Whither the Weatherman
Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Whither the Weatherman

First Published: Guardian, December 26, 1970.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“The townhouse forever destroyed our belief that armed struggle is the only real revolutionary struggle.” This reference to the New York City explosion that took the lives of three Weatherman activists last spring set the tone for a self-critical statement from the “Weather Underground” recently released through Liberation News Service.

“We want to address ourselves to the mass movement,” the report opens, “not as military leaders [sic] but as tribes at council.” The document, apparently authentic, was signed by Bernadine Dohrn (along, with her fingerprint) and was dated Dec. 6. It followed a series of “communiques” and terse statements related to specific bombings over the past few months.

Although the report states the town-house explosion happened because the group “had not dealt with the basic technological considerations of safety,” it also says, “more had been wrong with our direction than technical inexperience.”

“Because their collective began to define armed struggle as the only legitimate form of revolutionary action,” the document continues, “they did not believe that there was any revolutionary motion among white youth.” This political position then led the townhouse group to move “from firebombing to antipersonnel bombs” that would be used in an “almost random bombing offensive.”

The conflict this stimulated within the group (“many had not slept for days; personal relationships were full of guilt and fear”) led to the lack of concern with safety. “At the end, they believed and acted as if only those who die are proven revolutionaries.”

“Military error”

Weatherman now apparently believes this view to be wrong: “This tendency to consider only bombings or picking up the gun as revolutionary, with the glorification of the heavier the better, we’ve called the ’military error.’” In turn, they believe this error stemmed from their isolation from the youth movement. “We became aware,” the report states, “that a group of outlaws who are isolated from the youth communities do not have a sense of what is going on, cannot develop strategies that grow to include large numbers of people. . .”

While this may be an inducement for some sections of the youth movement now to respond to Weatherman with open arms, for revolutionaries fundamental contradictions still remain. For these, the basic conflict with Weatherman was not over the question of tactics. The question of armed struggle–even terrorism–was not the dividing line, but a matter of expediency determined by the character of the political crisis in the country at the time, the potential of support from the masses and the needs of the people for armed self-defense.

This is not to say Weatherman’s tactical positions were correct. They were both irrational and mistaken from almost any viewpoint, including their own. (To recall a few: beating up students who opposed an action, referring to GIs at base coffeehouses as “pigs” for not deserting the military and joining Weatherman’s “red army,” or bombing the home of the judge in the Panther 21 trial at a time when the Panthers are trying to convince the people that the charges against them for a “bomb conspiracy” are false.)

Nevertheless, Weatherman was at least partially correct in pointing out that some earlier criticisms of them for pure and simple “militancy” came from a liberal or right opportunist direction.

Where Weatherman was and remains mistaken was on a more basic issue: “who will be the main force of the socialist revolution”? As they still see it, the answer was the nationally oppressed peoples with a smaller or larger element of the youth from the “mother country” playing a supportive role. The mass of the white section of the working class, not just its labor aristocracy, was written off as having basic interests in common with the imperialists.

The revolutionary view is that while the national liberation struggles were playing the leading role in the revolutionary process, the mass of the proletariat–with its different national sections united–will be the main force in carrying the socialist revolution through to the end.

Repudiating working class

Despite their emphasis on repudiating their own white-skin privileges, Weatherman does not believe white workers can be won to do the same. Thus, instead of waging an effective struggle against white supremacy, they repudiated the white worker, the possibility of class unity within the proletariat and the revolutionary role of the proletariat itself.

This question is not addressed anywhere in their lengthy self-criticism, nor is the working class–of any nationality–even mentioned. “People become revolutionaries,” the document says at one point, “in the schools, in the army, in prisons, in communes and on the streets. Not in an underground cell.” Apparently not in factories or work places either.

Where Weatherman does seem to change its position is on the question of mass action. “We are so used to feeling powerless,” the report says, “that we believe pig propaganda about the death of the movement, or some bad politics about rallies being obsolete and bullshit. . . . The demonstrations and strikes following the rape of Indochina and the murders at Jackson and Kent last May showed real power and made a strong difference.”

Despite the fact that Weatherman was responsible for a good part of those “bad politics about rallies being obsolete and bullshit,” this recommendation to the youth movement could possibly have a positive effect.

“Someone must call” for these demonstrations, they say, “put out the leaflets, convince people that it is a priority.” But when answering who, the report continues, “It will require courage and close families of people to do this kind of organizing. Twos and threes is not a good form for anything–it won’t put out a newspaper, organize a conference on the war or do an armed action without getting caught.” Thus, Weatherman suggests that instead of “twos and threes” we have “close families.” In other words, replace tiny groups with small groups, hardly what is needed to organize mass mobilizations.

“Cultural” vanguard

What, then, does the shift in line mean, since Weatherman is hardly abandoning its petit-bourgeois small-group mentality or even occasional individual terrorist activity? It is basically a move to place themselves in the vanguard of the “cultural revolutionary” section of the white youth movement.

“In the past few months,” they state, “we have had our minds blown by the possibilities that exist for all of us to develop the movement so that as revolutionaries we change and shape the cultural revolution....

“The hearts of our people are in a good place. .. . They’ve moved to the country and found new ways to bring up free, wild children. People have purified themselves with organic food, fought for sexual liberation, grown long hair. People have reached out to each other and learned that grass and organic consciousness-expanding drugs are weapons of the revolution.”

On their activity to date, Weatherman offers the following estimate: “Most of our actions have hurt the enemy on about the same military scale as a bee sting. But the political effect against the enemy has been devastating.” A more accurate assessment would place their political effect on the enemy on a par with a bee sting, while the effect of individual terrorism on the disorientation of the movement has been devastating. A prime example, for instance, is the disintegration of the student movement at the University of Wisconsin following the bombing of the Army Math Center.

Weatherman’s current changes will do little to remedy this situation. However, one question has been cleared up. For those who wondered how LSD enthusiast Timothy Leary was won to the Weatherman line, the answer is that he wasn’t. Weatherman was won to the Timothy Leary line.