First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 7, No. 4, February 1970
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.
Editor’s Note: Bob Leonhardt is National Student Organizer for the Progressive Labor Party and a teaching assistant at a large New York university.
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Within the past few months the student movement has met and withstood a severe test. At the June, 1969, convention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), forces opposed to a worker-student alliance attempted to destroy the organization by splitting off from it. Led by the so-called “Revolutionary Youth Movement” (RYM), they justified their walkout by claiming to expel from SDS the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), the Worker-Student Alliance caucus (WSA) and anyone else who expressed differences with their efforts to sabotage the student movement. Although RYM convinced several hundred honest people to leave the convention with them, they did not succeed in destroying SDS. A clear majority of the membership elected to repudiate the split and stayed on at the convention to pass proposals for developing struggle against racism and imperialism.
The rejection of the split by most SDS’ers indicates that increasing masses of students have come to see the working class as the key class for revolution and that they are beginning to embrace proletarian ideology as the only progressive alternative to reactionary bourgeois ideology. However, although this upsurge in pro-working class consciousness is a significant step forward, by itself it will not guarantee the continued progressive development of the student movement. Until now students have remained largely isolated in practice from the working class. If students are to fulfill the promise they have shown as a force capable of serving the people, they must overcome this isolation and develop an unbreakable alliance with workers in struggle. Should this alliance emerge as a general political phenomenon in the course of the present school year, students can make greater contributions than ever in the over-all struggle against imperialism. On the other hand, if it fails to develop, only two alternatives are available to the student movement: Either it will turn into its opposite and become reactionary, or else it will wither into oblivion.
The objective conditions for students and workers are excellent. There are hundreds of thousands of workers on campuses throughout the country. No university could exist without them. Their labor is vital to the operation of cafeterias, buildings and grounds departments, libraries and university-associated hospitals. Many of these workers are black and Latin. All of them are brutally exploited by administrations that hide behind the “non-profit” status enjoyed by universities in order to justify deplorable wages and working conditions. For example, in May, 1969, a black worker was decapitated at Columbia in an accident resulting directly from the administration’s negligence. He left a widow and five young children. After five years of service to the university he was earning $87 a week and held another job as a building superintendent in Harlem in order to support his family. The university paid his widow $1,000 in life insurance and sends her a weekly check for $87. She herself cannot work, nor can she support her family on this “compensation.”
At Cornell, 14 cafeteria workers–five of them black–were summarily laid off in one day to make room for a “modernization” program. At UCLA, a militant black cafeteria worker was fired for “talking back” to the boss. At Merritt College, in Oakland, California, a black woman matron must clean all the women’s bathrooms and part of the girls’ gym in addition to other jobs. Every day she does the work of three male custodians; yet she receives 62c an hour less than the others. (At many Southern universities, campus workers do not even receive the $1.60 hourly minimum wage prescribed by Federal law.) When Brooklyn College and CCNY cafeterias close down every August, the workers are laid off for several weeks without pay.
Most campus workers at U.S. universities are not unionized. They receive little or no sick leave, and their pension and retirement plans are either non-existent or hopelessly inadequate. Because of racism, black and Latin workers bear the brunt of this exploitation: They receive the lowest wages, are forced to work in the worst conditions and have virtually no job security.
The list of examples could be prolonged indefinitely, but the point is clear: If we want to ally with workers we can do so directly on campus. Furthermore, campus workers have repeatedly shown their willingness to fight the administration bosses. Last year campus workers and students joined forces in so sharp a struggle against the administrations of both Duke and North Carolina A & T that the administrations called in the National Guard to restore “law and order.” At North Carolina A & T, black students fought the National Guard with guns. In each case the local ruling class was thrown into virtual panic. This is a mild foretaste of the victories that can be won against racism and the exploitation of all workers if we seriously and systematically set about building a protracted alliance with campus workers.
We in PLP–and those who agree with us about the student movement’s crucial need to ally with workers–must make a self-critical evaluation of our past work. True, for several years we raised and fought for the concept of a worker-student alliance. We believe that in so doing we made a valuable contribution to the class struggle. However, our approach was one-sided. Although we contended that we wanted to develop an alliance with workers, our practice revealed that our real concern was the creation of a pro-working class student movement in which the actual participation of workers was superfluous. Clearly, it is vital that students be won to the idea of serving the working class; however, in our implementation of the worker-student alliance, we ignored the need to build unbreakable ties between students and workers. We were guilty of both idealism and elitism: idealism, because we viewed workers in the abstract, rather than as a concrete force to join with in struggle; elitism, because despite everything we said about the primacy of workers, we viewed them in practice as secondary and helped foster the illusion that we as students could lead them in class battles.
