Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ed Clark

Southern Students Defeat Liberalism

The South Must Be Won

First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 7, No. 3, November 1969
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The South has always existed in a dual sense in the minds of American revolutionaries. One version of “the South” consisted of the populist movement, the militant and violent strikes of the 1920’s and 1930’s, and the civil rights movement of 1956-1966. Alongside this version, however, existed another: The South was the land where racist Klansmen still rode the dark rural backroads, where ordinary liberalism was a radical breakthrough, where courage contested with terror to win elementary bourgeois democracy.

All this would not have been so bad (and would not be so bad today) had it been combined with a dialectical understanding of the contradictions that do exist in the South, with an understanding of the economic and political development of the South. Instead, what usually existed was one or the other picture of the South (or both side by side completely unrelated to one another). This resulted in two pronounced attitudes, fairly common even today: (1) The South is where it’s happening; therefore, anything that happens in the South in a “leftward” direction is a good thing and must be supported by the national movement; and (2) The South is so bad that anything that happens there in a “leftward” direction is not only a good thing, it’s a miracle and, of course, must be supported by the national movement.

A case in point is the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC). The struggle against this organization by Southern revolutionaries is the subject of this article. But the context of this struggle cannot be too strongly emphasized: Only towards the end of this struggle did we receive the support of our brothers and sisters in the national movement.

The national movement never saw fit to deal with the divisions in the Southern movement in the same way it dealt with divisions in the movements throughout the rest of the country. People in California, for example, did not hesitate to criticize what they saw as bad politics, incorrect tactics, etc., on the part of movement groups in New York. People in New York did not hesitate to criticize in the same fashion movement groups in California. But about the South no national movement group offered more than either discreet silence or broad statements of blanket support to “the movement in the South.” Silence would have been excusable in the absence of knowledge about the movement in the South. Blanket statements of uncritical support were worse than useless; they allowed groups and individuals with very bad politics to fly the flag of Northern radical support to advance their Southern liberal politics.

Revolutionaries who suspend their critical judgments in the name of “fraternal solidarity” do no service to the movement so “favored”; real solidarity means applying the same criteria to other movements that you would apply to your own. Northern radicals fought overt liberalism in their own ranks while supporting liberalism in the Southern movement with statements of blanket support. This not only hurt us; it hurt those Northern movements themselves, since obviously failure to defeat liberalism in one part of the country encourages liberalism everywhere.

On the weekend of April 4-5, 1964, the Southern Student Organizing Committee was founded by about 45 people meeting in Nashville. The meeting took place in the shadow of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), then approaching the height of its influence in the South. A white SNCC organizer, Sam Shirah, was one of those most influential in calling this first significant regional meeting of Southern students. Shirah urged that Southern white students should become an integral part of SNCC, that SNCC should be broadened to include the struggles of white Southern students and, ultimately, white Southern workers.

The debate over affiliation with SNCC was the first major question faced by SSOC and foreshadowed its entire history. Opposition to affiliation came from two directions. Delegates from campus chapters like the Georgia Students for Human Rights and the Tulane Liberals Club (New Orleans) argued that SNCC “was too radical” and that moderate Southern white students could never be attracted to an organization associated with the “radical” SNCC. This kind of opposition was overwhelmingly present among the delegates.

But there was another kind of opposition; it insisted on an independent SSOC. This opposition to affiliation with SNCC came from people who had, along with Shirah, been the main proponents and organizers of the meeting that set up SSOC, people like Jim Williams and Robb Burlage of SDS, Carl Braden of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, Inc., and Ed Hamlett of a Nashville-based civil rights group called the Southern Student Organizing Fund. These people were more sophisticated and did not argue that SNCC was “too radical.” Instead, they argued that there was no internal democracy in SNCC (Burlage), that SNCC lacked a broad political program (Burlage), that SNCC is organizationally inefficient (Braden), and that the moderate-radical contradiction was a phony issue (Williams). All agreed that there should be some type of “association” between SSOC and SNCC, but insisted that SSOC be an independent group.

The goals of SSOC were contained in a six-point program adopted at the founding meeting.

They were as follows:
1. to build “broad-based (moderate to radical) student groups on Southern campuses”;
2. to hold conferences;
3. to recruit Southern students to play supportive roles in the civil rights movement;
4. to promote community organizing projects at the “coalition level” (since SSOC never did any community organizing it’s difficult to say even now what that “coalition level” thing meant);
5. to recruit students to full-time work during the summer with, for example, “good unions, voter registration projects, and potentially progressive anti-poverty programs (independent community centers, American Friends Service Committee, etc.)”;
6. to build “support for new kinds of liberal-left political coalitions” like the “Texas Democratic Coalition.”

