Tom Hayden
Tom Hayden; drawing by David Levine

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).

We can assume from this precedent that the manner would have been nobly defiant and the matter less nobly evasive. Frank Conley, counsel to the Committee on Un-American Activities, produced a letter, obtained by methods in keeping with its unsavory custom, which Hayden had written to a Colonel Lau, a member of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace negotiations.

“Mr. Hayden,” Conley asked, “one more question. The letter concludes with the word, ‘Victory.’ Am I to imply from that you are wishing victory to Colonel Lau and his people?”

“No,” Hayden answered. “When I say ‘victory’ I mean that the end of the war in Vietnam and the withdrawal of American troops would be the greatest victory possible for the people of Vietnam….”

And this was a tribunal before which Hayden was defending not his freedom, a cause excusing an extreme degree of artfulness, but his honor as an American radical.3

We look upon a case whose absorption with its own star has chased away the smallest concern for anyone else’s; and we ought not to be surprised that Trial fails so entirely as description. To Hayden an argument, whether as narrative or proposition, is something to assert, without need to demonstrate or define.

We hardly have the right to ask Hayden to go to prison for no better reason than to tell us in our comfort what it was like; and we cannot require of him sentences so unquenchable in spirit and precise in record as Bobby Seale’s: “To go to the bathroom with leg irons and handcuffs on is a motherfucker.” But Hayden’s fixed notion that vehemence is preferable to observation seems to be most of what serves him for moral conviction, and it disables him as a useful witness to the meaning of his experience. His mind seems to have become incapable of being fixed by any direct experience; what happens does not define itself upon him and he feels no impulse to define it for himself. Events need not be described with any concern for historical accuracy, having no use except to be offered for the argument in whatever version his point happens to dictate; and, if the point be different, his description of the event will casually contradict any that served before.

Thus, Hayden can describe the atmosphere of Judge Hoffman’s court:

Often [the spectators] were forced to leave when they broke the rules by gasping or laughing. For these “crimes” many of them were beaten. The thudding of fists and the screams of pain became part of the pattern of insanity. [Trial, p. 90]

But when he comes to deal with the injustice of the contempt citations he needs to correct the public fantasy of unbridled disorder. The savagery of the atmosphere, a pattern in the version appointed for one argument, is reduced to an occasional deviation in the version appointed for another:

The only physical violence that involved defendants occurred in connection with the chaining of Bobby Seale and the revocation of Dave Dellinger’s bail…. The other moments of violence—perhaps five in all—took place between marshalls and those spectators who could not adjust quickly enough to the totalitarian decorum of Judge Hoffman’s courtroom. [Trial, p. 62]4

At the very least, the experience of the last few years ought to have made Hayden a valuable witness to the operations of our criminal justice system. He has lived much of his life with policemen, they chasing and harrying and he most dexterously frustrating them. Yet none of these engagements has enabled him to leave us with the impression that he has so much as talked to a policeman; he is content to retail at second hand the judgments of a psychiatrist he does not bother even to identify. But then the way institutions operate just does not interest him; he has never hesitated when confronted by the choice between invective and critical examination; and this cast of minds leads this enemy of the system to sound surprisingly often as though, in his passion to blame some occupants, he has ended up acquitting the structure.

“From the very first moment of our arraignment,” he says, “we realized that our fates were to be decided by a madman, Judge Julius Hoffman.” [Trial, p. 50] If that definition suggests anything it is that Judge Hoffman is an accident. Now, you can say that a government which elevates a madman to the bench has sloppy standards, but you will not have an easy time thereafter accusing it of a coherent program, madmen being distinctly untrustworthy as implements of an orderly philosophy.

In the same vein we have this curiosity:

Police claim, often with the concurrence of liberals, that they were “provoked” by obscenity, long hair and occasional missiles hurled from the crowds. Police are supposed to be professionally trained to withstand provocation of all kinds. [Trial, p. 64]

The echo here is of the old and by no means unworthy liberal illusion that the police can, to some fundamental degree, be gentled with professional training. They can, to be sure, be inhibited by it. But they are an agency of force and, in crisis, of violence. Their occasions of restraint are achieved not by professional training but by the decision of their commanders that, in this case or that, their troops will be contained. Given free play, the best policemen act badly more often than not, which is why they are given free play on any large scale only when their employers discern some social utility in their acting badly.

The police are an instrument of prescribed social utility; and, given his judgment of this society, Hayden can hardly entertain the notion that it could or would even want to train its instruments to better behavior. Yet one is not at all sure that he doesn’t believe this. When he is abstract, he condemns the whole system; but, whenever he gets concrete, he heaps all the blame on somebody who works for it. For all his scorn of liberals, whenever he comes to detail, he draws closer to their assurance that the system would be markedly better if better people managed it. He sits between two ways of thinking, possessing the advantage of neither. The liberal has the softer heart; the scientific revolutionary the sharper eye. But, in poor Hayden, we hear the mechanical beat of what sounds like the revolutionary heart and we gaze into what seems all too suspiciously like the liberal eye.

McReynolds and Dellinger have clearly earned celebration of their virtues for reasons better than the absence of these virtues in Hayden; but such are the injustices his mythic presence enforces.

David McReynolds is an inconspicuous man who works for the War Resisters League. In 1968, “against my will and better judgment,” he was nominated to run for the Senate on the Peace and Freedom ticket with Eldridge Cleaver. There followed one of those factional quarrels too tedious to detail at whose climax the Black Panthers demanded that McReynolds withdraw in favor of Herman Ferguson, an educator between indictments.

I went to the BPP office to seek a solution. I found myself facing a handful of Panthers demanding my instant, on-the-spot withdrawal. There is a rumor that, in the course of that heated discussion, a gun threat was made. The rumor is true enough—one of the Panthers did make such a threat but was calmed down by the other Panthers present…. The Panthers left, without having gotten my withdrawal, and our committee went into session until midnight.

In the end, McReynolds yielded to Ferguson, because he felt, pacifist though he is, that “to run with Ferguson also running would tear apart the Black Panthers.” “Perhaps,” he decided afterward, “we failed the Panthers.” McReynolds offers this anecdote as prelude to some reflections on how Negroes and whites can function together in the politics of the left. These are sensible and balanced, but they could hardly be as striking as the manner in which the opening anecdote is related and assessed. Neither fantasy of alarm nor concern for the pretense that the front is united inhibits him in the telling; he will neither exaggerate nor diminish the incident; it is offered for no purpose except to assist him and us to judge the state of things. What happened to him is put exactly in its place. To recognize the difference of this bearing from our general experience with American radical reminiscence is to begin to understand how rare and valuable is the mere possession of a sense of proportion.

The autobiographies of American ex-Communists have always carried a heavier burden of apocalypse than European ex-Communists usually stoop to pick up. The lighter the lash the louder the sufferer. From 1917 until the end of the Fifties, the image of the Russian revolution, whether embraced or resisted, controlled radical thought in this country and was as damaging to the balance of the Communist who thought he was Budyenny as it was to the anti-Communist who thought he was Victor Serge. For neither sort did there exist the appropriate sense of his own time and place; and part of our grief over Hayden is owing to the memory of his appearance at a time when we seemed to have escaped Europe and to be about to make a new start. And yet, of all our mistakes, the one he particularly failed to notice and went on to make was our inability to put ourselves and our experiences into proportion.

Besides being a model of bearing, McReynolds is a splendid example of how the mind ought to be employed. The War Resisters League is both ancient and honorable; but, if its steady pacifism might be said to have a fault, it could be the temptation to sectarian nobility. McReynolds is a man possessing all the nobility and none of that air of moral superiority which is so thick a barrier to communication with infidels. He will walk a while with anyone, and he can endure disappointments with the common sense and ordinary decency of other people that would drive the rest of us into withdrawal or frenzy.

He stayed with the American Socialist Party long after Max Schachtman had so infected it with his Johnsonian periods as to make it the only school in America that can take someone young and turn his mind into an exact replica of every resolution passed at the 1948 AFL-CIO convention. He suffered Schachtman with extraordinary patience and finally gave up the Socialist Party in sorrow—he was leaving his family—and with less bitterness than he was entitled to by the reflection that he had worked with radicals for twenty years and that Schachtman’s pupils were the first who had ever attacked him for the fact of his homosexuality.

Now he is a man without party; yet one sees him more than ever at meetings of the most disparate causes, standing in the rear usually, a spectral figure, speaking only to suggest how something modest might be done and taking on the chore of doing it.

The first and longest section of his book is an effort to understand what has happened to America since he began his life as a radical. He senses that there have been changes, both social and technological, not just unabsorbed but hardly recognized by conventional thought. He knows he has to understand that change while yielding no principle to it; if no one else can tell him, he will try, in all modesty, to find out for himself; he feels, in other words, a revolutionary duty to describe. His is the first book by an American radical which makes that attempt, which appreciates that events have overturned Karl Marx’s dictum that the philosophers have described the world and now it is up to us only to change it. Now something has changed the world and it is up to us to describe it.

Once we feel that condition, it becomes a social duty and not mere pedantry to call to account Tom Hayden’s description or anyone else’s. What we must have is what David McReynolds so clearly is—persons who can be believed.

David Dellinger is the legatee of A. J. Muste’s leadership of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; the pieces he reprints here extend back to 1943, beginning with his statement when he entered prison as a pacifist resisting the Second World War. There have always been persons who assailed him with objections to his belief in the efficacy of nonviolence and he appears to doubt it now as much as he ever has. And yet, he stands by it still and with entire absence of vanity about the virtue of the long endurance of his principles.

Dellinger has little to say about the Chicago trial beyond closing with his own last speech to Judge Hoffman; it is as though the thing had been for him only a few months on the job. His feelings of failure appear often enough; but they are unusual for a political man because they seem to touch him more when he has lost a soul than when he has lost an enterprise. His life sounds like a protracted, quiet, undiminishingly affectionate argument with those of the young who strain against his pacifism.

His conduct in Chicago earned him wider notice and trust from the young radicals than he has ever had; but, if it is the largest constituency in his life, it is also the most volatile, the most subject to bursting forth in directions that alarm him. Dellinger contributes a long essay to this quarter’s Liberation magazine, of which he is an editor; its subject, as is usual, is violence.

External repression and police brutality join with our own sense of frustration and failure to generate enormous pressures to succumb to our own worst instincts. We tend to limit our openness to criticism, our love and honesty, to our own group of correct revolutionaries…who knows how many will be trampled by whom and with what outcome?

And yet, as he moves through contempt for those who cheer them on, he cannot withhold his affection from those who undertake a battle he thinks is wrong and is sure will destroy them. His reflections turn to two Brandeis students who have been indicted for bank robbery and murder in Boston:

Kathy and Susan were active members of the National Student Strike Information Center at Brandeis…. I attended several meetings with Kathy…. I also had private conversations with Kathy and Susan, both personally and on the phone. I did not get to know them as well as I knew Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Jones and Bill Ayres and therefore did not come to love them as I loved the three Weather-people.5

You come back from this expression of sorrow without rancor, sympathy without blame, to read Tom Hayden on the same subject:

Weatherman violence was dictated not so much by a situation as by an ideology…. They were alienated from their own roots…. The cultural revolution among youth was to them mere pig privilege. They were not guerrillas swimming like fish among the people; they were more like commandoes, fifth columnists operating behind enemy lines. Eventually this logic would lead to their glorification of the media image of Charles Manson—a cool, totally alienated killer—as perhaps the best “model” for white youth. They were not the conscience of their generation, but more like its id. [Trial, p. 94]

Sound enough, as judgments go. Rigorously unsentimental, as has always been and seems here to remain the rule for serious revolutionaries. Still these had been friends of Hayden’s. It is perhaps useless to think sad thoughts about the lost; and it is in any case impossible if you do not lie awake at night yourself and think that you too might be lost, not strayed so far as some, but lost all the same.

This Issue

January 7, 1971