June 22, 2014

SDS "Red Guards" Sum Up the Battle of People's Park, 1969

I am posting today a document from 1969, a summation of the Battle of People's Park in Berkeley, CA. It is one very cool document, for several reasons:

1. It reclaims another bit of the history of people's struggle from the Great American Memory Hole. Those who came up in the '60s will find their memories jogged, while younger folk will get a glimpse of a different period in our long battle to smash exploitation and oppression.

People's Park was created by radical students and community residents in Berkeley, CA on a trashed and abandoned lot on the University of California campus there. It embodied many of the strains of what we think of as The Sixties—a radical critique of the corporate multiversity and of capitalist property relations, a turn to "natural" rather than built environments, do-it-yourself approach to social change, direct action tactics. After a period of community meetings and articles in the local underground press, construction began on April 20, 1969. Residents donated tools, sod, plants, time and sweat.

California governor Ronald Reagan had run pledging to crack down on UC Berkeley students, whom he had called "communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants." Here was his chance. Overriding ongoing local negotiations involving activists, the U and the city, he sent cops in on May 15 to trash the park and erect an 8' chain link fence around the site.

A campus rally produced a march of thousands to liberate the park. Cops fought them off while Reagan's chief of staff Ed Meese ordered in hundreds of reinforcements from all over the Bay Area. The pigs used shotguns and rifles, killing student James Rector, who was watching from a roof and wounding over 100. Meese nrought in the National Guard, days of freeform street protest followed, and the park was eventually reclaimed.

2. The document is an impressive early attempt at summation in Marxist (and Maoist, to be more exact) terms of a major struggle by Red participants. In this case folks who had helped build the Park, and took part in the action summed it up, using the method of analyzing strengths and weaknesses, and looking at the class forces and political lines involved in the way the battle played out.

3. It is a glimpse at the birth pangs of new communist movement of the '70s. This can be seen most clearly in the polemics are delivered against other tendencies. Least effective (in retrospect) is the section targeting a Jim Mellon article on People's Park in New Left Notes (the newspaper of Students for a Democratic Society). Mellon was an early theorist for the trend that became the Weather Underground, while this paper is clearly aligned with the emerging RYM II trend. The authors of the article critique
his class analysis of the US, then claim (rather than demonstrate) that this covers for right errors made by others in the course of the struggle, especially failure to identify the main contradiction involved and take the struggle to the industrial working class.

The section aimed at the Progressive Labor Party (then dominant in Berkeley SDS) is much more on target, though the formula "left in form, right in essence," borrowed from the Chinese Communist Party, may muddy things a bit. PLP is criticized with concrete examples of how their lefty rhetoric and workerism undercut the struggle, but at the same time given credit for correct stands they took in the struggle.

[The original article is posted on the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line, affiliated with the sprawling and magnificent Marxist Internet Archives.]

The Battle of People’s Park


Red Guard Caucus, Berkeley SDS

To criticize the people’s shortcomings is necessary, ....but in doing so we must truly take the stand of the people and speak out of whole-hearted eagerness to protect and educate them. To treat comrades like enemies is to go over to the stand of the enemy. 
Mao Tse-Tung

In 1967 the Regents of the University of California–representing the largest monopoly capitalists in the state-acquired land in the south campus area as part of the University expansion program. UC evicted the residents of the low-cost housing that existed on the acquired land, tore down the buildings, and left a large unsightly mudhole. For over a year and a half the mudhole remained. Early in 1969 residents of the south campus area–students/ street people, and working members of the community–took over a small part of that land and built a park for all in the city of Berkeley to enjoy. Peopled Park was a user-planned and developed area. Mothers in the community took their children to play on the swings, street people lolled on the grass, and students cut classes to maintain and improve the land. From the beginning the park–like all things in the real world–was full of contradictions. At one point the contradiction between the young and the old resulted in a night-long argument. The young in this case were the 3-6 year old children and the old were their under thirty parents. The argument revolved around the “pool”–a small hole filled with very muddy water. The adults thought the hole dangerous, the kids that it was great. After hours of heated debate the young kids won, celebrated by taking off all their clothes and jumping into the pool; proving Mao was right when he said, “The young people are the most active and vital force in society. They are the most eager to learn and the least conservative in their thinking,”

Soon, however, more serious and antagonistic contradictions faced the park. The university announced that it intended to build a soccer field on the lot, that the property belonged exclusively to UC, and that the park would have to go. Now soccer is not the most popular sport in Berkeley, and a lot of hard work had gone into that park, so the park’s supporters made it clear they would defend the community’s recreation area. At this point a cyclone chain fence was thrown up around the property, and 300 local pigs–armed with shotguns and Ml’s–stood provocatively on the streets surrounding the park. That day, at a noon rally attended by 3-5 thousand people, it was decided to march on the park and tear the fence down.

