We Have Been Invaded by the 21st Century
Very early in Tom Hayden’s account of what he endured as a defendant in the Chicago conspiracy trial, the mind ceases to attend to the injury done him by Judge Julius Hoffman and commences to puzzle over some deeper damage, some obscure hurt, inflicted back somewhere on the road when none of us was looking, a hurt felt well before Hayden had ever thought of the Northern Judicial District of Illinois, and likely to last long after he has escaped it.
But then his book gives us very little reason to be distracted by his public trial from the more critical interior one. Trial neither evokes the scene nor defines the event; we do not believe what Hayden remembers or have faith in what he promises. It might as well have been written by someone who had not even been there and had nothing more to go on than the imprecations, accurate but unuseful, in the streets. Hayden is callous when he records and only sentimental when he prophesies. The result must be felt not so much as a failure as an attempt never made.
We measure the damage when we read this testament and recognize that it was so unimportant to its creator that there is no suggestion that he brought to it any impulse except for mechanical recitation. Hayden seems, just from carelessness and indifference, to have turned himself, at least for the occasion, into some grand gallery of the warts of all his radical ancestors, showing the worst features of each with none of what redeemed them, being as muddled as Bakunin, as spiteful as Trotsky, as self-absorbed as Emma Goldman, as devious as Johann Most, possessed indeed by every fantasy and denied all the poetry.
But here, as so often before, he holds us. David Dellinger and David McReynolds seem altogether worthier of the attention of persons of serious concern, and yet, even in their company, Hayden commands our notice with his hurt now as much as he first did with his star.
Hayden was anointed as the future of the left almost at first sight ten years or so ago. Things had been going badly for a very long time; there were intimations of improvement. Tom Hayden’s youth, his origin in the mysterious midlands, his aspiration to be a questing knight all fit the moment of change and promise upon which he appeared. And he had a sense of his star and followed it across disparate and unexplored places—from his dreary wrangles with the social democrats as founder of SDS, to his four years in the Central Ward of Newark, where he watched a revolt not of his creation and suffered an exile not his fault, to those pilgrimages to the NLF and the return as its shadow ambassador; and thereafter through a succession of overnight hikes with anything that seemed new and promising. The hurt…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.