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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 4/18/18

The Cult of Violence Always Kills the Left

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"My little segment of the left worshipped Che," Rudd said. "We believed in the propaganda of the deed. We were so sure of our strategy, of leading the armed struggle, that we decided to destroy SDS and build the Weather Underground, a revolutionary fighting force. We decided on a tactic, which was to bring thousands of people to Chicago in 1969 for the conspiracy trial [of radicals such as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden, charged with instigating riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention]. Very few people showed up. We got creamed with beatings, arrests, and even shootings by the cops."

"After that we went from bad organizing to no organizing," Rudd said. "It was purely about self-expression. That self-expression would take the form of bombs. The first thing we did was kill three of our own people."

The premature explosion of a bomb in a New York City townhouse on March 6, 1970, that killed three of Rudd's comrades sobered the radical group. The bomb was to have been placed at an officers' dance at Fort Dix, in New Jersey. It surely would have killed and wounded dozens of people had it exploded at the Army base. The Weather Underground decided to bomb buildings that symbolized centers of power, including the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, the California attorney general's office and a New York City police station, but to call in warnings beforehand so the buildings could be evacuated. The group was responsible for 25 bombings and in 1970 organized the prison escape of Timothy Leary, the famous advocate of psychedelic drugs, for which the group was paid $25,000 by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a collection of drug dealers.

"A lot of Americans can accept their government's violence, but they can't conceive of political violence as anything other than criminal and mentally ill," Rudd said. "And who has all the power, in terms of violence? Our means of violence is very little. The government's means, the right wing's means, are very great. So, we've got to adopt nonviolence. The research of Erica Chenoweth and others has shown that nonviolence is much more efficacious than violence. Gene Sharp approaches nonviolence from a practical rather than a moral point of view. It is the difference between moral pacifism and practical pacifism. The antifa kids are not moral pacifists. They believe in a cleansing moral violence. At its base is a desire to absolve themselves of white guilt."

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Rudd cautioned against the danger of intellectualizing the struggle against oppressive forces. He said all resistance had to remain rooted in practical realities and the hard, often anonymous and time-consuming work of organizing.

"As intellectuals, we can talk ourselves into anything," Rudd said. "If we think it's necessary we can probably figure out how to do it. David Gilbert is one of the gentlest people I have ever met. Yet he somehow talked himself into driving a getaway van with a bunch of black guys armed with automatic weapons. Gilbert left his kid at a daycare center, thinking he was going back at the end of the day to pick the kid up. Nobody picked up the kid. This is ludicrous. And that's the point; you can talk yourself into anything. I have a bumper sticker on the back of my car that says don't believe everything that you think."

Rudd is acutely aware of the failure by most liberals to fight for the values they purport to defend. However, the repeated betrayal of the oppressed by the liberal class as it mouths the language of justice should not push radicals to acts of violence. Rather, radicals must make strategic alliances with liberals while being fully aware of their propensity to flee from struggle when it becomes difficult.

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"The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] was a sister organization of SDS," Rudd said. "They decided to go to the absolute worst place in the United States, Mississippi, to organize for voting rights. And they did. They lost a lot of people. A lot of people got arrested and beaten. A lot of stuff happened over a three-year period. But they won the right to vote. They organized a non-segregationist democratic delegation called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The real Democratic Party delegation was all-white. The Democratic Party worked out a deal with their allies in the North including the United Auto Workers and other liberals. They would seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic Party Convention. They would exclude the segregationists. Busloads of mostly black people went to Atlantic City [site of the convention]. Lyndon Johnson had a change of heart. He feared if he seated the black delegates he would lose re-election. They didn't get seated. That was an ultimate betrayal. Out of this betrayal came the impetus for black power. Black power was supposedly a strategy. But it was no more a strategy than the Weather Underground. It was another form of self-expression."

"I was 18," Rudd said. "I saw heroic SNCC people advocating for black power. The liberals betrayed them. Which side would you be on? Black power rejected the nonviolence of Martin Luther King. It rejected integration. Malcolm X used the slogan 'By any means necessary.' This was seized upon to justify revolutionary violence. It was the same fantasy of revolution. Black power was no more embraced by the black masses than the violence and rhetoric of the Weather Underground were embraced by the white masses. In the end, the white left became the base of the Black Panther Party. The Panther 21 was set up on charges of a bombing in April 1969. SDS in New York, which I was a part of, protested to defend them. Our demonstrations became more and more white. The black base was not behind them. I thought the reason was our presence. I was so steeped in black power ideology I thought the mere presence of white people would keep black people away. That wasn't it. Black power made no sense to most black people. It was suicidal. Huey P. Newton's autobiography, "Revolutionary Suicide," captured it. What kind of a strategy is that? The black power movement was a cultural uprising. But it was not strategic. We fell for this bullshit."

"White radicals felt personally challenged by black power," he said. "Would we be liberals or would we be radicals? Would we go to the base, to the origin of the problem, which is capitalism and imperialism? Would we embrace 'by any means necessary'? Would we overthrow the system? Or would we be liberal reformists? When you're 18 or 20 that's not much of a question. This is why David Gilbert is in prison for the rest of his life."

"What we did was a historical crime," he said of the destruction of the SDS. "At the height of the war in 1969 we decided to close down the national and regional offices and the newspaper of the largest student radical organization in the country. SDS had chapters in 400 campuses. We probably had 100,000 active members. It was crazy. Three of our people died immediately. We inspired copycat actions. One of them happened in the University of Wisconsin in the summer of 1970. An anti-war graduate student died. Eventually, it led to the Brink's robbery in 1981. The worst thing of all, of all the things we did, was we split the anti-war movement over the bogus issue of armed struggle, our right to an armed struggle. This is the same thing as the call by antifa for diversity of tactics, which is a code word for violence."

"The thing about nonviolence is that it works," he said. "But it only works if it's total. The cops put the burden of violence on protesters. Our job is to do the opposite. Our job is to make it crystal clear it's the government and the system that engages violence. We muddy the water when we use violence."

"The left has not hit on a strategy analogous to the far-right strategy, which is to unite ideological conservatives with a base, especially the Christian fundamentalist base," he said. "A base means people show up. They vote. They go where they're told. That was the old union model for the Democratic Party. But with unions depleted we have no institutional or structural base. This is a huge problem. We have to rebuild structures. It's going to take a long time, maybe 20 or 40 years. I'll be 110."

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"Antifa claims to be anarchist," he said. "But is not the same anarchism as, say, the Wobblies. Antifa's version of anarchism is you can't tell me what to do. It's self-expression. I fell into the trap of self-expression. Self-expression is narcissistic. It's saying my feelings are so important that I can do anything I want. It's saying once other people see how important my feelings are they will join me. It never works. There's only two kinds of people who advocate for violence -- very stupid people, of which I was one, and cops. Which are you? Are you very stupid or are you a cop?"

"I can't communicate with antifa because my own PTSD forbids me to say you are so morally right, so courageous and so morally pure," Rudd said. "You understand how violent the system is. You understand what it's like to be nonwhite. I understand your motives. I applaud you for it. This is the only thing they hear, words that feed their self-adulation."

"I'm a veteran of all of this sh*t," he lamented. "But that doesn't count for anything. It's all expired."

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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