California's Tom Hayden seeks a place in system he once derided

Tom Hayden, gearing up for an expected run for the State Assembly here next year, is a man who chafes at political timidity. If he doesn't revel in his own notoriety, he at least views it as a mark of his own effectiveness.

''If you're a typical politician in the State of California,'' said the former '60s activist in a recent interview, ''you seek high name identification and you seek to avoid engagement with any issues where there's division of public opinion. I do exactly the opposite because I see no point in popularity contests.''

Mr. Hayden, who often remains at philosophical odds with his own Democratic Party, expresses exasperation that Democrats have yet to agree on a national energy policy. He argues that it's time the party began grassroots organizing among new constituencies such as working women (including domestic workers), disabled persons, and Hispanics.

He does not rage the way he used to back in the nationally televised, violence-torn days of his youth, when he was a student activist and opponent of the war in Vietnam. Hayden has mellowed over the years; become a husband, father , and homeowner. But he is not timid as he considers the 1982 bid for office in a political system he once railed against.

''There is no way that a noncontroversial person can get anything done,'' says Mr. Hayden. ''During one's lifetime, one's effectiveness is measured up to a point by having a divided constituency. If you have 100 percent of the people against you, obviously you've made a fundamental mistake. But it should be 50-50 .''

The mere mention of his name, or that of his wife, actress Jane Fonda, is enough to spark heated outbursts in some circles. Republicans, especially GOP businessmen, are likely to launch into tight-lipped tirades on communism and socialism when one brings up Hayden or the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED) , a 12,000-member grass-roots political organization founded by Hayden four years ago.

Many Democratic state legislators and party officials pay at least lip service to the notion that there's ''room enough in the Democratic Party for a Tom Hayden.'' Many also are frankly admiring of Hayden's ability to organize at a local level. Most, however, keep a careful distance from a man they think is too controversial - an uneasiness summed up by one aide to a top Democratic official who says, ''The Democrats are going to have enough problems next year, without people saying, 'Look who the Democrats are running in the 44th (Assembly District).' ''

Hayden, who has established a close alliance with Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., has moved to bring the CED into traditional party politics. On Nov. 10, CED held its first annual fund-raising dinner, turning over the proceeds to ''progressive'' Democratic candidates for office in 1982. It was chaired by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr.

Since 1977, when Hayden founded CED in the wake of his unsuccessful bid for California's Democratic nomination for the US Senate (a bid which nonetheless won 1.2 million Democratic votes), it has developed into an effective grass-roots organization, emphasizing issues of local control.

Philosophies vary widely among the group's membership, explains Hayden, who tends to shun labels of left and right these days. But the central theme, he says, is that the country's ''economic system would be much improved if employees and consumers shared more in the decisionmaking process, both in large companies and in government decisions.''

Critics charge that Hayden preaches socialism. Although he agrees some CED members are ''avowed socialists,'' he also argues that socialism ''has achieved its potential and exhausted itself as a viewpoint pretty completely.

''The problem . . . is that socialism's primary emphasis has been on the evils of business, and it hasn't sufficiently explored the evils of government, '' he says. ''Socialism underestimated the creativity of the private entrepreneur, from whom most inventions come. I don't think the state can become an entrepreneur.''

What Hayden says he envisions is a ''conscious planned partnership'' between government, business, labor, and the consumer - an arrangement loosely modeled along the lines of Japanese management. It would involve all sides working together both to spur new businesses, such as alternative energy, and to renovate ailing industries like steel and auto.

For the most part, however, CED is interested in short-term grass-roots campaigns and issues. So far, CED claims that a total of 53 organization-supported candidates have been elected to office around the state, including a much-publicized majority elected this year on the City Council of this tiny, oceanside community. In addition, CED takes an often successful lead in pressing for rent control ordinances, hazardous waste control, and development of solar power.

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