B U R E A U   O F   P U B L I C   S E C R E T S


San Francisco in the Sixties

Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns and articles from the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967),
the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1967-1972), and San Francisco Magazine (1967-1975)



San Francisco Bay Guardian


LBJ’s Repression of Radicals
Manipulators of Dissent
Pessimism Is Justified
Terrorize the Enemy — Stroll in Pacific Heights
Where Do You Go When You Flee the Country?
Looking Back on the Election





LBJ’s Repression of Radicals

Living in a country that is step by step becoming a police state is like growing old with a husband or wife. Each gray hair or falling tooth or nest of wrinkles or new prescription for glasses passes unnoticed. And one day you are both old.

Viewed from outside, America in the last year has begun to come into full blossom as an empire of terror and subversion abroad. And at home: civil war rapidly growing from its infancy; in the streets, vicious repression at all levels, federal, state and municipal; and the final symptom of the death of a civilization, Toynbee’s “schism in the soul” in the body politic.

We are seeing the withdrawal of the elite who should lead, and the withdrawal of all confidence in the led.

Since the bloody repression of a peaceful demonstration against President Johnson in Los Angeles last fall, the violence of the authorities has increased uniformly all over the country, step by step, with each national demonstration against the criminal Vietnam war. Every hip newspaperman and television and radio journalist knows that the L.A. demonstration secret service men can be recognized on TV tapes coaching the town clowns of Loonieville not to be more sadistic (which by nature they are, notoriously) but to be more efficient in fulfilling on the public stage the fantasies of the Marquis de Sade.

By law, secret service men are supposed to have nothing whatsoever to do with such activities.

It is widely known in America that the Great Credibility Gapper lives with a ticker tape in one hand and a telephone in the other. Johnson’s badgering of local politicians directly by telephone from the White House — to get them to change their votes and put through the Hearst-War Department freeway — would have been a shame and a scandal if it had not been an obscene comedy.

Had some of these local politicians knuckled under, we would have had a lot more black people on the federal bench — jobs they were offered while always being called by their first names, or — through a slip of the tongue, “boy.”

Now of course these politicians are in the old political bind. They are unlikely to testify to what happened until that future devoutly to be hoped for Nuremburg Trail.

The same is true of Blood Thirsty Tuesday at the Oakland Induction Center two months ago. There, of course, the public display of Texas-style brutality so shocked the public that the White House was forced to adopt a new party line and go underground with its terrorism.

All over the country, once the demonstrators were hidden away behind bars, the heat came on. New York, Chicago, Washington, Oakland — everywhere the heat came on.

The treatment of the demonstrators arrested in Oakland and sent to Santa Rita is a deliberate move. It is the expression of a national policy, which is itself an expression of the bestial paranoid personality of one man and his lackeys. It is a nationwide move to destroy the status “political prisoner.”

Political prisoners aren’t supposed to exist in our democratic United States anyway. Tom Mooney and Sacco and Vanzetti were “common criminals.”

Among the anti-war people in Santa Rita are some of America’s most famous citizens — and they are famous for the arts and sciences, not for the works of murder. Where one person has heard of Joseph Krips, ten thousand have heard of Joan Baez, a thousand of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and hundreds of the novelist and poet Kay Doyle.

Dr. Lee Rather is one of the outstanding scientists in the country, the head of pathology at Stanford Medical School, internationally famous for his leadership in humanizing modern medicine with his courses, lectures and books on the history and philosophy of medicine. The venal prostitutes of the kept press, who know perfectly well who he is, have always referred to him as an intern each time he has been arrested. (Each arrest has been in company with his daughter, who has now lost a semester toward her doctor’s degree at Stanford.)

These are only a sample of the kind of people who have been brutalized in Santa Rita. Beautiful, sensitive people, whose contributions to society have given us what vestiges of civilization we can still claim — and they have been treated incomparably worse than narcotic-crazed prostitutes and petty thieves who have assaulted the guards, or set fire to their bunks, or been caught with heroin.

Don’t forget, the warden and the screws are just people doing their jobs. They do not make policy. This policy comes from President Johnson himself, as is proven by the fact that it has been put into effect with this batch of demonstrators throughout the country.

