Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Lenny Glynn

Two, Three, Many SDS’s

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXIV, Number 2, September 25, 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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To most incoming freshmen and even to most returning upperclassmen the left on campus may appear to be a jumble of tiny doctrinaire sects. SDS, the nation’s major radical student group split at its national convention in June, and since then one of the major factions of the organization has split again.

The differences between the factions sometimes seem miniscule to the outside observer, but within the ’movement’ they are massive rifts producing dissension, debate and splits.

Students for a Democratic Society, as the name implies, began as a left-liberal group dedicated to reform within the system and whispering very quietly about something called socialism. The early efforts of the group were devoted to getting street lights put in at crossroads in ghetto neighborhoods and similar reforms. The radical youth drawn to SDS often lived in black communities and poor-white districts, trying to organize them to fight for reforms.

As the Sixties wore on and especially after Vietnam began to absorb most of the radicals’ attention, SDS became increasingly disgusted with the system and mere revolutionary.

In the middle Sixties members of the Progressive Labor Party began to enter SDS and build a caucus within the organization which agreed with PL that the student movement must seek to build an alliance with the working class in order to continue developing in a revolutionary way.

The Worker-Student Alliance Caucus (WSA) found a cold reception within SDS; theories of the new working class’ of teachers, technocrats, engineers, etc. as the revolutionary vanguard held sway.

The WSA was given a tremendous impetus by the May 1968 movement in France when students and workers fought the Gaullist government together. Also crucial in the growth of WSA were the SDS summer work-ins which led many students to share PL’s perspective on allying with workers.

By late 1968 WSA was important enough within SDS to challenge the national leadership. At the SDS national convention in Boulder, Colorado in December, WSA came close to gaining a majority of the delegate strength. From this convention on, the tendencies opposed to PL tended to coalesce around this opposition.

The major faction opposing PL centered around a resolution called Revolutionary Youth Movement authored primarily by Michael Klonsky, an SDS National Collective member.

The Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) manifesto called on SDS to concentrate on organizing young people on the streets of the cities and in the places where they spend leisure time, like bowling alleys and pool halls. Primary emphasis would be placed on building opposition to the pigs and support for the Vietnamese and black struggles for self-determination.

As the June SDS convention drew closer, it became clear that the convention would be a showdown fight between WSA and the Youth Movement. WSA, fearing expulsion from SDS, mobilized all possible strength for the convention.

After two days’ debate in Chicago it became clear that WSA had succeeded; though not a majority, they could block any attempt at expulsion and perhaps win enough unaligned votes to gain positions of national leadership.

The national leadership of SDS, almost all supporters of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, were grouped around a new resolution authored by Mark Rudd, Bernadine Dohrn, and others–“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The proposal distilled the essence of RYM’s politics; it called for building a mass fighting force of youth to lead the fight for socialism and support the Black Panther Party and third world liberation movements.

PL-WSA, saying the oppression of black worker hurts whites too, proposed a strategy of equalization within the working class. PL analyzed the position of blacks as super-exploitation. According to PL, what blacks do not receive in wages benefits the bosses only and not white workers. PL accused RYM of pushing ruling class propaganda about white skin privilege and thereby misleading workers.

The convention in Chicago heard little debate on these crucial questions because in the sparring of the first two days, mass chanting replaced debate.

The crisis of the convention came on the third day when representatives of the Black Panther Party came to the podium, accused PL of having “abandoned the Marxist-Leninist position on the self-determination of oppressed nations,” and stated that “SDS will be judged by the company it keeps.”

Jeff Gordon of PL said that PL has criticized the Panther leadership, but believes that the way to fight racism is by struggling for equality in the working class.

In the din of chanting that followed (WSA – “smash red baiting!” RYM “power to the people!”) Bernadine Dohrn of the SDS national office, led a walkout calling on all those who agreed with her in opposition to PL and WSA to join. Almost all of the minority which joined the walkout were members of the RYM faction.

When Bernadine Dohrn and the Revolutionary Youth Movement returned to the convention floor two days later it was to read PL out of SDS and leave the convention altogether.

In July the Black Panther Party called a conference in Oakland, Calif., to build a United Front Against Fascism (UFAF). The major result of the conference was the announcement by the Panthers of a campaign for community control of the police. Members of SDS-WSA were not allowed to attend the conference but representatives of RYM-SDS, including Mark Rudd, indicated that they would support the demand for community control of the police only for black and latin communities.

At this point the unity of the anti-PL coalition began to break down. Shortly after the UFAF conference Michael Klonsky announced his resignation from the committee to plan the Oct. 11 action. In his letter of resignation he accused the “Weathermen” (as Rudd’s group came to be known) of adventurism and ignoring the working class.

Klonsky’s split soon became a national affair as chapters opposed to both RYM and PL began to think of themselves as RYM II chapters.

On the Columbia campus all three factions of SDS are represented. The “weathermen” are of course led by an old Columbia student, Mark Rudd. The SDS-RYM chapter on campus seems to be split between supporters and opponents of the “weather bureau”; however it seems likely that the chapter will disavow support for the October march on Chicago when it meets tonight.