This review of Revolution in the Air followed by the author’s recommendations for further reading about the 1960s-1980s revolutionary movements was posted on Facebook and the Marxist Glossary Discussion Group in September-October 2018.
Revolution in the Air, and Additional Book Recommendations
By Anthony Choice-Diaz
Spent a nice lunch with Max Elbaum, today, saw the new edition of his book “Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che” (2018). I can’t recommend it enough, it’s a broad seminal work on its subject. A top five fixture of my “recommended” political reading list, and has been since its first publication over a decade ago. This is most especially the case if you are a bay area local, as a lot of its history revolves around people and events that happened right here. As far as books go, it does two very delicate things at the same time, it critically reassesses the New Left of the period, with specificity to detail that at times, speaks of and to precise organizations, even meetings. Treating them with great respect for the idealism, and youthful intentions upon which they were grounded, its author lithely navigating the sectarian divide of then and now like the best of helmsmen. While at the same time painting a vivid picture from the pallet of political imagination and cultural vibrancy of a time both Tom Hayden and Christopher B. Strain have come to refer to as “The Long Sixties”.
The book itself, is must have reading, for today, particularly if you consider yourself part of this generational resurgence toward Socialist ideals, no matter its form. Some might argue it’s a manual for the New New Left, I’d say it’s much more a love letter to the past, full of sincere questions and an ominous warning of the future, addressed to and for those in the struggles yet to come. In that regard, Revolution in the Air stand apart, as its as much contemporary as it is historic. It isn’t about then as much as it is about now, and how we got here. It answers the question of, “What ever happened to that new Radicalism, of old?” A question likely asked by the Old Left, that fought political bosses, union busting cops, and industry mogul’s from the factory floors into the streets for over a hundred years. It’s the second chapter of that history, in a place only now entering into its third wave, at a time when a genuine class consciousness is beginning to form in the masses and the divide between the haves and the have nots couldn’t be greater.
If you care, my “Top Five” regarding an introduction to the semi contemporary Radical History of the U.S. consists of the following:
- “We Will Return In The Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations 1960-1975” by Muhammad Ahmad (aka. Max Stanford, Jr.)
- “Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee” by Robert Allen Warrior & Paul Chaat Smith
- “Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement” by Carlos Munoz, Jr.
- “Legacy to Liberation: Politics and Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America” Ed. by Fred Ho
- “Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che” by Max Elbaum.
These I recommend as a summary history of the political life, work, and accomplishments of that era. To be sure there are other texts, that are more up to date, more specific to particular people or organizations, nuance, or even the how to of tactics and strategy, or the inclusive political sensitivities of the now. But I curated this list after extensive reading in all of these subjects, a practice that is ongoing mind you. If something newer and better were to come out to displace what I have here it would be recommended. I left out Anti-War, Puerto Rican, Feminist and Queer texts on similar subject matter, and other Movement Specific texts only because they appear on the more extended Top 10 List, are too specific, or because they are absent certain of the following criteria.
The above texts have two overriding commonalities:
1) Readability – None of these read like some academic text or political manifesto full of impenetrable jargon. They are easier to read than even what I am writing here.
2) Comprehensiveness – Each text has a broad scope relative to its topical area, so they provide a broad not overly narrow snapshot.
So in the end my aim was always Political Literacy. I am more than open to educate and even debate about these texts, but again each of these texts were chosen for a reason. If one, “really” wants to know beyond the above and more in depth, I have many recommendations. Texts on the Chicano Movement alone, worthy of reading in order to really have a comprehensive understanding of the subject, number in the half dozen or so, each as seminal text as the last. . While other book topics suffer from the limits of having been written by outsiders, or those generations removed from the subject matter.
