I just came across a massive dump of FBI files on the YIPPIES–the legendary 60′s youth movement led by Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. They declassified and released over 6,600 pages of FBI surveillance and intel on the Yippies—unfiltered, a direct wormhole to that era.
And what an awful fucking era it was. People were either mean or stupid, on a scale that almost makes you appreciate today’s problems. Almost.
I spent a few obsessed hours amazed at the sheer scale of the FBI’s (and other services’) surveillance and infiltration into the Yippies—it’s a lot uglier, a lot more demoralizing and less romantic, than that cartoon movie about The Chicago 10 would have you think. What becomes clear after the first few hundred pages is that they considered the Yippies to be a real threat–and from the material collected, it’s easy to see why the Yippies really were such a serious threat to established power, much more serious than we remember them in our filtered way. They weren’t just against the draft or the Vietnam War or against stuffy old people with short hair; the radicals in the 60’s were against capitalism. The 60′s radicals were nothing at all like the version we get today, which portrays the hippies and revolutionaries as a bunch of spaced-out New Age nudists who just want to be left alone to screw, get high and dance without being bothered by “The Man.”
That’s the current retarded/sanitized “Burning Man” revision of 1960′s radicalism. In reality, the entire 60′s movement was one giant reaction against capitalism and consumerism. That’s how someone as frustratingly half-baked and pretentious yet genuinely radical as Jerry Rubin–whose political tracts are included in these FBI files– wound up in the FBI’s crosshairs; turn against capitalism, and you’ll find the entire weight of state power (which serves private capital power) coming down hard on you: you’ll get beaten, harassed, spied on, jailed, put on trial, and eventually broken and rendered harmless, a museum exhibit at best.
Watch your backs, Yippies!
The Yippies, like most 60′s radicals, fought against the twin evils of capitalism and consumerism, which they fingered as the root cause of everything bad, everything they’d opposed: Capitalism caused the The Vietnam War, Capitalism caused poverty, Capitalism caused racism, Capitalism forced schlock consumerist culture down their throats, etc. The FBI files show that the agents’ were mainly concerned with whatever links the Yippies had to communists, socialists, and radical labor organizations. And this is the reason why the 60’s were so full of mass violence and police action: The leaders of the student protest movement were trying to bring down America’s dominant economic ideology. This is a key point to remember: They were “radicals” and dangerous not because because they smoked pot or had sex or listened to their rock ‘n’ roll– or because, like today’s so-called radicals, they merely applied a brand label “radical” on their pockets and paraded it around; they were dangerous radicals because they threatened to overturn the ruling ideology with slogans like “PROPERTY IS THEFT” & “CAPITALISM IS STEALING.”
From “The Yippie Manifesto” by Jerry Rubin
In the late 60′s and early 70′s, anti-capitalist ideology was so dominant and so broadly accepted that even a vicious rightwing cocaine-addict like CNBC goon Larry Kudlow fell into radical-left line while he was a student at the University of Rochester: Kudlow grew out his hair, traded in the pricey Jag his rich daddy gave him for a beat up VW hippie van, and wound up leading the U. Rochester chapter of the radical-left Students for a Democratic Society, exhorting his fellow students to burn their draft cards and smash the capitalist pigs. According to Kudlow’s college roommate, the reason he went radical left was “to get laid”–you couldn’t screw the legions of gorgeous hippie girls otherwise. (How different the 60′s Left was from the modern, puritanical culture-warrior Left, or the puritanical radical-labor Left of the 30′s.)
[Read Mark Ames’ article on Larry Kudlow: “Less Than Kudlow: Is CNBC Host Suffering Another Cocaine Relapse?“]
And then there’s the other side of the radical-60’s movement that becomes clear after reading through these files: They could be as imbecilic as they were radical. Arrogant, clueless, oversexed, loud-mouthed imbeciles. They claimed they were for economic revolution, but they weren’t interested in actual economics, business, or even labor for that matter. Business and finance wasn’t “creative” or “interesting” enough for them—instead they were about “finding oneself” and “freeing oneself.” Too many of them were in it for the Dionysian joy of it all. Here’s an example of Jerry Rubin at his most embarrassing, from his “Yippie Manifesto”:
We say: “DO IT, DO IT. DO WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO.”
