- Sue Currier
- Jim Prickett
- Rich Currier
- Andy Magid
- Sandor Fuchs
- Steve DeCanio
- Alice Huberman
- Jackie Goldberg
Decorative art by Sue Currier, Charis Horton, and Alice Huberman. Cover spider by Stevie Lipne. Portrait of Facino by Sudborough.
An Interview With Mike Myerson
Mike Myerson's name is familiar to most observers of Bay Area politics. He helped form the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination and was its acting chairman for several months. He is a former SLATE chairman and presently is a member of the Berkeley DuBois Club.
SPIDER: What do you think the U. S. is going to be like 20 years from now?
MYERSON: Well, I don't know exactly what it's like now. The same country that produces a George Lincoln Rockwell produces a John Lewis, and the same country that produces a Pat Boone produces a Billie Holliday, so what's the country like? It's pretty frantic right now. If we're still alive in 20 years, that is, if Washington's madness subsides very rapidly, the country will either be socialist or will be on the road to socialism.
SPIDER: Why do you think so?
MYERSON: Right now, of course, it looks like we're going to blow ourselves up. Ultimately this country has two alternatives. One is disarmament, and consequently an entire change in the economy. The other is continued armament, with an arms economy and cold war hysteria — anti-communism, anti-revolution and so on — which inevitably will lead to thermonuclear war. The only thing that's kept us alive the last month is the prudence shown by the Soviet Union, the Chinese, and the North Vietnamese. They have every right to take on the United States at this point.
There's another possibility for the U. S. 20 years from now. This country may be in approximately the same position we are in today, though in a more acute way. That is, we may still be the leading counter-revolutionary power in the world although the world will be different. National liberation movements will continue to develop, and the U. S. may continue to try to stop their progress. Domestically, the crises of poverty and racism may well become more acute and the counter-revolutionary forces at home may become even more blatant. We may have a real garrison state. The Korean War (and the McCarthy era) was a time of real erosion of liberties and popular debate. Most of the laws passed then remain on the books. The concentration camps for all those who may sometime in the future be deemed subversive by the Attorney General under the McCarren Act remain. And all this was done in a time when there was no right wing with the organization, the scope, and the power that there is today. If the Vietnam war expands even more, we may all end up in Tule Lake Camp, even Mona Hutchins. The whole idea of that chick fascinates me. Sight unseen, I find Miss Hutchins absolutely intriguing.
SPIDER: What are the forces that could possibly move the country toward socialism?
MYERSON: Well, there are several forces. If you would include among the forces for socialism only the members of the half-dozen socialist groups in this country, well, those angels could dance on the head of a pin. But there are more objective forces for socialism, not the least being the international forces that are already socialist and those rapidly becoming socialist — Indonesia, Ghana, Alteria, Cambodia, and the non-aligned nations. They've absolutely forced the United States to do things it doesn't want to. The fingers and toes of the United States are being cut off every year. So that's one force.
Another force is the obvious one, the civil rights movement. It is becoming clearer and clearer to people, especially people in the South, that their problems aren't going to end by getting the vote. Aside from being black, the next thing that's outstanding about people in the black belt is that they're poor, and if Johnson has one accomplishment (it may be the only accomplishment he'll have in office) it's that he's made poverty a respectable question for discussion.
Two years ago the image of the American was that of a gray flannel suited commuter having a martini with his wife after five at the barbeque, and anyone who discussed poverty was some kind of un-American fool. It's clear that poverty is a real question in this country: the poor are getting poorer, the situation is not improving, and the number of poor is growing with automation.
And so these forces, together with the fact that the civil rights movements are not going to be squashed, will inevitably lead to socialism. This is true although these movements are not socialist now (although some may be), and many aren't even thinking in terms of socialism. But eventually these movements in the North and South will have to face real economic problems and realize that these problems can't be solved without a complete reorganization of the nation's economy.
SPIDER: But what happened to the civil rights movement in San Francisco? It was directed towards economic goals, but it hasn't done anything for a year.
