Thursday 19 April 2018

Obituary: Tom Hayden

Poster boy for far Left in the US who married Jane Fonda and encouraged her to take a more radical direction

RADICAL: Tom Hayden, anti-war protester and founder member of the SDS who later became a California legislator, author and lecturer, with his second wife Jane Fonda in London in 1972
RADICAL: Tom Hayden, anti-war protester and founder member of the SDS who later became a California legislator, author and lecturer, with his second wife Jane Fonda in London in 1972 newsdesk

Tom Hayden, who has died aged 76, was, during the 1960s, the poster boy for the American radical Left, an activist one step away from a "commie" according to his critics, a tireless campaigner for social justice according to his admirers; he was also the second husband of the actress Jane Fonda.

In later life, like so many other Sixties' radicals, Hayden joined the political mainstream, becoming an assemblyman, then a senator, in the state of California, and something of an elder statesman in the Democratic Party. He was also an almost rabid supporter of the IRA and Sinn Fein.

In 1962, aged 22, Hayden wrote what was later known as the Port Huron Statement, a manifesto of the student activist movement, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which became a key text for the emerging "New Left". Its call for participatory democracy, "both as a means and an end", based on non-violent civil disobedience, was credited with drawing hundreds of thousands of idealistic, dissatisfied young people into an anti-authoritarian movement that would define the 1960s.

Hayden became an "outside agitator'' in the still-segregated South, one of the only two whites to be jailed in Martin Luther King's first campaign of civil disobedience. He "organised'' in the black ghetto of the city of Newark, New Jersey, which then erupted in the worst race riot of the decade, though in his memoir Reunion (published in 1988 after he had morphed into what he called a "born-again middle-American"), he claimed that he had had nothing to do with the violence, blaming the police and National Guard for any deaths. It was, however, as an anti-Vietnam War campaigner that Hayden became best known. With members of the American Communist Party he first visited North Vietnam as a "peace" campaigner in 1965, concluding that the conflict was really between a tyranny in Saigon, backed by an imperialist US, and the "free" people of North Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh. He returned in 1967 with another group and was asked by North Vietnamese leaders to take three prisoners of war back to the United States as a gesture of solidarity with the peace movement.

In 1968 he was the most prominent of the "Chicago Seven", a group of activists charged with criminal conspiracy after a series of anti-Vietnam War protests turned violent outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. "Let us make sure that if our blood flows, it flows all over the city," Hayden told thousands of young protesters. Four, including Hayden, were convicted, though the convictions were later overturned.

About the same time, Hayden and his fellow leftist Robert Scheer co-founded the "Red Family", an "urban guerrilla" commune in Berkeley, California, dedicated to the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung. Its members devoted themselves to "discovering" Kim's philosophy of "juche", called for the creation by force of arms of "liberated zones" in the United States, and spent much time agonising over questions like whether underwear should be shared and whether it was bourgeois to close the door when using the lavatory. They also held Maoist-style "self-criticism" sessions "designed to eradicate male chauvinism in both personal relationships and movement work".

Before long Hayden (who later admitted that he had been "particularly ill-suited for becoming a 'new man'" ) had begun a relationship with Scheer's ex-wife Anne. One weekend he returned to the commune from the Chicago courtroom to discover that he had been charged with "bourgeois privatism" in his relationship with her. Shortly afterwards a kangaroo court organised by Scheer expelled him from the commune.

Fleeing Berkeley, Hayden moved to Los Angeles and into the arms of Jane Fonda. The actress had been an anti-war activist before they met, but he encouraged her in a more radical direction. "She sat at Tom's feet, literally," David Dellinger, a fellow pacifist, was quoted as saying later.

"She looked up to him like he was some sort of god."

With Hayden's support, in July 1972 she travelled to Hanoi where she went on North Vietnamese radio to urge American soldiers to desert, peered through the sights of an anti-aircraft gun aimed at US planes, and accused her fellow countrymen of war crimes. When she arrived back in the US she was greeted with cries of "Hanoi Jane" and accused of being a traitor. In 1973, the year they were married, Hayden explained to an interviewer that what had attracted him to the actress was "the degree to which Jane had changed and the mutual strategic outlook was exactly right".

The couple had a son, Troy, and moved into what Jane's father, Henry Fonda, called a "shack" in Santa Monica, where they shared a mattress on the floor. As Hayden disliked any show of possessions, she swapped her Cartier wristwatch for a Timex and did their laundry by hand because he did not approve of washing machines. According to unnamed friends of the actress, Hayden resented his wife's fame but was happy to use her money to ease his move from the radical fringe to the mainstream. She was said to have given him $500,000 to fund his unsuccessful run for the US Senate in 1975.

To help his next electoral campaign (a successful run for the California assembly in 1982), she launched an exercise studio that spawned a $20m fitness empire. More than $1m of her profits went into his "war-chest", and she poured $17m into his Campaign for Economic Democracy, which he had founded in 1976 to promote progressive causes. But in 1988, on the night his wife turned 51, Hayden told her he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce.

For 18 years Hayden represented an affluent swathe of Los Angeles County in the California state legislature, first in the assembly then, from 1992, in the senate, becoming closely identified with such causes as the environment and animal rights, retiring in 2000 after being defeated in his attempts to become state governor in 1994 and mayor of Los Angeles in 1997.

By the time he attended the 2006 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, his career had gone full circle. He was a senior member of the California delegation to an event he had described 38 years before as the "fortress of the status quo".

Thomas Emmet Hayden was born in Detroit in December 11, 1939 to parents of Irish origin. His father, a former Marine, was an accountant. He was also a violent drunk and by the time Thomas was 10, his parents had divorced.

From Dondero High School, Royal Oak, he went to the University of Michigan.

He was briefly married to a fellow community activist Sandra Cason. After graduating he became the SDS's field secretary in the Deep South, where he was beaten by segregationists, and spent a brief time in jail after participating in a "freedom ride" from Atlanta.

One of the many radical causes which Hayden espoused was Irish republicanism and he helped to raise millions of dollars for the IRA and Sinn Fein. In 2002 he published Irish on the Inside, a book described by Ian Buruma in the Guardian as "a nauseating account of Hayden in search of his 'Irish soul'".

After leaving public office, Hayden wrote, lectured and travelled extensively.

Tom Hayden, who died on October 23, is survived by his third wife, Barbara Williams, by their adopted son, and by his son from his marriage to Jane Fonda.


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