Thursday, August 24, 2006

“Conspiracy in the Streets: the extraordinary trial of the Chicago Eight” (edited by Jon Wiener; Afterword by Tom Hayden; Illustrations by Jules Feiffer) (New Press) This new book about the Chicago Eight (or Seven) trial is a good, late introduction to the remarkable example of the misuse of state power that is called “the Chicago Seven (or Eight) Trial”. Anyone already well read on the details of the case might find this abridged transcript unnecessary. As Wiener acknowledges upfront there is a previously published and much more in depth transcript, “The Conspiracy Trial” edited by John Spitzer and the wonderful, Judy Clavir (a.k.a. Gumbo, partner of Stew). However, the earlier title is not as “widely available” in used bookstores as Wiener suggests. As I type there are 57 copies available through, starting at $6 and going up to around $45 for really nice first edition copies. “The Conspiracy Trial” is not a scarce book by any means. Nevertheless, if you think about it, those numbers suggest there are a heck of a lot of towns were the book is not available at all. This is a very minor point, but it is another reason why this new, less complete, transcript is needed. More importantly this story needs to be remembered. I admire all these eight defendants (plus their lead lawyers Kunstler and Weinglass). I admire them despite their oft-noted ideological differences and, in most cases, their subsequent, imperfect careers. The greatest of them: David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale and Tom Hayden were never again united. (Or ever before! Which by the by disproves most of the state’s case against them!) This group of radicals never again came together. The state forced them together in this trial by judge and prosecutor and (infiltrated by at least one agent) jury. So if for no other reason I applaud the state for their ability to create a unique anti-state revolutionary front. In addition to this new partial transcript and the earlier Clavir/Spitzer transcript, there are numerous good books on the Chicago Eight/Seven trial. I recommend Jason Epstein’s “The Great Conspiracy Trial” published by Random House in 1970. Epstein is a really good writer and quite the moderate, though David Horowitz would probably call him “a liberal”. Also worth mentioning are two books by David Dellinger. He writes with great insight about the trial in both “More Power Than We Know” (Anchor, 1975) and “From Yale to Jail” (Pantheon, 1993). Though he was the token pacifist, Dellinger was the one member of the (white) seven conspirators who stood and tried to defend (black) Bobby Seale when Seale was assaulted by (color unknown) marshals during the early part of the trial. Dan Berger noted this fact in his book “Outlaws of America” and in a talk he gave recently at A Cappella Books. For this and many other reasons Dellinger is the member of this group I think I love the most, though there is a place in my heart for them all. “Conspiracy in the Streets” benefits from Jules Feiffer’s nice illustrations. Richard Avedon’s cover photo is also very nice, though Bobby Seale is unfortunately “notably absent” because he was “in jail at the time”.


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