The Needs of the Delegates

Jennifer Dohrn delivered an opening address [for the Hard Times Conference, a Weather Underground front group] calling on the delegates to devise a new agenda for the Left that would empower and protect the working class. “We have to develop a program for the working class as a whole in this period to fight the [economic] depression,” she said. It was soon clear, however, that the conference’s organizers, who were all white, did not fully comprehend the needs of the delegates, who weren’t.

“I was almost lynched by a group of vegetarians because I hadn’t provided enough nonmeat meals in the cafeteria,” Neufeld recalls with a shudder. “There were a lot of little things like that, stuff I just didn’t understand. Every time something went wrong, I was constantly being accused of being a racist. That was just devastating to me. I felt I was fucking up, like my head was just going to explode.”

Much of the conference work was done in breakout groups, and by Saturday it was clear that many of them had little interest in the conference’s agenda. A Black Caucus formed, and word soon spread that it was none too pleased with the emphasis on “working class” issues over black issues. A feminist caucus arose as well and was just as incensed at the lack of attention being paid to women’s issues. “Jeff Jones wanted these people ordered and controlled, and there was just no way,” Neufeld says. “My pushback [to him] was to respect the process, that people had opinions, that they couldn’t be ordered around.”

The ominous rumblings finally broke into the open during the closing session, when black delegates spent nearly an hour excoriating the organizers as racists and demanding that any new radical coalition be run by blacks. By nightfall confusion reigned. “I don’t think [Jeff] initially appreciated how bad it was,” Neufeld says. “In fact, I know he didn’t. And it was bad. Very bad.”

By that evening it was clear there would be no radical coalition for Weather or anyone else to control. Recriminations began the next morning, when thirty PFOCers gathered in a member’s Chicago apartment. “That’s when I first heard some of the non-Weather people start saying things like ‘Where did this whole conference idea come from?’” recalls Lerner. “They were finally starting to smell the rat.”

An investigation of sorts was soon under way. It was spearheaded by a band of West Coast members led by none other than Clayton Van Lydegraf, the graying communist lifer who, having been thrown out of Weather, had joined the PFOC. Granted an opportunity to take his revenge, he proceeded to do so with grim determination, practically overnight emerging as the PFOC’s avenging angel. One by one, he and his acolytes pulled in Neufeld and other PFOC leaders and grilled them, a process that soon devolved into a Stalin-like purge—“everything but the bullets,” as one participant put it.