Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ben Lieber

SDS Makes Major Change In Its Political Orientation

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXV, Number 50, 8 January 1971.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, which has changed its composition and its ideology many times since the triumphal days of the spring of 1968, is currently in the throes of another major change.

The group has recently begun to move further and further from the position of the Progressive Labor Party on many important issues. The PLP, with which SDS has been associated in spirit, if not officially, for the past eighteen months, emphasizes the building of a “worker-student alliance”’ as the key to revolutionary activity in this country.

The Columbia chapter of SDS still professes to accept the importance of a worker-student alliance, but, at the same time, it has begun espousing causes which the PLP has vigorously opposed in the past.

At its general assembly meeting last night, the group elected a new steering committee, none of whose members is in any way associated with PLP.

But, the most important step thus far in Columbia SDS’ gradual shift in position occurred during the recent SDS national convention in Chicago, when the Columbia contingent presented a proposal meant, they stated, “to correct errors that have weakened the alliance between Third World and white students and workers.”

The proposal began by emphasizing that “the core of SDS organizing should be forming a worker-student alliance,” but it then went on to criticize SDS for failing to accomplish “the three main aspects of our work–fighting imperialism, racism, and male chauvinism.”

In particular, the document urged unconditional support of Vietnam’s National Liberation Front and of such organizations as the Black Panthers and the Young Lords both as a means of bolstering SDS’ popularity among Third World workers and white students, and as a means of supporting those groups’ political beliefs.

The PLP has often criticized the NLF, the Black Panthers, and the Young Lords, and Columbia SDS’ unconditional support for those groups is in many ways nothing less than an explicit repudiation of the PLP position.

The proposal itself is a fascinating mixture of traditional worker-student-alliance rhetoric and the youth-and-liberation politics of the old-time pre-progressive labor SDS. The authors are careful throughout to couch their suggestions in language that would be acceptable’ to a proponent of worker-student politics. But they also make clear their belief that many of the worker-student alliance policies have failed.

The Columbia SDSers criticize themselves, for example, for their failure to support a resolution during the Cambodia strike last spring, calling for the adoption of the NLF’s 10-point program.

“We built defeatism and failed to fight racism,” the document notes, “by telling the students that they should not see themselves as allies of the Vietnamese, the most heroic fighters.”

The attribute – and rightly so – much of the failure of last spring’s strike to their divisive actions at the time.

The adoption of the new positions by the Columbia chapter means that in many ways the chapter has returned to the type of politics it espoused two years ago, before PL influence became dominant.

At that time – the year after the student strike of spring 1968 – there was a small PL faction in SDS, but the group was dominated by students who later joined the Revolutionary Youth Movement and the Weathermen. That spring the chapter expelled the PL faction. But over the summer, RYM and the Weatherman split off from the national SDS, leaving PL in control.

Now, it seems, PL is out and a new-style SDS, closer to the old-time SDS in its avoidance of PL sectarianism, is in. But it remains to seen whether the change has come in time to rescue SDS from its admittedly moribund state.