Book Review: David Gilbert’s, “Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond”.

I must admit that it is difficult for me to write an honest review about Com. David Gilbert’s “Love and Struggle” (you can purchase your personal copy here), especially because of the enormous respect that I have for him and the sacrifices that he has made for the revolutionary cause, and a fear that any criticism of his work will be regarded as unfair, un-comradely and disrespectful. However, simultaneously I believe that such a review is absolutely necessary because Com. David’s life and politics have often intersected at key points in my own development as an activist, although completely unbeknownst to him. The first time was when I became involved around the anti-war movement against the second Iraq war, and some of us watched and hotly debated Sam Green’s documentary about the Weather Underground Organization (WUO), and saw me reading a lot of the existing literature at the time; the second time was during a difficult three-month strike that I was deeply involved in at my home institution during which I devoured Dan Berger’s authoritative book, Outlaws of America (which interestingly was the result of a long relationship with Com. David himself); and the third was when I returned from Nepal and became increasingly interested in the question of the universality of protracted people’s war, and the parallel between the WUO and the Jhapa Uprising. I will not discuss these points of intersection further because I think that they distract from the task at hand, but needless to say, Com. David’s politics and life experiences have been something that I have consistently wrestled with throughout my own political development, and thus I do not take this book review lightly.

Thus in frank honesty, I must admit that I did not care for the first third of the book. The first hundred and twenty pages suffer from two major problems: 1) Com. David very little new information about the development of the revolutionary movement on the campuses across the USA, except for the fact that Com. David was not as central to the SDS leadership and Weather Underground leadership as I had previously thought (although I was interested to learn about his initial theoretical work in New Left Notes which resulted in an early fall from revolutionary grace); and 2) I found it to be too pedantic, and structured through a series of lesson-plans. Indeed, often the first-third of the book, due to the little new information – especially for a reader familiar with much of the existing literature on the topic, including Dan Berger’s aforementioned excellent book – often came across as a kind of an Anti-Oppression 101 class with Com. David’s life serving as scenarios which ought to be discussed to develop a form of best practices that should orient our organizing. Indeed, this structure is replete with every sub-chapter heading being followed with a small-italicized synopsis that read like an Anti-Oppression 101 scenario, which we are supposed to collectively figure out, but without having Com. David present to debate with, which is less than ideal for any kind of revolutionary pedagogy. Furthermore, we are forced to replace such debate with Com. David’s own resolution. I am not trying to suggest that there is anything particularly wrong with anti-oppression training, although I do think that often this has replaced a critical revolutionary framework, however, the result was that the narrative became disrupted and choppy. This disrupted narrative with little new information made evident the lesson-plan structure to the reader, which in turn blunted the effectiveness of the structure itself. This unfortunately resulted in Com. David coming across as too eager to provide solutions through which to demonstrate his continued belief in a form of revolutionary humanism. I must admit that I found this to be quite annoying, partially because of my own theoretical suspiciousness about revolutionary humanism (a debate for a different place), but also became I did not want to have Com. David to serve as a revolutionary ideal type, but rather, as an interlocutor in the revolutionary struggle. However, luckily both of these problems recede to the background as the narrative becomes stronger and very interesting information is provided to the reader about Com. David’s time underground, in Denver and during the Brinks trial in the latter 2/3rds of the book.

I know the exact moment at which I became excited about the content of the book and it is on page 124 when Com. David discusses criticism/self-criticism. It was fascinating to read about the WUO’s attempts to implement criticism/self-criticism in their practice as professional revolutionaries, and Com. David’s own self-criticism about how said practice was carried out (indeed, Com. David mentions that only a few times did he feel that the self-criticism sessions were actually aiding his development as a revolutionary). Indeed, an endearing aspect of this book is how humble and self-critical Comrade David is, although as I mentioned earlier, these aspects can also be quite irritating within the best practices format. This moment is important, as it is the point in which Com. David, unlike in first part of the book, does not demonstrate that there is in fact some easy best practice that young activists can follow. Rather, it actually shows the ambiguities and difficulties that come with putting any of these political methods in practice. And reminds us about the need for us to be consistently being critical about, and bettering, organzinational practices and individual work. Furthermore, the pedantic lesson-oriented teaching plan, whilst remaining partly in place, takes more and more a backseat to the narrative and allows the reader space in which to develop his/her own critical opinions about a given matter, which is what I consider to be an absolute necessity for any revolutionary.

