Back in 2021, Current published his review of Anthea Butler’s White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America.
In a recent piece at Dissent (where he formerly served as editor), Kazin reflects on his experience as a member of the Weathermen, a left-wing militant group known for its violent resistance to racial injustice and the Vietnam War, among other things.
I spent that summer out in Berkeley, taking something of a vacation from rebellion—of both the external and internecine varieties. On my way back East, I stopped in Chicago to visit Mark Rudd, with whom I had worked as a volunteer at the SDS regional office in New York two years before. The encounter turned out to be a lot more consequential than the routine political update I had expected.
In 1968, Rudd had become rather famous as a leader of the Columbia student uprising. More recently, he had co-written the Weatherman statement, and he was now busy setting up collectives in various cities to carry out the strategy of creating a “white fighting force” to “bring the war home”—a goal whose meaning would quickly evolve into ever more violent forms. It began with tactics reminiscent of those of a youth gang, without firearms. Weathermen and women marched into beaches and parks where white working-class kids gathered, challenged them to join the fight against U.S. imperialism, and then rumbled with their fists to demonstrate that revolutionaries were able and willing to brawl for their beliefs. Bill Ayers coined a slogan to describe this tactic: “Fight the people.” It ended with bombs being set at a police station and in the men’s room of the U.S. Capitol—and with those involved wasting several years in fugitive existences.
After a dash of small talk, Rudd got to the point: Why haven’t you joined us? Don’t you agree with our politics? In Leninist lingo, I explained that the tactics of Weatherman seemed overly “adventurist”—risking a confrontation with the police and the government that the larger movement was not yet prepared to support and which could backfire on it. Rudd quickly countered with a response both moral and seemingly practical: “When have we ever been too ‘adventurist’? The Panthers and the Vietnamese are fighting and dying to smash imperialism. We’re just occupying buildings on campus and organizing peaceful demonstrations. None of that shit is helping them at all.”
I couldn’t think of a rebuttal. Rudd was right: it would be not just cowardly but racist to shrink from my political duty. A remark he had made to me back in the summer of 1967 seemed pertinent, too. “In the end,” Rudd had said, with characteristically arrogant aplomb, “everyone is going to be either a Stalinist or a social democrat.” While I had no love for Comrade Joe, I could not imagine taking the low road of sniveling compromise with the system, either.
So when I got back to Cambridge, I took a leave from Harvard and joined several SDS friends who were searching for an apartment where members of a collective could live and work. By Labor Day, we had found an inexpensive three-bedroom place on a quiet street in a working-class neighborhood not far from MIT. What followed were the oddest seven weeks of my life.
The dozen or so Weatherpeople (the gender-neutral term quickly became the norm) who either lived in the crowded apartment or engaged in nearly all our debates and actions came from two demographic clusters within the local white New Left. About half of us, including both women in the group, were renegades from Harvard or other fancy colleges, and all were decidedly secular Jews. Among this group was Eric Mann, the oldest and most powerful member of the collective, who had, in his pre-SDS days, been president of Cornell’s Interfraternity Council—an ironic datum he enjoyed dropping into conversation. The other half of our crew had dropped out of Northeastern, which at the time had a status one step up from a community college. With their Boston accents and Irish-Catholic names, they represented the young proletarian masses we hoped to recruit to join our “fighting force.”
Read the entire piece here.