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Tom Hayden: A Man Who Gives 'Opportunism' a Bad Name

That quip about Hayden's opportunism was made decades ago by the late social-democrat intellectual Irving Howe, who believed that Hayden was campaigning in the 1960s to be “the New Left’s next Lenin.” It was a barbed, accurate, and insightful comment into what made the principal writer of the Students for a Democratic Society  (SDS) “Port Huron Statement” tick.

Now, writing recently in the cover story of The Nation, Hayden sketches out what he means by the early concept “participatory democracy,” which became the guideline of the early SDS and which he tries to explain has now morphed into the present Occupy Wall Street. He explains his concept in this video:

There is no way to comb through all of the distortions, innuendos, and exaggerations in this long article, reworked from an introduction to a new book of twelve essays on the meaning of the now half-century old statement of SDS’s intent, which for some reason is not to be found at any online bookstore as yet. (You can read the original “Port Huron Statement” that was first published in 1962 for yourself.)

What is consistent with all of Hayden’s past years of activism (which you can read about here) is his desire to be on the cutting edge of whatever left-wing movement is current and which he still seeks to lead. Tying his old, early '60s stance with his arguments today is the juvenile, mindless anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism of his youth, and an inability to comprehend how the mindset he held in 1962 led to SDS’s later embrace of totalitarianism and its descent into thuggish extremism.

What is most interesting about his new article, however, is his excitement about the president’s forthcoming election campaign and his obvious belief that it is the vehicle for fulfillment of the vision first announced in the Port Huron Statement (hereafter called PHS). That should not be surprising. Having left SDS soon after its birth, Hayden went on to move from organization to organization. First he favored community organizing in Newark, New Jersey, where he sought to organize an “interracial movement of the poor,” as he called it then, that would organize around demands for things like traffic lights in areas where they were needed. He believed that would develop into demands by a new movement to force city and state and then federal government to act upon their power.

From community organizing -- which Hayden dropped as quickly as he began it -- he moved to create his own group, “The Indo-China Peace Campaign,” which fought nationally for an end to the war in Vietnam, a cut-off of congressional funding to South Vietnam and Cambodia, and which favored a Communist victory in Southeast Asia. Hayden was able to do this because he had married the film star Jane Fonda, which not only allowed him to use her celebrity to his own advantage, but which gave him access to the money Fonda was making from her exercise videotapes, which were nationwide bestsellers. The profits from those tapes, I recall, were given directly to the organization’s funding.  Together, he and Fonda traveled to North Vietnam, where he took a camera crew and came back with a propaganda film: Introduction to the Enemy. Hayden would write after his first trip to Vietnam that the Vietnamese Communists had created a “rice-roots democracy.” After the war’s end, when Joan Baez passed around a petition protesting the human-rights violations of the winning Communist side in Vietnam, Hayden denounced those who signed it as tools of the CIA.