Something that jumps out when reading the chapter on Weather Underground in Destructive Generation, is that a big part of the attraction of radical politics in chaotic mayhem. Early on, the Weathermen did a lot or organizing. That required the leaders to travel around the country to visit other radicals. One of them was Bernadine Dohrn, Obama’s patron in Chicago. She was the main recruiter for the group.
In one passage, Horowitz described how she and her companion at the time liked to cause mayhem on airplanes, so the passengers would think they were crazy. The point, she said, was to “scare the shit out of the mother fucking honkies!” They would engage in raunchy behavior or dress in outlandish clothes, for no other reason than to irritate the other people on the plane. Their goal was to be disruptive just to be disruptive.
This is a major feature of radical ideology. The revolution is not going to start by itself, so the vanguard needs to first destabilize the system. The proletariat needs leadership, but they also need to be freed from the shackles of the system. The way to do that is to attack the institutions of the bourgeoisie. As faith in those institutions falters, the middle-class will be forced to choose sides. Those who side with the radicals will be rewarded. Those who side with the establishment will be killed along with the ruling class.
That’s why bombing campaigns were popular with the New Left here and in Europe. If the police and courts cannot protect you from the revolution, you’re not going to support the system. The point of this form of terrorism is to reveal the rulers as illegitimate, by making it seem like their impotence is deliberate. Instead of blaming the bombers, the people begin to turn on their rulers, opening the door for the radicals.
Now, the New Left was not a real Marxist revolutionary group. They were just spoiled middle and upper-middle class kids from good families. They liked all the good stuff of the system, they just wanted to shortcut their way to positions of power. The Marxism language and radical politics were always a pose for people like the Weathermen. They just liked causing trouble. Most of their time was spent doing drugs and fornicating.
The few sober moments were spent screaming at one another about why they have done nothing but get high and fornicate like animals. A handful of hardcore nuts did some real damage, but most were just there for the party. Those nuts, however, were attracted to the cause for the opportunity to cause mayhem. By the time Dohrn and Ayers were running things, that’s all there was as the 60’s had petered out.
The way Horowitz describes these people, the impression is that their lust for mayhem was driven but a desire to get attention. One of the founders spent a lot of time cultivating an image suggesting he came from the lower-class, when he was a rich kid. Dohrn strutted around dressed like a hooker and banging men in public. Ayers worked hard to cast himself as a lady killer. The whole list of founders is distinguished by the amount of time and effort each put into crafting an attention grabbing image.
It’s easy to understand why these people were fond of declaring that all politics is personal. For them, it was literally true. The lust for mayhem became a part of these cultivated images. All politicians are in it for personal reasons, but most are defined by things outside of politics. Radicals are only defined by their politics. They have no true self that can exist outside their current politics. It’s why they are so angry and violent. Any push-back to their program is a personal attack, as it literally is personal for them.
It reveals something about all radical politics, regardless of the age or the issue. These people define themselves by their politics, which are by nature in opposition to the normal social order. They have to both attack that normal order, trying to overturn it, but also do so in a purely personal way. The effort they invest into “being different” is not really about the thing they are pretending to be. It is about that which they are rejecting.