Our previous efforts in developing a worker-student alliance had definite positive aspects. The massive student strike against racism at San Francisco State; fights against racist university expansion at Harvard, the University of Chicago and Columbia; campaigns to abolish ROTC at Harvard, Fordham and Dartmouth; and the barring of a recruiter from racist General Electric at Queens College are a few examples of student struggles in which we attempted to give pro-working class leadership. Consistent strike support and summer work-ins in factories and shops were also steps in the right direction. However, in very few of these cases did we develop deep and protracted ties with workers; our relations with them were tenuous at best and almost never lasted beyond the duration of the immediate struggle in question. Unless we make a breakthrough now by producing a firm alliance with campus workers, our accomplishments will soon be reversed.
Some may contend that we should not place so much emphasis on campus workers because they are not in the vanguard of proletarian revolutionary forces, and that we should concentrate instead on allying with workers in basic industries. While it is true that campus workers are not as important to capitalist production as workers in auto, steel, transportation or communications, it is also true that at the present time the natural relationship between students and campus workers is more conducive to an alliance than the relationship between students and workers in basic industries. Because we are in daily contact with campus workers we can develop a strategy for launching struggles in concert with them. This is not now the case with other workers. Our experiences in leafletting factories and mobilizing to support off-campus strikes have taught us that we cannot forge true unity with workers in struggle if we “approach them as outsiders. We should continue to fight racist expansion and ROTC; we should also continue strike support, but we should view these articles in the context of building the campus worker-student alliance (CWSA) on campuses across the country. If we can achieve this alliance, then we will have taken a qualitative leap forward in making an eventual alliance with industrial workers, with whom we must link up if we are to help build a revolutionary student movement and win the struggle for socialism.
It is a measure of our own contempt for workers that we have taken so long to grasp the importance of the CWSA. For years we have virtually ignored the exploitation of campus workers and the struggles they have waged against it. Campus workers have been laid off, killed, and injured; they have suffered daily from racist wage differentials; when they have attempted to organize, university administrations have engaged in the crudest form of union-busting–and we have done little or nothing on these issues. In theory we have waxed eloquent about the need for a worker-student alliance; however, our practice reveals that we have fallen far short of the mark. Unless we correct this weakness, workers and our fellow students will come to regard us a bunch of impostors with lofty rhetoric whose actions in life do not differ substantially from those of pseudo-radicals like Weatherman and RYM II–except that Weatherman and RYM II openly avow their hatred of the working people, whom we claim to serve. This need not happen; we can unquestionably build the CWSA and help carry the student movement forward to a higher stage of development. But in order to do so we must appraise out shortcomings, strive to rectify them and, above all, thoroughly integrate our lives with those of the campus workers.
In recognition of this need, many students have already committed themselves to work part time on campus. This is already a major step forward. Through daily contact with campus workers on the job, students have a material basis for overcoming the anti-workers notions that are drummed into their heads by ruling class ideology. These jobs will also help us to pierce through the bourgeois myth that the university is a cloistered haven of intellectual purity and to see it for what it really is: a racist boss. We are taught in the classroom to believe gibberish such as “the nobility of classless Man,” “the unity of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness,” the theory of “upward social mobility” and other similar twaddle belonging to the bourgeois encyclopedia of ethics, sociology, philosophy and esthetics. The university inculcates these ideas in us so that we will be ideologically prepared to serve the needs of capitalism. On the job we learn firsthand that this ideology is in direct and irreconcilable contradiction to the needs of exploited workers, and that if our movement is to remain progressive we must repudiate our allegiance to the bourgeoisie and learn to serve these workers.
However, although this lesson is of inestimable value, we should not view our part-time campus jobs as merely an opportunity to learn. The CWSA is not a “campus work-in.” The summer work-in was a rich experience because for two months it brought students into daily contact with industrial workers. But it suffered from the same general weakness that has affected the worker-student alliance thus far: At best, work-in’ers built only temporary ties with workers. The CWSA now affords us the objective conditions for overcoming this weakness. Whether or not we succeed depends solely upon ourselves.
