Radicals and the Berkeley Free Speech Movement

The Berkeley Free Speech Movement is rightly remembered as a crucial moment in the upsurges of the 1960s. Less remembered is the role that radicals, especially members of the Independent Socialist Club, played in that movement.

UC Berkeley students went on strike after mass arrests in a Free Speech Movement protest. (Don Kechely)

The Berkeley student movement of the 1960s began with the picketing of Woolworth’s stores in support of the Southern struggle against white racism in public accommodations. On February 1, 1960, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina sat down at a “whites-only” Woolworth’s lunch counter and asked to be served coffee. In the following weeks, similar actions spread throughout the South, as ten to twenty thousand black students (and some whites) held sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, mainly at Woolworth’s, then one of the largest chain stores in the country.

In the North, picketing of Woolworth’s publicized its racist actions and put economic pressure on the chain to end its Southern Jim Crow practices. The picketing was part of a strategy to leverage Northern support against segregated Southern public accommodations. The sit-ins and picketing followed in the footsteps of the direct action approach the Montgomery bus boycott had taken a few years earlier. Sit-ins were the first act of what was to become the 1960s radical upsurge.

Witnessing the courage and militancy of the Southern students — seeing the bravery of ordinary people — challenged the thinking and behavior of activists. It emboldened the University of California, Berkeley students to carry out their own local direct action. They landed a knockout blow in May 1960 against the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the headhunters of the McCarthyite crusade to terrorize the nation into Cold War conformity.

During that month, HUAC was holding three days of hearings in San Francisco on so-called alleged Communist activity, including the Woolworth’s picketing. HUAC subpoenaed people, including one Berkeley student, whom they claimed had been members of groups on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations. The list was the creation of liberals in the Truman administration, as part of their contribution to the Cold War anti-Communist crusade. In 1960, the Democratic Party held a majority of seats on HUAC — as it had for most years of the committee’s existence.

Among many others, both the Workers Party (which later became the Independent Socialist League) and the Socialist Youth League, both Trotskyist groups, had been on the subversive list. People who belonged to listed organizations risked the loss of employment, loss of teaching posts, blacklisting, denial of student loans, dishonorable army discharges, and possible jailing. In a national emergency, leaders of some such groups could be imprisoned in reopened concentration camps where Japanese Americans had been interned. The HUAC hearings used these threats not only to force testimony from witnesses about their own political beliefs and affiliations, but also to try to force witnesses to “name names” — to act as informers on their friends and associates.

In the new climate created by the sit-ins, an organized confrontation against HUAC — the first since the start of the Cold War — challenged the committee’s legitimacy and provided support for its intended victims. The protest demonstration mustered hundreds of Berkeley students — many, if not most, of whose political awakening had started with the recent Woolworth’s picketing.

When the protesters were denied entry into the HUAC hearings, they used tactics learned in civil rights demonstrations. They sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” and began a hallway sit-in. The police response was to fire-hose and drag them down the marble steps of City Hall, to beat and arrest them.

The result was a learning curve breakthrough for Bay Area radicals: the San Francisco establishment’s tolerant liberal facade was a fig leaf for a repressive status quo, enforced by its brutal police.

The San Francisco “Battle of City Hall” became world-famous. A huge militant protest erupted in response, as five thousand people, mainly Berkeley students now joined by longshoremen and other workers, marched the following day in San Francisco against HUAC. This turning point broke through years of intimidation by McCarthyism. The fear was over — HUAC became a national joke, a farce whose usefulness to the anti-Communist crusade had been destroyed.

The HUAC protests had been initiated at the University of California through a petition drive followed by a rally, coordinated by the Student Committee for Civil Liberties, an ad hoc coalition of campus leftists and liberals. The City Hall demonstrations were organized by SLATE, the liberal-left student government party; members of the Community Party; and the Berkeley Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), the youth group of the Socialist Party (SP).

Throughout the Cold War 1950s, liberals had refused to work in any coalition that included Communists; this new united front set a precedent for the future in the Berkeley movement. The leading role played by the Berkeley YPSL constituted an important contribution to the development of the early New Left. It brought recognition as well as an enormous sense of pride, confidence, accomplishment, and growth to the national YPSL.

HUAC counterattacked with Operation Abolition, a propaganda movie seen throughout the country by fifteen million people. The effect, however, was the opposite of HUAC’s intentions. Audiences of young people applauded the demonstrators and jeered HUAC; mass sympathy swelled for the newly emerging student left. Radicals in other cities, often impacted by Operation Abolition, began a left migration to Berkeley, which was emerging as the center of the new student militancy. This migration expanded the radical culture in the Bay Area and on the campus, which became the largest in the country. Left-wing members of the YPSL taking part in this same migration would in a few years initiate the Independent Socialist Club (ISC), the forerunner of the International Socialists (IS).

The Bay Area Student Committee Against HUAC (BASCAHUAC) was created to continue the fight by spreading the truth about HUAC and the SF demonstrations and to counter Operation Abolition. The three main Berkeley student groups, BASCAHUAC, SLATE, and the YPSL, issued a joint statement on civil liberties and free speech. Their principled positions would help shape the views of the Berkeley movement, and created guidelines for the future Free Speech Movement (FSM):

We have concentrated our efforts on the defense and extension of democratic rights in the United States. We are, however, equally committed to the support of the struggles for democratic rights everywhere. Our organizations are against abridgments of civil liberties and freedom in the Soviet Union, the United States or elsewhere in the world. We stand opposed to those organizations which defend such abridgments and defend violations of democracy in either power bloc.

Today we find it essential to stress that the rights of the Communist Party itself to function as a political movement, gain adherents, and act on the campus must be defended if civil liberties are to have any meaning. We reject the view . . . that political activities are legitimate when engaged in by some and illegitimate when engaged in by others.

The statement represented a victory for the civil liberties politics that the IS tendency, often alone, had fought for throughout the Cold War era. When this understanding of civil liberties, democratic rights, and freedom came together with the activity of the Civil Rights Movement on the Berkeley campus, it was to produce an explosion.

