Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jeff Gordon

Ideological Struggles

SDS: An Analysis

First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 6, No. 5, October 1968
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Publisher’s Note: Jeff Gordon is a student at Brooklyn College, New York and National Student Organizer for the PLP.

* * *

The June 9-15 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) National Convention was marked by sharp class struggle. It was an intensification of the struggle that has gone on for the past year: will SDS grow and lead more students in anti-imperialist struggle or will it become a small, isolated, centralized foci; will SDS lead the student movement into an alliance with the Black and white working class, or embark on a student power-“new working class” course?

Over 800 people attended the Seventh Annual Convention held in East Lansing, Michigan. The debate was intense, occasionally bordering on violence. Underlying it was an all-out attempt by the National Office/“New Working Class” (NO/NWC) caucus within SDS to (1) expel members and supporters of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), whom they saw as the main obstacle to (2) their plan to centralize even further the power and finances of the organization into their own hands, around their own ideology of student power-“new working class.”

This two-prong strategy, although supported by the SDS national officers, was rejected, for it opposed the belief held by many at the convention, including PLP members, that SDS should be a mass-based anti-imperialist movement fighting on campus over all issues that affect students, and allying that movement with the working class.

Since thousands of students are becoming more radical, the NO/NWC group tried to give a revolutionary-sounding form to their reformist, non-revolutionary politics. They shouted “we’re revolutionary,” and accused anyone who opposed them of “trying to hold back the revolutionary direction of SDS.” Their constant use of the phrase “revolutionary” is reminiscent of its adoption by Madison Avenue whenever it tries to sell the same old product as being new and different. To be revolutionary means to have a revolutionary theory and to act upon it. Their theory is far from revolutionary. It boils down to counter-institutions under capitalism, hippy dropout communities, and pop-art protest.

Their practice is equally clear: at Columbia, on April 24th, with two buildings already seized and three more coming, the “new working class” forces in SDS–operating from outside the seized buildings–including leading NO/NWC spokesman Steve Holliwell, voted 20 to 3 to abandon the buildings. Those occupying the buildings, including PLP, rejected this “revolutionary” advice, and the struggle grew from there.

Thus we can see the context in which the struggle at the convention took place. Let’s take a close look at the theory put forth by the NO/NWC forces so that we can see more clearly the significance of their organizational scheme and convention tactics. Though there are certain political and personal differences within the NO/NWC, they were easily able to unite at the Convention around the key ideological and organizational proposals and in the attack on PLP.


According to the “New Working Class” (NWC) theoreticians capitalism has solved its basic economic, and thus political, crises-producing contradictions. Capitalism is guaranteed a rising rate of profit and the ability to meet all wage demands by workers (making the traditional struggle over surplus value between workers and bosses non-antagonistic). NWC-advocates Calvert and Neiman even go so far as to forecast such prosperity in the “domestic market” that foreign imperialism will become unnecessary.

What has brought about this millennium for capitalism? The marvel of automation, coupled with the ability to brainwash consumers into compulsive consumption.

It is in the area of consumption, NWCer Dave Gilbert says, that the real problem for capitalists lies. Not because people can’t afford to buy; not because there aren’t enough goods being produced for them to buy; but because they may choose not to buy. According to Gilbert the real area for revolutionary struggle, and the only one in which capitalists can meet disaster, then becomes what people do with their “discretionary income” (i.e., what’s left over after subsistence spending). If they spend it–capitalism can’t be stopped. If they don’t– capitalism falls into an “underconsumption crisis.” Then, those people who have become sick of “meaningless jobs” producing the waste products for “manipulative consumption” will make the “revolution.”

The problem that worries Gilbert is that capitalism may be able to brainwash people into compulsive consumption forever, thereby holding down rebellion by a glut of goods and high standard of living.

A slightly different emphasis is given by NWCers Bell, Dohrn and Holliwell. Since there is so much prosperity in America, they say, and the potential through full automation for more, why should people work? They would have us struggle to break the “work-income connection” (i.e., people should be paid whether they work or not). This “revolutionary” demand has been put forth by a number of liberal politicians. They call it the “guaranteed annual income.”

Radicals, therefore, should not organize workers, students, or Black people to fight imperialism by developing their revolutionary understanding of the need to smash the bourgeois state and establish socialism. Rather all classes (no exceptions) should be organized against commodity fetishism, planned obsolescence, and the work-income connection. For Gilbert the “revolutionary” demand is: don’t consume. For Bell, Dohrn and Holliwell it is: quit work.

Specifically, we needn’t worry too much about organizing the blue-collar workers. But Gilbert throws them a sop: Since they too, along with doctors and junior executives, must consume meaningless goods, they can join the all-class alliance and “play a role.” Bell, Dohrn and Holliwell put the NWC position clearest when they say that the working class has become “integrated into essential aspects of the bourgeois social structure of America” (i.e., the bourgeoisie no longer really exploits workers at the point of production).

The NWCers oppose the growing struggles of workers for higher wages and a better standard of living. In fact, they believe these struggles are reactionary on three counts. First, as Calvert and Neiman say, workers will only consume more meaningless commodities with their added income. Second, because the boss can grant any wage demands (he is so generous and is no longer concerned with maximizing profits), giving the workers a larger slice of the economic pie will reinforce their support of capitalism. Third, workers should demand a speedup of automation instead of fighting to protect themselves from it.

Thus, in their vision of the future, they look to the hippies as the group already taking the “revolutionary” path. Gilbert points to them claiming that they have already rejected compulsive consumption, commodity fetishism, and meaningless work, and have set up alternative communities (right under capitalist dictatorship).

So instead of fighting to smash bourgeois state power and set up working-class state power, these pseudo-revolutionary theoreticians urge counter-institutions and counter-communities under capitalism, with the hippy communities as their prime example.

State Power Is Key

Marxism-Leninism shows that in all class-divided societies (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, even socialism) one class holds state power and uses it as a dictatorship over the other classes. In the U.S., for instance, the capitalist class controls the state apparatus (the government, army, courts, etc.) and uses it to maintain itself in power. In China the working class controls the state apparatus and uses it to suppress those who would reinstate the capitalist system.

Therefore, in order to defeat imperialism and develop socialism–where the needs of the people, not the profits of the few, determine what is done–it is necessary for the most powerful and best-organized oppressed class, the working class, to seize and destroy the capitalist state apparatus and replace it with its own. This new state will also be a dictatorship.

Some people shy away from the term “proletarian dictatorship.” It means that the state is used to see to it that the previous order of capitalist exploitation can not return and that a new order of exploitation does not develop. “Dictatorship” is used in a class sense. Under capitalism, bourgeois dictatorship suppresses workers, students, and intellectuals fighting for the people’s interest–it must be smashed. Under socialism, a working-class dictatorship protects those interests from foreign or domestic attack–it must be defended.

Thus the essence of revolutionary struggle and victory is the seizure and maintenance of state power. Nothing short of this will do. Anything short of this can always be reversed by the class dictatorship of the capitalists. And as we can see with the cultural revolution in China the class struggle for state power continues even during socialism. Lenin wrote that “...after capturing state power the proletariat does not thereby cease its class struggle, but continues it in a different form, and by other means. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the class struggle of the proletariat conducted with the aid of an instrument like state power” (The Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, p. 32).

