Revealed: How Ronald Reagan, J. Egdar Hoover, and the FBI Plotted to Crush 1960s Dissidents
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As for the wounds suffered by the New Left, they were largely self-inflicted. Did the FBI seek to take advantage of our weaknesses, to exploit our missteps, and to use our naïveté as a noose by which to hang an entire movement? Sure it did. Rosenfeld adds nuance and appalling detail to a familiar story of suppression: police attacks on peaceful demonstrators, the secret (and often successful) efforts to encourage extremism in order to isolate dissenters, and the open campaign to crush resistance by wielding the state’s powerful legal truncheon, thus draining the left’s always meager treasury and depriving it of its most able leaders. Such tactics encouraged the politics of paranoia. The result, as Christopher Lasch so clearly understood, “imprisoned the left in a politics of theater, of dramatic gestures, of style without substance—a mirror image of the politics of unreality which it should have been the purpose of the left to unmask.” But we did not need Hoover’s hooligans to prompt us to embrace the terrible logic of politics as a total art form. We came all on our own to believe that only by increasingly provocative spectacle could the veil of public apathy be pierced. It is we who elevated extremism to the level of strategy. It was a dialectic of defeat.
In the April 16 issue, SDS veteran Tom Hayden surveyed the fifty years of “ Participatory Democracy: From the Port Huron Statement to Occupy Wall Street.”