This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Patty Lee Parmalee June 1998
It was coincidence, of course, that the student movement in West Germany was called SDS, just like SDS at home. But it probably had something to do with the sense of belonging [Selbstverständlichkeit] with which I moved into SDS circles as soon as I arrived in West Berlin at the end of 1967. That hadn't actually been my intention; after three intense years at the University of California at Irvine combining grad school with activism (I cofounded ultraconservative Orange County's first SDS, much to the amusement or horror of the local citizenry) I was retreating to Berlin to write my dissertation1 on Brecht's fascination with America. I had done the research the year before in the Brecht Archive in East Berlin; I just had to discipline myself to write it up. My plan was to do a crash rough draft in three months. I did, too but the three months started a full year later. I hadn't counted on history intruding into my life, nor on being as intrigued by German SDS as Brecht had been by my country. I arrived as the Berlin student movement was planning a major event, the Vietnam Congress, which was to consist of a teachin at the TU and a demonstration down the Kudamm. However, the police refused a permit for the demonstration, and by February excitement was at a fever pitch. There was no consideration of capitulation, especially after JeanPaul Sartre, an old and frail man by then, offered to come and walk in the front row as protection surely the police would not club him. Strategy meetings in the TU Audi Max lasted long into the night, and spilled out into all the hallways, where students slept and ate and generally left the place a pigsty. In these and all future mass strategy meetings I was deeply impressed by the intellectual level of the main speakers (Lefebvre, Rabehl, Dutschke, Semler, Salvatore, all men, all young, and with the older Horst Mahler as legal adviser; interestingly, many of the leaders came originally from the GDR). They used their knowledge of Marx to analyze the forces and contradictions at work in a situation and develop tactics intended to move the confrontations to ever higher levels, while attempting to embody in their own movement the spirit of the society they wanted to achieve. It was a revelation to me how theory could be immediately applied to collective life. In fact, Marx was a revelation to me period. Having been an active radical for some four years now forced to be by the horror of what my country was doing in Vietnam I was sympathetic to Marxism, but the fact is I knew very little about it. At home, I was definitely not alone in this. In American SDS, we only gradually discovered the Marxist tradition, or even theory per se. (I am speaking from my own experience of the chapter I founded in Orange County and the national leadership I came to know; there were of course some people not myself well versed
Published as Brecht's America, Ohio State University Press, 1981. 1
in history. I remember my incredulity when my mother urged me to moderate my actions because someday my sister might want to marry someone who would need a security clearance. a NEW left. My purely symbolic joining the WEB DuBois Club (the CP youth club) as a protest against its attempted outlawing around 1965 weighs as heavily in my FBI dossier as many of the far more effective and radical actions. as organizers. as interested in listening to a naive activist like myself as I was in listening to him. some of them even with us upstarts who failed to acknowledge them. but I don't remember any strategic application of Marx. opportunistic. which led us to be very skeptical of theories and pronouncements from anyone. professional revolutionaries supported by the movement? We just felt ourselves to be something completely different. not in the early days. a pure product of our times. perhaps McCarthyism is responsible for that break in continuity. claiming to have any kind of expertise or experience. The bleak picture of bourgeois society in his One Dimensional Man was common coin for the movement. In my memory it is not so much that we rejected the "old left" as that we found it uninteresting and irrelevant. The Port Huron Statement (1962) was our Declaration of Independence. and I do remember debates about esoterica of the Russian Revolution. were we influenced by any thinkers at all? Yes. We were disillusioned with the hypocrisy of leaders and cultural elites. 2 .) Our modus operandi was action based on moral outrage. It probably wasn't until we started having children ourselves that we thought of caution as anything but craven. who lived in San Diego and was thus a real person for us in Southern California. It was probably above all the spiritual 2 Yet when I think back to specific cases. but not by Marx himself. Some of these patient folks are still active today. there was only the here and now. some of the impatient New Leftists have today become "yuppies. in contrast. anyway. They tended to be the people who were dissidents within the Party. who welcomed the upsurge of activism rather than feeling threatened by it. and the growing opportunity to live in a subculture that would take care of us. 3 Though perhaps we should have been. having mastered the long view and refused to be written off as irrelevant. how could we worry about our silly careers? Wouldn't there always be enough work. Did we read anyone. The Vietnamese were dying and so were the Black Panthers." using the unfavorable historical period as an justification for abandoning their commitment to equality or redistribution. Marx came in through the back door with Herbert Marcuse. theirs was a politics of compromises. We also saw ourselves as having no relation whatever to the Communist Party or trade unions. and cowardly.3 We were not cautious about jeopardizing our careers or protecting our families. I had stayed overnight at his house once and found him to be very democratic and openminded. there were valiant individuals who survived the repression of the fifties and continued to do political work inside or outside of "the" Party. our birth certificate. dead or alive.2 It is also not the case that we were afraid of being tainted with the label Communist.