Berkeley Prelude: Civil Rights

In 1964, a few years after the HUAC protests, the Free Speech Movement broke out when the university administration attacked the student Civil Rights Movement, above all the work of Campus CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). Campus CORE had been formed the preceding year following the national outburst of civil rights activity and organization emerging from the enormous struggle and victory of the Birmingham movement. Some left-wing members of the YPSL cooperated with a few other campaigners to form a direct-action civil rights group on campus. It took off like a rocket, with over one hundred people joining at its first meeting — an amazing number for that period. It soon became the largest CORE chapter nationally and the most important activist organization on the Berkeley campus.

Campus CORE and the Bay Area Civil Rights Movement focused on ending racist employment practices, not Mississippi-style legal segregation. But in the liberal Bay Area, employers refused to hire blacks in occupations that brought them into direct contact with the public: hotel workers, car salespeople, department store clerks, restaurant servers, supermarket cashiers, bank tellers, and bartenders, among others. Campus CORE mobilized large numbers of students for the occupations, sit-ins, and mass arrests that opened these jobs up to blacks at Mel’s Drive-In restaurants, the Sheraton Palace Hotel, Cadillac Row auto dealerships, and that forced the Telegraph Avenue Berkeley stores to hire blacks. At Lucky Supermarkets, Campus CORE introduced the new technique of shop-ins.

The Ad Hoc Committee Against Discrimination, led by Communist Party members, played an important role in initiating actions. But Campus CORE was a leading force in the Bay Area movement because of its ability to assemble and mobilize many more participants for these occupations and arrests than any other civil rights group.

Those of us who formed the Independent Socialist Club (ISC) were central leaders of Campus CORE, which made us an important political factor on the Berkeley campus. Our close working relations with Richmond CORE, an all-black chapter in a nearby city that was led by working-class women who shared many of our views and perspectives, gave us additional prominence in the statewide Civil Rights Movement. Our influence was apparent in September 1964, when the national civil rights organizations — National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), CORE, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — and Martin Luther King called for a moratorium on demonstrations during the presidential election period, to try to prevent a so-called backlash vote against Lyndon B. Johnson lending support to right-wing racist Barry Goldwater. California CORE was the only civil rights organization that broke the moratorium and kept demonstrating.

At the statewide convention of California CORE, we successfully argued that if the main outcome of demonstrations was racist backlash, then logically the ban should not be confined to election periods. Rather, we argued, in reality, militant demonstrations were the only way in which the Civil Rights Movement had won its gains — including pushing back racist white backlash. We opposed subordinating the struggle for civil rights to the electoral needs of the Democratic Party, which was a protector and enabler of institutional racism. Our motion won.

This skirmish against the moratorium was not abstract: the Berkeley civil rights groups and the FSM carried out their sit-ins and militant actions in this presidential election period when there was a moratorium on demonstrations elsewhere.

As Campus CORE developed in its first year, it came increasingly under the political influence of left-wing YPSL members. During the dramatic events of the struggles of that year — including Freedom Summer; the murders of SNCC workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman; and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party — many movement people radicalized. During that year, both through common struggles and during discussions at and after CORE meetings, we were able to win leading movement members to militancy, boldness, disciplined functioning, and socialist explanations of the causes of racism and the nature of institutional racism in its relationship to American capitalism and capitalist politics — including the role of liberalism and the Democratic Party in maintaining systemic racism.

Campus CORE radicals increasingly looked to those of us in the YPSL for leadership and direction. But although they were our sympathizers, we were unable to recruit them to membership in our existing socialist organization. It would have been suicidal to bring them into what had become the factional jungle meetings of the YPSL, in which we were constantly battling with followers of Max Shachtman, who were shifting rightward to support the Democratic Party and American imperialism. This tragic situation blocked recruitment from our large periphery. That changed with the formation of the ISC and an ongoing stream of recruits from contacts first made in CORE.

As the YPSL disintegrated nationally — losing its large, recently recruited young members who had joined to be active in the civil rights and peace movements, and who had not signed up for the all-out factional warfare which came to dominate SP and YPSL meetings — a number of left-wing YPSL leaders moved to the Berkeley area to be active in this new radical mecca.

Hal Draper.

The Bay Area was home to Hal Draper, theoretical leader of our tendency, around whom a new revolutionary organization would later be formed. We would be faced with the issue of continuing in this factional battle or splitting from the SP/YPSL, under whose leadership Max Shachtman had moved far to the right in support of the Democratic Party and American imperialism. One reason for holding back from a split at this point was that a large number of YPSL/SP civil rights cadre in SNCC and CORE nationally were still supporters of figures like Shachtman and Bayard Rustin, who remained influential leaders in the left wing of the mass movement. That relationship ruptured in August 1964, when Rustin, Shachtman, and company supported the sellout of the Mississippi Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, lurching further rightward into an opening to collaborate with the Johnson administration, as popularized in Bayard Rustin’s essay, “From Protest to Politics.” Many of their militant supporters broke with them, some to help pioneer Black Power.

Meanwhile, the decaying factionalism of the YPSL had resulted in the YPSL left splintering into increasingly sectarian subgroups. Any reasons to remain in the vicious factional madhouse of the SP/YPSL were gone, while the delay of breaking had led to the near extinction of our political current.

ISC Launched

Hal Draper was the theoretical leader of our tendency. He had an extraordinary knowledge of Marxism that resulted in brilliant political analysis and thought. The author of the theory of “socialism from below,” uncompromising in his work opposing all imperialism, Hal Draper’s scholarship was the most important American contribution to revolutionary Marxism in the last half of the twentieth century. He was widely respected internationally.

I was the main day-to-day political leader, trying to hold our troops together and advance our forces, formally still the national chairman of the YPSL. The partnership that Hal and I developed throughout the 1960s radicalization included near-daily discussions and decisions on all political and organizational questions. The knowledge I gained from working with Hal was vast. Most importantly, he taught me how to think. He didn’t demand agreement or conformity — he was always open to serious new thought.

