Weatherman conducts a ’war council’
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Weatherman conducts a ’war council’

First Published: Guardian, January 10, 1970.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Weatherman controlling faction of SDS held a national “war council” here Dec. 27-30. About 400 young people showed up at the gathering-nominally SDS’s quarterly national council meeting–to practice karate, rap in regional and collective meetings, dig a little music and hear the “Weather Bureau” lay down its political line for revolution in America.

The Weatherman group, which came to power at the SDS convention in June, called the meeting to try to bring together various parts of the radical movement and other young people, including those turned on and turned off by Weatherman politics.

“We’ve made a lot of mistakes,” said Bernardine Dohrn, a Weatherman leader. The meeting was planned to make amends for some of these mistakes–such as the hostility shown by Weatherman for the rest of the movement–and to broaden support for Weatherman politics and actions.

The meeting hall was decked with large banners of revolutionary leaders – Che, Ho, Fidel, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver – hanging from the ceiling. One entire wall of the ballroom was covered with alternating black and red posters of murdered Illinois Panther leader Fred Hampton. An enormous cardboard machine gun hung from the ceiling.

Violence was the keynote of the long hours of talk that began Dec. 27. The distinction between revolutionary armed struggle and violence for its own sake is a major point of contention between Weatherman and its numerous critics.

While Weathermen had spoken of their desire to reconstitute SDS as a mass organization representing various points of view within the revolutionary movement, it was clear that Weatherman was running the show. This was a Weatherman meeting, with a handful of outsiders there to gawk, scowl, listen and occasionally to debate.

Old-time movement people noticed a large number of unfamiliar faces there. True, there were the Weatherman founders– people who had played a major role in SDS in 1966-69, many of them from Columbia and other elite schools. But then there were dozens of new, young kids–long-hairs, street kids, a few of them only 13 or 14 years old, some of them from out-of-the-way places like Grand Rapids, Mich, and Fall River, Mass.

The strongest debate centered on the question of who is going to make the American revolution. Weatherman, along with many others in the movement, recognizes that the American revolution is part of the world struggle against U.S. imperialism, a struggle for liberation from both colonial and capitalist oppression. Weatherman’s critics maintain, however, that Weatherman’s internationalism is based on an analysis that ignores capitalist oppression in America. Weatherman sees revolutionary change in America as happening almost solely, if at all, as a belated reaction to a successful world revolution including a successful revolt by the black colony inside the U.S.

The logic of that view was expressed in a statement by Ted Gold, a top Weatherman, who said that “an agency of the people of the world” would be set up to run the U.S. economy and society after the defeat of the U.S. imperialism abroad.

A critic spoke up: “In short, if the people of the world succeed in liberating themselves before American radicals have made the American revolution, then the Vietnamese and Africans and the Chinese are gonna move in and run things for white America. It sounds like a John Bircher’s worst dream. There will have to be more repression than ever against white people, but by refusing to organize people, Weatherman isn’t even giving them half a chance.”

“Well,” replied Gold, “if it will take fascism, we’ll have to have fascism.”

Weatherman–virtually all white–continues to promote the notion that white working people in America are inherently counter-revolutionary, impossible to organize, or just plain evil–“honky bastards,” as many Weathermen put it.

Weatherman’s bleak view of the post-revolutionary world comes from an analysis of American society that says that “class doesn’t count, race does.”

White workers are in fact fighting for their survival, insisted people doing organizing of factory workers in California. They claim that strikes for wage increases and job security can fairly easily be linked to an anti-imperialist analysis.

But Weatherman denies that survival is an issue for white workers. Weatherman leader Howie Machtinger derided white workers for desiring better homes, better food and essentially better lives.

Bob Avakian, from the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, argued that not only do white workers need those things for their survival, but that black people need them and want them, too. The several black people who Weatherman had brought to the meeting shouted, “Right on!” and waved their fists.

“If you can’t understand that white workers are being screwed too, that they are oppressed by capitalism before they are racists, then that just shows your class origins,” said Avakian.

Machtinger shot back: “When you try to defend honky workers who just want more privilege from imperialism, that shows your race origins.”

The Weatherman position boiled down to inevitable race war in America, with very few “honkies”–except perhaps the 400 people in the room and the few street kids or gang members who might run with them–surviving the holocaust.

That notion is linked to Weatherman’s concept of initiating armed struggle now and not waiting to build mass white support–that is, a small but courageous white fighting force will do material damage that will weaken imperialism while the black liberation movement smashes “the imperialist motherfucker” by itself.

Machtinger talked a lot about how the black liberation movement is so far advanced at this point that the only thing left for white revolutionaries is to support blacks by fighting cops as a diversionary tactic.

Weatherman is adamant in saying that whites cannot be organized into a mass revolutionary movement. To say that they can or should, according to Weatherleaders, is “national chauvinism.” “The Panthers say they should,” argued Avakian. “Well, we don’t agree with the Panthers on a lot of things,” replied Machtinger.

