A Retrospective: Interview with Lowell Bergman – Who Inspired the OB Rag

by on January 9, 2008 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Media, Organizing

Lowell Bergman: 60 Minutes Producer, Journalist, Writer for San Diego’s First Underground Newspaper, Anti-war Activist, Student of Herbert Marcuse and … inspiration.

This is nearly an eight year old interview with Lowell Bergman by journalist Danny Postel which I found on Postel’s website. The reason I found it very interesting, besides the fact that Lowell – the “60 Minutes” producer – was played by Al Pacino in the movie, “The Insider” with Russell Crowe, and besides the fact that Lowell discusses Herbert Marcuse, the new left philosopher who Lowell and I both studied under while at UCSD – he as a graduate student and me as an undergrad, and besides the fact that Lowell helped begin San Diego’s first underground newspaper, “The Street Journal”, and took on San Diego’s power structure back in the late sixties, helping to topple the corrupt empire of C. Arnholt Smith – the Mr. San Diego of 1960 and one of Richard Nixon’s favorite supporters, — the real reason was because I was inspired by the “Street Journal” enough to start publishing the original “OB Rag” in 1970. If not for Lowell Bergman, I probably would not be putting out this blog with Patty.

Here, Bergman discusses his early student activism with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the early sixties, his move to UCSD and his studies with Marcuse and with other sociologists in search of a critical social theory that moved beyond the constraints of orthodox marxism and traditional liberalism. He also describes how the San Diego Union and the city’s right-wing establishment staged a hate campaign against Marcuse, due mainly because of the rise of Marcuse’s popularity among student protesters in Europe and because Angela Davis, one his grad students, was promoted to work at UCLA.

Postel: Tell me about your relationship with Marcuse. What led you to him and what did you study with him?

Bergman: I studied with him as a graduate fellow in philosophy at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) from 1966 to 1969. It was a Ph.D. program in the history of philosophy. I completed the written exams but never finished, although I did stay in touch with him until his death a decade later. Marcuse conducted a lecture for upper division and graduate students in German philosophy and a regular seminar on Kant and Hegel. I participated in the seminar and audited the lecture.

I had studied at the University of Wisconsin with the sociologist Hans Gerth and with the historian George Mosse. They both recommended Marcuse as a scholar of Hegel and Marx and as an unusual person in terms of his background (his association with the Frankfurt School) and his insights.

My own involvement in political activity in the ’60s sent me on an intellectual search for a viable “social theory”-what Marcuse called a “new political theory that could guide practice.” The assumption was that everything from liberal theory to Marxism was nonfunctional or obsolete. Gerth had introduced me to the work of the radical Hungarian philosopher György Lukács. Mosse had introduced me to 19th-century utopian and anarcho-socialist thought. It was this quest for a humanist socialism that attracted me to Marcuse. I read his book One-Dimensional Man early in 1966 and some of his other essays before heading to San Diego that summer.

If any of this interests you or piques your curiosity, go to the following link for this extraordinary interview.

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