Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism

Title

Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism

Subject

New Left

Description

Prairie Fire was a 188-page political manifesto published by the Weather Underground in 1974.  It was written primarily by Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and Celia Sojourn and articulated the radical splinter group's ideology, endorsed revolutionary violence, and, according to Jonah Raskin, "embodied a muffled desperation that underlay the bravado about Third World liberation." The name for the manifesto was derived from the writings of Chinese Communist revolutionary, Mao Zedong.  In his “Little Red Book,” he wrote, “a single spark can set a prairie fire" as an analogy for revolution.  The ideas in the book drew not only on Maoist philosphy, but also Marxist/Leninism. The manifesto encourages a mix of mass-organizing and clandestine revolutionary violence.  "Never disassociate mass struggle from revolutionary violence," the author's argued.  "To leave people unprepared to fight the state," they said, "is to seriously mislead them about the inevitable nature of what lies ahead."  "Prairie Fire" was distributed in radical bookstores, food coops, headshops, on college campuses and many other places that movement activists met.  It was met with a combination of strong emotions throughout the Left.  Ultimately, the ideological arguments articulated in "Prairie Fire" led to a new split in the Weather Underground, with some gravitating toward the "Prairie Fire Collective," which favored mass-based, above-ground revolutionary politics, and the "May 19th Communist Organization," which remained underground and pulled off the infamous Brinks robbery in 1981.  

Ron Jacobs, who has chronicled the history of the Weather Underground, reflects on Prairie Fire here and here.

Raskin's reflection on the manifesto on its 45th anniversary can be read here.

Creator

Weather Underground

Source

Roz Payne

Publisher

Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Date

1974

Format

small press publication

Citation

Weather Underground, “Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism,” Roz Payne Sixties Archive, accessed October 23, 2020, https://rozsixties.unl.edu/items/show/890.

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