The end in view is not just this demonstration or this winter of our discontent. When a declaration of war comes, the other McCarran Act goes into effect. Every dissenter — no matter how mild, and that means you or you wouldn’t be reading this paper — will be slapped into a concentration camp within 48 hours.

These camps are all over the country, and more are being built. The sheets are on the beds, the electricity is on, the kitchens are stocked. They are waiting for you to come.

It is essential that so enormous a number of people be driven immediately into the position of criminals. If they were to be treated the way political prisoners were treated by the Czars, or as they are treated inside the Iron Curtain today, they would instantly become unmanageable and a threat to the government. As the nuclear bombs fell on China, they would disturb the peace. Can’t have that.

The same situation exists in the other civil war now metastasizing like cancer through the cities of America. Every political move and every public fund designed to just ameliorate the conditions in the black ghettos has been cut — but not the money to train the police forces, uniformed and secret, at all levels, in the arts of guerrilla civil war.

Not only that. Visit a police convention. The hucksters display civil war weaponry — gas, electric and other gimmicks, stun guns, all sorts of crap. It’s dumfounding. Especially when you consider that in practically every municipality in America the police are forbidden by law to possess any private arms except their service revolvers.

Black militants are foolishly optimistic, they think there’s too many of them. But Hitler exterminated six million Jews, and this is about the percentage of black people in the American population.

Consider this, Hitler exterminated about an equal number of non-Jewish radicals, dissidents, gypsies, Catholics and so forth.

In 1913 Germany was an incomparably more humane country and far more civilized than the U.S. is today. Unless the madmen running this country can be brought to justice, I don’t think a radical or a colored man stands a Chinaman’s chance.

[January 22, 1968]



Manipulators of Dissent

The U.S. is today a garrison society. In past societies, the military may have formed the top levels of the caste system, as in feudalism; they may have dominated important sections of politics, as in Bismarck’s Germany; or the citizenry may have been themselves an armed militia, as in the early days of some revolutions.

A garrison society is different. Military men, military considerations, military economics, have interpenetrated all levels of society so that it becomes meaningless to speak of influence or dominance. The state comes to resemble a besieged city from which all non-essential citizens have been expelled or rendered impotent.

The actual social structures, down to the most ordinary interpersonal relations, begin to resemble those of the prison, the insane asylum, the army, a ship in a storm. Dissent, protest, parliamentary debate — all cease to have anything to do with public policy but are manipulated from above as safety valves.

The more progressive cadres of the authoritarian dictatorship realize that they can rule more efficiently if they allow the intolerable tensions that their rule necessarily builds up to find discharge in futile activity, no matter how violent.

At the same time, they are manufacturing scapegoats for future use as the state of emergency, which is the very life of a garrison society, gets worse. “Worse” in this sense means “better” in theirs, they depend on an ever-deepening crisis of general psychosis.

At decisive moments, they can always release the tensions of the docile majority onto the protesting minority. “Get the Communists! Get the Niggers! Get the dirty peaceniks! Get the hippies!” Meanwhile, the President sips bourbon with his generals and lackeys and watches on television as Peking, Shanghai, Canton send up their mushroom clouds.

Five or more years ago, the Defense Department alone (now only the obvious or juridical aspect of the military establishment) owned more than 35 million acres of real estate — more than Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire combined.

Its assets were greater than those of the five largest corporations combined, with a paid personnel three times as large. Four-fifths of all federal employees worked directly for the Defense Department. The civilian payroll was twice that of the automobile industry. The annual military budget was greater than that of all the corporations in the country combined.

These statistics precede the hot war in Vietnam and they do not include innumerable secret operations, much less the CIA. Last spring the feature editor of the leading conservative Japanese newspaper told me that in research for a series on the subject, he had come to the conclusion that there was an absolute minimum of 2500 CIA employees in the Tokyo area alone.

Not only are 40 of our leading universities conducting research on biological and chemical warfare, but the military and the CIA make every effort to corrupt into an agent every scholar and researcher who goes abroad unless he has been security-checked and found “uncooperative,” and often even then.

