March 18, 2018:
The campus movements were vibrant and bewildering.
The major groups were Anarchists, Maoists, Feminists, and small pockets of Freudian-Marxists who were, I think, for the most part Herbert Marcuse's grad students. There were some mainstream irrelevancies as well, like the Campus Democratic Club and the simmering right-wing evangelical reaction to the antiwar radicals, 'cos, obviously, Jesus was pro-war and pro-Nixon. I fell in immediately with the Anarchists and the Feminists, for reasons which should be obvious.
The Anarchists spoke my language. They were, they said, all about democracy. Where Anarchy was an extension of the principles of self-governance into wider arenas of collective life than mere politics. Where The State was an impediment to true democratic self-determination, and self-organization was the road to true freedom.
Different flavors of Anarchist currents dominated the student movements at that time, and, I imagine, still do. That's an intriguingly unique campus, because the '60s student wave had been institutionalized in the form of a jaw-droppingly impressive network of student-owned co-ops and collectives which paralleled and competed with the official Regents infrastructure. The Regents provided cafeterias; the students ran their own collective nonprofit vegetarian restaurant, social center and venue for live music: the Che Café. The Regents provided a bookstore; the students ran a radical alternative, the superb Groundwork Books. The Regents provided a campus newspaper; the students published a radical alternative, the New Indicator, also collectively owned and managed. There was a bicycle co-op with an excellent retail store. A recycling co-op. A political film collective. From my later Materialist perspective these achievements are especially fascinating. They provided an intensive self-education in organizing — an education which perhaps ironically or perhaps not translated into the management skills I later build my Silicon Valley career on, founding or repairing organizations for capitalists.
In a relatively informal way the self-governance of these collective and co-operative enterprises was codified in a xeroxed booklet with a clear plastic cover and a red plastic binder titled, appropriately enough, The Red Documents. They were fascinating, and actually quite interesting, because they centered on Jo Freeman's brilliant lecture "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" — in my experience absolutely the single best work on organizational theory ever produced. It's a genius work of theoretical insight and practical wisdom and that, too, later became the intellectual foundation of my management career.
I read them for the first time in a study group organized by Groundwork. There are very many ironies and contradictions which echo from that statement. Groundwork was a superb educational and organizational resource: in many ways the foundation stone of the vibrant student movements roiling that campus. It provided not only hundreds of shelves of radical and red books of history and philosophy and literature and theory, but also an ongoing series of self-organized study groups which over the years trained-up thousands of activists. The ironies and the contradictions stem from the fact that this was not at all its mission, as its organizers conceived it. They saw themselves as apart from and frankly superior to the students, who they thought of as middle-class and coddled. Their mission was utopia in the classical 19th Century sense: the training up of individuals in the "socialist consciousness" which they viewed as necessary to successfully found the network of future communes they predicted would one day embody The Revolution.
Their thinking was entirely backward. They thought: first you change the individuals, then society will follow. While they talked about collectivism the logic is entirely elitist, and, in reality, they built a secretive and top-down governing structure for their collective which, without their slightest awareness, exactly mimicked the classical Stalinist structure of Party, central committee, and politbureau. The historical reality is that individuals change by participating in mass movements of social struggle — ten years later we saw that happen day-by-day during the Free South Africa Movement of 1985. But the leaders of this group had as little interest in mass movements as they had in students themselves.
They were a pair of cult-headed characters calling themselves "Roberto" and "S.R." Their actual names were "Robert O." and "Susan Regina" but, those were carefully-guarded state secrets which came to light only years later. They ran the collective with iron fists cloaked in manipulative language borrowed disingenuously from the Red Docs. There was no self-organizing in that collective, any more than there was respect for the campus movements or the campus itself. Instead it was an onion-structure of increasingly narrow empowerment. The outer layer were volunteer staffers who, like me, worked for nothing but zeal. Then there was a Collective which made governing decisions. Then a Core Collective which made the actual governing decisions. At the heart of the onion were Roberto and S.R., who were full-time paid staff, and who made the actual actual governing decisions. And at the heart of Roberto and S.R. there was Roberto, the Alpha Male of the commune. Because I doubt very much that S.R. had the final say.
In theory there was a process for advancement through the layers. Staffers could apply for membership to the Collective. There were study groups and rituals and if the Collective accepted you, which meant if Roberto and S.R. accepted you, which meant if Roberto accepted you, you'd be allowed in. There was the same process for entry to the Core Collective. There was no process at all for entry to real decision-making. Roberto and S.R., meaning Roberto, kept that for themselves.
Of course, they didn't see it this way. They were like those pro-war evangelicals, convinced of their sanctity. In my opinion the situation was entirely morally corrupt, again not unlike those pro-war evangelicals. Ten years later I participated in a principled struggle to reform the Collective's governance, while re-orienting it as an integral part of the student movements. At the climax of that campaign we were a two-thirds majority of the volunteers and the Collective members, but, we lost, and, we were expelled. If you're paying attention here you'll understand why-and-how without needing to be told.
In the early '70s my first involvement was as a staffer, and study group participant. I was awestruck. All these debates: Bakunin versus Kropotkin versus Tolstoy. Mao versus Trotsky. Feminism versus patriarchy. It was heady and wonderful. I was not allowed into the Collective. Even then the two ultimate powers viewed me with appropriate suspicion. Unlike them I was an actual honest-to-goodness believer in democratic governance. And unlike them I was a skilled, natural leader. None of this was yet apparent, to any of us, least of all me. But they knew, somehow. With the sharpened political instincts of the Stalinist committeemen they unconsciously emulated.