This column was originally published by Salon on March 3, 1997.
Tom Hayden and I were once comrades-in-arms in a movement to overthrow America’s democratic institutions, remake its government in a Marxist image and help America’s enemies defeat her sons on the field of battle. Now he is running for mayor of Los Angeles and many people are asking me, “Does this past matter?” I think it does.
Hayden and I were deadly serious about our revolutionary agendas. During the Vietnam War, Tom traveled many times to North Vietnam, Czechoslovakia and Paris to meet communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong leaders. He came back from Hanoi proclaiming he had seen “rice roots democracy at work.” According to people who were present at the time, including Sol Stern, later an aide to Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein, Hayden offered tips on conducting psychological warfare against the U.S. He arranged trips to Hanoi for Americans perceived as friendly to the Communists and blocked entry to those seen as unfriendly, like the sociologist Christopher Jencks. He attacked as “propaganda” stories of torture and labeled American POWs returning home with such stories as “liars.” Even after America withdrew its troops from Indochina, Hayden lobbied Congress to end all aid to the anti-Communist regimes in Vietnam and Cambodia. When the cutoff came, the regimes fell and the Communists conquered South Vietnam and Cambodia and slaughtered 2.5 million people. When anti-war activist Joan Baez protested the human rights violations of the North Vietnamese victors, Hayden called her a tool of the CIA.
On the domestic front, Hayden advocated urban rebellions and called for the creation of “guerrilla focos” to resist police and other law enforcement agencies. For a while he led a Berkeley commune called the “Red Family,” whose “Minister of Defense” trained commune members at firing ranges and instructed high school students in the use of explosives. He was also an outspoken supporter of the violence-prone Black Panther Party.
Why do these facts still seem important? It is not that I think a man cannot learn from his mistakes, or change his mind. Far from it. I myself have recently published a memoir recounting my own activities in the radical Left, a past that I now regret. I find this history relevant not just because Hayden is now proposing himself as the chief executive of one of America’s most important cities, but because he has never been fully candid about this past. He has not owned up to the extent of his dealings with America’s former enemies or to the true agenda of the Red Family commune, which was little more than a left-wing militia. He has remained silent about the criminal activities — which included murder — of the Black Panther Party, whose cause he promoted at the time.