This story of the “free speech” uprising on the Berkeley campus of the University of California was begun in the conviction that an extraordinary event, in an historical sense, had taken place before our startled citizenry; and that it should be described for history as it was. This is the way it was.
“Historical”? This episode did not change history, but it did reflect an aspect of current history which is easily overlooked, and will continue to be overlooked until further explosions impel retrospective glances. This aspect is the molecular – “underground” – crystallization of currents of discontent, dissent and disaffection among a people which in its large majority is one of the most politically apathetic in the world (even after we take into account the “great exception” in America, the Negroes’ fight for freedom now).
Judging by its frequency, the unexpected in social history is what should be expected; but that we should actually do so is too much to expect. The “suddenness” of any outburst in nature or society is, of course, only a function of our ignorance. The next big earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area will be sudden, but the geologists tell us to expect it in anywhere from seven weeks to seventy years; they chart the fault lines and record the small slippages that occur daily. In society, however, it is one of the functions of the Establishment scientists to paper over the fault lines and explain away the slippage jolts.
Fault lines now run through many sections of our tranquilized society. There is, for instance, in many places an “underground” labor movement dual to the official one, unacknowledged by any of the bureaucracies and unknown to the Ph.D. theses in industrial relations. The disparate social forces frozen in the Johnsonian consensus are marked with fine crack-lines like old pots. This was the case also among American Negroes at the moment before the Birmingham battles, after which the earth yawned. It is the case among the students now, and everyone knows it today only because of Berkeley.
This is the way it was: but I make no claim to impartiality. Like everyone else in Berkeley who has written about these events, I have taken sides. Because of a dim view of the academy’s habit of clothing bitter polemic in bland “objective” jargon – a form of institutionalized hypocrisy which has great advantages for both the writer and his butt but none for the reader who wants to know what the argument is about – there is no pretense here to the colorless detachment of the uninvolved historian. We were all involved.
On the contrary I have tried to convey something more than the events: something of the inner “feel” and flavor of the students’ movement (I mean: that which moved the students). I have inserted my personal impressions at some points, as a participant; but I think these are clearly distinguished as such.
Objectivity is another matter. As a non-student member of the university community – its library staff – I had no obligation or pressure to take sides except as the issues demanded it. My participation, like many others’, was peripheral; I never attended, even as an observer, any of the meetings of the FSM leading committees, and viewed its day-to-day operation from the outside, sometimes highly critically. What I did commit myself to, actively, was defense of the Free Speech Movement before the university community, both at FSM rallies and at other meetings on and around the campus. I do not think that such engagement is inconsistent with the demands of objectivity, certainly not more than the involvement of others who damned the FSM in private and publicly wrote “scientifically objective” hatchet-jobs.
Factual accuracy is still another matter. Virtually all accounts of the Berkeley movement that I have seen, on all sides, are peppered with errors of fact, often quite untendentious. More than once, in checking points of detail with people who were on the spot, I was able to confirm the famous lawyers’, historians’ and psychologists’ principle that few people remember accurately what happens before their very eyes.
The account in this book has been read and checked, in whole or in part, by a number of FSM activists, and to these students’ corrections and suggestions I owe a debt of gratitude for scores of changes and modifications, especially but not only on the factual side. They were: Ron Anastasi, Barbara and Marvin Garson, Joel Geier, Arthur Lipow, Michael Parker, James Petras, Michael Rossman, Martin Roysher, Mario Savio, Michael Shute, and Stephan Weissman; and to this list Prof. John Leggett of the Sociology Department must also be added. Of course none of these bears any responsibility whatsoever for the present form of this book or any opinions expressed in it.
I also attempted to get the manuscript checked for factual accuracy by representatives of the university administration Mr. Richard Hafner, public relations officer for the Berkeley administration, kindly answered a number of specific factual questions, and also agreed to read the manuscript; but arrangements for this reading went awry through no fault of his and to my regret. In contrast: for the state-wide administration, Vice President David Fulton, the highest officer in charge of public relations under President Kerr, promised very amicably both to answer specific questions and to read the manuscript, but subsequently declined even to acknowledge reminders; I presume this decision in public relations was not his own. In addition, there is a long list of participants whom I have interviewed on specific points.
Three rich sources of documentary material consulted Should also be mentioned; as far as I know they have not been previously tapped for this purpose: (1) The scores of reels of tape, made daily on the scene throughout the events, by Pacifica Radio, station KPFA, for the use of which I am indebted to Mr. Burton White of this unique listener-supported institution; (2) The transcripts of the trial of the FSM sit-in defendants; (3) The “FSM Archives,” a depository of documents, leaflets, clippings, etc. kindly made available to me by Mr. Marston Schultz.
The problem of selection in the second part of this book, Voices from Berkeley, has been difficult because of lack of space to include everything that demanded entrance. The aim of this section is to give the reader an insight into how the students thought and felt, through their own writings and through writings which reflected them. It is obviously one-sided in terms of the controversial questions; I hasten to point this out. But this concentration on the students’ side of the picture has been made easier by the knowledge that there has been more than plentiful ventilation of the other side (or sides) in the nation’s newspapers and magazines as well as in others books published this year. There is probably no one in the Berkeley community – not even myself – who would give unqualified agreement to everything between these covers; these students are an exasperatingly independent-minded lot with a prejudice against unanimity. But it will be satisfying enough if at the end you say: “I remain unconvinced that what the students did was right; but I understand.”
To this end there are two supplements to the material in this book which need mention: (1) An illuminating photographic history with running text, The Trouble in Berkeley, edited by Steven Warshaw (Berkeley, Diablo Press, 1965); (2) The text of the only debate on the FSM controversy which took place on the Berkeley campus, between Professor Nathan Glazer and myself, on January 9, 1965, as part of a conference sponsored by the Independent Socialist Club (the full transcript, including most especially the cross-discussion and summaries, has been published in the quarterly New Politics, Vol.4 No.1).
The most dangerous nonsense about the Berkeley uprising is represented by the cries foretelling the destruction of the university unless the students are forthwith bullied and bashed into submissive quiescence. Everything that has happened has made many prouder than ever to be associated with the University of California (a term not synonymous with any administration) – not in spite of what has happened, but because it was able to happen here. The intellectual vitality and ferment which produced it, and which it produced in turn, add a new dimension to one of the great universities of the world, and a new criterion by which to judge others. By this standard Berkeley stands as a beacon light for American students. The university can indeed be destroyed, but only if its own administration and Regents try to stifle the breath of life that has blown through its halls.
P.S. While this was being written, the trial of the FSM sit-inners ended with the judge’s decision in favor of conviction, on grounds of trespassing and resisting arrest (by going limp); the charges of unlawful assembly were thrown out. The cases will be appealed, in order to test important points of law, but a great deal of money will be needed. It can come only from people who believe that hundreds of dedicated students should not be crucified for their success in stopping an attack on campus freedoms. Ten per cent of the author’s royalties on this book is going to the defendants’ Legal Fund. It is to be hoped that there will be sufficient support to see this through.
Last updated on 27.8.2006