Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jeffrey Arsham

SDS Tactics: Getting It Together. .. Whatever It Is

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXIII, Number 64, 7 February 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On Wednesday night, a Students for a Democratic Society general assembly of more than two hundred people, reaffirmed their approval of a proposal, drawn up at a recent SDS National Council meeting, which called for a program to combat war research, military recruiting and ROTC.

While superficially not dissimilar to the anti-war program of two years ago, the “military proposal” explicitly proclaims its support of the NLF in Vietnam as an “anti-capitalist” movement.

A campaign against NROTC, however, was criticized recently by several members of the Progressive Labor Party, who see such programs as secondary to the need for a “worker-student alliance.”

The recruiting demonstration at the Casa Hispanica, two weeks ago, was a test of the effectiveness of following the military proposal. Many members of SDS felt, considering the opportunity for forging a mass base around the military issue, that the demonstration was a fiasco.

Condemned by many as “Debrayist terrorism,” the Dodge Hall incident was but a logical conseqence of the attitudes which many students bring to SDS. A politically committed leadership often overlooks the fact that many of its followers view the organization as a means of personal expression, not as a vehicle for the attainment of socialist ends. The two rationales can be complementary and mutually reinforcing but individual “liberation” and political commitment are not necessarily identical.

When a person riots, indiscriminately breaking windows or burning papers or disrupting speeches, he is usually engaged in “expressive” action, the political consequences of which are often quite incidental at the moment of the act. What is smugly condemned by the national press as “disruption for its own sake” is often just that –and its impact is largely dependent on such transient factors as the extent to which a mob can be aroused.

While many believe that disruptive acts are not to be condemned as such, such actions are often criticized for “turning people off.” The critics of disruptive action – who seem to be gaining currency within SDS –argue that individual expression is “counterproductive” if it becomes random and gratuitous. They believe that the movement requires disciplined cadres of dedicated organizers, not a potpourri of the dispossessed, each element of which is encouraged to “do its own thing.”

National SDS originated largely as an expression of cultural as well as political disaffection, and has fostered in many instances a cult of “illegitimacy of the system,” highlighted by deliberately provocative actions designed for shock effect, not for maximum political voltage. The extent to which this approach is now being superseded by organized political action is impossible to determine.

If the Progressive Labor Party has yet to gain control of Columbia SDS, it has certainly fostered those currents which oppose “cultural revolution,” and instead insist on the priority of political organization.

The military proposal adopted by SDS, and framed by members whose politics are considered “vague and nebulous” by Progressive Labor, apparently embodies these changes. In a key paragraph of the proposal, the radicals assert that “the left must establish itself in this country as not simply a disruptive agency, but as a social force that has a real power.”

This assertion is in itself ambiguous and unclear in its implications; it can be and has been interpreted to mean many things to many people and will be a continued focus for embittered and raucous internecine SDS struggle.

If fully carried out, however, the consequent actions may prove to be more concrete, political, and “positive” than many previous SDS actions have been.