Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 1 Mar 10 07:25
Yes, the Panther stuff was painful to read in parts. Not only were the Panthers treated far too uncritically by the 60s counterculture in general, but Ramparts was unfortunate enough to have what seems to have been the craziest and most criminal of the various Black Panther organizations in its backyard. The passages on Cleaver also speak to the utterly repellent sexism that was common in many radical circles at the time, which was referred to above. But Cleaver, as a more or less unapologetic rapist, certainly took that to the highest (or lowest) possible level.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 1 Mar 10 07:53
Which leads me to a question: Where there people on the Ramparts staff who were highly skeptical of the Panthers?
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Mon 1 Mar 10 18:11
I have to teach right now, so I want to come back to these very important questions. But quickly, Ramparts' connections to the Panthers and its position on Israel were the two most divisive issues in the magazine's short history. Views of the Panthers, especially, help explain the defections of some Ramparts staffers to more conservative positions. The Nation: not much of a connection, though it provides a great contrast. I'll come back to this, too!
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 2 Mar 10 05:53
Most of the people I interviewed said the Panthers' style was pretty obvious. Some believed that David was uniquely naive about that. In Gene Marine's earlier coverage of the Panthers for Ramparts, he was very clear that the Panthers frightened him, and that readers should be frightened, too. An earlier question here concerned what I've learned since the book came out. Here's one such lesson: I had a reading at Berkeley's Revolution Books, and one of the hosts mentioned that her parents were involved with the Panthers. She said the first time she went by the office, the Panthers were reading Mao's little red book. The next time she went by, they were reading The Godfather. She thought that shift was significant, though she remained a strong defender of the organization. My book isn't about the Panthers--there's a huge literature about them already. But their story, I think, is more complex than most people believe. They began as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, and there really was a felt need for self defense in Oakland's black community at that time. Yes, they set up programs to serve the community, and they certainly were infiltrated and harassed and in some cases killed without cause by the authorities. But you can't tell the Ramparts story without talking about Betty Van Patter, and her death was the turning point for some of the Ramparts veterans, including David. It clearly remains a key issue for Sol Stern, too, though his feelings about Israel at the time were already moving him away from the magazine and its politics. Betty's murder was never solved, but most of the people I interviewed about it accepted the idea that the Panthers were responsible. That theory gained credence from the first story produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting--hardly a right-wing outfit. That piece was co-authored by Ramparts contributor and former Newsweek staffer Kate Coleman and Paul Avery (played memorably by Robert Downey Jr. in Zodiac). It reported on the Panthers' illegal activity and revealed a pattern of racketeering and gangsterism. Here it is: http://colemantruth.net/kate8.pdf Much later, Kate Coleman wrote a piece specifically about the Panthers' alleged complicity in her death. Here's that piece, which ran in David Horowitz's Heterodoxy. http://colemantruth.net/kate15.pdf I realize these issues are controversial. So does Kate Coleman, whose website requires that visitors receive permission to quote from it. About connections to The Nation: A couple of people, including Gene Marine, wrote for both magazines. Hunter Thompson also had a foot in each camp. But The Nation under Carey McWilliams was regarded as more of an Old Left magazine. McWilliams has already achieved a great deal there, shepherding the magazine through the McCarthy period and converting it from a journal of opinion and analysis into a forum for more investigative pieces. Occasionally he turned over entire issues to Fred Cook's work on the FBI or Alger Hiss. McWilliams also commissioned Thompson's first piece on the Hell's Angels and thereby helped create a bestseller and, eventually, a celebrity. When you look back on McWilliams's stuff, it holds up very well. But McWilliams lacked Hinckle's showmanship, and even when The Nation had a big story, it didn't get the play (from the NY Times, for example) that Ramparts was able to arrange on a fairly regular basis. Perhaps for that reason, Ramparts' circulation at its peak was perhaps three times higher than The Nation's.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 2 Mar 10 06:34
Reading "The Godfather" might have been an *improvement* over Mao's Little Red Book. ;-) But yeah, it did seem that the Oakland Panthers went on a weird trajectory from political radicalism to mere thuggery. However, I strongly suspect that 100 Panthers would tell 100 different stories about the organization and their own experience in it.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 2 Mar 10 08:11
Right, lots of layers there, which is why I stress the complexity and try to keep my focus on the magazine. A Godfather digression: I read it as a teenager and was fascinated. After I graduated from sports hagiography, organized crime history became my favorite genre. When I took Political Science 1 at Berkeley in 1977, it was on the reading list. And later, when I taught medieval lit, I realized that much of it could be understood on similar terms: turf, respect, kinship, blood feud, etc.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 2 Mar 10 08:20