MYERSON: First of all, the goals it was directed towards weren't basically economic. It sought integration. Had the goals of the San Francisco Freedom Movement been realized, San Francisco would now have equal unemployment, not full employment. The second point is that the Freedom Movement is hardly dead. There's a whole dialectical process to history, with ups and downs, higher stages and all that. The civil rights movement constantly recedes and then jumps to a higher plane. Last winter there was a lull in the civil rights movement all over the country, then last summer it jumped to a higher point than it had been the previous summer. That's how things work. Right now, of course, a lot of the people who were involved in the Freedom Movement are involved in the peace movement, which also says a lot about the Freedom Movement and the effect it's had. The people who never would have thought about protesting about Vietnam are now protesting because they had previously been involved in protests on segregation. It's another indication of how the Freedom Movement and all these other movements objectively will create issues under which a socialist movement can form.
SPIDER: But protest isn't what counts. What counts is the mobilization of force, and that's what was so great about the civil rights movement in San Francisco — we forced the businessmen to change. Unless a lot more people become involved in the peace movement, how is it going to be possible to bring enough force to bear on the federal government?
MYERSON: More people are involved in the peace movement now than two years ago, and more people then than four years ago. There's a couple of....
SPIDER: There's never been as many people at a peace demonstration as there were during the Cuban crisis three years ago.
MYERSON: That's true. The Cuban crisis did bring out people. One obvious blow to the peace movement, a blow in an ironic sense, in a sardonic sense, was the nuclear test ban. A great many people were involved in the peace movement just because they didn't want their children to have two heads. But those in the peace movement today have to have a greater commitment. The movement has to oppose American foreign policy, since United States foreign policy is the greatest danger to peace in the world today. So the movement has to become an anti-neocolonialist movement among other things, as well as the movement for disarmament, and I think it's becoming that. The people who are involved in the Vietnam demonstrations now are in direct confrontation with the United States Defense Department and State Department. It is no longer possible to say "I'm against both evils." There are some cats who think that way, and who still say, "I'm against those doing the bombing and those getting bombed," but....
SPIDER: Stupid shits.
MYERSON: Yeah, but generally the protests are against American foreign policy. And I think that movement's going to grow. During the Cuban crisis there was no United States Senator on our side; there was no debate in the Senate. There's a debate in the Senate now, although it's very limited. You didn't have a man of the prestige and stature of Lewis Mumford writing a quarter-page letter to the editors of newspapers across the country, but you have that now. On the other hand, it is true that the domestic peace movement has no real political power now. The international peace movement is what has kept us alive all these years.
SPIDER: But why should people stay in the American peace movement since it has no political power and has had few successes?
MYERSON: It's true that American foreign policy hasn't changed fundamentally since the cold war began, but that is not to say that there haven't been victories for the peace movement. One victory is that we're still alive after the threat of nuclear war has been over our heads for the last twenty years. That's a fantastic victory. In those 20 years, half the world has expelled colonialism and has gained political freedom. And the fact that we've stayed alive through all these developments — when most of them were political setbacks for the United States — is a fantastic victory. Another victory is that there is still a Cuban revolution today. The fact that our adventures in the Congo were limited is a fantastic victory. The nuclear test ban treaty, limited as it is, is still a victory: except what's left over from the previous tests, there is no more Strontium 90 destroying our bones.
SPIDER: What do you think was most significant about the FSM?
MYERSON: There were several things important about the FSM. The obvious one is that you had 10 or 12 thousand people involved in a movement for free speech. If you have that anywhere, it's a very important and impressive thing. Certainly it's significant only eight years after McCarthy died. Those 10 or 12 thousand people saw that free speech on campus was important not just as an abstract ideal but was also important to civil rights and other social action movements. The students learned that by working in concert they could exercise their collective power to make decisions which affected their destiny. A great many students found for the first time that the University is controlled from on high by the real economic power structure of the State of California, and that the budget is controlled by the monopolies. They say that Professor Teller works for General Dynamics as well as for the State of California; Seymour Martin Lipset works for the U. S. Air Force as well as for the University.
SPIDER: Do you think that changes within the University brought about by movements such as the FSM will initiate revolutionary changes in the larger society?
