 of the N.Y. Post We can see your ear behind him while he’s talking into the Radio 88 microphone. The caption reads: ‘International expert on arms control placates students in front of Fayerweather Hall and things cool off a bit, for a while.’

Richard: Well things heated up the next day when William F. Buckley Jr., picked up that Times quote in his nationally syndicated column and hauled me over the coals.

Jenny: Yes, here it is in the Post from April 30. ‘Professor Richard Greenman of the French department announced, in the accents of Charlotte Corday, that ‘there can be no education and no thought that is divorced from action.’ The trouble with that statement is (a) it isn’t true and (b) even if it were, it is no justification for what the authorities of Columbia have been tolerating.’ 

Richard: The next day I dashed off a note to the Times: ‘Dear Bill, It’s Greeman, not Greenman and Marat, not Corday,’ but he never answered. I bet one of his fact-checkers bit the dust that day.

Jenny: Of course, we’re Greenmans, but who are those other people, Marat and Corday?

Richard: Jean-Paul Marat, known as the ‘friend of the people,’ was the extreme left fiery Jacobin journalist and agitator of the French Revolution, hated and reviled as a monster by all conservatives. Obviously, Buckley had me in mind for the part. Charlotte Corday was a beautiful conservative young woman from the provinces who traveled to Paris, bought a kitchen knife and stabbed Marat in his bath (where he did his writing because he suffered from psoriasis). In my day, every student knew the famous painting by the revolutionary artist David, showing his corpse sprawling in bathtub.

Jenny: Now I remember. There was a famous theatrical production by Peter Brook of a play called ‘Marat/Sade.’

Richard: Right, that was Peter Weiss’ script: ‘The Assassination and Persecution of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charonton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.’ I really savored the irony that Buckley was implying that I wasn’t fit to teach while he didn’t know the difference between Marat and Corday! It gave me a big kick that a pretentious prig of an intellectual snob like Buckley would’ve made such a really ignorant mistake.

Anyway, back to campus. After standing all morning in front of the occupied buildings, we faculty picketers and sympathizers ended up gathering in the graduate lounge at Philosophy Hall, where my Graduate Department, French and Romance Philology, had offices upstairs. The lounge was huge, comfortable and always had tea going. After some discussion, we formed an ‘Ad-Hoc Faculty Committee’ to express our concerns in this crisis. I loved those Latin words, ad-hoc (‘to this’ purpose) which gave our spontaneous, unofficial gathering of liberal and radical faculty, mostly untenured, a bit of academic cachet.

‘The Center Falls Out,’ the analytical piece that I wrote for Radical Teacher at the time, criticizes the fact that the liberals caved in and that all that ad hoc good will and courage was co-opted by a few ambitious faculty members. So the article comes off negative. But what I remember best was how wonderful all of these people were. How our meetings, though a little bit chaotic, were full of passions, erudition, and fun. Here, for the first time ever, faculty members who had been infantilized by the Administration, found their voices. When we faced off against our former Dean, now University Vice-President, David Truman. It was a thrilling moment which made me think of the beginning of the French Revolution when the Estate General first met at Versailles and for the first time the Third Estate, the middle class, was allowed to stand up and speak for itself. I have such clear memories of my colleagues, like Jeoffrey Kaplow, a young Marxist History Professor and specialist of the French Revolution, with a clear high voice and a brilliant sarcastic wit. He’s an actor now in London, but still writes left-wing history. And of course there was Eric Bentley, the famous downtown theater critic, translator of Bertolt Brecht and founder of a local cabaret called The DMZ (after the so-called Demilitarized Zone in Vietnam). Columbia had given him a professorship, and he now loudly threatened to resign. Also, Terry Hopkins and Emmanuel Wallerstein, two brilliant semi-Marxist global analysts from the Sociology Department who went on to found the Braudel Institute to study global long term economics. I shouldn’t forget Alexander Erlich, an old Polish Socialist, the son of Polish Socialists murdered by Stalin, whom I later met on the Broadway Subway with a red cocarde in his lapel, on his way to a Socialist May Day meeting. These were wonderful colleagues and people who are still – those who are alive – committed to the same ideals.

After Dean Truman told the ad hoc faculty that it didn’t matter what we thought and that he was going ahead with his police plan, he left the hall under cries of ‘shame!’ Then we made a plan to get together and to provide a cordon sanitaire protection for the students by non-violently blocking the buildings that had been occupied. Including Avery Hall, the Architecture School, whose students had erected a symbolic blockade of beautiful cardboard with ribbons. We were expecting a blood bath, which is exactly what happened two weeks later. So we all fanned out to different places. I really wanted to go to Hamilton Hall, partly out of my sympathy for the Black students and partly because that’s where my office was.

But I was sent to a tricky spot, the entrance of Low Library in whose basement the police had their headquarters. A bunch of faculty members were standing on the porch, on the concrete steps that lead into the big door, maybe 20 of us there, including Eric Bentley and several others I knew very well. We were allowing police and other officials to go through our line as a matter of course. Suddenly, a whole phalanx of burly guys in trench coats came barreling up, and I put up my hand and said something like ‘we’re faculty, officers of the university, what’s your business here/identify yourself,’ and they didn’t even slow down. The first guy walked right up to me, raised his arm and out of his sleeve came a blackjack with which he wrapped me on the top of the head (as my colleagues told me later). I didn’t see anything but I sure felt it. I started to go down, but I was so f-ing mad that I punched him in the balls. I don’t know if he felt it. I hope so. Anyway, the troop of plainclothes goons marched through us and into Low.

Now I tried to sit up, and my colleagues look horrified since I was bleeding so beautifully (as the most trivial scalp wounds will). They helped me to my feet, and when I touched my head where it hurt and looked at my hand, I could see it was all covered with blood. And, of course cameras were all flashing because this entrance was where the press had gathered. WKCR the college radio was broadcasting remote, the Post was there and people from TV. Never at a loss for words, I stood tall and held up my hand on which the blood was quite visible, and announced to the assembled press what had happened. And that’s when the picture was taken that you see on the front page of the next day’s Post.

Jenny: This was about 1 am on Thursday, April 26th right? The headline of the Post says, ‘Student rebels won’t give up.’ The caption reads ‘Richard Greenman shows what he claims was blood.’

Richard: Didn’t Mark Twain once say: ‘I don’t care what they write about me as long as they spell me name rights?’ So this was my Andy Warhol ‘15-minutes of fame.’ My only regret is I was more famous for getting hit over the head than for what was in my head. But I was feeling elated.

Jenny: Elated? How?

Richard: Yes, elated that I was able to seize the time (as the Panthers were saying) when the press was focused and focus it on the inevitable consequences of bringing carloads of heavily armed police to campus to enforce the trespassing laws in the middle of the night. This was a storm-trooper operation. I was able to express this in a way that might make a difference. Just then the big door opened and a faculty colleague who was working with the administration came to ask how I was (he had heard the story) and to extend David Truman (the Dean’s) offer of help/concern. He held out his hand and, of course, with my flair for the dramatic, I shook hands with him and covered his hand with blood. This was a wonderful old Eastern European man who took folk guitar lessons from your grandmother in New Jersey and was head of a Russian Institute form an old Bolshevik family. I think I felt comfortable enough with him to pull a stunt like that. I said to him, ‘Take this back to David Truman and tell him the blood of faculty will be on his hands if he continues with this police business!’  The next thing that happened was comical. I thought of your mother.

Jenny: Oh, jeeze, she must have been worried out of her mind.

Richard: You don’t even know

Jenny: Um, I think I might!

Richard: So as soon as I thought of Julie I realized I needed to telephone her and reassure her because she must be going crazy. But here I was on an occupied campus and the only place I could use a phone was down in the administration office, which was filled with police! Of course, how could I go down there?

Jenny: No cell phones, eh?

Richard: No! So after having cavalierly dismissed Truman’s offer of assistance I find myself needing to use the phone, and probably the toilet too! Here I am, thoughtlessly fearless when confronting a phalanx of goons, suddenly going to pieces thinking of upsetting my wife at home! Anyway, I knocked on the door, and most humbly (now) asked if I could use the phone. They took me downstairs and I could see the whole police command. I called Julie.

Now Julie was staying nearby at the apartment of Peter Hayden, another faculty member of the French department (whom I heard from just a few months ago, a propos of the Columbia Reunion).

So I had his number and I called. I spoke to Marie-Helen, Peter’s wife, and I told her what was happening and she’s telling me that Julie’s hysterical. They were listening to the radio (WKCR), which was reporting just then that they’d hit a French professor and he’s going down, right then. Right now in Julie’s point of view! In any case, it was being simulcast (but 10 minutes late) so my wife is hearing on the radio that I’m dead and I’m on the phone trying to convince her I’m not! I mean, a head wound bleeds a lot, but if you don’t have a concussion or crack your skull, it’s OK. What hurt was the stitches! After the phone call I dragged myself through now-deserted streets – the cops were rounding everyone up – and walked into St. Luke’s hospital. As luck would have it, the guy on duty in the emergency room was a Columbia man with little sympathy for the rebels. Let’s just say he didn’t take too much care to make the stitches gentle! Well, I met Julie and we went home.

Jenny: That’s kind of a big day! So, what do you think was the result of all this?

Richard: The result was that David Truman and President Kirk finally understood what was happening and what would happen – that it wouldn’t only be my blood. That it would be a blood bath and they called it off. I can just imagine what the police felt, and what contempt they must have had for these ‘liberals’ on campus who couldn’t make up their minds; and it well may be that the reluctance of the police to return may have allowed us to continue our occupation of buildings much longer. Anyway, that was the upshot. The police were called off, the students were jubilant, and the whole situation was transformed. There was no way that Kirk and Truman could ‘cry wolf’ again or that Mayor Lindsey and the police department could come back. We won more time! And in that time, more buildings were occupied, and more attention was focused on the Six Demands. High school students and outside agitators begin showing up on campus. More important, the majority of Columbia Students had time to argue the issues and eventually come over to the position of SDS, SAS and the sit-ins. That picture of my bloody hand was published the next day, Friday, and that was a new day at Columbia. The occupation had a new lease on life.

