Writer on the Storm

Former New Left leader Carl Oglesby on the '60s, his old friend Hillary Clinton, and the dream of a left-libertarian alliance

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Reason: Did this presage your role in SDS?

Oglesby: Like my hero Dyke Garrett, I was trying to do impossible things that I thought were right. Despite the sense of inevitable failure, I felt there was no way around the obligation to try to keep the damned thing from happening.

Reason: So why, four or five years later, couldn’t you write plays anymore?

Oglesby: There was always too much else to do. It’s not as if I broke all of my pencils. I just started writing books. And songs. Songs were fun. You could knock off a song in an afternoon if you were lucky. It was part of the movement’s culture: People had guitars and sang folk songs. So when the guitar got passed around at the party after the demonstration I would sing a few folk songs and then segue into one of my own. Word that I had written songs reached Maynard Solomon, who was president of Vanguard Records. He asked me if I would do an audition tape, so I did. He said that he wanted to do an album.

Reason: These two albums have been rereleased on CD. Perhaps there’s going to be an Oglesby music revival.

Oglesby
: Don’t hold your breath.

Reason: Forty years ago, yours was the hopeful voice of American renewal in SDS. Do you remain hopeful?

Oglesby
: It’s hard to imagine how the American citizenry could have put Bush back in for a second term. That goes a long way toward deflating one’s faith in democracy. Democracy only works if people pay attention and share some kind of essential commitment to values of honesty, truthfulness, concern for other people, and I just don’t see that anybody can make a decision about Bush without coming to terms with his failures in these respects. I can’t say I’m a pessimist; I’m just sitting back and watching it.

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  • ||

    Carl reinvents himself 40 years later! Two friends who attended the 1968 SDS convention returned to tell me that the Maoists had taken over the SDS. They said this in triumph, as they were quite sympathetic to that point of view. (I was disappointed. I had hoped the New Left might get beyond that.) They said Oglesby was the chief Maoist and had manipulated his own riseto power. Carl had no real organizer's skills, and he lost heart in the New Left with the death of his friends. The SDS did not fail due to the Weathermen, but because Carl seized power and then lost heart.

    I'm willing to believe that he is now a Libertarian, but there is no way he expressed that point of view then. The whole SDS Convention knew he was a Maoist, and he never denied it in 1968.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Two friends who attended the 1968 SDS convention returned to tell me that the Maoists had taken over the SDS. They said this in triumph, as they were quite sympathetic to that point of view. (I was disappointed. I had hoped the New Left might get beyond that.) They said Oglesby was the chief Maoist and had manipulated his own riseto power. Carl had no real organizer's skills, and he lost heart in the New Left with the death of his friends.

    Carl Oglesby was SDS chief from 1965 to 1966, not in 1968. And the Greenwich Village deaths didn't happen until 1970.

  • Episiarch||

    Now I don't know what to believe!

  • Jesse Walker||

    I think Blaupanzer is confusing Carl Oglesby with Carl Davidson, another SDS activist (and a bona fide Maoist).

  • Episiarch||

    Well, in all of their defense, they were probably pretty high at the time.

  • Paul||

    "humanistic individualism and voluntaristic associational action."



    So he wasn't exactly immune from the jargon-riddled patois of the 60's.

  • Paul||

    Whatever decision gets made, it should be democratic. It was on that basis that SDS cut through the whole argument about socialism vs. capitalism. We simply said that whatever economic formation we adopted should be adopted democratically and openly.



    Could this be the core of what ultimately turned out so wrong with the left? That they saw an opportunity to make economics itself democratically controlled, and thus we now have the world where the left believes that things like property rights should democratized?

  • ||

    Episiarch,

    Maoist movement high.

  • Episiarch||

    Maoist movement high.

    Is that the extreme altitude high you get when you invade Tibet?

  • Jesse Walker||

    I think it was a song by Bizarro-World John Denver.

  • ||

    And it's Jesse for the win. Though Episiarch's answer adds a nice nuance to the whole tune.

    Maoist mountain high.
    Damned Dalai Lama. Maoist mountain high.

  • ||

    "I think Blaupanzer is confusing Carl Oglesby with Carl Davidson, another SDS activist (and a bona fide Maoist)."

    Jesse may be right. After 40 years, maybe all the Carls blend together in my head. I still do not recall any SDSers who were in agreement with Goldwater (i.e., libertarians) in Oglesby's period of time.

  • Episiarch||

    Bizarro-World John Denver am me favorite singer-songwriter.

  • ||

    Is that the same Carl who blew up Bushwood under questionable circumstances? I didn't know that was politically motivated.