Some Notes on the Top 5
(Minus Revolution in the Air, which is discussed above)
Most of these books have gone on to revised and reprinted editions which I highly recommend. And again this is a “historical” look at these topics, there is now a growth of books and documentaries about what is going on now, that I cannot endorse and recommend enough. If you’re caught up in the Alcatraz Occupation, but aren’t aware of Idle No More, or the Pipe Line protests in Indian Country, you’re behind the times, just as much as if you’re focused on the Black Panther Party, but are totally unaware of Black Lives Matter. But, the inverse also holds true, this generation, the now generation, needs to know its own history, for a wide variety of reasons, that will I promise you become self evident once you begin engaging in the learning.
- We Will Return in the Whirlwind (2007) – This text is not about the Civil Rights Movement you learned in school, or even the Black Power Movement you heard about, yet its also completely about them. It as far as texts goes, if you think yourself literate on Black Struggle in the ’60s, will very, very quickly change your mind about that. I came to this book by way of Yuri Kochiyama, the author sent his copy to her, and she gave it to me after having read it, as part of assigned homework (so to speak). She asked for my impression, and the fact is, I was wow’d. I thought I knew stuff, and I’d put myself up there in terms of those serious about the subject, this book proved that even when you think you know, you don’t. So that is this book, it touches all the bases but it comes from a source and such an angle that it cuts through the b.s. and radically alters everything you’ve heard or knew on the topic.
- Like A Hurricane (1997) – There have been some recent texts to come out on the subject, that are worthy competition and contributions to the subject, but they weren’t written by those whose arc of experience had one or both of them involved in a lot of the events, directly or indirectly. And this isn’t a book strictly about the most visible, bombastic or radical elements of the movement. It’s about the broadness and creativity of Indigenous Struggle in the 20th Century. Those of us in the know, know what we know, about who, what, where, when, nobody tells stories like we do. But this book isn’t about that, this book takes a step back from toxicity, gossip, and celebrity to focus on what we did, how we did, and lets us be proud of that. And thankfully, its not yet another self aggrandizing memoir, but a tale of collective struggle.
- Youth, Identity, Power (1989) – Right out of the gate, this book has its problems, not the least of which is the biased and classed analysis. But it also offers primary source documents, and ranges and expounds upon different sectors in the Chicano Movement, all in one place. Devoting entire chapters, sometimes two, to that specific subject and giving you a broad view. No other text really does this, its a hard feat to accomplish, something always gets lost as a result. Here though, this text for the longest time was the only one that had any emphasis on the “youth” and Chicano student organizing, it is only very recently that a flourishing in scholarship has taken place in that arena, so the book stood alone. Having said that, if you’re serious, just reading this book is no substitute for reading the works of the likes of Betita Martinez, Ernesto Vigil, Rudy Acuña, Juan Gomez- Quinones, Alfredo Mirande y Evangelina Enriquez to name but a few. The corpus of Chicano History, and the movement is far, far, far larger, and older than any one person could produce in a life time. But thankfully, we have had generations of our own engaged in recovery and telling our story for decades, with new ones emerging every day. The tale of Chicano Struggle, is but a doorway into the broader struggle of indigenous people continent-wide, since the first European’s stepped off the boat. It’s not simply a “Mexican” story, its a intercontinental tale going back 500 plus years, we are but its present edge, not its end.
- Legacy to Liberation (2000) – This text is unique amongst those on this list, in that its primarily an aggregated collection of first person writings, interviews, articles and primary source documents. It isn’t structured like a typical academic book running chapter by chapter, yet, within it, when read in total, is the complete picture of its subject, a tour of it if you will. Every page is some new granual of information you never knew, or that will surprise you. And because its components are what they are, its like being in conversation with its subject, it lacks that clinical element a lot of books have, that make them passionless and boring. Instead this book, jumps with the emotion of its contributors, many of whom have passed on, or we now know much more about. Like the Chicano Movement material, in the last decade especially there has been a significant increase in publications on Asian American Radicalism, each better than the last. But that wave in a lot of ways began with this books publication, and also to a text by William Wei, entitled simply “The Asian American Movement” (1993).