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The Student Revolt at Berkeley

by Geoffrey White


Published in Spartacist I:4, May-June 1965. Geoff White was West Coast editor of Spartacist, the organ of the International Committee of the Fourth International, which had recently diverged from the Socialist Workers Party. He ran for Berkeley City Councilman in April, 1965, receiving 2,051 votes (6%) "against a full slate of liberals."


          The free speech revolt on the University of California's Berkeley campus is another indication that the great society is unlikely to get beyond the press-agentry stage. The revolt was, in the last analysis, directed against the values and assumptions that are essential to the liberal consensus, and indicates a deep-seated dissatisfaction, if not open revolt, among social groupings whom the establishment might legitimately expect to support it. The students and teaching assistants at Berkeley are not among the economically deprived marginal groups. They do not represent forgotten pools of poverty which the President's domestic war is supposed to mop up. On the contrary, the students at Berkeley are by and large drawn from middle class families, especially the intelligentsia, and from the upwardly mobile working class. Regardless of their social origins, they have every prospect of being able to share in the benefits of the economy of abundance. A U.C. diploma, or advanced degree, is virtual assurance of split-level income opportunities for the aspiring student. The Great American Way of Life is open and accessible to these students, and this fact gives their rejection of the established way a profound meaning.

          Attempts by the detractors of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) to dismiss the whole matter as confined to a few disaffected radical students are futile in the face of the mass participation which the events evoked. The strike which climaxed the struggle brought the University to a virtual standstill and involved in one degree or another of active participation a majority of the graduate students (a large majority in the case of the liberal arts), and a minority of the overall student body which approached fifty percent. Movements of this proportion cannot be considered mere ideological by-play out on the fringes; rather, they must reflect underlying social discontent in significant strata of the population, whether this discontent manifests itself in economic or, as in this case, in intellectual and moral forms.

          The political periphery of the Berkeley campus has of course been making small waves for a number of years. Since the fifties there have always been diverse organized radical movements on the campus, sometimes relatively large and sometimes smaller, but never deeply rooted among the students, and even on the most popular issues, able to involve only numerically insignificant percentages of them in political and social struggle. All three of the basic radical tendencies have been represented, Social Democratic, Stalinist; and Trotskyist, with now one and now the other rising to greater prominence. Since the beginning of the sixties, there has been a generally increasing degree of student political activity, but even at its height this has been little more than an interesting part of the over-all campus background and has had little impact on the lives and consciousness of the great majority of the students.

Restless Students

          Probably the most famous of these earlier controversies was the loyalty oath fight of 1960-51. However, this was largely a faculty affair, to which the students were mainly spectators, and the eventual ignominious capitulation of the great majority of the liberal faculty was scarcely an example to inspire students. Later, however, a larger (but still very small) number of students began to be involved in political action. SLATE, originally organized to challenge Greek control of the official student organization, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), became a general issue-oriented catch-all organization of liberals and radicals, and directly or indirectly organized student participation in a number of causes such as abolition of capital punishment (around the Chessman case), fair housing, and most spectacularly, in opposition to the HUAC. The response of the students to the hosing of spectators and hecklers at the May 1960, HUAC hearings in San Francisco brought the first mass turnout of students, when about three or four thousand people, roughly half of whom were students, protested the police action on the following day. However, this event proved episodic in character and it was not until the build-up of the national civil rights movement a few years later that significant numbers of students again became involved in politics and social action.

          In 1963 and 1964, campus political action, around the civil rights question, began to have real impact on the outside community. The Berkeley campus contributed more than its share of cadre elements to the national movement, and to such actions as the Mississippi summer project. Locally, a series of job actions began, starting with the picketing of Mel's Drive-Ins by Youth for Jobs. The Ad Hoc Committee to End Job Discrimination then spearheaded an attack on the Sheraton-Palace Hotel in San Francisco which culminated in an all-night sit-in by a thousand or so demonstrators, the majority of whom were students, the first mass arrests, and a substantial victory. The auto-row demonstrations kept things going and added new mass arrests. Meanwhile, in Berkeley itself, CORE's campaign against Lucky's Stores, while involving fewer people, created widespread controversy, over the militant economic sabotage tactics used by CORE. This action also brought out the first rank and file counter-movement, with fraternity and law school types helping Lucky's to clear away the check stands swamped by the CORE demonstrators. These student activities drew real blood, and when, in the period before the election, the Ad Hocers turned to picketing William Knowland's Oakland Tribune, they took on the most powerful single force in Alameda county. Simultaneously, students were harassing the world's largest bank, Bank of America, with picket-lines and "bank-ins."

          Thus, at a time when the civil rights movement nationally was in a state of decline, the Berkeley students had scored a number of victories over significant, if relatively minor, opponents, and were now a real annoyance to the most powerful forces in the state. Furthermore, the trend of developments made it clear that the student civil rights movement and student activity in directly related political fields was creating an incipient mass movement, and that given the right developments nationally and internationally, the establishment would be dealing with something much more significant than a few score dedicated individuals.

