The Other 9/11

Time to rub your nose in it.


The other 9/11 was the coup in Chile, 1973, and the United States was deeply involved, to the extent that it makes Vladimir Putin look like a piker with his interventions. Putin’s cynicism, alas, has some justification: If you’re sufficiently powerful — if you’re the winner — war crimes go unpunished. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger (among others) should have ended in prison.

This video is from a Canadian video series Rare Earth, hosted by Evan Hadfield who happens to be the son of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield… you know, the cat who sang David Bowie songs from the International Space Station. The series is a real mixed bag in terms of quality, the main problem being that Evan Hadfield imagines himself to be an essayist in the same league as Ian Brown of CBC Sunday Morning fame. Sometimes that’s even true. That’s approximately a complement, by the way. When it’s not true, the pain is eased by the work of Rare Earth’s videographer, Francesco Petitti.

For those inclined to separate Pinochetism and Nazism, there are organic links, including to the sort of Evangelicalism fuelling the religious right here in the States:

The coup in Chile had repercussions and consequences far beyond that country, far beyond the South American continent; some would argue it changed the world. Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine makes a convincing case:

I do believe Klein’s documentary ends on far too optimistic a note. We chant “The people united will never be defeated” as we consistently get our asses kicked, when in fact “There ain’t no power like the power of the dollars and the power of the dollars don’t stop!” I would call for revolution but the 20th Century experience has been that revolutions change far less than advertised. In a strange sort of way, that may be the main justification for optimism.

Well, one way or another, a change is gonna come. Even if it’s only the mass extinction of the anthropocene.

Design with Nature

a review by Bob Roman

How could I resist:

“The world is a glorious bounty. There is more food than can be eaten if we would limit our numbers to those who can be cherished, there are more beautiful girls than can be dreamed of, more children than we can love, more laughter than can be endured, more wisdom than can be absorbed. Canvas and pigments lie in wait, stone, wood and metal are ready for sculpture, random noise is latent for symphonies, sites are gravid for cities, institutions lie in the wings ready to solve our most intractable problems, parables of moving power remain unformulated and yet, the world is finally unknowable.

“How can we reap this bounty? This book is a modest inquiry into this subject.”

Thus begins Ian McHarg’s classic introduction to ecological planning, Design with Nature (1969).

Back in July of 2018, I wrote a brief post remembering the extraordinary early PBS television program The Great American Dream Machine. In that post, I mentioned an earlier, pre-PBS program, Public Broadcast Laboratory. Both of these programs had a big influence on my values and my politics. In particular, one Public Broadcast Laboratory episode included an hour-long documentary directed by Austin Hoyt based on landscape architect Ian McHarg’s book, Design with Nature. That episode, “Multiply and Subdue the Earth,” was my introduction to Ian McHarg, and I was hugely impressed.

I’ve only been able to find one complete episode of Public Broadcast Laboratory and a partial episode: “Multiply and Subdue the Earth,” the McHarg documentary, both on YouTube.

“Multiply and Subdue the Earth” is below. It is of only adequate quality; you won’t gain anything by putting YouTube in full screen mode. And it’s grey-scale when the original film (and TV program) was color. Around the turn of the century, this documentary was still available for rental from a division of Indiana University, VHS format, but the folks who had done the transfer from film had waited too long. The color dyes were becoming distinctly magenta. Grey-scale may thus be a mercy. (Copies of Public Broadcast Laboratory episodes are also held at the Library of Congress and WGBH in Boston and possibly elsewhere. It may be that a fair copy exists or could be cobbled together.)

How do the documentary and the book hold up? Watch it yourself; the hour is well worth it:

The documentary is in large part a summary of McHarg’s book, but it begins where McHarg ends: with Dr. John Calhoun, another mostly forgotten yet influential thinker of the mid-20th Century. Dr. Calhoun was obsessed with population studies for various rodent species. He would set up rodent utopias where the population was supplied with as much food and water as needed, with no restrictions on breeding. Things would go well until population densities would reach a tipping point. Then rodent society, such as it is, would begin to break down and, even though they were supplied with adequate food and water, the population would collapse: rodent apocalypse!

This dovetailed very nicely with Paul Erhlich’s Population Bomb (1968) over-population argument because the reply to Erhlich and cassandras like him was that technology would save our asses: one way or another food and water and other necessities would be obtained or invented, especially with greed as the motivator. Calhoun’s experiments suggested that utopia, be it capitalist or socialist, would not suffice. You’ll note that in the documentary, much of Calhoun’s list of rodent social dysfunction address the insecurities of the time: gender definition, clockwork orange violent crime, aimless hedonism and sexuality, social isolation. That alone should raise some warning flags regarding the research.

