The Political Education of Young Wilhelm

During his college years at NYU in the early 1980s, Bill de Blasio was known as Bill Wilhelm. His politics leaned decidedly to the left in those days, eventually leading him to do solidarity work in Nicaragua and honeymoon in Cuba. Republican challenger Joe Lhota recently claimed that de Blasio’s current campaign—built on a “tale of two cities” theme—is taking pages from a “Marxist playbook.”
What follows is a sampling of what was on the shelves and turntables of post-Vietnam radicals. This is a composite sketch, and the extent to which de Blasio actually identified with each passage is an open question.—T Hamm

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,

it was the epoch of incredulity,

it was the season of light,

it was the season of darkness,

it was the spring of hope,

it was the winter of despair…
Along the Paris streets the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate monsters imagined since imagination could record itself are fused in the one realization—Guillotine…Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

–Charles Dickens, opening of first and last chapters in A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

–Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1869 edition)

Come, then comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways. We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent and resolute.

–Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

The more rational, productive, technical, and total the repressive administration of society becomes, the more unimaginable the means and ways by which the administered individuals might break their servitude and seize their own liberation.

–Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (1964)

We are not accustomed to associate patriarchy with force. So perfect is its system of socialisation, so complete the general assent to its values, so long and so universally has it prevailed in human society, that it scarcely seems to require violent implementation.

–Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1970)

Yes, a Working Class Hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

–John Lennon, “Working-Class Hero,” John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Don’t you know the crime rate
Is going up, up, up, up, up
To live in this town you must be
Tough, tough, tough, tough, tough

–Rolling Stones, “Shattered,” Some Girls (1978)

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy

–Bruce Springsteen, title track, The River (1980)

Don’t let them change ya, oh!
Or even rearrange ya! Oh, no!
We’ve got a life to live.

–Bob Marley, “Could You Be Loved,” Uprising (1980)

For Castro is a color
Is a redder than red

For the very first time ever
When they had a revolution in Nicaragua
There was no interference from America

Sandinista!

–The Clash, “Washington Bullets,” Sandinista! (1980)

We must make the American people hear our “Tale of Two Cities.” We must convince them that we don’t have to settle for two cities, that we can have one city, indivisible, shining for all of its people.

–Mario Cuomo, keynote speech at Democratic National Convention (1984)

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Theodore Hamm

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