From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: The Free Speech Movement

July 7, 2014

From the July-August 2014 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: On the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, we excerpt Raya Dunayevskaya’s analysis, first published in the Jan. and Feb. 1965 issues of News & Letters. Some language is incorporated here from a much expanded essay that was included in the pamphlet The Free Speech Movement and the Negro Revolution.

by Raya Dunayevskaya 

The Negro revolution emerged so quietly on the American scene with the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56) that the North hardly gave it note, much less rose up in its support. It wasn’t until 1960, when Negro youth in Greensboro, N.C., staged a sit-in at a lunch counter that the first responsive chord was struck in the North. That same year witnessed a mass demonstration against the House Un-American Activities Committee in San Francisco. Thus did the white student youth in the North find its own voice at the same time that it helped the Negro revolution gain momentum not only in the South, but in the North. In the San Francisco Bay Area in particular there was, thereafter, no activity—from the Freedom Rides in 1961 to the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964—in which the student youth didn’t participate with a spirit characteristic of youth conscious of reshaping a world they had not made.

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Thus, suddenly, a generation of new radicals was born to replace “the silent generation” of the 1950s. By winter that year a new form of revolt, with a new underlying philosophy, called itself the Free Speech Movement (FSM). To retrieve the moment of new truth, it becomes necessary to view the FSM at that moment—Dec. 2-3—when the student revolt culminated in a mass sit-in.

On Dec. 2, 1964, 800 students in the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley sat-in at Sproul Hall to protest against the University Administration’s curtailment of free speech and freedom of action in behalf of civil rights and political principles.

On Dec. 3, Governor Pat Brown dispatched 643 police to eject the 800 sit-inners who, in self-defense, as well as for their belief in non-violence, went limp. None too gently the non-violent demonstrators were dragged down the stairs and thrown into police patrol wagons headed for jail. During the 12 hours of this operation, the building was closed to the faculty. But TV coverage of the police force’s invasion of the university grounds and the subsequent fingerprinting and mugging of the students as if they were common criminals, did more to galvanize the majority of the student body to action than all the speeches and actions of the FSM had been able to achieve in the three months since the start of its struggle.


The “moderates” became “leftists,” the apolitical political, and the political students called for a strike. On Dec. 4, 15,000 students stayed away from classes. 

This put an end to the myth, perpetrated by the University Administration, the Governor and the press, that “a small hard core of Leftists” (if not outright “Communists”), who were “nonstudents” to boot—estimated by President Clark Kerr to be no more than “30 to 40,” and by the spokesman for the truly hard-core minority of the faculty, Mr. Lewis S. Feuer, to be “170”—constituted the Free Speech Movement. In truth, not only did a majority of the vast student body now support the FSM, but the overwhelming majority of the faculty likewise now sprang to action of their own in its support. 

Two departments canceled classes and many professors honored the picket lines. The chairmen of all departments constituted themselves as a Council of Chairmen, met with President Kerr and tried to work out a compromise. At the same time 200 professors met to plan strategy to present to the Academic Senate to endorse complete political freedom and amnesty. The Academic Freedom Committee and the Chairmen’s Council endorsed the proposals. On Dec. 8, the Academic Senate voted, 824 to 115, to endorse the Resolution of the Academic Freedom Committee. 

To find out how it was possible for the allegedly most apolitical student body in the world—the American—to open a new chapter of mass action for freedom, applying tactics never before used in any university anywhere in the world, it becomes necessary to trace the dialectic of revolt from its beginning.[1]

On Sept. 17, a united front of organizations as far apart on the political and civil rights spectrum as SNCC, CORE, SLATE, YSA, SDS, and the Du Bois Clubs, on the one hand, and the Young Democrats, Young Republicans, and even some Students for Goldwater, on the other hand, united to oppose the arbitrary Sept. 14 ruling issued by Dean Katherine Towle which curtailed the content of, and areas for, free speech as well as fund solicitations and recruitment by civil rights and political organizations.


The University of California’s sudden “discovery” that the area heretofore used by these organizations, and for which city permits had been obtained, was university property came about through the prodding of forces outside the academic community, forces whose only concern with education lay in the attempt to extend McCarthyite tactics against both academic freedom and civil rights. These reactionary forces had, in summer, gathered in convention to capture the presidential nomination of the Republican Party for Goldwater. They stood aghast at the students and other civil rights workers who were demonstrating before the hall.

The old leaders of this new fashioned neo-fascistic fringe of American politics had memories that were as long as they were abysmally deep in the backward look. They recalled that this was the city, and these youth the fighters against the “open” hearings that the House Un-American Activities Committee chose to conduct in San Francisco in 1960, the very year in which Negro youth began their revolution down South. 

