BOOKS : Dick Reavis on Carl Oglesby

Another view of ‘Ravens in the Storm’
By Dick J. Reavis / The Rag Blog / July 5, 2008


A week or so ago I more or less promised a review of Oglesby’s Ravens in the Storm. I have read the book and don’t think I have much to add to Wizard’s review, except the notes below.

Oglesby admits that he never advocated socialism and that he tended to view SDS as an anti-war group, not as the cradle of a new revolutionary or socialist movement. He is/was an American exceptionalist and a libertarian or social democrat. Since he states his positions honestly, I see nothing to be gained in expressing my disagreements with his political orientation, with two exceptions.

His attitude towards the black liberation movement of those days seems paternal to me, and he makes a big deal out of Cointelpro’s attempts to disorient SDS. But all governments try to disorient all opposition movements. It comes with the turf!

In the pages of Ravens, PL [Progressive Labor Party], which I supported, is beneath his notice, even beneath his contempt. His exposure to socialism comes from what he, I think accurately, terms the “comic book Marxism” of the Weathermen.

But that’s almost the point. Nowhere in his book does he describe the daily life of any chapter, or of any role he played in any chapter. He was a spokesman for a movement to which, on the grass-roots level, he did not belong. He learned about shifts in the thinking of chapter members from people like Dohrn, not from living the experience.

That he did so is a great indictment of the supposed democratic nature of SDS. A run of “leaders” was able to “lead” with being held accountable by the members on the ground. The book demonstrates that we had two types of elitism in SDS: the openly-declared elitism of PLP and the covert elitism of the national leadership during the group’s latter days.

Klonsky complained about Oglesby’s handling of him. I think his complaint is fair. Oglesby refers to him as a “thug of the Left,” but never justifies that characterization. One gets the impression that Oglesby was expecting to find thugs on the Left.

I was surpised to see that Oglesby apparently still feels a bitterness towards his former comrades in SDS. That’s sad. I would propose that he consider a general amnesty for anybody who took part!

For previous discussion of this topic, go to BOOKS : Carl Oglesby’s ‘Ravens in the Storm’ by Mariann Wizard / The Rag Blog / July 24, 2008;

And to Susan Klonsky on Carl Oglesby’s Memoir / The Rag Blog / July 30, 2008.

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1 Response to BOOKS : Dick Reavis on Carl Oglesby

  1. Mariann says:

    Dick makes a good point regarding the alienation between many early national SDS leaders like Oglesby and extended involvement in chapter life, but Carl does describe his early involvement in Ann Arbor SDS before he rapidly became a national speaker.

    In Austin we were fortunate, or different at least, in that the national officers or staff who came from here all came back here, and had stayed somewhat rooted here — and we picked up at least one who had not been active in Austin before national service. I attribute that to a lot of anti-elitist forces being stronger here than on other campuses…

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