Guilty but free as a bird

Republished by on September 25, 2003

The Times

August 31, 1989

REUNION, A Memoir, By Tom Hayden,
Hamish Hamilton, £17.95

Wordsworth wrote of the Happy
Warrior. Tom Hayden can reasonably claim to be the Happy
Student Radical, American version, what each of his
innumerable 1960s confederates might have wished to be.

Hayden wrote, in 1962 at the age of
22, the

of Students for a Democratic Society,
perhaps the key institution of the just-emerging New
Left. He was an `outside agitator` in the
still-segregated South, one of the only two whites to be
jailed in Martin Luther King`s first large-scale
campaign of civil disobedience. He `organized` in the
black ghetto of the northern city of Newark, New Jersey,
which promptly erupted in the

worst race riot
of the decade. He went to Hanoi as a
`peace` campaigner, returning triumphantly with American
prisoners of war in tow. He was one of the `Chicago
Seven` convicted in a

sensational trial
of conspiring to disrupt the 1968
Democratic Convention.

And then Hayden married a film
star, Jane Fonda. He was elected to a seat in the
California State Legislature and became a member of the
entrenched liberal Democratic establishment there. His
sprawling autobiography was indulgently received when it
first appeared in America last year. In itself, Hayden`s
story and its reception is evidence of the success of
the American New Left`s `long march through the
in the age of Reagan and Bush. The
upheaval of the 1960s decisively shaped the values of a
significant proportion of America`s political and
intellectual elite including book reviewers.

But one of the inadvertent merits
of Reunion is its revelation of how the student
radicals were always dependent upon the indulgence, even
the tacit incitement, of their elders. The SDS manifesto
was called the `Port Huron Statement` after the lake
resort, loaned by labour union sympathizers, where it
was adopted. Hayden went straight from the meeting to
the White House, where he briefed court historian Arthur
Schlesinger, who promised to tell President Kennedy. Six
years later, Hayden was secretly consulting with Robert
Kennedy`s political rivals, President Johnson and Vice
President Humphrey. The approbation of actresses is only
the most glamorous of the gifts showered upon this
fortunate generation.

Nevertheless, Hayden`s memoir is
obviously a carefully-crafted bid for complete
rehabilitation. On the face of it, this is a formidable
task. The plain fact is that Hayden and his fellow
radicals served as a fifth column during the Vietnam
War. They allied themselves with a foreign
totalitarianism against American troops in the field.

Some of his exculpatory techniques
may puzzle or bore a British audience. He exploits the
sentimentality that is a part of American public
discourse, emphasizing his reconciliation with his
long-estranged father, an example of the `reunion` of
his title, and his belated discovery of family life
(lost again since the book first appeared: he and Fonda
have now separated).

Another ploy is a sleight-of-hand
detectable only by the careful reader. Thus Hayden
consistently refers to the Communist armies of Vietnam
as `the Vietnamese`. He cites the dismissal of
conspiracy charges against New Left defendants as
eventually in his own case without explaining that this
was invariably on

narrow technical grounds
exploited by the movement`s
endless supply of

aggressive, grandstanding lawyers.
When cornered, as
when he has to deal with the boat people and the
Cambodian holocaust, he directly admits the undeniable
but then moves smartly on. Only a tenth of Hayden`s tome
is devoted to the years after the fall of Saigon and
that includes his relationship with Fonda. He does say
that revolution has now lost `much of its romantic
quality` for him. Somehow, this seems hardly adequate.

Hayden`s basic method, however, is
suppression. Contemporaries have said he was not a
moderate during the Columbia student strike, as he
implies here, or during the Chicago Seven trial Abbie
Hoffman, a co-defendant, described him as `the Stalinist
of the group` and denounced his book as vote-catching
opportunism. Interestingly, Hayden avoids explaining
what exactly the many Communists he admits were involved
with the early SDS were doing there, although he is very
sensitive to, and critical of, the conspiratorial
tactics of two other Marxist factions, the Progressive
Labor Party and the anti-Stalinist Trotskyites.

Occasionally, Hayden is just too
clumsy. After arguing that he had nothing to do with the
Newark riot and that the police and National Guard were
responsible for any deaths, he casually remarks: `I
had been fascinated by the simplicity and power of the
Molotov cocktail during those days in Newark.`
he reveals that he provided the design sketch that the
New York Review of Books made into its cover, a
notorious high point in intellectual radical chic. It is
hard to know what to make of this telling
self-condemnation. Perhaps Hayden momentarily forgot
that throwing Molotov cocktails is not an American

Similarly, it is jarring to read
Hayden`s bald statement that the Red Family, the
Berkeley commune he founded, was `discovering` Kim Il
Sung`s official philosophy of juche
(self-reliance) in 1970, when it took the
doubtless-justified step of expelling him for `male

Some much-needed perspective on
Hayden`s history has recently been provided by the far

Destructive Generation
: Second Thoughts About the
by Peter Collier and

David Horowitz,
two former New Leftists whose
subsequent political odyssey has been rather more
complete. Collier and Horowitz quote Hayden as telling
them in 1970 that `civil war` was imminent. He was
stockpiling arms and reportedly trying to get the Black
Panthers to shoot down a police helicopter.

Hayden claims to have been shocked
when he heard

Bernadine Dohrn,
a leader of the Weathermen faction,
exalt the Manson cult`s murders of actress Sharon Tate
and others as an example of what must be done to
bourgeois society right down to pushing a fork into a
victim`s stomach. Collier and Horowitz point out that
this famous incident actually occurred at the `Michigan
War Council`, the meeting at which the Weathermen
prepared themselves for going underground to begin
`military action`. And Hayden gave a rousing speech.

It is easily forgotten that people died because of the
New Left and not just in Indo-China. Hayden was much
closer to the edge than he admits. Years later, back
above ground and living legally, Dohrn`s common-law
husband gave Collier and Horowitz a

summary of their lives
which may be equally
appropriate for Hayden: `Guilty as hell, free as a
bird America is a great country.`

published in England, spelling and grammar vary slightly
from American style.]