David Dellinger, RIP


The veteran activist died Tuesday at age 88. His politics were anarcho-pacifist in theory but frequently statist in practice, judging from the kind words he sometimes found for the Marxist regimes in Cuba, China, and Vietnam. (I'm still trying to remember whether he supported Henry Wallace's presidential campaign in 1948: I remember reading a debate over the Wallace candidacy in a pacifist journal he edited, but I don't recall whether he sided with the anti-Wallace majority or the pro-Wallace minority, or even whether he participated in the discussion at all. Google's no help. Maybe a knowledgeable reader could chime in?)

At any rate, the man just died, so I'd rather remember what I liked about him than what I disliked. Dellinger was an eloquent voice for nonviolence as both a political strategy and a moral ideal, and he was a vocal critic of thugs ranging from Robert McNamara to the Weather Underground. He fought for civil rights, and he fought against unjust wars. And he showed a lot of personal courage: As Tom Hayden told the Chicago Sun-Times, "His pacifism was very forceful. He didn't mind interjecting himself between armed federal marshals and someone they were pushing around."

He was most famous for being the oldest and soberest member of the Chicago 8. Not utterly sober, though, to judge from this reminiscence by yippie Stew Albert:

During the Chicago 8 trial of 1968-69 when the Judge had Panther defendant Bobby Seale bound and gagged Dave protested the loudest—and the life long pacifist got in some real shoving matches with the Federal Marshals.

At the end of the day we all asked Dave how he, as a pacifist, could be so rough and tough. He replied with a twinkle in his eye that shoving can be a form of nonviolence if it is done to resist evil.

The former burly college wrestler then looked around the room and declared that he could "take" all the defendants except for Bobby Seale.

Although I wasn't a defendant he then looked at me and stated "but I'm not sure about Stew."