Well, we pretty much know how to cure cancer in mice; it’s been studied so well and so often and for so long. But humans are not mice. While I’m not a scholar and so can’t provide the cites (I recall that back in the 1970s there was an article about this in Scientific American), I do know that others were motivated by Calhoun’s work to study population densities in other species. Other species don’t all react as rodents do and even rodents have coping strategies when the means are available to them.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was also common to associate population growth with poverty. This was reasonable enough when one considered the condition of the Indian subcontinent and of China at the time. Subsequent experience and research shows that capitalism benefits from expanding population and doesn’t deal well with declines — capitalism is expand or die, after all. On the other hand, it does not follow that expansion can continue indefinitely.

Calhoun also inspired at least two major works of fiction. One is said to be Robert O’Brien’s award-winning Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) that later became a nicely done animated feature movie. If I have doubts, it is mainly because O’Brien’s book postulates NIMH experiments boosting the intelligence of rats and mice (genetic engineering, circa 1971!) and because Calhoun was hardly the only person at the Institute doing research with rats.

The other book is John Brunner’s 1967 classic novel, Stand on Zanzibar. Brunner’s novel takes Calhoun seriously and applies a straight-line projection of the trends as would be expected from Calhoun’s experiments. I’ve mentioned Brunner’s novel twice before on this blog and this post is supposed to be about Ian McHarg not John Calhoun not John Brunner; however, McHarg did facilitate a study of health in Philadelphia that suggested some degree of negative correlation between the density of population and good health, supporting Calhoun’s thesis. This was not in the documentary, but an account of methodology and findings is in McHarg’s book.

Design with Nature is an education about ecology (which is not just biology) and its use in planning with case studies encompassing a wide variety of landscapes, including urban and suburban environments, and a discussion of philosophy. If you can find a hard cover, coffee table edition, you should prefer that larger format as the book is lavishly illustrated and the graphics are not just pretty but also a vital part of the content.

For a democratic socialists such as myself, the thunderclap was not so much McHarg’s distaste for market forces and his embrace of planning, but that he was able to provide a coherent and workable methodology of just how planning could be done. Furthermore, it is a methodology that can be computerized, although in 1968, that was aspirational rather than practical.

McHarg contends land-use decisions cannot be left entirely to the market, whatever “market” means. As McHarg put it:

The economists… ask with the most barefaced effrontery that we accommodate our value system to theirs. Neither love nor compassion, health nor beauty, dignity nor freedom, grace nor delight are important unless they can be priced. If they are non-price benefits or costs, they are relegated to inconsequence. The economic model proceeds inexorably towards its self-fulfillment of more and more despoliation, uglification and inhibition to life, all in the name of progress — yet, paradoxically, the components which the model excludes are the most important human ambitions and accomplishments and the requirements for survival. (Page 25)

If the market, left to itself, leads to “despoliation, uglification and inhibition of life,” the environmental record of planning under soviet-style “real existing socialism” is catastrophically worse. McHarg doesn’t touch that subject at all though there were surely inklings trickling out from behind the “iron curtain.” But McHarg does insist on another necessary dimension: values. Here, McHarg places the blame on the “great western religions born of monotheism,” hence the title of the documentary, “Multiply and Subdue the Earth.” Considering that other cultures, including the avowedly atheist soviet socialism, have done as poorly if not worse, this strikes me as being a bit of false determinism born of personal grievance: something connected with McHarg’s father, I would speculate after having read McHarg’s memoir, A Quest for Life. Still, a belief “that man and nature are indivisible, and that survival and health are contingent upon an understanding of nature and her processes” (page 27) seems to be necessary.

One thing that is not discussed in the book is how this planning might be institutionalized. The documentary suggests that land-use planning be moved from the local level to the state, using Hawaii as an example. In the movie, at least, McHarg endorses the idea. I’m not sure. Hawaii, after all, is a geographically small state. It could be a useful move, but consider the sometimes willful, pigheaded misunderstanding of things like environmental impact statements (not a requirement of local zoning but of state or federal) and how easily such requirements can be portrayed as “elite” outsiders dictating to the detriment of local residents: Perhaps a multilevel governmental approach would be better, though the division of responsibilities and appeals would need to be thought out better than my vague observation.

In retrospect, McHarg was entirely too optimistic about the weight of science in the process. The evidence, even the science, can always be argued over. Regulations that describe process and decision-making are hard to write without self-subversive ambiguity or without stultifying rigidity or without being an exercise in well-intentioned futility. (Regarding the last, McHarg was totally contemptuous of strip-mining regulations that required companies to restore the land “to its original contours.” What the hell does that mean?) There is also the issue of people using the process for ends alien to its intent: gaming the system. Whether it be Not In My Back Yard fanaticism or “paid troublemakers,” this aspect is pretty well an assumed motive by those afflicted with the pathological cynicism of our times.