The CWSA represents a radical transformation in our strategy. In order to implement it, we must also transform ourselves. We must come to view our part-time jobs not simply as “political assignments” but as the basis for developing lasting friendships with campus workers. This may sound simple in theory, but the ruling class has bombarded us with elitism for so long and in so many ways that we have absorbed a great deal of it. Despite our frequent protestations to the contrary, most of us believe in our hearts that the claptrap that passes for “knowledge” under capitalism makes us superior to workers. Very few of us can claim even one worker for a friend. The mere act of taking jobs will not rectify this situation. Anti-working class ideas are so deeply rooted in us that we can never hope to overcome them spontaneously. We must be conscious at all times that a protracted and arduous ideological struggle with ourselves will be required if we are to transform our old habits. If this struggle is to be constructive, it must have a positive thrust. Self-criticism must lead to change, not to group therapy or one-sided self-castigation. Therefore, our discussions of our jobs should concentrate primarily on specifics: Do we talk to workers on the job? Do we raise our politics with them? Do we attempt to see them off the job? Are we becoming good workers ourselves or are we doing the job sloppily and causing the workers to regard us as loudmouths who don’t care about them?
For example, one SDS’er at a large Eastern university recently took a part-time job in his school’s cafeteria. The situation there is similar to other university cafeterias: Many workers earn barely the $1.60 minimum wage; they are all overworked; and the equipment is so dilapidated that job accidents are the rule rather than the exception. One woman in this cafeteria who works near a leaky coffee machine slipped on a pool of coffee, fell down and bruised herself. Almost immediately after she had recovered from this injury, she was scalded by hot coffee from the same machine, which the administration had neither repaired nor replaced. Her burns were serious enough to keep her out of work for several days. Here was a flagrant–and typical– case of the oppression to which the university subjects campus workers. The SDS’er could have initiated a mass campaign around this issue, but he didn’t. Furthermore, at the very least, as a matter bf common courtesy, he could have visited the woman at her home to wish her a speedy recovery, but he didn’t. He recognizes now that his failure to do so stems from a deeply-ingrained attitude that somehow workers are “less important” than students, and that therefore we should not concern ourselves with their well-being.
Unfortunately, this case is not unusual. If a fellow student is injured on the job, most of us are up in arms against the administration. If a popular professor is fired, we organize to demand his reinstatement. When our friends are ill, we consider it normal to pay them a call. But when the same thing happens to workers we often react with a callous shrug of the shoulders. Such an attitude tells more about the weakness of our class instincts than a dozen well-articulated speeches in which we congratulate ourselves about our commitment to the working class. If we do not improve, we will not build the CWSA. We must consistently raise the question of our ties to workers and draw up a specific plan for making changes where they are required. If we do this we will be in a position to recognize and overcome many of our weaknesses.
Our anti-worker attitudes show themselves in numerous ways. Among the most glaring of these is racism. Super-exploited black and Latin workers are in the vanguard of revolutionary forces in the United States today. The most militant class struggle in recent years has been waged by black workers in ghettos from Watts to New York. In shops around the country, black workers have taken the lead in initiating wildcat strikes. The same applies to the campuses, where black and Latin workers have been instrumental in launching struggles against the administrations, as the examples of Duke and North Carolina A & T attest. There is no demand in the interest of black and Latin workers that does not simultaneously serve the interests of all workers as well as all students. Racism nets the ruling class billions of dollars annually in superprofits. Racism is also the major ideological prop used by [the ruling class to divide workers from each other and to prevent the development of a worker-student alliance. We must make anti-racist fights a key aspect of the CWSA.
Self-critically, we must acknowledge that in the past we have not adequately grasped the need to make anti-racism a primary part of the struggles in which we have engaged. At Harvard last year, PLP and WSA led a militant fight against ROTC and university expansion into a working class community. ROTC trains students to be officers in the imperialist army that suppresses the struggles of black, Latin and Asian people throughout the world, as well as in the United States. Black workers are the first to be evicted by Harvard expansion. Both of these struggles had a clear “objective” anti-racist character. However, in our agitational work on these issues we did not sufficiently emphasize the question of racism. In theory we may well have asserted that we considered it vital, but in practice we treated it as an insignificant problem. This in itself is racist. We are attempting to correct this error by guaranteeing the anti-racist content and thrust of every mass campaign launched by the CWSA. Within this context we must place special emphasis on overcoming our isolation from black and Latin campus workers.
Racism also manifests itself in our relations with black and Latin students. Like black and Latin workers they have taken the lead in struggling against imperialism. Black students at Columbia sparked the mass rebellion against the university’s racist gym in 1968. Minority group students were in the vanguard of forces using revolutionary violence against the cops during last year’s strike against racism at San Francisco State. Some of the fiercest fights in the student movement have been waged by students at all-black colleges in the south. We have much to learn from these students, yet we have done little to overcome our isolation from them.
