Sunday, October 05, 2008

Who is Bill Ayers?

By Louis Proyect
April 18, 2008

If you listen to rightwing talk radio, you’ve probably heard Bill Ayers’s name before. WABC AM, a prime outlet for Limbaugh and company, has been burning up the dial recently over this ex-Weatherman who is supposedly in bed with Barack Obama. The Ayers quote that they keep using over and over again comes from a September 11, 2001 NY Times profile that begins:

“I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”

They keep harping on the September 11 date as if Ayers was in cahoots with Mohammad Atta. Any fool would know that the first newspaper reports on September 11 appeared the day after. It was just a coincidence that Ayers’s profile appeared the same day as the 9/11 attacks. They also make a big thing about Ayers stating that “we didn’t do enough”, when in fact he was almost certainly referring to their failure to end the war.

Ayers tries to explain what he really meant on his blog:

Regrets. I’m often quoted saying that I have “no regrets.” This is not true. For anyone paying attention-and I try to stay wide-awake to the world around me all/ways-life brings misgivings, doubts, uncertainty, loss, regret. I’m sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Viet Nam, and I say “no, I don’t regret anything I did to try to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government.” Sometimes I add, “I don’t think I did enough.” This is then elided: he has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings.

Obama told the idiot George Stephanopolous that he was only 8 years old when the Weathermen were setting off bombs. For the benefit of many of my readers, who were not even a gleam in their father’s eye back in the early 70s, a word or two of introduction is in order.

The Weathermen started out as a faction of SDS. At the 1969 convention, there was a 3 way split. The “Worker-Student Alliance” (WSA) was led by the Maoist Progressive Labor Party (PLP) and basically promoted a kind of “serve the people” missionary-like strategy which involved students getting jobs in factories and preaching to the workers. The WSA was opposed by the Revolutionary Youth Movement, which was divided into RYM1 and RYM2. RYM1 was led by Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, Bernadine Dohrn and other SDS leaders who had become deeply frustrated by the inability of the student movement to end the war.

After RYM1 morphed into the Weathermen, the 200 or so members adopted a neo-Narodnik strategy and went underground. Unlike the original Narodniks, the Weathermen never assassinated government officials. They only set off bombs at government buildings. When they weren’t setting off bombs, they were imbibing huge amounts of psychedelic drugs and having orgies. Generally speaking, the Weathermen not only reflected the excesses of the 1960s but strove to embody them.

Like the WSA, RYM2 adopted Maoist politics, but supported Black and Latino nationalism, which PLP regarded as “dividing the working class” in the style of the CPUSA–a party that its leaders had emerged from in the 1950s. RYM2 was a genuine “New Left” tendency as opposed to PLP/WSA’s ambitions to resurrect “Third Period” Stalinism.

RYM2 eventually spawned a number of “Marxist-Leninist” formations whose history was documented by Max Elbaum in “Revolution in the Air“. All of the groups that originated in RYM2 are now defunct, except for the Revolutionary Communist Party, a sect-cult around Bob Avakian who was a RYM2 leader.

While everybody should repudiate the “violence baiting” of Barack Obama, there is a separate question of more direct concern to the radical movement and that involves the legacy of the Weathermen. It would be a big mistake to romanticize them since their politics did a lot to undermine the radical movement in the 1970s. The capitalist class can always replace the bricks that a Weathermen bomb destroyed, but it had a much harder job dislodging radical ideas from a student or young worker. By making an amalgam between the radical movement and the Weathermen, it sought to drive a wedge between us and ordinary American workers who had the social power to end the war and the capitalist system itself eventually.

In today’s Counterpunch, there’s an article by Dave Lindorff that gets the Weathermen wrong. He writes:

While many in the anti-war movement condemned the actions of the Weather Underground, I would argue that they, like the militant Black Panthers, performed an invaluable role by sending a loud, clear message to the nation’s ruling elite that if they continued the war, things would get worse at home.

Their actions made the peaceful mass protests against the Indochina War far more potent, because they forced the ruling elite in the US to have to ponder what would happen if those masses turned to the same kind of violent measures against them.