Right - all timeless themes, for better or worse. What you say about David Horowitz having been the most naive about the Panthers is interesting. Since he first popped up as a far-right figure, I've been aware of his Ramparts past. I'm sure that if I'd been there at the time, I would have been horrified by Betty Van Patter's murder and very angry about it. But I don't think I would have been very surprised by it - and certainly not surprised enough to change my entire philosophy of life by 180 degrees. That speaks of a degree of illusion - the illusion required to produce disillusionment, I guess. It reminds me of the generally leftist folks who suddenly became raving "let's torture everyone!" right wingers after 9/11.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 2 Mar 10 09:15
That naivety is what is so amazing to me about people like David and those leftest you mention <mcdee>. It requires such a rigid understanding of people and the world. Reminds me of the friend who got caught up with the Moonies. He was always looking for The True Way--a quest which requires that you believe that there is a True Way. That kind of naivety would make one not see the whole picture when looking at the Panthers or any other organization. But I also think there was a romanticism in the 60s that clouded a lot of actions and choices made by the people involved, including the staff of Ramparts.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Tue 2 Mar 10 09:47
Peter, there are some interesting passages on Vietnam and a member of the intelligence community. Can you talk about the overall impact that had on the development of Ramparts? Interesting note: You and I were both took Poli Sci at Cal in 1977! I went for the International Relations module, though. Just a nice coincidence.
(fom) Tue 2 Mar 10 12:06
Reading the book I was so struck by how naive I used to be. But on the other hand, I am still loath to entirely demonize the Panthers. There were bad elements and terrible errors and worse, but anyone who took the tour of Fred Hampton's house in the weeks after he was assassinated in his sleep can't deny that the Panthers were treated horribly by the powers that be. And perhaps that some of this, along with the extreme general racism in the 60s, may have shaped their bad attitude and behavior. I remember on a trip to the Bay Area visiting John Seale, Bobby's brother, to drop off some newspapers or something, and finding him working at 2am in a drab little storefront in North Oakland along with several others, pasting up some flyers. They weren't thuggish at all; they seemed like dedicated community organizers to me. I remember when there was a rift, and all the badness of the Panthers was heaped on Eldridge Cleaver; their newspaper cover art depicted him as a pregnant woman with pants down around the ankles, if I recall correctly, and even as subscribers to the anti-Eldridge side my friends and I were uncomfortably aware of the deep sexism in that picture. And no one ever forgot the Panther saying that the position of a woman in the revolution should be: prone. (Of course, no one also ever forgot that "supine" was probably intended.) Anyway, my friends and I tended to regard the Panthers as deeply flawed heroes. I don't agree with Julie's statement that naivete about such things "requires such a rigid understanding of people and the world. Reminds me of the friend who got caught up with the Moonies. He was always looking for The True Way--a quest which requires that you believe that there is a True Way." My friends and I would stay up all night talking about the contradictions and nuances of all this. We were nothing like Moonies. We weren't looking for a "True Way," but hoping for some positive social change. We were veterans of the Civil Rights movement, etc. Anyway -- I have a question but I'll ask it in the next post.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 2 Mar 10 19:33
Another quality that distinguished David from many (not all) of his Ramparts colleagues was that he wanted to make the revolution. One person whose name hasn't come up yet is Bob Avakian, who worked for Ramparts and later founded the Revolutionary Communist Party. So David wasn't the sole revolutionary, but I wouldn't apply that label to Warren, Dugald, Bill Turner, Don Duncan, Gene Marine, etc. (Bob is more of a judgment call, but he says he was ousted for not being sufficiently revolutionary.) David said his revolutionary zeal affected his judgment, and he feels that his lapse in judgment led to Betty's demise. That mood--confessional and anguished--hangs over David's book, Radical Son. And I think I detected a bit of it in Sol Stern's remarks. Recall that Sol wrote the first big national piece on the Panthers, something he seems to regret now. Many thanks for the firsthand accounts of the Panthers. They touched a nerve, and the media played back their image to the country as a whole, upsetting some and galvanizing others. Ramparts was an important part of that development, but I think the image of armed black militants striding onto the floor of the California assembly would have found its audience with or without Ramparts. I'm not sure I fully understand the question about the impact of Vietnam & intelligence on the magazine's development. But one of the first really big pieces was the April 1966 expose of the CIA-Michigan State University link. That catapulted Scheer to the forefront, opened the agency's investigation of the magazine, and really put Ramparts in the spotlight. Time magazine began its running commentary on Ramparts--all negative, of course, but it actually helped raise the mag's profile even higher. And that story probably helped Ramparts get the NSA scoop, another blockbuster CIA expose. One of my favorite lines involved a CIA agent telling his boss about the dirty tricks he'd concocted to screw up Ramparts. After hearing those plans, the boss told the agent that he had "a spot of blood on his pinafore." If I missed anything, feel free to jump in!