At Columbia last year, PLP and WSA concentrated most heavily on a campaign to fight the university’s racist expansion into Harlem. Although we did much agitational work around the question of racism, we did not attempt to make political friendships with black students. Instead, we emphasized our criticisms of the nationalist leadership of the Student Afro-American Society. We do not now retract these criticisms. Rather than fight to ally with the exploited black and Latin workers of Harlem, the SAS leaders raised student-power demands for special black admissions and a Black Studies Department. Such demands perpetuate the illusion that under capitalism racist universities like Columbia can be cajoled into serving the people. The SAS leadership contended that expansion was purely a “community issue” and that students should not concern themselves with it. We believe that this position was a sellout of the black workers who live in the community surrounding Columbia. However, when we made this criticism we failed to distinguish between the SAS leadership and rank and file, the same rank and file who less than a year before had sparked one of the most significant rebellions against racism in the history of the student movement. Our relations with SAS members and other black students was limited almost exclusively to the distribution of leaflets attacking the SAS leadership. This attack was politically correct, but because it took place in the absence of principled relations between ourselves and the black students, they could not regard it as anything other than a racist slur on them. In essence, we acted as though the struggle against nationalism took precedence over the struggle against racism. Here too we must transform our practice. In building the CWSA we must overcome our racist fears of and contempt of minority group students by building close personal and political friendships with them on the basis of the anti-racist struggles in which we participate.
In addition to anti-worker ideas and racism we must also overcome the sectarianism that has in the past characterized our relations with all students. Too often we conduct ourselves as though we are privileged luminaries with the self-appointed mission of bringing the revolutionary philosopher’s stone to the reactionary, unenlightened masses. This arrogance reflects our own tendency to regard ourselves as the center of the universe and our failure thus far to integrate our lives completely with the majority of other students. Many who sympathize with our program are dissuaded from uniting with us because we treat them like hopeless right-wingers if they express honest disagreements with certain aspects of our line.
Millions of students have shown through the anti-war movement and hundreds of other on-campus mass struggles that they can be won to fight imperialism and racism. More students than ever are conscious of the need to ally with the working class. In order for the CWSA to succeed we must form a broad united front with these students. The basis for this united front will be agreement on the specific grievances of campus workers. Within the front it is vital that we play an independent role as Marxist-Leninists. In order to help raise the ideological level of the front as well as the level of its struggle against the ruling class, we must consistently put forth and fight for communist politics. Unless we continually point to socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat as the fundamental lesson of all reform struggles, we will commit an opportunist error and abdicate our responsibility as revolutionaries. However, this does not mean that we should demand agreement on the need for proletarian revolution as the basis for the united front. We must take a long-range view of people and have confidence that through their participation in struggle against the ruling class they will come to see that all reforms can be reversed and that the capitalist system must be overthrown if the masses are to free themselves from imperialist exploitation and oppression.
The “all-or-nothing” approach to people is the result of a narrow, one-sided political outlook. Too often we tend to view politics merely in terms of meetings, rallies, speeches and leaflets. Although all of these activities are indispensible in building a mass movement, they are hollow exercises in futility unless we understand that base building–the development of long-term personal and political relations with campus workers and other students–is the core of the CWSA. The haughty, mechanical view that people must either immediately endorse every aspect of our line or else be consigned to oblivion leads only to increased isolation from the masses. Frequently, this isolation reflects itself in the attitude that we are “ace organizers” who have no time to worry about the “trivia” that concern our fellow students. For example, many of us spend so much time attending meetings and churning out leaflets that we flunk out of school. Usually this doesn’t bother us, because we consider our courses a lot of “bourgeois crap” to be spurned by serious revolutionaries.
The university is one of the major ideological arms of the bourgeois state and we must constantly expose the reactionary nature of the ideas it teaches; however, unless other students respect us as students we can never expect them to respect us as communists. The factory worker who refuses to clean his machine because everything he does only produces profits for the boss will have a hard time winning over the worker on the night shift who must clean up the mess left behind. Much the same applies to our political work as students: How can we hope to have a good influence on people in our English class if we boldly assert that “Shakespeare isn’t worth anything because he never espoused the dictatorship of the proletariat,” especially if they know we’ve never taken the trouble to read a line of Shakespeare? The fierce and protracted struggle that we must wage against ruling class ideology does not require us to assume a cloak of anti-intellectualism or philistinism. On the contrary; students will have increased respect for our political ideas if they believe that we take a serious approach toward our studies. We will find it difficult to convince them of anything if we have given them cause to regard us as goof-offs or dunces.
Finally, we must give serious consideration to the question of male supremacy in our work. Like racism, the special oppression of women is a multi-billion dollar business for the ruling class. Working women have played a key role in helping lead struggles on the job and in the community. In New York last September, hundreds of welfare mothers joined with caseworkers in demonstrations demanding school clothes for children and back pay for clients. When the police attacked the demonstrators, the mothers were in the front ranks of the battle; and their tenacity and militancy were a source of inspiration to all the demonstrators.