…As long as we are in school we are prisoners. Schools are voluntary jails. We must liberate ourselves.
Classrooms are totalitarian environments. The main purpose of school and education in America is to force you to accept and love authority, and to distrust your own spontaneity and emotions.
Sounds, well, just like some libertarians I know: that same whiny, petulant Randroid childishness. More on that later…
But Rubin was just getting warmed up. You have to read this scene to really grasp how profoundly annoying the hippies could be—this is the part of the hippies that I remembered most, the part that I guess the FBI wanted us to hear and read because I don’t remember much of the anti-capitalist ideology, I’m embarrassed to admit– but I sure as Hell remember hippies who blathered on exactly like Rubin does here:
Four of us go into a classroom. We sit in the middle of the class. The lecture is on “thinking.” Thinking!
We take off our shirts, smoke joints, and start French kissing. This goes on for 10-15 minutes, and the professor goes on with his lecture like nothing is happening. Finally, a girl says, “The people there are causing a distraction, and could they either put their shirts back on or could they please leave.”
And the prof says, “Well, I agree with that. I think that if you’re not here to hear what I’m saying…”
We shout: “You can’t separate thinking from loving! We are hard in thought!!”
And the prof says, “Well, in my classroom I give the lesson!”
Scratch a professor deep and you find a cop! Fucking milquetoast! Didn’t have the guts to throw us out, but in his classroom, HE GIVES the lesson. So he sends his teaching assistant to get the cops, and we split.
At this point, you find yourself dreaming of a Taser. By “you” I probably just mean “I.” I’d be lying if I didn’t feel the ol’ reactionary-gastric juices splashing up just reading that passage.
But like I said, I’m over that now.
* * *
So the Yippies are gone now, and as the 6,600 pages of declassified FBI files make clear, the Yippies are gone for a reason. Because despite the silly childish blathering about their teachers as oppressors, they threatened to influence an entire generation into turning against capitalism, and therefore turning against the system which justified, and still justifies, America’s ruling class as our ruling class. And nothing is more dangerous than that, as labor activists can tell you going back two centuries.
Before we had “radicals for capitalism” there were “radicals against capitalism.” Ever wonder why only one of them flourished while the other was driven into extinction?
Today, we don’t have real radicals anymore threatening power like that. But in our era of branding and marketing, we do have about a gazillion harmless fools who shamelessly appropriate the “radical” label and affix it to themselves. These people—the only strain to survive the 60’s, the so-called “radicals for capitalism”—make a tiny little guest appearance in the FBI files.
About 40 pages into the 6,600 pages of files targeting all the dozens and dozens of radical revolutionary groups—from the Yippies to the Black Panthers to the SDS, Progressive Labor, the “Crazies,” Weathermen and so on—one group very conspicuously DOESN’T interest the FBI: Libertarians.
Now keep in mind, as I said, the FBI was all over every single radical youth organization in the country, yet for some reason, they go out of their way to give specific instructions to their field agents not to investigate the “Libertarian Alliance” anarchists.
The FBI file that mentions the Libertarians starts with a header page, “Hunter College Libertarian Alliance,” dated April 9, 1974. The file was opened after an FBI informant turned in a leaflet announcing an upcoming “Anarchist Tribal Conference” put on by the Hunter College Libertarian Alliance. The leaflet calls on all Yippies in the area (who knew the Yippies still existed in 1974?) to join the libertarian-anarchists for their annual anarchist conference.
When you read this FBI file on the libertarian “anarchist” conference, two things stand out:
First, the leaflet was either planted with the intention of getting someone in trouble, or else it was thrown together by a colossal fool. The Yippies, as far as I could tell, were never so stupid as to disseminate a leaflet that called for the assassination of the President–that’s why the hippies used their annoying coded language, images and jokes, and camouflaged their radicalism with love and flowers: Otherwise, they knew, they’d all be jailed or shot and never stand a chance.