At home, they are paid handsomely to become intelligence analysts, technicians, apologists or are simply neutralized. How many of the most rabid radicals, on the other hand, who are agents provocateurs is incalculable.

Trade unions have been completely corrupted, as was obvious from the recent AFL-CIO convention. Today they form the most solid sector of supporters of the military-industrial dictatorship, the war economy, war and racism. Out of the office of Jay Livingstone, once General Secretary of the Communist Party, goes a network of subversion of foreign trade unionists and a steady flow of gold which has tied the entire trade union movement of many countries to the American juggernaut and driven the independent labor leaders into exile or underground or into the jungle.

The battery of CIA cultural magazines, Encounter, Preuves, Monat and the others (there is one in almost every country where there are Western-style intellectuals) peddle the American line under the mask of the defense of culture and freedom. The CIA has found this mask is most convincing if it has a Left Social Democratic or even Independent Communist coloration.

What all this has led to is shown very clearly by the results of what might be called moral plebiscites in the last election — votes on open housing and similar measures, peace petitions like San Francisco’s Proposition P and the response to the vicious attacks by Rin Tin Tin on the aged, the sick, the feeble-minded and the students in California.

About one-third of the population in the exceptionally enlightened and liberal city of San Francisco voted against the Vietnam war, which no morally sane man in control of himself could possibly support.

Take a tiny but important example — All Saints Church, famous for performing its obviously Christian duty to the hippies who have flooded into its parish, lost almost half of its members just because the rector and the others were simply being good, as in Good Samaritan.

I think we must face the fact that the morally responsible sector of society has lost control over the indifferent and foolish middle third to the other third who are actively, consciously malevolent. One-third is a lot of people — more than the Jacobins or Bolsheviks, more even than the radical intellectuals who founded the USA.

How do the “responsibles” regain control?

[January 27, 1968]



Pessimism Is Justified

For the past year, people have been saying I have a very gloomy view of the future — of the U.S., of the human race, of the planet. On the contrary, I’ve always thought I was unduly optimistic.

I have assumed that the checks and balances of greed and violence in a world where man is wolf to man might possibly postpone the appearance of a nova where the solar system used to be until somewhere around the end of the century. Any hope beyond that seemed to me to be hebephrenic, psychotically optimistic.

It is perfectly obvious that, if you have almost 200 children of different colors speaking different languages and all hating one another crowded in one room and ruled over by five or six mutually antagonistic bullies, all subnormal, all with a 7000-year history of inbred delinquency, rape, arson and murder, and you give them plenty of cans of gasoline and boxes of matches to play with, and tell them just to use the matches to build little log cabins and the gasoline to wash their dolls’ dresses, the likelihood of their not burning down the house between A.D. 1945 and A.D. 2000 is as remote as the probability that those famous billion monkeys typing at random will produce the works of Shakespeare.

Since my last piece in The Guardian, I have taken a swing around the country, and visited New York, Boston, Newark, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago. I now am inclined to think none of us may outlive the summer. Before I went, I really thought all this talk of race war abroad and genocide at home was darkly colored by Panther propaganda. It was going to be bad, but not as bad as they said. Now I think they are optimistic. They think they may live through it, some of them, anyway.

In all the major cities of America all the programs to ameliorate, not solve, the racial crisis have been cut down to the merest tokenism or totally abandoned. In fact, many programs where there are still reduced funds for at least token activity have been shut down.

Neither the white power structure nor the race-crazy Poles of Milwaukee have given an inch. Rather, they have moved over to attack. Police forces of the major cities are armed to the teeth with the weapons of civil war, including chemical warfare, and not just relatively harmless concoctions like Mace, but the real thing.

They have had practice maneuvers and they have strategic planning for barricading the ghettos and reducing them to the condition of Hue within 48 hours. Attached to the police forces of the big cities are specialists in civil war, CIA and Green Berets, brought back from Asia and Africa to teach the town clowns how to treat Black Americans and their white sympathizers like the Viet Cong.

