This book is a history of the radical Left of the 1970's and their attempt to wage war against the United States government. Groups like the Weatherman later renamed because it was sexist to Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the FALN, 'The Family' and the United Freedom Front. That last group ended in 1984, so this is a long and at times complex story, but always fascinating.
By 1970 many radicals thought that the West was heading into a revolutionary age. For the most radical the main topic was not if but how to make the revolution a reality. The Black Panthers were the inspiration for most of these groups and race and racism were the main enemies. Already you can see that these groups were targeting what today the Left calls 'systematic racism'. That the United States was a racist, White supremacist country and they were going to save the non-Whites of the world. Just like today the majority say that were themselves White and from well to do families.
Weatherman, named after a line in the Bob Dylan song, subterranean homesick blues, which you might think you've never heard but you probably have. The film clip is very famous, it's the one were the words are written on big cards which are then discarded after the line is said. The lines in question are:You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows
To the radicals the wind was blowing towards revolution. The group started inside Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which was a Communist front organisation, but most of it's activity was directed against other Leftist groups who were regarded as ideologically wrong. In 1968 the people who would go on to lead Weatherman took over control of SDS in a coup, the rest of the organisation broke away and broke apart. They then set about getting rid of those they considered not revolutionary enough. In early 1970 they went underground with the idea of waging a bombing campaign to destroy peoples faith in the government.
SDS started with around 3000 people
After the coup they had around 300
When they went underground they had around 30 members
Living underground meant not being part of normal society, having a false identity and changing it often. Not contacting family or friends, everything was provided by the movement. In reality most of the time they lived in poverty, although not the leadership.
They went underground with the idea that revolutionary violence was great. But in 1970 their bomb maker blow up the townhouse he was in killing himself and two other members. The house was the former home of Charles Merrill, who co-founded Merrill Lynch and the next door neighbour was Dustin Hoffman. It was owned by one of the members of Weatherman's father, who was on holiday and thought only his daughter was staying there. This event changed the course of the movement. From now on they carried out most of their bombings at night.
What I find interesting about all of these groups is that they all had different ideas for waging war. But none of them seemed to have read classic revolutionary texts on how to conduct a campaign. There is a long tradition of Leftist violence, much of it written about but they seemed to have either not read it or ignored it. A delegation of Weatherman even went to Cuba and spoke to a delegation from North Vietnam. They took the advice of neither the Cubans or the North Vietnam. They had a series of actions but no overall strategy. Ever action would lead to the next action but the actions lead no where. They neglected to have an aboveground support network. Often they were struggling to get money, bomb making equipment, even food.
Their small size and lack of aboveground support meant that they couldn't be penetrated. Security was watertight. In fact it was too good, even people who wanted to join or support them couldn't find them. Although the Symbionese Liberation Army was so desperate for members they went door knocking to recruit revolutionaries...and it worked!
I would recommend this book as it is full of interesting characters with very bizarre ideas and as a guide to how not to do things.
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