Woodstock & Revolution: Working on Correct Verdicts

We posted a few songs from Woodstock, in honor of the 40th anniversary. And it provoked a series of thoughts -- especially some provocative comments kicked off by Stan. Here is one theme from that  commentary.

Mike Ely:

Mao used to say, "Reversing correct verdicts goes against the will of the people"...Let me mention some things that we could appreciate about the 60s experience:

  • Revolutionary rumblings didn't take the form of "class against class" in the U.S. -- and never will.
  • There were incredibly unexpected features to the upsurge -- culturally and politically.There was contagion and lots of unique particularity. This was something real, not on paper -- and it crackled with novelty and shock.
  • Conscious Marxists (often influenced by an older 40s generation) were often unable to even deal with the real features of the upsurge (including such phenomena as the drug culture or the emergence of gay liberation or where the shifting epicenters of revolt were situated).
  • Sexuality, music and "culture" generally had a much bigger role in the development of challenges to the system than many "politicos" anticipated or appreciated.
  • The preparatory role of subcultures (like beatniks or the world of the southern Blues), and then the eruption of a generational "youth culture" was crucial (and help break through the hegemony of ideas in a forceful way that has never been completely reversed.
  • The connection between Black liberation and everything else of value was very close... a call and response of defiance and alienation conjured up from the very bottom of U.S. society.
  • The international interconnections were fluid and complex -- not simply a matter of "solidarity of xxx to yyy" -- but a real criss-crossing and morphing of ideas and forms.

 

* * * * * * * *

Miles Ahead writes:

Here’s something I don’t get.

“Yes. Yes. This is true. But it seems to me like a collective recitation of corporate media hype.”

 

If something like “strident collective mentalities” is true, why do we have to be so wary and look at it like it’s corporate media hype? Why do we have to gauge our own culture and standards by what they’re putting out? Can we not embrace some things as our very own, popularize them, etc.? Also, seems to me, if there wasn’t some truth to the strident collective mentality, etc., the corporate media wouldn’t bother with it at all.

* * * * * *

Stan W. Rogouski writes;

It’s not easy to express this clearly because it’s about fairly recent history but what seems to be going on is a point/counterpoint.

 

1.) Leftist recites highly romanticized collective recitation of corporate media hype about the 1960s.

2.) Conservative comes back with the Nixonian/Reaganite counternarrative.

They seem to feed on each other to form one collective history.

It seems to me that when you read a good history on the times (like, once again, Perlstein’s Nixonland) you realize just how far to the right the country was in the 1960s. Can anybody imagine a right wing mob that’s not the police ullying anti-war protesters on the streets of NYC today? I can’t. The unions/working class aren’t quite so white, Catholic and conservative anymore.

But what people remember is the gap between the country’s conservatism and the promises for the fulfillment of some sort of collectivist hedonism held out by the corporate counterculture industry.

Woodstock/Hippies for me have always been part of the mainstream. My family is full of right wing racist, Greatful Dead fans who smoke pot.

But what’s the political legacy of the 1960s? The civil rights movement seems the only obvious victory to me. And that’s because the ruling class wanted to get rid of segregation anyway. The anti-war movement? America is as militaristic as it was under Eisenhower and Kennedy.

* * * * * * *

Bill Martin writes:

Two things that Stan’s interventions thematize for me, and that could stand further analysis:

 

1) In Badiou’s philosophy, an event is not only a rare and fragile thing, it is also always possible in retrospect to say that the event didn’t really happen. In a way, Stan’s argument is that this is the case with the 60s, or with some moments in the sixties that seemed to represent a bursting forth of something new. This isn’t a matter of the sixties being a mixed bag, with reactionary elements also in the mix. Stan’s comments remind me a bit of Alisdair McIntyre’s critique of Herbert Marcuse, where the former referred to the “parent-financed student rebellion.” One issue I have with Badiou’s arguments about events is that, on the one hand, he wants to get beyond a hermeneutic approach (theory of understanding and interpretation, where meaning and language are central topics), but, on the other hand, the “happening of an event” (Did the event actually occur? What actually happened?) is tied up with naming the event, forming a fidelity to the event, and developing a “truth procedure.” This would seem to lead to a messy discussion on, for example, what really is the “spirit of Woodstock” toward which I might align myself. I think one good thing in Badiou’s philosophy, which is helpful in the present context, and which is especially developed in the St. Paul book, is that this discussion cannot simply hinge on the empiricism of “I was there, I saw it with my own eyes.”

2) Relatedly, we might think more on the question of the sixties counterculture, but not so much on whether that was a “real thing” (that’s what I’m pointing to in the previous paragraph), rather more on the question of whether a counterculture is even possible today. I do think Stan is reading the assimilation/recuperation of countercultural elements in the aftermath of the sixties back into the sixties itself, even if this is also complicated by the fact that rock music, which was central to so much of this culture, was always rooted in what Theodor Adorno called the “culture industry”–and so what seemed to happen for a time in the middle and late sixties and their aftermath is that some musicians at least burst through this atmosphere where every creative expression was already caught up in commodification (or, at least, there was a window of opportunity, when the system was vulnerable, and some creative things were done; I get into these questions in some detail in my books on creative rock music). But however we understand that period, as essentially creative or as a kind of “staged rebellion” that didn’t really challenge the restraints of commodity logic, there is no doubt that the end of the 70s, and then the period of Reagan and Thatcher, saw the development of what might be called the anti-60s, both with the carrot and the stick, so to speak. In many ways, the carrot side was more effective (the stick side led to punk and hip-hop): to simplify, you just go buy your rebellion kit at the Gap. This is one of the central elements of postmodern capitalism, to undercut the possibility of a counter-culture. “We’re Miracle Whip, and we won’t tone it down!”