This includes San Francisco, where a notorious CIA agent is now functioning as an expert on human relations and urban problems.

“Wall it off and let the dirty ———s burn it down around their own wooly heads while we cruise the streets and seize the rooftops and shoot and gas everything that moves!” This is the program, the national program, ordered from the White House. The barricades and roadblocks in San Francisco, in case you don’t know, will go along Divisadero, Haight, California and probably Van Ness.

Hunters Point will be totally isolated and there will be a special force to handle Hippyville, where the first carefully planned maneuvers for civil war have already been held. If you don’t believe these dire prophecies, read the long article in the March Esquire, carefully written very deadpan as though it were pro-copper.

Incidentally, this article points out something I suspected immediately upon seeing the maps of the Detroit riot. Many of the fires were set by police who tossed bodies in the houses and burned them to cover up the evidence. Of course, this is just alleged, a journalist’s circumlocution for “I am dead certain this is true.”

Why this fantastic preparation for genocide? Even if the wildest Panthers control the majority of Negro youth, which they sure as hell do not, this is an unbelievably disproportionate response. The Memphis riot, for instance, was comprehensively recorded by the media at its very inception and it was obvious that the simplest and quietest police work could have stopped it before it began. Instead, the police assaulted with maximum violence the bystanders and Martin Luther King’s nonviolent marchers, and most of the rowdy kids who had been throwing things escaped.

This is the most dangerous summer in the history of humanity.

An epilogue

I did this piece on the weekend Johnson announced he was not running, before I heard the news. Does it make any difference? No.

What it means is that like all lame ducks he is not answerable to the electorate. It remains to be seen if we haven’t been thrown from the napalm frying pan into the nuclear fire.

Certainly one half of a bombing pause is no bombing pause at all and Johnson now has a free hand from now on until the inauguration. It is significant that in the main body of his talk the only real answer he had to the growing civil war in America was scarcely veiled threats.

The world will only be safe if this man resigns from office and is replaced by an unqualifiedly anti-war president. Personally, I will only feel safe when Dean Rusk, Walt Rostow and Lyndon Baines Johnson are lying side by side in straitjackets in a back ward.

I would like to point out that at the present moment none of the contestants for the nomination by either party has simply said he will stop the war.

[April 5, 1968]



Terrorize the Enemy — Stroll in Pacific Heights

What is happening? Teilhard de Chardin said many years ago that the 18th and 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries had been a time of political and economic revolution and had laid the groundwork for revolutions demanding a new meaning and quality of life.

When the Italian Communist Party attempted to reform itself recently, it set up a theoretical academy, called the Gramsci Institute. At its opening one of the leaders said, “We have enjoyed what we’ve defined as socialism over one-sixth of the earth for almost 50 years, and over almost again as much for 20 years. Yet human self-alienation has not decreased, but increased, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Perhaps, Comrades, we have been doing something wrong.”

Everyone was shocked, but Togliatti, a dying man, applauded, and the rest timidly joined in.

One of the leading Marxist theoreticians in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, said nearly 10 years ago: “Where is there any guarantee that the socialization of the means of production and distribution will make any difference whatever in the exploitation of man by man? If not properly conceived and carefully controlled, the State as employer will only increase human self-alienation — which is the only reason for revolution.”

Today life is becoming intolerable for an ever-increasing number of men, all over the world. An economic system (and all its spawn of political systems) which is devoted to utterly inhuman ends is making more and more human beings redundant. And not just as individuals, but as whole classes.

There is no way out of the present structure for the unskilled poor of the U.S. except mummification in housing projects on welfare. They are redundant. The dropped-out adolescents of Harlem or Hunters Point are never going to work slide rules for Lockheed. There are more slide-rulers now than anybody knows what to do with. Too many even to fill up Cam Ranh Bay.

The machines that run production for production’s sake, to maximize Profit (as it is called), simply find now that about six percent of the human race is just waste to sweep out of the way. Someday it will be 60 percent.

The worker on the belt of the assembly line, deprived of truly creative work and a creative relationship with his fellow workers, is alienated. But the unemployable hordes who have been dumped off the belt and can never get back on (for even the assembly line is now obsolete) suffer the torture of a multiplied alienation. Life as a human being who has been condemned as redundant is intolerable.