also adherents of nonviolent strategy. "freedom" the dominant word in our rhetoric. and we learned most of our protest methods from it: peaceful marches. it is also used by the right to mean whatever communism isn't: that's the meaning for instance of the New Hampshire license plate slogan "Live free or die. Today's rightwing antigovernment..5 We did not have much of a vision of how a government could run a whole country but that was not our responsibility at the time.S. antitax sentiment in the US may be an unintended and disastrous side effect from our attitude in the sixties. In the U." 3 . We burst on the scene with the fervor of the bornagain. and then The word "freedom" was another inheritance from the civil rights movement. what we meant by it however was far more nebulous. we thought it had the capacity to fix things and run the show if we could persuade it of what was 4 sociological works like The Organization Man by William Whyte and The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman. the student movement was the second wave of postwar radicalism. Nonviolence gave us the moral upper hand. existentialism. and the government that was seen as the enemy. I think in some ways we did have faith in the government that we thought we so opposed: though we were passionately against certain policies. and we were certainly selfrighteous. And of course it also goes back centuries to the founding of the US.poverty of the fifties society we inherited that frustrated us. Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. and the connection between being antiwar and being antiviolence is obviously very close. and boycotts. and if we in Southern California adhered to any radical theory it was pacifism.4 Insofar as we did identify with earlier radical history it was the rebels within the rebels that caught our imagination. just as our emphasis on personal freedom also led some to splinter off into today's Libertarians. Wobblies and hobos. and felt ourselves to be one big nationwide collective community (in the early days if you were in SDS you were welcomed in any SDS member's home anywhere in the country). sitins. 5 Theoretical influences earlier than Marcuse that I remember were. We believed in collective action and communal living. It was the government that was drafting young men and carrying on a war. martyrs and folksingers. but our thinking remained individualistic. ironically. and Marcuse was looking for the social and psychological roots of this poverty. "The movement" and "the antiwar movement" were virtually synonymous. And of course most of our organizing was against the atrocity that was the war. The civil rights movement came first. the anarchists and populists. first. antiregulation. were just a few valleys north of us. After all. Many of them had also been pacifists. "Not with my life you don't" was a favorite slogan on our buttons. repenting of the sins of our government and the materialism of our parents. all of them peculiarly American. His categories such as "repressive tolerance" and "polymorphous perversity" rolled pretty easily off the tongues of those who had read him and those who hadn't.
by their parents. an ironic switch incomprehensible to Americans who still boycotted all German products (I remember being criticized in college for buying even a used Volkswagen). German students faced real guilt. I don't remember the word Socialism ever cropping up. both clearly dependencies. In the first place. Macmillan 1967. which like grapes I still can't buy 30 years later without a phantom pain in my conscience). We had even less idea what an alternative economic system might be. than it is to start with theory." Germans lived in the belly of a different beast. the most boring of all was off our map until the Prague Spring. But our understanding of the whole system of capitalism was minimal. we understood there was a ruling class. The entire populace has in fact become far more cynical (close relative of apolitical) than we ever were then. it takes time to develop an analysis and it is certainly not worse to start with experience. and I was never unaware of that. Nowadays I think we feel closer to chaos. as being interesting. then move to theory. in short." in Containment and Change. antimaterialist demonstrations at the Stock Exchange. At first.6 There were also the antimoney. allowed Germans to feel more acted upon than actors in the world and thus to forget about national responsibility for a while. We also became expert at doing what we called Power Structure Research." The Guardian December 6. And our understanding of capitalism was rather anecdotal. Even as tourists Americans were the bad guys: the ugly American. not like boring Russia and Eastern Europe. I remember many of us read C. liberatory socialisms. As for napalm. Certainly in 1968 in Berlin.right and wrong. Wright Mills (The Power Elite) and began to get an understanding of interlocking directorates of corporations and in turn their interlocking with government. the division of Germany into two smallish countries. not just passive materialism. 1969. New York. Eastern Europe and especially East Germany. This is not necessarily a criticism. 7 "Vietnamese Crucible. many of the hard questions seem unanswerable. and China's during the cultural revolution. Table grapes were boycotted for many years in support of the United Farm Workers. thus avoiding boycotts. I got into the plant and blew its cover in a story for the newspaper I wrote for see "Cashing In On Atrocities. One American artist friend moved permanently to Berlin because he couldn't stand the moral climate in the States. but ironically the US guilt in Vietnam may have given them a little respite from being the bad guys. to come from the US was to carry the greater guilt. later the contract moved to a small southern California plastics firm no one had heard of. except insofar as we supported Cuba's and Vietnam's right to have their own system but we saw theirs and North Korea's. despite Paul Potter's 1965 "Let Us Name the System" speech and Carl Oglesby's 1967 essay7 about the war which eloquently laid out the mechanisms of imperialism as well as the psychic effects of what we called "living in the belly of the beast. producing classics of investigation like Who Rules Harvard? Demonstrations and boycotts were directed against specific evil companies like Dow Chemical (maker of napalm and of plastic Saran Wrap. 6 4 .
The West German rebel students were themselves in the ambiguous position of opposing both their own country's past and present policies. believe me) which reveals not only that I was seen as American. Kommune I and Kommune II. and children were trained to be obedient like dogs. I realize that willy nilly I was of course seen as an American. how did the hierarchy work out? Who bore the more guilt by association? As in the US. there was in West Berlin an ambivalent but generally happy relationship between the more serious politicos and the more hippielike or antiauthoritarian activists. but unfortunately many families are not loving. I did not want to be seen as a representative of my country. I was a member of a peculiar kind of minority. which mystified me: wasn't it entirely appropriate. and that smaller category was in my mind my entire identity. did you feel grateful or resentful? If it was the villain now. since it was in fact the US that was massacring Iraqis? When I think back to my naive and wideeyed involvement in Berlin SDS in 19679. making other living arrangements conceivable. but probably not in the minds of Germans. I worked with GI's. was the US the savior or the villain? And if it was the savior. or the love is mixed with domination. Among their important contributions. did opposing it make you antiAmerican. they raised questions about the eternal validity of the nuclear family. trying hard to fit in with my new comrades. Their goodnatured guerrilla theater tactics caught the eye of the press and the imagination of the public. which had however rescued their country from barbarism. I was also an oppositional minority within that minority. Sometimes Germans would correct me when I used the pronoun "we" referring to the US: be clear that you are not one with your government. I used the Amerika Haus library for research on days when I wasn't joining demonstrations against it. and how could you be sure your opposition didn't after all stem partly from old resentment? And if confronted with an American who herself saw it as the villain. A few years ago when I was living in East Berlin I ventured into the West for a forum against the Gulf War and heard some of the speakers there criticized for being antiAmerican. I associated almost exclusively with Germans. opening up space to consider irreverent and forbidden kinds of liberation from tradition and obedience. however. A loving family is a wonderful thing. Socially and 5 . Nevertheless I was American: my speech before the Vietnam Congress praised the US SDS. but I was always delighted by the boisterous antics of the Filthy Speech Movement or the Yippies. illegal abortions killed not only the fetus but also the mother. Simply put. I myself was "square" enough to belong clearly to the former. I was also for a while under suspicion as a CIA agent (a very uncomfortable position to be in. and above all I felt personally responsible for the Vietnam War. an occupying power. and the present policies of my country. or in Berlin. The conservative "family values" backlash today would return us to a time when battered women kept their mouths shut because they had nowhere else to turn. but also that the US government was seen as more evil and omnipotent than the West German. It really didn't occur to me at the time. but actually incorporated certain aspects of its culture and probably even arrogance. since I was as antiAmerican as any of them.