But the NO/NWC people have the opposite approach. They do not even talk about state power, or the need to destroy the capitalist state. While claiming to be revolutionary they avoid this key question of revolution’. Instead they replace it with an idealist notion of counter-institutions and counter-communities. In a work titled “Consumption: Domestic Imperialism,” Dave Gilbert writes “And we have already begun to develop alternatives to the existing system. In the liberated buildings of Columbia, in the dropout communities of New York, San Francisco, and dozens of other cities, we are beginning to build our own commonwealth, our own culture.”

Thus the lesson they draw from the struggle at Columbia is to set up “our own commonwealth, our own culture’’ right in the heart of imperialism, surrounded by the continuing destruction of human life for profit. No wonder these forces would vote to abandon the buildings at Columbia. They could go off and form their own commonwealth in someone’s apartment, without the threat of arrest.

No matter if the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) continues to plot counter-revolution on campus; no matter if the people of Harlem and Morningside get evicted; we offer the truly revolutionary alternative: the dropout communities of the Lower East Side and Haight-Ashbury.

The same theme is picked up again by Steve Holliwell’s “Open Letter to the Membership on Columbia’s Student Movement”: “PL thought we should just close the place down, as if our strike was a simple protest for change in the University. They failed to realize that as revolutionaries we have an alternative conception of the university and society, and we must work in every situation to build institutions on a new foundation. Re-opening the University was like making a start on that new society; simply closing it down was like workers accepting capitalism and asking for better wages” (New Left Notes, June 10, 1968). In other words, blatant sellout politics packaged under the label of “revolutionary” terminology.

Thus the fight against IDA and Columbia’s eviction of thousands of people is a “simple protest for change at the university.” But this struggle helped people develop a greater understanding of the nature of state power–the use of the university as an agency of the state, and the connection between the trustees and the state, the cops, the press, etc. It showed students where their potential revolutionary power lies: in alliance with the working class, in this case the Black working class of Harlem.

It also showed that though the students had the people on their side, the ruling class had the weapon of state power. Liberation lies not with deluding oneself that under capitalist dictatorship, surrounded by 1,000 cops, we can build Columbia on a new foundation. To achieve liberation our fight must lead to the seizure of state power.

And, of course, the NWCers think collective struggle is unnecessary. Gilbert, in the piece previously cited, comments that “Youth, and particularly students, can also reject the system as a whole. As trainees in a system of exploitation, their rejection of the role of trainee is a rejection not simply of the specific task they are being trained for, but a rejection of the process as a whole. This includes a rejection of consumer culture and manipulative consumption as well as the rejection of meaningless work they refuse to participate in (viz. the hippies).”

Again, the hippy dropout community is offered as the revolutionary goal. Revolution is not for the NWCer a matter of sharp class struggle towards the armed seizure of state power. Instead it becomes an act of individual rejection of the culture and voluntary withdrawal from the evil of manipulative consumption into the supposed non-consumptive pure commonwealth of hippydom.

But that is not the way class society works. There is nothing the capitalist class would like more than for radicals to follow the road of student power – counter institutions, general copout and psychedelic “protest” – under capitalism.

The rejection of class war leading towards the Seizure of state power by the working class and its allies comes from the belief that capitalism has solved its basic economic problems. It has, the NWC forces state, so much maneuverability it can buy off and incorporate the U.S. working class without needing to exploit people in other nations. Let us now examine this theory.

Imperialism: Highest and Last Stage of Capitalism

It is important not to mistake the economic mechanisms of imperialism for absolute necessities. Capitalism invests in Third World countries because of the higher rates of profit obtainable in those markets. However, it is erroneous to argue that capitalism cannot survive as a closed system. In the stage of neocapitalism, the systematic expansion of the domestic market has provided an even more important outlet for excess capital than Third World investments. . .

Capitalism does not, of necessity, require foreign markets. (Internationalism: New Left Style, Calvert and Neiman, Guardian, June 22, 1968)

To begin with, Calvert and Nieman don’t understand what imperialism is. It is not just the requirement of foreign markets, but the totality of the system–both domestic and international–integrally linked together. The driving force of imperialism is national and international competition, which forces capitalists to maximize their profits or be driven out of business. The heart of the search for maximum profits is the search for cheap labor to exploit; and the lowest-paid labor is overseas. Lenin’s definition of imperialism made clear that its main feature was not the export of commodities for foreign markets. In Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism he wrote (p. 105): “... the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance.”

Calvert and Nieman not only misunderstand the nature of imperialism; they have also completely distorted the facts of U.S. economic life. For as the latest issue of Fortune Magazine points out, the rate of profit on economic investments is decreasing, not increasing. U.S. corporations are more and more exporting capital overseas in their drive to maximize profits through the exploitation of cheap labor. One of the leading capitalist business journals, Business Week, put it this way (April 20, 1963, p. 70): “Late in the 1940’s–and with increasing speed all through the 1950’s and up to the present – ...in industry after industry, U.S. companies found that their return on investments abroad was frequently much higher than in the U.S. As earnings began to rise, profit margins from domestic operations started to shrink; costs in the U.S. climbed faster than prices, competition stiffened as markets neared their saturation points.”

With the domestic rate of profit falling, capitalism must rely more, not less, on overseas exploitation. In 1968, the U.S. had close to $120 billion in assets and investments abroad. At its height, the British Empire had foreign investments of “only” $13 billion.

Calvert and Nieman claim that most of the “unnecessary” U.S. investment is in Europe and Canada (Guardian, June 22); thus the so-called underdeveloped countries (Africa, Asia, and Latin America) are even less necessary. But such a superficial analysis overlooks the fact that the rate of profit (the key investment determinant) is higher in those three continents. So much higher that the absolute profits brought back to the U.S. are greater too.

From 1950-1965 the U.S. invested $9 billion and brought back in profits $25.6 billion from the three continents. During the same period it exported $14.9 billion to Europe and Canada, bringing back in profits $11.4 billion. On a smaller direct investment (by $6 billion), U.S. business reaped an absolutely bigger profit (by $14.2 billion)!

Calvert and Nieman would admit that imperialist expansion brings on the reaction of People’s War against it, causing crises. But the implication of their fallacious belief that imperialism could exist as a “closed system” within the U.S. is that when People’s War gets too hot to handle, the U.S. will comfortably back out and live in peace with the rest of the world!

While it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the strength and maneuverability of U.S. imperialism–to think that it is on the verge of collapse and that a protracted People’s War needn’t be waged against it–it is just as serious a mistake to overestimate it. As the Vietnam war plays havoc with the economy, forcing the Wall Street Journal to call for a “compromise,” the gold crises, growing competition from other capitalist countries, etc., are some of the indicators that things aren’t going as well as the capitalist class would like, or as the NWC people try to convince people they are.

The day-to-day conditions of workers are growing worse. Forming the mainstay of the draft system, they are fighting Vietnamese workers and peasants for the profits of U.S. bosses. Here at home, speedup, compulsory overtime, automation, and layoffs wreak havoc in their lives, bolstered only by a huge expansion of the credit system. And underlying this is the drop in real wages! The PLP Draft Trade Union Program (PL, June 1968) pointed out that “Even U.S. government figures–which never paint a completely true picture from a worker’s point of view–show that real wages, or the purchasing power of the weekly wage, are going down. In 1965 they reached $78.53 (as expressed in terms of 1957-59 prices); in 1966 they dropped to $78.29; in 1967 to $78.23. But again, these figures do not give a complete picture: they do not include increases in state and city sales, income and property taxes, money that workers cannot spend on essentials but which is part of that $78.29.”

