Sizable amounts of street acid first appeared around college campuses
and bohemian enclaves in 1965. This was an exceptionally creative period
marked by a new assertiveness among young people. LSD accentuated a
spirit of rebellion and helped to catalyze the expectations of many onto
greatly expanded vistas. The social environment in which drugs were
taken fostered an outlaw consciousness that was intrinsic to the
development of the entire youth culture, while the use of drugs
encouraged a generalizing of discontent that had significant political
ramifications. The very expression of youth revolt was influenced and
enhanced by the chemical mind-changers. LSD and marijuana formed the
armature of a many-sided rebellion whose tentacles reached to the
heights of ego-dissolving delirium, a rebellion as much concerned with
the sexual and spiritual as with anything traditionally political. It
was a moment of great anticipation, and those who marched in that great
Dionysian rap dance were confident that if they put their feet down on
history, then history would surely budge.
But the mood changed dramatically by the end of the decade, and the political fortunes of the New Left quickly plummeted. There were many reasons for this, not the least of which involved covert intervention by the CIA, FBI, and other spy agencies. The internecine conflicts that tore the Movement apart were fomented in part by government subversion. But such interference would have been far less effective if not for the innate vulnerability of the New Left, which emphasized both individual and social transformation as if they were two faces of an integral cultural transition, a rite of passage between a death and a difficult birth. "We had come to a curious place together, all of us," recalls Michael Rossman. "As politics grew cultural, we realized that deeper forces were involved than had yet been named, or attended to deliberately. We were adrift in questions and potentials: the organizational disintegration of the Movement as a political body was an outer emblem of conceptual incoherence, the inability to synthesize an adequate frame of understanding and program to embody all that we had come to realize was essential for the transformation we sought." An autopsy of the youth movement would show that death resulted from a variety of ills, some self-inflicted, others induced from without. There was the paramilitary bug that came in like the plague after the Democratic Convention in Chicago, a bug transmitted by provocateurs and other government geeks who were welcomed by the Movement's own incendiaries. A vicious crackdown on all forms of dissent ensued, while domestic violence played on the TV news as a nightly counterpoint to the appalling horror of Vietnam. It was the war, more than anything else, that drove activists to the brink of desperation. If not for the war, the legions of antiauthoritarian youth would never have endured the totalitarian style of the dogmatic crazies and the militant crazies who combined to blow the whole thing apart. "What subverted the sixties decade," according to Murray Bookchin, "was precisely the percolation of traditional radical myths, political styles, a sense of urgency, and above all, a heightened metabolism so destructive in its effects that it loosened the very roots of 'the movement' even as it fostered its rank growth." In this respect the widespread use of LSD contributed significantly to the demise of the New Left, for it heightened the metabolism of the body politic and accelerated all the changes going on--positive and negative, in all their contradictions. In its hyped-up condition the New Left managed to dethrone one president and prevent another from unleashing a nuclear attack on North Vietnam. These were mighty accomplishments, to be sure, but the Movement burnt itself out in the process. It never mastered its own intensity, nor could it stay the course and keep on a sensible political track.
During the intoxicating moments of the late 1960s, many radicals felt they were on the verge of a cataclysmic upheaval, an imminent break, a total revolution. In their dream world apocalypse was never far away. The delusions of grandeur they entertained were amplified by psychedelic drugs to the point that some felt themselves invested with magical powers. They wanted to change the world immediately--or at least as fast as LSD could change a person's consciousness. By magnifying the impulse toward revolutionism out of context, acid sped up the process by which the Movement became unglued. Even activists who never took an LSD trip were affected by this process.
The use of LSD among young people in the US reached a peak in the late 1960s, shortly after the CIA initiated a series of covert operations designed to disrupt, discredit, and neutralize the New Left. Was this merely a historical coincidence, or did the Agency actually take steps to promote the illicit acid trade? Not surprisingly, CIA spokesmen dismiss such a notion out of hand. "We do not target American citizens," former CIA director Richard Helms told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1971. "The nation must to a degree take it on faith that we who lead the CIA are honorable men, devoted to the nation's service." Helms' reassurances are hardly comforting in light of his own role as the prime instigator of Operation MK-ULTRA, which utilized unwitting Americans as guinea pigs for testing LSD and other mind-altering substances. During Helms's tenure as CIA director, the Agency conducted a massive illegal domestic campaign against the antiwar movement and other dissident elements in the US. The New Left was in a shambles when Helms retired from the Agency in 1973. Most of the official records pertaining to the CIA's drug and mind control projects were summarily destroyed on orders from Helms shortly before his departure. The files were shredded, according to Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, chief of the CIA's Technical Services Staff, because of "a burgeoning paper problem." Lost in the process were all existing copies of a classified CIA manual titled, "LSD: Some Un-Psychedelic Implications."
An excerpt from Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of
LSD: The CIA, the Sixties and Beyond, by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain
Copyright 1985 by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain
The Acid Dreams web site: http://www.levity.com/aciddreams/