And here they were again, despite the fact that the film made of the 1960 demonstration and police measures against it, plus the fascistic rhetoric of radio broadcaster Fulton Lewis Jr. extolling the forces of “law and order and anti-Communism,” had succeeded in forging a new brand of college conservatives—Goldwaterites, Birchites, and even Wallace-ite racists. At the height of their power, about to capture a major political party, they were being challenged by a still newer and greater national force, since the Negro Revolution had not only extended itself from South to North but aligned itself with new white youth….

[Dean Towle’s ruling] hit the newly returned Mississippi Freedom Summer participants, like Mario Savio, especially hard since they knew just how the Southern Freedom Fighters depended on the North for both human allies and financial assistance. That is why the first of the 19 organizations in the united front to staff the tables in a challenge of the ruling were SNCC, CORE, SDS, DuBois Clubs and SLATE, and these were the first organizations warned by the Administration about their violations of the arbitrary ruling. The warnings were followed by the indefinite suspension of eight students.

The first head-on collision which imparted an altogether new quality to the battle between students and university administrators occurred when, once again, an outside force entered the fray.

Fifteen minutes before a scheduled rally of students to protest the suspensions, at 11:45 a.m. on Oct. 1, Dean Van Houten approached the CORE table that was being staffed by a “non-student,” Jack Weinberg (who was a recent graduate), and attempted to have him arrested. Spontaneously, the students moved to surround the police car and block it from removing Weinberg. Mario Savio, head of the Friends of SNCC, emerged as leader as he addressed the crowd. The struggle now extended to a sit-in in Sproul Hall.

The movement gained momentum and the protest demonstration grew. Late that evening about 100 fraternity men assembled and hurled eggs and lighted cigarettes on the hundreds sitting in the plaza. This violence, however, was not answered with violence by the students sitting-in, who maintained the highest of disciplines—self-discipline. It was this discipline plus the appeal of a Catholic chaplain that finally caused the hecklers to disperse after many tense hours. 

The new momentum, plus the intervention of a group of faculty members who convinced President Kerr to meet with the students that afternoon, led the following day to an agreement. This included submitting rules to a tripartite study committee of administration, faculty and students, submitting suspensions to a Committee of the Academic Senate, and taking steps to deed the free speech sidewalk to the city. This was Oct. 2. On Oct. 3-4 the united front of student organizations constituted itself as the Free Speech Movement. 


Chancellor Strong, without waiting for recommendations from either students or faculty, appointed 10 of the 12 men who were to serve on the Campus Committee on Political Activity (CCPA), and announced also that his appointed Faculty Committee on Student Conduct, and not a Committee of the Academic Senate, would hear the cases of the eight suspended students….

On Nov. 20 the Regents seemed to side with President Kerr on the question of “illegal” advocacy. When this was followed, during the Thanksgiving holidays, by suddenly resuming disciplinary action against Savio and others, the gathering storm broke loose. After a mass rally, on Dec. 2, 800 moved into Sproul Hall for a new sit-in. The move of the Administration to use police to settle its dispute with the students, the intervention of the Governor, the arrest of the student demonstrators, as we saw, brought about the student strike, and such massive support from the faculty, that it became the turning point for all concerned.

Just as the faculty was propelled into the student dispute with the Administration, so the Civil Rights Movement found that it was by no accident bound up with the issue of academic freedom. The FSM itself had reached a new stage of development, for the dialectic of revolt is inseparable from the dialectic of ideas. All the participants suddenly found that the whole struggle, victory included, was but prologue to the unfolding drama which would first reveal differing attitudes not merely to the role of youth in a university, but to ideas and to reality. The right to free speech became a discussion on alienation in society as a whole. The right to discipline became a question of human relationships. The dialogue on concrete questions became a search for a total philosophy.…


The trouble with the elders, even when they are for the student revolt, is that they do not listen to the new voices. It was ever so. The Humanism of Karl Marx was the only vision that held as one, thought and action, mental and manual labor. It was the only one that saw the negative feeling of estrangement as the path to freedom; the only one that saw the positive in the negative not only as a philosophic abstraction, but as a human force for the reconstruction of society. 