A Long Chain of Abuses

          In this context it is not surprising that the University administration chose the fall of 1964 to renew its campaign against student political and social action. True to its tradition as a liberal institution, the University of California has a long history of infringements on student and faculty political rights. In the recent past there was the Regents' loyalty oath, which had purged the faculty of some of its more principled members. For several years Communist Party speakers had been banned from the campus. Eventually President Kerr lifted this ban (wisely, it turned out, for when the students flocked to hear the first "legal" CP speaker, it became. painfully apparent that the CP had nothing to say), but replaced it by a series of unreasonable restrictions applying to all outside speakers, such as 72 hours notice and the presence of a tenured faculty member. The Kerr directives of 1959 attempted to restrict involvement of campus organizations in off-campus political questions, and the Administration stooped to such petty harassments as requiring student groups to pay for unneeded and unwanted police protection for their meetings.

          Shortly after the beginning of the fall term, Dean of Students Katherine A. Towle announced that the tables which the various organizations had been in the habit of setting up in the area next to the main entrance to the University campus were in violation of University rules, and would no longer be tolerated. Since this was the main means by which the student action groups operated, the enforcement of this regulation would have been an insupportable blow to the student organizations. These organizations agreed jointly to resist, not only by protesting through channels and by legal picketing, but also by ignoring the ban. Thus was established the basic pattern for the future development of the FSM.

          At the core of the united front were the civil rights organizations, aided by the radical groups -- Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), Independent Socialists, DuBois Club, and Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) -- liberal groups, religious organizations, and even organizations of the right like Campus Young Republicans, Students for Goldwater, and University Society of Individualists. Its demands were simple:

  1. The students shall have the right to hear any person speak in any open area of the campus at any time on any subject, except when it would cause a traffic problem or interfere with classes.
  2. Persons shall have the right to participate in political activity on campus by advocating political action beyond voting, by joining organizations, and by giving donations. Both students and non-students shall have the right to set up tables and pass out political literature. The only reasonable and acceptable basis for permits is traffic control.
  3. The unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions of 72-hours' notice, student paid-for police protection, and faculty moderators, required for speakers using University buildings, must be reformed.

          The administration was evidently taken by surprise at the student resistance. Their first excuse was that the tables blocked traffic, but this was so manifestly absurd that it was dropped in favor of arguments based on a state law forbidding political activities on public property. When, in the face of the unexpected strength of the student protest the administration revised the ruling to permit tables with "informational material" but not calls for action or recruitment, the real political nature of the ban became clear. The next move came from the administration which took the names of five students who were manning illegal tables and ordered them to report to the dean's office individually for disciplining. The students replied by turning in to the dean's office a statement by four hundred students that they too had been manning tables or were intending to, and demanding equal treatment with the five. All reported to the dean's office en masse, and the first Sproul Hall (Administration Building) sit-in resulted. The students continued to man the tables and the five students and three others were indefinitely suspended.

Students Capture a Car

          Two days later the authorities attempted a showdown. University policemen approached Jack Weinberg who was manning a campus CORE table and asked him to desist from this illegal activity. When he refused he was arrested and placed in a campus police car which had been driven up to the spot However, before the police could drive away with their prisoner the car was surrounded by students who sat down in front of it and behind it and would not let it move. In almost no time five hundred or so students were surrounding the car, and if the police had arrested Weinberg, the students had in effect arrested the police. Without prior planning, but on the basis of what they had learned in previous civil rights demonstrations, the students showed an ingenuity and boldness which amazed even friendly outsiders, and terrified the administration. FSM made the top of the captured car their speakers' platform, setting up a loud-speaker system which turned the Sproul Hall Plaza into a giant open-air rally. The crowd was continually addressed by a series of FSM spokesmen and others, exhorted, informed, and entertained. A commissary was set up, and food and cold drinks passed out for the hot afternoons, and hot coffee and food in the cool night. The inevitable sleeping bags and bracket rolls appeared, and it became apparent that the students were determined to stick it out.

          The actively participating crowd varied in size from time to time, but five hundred was probably the average, and at no time did it fall below three hundred. On the second evening of the siege, the fraternity-football contingent put in an appearance, but finding themselves outnumbered, they confined themselves to desultory heckling. Within an hour or two the hostile elements melted away, and tensions relaxed. Around the central core of committed demonstrators was a constantly shifting periphery of the uncommitted. Mainly students and campus community people, they observed, listened, discussed. For most it was a conflict of values, between their commitment to the traditional rules of free speech and fair play on one hand, and to the sanctity of property and orderly process on the other. Two months later it was the ultimate decision of many of these people to support the protest which made the strike a success.

          As long as the students made no attempt to release the prisoner by force, and as long as the police made no attempt to use force to release the car, the situation was at an impasse. However, with the newspapers and TV yelling "anarchy," and the right wing press and politicians calling for blood, the impasse had to be resolved. Demonstration leaders were summoned to a conference with President Kerr who had previously refused to negotiate with them. They were offered an agreement whereby if the students released the car and promised to "cease illegal forms of protest," they would in turn be guaranteed against reprisal; the matter of student political activities was to be referred to a committee which would include FSM leaders and the case of the eight taken to "the student affairs committee of the academic senate." The academic senate is the organization of the tenured faculty members on the campus. The arrested man was to be taken to the station, booked, and released on his own recognizance. Kerr told the student leaders that if they rejected this proposal, the matter would be turned over to the five hundred police who were being held close at hand. After negotiating a slight improvement in the wording which would not cut them off indefinitely from "illegal forms of protest," the leaders returned to the demonstration, explained the situation, and while warning against probable bad faith on the part of the administration, recommended acceptance of the truce. Under the prevailing conditions, no formal vote, of course, could be taken, but it was clear that the leaders' position had the support of the overwhelming majority of those present, and thirty hours after the original arrest, the crowd quietly turned its back on the car and walked away