To the reader of 1969 it must seem incredible that such a clearly bourgeois liberal program could be adopted by a self-proclaimed “movement” organization. Yet it was pretty typical of 1964. Note that it was not, as some would maintain, a case of “backward Southerners.” This program was drafted primarily by SDS’ers Williams and Burlage. It was a program typical of SDS of that period. As Burlage wrote in SSOC’s first publication, The New Rebel, (May 27, 1964):

The South is becoming less and less Another Country.. .With the Goldwater Republicans as the Right and the Negro Movement as the Left, Southern politics is beginning to break through Dixiecrat domination. Labor leaders, liberals, and libertarians are all attempting to find connections to the spirit of the new Negro politics. The forces of liberal-radical coalition are becoming more obvious and more self-conscious of their potential.

One needn’t look far to discover the roots of this liberal program. There has existed for many years in the United States a network of liberal foundations whose purpose is to provide funds for those “movement groups” whose ideas and programs meet with the approval of the capitalist ruling class. These foundations interlock in their boards of directors in much the same way as a modern large corporation interlocks with other large corporations.

SSOC’s liberal program was tailor-made for foundation financing. Accordingly, the Kennedy-controlled Field Foundation made the following grants to SSOC: for the period 10-1-65 through 6-13-66, $5,000; for the period 6-14-66 through 11-17-66, $20,000; and for the period 10-1-68 through 11-24-68, $25,000. (This and other in formation on foundation grants is from the Internal Revenue Service Form 990-A on which all foundations must list the organizations to which they have granted funds.)

From the liberal New World Foundation, SSOC received $10,000 for the period 10-1-65 through 10-24-66.

From the liberal Taconic Foundation, SSOC received $5,000 for the year ending 12-31-65; and $2,500 for the year ending 12-31-66.

From the Aaron E. Norman Fund, the only one of these foundations that has been definitely established as a channel for the C.I.A., SSOC received two of its earliest grants: $2,500 for the year ending 12-31-64; and $500 for the year ending 12-31-65.

These same foundations while giving money to SSOC were also giving much larger amounts of money to older, more established liberal groups in the South and elsewhere. Lucky winners in the ruling class sweepstakes included the American Friends Service Committee, $102,000; the Highlander Center (a famous “movement training school” in Knoxville, Tenn., where Martin Luther King, Jr. among others “learned” nonviolence), $75,000; Michigan State University National Police Center, $100,000; NAACP $171,000; Southern Regional Council, $1,277,500 (mostly for “voter education”); National Student Association, $100,000 (for “work in the South”); Southern Christian Leadership Conference, $33,750; and the list goes on.

One key characteristic of SSOC is that the membership was by and large unaware that SSOC staff was lining up with the others at the ruling class pay window. The source of SSOC s money was a carefully guarded secret that only began to leak out in late 1968 and was only confirmed when SSOC was already dying.

But ruling class “aid” has its drawbacks. SSOC staff throughout 1965 and into 1966 relied on money to do their organizing. It didn’t work. The campus groups that had originally federated into SSOC fell apart or went through alternating periods of activity and stagnation. Ruling class money kept an office and a staff in existence, but there was no real substance to the organization. During a period when SDS was repudiating the crude anti-communism of the old League for Industrial Democracy forces and beginning to develop a coherent anti-imperialist opposition to the war in Vietnam, SSOC stagnated. While SDS was beginning to realize the importance of the working class to socialist revolution in the United States, it was still possible for Jody Palmour of the SSOC staff to write the following liberal banalities: “People who concentrate only on the poor mean they never expect to win. The power is in the middle class and it at least has to be neutralized if not won.’’

Liberalism in the Saddle

The conversion of SSOC from a staff-dominated “federation” of defunct campus groups into a membership organization with a nominally democratic constitution saved the organization, at least for a time. Increasing numbers of Southern students were looking for a radical organization with radical politics, and SSOC was “the SDS of the South.” Almost overnight, ideological struggle began in SSOC internal publications. Tensions grew between veteran staff members and the scores of new people entering the organization. Some of the veterans resigned and moved on to greener pastures (intentional pun) like the liberal Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

The resignation of some veteran staff members and the obvious bewilderment of many of the others along with the influx of new members created the first fluid situation in SSOC s history. There was no coherent grouping or faction in SSOC that possessed both a clear political program and the numbers to implement it when the stage was set for SSOCs first decision-making membership convention.