Note that it was community organizing. The fatal usthem consciousness which had from a position paper titled with a quote from Bob Dylan: "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows. On the other hand I'm sure the Americans' desperation about the war was (for obvious reasons) stronger than the Germans'. the more intense the rebellion against it. universities forcing conformity on students. they were more reclaiming the rights they assumed they should naturally have than working out the inner oppression of a people used to command and obedience. e. and one serious and important branch of SDS (ERAP. Denial of the existence or importance of class is the basis of American exceptionalism.) There was also a general sympathy for the poor. We in mainstream SDS tended not to talk about a working class which at least had the benefit of postponing those stillcontinung divisive debates about who is in it. later the factions called "Revolutionary Youth Movement" and "RYM 2" and "Weathermen"8 and the Maoist parties split up SDS. urban redevelopment. "imperialistically" exploited by e. pushing the terms of commitment much harder. and we unwittingly adopted it. that was the domain of the superserious Maoist parties. and whiteskin privilege insidiously invading all our minds to keep blacks and other racial minorities down.g. not workplace organizing. As with political theory and with demonstration tactics. The more repression. men keeping women down. This may also partly explain the greater intensity of the later terrorist direction. Though US students too were in rebellion against oppression ("The Student as Nigger" was a popular pamphlet). Doubtless it was our obsession with the war that made our analysis antiimperialist before it was anticapitalist. many of the rather tamer Weathermen are now fully reintegrated into a liberal or a localorganizing left. or Economic Research and Action Project) developed community organizing models influenced by Saul Alinsky. forcing us to choose sides within the movement whereas originally we had been blissfully all one thing. the flouting of convention would take a more extreme form. at worst a life sentence to despair and psychic damage. the kind of work that later in Germany was called Basisarbeit. I felt myself quite alone in that and knew no way to integrate it with my political life. so also with antiauthoritarianism. Our sensitivity to issues of domination was in fact what united our various focuses: the bully US dominating Vietnam. it seemed to me that the Germans were more extreme than we were.legally enforced primacy of the family can be at best stifling.g. The ethos I am describing lasted only a few years. (The movement had not yet discovered the domination of nature as another evil. It stands to reason that in a country that had a clearly authoritarian past (and where noninvolved citizens still got a strange satisfaction from pointing out to you that you shouldn't be crossing the street on red or parking illegally). I remember one SDS convention where every kind of domination had to be described as imperialist." and originally organized as a more spontaneous group to counter the hard line of the protostalinist RYM group 8 6 . the imperialist relation between men and women.
when the war spread and campuses all over the nation closed down. February 1968.g. or remaining a kind of hippie freethinking individual racked by the guilt of comparative lack of commitment. i. or "selling out.) I also argued in meetings that it would be far more effective for the men who were beginning to question the military to stay within the army to give support to other alienated and scared GI's. there was a "movement. and." trying to work from within. and we did eventually cooperate with them. For us there may have been an element of romanticism. Up till then I had always thought our mission was to influence consciousness by being as public as possible. usually via East Germany. On returning to S." But to return to Berlin. at one point two of us met with two of them in a Paris cafe. e. (I still think so. The work of getting GI's out of the country secretly was of course conspiratorial. many recruited at the Vietnam Congress." and far more 60's folk have followed that path than most people believe. mainly in the States.doomed our attempt to influence the population as a whole (though of course we did. it would be several years before they combined with deliberate and criminal repression by the state. even up through 1970. There is of course one more choice: longterm commitment to whatever incremental work needs to be done. I continued 9 Fragging meant attacking your own officers. because they were subject to the oxymoron military justice. (For the soldiers however secrecy was crucial. organizing them and weakening the army from within. pretty well expressed by Rudi Dutschke's "long march through the institutions. We printed up thousands of tiny folded leaflets with the addresses of organizations in many European countries that would help GIs trying to flee. in fact. In the heady days of 1968. generally the idea was to help them get to Sweden. I also found some of my German comrades a little too enamored of secrecy and underground work. In connection with the Vietnam Congress I got involved in strategy meetings by a small group of (German) SDSers on how to encourage GIs stationed in Germany to desert.e. selfimportant in the illusion that this meant being a real revolutionary. and the sullen refusal of the system to change split us apart. took these tiny leaflets in their pockets and left them in bars frequented by GI's. far more than we realized at the time) wormed its way into the movement itself. 7 . We were conscious of the role that had played in the Russian Revolution. Volunteers. or belonging to a doctrinaire small sect that ran your whole life. California in 1969.) Though I was very impressed and felt I had just hit the big time. It turned out there were also people organizing a GI union. with a fragmentation grenade. this was an early inkling of what later became "fragging"9 and cynicism by the troops that led to their withdrawal from Vietnam and eventually contributed heavily to ending the war. These trends were just beginning. they had no civil rights. and this was my first taste of doing anything secretly. recognizing each other by holding a certain magazine just like in spy stories. The choices then became: being so committed you would risk prison and bodily harm to yourself and others. the youth of the whole world seemed to be in solidarity.