When the march got within 2 blocks of the park it was met by a line of heavily armed pigs, Someone turned on a fire hydrant and used it to spray the assembled pigs. They responded by teargassing and attacking the crowd. The people defended themselves and in the ensuing battle one white youth–James Rector-was shot and killed by the pigs, and dozens more were injured by buckshot. The next day 2500 national guardsmen occupied the city, the governor had re-instituted a “state of extreme emergency”, and the people were aroused in righteous anger.

The following two weeks witnessed repeated shootings and gassings–including an aerial attack by an army helicopter. Masses of people took to the streets in downtown Berkeley in order to reach shoppers and small businessmen with the truth about People’s Park. Within two weeks over 900 people had boon arrested and carted off to jail. While in jail many wore beaten–not just shoved around, or casually hit now and then, but literally beaten. On Memorial Day 25 to 30 thousand people marched peacefully in Berkeley in support of People’s Park and to protest the police and National Guard occupation of the city. Although the struggle was intense throughout the 2 week period, it was clearly marked by a progressive decline in militancy. Today the contested property is the only fenced in, electronically wired, burglarproof, and constantly publicly patrolled mudhole in America. The people still do not have their park, Why? 

From its inception People’s Park was plagued by the same contradictions that have characterized Berkeley struggles since the Free Speech Movement of 1964–contradictions between serving the people or serving the narrowly defined (and often false) privileges of students and street people. The progressive aspects of the park, aspects which served the interests of all the working people in Berkeley, manifested themselves in four ways:

1. The open seizure of private property. Land “owned” by the UC and worth over $1 and a half million was ripped off by the people of Berkeley to meet the needs of the local community rather than the interests of the monopoly capitalists who run UC. In reality, of course, this seizure was the recognition of the social character of that land. The contradiction between socialized production and capitalist appropriation permits the U.S. rulers to finance their acquisitions with the surplus value stolen from the workers of this and colonized countries. Thus the land acquired by UC belonged not to the Regents of the University but to the working people of this country. By seizing this land and building People’s Park this relationship was forced into the open. Objectively the Park’s originators were following Marx’s dictum that the job of revolutionaries in every struggle is “to bring the property question to the fore.”

2. Serving the People. “We should pay close attention to the well-being of the masses, from the problems of land and labour to those of fuel, rice, cooking oil and salt...All such problems concerning the well-being of the masses should be placed on our agenda...” People’s Park was not seen as an isolated act. It was undertaken in conjunction with a beginning free-medical care clinic to meet the needs of the south campus community. Those actions drew their inspiration from the BPP Breakfast for Children program. In both cases these actions politically exposed the corruption and lack of response to people’s basic needs that are inherent to capitalism. Neither decent food, nor medical care, nor non-alienated recreation can be provided to all under capitalism. Only by overthrowing this exploitative system, and building a socialist society, can the needs of the people be met. In the meantime only a strong movement for total social change can serve the people– for example, during the People’s Park struggle people began to discuss plans for seizing unused buildings on land owned by the state and turning them into free day care centers for the children of working mothers of Berkeley.

3. Non-alienated labor. Many of the people who helped build People’s Park had never done any real physical labor before. Previous to the park their attitude toward work, and towards workers,, had been very negative. Building the park, however, began to convince them that what was wrong with work was not the sweat involved but its capitalist connotation. Selling their labor power, having the value they created stolen from them, and then seeing their products used to maintain a system that exploits and oppresses most of the world’s people, this was what students and street people rebelled against when they said, “work’s a drag, lets turn on and enjoy our freedom from it.” As a corollary to this realization People’s Park had the progressive effect of convincing many individuals that those who create value through their labor power deserve our respect and not our contempt.

4. The fourth significant aspect of the park was that it was conceived of as a direct response to the University’s expansion program. For years UC has attempted to destroy the hip-radical community centered in the south campus area. To this end UC expansion has been planned to wipe out this community and replace it with university projects limited strictly to students. From the park’s inception, it was presented as a project integrally linked to the maintenance of the south campus community and one which could be defended by all members of that community.