MYERSON: I don't think that the University can or will change by itself without society's changing. Universities are not going to change in a vacuum or in the abstract. There are also certain traps which FSMers can fall into. One is believing that students are the center of the world and that they make the world click. This develops into elitism. It's a very bad trap because without non-student allies, the students will lose. It takes the people who run this economy, the people who produce goods (as well as the people who produce ideas) to change this country. A
SPIDER: What do you think is unimportant about the FSM?
MYERSON: There's nothing that's unimportant about the FSM. We can point out mistakes and criticize certain leaders or statements, but we can't find fault with the FSM as a movement. The movement was right all along, even when it was wrong on a given day.
SPIDER: What do you think of the "Fuck" controversy?
MYERSON: Well, this is another kind of trap students can fall into. First let me make my disclaimer and loyalty oath: I find "fuck" to be one of the more descriptive words in the language and am hardly a novice at using it myself. I also find it to be one of the more commonly used words, especially by police, with whom I've had some dealings. I think anybody who wishes to use the word should be allowed to do so without harassment. Moreover, anyone who wishes to put the word into action should do so. The obscenity laws are entirely foolish and should be abolished. What is really obscene is Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark bullwhipping black Americans, or President Johnson napalming Indochinese.
Nevertheless, I think trying to build some kind of movement around the word "fuck" is both foolish and irresponsible, at a time when the same people involved in this should be giving their time and energies to creating movements against the Knowlands, Bundys, and Hugh Burnses. At a time when our government is slaughtering innocents and police are beating freedom fighters, to screw around with that "fuck" foolishness is a cop-out on the real movements for freedom.
SPIDER: Talk about the DuBois Club.
MYERSON: Well, the DuBois Club is very strange. It's almost as hard to define as most other aspects of American society. What people in Berkeley know as the DuBois Club is not what it is across the country. Practically two-thirds of the DuBois Clubs are working with unemployed youth, and not with students. One important development is that ten years ago, most kids who were political or who considered themselves socialists were very much estranged from society. They all sang their Spanish Civil War songs, went to the same upstate New York summer camp, and spoke in a certain jargon, but they really weren't part of American society. If you were to ask them, "Who was Bo Diddley,?" they'd shrug their shoulders. They weren't interested in the things most American kids are interested in — athletics, music, sex, and so on. Today, the DuBois Clubs are very much a part of, well, the Pepsi Generation. They feel that America has Come Alive.
The DuBois Clubs have had certain accomplishments in their very limited history. They were very much a part of the school boycott in New York and very much a part of most of the activity here in the Bay Area. In fact, the Bay Area sit-ins were begun by the DuBois Clubs.
SPIDER: What do you think of Left sectarianism?
MYERSON: I think debate between various organizations is healthy, but sectarianism is bad. There are certain organizations on the Left which are kind of the Jehovah's Witnesses of the Left. They're not talking to the American people; they have no apparent desire to talk to the American people. A great many of them act politically to make themselves feel good and moral, true and militant and all the rest.... I'm more interested in being effective, and I think the DuBois Clubs are effective. I'm interested in winners, not good losers.
SPIDER: Let's take a specific example. One of the....
MYERSON: Let me just throw in something else about the FSM. That is the absolute rejection of red-baiting as a divisive factor. This happened only ten years after McCarthy on the major university campus, and 12, 000 people were involved.
SPIDER: Let's get back to this other thing. One of the bitterest arguments on the Left is the question of the Democratic Party. Why don't you once and for all explain your position on the Democratic Party?