Sadly, it was during that period that the ad-hoc faculty committee – from having heroically defended the students – ended up getting boxed up in a neutral, and somewhat ambiguous, position between the student strikers on the one hand and the administration on the other, and eventually co-opted, demoralized and dispersed by ambitions faculty opportunists.

Jenny: Yes, that’s the story you cover in the article ‘The Center Falls Out.’ That’s a great title and it sounds familiar, like I should know the reference, but I don’t. Where did you get it from?

Richard: I’m not surprised you asked. The title is a quote from Leon Trotsky’ History of the Russian Revolution where he say that ‘in a crisis the center falls out’ meaning that liberals become irrelevant and you end up with polarization between Reds and Whites. But my left academic colleagues for whom it was written didn’t get it either. They thought I was (mis)quoting William Butler Yeats, a moderate, who, in a famous poem, The Second Coming, wrote:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Great poetry, but not quite what I meant. As for the rest of the story of the strike, I tell it in detail in the article ‘The Columbia Rebellion’ where you can read about me and Julie both crying while watching the students being hauled off campus during the ‘big bust’ a week later. So Mayor Lindsay’s cops finally agreed to come back to Columbia, and this time they out-did themselves in brutality – perhaps out of peak at being thwarted the first time by a quick-witted French Instructor.

Richard: Oh, Jenny, before we end this interview, there’s one more story about Columba 1968 which will interest you as an actress.

Jenny: Let’s hear it!

Richard: Well, back in the 60’s your mother and I were close friends with the Broadway and TV actor Hershel Bernardi, whom we met through Grandma Mira. Well Heshie was an old Wallace Progressive and sympathized with the 1968 Columbia Student Strikers. At the time, he had just finishing playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway and was touring with his own program of Yiddish theater in English. So after the Big Bust, he volunteered to sneak his players through the police cordon around Columbia and present a Left-wing play (I think by Peretz) called Gymnasium. It’s about a Jewish student in Tzarist Russia facing anti-Semitism, and Heshie asked me to introduce the play to the packed hall of students and make sure they understood that every word in this play was written before 1910. You’ll see why in a minute.

The plot goes like this: a boy and his parents are burning for him to study, but the quota for Jews at the gymnasium is infinitesimal and bribes, etc. are required to get in. (Raya [Dunayevskaya] told me of a similar humiliating experience in her own Russian girlhood). Finally the boy is accepted at some distant gymnasium and moves to that town with his parents. But on the first day at school, he comes home at noon with his new school uniform all messy and announces that he and his classmates are on strike (against discrimination). This is the climax of the play. It’s the big scene when the father (played by Heshie), shocked out of his mind at the idea of all that he has sacrificed for nothing, tries to talk the boy out of striking. He launches into a set-piece monologue, a long litany of all the world’s problems, each punctuated with an ironic cry of ‘strike!’ (‘So you don’t like discrimination? Strike! So food prices are too high? Strike!). Finally the old man runs out of steam. He starts getting convinced by his own ironic arguments. And in the end, instead of raising his palms with irony and rolling his eyes in incredulity every time he gets to the word ‘strike,’ the poor father looks at his son and says, humbly and quietly, ‘So, strike.’ My eyes are swelling with tears just in the telling.

Well you can imagine the incredible reaction this audience of striking Columbia students. Many of them, like me, were wearing bandages as badges of honor after the Bust and many were having the same problems with their own Jewish parents. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing, and every time Heshie pronounced the word ‘strike’ the audience went wild shouting: ‘Strike! Strike! Strike!’ for a full minute. And then Heshie said the next part of his monologue, ending in ‘strike’ and it all started again! I think it took poor Heshie twenty minutes to get through that five-minute monologue, but he was overjoyed. What an audience! What jubilation! And what a powerful thing theater can be, right Jenny?

Jenny: Right, Dad!






Fifty Years After: The Sixties in Historical Perspective


Fifty Years After: The Sixties in Historical Perspective [1]

by Richard Greeman 


An Elegiac Evocation

Nineteen sixty-eight (sigh!)… What a wonderful year that was! Rebellions breaking out all over the f–king place. From Paris to Prague, from Berkeley to Berlin, from Mexico City to Chicago — in the ghetto, on the campus, in the jungles of Vietnam, even within the councils of the Vatican — revolution is the happening thing.

People in motion – all kinds of people. People thinking, acting, daring, participating in an unprecedented historical crisis on an unprecedented international scale. Sending sparks of inspiration and solidarity across frontiers of nationality, age, ideology, and class. Sparks illuminating a moment of world-historical significance, challenging the old order and illuminating possibilities of a different way of being, a new human order.

The place where the spark was kindled was Vietnam. There, poor peasants, city workers, Buddhist monks, and nationalist intellectuals led by the Communists under Ho Chi Minh successfully defended themselves against brutal attacks, first by the French Army and then by the Americans – the ‘anti-colonialist’ Americans, whose 1776 Declaration of Independence was included verbatim in the Basic Program of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. The Vietnamese were ingenious in their audacity, fighting with bicycles and bamboo sticks against B-52s and flame-throwers. Their popular rising during Têt (the Vietnamese New Year) inspired solidarity and sympathy around the world and inaugurated the year of the rebels. Images of beautiful Vietnamese faces and bodies agonized in torture and defiant in dignity girdled the globe through the technological wizardry of television. In the flickering light of the tube My-Lai became the global village.

From deep down in another colonial jungle – the Magnolia Jungle of U.S. racism – came another spark. Struck by Rosa Parks, kindled by Martin Luther King and the brave young people of SNCC and CORE, it burst into flame and burned its way through the cities of the oldest and most complacent of capitalist ‘democracies,’ incinerating the vestiges of McCarthyite conformity and awakening a new generation of white youth to the joys of sex, drugs, rock and revolution.


France: May-June 1968

In response to police repression of anti-Vietnam war protests, the Latin Quarter is occupied by student rebels – eventually by rebel youth of all classes and all ages demanding nothing short of a new society. Their slogan: ‘All power to the imagination!’ As in 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, Paris is in revolt. Eros is in the ascendant. Handwriting on the walls: ‘The more I make revolution, the more I want to make love – the more I make love, the more I want to make revolution.’ The spark spreads to the aircraft and auto factories, then to the railroads, the buses, the labs, the big stores, the administrations. In every school, factory, office people are organizing ‘Action Committees’ to coordinate their struggle and reorganize their workplace. Power is in the streets. President de Gaulle, le grand Charles, is mysteriously absent.

Ten million French and immigrant workers are on a general strike. They have their own agenda. Not higher wages, but workers’ power, self-management, an end to hierarchy. Corporate managers and Communist union officials are equally nonplussed at the popular slogan, ‘Humanity will finally be happy when the last capitalist is hanged by the guts of the last bureaucrat.’ The detonator was the student uprising; the powder charge, the working classes. The target, the whole established order… In short, a pre-revolutionary situation.


Czechoslovakia: August 1968.

Half a million Russian troops invade Czechoslovakia to crush attempts to democratize and humanize the Communist regime. The massive resistance of students, workers, intellectuals and reform-minded Communists sparks worldwide sympathy. Behind the Iron Curtain solidarity demonstrations are held in Poland, Hungary, East Berlin, even Leningrad. In the U.S., protestors brutalized by the Chicago police at the Democratic Convention brandish signs reading ‘Welcome to Czechago.’ ‘Welcome to Prague’ is spray- painted on the streets of Berkeley during the battle for People’s Park.

Although the Czech experiment in ‘socialism with a human face’ is forced to capitulate before the armed might of what is euphemistically known as ‘Actually Existing Socialism,’ workers and students, imitating their French counterparts, continue to form Action Committees demanding civil liberties and workplace democracy.



In all these movements, internationalism prevails over national chauvinism and racism. When the French government deports ‘Dany-the-Red’ Cohn-Bendit (a Jewish German national prominent among the Paris student rebels), thousands of French workers and students parade through the streets chanting ‘We are all German Jews.’ The General Assembly of Student-Worker Action Committees call for ‘The Abolition of the Status of Foreigner in France!’ – this despite the French Communist Party’s patriotic appeal to ‘national feeling.’

The unity of the New Left, East and West, is incarnated in the person of ‘Red’ Rudi Dutschke, the dissident East German Communist student who became the outstanding leader of the SDS in West Berlin. His shooting by a right-wing fanatic echoes the shots that killed Martin Luther King the previous week. In Mexico City the sham internationalism of the Olympic Games is unmasked by victorious U.S. athletes raising their clenched fists in the Black Power salute and by the protest of the Mexican students — brutally slaughtered in the Plaza of the Three Cultures by the police of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Nineteen sixty-eight: a year of triumph and tragedy. A moment when the news was dominated, not by the pronouncements of boring bureaucrats, but by the daring deeds of people in protest and masses in motion. At a time when we ourselves were the spectacle we watched through the magnifying and distorting lens of the media. When bold, surrealistic slogans like ‘Do it!’, ‘Burn, baby, burn!’, ‘All power to the imagination!’ ‘Freedom NOW!’, and ‘Everything is possible!’ seemed perfectly reasonable. A time when everyone was young, when rebellion was in the air, when life meant struggle and it was exciting to be alive.