This pattern, or lack of pattern, was symbolized by the preconvention discussion bulletin (entitled “The Role of the Southern Radical and the American New Left”). The past, present and future of SSOC rubbed shoulders in those pages, as they would in Asheville, North Carolina during the weekend of May 5-7, 1967. For this reason it may perhaps be useful to examine the various positions contained in this document as a background to the SSOC convention and the events which followed.

The initial article, “Southern Mythology, Politics and Identity,” by SSOC staff veteran Jody Palmour, represented embryonically what would come to be SSOC’s last political stand: the South as an underdeveloped neocolony struggling for national self-determination against the North.

The South is much akin to an underdeveloped country. Southerners have known with their third world counterparts the flushed anger of living in wastelands of poverty dotted with islands of flagrant opulence. Sensitive Southerners have also known the provincialism and backwardness that has frustrated and numbed the desire to democratically develop so many other underdeveloped areas.

.. .the South also knows about national and international industries moving in, telling half-truths as they come. We get the same line as does any other underdeveloped area. There are indeed going to be new jobs and opportunities, but with those jobs will come outside control of cities and counties, natural and human resources.

A radical, insurgent Southern identity could well work... As rightfully frightened as some might be of the idea of exploiting it, the South has been militarily, economically and politically dominated by what are organically the same forces interested in the perpetuation of the Vietnam war. To utilize this awesomely powerful fact for our radical ends would require a reinterpretation of the Civil War.

And towards the end, as no one predicted at the time, SSOC staff would raise the Confederate flag as a flag of national liberation.

Two of the articles (“Realizing the Southern Potential” by Ed Hamlett, a SSOC staff veteran, and “A Letter From Jim Williams,” by former SDS and SSOC organizer Jim Williams) were even then clear voices from SSOC’s part.

Hamlett, always the classical Southern “moderate,” argued against a contemplated merger with SDS as follows:

We (SSOC) also felt that there were a lot of students whom we wished to recruit whom we could not were we a part of SNCC. I think this reasoning holds true for merger with (absorption by) any group, such as SDS, today.

I am not advocating isolationism; but, it appears to me that before we even begin to think seriously about merger, we must be prepared to do so from a position of power, of strength, which we do not now have. If SDS has something to offer in the way of a national focus like the draft exam, we can easily cooperate. But we must not immerse (drown, would you believe?) ourselves in an organization which we, or those like us, did not make. SDS grew out of northern, urban, industrial, liberal society. SSOC grew out of southern, agrarian, conservative society. With strong ties to the Christian social gospel, SSOC developed; SDS, on the other hand, was not significantly influenced by that gospel...

Williams, a leader of the Steve Max liberal forces in SDS until they were defeated in 1965, said the same thing in a more sophisticated way from his somewhat loftier perch as a low-level bureaucrat in one of the AFL-CIO unions: “For the SSOC Convention to simply sit and listen to presentations by representatives of other New Left and Eastern groups is simply to offer ourselves up on a silver platter to all comers. The present format says outright: We have nothing to offer–come and take us away.”

Williams goes on to advise the SSOC leadership that it should really be dealing with such questions as “The War on Poverty–What kind of role is the Federal Government playing–can it be improved,” “The White South-Are moderates and liberals increasing and faring well,” “Should we encourage the formation of an expressly liberal campus organization to supplement the work of SSOC?”

Another current in SSOC was represented by David Kotelchuck’s “The South: A Nation No More,” which accepted the fact that the South was becoming more like the rest of the United States and argued in favor of merger with SDS, yet preserved the South as a “special case” where liberalism was an ally instead of an enemy:

But we do have to recognize, unfortunately, that the economic and political climate in the South today is more favorable for the growth and strengthening of the Right than in other regions of the country... One corollary of being placed in a position of relative weakness is that the Southern radical must be ready and able to work in coalition with a broad range of liberal, middle class groups and individuals. These liberal people share many of the short term goals of radicals (although they certainly disagree on many long term ones), and their help is often necessary for the survival of the weaker radical groups when they are under right wing attack...

The pre-convention bulletin also contained a statement by the SDS chapter at the University of Florida (Gainesville), which said that insofar as there were no major differences between SDS and SSOC this chapter would henceforth become a joint SDS-SSOC chapter. ..

Finally, the author of this article was also represented by an article called “Some Notes on Changing the South,” which attacked the notion of a separate Southern movement, called for SSOC to merge with SDS, and called for the Southern movement to attack liberalism and build a united movement of Southern workers, poor people and students.

SLAM Program Sabotaged

Nevertheless, it represented a clear departure from the anti-working class liberal notions that had previously dominated SSOC.