MYERSON: Well, the Democratic Party is very difficult to define. It's a party that includes on the one hand Hugh Burns, Senator Eastland, Douglas Dillon and LBJ, and on the other hand Wayne Morse, John Burton, Martin Luther King effectively, and nine out of ten of the people who live in the ghettos of San Francisco and Oakland. So it's a very complex thing, and the whole idea of the DuBois Club "working with" the Democratic Party has been very much distorted by Left-wing opponents of the DuBois Club. The DuBois Club analysis is that you try to work with people, and most people in this country identify with the Democratic Party. The DuBois Club could not support Johnson — it's a misconception to think that it did. We opposed Goldwater, and thought that the only way to defeat Goldwater and the immediate threat of the ultra-Right was by the election of Johnson. There wasn't any other candidate around who was going to beat Goldwater. But we never supported Jack Shelley in the elections in San Francisco. The only candidates to my knowledge that the DuBois Clubs in the Bay Area have supported have been Congressman Phil Burton, Assemblymen John Burton and Willie Brown, and Assembly candidate Doug Hill.
SPIDER: Why does the Democratic Party have to be brought in at all? Why can't the appeal be made directly to the people?
MYERSON: The DuBois Club never raises the question of the Democratic Party. It's the other socialist organizations that do. As a matter of fact right now, by the way, the DuBois Club is going to be running a candidate for Supervisor in San Francisco independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties, Patrick Hallinan. The DuBois Club believes in independent political action. Just for tactical reasons the Mississippi Freedom Democrats saw fit to support Johnson even though Johnson isn't supporting them. That was very important on their part. In Mississippi, among whites six months ago, Johnson was thought of much as Fidel Castro is thought of in much of the rest of the country. There was great opposition to Johnson from the whites, that's why the Negroes waved the American flag in Mississippi. In some places, it's a very dangerous thing to wave the American flag instead of the Confederate flag. That was the kind of independent political action the DuBois Club favors.
When there is really no choice, when there is no threat from the ultra-Right, I personally am in favor of running independent candidates. I'd support an independent progressive candidate in the Oakland city elections, or in San Francisco elections. Had Rockefeller or Romney run against Johnson, then I think a third candidate should have been supported, although realisically there was no movement for a third candidate which would have been at all effective. If people are interested in third party candidates, I think now is the time to start for '68. Sixty-eight may still be too soon, but if people are thinking about '68, they should think about it now. As the freedom movement grows, as the international crises continue to flare up, as automation increases, and as the "war on poverty" proves to be a hoax, I think by '68 there may well be an opportunity for a third party candidate to run effectively. In many Congressional districts, a third party candidate should take advantage of primary races. If people are worried about a runoff election, they will choose between the lesser of two evils. But I think primary elections should be exploited to the fullest to campaign on issues.
SPIDER: In your pamphlet, The United States' War in Vietnam, you quote "a Chinese guerilla leader." Was that Mao?
MYERSON: No. It was Chu Teh, leader of the Army. I didn't say Chu Teh because some people might get embarassed because he used to be an opium addict. There are a lot of opium-baiters these days. I'm not sure if it was Chu Teh, but I think it was.
SPIDER: Who is your favorite rock'n roll group or singer? What do you think about rock'n roll?
MYERSON: James Brown. What do I think about it? I rarely think about it, I just listen.
SPIDER: What do you think of Spider?
MYERSON: I liked the crossword puzzle. It was about the only thing that interested me. Most of it referred to things which I'm not really that close to these days, things about the University of California. I don't really have that many feelings about it at all. I mean, I'm all for it. Any magazine that's not of the Johnson consensus is interesting to me.
SPIDER: Do the Mickey Spillane and James Bond books over there on your shelf belong to you or your wife?
MYERSON: Me. My wife abhors violence. She refuses to go to movies with violence — it scares her.
SPIDER: What did you think of One Lonely Night, the Mickey Spillane novel where he kills all the Commies?
MYERSON: I think Mickey Spillane is a good writer if you like fascists. He's obviously a fascist. I mean, Mike Hammer is a prototype of the McCarthy vigilante, outside the law, trying to clean up society with any means: killing, raping, strangling, torture are all fine. But Spillane's a good writer, if you like writers of American fascist prototypes.
SPIDER: One last question. A friend of mine who fought in the Red Army said, "The revolutionary who jokes about the revolution is not a revolutionary at all."....
MYERSON: Which Red Army?
SPIDER: In Russia. The Revolution of 1917. You know that one?
MYERSON: I read about it somewhere.
SPIDER: Let me put it this way. Do you think there's anything funny about socialism or about the Left?