The notion that capitalists are willing and able to grant wage demands is false. The increasingly rebellious spirit of the people is caused by a general deterioration in the economic conditions of life, the result of a many-sided attack by the profit-hungry ruling class. It is absurd to attribute such a rebellious spirit to “meaningless work,” “manipulated consumption,” or an “increased standard of living,” as do the NWC forces.

Black rebellions arose after it became clear that “integration” was unlikely and irrelevant: housing conditions, jobs, wages, police brutality, etc., grew worse during the period of “civil rights gains.” Students, considered the silent generation a few years ago, are growing more militant, fighting harder, and seeking allies in a generally deepening political struggle. And of growing importance is the beginning of a rank-and-file movement among Black and white workers, which has largely been responsible for the growth and greater militancy of strikes.

The amount of strikes had gone from 3,362 in 1963 to nearly 5,000 in 1967. The amount of workers involved has doubled and the man-days idle has leaped from 16.1 million to 41 million in the same 4-year period, indicating longer walkouts. But quantity doesn’t tell the whole story, for the quality of the struggle has changed too. The workers are taking on a fight not only against the immediate boss but also against the government and against their sellout union leaders. Furthermore, these workers have been rebelling in the face of false cries of “patriotism” invoked by the Kennedy-Johnson Administration in the name of the “national interest”–to keep the economy running smoothly as support for “our boys in Vietnam,” or in any other war of aggression launched by the U.S. ruling class. (PL, June 1968, pp. 67-68)

These growing rebellions and strikes and the worsening conditions of life could not be predicted or understood by the “new working class’’ theory. In 1964 Herbert Marcuse, quasi-official seer of the movement, wrote:

. . .we are immediately confronted with the fact that advanced industrial society becomes richer, bigger, and better as it perpetuates the danger .[of an “atomic catastrophe”–like Soviet revisionists, he looks upon that as the chief danger to “modern society”] . The defense structure makes life easier for a greater number of people and extends man’s mastery of nature. Under these circumstances, our mass media have little difficulty in selling particular interests as those of all sensible men. The political needs of society become individual needs and aspirations, their satisfaction promotes business and commonwealth, and the whole appears to be the very embodiment of Reason. (One Dimensional Man, p. ix)

But this picture of America is a ruling-class lie designed to persuade people that they never had it so good; and Marcuse is part of this mass-media selling drive. The truth is that things are getting poorer, smaller, and worse for the working class. And they aren’t convinced that the “particular interests” of the ruling class are their own.

Marcuse goes on to say in the same work (p. x) that “Our society distinguishes itself by conquering the centrifugal social forces with Technology rather than Terror, on the dual basis of an overwhelming efficiency and an increasing standard of living.”

Thus we see both a misunderstanding of the nature of the state and an awesome overestimation of the strength of capitalism, leading to the “conclusion: don’t struggle.[1] Any state-even fascist–would rattier not have to resort to force to put down “the centrifugal social forces (?).” But every state is based fundamentally on force, SLS workers arrested on a picket line, Black people attacked and shot in ghetto rebellions, students expelled and jailed during campus demonstrations soon learn. The bosses, the poverty-plan agents, and the deans always try to use sweet talk and bribes first. But when that fails, as it increasingly does, the basic armed power of the state is used.

The Vietnamese seem to be doing pretty well (though their “leaders” can set that back in Paris) in defeating the “overwhelming efficiency” of U.S. capitalism. They haven’t been overwhelmed by the Marcusean beneficial technology. Fortunately, they took to arms without consulting Marcuse.

Automation Intensifies Class Struggle

Common among those who believe that capitalism has solved its economic contradictions is the belief that automation has largely eliminated the difference between workers and bosses. Bell, Dohrn and Holliwell, in their “Program Proposals” presented to the SDS Convention, say that “Since labor has had its class significance altered, it can be integrated into essential aspects of the bourgeois social structure of America.” Therefore, “Since earlier radical analysis has depended on the role of labor in the productive process as the prime contradiction, the switch to technology drastically alters the way in which labor can be treated in future organizing efforts.”

This is the same attempt to promulgate false consciousness that the ruling class makes. In their all-out attempt to foster bourgeois ideology (i.e., the outlook and ideology of the ruling class) among workers, the ruling class tells workers that while maybe a long time ago they were really oppressed, now the difference between workers and bosses has narrowed; it doesn’t make that much sense to talk of classes anymore; and American democracy with its “overwhelming efficiency,” like the old Colt .45, is the great equalizer.

But workers have never bought it. They know–every day on the assembly line teaches them–that they aren’t “integrated into the essential aspects of the bourgeois social structure of America.” Some may have a new car (though most don’t); but, unlike the boss’s it’s bought on time payments that can hardly be met, especially if there are layoffs or someone in the worker’s family becomes ill. Workers live a life of deep economic insecurity; and as the contradictions in imperialism grow, the boss turns the screw: real wages fall, taxes rise, more die in Vietnam.

No, technology has not altered this situation. It has not brought about the millennium. Read any day’s newspaper. The misery of the people is growing; and attempts to cover this up, to mesmerize people with happy-time through TV and drugs, just haven’t worked.

Automation and cybernation lead to an intensification of the class struggle, not its lessening. The working class knows these developments are costing them jobs. Our task must be to advance the struggle against automation; but the NWC theoreticians would have workers stop fighting and welcome it. In their Guardian article Calvert and Nieman claim “A radical program for the cities ends up rejecting the position of organized labor against cybernation... A radical program stresses the need to ... speed automation...” And they claim further “The truth lies in the recognition that the primary issue of factory organizing–wages–no longer challenges the power of the capitalist class. And until the potential of automation can be radically incorporated into the demands of industrial workers, they struggle against the emergent potential of advanced technology, the potential of a fairly rapid transition to a post-scarcity economy. It is not revolutionary to demand jobs when alienated work could be eliminated.”

But organized labor’s sellout misleadership doesn’t reject cybernation. The ILWU on the West Coast, headed by Harry Bridges, has been leading the way in working with the bosses to bring in cybernation. Because of this he has become the new darling of the ruling class: they call him a “progressive union leader.” What he has done is accept a small payoff ($13 million in the workers’ mechanization and modernization fund, while the bosses expect to save $200 million in the deal) for the workers now on the job in exchange for no new workers getting jobs; i.e., he has taken a narrow trade union viewpoint and rejected the unemployed and the rest of the working class. That is the same scab, counter-revolutionary perspective of the NWCers towards automation.

Automation and cybernation must be looked at from a class viewpoint. Under socialism, automation and cybernation will be advanced and developed. They can serve the people, make life easier for them. But under capitalism they are used against the interests of the people. Hence, no matter how many times the bosses, the labor lieutenants of the bosses, and the NWC propagandists tell them not to, the workers are going to wage a class struggle to see to it that they don’t get screwed by them. And this is true also of many who work to build, program, and operate the new machines, because except for a very few of the most skilled and educated, they too are cheated. The TV ads telling of the “great opportunities” in this field never mention that programmers are frequently poorly paid.

It is pure fantasy to pretend that the struggle over wages does not “challenge the power of the capitalist class.” Such a theory ignores the clear facts of daily life in which the fight over the distribution of surplus value forms the heart of the class struggle. To maintain otherwise is to say that capitalism no longer thrives on the exploitation of workers; it is to be blind to the increasingly sharp struggles between boss and worker. A ruling class will go to great lengths to devise ingenious schemes pretending to offer workers an opportunity to “make decisions affecting their lives” rather than concede the main point–money.