Concommitant with these progressive features, the Park was plagued with tendencies of a more negative nature. Prime among those was the tendency to view the park as an isolated haven where one could escape the hassles of an oppressive system. Many of the park’s originators and subsequent supporters believed that they could substantially change their lives–via parks–without completely changing the governmental and economic system under which this country suffers. Such a view reflects the class make-up of the student-street people movement. UC–even more so than most American universities–is composed overwhelmingly of kids whose class backgrounds are petit-bourgeois, professional or bourgeois. Though sincere in their desire for fundamental change in this country their perspective for achieving this change reflects their class background. The same is true of the street people. Those individuals generally comprise a relatively unstable, barely surviving strata of the petit-bourgeoisie: small craftsmen (jewelry makers, dress-makers, printers, carpenters), creative artists (designers, photographers, musicians, painters, writers) etc. The younger brothers and sisters, who are also mostly from petit-bourgeois or professional backgrounds, are aspiring to this same class and rapidly learning those same skills so they won’t be forced to work for the big capitalists or the government. Many of them are reduced, in the meanwhile, to begging, “borrowing” from their parents, dealing, stealing, etc., in order to live. Among white youth the street people face the greatest amount of police harassment--harassment for getting loaded, for not conforming to the forms and morality of bourgeois society, and for their radical political views.

The desires of those students and street people for socialism are expressed, because of their class background, in two main forms: utopianism and reformism. The most popular current expression of utopianism is the idea that sex, drugs, and pacifism can make you free. Those people want the “inner peace” which communism relates to, but they regard this as an individual, personal matter. This view disregards the real conditions and struggles of the people and is completely subjective. Marx described this sentiment in The 18th Brumaire of Lois Bonaparte: “One must not form the narrow minded notion that the petit-bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes, that the special conditions of its emancipation (e.g. sex, drugs, etc.) are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and class struggle avoided.” This negative tendency manifested itself ideologically during the park struggle in the form of seeing “politicos” as being just as destructive, violent, and confrontation-minded as the pigs.

Reformism can be briefly summed up as the idea that accumulated reforms granted by the bourgeoisie in response to mass pressure can fundamentally alter the social system. Reformism is the opposite of communism or the road of proletarian revolution. Reformism is one of the dominating ideas on the campus, and. plays an extremely important role for the bourgeoisie in separating the revolutionaries from the non-revolutionaries. The reformists often speak in Marxist rhetoric and call themselves socialists and communists. In reality, however, such individuals hold that the people are not the motive force in making history; rather, the people only provide the conditions (pressure) under which the bourgeoisie makes history. Politically this tendency manifested itself in the form of seeing the park as an island of ocialism. The strategy produced by such an analysis is to seize one institution after another until suddenly power has been pickpocketed from the ruling class. Such a strategy errs in thinking that the people can control any institution in their own interest under capitalism. People’s Park can never be an island of socialism in the capitalist wilderness, or a Debrayist foco from which to launch our rebellion. However, People’s Park can serve the immediate needs of the people of Berkeley for recreation, and the long term need for revolution. This latter goal will be served by concentrating on the progressive aspects of the park previously discussed, not by pretending that the park per se is a socialist stronghold.

Those negative tendencies remained strong throughout the struggle for two reasons: (1) the lack of working class leadership which could have overcome their petit-bourgeois-professional orientation; and (2) the failure of some of the more advanced elements of the Berkeley movement to integrate themselves with those people who are now in revolutionary motion. Initially many self-styled Marxist-Leninists dismissed the street scene–and the park–as being unworthy of serious organizing effort. Instead they too created a false polarity between the “non-struggle dropouts” and the “hard-core radicals.” Then when the incredible two week battle broke out those radicals were upset that people did not struggle “correctly”–it had to be their non-struggle attitude. In reality this non-struggle attitude cut two ways–their class tendency toward utopianism and reformism and many radicals’ refusal to honestly struggle–not just condemn–these tendencies.

Those tendencies were best combated by some members of the Radical Student Union (a left-liberal grouping on campus) and other independent radicals. While not formulating a basic political analysis of the struggle, those people recognized that the authority and control of the University wore being outrightly challenged by the south campus community’s seizure of private property owned by UC. Because of this these individuals participated in the park from its inception and thus helped break down the false antagonisms between the students and street people, straight and hip, political people and anarchistic street people. By working on the park from the beginning, and participating in its defense, political education was carried out and a more militant line came to the fore.

n evaluating the good and bad aspects of People’s Park it seems undeniable that the park’s progressive qualities were far more substantial than its negative tendencies. Clearly the progressive features of the park reflect the unity between objective reality and subjective perception. Contrarily the negative tendencies generally reflected an incorrect subjective perception of class interest. As such, our job was not to condemn the park as objectively reactionary–as a dropout center or for creating non-struggle illusions of socialism–but rather to educate ourselves and others about what was really at stake.

All reactionary forces on the verge of extinction invariably conduct desperate struggles. They are bound to resort to military adventure and political deception in all their forms in order to save themselves from extinction.