The law — or more specifically the courts — is also a difficulty in the United States. According to McHarg’s memoir, A Quest for Life, he was aware of the difficulties involved in the “takings” aspect of constitutional law. It appears that he underestimated the difficulties there, as well. The U.S. Supreme Court has been eager to require governments to pay for any inconvenience imposed on landowners, even when said inconvenience would pay dividends by avoiding predictable disaster, like not building on a primary dune along the seashore or in a floodplain of a river — never mind that in building so, the developer is “taking” from future owners of that property, the government (disaster rescue and recovery) and the surrounding community. If it can’t be priced, it doesn’t exist, and most courts are committed to advancing a libertarian agenda whenever they can get away with it.

It is a pity: McHarg had long ago grown weary of arguing aesthetics with his clients. Designing with nature is intended to not only be beautiful but also to save money by minimizing costs of construction and maintenance,  while delivering beauty and continuing productivity — the substance behind that happy happy buzz word “sustainability”. That approach is also a clue as to how this might be integrated into a social democratic version of capitalism — though, granted, it is not clear that such a version of capitalism is itself genuinely sustainable as social democracy.

2019 will be 50 years since both the publication and the documentary. It’s really past time that we touch base with what may be last hopeful moment in our history. You can start by watching the documentary and by reading the book. Remember, it is entirely possible to profitably hunt a species to extinction (it’s been done), and likewise we have a grand opportunity in the next several decades to demonstrate that it is entirely possible to profitably breed and consume ourselves to the same end.

Post Script: For an example of fairly extreme human crowding, consider Hong Kong:

The Battle of Blair Mountain

2018 is the 97th anniversary of a major revolt, right here in the U.S.A. Never heard of it? Put on your headphones and turn it up to 11:

There’s actually quite a bit of information available on the web about this revolt, and it has even made its way into popular entertainment. For more information, I’d suggest starting with:

As I said, there’s a lot out there. Search YouTube in particular if you’re interested.


Chicago Health Planning

a forgotten step toward socialized medicine in 1975

These two articles were originally published in The Illinois Socialist in March, 1976, and May, 1976, respectively. The Illinois Socialist was the publication of the Chicago Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, one of the predecessor organizations to Chicago Democratic Socialists of America.


Chicago Health Planning

by Bob Roman

The United States moved one step closer to socialized medicine early in 1975 when President Ford signed the Health Planning and Resources Development Act. This act establishes public planning institutions in the health care industry. Unlike earlier legislation, these new planning bodies have the teeth to enforce their decisions.

Illinois Health Systems Areas
HSA areas in Illinois 1975

The incisors of this act are the 200 local planning bodies known as Health Systems Agencies (HSA). The areas covered by each HSA were mapped out by the Governor of each state within certain demographic and administrative guidelines specified in the legislation. Illinois has eleven HSAs, including two that span state lines to encompass entire metropolitan areas.

HSAs, by law, have the power to: gather and analyze data; establish health system plans and annual implementation plans; provide technical or limited financial assistance to organizations seeking to implement the plans; coordinate activities with Professional Standards Review Organizations and other planning and regulatory bodies; review and approve or disapprove applications for Federal funds for health programs within the health systems area; annually recommend to the state projects for modernizing, constructing and converting health facilities in the area; as well as assisting the state in reviewing proposed capital expenditures and the need for new and existing health services in the area. Obviously this new planning institution will have a major say in the distribution of health care facilities.

An HSA can have one of three possible structures. It may be a public regional planning body. It may be a non-profit corporation. Or it may be a single unit of local government. Regardless of the structure chosen, between 50 and 60 percent of the HSA’s governing board must be consumer representatives. The remainder must be physicians and other health professionals, representatives of health care institutions (including HMOs), insurers, professional schools, and other allied professions.

Thus far the planning process may seem a little remote from the people, but a single paragraph in the law allows, but does not require, HSAs to establish Subarea Councils to advise them on community needs, planning, and the composition of the HSA governing board. These Subarea Councils are potentially a key arena for public participation in health planning.

The act also sets up new structures on a state level. The state is required to have a state planning agency which meets various Federal requirements. This agency more or less serves as the administrative arm of the State Health coordinating Council (SHCC). At least 60% of the SHCC membership is nominated by the HSAs in the state. Planning on the state level is seen mostly as the integration of each HSA’s annual health systems plans. The state planning agency and the SHCC do conduct reviews determining the need for new institutional health services, the need for existing institutional health services, and the need for all major capital expenditures by institutional health services. They are, however, expected to follow the HSAs’ health systems advice and plans in these reviews.