There is no evidence that the “ruling elite” feared the spread of Weathermen tactics. They knew that the frustrated young radicals had almost no support on the college campuses or high schools. Furthermore, people who demonstrated against the war were not likely to risk prison sentences. Indeed, examination of the historical record will show that the SDS’ers who became Weathermen had turned their back on antiwar organizing by 1967 at least. It was their retreat from mass demonstrations in fact that prepared the way for Narodnik tactics. Political isolation from the mass movement almost guarantees that you will be looking for short-cuts, like setting off bombs.

The late Fred Halstead, who led the SWP’s antiwar activity, once characterized the Weathermen as young people who never lost their ties to the bourgeoisie no matter how outrageous they behaved. If you think of them as children throwing a tantrum, it makes perfect sense. Instead of holding their breath until they turn blue, they set off bombs instead. If daddy didn’t stop bombing the Vietnamese, they’d drive him nuts. That was the real logic of Weathermen bomb-throwing, not socialist revolution.

If your goal is to pressure daddy into changing his ways, then it is likely that you will think up ways to persuade him that you are a good boy or girl when tantrums don’t work. Becoming a good boy or girl in the U.S. of course means becoming a pillar of your community and becoming active in the Democratic Party. Despite Ayers’s claims on his blog that he still “against imperialism”, he has found a home in the party that is totally committed to ruling the world on behalf of American corporations.

The NY Times reported that in 1995 State Senator Alice Palmer “introduced her chosen successor, Barack Obama, to a few of the district’s influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.” In other words, Ayers and Dohrn were involved with the Democratic Party at a fairly high level. Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, served as an adviser to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, the son of the former Mayor who unleashed the cops on peaceful demonstrators in 1968.

Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician, told the NY Times about his initial encounter with Obama at Ayers and Dohrn’s home:

“When I first met Barack Obama, he was giving a standard, innocuous little talk in the living room of those two legends-in-their-own-minds, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn,” Warren [Maria Warren, another liberal] wrote on her blog in 2005. “They were launching him - introducing him to the Hyde Park community as the best thing since sliced bread.”

Warren’s blog entry apparently was what led to rightwing efforts to link Obama to the notorious “bomb thrower” when in fact Warren considered Obama and the former Weathermen as too tame by even her own liberal standards. Such is the grotesque character of American politics that an utterly conventional tête-à-tête among utterly conventional middle-class liberals can become transformed into the second coming of the Smolny Institute.
Louis Proyect



John B. said...

Fred Halstead's characterization of the Weatherpeople is dead-on. Especially Dohrn and Ayers. They were spoiled little rich kids who were play-acting at "revolution". After they came in from the cold they were able to use their connections with the highest echelons of the capitalist class to get off with a slap on the wrist and ensconce themselves in the Chicago Establishment. Not that I begrudge them - it's just that poor and black people who followed the idiotic "pick up the gun" rhetoric of the times ended up in a lot worse shape: dead, imprisoned or in exile.

All the Weatheridiots managed to do was discredit legitimate antiwar protesters.

billie said...

i find it interesting that so many 'radicals' of that age turned into the very people they were railing against. in a short 40 year or so span- history is repeating itself in so many ways. human nature never ceases to amaze me.

Frank Partisan said...

John B. : I've admired your blog for quite awhile. If you like African music, visit it.

Betmo: Ayers never changed his views. He resorted to terrorist tactics when young because he hated the working class. Now he supports bourgeoise politicians because he has no faith in the working class.

billie said...

part of me knows how he feels. and the other part of me loathes the 'elitism' that is inherent in his not having faith in the working class. i don't know much about the time period as a whole- as it was a good decade before i arrived on the planet- but i just see so many folks who 'were part of the 60's movement' boomers who have so bought into the corporatization of america- that it baffles me. they are directly responsible for the excesses and stupidity of my generation x- and now- the wail and gnash their teeth at the fact that bushco would dare 'capitalize' on the corporatocracy. how do you fight that?

i realize that isn't the point of the ayers article per se. i just found the article enlightening for me because i am often in a self imposed news blackout.

Bob said...

Is it too much to ask for politicians to actually address the issues? Or should we be looking forward to lengthy debates about the Keating Five and the Weathermen for the next month?

Jobove - Reus said...

