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

Hayden charges that King and the others were “unaware of the company we were keeping.” But since King’s closest associate was Bayard Rustin, who himself was involved with just these anti-Communist efforts, one would think King had to be blind not to understand that his associate was involved in justly creating independent bodies not controlled in places like Vietnam by Soviet-infiltrated groups, and that they would provide political space for a democratic opposition to develop and thrive in a free, Western-oriented social order. Hayden writes he opposed “the secret pro-cold war element within liberalism, directly and indirectly tied to the CIA.” That sentence in itself shows that Hayden was engaging in what most people would call a McCarthyite smear. Their aims and programs were anything but secret, and Hayden of course has not one iota of proof that the CIA was behind them. In making these charges, Hayden sounds much like the labor columnists for The Daily Worker, who made these charges in that period on a regular basis.

Finally, let us turn to the transformation of his beloved SDS into the Weather Underground, and its drift to Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, and Maoism. Hayden writes as if he opposed all of this, calling it a “stunning turn for a ‘new’ left, because it implied a broad rejection of many of the new social movement as basically ‘reformist’ too, since none of them were led by Marxists and none (except the Black Panthers) favored vanguard parties.”

He argues he and his cohorts were inspired by C. Wright Mills, John Dewey, Albert Camus, Doris Lessing, and James Baldwin, not by Stalin and Mao. He chastises the Weather Underground who he says had as heroes Mao’s colleague Lin Piao, Che Guevara, and Regis Debray, the French Castro-ite who argued for guerrilla warfare as the path to socialism. He does not tell readers -- as anyone can easily find out for themselves -- that Hayden was a strong supporter of the Black Panther Party, that he himself led a Berkeley commune called “the Red Family” whose Minister of Defense trained members at firing ranges in preparation for the revolution. Nor does he acknowledge his own paeans to the Weather group for setting the standard for all radicals, his praise of the “liberated zones” like Berkeley, California, Madison, Wisconsin, and the Upper West Side in New York City that they supposedly had built as precursors of the socialist future. Nor does he say anything about his role in the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, where he and others led the call for violence that would disrupt and destroy the convention's business.

Only by cleaning up his own image can Hayden appear as he wants to be known: a mild reformer who was urging “participatory democracy” as the way to carry on the legacy of democratic reforms won in the 60s by SDS. He even has the chutzpah to include in his list of major reforms they won “Nixon’s environmental laws,” while Nixon, as anyone with a bit of knowledge knows, was Hayden’s archenemy.

So Hayden ends with praise galore for Occupy Wall Street, noting that even anarchism was one of SDS’s earliest influences. Just as “the people”--  that amorphous meaningless phrase -- demanded reforms in the '30s that led to the New Deal, “pushed from below by insurrectionary strikes … factory occupations … and writing and art from government-subsidized poets and intellectuals,” Hayden ends with calling for a new “splendid bedlam of participatory democracy” that will lead to a “vision of the state as an instrument that can sometimes be bent to the popular will.”

Of course, we have an instrument by which the people can get government to respond to their wishes: it is called political democracy, and it is based on electing leaders in a state and national level by the vote. It is not one based on mass action of the kind demanded by Hayden, who insists on attacking the “unfettered appetites of capitalism” which he says have “created an intolerable human condition.” Having said he is not a socialist or a revolutionary, he ends up endorsing a movement whose leaders and activists want above all to end the very system that has made America prosperous.

And how to gain that end? The answer is that which I addressed the other day. Elect Barack Obama for a second term and push for “fundamental reform.” His goal is a “progressive majority.” What happens if, in fact, there is no such majority and it does not materialize? What will Hayden recommend next? I don’t think he will retreat to the woodwork. We all know that he will support a further taking to the streets to demand the ends he believes are what “the people” want.

When it comes down to it, Tom Hayden is still campaigning to be America’s Lenin. Now in his golden years, somehow I don’t think he’ll make it.