Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Lenny Glynn

SDS Divided on Analysis of Failure

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXIII, Number 115, 9 May 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“History, history, why hast thou forsaken us?”

“The dialectic moves in strange ways.”

“If you have a better tactic: try it.”

These phrases were chalked on walls and blackboards after a special SDS caucus of steering committee supporters Wednesday. Last night, at the first general assembly since the occupation of Mathematics and Fayerweather Halls, the factions of SDS met to analyze the failure of the spring offensive in more serious terms. When the groups met, bitter criticism was levelled at the organization’s leadership.

Members of the disbanded expansion committee led the attack on the SDS steering committee, accusing it of “opportunism” for supporting the demand raised by Students Afro-American Society for an Interim Board to coordinate programs involving black students. Steering committee members offered alternative explanations for the lack of support on campus during the occupation of Mathematics and Fayerweather last week.

While they criticized their own tactics, steering committee members reaffirmed their primary commitment to the black demands and the basic strategy that SDS adopted this spring in support of high school rebellions and other black movements.

Dick Greeman, assistant professor of French and a member of SDS, analyzed and defended the strategy in the longest speech of the three-hour meeting. Citing examples of “betrayal of black struggles by the white left in this country,” Greeman stated that it is not the duty of the left to pass judgments on demands raised by black people. left must support them, he said, on the ground that “self-determination is an abstract if the content of that concept is not supplied by the black people themselves.”

Representatives of the expansion committee and members of Progressive Labor last night again attacked the support given to the SAS demands as “illusory” because it implied that “under a capitalist state it is possible to share power with the ruling class.”

Steering committee supporters defended backing the black demands as “crucial to the radical movement at this time.” They admitted, however, that the adoption of these demands as “prerequisites” to the SDS demands had obscured political reasons for the occupations, and had been a serious tactical mistake.

On the question of responsibility for the failure of the spring offensive, the group divided along the same lines as on the issue of racism. Expansion committee members sought to place the blame on profound theoretical errors which they claim alienated students. The steering committee maintained, on the other hand, that unforeseen shifts such as the cancellation of the one-day strike called by SAS and the changes in SDS’ own strategy were the causes of “confusion” on campus. These reversals, they said, paralysed support for last week’s occupations.

Virtually the only point on which the radicals agreed was condemnation of tactics used during the •occupations. Reasons, however, varied widely: political, moral, tactical, even aesthetic. But no one failed to criticize some aspect of the move.

It was apparent from the meeting that this tiny area of agreement will not serve as a foundation for unity. The rifts within SDS have not lessened in scope or intensity.

In the last weeks of the semester, conflict will continue between the two factions for ideological and. organizational control. The climax of this conflict, however, will not be reached until next year when the absense of old leaders and the influx of freshmen will open possibilities for “restructuring” the. campus left.