Faced with the horror of middle-class life, with the business ethic, with nothing linking man and man, man and woman, parents and children — nothing but the cash nexus — millions of people are dropping out as they reach adulthood.

Actually, exactly like the Blacks, they too are redundant. The distribution, service and professional industries need them no more than Ford needs monkey wrench twisters.

Partly this is technological. The process of capital circulation has accelerated to such a pitch that it whirls off human beings at all levels.

Partly it is moral. Who can possibly want to become a medical doctor when the American Medical Association is the most vicious and anti-human of all the organizations of the “class enemy” that have any effectiveness? The CIA overthrew the Greek government and recently tried to overthrow the Italian — but do you know that by a real invasion in force the AMA tried to overthrow the Province of Saskatchewan because the citizens had the temerity to vote for a health insurance program?

Who wants to become a professor when institutions like Columbia are simply training camps for the bureaucrats of the military-industrial complex, and universities are administered by presidents and chancellors taken directly from the espionage and international terror apparatus?

To the authorities who rule that branch of Van Vogt’s Weapon Shops of Isher on Morningside Heights, students who demand that a university be a humane and humanistic place for human beings are so much redundant garbage, just Gooks and Niggers, and to be treated as such, with the techniques and instruments the university itself developed for use in Vietnam or the Congo.

Life has become intolerable for people who persist in believing that between the ages of 18 and 21 they should move into full adulthood — full realization of their responsibilities and potentialities as human beings.

For the witless juveniles of the upper classes who flood Haight Street seeking the most lethal drugs obtainable, the prospect of becoming like their parents has driven them to slow suicide.

How many more weapons systems analysts are now heads of universities? How many mayors parade the ghettos mouthing publicity for movie moguls, with two urban problems experts, loaned them by the institutes of genocide, at their elbows? How many CIA-steered Greek juntas now rule the states and cities of the U.S.? How many Green Berets are teaching the control of democratic expression to the police departments of America?

The secret guerrilla attack on the electronic, computerized guillotine that has us all trapped is — don’t overexpose yourself.

Black militants do not now and never have either started or led the riots. Rioters may be hard to control, but conscious militants may be able to change the focus and objectives of totally alienated rage.

There is little point in burning down the home your mother washed clothes to pay for, no matter how much you’re in revolt against the matriarchy.

Was Beverly Hills frightened of burning Watts? Yes. But not much.

It is quite peaceful actions that can terrorize the enemy. I suggest an Every Sunday Walkabout.

The Grey Line has tours of the faubourgs of the rich — why not a Black Line walking tour? Every Sunday, everybody dress up nice, take the kids, climb in the car and drive to Pacific Palisades, Pacific Heights, Grosse Point, Sea Cliff, Presidio Terrace, Piedmont.

Park the car and take the folks for a quiet stroll. Go see how the other nine-tenths live. Maybe they will reciprocate and spend their Sundays strolling through Watts, Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Hunters Point. And not looking to “change their luck” in the old sense, but in a new and fundamental sense. Maybe!

Fact of the matter, they’d be scared into two months of dysentery. What law is there against 200 well-dressed, well-behaved Black families walking the streets of Presidio Terrace next Sunday? What could the cops do about it?

This is just an example of a mild and not too important technique that would have devastating results. Never forget. We don’t live in the machine age of Karl Marx. We live in an age of transistorized delicate apparatuses.

Stick your hand in the gear box of a steam shovel and you will get it torn off. Stick your little finger in one of the great electronic brains that feed strategy to the General Staff and it will shudder all over and start coughing up punched cards which if put on the player piano will play “The Internationale.”

There is no reason why the cops should be allowed to drag naked coeds out of buildings. Columbia University can be shut down as quietly as the fall of snow, without a person exposing his face. And shut down the whole shebang MUST be, by invisible mice, by harmless obstructionists and saboteurs, because it is a meat grinder that means only our death, individually and collectively.

[May 10, 1968]



Where Do You Go When You Flee the Country?