An analogous situation prevails on campus. The most notable example is the struggle at San Francisco State, where the political and tactical leadership of women was vital in building unity among all students and in repulsing the police and administration attacks. However, despite the fact that women constitute at least half of the forces within our ranks, we persist in treating them as weaklings or inferiors. This attitude manifested itself in a particularly acute manner during last year’s student strike at Berkeley. When someone suggested that the women leave the picket lines before the cops attacked, most of the men in SDS greeted the proposal with tacit acquiescence. The reactionary character of this idea became apparent only when the women themselves refused to abandon their positions and insisted upon confronting the cops along with everybody else. Similar or related instances have occurred on every campus. Our discussions of the CWSA should focus sharply on the struggle against male supremacy: Is that belief preventing women from assuming leadership responsibilities? Are we acting upon the need to build a base among women students? Are we paying adequate attention to the special exploitation of women in the cafeterias, dormitories, libraries and offices?
On the ideological front, the university offers many courses in which anti-worker culture assumes a specifically chauvinist form. We are taught in sociology classes that the antagonisms in working class communities must be blamed on “hostile family environments,” “parental neglect,” “drug addiction or alcoholism at home” and other similar rubbish. In other words, working class parents–and working class mothers in particular–are supposedly responsible for the oppression of their own children! As a corollary to the CWSA we should launch a thorough attack on such chauvinist lies; by exposing and defeating them we will draw closer to all workers.
An awareness of anti-worker attitudes, racism, sectarianism and male supremacy as the principal ideological obstacles to the continued progressive development of the student movement is an essential condition for undertaking the campus worker-student alliance. We must pinpoint these errors and eradicate them in ourselves and others. However, we cannot do so in the abstract; every ideological rectification campaign must have a material basis or else it will degenerate into vapid moralizing. In this case, the material basis is the CWSA itself. We need to defeat reactionary ideas within our ranks because they prevent us from uniting in struggle with workers, not simply because they are an obstacle to our own development as individuals. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that from the onset we develop the CWSA as a mass fight against the administration.
Some may argue that because the CWSA is still in its infancy, we should wait to launch mass struggle until we have built a sizable base among campus workers and students. Unquestionably, we should attempt to involve workers in everything we do: We should consult with them about abuses on the job, discuss leaflets and other agitational work with them, and encourage them to join with us in planning every aspect of strategy and tactics for the CWSA. However, the “wait-and-see” approach smacks of conservatism and should be rejected. It implies that workers will resent us if we initiate struggles early in the game. On the contrary; unless we demonstrate to workers in practice that we are serious about making the CWSA a fight to win, they will justifiably repudiate us as a bunch of sweet-talkers who don’t want to act against the boss. All the talk in the world won’t make the CWSA a reality; and we will not be able to ally with workers or students unless we direct our efforts toward the development of mass campaigns based on specific issues.
These issues exist on every campus. Only our anti-worker attitudes, our racism, and our conservatism prevent us from transforming them into mass struggles. In many cases we initially committed the error of overlooking concrete on-the-job abuses, concentrating instead on general “trade union” issues such as wage increases, an end to speed-up, pension plans or retirement benefits. This approach was incorrect because it created the impression that we intended to organize campus workers ourselves. The workers quickly /saw through our half-baked attempts to “organize” them and began to develop a cynical attitude toward the CWSA. They understood that we were demanding things that only they could win for themselves.
For example, at one school SDS’ers began the CWSA by making a number of demands similar to those a trade union would raise. At the same time, a black worker friendly to SDS had been demoted and was suffering from- constant administration harassment. Here was a case of flagrant racism; yet the SDS chapter initially ignored it because it appeared “insignificant” in comparison with the get-rich-quick promise of the trade union demands. Racist abuses such as those directed against this black worker are precisely the issues that should form the nucleus of the mass campaigns launched by the CWSA. Workers are fired, laid off, injured or subjected to racist pay differentials all the time. We can utilize our on-the-job contacts with them to best advantage by seizing upon these issues immediately and raising them sharply on campus.