However. interesting as an unedited document of the times. that was its clear moment of real birth. I doubt that my speech on the US movement had any great influence on the Vietnam Congress participants. since in my memory I was the questioner and learner. It is always hard to know whether one was right at the time and edited memory is false. Memory fades and fails for two reasons: sometimes due to pure greymatter deterioration. and I gradually dropped enough of my language snobbishness to work with them too. Students for a Democratic Society did. which fascinated me. I was flattered to be asked to give a speech at the Vietnam Congress teachin with the dual purpose of organizing the GI bar action and describing my perception of American SDS' progress "From Protest to Resistance. though it too had begun by breaking off from a liberal parent body (we from the Americans for Democratic Action. But my main focus was on German SDS. how much has the participants' reassessment of the '60's movements been influenced by a constant battering in the public media. there is some implied criticism as well. It was born in violence and always angry. at least it serves as a memory corrective.S. creating an antisixties consensus that moves everything to the right.. sandwiched as it was among many other speeches and preceding the far more exciting demonstration itself. they from the SPD) had not really made the news until 1967 when Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the back fleeing police during a demonstration against the Shah of Iran. at the "Green Machine" coffeehouse for Marines outside Camp Pendleton. There was a group of Americans living in Berlin who opposed the war. I think it was mainly David Bathrick and I who got the "U. the lack of qualifiers and circumspection that we have all grown used to. Campaign" to become an expatriate chapter of American SDS. It was not personal pride. including unconsciously ourselves? In rereading it 30 years later I am surprised by the speech's sureness. sometimes to changing values that cause unconscious reinterpretation. the assumption that major social change was right around the corner and I still have the text of that speech. My uninformed impression was that the German Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund. or whether with hindsight one has a more objective view. have the longer experience: growing out of the Civil Rights movement.. I apparently thought of myself as an emissary from a movement that knew better than the Germans how to ingratiate itself with the public. its almost didactic tone. I am also surprised by the militancy of the language. not the leader. with its manifesto the Port Huron Statement written in 1962. since I still have the text. developing antiwar teachins and farmworker support in 196465 . 10 8 ."10 It was full of the sense that Students for a Democratic Society was THE movement and there were all sorts of important lessons the Johnnycomelately German movement should learn from us. and felt a great responsibility to present its thinking convincingly so the Germans could learn from it.working with the same strategy. rather I felt proud and privileged to be a part of a movement of all the best people in the US. as I saw it. joining with the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964. despite my great admiration for German SDS. it is available from me by mail.
The admiration for that man. the tradition behind US demonstrating was clearly the Gandhi/King tradition. demonstrators were ready for a fight. reiht euch ein!" or "Haut den Springer auf die Finger!". that I was privy to some kind of awful. The most common chant was simply the 4/4 beat of "Ho. To this day I use that first rhythm as a signature rhythm for a knock or a doorbell. In Berlin. and. half 9 . a very peaceful scene. There is an American poster from those days showing a slender old man with a white beard sitting on the ground under a tree reading a book. where it was obligatory to throw some paving stones 11 blue. The main poster I remember connected with the Berlin Vietnam Congress was colored like the North Vietnamese flag. The "demo" itself. the name of a man who seemed possessed by a superhuman."11 I can't remember whether it was already in that February's demo. was common to young idealists the world over. Incidentally. my first of many that year. I don't remember ever being that devastated by something I saw in print. You lined up across the street with elbows linked. and in similar ways for Che Guevara.we were its cause. HoChiMinh" repeated over and over. helpless feeling of horror and nausea that was in me for days. this is because of the magical. laßt das Gaffen sein. HoChiMinh" as the moving mass broke into a run. Ho. a mass of innocent people out for a peaceful stroll or a sitin. but often the path would take us past the USIA's Amerika Haus. While in Berlin I saw a copy of Ramparts magazine with pictures of napalmed children. one also yearns for a time before cynicism set in. Perhaps that was an early hint of the move toward meditation and guruseeking of the next decade. thus always in the news photos. kommt herunter. who lived in voluntary modesty and stood up to the colossus. it threw me into a lonely feeling of responsibility. when faced with a phalanx of riot police. and being myself an American. and inside my head it repeats its simple text. sometimes speeding up gradually till it reached a 2/4 "Ho. was thrilling. and the text read "Vietnam ist das Spanien unserer Generation. In fact. it would have been a disappointment not to get one. "Sonntags frei für die Polizei!" The stars were in the first row. "Wir sind eine kleine radikale Minderheit" quoting the Springer press but meant ironically in view of the huge size of the demos. Though at home the police had started beating demonstrators on the head with nightsticks (a picture of my own brother being manhandled at an Oakland antidraft demonstration appeared in a newspaper in Berlin! or did I dream that?). I can still feel the wrenching. moving inexorably forward. mailboxes in the US are now solid blue. he is clearly Ho the poet and represents the peaceful eye in the center of the storm that we also sought. deeper knowledge that the Germans didn't have. having seen it in an American magazine. Though it can be embarrassing to look back at one's early rhetoric. enlightened virtue. I felt. chanting slogans in rhymed doggerel like "Bürger. half blue with a yellow star at the intersection. Many people wore helmets in anticipation of the nightsticks. half red. outrageous overnight appearance at that time of yellow stars painted where the two colors met. whereas they used to be half red. Ho.