Do I wax nostalgic? Looking backward over two decades, one is tempted to paraphrase François Villon, the student-rebel-poet-thief of 15th Century Paris, and inquire: ‘Where are the riots of yesteryear?’ However, the purpose of the proceeding exercise in elegiac evocation is not to poeticize the remembrance of things past. It is rather to recall to the reader’s mind true-life images of an actual world-historical moment: memory-pictures which, from today’s viewpoint, would seem fantastic, were they not factual. With these images in mind, then, let us attempt more soberly to evaluate the movements of the 1960’s in historical perspective: the positive, the negative and the prospects for the future.


Backlash, or the Sixties Suppressed

If nothing else, the worldwide mass revolts that culminated in the revolutionary year 1968 disproved for our generation the pervasive myth of the invincibility of the system. Since 1968 we have undergone two decades during which the establishment has devoted the full force of its apparatus of repression and propaganda to the task of erasing the memory of what happened in the ’60s. The rebellions, near revolutions, and mass protests have disappeared down the memory hole as far as official history is concerned. In a frantic effort to avoid an inconvenient repetition, the media and the ruling elite have pulled out all the stops in their campaign to discredit and destroy even the memory of that glorious decade. [2]

For example, the media create and perpetuated the ugly myth of anti-war protesters spitting on returning soldiers, when in fact the movement set up G.I. coffee houses near Army bases where soldiers could relax, be themselves and escape for a moment the brutality and brainwashing of Basic Training. It is remarkable that despite this orchestrated slander campaign, so many people in the United States continue to be wary of foreign adventures in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador, to the point where the Reagan Administration, which came to power eight years ago with the destruction of Nicaragua as the number one item on its agenda, has had to face total failure. Indeed the derogatory phrase ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ (labeling a cure as if it were a disease!) is designed to conceal is one of the most remarkable phenomena of world history: for the first time in human memory the native population of a powerful imperialist nation (including many in the military) forced the abandonment of an oppressive war of conquest against a rebellious semi-colony. Neither the Athenian demos nor the Roman plebs had the courage and wisdom to effectively oppose their own imperialist leaders. The result was the destruction of democracy in Greece and Rome. The people of the United States have every right to be proud of our record of resistance and our continued opposition.


The Balance Sheet

Among the other great achievements of the ’60s was the end of two centuries of legal segregation and oppression of America’s Black former slave population. Add to this the official recognition of the rights (and the historical oppression) of women, gays, Hispanics, and the handicapped. Moreover, the dawning awareness of the danger to humanity’s survival posed by pollution and nuclear war represents a new and universal consciousness capable of uniting the mass of humanity in a common struggle. Finally, the establishment has not forgotten that our movements, however feeble and disorganized, succeeded in unseating and forcing the retirement of three of the most powerful and popular rulers of dominant nation states: Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and France’s Charles de Gaulle.

It is hardly surprising that the battle of 1968 did not end in a decisive knock-out against world capital in its ‘private’ and bureaucratic forms. What needs remembering 20 years after is the fact that we won a couple of rounds on points and struck a nasty left jab which sent the Establishment reeling to its corner. Nor is it surprising that the forces of repression and reaction returned to the fray stronger and more determined to crush the revolutionary elements; indeed it is in the nature of things. As Rosa Luxembourg so elegantly put it, ‘Every revolution is doomed to failure except the last one.’


A Failure to Build on Victories

The real shortcoming of the movements of the ’60s was not that we failed to annihilate a vastly superior antagonist, but that we failed to acknowledge, consolidate, and build on some of our very real and remarkable victories. For example, in the United States in 1970, the youth movement achieved a very high stage with the first nationwide general strike of students – spontaneously organized in response to Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia, the repression of the Black Panther Party and the murder of Black protestors at Jackson State (Miss.) and White students at Kent State (Ohio). For the first time a majority of students, not just in elite schools like Berkeley, Columbia, and Ann Arbor, but in the hinterlands, was prepared to defy the authority of schools, parents, and the live ammunition of the police and the National Guard in full awareness of the potentially deadly consequences of their commitment. Moreover, the 1970 protests were not confined to the ‘single-issue’ of winding down a losing and unpopular war. They also struck to the root of the most critical domestic issue of the decade: Black liberation. If personal self-interest – the threat of the draft – may originally have awakened the student youth to politics, in the end they called the whole system into question by their actions.

The tragedy of 1970 was that far from building on what can be seen historically as a remarkable victory for spontaneous direct action – ­thwarting the plans of the Nixon-Kissinger Administration to expand the war in Southeast Asia and eradicate the militant Black leadership – the movement retreated into quietism and despair. Instead of planting the flag of victory on the high ground that had been conquered in an open struggle and congratulating themselves on their new power, the students succumbed to pessimism. Unaccustomed to measuring tactical victories in terms of a long range revolutionary strategy the students, and to some extent the Black militants, mistook a partial gain for a defeat. This failure to consolidate and capitalize on a new, higher stage of struggle had both subjective and objective causes.


The Scuttling of SDS

On the subjective side, the break-up of SDS in 1969 deprived the student movement of a national organization in which to gather and channel the new energies or prepare them for the next stage of struggle. This organizational quasi-suicide cut the new forces of radicalized youth off from each other and from a core of experienced, seasoned leadership capable of orienting the expanding movement.

The Progressive Labor Party, the Weatherpeople, and the other self-appointed elites and vanguards in SDS bear a heavy responsibility for disarming and disorganizing the radical student protest movement at the very moment it was about to achieve majority status and provoke what a Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest described as an ‘unparalleled crisis’ in American history. Through their ‘rule or ruin’ tactics, the Maoists and Weatherpeople more-or-less deliberately scuttled a fast-growing, radical, mass-based youth organization with a distinguished history. By turning their backs on the SDS tradition of participatory democracy and multi-tendency radicalism, they reneged on the promise of further mass organizing and political growth among the majority of youth. By opting for obsolete, elitist forms of struggle – vanguardism and terrorism – they effectively alienated the sympathies the movement had slowly gathered over years of escalating struggle. Worse still, they destroyed the vehicle through which it could develop further. [3]

The self-proclaimed super-revolutionary vanguardists in SDS were in effect retrogressionists with respect to the new forms of organization – radical, spontaneous, community-based, self-developing – which were the historically specific creations of the 1960s. Moreover, by refusing to recognize the role of youth and students as a new revolutionary subject with its own inner dynamic, they cut off the possibility of alliances with other actors on the revolutionary scene: Blacks, women, national liberation struggles, and the working class.

To form effective alliances, a social group must be organized and capable of united action, of throwing its weight into the struggle alongside of other radical social forces. In the modern world, youth and students represent such a force. In May 1970 half of the U.S.’s 8 million students and 350,000 faculty members were on strike against racism, imperialism and university complicity with the war machine. This was a considerable social force in itself, one capable of opening and prolonging a political crisis and of lending important weight to other social forces – the Blacks, the minorities, the women – who were already in motion. If something like the French student-worker revolt of May 1968 with its general strike of 10 million was probably not on the agenda for the U.S. in 1970 (for reasons we will discuss later) there is no doubt that a golden opportunity was lost.


The Role of Youth

Let us note the historical lesson for future reference: like the Black liberation struggle and the women’s movement, the students and youth need and are entitled to their own organizational vehicle for self-development and struggle. The course of history may, in some objective sense, ‘subordinate’ the youth within the broader struggle of the workers, but for elitist super-revs to choose to subordinate it to their chosen idea of ‘true vanguard’ is dangerous nonsense.

Granted, the U.S. is different from France, but if the French worker-student uprising of May-June 1968 proved anything, it proved that a student movement could serve as a ‘detonator’ for a social revolt that would unleash the fundamental economic antagonists in the social struggle – the workers versus the capitalist state – and involve the near-totality of the population in revolutionary activity. It proved that social revolution – despite the hoary prognostications of decades of liberal theorists and neo-Marxists – was still on the agenda in advanced capitalist countries. Most of all it proved (in the root sense of ‘tested’) the fragility and vulnerability of the seemingly invincible hegemonic bureaucratic-capitalist superstructure – the progressive modern state. The spectacle of the police in disarray, the government paralyzed, and the army confined to barracks (for fear of fraternization) is a specter that continues to haunt the corridors of power — even if the radicals have momentarily forgotten it. Like the failed pan-European revolutions of 1848, like the doomed Paris Commune of 1871, like the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905, the revolutionary year 1968 heralded the appearance of new revolutionary subjects, revealed new forms of struggle, and foreshadowed future possibilities.

The significance of 1968 twenty years later is less in its more-or-less predictable failure, than in its promise for the future. Call it, if you like, a ‘flash in the pan.’ It was nonetheless a flash sufficiently bright to illuminate, however briefly, the possible shape of things to come. This being the case, we have no choice but to return to the history of the rebellions of 1968 as to a living lesson, a roadmap which may point to possible pathways – perhaps the only roads – toward human survival and a new society.


What Was Missing?

Let us look, first of all, at the negatives: the reasons why the rebellions of 1968 did NOT result in world revolution.

I did not share the analysis of the celebrated Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, whom the media presented as the inspirer of the worldwide student revolts, but who in 1968 publicly opposed them. [4] Marcuse’s earlier revival of Hegalian Marxism (Reason and Revolution, 1941) and his synthesis of Marx and Freud (Eros and Civilization) were certainly seminal for many in the New Left. But by the 1960s Marcuse was seeing only negativity (‘The Great Refusal’) in our epoch of world-wide rebellion and theorizing workers in terms of One-Dimensional Man (his 1964 book). [5]

On the other hand, Marcuse’s analysis did have the virtue of focusing attention on a salient feature of the 1960’s: revolt in the ‘periphery.’ Whether we consider the national liberation movements on the geographical periphery of the industrially developed world, or the ‘peripheral’ elements within it – the racial and ethnic minorities, the women liberationists, the youth, the unemployed, the disaffected intellectuals – we are looking at elements on the fringes. The fact that this rag-tag assortment of illiterate peasants and alienated intellectuals, dark-skinned ghetto-dwellers and middle-class students, outsiders, freaks and so-called ‘lumpen’ proletarians succeeded in uniting to knock the establishment off balance, is a remarkable testimony both to the fragility of the system and the maturity of oppressed humanity in our epoch of capitalist decadence.