Though the struggle for higher wages and better working conditions is not a revolutionary one it is one in which Marxist-Leninists must participate. But while we fight with the workers for these reforms we must offer the revolutionary message that only the seizure of state power by the working class and its allies can put an end to exploitation. In such a state–but not before then–will socialist men and women strive for a communist post-scarcity period; and it is not a “fairly rapid” process. But the key and most difficult goal is not economic development. Though it is of great importance, more fundamental is the creation of socialist consciousness and relations among the people, and the defeat of bourgeois ideology, habits, and relations.

“Underconsumption”: NWC Disease

In the Gilbertian vision, what’s wrong with capitalism is that it forces people to produce and buy useless commodities. Therefore, people from all classes (after all, all classes consume) must fight together as consumers, not demanding food, housing, etc., but against “manipulated consumption.”

Though Dave Gilbert doesn’t think the industrial working class is much of a revolutionary force, he would grant them a role as consumers. In his work (p. 11) he says “The traditional working class, as well as other strata of the working class, has been affected by the rise in the domestic standard of living. They, as well as everyone else, feel the brunt of new forms of exploitation as consumers. It is this fact more than anything else that can potentially link the traditional working class with other groups.”

Thus, once again the erroneous claim that the standard of living is rising. As we have shown above, real wages are falling’. Their belief that it is rising is not factual but a subjective projection of their own condition as students from wealthy families, and an acceptance of a hoary myth: “In America, the streets are paved with gold.”

Gilbert emasculates a class analysis here by equating workers with “everyone else.” Thus he rejects any special antagonism between workers and bosses, putting a worker who gets $5,000 a year sweating on an assembly line on a par with a junior exec pulling down $20,000 for thinking up ways to speed up that assembly line. In fact, according to Gilbert’s “discretionary income” theory, the exec is the better one to organize because he is both more exploited as a consumer (he buys more junk) and can withhold more (by buying less). “Over and above the survival level, it [the high income group] enjoys discretionary income. If people with discretionary income choose not to buy as many consumer goods as they potentially could, there is, at least short term, underconsumption” (p. 4).

The revolutionary movement is not going to be built upon mass struggle, strikes, violent class war. Instead, those with “discretionary income” will get sick of the alleged rising standard of living, meaningless jobs, and manipulative consumption and drop out, turn on, and watch the capitalist system fall around them.

Waste production and the management of demand (domestic imperialism) seems to be leading to the development of a large scale domestic movement (new left) reacting against meaningless jobs and manipulative consumption” (p. 6). Gilbert is not referring here to those students who have fought the administration and cops from coast to coast, those most active in building anti-imperialist struggle. They are reacting more to racism, imperialism, the draft, the falling standard of living, and the rotten culture and education needed by the ruling class to sustain and cover these up! He means the dropout hippies: “Youth, and particularly students, can also reject the system as a whole ... This includes a rejection of consumer culture and manipulative consumption as well as the rejection of meaningless work they refuse to participate in (viz., the hippies)” (p. 14).

Gilbert wants those not yet active to join the real anti-consumption scene, the hippy communities. He plays upon the anti-social aspect of those already in struggle by putting the dropout alternative forth as real protest, thus trying to encourage them to follow that path.

Of course, hippy communities are far from his subjective view of them. They are based on the commodity fetishism of drugs. Besides drugs, hippy communities consume many other things, having developed their own petty-bourgeois community that serves both themselves and the titillation of the bourgeoisie. Many hippies do work, while the others live off people who do. They have not “rejected” very much, even in a Thoreauvian sense.

What the NWC people do reject is mass struggle fought through to the end. Thus they wanted to cool down Columbia, abandon the buildings, and get people into a ̶counter community.”

Capitalists do not fear “underconsumption,” but its opposite, “overproduction.” Overproduction has nothing to do with people’s needs, but only with their inability to buy all the products of capitalist production at prices profitable to the capitalists. Capitalism is driven by competition, which can force capitalists to introduce very expensive technology. This leads eventually to a fall in the rate of profit (his profit as compared to his total investment, which is now much larger). To try to make up for that fall, each capitalist tries to produce as many goods as he can with his equipment. Because of the anarchy–lack of central coordination–of capitalist planning, widescale overproduction occurs. There are just too many goods being produced. It isn’t a question of whether people are holding back their “discretionary income,” but that there isn’t enough money around to buy all the goods. Though this produces crises, they are not necessarily fatal. The only thing fatal to capitalism is sharp class struggle on the part of the people, leading towards their seizure of state power. The actions of the people, not just the state of capitalism, is the key to revolution.

Bell, Dohrn and Holliwell offer a supposedly revolutionary formulation that is remarkably similar to one put forth by the more “enlightened” liberal spokesmen for capitalism. They suggest that since “productivity has become collective; income must also be collective,” The liberals speak of a “guaranteed annual income” or “negative income tax” for all, whether one works or not. Both approaches are reformist and have nothing to do with a revolutionary program. The correct formulation must read that “since production has become collective, the ownership and control of production must also become collective; i.e., it must be controlled by the working class–the producers–and their allies for the benefit of society.

Our clever theorists next suggest that the work of radicals “must be aimed at taking power in the city on the basis of radical politics and at radical restructuring of the regional economy.” How, exactly, does one take and hold power in one city. State power is not just invested in the local, regional, or state governments, but also in the federal government. Not only that, but there is no such thing as “regional economy.” Earlier Calvert/Neiman had claimed that the U.S. could exist as “a closed system” doing without the rest of the world. Now we have narrowed it down to the region. But the U.S. economy is national and international. The theory displays a complete misunderstanding of this fact.

Thus the revolutionary program emerging from the “break the work-income connection” NWC forces leads to a dead end or, more likely, city-wide machine reformist politics based on demanding, along with countless other politicians, the “guaranteed annual income” and better “regional planning.”

Workers: Main Force for Revolution

We say that the main force for revolution in the U.S. will be the industrial, transportation and communication workers.[2] They are not they can not be, the only force. All exploited and oppressed people must be united to defeat imperialism. Teachers, welfare workers, artists, etc., must be won over. Students and intellectuals play a vital, an indispensable, role. But, because of their stability, organization, and key relationship to the means of production (which gives them both power and an understanding of that power and its class relations) it is these three sections of the working class that will be the main force.

This was clearly seen in France. Students started the whole thing, and their role was vital. But it was to the working class that they looked to finish it. It was only they who had the power and organization to become the mainstay of the revolution. The French students knew the strategic importance of building the worker-student alliance. (The next step must be for French workers to organize themselves and destroy the traitorous, revisionist French Communist Party.) The French students did not first go to the technicians and engineers (who the NWC looks to as the main force for revolution). At Columbia the students formed an alliance with the workers of Harlem. No one at Columbia looked to the engineers who lived in the area as being the main group to ally with. It would have been absurd, as is the whole NWC theory in practice.

All of this leads us to the conclusion that the “new working class’ theory is non-revolutionary, at times counter-revolutionary, and always reformist. It is basically a plan for making capitalism more tolerable for a certain section of hippy-intellectuals, who are turned off by shoddy commodities, a feeling of manipulation, and who yearn for a culture that would allow them to “do their own thing.” They have been unable to break out of the individualism of the capitalist ethic.

The NWC theory in no way deals with the chief question of revolution–seizure of state power. It never answers the vital question posed by Lenin: revolution for which class. Without dealing with these questions it can not be a revolutionary theory. By rejecting them, and offering “counter-communities” and “regional economies” in its place, it becomes reformist.

