In 1975, an alternative newspaper called The Berkeley Barb ran an article about a recently published book called Comrade George: An Investigation Into the Life, Political Thought and Assassination of George Jackson that had been written by an avowed communist revolutionary fresh out of prison named Eric Mann. George is the Marxist thug discussed in Part One and Part Two of this series.
The overtly leftist subject matter was typical for the Barb. This was California in 1975 and although the 1960s were long over, the patchouli smell of revolution was still in the air. Heiress Patty Hearst was on the loose and robbing banks with Symbionese Liberation Army, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhn were living life underground, and the Black Panthers were carrying out their plan to take over Oakland. The Berkeley Barb was the kind of funky, bongwater soaked rag that gave its readers radical politics in the front of every issue and ran ads for escort agencies in the back.
This was the America-hating Marxist swamp that Eric Mann had chosen to wade neck deep into. By 1975, Mann was 33 years old and he’d spent some ten years as a radical organizer working closely with left-wing black power groups including the Black Panthers and SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. As he recalled in 2014:
When I first joined the civil rights movement in 1964 as a field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality and first heard the militants from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee chant “Hell no, we won’t go” to fight in the war in Vietnam I understood that the Black and Vietnamese national liberation struggles were an ideological, strategic, and emotional common reality.
Mann became involved with Students for a Democratic Society aka the SDS. He did well, becoming the coordinator for New England. In 1968, he helped lead massive student protests at Columbia University, just two years before future Obama Attorney General Eric Holder would start school there.
The Columbia Student Revolt brought the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) instant fame across America. SDS membership at colleges spiked across the country. This “overnight success” caused by the media attention of unrest and riots would be echoed decades later by Black Lives Matter and the black student uprisings that began at the University of Missouri at Columbia.
The Students for a Democratic Society fractured in 1969 and a more radical wing led by the likes of Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers split off, complaining the SDS wasn’t radical enough. They pushed for more direct action than simply protesting.
Inspired by their communist heroes Fidel Castro, Che, and Ho Chi Minh, the SDS said a people’s revolution could succeed in the United States. Although this may sound crazy, the leftists had some reason to believe it might succeed. They’d seen the trouble that politically hamstrung U.S. troops had had fighting guerrilla fighters in Vietnam and the overthrow of the U.S. backed Cuban government by Castro’s ragtag army.
The shock troops that Students for a Democratic Society wanted to enlist were angry inner-city American blacks.
A letter published published by the group in The Black Panther in July, 1969 said they needed to “bring the war home.” It could have easily been written by today’s Black Lives Matter movement. It discusses “waging attack on white supremacy” to support “black and brown people.” The group letter was signed by leaders Ayers, Dohrn, Mark Rudd, Jeff Jones and Mike Klonsky said in part:
We made it very clear to everyone that SDS both in theory and practice has allied itself with the struggles of oppressed peoples throughout the world. On campuses throughout the country, an anti-imperialist movement has been built in support of the struggles for self-determination being carried on by the Vietnamese led by the National Liberation Front as well as the struggles of the colonially oppressed black people of America. Our program saw the need to win the masses of Americans to the anti-imperialist movement if a revolution was to be built within the mother country of America.
That splinter group became known as the Weather Underground or simply the Weathermen, the hardcore Maoist communist faction of the SDS with the goal of overthrowing of the U.S. government and dedicated to “making love, smoking dope and loading guns.”
Just days before the Weatherman would launch their Days of Rage rampage in Chicago in October, 1969, Eric Mann and a group of his fellow Weatherman launched their own direct action at Harvard University. As the Harvard Crimson reported at the time in an article titled Band Invades, Violently Disrupts Center for International Affairs:
A band of some 20 to 30 persons invaded the Center for International Affairs shortly after noon yesterday, roughing up several staff members and employees before running away from the building less than 15 minutes later.
The invaders, who shouted that they were “going to close the place down,” forced virtually all of the 30-odd students, faculty, and employees in the building to leave. When some of those present attempted to argue, they were struck, pushed to the floor, or kicked. Benjamin H. Brown, adviser to the fellows in the Center, was the most seriously injured, requiring several stitches to close a gash over his ear.
Eric Mann and his comrades also broke windows and spray-painted “Pig” and ”Fuck U.S. Imperialism” and “Imperialists Screw All Women” on the walls before they assaulted a female employee. As the Crimson reported:
As the invading group entered one of them shouted “We are from SDS and we are liberating this building. Everybody out.” Several went to the office of Professor Robert R. Bowie. director of the Center, who was not present. They ordered Miss Sally Cox, his secretary, to leave and when she refused they seized her by both arms.
On October 1st, 1969 the Crimson reported on Eric Mann’s involvement:
The Cambridge police yesterday issued warrants for the arrest of three people involved in last Thursday’s disruption of the Center for International Affairs.
Eric Mann, not a Harvard student, was charged with five counts of assault and battery, disturbing the peace, breaking glass, defacing a building, and disturbing a public assembly.
After an eighteen month stint in prison for a violent direct action he’d committed as part of the Weatherman splinter group of the Students for a Democratic Society, Mann had gotten out and penned Comrade George about one of his heroes, George Jackson, the communist thug and Black Panther leader who been killed as he tried to escape from San Quentin in 1971.
In 1975, Eric Mann viewed the United States the same way he and Black Lives Matter do today; as a racist, imperialist oppressor nation desperately in need of radical transformation. In that Berkeley Barb article, he laid out his plans for bringing down America.
Eric Mann envisioned a socialist revolution that began in the inner city, where angry and downtrodden black citizens would rise up, rebel and begin an armed struggle to defeat the white oppressor.
Mann told the Barb that he “created the book to be a tool. A lever to swing the minds of White people and prisoners to a position of being a positive force in the struggle.”
There was one major snag Eric Mann’s plan to bring down the United States: he was white.
By his own revolutionary beliefs, that meant that Mann’s ability lead the movement was limited but Mann never lost his fervor for radical overthrown. For decades, Mann continued to work as an organizer in Los Angeles.
It would take almost forty years for Mann to see his vision spring to life and catch fire.
That’s when he would meet an angry black lesbian teenager named Patrisse Cullors who goes on to co-found the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Part Four we’ll talk about Cullors and Mann.