Having analyzed the park itself really only gives us understanding of the least important aspects of the dual struggle waged around the People’s Park issue. The threat represented by People’s Park was certainly not substantial enough to warrant the response it received. Thousands of combat armed pigs, 2500 national guard, 900 arrests, a white youth shot and killed and hundreds of others wounded, are all indicative of the larger issue involved–premeditated repression. In fact the ruling class used and helped create the park situation in a deliberate, premeditated attempt to smash the movement in Berkeley. The repression in Berkeley must be seen in the context of the nationwide decisions made by the highest political lackeys of the monopoly capitalists–Nixon and Pigface Mitchell–to smash the vanguard elements of the struggle for progressive social change. The phony charges against the Panther 21 in NY, the Panther 8 in Connecticut, SDS leaders in Chicago and NY, the attacks on the Chicano and Latino organizations, etc., are not isolated incidents of local police harassment.

Internally to the movement there are three factors that are responsible for the escalating repressions we face. First, the rulers of America are uptight about our increasing links with the working class. So long as SDS armed itself with student power, anti-working class ideas, it was not a threat to the imperialist ruling class. However, ever since SDS assimilated the lessons of France and Italy our rulers have come to fear the potential threat of an anti-imperialist, anti-racist revolutionary youth movement. Our support for the striking oil workers at Standard Oil in California, of the wildcat at the Ford Mahwah plant in NJ, SDS’s support for the revolutionary Black Panther Party 10 point program, and our nationwide attempt to smash ROTC have all aroused the fears of those who materially benefit from exploitation and oppression.

Secondly, as a consequence of our collective experiences, the movement is overcoming its original tendencies towards pacifism. We have come to recognize that symbolic actions to demonstrate our reasonableness and sincerity will never end oppression and exploitation. The differences between the contending classes in America (as in any other country) cannot be mediated, negotiated, obscured or reformed away–they can only be resolved through a mass militant struggle which destroys the power of the bourgeoisie and replaces it with the organized power of the working class–the dictatorship of the proletariat. To this end we have begun to discuss and implement for the first time a policy aimed at armed self-defense. This too is a development which the ruling class will do anything to destroy.

The third internal development which has resulted in massive repression is the rise of genuine Marxism-Leninism within the movement. All across the country people are getting themselves together into collectives to study and apply the thought of Mao Tse-Tung to the American scene. This is in preparation for the eventual formation of a real Marxist-Leninist party in this country. It is no accident that J. Edgar Hoover could say just a few weeks ago that “never had the influence of Marxism-Leninism been so great within SDS.” More than anything else the ruling class fears the spread of Marxist-Leninist ideology throughout the working class, because they realize that, “If there is to be revolution, there must be a revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party, without a party built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and in the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary style, it is impossible to lead the working class and the broad masses of the people in defeating imperialism and its running dogs.”

Repression, however, is also the result of factors external to the movement. It is a result of the sharpening of the principle contradiction in the world today– the contradiction between the imperialist U.S. ruling class and the oppressed peoples of the world. As successful wars of national liberation–such as the brilliant struggle of the Vietnamese people led by Ho Chi Minh – cut back on the imperialist profits of corporate America, the contradictions intensify all down the line. Because of this trend capitalists will be forced to squeeze more and more surplus value from the domestic labor force, which will result in sharpening class struggle in the mother country. Thus for the past several years real wages have fallen, strikes and wildcats have sharply risen, and as we could expect, the most exploited, segment of the working class–third world workers–have been in the vanguard of those struggles. Organizations such as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers have waged the most militant and class conscious struggles against monopoly capitalism in this country. Before this situation reaches the stage of open class warfare U.S. rulers will attempt to smash all the potential allies of the working class. To this end racist ideology will be increasingly fostered among all workers; workers will be led to believe that student rebels are dope-crazed, foreign-led, pampered children who are only out to destroy; and students will be indoctrinated with anti-working class ideas. After splitting black from white, young from old, worker from student, the ruling class will smash each isolated segment that fights for a better life. Such a tactic, if successful, will prevent us from our most vital task–the formation of a united front against imperialism, led by the working class.

With this analysis of the condition and direction of monopoly capitalism it becomes clear why the park was chosen as the excuse for the massive repression that followed–because the ruling class hoped that this would be a difficult issue to link to the needs of the broad masses of people in this country. To this end they and their political and media lackeys did two things: (1) pictured the park as a hang-out for dope-crazed street people and students anxious to do their own thing; rather than as the community developed recreation area that it was; and (2) tried to pretend that the whole People’s Park struggle was simply an inter-university matter to be decided by the UC administration and possibly a few “responsible” student leaders. However, all the machinations and pigs at the disposal of these rulers could not have prevented us from waging a successful struggle around the People’s Park issue if we had overcome our own internal errors. Unfortunately, the park struggle was plagued by both right and “left” errors which hindered our local battle and our growing understanding of how to beat the American capitalist colossus.