And by refusing to join in the immediate struggles of people, and by adopting the sterile individualism of dropoutism and drugs, it takes a basically sectarian outlook towards political work. The NWC forces in SDS have long opposed a base-building approach in which, through consistent political organizing, SDS chapters would expand their base and involve themselves in bringing anti-imperialist politics into struggles on many levels thus showing how imperialism affected all aspects of life. They prefer the comfort of their necessarily small communities, and politically picking the issues they want to work on–doing their own thing. Sectarianism is one of the major weaknesses in SDS and the whole student movement. We will go into this at length in a future article.


The ideological document presented to the convention by the NO/NWC forces was “Program Proposals: 1. The Cities; 2. Revolutionary Organization,” by Bell-Dohrn-Holliwell. In the above section of this article we have quoted from and discussed, among other documents, “Part 1. The Cities.” “Part 2. Revolutionary Organization” states: “We recommend that SDS begin to lay the groundwork for the development of a new left revolutionary organization. The work should be experimental in nature, and all efforts should aim at strengthening the role of regional structures while developing nationwide ties that such an organization will require.”

The SDS Convention soundly defeated the Bell-Dohrn-Holliwell proposals–Parts 1 and 2–by a vote of over 485 to 355. How can you begin to form a disciplined, “revolutionary” party without political agreement’. It was clear that there was widescale disagreement. It was clear that many held the NWC theory to be non-revolutionary. It was also clear that those who put it forth did not enjoy the confidence of the membership to give them such broad leeway that the “experimental in nature” attitude allowed for.

Notwithstanding this, right after the defeat of the main ideological and organizational document, which was designed to affect major centralizing structural change, the NO/NWC caucus presented a series of complicated and often confusing constitutional amendments aimed at just such structural change.

The amendments would have replaced the existing National Interim Committee (NIC) with a National Organizing Committee (NOC) made up of four national secretaries and 15 “field secretaries.” The NIC presently has three national secretaries and eight at-large members, who have no special regional power. The NOC proposal turned on the functions of the new position of “Field Secretary.” The proposed Article V in, Section 5 read:

A. Field Secretaries shall be assigned by the NOC one of the several regions defined in Section 5-B as their geopolitical area of political activity. Field Secretaries shall have the following prioritized duties as national officers assigned to regions:
1. The establishing of functioning regions, regional staffs if no such organization exists in their geopolitical area. The NOC member shall be a full-time member of regional staffs if such staffs are in the process of formation or if such staffs exist.
2. The establishing of new chapters and building of existing chapters within the geopolitical area.
3. Coordination of SDS national programs within their geopolitical area.
4. Act as liaison between chapters, region, and the National Office. Political activities shall be subject to review of regional councils where such councils exist; where there are no regional councils, political activities of the Field Secretary assigned to a geopolitical area will be subject to the review of the NC (National Council) until such time as regional councils exist. Field Secretaries shall be paid by the National Office until such time as regional councils are established which can assume the function; where regional councils exist, they shall have the responsibility of providing salary for the Field Secretary. Salary shall be equivalent to that of full-time national staff, (presented by Neil Buckley, changed version of original proposals by Jeff Segal).

Because of the clear defeat of the main proposal, which was to have paved the way for the Buckley-Segal centralization constitutional amendments, these amendments were presented as “strengthening the regional organizations of SDS.” It is widely held that it is vital organizationally to build stronger regional bodies, representing the chapters, which can plan joint activity, exchange lessons, be a forum for political debate, and help chapter growth. The National Office has touted this as one of its major goals for two years, and is able to work towards this without constitutional change. However, it has failed to carry out this task. There is, in fact, now less regional structure and less regional democracy then there was a year ago. The failure has been political, not constitutional.

Instead of strengthening the ability of chapters to take over the function of setting up and controlling their own regions and providing a democratic framework for that to happen, these amendments would give centralized control to the NOC over the regions. It was a clear attempt at a power grab. (The National Office does pretty much what it wants now anyway. These changes would have given them the constitutional power to do even more.)

It is the NOC who would assign the “Field Secretary” to a region. Regions would have no control over who gets picked. Regions could “review” their political activities, but have absolutely no power (neither does the NC) to do anything about it if they disapproved. They couldn’t remove the Field Secretary. They couldn’t make him stop doing or saying anything he wanted to in the name of the region. And to add insult to injury, the region would have to pay him–even if they totally disagreed with him. Even his salary would be fixed.

And the Field Secretary would have great constitutional power over the region. He would coordinate national program within the region. He could establish new chapters himself, without regional approval, etc.

Pretty good setup for the NO/NWC caucus if they could have pulled it off and united around a slate of candidates. Since you have to be “full time” to be on NOC, many chapter people couldn’t run. Instead NO/NWC staff people would run. They would be setting up a disciplined “cadre,” responsible for one year to no one but themselves, and empowered by the new constitution to circumvent or set up counter-regions in any area which offered them trouble And it would give them the ability to travel nationally–paid for by the membership–set up as many paper chapters as they chose, and use their powers as they saw fit to wage a campaign to rid SDS of the major thorn in the NO/NWC s reformist sides: PLP.

When they talk of discipline they mean for their own clique. They look upon themselves as the “cadre” sitting on top of an unsophisticated, uncommitted, but “profoundly alienated mass”: the SDS membership. (See Segal’s letter in NLN, June 10.) We in PLP have a different outlook. We oppose the concept of the “cadre” sitting on an NOC and controlling the politics of the organization while removed from the desires of the “mass.” The convention apparently agreed–the amendments were] defeated.

We think that only through extended political debate throughout SDS, in the process of continuing struggle against the ruling class, will the politics of the organization become defined. We think SDS can take more of a leadership role among students, and at the same time grow in size to become a large anti-imperialist movement. We reject the idea of imposing such top-down discipline in the organization so as to limit its growth around anti-imperialist politics. SDS will not play an important role in making the American revolution merely by calling itself a “revolutionary organization”, but by leading students in anti-imperialist struggle and allying with the working class. As Marxist-Leninists, members of PLP work in SDS towards that goal.

Another proposal for structural change was presented by the “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker” (UAW/MF) chapter of SDS. This group of anarchist-hippies from New York’s Lower East Side played a disruptive role throughout the convention, with the support and encouragement of many members of the NO/NWC caucus. They have been using these same tactics at regional meetings for the past half year. They interrupted debate and shouted down any speaker with whom they disagreed, particularly when the speaker was a member of PLP. Their behavior at the Convention disrupted constructive political debate, intimidated people new to SDS, and gave the meeting at times the aura of a fascist gathering.

At one point their actions, led by UAW/MF leader Ben Morea, almost resulted in a full-scale brawl. They persisted in trying to shout down a speech by John Levin of PLP on the lesson of the mass struggle he led against racism at San Francisco State College. The SF State struggle involved over 1,000 people and was very militant, with police arrests being made at shotgun point. But that wasn’t enough for the UAW/MF group. They shouted that they wanted guns and violent revolution now. Their actions and words were classic form for provocateurs. They backed down in this instance after a show of physical determination by those who wanted John to speak.

Their proposal for restructuring the organization betrayed their desire to base SDS more and more on hippy dropouts and less and less on students who have a campus base. UAW/MF holds, similar to many “new working class” advocates, that the revolutionary demand to workers and students is “quit.” Their proposal, called “The Destructuring of SDS,” was rejected by a wide margin.

The third proposal for structural change presented to the Convention was by Boston PLer Jared Isreal. It called neither for greatly centralized power for the national officers nor the “destructuring of SDS,” and was the only proposal that would have strengthened regions. It called for the expansion of the present NIC to 20 members, nominated by regional sub-meetings at the Convention and elected by the whole body. This would have made the NIC, without tremendous centralized power, into a body more politically responsible to the membership. It would also have allowed campus-based student activists to sit on the NIC (which the NOC-proposed “full-time” clause excluded).