I throw like a girl so didn't even try. perhaps it was a big headline in Springer's Bild Zeitung. of hearing the other guy out and then arguing against him preferably egging him on to hang himself with his own words. but complete with overturned vehicles as barricades (there is a Spiegel picture with someone standing on one holding a big red flag. The strategy of such unruly demonstrations was effective. saying "Steine sind keine Argumente. which I was proud to have passed up to him) and water cannons trying to disperse the chaotic crowd by water pressure. who emphasized only his nonviolence. would establish a Maginot line. I also used the Amerika Haus library that year. Perhaps that refusal to listen to the other side also came from the knowledge that the German people had been too easily swayed by arguments from the powerful. In my ambiguous role as an American. In Berlin in the sixties the response to a reactionary position coming from a figure of authority with a microphone would be to turn off the mike. we being more experientally based could only argue inductively from our experience and not deductively from theory.through the windows. There was a comment by some journalist or politician. (One man I knew told me he had traveled to Moscow to collect material to condemn his own father for crimes during the Third Reich. I remember late in the year reading an editorial against the war in a business magazine. They were however expressing their anger not so much at the assassination itself. Or maybe it's true that I was too "liberal" (a damning word in its Maoist sense). 10 . people in Berlin took to the streets in an imitation of the ghetto riots in the US. see how he tried to justify an unjustifiable position.) Sooner or later the police. analogous perhaps to a panty raid in the fifties. (I didn't dream it would be another six deadly years. I was turned off [befremdet] not just by the rudeness. perhaps a general contempt for elders in authority came from the painful knowledge that sometimes one's own parents were guilty. but I do remember picking some up to pass to the better athletes. and again. we were having far too much fun being naughty. I had never heard of water cannons before. a pile of paving stones waiting to be embedded in a new sidewalk. A spontaneous "demo" happened when we heard of Martin Luther King's assassination. but at the way his radical message against poverty and the war was being coopted by the press and politicians. But it also frightened a people fearful of chaos. or for the audience to shout the person down. we also have a tradition of free speech. outfitted for battle. because serious though the issues were. that was an American affair. shaking a finger at us. It said to power: as long as you prosecute this war we will make your country ungovernable. and the purpose of the demonstration would become a battle for territory.) It is also possible that the Germans' certainty came from their theoretical grounding. In retrospect the whole scenario seems rather like a puberty rite. now I know it will end. I still think "Argumente" when I see. Fortune or The Wall Street Journal." which we quoted with relish. and thinking: I have the inside scoop. at least in Berlin. rather like a (American) football game. It is not just in demonstrating that Americans tended to be slightly more polite. today they seem almost benign. but by the selfrighteousness and confidence of being right this censorship revealed. however. I always wanted to hear the person out.
since I am a compulsive notetaker. you must absolutely be there no matter what. whatsoever. there are no excuses. I had no idea what on earth CohnBendit was supposed to know about me. For instance. both of the mass and of the elite. The trains were late is not an excuse. He said he was waiting to hear from Danny CohnBendit about the suspicions against me. I helped found the INFI (Internationales Nachrichtungs und Forschungsinstitut). In fact. I was living the mirror image of my Brecht research. I was fascinated enough by this modus operandi that I went to as many strategy meetings. I felt helpless and small and irrelevant. in the US it was the Black Panthers and other blacks. whether in the Audi Max or in the Republikanischer Club. I can still see leaders standing up at meetings (barely visible through the smoke) referring to the Grundrisse in support of a proposal. and was crushed by the accusation. That was an oppressive situation for me. The Weathermen did not call down anywhere near the reaction onto themselves that the Baader Meinhof Gang and RAF did. who took the heat. I also took notes. self righteous activists who were willing to use violence and go underground as a response to the failure of the system to change. I felt for a while paralyzed and unable to act naturally (the more you try to show you are legitimate the more it looks as though you are trying to avert suspicion. and American Indians. as I could. the differences between West Germany and the US are so enormous that it is amazing that the student movements could be at all similar: the one a fairly homogeneous land with an openly antidemocratic recent history. to present as an action against an upcoming conference in Berlin of the Institute for International 11 . On our way to Paris he explained to me the "need to know" principle of conspiratorial politics. based largely on US SDS' power structure research methods. Shortly afterward of course both SDS's developed a faction of even more dedicated. once the suspicion is there). the bastions of anticommunism. which was his explanation for not explaining anything to me. we opened offices right on the Kudamm. What they had in common was above all that they were both poster lands for capitalism. Thus came the suspicion that I was spying for the CIA. perhaps to excess: I seem to consider reliability the number one revolutionary virtue. Not that I wasn't active. I had to live in Berlin to learn about American capitalism. My first project was to research the cultural imperialist purposes of international student and scholar exchanges such as Fulbrights. or the failure of the movement to force it to change. I was first told about this by a friend as we were planning a trip to Paris a few weeks after the May uprisings there. The German students' familiarity with Marx was astonishing to me. I also became acutely aware that my level of fascination and desire to identify must indeed look strange and even parasitic. if you agree to be at a certain corner at a certain time to meet a contact. I also remember however that he impressed on me very strongly the importance of absolute reliability: when you are doing underground work (the image I had as he spoke was of the French Resistance). the other host to poverty and race discrimination but with democratic traditions. I am still governed by that lesson. As Brecht had to study the US to learn about German capitalism.