But I don’t want to come off as just another crank who thinks everything is crap from the start, or that we’ll never see anything good like the 60s again. However, taking Badiou’s definition of politics as a moment when thought comes to the fore, and again rare and fragile, I do think we need a cultural analysis that does more to ask what the conditions for the possibility for such a moment are–or, perhaps more to the point of what I’m trying to say, what are the conditions we are up against, where there is a concerted effort to make politics and a counter-culture not possible?

Just one extra little point. I don’t see where the fact that Joe Cocker went on to record some music for a reactionary movie cancels the power of his interpretation of “A little help from my friends.” Does the fact that the band Chicago has made really schlocky music since the mid-to-late 70s cancel the fact that they initially made three really good albums, with songs such as “It better end soon,” and manifestos dedicating their lives and music to “the people of the revolution”? I think that approach (of the later work cancelling the earlier work) gives us a bad frame of analysis, not only because it is integral to fidelity and a truth procedure that some people may fall away from it, but also because there may come a point when the event that gave rise to the fidelity and procedure is played out, and it is time to move on. Our difficulty now is figuring out what that means–of necessity it will be an experimental sort of thing, though it seems to me that this activity will have as a seconary-but-necessary aspect a contentious discussion over the events of previous “sequences” (as Badiou calls them).

* * * * * * *

Mike Ely writes:

Mao used to say, "Reversing correct verdicts goes against the will of the people." And of course there are many verdicts of the 60s under constant assault that are worth defending and upholding. Basically, "it is right to rebel" -- of course. But more. there was a celebration of change, and of optimism, and of togetherness. An opening of minds, a culture of experimenation. And all of that, (all of it!) took place in sharp conflict -- going up against hateful and reactionary norms, verdicts, and powerful enforcers.

 

All that's what came to my mind when Bill wrotes: the farthest we have come toward a revolutionary moment. And it is worth understanding, and celebrating.

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  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    The original discussion was sparked by the notion of an “ethos of solidarity,” (and the lack thereof in the here and now) and how that ethos was represented in Joe Cocker’s <i>rendition</i> of <i>The Beatles’</i> song, “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Obviously the lively debate has been expanded upon.

    What I think has been missing from <i>some</i> (not all!) of the very interesting, provocative and thought-provoking commentary is putting all this in more of an historical (and even dialectical) context, and objectively taking note of what was happening not just in the U.S. (!), but worldwide. Bill Martin’s pointing to Badiou, and the rarity and fragility of certain events, to me was a much more sweeping view of this historical period; a view that IMO points to the future even more than the past, as well as what does the present political landscape look like.

    (I also want to add to Stanley—both of Stendahl’s novels, “Charterhouse Parma” and “The Red and the Black” are two of my favourite literary works. But I think what was missing in your raising of “Charterhouse Parma” was the historical context and period that Stendahl was writing in, even though my interpretation of your point in raising that work at all was to question what is illusory, and what is truth.)

    I was just having a private exchange with a Ka Comrade the other day, and before the Joe Cocker/Woodstock post(s). In part, an exchange about "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

    Am certainly not going to quote from Badiou, since I am still struggling philosophically to figure out what he is saying. Instead in part, I am going to quote Toni Morrison—who some might balk at since she is clearly not a Marxist. But what she said about history struck a chord with me.

    Here is some of the exchange between a Ka Comrade and myself:

    <blockquote>But here's what Morrison basically said about history (which includes of course the 60s--and in the particular context of talking about the “seduction of the city” in regard to the African American experience):

    "But although history should not become a straitjacket, which overwhelms and binds, neither should it be forgotten. One must critique it, test it, confront it and understand it in order to achieve a freedom that is more than license, to achieve true adult agency. If you penetrate the seduction of the city, there it becomes possible to confront your own history -- to forget what ought to be forgotten and use what is useful..." etc.</blockquote>

  • Guest - Bryan the Trot

    Revolutionary rumblings will take the form of "class against class," in this country and around the world. Of course it will not be a simple repeat of 1917-1923, but class will remain as the key (but not only) defining feature.

    You don't claim to be Marxists still, do you? What force, if not the working class leading the oppressed, will change society then? Some moral category or a material category separate from class?

  • I wrote:

    <blockquote>"Revolutionary rumblings [in the 1960s] didn’t take the form of “class against class” in the U.S. — and never will.</blockquote>

    Bryan writes:

    <blockquote>"Revolutionary rumblings will take the form of “class against class,” in this country and around the world....You don’t claim to be Marxists still, do you?"</blockquote>

    There is a great transition happening in human society -- breaking out of the sharp contradiction between social production and private appropriation. But to think that takes the form of workers gathering over here, and capitalists gathering over there -- and then a rumble.... well that is non-materialist and non-Marxist (if you will).

    There was in the 1960s a great element of rebellion rising from below (in more ways than often appreciated) and it has much to do with the radicalization of the most oppressed and working class layers of Black people in the U.S. And I don't believe that great revolutions will arise in our epoch without a great ferment from below -- without a driving force (a revolutionary people) arising from below and bringing with them into politics a spirit of "nothing to lose."

    But that doesn't mean revolution has to take the form of "class against class." (And I don't think there is anything in Marxism that requires that it take that form.)

    The polarizations that produce revolutions have never been that simple, and as the last century went on this became more and more obvious. The successful socialist revolutions happened in countries where workers were a minority, and where the alliances that led to socialism were far more complex and dynamic than this mechanical notion of "class against class."