Weathermen now talk less about a “strategy to win,” more about their historic role as catalysts. They emphasize the need to establish a white, revolutionary presence, to break movement people out of the traditional role of long-term base-building and passivity.

A new Weatherman catchword was “barbarism.” The Weathermen see themselves as playing a role similar to that of the barbarian tribes, such as the Vandals and the Visigoths, who invaded and destroyed the decadent, corrupt Rome.

Unlike former SDS national council meetings, no specific resolutions were debated or voted on. The only formal structure consisted of speeches by the small leadership group known as the “Weather Bureau.” There were many small discussions and regional meetings, too.

Bernardine Dohrn, former inter-organizational secretary of SDS for 1968-69, gave the opening speech. She began by admitting that a lot of Weatherman’s actions have been motivated by “a white guilt trip.”

“But we fucked up a lot anyway. We didn’t fight around Bobby Seale when he was shackled at the Conspiracy Trial. We should have torn the courtroom apart. We didn’t smash them when Mobe peace creeps hissed David Hilliard on Moratorium Day in San Francisco. We didn’t burn Chicago down when Fred was killed.”

Dohrn characterized violent, militant response in the streets as “armed struggle” against imperialism. “Since Oct. 11 [the last day of the SDS national window-breaking action in Chicago], we’ve been wimpy on armed struggle .... We’re about being a fighting force alongside the blacks, but a lot of us are still honkies and we’re still scared of fighting. We have to get into armed struggle.”

Part of armed struggle, as Dohrn and others laid it down, is terrorism. Political assassination–openly joked about by some Weathermen–and literally any kind of violence that is considered anti-social were put forward as legitimate forms of armed struggle.

“We were in an airplane,” Dohrn related, “and we went up and down the aisle ’borrowing’ food from people’s plates. They didn’t know we were Weathermen; they just knew we were crazy. That’s what we’re about, being crazy motherfuckers and scaring the shit out of honky America.”

A 20-foot long poster adorned another wall of the ballroom. It was covered with drawings of bullets, each with a name. Along with the understandable targets like Chicago’s Mayor Daley, the Weathermen deemed as legitimate enemies to be offed, among others, the Guardian (which has criticized Weatherman) and Sharon Tate, one of several victims in the recent mass murder in California. She was eight months pregnant.

“Honkies are going to be afraid of us,” Dohrn insisted. She went on to tell the war council about Charlie Manson, accused leader of the gang which allegedly murdered the movie star and several others on their Beverly Hills estate. Manson has been portrayed in the media as a Satanic, magnetic personality who held near-hypnotic sway over several women whom he lent out to friends as favors and brought along for the murder scene. The press also mentioned Manson’s supposed fear of blacks–he reportedly moved into rural California to escape the violence of a race war.

Weatherman, the “Bureau” says, digs Manson, not only for his understanding of white America–the killer purportedly wrote “pig” in blood on the wall after the murder–but also because he’s a “bad motherfucker.” (At least one press report explained the “pig” on the wall by saying that Manson wrote that in order to throw suspicion on black people.)

“Dig it, first they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach! Wild!” said Bernardine Dohrn.

Women members of Weatherman held a panel discussion on women’s liberation. The fighting women, “the women who can carry bombs under their dresses like in ’The Battle of Algiers,’” was put forward as the only valid model for women’s liberation. Women’s liberation comes not only with taking leadership roles and with asserting yourself politically, they said, but also with overcoming hang-ups about violence.

In between the women’s raps, the people sang a medley of Weatherman songs, high camp numbers such as, “I’m Dreaming of a White Riot,” “Communism Is What We Do,” and “We Need a Red Party.” Spirited chants broke out, too: “Women power!” “Struggling power!” “Red Army power!” “Sirhan Sirhan power!” “Charlie Manson power!” “Power to the People!” “Off the pig!”

Other women speakers pointed out that male chauvinism has both an active intolerant side and a passive insulting side. They criticized the men in many Weatherman collectives for passively accepting women in leadership roles while refusing to engage in political struggle with them. Another speaker referred to the white women’s role as reproducer and characterized white women who bring up children in white America as “pig mothers.”

The “crazy violent motherfucker” theme was picked up in a long address by “Weather Bureau” member John Jacobs, who laid out the “White Devil” theory of all world history and traced the history of today’s youth from the Beat Generation of the 1950s.

“We’re against everything that’s ’good and decent,’” Jacobs declared. That notion, coupled with the White Devil theory, formed the basis of what they call “Serve the People Shit.” Serving the people, relating to people’s needs, is a crucial factor in many people’s minds of organizing white working people in America, so that the revolution will come as class war and end in socialism, rather than come as race war and end in fascism.

Weatherman is not about to collapse or disappear. The group has grown slightly in numbers since its inception last summer. The “Weathermachine” is still grinding out intense, excited, very dedicated people who are willing to risk a lot. But, as a black guy from Seattle, who Weatherman brought along, said, “They are simply not where it’s at.”