Additionally, it was truly eye opening to read the rudimentary methods that the WUO developed to deal with security issues, especially in the context of being underground. Com. David, himself admits that these the methods are largely outdated in our contemporary context, but demonstrate the creativity and vigilance of the WUO during their underground years, and reaffirm the possibility of actually going underground and fighting in the heart of the beast. It was also interesting to learn a little about the debates within the WUO and how, once again, Com. David was not, besides a very brief time, a central figure in the WUO. However, I would have liked to learn more about the debates inside the organization, especially about their practice and conception of their conjuncture, but was interested to learn about the summer schools that they organized to improve the ideological quality of their cadre. It was interesting to learn about the debate in the organization around its relationship to the white working class, and its liquidation of the original line of the organization regarding the relationship to nationality struggles, and the role that Com. David played in it. It was impressive to learn that Prairie Fire (of which I own a copy) had originally been produced without any fingerprints on it. But, I do wish that there had been more information about the infamous Hard Times conference, which seems to remain a truly traumatic and pivotal event in the development of the WUO, and resulted in the building of the May 19th Communist Organization which became important in the context of the Brinks Robbery.

            Com. David’s life aboveground in Denver, after the dissolution of the WUO, and his involvement with Men Against Sexism and the subsequently painful experience of dealing with multiple movements that came into loggerheads with one another, was very informative and again reflective of the complexities that arise in the course of the struggle. At this point in the narrative the lesson-plan structure seems to have completely evaporated which results in the reader being left to grapple with the contradictions within the revolutionary movement, alongside Com. David. I am not sure whether this was something that Com. David intentionally wanted to do or was a byproduct of the difficulties in providing any best practices in such complicated and textured inter-group/political relationships. I found it be particularly informative to learn about this period of his life, and was surprised to learn that Comrade David too had gone aboveground with the collapse of the WUO.

In perhaps one of the shortest sections of the book, and one about which I was very eager to learn more about, Com. David discusses his second and last time underground, especially his involvement in what has come to be known as the Revolutionary Armed Task Force and the notorious Brinks robbery and trial. It was intriguing to learn more details about the actors and politics involved in the Brinks Robbery, and facts like the Black Liberation Army not having a central command thus allowing autonomous collectives in the BLA to organize actions on their own accord (something that Com. David himself only came to learn about during the Brinks Trial). However, I must admit that I hungered for more information about Com. David’s relationship with the BLA and members of the May 19th Communist Organization in this second period, but recognize that these and a number of other aspects of his second period underground is something that Com. David likely decided to omit for good reasons.

Finally, it is noteworthy that Com. David spends a good section of the last part of the book discussing his family life with his imprisoned partner and newborn son, because I too have a loving revolutionary partner and also would like to have children someday. Indeed, this aspect was particularly important as it demonstrated a ‘softness’ to which male revolutionaries are not allowed to admit to. This obviously speaks to the macho attitude in many revolutionary groups and organization about the role of the family in the struggle, especially the armed struggle. Indeed, unfortunately often the two are put into juxtaposition to one another and rendered incompatible, thus requiring the revolutionary to ‘sacrifice’ the former in favor of the latter. Indeed, I can think of several autobiographies and interviews well well-known revolutionaries in which the revolutionary figure fails to even mention that he has a partner and children! And if and when they are mentioned, it is only in passing, and always in the context of sacrificing a relationship with them in the name of the revolutionary struggles. Thus, it was particularly inspiring to read about how Com. David was able to forge a relationship with his partner and son during his time in prison, despite all of the obstacles, and how this relationship was something that was negotiated with a revolutionary politics playing a central role. The only thing that one can say that is neglected in this last section of the book is the role that Com. David has played in the prison movement, both in his correspondence with activists outside, and with prisoners and political prisoners inside the prison system.

            In closing, this is not a book to be simply read, enjoyed and tucked away on some bookshelf, forgotten, although it is an enjoyable read. It is a book that simply begs to be put into practice. What aspects a given reader wants to be put into practice is something that Com. David leaves the reader to decide, but he provides us with a wealth of life experience which we should all seriously consider. He gives us both the good and the bad. Comrade David is humble about his accomplishments and readily admits to his faults, he is an honest storyteller, and eager with his lessons for a new generation of activists.


12 thoughts on “Book Review: David Gilbert’s, “Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond”.

  1. Robert, I do not mind you posting on this blog but keep it under control and do not troll, otherwise I will have to start to actually moderate you and I would rather not have to do that.

  2. Robert, let me please inform you then what trolling is because I think, as the moderator of this blog, that you have engaged in it, probably unwittingly (and an example about it is the weed thing you posted by Avakian). Wikipedia correctly defines it as, “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[3] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion”. Your trolling tends to be of the extraneous and off-topic variety, but it may just be that for you nothing is off-topic or extraneous to the conversation we are having, and thus are in need of moderation. Lenin did not accuse his critics of trolling because he did not have to deal with dozen of one-line messages on completely unrelated topics to a given debate he was having. But you are welcome to no longer post on this blog, as your RCP comrades suggest, however, I would suggest that you simply stick to the topic that is being debated in a given post as I do welcome your contributions. Also, I would note that the majority of the comments on the last post were by you, thus I am sure I could provoke you to do the same here. However, that is not what I am in interested in, but rather, in interesting debate and reflection.