    <strong>To be clear: </strong>there was a belief among some Maoists in the 1970s that revolution would become possible when "the fundamental contradiction became the principal contradiction" -- i.e. that working people would shatter the allignments emerging in the sixties by (somehow) adopting a workerist orientation and self-identification -- and then, as a unified and self-conscious class, entering the field of political battle -- and that this leap would be the signal that revolution had become possible. (And this conception, obviously, saw revolution in workerist terms -- precisely as "class against class" and there for saw socialism requiring a particularly sharp and defining workerist identification among the poor and working people.)

    I think that is unlikely and also unnecessary for socialist revolution. We need a conscious movement for socialist revolution (and all the radical changes of ideas, relations and structures that that implies) -- but that does not require working people to embrace some overweening self-identification of "workers as workers."

    That has to do with the history of the U.S. -- This has never been a society of class-as-caste -- imposing those kinds of class identities on people (the way 19th century Germany or England did).

    In the U.S., caste identities were imposed on Indians and Black people -- (ile. Black people as slaves and sharecroppers, confined by the "color line" -- and Indians as hunted non-people.) Often, the structure and history of this place grouped and excluded people as nationalities -- while social mobility among whites prevented the consolidation of a single "hereditary working class" that self-identified as such. And so there has never been (spontaneously in U.S. bourgeois society) that much self-identification as class -- compared to the way even quite conservative workers self-identify as workers in England or Germany or France.

    In the U.S., revolution will arise (if it arises) from the struggles against the historic oppression of minority nationalities, and from a sweeping new movement for socialist alternative society broadly among the (multiracial) poor and working people. It will arise from collisions that entwine with the liberation of women, revolt against brutal unending wars of empire and a disdain for the dominant culture of money and dog-eat-dog. And it will certainly be spurred by the growing consciousness <em>broadly</em> in society that uncontrolled capitalist development is creating an ecological disaster for humanity.

    Socialist revolution does not require that conscious self-identification by sociological class be a defining feature.

    <blockquote>"What force, if not the working class leading the oppressed, will change society then? </blockquote>

    Well there are many issues bound up here, including what does it mean for one class to lead the rest of the oppressed.

    There has never been the case where a class simply united to lead anyone. In major revolutions, there were deep divisions in the working class (certainly that is true in Russia). And what led the oppressed in some cases were radical political forces (the communists generally) who saw themselves as <em>representatives</em> of the working class (and its objective interests) -- and who won the allegiance of important sections of that class (often minorities, but significant sections nonetheless).

    But again, to say that revolutionary forces identifying with the working class lead broader alliances of the oppressed -- is precisely to adopt a vision that is not simply "class against class."

    <strong>For example:</strong> It is not true that we need to somehow "unite the working class" (as a prerequisite for a socialist revolution). We <em>should</em> seek to unite working people (and other oppressed people) around a radical, socialist program. But there will be no simple class-wide unity in this process. Given the highly stratified nature of the U.S. working class, and the impacts of imperialism... it is quite possible that a revolutionary movement may serve to further polarize different sections of the working class <em>from each other</em> in the U.S.

    And not only is this compatable with Marxism, but also Lenin's experience. Lenin famously said that the revolution does not consist of workers lining up on one pole, and the capitalist lining up at the other, and pointed the historical fact that revolution commonly takes the form of a war between two sections of the people. And even if all this were not compatible with the texts or beliefs of Marx or Lenin, it would still be true.

    In the 1960s, the actual alignments in the U.S. (the rise of Black liberation, the eruption of youth rebellion, the conservative expressions among some white "blue color" Democrats etc.) exploded the expectations of some rather crusty and conservative forms of Marxism who expected a repeat of their-romanticized-memory of the 1930s.

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>And the important thing about the hardhat event (it wasn’t a movement, it was a staged government event!) was not that it happened, but that it was an orchestrated attempt to call into being a counter movement in the streets. And they were able to bring out (once, maybe twice) these PAID goons, on direct orders. But (in fact) they failed miserably to make an aggressive “take back the streets” mass movement — even while a mass reactionary anti-60s sentiment existed (and gave voice in the Wallace movement and then the Nixon presidency — both of which had their election rallies of course, which was certainly one form of mass protest by racists and reactionaries). The John Birch Society organized campaigns to “Support Your Local Police” (an ill-disguised anti-Black campaign). And suddenly in 1969, American flag decals started to appear on millions of cars (starting with distribution by Readers Digest) — in a mass statement of loyalty that is still alive today.

    </i>

    I think you're wrong. the long, most consistent and by far the most successful mass protest movement in the United States over the past few decades has been the anti-abortion movement (and the evangelical Christian right). They reguarly mobilize crowds that simply dwarf anything on the left.

    Once again, I'm following Rick Perlstein's narrative in Nixonland.

    1.) There was the beginnings of a white backlash that was sparked in part by the Watts riots.

    2.) The Democrats suffered at the polls in 1966.

    3.) Nixon (and people like Kevin Phillips) picked up on it and began to strategize ove ways to exploit it though 1966 and 1967.

    4.) Spiro Agnew (the Sarah Palin of his generation) went on a national speaking tour in 1968 and seeded the ground with a right wing populist narrative designed to mobilize white working class people against the civil rights movement and the hippie culture.

    5.) It came to fruition in the hard hat riots and the Boston bussing riots. Wallace, of course, ran parallel with Nixon/Agnew and the "southern strategy" was the national Republican elite's attempt to forge a coalition of Northern white Catholics and southern racists. If the hard hat rioters were paid goons, then they were part of something larger.

    Now here's where I think it gets complex. The right was temporarily wrecked by Watergate. And I think they recovered largely by mobilizing the counterculture against the left. Obviously you couldn't base a successful movement only on the culture of southern rednecks and northern Catholics. But after 1973, I think the right became so good at using the counterculture against the left, the left never quite recovered from it.

