SUBVERSIVE WRITING

REVIEW OF SUBVERSIVES by Seth Rosenfeld

I’m Michael Ulin Edwards, author of Bitch. (iBookstore). I am completely familiar with events in Berkeley, 1968-1974. I am familiar with earlier events and its literature and many other documents (1962-1967).

Much of Seth Rosenfeld’s book, Subversives, is set in a foundation of quicksand. I will touch on a few prominent disappointments. Reading this book it is obvious that the author did not live during the Sixties; he made no attempt to learn much about the people living in Berkeley during the Sixties; he failed to submerse himself into student life, actives and thoughts of the Sixties. Writing about students and events from 1963-1965 is much different from students and events in 1966-1968, or in 1971. Rosenfeld writes a top-down recounting of events – a writing from the perspective of the documents in his possession. He ignores documents that disagree with his views and fails to balance and weight their relative importance.

In this book every major impression about events after September 1968 is wrong, mistaken or falsified.

I read the text and what supposedly serves as notes. The notes are frequently summaries of documents. There is very rarely a quote in the text and a source, date, page number in the note. This book thereby becomes a perilous piece of history, sociology or journalism.

Rosenfeld misstates the scene. What is the background of students, activities and organizations? In the sources on the Free Speech Movement, people emerged from their corners and began leafleting and proselytizing. The Free Speech Movement [Goldwater Republicans to the far Left] by and through Savio had to beat these people and organizations off to present limited demands. By the late Sixties there were no controls, no discipline and no common goals. Every leader, person and group wanted every other person and group to follow it.

What is both funny and ridiculous is the FBI’s believing it could surveil and influence the groups with informants. A remarkable book was written at the time (1970) by William Divale, I Lived Inside the Campus Revolution. He describes how he was recruited, how he had to form political groups and eventually whom he met. His political indoctrination eventually made him a leftist; he testified in one trial. Divale tells of the disorder within the greater Left and student groups. There were no controls and no leaders. Rosenfeld likes to disparage persons whose experience and writing disproves his theses. He calls Divale “a self-described sex ‘swinger.’”(485) In the Sixties swingers weren’t considered worthy of demerits.

Rosenfeld suggests that one or two informants influenced and pushed people and organizations into wrong, unpopular actions. It ain’t so. Students, especially at Berkeley, were in charge. The Free Speech Movement leaders knew they had rolled the administration on constitutional issues. Given that standing students pushed more toward extreme positions.

Who were the FBI informants? Petty criminals, drug users, sexual perverts, hippies, morons and Democrats. A worry had to be, will my informant disappear to a commune in Marin, or Sonoma, or Mendocino, or Humboldt? What’s the quality of the information he just gave the Bureau? All information produced had to be culled and carefully checked. It was known among University students that people who appeared to live on the streets, lived on more than air. At best they were part-time informants, or squealing to get a felony lowered to a misdemeanor or to get a few bucks for the next joint or tab.

And what did the FBI do with the information once it verified it? After August 1963 the FBI learned Martin Luther King had a dream. The preacher had said so publicly. The raging question within the Bureau was “what was the dream about?”
It is more probable to conclude that the FBI was not playing with a full deck, and that Rosenfeld’s book gives the Bureau much more credit than it deserves.

The subtitle to Rosenfeld’s book includes “and Reagan’s Rise to Power.” Ronald Reagan is a villain in Berkeley. Too bad. “Prologue at the Governor’s Mansion January 1967,” happened two years, four months after the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley began, September 1964. Apparently the FBI met Reagan, and Rosenfeld cites this meeting a representing the close collaboration between them. It is misleading. Anyone who lived in the Sixties and watched Reagan’s rise to knew the FBI had nothing to do with his election victory in 1966 or the Governor’s popularity. Reagan represented one side of “anxiety triggers,” and the students represented the other side of the triggers:

“The campaign was supposed to be about big government, welfare and high taxation but, as Reagan recalled: ‘After several weeks of the campaign I had to come back and say, ‘Look, I don’t care if I’m in the mountains, the desert, the biggest cities of the state, the first question is, What are you going to do about Berkeley? and each time the question itself would get applause.’”DeGroot, Gerald J., The Sixties Unplugged, Cambridge, Harvard, 2008, p. 403.