Students Capture Sproul Hall

          The following two months were a period of prolonged negotiations and much confusion, with the now formally-constituted FSM waxing and waning according to underlying moods among the students and the degree of tactless provocation exhibited by the administration. When it turned out that there was no Academic Senate Committee on Student Affairs, suspicions of official bad faith were strengthened. The Chancellor obligingly filled the gap by appointing a tripartite committee of faculty, student, and administration representatives. Of the student representatives, two were from the FSM, and two from the official ASUC Kehilah. However, FSM refusal to deal seriously with this suspect committee did produce reforms in its composition, and the committee itself finally called for mitigation of the disciplinary action against the eight. As weeks passed without decisive action, there appeared to be a distinct possibility that the momentum of the student movement would be dissipated in the maze of official channels and committee meetings.

          This period of confused negotiations, however, was ended by action of the administration. On Friday, November 27, Chancellor Strong, chief administrative officer of the Berkeley campus, sent letters to four of the top leaders of FSM, including Mario Savio, initiating new disciplinary action on the basis of the siege of the police car. Students hitherto only mildly interested were outraged at what appeared to them to be simultaneously double jeopardy (all the students involved had already been suspended), ex post facto, and the administration's repudiation of the recommendations of its own hand-picked committee. FSM recognized that with its leaders' heads on the block there was no more room for negotiation, and held three consecutive rallies on Sproul Hall steps, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, each larger than the previous one. At the end of Wednesday's rally over 800 demonstrators occupied Sproul Hall. The great Sproul Hall sit-in was on.

          Once in possession of the administration building, the students proceeded to such varied activities as showing old Chaplin movies and holding regular classes and seminars as part of the Free University of California. They draped their FSM banner across the front of the building, and most important, set up a public address system which they used to speak to the constantly changing but always huge crowd in the plaza in front of the hall. All efforts by the administration to persuade the student leaders to evacuate the building failed, and some time during Wednesday evening, President Kerr, at the end of his resources, appealed to Governor Brown. Brown i8 a true liberal Democrat, and further has a reputation for weakness, indecision, and mildness. However, when such a vital part of the system as the University faces a serious threat, he is capable of quick action. Some five hundred police, from Berkeley, Oakland, the Alameda County sheriff's office, and the California Highway Patrol were sent to the campus with orders from Brown to evacuate Sproul Hall, by force if necessary.

          The demonstrators were told they might leave the building freely, but if they did not do so at once they would be arrested. Very few left, and in the small hours of Thursday morning the arrests began. Some walked out with the arresting officers, but the great majority followed the standard civil rights technique and went limp. After carrying, dragging and throwing the demonstrators down the stairs of the building, the police took them in buses and police wagons to the Santa Rita County Prison Farm where they were charged with such offenses as trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and failure to leave a public building. 801 demonstrators were arrested; about eighty percent of them were students or employees of the University, or their wives, one was a faculty member, and many of the remainder were people more or less closely associated with the broader University community. These mass arrests constituted a serious defeat for the administration forces. By appealing to outside authority and resorting to armed force they lost still more stature in the eyes of many members of the University community hitherto uninvolved in the controversy. The governor's action, however, was very well received by the press, both conservative and liberal, though the specific techniques of the police, such as dragging students down the steps by their heels, did receive some criticism.

Students Strike the University

          The FSM, through its affiliated Graduate Coordinating Committee, had long been laying plans for a strike in the case of just such an emergency. Even with most of its leaders only slowly filtering back from Santa Rita prison, the machinery automatically clicked into action Thursday morning. But no machinery, no call, was necessary to instigate the strike. On Thursday morning the arrests were still taking place in Sproul Hall, and the wave of indignation generated by the police occupation of the campus, and especially the sight of the notorious Oakland police, virtually closed the University. Preliminary strike talk had prepared the minds of the students for this form of action, and they now took it more or less automatically. The previously created apparatus of the FSM organized, channeled, and sustained the spontaneous outburst. Picket lines were set up at all entrances to the campus, and some delivery trucks were turned back. The major buildings were also picketed, and roving picket lines moved about the campus. Students were asked not to attend classes, teachers not to teach, and staff not to report for work. The student appeal won a response in all these categories, and in the liberal arts departments the strike was an overwhelming success. For two days the administrative machinery and the academic heart of the University were paralyzed.

          Key to the success of the strike was the role of the teaching assistants, graduate students studying for their Ph.D.'s. At Berkeley, as at so many other prestige universities, the actual teaching duties of the faculty members are of secondary importance to their role as researchers, writers, ideologues, and in many cases providers of technical services for outside interests. The major teaching of undergraduates is done by the teaching assistants, whose status is intermediate between that of students and faculty, and whose rather meager teaching salaries see them through to their- doctorates. The support of these men and women, who of course bad no tenure or union and only their own solidarity to protect them from reprisals from their department heads or the University administration, was crucial to the success of the strike. Support from teaching assistants in the liberal arts was overwhelming, and in the departments of philosophy and mathematics it was virtually unanimous. All in all the strike was an outstanding success, far more so, in fact, than the FSM leadership had anticipated.