    Regarding how I conceive of the WUO and David Gilbert’s line, I would like to make it clear that if this had been the late 1960’s and the USA I would not have joined the WUO, which I think had an erroneous line, but rather sought membership in the RU which I think was correct on a number of key issues that related to the revolutionary movement including the ideological line of the organization. Now whether I consider the WUO line petit-bourgeois or revolutionary, I think its a bit of a column a and column b. I think that the overall line was demonstrative of a petit-bourgeois impatience and adventurism, but is akin to what the Jhapa Uprising was for the CPN(Maoist). Indeed, I think that the WUO, BLA etc demonstrated the capacity to be a clandestine fighting force in the heart of the imperialist beast, and the fact that the imperialist state was not an omniscient and omnipresent force. Indeed, I think that revolutionaries need to learn from the WUO, the BLA and other such forces on how to develop the line of urban ppw (largely as a negative example, but the WUO did positively demonstrate the capacity to engage in such activist. Thus, there are revolutionary lessons to be learned from the petit-bourgeois experience of the WUO.

  3. Dear Robert,
    I think that the RU and even the early years of the RCP,USA seem to be strikingly different from RCP,USA today, at least from afar. However, you are in a better position to judge whether this is true because of your experience with the organization and its cadres, but from several former members I know it seems like the organization today is qualitatively different from the one that existed most of its life. Indeed, according to the documents that are available from the RCP,USA regarding the unknown event at which Avakian launched the Cultural Revolution, the RCP,USA admits that it is going in a very different direction than it has in the last 20 or so years. Now you are very right that since I was not there it is like someone saying that they would have joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, and it is indeed possible that I would have sought membership in a different Maoist organization, but I think that there are numerous points on which I firmly agree with the RU and the RCP,USA. You of course have every right to remain skeptical of any such claims as they are sheer speculations.

    It is definitely true that Avakian and the RCP,USA have attacked the very conception of urban PPW, and I think that they are wrong about this matter, and have not done sufficient study, in my opinion, of the question. Regarding the WUO and the old CPN(Maoist):
    1) I did not equate the two organisations. Rather, I likened the WUO experience to the Jhapa uprising, and would like to suggest that a contemporary American version of the CPN(Maoist) document in 1996 would similarly recognise some of the positive aspects of not only the WUO, but the entire armed movement including the BLA, the George Jackson Brigade etc, whilst condemning them equally for major ideological, strategic and tactical mistakes.
    2) I do not believe that the WUO carried out a PW, but neither did those who led the Jhapa Uprising. The point of the analogy is that the Jhapa Uprising, which was a premature attempt to launch armed struggle, was seen by the pre-revisionist CPN(Maoist) as a significant, but failed, attempt to build an armed revolutionary movement (this position was one of the ideological reasons for the split in the CPN(UC).
    3) Thank you for posting the video, I have seen it before (I own and have watched all of the DVDs).


  4. Thanks for the RCP,USA letter. And I think its even funnier that there is a Bob day.

  5. it is not suitable to call the Weather Underground, a petit bourgeios or an Anarchist group. this calling is merely coming from a lack of dialectical understanding of emergence of Maoism in USA. SDS is the precursor of other revolutionary forces whom called themselves Maoist in US.A precursor naturally “has” limitations and mistakes, but, despite all, it is only setarianist stand if some one calls SDS or the Weather Undergroud an Anarchist grouping.
    we agree with comrade of “theworkersdreadnought” in his profound analysis of the book and his sheddng light on the Weather Underground

  6. besides, comrade “Robert” only bears his Avakianist stands and has a tendency of defending Avakian. in our point of view, RU, or the RCP today, has never had a Maoist foundation. let not expose the history and the historical organizations based upon today’s fake tailing of Avakian and Avakianism. if some defends Avakianism, and still claims to be a Maoist, or argues Maoism, this is a fake and a pure nonesense.

    1. on the contrary. your organization should take up the NEW SYNTHESIS, and learn form the immense and valuable contributions of BOB AVAKIAN. The Iranian Maoists get Avakian, why dont you guys?

      let us be clear. Marxism-Leninsm-Maoism-New Synthesis
      The New Synthesis is a qualitatively higher stage of Marxist dialectical and historical materialism, We can call the New Synthesis Avakianism, but BOB AVAKIAN is so humble that he preferred the term NEW SYNTHESIS. This is an immense contribution to revolution, which you and your organization should take up.