Following Shachtman and Rustin’s sellout of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, I proposed to Hal that we leave the YPSL/SP and form the Independent Socialist Club. Hal initially opposed my proposal. I was too inexperienced and too politically immature to lead a split, and Hal was unwilling to take leadership responsibility for a new socialist organization. He had not yet fully overcome the 1950s experience of a “caretaker group” perspective, focused on keeping ideas from the past alive.

Against starting another small socialist sect, Hal instead favored our acting as a left-wing center within the SP, itself a small social-democratic sect. This position increasingly became a meaningless abstraction, as the onetime WP/ISL tendency within the SP/YPSL fragmented and ceased to exist after the faction fight. As the movement of the 1960s developed, our group was increasingly radicalized, while Shachtman’s group galloped right at accelerating speed. The times were a-changing — while we were still bogged down in an increasingly toxic faction battle with a group that was now alien to us.

Hal’s and my hesitancies meant that during the 1960s radicalization, we wasted precious time in a faction fight without any exit strategy. Much of our tendency was destroyed, setting us back for years. I became unwilling to continue functioning in this impasse. I argued with Hal that the enormous energy, sacrifices, and jail time we had made and served in the Civil Rights Movement had accomplished as much as any of the other much stronger political tendencies. But we couldn’t advance, since we lacked a socialist organization to which we could recruit, educate, and retain a new cadre. Without a viable organization, our work was dissipated and our large periphery would eventually be absorbed back into the liberal milieu or recruited to other radical groups.

It was a losing combination, a perspective with no successful outcome. As his day-to-day operative, I would not continue convincing comrades to do this work and make the sacrifices of this approach. We had to choose one road or the other: either leave the SP/YPSL, or dramatically cut back on this combination of mass work without a connection to a socialist organization.

Draper reluctantly accepted my ultimatum, but with two provisos designed to prevent a complete split from the SP/YPSL. His first condition was that we continue to maintain SP/YPSL membership. In practice, this aspect vanished overnight without discussion or formal decision. The right-wing YPSLs were allies of the Berkeley administration and stooges in the FSM; joint organization or even association with them would have been a disaster, an impossibility. After the formation of the ISC, we never attended another YPSL meeting.

Draper’s second condition was that the ISC be restricted to Berkeley — we would not encourage or assist the formation of ISC clubs elsewhere, because he didn’t want to be responsible for forming a new national organization. In order to gain Hal’s agreement to form the ISC, I consented to his localist perspective. In retrospect, it was a terrible compromise, resulting in the loss of many comrades in other cities. After our FSM success, some comrades did start clubs elsewhere, leading to a national federation in 1967. But radicalizations don’t last forever; we wasted precious time in the development of a national organization, which later led to some desperate mistakes in an attempt to catch up, and often kept the Berkeley ISC too focused on limited, localist perspectives.

Eighteen members of our faction in the YPSL and the Socialist Party founded the Independent Socialist Club on September 17, 1964. Prior to the meeting, I spoke with each of our supporters individually to convince them of this new perspective. It was unnecessary — everyone was already convinced; no one disagreed. The members were in advance of the leaders; they had already voted with their feet.

At our launch meeting, six members of Campus CORE also joined. So the ISC began with twenty-four people, most of them students or campus workers. We were no smaller than the other campus socialist groups, deeply relieved to be out of an endless faction fight, and enthusiastic about the future. Yet it was also a bittersweet beginning. The disintegration of our political tendency, which only a few years earlier had held such enormous influence, weight, and promise on the Left, had some comrades battle-scarred, not prepared to fully devote themselves to the rigors of revolutionary activism.

But we also had a core of politically tough, resilient individuals committed to revolutionary socialism. They were an extremely talented, independent-minded bunch; no shrinking violets could have survived the preceding years of factional warfare.

Another distinguishing ISC strength was our internalized self-conception, different from other socialists, even from that of our predecessors. We consciously considered ourselves to be as much a product of the Civil Rights Movement as of Trotskyism. We were trained and shaped in civil rights activity — in sit-ins, Freedom Rides, demonstrations, internal debates, arrests, militancy, courage, creative radicalism, self-activity, and self-organization. We were unwavering in our commitment to black liberation. These were central to our reason for being; our interests were never separate from the movement’s emancipatory goals. Because of this reality, the ISC enjoyed an acceptance by movement activists that most other socialist groups could never achieve.

Some socialist splits are not only justified, but beneficial for the movement. However bruised our creation, freedom from the SP-YPSL liberated us to play an amazing role in the Berkeley radical movement.

Although well-integrated within the Bay Area Civil Rights Movement and the Left, the ISC was a local group. This affected an understandable but limiting parochialism in our perspectives. While we became an important component of the Berkeley anti–Vietnam War groups, we lacked presence or political influence in the national antiwar movement. We neglected work in what became the country’s most important national radical student organization, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). This tragic mistake flowed from the weakness of Berkeley’s SDS chapter, which discouraged us from making SDS a strategic priority, from thinking nationally.

Members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) protest against the Vietnam War.

The saving grace of our parochialism was that we formed in the right place at exactly the right time. For years, Berkeley was the center of international student radicalism. Anything initiated in Berkeley influenced the entire radical student movement and was copied and imitated. Berkeley was our passport to the radicalizing movements of the mid-1960s.

The ISC’s first meeting was held on the very night on which the Free Speech Movement was formed, September 17, 1964. It was a fortuitous convergence. Over the next three months, Berkeley saw the most explosive student struggle until Paris in 1968. The experience of the ISC’s involvement in the FSM transformed us.

The ISC’s foundation meeting was held at Stiles Hall by invitation only, but was packed. We laid out to our allies and periphery in the Civil Rights Movement and the Left why we were forming a new socialist group. In 1960, there were two socialist groups at Berkeley; in 1964, after four years of movement struggles, there were eight socialist groups on the UC-Berkeley campus. The New Left had overcome the McCarthyism of the 1950s, when liberals and even some “left” groups had helped the right-wing in Red-baiting and in policing the movement to keep out more radical socialists. Radical ideas were gaining a greater hearing as the New Left was in the process of developing an ideology.