The received wisdom of traditional ‘Marxism’ (Communists, social-democrats, even Trotskyists) considered these diverse ‘elements’ as essentially passive at best, and at worst as potential reactionary shock-troops in moments of crisis. Only under the ‘firm leadership’ of the advanced proletariat and its ‘revolutionary vanguard’ (the Party), it was believed, might they ‘go over’ to the revolution.

Yet 1968 presents the spectacle of these very peripheral elements joining forces, generating their own leadership, mounting new and ingenious forces of struggle, and provoking a social and political crisis – a breach in the continuity of authority. This radical rupture was all the more remarkable in the absence of two elements considered essential for the overthrow of capitalism: a world economic crisis and of a generalized intervention on the part of the working class.


Limits of the Struggle

The Sixties’ revolts erupted during a period of relative prosperity – the post-WWII boom of capitalist expansion. Unionized workers in the West, relatively well-paid, were considered integrated and consumerized. Futurists worried over the problem of ‘leisure time.’ Students, more or less assured of lifetime employment at places like IBM, were free to reject capitalist society on moral grounds. The mass strikes of the working class in France and Czechoslovakia were the exception, rather than the rule. It is not surprising, given their isolation, that they did not develop in an insurrectional direction and confront the armed forces of the state.

Whereas Marcuse and others dismissed French workers’ general strike as a sort of historical conditioned reflex, a throwback to the traditions of 1848 and 1871, one might argue the contrary case. The decision to stop short of the ultimate confrontation (and thus avoid a bloodbath) was perhaps a sign of the collective maturity and tactical wisdom not only of the French (with their bitter memories of the massacres of July 1848 and the 1871 Commune), but also of the Czechs (who could hardly have forgotten the fate of the insurrectionary Hungarian Workers’ Councils of 1956). It is hardly astonishing that the workers of France and Czechoslovakia chose not to become martyrs in the cause of an unlikely world revolution. What is astonishing is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the French workers refused to accept the Grenelle Agreements (including wage raises of up to 72%!) negotiated for them by the Communist and Socialist trade unions. It wasn’t more money they wanted, but something else: new human relations in production. (A mass meeting of 25,000 actually booed the CGT leaders off the platform at the huge Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris.)    


Astonishing but True

What is astonishing is the fact that during the French general strike, many enterprises actually resumed production under worker self-management and began exchanging their products with those of neighboring farmers, thus stripping the commodity-fetish off their labor and creating an embryonic socialism in the course of struggle!

What is astonishing is the fact that many workers (backed by the students) continued to face the police in full-scale battles to defend their occupied factories long AFTER the official Communist- and Socialist-led unions had ‘settled’ the strike and attempted to stampede the workers back to work with false reports that ‘all the other’ factories had returned.

What is astonishing is the fact that the Czech workers, often led by rank-and-file Communists, actually intensified the organization of democratically elected factory committees AFTER the Russian invasion put an end to Dubcek’s reforms.

Clearly, if these workers had no taste for traditional revolutionary martyrdom, they had no taste for traditional reformism either. If the Czechoslovakian mass strike had spread, say, to Poland in 1968 (instead of 1981), the Czech resistance might have taken a less passive, less ‘Schweikian’ form, and the outcome might have been different… Similarly, if the French general strike had spread into Britain and Germany – as it did in a drawn-out form in Italy during 1969…

But, not so astonishingly, it didn’t.

It didn’t for perfectly clear, objective reasons. The world economy was still enjoying the autumn of the long post-World War II boom. France, for example, had undergone a remarkable period of modernization and expansion during the Gaullist decade of 1958-1968, and in the U.S., L.B. Johnson was still able to deliver guns and butter, to pacify part of the labor movement and to co-opt an important sector of the Civil Rights movement by recruiting its leaders with paid jobs in his bogus ‘War on Poverty’ – all the while escalating his much more real and more costly war on Southeast Asia.

Only a Flash in the Pan?

Let us return, now, to our point of departure – Marcuse’s critique of the movements of the 60’s as essentially ‘marginal’ and their negative depiction as a mere ‘flash in the pan’ of no historical significance. History buffs and gun-freaks may recall that the expression ‘a flash in the pan’ refers to the misfiring of an old-fashioned flint-lock musket. The flint strikes a spark, the spark ignites the powder in the pan, but the main powder-charge in the breech fails to ignite. There is a blinding flash, but no bullet. This is an apt description of what happened in 1968.

On the other hand, the 60’s revolts – be they of youth, oppressed minorities or peasants in the periphery – did display the potential to act as detonators (our ‘flash in the pan’ image again) for flare-ups of serious class conflict involving the essential polar antagonists of modern industrial society: the wage earners who produce goods and services versus the stockholders whose corporations own, manage or control the means of production and the state. Moreover, in both France and Czchoslovakia, the rebels and strikers had the active sympathy of the general population, further isolating the power structure to the point where the Army and even some of the police could no longer be counted on. As we have seen, these pre-revolutionary situations flared up for a few weeks only and then, unable to go forward, died out, like a flash in the pan. But does this render them meaningless ‘throwbacks’ (Marcuse) to a bygone age of class struggle? Not necessarily. The fact that a musket may misfire on one or another occasion does not render it any less a deadly weapon. Perhaps the powder was wet. The wet powder in this case standing for the absence of an economic crisis. Better timing next time.And speaking of next time, there is a striking time-lag – a décalage or out-of-phase character – between the period of widespread social and political crises of the 1960’s and the period of generalized economic crisis we are entering today, East and West. Given this décalage, it is not altogether surprising that the revolts of the 60’s remained largely confined to ‘the periphery’ and retained a quality better characterized as ‘revolts’ or ‘rebellions’ than as ‘revolutions.’ (Hence the essentially symbolic, even theatrical quality of many of their tactics, from non-violent sit-ins to Days of Rage, or from showering the stock exchange with dollar bills to planting bombs under it.)

Meanwhile, the brief flash of 1968 stands like a beacon of hope, illuminating the capitalist landscape, pointing to the vulnerability of the powers that be and to the potential of new revolutionary subjects like youth and peasant farmers to ignite a general conflagration.


Some Hairy Theories

Nothing fails like failure. On the negative side, the objective isolation of these ‘peripheral’ movements from the central, essential class struggle of labor and capital led to some hairy theories with unfortunate practical consequences. Among the more innocuous of these deviations was Charles Riech’s theory of The Greening of America (1970) which predicted the peaceful transformations of the oppressive, exploitative and brutal institutions of U.S. capitalism through a revolution in consciousness (‘Conn III’) which would take over as soon as the long-haired students of 1968 were old enough to become Chairmen of the Board. In practice, the ‘Long March through the Institutions’ (as it was known in German SDS) changed little besides style.

Equally idealistic but far more pernicious were the various vanguardist theories based on the elitist dogmas of the ‘backward-ness’ of the masses and its corollary, the need for a ‘Party’ of heroic self-proclaimed revolutionaries to lead them or set them an ‘example.’ Although couched in the language of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, this ideology was a reversion to the ideology of the 19th Century Russian Populists – the ‘Narodniks’ against whom Lenin had had to struggle to lay the basis for Russian Marxism. Yet in the lull that followed the explosions of 1968, many European and American radicals, impatient with slow, dialectical development of mass movements and hungry for shortcuts to revolution, unwittingly reinvented the idealistic ‘serve the people’ ideology of the Russian students of 1870 and unconsciously aped the anarchist and populist bomb throwers of 1880-1914. [6]


Whose Violence?

On the level of the movement as a whole, incalculable damage was done by confusing the necessity for revolutionary violence (for example, self-defense as practiced by the original Black Panthers and Deacons for Defense; the militant occupation of private property and public space) with the counter-productive practice of individual terror. Rather than representing a step forward, the cultivation of individual violence was an index of the movement’s isolation and decline.

Finally, the very weakness of the 60s rebellions (the absence of an economic crisis and generalized class warfare) paradoxically revealed the secret vulnerability of the power structure. Despite its monopoly of guns, police, prisons, political processes and information media, the Establishment’s hegemony was severely (if momentarily) shattered by our rag-tag army of outsiders and freaks. The vaunted stability of de Gaulle’s monarchy-by-referendum proved to be a house of cards, and it was not for nothing that Nixon whined about a ‘pitiful, helpless giant.’ The Emperor, albeit armed to the teeth, for a moment stood naked for all to see.

History, like geology, does not move forward at a uniform pace, but rather in fits and starts. Long periods of apparent uniformity are followed by volcanic moments of rapid transformation, summing up all that has come before and illuminating much of what is to come. I very much agree with George Katsiaficas [7] who characterizes the 1960’s as such a ‘world-historical’ moment. Thus the rebellions of 1968 (like the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1905) may be seen as heralding the appearance on the historical stage of new revolutionary subjects and new forms of struggle that may develop at a later date.

If this be the case, the forces of social revolution that were forced into retreat two decades ago, may very well, following a historical pattern of 20-year cycles, return to the fray with the coming of a new generation. How have conditions changed since 1968? Will the balance of forces – subjective and objective – be more or less favorable for the Return of the Social Revolution?