In this part of the world there is a belief of which the attempts of September 11, were not such and which the twin towers were ruined based on explosives
An embrace

? said...

I am intrigued

Anonymous said...

You would be... it was all the CIA's doing... or Mossads? I guess we only know that it wasn't bin Laden who was responsible...

Frank Partisan said...

This post is not about 9/11. The comments are off track.

K. said...

Good post, Ren. For anyone interested, I documented the extent of the Obama-Ayers "connection" here:

Warning: It's from the perspective of a mainstream liberal.

Frank Partisan said...

betmo: You have good political instincts. You need to take them to the next level, and study theory. It changes the situation from reacting to events, to changing the world.

Bob: At the last debate Obama and McCain argued, who best represents Kissinger's position. What next?

K: I'll read your post.

John B: In the 70s, the Weathermen were never anything remotely close to the mainstream movement. They were total nihilist, as supporting Charles Manson with the slogan Free The Sharon Tate 8.

troutsky said...

I try to picture Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter Thompson sitting at that great Bar in the Sky,looking down at this "grotesque" charade.
Sarah Palin is getting mileage from the Ayers/Obama connection, especially from the fresh faced college Republicans whose most radical action is drinking a beer before the Homecoming Game. In a hollow democracy, hollow people deserve hollow representation!

What the trauma of Viet Nam did to so many Vets, it did also to our national psyche.

Mad Zionist said...

Ayers, an unrepentent terrorist bomber exonerated by a loophole technicality, who to this day wishes he did even more terrorism to protest America's "crimes", is the perfect example of what results from liberalism allowed to run amok.

Obama hitching his star to the Ayers wagon was not out of ignorance, was not out of youthful naivette, it was an alliance of commrades supporting one anothers work. This may be popular in radical revolutionary sectors like this, but it does NOT fly for 99% of americans who loathe terrorists of all stripes.

Sitting in his living room for a "coming out party" isn't just news, it is THE news. McCain/Palin would be wise to hammer at it for every drop it's worth.

Bob said...

Bob: At the last debate Obama and McCain argued, who best represents Kissinger's position. What next?

They'll probably argue about something else without bothering to answer directly the questions posed to them.

Obama hitching his star to the Ayers wagon was not out of ignorance, was not out of youthful naivette, it was an alliance of commrades supporting one anothers work.

I fail to see why this would be relevant, Obama is not suggesting anything radical.

What is relevant is that a losing campaign (if you believe the polls) has succeeded in taking the attention away from an issue that it really has no idea how to address and no one in the media is calling them on it.

Mad Zionist said...

What's the important, critical issues, Bob, Troopergate? Tina Fey? McCain's impending death from melanoma and old age? McCain's inability to manipulate a keyboard due to war injury?

Seems to me talking about the economy tanking and terrorist connections is of a lot more substance than anything we've seen out of Obama's campaign.

Craig Bardo said...

Nice try people. Ayers is just some harmless old dude that just smoked a little too much weed and carried out some symbolic bombings. He's pictured recently standing on the American flag and oh, he hosted the event in his own home that launched the political career of Chairman Maobama. If that were the only association of the One's that is troubling, it might not be an ishyuh, as James Carville would say. Tony Rezco, Jeremiah Wright, Rashid Khalidi, and on and on. Where were Barry's non family character references at his columned Obamaganza? For the leftists, anti-capitalists (sorry for the redundancy) anti-Israel, anti-Americans assembled here, you will all ask, "what's the big deal?" I assure you, outside of 90% of black America and the hard core left, it is a big deal.

By the way, SNL finally got one right!

Larry Gambone said...

I wrote this in Graeme's blog, but it applies here too...

I met Bill Ayres back in 1969 and was not impressed. Even less impressed when he helped form Weatherman, which virtually all of us Canadian radicals thought was totally nuts. But people do grow up, and I am sure Bill has and I am sure I would enjoy his company today. However, it doesn't surprise me that he supports the DP since Weatherman was ultimately the lunatic fringe of liberalism and not communist as they liked to claim. Attempts to smear Obama via Ayres by the loony right, are as you point out, despicable hypocrisy. They are also insanely vindictive, for who should be eternally castigated for things they did as a foolish youth?

