After 1968 it was becoming harder and harder to combine politics with my business life. It was getting more dangerous too, as the crazies took over the movement. Dick Gassen, who worked for me through January 1968, recalls that Rennie asked him for the plans to the Amphitheatre. Dick told me about it and I went crazy and said absolutely not. I was not interested in getting my business blown out by lunatics.
The civil rights movement had won great victories, which came about because of the rioting in the cities, but they were often more form than substance. Black and white, like rich and poor in the old saying, were both free to sleep under bridges. African-Americans had achieved the right to the same degradation that poor whites had always had.
In the end, for all their demonstrations and moratoriums, the antiwar radicals failed to make a connection with the mass of Americans. My own feeling was it was because they had failed to develop a comprehensive view of society and project a class analysis. In spite of some radical posturing, these movements never achieved any real commonality of purpose.
They were petulant young rebels who were angry that the Kennedys were not listening to them full-time. Part of their problem as radicals was they always had a relationship with the state department and the CIA, and they never broke ties with establishment figures. They seemed to think they should have some sort of entrée into a Kennedy administration. They met with them at a higher level than just adversaries negotiating. But at the same time they were being swept leftward by the antiwar movement.
Isserman has popularized the theory that it was a series of misunderstandings between SDS and Harrington and Howe, personal mistakes each group made, that determined that they didn’t quite understand each other, and history would have been different if there had been a fusion of the section of the old left that was intellectually led by Howe and Harrington – the “Other America” crowd – and the SDS. But at that time SDS was being swept leftward, and Harrington and Howe were being swept rightward.
The younger people had a kinship with the UAW and the social democrats, but that was disrupted by life, by major social events, and they were swept leftward, which speaks well for them, whether that was their intention or not. Today they are trying to pass themselves off as moderate social democrats, and claiming they were not trying to change the system so much as to modify some of its more grievous deficiencies, and the greatest deficiency they could identify was that nobody was listening to them, or not enough. That is the new wisdom that has come out of the whole group.