I’ve got a lot of letters provoked by my piece on leaving the country. They all say, “We agree, but where?” That of course was the intention of the article itself.

However, it must be borne in mind that the U.S. is the most reactionary country on earth except for those places which are satrapies of the U.S., under the direct rule of CIA pistols.

The irresponsibility of American intellectuals is shown by the fact that these are the places they just love. American intellectuals emigrate to Spain and Greece while Greek and Spanish politicians and intellectuals driven out by the American heat go into exile in America.

This is due to deliberate policy on our end. Whether they like it or not, foreigners who come to the U.S. for political reasons constitute a reserve echelon for our system. As long as they don’t make any waves, Spanish Loyalists, Mossadegh Persians and now even Czech and Rumanian Stalinists are give sanctuary in the U.S.

The situation in Greece at the moment is very touchy, due entirely to what might be called a successful Bay of Pigs operation, an incredible blunder staffed by popinjays and nonentities which succeeded by accident. The accident was either the inexperience or the pusillanimity of the king, who could have stopped it with a single pistol shot.

In this highly unstable situation, the American government is timid about accepting refugees of any political complexion. Don’t forget, Athens is the command center for the James Bond WPA project of the whole eastern Mediterranean and Near East, a house of cards that may tumble at one more false move.

Spain is on the brink of revolution. However, the CIA has operatives in the leading cadres of every organization, from Opus Dei, which is reputed to be a CIA creation, to the Communist Party and the Iberian Anarchist Federation. The American attitude toward Spain is “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.”

As a matter of fact, where this rule has been perfected down the years, is absolutely unchallenged, and is backed up by the massive presence of the U.S. Army, life can be pretty good and certainly very peaceful. Life in West Berlin is exactly like the life of a civilian employee living on the grounds in the San Francisco Presidio.

But to pass independent countries — Kiesinger and Sato are far to the left of Nixon. The so-called Neo-Nazis, the National Democrats, are by no means as rabid as Max Rafferty. In America, they would be considered mainstream Republicans in Los Angeles. Nenni and Willy Brandt are further to the Left than any American Socialist presidential candidate since Debs — not that that necessarily means much.

If California becomes the kind of state it will become with Dirty Dick in the White House, Rin Tin Tin in Sacramento, the white Bojangles and the red-faced Goebbels in the Senate, practically every politician in the Scandinavian countries, New Zealand and maybe even half those in England, the Netherlands, Italy and France would, if they came to California, be locked up for criminal syndicalism.

You think I’m kidding? Americans have absolutely no conception of how reactionary their country has become. Do you realize that there is no poverty of the kind that can be found in any American city in any part of the entire continent of Europe north of the Pyrenees and the Tiber River?

In every so-called civilized country, that is, the old imperialist nations north of the Tropic of Cancer, if you are sick, you get a doctor. When you are old, you get a pension large enough to live on, not the insulting pittance for which you have already paid high insurance rates in America. If you want to go for a walk in the park on a summer night with your girl, you’re safe.

The only big lack is availability of higher education, but this is due simply to the fact that labor power has become redundant in America. Economically, there is no difference between the enormous masses of young people flooding the universities and people in the housing projects entering their third generation on relief or aid to dependent children. They are simply being held off the labor market and therefore kept in a position of social and political impotence.

If you don’t want to go to a lot of trouble or haven’t got much money and want to work, go to Canada. Montreal is sort of la vie méditerranée amidst the snows and the murmuring pines and the hemlocks, and Vancouver everybody says is the next San Francisco. Sure pretty. Compares favorably in setting with San Francisco or Hong Kong.

If you want real nice countries, go to Finland, Sweden, or New Zealand, but not to the latter if you want to live in a world where everybody makes like Van Gogh, Rimbaud and Artaud every hour on the hour.

Culturally, New Zealand and Australia are great places for people who like A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad.” Sooner or later, of course, all of Oceania will be one of the major battlegrounds of the Third World War. The annual population increase in either India or China is more than equal to the total population of Australia.

Really, if you don’t want to learn Swedish, Finnish or Serbian, or if they are not stamped on, Czech, the best thing to do is to stay home.

