Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael Rothfeld

Rifts Within Student Left Hamper Anti-War Efforts

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXI, Number 2, 29 June 1967.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Following a year of vigorous student protests against the University administration, political activities at Columbia this summer must appear to be terribly quiet. No ideologues flame from the sundial; no protestors march from Low Library. Student groups are, for the time being, refraining from confrontations with the administration of the University.

The explanation seems self-evident: all of the activist students have gone home for the summer to Westchester and are working for their fathers in the dens of the robber barons.

Actually, however, nothing could be farther from the truth, for most of Columbia’s political activists have remained on campus this summer. But instead of venting their energies against the University administration, they are using them, although not very successfully, in an attempt to end the war in Vietnam.

Unfortunately for the anti-war activists, the entire summer movement against the war has become bogged down in a muddle of contradiction, confusion and intra-movement rivalries. This is a symptom of a major split within the student “left” which the activist groups have been trying to keep hidden for almost a year.

A striking example of this split immediately confronts an observer if he happens to pass by College Walk at Broadway and then continues down the Walk toward Low Library Plaza. He will note three different tables with the purpose of procuring signatures for two separate petitions to put the Vietnam war issue on a New York City referendum ballot this fall.

Each one of these three tables is sponsored by a different group and each petition is some what different in its wording.

One petition is being sponsored by the New York City Committee for an Immediate Withdrawal Referendum. The other is sponsored by the Columbia Independent Committee on Vietnam, which claims to be unofficially a part of the Vietnam Summer 1967 project.

The New York City committee petition claims the support of no less than fourteen different leftwing groups including both Columbia Students for a Democratic Society and the Progressive Labor Party. It is interesting to note that many of the people manning the desk are members of the Columbia University Progressive Labor Club.

PL, as Progressive Labor is called by many students, has seven active members at Columbia. The PL club here has been one of the most outspoken student groups against the war and his teamed with SDS in the past in confronting the University administration.

But despite the co-operation between PL and SDS, the coalition is strained. When the Central Intelligence Agency arrived on campus to recruit in February, SDS and PL staged a joint demonstration. In addition to picketing and holding a rally, however, a smaller group of students also sat-in and physically blocked CIA recruiting. Many of those students were members of Progressive Labor. 

It was at this point that some sort of split became visible to the outsider. But, it had, in fact, been a reality for some time.

The schism cracked into the open when several member of SDS began to talk openly of “purging” PL members from affiliation with SDS. The SDS members cited several areas in which they disagreed with progressive labor. 

One area of disagreement came under the heading of rhetoric. SDS members were unhappy with the strong polemics often used by Progressive Labor. They also disagreed with the “strong arm” tactics often used by PL, including sit-ins.

When questioned about this split, however, students on both sides deny that it exists or become evasive in their answers.

One high-ranking member of SDS, when asked whether that organization had officially given its support to the New York City committee referendum petition, said that SDS “may have voted its support late last term.”

“But this is very different from actually working on the referendum to withdraw troops from Vietnam,” he added.

The recently organized West Side Project, staffed and led primarily by SDS people, is attempting to organize the kind of anti-draft unions which the SDS member spoke about. But it is hindered by the fact that there is little or no co-ordination between the West Side project and Vietnam Summer, the largest of the summer anti-war projects.

This lack of co-ordination also illustrates the split in the structure of the left. Many activists are staying away from Vietnam Summer because they say it is “too wishy-washy liberal.”

residence hotel. Mr. Pierce commented yesterday however, that this attempt was unsuccessful because “there was only one building involved.”