Another view on SDS
Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jim Prickett

Another view on SDS

First Published: Guardian, July 26, 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: The author of the following article is a member of the national interim committee of the Progressive Labor party-Worker Student Alliance group which refers to itself as SDS.

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Jack A. Smith is correct when he writes that “there is still one SDS” (June 28), but he is dead wrong when he claims that the minority of splitters who walked out of the 1969 SDS convention now somehow constitute SDS. Smith claimed that the splitters (quaintly called “the SDS caucus”) had between 700 and 1200 members, but actually only about 400 joined the walkout, some out of curiousity, and over 1000 remained at the convention. Since the worker student alliance caucus had about 600 members at the convention, this means that only half of the non-WSA delegates joined the walkout. And there was opposition even among those who walked out to leaving SDS and “expelling” PL. Given these figures, it can be seen that less than one-fourth of the delegates to the convention favored leaving SDS.

Smith is fairly accurate about the politics of those who led the walkout, even though he tries to put the best possible light on those politics. He admits that the leaders are beset by factionalism, and have only achieved “temporary unity around the PL question,” unity, in other words, around anti-communism. Several times Smith calls the leaders “manipulative,” and although I’d prefer a stronger word, the description is accurate enough. But the key to the walkout is that the dominant group in the leadership, as Smith rather delicately puts it, “tends to deny the leading role of the working class in revolutionary struggle.” The walkout leadership also refused to present any program for fighting racism, hiding behind Panther criticisms of PL.

We should be clear on this point: no one objected to the splitters bringing in the Panthers to deliver an attack on PL. The criticisms that PL and the Panthers have raised of one another should be discussed and evaluated by the entire left including SDS. But it was racist and opportunist for the splitters to use the differences between the Panthers and PL to cover up their disgraceful inability to present any program for fighting racism.

The dominant leadership of the walkout, as even Smith’s account reveals, is united around racist opportunism, anti-communist exclusionary politics, and an anti-working class political line. SDS can not grow with those politics, and I doubt if the majority of those students who joined the walkout will continue to support that leadership. Most of those students are honestly committed to fighting imperialism and can be won back into SDS.

One distortion that Carl Davidson raised (July 5) deserves to be answered immediately: the alleged opposition of the WSA caucus to open admissions, and the alleged racism of calling for preferential hiring (along with unionization and higher pay and better working conditions) of black and Latin campus workers. Carl argues that this means “out of the classroom and into the kitchen” and says that preferential hiring is unnecessary since there are already a lot of black and Latin campus workers.

We should remember first that the SDS resolution “Less Talk, More Action–Fight Racism” did not oppose open admissions. The WSA caucus has not taken a position on open admissions, and the first issue of New Left Notes after the convention has an article by Alan Spector, education secretary, defending open admissions. [The SDS resolution and New Left Notes mentioned here refer to the WSA-PL group – Ed.] Davidson’s criticism of PL, even if well taken, has nothing to do with any controversies within SDS.

More important, preferential hiring of black and Latin workers is a good demand, since there are many areas of the campus work force, the most glaring example are the clerical workers but there are others, in which black and Latin workers are systematically excluded. To say that preferential hiring of campus workers means “into the kitchen” is to display incredible racism.

As I noted in the beginning, there is but one SDS, an SDS open to all students committed to fighting racism and imperialism, an SDS whose politics, will be determined by internal political struggle. Last year, in the account of the 1968 SDS convention, the Guardian touted a “distinctive new left ideology” promoted by Greg Calvert and Carl Davidson. Today that ideology is no longer openly proclaimed, as it has been decisively defeated. The attempt to split and destroy SDS will be defeated just as decisively.