This particular leaflet in the FBI file features a gun pointed at Richard Nixon’s head and reads, “THE ONLY DOPE WORTH SHOOTING IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.” The leaflet includes a phone number in New York for Yippies to call, an address for them to go to, and does everything possible to say, “Arrest the Yippies Now! Here’s their phone number, here’s their address!” It’s the sort of thing only a complete moron–or a provocateur–could possibly dream up.
Above: Close-up. Below: The leaflet
As one might expect, the FBI passed the leaflet on to the Secret Service to investigate a possible threat to President Nixon’s life.
Given that this was both a radical conference, an anarchist conference, and a threat to murder the President of the United States—and that the libertarian alliance and libertarian-anarchists were the ones holding the conference—you’d think the paranoiacs in the FBI would be interested in investigating the Libertarian Alliance as well as the Yippies. After all, this is a threat to the President’s life–and America’s law enforcement agencies and security apparatus were all over the place illegally surveilling and keeping files on hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Yet for some reason, the FBI explicitly orders its agents to lay off the libertarians.
And this is the second thing that’s so strange about this particular file: The FBI puts it in writing that the libertarians are not to be subjected to the sorts of FBI surveillance, infiltration, and investigation tactics used on every other radical organization in the country. I repeat: The FBI explicitly gave orders to PROTECT the libertarian “anarchists” from the FBI’s harassing, prying, spying eyes.
The memo states:
No information is desired … concerning persons planning to attend the above conference unless it concerns the YIP…No investigation is being conducted of the Hunter College Libertarian Alliance, which is sponsoring the conference.
In other words, the FBI was not concerned with the “libertarian anarchists.”
Now I ask all you folks in reader-land: Has there ever been an anarchist movement anywhere on earth, in the history of mankind, that government authorities were so profoundly unconcerned about as these anarcho-capitalist libertarians? Is such a grotesquely comical scenario even possible in a world not designed by the Koch family?
Here’s a screenshot of the memo:
Now since I can almost hear the Retard Bleachers screaming like they often do, “Oo, so Mark Ames wants the FBI to investigate the Libertarians! Oo, you see? He’s for the police state, Oo! Nyah! Myeah!”—I guess I have to face the rhetorical reality and go on record saying the obvious here: the FBI shouldn’t be investigating and illegally surveilling any non-violent protest group, whether they’re truly radical and dangerous like the Yippies… or just fake-radical and profoundly un-threatening, like the Libertarian Alliance, or “radicals for capitalism,” or “anarcho-capitalist” or any other fake brand-label they affix to themselves.
Now that that’s out of the way, the real question is this: Why would a vicious law-enforcement outfit as insanely paranoid, right-wing, and surveillance-mad as the FBI of the 60′s and 70′s bend over backwards to tell its agents to back off the libertarian anarchists?
I did a brief check on what sort of “libertarian anarchists” were at Hunter College in the early 1970s, and discovered this: some libertarian hack named J. Neil Schulman waxing nostalgic about his libertarian youth, including some forgettable “libertarian anarchist” lectures at Hunter College in the early 1970s.
As it turns out, Schulman’s story goes a long way towards explaining why the FBI called off the dogs on these early libertarian “radicals.” Because they’re about as radical as the Partridge Family—no, actually, on the “radical” “danger to the system” scale, these Hunter College libertarians were so depressingly harmless and conventional, they made the Partridge Family look like the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Schulman’s reminiscences recount the touching tale of how the young 16-year-old Schulman first met his libertarian hero, one Samuel Konkin III, back in the early 1970′s. In scenes so hilariously banal they could have been taken from those old Chris Elliot Get A Life shows, we learn how Konkin showed the young Schulman the world, to the point that you can almost hear the montage soundtrack accompaniment as they’re, “searching out ‘underground gourmet’ restaurants…catching the latest Woody Allen movie or James Bond movie…[Sam] introduced me to the writings of Ludwig von Mises…[we] ate many of my mom’s homecooked meals at my parents’ apartment of [sic] the West Side of Manhattan…”
Oh, and of course, “Sam took me to my first libertarian conference at Hunter College in New York City.”