    1.) The "white ethnic" as underdog. Think "Rocky" where the reactionary Italian Catholic becomes the symbol of populism and the Mohummed Ali character becomes the slick representive of the establishment. Think "The Deer Hunter" and the Vietnam MIA movement where Pennsylvania Eastern Europeans are the ones locked in tiger cages instead of teh Vietnamese. Think Rambo, where the guerilla fighter is now a right wing MIA figure, not Vietnamese.

    2.) The successful mobilization inside the Catholic Church against Vatican II and liberation theology with the mass strikes in Poland as the backdrop. The blackest Catholic reaction is now identified with a workers movement. At the same time, of course, nuns and priests get murdered in Latin America by US funded death squads with barely a peep.

    3.) An actor as president.

    4.) The growth of megachurches and the anti-abortion movement.

    All of the above is obviously familiar but the key I think is to ask what in the counterculture made it so vulnerable to right wing subversion.

    1.) I remember reading David Crosby talking about his reaction to the idea that he was going to be a rich, famous rock star. His quote went something like "we're going to be princes" and there's always been something a bit royalist, a bit polygamist about the Woodstock Culture. Working class girls want to sleep with Jim Morrison, not the guy next door.

    2.) The drug culture. There was so much downright idiotic glorification of the drug culture right through the 1980s, it makes you wonder exactly what people were thinking.

    3.) Anti-intellectualism in the counterculture. Hey man, put down the books, grow your hair long, and start living the good life. Intellectual discipline. Who needs it. I personally (and I'm sure people will have their own ideas about this) think this is a direct result of the counterculture as a top down, corporate product. Whatever the merits of the acts at Woodstock they were ALL mass marketed, corporate products.

    4.) Following #1. Patriarchal cults of personality on the left. This not only undercut the left but also made its way into the right, who, via Christian evangelicals, exploited it a lot more skillfully than the left.

    <b>In other words, I think there was a genuine populist/left movement in the 1960s, but unfortunately it tried to coopt a top down corporate culture and it failed. </b>

    Maybe the battle to form a real, bottom up counterculture was lost in the 1950s? The elephant in the room? Something as simple as skin color. Rock and Roll was an African American invention. But, Rich Havens and Hendrix nothwithstanding, the majority of acts at Woodstock were white.

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    Another point. I think "Burningman" may have already posted a link to the text but one of the key documents, in my opinion, to understanding why the counterculture failed is Marge Piercy's Grand Coulee Dam.

    http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUArchive/damn.html

    Feminism is often spoken of as one more step in the counterculture. First you had the civil rights movement, then the anti-war movement, then feminism, then gay rights, etc. etc.

    But when you read this:

    <i>Around 1967- the year of what the mass media liked to call the Summer of Love- there was a loosening of attitudes in the Movement just as there was a growing politicization among dropouts and the hippie communities. For a while, Movement people were briefly more interested in each other as human beings than is the case usually, or now. <b>Movement men are generally interested in women occasionally as bed partners, as domestic-servants-mother-surrogates, and constantly as economic producers: </b>as in other patriarchal societies, one's wealth in the Movement can be measured in terms of the people whose labor one can possess and direct on one's projects.</i>

    You can't but conclude that feminists were as pissed off by the counterculture as they were by the Pope or the Chief of Police or Richard Nixon.

    And you can't help but wonder if the sexual exploitation that was part of the Woodstock culture has anything to do with the fact that so many populist, right wing rabble rousers (from Sarah Palin on down) are women.

  • Guest - Kirvo

    Considering that there is a surrogate class consciousness in the US that increasingly loses any contact with reality as time goes on, why would there have been a "class vs. class" movement? As long as the (evolved but still greatly wrong) ideals of "producerism" are considered a legitimate interpretation of economic relations in the US, there can really be no sort of "class vs. class" movement except between the phony divisions that are the poorest 30% and the richest 3-5%, with the aesthetist-fetishists inbetween going on either side. <a href="/http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=6969&amp;IBLOCK_ID=35" rel="nofollow">Mark Ames</a> actually wrote a good observation of politics in the US in 2003 that I think everyone should read.

    Also, what exactly is good about drug culture?

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>Mark Ames actually wrote a good observation of politics in the US in 2003 that I think everyone should read.</i>

    Heh, Ames really is like Rip Van Winkle, the late 1980s frat boy frozen inside Russia for 15 years, thawed out and brought back to America in 2003.

    Yeah, the question of the drug culture is a lot more complex than just drug culure good vs. drug culture bad. When I read Ames writing, I get a flash back to the 1980s, when you really did have a sort of mainstream libertarian frat boy culture that was more or less politically liberal but even more apolitical. Get laid, take drugs, listen to heavy metal. For all its inadequacies, it wasn't as toxic as the racist, bible thumping, scared of ones' shadow culture we've got today.

    But, once again, and I'll go back to Marge Piercy, the culture Ames embodies is patriachal and deeply misogynist in spite of itself.

    Take a look at Ames article about George Soldini.

    http://exiledonline.com/revenge-of-the-nerd-what-the-media-wont-tell-you-about-the-rampage-killer-who-attacked-a-pittsburgh-aerobics-class/

    Soldini isn't exactly a hero to Ames, but I can't imagine a female writer saying this.

    <i>Because in this Calvinist country, if you can’t get laid for 20 years, you’re a monumental loser and it’s all your fault. Every Hollywood movie ever made, every gushing Tom Hanks blockbuster nightmare, tells us that shy nerds inevitably get discovered by beautiful sweet wife-types. Just be patient and nice, you’ll get your reward. It’s the mean bully assholes who get punished, right? Wrong. That brutal discovery is what destroyed Sodini, as his diary reveals</i>

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    Interesting. Note how Ames sees men stuck in American economic hell and women stuck in American economic hell differently

    For men, life really is hell.