Initially, many members of PLP did not realize the importance of the structural debate. This was a mistake. We thought, given the defeat of the NO/NWC ideological paper, that their structural proposals were ridiculous. The Isreal proposal was introduced in the middle of the structural debate. It did not pass, but it came the closest to passing of any of the three structural proposals submitted.

“External Cadre”: Red-Baiting

The ideology of the NO/NWC caucus was weak, confused, and easily shot full of holes. It was under serious ideological attack by the increasing number of people who are beginning to support an anti-imperialist, pro-working class perspective. The NO/NWC structural proposals were opposed by many who opposed top-down structure. Instead of responding with a political defense of their ideological and organizational perspective, the NO/NWC caucus came up with the old ace in the hole, the one weapon they hoped could unite their own split ranks–anti-communism. They intended to use it as the main political tool to push through their proposals and bludgeon down any opposition. Though the anti-communist, anti-PLP attack had some new twists to it (the red-baiters vigorously denied the charge) its essence was clear. But the details are worth discussing; attacks such as these can destroy the revolutionary potential of SDS.

The main element of the attack against PLP was the charge that its members in SDS are “external cadre.” The need to severely limit or rid SDS of external cadre was endlessly repeated by NO/NWC forces in carefully-timed speeches. Who were the external cadre? It was clear to everyone that they only meant PLP–the only Marxist-Leninist (communist) party in SDS. Anti-communism in practice comes as an attack on a particular Marxist-Leninist party, not on communism in the abstract. Those who use it in SDS try to have their cake and eat it too. They say they are communist, thereby seeming militant. And then they appeal to every one of the ruling-class’s images and prejudices against Marxist- Leninist parties. They use this dual tactic to force their critics on the defensive: “If you attack us you can’t be revolutionary.’’

The attack on external cadre did not mean the external cadre of the UAW/MF chapter. Nor of the NO/NWC caucus. Nor of the Guardian. Nor anyone else. What it really meant was that PLP (the only “external cadre” attacked) has an ideology they disagree with, but can’t defeat on its own merits. The reason they can’t defeat it is because it is correct. The NO/NWC forces then make a demogogic appeal to natural “SDS ideology” to which these “external cadre” are external. This is like the U.S. government’s appeal to the “national interest”–which is really the ruling class’s own interests. Likewise, the “SDS ideology” they speak of is really the ideology of the NO/NWC forces, not of the whole organization. And it is an incorrect ideology. Since they feel the absolute threat of its being defeated on merit, they respond by trying to oust PLP.

What is “external” and what is “internal?” The question really is, external and internal to what? The answer must be “to the revolutionary needs of the people.’’; not simply to SDS. The loyalties of PLP comrades are first and foremost to fighting for socialist revolution. The use by the NO/NWC forces of such terms as “external cadre” is just an attempt to confuse the issue of what are the correct revolutionary politics that must be followed. It is an appeal to narrow organizational chauvinism and to anti-communism. “External cadre” is no different than the term “outside agitator,” which is used by the ruling class to attack those it can’t defeat by other means. It is used by college presidents to attack SDS activists who organize politically significant movements on campus. It is used by poverty agency officials and such phony Uncle Tom leaders as Roy Wilkins to try to scare Black people away from listening to militants and, especially, Marxist-Leninists. It is used by every labor bureaucrat from Meany to Reuther to attack radicals and communists who oppose their leadership and try to organize the rank and file; and it is echoed daily in the reactionary Daily News and the “liberal” New York Times.

“External cadre” (and “outside agitator”) are loaded with all the images of sneaking, manipulating, devious forces trying to subvert good, innocent people. It plays upon all the anti-communist images banged into our heads each day in the press, on TV, in school. And that is exactly why the NO/NWC forces use it. Anti-communism, while we may try to reject it, still has an effect upon all of us. You can’t live in the U.S. and not be affected by it. The NLF are external cadre too; the only reason, we are told every day on TV, the Vietnamese people follow them is that they manipulate and lie to them.

Another aspect of the attack is put this way: “PLers are puritanical dogmatists. Just look at their short hair. They want to stop us from doing our own thing.” This is really an appeal to the most reactionary aspects in people, the aspect that is most individualist and the most decadent. It is an attack on our belief that freedom lies in collective, class struggle, not going off and doing your own thing. If we are to become revolutionaries, “our own thing” must be to struggle to build the revolutionary movement and make the revolution.

This type of attack–on external cadre–plays on whatever political weaknesses and doubts people have. It doesn’t serve to advance people’s ideology. It is using the ideology of U.S. imperialism within SDS! Thus it can prevent SDS from responding when it is attacked in the same way by the government or the college dean. It also forces an alliance within SDS between the most liberal and right-wing forces, who will openly accept anti-communism.

Completing the cycle has been the addition to “external cadre” of “Peking oriented PLP.” This was begun by Calvert/Neiman in their Guardian series (June 15), and picked up by Guardian editor Jack Smith in his report on the SDS Convention (June 22–more on this so-called report later). So besides being outside agitators PLP is part of the familiar international communist conspiracy (maybe taking orders from Peking?). Both of these articles were attacks on PLP. The phrase “Peking oriented”[3] was not used merely as a descriptive term, but clearly as a further attack. Sounds like it came from the mouth of Johnson himself. “It’s these Chinese outside agitators who are causing all the storm here. The natives would be quiet if it weren’t for them.”

The response among those who did the baiting was: “Why we’re not anti-communist. The fact is that we are the communists, PL isn’t.” Two things need to be said about this. First, as we showed earlier, this is false. On all the key questions of communism (Marxism-Leninism)– state power, proletarian dictatorship, an understanding of the internal driving forces of imperialism, of the objective situation within the U.S., etc.–the NO/NWC forces have a wrong, non-revolutionary outlook. Communism does not mean shouting “I’m a revolutionary communist.’’ Their ideology is, in fact, reactionary and in opposition to Marxism-Leninism. They wave the red flag to cover up the red flag. Second, their appeal, through the use of demagogic and organizationally chauvinistic phrases like “external cadre” and “Peking oriented,” is clearly to all the anti-communist crap that bourgeois culture pushes on us daily. It isn’t surprising that those in SDS who offer a theory based on super-individualism and bourgeois ideology use the same weapons and ideas as the U.S. government. But they are used here to attack those within SDS whom they consider the main obstacles to their own plans.

It became evident that the forces pushing for a tight top-down structure for SDS were willing to wreck the Convention, and maybe SDS itself, if they couldn’t get their way. Their tumultuous support for all participation in disruptive tactics, their constant attacks on PLP, and their stated goal of expelling PLP and all those who in any way support it, showed that they would rather split and destroy the organization than have it continue without themselves on top.

Whenever in U.S. history attempts to oust communist forces–justified because they were “outside agitators,” not because of what they did or said–have not been defeated, the organization has ceased to continue as a progressive force in the revolutionary process of the country. This happened in the CIO, which, while not carrying on ideal revolutionary activity before, took a decided turn to the right because anti-communism was not defeated in its ranks. It is vital that honest forces in SDS meet this question squarely and defeat the reactionary appeal to anti-communism. They must return to debating political differences on their merits, and see which are in fact “internal” to the revolution and which to the counter-revolution.