Favorable Signs (in 1988 and 2018 [8][i])

To this inveterately optimistic observer, the objective signs looked favorable in 1988, on the 20th anniversary of 1968. To begin with, the strategic capability of the U.S. as policeman of the capitalist world had sharply declined since 1968. Then, U.S. imperialism was able to mount a prolonged full-scale invasion 6,000 miles from home against a seasoned Vietnamese guerrilla movement with a protected rear and lines of communication to allies in Russia and China. By 1988, tiny Nicaragua, surrounded by Contra bases, more or less abandoned by the U.S.S.R., still stood defiant, only 600 miles from the U.S., after 8 years of concerted attack. Meanwhile, Washington’s credibility lay shattered by the Iran-Contra-cocaine scandal. In comparison with the non-entity of [G.H.W.] Bush, Singlaub and North, Nixon and Kissinger loomed like giants (and even Nixon’s bumbling White House Plumbers looked professional).

If the Monroe Doctrine was showing signs of wear, in 1988 the Brezhnev Doctrine seemed altogether in shambles. The rumble of tanks moving, NOT out into Czechoslovakia but home from Afghanistan (with their tails between their treads) can only be sending one message to East Europe’s Communist dictators Husak, Geirik, Jarelzowsky and Company: ‘Sink or swim. It’s every man for himself, boys!’

Not only did Gorbachev knock the military props out from under the ruling bureaucrats of the Warsaw Pact, he also removed the ideological props. Whatever glasnost and perestroika may mean in Russian, translated into East German, Hungarian, Czech, and Polish they have got to revive the hopes (and fears, for the bureaucracy!) of 1953, 1956, 1968, and 1981 respectively.

Be that as it may, the rigid, bi-polar Cold War system with enforced social immobility based on the mutually agreed upon threat of the ‘Enemy Without’ seemed a thing of the past in 1988. The genii is out of the box. The superpowers suddenly didn’t seem so super any more, and humanity had less reason to fear and more reason to dream and to dare.

2018 update: Humanity did dream and dare, and in the Spring of 2011 another wave of radical uprisings, echoing 1968, spread around the globe, from Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria to Europe, with the mass anti-austerity movement in Greece, the movements of the squares in Spain, Portugal and France, to the U.S. with the Wisconsin rebellion followed by Occupy Wall Street. As in 1968, the powers that be were caught off guard, but they soon organized the repression, an orgy of violence that continues to this day. The collapse of the Soviet Union did not usher in the expected “end of history” with a New World Order of liberal capitalism under U.S. leadership. On the contrary, the Cold War standoff between U.S. and Russia has been replaced by a multi-imperialist world-system. Imperialist rivalries between regional powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel – backed by global capitalist powers like Russia, China, the US, and Europe – fuel endless wars and civil wars. Neo-liberal globalization has given birth to competition between reactionary forms of economic nationalism, crony capitalism and authoritarianism.


Economic Crisis?

On the economic front, it is clear that the world’s dominant economic systems are on the brink of crisis. On the one hand, it is difficult to imagine the U.S. economy escaping the logical consequences of a rapidly declining balance of trade, a huge internal debt (both governmental and private), and billions of uncollectible loans to impoverished Third World countries. With savings institutions in deep trouble and the stock market, unchastened by Black Monday, battening on unhealthy speculation, laundered drug-money, and unproductive takeovers, it is likely that things may get a whole lot worse before they get better.

2018 Note. Ruefully re-reading my 1988 doomsday prediction I am reminded of the humorous brag: « We Marxists have correctly predicted five out of the last three recessions. » On the other hand, the objective conditions I noted in 1988 – debt, speculation, balance of trade, plant-closings, globalization — continued and intensified, while many of the regulations put in place in the 1930’s to prevent another 1929-type Crash were removed. And so we got the Crash of 2008. I hate to be an I-told-you-so, but I told you so (albeit 20 years too early).  

Whereas in 1968 the labor bureaucracy could drag a relatively well-paid layer of the working class ‘part of the way with LBJ,’ today plant closings, cut-backs, and take-backs have eroded the influence of the social-patriotic class-collaborationists of the AFL-CIO. How long can the Johnny-One-Notes of the UAW go on trumpeting ‘Buy American’ when it is obvious to every worker that ‘American’ companies are in fact transnational and that the job security of U.S. workers has been sacrificed on the altar of cheap labor in foreign lands? And if management can get away with paying garment workers 16 cents an hour in El Salvador, what chance does any worker – White, Black, or Latino – ­have asking for $16 an hour or even $6 an hour in L.A.? The answer is, ‘Let’s put the INTERNATIONAL back in UNION!’

The beginnings of an anti-imperialist Central America solidarity lobby within the AFL-CIO is evidence that many U.S. workers understand that they are being forced to compete with the victims of anti-union rightwing dictatorships propped up by U.S. workers’ tax dollars. Meanwhile, the situation of the Black and Hispanic labor force in the U.S., bad enough in 1968, has if anything worsened. To this reservoir of anger and revolt, Reaganomics has added millions of women forced into the labor market for survival, and thousands of skilled white workers who have been thrown out of work or forced into low-pay service jobs.


Capitalist Internationalization

The internationalization of capital has been the cutting edge of a generalized attack on U.S. labor’s historical living standard – an attack designed to reduce us all – White, Black, male, female, young or old, to the level of subsistence. Cutbacks in health care, housing, education and job safety combine with ‘deindustrialization’ to increase our insecurity and fear. All this takes place with the tacit complicity of the AFL-CIO leadership who blame everything on the Japanese and provide an easy out for the politicians and the corporations. As a result, union membership has declined to the level of the 1920’s. Only a new, militant and internationalist labor movement (allied with other community forces) can possibly turn this situation around.

On the other side of the ‘deindustrialization’ equation stand the new proletarians of Korea, Taiwan, and the other ‘Little Tigers.’ A generation ago, they were peasants. Today they are industrial workers in the most advanced and most profitable sector of the world economy, increasingly impatient with low wages, long hours, harsh conditions, and the U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes that enforce them. Unlike the peasant guerrillas of the 1960’s, these workers have the power to attack the system where it hurts.[9] 2018 Note. Soon the Asian Tigers were joined and surpassed by China, a 2000 pound industrial Gorilla – with a new, militant proletariat of billions. As early as 2006, there were 87,000 violent strikes and uprisings necessitating armed intervention according to official reports which likely underestimated the situation. Resistance has continued, with significant gains. The global proletariat, contrary to Western postmodernist, ‘End-of-Work’ dogma, has not ‘disappeared.’ It has merely changed its address, skin color and, for the most part, gender.


Some Big ‘Ifs’

If the internationalism that characterized the movements of the 60’s comes back to life and creates active links of solidarity among the workers in the various branches of the new multi-national capitalist system, then ‘everything is possible’ will cease to be a mere slogan. If the new subjects of revolution that revealed themselves in the mass movements of the 60s – the youth, the women, the oppressed minorities, the poor peasants, the new working class of educated technological and office personnel – join forces with these industrial workers in a situation of economic crisis, then humanity may yet find a way to its humanness and in the process save itself – and this beautiful world – from destruction.

These are all big ‘ifs’ – hypotheses based on selected evidence using an historical method that by definition lacks the verifiability (repeatability) of physical science. They are the best – indeed the only hopeful – hypotheses we have. Possibilities… Perhaps slim possibilities, but possibilities nonetheless, and thus a pathway opened toward a solution to the crisis of a society so decadent, so hell-bent on self-destruction, that the alternatives of ‘socialism or barbarism’ might better be restated as ‘socialism or planetary extinction.’

There are so many time-clocks ticking their way toward an all-but-inevitable Armageddon that, without the hypothesis of worldwide social revolution, it is only a matter of which form of annihilation we will succumb to first. An ‘accidental’ thermonuclear war à la ‘Strangelove’ or one unleashed by maniacal theocrats in Pakistan or Israel? The destruction of the ozone layer or the greenhouse effect? Overpopulation or universal starvation provoked by drought due to the destruction of the world’s rainforests?


Species Questions

‘People do make their own history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing.’ Marx’s remark is particularly poignant today when we may soon run out of circumstances (not to mention people).

What were once class questions, social questions, political questions, have been qualitatively transformed into species-questions: questions of global survival. The global order, dominated by multinational conglomerates more concerned with short-term profits than future economic development (and increasingly propped up by repressive military-bureaucratic regimes), no longer even pretends to offer long-tern solutions. Reformism, once the hope of liberal and social democrats, is (paradoxically) a viable possibility only in the Eastern Block. (In the U.S., liberalism – our chief antagonist in 1968 – has become taboo: the ‘L’ word).

Thus if we eliminate Divine or extraterrestrial intervention, we are forced to the conclusion that only human activity on a world scale – the mass activity of the powerless and oppressed, be they landless peasants and sweated laborers in the Third World, rebels fighting the ‘socialist bourgeoisie’ in the Second, or the relatively privileged technological new working classes in the post-industrial First World – can prevent extinction and open the way toward the reconstruction of a rational, humane society.

To be sure, such a radical perspective sounds hopelessly Utopian today with Thatcherite neo-capitalism triumphant. Like everyone, I have my moments of despair. But then I think back to the rebellious world of the Sixties, to a time when ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very Heaven!’ [10] I also remember that what happened once can happen, in perhaps more favorable circumstances, again. The ‘flash in the pan’ that sparked up in the Sixties was like a flare illuminating a dark battlefield. Its momentary brilliance revealed a capitalist adversary much weaker than we had imagined and a host of global allies we didn’t know we had. Not enough to win, but future times may be more favorable. Today, we see the circle of the rich and powerful growing smaller and smaller, the numbers of excluded and exploited growing larger and larger, and with it their resentments, their hopes and their world-wide demand for justice. ‘Ce n’est qu’un début! Continuons le combat!’ (‘It’s only a beginning! Let’s keep the struggle going!’)


[1] Originally published in New Politics on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the May 1968 uprisings. I have added a few 2018 updates, clearly indicated in the text.

