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Ron Radosh

Tom Hayden: A Man Who Gives ‘Opportunism’ a Bad Name

April 12th, 2012 - 10:03 am

Later, Hayden started a political career: he served in the California State Assembly and then the California State Senate. He ran for mayor of Los Angeles in 1997, and after being defeated, he ran four years later for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.

In his new article, it is what Hayden leaves out that is particularly galling. He wants to posit a straight line from the early SDS idealists to Occupy Wall Street today, and to downplay or make it appear that the much discussed extremism of the Weather Underground and its many imitators was a development that had nothing to do with the SDS mainstream — and in fact was something he vigorously opposed. Thus he writes the following about the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the group which he says “played a direct role in shaping my values”:

Though they were not at Port Huron, there were other philosophical searchers at the time who practiced participatory democracy. Bob Moses, perhaps the single greatest influence on the early SDS and SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), could be described as a Socratic existentialist. The Free Speech Movement’s Mario Savio described himself as a non-Marxist radical shaped by secular liberation theology who was “an avid supporter of participatory democracy.” We were all influenced by Ella Baker, an elder adviser to SNCC with a long experience of NAACP organizing in the South. Ms. Baker, as everyone referred to her, was critical of the top-down methods of black preachers and organizations, including her friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She argued that SNCC should remain autonomous and not become a youth branch of the older organizations. She spoke of and personified participatory democracy.

What Hayden writes about the late Ella Baker is completely misleading. Baker worked hard to oppose “her friend … King,” and she regularly attacked the architect of King’s turn to Gandhi, the anti-Communist social-democratic civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Baker was courageous and committed to civil rights, but she was close to The American Communist Party and was a staff member of the Southern Conference Education Fund, a well-known Communist front. It was her suggestion and guidance that led SNCC to turn for legal help not to the well-known channels of moderate groups like the NAACP, but to the Communist-created National Lawyers Guild. Joe Rauh, the group’s first counsel, was fired from his post.

When she spoke and gave the keynote address to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party convention before the 1964 Democratic Party convention at Atlantic City, she attacked any opposed to Communists as “Red-baiters”, and insisted that the civil rights movement had to be anti anti-Communist. Rauh, the famous civil liberties lawyer, commented that her speech was so stridently “red” that it could have been lifted from an editorial in the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker. As Rauh wrote to Hubert Humphrey: “the domestic Communists have made a real attempt to infiltrate the Mississippi civil rights movement. … Communist influence was, of course, evident at the convention in Atlantic City.”

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