Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

George Tyler

Weather Underground: Driving down a dead end street

First Published: Unity, Vol. 4, No. 18, November 6-19, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The FBI and media have been working overtime to portray the Brink’s robbery in Nanuet, New York, as the last gasp of the 1960’s radicals. Three members of the Weather Underground were arrested in connection with the robbery and two other alleged members were arrested later in unrelated incidents. From accounts in the media, it’s almost impossible to figure out who makes up the Weather Underground and what they represent.

The Weathermen, as they were known in 1969, were a group within the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS was the largest white student organization in the country and by 1969 had over 100,000 members. SDS was an anti-imperialist organization, and many SDS activists became revolutionaries. The Weatherman faction of SDS consisted of several hundred members, who were revolutionaries actively building the student, anti-war and other progressive movements.

But the Weathermen developed and quickly consolidated an ultraleft political line that isolated them from the masses. They advocated immediate armed confrontation with the government, unwilling to take up the hard organizing work needed to educate people on the need for socialist revolution. Because they thought mass organizations unnecessary, they advocated dissolving SDS and built themselves as a small guerrilla band. They specifically said that white workers were reactionary and enemies of the revolution. They glorified the use of marijuana, LSD and other drugs – saying “dope is one of our weapons” in making revolution. After a series of arrests and government indictments against Weathermen, they decided to go underground in 1970.

In the early 1970’s the Weather Underground did no mass political organizing. In March 1970, three Weathermen were killed while constructing a bomb in a New York City townhouse, an action which shocked many Weathermen sympathizers. In the early 1970’s Weathermen took credit for a number of terrorist bombings of police stations, government buildings and a Pentagon washroom. They also engineered the jail break of drug cultist Timothy Leary, claiming he was a political prisoner. These series of actions had no real impact on the masses and revolutionary movement.

In the mid-1970’s, the Weather Underground reassessed their line and began to advocate both above ground political organizing and underground terrorism. Some Weathermen surfaced, while others remained in hiding. This self-criticism did not fundamentally change their terrorist line and isolation from the masses. By the end of the decade a number of Weather Underground leaders turned themselves in to police in exchange for light or no jail sentences.

Groups like the Weather Underground have existed throughout modern history. In Lenin’s time, small groups of educated intellectuals threw bombs and engaged in terrorist activities to “excite” the masses. Lenin pointed out that these ultraleftists actually held the masses in contempt. Terrorists don’t really believe that the masses are capable of making revolution. The U.S. capitalist class is not about to give up its power peacefully, but armed struggle to overthrow them must come through the organized action of the masses – not by isolated terrorist activity.

Many of the Weather Underground leaders are sons and daughters of wealthy families – prominent corporation executives, lawyers, etc. They joined the 1960’s movement with a genuine hatred for the evils of capitalism and made many sacrifices. But they failed to change their class outlook and understand that making a successful revolution is a protracted process. The arrogance, elitism and impatience stemming from their class background was reflected in their politics.

From an original base of hundreds of people in SDS, the Weather Underground today has little organized support. They do not represent the revolutionary current that emerged out of the people’s movements of the 1960’s. There are tens of thousands of 1960’s veterans who are today active in the labor, oppressed nationalities, anti-war, women’s and other progressive movements. They, not the Weather Underground, continue the revolutionary legacy of the 1960’s.