The basis of the right errors that hindered the People’s Park struggle is to be found in a bourgeois ideology that has masked itself in Marxist rhetoric. This ideology has arisen because many in the movement have committed: (1) the empiricist error of mistaking the vanguard elements of the struggle as those who are now moving the most militantly; or (2) the pragmatist error of putting our greatest organizing efforts into current areas of high discontent (draft-ago youth, community colleges, etc.) and postponing hard-core organizing of the industrial proletariat until “the conditions of decaying capitalism make them more receptive to Marxism-Leninism.”

Justification for those honest errors has boon provided by the phony “Marxist” analysis offered by Jim Mellon in New Left Notes of May 13. This analysis, which reappears in the “’Weatherman” proposal, is both incorrect in theory and dangerous in practice. Let’s run down some of his errors in theory and then show the application of this theory to the People’s Park struggle.

Mellon’s article argues that a class analysis of the U.S. would show a small but powerful class of monopoly capitalists, a “very small and declining petit-bourgeoisie”, and a very large working class. This analysis is derived by applying the Marxist criteria: ownership of the means of production. What Mellon says is that you either own the motherfucker or you work for it. If you own it, you’re a member of the bourgeoisie, if you work you’re working class. Now the problem becomes what strata of this large working class will play the vanguard role. Mellon isn’t sure which segment of the working class will lead–he suggests black workers have the most class consciousness today–but he is pretty clear who won’t be the vanguard–the industrial proletariat (30% black-brown):

To continue irrationally to insist on the vanguard role of factory workers in our changed circumstances is mere assertion of orthodoxy, and not an argument... Dogmatic applications of Marxism to the US make (two) important errors: .. .They attribute to the struggle of industrial labor a centrality to the class struggle... We need a theory which will help us understand which segments of the working class can develop class consciousness and lead the rest. It is not enough merely to say that some segments of the working class are necessary to the construction of socialism–as surely the industrial workers are–but some reason must be offered as to why that segment is likely to break out of the mystification and particularism in which it is now bogged down.

If he wants a theory which will help him understand, “which segment of the working class will lead the rest” he should consider Marxism-Leninism. M-L theory would have shown him that his initial error was in using a non-Marxist criteria of class. In order to fully understand classes and subclasses one must apply the four criteria supplied by Lenin: (1) relationship to the means of production; (2) the creation of surplus value; (3) magnitude of the proportion of the social surplus maintained; and (4) mode of acquisition. Mellon correctly applies the first criteria, but he ignores #2-4. By just using the criteria of the relationship to the moans of production Mellon achieves unity with the Revisionist ruling clique in the Soviet Union. CPSU theorists–using Mellon’s class criterion–maintain that since there is social ownership of the means of production in the Soviet Union there can be no bourgeoisie, since by “Marxist” definition the bourgeoisie owns the moans of production. Dialectically if there’s no bourgeoisie then there can be no proletariat, since by definition they sell their labor power to the bourgeoisie. Therefore, in the Soviet Union, there are no classes, consequently class conflict under Soviet socialism is impossible. This scab theory of the “state of the whole people” has long been exposed by the CPC as an attempt to obscure the reality of capitalist restoration by the revisionist ruling clique in the Soviet Union.

If we just consider Lenin’s second criteria we can begin to understand the flaws in Mellon’s analysis. The mainspring of monopoly capitalism is the productive labor performed by the proletariat. Productive labor transforms material objects, adds value, and creates a commodity for exchange. Those whose labor does not create value are paid wages or salaries from the social surplus of value stolen from the proletariat. In our epoch national liberation struggles are inevitably destroying the monopoly capitalists’ ability to export capital and steal the surplus value created by the labor of colonized people. As a result this “lost” surplus value must be stolen increasingly from the domestic proletariat, otherwise the American capitalists could not survive the anarchic competition with their international rivals. Now the capitalists can’t steal value from any segment of Mellon’s vast working class except the industrial proletariat. The result will be that the industrial worker will face (1) an incredible speed-up along the production line as the capitalists try to greatly increase the intensity of labor; (2) a lengthening period of work; (3) a rapid decline in real wages; and (4) lay-offs on an unprecedented scale. As this dynamic develops and intensifies no amount of “mystificatiom or particularism” is going to obscure reality from those whom reality screws over. At this point the industrial proletariat–the only segment of any class that can successfully lead a revolutionary struggle which will establish socialism–will fulfill its historical mission.

