Marx and Marxism in Berkeley in 1968

Goldner, Loren

Publisher:  Insurgent Notes
Date Written:  20/05/2018
Year Published:  2018  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23447

Setting context by describing the early twentieth century political landscape in Berkeley, Goldner continues to describe his experince as a student at UC Berkeley by discussing local, national and international contexts for my encounter with Marx in Berkeley, 1968.




It was actually an offhand comment by a maverick anthropology professor named Ernest Becker that inspired me to read, over the summer of 1967, the three volumes of Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky, which (in the slang of the day and since) "blew my mind." I was not specifically taken with Trotsky's politics, aside from the obvious anti-Stalinism, nor Deutscher's spin of them, but by the sweep of his life as an activist, writer and speaker. I was already receiving English translations from the Socialisme ou Barbarie group in France, and other "ultra-left" writings such as Ida Mett's pamphlet on Kronstadt, from S ou B's fraternal group in Britain, Solidarity. I set out looking for a group with some variant of these politics, and a friend pointed me to the (then) Independent Socialist Clubs (isc), which called for the working-class overthrow of every government in the world. I had found "my people."

Perhaps the most accomplished Marxist on campus at that time was actually Hal Draper, who by then worked in the acquisitions department of the library (as a result of which Berkeley had an outstanding collection of working-class and socialist history). Draper had emerged as a firebrand speaker at mass rallies during the Free Speech Movement, earning respect as the "one person over 30" (in the trope of that time) who could be trusted. Draper was the grey eminence of the isc (later renamed International Socialists (is). He also gave public talks for the group, and wrote a widely read pamphlet "The Two Souls of Socialism," contrasting Marx and Engels (socialism from below) with an array of (in Draper’s view) then popular "socialism from above" figures ranging from Fidel Castro to Mao to Herbert Marcuse. Because of Marcuse's World War II work for the oss (Organization of Strategic Services), the predecessor to the cia, the ultra-Stalinist Progressive Labor Party (with a negligible presence in Berkeley) ran a campaign against him called "Marcuse: Cop-Out or Cop?"

These campus goings-on could hardly be understood separately from the larger mobilizations and events of these years: the mass antiwar march in San Francisco of spring 1967 of perhaps 100,000 people, the fall 1967 Stop the Draft Week demos at the army induction center in downtown Oakland involving thousands, or the (less successful) attempts to halt the troop trains in western Berkeley. Nor could they be separated from the (above mentioned) hippie counterculture developing across the bay in San Francisco. Fall 1967 also saw the giant March on Washington, dc, during which the poet Allen Ginsberg tried to levitate the Pentagon with Buddhist chants.

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