This is by no means a complete description of the new institutions set up by the act and the relations between them. But even from this limited description, it’s quickly apparent that the HSAs are potentially more powerful that the state government in the field of health planning.

The boundaries of the Health Systems area that includes Chicago includes only Chicago. (Do you wonder why?) There are two applications for the status of HSA in metropolitan Chicago. One is from the city itself. The other is a joint application from two groups active in health planning under previous Federal legislation, Comprehensive Health Planning Inc and the Chicago Community Health Planning Coalition (CHP-CCHPC).

Should the City of Chicago become an HSA, the HSA’s governing board would technically be the City Council. The responsibility for health planning, however, would fall on a commission appointed by Mayor Daley: the Commission for Health Planning and Resource Development.

The composition of the commission must follow the same legal requirements for consumer, professional and health care industry representation as other HSA governing bodies. But even within these legal requirements, the appointments to the Commission follow a pattern well established by other Chicago boards and planning commissions, even to the inclusion of the ever present William Lee, President of the CFL. Other interesting appointments include the fast-rising Alderman Bilandic, Alderman Wilson Frost, 1st Ward Committeewoman Lucia Gutierrez, Patrick A. Murphy, Grace Slattery, Alderman Bennet Stewart, and Robert Vanecko.

As might be expected, the City’s proposal is highly centralized. The only provision for public involvement in planning is a vague scheme for the establishment of an “Advisory Council Network” which will participate in “the decision making process through methods being developed by the Commission which may involve task forces, systematic plan hearings and ad hoc committees at such or/and suitable techniques.” The true nature of this “network” is illustrated by its inclusion under the program area “Community Education” in the City’s work program.

One reason socialists favor planning and control of investment is it allows other values than those of the market place to be considered. But in doing so, it shifts the balance of power in favor of those doing the planning. This is why we insist the planning process be democratic and open to public participation.

The Machine is well aware of this second factor. City, and therefore Machine control of the HSA will firmly cement the health care industry into the corporate structure that supports the Machine. The potential power that the HSA will wield will discourage any nonsupport or opposition, and what corporate institution will want to if the usual state of Chicago nonplanning rules the field.

The CHP-CCHPC application is a complete contrast to the City’s proposal. While the institutional form is a non-profit corporation, the commitment is to public participation in planning. Consequently, the Subarea Councils are given a prominent role.

Chicago is demographically divided up into six Subareas. There are three regional offices serving each two Subareas. The Subarea Councils are given a specific role to play, including the nomination of HSA board members, the review of health systems plans and the formulation of local plans.

The CHP-CCHP application is also more specific and more comprehensive in the range of planning proposed that the City’s. Among the areas to be considered are recreation, population, water supply, housing, sanitation services, and environmental pollution. The HSA will also publish an annual Health Status of Chicagoans report. Considering the scope of the planning, this report has potential for an advocacy role in related but not strictly health care fields.

The whole issue of who will be the HSA will be decided by the Secretary of HEW, David Mathews. In deciding, the Secretary must give major consideration to the opinions of the Governor. The Walker Administration’s response has been to approve neither of the applications and to propose that the decision be put off from April to July while the two parties work out a single compromise application.

The reasons for this move are left to your speculation. The result, however, is to pretty well insure the domination of the planning process by the health care industry and Daley’s political mafia.

Chicago Wins HSA Funds

by Bob Roman

The City of Chicago’s application for the status of Health systems Agency has been given conditional approval over the Chicago Community Health Planning Coalition – Comprehensive health Planning Coalition application. This gives the City, and consequently the Regular Democratic Organization, control over Federal health planning funds and a good deal of influence in the health care industry in Chicago.

The official rationalization is that while both applications were “approvable,” the city’s was clearly superior in fulfilling the requirements of the Federal regulations implementing the National Health Planning and Resource Development Act. The Walker Administration’s recommendation that the decision be postponed while the two applicants combine applications was dismissed as the obvious absurdity it was.

If a rationalization is to be any good, it must have some connection with reality. Filing an application for a Federal grant is a bit like answering a rather long and involved essay question with specific requirements for information. The lower levels of the Federal bureaucracy check (among other things) to see if the required information is present. The City of Chicago paid a top-notch consulting firm an arm and a leg to prepare the application, so it is hardly surprising that City application was “better”.

Even given this, it does not mean that the decision was not political. Regulations can be bent a good deal. They were bent a good deal when the HSA boundaries were drawn for Illinois. All it took was a little pressure from the Chicago Congressional delegation.