Hopefully this theoretical criticism will help us to understand the right error made during the People’s Park struggle. Lack of clarity on which strata of society will lead the revolution, and on where to focus our organizing efforts, resulted in the following mistakes: (I) the principal issue of the struggle–the nationwide crackdown on the movement because of its threatening links with industrial workers–was obscured. Logically enough people who could not accept that the industrial proletariat will be the vanguard force of the revolution, could not accept the idea that the repression in Berkeley was part of a deliberate and premeditated national attempt to destroy a movement with growing links to that class. As a consequence a whole strategy developed out of the notion that this massive repression was simply a consequence of the threat posed by People’s Park itself. The practical course of action proposed by such a strategy was to “Build 2, 3, many parks”. Much energy was thus directed into channels–such as building new parks–which neither consolidated nor expanded our base of support. Although the decision to build other parks was partly tactical–reflecting the need for mobility, the desire for originality, and the need to avoid the same battleplan everyday–it ultimately proceeded from a lack of strategic clarity about where was the optimal point to direct our efforts. MOST IMPORTANTLY BY NOT UNDERSTANDING THAT THE KEY ISSUE WAS REPRESSION WE PERMITTED THE RULING CLASS TO ACHIEVE ITS GOAL OF ISOLATING US FROM THE WORKING CLASS. WE MISSED A FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY TO POINT OUT TO WORKERS THAT THE ESSENCE OF OUR STRUGGE WAS: 1. A PROXY ATTACK BY THE MONOPOLY CAPITALISTS ON THE WORKERS THEMSELVES, IN THE FORM OF AN ATTACK ON THEIR REAL ALLIES; AND 2. A DIRECT ATTACK ON A YOUTH MOVEMENT THAT IS ITSELF AMTI-IMPSRIAIIST. ANTI-RACIST. (II) No significant educational or agitational work was done in working class communities. Instead, because the terror tactics of the pigs angered students and faculty throughout, the California educational system, we found ourselves with a mass base of support. However, this base was white, student, and petit-bourgeois or professional in background, with a very strong liberal wing. In the face of the threats and the practice of the police fear began to play a very crucial role. The liberals could assuage this justifiable fear by appealing to the non-struggle tendencies that are a part of the class nature of its base of support. We, on the other hand, faced the more difficult task of overcoming that fear, overcoming class tendencies toward non struggle (the two are different), and directing our fight in a militant manner. The inherent (class) shortcomings of the People’s Park base, in the absence of working class leadership; and our absence of sufficient organization so that we could really protect people, resulted in a trend toward pacifism. Our hitherto militant street tactics wilted into the time-honored tradition of building toward a massive, peaceful protest march, replete with flowers and rock music. (III) The lack of serious effort to reach workers about our struggle was also a result of our own emphasis on the idea of a revolutionary youth street army. The basis of this error was the analysis that our job at this stage of the struggle was to focus all our energies on those people who were already in motion. Such a strategy might have been correct in the short run if the essence of the struggle had really been People’s Park itself. However, since the essence of the struggle was an attempt to smash the future allies of the industrial workers, great attention should have been placed on reaching them about the nature of the struggle in Berkeley.

Although we didn’t do educational work in the working class communities the ruling class media sure as hell did. Day after day our struggle was presented as a battle between dissident students and street people united to do our own thing and the local police and national guard protecting law and order.

Although those right errors were certainly serious only rarely did the result from a hardened, unchangeable ideology. The majority of people won to this line could, with a little patient and non-rhetorical educational effort, be won to a more pro-working class, Marxist-Leninist perspective. This is clearly our task for the future.

Before analyzing those errors that were left in form but right in essence, a brief description of Berkeley SDS is necessary. PL-WSA politics completely dominate the Berkeley chapter. There are two reasons for this. First, there has been a lot of hard work done toward building a base for WSA politics. Second, many individual who were tired of the factional disputes left SDS and began to work with the left-liberal Radical Student Union. Those non-WSA people who remained in SDS spent most of their time engaging in meaningless arguments with PL-WSA rather than building a base to defeat the bad politics that dominated the chapter.

In order to understand the left in form but right in essence errors of the People’s Park struggle it is necessary to recognize the role played by the neo-Trotskyist PLP. Today the leadership of the PLP has completely embraced “left” opportunism, both theoretically and practically. The chief characteristic of “left” opportunism (and why “left” is used in quotes) is the use of revolutionary phraseology and rhetoric in order to oppose in practice the struggles of the people. In other words, because a “left” line undermines the struggle, an objective unity is created with right revisionists who seek to water down the struggle and strip it of its revolutionary soul. In so doing, “left” opportunists serve the imperialists objectively, accomplishing for them within the ranks of the people what open supporters of imperialism are unable to accomplish. Hence, while “left” in form they are right in essence.