Running against Reagan and that question, Pat Brown had no response. Brown was tied to an unpopular President. He lost badly. Or course, Rosenfeld presents none of this, how extremely unpopular Berkeley and the University of California were becoming. It is also distorting for Rosenfeld to suggest Reagan was an FBI stooge or got FBI help, rather than analyze Reagan as the effective, successful politician he was.

Much of Rosenfeld’s book discusses the FBI files and the Black Panthers who are mostly irrelevant to the University and University students during the Sixties. The Panthers began in Oakland in 1966; they had excellent speakers – Cleaver, Seale and Newton – but their activities were confined to activities in Black communities. Many of these leaders were in prison during the late Sixties. [Stokely Carmichael, not a Panther, spoke in Berkeley during the fall of 1967 to a large student crowd.]

In 1968 I believe Berkeley had fewer than 800 Black undergraduates of 28,000 total. Social Analysis 139X, Eldridge Cleaver’s course, Fall 1968, brought Cleaver onto the campus. It was not a Black Panther course. Its failure to get credit, and demonstrations and destruction of offices, stopped after Cleaver lost appeals for a parole violation and fled the USA. The Third World College, Winter 1968, involved many black-run organizations and included veterans from the San Francisco State protests and riots (Fall 1968). As riots that quarter continued, there were many fewer black rioters. After Winter 1969 Black organizations separated from many student protests in Berkeley.
It is unfortunate that Rosenfeld combines too much, student events with the Panthers. The Panther experience, incompletely written, is not serviced by mushing it with student/street people/hippie activities in Berkeley. NOTE, HOWEVER, if the FBI believed or considered that the student and Panther activities were directed by or coming from the same source, it reflects poorly on FBI analysis and indicates why the FBI was extraordinarily incapable to understanding anything. Ironically, Rosenfeld glosses over this point. The author of Subversives may have made the same mistake as the Bureau.

One gross problem, Rosenfeld misstates dates and facts. The Moses Hall, Social Analysis 193X arrests, did not involve 1,500 students.(425) Arrested were two bus loads rolling out to the University of California campus at Santa Rita. January 30 is on page 434. On page 435 comes the sentence, “Dissatisfied, Sheriff Frank Madigan sent an angry letter to Reagan…accusing the chancellor of failing to control the protests.” What Rosenfeld deliberate fails to tell readers is that for four days from February 1 was the worst street rioting on campus and around Southside that had yet to be seen in Berkeley. Note, these were not “protests” as Rosenfeld euphemistically calls them. They were full-scale riots.
Today, in southeastern Nevada Cliven Bundy, a rancher has used against all government regulations, land owned by the United States government. Bundy was supposed to pay rent for grazing rights; those haven’t been paid for 20 years. In essence Bundy is ripping off public land for his private use.

It is good to see that Seth Rosenfeld believes Cliven Bundy is correct. I didn’t believe anyone sane would support Cliven’s position. In 1969 disparate persons in Berkeley took land owned by the University and called it Peoples Park. Reagan opposed that taking. Of course there were huge riots periodically over four years including one instigated by the student newspaper, The Daily Californian (May 1971). During the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong (April 1972) rioters ripped down the fence surrounding the property and ever since [45 years] that large vacant lost, now with a restroom, is a good cradle for street-level crime activities.

Rosenfeld lends support to Peoples Park supporters and the peoples take-ver by looking at that event in Berkeley like it is isolated from everywhere else in the United States. It’s a world of magic and drugs, of the people and love, of the community and hope, of tranquility and peace. The angels are singing all the way along the road to Hell.

Rosenfeld hypes with no specific examples the FBI-Black Panther feuds while discussing Peoples Park:                        “Reagan linked Rector’s death to those of a janitor killed by a bomb blast at UC Santa Barbara and two men shot on the UCLA campus in the feud between the Black Panthers and the United States. It was unknown that the FBI was in the midst of a counterintelligence operation using false letters, offensive cartoons, and informers that was intended to foment violence between the rival Black Power groups – or, as one FBI official put it ‘to grant nature the opportunity to take her due course.’”

