I recently listened to the God’s Socialist series on a podcast called Martyrmade.
The podcast is by a gentleman named Darryl Cooper, who, from what I’ve gleaned, is a shockingly well-read guy with a deep interest in history and psychology.
God’s Socialist is, in theory, about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple – that cult that committed mass suicide in Guyana back in the day.
But really it’s about much more: it’s about racism, the Civil Rights movement, the 1960s, and all the revolutionary violence that took place in the couple of decades before I was born.
Conclusion: the 60s pretty much sucked.
As someone who’s spent quite a lot of time wishing he’d been around in those days, this was a bit of a shock… even though I already had some idea of the actual situation.
The media tends to cherry-pick out of any historical period, of course. So for the 60s, they picked Flower Power and Woodstock as symbols of the era, and swept the rest of the ugliness under the rug.
Most of what I knew about from that period was the music scene, Abbie Hoffman (who recently popped up in the film The Trial of the Chicago 7) and a few of the major assassinations: the Kennedy brothers, MLK, and Malcolm X.
But there was a lot more ugliness than I thought…
Cooper doesn’t use the words “flower power” a single time in about 30 hours of podcast. And he barely mentions hippies at all.
What you get instead is a sprawling history of everything from the Great Migration to Civil Rights to the US Socialist and student protest movements, plus a lot of stuff in between.
Jim Jones and the People’s Temple are central to the story, but there’s much more in there – I gave it a shot despite not being particularly interested in cults, and it was well worth my time.
The big surprise, for me, was how fucked up things were – and how much it sounds like what we’re going through now is just a rehashing of the racial tensions from decades ago.
Also shocking are some descriptions of the drug-fuelled rapeyness of such movements as the Weather Underground – an organization dedicated to pipe bombs and orgies that for some reason sounded cool to me when I was a teenager, and first read about these things.
I guess what appealed to me at the time was the rebellion, the idea that life could be about something. Because growing up in the far-flung desert suburbs of Phoenix, my life, for a couple of decades, was one interminable show about nothing.
The 60s certainly had a lot of rebellion, and my half-formed teenage brain didn’t know any better than to think the radical underground sounded much more “meaningful” than what I was doing in those days, back in chemistry class.
But the gritty details of the Weathermen out of their minds on meth, having semi-consensual orgies until the STDs stopped them… well, let’s just say it’s eye-opening.
Also interesting was the level of leftist hypocrisy in the movement, even back then.
Take, for example, the story of Eldridge Cleaver, who was much-beloved by white radicals, despite being a serial rapist. In his memoir, written in prison, he claimed all the rape was a revolutionary act, and literary critics loved it. They heaped praise upon him.
After his release, Cleaver became an early leader of the Black Panther party, and set about organizing the “revolution” in San Francisco. Eventually, he got in more trouble, and jumped bail after being charged with the attempted murder of a police officer.
He fled to Cuba, where Castro refused to receive him, and later to Algeria. After things had calmed down, Cleaver came back to the US, where he became a conservative Republican, much to the embarrassment of the left.
Funny thing, that. Leftists adored the guy, when he was just a common rapist.
What they couldn’t stand was a Reaganite.
Race riots everywhere, and the end of the movement
Another thing I didn’t know is just how common race riots were in the 60s.
The shit-show surrounding the whole George Floyd situation last summer was a shock to me, but apparently par for the course for much of the 60s.
The mainstream narrative – or at least the part of it that I’ve been exposed to – treats the later part of that decade like one long summer of love, but apparently there were deadly riots all over, summer after summer, for years.
I’d heard about the major riots in Newark, Detroit, and Los Angeles in those days, but apparently there were riots in 159 cities in 1967 alone.
The Civil Rights movement that started out in the south, with peaceful protests by churchgoers, was apparently only part of the story – Cooper explains how things like the Selma Bus Boycott and the sit-ins at lunch counters ended up leading to radicalization when the progress wasn’t fast enough.
Younger people got involved in the movement, and pacifism isn’t for everyone. Things got violent.
Cooper describes in great detail how all these movements started – and also how leftist infighting brought the whole protest movement to an embarrassing end.
First the division between the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power radicals, then between white and black radicals, then between reform-focused socialists and revolutionary communists, and on and on and on…
And in the midst of it all, Jim Jones and his People’s Temple, which apparently started out as a sort of Civil Rights organization, before turning into a socialist suicide cult.
Pass the Kool-Aid, please…
Human nature is a funny thing. You can start out with all the best intentions: racial equality, an end to poverty… and end up in some pretty unpredictable places.
In fact, if you give a guy like Jim Jones – a highly charismatic preacher and possibly a schizophrenic – a buttload of meth and barbiturates for a decade or so, your whole commune might just end up committing mass suicide.
“All the best intentions” don’t mean shit when you’re poisoning your own kids out in the South American jungle, before drinking the Kool-Aid yourself.
The end of the Jonestown story, out in Guyana, kind of reminds me of the movie Downfall, about the Nazis in their bunker in the last days of World War II.
Speaking of mentally unstable people taking a ton of meth and committing mass suicide, didn’t Hitler start out with a couple of good intentions too? I believe he just wanted to get Germany out of the Great Depression, and create some jobs, or something. That sure ended badly for a lot of people.
Remember that the next time someone claims that the intention is more important than the results.
Also, don’t take meth.
P.S. God’s Socialist is 7 episodes, and you can find it on the major podcast platforms, or swing by martyrmade.com for more information. It’s by far the best thing about the 1960s I’ve ever heard, seen or read. Highly recommended.
P.P.S. Want some Spanish history? I’ve got some Civil War stuff in the works. Check out Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” for part one. Enjoy!