    <i>But Sodini’s pain isn’t limited to his unfluffed genitalia. He understood that his sexual failure and anomie were part of a larger injustice and rigidity built into the current American narrative, a miserable narrative for most white males over the age of 25. The media has so far totally ignored how America’s economic Hell added to Sodini’s breakdown, but the media routinely ignores the role Reaganomics has played in the “going postal” rage murders since the mid-80s. Sodini knew how bad and tenuous his situation was, and he wrote about it.</i>

    Soldini gets it.

    But Debbie doesn't.

    <i>The Left's elitism is manifest on a more personal level as well. No anti-consumerist or left-wing academic would want to hang out with the 19-year-old single mother data entry processor I replaced, and vice-versa. They don't speak the same language. At least billionaire Sam Walton wore baseball caps, spoke plain American, went to church and was clean-cut. He doesn't appear to be mocking the lower-middle classes. He just wants everything they've got, that's all. If one thing came through in Ehrenreich's book, it was that she couldn't stand being around poor shallow losers who worked wage jobs at Wal-Mart and in maid services, largely because they weren't sufficiently aware of how horribly their lives sucked.
    </i>

    So which is it? Is the lower middle class in America satisified by cheap consumer goods and living vicariously through the rich or not?

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    Clip from a townhall meeting with Barney Frank.

    http://www.politico.com/largevideobox.html?bcpid=14146694001&amp;bclid=1201016315&amp;bctid=34500865001

    What I noticed is that the right winger accusing Barney Frank and Obama of advocating a Hitler like policy isn't arguing for less government spending. She sees government spending as a zero sum game and she sees Obama as taking money from the Woodstock and older generation to give to younger people.

    Frank, rightfully, labels her a nutcase and moves on because he doesn't have the time to get into the details of her craziness.

    But, once again, how much of the 1960s counterculture and its cooptation wound up building a generational solidarity and not a class solidarity.

    In the 1960s it was "never trust anyone over 30". Now it's "never trust anyone under 30. We've got our government health care. Let those younger people go fuck themselves".

  • Guest - observer

    "People can only educate themselves; and they will establish popular government not when they grasp it with their minds but when they grasp it with their hands." - Bertolt Brecht, "The Other Germany: 1943"

    Does anyone have the text of this entire essay? If read in its entirety. I believe it has a lot to say about unraveling this discussion. It was once reprinted in a short-lived cultural magazine called CAW! put out by SDS.

  • Guest - Matt

    Here’s the opening of Abbie Hoffman’s “Woodstock Nation” testimony at the Chicago conspiracy trial. Certainly, the Yippies exemplified some of the most glaring political errors of the period, but they were also a genuine political expression of the youth/cultural rebellion to a far greater extent than any other political grouping of the time.
    Abbie was no simple clown: he was, in the words of Bobby Seale, “a stone revolutionary.” A political comic in the vein of Lenny Bruce, Abbie used political theater and media in ways most of the revolutionary movement has never learned to do. At his best, he was able to articulate a socialist/anarchist vision using everyday language that reflected the deep, frustrated democratic impulses that represent the best of U.S. culture.
    For his full tesimony, see: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTrials/Chicago7/Hoffman.html

    MR. WEINGLASS: Will you please identify yourself for the record?
    THE WITNESS: My name is Abbie. I am an orphan of America.
    MR. SCHULTZ: Your Honor, may the record show it is the defendant Hoffman who has taken the stand?
    THE COURT: Oh, yes. It may so indicate. . . .
    MR. WEINGLASS: Where do you reside?
    THE WITNESS: I live in Woodstock Nation.
    MR. WEINGLASS: Will you tell the Court and jury where it is?
    THE WITNESS: Yes. It is a nation of alienated young people. We carry it around with us as a state of mind in the same way as the Sioux Indians carried the Sioux nation around with them. It is a nation dedicated to cooperation versus competition, to the idea that people should have better means of exchange than property or money, that there should be some other basis for human interaction. It is a nation dedicated to–
    THE COURT: Just where it is, that is all.
    THE WITNESS: It is in my mind and in the minds of my brothers and sisters. It does not consist of property or material but, rather, of ideas and certain values. We believe in a society–
    THE COURT: No, we want the place of residence, if he has one, place of doing business, if you have a business. Nothing about philosophy or India, sir. Just where you live, if you have a place to live. Now you said Woodstock. In what state is Woodstock?
    THE WITNESS: It is in the state of mind, in the mind of myself and my brothers and sisters. It is a conspiracy. Presently, the nation is held captive, in the penitentiaries of the institutions of a decaying system.
    MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury your present age?
    THE WITNESS: My age is 33. 1 am a child of the 60s.
    MR. WEINGLASS: When were you born?
    THE WITNESS: Psychologically, 1960.
    MR. SCHULTZ: Objection, if the Court please. I move to strike the answer.
    MR. WEINGLASS: What is the actual date of your birth?
    THE WITNESS: November 30,1936.
    MR. WEINGLASS: Between the date of your birth, November 30, 1936, and May 1, 1960, what if anything occurred in your life?
    THE WITNESS: Nothing. I believe it is called an American education.

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Is this the Brecht essay? http://www.mlwerke.de/br/br_004.htm

    You have to scroll through the German to get to the English translation.

  • Guest - observer

    Yes! Thank you. That is the Brecht essay I was thinking of, and I think it has some profound insights into the problem of how people's temporary interests may be twisted by the system to believe that their interests lie with the current regime, so long as they do not understand the possibility of a true, and revolutionary alternative. Millions of people in the 1960s had their sights raised, only to have their hopes rushed and their horizons lowered.