We have begun generally to overcome our early reticence. Mass CWSA campaigns are under way at schools around the country. A pattern for the first stage of these campaigns has begun to emerge. First, we have attempted to draw closer to the workers; the ties we have developed with them have enabled us to outline the specific grievances on which to base the campaigns. Next, in consultation with the workers, we have distributed leaflets calling attention to the abuses in question. In conjunction with these leaflets and with consistent canvassing and base building in dormitories, classrooms and elsewhere, we have held agitational rallies. In some cases these rallies have led to heated political confrontations with personnel directors and other administration flunkeys. For the most part these confrontations have not yet involved large numbers of workers and students. This reflects both the weaknesses that characterize our own base building and the fact that because the CWSA is a relatively new concept, many students must still be won to participate actively and militantly in building it. However, in all cases, the confrontations have had a positive effect. For one thing they have shown in practice both the possibility and the necessity of transforming the CWSA into a mass attack upon the administration. For another, they have enabled us to show the workers that we’re serious about building a fighting alliance with them. The confrontations have also helped convince other students of the need to strike hard at the university in unity with campus workers. Finally, the limited accomplishments we have made thus far have thrown the administrations into a virtual panic. (At Columbia, a one-day boycott incited the administration to close down the cafeteria for an entire day and rehire two workers who had been laid off.)
As of now, the sharpest CWSA confrontation yet has taken place at Yale. A black women, Mrs. Williams, who works in the Yale cafeteria, had been insulted and pushed around by her supervisor. In response to this racism she threw juice in his face. When he retaliated by striking her, she fought back. As a result, she was fired. On November 3, 200 SDS’ers met and decided to march to the personnel director’s office to demand that she be rehired immediately with full back pay. Protected by four cops, the Yale bosses first stalled and then agreed to admit a “committee” of 10 students. After several more bosses came in to try various dilatory tactics, 20 more students forced their way in and tore the door off its hinges. In all, 100 students stormed in and held three bosses hostage while 200 more demonstrated outside. Yale finally sent a dean to announce that 45 of the demonstrators had been suspended and that those who remained would be arrested. The students left only after they had decided collectively to canvass for a mass picket line that had been planned the next day at a nearby Winchester plant. They promised to take further militant action against the administration if Mrs. Williams’s demands were not met. The Yale bosses were so frightened by this attack that less than 24 hours later they offered to rehire her with full back pay. By overcoming their conservatism, reaching out to workers and acting to make the CWSA a mass fight, these Yale students have set an example for all of us. They have shown that boldness is the key to every aspect of this alliance. Breakthroughs similar to the one at Yale can occur throughout the country; whether they do or not depends entirely upon our willingness to integrate ourselves with thousands of campus workers and students and take the offensive against the administration. Many breakthroughs may already have taken place before this issue of Progressive Labor reaches you.
We cannot expect the United States ruling class to sit complacently by while we build the CWSA. Since the split in SDS it has put on every act in its extensive repertory to prevent the student movement from allying with the working class. At present it is placing its fondest hopes in the Vietnam Moratorium. This is a move by liberal imperialists to assume leadership of the anti-war movement by co-opting the slogan “Immediate Withdrawal” and misdirecting the sincere anti-imperialist aspirations of millions anxious to get the United States out of Vietnam now. At the same time as they are negotiating a deal with Vietnamese revisionists to maintain United States imperialism in Vietnam, the liberals are posing as champions of the peace movement. In reality their program is as simple as it is devious: They want to consolidate the political victory they have achieved through negotiations by de-escalating the ground fighting, strengthen their ties with Soviet and Vietnamese revisionists and increase their aggression against socialist China.
In order to speed this plan the liberal imperialists have enlisted the aid of various rightwing forces within the mass movement. Included among the latter is the usual entourage of pacifists and revisionists from the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, who have blessed every one of the ruling class’s endeavors to sidetrack the movement. In the past they have endorsed every liberal scheme from the McCarthy campaign to cakewalks in New York’s Central Park presided over by Major Lindsay. It is no surprise to find them presently vying with each other for leading subaltern positions on the Moratorium Committee. Recently they were publicly joined by RYM II.
RYM II is no stranger to alliances with the liberal bourgeoisie. Last year they pretended to support the anti-expansion struggle at Columbia, but in reality undercut this struggle by making student-power demands for “open admissions” and ethnic studies “pre-conditions” for all other demands on the administration. At Berkeley, when thousands of students were engaged in a fight against the police and national guard, RYM II advanced the “revolutionary” concept of establishing so-called “people’s parks” as counter-institutional havens for the masses under capitalism. Then, in their zeal to share power with the ruling class, they applauded the eviction of 54 black working families because this paved the way for “people’s pads,” where hippies and RYM II leaders could escape the class struggle and create a “liberated” life style. On October 12, in open alliance with the SWP, RYM II helped lead several thousand honest opponents of the war into a trap, when they directed a march on Fort Dix around the same old pro-negotiations line and then provoked the army into using tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. The tear gas presumably acted as a catalyst to raise the anti-imperialist politics that RYM II refused to raise.