This appeal to anti-communism was setback at the SDS Convention’. During a three-hour debate, following Tom Bell’s “PL out!” speech, the large majority of people who spoke, many new people, rejected and attacked the baiting and supported PLP’s political and organizing contributions to SDS. They felt that open political debate would strengthen the organization, not weaken it as Bell’s tactics do. Many supported the necessity to build a worker-student alliance. A resolution offered by John Jacobs, which would forbid external cadre (i.e., PLP members) from running for office in SDS, was rejected by an angry majority of the convention who demanded that it not even be considered.

That was an important victory for the revolutionary direction of SDS. But the struggle promises to go on; anti-communism must be met more sharply and decisively each time it raises its ugly head. The future of SDS as a positive factor in the American revolution is at stake.

The Guardian: A “Radical” Liar

An almost unbelievable distortion of the Convention, “Where the Revolution is At,” by J.A. Smith, was published in the June 22 issue of the Guardian. It contained distortions by omission: while claiming that PLP blocked passage of new structure proposals for SDS, it didn’t mention the structural change resolution introduced by a PLer, which came closest to passing; and distortions by commission: quoting an unidentified foe of PLP as saying “PL sees the industrial working class as the only vehicle for revolution,” even though numerous PLP speakers had said it was the “main” vehicle, and that other sections of the population must be organized also.

Such distortions are the clear expression of the NO/NWC s reactionary and anti-communist line. The Guardian, working with the NO/NWC forces, has become the main vehicle for the dissemination of the most scurrilous and politically unsubstantiated attacks on PLP and the revolutionary potential of the working class within the movement. Their article on the SDS Convention mentions PLP in almost every paragraph, but never gives a complete quotation from anyone in PLP. It uses unnamed critics of PLP (“a new left source”)–reads like the N.Y. Times) to give a vulgarized garbel– sometimes the complete opposite–of what PLP thinks. Conveniently, they call any position they agree with “the new left position.”

The article was published out of panic and fear of exposure of the Guardian-NO/NWC political line and tactics at the Convention. It launched into an all-out attack on PLP because of our growing ideological influence, which they felt they could not counter politically–or honestly. But the bankruptcy of the Guardian is now apparent to all: they consider Academy Award nominee Bonnie and Clyde a revolutionary film; they regularly laud reactionary-revisionist developments in Eastern Europe, and frequently publish articles sympathetic to McCarthy and Reuther. And they can not disguise it with shabby attacks on “external cadre,” “Peking oriented PLP,” and accusations that PLP “stacked” the 800-delegate Convention. Particularly interesting here is their charge that PLers used 5-vote cards. What this really meant was that a number of PLers had been elected representatives to the Convention based on their politics and work in chapters, while many NO/NWC forces, who don’t do work on campus, but instead in offices, weren’t elected by anyone and thus only had one vote. Which is another reason why they wanted only full-time people on their proposed NOC! Campus people involved in struggle are viewed as “unreliable” by the NO/NWC-Guardian forces.

Jim Prickett of San Diego SDS, in a letter to the Guardian criticizing their coverage of the SDS Convention, wrote (July 27):

To accuse PL of inhibiting “revolutionary and ideological development’’ when they have in fact spurred that development . . . serves to heighten tension and obfuscate real issues. . . . Increasingly, SDS is beginning to work with the working class. Few chapters are without a labor committee, most are doing some strike support, and, at least in San Diego, many organizers have gone into full-time factory organizing. . . . The only ideological weapon that could conceivably stop this orientation toward the working class is PL-baiting. . .

The Guardian, unable to defend its vague, self-contradictory, and reactionary politics does try to “obfuscate real issues.” It uses PL-baiting to defeat the revolutionary perspective of building a mass student anti-imperialist movement and uniting it with workers to form a worker-student alliance’.

Student Labor Action Project (SLAP)

During the first three days of the Convention, workshops were held on the lawns and in the buildings of the Michigan State University campus. One of the main topics of discussion was the worker-student alliance and the more general question of the class relationship of forces in the United States.

Four proposals were brought to the floor of the Convention on labor work. They were never voted upon. The reason for this was that the NO/NWC caucus succeeded in placing this topic near the end of the agenda, knowing that time would not allow it to be heard; many people had to leave early. However, they could not stop the workshop discussion, and the Convention ruled that the discussion of the labor proposals will be first on the agenda of the next meeting of the National Council in the fall.

The major labor proposal and the one that received the most discussion was called “National Student Labor Action Project (SLAP).” It was supported by PLP, as well as many other people from throughout the country. It can best speak for itself:

A. Where are we?
The student movement remains isolated from the majority of students and almost completely from working people. We have fought on numerous particular issues, but we have not yet developed a strategy that can unite the majority of students and ally with workers against the common oppressor.
B. Why ally with workers?
The exploitation of workers is the basis of this imperialist society. Students are also victimized materially and intellectually by the same system that exploits workers. Therefore, there exists the basis for a common fight. Most students become part of the working class after they flunk out, drop out, or graduate. Teachers, social workers and other white collar workers, mostly former college students, have been drawn into sharp union struggles recently against their oppression.
In the process of our struggles on and off campus, students face a choice: whether to ally with working people, or to ally with liberal sections of the bourgeoisie. Working people face a similar choice: should white workers ally with black workers or the boss; should skilled workers ally with unskilled or the boss; should teachers ally with the working class parents and children (or with the racist Board of Education); should social workers ally with clients (or with the oppressive welfare department)?
The question is not one of students in missionary fashion “liberating” the working class because of a supposed superior intelligence. The fact is that students and white collar workers cannot fight successfully against their oppression without allying with the key force: production, transportation and communications workers.
France is the sharpest people’s struggle in recent history in an advanced capitalist country. It clearly shows that the industrial working class is the key force on the people’s side in the advanced capitalist countries. The theory that the “new” working class–the professionals and technicians–is the key force did not materialize in practice. French students were very clear that while they could start the fight, the working class must finish it’.
Some hold that while the working class may be the key force in the anti-imperialist struggle, to win them we only have to provide a sharp focus of action to which they will be irresistibly drawn. France shows that this approach is one-sided and necessarily leads to inability to consummate the revolution. The French students provided such a focus but the revisionist “Communist” Party had the base and was therefore able to sell it out over the objections of the unorganized opposition among the workers. The situation in the U.S. is similar: just as on campus we must do the hard base-building work, radicals in factories also will develop through day-to-day struggles an anti-imperialist base.
C. The time to start building this alliance is now.
Some say we don’t want to start building a worker-student alliance now, that we should wait until the workers have a powerful, politically-conscious base. Then the two will be ready to act together. We say the time to start is now. We wouldn’t say that white workers should wait until they have a powerful base before we fight racism among them.
The questions of who students ally with comes up constantly. In the Columbia struggle, students could decide between accepting a few “student power” reforms or standing fast behind the people of Harlem on the issue of the gym. Also many strikes of campus workers have occurred. In these cases students can militantly back up the campus workers and go on to aid the workers to win the strike, or they can scab (and this has happened). Failure to ally with workers on these issues now would actually make an alliance in the future far more difficult– and widen the gap between students and workers.
A national SLAP that will act with initiative and in the right situations–avoiding adventurism and its opposite, timidity–with boldness will be indispensable in making the worker-student alliance a key thrust in our movement.
The building of SLAP is essential for the building of the student movement. It does not mean that we give up student organizing. It means that we realize that U.S. imperialism is based on class exploitation and that to both defeat it in the long run and even to win immediate struggles against it, we must ally with our class allies–the working class. The important struggles at Columbia and S.F. State show that for the student movement to grow stronger it must both base-build on campus (win over thousands to fight with us) and concretely ally with workers. We can’t leave this to chance or let it only happen in individual cases. A nationally organized thrust to ally with workers–learn from them, bring our ideas to them, fight alongside of them–is essential right now to the organizing of students. The University is not an island unto itself.
D. Tactics of SLAP
We should build a stronger base on campus, reaching out to all schools and masses of students, leading them in sharper struggles against imperialism. We should not expect students to organize workers; the idea is to develop a student movement rooted in struggles against the ways imperialism oppresses students, increasingly pro- working class, more and more allied with workers in struggle. Developing a worker-student alliance is a long process. In developing that alliance, important activities are:
1. Lead students to link their struggles directly with working people. The oppression of campus workers, workers in university controlled hospitals, and working people and students in university-owned housing and in the neighborhood or the school should be given priority.
2. Strike support. This includes bringing large numbers of students to picket lines; raising money on campus as well as food or clothes if needed; bringing the story to the school paper; inviting rank-and-filers to speak on campus; leafleting on campus and in the community to support the strike; helping with boycotts (as in the Delano grape strike); researching aid to the strike; and more militant tactics. (In L.A. students ignored the labor bureaucrats and 250 workers and students blocked the struck L.A. Herald Examiner from coming out for several hours. Another example is stopping recruiters from coming on campus for striking companies.)
3. Summer work-in projects. By going into factories to work over the summer, students can learn first hand the real class oppression of workers. By bringing our political ideas to workers we can bring a more concrete understanding of the relation of the war, racism and other political issues to class consciousness. Workshops should be organized to evaluate our approach to workers and improve it. Study groups are also a good idea for discussing broader political issues as a framework for the more concrete discussions.
4. Support for Black rebellions. When campus is open, support actions can happen on campus. Demos can take place at armories and Federal offices. Very important to have done the necessary educational work opposing racism and exposing it among students and white workers before. This includes forums, leafletting, classroom agitation. Racism must be fought concretely on campus. We must ally with the Black working class.
5. The class bias of the theories of “harmonious capitalism,” labor-management relations, “conflict management” of the U.S. around the world that are taught in most universities should be exposed. A caucus on these lines in classes is a good idea.
6. General educational and research work for chapters and interested students.