But the hot potato has not yet come to rest. There are at least two suits filed in Federal District Court concerning HSA boundaries, particularly concerning the rump status of suburban Cook County. And conservatives in the medical profession are mounting a campaign to abolish the whole HSA system. The issue promises to continue smoldering.

Post Script

Not too many people remember that the United States actually came fairly close to having a national health insurance system (aka Single-Payer) in the early 1970s. President Richard Nixon had even made a counter proposal of something closely resembling what we now know as “Obamacare”. The irony is monumental from a lefty perspective though I expect conservatives can find plenty of ways to rationalize it. It’s only human.

The lack of consensus on competing proposals, the Watergate scandal and all the usual nonsense meant the moment passed and was forgotten. Except that one aspect of a national health system, public planning, did make it through the U.S. House and Senate and was actually signed by President Ford. I think it’s worth remembering this brief experiment in social democracy.

So these two articles dealt with the competition for just what entity was going to be doing that planning in Chicago. If I were to advise my younger self, I’d suggest easing up on the cheap cynicism regarding the old Democratic Machine, not because it was wrong so much as because it confuses issues regarding making planning to some degree both democratic and transparent.

I don’t know how the national planning mechanism came to an end (Carter killed it, probably), but some of the entities set up by the State of Illinois for health care planning on the state level are still in business. Health Systems Agencies are history, as is the old Democratic Machine.

Bayard and Me

The story of Bayard Rustin and Walter Naegle.

Bayard Rustin has gotten a great deal of posthumous love and, IMHO, he deserves it. After all, this is someone who played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, almost entirely behind the scenes. And he was restricted to that role only because he was gay. This short video memoir by the love of Rustin’s life, Walter Naegle, compliments that aspect of Rustin’s life.

Rustin was a rather more complicated character, however, and many of us lefties regarded his later career as being something of a sell-out. But, like Rustin himself, it’s complicated.

If you’re interested in learning more about Bayard Rustin, I’d recommend John D’emilio’s biography Lost Prophet. You can also listen to a 35 minute interview with author D’emilio on Rustin on Episode 14 (March 10, 2012) of Chicago DSA’s Talkin’ Socialism:


Bad Moon Rising

a review by Bob Roman

Bad Moon Rising: How the Weather Underground Beat the FBI and Lost the Revolution by Arthur M. Eckstein. Yale University Press, 2016. 352 pages. $35.

The 1960s and 70s were a radical time in U.S. history, a time that make today’s political divisiveness and culture wars seem relatively mild and civil. In 1971, Scanlan’s Monthly, expanding on the work of Congressional committees, counted several thousand acts of bombings, arson, and other assorted political mayhem in the course of a year. There is reason to believe this catalog did not capture everything nor was the violence done only by lefties. Apart from almost routine police violence directed at the left, there were white citizen councils (often with state financing, most notably in Mississippi), militias and vigilantes (individuals and groups) instigating violence against the left or replying in kind. But the “long hot summers” of urban disorders (“riots” they were called but often had the characteristics of insurrections), the decay of the military in Vietnam (drug use, fragging, refusal of orders) had President Nixon in high anxiety. Portions of the left agreed that a revolutionary, or at least an insurrectionary uprising was in the works and desirable.

Bad Moon Rising deals with one of the more notorious (and for some, romantic) left-wing terrorist groups, the Weather Underground. The Weather Underground, aka “Weathermen”, began as a Marxist-Leninist faction of what had been an old left, social democratic student group, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Since World War I, SDS had been the youth group of the League for Industrial Democracy (under the brand “Student League for Industrial Democracy”), a group that ideologically owed as much or more to John Dewey as to Karl Marx. Separating from the League over the League’s obsessive anti-communism, the SDS caught the winds of the anti-Vietnam War movement and the civil rights movement. It rapidly expanded from a few hundred members to well over 100,000 members (and at that point they pretty much stopped counting) while remaining overwhelmingly a campus-based organization. By 1968, the national organization and many of the larger chapters had become battlegrounds for multiple Marxist-Leninist groups, leading to the infamous 1969 SDS national convention in Chicago’s old Colosseum. The organization split into three main factions plus a multitude of disaffiliated local chapters that quickly disappeared. One of the factions became the Weathermen. Arthur Eckstein explains this history in a bit more detail, but if you’re interested in how an organization of several hundred members in 1960 grew to over a hundred thousand in less than a decade, you’ll probably want to find a copy of Kirkpatrick Sale’s excellent organizational history, SDS, though there are other works that will provide more context.