But why did you need a ninth socialist group, and why can’t you socialists all get together? We had to make the case for why we were leaving the Socialist Party, for why we thought we could build a new socialist organization, based on our political perspectives. We argued that a new socialist organization was necessary to fight for what was missing: the program of revolutionary democratic socialism, of socialism from below, of opposition to both capitalism and Stalinism, “neither Washington nor Moscow,” of thirdcamp socialism against all imperialism, of no support to capitalist politics, of independent political action, of black liberation through militant self-activity.

We had to make the case that socialism was the self-emancipation of the working class through the conquest of state power and the creation of a workers’ state based on workers’ democracy, workers’ power, and workers’ control of production, of the economy, and of the state. No existing socialist group was dedicated to these ideals. To fight for them without compromise, a distinct revolutionary socialist organization was necessary.

The FSM Begins

The ISC meeting, originally called for 7:30 PM, was rescheduled to 6 PM, so that people could leave for the first organizing meeting of the United Front, the initial name of the Free Speech Movement. Attending the ISC foundation were Mario Savio and Jack Weinberg, who within days emerged as the two central leaders of the FSM. Jack joined the ISC that evening, although he dropped out during the FSM and rejoined a year later. Mario, an inactive YSPL member, did not join, but remained a close collaborator throughout the decade. He agreed with our third-camp politics, civil rights militancy, and emphasis on radical democracy from below, but not with our opposition to all Democratic Party candidates. He was torn between our view and the Communist Party’s popular front strategy on elections, which entailed support for some Democrats.

The organizing meeting of the United Front, which we were instrumental in initiating, was set up to challenge new rules by Clark Kerr, the statewide University of California president. Announced three days before, on September 14, 1964, the new rules to control political activity banned tables for political recruitment on campus and all organizing and fundraising for “off-campus political and social action.” This was the latest set of restrictions that Kerr and the UC administration had added to older rules, called the “Kerr directives,” on the right of students to engage in political activity.

Both the ISC and United Front meetings had to be held off campus because of administrative regulations. Some of our members had been in the anti-HUAC protests and in previous fights against the Kerr directives and attacks on civil liberties on campus, including mandatory “loyalty oaths” required of faculty and for student loans, so we were well-positioned to help set up the United Front.

The United Front included not only civil rights groups and the socialist clubs, but every political group that sought to organize on campus: the Young Democrats, Young Republicans, Youth for Goldwater, Libertarians, everyone. While the conservative groups drifted away as the struggle intensified against the California establishment, a critical factor in the FSM’s success was that it remained a broad-based coalition, committed to not excluding any political tendency — a legacy of the anti-HUAC campaign. The ISC helped to successfully carry that argument: every group, regardless of political differences, that opposed restrictions on their rights to organize on campus should work together for the common goals of the FSM.

This bond of a genuine, united effort allowed the FSM to retain the support of the student body with all of its diverse views. It also helped the movement overcome the Red-baiting so ingrained in American political culture and later weaponized against the FSM by Kerr, the media, and Governor Pat Brown.

The new university rules tried to control, contain, and impede the work of every campus political group. But its overriding concern was to prevent the actions of Campus CORE, which used the campus to launch struggles against racist employers, many of whom had personal ties to Kerr and the Board of Regents. It was impossible for the university to introduce rules that just targeted the Civil Rights Movement, admitting they were simply to suppress mobilizations against white racism. To cripple CORE’s outreach ability, harsh disciplinary measures were introduced to prevent any organizing on campus that could lead to anti-racist activism off campus, even for raising money to support the Southern struggle against segregation.

In addition to serving jail time for sit-in arrests challenging Jim Crow in California, students under Kerr’s rules would now have to face additional university sanctions, up to and including expulsion — what protesters labeled “double jeopardy.” Future CORE meetings would be charged large fees for “police protection,” a transparent attempt to financially break the group that students correctly called a “mafia protection payoff” scheme. CORE veterans and other civil rights campaigners naturally became the backbone of the Free Speech Movement. The chairman of Campus CORE was Jack Weinberg. The chairman of the Friends of SNCC was Mario Savio.

The Left and the ISC in the FSM

Key to ISC prominence in the FSM was our work the previous year in Campus CORE and the wider Bay Area Civil Rights Movement. Before the FSM, the radical left on the Berkeley campus, primarily the socialist clubs, numbered a few hundred members and sympathizers, with perhaps another five hundred who had taken part in civil rights action. This was a significant critical mass of student activists greater than at any other university in the country. It was also a more politically sophisticated milieu, nourished by the diversity of organized political tendencies.

Still, activists and radicals remained a distinct minority on a campus of twenty-four thousand students who were primarily liberals and conservatives from middle- and upper-middle-class backgrounds. Yet over the course of three months, the campus left — through meetings, mass rallies, leaflets, newsletters, pamphlets, militant actions, sit-ins, building occupations, and eventually a campus-wide strike — educated and won the allegiance and active support of the majority of the students to its side. For the first time since the 1930s, the Left emerged hegemonic on a major American campus.

The FSM was a turning point in the student movement nationally. For radical students, the FSM was a model showing that with effective policies, tactics, and leadership, a radical minority could win over the campus. With two other events during 1964–65 — the betrayal of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the start of the Vietnam War — the FSM marked a major shift in the early 1960s New Left from left-liberal emerging radicalism to the conscious, deeper radicalism of the mid-1960s. The FSM was a key link in the chain between the civil rights and Vietnam antiwar movements.

FSM protest at Berkeley.

The ISC played a vanguard role within the FSM. After the movement victory in December, a research survey of Berkeley students found that the ISC was more recognized than any other student organization, either political or of any other variety. The ISC, nonexistent three months earlier, had become the most well-known group on the Berkeley campus. How did a small, politically shell-shocked remnant of what had been a significantly larger socialist organization play an outsize role in the movement so soon after its formation?

We did not begin from scratch. The respect for ISC members and politics achieved the previous year in CORE came to fruition as CORE militants became a vital element of the Free Speech Movement and its driving left force. Of the nine members of the first FSM executive committee, three — Tom Miller, David Friedman, and Jack Weinberg — were representatives of Campus CORE as well as ISC members.