The adoption of this proposal would be an important step towards the development of a worker-student alliance. SLAP explicitly speaks to the need to support Black rebellions, fight racism on campus and among white workers, and ally the student movement with the Black working class. This must be a key aspect of the worker-student alliance. You cannot build an anti-ruling-class worker-student alliance without fighting racism and supporting Black rebellions. Racism is the prime weapon of the ruling class in the U.S. Our support and anti-racism program must be both education- and action-orientated. White radicals must build a base among white workers and students so that they can deliver a real alliance. That base must be explicitly anti-racist and pro-working class. SLAP was not aimed at students going out and organizing workers. It was aimed at taking concrete steps, taking the initiative in uniting the student movement and the developing rank-and-file working-class movement against their common enemy: U.S. imperialism.

One of the other three labor proposals was “Perspectives on Class Organizing” (unsigned). Though much of it was general and vague, two points stood out. First, it seemed to define the working class in extremely broad terms (similar to NWC definition) to include all those who don’t own the means of production and are “manipulated.” This would lead to difficulties in understanding the social roles different groups play because of the differences in their relationship to the means of production: a steel worker, a teacher, an ad man all don’t own the means of production (and may all be “manipulated”), but will obviously have considerably different relations to revolutionary struggle. This vagueness is based on the lack of understanding of a class analysis of the U.S. today. Its effect on the labor discussion would have been to cloud the real debates of the Convention.

Second, the proposal calls for headquartering the labor project in the National Office in Chicago. The SLAP proposal wanted it to be centered in a region, recommending Boston. What’s the difference? The National Office has had a long history of opposing the building of the worker- student alliance. Thus centering it in the National Office would almost guarantee it being sat upon and not encouraged. In a region, local chapter people already working at building these projects could see to it that the national coordination and exchange of lessons and ideas took place.

Another proposal was called “Proposal for Building Labor Committees.” It came from the “Philadelphia and New York Labor Committees.” (There are two labor committees in N.Y. “The New York Labor Committee” is one of them.) Their proposal attacks the growing on-the-job militancy of millions of workers. (On this they see eye-to-eye with the “new working class” people). “Greater militancy on local demands in unions... reinforces rather than breaks down the divisions between groups of workers, poor people, students, etc.” Thus instead of supporting those struggles, trying to interject broader and deeper political lessons that will help further radicalize them, and developing ties between those workers and students, this group would attack and try to discourage workers from fighting on the job against the boss. This is the type of worker-student misalliance the boss would support.

Workers are powerful when they fight at the point of production–where they can stop production. That fight is much stronger when it is allied with other worker struggles and becomes political in nature. It is in these very fights that the divisions–prime example: between Black and white workers–between workers can be most easily broken.

This proposal takes a classical “economist” position, holding that the major thing students can bring to workers is economic expertise: show the workers that we could run the capitalist system “better” than the present bunch now running it and the workers will say “If that’s socialism, then I’m a socialist.” (Easy, huh!)

The final labor proposal was “Relationship of SDS to the American Labor Movement,” by Richard Arvedon (N.Y. Regional Office), Jim Fite (L.A. Regional Office), Morgan Spector (S.F.), and Steve Terrant (N.Y.) which came out against building a worker-student alliance “at this time.” While opposing building such ties between the student movement and rank-and-file workers, it called for SDS, through the National Office, to “be responsible for developing liaison between SDA and labor unions!” Thus it called for a top-down alliance between SDS and the sellout labor bureaucracy! This is a good example of the “super-militants,” the “revolutionaries” of the NO/NWC group revealing in practice their blatant liberal politics (a la the old SDS Steve Max approach)!

We can see that the ideological and political struggles in SDS are growing increasingly sharp. This is good. They reflect the general sharpening of conditions in the U.S. and throughout the world. Through political struggle, along with the practice of building an anti-imperialist movement, a higher level of understanding will be reached. The debate should not be avoided. To try would lead to political retrogression. Wrong ideas are not defeated unless they are hit hard!


[1] For those who are unsatisfied with such a conclusion, but who are without a correct theory to guide them, the struggle takes the form of “resistance” demonstrations. These nihilistically attack society as a whole–with such tactics as splattering passing cars with paint–and offer the participants only a sense of personal satisfaction; but they cannot build a movement to defeat imperialism. Such “left” militancy is merely a false cover for rightist politics and grows out of the same “new working class” analysis. It is the opposite of the militancy at Columbia, for example, which was part of building the movement. The struggle there was aimed at the enemy and towards an alliance with the people–not attacking them.

[2] The NWC people define “working class” as all those who do not own the means of production; but such a definition does not explain the differences in power and potential for class consciousness among different sections of the population. A steel strike, for instance, hurts the capitalist far more than a welfare workers’ strike. Assembly-line workers understand the nature of exploitation more easily than the engineer who considers himself a professional. There is a sharp difference in consciousness between the worker who cheers when the assembly line breaks down and the engineer who tries to keep it running.

[3] The Chinese Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution led by Chairman Mao Tse-tung are a source of great revolutionary inspiration and example for people throughout the world. The CPC and Chairman Mao are the leading vanguard force in the world revolution today. They are raising Marxism-Leninism to new heights. We have much to learn from them that we can apply to the particular situation in this country. In that sense we are proud to be “Peking oriented.”