It’d all be so sad if it wasn’t a brief description of how the shit world we inherited turned to shit.
In Schulman’s libertarian Bildungsroman, the action goes from his mom’s kitchen and Hunter College anarcho-capitalist lectures to the big highway: Schulman and Konkin hit the road and head west to Southern California, where the libertarian duo go on to Big Things: Konkin joined a notorious Holocaust-denial outfit, the Institute for Historical Review, founded by white supremacist Willis Carto…while his disciple/sidekick Schulman grew up to be a big NRA propagandist, churning out “radical” PR garbage like his book Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns, a book so radical that Charlton Heston’s blurb adorns book’s cover. Hey, if Charlton Heston blurbs your book, then folks, you know you’re stickin’ it to The Man, anarcho-libertarian style!
So now those strange FBI’s instructions ordering their spies to lay off the “libertarian anarchists” make sense. These “anarcho-capitalist” libertarians are the stuff of the old J Edgar Hoover’s wet dreams–“radical” youths who threaten radicals, not the capitalist system. “Anarchists” who suck the air out of anarchism’s threat to capitalism, and replace it with a fierce defense of capitalism; anarchists who grovel for a pat on the head from sleazy old Republicans like Charlton Heston—in J Edgar Hoover’s wildest dreams, could he ever have imagined it? (Actually, to be fair to the folks in the FBI, they must’ve despised these libertarian suck-ups as degenerate scum. Harmless scum, and useful scum, but scum nonetheless.)
This is just another reason why libertarianism is so goddamn offensive. They’ve even managed to turn “radical” into a harmless, meaningless, anti-radical brand—they’ve sucked out everything that was dangerous, and replaced it with its every opposite, the most shameless pro-capitalist, pro-bootlicking ideology imaginable. All they kept from the hippies was the very worst, most imbecilic, self-absorbed, childish nonsense that you can find in that Jerry Rubin manifesto: the whining about teachers, the whining about wanting to smoke pot and grow out his hair.
It’s the worst of all worlds—so naturally, the FBI did everything to coddle and protect it, and make sure it alone emerged unscathed from the counter-revolution crackdown in the 1970s and early 1980s.
A perfect example of this is Rich Fink. You may not know his name, but every libertarian does, from Master Charles Koch at the top, all the way down to the lowliest George Mason University maggot. Everyone owes it all to Fink, who ranks as probably the Kochs’ (and libertarianism’s) top operative over the past four decades: Fink co-founded Americans for Prosperity, set up the outfit (Citizens for a Sound Economy) that became FreedomWorks; Fink founded the Mercatus Center at George Mason U, which you can thank for all the Republican Party deregulation and privatization policies over the past decade or two; Fink is also a board member at Koch Industries, a board member of the Kochs’ youth-recruitment libertarian outfit the Institute for Humane Studies…Fink even edits Koch Industries’ insane Bircher newsletter, which made its way into my article for The Nation on how the Kochs manipulate their employees’ voting habits.
But one thing you didn’t know about Rich Fink is this: He’s a really radical dude, in a libertarian, anarcho-capitalist radical sort of way.
Here’s how one of Fink’s libertarian clones described the radical world of Rich Fink and Austrian economics:
[Fink] gave an orientation to the first year grad students…He used an analogy with the civil rights movement: Before we just wanted to be let on the bus and not raise a ruckus. Now we’re gonna be like Malcolm X, Austrian and proud. In your face with the Austrian economics.
Yeah, Austrian economics is just like Rosa Parks and Malcolm X–leaving aside the fact that libertarian Austrian economics opposes federal Civil Rights legislation, opposes welfare and public housing, opposes labor unions, opposes publicly-funded education, and supports privatizing everything and deregulating everything and shills for whatever enriches the super-rich–if you leave those little things aside, yeah, Austrian economics is just like Malcolm X. Maybe even more radical, who knows? I mean, who knows what the fuck “radical” even means anymore?
