Friday, 30 September 2011


My obit of Carl Oglesby, SDS leader and author of one of the most interesting of assassination studies, was in yesterday's Indy (29 September); you can link to the online version here. By the time I came to consider SDS, Oglesby was already on his way out, but his earlier writings and speeches were impressive, and The New Left Reader, which he edited, was a handbook of sorts as I wandered my way through protest. Oglesby's version of left-wing politics reflected his working-class upbringing, and a certain idealism which originally led him to found useful alliances with the wider anti-war and civil rights movements, with whom he organised the first great March on Washington. But his faith in the ultimate rationality of America's political leaders proved misplaced, at best. When the Weathermen came along, Oglesby was condemned as being hopelessly bourgeois, when really what he might have been was hopelessly American.

From that perspective, it's easy to understand the importance the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK had for him; he helped found the Assassination Information Bureau, and he wrote a number of books which reflected the wealth of information he gathered. The most interesting is The Yankee and Cowboy War, which tries to create a sort of unified field theory of the assassinations, and connect the dots between Dallas in 1963 and Watergate in 1972. It was a foreunner of what came to be known as 'Deep Politics', considering the forces that really power our country (and indeed, today, the world) regardless of who holds nominal power, and he tried to identify a power-struggle within that American elite between the old money of the east and the newer money in the west. If you don't see the relevance today, consider the Bush family, Skull and Boners all, who begin as Yankees, merchant bankers in New York with Prescott becoming a senator from Connecticut--but transform into Cowboys--George W goes into the oil bidnez, heads the CIA, and eventually becomes president, and Shrub, full scale born-again Texan, doesn't do much of anything but serves the needs of Cowboys as he becomes governor of Texas and then president, where he gets to recapitulate the Reagan malaise on a far grander scale.

I hadn't seen much by Oglesby on that malaise; he did two books on the JFK assassination in the 90s, but the more interesting of them draws heavily on Yankee/Cowboy, and I've yet to read Ravens In the Storm, his memoir of radical politics in the Sixties, but I surely will. I never even knew he'd made two folk-rock records, and it's interesting because one of the covers makes him look just like the great keyboardist Barry Goldberg. But in many ways he symbolises the better impulses of the Sixties generation--even though, like most of that generation's leaders, he came from the pre-baby boom. Perhaps someone ought to consider why my generation has proven so incapable of leading itself, at least in a progressive direction.


Caleb O. said...

I appreciate your thoughtful insights into my father's life and character.
You have hit on many of the points I feel have been missing in a number of the tributes and obituaries that I've seen so far.
Caleb Oglesby, NYC

Michael Carlson said...

Thank you for the comment; I'm very pleased. It was a privilege to be able to show some appreciation of your father, and I'm very glad if some of my own impressions were accurate. My condolences,

Robin Ramsay said...

Very good, Mike. Oglesby influenced me profoundly with an essay of his in Ramparts, 'In Defence of Paranoia', which said that the American left need to look at the assassinations of the sixties rather than sticking to class forces, economics etc. I took this to be true of the UK, as well – not assassinations per se (though there were many of those in Northern Ireland) but what became known as parapolitics; and later deep politics.
I had no idea he did music and there are some tracks of his on YouTube - and they're not too bad, either.