What can you do in this country? At least you can go down fighting — for the immediate issues — peace, total racial equality, total abolition of poverty. Most important for the long-term issue, the reconquest of community and of individual integrity.

Here in San Francisco we live in an atmosphere of almost total fraud. Our pseudo-liberal newspapers kid us into believing that more than most cities we have honest and responsible government. What we have are a number of tastefully decorated façades.

We don’t need a civilian control board to keep the police in line. We have Citizen’s Alert. In fact, Citizen’s Alert has filed in the past two years 200 complaints which it considers police brutality, not one of which has been acted on by the Police Commission.

The Housing Board can’t pay the rent of the poor. One speculator sells the Sutro Bath Cliffs to another. Congress cuts the Redwood National Park to less than the lumber barons’ offer. David Rockefeller, who prides himself on his reputation as a civic leader, moves to destroy both San Bruno Mountain and a big hunk of San Francisco Bay at once, to cut off the mountain and fill the Bay with it.

The paper says mini-parks for South of Market. Beautiful McLaren Park is still a rubbish-littered wasteland deliberately sabotaged by the Establishment until in disgust the citizenry permits it to be sold off to the developers. The Highway Commission, out of pure spite, plans to pollute the city’s water supply.

So it goes. Lincoln Steffens was certainly right. In American, bad government is better than good government. I have very little faith, none in fact, in delegated authority. I believe the electoral process in the U.S. is pretty much of a hoax, which should be obvious with a nation facing a choice between Tweedlehumph and Tweedledick and a nominating convention guarded by the regular army.

The ballot, as they once said, is a paper substitute for the bullet, the bayonet, and the billy. Political action in America no longer takes place in legislative chambers. They only reflect, at considerable distance, the struggle of apparats, organized special interest just like the workers’ fatherland.

What we need is another apparatus with a special interest of — MAN! It is perfectly possible to do the movement devoted to community initiative, organization at the point of conflict and individual discipline and responsibility. The temporary, alas, blocking of the destruction of the Panhandle and the front of Golden Gate Park by the HEARST freeway is a good example.

This move had no organization behind it when it started. The entire establishment was for the freeway, although later, because the Examiner made so much noise for it, the Chronicle took the other side to sop up the circulation — its most revolutionary position prior to its intransigent and irreconcilable drive to string $5 worth of wire through the Broadway tunnel.

What stopped the butchery of San Francisco that time was just plain human people acting at the community level. People who eventually all came to know one another just like, so they say, all the free people in Athens. That other Athens, not this one, known familiarly as Bogalusa by the Bay.

[August 30, 1968]



Looking Back on the Election

It was surprising, to me at least, how many people got all wrought up about the election. I can’t imagine an intelligent person being in the least concerned which utterly amoral vulgar demagogue got into the White House.

It is some consolation that a silly and loquacious man was kept out who betrayed every principle he ever had. I hope he is haunted to his dying day by his refusal to so much as come to the telephone when his opponent phoned him from the 15th floor that his staff was being mayhemed by the Hog Butcher of the World. I hope he hears, every night as he falls asleep, his own flatulent voice calling the Pedernales and asking, “Shall I or shall I not interfere, Massa?”

One thing you can say for Dirty Dick, he’s never had any principles to betray but he’s the first of the robot politicians manufactured from used Rice Crispies coupons in the PR offices. We can look forward to four years of struggle between J. Walter Thompson, Chase and Citibank and the hoodlum millionaires of Southern California over control of the country.

One peculiarity of the modern demagogic process, with its McLuhan destruction of reality, is that last time it permitted the election of perhaps the only man in the history of the American Presidency who could be called positively evil.

We have had fools and rascals, Van Burens, Chester A. Arthurs and Hardings, but Johnson was unique. There is something about the electoral process and the public mind that until his day kept a man like him out of the presidency.

Is Dirty Dick evil? Metaphysicians have said that evil is privative, that it is the intrusion of not being into being. I suppose in this sense Doggy Dick is evil because, like all the not people, he doesn’t exist.

