30 July 2008
On July 24 The Rag Blog ran what proved to be a very controversial
review of former SDS leader Carl Oglesby's memoir, Ravens in the
Storm. The review,
written by Mariann Wizard, stirred up a storm of its own. Wizard's
(and Oglesby's) negative characterization of Mike Klonsky – a sixties
New Left leader, now a respected educator who writes on educational
reform – resulted in an angry response. The discussion was joined by
a number of other readers, most of whom had personal experience with
the times and the players.
The resulting flurry stirred up once more some of the divisions that
plagued the New Left and that were a major factor in its demise. It
also offered an opportunity to revisit those issues with the benefit
of a longer view.
The following account is from Susan Klonsky, who was also active in
SDS and the larger movement. Susan and Mike live in Chicago; they
co-authored Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society.
Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / July 30, 2008
Carl Oglesby's The Raven in the Storm, and the resulting storm
created by Mariann Wizard's review, once more revisited
By Susan Klonsky / The Rag Blog / July 30, 2008
One night last winter Mike and I ventured out in the subzero to
Barnes & Noble specifically to read Carl Oglesby's book (too cheap to
order it), following the review in the NY Times. We took 2 copies of
it and sat down for a couple of hours to peruse it. I knew Carl very
well but I escaped mention in this book.
We were both audibly groaning by the time we gave up. A reviewer for
some other publication (I believe it was Ron Jacobs) characterized
the book as possessing the tone of an embittered divorcee still
trying to settle the unresolved score with an ex-. That's about it.
It reads a bit like a failed screenplay. I figured perhaps Carl was
trying to get it optioned. (Spielberg was at that time casting for
The Trial of the Chicago Seven, with Sascha Baron Cohen as Abbie
Hoffman. I wanted Fred Thompson to play Judge Hoffman.)
A funny thing about Carl's bitterness toward Mike: About ten years
ago we attended an sds reunion in Great Barrington (Massachusetts).
Carl and Mike sat down to talk. Carl told Mike he was very angry
about something MK had supposedly said about him, which Carl had
heard secondhand (who knows what the issue was? something from 30-40
years ago) from Tom Hayden. Mike explained to him that Tom had him
mixed up with this other guy Bob Avakian, the head of the RCP. Carl
had sort of a Rosanne Rosannadanna moment (or was it Emily Litella?)
--after nourishing this grudge for decades, he just shrugs and says,
"Oh. Never mind."
But now it's all rehashed in this stupid story in which he describes
MK as having, among other things, "a strong nose," as if the schnozz
is an aggressive characteristic… What is his beef with Mike? In a
meeting held in late 1967, Mike, who was at that time serving as
national secretary of sds, asked Carl to explain what he was doing
about some political relationship or issue--that's it. No accusations
of anticommunism, no charges of misconduct--and the guy has been
pissed for 40+ years. He did not like being asked about his work.
It's remarkably inane and self-pitying.
Yet, if you reflect on Oglesby's role in history when his role
mattered, I think it was on the whole positive and progressive. He
was a person who spoke eloquently and publicly about rejecting the
values of war and corporate domination of U.S. policy. He moved many
people, young and old, to oppose the Vietnam war.
In the brief period of his leadership in sds, he was in the segue
between the overt anti-communism of the SLID and the ascendance of
the revolutionary youth movement.
But then, perhaps because his feelings were hurt, he removed himself
entirely from the movement. He focused his efforts in this book on
creating a record of his role as he would want to be recalled. He
recalls nothing good or warmly remembered about any of our old
comrades. This book is entitled a record of the movement of the 60s.
But it's not. It's about what he says he said and what he says others
said back, and how surrounded he was by enemies, and how
unappreciated he was. I intended to go back and see how he describes
his life after sds, but honestly, I found it too boring to pursue
that line. I hear Carl's health has been in decline, and I wish him
well. It doesn't make the book truer, but it may explain some of his
thoughts or imaginings.
I take this book, and several others of recent vintage, as a warning.
If you decide to memorialize your thoughts and your activities in a
book, speak for yourself. Don't put words in the mouths of others,
living or dead. Don't impute motives based on their facial features,
their purported tone of voice, as you recall it from 30 or 40 years
out…Show a little respect for the fact that all of us from that time
who are lucky enough to still be living, have gone on working,
building organizations, raising families, making difficult decisions,
regretting some things and still proud of others.
For the lot of us, pride for having been part of it all remains a
warm ember despite all that has happened to each person since those
times. Surely being a grown-up means moving on, past the juvenile
name-calling, and relinquishing the real or imagined slights of
junior high school. So it is with the movement. Remember what's
worthy of remembering, and move on; it's a useful way to live.
to read Mariann Wizard's review of Ravens in the Storm, published in
The Rag Blog on July 24, followed by responses from Mike Klonsky and
a number of others.]