I was on the scene all night. And if even I. His thinking was not only theoretical and strategic. Rudi had been the best of us. I never could find an equivalent designation in German) is not only. of his mind to the movement was a terrible blow. I soon had a chance to see a system I could truly believe in. to report it. The loss. there was only one other American along. Berlin erupted in spontaeous demonstrations through the night and for several days thereafter that I admit I found rather frightening. what must the normal Bürger feel? I felt exhilirated.Education. and I had nothing morally against burning his delivery vehicles12. planting coffee and hardwood trees on experimental terraces and living together with Cuban youth in large tents in the "Campamento Cinco de Mayo" (named after Marx's birthday). to give vent to one's own emotions. I was thrilled to be accepted as one of the delegates from German SDS. but also confirmed in the lesson I had awkwardly attempted to communicate in my speech. but it was clear to me from the many times I heard him that he was special. with the instinct for liberation and personal and cultural transformation combined with a kind of folksiness that characterized the US new left. Cuba had invited the new left movements in various European countries to send delegations to attend the 1968 26th of July celebration in the eastern province of Santa Clara. I raced back to the offices. I never knew him personally. The effect on me was presumably exactly what he. it was also somehow rather American (could it be Gretchen's influence?). The responsibility of a serious "organizer" (which is what we called ourselves in the US. As a kind of dress rehearsal for what later became the institutionalized Venceremos Brigade in the US. a young It later turned out this action was started by a provocateur. I had never been afraid of my fellow demonstrators before. was scared by them. and then do volunteer work west of Havana in the mountains of Pinar del Rio. and from that day everything was subtly different. but rather to keep an eye on the effect on the public whom one wants to influence. In 1968 the Cuban leadership was still trying to relate to the international new left. We were there. 12 12 . literally. for what I think was the turning point. in fact. but staying clear of the most extreme spots. There is a difference between blind rage and political action. It felt something like a combination of the feelings elicited by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and of John Lennon. crying. I just felt in over my head. who felt the anger justified. there is also a difference between demonstrating one's own (superior) commitment and making it plausible for others to join in. or his puppetmasters [Drahtzieher] intended. later they worked more and more through the more reliable Communist Parties. only of the police. One day while I was working there I stepped outside for a while and came upon a terrible commotion in the street a few blocks away: Rudi Dutschke had just been shot there. wandering around like a waif in a surreal movie. or not primarily. in the ways the German students were so good at. Though I thought the target (Springer) was correct (because of the antileft climate the press had engendered). He seemed to me to embody the idea of a NEW left. or even lead.
There was however not a lot of communist consciousness among the supposedly advanced European youth. and in exchange the Soviets would let the US do what it wanted with Cuba. he both criticized and supported them. The country was put on alert. and then another half hour of news from Vietnam.) At the 26th of July celebration we heard Fidel give his famous pronouncement that Cuba would build pockets of communism right now. Radio Havana broadcast a half hour of international news in each of three languages every day. (After I returned home I bought a short wave radio and listened to Radio Havana for years. I remember being distressed that people would take the free books the Cubans gave us and use them to sit on on the muddy hillside when watching movies. One of the great thrills of my life was looking out the plane window and seeing the shape of the forbidden island below me. amazing documentaries about bookmobiles bringing the first books and movies to remote villages. because of fear that the great powers would make a deal: the US would let the Soviets have their way with Czechoslovakia. it was a shock. We hadn't expected him to support the Russians at all. youthful. For us it was like a miracle to be able to visit Cuba. the horror was felt all through the camp as well as all through Cuba. I was excited by this emphasis on consciousness (in Spanish the same word as conscience) and enthralled by the humanity of the revolution." (Which is one reason why I don't put much faith in the accuracy of Stasi reports either. because the Soviet Union had imposed it on them (unlike Cuba with its indigenous revolution). I was able to see how 13 . at that time almost completely forbidden by the State Department. and for three days he stayed silent. a few days before we had to leave. He said it was their fault Czechoslovaks had never really embraced socialism. instead. After Fidel's speech I had the opportunity to visit a local block meeting whose purpose was to discuss the invasion and draft a letter of support to the leadership.) The story developing while we were there was the increasing pressures on the Dubcek regime in Prague. I discovered that they thought I was in Cuba not to plant coffee but "to receive guerrilla warfare training at the 'Camp Che Guevara in Favor of Vietnam'. exactly the same shape as on a map.black man whom I knew only slightly. and when the tanks rolled in on August 21. but that on the other hand liberalization was getting out of hand and the CIA was all over the place in Prague and had to be stopped. Everyone waited for Fidel's position. The latter half we saw as an early sign that the Cuban leadership was forced by circumstances to side with the Soviet camp when they would really rather continue to be independent. or did we only assume it?) When he finally gave his speech. new left revolutionaries. When I got my FBI file a few years later through the Freedom of Information Act. (Did he say that. not waiting for the material conditions: communist consciousness could create the conditions. My one actual contact with what was probably the CIA was the mysterious official at the makeshift booth in the Brussels airport who took everyone's passport and held it briefly upside down over what must have been a photocopy machine. Many European youth felt very close to the ideals of the Prague Spring. for news that was never covered in the US press. apparently he wanted the Cuban people to make up their own minds about it the invasion.
after I did in fact write my dissertation in three months. which I claimed as part of the Americas. open and openminded quality in Americans.ambiguous a thing democracy can be: depending on the lens I looked through. The criterion I settled on in Cuba was a developmental. they distinguished between the government or capitalists and the people. however. In their defense. any show of nationalism by their own country was equally offensive to my West Berlin acquaintances. On our return to Europe we landed in Canada for refueling. Artist friends normally not superpolitical made a pile 13 See for instance my "Brigadeerfahrungen und ostdeutsche Identitäten. who though generally very welcoming were sometimes wont to accuse me. admiring their capacity for thought and commitment and their intensity. My SDS friends were getting their heads broken again and it was all over the front pages. with an advertising campaign consisting of billboards with huge photos portraying conservative German family life and values. explicitly or subtly. had that response from any East Germans. But I did. despite their passionate identification with Vietnam and their own suffering at the hands of the US. The logo for these cigarettes was a red and yellow chevron. or I could see it as an educational process teaching them that they had a voice in national policy and should learn to use it. and during our free hours in the airport I happened to see the headlines in the Englishlanguage newspapers there: all hell had broken loose at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I was not always so sure about my German SDS comrades. never made me feel they looked on me as a representative of evil. I had been in big and scary demonstrations in Germany." BZG 1996:4. not static one: are those in power moving the people toward ever greater participation? I find I still have this double vision today when trying to understand the GDR13. and on the other hand feeling a certain alienation from them. The incident I remember clearly is making a phone call from a street booth in Kreuzberg where I lived (at that time a German workers' ghetto with cheap rents in unrepaired buildings). neither in the sixties nor in the nineties. my place was here in North America. 14 . I could see the meeting as a manipulation of the people to get them to agree to a preplanned text of support. Now I missed Cuba also. Also the Cubans. I remember one successful action that we pulled off in just a few days. missing a sort of relaxed. designed to expose the nationalism underlying an advertising campaign." It is perhaps a little like the reaction of East Germans to West Germans. but this seemed more real. I have never. and that the campaign was meant to appeal subliminally to rightwing nationalism. with a very impatient German man outside banging angrily on the door for me to hurry up. I was not finally to return until the following spring. I vacillated between on the one hand wanting to fit in completely with the Germans. of "Großmachtchauvinismus. friends claimed I was ignorant of the history myself that it was the symbol and colors of the Nazi Condor Legion in Spain 1937. spontaneous. Returning to Berlin after Cuba meant culture shock. I felt that I shouldn't get on the plane for the trip back to Europe. A new cigarette called Condor was introduced.