Eckstein’s book is a bit more about the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) than the Weather Underground. Eckstein took advantage newly available FBI documents as well as doing interviews with many of the principle members of the Weathermen. He was unable to interview many of the FBI agents as, being a generation older than the Weathermen, most of them were dead. Some of the Weathermen were also unavailable, notably two of the top leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Eckstein’s own political history may well have set off alarms for Ayers and Dohrn as Eckstein went through a conservative anti-communist phase during which he wrote a half dozen articles for David Horowitz’s Frontpage, mostly dealing with examples of left-wing hypocrisy. That alone would be enough probably. But as Ayers’ two political memoirs, Fugitive Days and Public Enemy, have been critiqued as being factually challenged in places (Faulty memory, pled Ayers; it’s a memoir not a history.), the request must have seemed like a prelude to a set-up.

Is there anything new here? Not being a scholar, I can only say that there are things that were new to me. The book’s stereoscopic view – the FBI and the Weathermen – makes for an interesting read. With regard to the FBI, I suspect what’s new is mostly detail. Every lefty knows the FBI’s founding director, J. Edgar Hoover, was a bastard who was willing to break the law for political ends, but he was a canny bastard who always kept in mind the potential political consequences of getting caught at anything less than legal. He had been burned by the bad optics resulting from botched Palmer Raids in the 1920s. For that reason, he preferred that his agents have some plausible legal cover and he was perfectly happy to sabotage some of Nixon’s schemes, especially when they potentially undermined his control of the FBI. Nixon’s replacement FBI Director upon Hoover’s death, L. Patrick Gray, was every bit as much a bastard, but he was also a careless idiot, perfectly willing to demand illegalities from his staff while leaving them to decide the specifics and providing them with no cover for doing so. Two FBI agents ended up on trial, convicted then pardoned by President Reagan. Likewise, while FBI agents could find no evidence of foreign support for the Weathermen (indeed, representatives from Vietnam and Cuba advised the Weathermen against violence and in favor of above ground demonstrations and political pressure), Nixon was never convinced. The closer one got to Nixon’s White House, the more delusional the image of the Weathermen became.

While the FBI had hundreds of “informants” in the SDS (including 198 “informants” who were delegates to the 1969 convention and advised by the FBI to vote for the Weathermen), they only succeeded in placing two in the Weathermen. One was Larry Grathwohl. (In Public Enemy, Ayers denies Grathwohl was a member.) The FBI prematurely blew his cover to arrest two New York members in 1970. The other hasn’t been identified, but the second never did as much for the FBI, apparently. Despite the leadership being on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list, the FBI never succeeded in arresting any of the Weather Underground until after Dohrn and Ayers were ousted from leadership. They ran a tight ship.

While it isn’t new, Eckstein takes some pains to point out there is something of a “party line” regarding the history of the Weather Underground. According to that version of history, from the time the organization went underground to the infamous New York townhouse bomb factory explosion, there was the intent to “bring the war home” to America with violence. Even so, the New York cell’s plan for bombing a USO dance with a powerful anti-personnel explosive was a rogue operation, unknown to the central leadership. In the wake of that self-inflicted disaster at the townhouse, a national meeting was held in Mendocino, California, where violence against people was rejected. Eckstein contends that the New York cell was hardly a rogue operation; the Weather Underground was too tightly controlled for that to be plausible. Mark Rudd’s memoir Underground, among other accounts, supports this. (Rudd knew about the plan, but then, he was also in New York; he’s a bit ambiguous as to how much others knew.)

Whatever: Subsequent bombings done while Ayers and Dohrn were in leadership were property-directed as a form of political commentary. It’s also apparent that not every Weatherman was happy about this restriction; Dohrn and Ayers were ultimately given the boot by their own comrades who then changed that policy. After that, things went downhill for the Weather Underground. The incompetent and violent new leadership, under Clayton van Lydegraf, were rounded up and sent to prison by 1977.

It’s notable that until then, in Eckstein’s words, “the FBI never permanently caught a single major Weatherman figure, or stopped a single bombing. In part that was because of FBI clumsiness, in part because the Weathermen were very careful – and in part because they did not do all that much.” (p 237) It’s also worth noting that as individual Weathermen surfaced, very little punishment was meted out, even though many of the charges were serious, because generally what evidence the FBI had had been gathered illegally.

(The one Weather Underground action that I approved of at the time was their bombing of the Haymarket police statue that then stood in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. But that’s another story. And in any case, it’s not as if the Weathermen would have cared had they known.)

It is interesting that Eckstein regards the Mendocino meeting as one of those historically unknown events of major consequence. Had the Weathermen continued a course of violence against persons rather than property, Eckstein feels that Nixon was just crazy enough to drop “any pretense of adhering to judicial or legal constraint”, perhaps implementing Hoover’s little list of 11,000 lefties who wouldn’t be missed. We’ll never know, thankfully. But it does have some plausibility. The FBI initially gave the Weathermen far more credit than they deserved. For a while, the FBI labelled most left-wing violence as “Weathermen”. And there was a lot of it. Ultimately the FBI settled down in their assessments, but the Nixon White House never did.