In the struggle against racism RYM II openly denies the leading role of the black working class. They blame racism on the “white skin privilege” of exploited white workers rather than on the ruling class’s need to make maximum profits through the superexploitation of black workers. This theory can lead in practice only to the intensification of divisions that exist within the working class because of racist ideology. Though RYM II has never led a struggle against racism, nonetheless they claim to have a strategy for defeating it. They want to coerce racist universities–the same universities that exploit black and Latin campus workers, expand into black and Latin working class communities, and teach racist ideology in the classroom–into serving the people rather than the rulers. Because RYM II waves the red flag and cites every revolutionary leader from Marx to Mao as cover for their opportunism, they initially attracted a number of militant forces. However, as their affiliation with the CP-SWP coalition has brown increasingly open, more and more honest people are coming to see through RYM II’s quackery.
In order to split SDS, RYM II had entered into an alliance with a group calling itself “Weatherman.” Almost immediately after the split however, this unholy alliance divided into two warring factions, each frantically accusing the other of being imperialism’s “running dog.” Whereas RYM II sought to open a united front with the ruling class, Weatherman decided that the best way to appeal to the masses was to attack them. At the beginning of the 1969-70 school year, they carried out “guerrilla raids” against workers and students on a number of campuses around the country in the name of SDS. These raids were an avowed preparation for demonstrations that took place in Chicago in early October. The ostensible purpose of these demonstrations was to “bring the war home.” By this, Weatherman did not mean that they intended to organize masses of students to engage in revolutionary violence against the ruling class around clear anti-imperialist demands. For one thing, Weatherman has never had an anti-imperialist position on the war. (Like RYM II, they openly advocate support for the Paris negotiations.) For another, they take pains to point out that whatever violence they can manage to muster will be directed against the people. Shortly before the Chicago demonstrations, they boasted; “We’re going... to fight anyone who plays pig: a pig cop, a pig teacher, or a pig soldier.” In other words, Weatherman considered everybody– teachers, soldiers, in fact, the entire working class– their enemy.
Their Chicago “action” could not have served the ruling class more efficiently if it had been directly organized by police agents, which may well have been the case. For three days, a few hundred Weathermen ran through the streets of Chicago attacking everything and everyone in sight. A number of honest people were badly beaten and many were jailed in the process. Because Weatherman used the name of SDS as a cover for their police provocation, the ruling class seized upon the opportunity to portray them as lunatics representing the politics of all genuinely militant students. Since the Chicago debacle most of the Weathermen appear to have retreated from the front lines of political activity. Whether this retreat is temporary or permanent, one thing is certain: Since they elected to split off from SDS, the Weathermen have consistently and deliberately acted to wreck the student movement.
The split in SDS immediately received the endorsement of the Guardian, a self-styled “independent radical” newspaper. The Guardian, like the leadership of RYM II and Weatherman, now poses as an oracle of revolution. This “militancy” is a new discovery. As recently as a year and a half ago Guardian writers openly advocated anti-communism in their articles. In June, 1968, the present leadership of RYM II and Weatherman attempted to expel PLP from SDS. The stated reason for this attempt was that PLP constituted “external cadre” foreign to the ranks of SDS. The Guardian, in its account of the 1968 convention, gave unqualified support to this position, citing PLP as the main obstacle preventing SDS from developing its “own” ideology. This crude red-baiting (reminiscent of the ruling class’s own references to communists as purveyors of “anti-Americanism” and “foreign ideology”) served as a cover for the Guardian’s attack on the concept of a worker-student alliance.
In 1968 the Guardian proclaimed that the working class was “bought off and therefore incapable of leading progressive struggles; hence, because members and supporters of PLP were attempting to raise pro-working-class ideas in SDS, the Guardian demanded that they be expelled from the organization as reactionaries. However, the increasing sharpness of class struggle both internationally and domestically in the past 18 months has forced the Guardian and its friends to reformulate their anti-communism. Now they accord their uncritical support to every revolutionary struggle in the world. Without uttering a single word of self-criticism, in slightly more than a year they have run the gamut of political positions from liberalism to self-proclaimed “Marxism-Leninism.” On one score, at least, they have remained consistent: They continue to show more interest in launching dishonest, unprincipled attacks against PLP than in developing struggle against the ruling class.