Epiphany in the Greek Theater

          The climax of this decisive battle of the free speech revolt took place, appropriately enough, in the Greek Theater, a gift by the Hearst family to their University. The Academic Senate, comprising the tenured faculty members and those others who had been with the University two or more years, had been a complaisant tool of the administration since the days of the Regents' loyalty oath fight in the 1950's. Now, however, it could no longer be considered reliable from Kerr's point of view. With administration prestige at a low ebb and a large minority of the students in open rebellion, Kerr needed faculty cover for his next move. He found this through the well-known liberal Professor Robert A. Scalapino, chairman of the Department of Political Science. This academic politician was generally reputed to have realistic ambitions to replace the inept Edward W. Strong as Chancellor of the Berkeley campus.

          Short-circuiting the Academic Senate, Scalapino brought together all the department heads. These professors, on the whole men who either have a disposition to be attracted by the administrative side of affairs or at least less aversion to it than the average faculty member, were in the aggregate more inclined to be sympathetic to Strong and Kerr than the average faculty member. For the minority who were strongly opposed to the administration's position, Scalapino used the blackmail of threats of a legislative investigation, the immediate replacement of the liberal Kerr by a right-wing reactionary (Max Rafferty, the ultra-rightist State Superintendent of Education, always seemed to be lurking somewhere in the wings), and other frightening pictures of the utter destruction of the University. Thus he was able to secure unanimous approval of a series of proposals which, while saying many kind words about freedom of speech and political discussion, in actuality made as their sole concession to the students the promise of amnesty from the University, but not civil, discipline for all actions hitherto taken. With this fig leaf of faculty covering, Kerr made his play.

          Kerr called a University meeting for Monday morning, December 7, in the Greek Theater. A University meeting is for all students, faculty and employees. It automatically suspends all classes and closes administrative and department offices, so that the effectiveness of the strike on the morning of its third day was obscured. The meeting was well attended by some eighteen to twenty thousand persons, overwhelmingly students but with an unusually large attendance by faculty and a healthy sprinkling of employees. The convening of this assembly provided a convenient way of making a rough estimate of the nature of public opinion among the students at this time. When President Kerr was introduced, about one third of the audience cheered him, while about one third jeered. Considering that it is not at all customary for American students to jeer their president on solemn occasions, even in times of stress, this small event gives an additional indication of the depths of the feelings involved.

          Scalapino presented the Department Heads' proposals, striving to put behind them the full weight and prestige of the faculty. Then Kerr spoke. Unlike Chancellor Strong, Kerr is a man of tremendous accomplishments and ability, and a key member of the liberal establishment in California. Having come up through the Institute of Industrial Relations, he is by experience and training a man of the highest skills in the use of the liberal rhetoric, in the art of that kind of compromise, adjustment and accommodation which somehow always leaves the positions of the power structure intact, and the opposition with the feeling that the great man was really on their side, but for some reason unable to help them.

          That Monday morning Kerr was making the fight of his life and used all his skills. But he was speaking to an audience whose intelligence and sophistication he and his supporters had consistently underestimated and who, by and large, had learned more in the past two months than many students do in the full four years. Many had read "The Mind of Clark Kerr," a clever critique by Hal Draper of Kerr's theory of the role of the "multiversity" as set forth by the president in his Godkin Lectures at Harvard. To this audience Kerr presented himself as a mature and benign statesman, firm in the defense of principle but always ready to reason together with others if only they, like him, would be reasonable men and show due respect for the principles of law and order which guaranteed everyone's freedom. He was one willing even to concede that his opposition might have some legitimate grievances, which no doubt could be met in the right atmosphere. But above all he was one who would fight to the death to defend the principles of his beloved University, now threatened by anarchy within, and by implication by the now awakened dogs of know-nothing reaction without. On an exalted note he pledged his personal honor to the amnesty provisions of the Department Heads' proposals, announced the resumption of classes at one o'clock, and declared the meeting closed. Would this great performance have won the uncommitted center? It is doubtful, but we shall never know for sure. As Kerr ringingly announced, "This meeting is now closed," Mario Savio, the charismatic leader of the FSM, began walking across the stage toward the microphone. Before a stunned audience of 18,000, Savio was seized by half a dozen campus policemen, knocked down, and carried bodily off the stage.

          In thirty seconds the delicate, laboriously created image so skillfully worked up by Kerr and Scalapino was smashed beyond all recall. The instant revelation of what lay behind the dignity, the beautiful rhetoric, the air of sweet reasonableness, galvanized the audience. Kerr was ashen and visibly shaking. Scalapino, of whom it was said in cruel jest that he had been Chancellor of the Berkeley campus for twenty minutes, was distraught. In one instant the uncommitted were committed, and shouted their shock and protest. This soon settled down into the steady chant, '~We want Mario!" The hard core of Kerr supporters left as instructed, but the great majority, the hitherto silent ones as well as the hitherto committed, stayed to wait for Mario. Behind the stage Savio was being held in a small dressing room by the police while FSM lawyers were demanding that he be charged or released. Steve Weissman, leader of the striking graduate students, encountered Kerr and said, "It sounds as if the students want Mario." The shaken president replied, "Yes, I guess they do." In a few minutes, Kerr collected his wits and ordered Savio's release. With that feeling for the occasion and rapport with his audience which has made him the outstanding public figure in the FSM, Savio walked to the microphone and said: "I just wanted to announce that there will be a rally on Sproul Hall steps at noon today." On that note, the meeting ended.