  • Guest - observer

    that should be "hopes crushed" of course.

  • Guest - Radical Eyes

    [Note to Moderator: I think that Mike's post above (#3), in response to "Bryan the Trot" (#2) deserve to be posted as its own thread. The issue of how to grasp revolutionary polarization ("rev people" vs. "class vs. class" etc) seems to me a crucial one.]

  • Guest - Kirvo

    Oh come on, Stanley, that just happened to be a woman and women don't seem to make such a big thing out of not getting laid or being treated unfairly at work as men do (as in routinely picking up a gun and shooting people up), as the cultural views of both genders are different. Does everything really have to be about identity politics for you?

  • Guest - Radical Eyes

    At the risk of repeating myself, as the discussion about the 60s has shifted to this new thread, I wanted once more to point people towards the work of Thomas Frank, whose CONQUEST OF COOL, seems to me to add potentially rich material to our discussion...

    Below I have pasted just one provocative slice of this opening chapter that can be found on-line here: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/259919.htmlt

    As to my own thoughts on Frank: The importance of Frank's approach, it seems to me, is that without negating what we might call the "authentic" rebellious utopian oppositional currents of the 1960s counterculture, he foregrounds for us the way that the corporate appropriation of this rebel-youth-hipster iconography (both during the 60s and later on) did not just (attempt to) co-opt or compromise previous figures and performances of rebellion--Lennon, Cocker, etc.--but that this corporate appropriation of tropes of "rebellion" has qualitatively altered the symbolic field in which we live and operate....

    One way to come at this in an immediately political vein, is to recognize that the libertarian anti-authoritarian individualism that much contemporary "rebel" (consumer) culture promotes, is not merely the residue of a "victory" over certain "older" "50s" forms of conformity and social control (which it is, we need to be dialectical here); it is also a significant ideological obstacle to getting people to conceive --let alone to commit to!-- a project of collective and disciplined revolutionary activity.


    Here's that slice of Thomas Frank:

    "Regardless of the tastes of Republican leaders, rebel youth culture remains the cultural mode of the corporate moment, used to promote not only specific products but the general idea of life in the cyber-revolution. Commercial fantasies of rebellion, liberation, and outright "revolution" against the stultifying demands of mass society are commonplace almost to the point of invisibility in advertising, movies, and television programming.

    "For some, Ken Kesey's parti-colored bus may be a hideous reminder of national unraveling, but for Coca-Cola it seemed a perfect promotional instrument for its "Fruitopia" line, and the company has proceeded to send replicas of the bus around the country to generate interest in the counterculturally themed beverage. Nike shoes are sold to the accompaniment of words delivered by William S. Burroughs and songs by The Beatles, Iggy Pop, and Gil Scott Heron ("the revolution will not be televised"); peace symbols decorate a line of cigarettes manufactured by R. J. Reynolds and the walls and windows of Starbucks coffee shops nationwide; the products of Apple, IBM, and Microsoft are touted as devices of liberation; and advertising across the product category sprectrum calls upon consumers to break rules and find themselves. The music industry continues to rejuvenate itself with the periodic discovery of new and evermore subversive youth movements and our televisual marketplace is a 24-hour carnival, a showplace of transgression and inversion of values, of humiliated patriarchs and shocked puritans, of screaming guitars and concupiscent youth, of fashions that are uniformly defiant, of cars that violate convention and shoes that let us be us. A host of self-designated "corporate revolutionaries," outlining the accelerated new capitalist order in magazines like Wired and Fast Company, gravitate naturally to the imagery of rebel youth culture to dramatize their own insurgent vision. This version of the countercultural myth is so pervasive that it appears even in the very places where the historical counterculture is being maligned. Just as Newt Gingrich hails an individualistic "revolution" while tirading against the counterculture, Forrest Gump features a soundtrack of rock 'n' roll music, John Lennon and Elvis Presley appearing in their usual roles as folk heroes, and two carnivalesque episodes in which Gump meets heads of state, avails himself grotesquely of their official generosity (consuming fifteen bottles of White House soda in one scene), and confides to them the tribulations of his nether regions. He even bares his ass to Lyndon Johnson, perhaps the ultimate countercultural gesture."

  • Guest - Vivid Visionary

    Radical Eyes: the link you posted doesn't work. And I'm itching to read that entire piece!

    [moderator note: here is the correct URL http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/259919.html]

  • Guest - zerohour

    Radical Eyes, thanks for referencing the Franks book. I just looked at the excerpt and in this quote, he address the question Stanly raised about why the counterculture could be subverted by the right:

    "And while nearly every account of the decade's youth culture describes it as a reaction to the stultifying economic and cultural environment of the postwar years, almost none have noted how that context—the world of business and of middle-class mores—was itself changing during the 1960s. The 1960s was the era of Vietnam, but it was also the high watermark of American prosperity and a time of fantastic ferment in managerial thought and corporate practice. Postwar American capitalism was hardly the unchanging and soulless machine imagined by countercultural leaders; it was as dynamic a force in its own way as the revolutionary youth movements of the period, undertaking dramatic transformations of both the way it operated and the way it imagined itself."

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>Oh come on, Stanley, that just happened to be a woman and women don’t seem to make such a big thing out of not getting laid or being treated unfairly at work as men do </i>

    Well my point was the connection between Ames and Woodstock (as remote as that connection may be). For Ames, having a dick seems to spur one on against class oppression. Having a vagina doesn't. So while Ames half admires the sexually frustrated mass murderer Soldini, he seems to have utter contempt for the 19 year old single mother.

    Soldini, of course, didn't want to be in a heterosexual relationship. What did he want? Well, to be a rock star, of course, to have lots of no strings sex with younger women. Ames admires Russian oligarchs. They get to nail all sorts of hot Russian babes and laugh at the cops.

