Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Lenny Glynn

The Battle Joined: SDS vs PL

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXIII, Number 106, 28 April 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Progressive Labor Party is a relatively young party just approaching its fourth birthday. About three years ago, the party decided to work within the student movement, primarily in SDS. And in a short period of time PL had built up considerable influence within SDS, basing their program on “worker-student alliance” politics. According to the PL line, radical students should take no militant action until they have “built a ’base’ linking up with the struggles of the working class.”

The PLP was so successful by last December that its supporters came close to gaining a majority at the SDS National Council in Ann Arbor. Many people felt that it was only a matter of time before PL would gain a clear majority in SDS and reshape the radical organization in its own image. But those hopes and fears were set back by the most recent National Council meeting in Austin where several proposals opposed by PL were passed by large majorities. Since the Austin conference, opposition to PL has increased within SDS–especially at the Columbia chapter. And what seemed in December to be the invincible rise of PL to control of SDS now appears to have been the peaking of its influence.

At last Thursday’s SDS general assembly, PL suffered an unprecedented defeat when the SDS expansion committee, led by PL members and sympathizers, was disbanded after a bitter six-hour fight. The vote to disband the committee was narrow but another vote to censure PL passed by a larger majority.

PL spokesmen were not phased. Bob Leonhardt, a member of PL, said after the meeting that irrespective of the results of the votes “strategically this is the first time so many people came to support ’worker-student alliance politics... the steering committee’s victories are the victories of a group of people whose sole goal is to maintain control over the organization, who have shown they would rather smash SDS than relinquish control of it to worker-student alliance politics.” It is very doubtful, however, that PL can rally such voting strength in Columbia SDS again.

As one steering committee member stated, “These votes don’t reflect the opinion of the majority of the people in SDS because most of the people voting against the steering committee 1) never came to SDS meetings before 2) were members of right wing organizations at Columbia 3) were from the SDS Labor Committee which was disbanded in the fall.”

The twenty votes of the Labor Committee were in fact used to support PL. Ironically, PL had spearheaded the purge of the Labor Committee last fall.

The general assembly decision marked the first time a PL-led committee has been disbanded by an SDS chapter. Bernadene Dohrn, inter-organizational secretary of SDS, who was at the assembly, indicated that the repercussions of the internal fight at Columbia would be felt throughout national SDS. This fight will almost certainly result in the overcoming of PL’s political influence within SDS soon after the next National Council in June.

But even though PL has been weakened at Columbia, the party’s influence may still impede the work of the steering committee.

The disbanded expansion committee’s members cannot be excluded from SDS meetings under the current SDS constitution and the new, independent group that they are forming cannot be disbanded by regular SDS. For the rest of the spring at Columbia, SDS general assemblies will be torn by bitter faction fights with almost no rational political debate taking place.