The Faculty's 4th of August

The rest, although formally of greater importance, seemed like anti-climax. Some of the Department Heads began to repudiate Scalapino, who they felt had compromised and misled them. Scalapino and other Department Heads were subject to attack in departmental meetings which were unprecedented in academic circles. The Academic Senate was to consider the problem at its Tuesday meeting. At its Monday noon rally immediately following the Greek Theater meeting, FSM announced that in order that the Senate might meet in the calmest possible atmosphere the strike would end Monday night, and that no activities would be scheduled for Tuesday. On Monday afternoon the strike was about 80% effective.

          When the Senate met, it was presented with a resolution from its Committee on Academic Freedom. Its text was as follows:

  1. "That there shall be no University disciplinary measures against members or organizations of the University community for activities prior to December 8 connected with the current controversy over political speech and activity.
  2. "That the time, place, and manner of conducting political activity on the campus shall be subject to reasonable regulation to prevent interference with the normal functions of the University; that the regulations now in effect for this purpose shall remain in effect provisionally pending a future report of the Committee on Academic Freedom concerning the minimal regulations necessary.
  3. "That the content of speech or advocacy should not be restricted by the University. Off-campus student political activities shall not be subject to University regulation. On-campus advocacy or organization of such activities shall be subject only to such limitations as may be imposed under section 2.
  4. "That future disciplinary measures in the area of political activity shall be determined by a committee appointed by and responsible to the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate
  5. "That the Division urge the adoption of the foregoing policies and call on all members of the University community to join with the faculty in its effort to restore the University to its normal functions."

          With the administration forces demoralized and in disarray, positive action was virtually assured. The most serious opposition came in the form of an anti- force-or-violence amendment offered by Lewis Feuer, who claims to have once been a Marxist and is entrusted by the University with the task of instructing students in the obscurities of this ideology, and Nathan Glaser, who as co-author of The Lonely Crowd no doubt wished wholeheartedly for the good old days of "other-directedness" on campus. The depth of Feuer's intellectual and moral degradation can be judged by his main supporting argument -- that the KKK might use the resolution as cover for organizing synagogue defacements and pogroms! The Klan threat not being a particularly pressing problem on the UC campus, this amendment was supported by only about 150 out of the nearly one thousand faculty present. It is interesting to note that this hard core of opposition was characterized by the presence of a disproportionate number of ex-radicals of one kind and another, who for various reasons of Stalinophobia, fear, and cynicism were totally unable to respond to the moral challenge FSM presented. The final vote on the unamended resolution was 824 yes to 116 no. Thus the faculty, after months of hesitations and pettifogging, finally placed itself formally on record in support of the students' demands. This was without doubt the high-water mark of the whole campaign, and no matter what retreats the faculty might later make, no matter how much it might fink on its own position, that vote stands in the record and validates the student movement in a way that permanently altered the terms of the equation.

          No doubt the fiasco in the Greek Theater contributed heavily to the lopsided nature of the vote, but it is likely that the majority position represented a more fundamental response to the continuing pressure of the students which posed the question to the faculty in sharper and sharper terms. For those like Feuer and Glaser, especially the former who had had some pretensions to influence among the thinking elements in the student body, their opposition to the resolution marked the end of their political and moral, and to a considerable extent also of their intellectual, influence among all sections of the students with the exception of the fraternity-football elements, and these are not interested in ideas anyway.

Triangle of Forces

          Throughout this struggle the faculty has played the role of the third part in a three-part equation involving students, faculty, and the external society represented by the administration and the Regents. That section of the FSM leadership whose background was p.imarily in civil rights, which usually deals with situations wherein an independent third force is not present, tended at first to underestimate the importance of the faculty and also, when the faculty acted, to overestimate its reliability as an ally. However, the healthy skepticism of the politicals in the leadership combined with the militancy of the civil rights elements to develop the tactics best designed to force this wavering group to take a stand, and to utilize that stand once made. When liberal Democrats, both real and pseudo, raised counsels of caution lest the faculty be antagonized, the FSM rejected this suicidal advice and redoubled its pressure. This tactic, combined with the very real felt grievances of the faculty itself which has been disregarded and treated with refined contempt by the administration, won the faculty to its position of December 8, and prevented its effective use by Kerr and company.

          On Wednesday noon, following the Tuesday Academic Senate meeting, FSM called a victory rally and declared its wholehearted acceptance of the Senate's resolution. Some have attacked this action as premature, contending that it fostered illusions and that no real victory was won. While it is true that the action of the Senate did not mean that the students had won the concrete points they were struggling for, this was never claimed by the FSM leaders. It was a profound victory all the same, for it transformed the FSM from a group of marginal malcontents disrupting the University into the legitimate spokesmen for the whole academic community. It meant that as long as the struggle was confined within the framework of the academic community (and the Regents really form no part of this community, being on the contrary the means by which this community is controlled by the outside), the victory was complete, the administration forces utterly routed.