    In other words, there's a side of the Woodstock culture that was only about hedonism and Ames and Soldini both represent its victims, although Soldini obviously more so than Ames.

    Note: Thomas Frank has a post up on the Huffington Post about Woodstock.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-frank/dissent-commodified_b_263496.html

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>One way to come at this in an immediately political vein, is to recognize that the libertarian anti-authoritarian individualism that much contemporary “rebel” (consumer) culture promotes</i>

    I grew up in the 1980s where this libetarian anti-authoritarian individualism was absolutely coopted by the right. Think Tom Cruise ("Maverick") in Top Gun. Think any number of frat boy wants to get laid movies. Think John McCain and Dirty Harry.

    But in some ways I see it as a bit simpler than Thomas Frank does. Woodstock was a gigantic corporate product. It was a huge commercial event. I wonder if the same rules apply to tiny hole in the wall folk clubs in the Village (the kind that produced Bob Dylan, who skipped Woodstock). At what point was the music represented by Woodstock taken over by corporate America? It became a grotesque parody in the 1980s. But was there a point in the 1960s when you could have had a genuinely liberating and working class version of the culture represented by Woodstock?

  • Guest - Radical Eyes

    [Note to moderator: the link to Thomas Frank's article in my above post WILL work if we can just delete the typo "t" at the end of the web address. Sorry for posting a bad link!]

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    Observer in Comment 13:

    <blockquote>“Millions of people in the 1960s had their sights raised, only to have their hopes crushed and their horizons lowered.”</blockquote>

    In juxtaposition, a quote from John Steele’s “Where’s our Mississippi” (http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2009/02/03/where-is-our-mississippi/#more-746) :

    <blockquote>“Another aspect of 1964: We didn’t know how it would all turn out. This whole movement has been so enshrined and mummified in the telling of history. Retrospectively it has been given the air of inevitability.

    It was not inevitable. There was no road already there. “The road was made by walking” – and fighting.”</blockquote>

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and throw some other things into the hopper (which does not include Dennis or Edward Hopper).

    The fact that millions in the 60s had their sights raised is a positive thing, but while many were reacting to the injustices of the times, imperialist war, national wars of liberation, etc.— I think not only were the ruling classes worldwide, but in particular the U.S. imperialists able to usurp the movement of millions, in large part it was because they were able to maintain their position in the world, even with setbacks (e.g. losing the war in Vietnam), and at the same time, at some of the core of the millions whose sights were raised, there was some basic idealism.

    It’s kind of crazy to me because that idealism (mostly entrenched among the youth) is what spurred many progressive and revolutionary forces in the first place, and yet it became obvious around the mid-70s, that idealism could not sustain a thoroughgoing revolutionary and radical movement.

    While the enemy was loathed, it was ill-understood in terms of who actually still held State power, the U.S.’s ability to maintain hegemony, their ability to reverse verdicts.

    Matt raised Abbie Hoffman (Comment Nº 11). Where do you live? Abbie’s response, while representative of a large portion of the 60s counter-culture, was totally out of the realm of bourgeois/r.c.’s ideology. I loved and can appreciate Abbie Hoffman (along with his mentor Lenny Bruce) even though I was only a Yippie for a short time; Hoffman did remain (for many) one of the symbols of the youth’s rebellion and political/militant activism. But I think some of Abbie’s downfall was that basically he was an idealist. Am more than sad to say that IMHO it was his struggle with his idealism that ultimately led to his death and demise—whether or not you believe he committed suicide or died from an accidental overdose.

    Two books I found helpful in trying to not only unravel some of the contradictions around Abbie Hoffman himself, but also understanding the tenor of the times, were the following:

    •Hoffman, Jack, and Daniel Simon (1994). Run Run Run: The Lives of Abbie Hoffman. Tarcher/Putnam. ISBN 0-87477-760-7
    •Raskin, Jonah (1996). For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20575-8

    But here’s where I might really be going out on a limb. IMO, at the crux of some of the super critical views and summation of the 60s, is another kind of idealism. To put it crassly—"the 60s didn’t go all the way therefore, it must have been a failure." (to some a colossal failure.) No “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.” (Surely there has been a lot of this same kind of thinking about the reversals in China and the Soviet Union.)

    But the reason I say that this kind of view is also idealistic is—it looks at the revolutionary process as some straight line, and somewhat reduces the making of revolution, or even building a new society, to one’s revolutionary will.

    Of course the bourgeoisie is always going to try and usurp or co-opt progressive and rev. minded people and movements. And they’re going to do that by different means, e.g., all the way from commercializing radical culture and cultural workers, to McCarthyism, to FISA, to military coups. So while I uphold “With a little help from my friends”, I also think we have to understand our enemies a whole lot better, and just what it is we’re up against. Currently, Nepal and India are surely enlightening examples. But just like rev. movements are not some monolith, neither is the ruling class. How do we take advantage of the cracks and fissures in the enemy camp?

    Do have a question--during the 80s, wasn't Punk also at its pinnacle? What is going on in the underbelly of society during different times, even if those times seem to be overwhelmingly in favor of the rulers?

  • Guest - Matt

    Miles Ahead wrote: "Abbie’s response, while representative of a large portion of the 60s counter-culture, was totally out of the realm of bourgeois/r.c.’s ideology....I loved and can appreciate Abbie Hoffman... [He] did remain (for many) one of the symbols of the youth’s rebellion and political/militant activism. But I think some of Abbie’s downfall was that basically he was an idealist."

