“THE LOST TAPES” is an excellent documentary series, re-telling pivotal events through the original media footage recorded as they happened. One of the most fascinating programmes in the series examines the 1974 abduction and “radicalisation” of the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. Of particular interest is the ideologically charged language of Hearst’s captors, the revolutionary urban guerrillas of the “Symbionese Liberation Army” (SLA).
Given the era, it is hardly surprising to hear the Police and other authority figures referred to as “pigs”. More compelling, by far, are the messages recorded by the brainwashed 19-year-old for her wealthy parents. These were littered with references to “white privilege” and the urgent necessity of breaking free from the all-pervading racism of “Amerika”.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Age of Thatcher and Reagan, the unhinged radicalism of groups like the SLA was derided by conservatives as the last futile flarings of the Youth Revolt of the 1960s. They were supremely confident that America, and the world, had swung away decisively from the ideas of such revolutionary and “counter-cultural” figures as the “Frankfurt School” Marxist, Herbert Marcuse; the revolutionary educational theorist, Paulo Freire; and the celebrated author of Rules For Radicals, Saul Alinsky. Events suggested they were right. By 1991, “actually existing socialism”, at least in its Eastern-European and Russian iterations, had blipped-off the screen entirely, and Francis Fukuyama was announcing (prematurely) “The End of History”.
But, the conservatives were wrong. The ideas and slogans of the Left, which had jostled with each other for global headlines in the 60s and 70s, only appeared to have vanished. Within the Left itself they remained very much alive. Indeed, just about all of the jarring ideas “mainstream” audiences are currently struggling to come to terms with around the world, and the bitter debates they have spawned, were played-out across the Left more than 30 years ago. For leftists of a certain age, it is very much a case of “been there, done that, burned the T-Shirt”.
It’s an interesting factoid that “Political Correctness” – the term so over-used by conservatives everywhere – was coined originally by nonplussed left-wingers who detected in the ideological stridency of their comrades behaviour all-too-reminiscent of Chairman Mao’s Red Guards.
Which meant that while the attention of the ordinary person in the street was focused elsewhere, most particularly on the wonders of modern technology and the celebrity culture it nurtured, the left-wing students of the 1970s were becoming the teachers, journalists, trade unionists and public servants of the 80s, 90s, Noughties and beyond. Certainly, it was rare to hear them talk any longer about “offing the pigs”. But, in deploying such phrases as “ending white privilege” and “fighting white supremacy” they were saying much the same thing.
The Left’s “long march through the institutions” has carried it, and the revolutionary anti-capitalist/anti-racist ideas drummed into “Tania” (Hearst’s nom-de-guerre) by her SLA “comrades”, to positions of real power and influence.
If you doubt the reality and efficacy of its revolutionary power and influence, try reading American journalist Christopher F. Rufo’s chilling article “The Child Soldiers of Portland”, published in the Spring 2021 edition of City Journal. Now, Rufo is a well-known conservative writer, but even allowing for his right-wing views, the picture he paints of a city and state education system “training children to become race-conscious revolutionaries” is deeply disturbing.
And worryingly familiar. Because it’s not just in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, that parents are reluctantly becoming familiar with a school curriculum based on “equity and social justice”. To get some idea of what the new and compulsory New Zealand history curriculum is like, a friend of mine recently told me to: “Imagine Keith Sinclair’s A History of New Zealand with 90 percent of the pages torn out.”
Most New Zealand parents will have paid little, if any, attention to their local school board’s formal commitment to “indigenisation” and combatting “systemic racism”, and even those who have are unlikely to have registered the slightest misgivings. Supporting Aotearoa’s indigenous people and fighting racism are worthy goals – surely?
Indeed they are – but not at the cost of making our children hate themselves and teaching them to despise the achievements of their ancestors.
Patty Hearst eventually recovered from her months of abuse and brain-washing at the hands of the SLA, but not before joining them in robbing a bank.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 28 May 2021.