For a small group, the ISC had a powerful core who were experienced and articulate, trained in the Civil Rights Movement and the Student Peace Union, as well as in the YPSL. Surviving a protracted faction fight had toughened us. We were unafraid to stand up for our views, even when these were controversial or unpopular.

Several other socialist tendencies also took part in the FSM, including the Socialist Workers Party’s Young Socialist Alliance, the Communist Party’s Du Bois Club, Progressive Labor, and Students for a Democratic Society. But with a core of members trained in mass movement work, the ISC was frequently able to carry a political line in the movement with a success other tendencies could not match. ISC cadre and our close allies in CORE consistently won mass meetings, departmental meetings, campus rallies, and internal FSM leadership meetings to our strategy, tactics, and political positions.

Our achievements in the FSM were due to the quality of our ideas and our cadre. At mass meetings, the other clubs usually had very few people who could speak effectively; the ISC had many who could move the audience. While the ISC lacked formal procedures of collective discipline, this was overcome by a very high ideological agreement within the group. We tried to avoid lecturing, haranguing, and hack or sectarian appeals. We asked our speakers not to repeat one another, but to present different reasons and arguments in pursuit of the same clear conclusions. We made it a rule that our speakers should always identify themselves as ISC members to build our profile: they were speaking not just for themselves, but on behalf of an organized socialist current, for our views to be recognized as part of movement considerations.

We placed enormous emphasis upon assessing the consciousness of our fellow students and in particular its most militant layers. Socialists can easily make the mistake of substituting their own political ideas and feelings for those of their intended audience. The ISC did not make this error. At every stage of the FSM, we tried to understand precisely the changing consciousness of the movement, particularly of the most advanced political students around us.

This dynamic had a definite purpose. We wanted to understand their consciousness so that we could learn from them and give expression and form to this level of consciousness, to raise the movement to the level of its most advanced layers. Our slogans and conclusions for appropriate next steps flowed from this method. Leadership for us also meant teaching others how to lead in the struggle. Our emphasis on understanding the consciousness of our fellow activists was crucial to the success we had in convincing them of our positions and perspectives.

Hal Draper’s Role in the FSM

And then there was the amazing advantage of having Hal Draper, who more than any other 1930s “Old Left” radical proved able to make the leap into the new radicalism — as a participant, interpreter, and defender of the emerging New Left.

Hal was a frequent speaker at FSM rallies, where he refrained from arguing what the movement should do — that was our job. His role was to give a clear, oftentimes brilliant, analysis of the social and political forces and dynamics involved: what Kerr, the Regents, and Governor Pat Brown’s administration did and said about the struggle, and their significance in California politics; what their lies were, and the social, economic, and political reasons behind their misleading propaganda and repressive actions. Other ISC and Campus CORE members were also frequent speakers at FSM rallies, presenting a radical analysis about what was going on that had been debated and developed at our public and internal meetings.

Our speakers and ideas had tremendous resonance within the student movement, particularly as the movement radicalized during these three months. The left political message that we were a vital part in forming was the dominant one through the FSM.

In helping to shape the ideological outlook of the FSM, Draper was paramount. He was very familiar with Kerr, dating back to the 1930s when both were members of the Student League for Industrial Democracy, a predecessor of the SDS. Draper followed the evolution of Kerr’s views closely, as Hal had a special interest in the development of bureaucratic and technocratic trends within capitalism. Kerr wrote a great deal on these trends and was himself the embodiment of the ultimate technocratic bureaucrat; he referred to his role of university president as “Captain of the Bureaucracy.”

The first public forum of the ISC was on September 30, 1964, with Draper speaking on “Clark Kerr’s Vision of the University.” The two key leaders of the FSM — Jack Weinberg, its strategist, and Mario Savio, its major leader and spokesperson — were among other FSM activists who attended Draper’s presentation.

Quoting Kerr’s writing extensively, Draper explained how Kerr viewed the university as a factory of “knowledge production,” increasingly merging with industry and the state apparatus. The university, in Kerr’s words, was a “series of processes producing a series of results — a mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money.” In Kerr’s knowledge factory, Draper explained, students represented raw material to be processed into the corporate middle managers, technicians, and civil servants of a bureaucratic capitalist society.

The very next day, CORE and the United Front violated the new Kerr rules, setting up tables (now illegal) at which people could make financial contributions (also illegal) and sign up to take part in off-campus civil rights activity (also illegal). The administration responded by immediately bringing the police on campus — a precedent that became their default position for handling student conflicts.

The cops arrested Jack Weinberg, who was manning the CORE table, locking Jack up in a squad car they had brought onto campus. Before the cops could drive off, they were immobilized by hundreds of students who sat down and surrounded the police car. It was a spontaneous, instinctive response, a tactic which students had absorbed from the Civil Rights Movement.

Within a few hours, three thousand people had joined the sit-down protest. The roof of the patrol car was transformed into a podium, a public platform upon which anybody could climb up and speak to the crowd. It was democracy in action, the living opposite of university police repression. From atop the police car, Mario acted as chairman of the sit-in, its main spokesman, articulating the sentiments of the crowd, and delivering exhilarating calls to action, so full of honesty, integrity, and easily accessible common sense that despite a debilitating stutter, he emerged that day as the orator of the student generation.

Mario Savio.

In their speeches, both Jack and Mario used Hal’s arguments and language from the ISC meeting of the previous evening, naming the university as a “knowledge factory” linked to the corporations, and making the connection between free speech and civil rights, educating the emerging movement with our shared political ideas.

After thirty-six hours, the sit-in ended in a partial victory, culminating the first phase of the Free Speech Movement. Two days later at the Sunday ISC internal branch meeting discussing the FSM events, Hal offered to write a pamphlet on Clark Kerr modeled after his presentation. The pamphlet, The Mind of Clark Kerr: His View of the University Factory and the “New Slavery,” went to press that Thursday, and on Friday we went out and sold it.