Because of their “left” opportunism PLP-WSA could not apply the mass line to the People’s Park struggle. This manifested itself in their attitude toward the park. First, they thought the park was bad because it took away a parking lot from the workers, then they argued the park itself was intrinsically a reactionary thing because it was not in a working class community. Finally, their position was that the park itself might be either good or bad but fighting for the park was reactionary. PL did not understand that:

The masses have boundless creative power. They can organize themselves and concentrate in places and branches of work where they can give full play to their energy; they can concentrate on production in breadth and depth and create more and more welfare undertakings for themselves.

Thus by taking a “left” line that we should spend our time on smashing racism or seizing state power PL-WSA achieved objective unity with the most right-wing elements who also tried to prevent a sharp struggle from being waged around the PP issue.

PL-WSA’s “left” line also unified itself with the political and media lackeys of the ruling class who tried to portray the park as a place for students and druggies to do their own thing. In one of the most reactionary mistakes of the whole struggle PL-WSA–who correctly saw the need of approaching working class communities–handed out a leaflet with a straight ruling class line: “When students see that they must fight for all the people instead of for their ’own thing’ like the Park–they will be a great threat.” This action must be seen in the context of the desperate attempt of the ruling class, mentioned earlier, to split various groups in this country by creating a false image of each–students and hippies do their own thing, workers are racist, bought off jerks, blacks are threats to job security, etc.

PL-WSA however, also did some good things during the fight. They and others correctly saw that repression was the key to the whole struggle and that the national movement was facing intense repression because of its growing links to the working class. However, even this correct analysis was misapplied by the “left” opportunists led by PLP. Because they understood the issue of repression, PL-WSA correctly leafleted working class communities about the fact that the US ruling class was trying to prevent the student movement from joining up with workers1 struggles. However, by portraying PP as a do your own thing hangout, rather than bringing the property question to the fore, PL succeeded in uniting with the ruling class to prevent working communities from joining the movement in this struggle.

PL-WSA also correctly argued that we must focus attention on the local representatives of state power–UC and the City Council–and not spend all our time in the streets of downtown Berkeley. However, once again their “left” opportunism showed itself. The PL-WSA “left” line was that we should never be in the streets of downtown Berkeley because actions like those would hinder workers from doing their shopping. In fact, of course, while in the streets there we did our only serious rapping to the working class. Rather than hinder their shopping we reached working people with our message and determination to keep the south campus community-developed recreation area. Instead PL-WSA argued from a “left” position that we should stay on campus (focus on representatives of state power) and away from downtown Berkeley (because being there was anti-working class). The objective result of this “left” line was to achieve the ruling class goal of isolating the struggle to the student area so that it could be portrayed simply as an intra-University matter and not as an issue (private property, alienated labor, etc.) that had implications for the entire Berkeley community.

Two final incidents should sufficiently expose the “left” opportunism of PLP. First, by focusing just on the issue of repression, and ignoring PP itself, PL-WSA-dominated SDS came up with bad demands. These demands were: end the curfew, withdraw, all troops, stop police terror, and amnesty. Interestingly enough, almost the entire city council of Berkeley came out with the very same line (with the exception of the amnesty Issue). Everyone from the Mayor of Berkeley to PLP pushed those three demands: end curfew, withdraw troops, stop police terror.

The difference was that only the mayor of Berkeley, PL-WSA-dominated SDS, and other reactionary elements made only those demands. Progressive elements also fought around the less co-optable demand of “either the people get the community-developed PP or the City of Berkeley will be shut down.” Lastly, PL at San Francisco State took an interesting position on the Memorial Day march, which turned out to be peaceful. Because of their “left” militance PL told people at S.F. State not to go to the march. That is, they did not simply take the non-revolutionary position of ignoring the march, they took the actively counter-revolutionary position of saying “stay away from the march, it will just be a liberal peaceful thing.”

Real Marxist-Leninists, who were justifiably disappointed with the tone (though not the turnout) of the 25-30 thousand people, took a different position. Throughout its planning stages, we tried, though in a disorganized fashion, to win people to the suggestion that the march be a mass, militant one with the goal of tearing down the fence around PP and actively fighting back against the two weeks of repression that had hit Berkeley, When this was unsuccessful we still went to the march and rapped with people about the dual character of the PP struggle and the need to fight back militantly.

