Tom Hayden on Mark Rudd. Weather Underground as cult

Bruce Miller at The Blue Voice has a long thoughtful essay on Tom Hayden’s review of Mark Rudd’s recent memoir of his days in the Weather Underground.

Rudd now sees the WU as cultish and I would agree. Thought deviation was not permitted. This includes WU members censoring their own thoughts because, since the accepted dogma of the group is inerrant, any disbelief must therefore be heresy.

There is very little difference in mindset between political extremists and Christianists (or Islamists or any true believer, for that matter.) Their very fanaticism is what gives them strength, as what they are doing becomes the central core, the only important thing in their lives. Everything else is subsumed or ignored. That’s why questioning or deviation from doctrine can not be permitted. It could shake the core beliefs of the group.

But fanaticism can not help but lead to an ever-smaller circle of true believers as those on the fringe of the group or those insufficiently doctrinaire get driven away or leave. So, the group gets more and more extreme as it gets smaller and smaller (sounds like the Republican Party, doesn’t it?) Sometimes they just burnout or fade away, other times they go out with genuine explosions and killings. Every now and then, of course, they do get powerful enough to cause political change – look at the IRA.

From Tom Hayden’s review of Mark Rudd’s book

In this book, [Rudd] takes responsibility for “the destruction of SDS [as] probably the greatest single mistake of my life [and I’ve made quite a few] ”¦ a historical crime.” In speaking to young people, he can vividly describe the difference between radicalism and fanaticism, and the moral, emotional and political costs of the latter.

As the research and writings of James Gilligan demonstrate, violence is more situational than innate. Violence and shame are closely connected. The acceleration to violent behavior can be breathtaking. The violence of the young signals a dysfunction of the elders, not a nihilist seed. As John F. Kennedy famously said, those who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

One comment

  1. Wasn’t John Brown also characterized as a “fanatic” by the politicians who didn’t want to abolish slavery until the end of the 19th century? Yet ;ess than 6 years after John Brown’s raid of 150 years ago at Harper’s Ferry, slavery had been abolished in the southern United States.

    Sometimes politicians may attempt to ratiionalize a right-opportunist, go slow approach to the resisting moral crimes of institutional racism and institutionalized militarism in the United States by caricaturing folks like John Brown as “fanatics” instead of characterizing them as just being less politically compromising and more passionate opponents of injustice.

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