but reacted with anxiety at any suggestion of change. I had the arrogant notion that living in the West (not West Germany! I thought England or the US) would force him out of a habitual depression. I could step every day into an alternate universe with its own logic and customs. and that it had to make lots of difficult choices: it could be real. They seemed to assume a kind of neutrality. and were eager to explain and defend but also to complain about their system." Part of my own developing critique of the socialism practiced there was based on observation of his passivity and lack of initiative. I think maybe they just had swastikas on them. as well as what it should not be. and the machineguncarrying police were ready to shoot anyone who laughed out loud. especially if selfinitiated. I learned above all that some kind of socialism was simply feasible. but many members of the student movement came from West Germany and could have been far more curious about "real existing socialism" than they were. Always more at home with experience than theory. The attitude was similar to American SDS's scorn toward the old left: this is boring. Though the East may have been exotic for me. as well as ignorance. toward their successes and failures from me that they didn't assume from West Germans. bureaucratic. it became my private escape from my "real" life. not just a construct of the imagination. this has no relation to liberation. and in one night a few of us roamed all over the city pasting them on the logo on the billboards. this is absolutely irrelevant to our dream for the future. Much though I was fascinated by SDS and obsessed by the war. As I gradually became interested in Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble. they should have tested it on animals first. the people downtrodden. a lethargic resignation that took perverse pleasure in complaining as the common coin of casual conversation. It seems strange that German youth had to go all the way to Cuba to experience socialism. I was fearful. Shortly after. That failure of curiosity was one of the ways in which the values of the society as a whole were reflected in a kind of mirror image in the values of oppositional youth: West Germany in general had a strange emptiness where curiosity about East Germany might have been. was as exotic and fascinating for people there as they for me. Knowing only what I had heard. I was sure the city was gray. at first. I remember the memorable line from one close friend: "This system doesn't work. an exotic place full of things to learn. At that time of course West Berliners could not visit East Berlin (a stupid restriction). The first time I went there. comparable almost to my life on the Navajo reservation a few years before. from making myself at home in the East. We see what we expect to see. and still does. met some actors and gained some friends in the East.of stickers. and repressive. as an American. But over time that changed too. Like Alice through the lookingglass. alone on the SBahn in 1963. the new brand disappeared from the market. the East became more familiar and therefore more real and complex. I eventually learned that I. I formed my ideas of what socialism could be. It was not so much the frustration of leaving at 2 am through the Glaspalast (I don't remember calling it the Tränenpalast at the time) that made EastWest 15 . the deep appeal of Berlin for me was that part of it was in the other half of the world.
) I found that though the West Berliners I knew (the political ones) expected arrogance from an American. and knowing mainly people in the comparatively privileged theater world. because memory (not just mine) has been clouded by the stifling nature of the regime and resignation of the people in the twenty years following 1968. I do remember that to my surprise. I was full of simplistic solutions. since there is benefit in talking plainly to someone who does not take it personally. far more disgusted at what the "Beitrittsgebiet" has become now. and avoidance the relationship had always been. I read Havemann's critique saying the worst mistake had been outlawing factions. I remember his explaining to me that it was precisely because he had many criticisms of the Party that he wanted to join it: join it in order to change it. doubting whether it would ever arrive. and then by the total reinterpretation of everything in the ten years after that. it seemed to me that the mechanisms did exist for participation and democracy from below. There was an atmosphere of hope about change. mutual resentment. I am trying to remember my impression of the limits and possibilities back then. I remember another friend in East Berlin. I thus got the probably false impression that there was some democracy within the Party. for $100 before she returned to Cuba. she was moved by how strong and genuine ordinary East German people's sympathy with the Vietnamese was. I met members of the nonloyal opposition who demonstrated that it had been possible to live without compromising so much. it was the inescapable character difference between people who have lived among such different social assumptions. he full of the habit of comfort and avoidance. the East Berliners (like the Cubans) did not expect it from an American. the blue volumes. who decided much to my surprise to join the SED. new lefty that I was. I have used that to my full advantage. But at the time. I thought in 19668 that I could definitely live in East Berlin (I knew nothing of the rest of East Germany). I bought her complete MarxEngels edition. and mailed it to the US from an East Berlin post office (cheap rates to begin with. but that the people with a few exceptions didn't care about taking advantage of them. and money I changed illegally at 4:1 in Bahnhof Zoo). in the East as in the West. Twenty years later I listened to a friend a closet Gorbachev supporter describe in pain the mechanisms for preventing the expression of any dissident opinion in the Central Committee. but it did. There was the Cuban woman studying sugar economics in Berlin who explained to me the subbotnik system for raising solidarity money for Vietnam. but we were not 16 . (Incidentally this friend is. The student movement may have seemed wild and totally antiestablishment. Certainly I was not surprised after 1989 to see how hard it was for East and West Germans to talk to each other. But I had other friends.relationships so poignant and difficult. not least in Prague. the wonderful thing about living through that time was having the experience of believing that change and influence on the political system were possible. in the sixties. and the East Berliners expected it from West Germans. He pointed out to me Brecht's poem about the issue: Ich kritisiere mein Auto in dem ich es lenke. a young acting student sympathetic to the ideals of the student movement in the West. 1968 after all happened all over. typically. I hope also to theirs. since I had seen how fraught with unspoken meaning.