(fom) Tue 2 Mar 10 22:58
I was wondering how the Ramparts people regarded the underground press, if at all. I worked on/at several underground newspapers; we felt that we were right there at the hub of the revolution. But in fact we were always so busy trying to get a weekly out that lots of what we published was just crap. (At the main one I worked on, the SF Good Times, the crap was fairly well-written and coherent, because we had some standards.)
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Wed 3 Mar 10 06:34
Wild that you mention Good Times. I invited Norman Solomon to my class at Berkeley yesterday, and he spoke about Good Times very fondly. He must have been about seven years old when he contributed the first installment of what promised would be a serial novel. He has since gone on to become a prominent media critic and reformer. (His publications include Target Iraq and War Made Easy.) Maybe that's where he got his standards. Few Ramparts staffers mentioned the underground press to me. That's probably why I omitted that topic in the book, thereby earning a rebuke from Dwight Garner in the New York Times. I see his point, but it should be noted that the Berkeley Barb, for example, published its first issue well after Ramparts made the turn from Catholic literary quarterly to muckraker. And as soon as Warren got his hands on the magazine, it was always going to be a nationally distributed slick, so the natural comparisons were always to Time, Esquire, Playboy, etc. But the proliferation of underground papers and their impressive circulations probably affected Ramparts and its sense of what was possible. And I think Ramparts' success encouraged other folks to start their own countercultural (if not underground) publications. Some hit it big and are still around (e.g., Rolling Stone), and others published only a few issues. One of the short-lived ones was SunDance. I'm looking at the masthead of its third and final issue. The names include David Weir, Jeff Gerth, Yoko Ono, Bob Scheer, Paul Krassner, Craig Pyes, Abbie Hoffman, Howard Kohn, Harvey Wasserman (listed as "Wandering Historian"), Frank Bardacke, Todd Gitlin, Daniel Zwerdling, and Abe Peck, who wrote the book on underground publications. Tamara Baltar, Betty Van Patter's daughter, also worked there and sent me this issue. Eventually she worked at Ramparts, CIR, and Mother Jones as well. She grew up near me and attended El Cerrito High School when my oldest brother was there. She also attended the JFK speech at Berkeley's Memorial Stadium, which is where I chose to begin the Ramparts story. I'd like to hear more about the underground connections, if anyone has any thoughts.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 3 Mar 10 10:40
Our focus has now moved on to a new discussion, but I want to take this opportunity to thank Peter and <mcdee> and all of you for an enjoyable and interesting discussion. As always, the topic will remain open indefinitely.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 3 Mar 10 10:44
I was just a bit fascinated by the Mich St - CIA thing. It was a big story for them. I may have over read the Vietnam angle.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Wed 3 Mar 10 11:36
No, you're right, that was huge. Ramparts had already run some hard-hitting articles on Vietnam by Scheer and special forces sergeant Don Duncan. They also published an interview with Sen. Frank Church that got picked up by the New York Times. But the CIA-MSU story took it to another level. Stanley Sheinbaum wrote the intro to the piece--he had been co-director of the project and became a strong supporter of the magazine (and later, Mother Jones). Thanks, everyone. Lots of fun for me.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Wed 3 Mar 10 11:39
I'm not sure what year it was but Peter and Mary Collier had been living across the street for awhile and none of the neighbors had gotten to know them yet. The national debate on how to get out of Vietnam was cresting. A lot of people were not happy that we had essentially lost the war. Mary Collier put a North Vietnamese flag in their window. I'm guessing in hindsight that it was in solidarity with the people of Vietnam, much the same way we might show an Iranian flag now, but it was not seen that way then. My Mom responded the next day by putting a U.S. flag in our window, to much acclaim from some of the other neighbors. Peter, obviously sensing the tense dynamic, wandered up to my Dad (think Archie Bunker living in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland) the ensuing weekend while they were both working on their yards. After a while, they were laughing and slapping each other on the back. My Dad never told us specifically what they talked about but he said that despite the questionable politics, Peter was not a bad guy. We took care of their dog Raleigh sometimes and I cleaned up their yard for a couple of summers. He gave us a copies of a couple of his books. He laughed when I told him that I had to read the Rockefeller book accompanied by a dictionary. He said that he had fought his editor on the inclusion of a couple of those words. I last saw Peter at the Rockridge BART station in Oakland, sometime around 1990, long after their move to Nevada City and my family's move to the suburbs. He was with his son Andrew. He and Andrew were returning from some sort of interview in SF. He was very sad to hear that my Dad had died a few years earlier. He asked about everyone. He seemed very focused on his family. I was not terribly surprised when, in the 90's, I started hearing about his shifting politics.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 3 Mar 10 11:47
Thanks Peter, and everyone else!