Where the Power Lies

          This marked the end of the militant phase of FSM activities. All that could be done to force the Regents' hands had been done. A petition and letterwriting campaign was organized, but after what had gone before this was generally recognized as futile and meaningless. The campus waited for the Regents' decision. Two phenomena were noticeable in the mood of the campus during this period. One was a rapid decline in the euphoria engendered by the faculty action and an increasing pessimism about the reaction of the Regents. The other was an intense emotional feeling of solidarity and comradeship among the students, a feeling which included for the first time much of the faculty and which transcended the rigorous hierarchical lines of the academic set-up.

          The reply of the Regents came just before the Christmas vacation, and by this time everyone anticipated what it was going to be. The Regents, after many declarations in favor of free speech and other good things and denial of any intent to prohibit advocacy, in substance rejected the demands of the Berkeley Academic Senate, brusquely as far as the attempt to take over disciplinary power was concerned, indirectly on other matters. From this model of unclarity one thing emerges distinctly. The Regents reassert their authority and treat with demeaning contempt the demands of their faculty and students. They will dispose, and they alone. At the moment they chose to be relatively conciliatory, but they do not negotiate. They will run the University as they also run the Bank of America, the Tejon Ranch, Signal Oil, and the like.

          At this stage, February 1965, it appears that the students have won de facto, if not de jure, most of their demands. The obdurate Chancellor Strong was replaced in a face saving way by the affable Martin Meyerson, a man of far greater sensitivity and sophistication and therefore perhaps in the long run a more dangerous opponent, but one far less likely to back himself into a corner where he cannot make concessions when they are called for. The new rules when they come out are likely to be relatively reasonable, and Kerr's pledge of University amnesty for the FSMers stands. There is even a widespread rumor that he had to lay his personal prestige on the line to prevent gorilla elements on the Regents from exacting reprisals. Thus, even on the level of their formal demands the students appear to have won a major victory, in substance if not in form. It is probable that it will be quite some time before there is any further serious harassment of the student political organizations. Tables will be set up, action mounted, illegal acts advocated, and speakers heard. Of course another round will come, especially if state politics shift, as appears likely, to the right.

Future of the FSM

          Barring the unforeseen, the current intentions of the FSM are to disband, leaving only a skeleton apparatus to serve two functions: First, as an information center which can get material telling the story out to interested parties, and especially to other campuses; and second as an agency to defend the 801 now facing charges in the civil courts and others who may be victimized in any way as a result of their part in FSM. Having won the right to advocate, the students now want to get back to that task, and others want to explore the possibilities of more genuine intellectual communication between students and teachers and within each group opened up as a by-product of the free speech struggle.

The Deeper Gains

          The gains of the students are not, however, limited merely to gaining more elbow room for their social and political action, gaining more favorable conditions for operating the anti-establishment underground, important though these gains are. The intangible gains have been summed up by Bob Starobin, a teaching assistant in History, a former editor of Root and Branch, and delegate to the FSM Executive Committee from the Graduate Coordinating Committee, in the following eight points:

  1. The myth of liberalism has been completely shattered.
  2. The students have a much better understanding of the bureaucratic mentality and how to deal with it.
  3. They have had an education in political alignments and how political power is distributed. They know better how power is achieved and held.
  4. They have developed serious doubts about the Democratic Party and in many cases overt hostility toward it.
  5. They have had an education in tactics, especially in the uses and limitations of civil disobedience.
  6. They learned about the unreliability of the press. Even the Chronicle lies.
  7. They have received an education on the role and nature of the police.
  8. The faculty felt, correctly, that they had lost the respect of their students.

          These points are very well taken, and some require further elaboration. Persons not acquainted with the Berkeley situation should bear in mind that this is not a reactionary institution run by political and academic Neanderthals. On the contrary, it is a truly liberal institution. Its president is seriously considered for a Cabinet post in the Great Society administration. The most clearly political of its Regents are in a majority Democratic appointees, many by the liberal Democrat Brown who called out the troopers. Even Scalapino, Kerr's faculty spokesman at the Greek Theater meeting, had earned a liberal reputation both in his academic work and as a radio commentator. The faculty has a strong liberal leaning, especially in the liberal arts, and those faculty members like Glaser, Feuer, and Lipset who were most vicious against the FSM had a reputation as left liberals and even aspired, in the case of Feuer and Lipset, to be considered some sort of radicals. The moral collapse of such an institution and such a set of individuals cannot but, for the students involved, sweep away much of the liberal myth in its wake.

          The lesson in power is also of vital importance and two-sided. If the movement had any collective heroes, it was the teaching assistants, the elite of the graduate student body. Given the present set-up, this group, previously of low status and apparently powerless and exposed to the worst hazards of reprisal and victimization, has in actuality the power "to bring the machinery to a grinding halt." In the December strike they discovered that power and used it. They are not likely to lose this consciousness, nor awareness of the fact that their role has won the respect of faculty and undergraduates alike. The teaching assistants now have a viable trade union affiliated with the AFT.

          There is also the negative side of the power equation. The students have learned that even after totally defeating the administration within the academic community the administration still stands, intact, because the ultimate sources of power lie with the outside power structure, represented by the Regents. More and more students see this power structure correctly, not as a bureaucratic monster but, by one name or another, as a self-conscious, organized ruling class. Its academic representatives, Kerr, Strong, and the like, have much autonomy, and ordinarily its many internal splits obscure its character. But when the chips were down in the FSM fight, it acted as a disciplined, conscious class. Knowland and Brown were united. This lesson too is not lost. To return for a moment to the comments of Starobin: "The greatest single gain of the FSM is the politicization to one degree or another of a major portion of the.student body."

