David Gilbert, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond

By Hannant, Larry | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

David Gilbert, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond


Hannant, Larry, Labour/Le Travail


David Gilbert, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS; the Weather Underground, and Beyond (Oakland: PM Press 2012)

LOVE AND STRUGGLE is an engaging, honest, and highly political memoir written by one of the most dedicated figures in the Weather Underground Organization (WUO), the radical left US group that sprang from the student movement and engaged in an armed campaign against the US government from 1969 to the early 1980s.

Gilbert was involved in many aspects of the movement from 1965 to 1981. Influenced by his liberal Jewish family and by the rising civil rights movement among African Americans, he helped to found an organization at Columbia University in New York to oppose the US assault on Vietnam, one of the key causes of student and youth radicalization at the time. He followed that by joining and becoming a core member of Students for a Democratic Society, out of which emerged in 1969 the radical Weatherman faction (later renamed WUO), dedicated to armed struggle against the US state. After more than a decade of alternate underground and aboveground political organizing across the US, he was arrested for his participation in a bloody Brinks armoured car robbery attempt in 1981 that is regarded as the disaster that dealt the death blow to the organization. Since 1981 he has been in prison, not eligible for parole until 2056.

Love and Struggle is a fascinating and frank memoir that pays considerable attention to the problems of how to organize underground in a society with a powerful repressive police apparatus and little social support for or history of underground, armed resistance to the state. As Gilbert points out, not since the abolitionist campaign of the 1850s had a sustained underground movement existed in the US. Although WUO would ultimately collapse--done in, writes Gilbert, not by repression but by internal problems of "white and male supremacy" (219)--the fact that elements of it survived for a decade is a tribute to the organizers' dedication, intelligence, persistence, and logistic abilities.

Along with the organizational insights, Love and Struggle provides a lively evocation of the sometimes bizarre politics of that dynamic era. For instance, following a huge demonstration against the war in Washington DC in November 1969, which saw woo cadres numbering in their thousands fight street battles with police, about 50 of the activists celebrated "with a preannounced 'orgy' at a movement center with a lot of floor space." (141) With some candour, Gilbert reports while he was "shamelessly promiscuous, I still, deep down, felt sex to be extremely intimate" (141), and he declined to partake. Indeed, gender issues figure prominently throughout the narrative, with Gilbert frequently admitting to male-pattern behaviour that had him at one point basking in being "anti-sexist Male of the Year" then, at another, labelled "Sexist Dog of the Century." (252) Aside from the sometimes fascinating social and cultural dimensions of life in the 1960s and 1970s, Gilbert devotes considerable attention to the political thinking of the day, which he still appears to share. One can understand the reasoning of that moment when, as he notes, young people were seized with hope to fundamentally change the US. How he continues to hold such views is, perhaps, harder to fathom.

Gilbert's political perspective was greatly shaped by the existence in the US of a substantial minority of African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and Latinos. In the 1950s and early 1960s, African Americans in particular had risen en masse against the brutal discrimination under which they lived. After victories in the civil rights campaign, a more revolutionary movement erupted among African Americans, taking form in the Black Panthers and other armed Black groups. …

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