[2].Update, June 2007. New proof of 1968’s still-potent charge. – after not twenty, but now forty years: Nicolas Sarkozy, the successful Right-wing candidate in last month’s French Presidential election, devoted his final speech of the campaign to…. 1968-bashing! According to Sarko, we ’68-ers are responsible for today’s ‘intellectual and moral relativism,’ ‘brought cynicism to society and lowered the political and moral level.’ Further more, we ‘encourage criminals.’ ‘We must turn the page of May ’68’ Sarkozy concluded (Le Monde, May 2, 2007).

[3] 2008 Note. On the occasion of the refounding of SDS this Winter, remorseful Weatherman Mark Rudd ruefully recounted dumping the SDS membership files into Lake Michigan. Imagine how much more powerful the spontaneous campus risings of 1970 would have been if connected and coordinated through this national network.

[4] Marcuse was appalled by the student tactics of strikes and occupations. Having been hounded out of Nazi Germany as a Jew and a Marxist, Marcuse defended the ‘liberal’ U.S. university system, where he had been welcomed, as a sanctuary for free inquiry. The sight of students taking over campuses must have reminded him of the Hitler Youth. We rebels exposed U.S. universities – supposedly ‘value-free’ – as complicit with the Vietnam war, carrying out secret military research and processing students into future officers and docile corporate employees.

[5] Please see my essay, ‘A Critical Examination of Herbert Marcuse’s Thought,’ New Politics Vol. VI, No. 4.

[6] This repetition of history as farce would be laughable were it not for its tragic consequences – for the radicals themselves, for innocent by-standers, and for the movement. From my own N.Y. circle, Ted Kapchuck is dead and Dave Gilbert and Kathy Boudin are in jail for life. We have already seen how SDS was dismantled in the name of this ‘revolution.’

[7] For the best overall view of the Sixties, I recommend George Katsiaficas, The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968, South End Press, 1987.

[8] 2018 updates indicated by italics.

[9] 2007 Note. Twenty years later the Asian Tigers have been joined by China, a 2000 pound industrial Gorilla – with a new, militant proletariat of billions. Let us note that in China in 2006, there were 87,000 violent strikes and uprisings necessitating armed intervention according to official reports which likely underestimated the situation. The global proletariat, contrary to Western postmodernist, ‘End-of-Work’ dogma, has not ‘disappeared.’ It has merely changed its address.

[10] William Wordsworth’s recollection of his experiences in the French Revolution (the Prelude of 1850.)

Beyond Fake News

Beyond Fake News

by Richard Greeman

  1. “All Governments Lie”

As 1950’s investigative reporter I.F. (“Izzy”) Stone famously stated: “All governments lie.”[1] Fake news has historically been the weapon of the rulers, especially when in need of excuses for military aggression. The mainstream media have traditionally gone along with the official line. For example, in 2003 in order to invade Iraq, the Bush administration falsely asserted that Saddam Hussein was complicit in the September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S. and that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Despite public evidence to the contrary, the mainstream media propagated what was soon revealed to be fake news. Fifteen years later, the U.S. is still mired in Iraq.

Similarly, in August 1964, the Johnson administration deceived Congress into voting a blank check to escalate the war in Vietnam by playing up a fake news story about two North Vietnamese naval attacks. This emergency “Bay of Tonkin Resolution” was the legal basis for eleven more years of particularly bloody, unwinnable war wreaking havoc on millions of Vietnamese civilians North and South. Only two Senators, and writers like I.F. Stone questioned the fake news.

The first North Vietnamese ‘attack’ was a brief skirmish between U.S. destroyer Maddox patroling close to the territorial line. It later came out that the U.S. vessel fired first damaging the smaller two Vietnamese PT boats, which may have fired back as a single bullet hole was found in the hull of the Maddox, otherwise undamaged. Since this incident failed to generate sufficient war hysteria, LBJ came up with a second attack, this one, as Sec. McNamara, later admitted, was entirely imaginary. But it did the dirty job.

The classic historical example of fake news is the famous “Ems telegram” of July 1870 when Prussia’s Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck tricked French Emperor Napoléon III into declaring war on Prussia, by leaking to the newspapers a provocatively insulting telegram adressed to the French Emperor. The Prussians were already mobilized and prepared to fight; the French, hardly at all. France was soon over-run and Napoléon III captured.

The paradox of today’s situation is that Donald Trump, arguably the world’s biggest liar, has appropriated the term “fake news” to discredit the New York Times and other “legitimate” mainstream media. Up until Trump’s declaration of war, the “failing” N.Y. Times had consistently backed up the U.S. government’s lethal lies, including Bush’s WMDs, JFK’s “secret” Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba, and LBJ’s fake news Bay of Tonkin attack. Today, since Trump declared them “public enemies,” they are at least fact-check official pronouncements more, and Trump gives them plenty of opportunities. At least as far as the Administration is concerned, the mainstream media have stopped acting like lap dogs, although they are still hardly watch dogs on issues like “national defense.” Long before Trump came along, people were growing more and more cynical about the establishment press’ elitist bias, and Trump’s accusations of “fake news” seemed plausible to many.

To add to the confusion, foreign governments like Putin’s Russia have injected fake news stories designed to spread confusion, discredit the Democrats and aid Donald Trump to win the 2016 election. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine has also managed to bamboozle a large section of the western Left into supporting Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria with fake news characterizing the White Helmets volunteers in Syria as CIA operatives and presenting Bachar el-Assad as a progressive anti imperialist leader. Amid all this confusion, who to believe? Many Leftists active in the blogosphere have naively assumed that if the U.S. imperialists are lying, the Russians must be telling the truth. In their indignation at frequent U.S. aggression, they have succumbed to the fallacy that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend.”

But I.F. Stone had it right in the first place: “ALL governments lie.” In 2016, Putin’s Petersburg troll factories obviously did inundate U.S. social media with disruptive posts designed to discredit the U.S. system and help Trump win the election. This is just business as usual. Remember that in 2014, it was the U.S. under Obama who massively intervened during revolution in Ukraine in order to impose hand-picked candidates on the new government. What’s new? Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and America are back to playing Cold War propaganda games. Back then, America sponsored Radio Free Europe and the CIA financed anti-Communist intellectual journals, while Stalin’s Communist agents financed The Daily Worker and influenced a whole generation of writers including Hemingway. During the 1930’s Hitler had supporters all over the US, and Mussolini’s Fascist government spent millions buying up French newspapers and flooding them with Italian propaganda designed to soften up France for the coming invasion.

Today, Putin’s trolls manipulate social media and the blogosphere. Big deal. How many Americans actually believed the crude, ungrammatical, mechanically-produced Russian postings on which the Kremlin spent a few million dollars during a campaign when U.S. billionaires, using the most sophisticated PR firms, were spending billions? Few today believe the Russians actually succeeded in influencing the outcome of the election.

The real scandal behind the release by the Russians (among others) of the Democratic National Committee’s secret emails was the truthful news that the Clinton leadership was secretly sabotaging the primary campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the surprizingly popular socialist insurgent threatening their noe-liberal hegemony. Ultimately, the DNC’s vicious and ultimately fatal interference in the U.S. electoral process, the open Primary, did more to get “President” Trump elected than Russian interference. How many voters who went for Bernie in the Primaries ended up voting for Trump?

With his hypocritical accusations of fake news, Trump has seized upon a classic populist demagogue’s bullying tactic — ridiculing his critics, accusing them of lying, and discrediting their liberal world-view as an elitist conspiracy. By declaring war on the mainstream press (which remains devoted to the ‘normal’ capitalist political establishment in whose name it excoriates Trump’s excesses) and by raising the issue of “fake news” perhaps Donald Trump has inadvertantly done the American public a favor.

Is “cynicism” about governments (which all lie) and the media (which generally support them) all bad? Maybe the public will start thinking more critically about what we’re told by T.V. ‘experts’ (always the same ones). Maybe we’ll start taking seriously the warnings persecuted whistle blowers like Chelsea Manning and marginalized investigative journalists like I.F. Stone (whose writings have been anthologized), Noam Chomsky[2] and The Intercept.

One can hope, for example, that the next time a U.S. administration goes to the brink of war over some phony pretext backed up by fake news about nonexistant WMDs or imaginary attacks, people, and even the media, will start asking questions before it is too late. And if the truth is revealed before the blood starts flowing, the chance are that it will be thanks to the Internet and sites like WikiLeaks. [FB : 4/6/2018]

  1. Fake News and the Internet

Mainstream media pundits frequently blame the Internet for this latest epidemic of “fake news” that is allegedly destroying our democracy. As we have seen, to some extent this is just “the pot calling the kettle black.” On the other hand, the algorithms that control the flow of information on Internet social media tend to favor sensationalism and exaggerate the importance of the two ends of the political spectrum.

Let’s look at one obscenely egregious example of fake news concerning the grieving teenage survivors of the 2018 Parkland, FL. Valentine’s day  shooting, many of whom had spoken out in favor of gun control. On Feb. 20, a homemade video accumulated more than 200,000 views overnight by slandering David Hogg, the handsome, articulate student spokesman and his fellow-students as “crisis actors” hired to do the bidding of left-wing activists. Of course many of these “hits” were propagated by the pro-gun, right-wing, viewer networks and conspiracy sites like Infowars, which went one step further by suggesting that the mass shooting itself was a “false flag” operation orchestrated by anti-gun groups. Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio pundit, took up the accusation: “Everything they’re doing is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the N.R.A. and guns.”

So yes, social media, eager for maximum number of clicks, does encourage sensationalistic fake news and wild conspiracy theories, but they are part of a continuum which includes right-wing pundits and highly organized, well financed, propaganda machines from from think tanks like the American Enterprise to Fox News to far-right Sinclair Media’s billionaire buyout of local radio stations and newspapers across the country.

It has now been revealed that billionaire Republican donor and Steve Bannon acolyte Robert Mercer gave $15 million to Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling company which promised to give him Internet tools “that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior […] the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.”[3] Their idea was that the Trump campaign could target specific messages to specific profiled by analysing this Facebook data.

