We lived on Roscoe St., on the North Side, when I met Richie and Rennie and their friends in Jobs or Income Now. It was 1964 or 65, and Francoise and I had just got married. They had introduced themselves to a number of the radicals in town with two characteristics: they had been involved in the labor movement with some success — i didn’t see any rank and filers around these gatherings — and at that time there were radicals, not stars like Jesse or Sid Lens, and not impresarios like Frank Fried.
They struck me as a group of very devoted, radical kids who had immersed themselves in the lumpen whites and some blacks in a marginal area of the Uptown neighborhood. They were trying to organize the people in this community, taking the admonition of SNCC that the responsibility of white radicals was to organize within the white community. The reality was they were not organizing the white working class, they were organizing in this fragile lumpen sector, the only sector they had access to.
JOIN was not necessarily a class-conscious group. In a sense, it was very similar to what the Narodniks did in Russia. But it was activity, and they appeared to be making some progress at organizing people to take control of their lives, which I was for, and they were young, and young people are the only ones who are going to change society. They were the rebels of the time, at least the ones I was in touch with.
There’s a always a tendency among some white radicals, because of the difficulty and their upbringing, to become some kind of a groupie of the black movement or the solidarity movement, and that’s not to diminish their contribution. But the best thing you can do for any of these movements is to win over to them a section of the society you participate in; otherwise they will be totally isolated. So the intial thing SNCC told white radicals made great sense to me; I had no questions about that, you tried to do it the best you could.
With SNCC, although I did not consider myself an outsider, I was not a member. They were the generals and I considered myself a northern foot soldier. The main thing I did with them was to produce the Freedom Singers record for Mercury. JOIN, on the other hand , I plunged right into. It was right there 20 blocks from my neighborhood. And it was what SNCC had told us to do. This was on a more grassroots level than my involvement had been until then. I attended meetings, participated in demos, tried to understand what they were doing. I found myself feeling often alien to both their discussions and their way of life, but that was my problem, not theirs. Francoise and I liked them as people. Rennie was an incredibly charming salesman. And they were part of the radical milieu in Chicago. So if you wanted to be a part of radical politics — and I still did — you could hardly ignore them.
It was an interesting group of kids, and at that time the working class was not in motion; the revival of the radical movement was being led by the blacks in the south, and here you had this concurrent development among white students. I wanted to particpate as much as I could, and encourage it and find out more about it, and I was very open to new ideas and even willing to acknowledge that there might be other roads to socialism than that of the working class. But I never did give up on the idea that there are only two forces in society that are capable of real change, the working class and the bourgeoisie, and obviously the capitalist class, and their idea of change is not mine.
But very rapidly it went from that to black power and then to black chauvinism and an infantile form of black nationalism. There is a big distinction between black power and black nationalism, and between black pride and black chauvinism, and later on SNCC crossed this line. There was kind of an overlap. Later I saw the early leadership had created another basis for itself. They were in the process of losing control over SDS, and Clark Kissinger, who succeeded Paul Booth, became an RCPer; he may even have been one when he was secretary of SDS.