Larry Gambone said...

I think Louis Proyect's calling the Weatherman, "Narodniks" is decidedly unfair - to the Narodniks. Not that I agree withy their terrorism, but the Narodni Volya lived in a brutal regime in which clandestine activity was the only possibility. Furthermore, they willing sacrificed their lives in attempting to overthrow the Tsarist autocracy, indeed demanding that they be executed after assassinating one of the regimes thugs as moral compensation for their act. A far cry from Weatherman. Out of the Narodnik movement evolved three groups which were to have a profound effect upon Russia - the Bolsheviks, the Anarchists and the Social Revolutionary Party. Out of Weatherman evolved nothing.

Frank Partisan said...

Larry: Your way of expressing the same thing Proyect did, was great. It gets to the point better. I really like the idea of calling the Weather Underground the lunatic wing of liberalism.

I agree about Narodniks.

Speaking of fake radicals, I met Tom Hayden today. There was young anarchists from the IWW in the audience. They thought he was from the 1950s. Hayden is a reformist and empiricist, to say the least. I got him to change his statement about empiricism.

Troutsky: The Bill Ayers issue hasn't changed one vote.

McCain fought on the wrong side in Vietnam.

Bob: I was bored with the debate. The best thing was Obama saying healthcare is a right.

MZ: The debate was a repeat of the last one they had.

McCain doesn't realize how far he has to split from Bush.

CB: The problem with both candidates, is their legitimate friends. Bill Ayers and Keating Five mean less than Kissinger who they both embrace.

Mariamariacuchita said...

I really enjoyed this post.
I went to a few SDS meetings back in the late 60s. When they relegated the few women to the kitchen to make coffee, while the men discussed political strategy, I never went back. Whether the non-inclusion was a time stamp issue, a regional cultural response, or something else, I'll never know. My energies went into working for the failed ERA, and union activities such as La Raza. Ayers is a non-issue in this campaign with the economy tanking.

Foxessa said...

Ron Kuby on his Air America show, "Doing Time," has done some marvelous counters of fact to who Ayers is now, who he was then, and how very little contact he and Obama have, as well as how Chicago has embraced him, forgiven him, and he's a major force for good in Chicago education.

I don't care for Kuby that much -- he's pretty ignorant of far too many national and international affairs. His previous public person slot was the 'liberal' paired with Curtis Sliwa on the same station here that carries Rush. So he's very NYC oriented, and when it comes to our issues, he's great. But generally for the world outside of NYC he's not so much.

Love, C.

Unknown said...

Great post, Renegade. I believe Ayers is, and will be, a non-issue. A drowning man will grasp at anything. Someone needs to throw McSenile an anchor.

BTW-- thanks for stopping by my place and commenting. I'll be back.

Frank Partisan said...

Maria: SDS supported feminism from my experience with it.

Brother Tim: Thank you for visiting.

Any guilt by association attack is wrong.

Foxessa: My main point is that he was always a liberal, only more hysterical when young.

He supported Charles Manson.

I agree his politics have nothing to do with Obama.

(((Thought Criminal))) said...

How is it exactly that Bill Ayers feels he "didn't do enough" to stop the Vietnam War when his group was still setting bombs after the war was over?

Er, sorry. It's cruel of me to seek rationality from a left-wing radical.

Unknown said...

Oh, how tiresome and discouraging this all is . . .

Here are my questions to the Senator from Illinois:


During an already rich and obviously instructive life, it appears that you have met and had discussions with people of a broad range of political philosophies.

What have you learned, how has that informed your life and politics?

Do you agree or disagree with the Port Huron Statement? Do you or do you not believe that Ayers' and others' actions against the state were valid and necessary?

If you agree with the above, why do you not simply tell us so? Why can you not look the people of this country in the eye and say, "We have been wrong. We have been destroying freedom and robbing people of their money, their goodness, and their lives. We must stop."?

If you do not agree, why can't you look us in the eye and say, "War is a good thing. Accumulated wealth is a good thing. The erosion of the Constitution is a good thing. The integration of church and state is a good thing. Martial law is a good thing. The Patriot Act is a good thing."?

"Why, Senator?" That's really my question.

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