Again, I doubt this tactic won many voters for Trump, but it reminds us that Facebook and other social media get rich by selling advertising space to anyone who’s willing to pay. To quote the N.Y. Times: “Facebook makes money by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors and others. These are Facebook’s true customers, whom it works hard to please.” The beauty of this lucrative business model is that unlike the press and broadcast media, who must pay writers, actors, reporters for the content they broadcast, we users supply Facebook with all its content – and our personal information – for free.[4]

To what extent do the thousands of internauts who click on these fake news stories actually believe them? Impossible to tell. Many of these clicks simply reflect the extent of existing networks – whether of gun lovers, racists, or Putinite anti-imperialists – acting as echo chambers. Others merely mirror the momentarily curiosity of folks who like to surf the Net. In any case, according to the latest studies, the largest influence on people’s beliefs remains personal conversations with their family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

  1. Fake News and the Big Lie

As Hitler proclaimed , if you repeat a big lie over and over again, people will believe it. The bigger the lie the better:

“The broad masses of the nation in the primitive simplicity of their minds more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes.” (Mein Kampf, 1925)

By “these people” Hitler meant the Jews. The irony is that Hitler’s first and biggest lie was that the “Jewish conspiracy” was responsible for all of Germany’s problems, including military defeat in WWI. When you tell a big lie, it helps if you accuse your opponent of doing the same thing. Stalin for example accused his rival Trotsky of conspiring with the Nazis at the very moment he himself was preparing to sign the notorious 1939 Stalin-Hitler Pact. In our time Trump, who proclaimed that Barack Obama was a Kenyan and calls global warming a “Chinese Hoax,” delights in re-tweeting all kinds of fake news items while delegitimizing the fact-checkers and blanketly accusing them of propagating “fake news.”

Of course the Big Lie technique works best when the Big Liars have the power to dominate the media – plus gangs of bullies on the street to back it up, as Hitler proved in the 30’s. Today such bullies can also dominate social media and intimidate others through threats and the use of trolls and bots to amplify their voices. Trump’s labeling of the mainstream media as “fake news” is a bullying tactic designed to disrupt reasonable discourse and discredit all attempts to bring out factual truths that contradict the rulers’ Big Lies. It also lends credibility to all kinds of far-out secret conspiracy theories. But there are conspiracies, powerful ones, and most often they are hidden in plain sight, right out in the open.

Let’s take one example. What is the biggest Big Lie of the past half- century? Climate denial: the persistant fake news that global warming and catastrophic climate change are myths cooked up by a conspiracy of liberals, left-wing scientists and/or the Chinese. Of course today, the visible effects of global warming (droughts, floods, forest fires, ice melts) can no longer be hidden. So we have Scott Pruitt, the head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, proclaiming that global warming is good for us (as he removes environmental regulations).  So since global warming has actually appeared, the updated Big Lie is that human activity – specifically burning coal and petroleum – has no negative effect on the climate, despite increasingly pessimistic and near-unanimous testimony of climate scientists predicting imminent catastrophe if we don’t cut back.

This is a life and death, existential question for the future of humanity. Yet the independent scientists are not believed, and their conclusions routinely dismissed by world leaders who continue to push for more fossil fuel production, to block even the feeblest attempts to limit it (e.g. the Paris agreement), and to fight bloody wars over the domination of petroleum-rich countries. As Hitler reminds us: “The grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.” The “conspiracy of expert liars” in the case of climate change includes the petroleum corporations, the government and the mainstream press who have been suppressing or obfuscating the truth – although the facts have been “nailed down” for nearly half a century.

Already in the 1970’s, scientists working for the petroleum giant Exxon were warning management in private memos about impending climate catastrophe, as was recently revealed by the nonprofit news organization Inside Climate News. “More damagingly, the company set a model for the rest of the industry. Today, scientists who say the exact same thing are ridiculed in the business community and on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.” [5] Exxon, rather than change its business plan, chose the path of disinformation, denial and delay – just like the tobacco industry faced with the evidence of cancer. But the petroleum lobby proved to be far more powerful than the tobacco lobby.

Like Hitler’s Big Lie about the Jews, big petroleum’s climate denial lie is backed up by bullies who intimidate potential truth tellers. For example, the geology departments of the major research universities are largely funded by petroleum money, and so professors who want to keep their jobs and their grants are hardly encouraged to speak out on the necessity to stop burning oil. Similarly the major media, dependent on advertising revenues from petroleum and related industries (auto, highway construction, agrobusiness, shipping), are roped into the climate-denial “conspiracy of expert liars.” So it is hardly an accident that although weather reporting fills up more than 20% of news broadcast time in the U.S., TV “meteorologists” avoid such tainted “politicized” expressions as “global warming” and the “greenhouse effect” and devote almost no air time to the causes of the increasing climate chaos whose consequences they are describing.

As for government, oil states dominate the U.S. Congress; the White House has been controlled by oilmen since at least LBJ; Exxon CEO Tillerson was Trump’s first Secretary of State; and Oklahoma oil-lobbyist Pruitt rules the EPA. Pruitt, who made his career as a paid “expert liar” for the oil companies and who is not very bright, apparently actually believes climate denial, and so this month he naively proposed a “public debate” on the forbidden topic. Pruitt’s great idea was promptly quashed by the White House as such a public debate would be a “damaging spectacle, creating an unnecessary distraction from the steps the administration has taken to slash environmental regulations.”[6] Any such public debate would inevitably implicate the military, a major consumer of petroleum, whose primary mission has long been to protect (and if possible expand) U.S. petroleum interests around the world and whose massive budget depends on serving the global interests of the petroleum lobby.[7]

  1. What is it about oil?

Why do these powerful leaders, special interests, and institutions conspire to lead the planet to self-destruction by any means necessary, including war and fake news? Alas there is only one possible answer to this question: to preserve the wealth and power of that fraction of the capitalist 1%-ers whose wealth is tied up in carbon deposits beneath the soil.

Why, since they are so rich and powerful, don’t they even now reverse the course of denial and domination they chose in the 70’s and invest their capital in renewable energy sources? The answer is that their vast wealth takes the form of fossil minerals in the ground whose value can only be realized when they are burned. At the pump a gallon of gas may be worth two or three dollars. In the ground it is worthless. As with all commodities, the value of carbon deposits is based on what financiers call “futures” – the expected price they will bring when brought to market at some future time. If governments make the decision to save the planet by going renewable before it is too late, that “future time” of sales and profits will never come. The buried minerals will become what economists call “stranded assets.” Their monetary value, on which the wealth and power of the petroleum corporations depend, would rapidly sink and with it the price of petroleum shares. Petroleum shareholders would soon be as broke as the owners of buggy whip factories the year after Ford introduced the Model T.

Naturally the carbon interests are desperate. For them – and for the military industrial complex which they dominate – there is no turning back. They can only go forward into increased petroleum production, taking their profits now while leading the rest of us like lemmings over the cliff of climate catastrophe. They can have no thought for the human future. Only for petroleum futures. Hence the need to keep repeating the same Big Lie of climate denial. Hence the need to silence all opposition from what the Bush administration – on the eve of invading oi-rich Irak –disdained as the “reality-based community.”

So, as we have seen, behind the hysteria around an alleged fake news epidemic – popularized by liar-in-chief Donald Trump – and behind the mainstream denigration of so-called “conspiracy theorists” there is a very real and very powerful capitalist conspiracy, perfectly legal, “hidden” in plain sight. But rather than denouncing it, most liberal pundits tend to blame fake news on the ignorance of the masses and the evils of social media which they accuse of destroying liberal democracy. As if the liberal imperialism of so many democratic administrations under the thumb of the petroleum lobby had not already discredited that notion.

Today’s anti fake news campaign is so much the signature tactic of the Trump administration, that the Republican Party is actually sponsoring the annual presentation of the Fake News Awards, attacking journalists from the N.Y. Times and CNN. Meanwhile the liberals in the mainstream press, blind to the big picture, wring their hands and blame the unwashed public for its cynicism and susceptibility to sensational tales.

  1. Back to cyberspace

Once again, we observe that the Internet is a two-edged sword with advantages and disadvantages for the two opponents in the class struggle: the 1% and the 99%. On the one hand the Internet is so vast that you can find any amount of far out political opinion and crazy conspiracy on it, and well-heeled right-wing groups in particular can manipulate the algorithms of social media in such a way as to appear more popular and influential than they may actually be. These deceptions are small potatoes compared to the mammoth decades-long conspiracy of silence imposed by corporations, governments and major media, in order to suppress the truth of profitable carbon-fueled climate catastrophe. Big deal if high schooler David Hogg becomes a “crisis actor” for 24 hours in one dark corner of the Internet, and Trump gets his rocks off in the wee hours of the morning retweeting warmed over Fox News bullshit and insulting his critics.

In the same news cycle as the fake news “crisis actor” Parkland high-school smear, came the story of the underpaid teachers of West Virginia, where collective bargaining is illegal, who were able to use a Facebook page to organize and win an eight-day, statewide strike. Through person to person and online communication, the teachers were able to  win over the sympathy of the parents, unite with other school personnel (bus drivers and janitors), spread their movement to teachers in neighboring states and force the conservative State Legislature to grant a 5% raise to all state workers, not just teachers.

This remarkable page of U.S. labor history bodes well for the future. It also reminds us of the power of social media to overcome obstacles of geographical isolation, lack of information, bureaucratic foot-dragging and institutional obstacles. Thus, thanks to their Facebook page, teachers in 55 dispersed counties were able to unite, receive information about politicians’ lies from teachers in the State Capitol, reject the surrender agreement made in their name by their (suddenly recognized) unions, and address their just and popular cause directly to the legislators, whose positions were certain to be remembered the following November. Awesome!