This is outside the scope of Eckstein’s work, but around the turn of the millennium, there was a sudden nostalgia about the 1960s on many college campuses: long hair, drugs, anarchist politics and even the SDS, which was refounded at the University of Chicago in 2006. The “New SDS” enjoyed a brief “new kid on the block” prosperity of interest that quickly faded. It still staggers on as an all volunteer organization with a dozen or so campus chapters.

As the nostalgia crystallized into the new organization, old SDS leaders, mostly old Weathermen, got a lot of love. Maybe it’s because the anarchist and the Marxist left share with conservatism a view that government is inevitably oppressive; oppression is part of its DNA. So, these old Weathermen: They opposed the State in the name of peace and justice and got away with it! Role models! Heroism!

For my part, I think we deserve an apology instead. Bill Ayers supplied a clever one, designed to irritate his enemies. He’s “sorry we didn’t do more.” More what? Right-wing commentators had a field day with that, but it’s not as if Ayers had any intention of apologizing to them. Can’t say that I blame him. What democratic socialists should think of it, I’m not sure. I’ve read both his memoirs, and I have a feeling maybe Ayers isn’t sure either. He’s clearly not willing to discard those years, but much of his work in the decades since resembles the fruit of John Dewey social democracy, things that, for the most part, the original SDS would have been comfortable with.

Mark Rudd, in his memoir Underground, is less coy in his apology:

“…Much of what the Weathermen did had the opposite effect of what we intended. We deorganized SDS while we claimed we were making it stronger; we isolated ourselves from our friends and allies as we helped split the larger antiwar movement around the issue of violence. In general, we played into the hands of the FBI – our sworn enemies. We might as well have been on their payroll. As if all this weren’t enough, three of my friends died in an accidental explosion while assembling bombs. This is not a heroic story; if anything, it’s antiheroic.” (page ix)

It’s difficult to imagine the U.S. political landscape if elements of the communist left had not deliberately destroyed SDS. An organization the size of 1969 SDS could have been a significant player in national politics. Imagine the New American Movement (founded by refugees from SDS, NAM was one of the predecessor organizations to today’s Democratic Socialists of America) starting out with over 100,000 members. Yet if Revolutionary Youth Movement I, Revolutionary Youth Movement II, National Labor Committee, Progressive Labor Party, et. al. hadn’t done in SDS, J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO program (remember those 198 FBI delegates to the SDS convention?) may have destroyed it instead.

Maybe one of the main points to take from Eckstein’s work is that insurrectionary (let’s beg the question of what constitutes “revolutionary”) politics suck. For all the organization, solidarity and cleverness that going underground demanded, the Weather Underground accomplished nothing much of any consequence. In contrast, the damage it did to its members and members’ families and the rest of the left was considerable. This is not a route to take if you can avoid it.

And what of today? In the wake of the Bernie Sanders campaign and most especially in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as President, the Democratic Socialists of America has ballooned from about 6,000 members to somewhere north of 30,000. Will it pop like SDS? History never quite repeats itself. Instead of the grim coalition of bomb-throwing wanna-be Maoists that wrecked SDS, if DSA is wrecked, it would more likely be done by a motley rabble of anarchists and Trotskyists who, instead of bombs create molehills to kick over using social media character assassination well practised since high school. Mean girls of the world, unite! To be fair, these are techniques as old as politics but made accessible to all by social media and the web. Should this happen, its manifestation may very well not be a “split” but simply a rapid deflation of disgust and disappointment. None of this is inevitable, nonetheless: Those not ignorant of history might not avoid repeating it, but at least they will not be surprised by it.

Oh yes. What’s this “Bad Moon Rising” business? It turns out that cheery Creedence Clearwater Revival tune with such grim lyrics was something of an anthem for the Weather Underground. Song author John Fogarty was not impressed, according to Eckstein. But here’s a cover by Battlefield Band, better than the original IMHO.

The Waldheim Cemetery

The Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, is where the martyrs of Chicago’s Haymarket Affair are buried. Over the decades, I’ve been out to the martyrs’ monument several times, but May 1st has generally found me submerged in the details of an annual fundraising dinner in addition to the usual all else. Now I’m retired, so this last April 26, I took the CTA Blue Line to its Forest Park end and walked the few blocks south to the cemetery.

The day had a really wonderful light and, away from Lake Michigan, it was actually warm. It was, unfortunately, a day in which I never really awakened so my efforts to locate everyone I wished to visit were not all that successful.