  • Jesse Walker||

    After 40 years, maybe all the Carls blend together in my head. I still do not recall any SDSers who were in agreement with Goldwater (i.e., libertarians) in Oglesby's period of time.

    I've read enough of Oglesby's '60s stuff to know that he wasn't a 100% pure libertarian on every issue. His basic values were solid, though, and he didn't have any totalitarian tendencies; I would be very surprised to learn it if he was carrying a torch for Chairman Mao.

    He also got more libertarian as he got older. Indeed, the one time I actually met him, in 1991, was at a Libertarian Party convention. We sat at the same table during a Ron Paul speech that blew Oglesby away.

  • ||

    If I remember rightly Karl Hess joined the SDS.

    And he wrote speeches for Goldwater.

  • ||

    Mind you, I'm also pretty sure that Karl was pretty much an outlier in the organization.

  • Kolohe||

    Ah, 'Students for a Democratic Society.' Worse misnomer since the Holy Roman Empire.

  • ||

    Whenever I imagine what it would had been like to be a part of the group of twentysomething radicals in The Weathermen, I just imagine what it would be like if all of my idiot twentysomething friends, people who can't even keep a rock band together, where to gang together and try to overthrow the government.

  • ||

    "Ah, 'Students for a Democratic Society.' Worst misnomer since the Holy Roman Empire."

    It wasn't a ridiculous misnomer until the Maoists took over. For a brief moment, the Left almost got reinvented as a democratic movement -- "overcome the republic by becoming even more democratic." This direction did not serve either the Socialists (read: those of the New Right by the later era under Bushes I and II) or the government (read: all organizations in that 60's era were viewed as either for the current system or as representing "evil Communists" (an unnecessary redundency)). One way or the other the ideals fell to be replaced by the intelligence guys' nightmare.

  • ||

    From what I understand, it was Oglesby who brought the communist factions into SDS by removing the organization's anti-communism stance.

  • ||

    You've got to remember that SDS was a very new organization, and the fact that I had just come in the door was not unique; a lot of people were in the same position. There had been a movement to get rid of the national officers on the grounds that to have a president, a vice president, a national secretary, was inherently elitist. I spoke against that, saying that SDS was going to be a part of the world and needed to have spokespeople it could hold to account. That position won out, somebody nominated me for president, and the winner turned out to be me.

    That's interesting; the current SDS has no national leadership and operate on a commune/co-op kind of structure, even when it comes to local chapters. I'd say that the former would be better for the reasons he said.

  • Gene Berkman||

    Carl Oglesby was a featured speaker in 1970 @ the "Left Right Festival of Liberation" sponsored by the California Libertarian Alliance. His speech was well delivered, although I am not sure what the substantive points were.

    Carl hung out both days of the convention, and on Monday hung out with Karl Hess (our other featured speaker) and some of the organizers. He was still developing his thoughts, but clearly in a libertarian direction. And he was not in any way a Maoist.

    I met Karl Hess originally at the 1969 YAF National Convention, and he showed me his SDS membership card. Then following the 1970 CLA conference, he joined the IWW at a party with a group of anarchists.

  • economist||

    I have none of Oglesby's faith in democracy.

  • ||

    Also, a while ago I asked some old SDS members whatever their was a libertarian presence within SDS and one of them said "fuck no."
    All three of them were Marxists, so I'd guess by the end of SDS came, the libertarians where completely ousted.

  • Matt||

    "The decision to take up weapons, to become violent-that was not a democratically reached decision."

    So according to theses liberals, the violence was fine if there had been a vote.

    The Founders understood democracy was bad because it would not protected the rights of the individual. Liberals are ALWAYS trying to confuse these principles. References in this article: Democracy - 13, Freedom - 0, Liberty - 0.

  • ||

    Hey I was in the Akron and Cleveland summer collectives with the KSU sds and then onto the Days of Rage- agree it was the JK,MLK, RFK shootings that mobilized us and I was in it for civil rights as my Akron Peace corps buddy JoeV

  • ||

    Carl Oglesby, Karl Hess and Tom Hayden spoke at the Left/Right Conference I attended @ USC in 1970. It was both leftist SDS and YAF / libertarian; and they agreed. They asked us to stay in school and get our degrees and teach - the goal was to initiate a long-term plan to "Change" America --- take over America via teaching the young people marxist ways .... which is exactly what's happened.
    I ended up dropping out but it was eye-opening as I came to start my own business and saw just how the world works .....

  • Athletic Shoes||

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  • Nike Dunk Low||

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