Two people who know exactly what libertarians mean by “radical” are Charles Koch and Rich Fink. And here is how the Weekly Standard described that first historical summit meeting between Koch and Rich Fink while Fink was still a young “radical” libertarian in the 1970′s:
There was just one hitch. Fink didn’t own a suit. He was a grad student with long hair and a wild beard and a gold chain, and he had to impress one of the richest men in the country. What to do? He and his wife went to a store in Manhattan that was having a fire sale. He picked out a black polyester suit with white piping, a black and white checkered shirt, and a bright blue tie.
On the day of his trip to Kansas he put on his clothes, appended his Phi Beta Kappa pin to the azure tie, and looked in the mirror: Nice threads! When he got off the plane in Wichita he noticed people staring at him and assumed they were impressed with his outfit. This was the seventies, after all. Fink told me, “I thought I was hot stuff.”
When the man in the black polyester suit arrived at Koch Industries, Charles offered him a drink. Fink turned it down. “Good,” Charles told him, “because we don’t have any alcohol.” Fink asked Charles if he’d read the proposal. Charles said he hadn’t. He picked it up from a pile and read it quickly while Fink sat there. The meeting was brief. Fink spent the plane ride back to New York thinking he’d bombed. But Koch called a few days later: He was willing to fund Fink’s project.
In 1980 academic politics forced Fink to relocate to George Mason University in suburban Virginia. There, with Koch’s support, he founded the Center for the Study of Market Processes. Years later Fink asked Charles why a badly dressed hippie economics Ph.D. had been given all this money. “I like polyester,” Charles told him. “It’s made of petroleum.”
Yeah, it’s a real wonder that the FBI gave explicit orders to leave the “anarchist” Libertarian Alliance alone, and focus on everyone else in the room.
What’s so galling is that, in the libertarians’ revisionist history of themselves, they constantly describe themselves as “radicals”–as in “radicals for capitalism” or “anarcho-capitalists.” For three decades now, they’ve been pumping American history full of free-market mind-smog. In their version of the radical 60’s and 70’s, the libertarians were right there on the front-lines of the revolution, a revolution that was all about smoking their filthy marijuana, growing their filthy hair long, and giving a middle-finger to oppressive school teachers. What’s been airbrushed out is how the libertarians hid themselves far off the radical sidelines, away from the danger. Because they were a joke, a harmless little fucking joke: hippies for corporate capitalism. They could pretend they were as anti-war and pro-marijuana all they wanted, but back then, you were either radical because you were anti-capitalist, or a sad tool who fooled no one.
As the FBI files show, and as my own memory vaguely reminds me, the 60′s was about fighting that very core idea, fighting and banishing it from the world. Drugs, war, racism–everything would be solved if capitalism was overthrown. Whereas the libertarians say: Everything will become great again if only the government is overthrown, collectivism is overthrown, regulation is overthrown, public parks and public schools are privatized, and Social Security and Medicare abolished–then we shall have a peaceful happy world.
And thanks to the FBI’s brutal and successful campaign to destroy the real radicals, we don’t even remember them as they were; we only remember them as the libertarians want us to remember them. As if it was all only about the loud music and the acid and the self-gratification and the funny hair and saying “Fuck You, Teacher!” and the best way to tell off your teacher was by becoming a capitalist. A radical capitalist.
It’s the “Freewheeling” that makes it so truly radical
Saying you’re a “radical for capitalism” is as meaningless and oxymoronic as calling yourself “Dangerously Non-Threatening” or “Radicals For Groveling.”
The real radicals were destroyed by the State: imprisoned, scattered, harassed, surveilled, ruined, even shot to death in their beds, like Fred Hampton. That becomes clear in those FBI files. Today, there’s no Left to speak of. Today, libertarianism is not only the only “choice” that the state allows us to make, but worse, libertarianism’s popularity is growing to record levels (thanks to the billionaire Koch brothers’ investment), according to a recent New York Times article, “Poll Finds Shift Towards More Libertarian Views.”
We’ve been had, folks. In a bad way–so bad, that sometimes I think it’s one of those things that’s so hopeless and so degrading, you almost have to wonder if you’d’ve been better off not knowing what was happening to you.
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.
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