That is, we tried to apply Mao’s teaching:

To link oneself with the masses, one must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned. It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently, We should not make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out.

Not only did PLP fail to grasp either the dual nature of the struggle or the correct tactics, what was worse was that they sought to serve themselves rather than the people. They consistently stood aloof from the struggle to arrive at mass tactics, they organized separately and in a sectarian fashion, and systematically found an opposite tactic to whatever the people had decided... Thus their neo-Trotskyism. By their actions these “left” opportunists objectively allied themselves with the struggle’s right errors; both acted to prevent us from reaching the working class, winning them to support the PP struggle, and in turn, learning from them.

Of course, those of us who share this analysis, and who either left SDS or did not work sufficiently hard inside SDS to defeat the WSA line bear heavy responsibility for the disastrous results of the SDS position on PP. Our errors of omission permitted PL-WSA to commit their sins of commission. The results of the SDS line were threefold: 1. it further tarnished the name of SDS on campus, and by extension, National SDS’ name. Thus the national vanguard element of the white revolutionary youth movement suffered a setback in the Bay Area. 2. Because PL-WSA pretend to be Maoists it gave Berkeley radicals a false picture of what the Thought of Mao Tse-Tung really is in practice. 3. Most importantly, PL-WSA actions helped build, not break down, anti-working class ideas in students. If workers are more interested in a mudhole for a parking lot than a community developed park, if workers think that PP was just privileged people doing their own thing, then they must be stupid, or reactionary, or both. This is the type of thinking that SDS’s actions helped to reinforce in students and street people. In reality, of course, workers know what alienated labor is, and who controls property in this country that’s ultimately paid for by workers. They know this and they could have sympathized and actively participated in our struggle. Right errors and “left” opportunism prevented this from occurring.

Of course, many good things developed out of the PP struggle. Prime among these were 1. The growing understanding that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” People realized that it was automatic weapons and not automatic shovels that put the fence up around the People’s Park, It was the pigs with their .357 Magnums, shotguns, 38’s, and carbines and even submachine guns, that drove the people out of our park and kept us out while the fence went up. If the pigs had not been there, we would have stopped the fence from going up; and if the pigs did not continue to occupy our park, we would have torn that fence down. People began to understand that the essence of bourgeois rule, or the rule of any class, is dictatorship. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie exists in the property and productive relations–there is no vote on the question of exploitation, who gets profits, etc.–and rests on their ability to command armed force, the main component of state power, 2. The fatal weaknesses of anarchism were seen by more and more people. People began to realize that the pigs were not acting on their own. They are the armed and organized force carrying out the political decisions of the rulers of this country. Unorganized, individual retaliation against them is both ineffective and dangerous to the masses of assembled people. People began to realize that we too must be disciplined and in an organized mass way militantly struggle for change in this country, 3. UC’s facade of liberalism was further exposed. It was the University which decided to put up the fence around PP, which called thousands of pigs and national guard onto campus to smash the student supporters of the Park. Indicative of this understanding that liberalism is just fascism in disguise was the peopled reaction to Chancellor Heyns. In other struggles on campus Heyns was able to convince people that he was caught in the middle of the issue and that he really sympathized with many of our demands. After James Rector was shot, however, thousands of people massed in front of Heyns’ house shouting, “Roger Heyns wanted for murder, Roger Heyns wanted for murder.” Heyns is still afraid to show his face on campus, and with good reason. Pacifism, as opposed to fear, was really set back in this struggle. Not only did people defend themselves against attack, but we also began to go on the offensive. A really good example of this occurred when several hundred people massed outside of Heyns’ house. Six or seven pigs began to attack some of our brothers. Immediately, spontaneously, the crowd turned on the pigs, surrounded them, and pelted them with rocks. The terrified pigs throw several tear gas canisters to disperse us, and one drew out a gun which he pointed at us. Then they caught one guy, handcuffed his hands behind his back, and began to lead him away. At this point about ten of us literally jumped on the pigs, attacked them with our hands and feet, and freed our captured brother. He ran off, hands still cuffed behind his back, and we split, satisfied that the people had won that round.

Many more individual things–some good, some bad–occurred during the two week struggle. But hopefully this report gives some general picture of what went on and why. Although our struggle was plagued by many errors–both of a right and “left” nature–we think that we have learned from those. Next time we will be stronger still.

[signed by nine names]
Red Guard Caucus, 
Berkeley SDS

Labor was donated by the Young Patriots of Chicago

1 comment:

Robert Greene said...

interesting read. points up some of the highlights of new left theory and places where it went wrong. i hope someone annotates this piece.both to provide detail what is being talked about and what happened good and bad.is there a legacy for people's park?