The RYM II-Weatherman-Guardian forces justified the 1969 SDS split by contending that Progressive Labor and the Worker-Student Alliance caucus were “opposed to self-determination” and therefore “objectively racist and counter-revolutionary.” This accusation is only an excuse to disguise the political bankruptcy of RYM II, Weatherman and the Guardian, who have systematically refused to develop a single on-campus struggle against racism and imperialism. In the second place, it is a lie. We in Progressive Labor support self-determination for all peoples; but we believe that self-determination is a class question, and that it cannot be attained under capitalism. For example, we do not believe that a negotiated settlement allowing United States imperialism to remain in Vietnam will lead to liberation for millions of exploited Vietnamese workers and peasants. We do not believe that superexploited black workers in the United States can win struggles against the ruling class if they follow leaders who support nationalist demands for additional black policemen, black foremen, black trustees or black bosses. We believe that the only solution for the world’s people is socialism–the violent overthrow of the capitalist state and the establishment of a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
As Marxist-Leninists we feel it incumbent on us to attack the twin evils of nationalism and revisionism. And we do not conduct this attack in a void but rather in the context of waging mass struggle against the ruling class. This was the case last year at Harvard, San Francisco State, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Columbia and many other campuses. It was the case at the 1969 SDS convention. It is now the case in the campus worker-student alliance and in related struggles against racist university expansion, ROTC, and corporate and military research. Many honest people who do not agree with us on all questions nonetheless join with us in fights against racism and the Vietnam war. When these people refused to endorse the unprincipled split in SDS, the RYM II-Weatherman-Guardian forces callously attacked them as “PL stooges.” In the last analysis, when the RYM II-Weatherman-Guardian group perceived that they no longer controlled a majority of forces in SDS, they chose to split the organization rather than see it led by pro-working class forces.
In the past few months it has become apparent to many militant students that the split was a serious step backward for the entire movement and that these right-wingers have done their utmost to impede mass anti-imperialist struggle. Undaunted by reality, however, the RYM II-Weatherman-Guardian forces continue to masquerade as the ultimate source of revolutionary truth. They reveal new chinks in their tinfoil armor with every passing day. Each group now blames the others for its own failure to win masses of students to anti-imperialist struggle. Both RYM II and the Guardian publicly attacked Weatherman’s Chicago demonstrations as “adventurist.” In the first place, this accusation is incorrect, because Weatherman isn’t adventurist. They don’t pursue a positive tactic too rashly; they publicly advocate the tactic of fighting the people, which is bad no matter how it is done.
In the second place, the accusation is hypocritical. The concept of “wild in the streets”–the same concept that Weatherman put into practice in the streets of Chicago–was first proposed for SDS a year and a half ago by present RYM II leaders Mike Klonsky and Les Coleman. If Klonsky and Coleman now repudiate this tactic and no longer believe that people become radicalized merely because a few phonies urge them to get their heads bashed in by the cops, then they should publish a self-criticism. In typical RYM II fashion, they have not done so. Instead, they prefer to gloss over the contradictions in their politics and practice by pretending that the masses have amnesia and by launching hysterical attacks on PLP.
Having failed to destroy SDS through their opportunism and anti-communism, these forces have now decided to “invent” its demise. Many RYM II leaders are proclaiming that SDS should no longer exist because “it has outlived its usefulness” (whatever that means; presumably the RYM II leaders no longer consider it “useful” to build a broad student movement based on anti-imperialism and anti-racism). The Guardian in the past few weeks has devoted much space to the publication of obscure arguments designed to prove that Weatherman’s “adventurism” and RYM II’s “dogmatism” have forced SDS into an impasse from which it will never extricate itself. At the same time, the Guardian has not printed a single word about the emergence of the campus worker-student alliance as a living reality at schools throughout the country. Instead, Guardian columnist Stanley Aronowitz, in ostrichlike fashion, heralds SDS’s alleged demise with smug self-complacency. On October 18 he wrote: “SDS is dead. Long live the student movement!”
But SDS is very much alive. In order to mask their opportunism and anti-communism, RYM II, Weatherman and the Guardian choose to ignore the fact that 900 SDS’ers at the convention–a decisive majority–repudiated the split, that they have returned to their campuses resolved to intensify the struggle against the ruling class, and that thousands of students around the country still look to SDS for leadership in developing mass struggle against racism and imperialism. As severe a setback as the split may have been, SDS cannot be destroyed by the reactionary activity or wishful thinking of a handful of right-wingers. It also cannot be destroyed by the diversionary schemes of the liberal ruling class. This is not to deny that the student movement must confront a critical test in the weeks and months ahead. But the primary determinant of this test will be internal. The present objective situation is excellent: Marxism-Leninism–the science of proletarian revolution and the ideology of the working class–has never been more widespread among the masses than it is today. The example of Yale demonstrates that if we strive to overcome elitism, racism and conservatism within ourselves, we can build an unbreakable alliance with campus workers and inflict many defeats on the administration bosses. The ruling class cannot withstand the power of such an alliance. If we take leadership from the workers and strike boldly at the administration, we can win!