    2. my argument is that both Gonzalo thought and Prachanda Path have perished. there is only the NEW SYNTHESIS which has properly learned the lessons of those failures. It is in this way that BOB AVAKIAN is a bit like the American Lenin.

  7. a reply to this proposal by us on BA should at least be discussed. BA is the dividing line.

  8. Mr.Robert
    I can not say thanks for your last comments, becasue, as a Maoist, I can not bear opportunist attacks from your side to Maoism! Our organization Only Believes is Maoism, and as Maoists we do not accept right deviations like Avakianism as a “revolutionary contribtion” to Maoism. Neither Avakianism can claim for a universal contribution to Maoism. It is only a right opportunist line that ends to giving up to bourgeios politics. Communist Party of Iran(Maoist) gave up to bourgeioisie when it adopted avakianism in its stand. You may find a valuable critics of this party’s opportunism in Communist (Maoist)Party of Afghanistan’s critics. the last party has had a great critic of Iranian opportunist line.
    Beside, the WD has criticized the rotten “New Synthesis” in five parts. You should study them profoundly, and then you may find out that: Avakian is a revisionist who is out of ground. He is not even a “sinful” communist. He is purely a revisionist, as Prachanda is a revisionist and prachandism is also a revisionist line. But, How about Gonzalo Thought? It is the creative application of Maoism in Peru’s concrete condition, and this “thought” has never argued to be a development of Maoism universally. But, Prachandism and Avakianism, have argued to be the new “waves” and new contributions to communism! even Avakianism claims not to be a mere continuation but a qualitative leap of communist ideaology, as a new communist formulation. this claim is ridiculous. Avakianism is purely a revisionist formulation, and neither Avakian can be compared with Lenin. You are insulting Lenin when you compare the renegade Bob Avakian with Lenin!So, please not continue the null-and-void, and never imagine to invite a Maoist organization like our to Avakianism.
    Avakian, and the RCP, has not any great achievement either theortetically or practically. Please tell me even one great achievement he or the RCP any time had?
    Has RCP or Avakian led any revolutionary Wave? Lenin had been involved in three revolutions and had led the Great October successfully, but Avakian, even has never been a Maoist! He pretended to be a Marxist-Leninist at the beginning of RIM formation. chairman Gonzalo, defending Mao’s Thought, rejected his centrism! then, Avakian, pretended to be a M-L Mao’s thought. When chairman Gonzalo announced Maoism, as a higher and third great tide of proletarian ideology, still BoB was an incomplete M-L Mao thought! th

  9. continuation of Last comment by us:
    Bob instrumentally accepted Maoism, and as history showed and fact proved, Bob’s and RCP’s adoption of Maoism was not an actual case. It was a white lie! they never accepted the universallity of People’s war. they did not understand what the Building of Conquest of Power is! Bob simply had “Accepted” Maoism to “go” beyond it, and to formulate his own rubbish “contibutions”!
    we are not sectarian! At a time, there would have been some revolutionaries within RCP ranks-and-file whom might have fought for Maoism, and it was mainly due to great successes of People’s war in Peru, but, finally the leadership of RCP totally gave up by adopting “New Synthesis”!
    Our organization upholds, defends and applies Maoism, and fights all revisionist trends including Avakianism! So, Mr.Robert, we think, websites like WD’s page is not the place where you would have to post! You would rather post and comment in Communist party of Iran(Maoist)’s page and the same as her.

    Long Life Marxism-Leninism-Maoism
    Down with Revisionism!
    chairman Mao, Yes!
    No to Renegade Avakian!

  10. however we are not willing to reply for a dogma- follower of revisionism anymore, but we feel obligation to enlighten the elements like you:
    You claim that Avakianism or the “New Synthesis” is a new or fourth qualitative leap! you call Avakian or the New Synthesis as a continuation and development of Maoism. If this was the case, at most you would have the right to claim, how ever profoundly mistaken. But, this is not the case becasue, Avakian himself in his socalled Synthesis claims that he would rather prefer to argue for a break with Maoism than to continuation of Mao’s contributions. He calls for a New Commnism, broken from the past. He has left all the past achievements and argues that: A New wave, not based in Maoism or the past, but, A new start is in order. So, Avakian himself does not argue to continue Mao or Maoism. rather, he announces his break from all communist theoretical heritage, and clamism to be the champion of a new era. He calls for a break and not a qualitative leap of the ideology of the proletariat. He wanst to rebase communism. So, first, you must study the New Synthesis carefully and exactly. first have a profound study of that, then start to fight in favor of it. other wise, you are no more than a blind supporter of some thing. you have stood against Avakian while claiming that: New Synthesis is in continuation of Maoism.Avakain claims that: It is a break from Maoism and from all communist heritage! So, You still have the chance to break with new revisionism of a “qualitative Break” if you are really in favor of occurance of a “qualitative leap”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s