          This struggle also appears to mark the end of principled non-violence as an issue in this area. Faced with armed cops in the hundreds, the students were obviously in no position to adopt tactics of self defense, so that the question was never sharply posed. However, the whole spirit of converting the enemy through love, the self-righteous condemnation of "un-CORElike attitudes" which had been a dominant theme in the actions around 1960 was notably absent. The students were most grateful for the support of folksinger Joan Baez, for example, but when she called on them to enter Sproul Hall with love in hearts this plea was received with considerable cynicism. When, during the arrests at Sproul Hall, a large detachment of police tried to seize the microphone of the public address system which the students were using to address the crowd in the plaza, the students resisted by grabbing the policemen's legs and clubs, trying to trip them, and in general pushing non-violence to its extreme limits. For the demonstrations following the HUAC affair in 1960, male students were told authoritatively to wear jackets and ties if at all possible. Now, however, the search for middle-class respectability is treated with contempt, and on the ideological level the doctrine of pacifism, though still strong, no longer predominates.

A Few Questions

          For Marxists and revolutionaries the whole FSM must be not only a source of great satisfaction and inspiration but also the occasion of raising some serious questions. The first and most obvious of these is to what extent can we expect similar phenomena elsewhere? Really, this is the same as saying, "Why Berkeley?" A number of reasons suggest themselves. First, the University of California is probably more heavily infiltrated by the federal government, and especially by the military and the AEC, than any other major university. This increasing identity between the government in its most coercive aspect and the University has had its effect on the over-all institution, to the detriment of free scholarship and undergraduate instruction. Second, Berkeley is a prestige university, in academic standing second probably only to Harvard. It is indisputable that it is among the best students that the disaffected are to be found. An independent study of the academic standing of those arrested in Sproul Hall, for example, revealed that they had a grade-point average much higher than that of the general student body. Indeed, a local sports columnist suggested that the best way to lick the Reds in FSM was to give more athletic scholarships to deserving patriotic footballers who couldn't make the grade at present.

          Third, the local bourgeoisie tends to have more of a coexistence attitude toward dissidence than elsewhere . . . up to a point! Bay Area cops beat where New York cops would shoot. The local labor movement too is influenced by a large number of ex-radicals who retain the rhetoric of their past while jettisoning its content. In such an atmosphere it is easier for dissidence to gain a foothold.

          Fourth, Berkeley has accumulated over the years a sizable fringe of disaffected semi-bohemian elements who, while they have no formal connection with the University, cluster around it and form a supportive element for student radicals. Among these fringe elements are many radicals who, while not yet ready to quit politics altogether, are also not anxious to pursue them strenuously, and find in Berkeley an atmosphere conducive to living on their political, light-duty slips. In short, the student radical does not face a harshly hostile environment once he steps beyond Sather Gate.

          Fifth, there is the class character of the student body itself which is drawn mainly from the intelligentsia, the professional classes, and the comfortable section of the working class. Pop may have been a working man, but the home has provided enough security to make chance-taking possible. In a period like the present the response is bound to be greater among these middle-class elements than among the children of the working class in such neighboring institutions as Oakland City College. There, working class students are desperately anxious to get out of the class and won't jeopardize their chances by agitating. Finally, all of this of course is self-reinforcing. The word gets around and dissatisfied elements transfer in from the University of Nebraska.

          At the moment the Berkeley campus seems isolated from the rest of the students in America. However, the news is being spread by direct contact, and the media are now taking it up more seriously. FSM leaders expect that the isolation will end soon, and theirexpectation may be well founded. Surely where similar conditions prevail and where there is sufficient provocation, the same underlying dissatisfactions may be expected to find open expression in forms influenced by the FSM experience.

Role of the Left

          The FSM was not hostile to the traditional left, and there was absolutely no red-baiting. Rapport with the various left tendencies, and FSM identification with left ideologies, was limited, however, by a number of factors. One, of course, is the traditional American pragmatism and eclecticism, in which the Free Speech Movement participates. The FSM and its allied organizations have been unable to jell an over-all ideological attitude. The impact of the organized left was further diminished by its highly fragmented state wish Stalinists, Trotskyists, and social-democrats all split and in one degree or another of disarray. Moreover, the majority of the FSM people have a strong reaction against what they interpret as infantile factionalism and sectarian attitudes. Given the students' pragmatic attitudes, the inability of the left in the last quarter century to create a mass movement or to develop impressive intellectual leadership significantly reduces its appeal. The empiricism which infects American society generally has not left the radical movement unscathed. Having lost confidence in its own role, the left tends to deprecate the need for theory and wax euphoric at each outburst of militancy, happy to follow where it would never think to lead.

          More fundamental, however, is the fact that objective circumstances do not permit the students to link up with decisive social forces. This reinforces their tendency to see their struggles in isolation. Although many elements among them would be overjoyed at the prospect of outside support, they see a working class in actuality largely passive, if not hostile, to their aspirations, and because of their own middle-class character they are cut off from what small sparks of militancy do exist.