We produced two thousand copies. Two ISC members, Joanne Landy and I, sold over one thousand of the first run that day, standing outside the university entrance, yelling, “Read The Mind of Clark Kerr!” interspersed occasionally with, “Does he have a mind?!” We printed thousands of more copies, as did the Radical Education Project of SDS and others. The Mind of Clark Kerr became the bible of the FSM, the single most successful agitprop pamphlet of the 1960s.

With this pamphlet, as well as his frequent speeches at movement meetings, Hal emerged as the key ideological opponent of Clark Kerr and all that Kerr stood for. The Mind of Clark Kerr laid out the philosophical basis for the views of many FSMers. With satire and extraordinary clarity, Draper quoted extensively from Kerr’s book of the preceding year, The Uses of the University, and deconstructed Kerr’s view of the new role of the university under contemporary capitalism. There, Kerr elaborated what American elites think but rarely say publicly.

Kerr explained that the “multiversity” was not an academic ivory tower separate from the rest of society, but a big business, a knowledge industry to be merged with the existing industrial economy and power structure. Kerr viewed students, the raw materials for knowledge factory production, as not to be trusted, “by nature irresponsible . . . a potential source of danger.” Draper’s pamphlet combined analytical rigor with an optimistic call for resistance: “The Independent Socialist view is that students must not accept Kerr’s vision of the University-factory, run by a Captain of the Bureaucracy as a parts-supply shop to the profit system and the Cold War complex. We do not think they will.”

It was no wonder that Kerr viewed Hal as his chief ideological opponent and called him “the guru of the FSM.”

The pamphlet written by Marvin Garson.

Another very influential pamphlet produced by the FSM (later reprinted by the ISC) was The Regents, on the class nature of the university. The Regents was written by Marvin Garson, who with his wife Barbara were the editors of the FSM newsletter and our close allies in campus CORE. Marvin joined the ISC the year after the FSM. His pamphlet was a well-researched study of the individuals who composed the UC Board of Regents — who they were and what material interests they represented. Garson documented how thirteen of the twenty-four regents represented industrial and financial capital — shipping, the airlines, the utilities, publishing empires, banks, and chain stores. The other eleven were career politicians with a track record of subservience to big business.

The Regents . . . claim full power to override the decisions of student or faculty governments, and even to establish and dissolve such governments at their discretion. . . . To whom are they responsible? . . . The Regents cannot help feeling responsible to the huge private corporations that dominate — indeed constitute — the economy of California. In their minds, this is not corruption or prostitution; they cannot see that things should be any other way.

Garson concluded that the corporate class not only controlled the university and bought its products — the labor power of its students — but reproduced within the university itself the hierarchical power structure of the modern corporation.

“We have a Board,” he wrote, “with final and total authority, a President and Chancellors responsible only to it; and a mass of students and faculty with no rights except those they can extort by the threat of direct action.”

Garson’s pamphlet, like Draper’s, was among the ideological contributions the ISC and CORE were making to the FSM.

ISC Functioning in a Radicalizing FSM

From the beginning of the FSM, the ISC shaped many students’ views of the university administration’s real goals and the need for direct action to win our demands. We insisted that the Berkeley fight for “free speech” had emerged from, was central to, and could not be separated from the struggle for civil rights. Freedom to mount political action was crucial for the Civil Rights Movement’s ability to mobilize students to fight injustice and break unjust laws. The FSM newsletter summed these goals up: “[F]reedom to mount political and social action, freedom to advocate, freedom to hold meetings, to raise funds, to recruit . . . and for a University climate that makes possible these freedoms.”

For the ISC, democracy meant control from below — an understanding that allowed us to be consistent, uncompromising active builders of the FSM. Being accepted as among the best builders of the FSM gave us the credibility to argue for our politics and ideology.

As Draper and Garson explained in their FSM pamphlets, the university administration and the Regents refused to accept the right of free speech because they had a material stake in upholding an unjust social order, with its racist and repressive laws designed to maintain the rule of the corporate owners. We convinced many students of what the university stood for, of what the political struggle was about, and of the connection to existing American social relations, to capitalism. These ideas gave the ISC a wide influence and were a crucial element in the FSM’s radicalization.

Radical consciousness did not arise spontaneously or without conflict and the clash of ideas. We constantly debated inside the FSM with contending poles, strategies, tactics, and leaderships, particularly those of liberals and moderates. The more conservative groups, the Students for Goldwater and others, disappeared as events developed. They were for student political rights, and their own rights to organize for off-campus election campaigns, but they had no appetite for taking part in sit-ins or exposing and battling the establishment powers.

For most FSM supporters, this struggle was their first political experience. They carried liberal and moderate mindsets from their past lives, merging with their newly evolving radical attitudes. Their viewpoints shifted up, down, and sideways with FSM experiences, rallies, battles, victories, and setbacks. They were being transformed as the struggle unfolded, with many changing from Democrats or even Republicans to radicals, and with some to revolution.

Students were shocked into new realities as they experienced the fact that the university administration, the newspapers, television, and political establishment — people whose authority they had previously accepted — were all lying. Kerr and the deans were not only authoritarian, but disingenuous and deceitful. Students with no developed political outlook were repulsed when Kerr Red-baited the FSM as “Communists, Maoists, Castroites.” The Board of Regents represented the state’s racist employers: students came to understand them as the enemy.

When at the start of the FSM, conservatives and moderates joined radicals in speaking from the top of the police car in a totally open, free discussion, the newspapers reported this as a “riot by beatniks.” The television news, as well as the Bay Area newspapers, proved totally biased, consistently portraying the administration as fair-minded and students as unreasonable juveniles — an attitude echoed by politicians in the state legislature and the state’s liberal governor, Pat Brown.

All of this was an eye-opening experience for thousands of students, their entryway into the real social relations of our society. While respected institutions proclaimed sympathy with the Civil Rights Movement in the South, they defended the racist status quo in their own backyard, slandering and attempting to silence through brute force those who challenged it. The authorities to whom Berkeley students had previously looked now grossly lied about events the students were seeing with their own eyes: the establishment could no longer be trusted. Many people were radicalized by this recognition, as they had to look to the movement, its leaders, and themselves for the truth.