MYERSON: Well, I don't think it's funny. The questions socialists are concerned with are the ultimate questions of society — communication, alienation, peace, developing personality, love — all these are the questions of human dignity and of creating the conditions which bring these things about. So they are very serious questions. But socialists have to have a sense of humor. If you don't have a sense of humor in this country you'll crack up. In a country such as the U. S., which is rotten through and through, where you have all the suicides, all the alcoholism, all the mental illness; where you have slums in which rats bite babies, where 20 million people are shit on all day because they're black, where people can't speak their minds because they might not be able to get a job or they might not get a passport, where narcotics is a thing not to be talked about, where sex can't even be talked about — the only way to get along in this society without cracking up is to have a sense of humor.
Every position taken by a true leftist on a political issue must be revolutionary. That is to say, to find the correct position on any political issue, the true leftist objectively analyzes all the forces at play to determine their revolutionary potential (immediate or eventual), and he chooses his course of action so as to maximize this potential. If the issue appears to have no revolutionary (or counter-revolutionary) potential no matter what course of action he follows, then the issue is not political.
No political issue in the United States today has any immediate revolutionary potential; all such issues have eventual potential. Take, for example, automation and civil rights. There is an eventual revolutionary potential in a growing mass of unemployed protesting against their alienation, not only because they happen not to be making it in society but also because the society is structured in such a way that they find all doors closed even to hope of success. The issue of civil rights is revolutionary in two respects. First, the Negroes' protest is that of a sub-class of the American exploited class. As consciousness grows among the Negroes, their protest is directed more and more against the capitalist class which is responsible for their economic plight. Thus the civil rights movement helps to increase class consciousness. The second way in which the civil rights movement is revolutionary is that by promoting integration (equal employment and unemployment for whites and Negroes) it reduces the counter-revolutionary potential of racism, which could serve as the basis of a fascist movement in the United States.
After this preface and these simple examples of analyzing the revolutionary potential of political issues, I would like to discuss Brad Cleaveland's program for educational reform.
Brad Cleaveland proposes that an entering freshman have four options. If he has already learned how to study on his own, he can follow the European model: he simply attends lectures and seminars and takes a test in order to go on to his junior year. He can follow the program developed by Alexander Meiklejohn at the University of Wisconsin, and spend the entire first year studying ancient Greece and the second year studying the United States. There are few lectures, but many discussions with "outstanding" professors. He can follow the Sarah Lawrence system and take only three courses per year, each taught by an "outstanding" professor who has complete freedom to discuss whatever he wants. Finally, he can follow the St. John's great books program, in which he studies, in consultation with a "don," all the works of a single thinker. The junior and senior years are generally the same as they are now except that greater flexibility is allowed.
No one would deny that this sort of reformist program, considered as a complete and perfected educational system, would be better than the present system of grades, units, etc. But Cleaveland claims even more. He refuses to call this educational reform (which it is) and instead constantly refers to it as educational revolution. By this he means two things: an extensive (and hence revolutionary) reorganization of the educational system; and a system which will have a revolutionary effect on American society. In this latter and more crucial area, the Cleaveland program is not only inadequate but also self-defeating.
All three non-European models have one thing in common: they depend on a very close student-professor relationship. For example, Cleaveland estimates that his system applied to Berkeley alone would cost an additional 20 million dollars annually, to be spent primarily or wholely on 1000 more faculty members (giving the campus a 1:6 ratio). The inevitable result of this close student-professor relationship is that the students model themselves after individual dons or professors. By promoting strong personal relationships and encouraging each student to become deeply involved in the thoughts of three or four professors, this system can turn out excellent replicas of its professors, particularly if they have winning personalities.