However, the first “government by manufactured celebrity” was that of Jack Kennedy. He was just manufactured by a nicer advertising agency.

Perhaps the day will soon come, what with all this talk of reforming the method of presidential elections and getting rid of the electoral college, that the American people won’t have to vote for the package, they’ll just vote for an advertising agency like now they vote for electors.

The most important election news in San Francisco was the extremely low vote for Kathleen Cleaver, lower than that polled by Anita Whitney or Oleta O’Conner ever on the old-time Communist ticket in the Red Thirties. The fact that her vote almost exactly matched Paul Jacobs would indicate that she got no votes from the indomitable suffragettes who always vote for a woman regardless and that she got no race votes as such. Oleta could always rely on a big hunk of both the women and the Irish. Not only that, but Kathleen Cleaver is certainly the best-looking woman to ever run for public office in San Francisco and at least as highly cultured as the notoriously cultured Missus Onassis.

What went wrong? It is very simple. The Panthers and the Peace and Freedom Party simply made no connection at all with what they used to call the masses, least of all the Black masses. Their appeal was confined almost exclusively to displaced persons — unemployed Black youth, hippies and rich bohemians in Pacific Heights.

I saw it coming. All the past year the high school boys in the Black neighborhood where I live were going about in black leather jackets. Then the Panthers opened a headquarters around the corner. Within a week they had scared off all these young fellows who would have been invaluable to them.

This was not due just to their wild talk about shooting every honkie. It was due to their closed-tight cliquishness, like a gang invading somebody else’s turf. For a half mile in every direction, the neighborhood is from 75 to 95 percent Black, but it is a neighborhood of Black working men and working wives. Their reaction to the Panthers shocked even me with the violence of its wrath.

I’m not blaming anybody. I’m just saying this isn’t the way to run a revolution or even start one. Who believes Willie Brown is a Tom? Certainly not the working people in his Assembly district. Most people who know him consider him the most enlightened, well educated and dedicated politician in the city. He is almost as cultured as Kathleen herself. By choosing to run her, the product of one of the most fashionable schools in the country, and of course a person who would be considered white in any other country on earth, as a representative of the Black dispossessed against “Uncle Tom Willie,” the Peace and Freedom Party and the Panthers simply defied themselves into isolation.

It is so easy to believe that the people who turn out for a demonstration and make a lot of noise are going to vote — or even stay around if push comes to shove in the most literal sense in the demonstration. Most of the Peace and Freedom Party’s following doesn’t play any determinative role in the society. They are redundant. Students and young Blacks are the unneeded people in the technological society. They are dumped into universities and government projects just like the older industrial capitalism dumped unwanted commodities into the colonies and finally into the sea or burned them up in war as now they burn up youth, black and white.

The French May Days proved, as contrasted to their German sympathetic reflection, that you can’t exert power if you can’t form alliances with people the society can’t get along without. Until the longshoreman, the teamster and the housepainter and their wives, two practical nurses and a factory worker (who live in the flat next to me) can be convinced that the largely estimable program of the Panthers and the Peace and Freedom Party has some connection with them, and the persecution of Eldridge Cleaver or Huey Newton or Bobby Seale is a persecution of them, nothing is going to happen.

There just aren’t enough people outside the system. Black unemployment in California may be twice that of white, but for the last couple of years that has only been six percent and three percent is the necessary functional turnover of full production totaling all categories.

In unskilled employment it is considerably higher. In other words, 94 percent of the Black working class population of California is working at any given time. They may want Black Power, but only in that context can they be convinced of it. If they think Black Power will destroy the context itself, they aren’t going to buy it.

Black Power, Black Culture, Black Art, Black Theater, Black Poetry are all fine, but what’s important is not what blonde college girls think about it, but what ordinary Black people do. Whether Eldridge Cleaver or LeRoi Jones, the question is, “What has Ray Charles or Muddy Waters got that I haven’t?”

Who’s afraid of Muddy Waters?

[December 24, 1968]



“San Francisco in the Sixties” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns and articles from the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967), the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1967-1972), and San Francisco Magazine (1967-1975). Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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