S. We festooned the train with red flags and felt like Lenin approaching the Finland Station. going either direction (illegally changed money and print materials on the way in. motion. going through a kind of purgatory on the way. And of course I was always worried that I would be caught with contraband. from an actor friend. but I was mostly unaware of it.) Besides the occasional request for a Western book (or. how they wished they could be there too! It seemed to people in 17 . as I joined a friend in Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse after passing through the respective West Germans' and foreigners' controls. One was the train donated by the GDR to take West Berlin demonstrators from East Berlin to Bonn for a "Sternmarsch" against repressive Emergency laws. I would say this was true of the East as well. Though I don't remember knowing about these things at the time. They seem to have nothing to do with each other and that is a true reflection of the situation at the time. There was other ferment going on in the East in 1968. There was almost no connection between my two Berlin lives. It is probably part of my American arrogance that I assumed nothing really bad could happen to me even if I was caught. unconscious transition. for the sheet music to "Strangers in the Night") I only remember three concrete occasions when the two lives came together. and the Prague Spring was the flower of that belief. When I try to remember East Berlin experience I can't remember West Berlin and vice versa. It is not only in the U. clearly they were part of the atmosphere of change. records and books bought at 4:1 with that money on the way out hardly heavy political involvement but the alleged reason for building the wall). I was moved by the gesture.resigned or cynical. you were very aware that you were entering or leaving the other half of the world. how he hissed "Ich hasse diese Stalinisten" ironic in view of his later leadership of a Maoist party. there were public protests against the demolition of the university church in Leipzig. and citizen involvement that characterized the late sixties. that was real danger. I remember at the beginning of the trip. but typical of the Western dismissal of the East. The second was hearing that workers and actors in various East Berlin theaters were donating a lot of raincoats and crash helmets to antiwar demonstrators in West Berlin. We thought socialism could be reformed by the desire of its people just as we soon thought Chile could be changed by a legal election. University reform and a new constitution were both under discussion nationwide. to help us stand up to the water cannon and billy clubs. moving back and forth between them was like having a multiple personality. One day an SDS friend from California showed up in Berlin and went with me across the border to look up some contacts. The border control procedures guaranteed that it was not a simple. (Though access to amazing hashish was a perk of working with the more radical GI's in West Berlin who took their rest and recreation "R&R" in North Africa. and I was horrified to learn she had brought them some marijuana: I would NEVER have done that. But that was part of the adolescent adventure of it. Friends in the East later confirmed my suspicion that they thought for some time about how they could participate from the other side of the border. that leftist youth in 1968 believed in the political process far more than your average citizen does today.
All three cases of East and West coming together for me that year are really cases of interest by the East in the West. they finally got their chance for the same experiences twenty years later. For them to show any pride. with a left rather than a rightwing critique of actually existing socialism.the East at least to the politically aware elite that I tended to know that the students in the West were having all the fun. That was the closest I got to the conspiratorial. We visited the apartment of a couple in East Berlin who apparently had something to do with getting false passports for a GI to move through the GDR on to Sweden. admitting grudgingly that communists' subsidy of the arts resulted in some great productions. illegal aspect of GI organizing. getting to act out their frustration openly. but also about the things that really can work. and the study of a laboratory case. was not in the standard script. nor did I ever know the couple's names or who we were getting the passport for. was written out of West German consciousness almost the way Cuba was out of US consciousness. I can't think of any cases of the opposite. I still don't know what my role was there. bringing those packages of Western goodies that were so desired and so resented. the frisson of danger. or for the Western relatives to show any curiosity. It was one more example of the German SDS seeming to me to be way ahead of us in seriousness at the same time as I still thought we were better at communicating our ideas to the public. The blank spot that was East Germany in West German minds was so blank that angry bystanders would yell to demonstrators "Go to Moscow where you belong!" not "Go to East Berlin. "The Zone. The relatives in the East obligingly grumbled about their pigheaded government and the shoddiness of their goods. if we had paid attention. and the feeling of being a pawn in a game that was only partially explained to me made me quite uncomfortable. Germany had a powerful tradition of intellectual analysis and political involvement by cultural elites. Of course. I believe this is still true today. in the 18 ." I think the "APO" bought into this script. they even got to experience the tendency of protest to bring unintended results. the only people you knew from there were the refugees fleeing communism and offered preferential treatment by the West. I could however also taste the attraction of a kind of power that secrecy imparts: the right to know what others are not allowed to know. America had populism. how much we could have learned about the pitfalls and temptations of the socialist project. with the luxury of rehearsals that could last for months). Yet. The other brief connection was when I went to East Berlin with a German SDS friend who was working in the desertion campaign." called by conservatives even "Middle Germany" because to them East Germany was the part of Poland they wanted back. but with a similar effect. even the beginnings of an illusion that a shadow government is forming underground to take over when the real one falls. At the same time they were shocked by the police violence. from comments by my East German friends not out of any interest in what the new society had built (at most for cheap theater or concert tickets. but out of charity. Anything that makes one feel important is very tempting. West German visitors to East Berlin went or so I had the impression.
com 19 .most advanced socialist country the one most similar to our own. if we weren't trying hard to forget what we never even really knew. Patty Lee Parmalee 211 West 102 #5B New York. be it the US or the FRG would hold myriad lessons for leftists. Dr. NY 10025 2126632911 fax 2126652575 pparmalee@aol.