Underground and the WUO split

from Jump Cut, no. 16, 1977, p. 38
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1977, 2005


— Peter Biskind

In JUMP CUT NO. 12/13 we printed Thomas Waugh's review of Emile de Antonio, Mary Lampson, and Haskell Wexler's UNDERGROUND, a film about the Weather Underground Organization (WUO). Since then there has been a severe split in the organization and the film has come under attack. As part of the ongoing discussion of the film, we are reprinting the following repudiation of it by a faction of the WUO called the Revolutionary Committee. We have extracted the critique from "The Split of the Weather Underground Organization" ($1. From John Brown Book Club, P.O. Box 22383, Seattle, WA 98122), which circulated within the underground in the fall of 1976. The document contains the transcript of a tape made by Bernardino Dorhn on behalf of the Revolutionary Committee, and a statement by the Committee. All of it violently attacks the Central Committee of the WUO. It is this split in WUO which forms the context of the critique of Underground. (For a detailed examination of the split, see Seven Days, 1:2.)

Dohrn and the Revolutionary Committee accuses the Central Committee, primarily Jeff Jones and Bill Ayers, of "setting out to destroy the women's movement," "selling out the Black struggle," and betraying the principle of anti-imperialism by replacing armed struggle with "opportunist workplace organizing" and "unprincipled participation in economic struggle."

These charges boil down to a fundamental disagreement over organizing strategies and tactics for the next period. The Central Committee has moved closer to the traditional class analysis of the Communist Party, Marxist-Leninist (formerly the October League) and the Revolutionary Communist Party, an analysis which seeks to lead workers in a revolutionary direction by recruiting and organizing around immediate workplace demands. The Revolutionary Committee, on the other hand, leans towards the traditional strategy of the New Left, which accords a special place to black, Third World, and women's struggles. In practical terms, the Central Committee has downplayed the issue of racism in its workplace organizing, and pulled its cadre out of women's organizations, prison work, and legal defense groups, which it has denigrated as mere "support" work. The Revolutionary Committee attributes this line to the white-skin privilege and male chauvinism of the members of the Central Committee.

They charge that the film UNDERGROUND was pushed by Jones against the wishes of others, who felt it was dangerous and elitist, as part of an elaborate scheme to sanitize the WUO in preparation for surfacing. Most of the criticisms of the film are functions of the larger attack on the politics of the Central Committee.


UNDERGROUND is a crime against national liberation movements, women, and the anti-imperialist left. It is a vehicle for promoting opportunist politics, and was part of the WUO's strategy for achieving hegemony over the revolutionary forces in the US. The CC is responsible for the film  —  Jeff Jones initiated the idea and led its implementation. Our denunciation of the film is not a criticism of the filmmakers.

1. The Film is national chauvinist.

•The focus is on us as individual white revolutionaries instead of national liberation movements, the leading revolutionary forces in the US and the world. When footage of Black and Third World people appears, it is only part of explaining our political development. Third World people are again used in the street interviews, to show us relating to oppressed people. This is substituting relating to Third World people for a revolutionary line and practice about national liberation.

 •The portrayal of ourselves as gentle, reasonable, well-educated and WHITE was a move to disassociate ourselves from the alleged "extremism" of prison struggles, the BLA, FALN, SLA … from armed struggle itself. Bill Ayers is indignant at people who call us adventurist and terrorists.

 •The discussion about the Town House explosion is a way of saying, "our comrades have died, we have crossed the line, we are beyond criticism, not subject to the same pressures towards sellout that every other white organization faces." Jeff Jones' rap about waking up each morning wondering how many times he'll be nervous that day is an arrogant lie that denies the existence of privilege in our lives.

  •The reality of oppressor/oppressed nations is liquidated constantly. Examples: B. Dohrn asks, "who created the wealth of this country?" and answers with "the people, followed by several shots of white workers. No mention of Black slavery, of the land and labor stolen from Native Americans and Mexicanos, of the tremendous wealth derived from imperialist plunder around the world. Bill Ayers talks about the "American people" rising up to become a people for themselves, comparing them to the Vietnamese. B. Dohrn says we are a white organization.

2. The film reeks of male supremacy from beginning to end.

 •The material basis of women's oppression is denied, and with one exception sexism is defined as a bad attitude, a bad idea. The reality of male privilege is denied. The women's movement is never mentioned. The WUO has a reputation in the Left for deep male supremacy, but Ayers assures the audience that even though sexism used to be a bad attitude in some of the men, things are different now because of how "loving and encouraging" the women have been. This is an attack on male supremacy as man-hating separatists — that is not loving and encouraging.

 •The presence of the three women in the film is the substitution for the missing revolutionary line on women. We are clearly an organization of exceptional people: women who have made it without the women's movement, men who stopped being sexist so painlessly they didn't feel a thing.

3. The film attacks the anti-imperialist left by denying its existence.

•The message is clear: the WUO and the masses of white American people will make the revolution. "Socialism for white people." This film organized for opportunist politics. It is a setback to revolution, a betrayal.

•It was a direct attempt to counter the effects of PFOC's rectification. The fact that it was released after the Hard Times Conference, when the WUO's line was publicly discredited, indicates that the CC really rejected revolutionary criticism of its line while pretending to accept it.

•It also reveals the CC's willingness to go to any lengths to try to build its own power without regard to revolutionary principles.


The film UNDERGROUND reeks of white and male supremacy and organizes against real revolution. The release of the film in May was a further step towards implementing our program; to organize a mass base of support on the basis of a reactionary line. It was a conscious attempt to organize support for the individuals in the film — not to strengthen the revolution.

The culmination of this strategy was to be inversion, the word we used to describe surfacing the entire organization. Along with the attempt to control the Hard Times Conference, we had counted on the movie and the establishment of a legal apparatus to implement this strategy of inversion. Jeff Jones proposed this concept, won the entire central committee to it, and has organized for its implementation. This is accurately described in the revolutionary committee's statement.