A Strategy to Win
Cleveland: circa 1 September 1969
by Bill Ayers

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

speech presented at Midwest National Action Conference
of Students for a Democratic Society
Cleveland, 29 August 1969 - 1 September 1969

excerpted in New Left Notes, 12 September 1969

collected in —
Weatherman, edited by Harold Jacobs  (1970)

November 2012

In the class struggle, defeatism is individualist

William Ayers was Education Secretary of the radical Students for a Democratic Society, and one of the founders of the Weatherman faction which grew out of it. The Weathermen promoted Communism in America through agitation and bombings. This group, and Ayers personally, have cast long shadows across the American cultural and political landscape. 1969 was a year of impassioned rhetoric and sometimes-violent protest gatherings, and Ayers spoke in Cleveland, Ohio, about Weatherman revolutionary goals, on the topic "A Strategy to Win".

A fair amount of Ayers' speech concerns factions within the radical movement, with accusations and justifications, and means and ends. Some of this factionalism resembles the Bolshevik-Menshevik sort of byplay, shaping radical events to come but whose twists and turns may be difficult for outsiders to follow. This passage, though, sets out the high view of the struggle:

One of the things I did [last week in New Brunswick] was that I talked a lot about the criticisms that have been made of the national action. I talked particularly about the charge that we are adventurist which people hear a lot, that somehow the national office, and Weatherman in particular and the Weather Bureau in specific, are a bunch of adventurist fools who are out to get us all killed. I talked about that, and one of the things that I said is that adventurism is when you don't believe that you can organize the people, and lose confidence in the people, and therefore totally cut yourself off from everything, and you develop a strategy for losing, which of course is not what we're involved in at all. I also talked about the fact that if it is a worldwide struggle, if Weatherman is correct in that basic thing, that the basic struggle in the world today is the struggle of the oppressed peoples against US imperialism, then it is the case that nothing we could do in the mother country could be adventurist. Nothing we could do because there is a war going on already, and the terms of that war are set. We couldn't be adventurist while there is genocide going on in Vietnam and in the black community.

Defeatism is individualist. Take the long view, Ayers urges:

We have to deal with the fact that in a lot of ways all of us have elements of defeatism in us, and don't believe really that we can win, don't really believe that the United States can be beaten. But we have to believe it, because defeatism is based on individualism —it is really based on the thought that I can't beat US imperialism, I'm going to die, I'm going to get wiped out. But the Vietnamese people have won, and that fact makes it a lie to say that we can't win or that we won't win. We have won, we won in Vietnam, that was a victory for us and for all people, and we will continue to win, continue to defeat US imperialism. We have to stamp out that individualist notion that if I don't make it through the next year, or that if I don't make it to construct socialism within 20 years, that that is a defeat. That's a defeatist and individualist attitude, and we have to beat that attitude, and we have to beat that attitude out of ourselves.

Ayers spends some time talking about radicalizing women's consciousness; and also about how effectively to reach American youth — which latter presages his eventual career as a Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago:

... male chauvinism and male supremacy, and the development of women's leadership, the development of women as communists. ...

A strategy that talks about power is a strategy that ... goes to the youth in the cities and begins to build among them.

In the final passage I select, Ayers makes clear that his strategic expectations for winning go beyond rhetoric, agitation, and politics:

Since our militance is going to obviously lead to a military confrontation, maybe not this year, then the fact that most of us in here don't even know karate makes us fools, and whoever doesn't own a gun and doesn't know how to use a gun is a fool. So we should state publicly that we believe in, we support, and we are preparing for armed self-defense, because that's what we have to do in order to win.

Unlike many radicals, Communist and otherwise, who over time refined their values and changed their opinions, Bill Ayers stayed true to his values and goals, but shifted his strategic focus largely upstream into cultural and political education.


© 2012 Robert Wilfred Franson

"A Strategy to Win" is available online in a pdf of
edited by Harold Jacobs  (1970)

Biographical entry for Bill Ayers
at Discover the Networks

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