          These factors taken together have tended to make the FSM regard the ideology of all the left groupings as equally irrelevant. This empiricism is a serious weakness in the movement. No one with a realistic view of the scene would expect this mass movement to submit meekly to the embraces of some branch of the traditional left, to accept uncritically the pre- conceived ideology of the older groups. However, if the necessity of a world view of sufficient clarity is not recognized, the movement stands in peril of dissipation and disintegration in the face of larger questions which can be approached only in the light of a more general over-view.

          The movement can ill afford to repeat all the errors and false starts of previous generations whose efforts in the main ended in downright betrayal of the subjective desires and intentions of the participants. The past can only be transcended by learning from it, not ignoring it. Otherwise, for example, the same stale old class-collaborationist platitudes that sunk the movements of the 1930's through support of Roosevelt and then of World War II would seem like exciting new ways to manipulate for radical ends capitalist-imperialist politicians like Pat Brown, Lyndon Johnson, and their successors.

          Bridging the gap with living struggles is also a vital necessity for the Marxist movement. To succeed would be revitalizing, organizationally and ideologically. To fail would encourage all those sick symptoms which grow out of prolonged isolation and impotence. There is no reason to be unduly pessimistic concerning the possibility of making this link. The FSM is now entering its evaluation stage and is breaking down into its component parts. It has been highly politicized and has been exposed to the power structure which many of its supporters have come to see clearly as a ruling class. With this basis, continued openness on the part of the students and an approach by the revolutionary left, at once ideologically self-confident and also willing to recognize the unique break-through which the students have achieved on their own, can build an enduring and powerful movement, an important step toward the creation of a revolutionary force in the United States.

Two Currents in FSM

          Finally, it is noticeable that two separate currents come together in FSM. One, which supplies a large part of its leadership, especially on the tactical level, consists of those for whom the primary issue is one of certain specific rights and demands, freedom of advocacy and organization, freedom from unreasonable harassment by the authorities. What these elements want is enough elbow room to conduct their political and social campaigns, at this point primarily around civil rights, but including other issues as well.

          There is another current which joins this one, and for whom the symbol of the enemy is the IBM machine. They speak less in terms of civil rights and civil liberties, of political and social action, than in terms of alienation, of the intellectual degradation of the university by the multiversity, knowledge factory, concept. They feel cheated in their education, and dehumanized by a soulless machine. Only a small minority of those who supported FSM were interested in personally participating in political and social action. FSM became a truly mass movement because of this second current -- because these students felt that this way they could strike back at the machine, reassert their humanity and individuality, and perhaps make the University into a true community of scholars. Their moral integrity is one of the most impressive things about the FSM revolt.

          However, while the first current, the politicals, were able to win the limited demands they were fighting for -- that is, in essence, more favorable conditions for their underground movement -- the hopes of the second group were doomed to disappointment. True, after the Academic Senate meeting of December 8 there was a brief period of euphoria when it seemed that honest communication and mutual respect could be established between faculty and students, and that the community of scholars could exist apart from and in spite of external social forces; but already now this mood is evaporating, the old barriers coming up again, the faculty retreating, and the IBM machines are clicking on. As long as the university is a vital part of the capitalist establishment no community of scholars can exist, and the moral corruption of moribund capitalism must taint the campus as well as every other social institution. This section of the students, naive if you will, hoped with the aid of the faculty to be able to take the University away from the ruling class. This was a vain illusion, of course.

          The bourgeoisie will no more give up its knowledge factory than it will its General Motors plant, and it needs the one as much as the other. Some educational reform may be forthcoming, but nothing that will meet the needs of these students. The question is, then, what will their reaction be? On the one hand, it could be a retreat into a personal world, marijuana and bohemianism for some, and surrender to split-level values for others, and in both cases disillusionment and cynicism. But this is not necessary. They have been in intimate contact now with the underground opposition, the civil rights advocates and the politicals. There is genuine communication and respect between the two groups, and perhaps their values can lead them to understand that the road to the free university, and the intellectual freedom and honesty that this concept implies, lies only through the overthrow of the capitalist system which corrupts their environment. In that case we may come to see a transformation of the whole social and political climate in the United States.

The University and Capitalism

          With the changes which are currently taking place within the structure of western capitalism, the university becomes a more and more critical part of the over-all system. As automation eats away at the traditional working class and the white collar elements as well, the bourgeoisie more and more needs its trained specialists. Not only have they technical tasks of the highest order to perform, but the bourgeoisie is also in increasing need of reliable and skilled ideologues and of social engineers to manage the manipulated society. Their dilemma is that this job cannot be done by third rate, unskilled, uncreative people. Giving more athletic scholarships won't meet their needs. Their professional people, if they are to do the job, must have education as well as training. But to the degree that education, intellectual freedom, and creativity are permitted, to this degree there is the danger of the kind of revolt which took place in Berkeley.

          It was a middle class revolt of people to whom the system offered its most attractive material rewards, and status gratification too. These students had it made, but in the FSM revolt they rejected the whole set of values and assumptions of the split-level society. What they want is something else, not yet sharply defined but not to be found in the Great Society. But the Great Society needs these students, and in their revolt against it they expose a sickness in that society from which it is not likely to recover.


Copyright 1965, 1998 by Spartacist Publishing Company. This work may not be reproduced in any medium which is sold, subject to access fee, or supported by advertising, without explicit prior consent of the copyright holder. Reprinted here by permission.

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