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The Weatherman action in Chicago was important because it was the first time in the history of the anti-Vietnam War movement that large numbers of radicals committed planned acts of violence.
By acts of violence, we mean:
1) Destruction of property-mainly breaking store, apartment, and automobile windows.
2) Unprovoked assaults on persons-mainly police and city officials.
What happened in Chicago was real violence, not what has been called "violence" in other demonstrations. Last April, for instance, people talked about "the violent takeover of University Hall." That was not violence. The students did not intentionally hurt anyone. No property was intentionally destroyed (people got carried away and wrote things on walls and messed up the carpets, but it was not a concerted effort to do damage).
And what happened in Chicago was different from the scuffles (as they are called) that break out between demonstrators and police, when police try to remove demonstrators from places they are not supposed to be.
The Weatherman action was not merely a provocation-like the name-calling at the Chicago Democratic Convention or the Columbia sit-in-which, intentionally or not makes police react violently (and then the demonstrators react to the police).
And, finally, what happened in Chicago was not a riot, in the sense that the destruction in Watts and Newark was called a "riot." What happened in Chicago was carefully planned. The demonstrators knew before each action that they were going to destroy property and hurt people.
The Weatherman action, then. was a very serious escalation in the tactics of the anti-war movement. Essentially, it was an act of war-which is a very good term. since Weatherman leader Bernardine Dohrn is fond of saying the Weathermen are "the new Red Army fighting behind enemy lines."
If the violence of Chicago was an act of war then it has to be judged like a military encounter. If it is judged that way, the Weathermen lost. Three-quarters of them were taken prisoner and their casualties were easily double that of the other side.
But it was not quite an act of war, because the battles were "events," which were publicized long before they happened.
They were events for the media to cover. and the Weathermen realized they had to get big coverage to achieve their main self-proclaimed goal: to show Third World people (the non-whites in America and abroad) that white people were joining them in their fight against white imperialism. The Weathermen talked frequently about how the people of Bolivia and Panama would see pictures of white kids fighting cops and how it would inspire them.
John Jacobs. one of the leaders of the Columbia revolt and Weatherman's top ideologue, told the troops before Saturday's march: "We don't have to win here... just the fact that we are willing to fight the police is a political victory."
If destruction were the only goal, sabotage would have been more effective.
So it is not quite all-out war yet. The Weathermen are primarily conscious of the symbolic uses of violence, and then conscious of its destructive uses.
They also believe that their ranks will swell only while they are in the process of making revolution. The crux of their ideology is that the revolution can't wait.
They disagree with the Progressive Labor / Worker-Student Alliance types. who say that radicals must first organize white working class adults before there can be a revolution. The Weathermen say that the revolution is now. Being internationalists, they can see it going on now-in Vietnam most clearly.
Ever since the anti-war movement became serious-after the 1967 March on the Pentagon-radicals have pointed out that the war is not some sort of tragic American foreign policy, but a logical result of American imperialism.
The anti-war movement is now-among serious radicals anyway-an anti-imperialist movement, in the Leninist sense of "imperialism." the orgiastic last stage of capitalism.
The idea, then. is that the revolution is at hand. All three factions of SDS-Weathermen, PL/WSA. and Revolutionary Youth Movement H-believe this. The main question is tactics: we all want to overthrow the capitalist state and replace it with a socialist one, but how do we do it?
Both WSA and RYM II say that the ground work has to be laid before overt acts of violence can begin. Weathermen say that the revolution has to happen now-or white radicals will be left in the dust.
Since they can tell which way the wind blows, the Weathermen know that the revolution is coming from the Third World (perhaps a bit anti-Marxian). They contend that the blacks can "do it alone" -overthrow the state and seize control by themselves-so white radicals must act fast to get on the right side.
The revolution, then. will look like a war, and it began in Chicago. a very fine place to begin.
If we are supposed to be the revolutionaries. we are probably not such a good generation for it. All through our lives, violence has been a deep problem. A friend once said that he had a difficult time every day trying to decide whether his identity was supposed to be Donovan or Jim Morrison.
Almost all of us started hating the war because we wanted to stop what was called "the senseless killing." We were flower children and soft people, and war just did not make sense to us.
Then we came to oppose the war because the other side was right. And when someone said, "But if the U.S. pulled out, all those South Vietnamese officials will be slaughtered," we said, "That's right. They were on the wrong side."
Gradually we learned that we killed people every day with our silence. It was a horrible thing to learn.
First, we were against the war because we were so innocent. Then we lost our innocence.
The final blow was in April at University Hall. Demonstrations against the war had been non-violent-mainly because the demonstrators were non-violent people. They were sitting there. inside this Harvard administration building, and then the police came in and clobbered them, and they did not resist, and the police carried them out bleeding.
One reason that some people opposed the demonstration was that it did not make sense to let the oppressors oppress you without resistance.
Perhaps, there was something to be said for non-violence as a strategy. In the end, the liberals were outraged-but look how far that has gotten us.
Still, it never made any sense in practice. To fight back was to say that you were a man, because the struggle was everything. The struggle made sense-it was what you did in your gut. The struggle, not the reason behind the struggle, was the revolution.
After the experience of University Hall, everything changed. Struggling was now the only logical thing for many radicals, and initiating violence made sense strategically. (A Weatherman wall poster in Chicago said, "We have to go on the offensive-not just fight back.")
A Weatherman said in an interview, "Up until the Convention almost all white radicals had no sense of actually making a revolution. You had all sorts of people in the movement for all sorts of crazy reasons. Very few said, I'm in this for good. I'm going to risk my life making revolution. We've come to the point where it's necessary to weed out those who really don't want a revolution."
In Chicago, something was beginning.
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