Deriving the concept of alienation from Hegel, Marx did more than place it upright on materialistic foundations. He opposed the communists who vulgarized the materialism and rejected “bourgeois idealism.” Marx’s main opposition to Hegel was not his idealism; it was his dehumanization of the idea as if it were not part of man’s body, as if ideas could, indeed, float outside of the human being. Or, as Marx himself put it, and put in strictly Hegelian terms, Hegel “separated thinking from the subject,” even as capitalism has put “in place of all the physical and spiritual senses…the sense of possession, which is the simple alienation of all these senses. To such absolute poverty has human essence had to be reduced in order to give birth to its inner wealth!”[2]

In a word, Marx saw alienation as an essential dimension of history, characteristic of all class societies—based as they are on the division between mental and manual labor—and gaining its most monstrous form under capitalism: it is under “machinofacture” where the laborer becomes but a cog in the machine, so that not only his product is alienated from him, but so is his very activity. Once this is achieved, it is not only labor that suffers; all of society is demeaned and degraded, including its thought. The only way out is to reconstruct society on totally new beginnings: “To be radical is to grasp something at its roots. But for man the root is man himself.” 

It still is. And it is this precisely which the students have got hold of and are fighting for, and this is also the underlying, though not always acknowledged, philosophy of the Negro revolution….

What needs to be stressed now is that a new generation of radicals is born not only through such activities as the sit-in, the picket line, the strike, but also through the activity of thinking. It should be unnecessary to add that the mental alertness and social aspiration, more than the marginal social status, impelled the students into the FSM and such new bold forms of revolt as “civil disobedience.” Of course, they “took it” from the Civil Rights Movement, but placing it on a university campus, means that the whole so-called academic community, and not only at Berkeley, will never be the same. 

The philosophic aspect, moreover, adds a new dimension to the very movement which gave the FSM its impetus: the Civil Rights Movement. It is this which must not be reconfined, not even in activism. 

Our age of state-capitalism with the administrative mentality so inherent in it, shows us, over and over again, that, despite the appearance of opposites, reconfinement and activism can and do meet to form the evasion so characteristic of modern intellectuals, including those who do see the ills of the world and do oppose the status quo….

As the revolutions that have soured have proved, it is impossible to create a new society where the mode of labor rests on the same division between mental and manual labor that underpins all class societies.

When the very fate of mankind, not just rhetorically, but actually, is within orbit of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the job cannot be left in the hands of the intellectual elite, not even the Other Academia. The whole of Other America is involved and must move to the front center of the historic stage. The Negro revolution and the FSM have opened new roads to freedom. But the task to make freedom a reality remains. It is the task of the whole. All energies, theoretical as well as practical, emotional as well as spiritual, are needed for the arduous labor of reconstructing society on new foundations. It is the human project. It cannot brook any new division between the activity of thinking and the activity of revolution. The urgency of our lives and times demands that all “philosophic absolutes” come down to earth.

The todayness of the theory of liberation that is the Humanism of Marxism is this: it has never isolated itself in any ivory towers, nor flown to other planets to avoid facing reality. This freedom philosophy is in the events of the day. When concretized for our day, Marxist-Humanism puts into words what every activist knows is true as he battles the power structure which stands in the way of freedom. It becomes imperative therefore to work out a new unity of thought and action which can release the vast untapped energies of mankind, their innate talents so that the new human dimension, inherent in the old society, can finally emerge and make freedom a reality.

June 1965

Detroit, Michigan

[1] The most objective and comprehensive Preliminary Report, The Berkeley Free Speech Controversy, is the one issued on Dec. 13, 1964, by A Fact-Finding Committee of Graduate Political Scientists (Bardach, Citrin, Eisenbach, Elkins, Ferguson, Jervis, Levine and Sniderman). Most of the factual material in our analysis comes from that report. The most scurrilous account is the one by Lewis S. Feuer, entitled “Rebellion at Berkeley: The New Multiversity: Ideology and Reality,” published in The New Leader, Dec. 21, 1964. All the quotations citing Feuer come from this report.

[2] I’m using my own translation of the Humanist Essays which first appeared as Appendices to the 1958 edition of Marxism and Freedom, but these essays can also be gotten in paperback edition of Erich Fromm’s Marx’s Concept of Man.

The Free Speech Movement and the Negro Revolution

by Mario Savio, Eugene Walker, Raya Dunayevskaya

This classic 1965 pamphlet recovers a crucial link in the history of revolt has a critique of education that remains just as incisive today reveals the underlying humanist philosophy of the Black revolution and of the Free Speech Movement relates the movement’s revolt against alienation to Marx’s and Hegel’s concepts of alienation and its transcendence.


Mississippi Freedom Summer, by Eugene Walker

Berkeley Fall, by Mario Savio

The Free Speech Movement and the Negro Revolution, by Raya Dunayevskaya

Inside Sproul Hall, by Joel L. Pimsleur

The Theory of Alienation: Marx’s Debt to Hegel, by Raya Dunayevskaya

…and more!

Order for $10 + $2 postage from News & Letters.

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“The Free Speech Movement and the Negro Revolution, by Mario Savio, Eugene Walker, Raya Dunayevskaya, et al (News and Letters: 1965). To order, contact us.

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