CONFESSIONS OF AN UNREPENTANT MAOIST: Hundred Flowers, 1970 (continued): The Crack Up

BY ED FELIEN

There were tensions in our collective between me and the younger members. When we got news about the details of Che Gueverra’s death and the role of the CIA in locating him, we all dropped acid, and I remember standing on top of a table, shaking my fist at the ceiling saying, “We’ll make them pay for this.” One of my younger comrades remembers he was thinking, “We’re all going to die.”
One morning we woke up to find out that someone had blown the back door and porch off the Old Federal Building downtown. This was the door where draftees assembled to be taken off to Vietnam.  It seemed like a clearly political act, but we had no idea who or what group in the Twin Cities would do something like that. Later that morning someone showed up at our front door, said they were from Liberation News Service (our national and international news feed), and could he stay with us for a couple of days. He said he’d slept by the River last night. We said, “Sure.” It turned out I recognized him from when I was teaching at Smith. He had been active in SDS at Amherst. We chatted. I asked him about friends of mine from back then. He pointed to the floor. I said, “What?” He said, “They’re underground.” A large faction of SDS had become The Weathermen (from Bobby Dylan’s “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”) and then The Weather Underground. They had been blowing things up across the country, but the only fatalities they had were their own. Tragically, Diana Oughton, Ted Gold and Terry Robbins had blown themselves up earlier that year assembling a bomb in a Greenwich Village townhouse. I made a quick calculation and stopped asking questions.
We debated the question in the paper. Were we at the stage of armed struggle? Was the bombing a legitimate tactic?  Ultimately, though we sympathized with the intent of the action, we believed there was not sufficient political consciousness to warrant an action like that. Mao had said, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” But that’s true only if the ground has been prepared and the kindling dry. There were no oppressed masses ready to catch fire, no prairie ready to erupt in mass revolt. There was a long road of political education still ahead.
One night while I was laying out the paper and everyone else had gone to bed, I came across a hole in the paper after a letter from a soldier in Vietnam. The letter expressed a kind of flower child morality about how we should all be friends and love one another. I was horrified. How could someone whose job it was to kill Vietnamese talk about peace and love? I was tired and cranky. I was irritated at my comrades for deserting me when we needed to put out the paper. I was irritated at the soldier for willfully not understanding he was being used as a tool of U.S. imperialism. I abused my power as the only one at the layout table, and I independently set editorial policy that was way out of bounds for most of the people working on the paper. I said, as an editorial answer to the soldier’s letter: “You are a bourgeois, chicken-shit pacifist. As Che’ said, ‘Let my death be answered by the staccato of machine gun fire.’ ”
Needless to say, I had a lot of explaining to do. Marv Davidov, the pacifist who was the chief organizer of the demonstrations against Honeywell anti-personnel bombs, asked me what I meant. We had been friends since before he took off with David Morton on the Freedom Rides.  I had always supported his political work. I explained the difference between his deeply felt pacifism that actually ran counter to the interests of the bourgeois class, and the pacifism of people who don’t want to resist the power of the bourgeois class and think it’s not nice to fight against their interests.  And an occupying and imperialist power would, of course, promote a philosophy of pacifism as opposed to one that tolerated active resistance.  Gandhi was successful because he would make his demands, lead marches of thousands of people, and then fast almost to the point of killing himself.  I would argue that his was a violent act. He was taking someone (himself) hostage and starving him to death unless the British government relented. Everyone understood that if Gandhi died there would be very bloody riots. It was violence (against himself) and the threat of greater violence that moved the British government.
The self-immolation of Buddhist monks in front of the American Embassy in Saigon in the early days of the Vietnam War shocked the conscience of anyone who cared about human life, but those actions could not be called nonviolent. It can hardly be pacifistic to burn yourself to death—morally courageous, yes, but not nonviolent pacifism.

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