Many students originally turned to the faculty to defend free speech, but most of the faculty played a vacillating role during the FSM. Only a few outstanding professors took courageous stances. A sizable layer of faculty backed student demands, but tended to support “moderation” in dealing with the administration.

As the struggle progressed, students learned they could not give up their own agency; as Draper said, “[Y]ou had to rely upon yourself, and fight with everything you have to win.” As the FSM’s confrontation with the authorities intensified, those preaching moderation lost credibility, while it was the radicals whose views best fit the situation. In contrast to prevailing “common sense” that moderation would garner the widest support, the opposite proved true: the more militant the FSM became, the more effective it was in winning over the campus, with the faculty in the rear.

The ISC used leaflets and public meetings to spread our course of action. We mastered the art of the leaflet, an old but out-of-fashion tool of the revolutionary movement. We would saturate the campus with five thousand, ten thousand, or more. Some people threw them in the trash cans, but hundreds or even thousands would read them and be influenced, or at least consider our opinions as a part of the conversation.

Our leaflets analyzed the stages of the struggle and the forces arrayed against it, the responses of the FSM, how best to continue and counterattack, and what the concrete next steps should be. Our leaflets distilled a better explanation of the events than the movement, with all of its ideological diversity, could itself provide. A large section of the campus found that the ISC’s leaflets expressed their feelings and radicalizing consciousness.

Non-ISC members would often volunteer to help distribute the leaflets. There were even students with whom we had no other contact who, to our surprise, considered themselves to be ISC members because they agreed with our leaflets. Our leaflets also had an outstanding feature that no other group had: creative, compelling art — political cartoons by Lisa Lyons — that drew everyone’s attention by their artistic brilliance, humor, and powerful political message. Our leaflets were one of the chief reasons the ISC became the most widely identified of any campus group.

We also held public meetings at every major turn in the movement. Our second public meeting took place a week after the police car standoff. Jack Weinberg and Mario Savio were the speakers, but their names were not yet well-known, so we publicized the meeting with a cartoon announcing the speakers as “the man in the police car, and the man on top of the car.” Our public meetings were open discussions with speakers representing the ISC, our collaborators, and allies in the movement — including those who held different points of view — all of whom we considered to be “our comrades in the struggle.”

These meetings were forums for freewheeling discussion of all the pressing questions the FSM faced, one of the few open public spaces where debate of movement strategy and tactics took place. This put the ISC and its policies at the center of movement conversation and deliberations, as part of the movement and its goals, not something separate from it.

Our largest public meeting during the FSM was a debate over whether the Left should support Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater in the imminent 1964 presidential election. The speakers in favor of voting for Johnson and the Democrats were Bogdan Denitch of the Socialist Party and Bob Kaufman of the Communist Party. Arguing against supporting capitalist politics and lesser-evil voting were Hal Draper for the ISC and James Petras, an independent radical. (He was a former Young Socialist Alliance [YSA] organizer. He and five other former members of the SWP/YSA shortly thereafter joined the ISC.) Over 150 people attended — it was the largest non-FSM Berkeley left meeting, not specifically part of the “free speech” struggle, but influencing the leftward-moving FSMers.

After the December victory of the FSM, the ISC sponsored an all-day conference, in which over 750 people discussed the significance and lessons of the FSM, including a debate between Hal Draper and a pro-Kerr faculty member Nathan Glazer. Hal defended the FSM’s radicalism. Philip Selznick, a famous sociology professor, challenged Draper from the audience, stating that since free speech was a liberal goal, the movement was not a radical one. Draper responded that this goal of free speech shared by liberals and radicals could not be won by liberal tactics, but only by radical means as a mass struggle from below against liberal institutions and politicians; therefore, the FSM was a radical movement. Throughout the FSM, when we opened up space for discussion, we could provide our own socialist analysis.

The Student Strike

The ISC tried to maintain tactical agility through each stage of the FSM by discussing what is often the most difficult question: What to do next? The most important of these decisions was the student strike. By November, there had been a series of sit-ins — some successful, some not — but a stalemate with the administration had been reached. For weeks, debate raged in the FSM about what to do.

Believing it was time to actively mobilize what was becoming the majority opinion of students beyond the committed activists, we proposed a strike to shut the campus down. The last American student strikes had been the 1930s antiwar strikes organized by Socialist and Communist Party youth groups. Hal Draper had been a national leader of those strikes and brought to the ISC historical knowledge of what a student strike involved.

We forcefully argued for a strike but did not convince the FSM leadership. Instead, the more familiar sit-in tactic was called for on December 2 at Sproul Hall, on whose steps Mario Savio delivered an exhilarating call to join the sit-in:

[W]e’re the raw material. But we’re a bunch of raw material that don’t mean . . . to be made into any product, don’t mean to be bought by some clients of the university . . . we’re human beings . . . . There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

Some of these ideas echoed Draper’s Kerr analysis but were won in the student body by Mario’s powerful synthesis. A few thousand people marched into the sit-in, with eight hundred staying until arrested — the largest mass arrest in America until then.

Meanwhile, support for a strike was gaining momentum. The Graduate Student Coordinating Committee (GCC) had the preceding day, December 1, voted for a teaching assistants’ strike to start later that week. Inside the Sproul Hall sit-in, the FSM steering committee met and decided to go for a strike. Although a tactical debate had persisted for weeks — sit-in or strike — now it became sit-in and strike. Because the ISC had been the most consistent proponents of the strike, and of what a student strike would entail, the FSM steering committee asked me to take part in their deliberations, and then to leave the sit-in and organize the strike.

Later that night, Steve Weissman of the GCC and Jim Petras were also sent out to organize the strike. The three of us were not in contact and were each operating independently. Coordination among strikers arose from self-activity and self-organization in a cauldron of chaos, spontaneity, and brilliant improvisation — the enormous creativity unleashed in an uprising from below.

