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Three Who Didn’t Make a Revolution

Trial

by Tom Hayden
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 168 pp., $1.95 (paper)

We Have Been Invaded by the 21st Century

by David McReynolds
Praeger, 265 pp., $7.95

Revolutionary Nonviolence

by Dave Dellinger
Bobbs-Merrill, 390 pp., $7.50

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 may have been that, when you try too many parts of the solution, you end up part of the problem. But, easier to see, was the wound of the loneliness: Hayden was a candidate, but he had no party.

The only sentence in Trial that can fairly be called personal and thus calls us to sadness is an aside, “I have always been more of an independent catalyst than an equal member of any collective or group.” If his heart faintly cries out only that once, and if every other sound we hear seems so finally unattractive now, it is because the search, with all the good will of its beginning, has been not for comrades but for blocs of voters. Hayden may argue, to be sure, that the times are too awful to indulge in the comfort of comrades; still the damage shows itself most in the effects of this pursuit. There runs throughout Trial the impression of someone busying himself with the small pieces of a jigsaw puzzle after the large ones have been mislaid, of calculation driving away common sense.

Not long ago, to take an instance, Hayden brought The New York Times up to date on the coalition which now promises him the formation of the rebellion. He added to its roster, with the women and the students, “the homosexuals.” And you can only wish the Gay Liberation Front joy of the march with this new comrade whose mind, on occasions not quite prior enough, can invoke images like this one:

Tom Foran represented the US government for the Northern District of Illinois. A short, squat man in a tight-fitting gabardine suit, he was struggling to retain his 1940s Golden Gloves fighting form. Someone said Foran was Jack Armstrong. Stew Albert, an underground writer, decided that he was a repressed and frightened homosexual. The point is the same…. [Trial, p. 52]

Or admittedly out of context but evocative of its spirit:

One Chicago psychiatrist told us of several cases in which police wives filed for divorce because their husbands would not even make love to them. [Trial p. 40]

For Hayden is the kind of debater who, just to make a point, will invade any privacy on evidence however uncertain; he would, I’m afraid, not long ago have been as lief call a man a queer as a fascist. That he awoke after publication date to appreciate that homosexuals vote too is a compliment neither to the breadth of his social understanding nor to the quickness of his calculation.

But then the Hayden who here emerges would appear to be a poor choice for anyone’s comrade, having a deficiency inevitable to anyone who gives way to the illusion that nothing counts in politics more than voting blocs. An example, better thought out, is Hayden’s doctrine that, since the Black Panthers are the American Viet Cong in embryo, “they should not even be tried in the courts of the present US government”:

As prisoners of war, the Panthers should be freed not by higher courts but through negotiations coming about through public pressure…. Many whites cling to the concept of a “fair trial” for the Panthers because they do not want to accept fully the idea of self-determination for blacks. That means that they should examine the “facts” of Panther court cases before deciding to support the Panthers. But even such a paternalistic approach would still vindicate the Panthers…. But the most enlightened approach that a white could adopt towards the “facts” would be to dismiss them as irrelevant, as an internal matter of the black colony. [Trial, p. 126]

The Fact which Hayden is too tactful to mention is presumably the murder of Alex Rackley, a Panther, very probably by parties who were also Panthers and who had given way to the illusion that he was a police informer. Aside from the question—not raised by Hayden—of whether our society, some of whose official guardians murdered Fred Hampton, is the fittest to try the murderers of Alex Rackley, the point remains that each had a right to live equal to the other’s. To dismiss the death of Alex Rackley as “an internal matter of the black colony” is to sound rather too much like those policemen who so often act as though what one Negro does to another Negro is his own business.

The fact of Rackley seems terribly to have troubled Huey Newton and caused him to think about ends and means with a concern we hardly notice in Tom Hayden. It is a fact that the Panthers understand has to be faced; and those who seriously undertake to help them in their trouble ought to face it too. One does not lay one’s own ghosts by pointing to those left at large by one’s enemies. The Rackley murder is a fact and it is crucially necessary to attempt to judge its meaning: Panthers are being tried all over the country, and an element in the passion of their prosecutors weighing heavy with their judges is the assertion that the Panthers kill any person they suspect of informing against them. So long as we act as though the fate of Rackley were irrelevant, the less use to those defendants will be the substantial evidence that his death was an aberration and not a piece of general Panther policy.1

We can decide that a man is guilty as the law defines guilt, and still find reasons to give him all the help we can in his pain and danger. But what if he is innocent, even as the law defines innocence? How do we help him if we go on acting as though he were guilty and argue only that it is to be commended? Would any of the rest of us, innocent, put our case to a jury in such terms? If a man deserves anything, it is to be tried as what he is and not as his caricature.

Bobby Seale’s trial in New Haven would appear to be an occasion where it is particularly callous to describe the facts as “irrelevant.” It has been testified that Seale, presented with the prisoner Rackley, told the New Haven Panthers: “What do you do with a pig? Off him.” Hayden’s response to this allegation seems to be that its proof would make no difference in his revolutionary solidarity with Bobby Seale. But let us suppose that Seale never said any such thing, and that the witness against him lied, as seems altogether probable. Is that fact irrelevant when its establishment could mean the difference between Seale’s acquittal and an indefinite term in prison?2

Hayden is, of course, much too sensible to regard the facts of the case as irrelevant when the neck is his own Trial continually reminds us how careful he was as a defendant to refute the image of himself as an iron revolutionary which the state put forward for its purposes and which he himself so often indulges in situations less critical for him. He argued not the fantasy but the reality of his case—that he was victim and not avenger—and was as canny about his necessities as any defendant ought to be. There was, to be sure, much more truth in this portrait of himself than we have ever gotten before or have any grounds to hope we might get in the future.

Still Hayden does have an unfortunate habit of attributing the worst possible motives to anyone who disagrees with him; and although this posture does not excuse our taking the same one toward him, it is impossible to resist seeing him as a pretty devious fellow.

He did not appear as a witness for himself in the Chicago trial, but we are entitled to imagine how he might have performed that office when we read his December, 1968, testimony before the Internal Security Committee of the House of Representatives (formerly the House Committee on Un-American Activities).

  1. 1

    Some of the defendants in the New York Panther trial, for example, discovered that Roland Hayes, one of their companions, was an informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They extracted his confession without torture and then let him depart without reprisal.

  2. 2

    George Sams, the only witness against Seale, seems to have been disbelieved by the jury on matters no less substantial in the first trial of the New Haven Panthers. Hayden’s statement that the Panthers “should be freed not by higher courts but through negotiations coming about through public pressure” takes on a most sinister cast of indifference to comrades in trouble when we come upon his assessment of the practical uses of public pressure in Trial.

    During the Chicago conspiracy case, he tells us, “There was controversy because many people felt that we should not have gone ahead with the trial after the gagging and severance of Bobby.” But, he explains, “refusing to go ahead with the trial would have been symbolic because the trial would have continued anyway…we were powerless against that armed and ruthless machine. Only a massive political movement, which we have yet to build, could strike down Bobby’s contempt sentences and liberate him from prison.” The promise of the movement that will move through the streets, so meager when Hayden was in the dock, is thus swollen in the imagination when offered to Seale.

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