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Wed 3 Mar 10 18:04
Thanks, hipster, for the story about Peter Collier. Another good reminder that these folks had personal lives, lived in neighborhoods, etc. Easy to forget when the political and ideological issues start to take over. If anyone wishes to continue the conversation privately, I can be reached at email@example.com.
(fom) Wed 3 Mar 10 22:43
We can continue it here, if you're willing to check in every so often. I worked with Abe Peck at the Seed, and am still friends with him. (Facebook friends, in fact.) I knew Abbie H. but didn't work on any journalism with him. The papers I worked at were the Seed, the Chicago Kaleidoscope, Rising Up Angry, the SF Good Times, and the Berkeley Tribe.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 4 Mar 10 12:27
Peter, I hope you'll stick around! You said you're reading about the Grateful Dead these days - there's a pretty vibrant and thoughtful Dead community here, and plenty of smart people to interact with on that subject.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 5 Mar 10 10:17
Fun conversation! I just saw an interesting comparison of Tea Baggers to the New Left - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/opinion/05brooks.html The examples of anti-authoritarian commonality between populist movements on various sides of the stream are a good reminder of motivating forces for pushing for change. Tho it wraps up with a little egotistical posturing, it's work a look. He cites modern anti-government -- but not anti-war -- protesters reading lefty organizing literature to learn movement-building tactics. My, my.
We have met the enemy and they are us? (robertflink) Fri 5 Mar 10 17:56
Brooks' article makes sense. It would be interesting to live to see, say 45 years from now, books that wax nostalgic about the revolt of 2010 in a similar vein as books about the 1960s. I'm sure similar claims will be made that the activism resulted in important, lasting change in the country.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 5 Mar 10 22:26
It's such a different time. I think we've (mostly) lost touch with the spiritual, emotional, and cultural strivings which motivated a good part of 60s activism. Now it's mostly come down to (queue up the O'Jays) money and power.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Sat 6 Mar 10 06:43
David, thanks for the comment about the Dead. Yep, I've become very interested in them, and of course they emerged from the same Palo Alto-San Francisco milieu as Ramparts. More on them in a sec. The New Left/Tea Party connection: Well, OK. The New Left was supercharged by a widespread aversion to the war in Vietnam. The New Leftists weren't just airing their frustration with government; it was a life-and-death issue for thousands of Americans and millions of Southeast Asians. As Brooks says, the differences there are quite striking, though his main interest is the similarity. It would be a more interesting comparison to me if the Tea Partiers were outraged by the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan--or at least the blood and treasure we've already devoted to that misbegotten cause. Speaking of Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck had David Horowitz on his radio program yesterday. Here's the transcript. http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/196/37378/ The occasion was the national day of action for public education. I participated in a demonstration in Sacramento because I'm seeing the effects of budget cutbacks at San Francisco State University, where I teach, and I'm watching my daughter's fees rise 32% at UC Santa Barbara. It's a very serious situation that deserves thoughtful consideration. That's not what Glenn Beck and David Horowitz give it. It's easy to see why Beck once described himself as a rodeo clown. My interest in the Grateful Dead is related to my course at SF State, which focuses on utopian and dystopian representations of California. Ever since the Gold Rush, California has been depicted as paradise or hell on earth. We read John Muir, Raymond Chandler, Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Joan Didion, etc., and we watch films like The Grapes of Wrath, Sunset Blvd, and Chinatown. I think Ramparts can be understood in that context; if so, David's Radical Son would be the dystopian representation. And though the Dead had zero interest in David's kind of politics, their story fits even more squarely into that conversation. I don't think you can explain their extraordinary and longstanding success as the nation's most popular touring band without considering the deeply utopian chords they struck. So I'm plowing through the books, listening to the music, and watching the films. My oldest brother was a Deadhead, so the band provided the soundtrack to my misspent youth. And I'm getting a huge kick out of the Garcia stories in particular. He was a Kerouac fan--they all were--so I'm also plumbing those connections. In fact, I'm also reading Dennis McNally's Kerouac bio, Desolate Angel. That was the book he wrote before joining the Dead as their publicist.
Members: Enter the conference to participate