This is wrong. Rosenfeld fails to identify and print one “offensive” cartoon, or print one “false letter,” or any other FBI generated or influenced document. I know that the cartoon may exist; the lack of one is appalling. Letters, whether truthful or false, have to be read and understood. Rosenfeld’s failure to present one letter destroys his argument and the book. [Note that Dan Rather’s charge and production of a questionable photo-copied letter, destroyed his career. Rosenfeld has taken Rather’s action a step further, produced nothing and said in words understood in Berkeley: the FBI, a counterintelligence operation, Ronald Reagan…The Boogie man is out there.]

In Subversives Rosenfeld tells of his long, brave fight to get lots of FBI documents. What Rosenfeld does not do is piece together specificities from all the pages and present a smoking gun: These documents show (A) An FBI plan, (B) reliable persons were contacted and (C) these documents show preparations: X riots, Y violence and Z injuries happened. Conclusion: FBI benefits as a result of A, B and C.

Instead, in a note for page 468, Rosefeld cites:
“On the FBI’s COINTELPRO involving the Black Panthers and the United States, see Church, book III, 189-195. The report says, “Because of the milieu of violence in which members of the Panthers often moved we have been unable to establish
a direct link between any of the FBI’s specific efforts to promote violence and particular acts of violence that occurred. We have been able to establish beyond doubt, however, that high officials of the FBI desired to promote violent confrontations between BPP members and members of other groups, and that those officials condoned tactics calculated to achieve that end.” ibid, 189.”

There is no evidence. The note is empty. The FBI may have desired anything: Eternal life to J. Edgar Hoover. But that is not a fact; it is not evidence; it is not logically supported; no reason stands with it. This note would not be permitted as support in any discipline: Not in law, not in sociology, not in history, not in journalism.

That desire establishes the foundation for myth, religion, superstition and much of the thinking that goes on and lingers in Berkeley today: What happened to the glorious Sixties? Don’t look at facts, evidence, reason or logic. Berkeley has myths, superstition, boogiemen, devil evil-doers, Ronald Reagan and like-minded persons who caused the downfall of Berkeley as a university and as a town.

In Berkeley at War (1989) William Rorabaugh tells that Berkeley professors felt uneasy leaving work, papers, research and writing in their offices. They knew what had happened at Columbia – wholesale distribution of University files and destruction of others. Berkeley professors saw disclosure and destruction of files at Moses Hall (October 1968). They observed rioters on several occasions trying to overturn card catalogues in the Main Library, and knew of the one arson attempt on the library in March 1970. They observed great violence hitting university buildings in the Winter/Spring 1969 and Spring 1970. Academia was under fire. How many professors did not come to Berkeley? Rosenfeld’s Subversives discusses none of these issues.

!Is there any issue omitted from Rosenfeld’s book, that should be there? YES. It was important to every male older than eighteen. The Draft. Berkeley and Stanford cooperated making one of the best Draft Resistant organizations in the United States. It is surprising and lubricious that Rosenfeld would overlook an issue, an organization and its activities on a National Security issue, War, which involved student groups. Options:

If the FBI made no investigations of the Draft Resistant movement and had no files, that demonstrates again that the FBI did not know what it was doing, it had no ability to analyze, and its collection of paper was stupid and fruitless. Rosenfeld should have mentioned that. Or,

If Rosenfeld fell upon many Draft Resistant documents and decided to omit any discussion of the issue, what else is omitted from the text of Subversives? Or,

If the FBI were successful sabotaging Draft Resistance (doing everything Rosenfeld claimed the Bureau did), Rosenfeld may have had facts, evidence, proof demonstrating in this issue that the FBI was successful. However,
Perhaps Rosenfeld realized, cynically, when it came to politics, the FBI was a failure. He omitted giving examples on the Draft issue, and decided to pander to the superstitions, speculations, myths, boogiemen and the feelings and sensitivities of people in Berkeley.

If the FBI were successful sabotaging Draft Resistance (doing everything Rosenfeld claimed the Bureau did), Rosenfeld may have had facts, evidence, proof demonstrating in this issue that the FBI was successful. However,
Perhaps Rosenfeld realized, cynically when it came to politics, the FBI was a failure. Hence, Rosenfeld panders to the superstitions, speculations, myths, boogiemen and the feelings and sensitivities of people in Berkeley.

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