    Oh, absolutely, Abbie, and the YIPs, and most of the 60s left was extremely idealistic. The widespread, explicit rejection of ideology as some sort of brain disease; the notion that youth as youth could constitute a vanguard; the claim that it was somehow revolutionary to use the word "fuck" in every sentence...This was not simply idealistic but politically destructive. I heard Abbie address a huge anti-war rally in Central Park, and he asked what all these Jewish mothers were doing there. "We don't need mothers," he screamed at the crowd. "We need motherfuckers!" So much of the Yippie schtik was simple shock value -- a conscious, childish attempt to offend and push away allies and potential allies, instead of seeking strong, principled united fronts.
    I was a YIP for a short while, but quickly evolved towards White Panther/Prairie Fire politics (ideologically a bit more sophisticated, but you could still get high!) before moving to MLM. I know many of us walked more or less that same path. My point is not to idealize Abbie, but I think it is useful to recognize that what Abbie at his best said, and how he said it, resonated very deeply with a great many people. We should recognize the tremendous power of humor, creative tactics, and inspired political theater (the YIPs and IWW shared much along these lines). We should recall the awesome, palpable power of cultural and youth movements, whithout ignoring their shortcomings.
    Woodstock Nation was never going to make a revolution. But it was chock full of revolutionary-minded people and it inspired many others, a great many of whom continue looking for a real road to liberation.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    Fascinating thread. Both in light of recent discussions on the viability of the working class as revolutionary subject and for its wonderful obversations/analysis of the counterculture. I can't recall reading it before.

    Mike wrote:

    <blockquote>I think that is unlikely and also unnecessary for socialist revolution. We need a conscious movement for socialist revolution (and all the radical changes of ideas, relations and structures that that implies) — but that does not require working people to embrace some overweening self-identification of “workers as workers.”

    That has to do with the history of the U.S. — This has never been a society of class-as-caste — imposing those kinds of class identities on people (the way 19th century Germany or England did).

    In the U.S., caste identities were imposed on Indians and Black people — (ile. Black people as slaves and sharecroppers, confined by the “color line” — and Indians as hunted non-people.) Often, the structure and history of this place grouped and excluded people as nationalities — while social mobility among whites prevented the consolidation of a single “hereditary working class” that self-identified as such. And so there has never been (spontaneously in U.S. bourgeois society) that much self-identification as class — compared to the way even quite conservative workers self-identify as workers in England or Germany or France.</blockquote>

    This helps me better understand Mike's position.

    Caste identities were placed on oppressed nationalities but whites were given the opportunity to climb the social ladder. Undoubtedly true. But one of the developments of the last 30-40 years of neoliberalism has been a calcification of social mobility across the board. It's certainly worse for oppressed nationalities, but even amongst whites the U.S ranks below most European countries in terms of mobility.

    <blockquote>In the U.S., revolution will arise (if it arises) from the struggles against the historic oppression of minority nationalities, and from a sweeping new movement for socialist alternative society broadly among the (multiracial) poor and working people. It will arise from collisions that entwine with the liberation of women, revolt against brutal unending wars of empire and a disdain for the dominant culture of money and dog-eat-dog. And it will certainly be spurred by the growing consciousness broadly in society that uncontrolled capitalist development is creating an ecological disaster for humanity.

    Socialist revolution does not require that conscious self-identification by sociological class be a defining feature.</blockquote>

    How can a sweeping new movement for socialism come into being without a shared sense amongst the workers that together they are class with common interests that are fundamentally incompatible with capitalism ? And why would working people demand socialism in the first place if they weren't conscious of themselves as workers? If they're not conscious of themselves as workers and of the role they play in society as producers of surplus value and reproducers of society then there's no real reason for them to be demanding socialism over, say, propertarianism/right-wing libertarianism or anarcho-primitivism or petty-bourgeois localism/narrow communitarianism (which seems particularly popular amongst many liberals these days)? Isn't just as likely that a worker who is concerned about the environment but who lacks a conscious working class self-conception and understanding of the world would demand some anarcho-primitivist solution? Or that Black worker concerned with ending the oppression of the Black nation but who lacks a consciousness of herself as a worker united with other workers in common struggle would opt for a narrow bourgeois nationalism? Or equally likely that a woman worker concerned with the oppression of woman but lacking in working class consciousness would opt for a narrow lesbian separatist nationalism? Whatever we think about these alternatives, we can all agree that they're not socialism. I think the demand for socialism will not arise unless there is, maybe not a majority, but a large minority (in the millions) of workers fully conscious of themselves as workers and all that that implies.

    <blockquote> It is not true that we need to somehow “unite the working class” (as a prerequisite for a socialist revolution). We should seek to unite working people (and other oppressed people) around a radical, socialist program. But there will be no simple class-wide unity in this process. Given the highly stratified nature of the U.S. working class, and the impacts of imperialism… it is quite possible that a revolutionary movement may serve to further polarize different sections of the working class from each other in the U.S.

    And not only is this compatable with Marxism, but also Lenin’s experience. Lenin famously said that the revolution does not consist of workers lining up on one pole, and the capitalist lining up at the other, and pointed the historical fact that revolution commonly takes the form of a war between two sections of the people. And even if all this were not compatible with the texts or beliefs of Marx or Lenin, it would still be true.</blockquote>

    I get your point here, but I don't think anybody believes that unite the working class means try to unite every single worker around a common political program. There are and will continue to be flat-out reactionaries amongst the workers. Obviously. "Unite the working class" means to me uniting millions of working class people around a program of socialist revolution. And I absolutely agree that any revolution will have non-working class people as key allies, as well as working class people that may be oriented towards different ideologies (perhaps even anarcho-primitivism, or narrow bourgeois Black nationalism, or narrow bourgeois lesbian separatism), but the ideology of the fully conscious working class, revolutionary socialism/communism, should definitely be in the lead.