Mad dog and white panther
Ann Arbor, Michigan—The great inter- national student power movement began seven years ago—or so they say—with the formation of Students for a Democratic Society in the upper-middle-class University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where the aver- age annual income of parents is $17,000 and where there were then only about two hun- dred black students among 29,000 white ones. Its main impetus in those days came from opposition to the war draft (or con- scription) and its first major victory was the 1967 Selective Service Act, which guaranteed deferment for students. A number of sit-ins and confrontations with the university authorities also ensured that the `rank-in' system was dropped, whereby students who failed their examinations became liable for conscription. Thereafter, the student revolu- tion has come to a grinding halt, and a short history of Ann Arbor's struggles might well serve as an object lesson for critics of appeasement in the English universities.
There the argument runs, as I remember it, that no matter how many concessions are made to student demands, the students will always return with ever more outrageous demands until such time as any reasonable, middle-of-the-road academic will be forced into a confrontation. To meet this threat, Ann Arbor appointed a former labour ad- ministrator, Mr Robben Fleming, as Presi- dent of the university, to replace Mr Har- lan Hatcher, a typical Mid-Western worthy whose speciality had been to make rousing patriotic speeches in defence of the Vietnam war at anti-war sit-ins. Since then, the ad- ministration has agreed to experiment in another student demand, that of abolishing the concept of failure in examinations. At one residential college now, students can either be awarded a 'Pass' or a 'Pass with concern', the latter signifying failure. Al- though the university remains almost en- tirely fee-paying, The Federal-sponsored `Opportunity Programme' enables them to accept free any student who can prove that he is either too poor to pay the fees, or black. This arrangement has necessitated some adjustments in the curriculum of a university which has always prided itself on its academic standards, but practically no black applicant for a free place has yet been refused. One, who described herself as pri- marily interested in dancing, was shuffled into the psychology department, where she was unlikely to come to any harm, since the Opportunity students are not expected to pass exams in quite the same way as fee- payers.
In the face of such abundant good will, the revolutionaries soon became disaffected with themselves. At Ann Arbor a group formed within the SDS which became known as the Jesse James gang by virtue of its folksy habits. In time it identified itself with the Revolutionary Youth Movement, labelled by its opponents within the sos as Maoist, authoritarian and racist, by virtue of its support for black separatism. To counteract the Jesse James gang another group formed within the SDS to retain the pure milk of austere socialist purpose, called the Radical Caucus. Bitterness between the two factions has now reached the point where a Mobilisa- tion Committee, formed in an attempt to
patch up some sort of popular front for the totally uncontroversial and limited aim of an anti-war march, found itself unable to attract either the RYM or the Radical Caucus, and set out bravely with nobody but the univer- sity's two members of the Communist party and seventeen Trotskyites.
Other universities have split into suppor- ters of the Progressive Labour party, which claims to have no interest in the colour ques- tion outside its socialist relevance, eschewing black nationalism; and the RYM who, despite enthusiastic support for black nationalism, has not, in fact, been able to embrace many blacks. Progressive Labour is a left-wing splinter-group from the Communist party, whereas RYM is our old friend the Jesse James gang from SDS. Although they accuse each other of much the same crimes—auth- oritarianism, bourgeois intellectualism, racism, etc—the ideological split is in fact comparatively small beside the real gulf which separates them, and which has become a permanent feature of juvenile politics in America—between those who believe in the theory of socialism, in the dim hope that the American working class will one day awaken to their point of view, and those who believe in the practice of socialism, or not working.
The split could not be better illustrated than by the positions of the Radical Caucus, in Ann Arbor, and an organisation called Trans-Love Energies. The Radical Caucus, which concerns itself with trying to find demands which society will not accept (in order to provoke an awareness of the need for popular control) has succeeded in launch- ing a rent strike of some 2000 students demanding low cost housing. However, Trans-Love Energies, who occupy an elegant house in Hill Street and appear in the Ann Arbor telephone directory immediately be- fore Trans World Airlines, refused to join the strike on the grounds that they enjoy a particularly sensitive relationship with their landlord, owing him some $700 arrears of rent. Nevertheless, they have well-attended political education sessions, at which the works of Mao Tse-tung are read amid scenes of delirious enthusiasm.
Regular political broadsheets appear from Trans-Love headquarters, but it is hard to discern any coherent pattern of ideology in them, beyond total opposition to the police. The last one accused the county's chief police officer, Sheriff 'Mad Dog' Harvey, of having been twice dismissed from the police force,
once for rape and once for shooting a far. mer's cow. Trans-Love's President, John Sin- clair, has just been sent to prison for ten years for possessing two marijuana cigar- ettes, which gives some indication of the powers that 'Mad Dog' can deploy against them. Most of the city's graffiti refer to this incident, and there can be no doubt that at present Trans-Love Energies are winning bs a head from Radical Caucus.
This Caucus, despite the apparent hope. lessness of its task of convincing the American working classes that they live under a ty- ranny, attracts those intelligent, articulate leftists who would normally be drawn into any equivalent of the British Labour party, if such existed here. A spokesman, twenty- year-old Bruce Levine, studying history in his third year, assured me that most of its mem- bers would in fact prefer to live in the bourgeois democracy of America than in the totalitarian socialism of Russia, China or Cuba (this in itself was enough to have him shouted down at any RYM meeting) but that they saw their activity as a struggle against the emergence of capitalist totalitarianism. A former SDS man, two years out of college. replied that he had decided it was precisely the agitation of student (and black) revolu- tionaries which was most likely to herald the moment of capitalist totalitarianism. Perhaps both are happily on their way to joining the oppressive system, with a Buick sedan and four nice American kiddies round the cor- ner. But it is the sheer political imbecility of the Trans-Love grouping which makes them much harder to analyse and explain. The only logical explanation must be either that they are imbeciles (which many are not) or that they are simply making political noises to cover a motivation which is hedonistic. individualistic and non-ideological.
Trans-Love's political wing is the White Panther party. Its manifesto demands total freedom, abolition of money, an end to the `vicious pig power structure and their mad- dog lackeys, the police', an amnesty for all prisoners, free land, free food, free shelter...
EVERYTHING FREE FOR EVERYBODY! I visited
a Trans-Love commune to discover how this might be achieved. They received me kindly. offered me a puff of the reefer which was being passed round, and started questioning me very closely about the Queen's sex life. One of them had sold a pint of blood for $20 that morning, and the mood was fairly fes- tive. A spokesman assured me that the group's primary concern was the well-being of the planet, which was threatened by air pollution and the garbage problem. (Every- body I meet in America talks about the gar- bage problem.) A huge Negro came in. his hair in curious spikes, and started question- ing me again about the Queen's sex life.
As well as holding seminars in political education, Trans-Love crusades against obscenity and drugs laws. Last year they achieved their greatest success when they seized an entire street for The People and Sheriff 'Mad Dog' Harvey accidentall■ gassed the President of the University in his official residence, several blocks away. Another great success was when they mimeo- graphed parts of Portnoy's Complaint from the public library and provoked 'Mad Dog' into prosecuting them for circulating obscene material. And while the bitter feud between `Mad Dog' Harvey and Trans-Love Energies works its way towards some hideous and catastrophic conclusion, the gentle faculty members of Ann Arbor University proceed unmolested with the task of preparing their charges for the rigours of life in an affluent, competitive society.