Brad Cleaveland, however, has something entirely different in mind. He talks of "educating students to experience extended and creative thought." Cleaveland argues that these students will have no place in America's economic, social, and political system because the society requires unquestioning, trained technicians instead of questioning, creative thinkers. But here Cleaveland is guilty of idealizing the academic intellectual. He assumes that once students read Plato, Mills, and Meiklejohn, and once they have begun to think creatively about these men, they will refuse to be integrated into the capitalist system. But the professors at Cal, who are among the most creative intellectuals in the country, have all read Plato, Mills, and Meiklejohn. How many of them are revolutionaries? How many refuse to support the bourgeois capitalist system? Cal probably has as many revolutionary professors as any college in the country, but it still has less than ten out of 3000. The typical professor is a bourgeois academician whose personal life is dominated by a frustrated wife, an expensive house on the hill, cocktail parties, and jockeying for appointments within his department.
Since much of Cleaveland's optimism derives from the FSM, it would be useful to discuss the causes of the FSM. It wasn't just because the administration was arbitrary and unfair: Stanford and UCLA have administrations worse than Berkeley's. It wasn't because the students were economically alienated, since UCLA's students are poorer than Cal students. The FSM arose because there was a hard core of politically organized students who were alienated from their society (including the University). The FSM succeeded because it was able to attract a majority of the students, but there were times when, if it weren't for this hard core, the FSM would have been finished. Under Cleaveland's comfortable system, the FSM would never have arisen at all.
Brad Cleaveland and those who have similar ideas (such as Tussman with his experimental college) are Utopian idealists, and when given reign over mass education, they become counter-revolutionary. They view education in a quite conventional manner: it is supposed to impart knowledge, train students to use knowledge, and make students into citizens who are committed to traditional, liberal-humanist values. And Cleaveland wants students to learn this commitment in the classroom, not in the streets. He
What the University system will do, if Brad Cleaveland is successful, is enable the students to live with the hypocrisy of bourgeois society. By intellectualizing and equivocating, professors are able to become (with only a slight nagging conscience) an integral part of bourgeois society. Creative and extensive thought can simply lead students to equivocate creatively and extensively. Not only will they not become revolutionaries, but they may well become counter-revolutionaries.
Only outside the institutions of today's society can students be educated into becoming citizens committed in action to humanist values. Berkeley, unlike "better" schools with less political involvement (such as Antioch and Bennington), has an educative community which exists outside the University. It exists within student political groups, within social radical "hippy" groups, and in the nonstudent community surrounding campus. It is found in lectures and movies at noon and during evenings. It exists in San Francisco politics and culture, in political demonstrations, in the bookstores, in the cafes, in SLATE politics, in individual apartments, and in the unidentifiable circles that students move in. And it exists in the very few good non-bullshit classes by revolutionary professors that students can sometimes take within the system.
As it exists now, the revolutionary potential of Berkeley is considerable. Brad Cleaveland's program would decrease this potential, while a few minor reforms would increase it. What we need is simply to increase the amount of time which a student can devote to the educative community discussed above. To this end, we should fight for the substitution of pass or fail courses in the first two years. Students should be permitted to drop any course without penalty any time before finals; breadth requirements should be abolished and major requirements should be eased.
Naturally, many students need and want a good liberal arts education, and Brad Cleaveland's pleas sound very appealing, for he promises them a great education the easy way: in the classroom and not on the streets. It would be nice to get an education without missing a mid-term because of a trial or cutting a class to picket. But this would require a revolution in the entire society—there would have to be no need for pickets or trials. To believe in getting a good education the easy way is quixotic, and for Brad Cleaveland to propose the easy way out, when he's been around long enough to know better, is counter-revolutionary class collaboration.
How not to Build a Movement
(inspired by Selma, March 9, 1965)
- Try to get as many white, middle class people as possible to invade the state on a short term basis.
- Take over the leadership of the movement yourself.
- Turn back when faced by the Southern authorities.
- Issue a victory statement.
Title: Vol. I, No. II
Copyright Note: Copyright status unknown. Some materials in these collections may be - protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). In addition, the - reproduction, and/or commercial use, of some materials may be restricted - by gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and - publicity rights, licensing agreements, and/or trademark rights. - Distribution or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond - that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the - copyright owners. To the extent that restrictions other than copyright - apply, permission for distribution or reproduction from the applicable - rights holder is also required. Responsibility for obtaining - permissions, and for any use rests exclusively with the user.