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The Haymarket Martyrs’ monument (center) in the Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman.

The monument is owned by the Illinois Labor History Society. They were not the original owners and, yes, there is an interesting story about how it came to be their responsibility. I don’t recall the story well enough to relate it, but it’s worth noting that a contribution to the Society does help with the monument’s upkeep.

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Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument. Photo by Roman.
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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, decoration. Photo by Roman.

Note the offerings: I’m mystified about the coins and rocks, but the buttons make sense. Also note the anarchist graffito. Relations between the Illinois Labor History Society and various self-styled anarchists have been a bit tense over the years. The anarchists are happy to be disgruntled about the Society’s liberal and social democratic and labor and socialist and communist connections — bourgeois state-ists! — and that the National Park Service gave the site official recognition. Recognition of anarchists by the state?! The state that killed them?!!

The traffic at the monument is not huge but there is a constant trickle. While I was there, a women stopped by driving an SUV. She toured the monument and several graves behind. After a while I came up and asked, “Come to pay respects?”

“Every year,” she replied.

She left shortly after. I hope I didn’t speed her departure, but I do make some folks uneasy.

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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, decoration. Photo by Roman
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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, decoration. Photo by Roman
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Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, rear. Photo by Roman
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Emma Goldman’s grave, Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman

More than just the Haymarket martyrs are buried around the monument. Here is the famous anarchist Emma Goldman. Note the offerings, also no graffiti. If you’ve not read her autobiography, you really should make the effort. Two volumes: she had a lot to say but not so much as that inflated ego, Winston Churchill.

The Illinois Labor History Society has documented nearly 100 lefties buried around or near the monument, mostly anarchists and stalinists with a few odd trotskyists and democratic socialists and labor folks thrown in. Plus, there are others who’ve had their ashes scattered around the monument. (Welcome back, “Big Bill” Haywood! I don’t believe this return to Chicago counts towards getting back that bail money your supporters put up.) If anarchists and stalinists sound like an odd combination, keep in mind they both have a similar view of government: it’s an instrument of oppression.

For my part, I’d be happy to fertilize the roots of some marijuana plants, though I’d settle for tomatoes if need be. Take a deep breath and hold me in.

During the summer months, the Society has guided tours of the Monument and graves around it. You can find out more HERE.

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Tobey and Mort Prinz at the Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman.

I brought along a map of lefty graves from the Illinois Labor History Society, but I didn’t locate most of the ones I wanted, especially those at any distance from the monument. This is too bad as there are a few folks buried here who I actually knew and worked with.

Two of them were Tobey and Mort Prinz. When I moved to Rogers Park, I moved into a building that was the object of an organizing campaign by the Rogers Park Tenants Committee. Tobey Prinz was one of the leaders of the organization, so much of my brief career as a tenant organizer involved working with her and Mort. Residents of Rogers Park can thank these two (among others) for Loyola Park.

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Ralph Helstein had been head of the United Packing House Workers Union. Photo by Roman

Ralph Helstein had been the President of the United Packinghouse Workers of America. He gained some fame (or notoriety) by successfully resisting the McCarthy era purge of communists from AFL-CIO unions. He was also an early honoree at the annual Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee’s Thomas – Debs Dinner in Chicago.

I met Ralph and Rachel Helstein a few times, and I once attended a meeting at their Hyde Park home. In this century, I got to know their daughter, Nina, who I’m always glad to see when our paths cross at demonstrations or other events.

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Lucy Parsons at the Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman

Did I mention anarchists and stalinists? Before I forget, here’s a famous person that embodies both: Lucy Parsons, the widow of Haymarket martyr anarchist labor leader Albert Parsons. She ended up a member of the Communist Party. My cynical take on it is that with membership she could continue advocating that workers organize and smash the state while at the same time having the Party support her. After all, how else is a radical woman of color going to earn a living in Jim Crow America? Her old anarchist comrades were not impressed, from what I’ve read. Even so, I would have hoped for a monument more monumental. She played a larger role in U.S. politics — both in life and after — than this modest rock would suggest.

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Photo by Roman

I have no idea what this is. There’s no inscription that I noticed beyond a date in Roman numerals on a tablet within. There’s a story here but I don’t know what it is. It’s probably the second most interesting item at the Waldheim after the Martyrs’ monument and its associated graves.

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Photo by Roman

Aside from the above, the Waldheim Cemetery is boring. Apart from some of the older monuments, there is a manufactured quality to the place, lacking any sense of history or individuality. Some of the newest large monuments seem to be homages not to the departed but to “brutalist” architecture — if not steel and glass, the geometry is the same. It’s not as bad as a “ticky-tacky” suburban housing tract, but…

Well, there are always trees.

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Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman