Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Guardian Office Attacked

First Published: Guardian, April 18, 1970.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Guardian was published clandestinely this week. At this writing, the Guardian’s tenement office on East 4th St. in New York City’s Lower East Side is empty following the violent invasion of about 50 assorted ultra-leftists, anarchists and other self-styled “revolutionaries” who broke into the barricaded building about noon April 12 in an effort to prevent this issue of the Guardian from going to press.

The group left after police, summoned by the building owner, ordered them to disperse by 6 p.m. They set up a picket line outside the building. Since the Guardian refused the necessary order to police to arrest the invaders, police did not maintain a guard at the building and there was the possibility that it would be reoccupied or ransacked during the night and the next days. The group returned the next day and announced the Guardian had been “liberated.”

Guardian workers have not re-entered the building because they are attempting to publish the paper at a secret location. It is not known whether office equipment, files and other publishing tools have been stolen or destroyed.

The invasion came after three days of picket lines, door blockades and other harassment outside the five-story building by an element that terms itself the “Movement” but which has come under increasing criticism from the Guardian for adventurism. A recent Guardian Viewpoint condemning individual terrorism is known to have inspired some of the invaders to take action. They had vowed to block publication of the Guardian under its present political direction and to establish a “liberated Guardian” more in line with their own politics.

Differences between the Guardian and certain sections of the movement made themselves apparent last spring and summer when this newspaper began to adopt a critical attitude toward “left” adventurism and the substitution of small group revolutionary action for mass revolutionary struggle with the working class as a central force. At the same time the paper became pointedly critical of sectarianism and dogmatism then blossoming within the movement. In August, the Guardian position on the antiwar movement matured to an understanding of the primary necessity of building a broad united front around the issue of immediate withdrawal and for the continuing need for mass demonstrations against war, as opposed to the primacy of much smaller “revolutionary” actions against the war. The Guardian’s attack on the Weatherman group and its adventurist line continued this political progression. In the following months this newspaper was increasingly critical of these tendencies, arguing even more strongly for mass organizing, education and action. The editorial on individual terrorism a few weeks ago – wherein the Guardian sought to expose how such terror tactics defeat revolutionary objectives – was strongly criticized by some sections of the movement.

It was basically these differences which sparked the attempt to destroy the Guardian, led by some people who had worked on this newspaper a few weeks or months and several tiny ultra-leftist groups, known for referring to themselves as the “movement” or “the people.”

Joining the group in a classic example of an unprincipled alliance were several individuals briefly associated with the business management of this newspaper who resigned a year ago when their leading member, John Duffet, was fired by the Guardian staff for extreme authoritarianism, slander and harassment of business department workers. He, too, was among the “liberators.”

The assailants failed, of course, to stop publication, but did manage to delay publication briefly. Anticipating an invasion and an effort to wrest control of the nation’s largest radical newsweekly from the hands of the staff cooperative, the Guardian decentralized its production apparatus to several other locations two days earlier, while maintaining a small-crew of staff members barricaded within the building for defense and to give the impression that production was continuing as usual.

Five Guardian staff members were assigned to guard duty in rotating shifts. The front door leading to 4th St. was barricaded with stacks of newspapers and heavy objects. Most other entrances were barricaded as well, but not sufficiently to hold off the invaders.

A picket line was established outside the office April 9 immediately after a walkout by a number of temporary, part-time and candidate full-time workers on the Guardian. Not one of the 18 members or the Guardian cooperative, including several full-time correspondents in the field, joined the walkout. Longer term volunteer workers and other new workers remained, as well.

A member of the cooperative, entitled to full voting rights in the Guardian’s political and administrative decision-making process, is a full-time worker who has worked with the newspaper four months or more and has been elected by the staff as a member of the cooperative. Temporary, part-time and candidate workers (Jess than four months) participate in Guardian discussions but do not vote. (Six of those who walked out were temporary workers hired for several weeks for the specific short-term job of helping computerize the Guardian’s subscription system. About as many more were part-time workers. The remainder – including two workers at the Guardian for only a week – had been at the paper less than four months.)

The surface immediate issue in the dispute centered around the “non-negotiable“ demand from those who were not members of the cooperative that “the Guardian must be reorganized in a collective manner, with all work and decisions shared collectively with each worker having one equal vote. Guardian workers are regular full- and part-time workers, volunteers and correspondents.“

The Guardian staff was given precisely five minutes to agree to this demand under threat of an immediate walkout by non-staff workers and warning that “we will halt production on this issue.” A number of other demands were also made but “negotiation” on these was contingent – on immediately and unconditionally accepting as full members of the cooperative all part-time, temporary, volunteer and candidate workers. This would have entitled these workers to an equal voice in determining the political direction of the paper with members of the cooperative. In effect, if the demand was met, the Guardian’s Marxist orientation would have been changed in five minutes into an anarchist direction.

The members of the cooperative unanimously rejected this demand, even though there was no doubting that a walkout by these workers would result in a blockade of the one street entrance and efforts to enlist the ultra-left in a move to take over the paper.

All told, 18 people – none members of the cooperative – walked out and Immediately issued a call to the “movement” to join the “strike of Guardian workers.” New York radio station WBAI was helpful to the strikers by giving them considerable air time, which resulted in city-wide publicity. Several dozen non-Guardian people joined the picket line the next three days and attended planning meetings of the “Guardian workers collective.”

The confrontation Sunday, April 12 – the Guardian’s usual deadline for production – began with a picket line in the morning. At around 11 a.m. three men were observed trying to break into the back window leading into a vacant printing shop on the first floor. Shortly afterward, three other men, carrying knives, began climbing the fire escape to the top floor, which is used for storage, in order to break in from the top. They brandished their weapons at Guardian defender Steve Torgoff, 23, who tried to intercept them from a window.

Moments later the mob broke into the top floor. The Defenders – Carl Davidson, 26; Marion Munsell, 65; Leslie Sinsley, 24; Rod Such, 24 and Torgoff – raced to the fourth floor landing with improvised clubs to confront the intruders, who were pouring in by this time, outnumbering the Guardian workers about 10 to one.

Such ran half-way up the stairs, followed by the others. Waving a crowbar, he demanded they leave immediately or “the first ones down these stairs are going to get their heads smashed .... Who wants to be first?”

The mob was held at bay temporarily and a political debate, laced with insults, ensued. Marion Munsell, a wrench in her hand, climbed to the front of the defense line, A six-year member of the Guardian staff, she sought to reason with the mob, telling them how much she had learned from the youth movement, urging that they curb their impatience and “take a longer view” of societal change.

Someone shouted: “Get out of the way, Grandma.” Others jibed, “Look at the men using a woman to front for them,” to which Munsell replied: “I am my own woman! No one is telling me what to do.” At this point one of the crowd leaned over the railing and began urinating in the direction of the defenders. Davidson shouted up to the attackers: “Look who you’re allied with-the scum of the movement.“ Someone shouted: “We are the movement.... We’re the people.”

“How many Panthers are supporting you?” Davidson asked. How many Young Lords?” There was no answer. At this point, Jill Boskey, an anarchist who resigned as a typesetter for the Guardian two weeks ago, questioned Munsell about the wrench she was carrying. “We’re not the enemy,” Boskey said. “I know most of you are not the enemy, but the enemy is among you,” Munsell replied, reflecting the Guardian’s conviction that police provocateurs were among those seeking to destroy the Guardian.

Others in the mob began shouting the “workers’ control” slogan, to which Such responded: “The workers do control the Guardian and they’re not going to let it be taken over by a bunch of anarchists.” A chant erupted: “Where’s Jack, where’s Jack,” referring to managing editor Jack A. Smith, who’s head, it appeared, was in demand. “He’s putting out the paper,” said Davidson, not explaining that the process was taking place some considerable distance from the guillotine.

They started moving down the stairs. Boskey and another woman grabbed Munsell and lifted her feet from the stairs, attempting to remove her. She struggled to get free. Men behind the two women leading the move down the stairs began pushing to break through the defenders. Munsell fell on the stairs and three men fell on top of her. Davidson hit the three of them with his pole. Someone leaped on him from higher up and both went down.

The invaders paused temporarily as Munsell extricated herself, only to resume standing, arms outspread, blocking the staircase. Sinsley brought up a fire extinguisher and it was played on the invaders as they rushed down the stairs. A brief melee erupted. The defense guard was overwhelmed and the invaders took possession of a surprisingly empty office.

The five Guardian workers locked themselves inside an office and eventually reached the street in time to hear a voice shouting out from the editorial room on the fourth floor to less adventurous adventurists waiting on the streets, “The workers’ collective is meeting! Anyone who wants to come is invited!”

Meanwhile, as the “workers collective” was inspecting the building, files and desks, the Guardian staff was putting together this issue, working, as always, under rather extreme deadline pressure. The only copy problem was that columnist Stanley Aronowitz decided not to write his column this week in respect for the “strike.” The technical problems of putting out the issue were enormous, of course.

Police, drawn by the general fracas and window- smashing, came to the building. They asked Guardian general manager, Irving Beinin, who has just arrived from his home in response to a call from the defenders, if he wanted the intruders arrested. When he said “No,” a policy the Guardian had agreed on earlier, police said they would then not clear the building. (Later, a member of the “workers’ collective” told a WBAI audience that Beinin had sworn a complaint warrant of criminal trespass. This was a not untypical lie.)

The future is not altogether clear at this point. The “workers’ collective” has made the arrogant claim to be the “staff” of the Guardian. Together with its friends from the ultra-left, the anarchists, “life-style” and ”cultural” revolutionaries and a unique collection of opportunists of various stripes, this reactionary group has announced plans to publish the “liberated Guardian” under an “exemplary” internal structure which would presumably serve as an embryo model of the new society. Interestingly, in the WBAI broadcast, the “collective“ said that one of the changes it intended to make in the “liberated Guardian” was less coverage of the “international movement.” This was interpreted by the Guardian staff as national chauvinism and an intention to move away from the international revolutionary perspective the Guardian has been developing. The “liberated Guardian,” incidentally, said it intended to use the East 4th St. facilities of the Guardian for this endeavor.

Legally, the members of the cooperative own the paper lock, stock and typewriter. The Guardian is incorporated under the laws of the State of New York and shares are equally divided among those members who names appear on the page two masthead, with the exception of columnists, who do not work full-time. Although the “workers’ collective” broke into the Guardian safe and “liberated” the Guardian’s corporate seal this has no effect on the rights of the Guardian staff to conduct the Guardian’s affairs. If the “collective” again occupies the building the landlord has said he would have them thrown out (he has already rejected an offer of a large sum of money not to do so.) At most, it seems, the “collective” has the capacity for stealing equipment, wrecking the office possibly delaying publication, harassing individual Guardian workers and causing this newspaper great financial problems.

Through rather elaborate methods of communication, connecting small groups of staff people scattered as much as 50 miles apart, the staff is completely agreed on continuing to publish this newspaper. The office was sacrificed in order to publish this issue. Whether or not the Guardian will return to East 4th St. has not been decided at this point. Since a system has been established to continue publishing on a decentralized basis, if necessary, the question of precisely where the Guardian will publish from is not immediately pressing.

The big problem with returning to East 4th St. is security. When it was decided earlier in the week to mount only a Iimited defense in order to minimize injury and avoid police intervention or calling police to arrest invaders, the office became vulnerable save for the staving effect of barricades and a small crew of defenders. The staff also decided in principle not to call for physical support from certain comradely movement groups because these groups have enough troubles of their own to contend with.

At its last staff meeting before the invasion and after the walkout, the Guardian cooperative was quite firm on why it rejected the demands: the Guardian’s Marxist political direction is not subject to the transient whim. By granting full voting rights to volunteers, temporary and part-time workers and by eliminating the four-month candidate period for admission into the cooperative for full-time workers, the political complexion of the paper would have been drastically changed, even though some of the part-time workers who fought for the vote and walked out probably had no real understanding of the importance of this issue. A dramatic political change, however, was the clear purpose of the principal organizers of this reactionary “strike.” Unable to win their arguments in open debate in staff meetings, frustrated because the Guardian’s political line was not their own, those who organized the effort to halt the Guardian were conducting an anti-Marxist political action under the guise of attempting to correct structural deficiencies and eliminate “hierarchies and authoritarian decision-making.”

In effect, the organizers of this action were attempting to achieve by technical-structural means, threats, blockades, building occupation and the theft of a newspaper, what they never were able to accomplish through political persuasion. Their list of demands-of which full voting rights for just about anyone who crosses the Guardian threshhold was merely the first of many-reads like the interminable programs of tiny anarchist sects temporarily recurrent throughout various stages of people’s struggles.

At the post-walkout staff meeting it was noted that, with admitted errors and contradictions, the paper is clearly headed in a Marxist direction. This direction can only be altered by a majority of the members of the cooperative and they show no disposition to do so.

The Guardian staff also discussed and rejected after the walkout several of the other demands of the “strike” group, which included such proposals as: reorganization of the Guardian into a “workers’ collective”; election to the coordinating committee (which administers the paper) on the basis of departmental representation (typesetters, art department, editorial, business, etc.) rather than general popular election from among the staff on the grounds of politics and general competence; “all work be shared“ (which means general undifferentiation of function, since work is shared at the Guardian); that workers in each separate department hire each new worker in that department (as opposed to the present practice of hiring by an elected coordinating committee representing the staff as a whole, followed by staff approval or rejection); struggle against “professionalism,” an apparently derogatory term for the Guardian’s efforts to produce a serious left-wing weekly newspaper of as high a calibre as possible. “Professionalism” was conceived as such an evil that the “strike” demands included a proviso that whenever it crops up, “production would be stopped until it is dealt with.”

At the meeting which culminated in the walkout, a number of other demands were read so quickly from what appeared to be the only copy of the’ general demands (the Guardian was never given and is not in possession of one) that they cannot be recorded here. A score of general grievances, without any specifics, were read, including intimidation, bossism, egotism, hierarchical control, lying, threats of violence, male supremacy, white supremacy. In the brief discussion before the walkout, the. “strikers” called the Guardian, its elected leadership and those who elected that leadership such a broad variety of names (capitalists, “pigs,” etc.) that the “demands” simply could not be taken seriously.

Smith and Beinin, the elected managers of the paper, came in for particular vituperation at the meeting, withthose who supported them called “lackeys” among other pleasantries. Just four months ago Smith was reelected managing editor but a vote of 17-1, Beinin, general manager by 16-2 and the vote would be approximately the same today.

In effect, the burden of the “demands” made by these part-time, temporary and candidate workers amounted to an attempt to substitute themselves for the entire cooperative of workers and for the decisions made democratically by these workers.

Just after the walkout and the threat to stop production the Guardian staff was informed that those who walked out considered themselves on “strike” and that they had not left the paper. After some discussion, it was decided that all those who continued to identify with the blanket anti-Guardian statement and the attempts to destroy the paper’s operation would be considered as having resigned from the paper. The occupation rendered the question moot, of course. In general, the expressed grievances broke down into two categories:

Hierarchical control and authoritarianism: the Guardian staff considered this charge absurd. Acknowledging that structural problems exist – where don’t they, except perhaps in the bourgeois daydreams of the “strike“ revolutionaries? – the Guardian has developed a structure that is at once centralist and democratic. Since last summer, during a similar walkout over basically the same issues, the Guardian cooperative decided that the interests of the paper demanded a more centralist structure.

The reality of the democracy in the Guardian’s operation is clear. All full-time Guardian workers earn the same amount of money-$60 in a good week. The two leading positions on the paper – managing editor and general manager – are elective, every two years and are subject to recall any time a majority of the staff decides to do so. The three other members of the coordinating committee (Davidson, Sinsley and Munsell) are also elected. They perform their administrative functions on top of their regular jobs and are also subject to majority recall (not to mention confrontations with marauding reactionaries). The Guardian conceives of such a “hierarchy” as an extremely democratic form of democratic centralism, with the emphasis on the democratic aspect, but anarchists – who basically want no structure at all – find it impossible to live with. Since they are in the minority, they tend to take out their political frustrations on the structure. And if the staff, in general, happens to agree with this structure, they say it is because they have been “manipulated“ by the “bosses.”

Alienation: A number of those who walked out, even if they have been at the Guardian for only two or three weeks, claimed they were “alienated” from their work. The general consensus was that much “alienation” stemmed from an opposition towards the Guardian’s political line. In other words, the Guardian has been too “liberal” in its hiring practice. Over the years, though a number of workers have left the Guardian because of such “alienation,” very few have been Marxists in any sense of the word. Those who were exhibited strong remnants of bourgeois individualism, despite their theories.

Another source of such alienation, the Guardian’s experience has proven again and again, is a total lack of experience with actually having to do the serious kind of work the Guardian expects. For many workers the Guardian is the first job they have ever had – and it’s hard to hack. For $60 a week, difficult working conditions, long hours and great tension, all people who work at the Guardian are expected to perform top quality jobs. For those who share the paper’s evolving political direction, it’s tolerable. For those who don’t, it’s not. They feel exploited and oppressed by the demands of this kind of newspaper, by the expectation that they must devote themselves to it, by the fact that shoddy work is not long tolerated, by the lack of Immediate gratification, by the deferment of dreams, by the fact that, in general, the paper is considered more important than an individual ego, by the Guardian’s desire to be a serious radical paper and by its reluctance to join current and often passing fads.

The day after the walkout a reporter for WBAI asked why it was so many people periodically left the Guardian. He didn’t think to ask why so many people periodically left WBAI, or so many other shoestring radical operations. Actually, he first said “purged” – the great myth of the Guardian’s summer, fall, winter and spring “purges.”

Actually, over the last two or three years five or six workers have been fired by the staff. Everyone else who left did so on their own for reasons perhaps described above though they like to brag about being “purged,” or oppressed or exploited as though it were some movement merit badge of courage.

Some of them are gathered out there now, along with new found fellow sufferers, digging the scene and trying to crush this newspaper.

Perhaps they will never learn. The Guardian does not intend to die.