At 6 AM the next morning, December 3, a handful of comrades and allies whom I had been able to contact in the middle of the night met up with poster boards and markers at the Bancroft and Telegraph entrance of the campus, and started making strike posters only a few feet away from where the police were still brutally arresting sit-in students. The slogans on the posters were simple: “Defend the FSM,” “Police Off Campus,” “No Class With Police,” “Support Arrested Students,” “Shut UC Down,” and “Strike for Free Speech.”

As we were making the posters, we were worried about what response we might get. We knew the campus was on our side, but would we actually be able to shut the entire university down without much prior preparation for a strike?

When I looked up, a few dozen people were picketing — but within minutes, like a tidal wave, hundreds had joined the picket line. In less than an hour, our plan was working. We were actually shutting the university down.

Mario Savio on December 7, 1964. (Robert W. Klein)

The weeklong strike, from December 3 to December 9, was the first successful student strike in the United States since the 1930s. During the strike week, members of the Left, including of the ISC and Campus CORE, were key speakers in winning over department, GCC, and campus labor union meetings. The competence and professionalism of our comrades was shown in their helping to staff the many self-organized bodies that appeared: Strike Central, Press Central, Legal Central, and Communications Central.

The local labor movement, including the campus unions — the Building Trades, SEIU, the ILWU, and the San Francisco Labor Council — supported the strike. A contribution to shutting down the campus came from an unexpected force: the conservative Teamsters. I led a group of FSMers to meet with Teamster union officials, who agreed with us that crossing our picket lines would be scabbing, and they would prevent all deliveries to the campus. Within an hour, no trucks bringing supplies or food entered the campus, helping to halt the normal functioning of the university. The solidarity of campus workers was outstanding, particularly the underground support from secretaries and clerks of the main university administrators, who acted as part of our intelligence network, providing us with the enemy’s thinking, plans, and memos.

The vast majority of students did not attend class. The strike became the symbol of the Berkeley student movement, and the strike tactic spread to other schools across the country in the next few years. As the FSM newsletter stated, “The sit-in was less of a threat to Kerr than the strike. He knew he could break the sit-in through mass arrests, but the strike was impossible to stop.”

Police on campus, mass arrests, and overwhelming support for the strike convinced the faculty to endorse most of the student demands. In the midst of the strike, Savio and I were delegated to address the committee of two hundred, the most supportive section of the faculty. We informed them of the minimum positions the FSM would accept to end the strike. When informed these were nonnegotiable, there was some shock and initial hesitancy, but they agreed to our demands. These became the basis for the motions they wrote for the Academic Senate, which were adopted two days later by a vote of 824 to 115, consolidating victory for the FSM.

For the first time since the 1930s, the Left was hegemonic on a major American campus. The FSM proved that student radicals were no longer a fringe minority. It established that radicals, revolutionary Marxists among them, could lead a whole campus, including people who had no previous left-wing sympathies.

The experience of the FSM demonstrated that a leadership with radical politics, boldness, and militancy, coupled with integrity and honesty — never trying to get people to take action they weren’t prepared for, patiently explaining the actions being taken without demagoguery and with total honesty, always striving to broaden the struggle — could receive overwhelming support. Previously uninvolved students taking part in this prolonged battle came to consciousness as radicals by their own participation in these struggles. Students learned by their own experience that the people who ran their university had nothing but contempt for truth and justice.

The Berkeley campus had been moved decisively to the left and emerged as the center of American radicalism for the remainder of the decade. The FSM was the decisive opening battle in the emergence of a mass radical student movement nationally. The necessity of collective struggle for social change was now accepted by a new generation of students. Student apathy was gone. The FSM brought the radical student movement into national consciousness, as students emerged as a major social force in the fight to change American society. Student protest became an integral feature of the 1960s. For student activists internationally, the model of the FSM convinced them that radicals could win their generation to become determined, dedicated opponents of the existing social order.

Radicals in a Mass Movement

The role of revolutionaries in mass movements is often ignored, depreciated, or dismissed — hidden from history. There is no doubt that without the contributions of Campus CORE, Hal Draper, and the ISC, the history of the FSM would have been quite different.

If the FSM changed the terrain of the student movement, it also transformed the ISC. The role revolutionary socialists played as one of the leading forces in the FSM still offers valuable strategic and tactical lessons. A battered and bruised handful of revolutionaries were three months later a respected current of a mass movement. The politics we fought for in the movement showed the enduring relevance of our views on mass action, the relation of free speech to black liberation, struggle from below, self-organization, democratic decision-making, a left opposition — principles of genuine Marxism vindicated.

We were not an isolated sect keeping a flame alive, but had proven in practice that we could help lead a mass movement. It was a baptism by fire from which the ISC gained a solid reputation at the local level and received a small reputation nationally. Our part in the FSM gave hope to and revived some comrades nationally who had been in the YPSL and ISL. They had renewed confidence that the politics we shared could play an outstanding role in a new mass movement. In a number of places during the following year, some of these comrades started to re-form small local groups that another year later went on to become a federation of ISC clubs.

Haymarket Books has just republished Hal Draper’s 1965 history of the Free Speech Movement: Berkeley: The Student Revolt. The book includes both pamphlets mentioned, The Mind of Clark Kerr and The Regents.

A part of this essay was adapted from “Socialists and Movements” in the International Socialist Review.

Thanks to Sam Farber, David Friedman, Kit Lyons, and Jack Weinberg, all of whom were active FSMers, for their comments on a draft of this essay. Many years ago, I started to write, dropped, and have now returned to writing a history of the American International Socialist tendency. An early draft of the chapter taking up these events, some years ago, could only have seen the light of day with the determination, wisdom, and devotion of the late Aaron Hess, to whom this is dedicated. Sean Larson was of inestimable help in pulling together the various drafts into something resembling a coherent whole. And to Candace Cohn, to whom I am eternally grateful for working to make this essay, and me, much better.

End Mark

About the Author

Joel Geier has been a revolutionary Marxist activist for over six decades. He was the national secretary and chairman of the Young People's Socialist League, then of the International Socialists.

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