[1] Personal disclosure: “Izzy” was my boyhood hero, role model as a writer and mentor as a young man. A star reporter for the then-liberal New York Post and The Nation, Stone was blacklisted in the 1950’s and barred from press conferences. With the help of his wife Esther he began to produce a newsletter in their garage , I.F. Stone’s Weekly, for about 5000 loyal subscribers (including my parents) who paid $5 a year for eight pages a week of top notch investigative journalism which was later recognized by multiple awards. We got a bargain and the Stone family lived moderately well throughout the McCarthy period.



[4] In a memo, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, wrote, “Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”



[7] The same is true for the power of oil dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Putin’s Russia, even Venezuela, not to mention the imperialist powers like the U.S., France and Britain who still dominate their former colonial possessions. Apparently the carbon-based sectors of the capitalist economy have taken control of the world economy and the world state system, which is becoming more and more militarized and repressive as the ecological, financial and political crisis deepens.


Sunday’s French Election

The good news this May was that French voters rejected far-right Marine LePen by a two-to-one margin in the second round of the Presidential election.

“At least the French are not as cons [1] as the Americans!” were the first words that passed the sweet lips of my Provençal partner Elyane when the radio announced LePen’s defeat. As the Borowitz Report headlined: “French Annoyingly Retain Right to Claim Intellectual Superiority over Americans.” Aside from this moral victory, the poor French people have little to be happy about.

The bad news was that France ended up electing Emanuel Macron, an efficient technocrat who consciously incarnates French capital’s need to eliminate the ‘French exception’ and level the wages, rights and benefits of the French common people down to the average of the European Union (which includes Romania and Bulgaria). Continue reading

Behind the “Deep State Coup”

Was the forced resignation of Trump’s National Security Advisor, General Mike Flynn, evidence of an attempted “coup” by the Deep State, as many anti-imperialists claim?[1]

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Not Our President! (part 2)

Part 2.
The Coming Struggle: Popular Resistance versus the Trump Regime

The massive, spontaneous, popular resistance to Trump that poured into the streets in the giant post-Inauguration Women’s March had been welling up since election night. Trump and his ruthless, racist, reactionary White House gang now in power, our diverse, multiform, self-organized  resistance will have its work cut out for it. The Trump gang means business, and it will be an epic struggle. No one can predict the outcome at this point, but we can at least attempt to evaluate the strengths and weakness of the opponents in this historic match.

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Not Our President! (part 1)

Part I. Giant Demonstrations Challenge Trump’s Seizure of power

One day after Donald Trump’s bellicose, nationalistic inauguration speech, with its racist overtones, millions of women and their allies took the streets in Washington, New York, and six hundred cities in the U.S. and world-wide. As Trump’s support plummeted to 32% in the polls, the N.Y. Times reported that Saturdays’ protest was three times the size of the Inauguration crowd [1], This massive, self-organized resistance will be remembered as an historic event with no precedent.

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The Banality of Evil: Elites Close Ranks Behind Trump

Happy Thanksgiving! As we celebrate the America’s founding myth of the Pilgrim Fathers welcomed by the Indians, the National Guard, militarized local police and (unlicensed) security guards continue to brutalize unarmed Standing Rock Sioux Indians (and members of dozens of other tribes) protesting the construction of the unapproved Dakota Access Pipeline on their sacred lands and water sources.[1]

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The Struggle: Let’s All Hang Together (or we’ll hang separately!)

1. A Foreseeable Surprise

If Donald Trump’s electoral revolution came as a surprise, the profound disgust of the citizenry for the ruling elites has long been no surprise to anyone. The folks in the middle and at the bottom, left high and dry by the post-2008 “recovery” in favor of the top 1%, were totally fed up and ready for a political revolution. That slogan was successfully used in the Democratic primaries by the old Jewish socialist Bernie Sanders, who genuine popularity came near to dethroning Hillary Clinton, the pre-selected candidate of Wall St. and the DNC, considered “inevitable” by the media.

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USA : The Struggle

Yesterday thousands of high school students all across the country went on strike and walked out of school to express their indignation and anguish of the election of a president they characterized as a « racist », « fascist » bully. Meanwhile, for a week tens of thousands of Americans have been pouring into the streets every day in dozens of cities under the slogan « Not our president ! » (50,000 in New York on Saturday).

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Video: “Communications Technology and Revolution: from Spartacus to the Arab Spring”

I recently gave a talk at the World Social Forum in Tunis on March 28, 2015. The panel was “the Internet and Social Movements”, and my topic was ‘Communications Technology and Revolution: from Spartacus to the Arab Spring.’

Click here to view a video of my talk.

Beware of Capitalist Sharks!

The full book is available here as a pdf:


Pope Quits, So What?

Pope Quits, So What?

Why should agnostics, atheists, secular humanists, and/or Leftists give a shit about the latest crisis in the scandal-ridden Holy Roman Apostalic Catholic Church? Good riddance to bad rubbish, n’est-ce pas?

Even good Catholics agree: ‘New Pope? I’ve Given Up Hope’ headlines Gary Wills in the N.Y. Times , while former alter boy John Patrick Shenley writes: ‘POPE BENEDICT XVI quit. Good. He was utterly bereft of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of priests who abused children. He’d been a member of the Hitler Youth. In addition to this woeful résumé, he had no use for women.’ In any case, don’t we believe that religion is necessarily in conflict with progressive reform or revolution? ‘Pie in the sky when you die’ in the words of the old Wobbly song? Doesn’t belief in the Hereafter preclude fighting for the Here and Now? Continue reading

Comment aller d’ici à là ? Une application moderne de l’hypothèse d’Archimède

1. Je soulèverai la Terre

Si nous tenons pour acquis que nous parions sur l’écotopie (voir: ‘Un pari que vous ne pouvez pas refuser’), le problème qui se pose alors à nous est de savoir comment aller d’ici à là — en excluant toute fois l’intervention de forces surnaturelles ou des extraterrestres. Autrement dit, quels sont, à l’état potentiel ou réel dans la société capitaliste mondialisée, les éléments humains (sociaux), matériels (technologiques) et idéologiques (spirituels) qui peuvent se conjuguer pour permettre le surgissement à l’échelle de la planète de mouvements capables d’arracher leur pouvoir aux milliardaires et d’instaurer des sociétés post-capitalistes vivables ? Continue reading

Taxonomie de requins capitalistes

Essayer de réformer le capitalisme est à peu près aussi futé que d’essayer de convertir un requin au végétarisme. Et c’est aussi dangereux. Ne vous approchez pas trop du gouffre béant de ces mâchoires avides si vous ne voulez pas vous faire croquer tout vif, comme en ont fait cruellement l’expérience tant de libéraux idéalistes de l’espèce présentée ci-dessous. Continue reading

Two Different Worlds: Hong Kong, Syria

Yesterday’s two major headlines seem to reflect two different worlds, two different kinds of power, two possible futures.

The Unlikely Umbrella Revolution

First the good news: “Tens of Thousands Continue Occupy Hong Kong; Authorities Deadlocked.” The eruption of this spontaneous, self-organized mass uprising is great cause for celebration. The spirit of ‘Occupy 2011,” dormant in the west, seems to have migrated east and taken deep root in the city-state of Hong Kong, where it animates a huge mass movement, sparked by the bold leadership of a seven-teen year old high-school student and his cohorts. Harsh police repression against the student demonstrators has provoked an outpouring of active sympathy throughout the population – from non-student youth to adult workers in every category – as it did in France in May ’68. Soon key parts of the city-state were blockaded by huge crowds conducting a non-violent sit-in and occupation on a mass scale Martin Luther King could only dream of. Continue reading

Goodby to Winter

Snowbound in Manhattan, Feb. 13, 2014

I’ve always loved the snow, playing in it, making snow men, throwing snowballs especially sledding down the packed-snow streets of the quiet NY suburb where I grew up. And of course who doesn’t love snow days, those surprise holidays, official invitations to do what you want, no guilt?
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A Brief Bio of Richard Greeman

Since my teens, I have been active in social justice struggles in the US and abroad. In the 1950’s and got involved in the Civil Rights, labor, anti-McCarthyite and ban-the-bomb movements, then in the ’60s and ’70s with the anti-Vietnam, student rebellions and black freedom marches, and in the 80s Central America solidarity, anti-nuke and environmental movements. In the ’90s in Russia, I helped found Moscow’s Praxis Research and Education Center for anti-totalitarian socialism ( Today I divide my time between Montpellier, France and New York City, where I teach at the Brecht Forum.

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My Political Education

I guess I was born a rebel. My parents were active Progressives (pro-Soviet until 1956) while my maternal grandfather, Sam Levin, an immigrant tailor from Russia, was a card-carrying member of Eugene V. Debs’ American Socialist Party. During his Presidential campaigns, Debs barnstormed the U.S. on a train called ‘The Red Special’ making whistle-stop speeches in every town and city, including Hartford, Connecticut. That’s how my grandfather got his autographed picture, a prized possession of his which I inherited along with his library of Socialist books. This makes me a ‘red-diaper’ grand-baby.
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NSA and FBI: Their Bite is Worse than their Bark

Glenn Greenwald’s discovery that the FBI and other U.S. secret police agencies are now using the Internet to play the same ‘dirty tricks’ tactics to discredit, subvert and incriminate targeted individuals and radical organizations as they did in the Sixties through COINTELPRO, comes as no surprise to me.[1] The difference today is that back then they would send a human ‘investigator’ to talk to your boss and get you fired, whereas now they can ruin you on Facebook. Nor, as an activist from the J. Edgar Hoover era whose phone was tapped and mail opened as far back as the Fifties, am I particularly appalled that the NSA is collecting trillions of random emails and phone conversations every day from just about everyone on the planet.
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