To make a very long story very short, the SLAM program was adopted by the Convention 83 to 56, with every veteran SSOC staff member present voting against the program. This was followed by the deliberate sabotage of this SLAM program by the “new generation” of staff people who came into office at this convention. People like Tom Gardner, Mike Welch, Lynn Wells, etc., who emerged at this convention as “leaders,” were the same ones who sabotaged this initial membership decision, the only important decision the membership of SSOC were ever allowed to make in the history of the organization.

Attempts by rank-and-file SSOC members to preserve SLAM and the developing radical politics from which flowed the idea of a Southern worker-student alliance within SSOC failed. Staff-dominated Executive Committee meetings became more and more the real decision-making body of SSOC; this was finally formalized in 1968 when membership conventions were abolished and the Executive Committee became the highest formal authority in SSOC.

With SSOC increasingly hopeless in terms of internal political struggle, Southern radical students began to turn towards (or return to) SDS. Former students in New Orleans set up an off-campus chapter of SDS called the New Orleans Movement for a Democratic Society. Besides off-campus work around the draft and around support of strikes, MDS also began to assist the organization of campus chapters of SDS at Tulane University and Louisiana State University in New Orleans.

In Texas, where SSOC never took root, SDS developed a large, radical and influential chapter at the University of Texas campus in Austin. Other SDS chapters, not so radical, began in Dallas and Houston.

An SDS chapter was organized at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. However this chapter was never very radical, and was soon co-opted into becoming a joint SSOC-SDS chapter and finally an SSOC chapter entirely. Liberal chapters friendly to SSOC also existed in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky.

The hesitant growth of SDS in the South first attracted national attention at the December, 1967, SDS National Council meeting in Bloomington, Indiana. A small number of SDS people (mostly from Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, etc.) organized themselves into a “Southern Caucus of SDS” and presented their ideas to the NC. But these ideas were more or less the same as those that prevailed in SSOC: “Southern exceptionalism,” the South as a “neo-colony” and the Southern movement as a “rebel movement of national liberation,” and the continuing necessity to “work with” (that is, for) liberals and liberalism.

The only real difference at this point between the politics of SSOC and the politics of most of the SDS Southern Caucus was that the latter was silent on the question of following liberal leadership (what SSOC called “working with liberals”).

In the early months of 1968, even the orientation towards SDS was very shaky. Someone from Austin SDS was chosen as an SDS Southern Regional Traveler and given the task of organizing a Southern Regional Conference to help build SDS in the South. When staff members from both SSOC and the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF) told her they were opposed to such an SDS conference in the South, she resigned from her position rather than go ahead and organize the conference.

This shakiness was further evidenced in the Spring SDS National Council meeting held in Lexington in March, 1968. In a meeting of the SDS Southern Caucus, SDS and Progressive Labor Party people from New Orleans and Austin fought for a Southern SDS conference and attacked SSOC as liberal and undemocratic. SSOC chief bureaucrat Tom Gardner, as expected, denied these charges and claimed that SSOC was “the realistic vehicle for SDS’s ideas in the South.” And, much to the surprise of this writer, SDS people from Athens (Georgia), Houston and Dallas also defended SSOC in those terms and virtually advised people in Southern SDS chapters to join SSOC. As a matter of record, at least one of the pro-SSOC people in the SDS Southern Caucus was (and is today) a member of the revisionist Communist Party. We will discuss below the role of revisionism in the struggle against SSOC.

With this meeting the “SDS Southern Caucus” effectively dissolved. Except for Texas and New Orleans the issue of SDS in the South seemed dead. From national SDS, from the leadership of SDS at that time, there was silence on the South. Or, as one national “leader” was reported to have observed at the time: “Well, Texas and New Orleans are exceptions; everything else down there should be SSOC.”

Waving the Rebel Flag

The beginning of the school year 1968-1969 appeared to the SSOC leadership to be their finest opportunity. Just as SDS chapters throughout the country enjoyed a dramatic increase in membership, so did SSOC, particularly in North Carolina and Georgia. The foundation money continued to pour in; in fact, it increased. The new leadership of SSOC, people like Lyn Wells and David Simpson, used this money to hire large numbers of new “full-time” organizers, which at least gave the appearance of a growing movement.

Of course, there were a few dark spots, though none appeared particularly serious. One was the existence and growth of SDS in New Orleans. SSOC leadership met this threat by hiring a young high school SDS organizer as a “Louisiana SSOC Traveler”–a job he later said he took “for the money.” His sporadic efforts to “push SSOC” came to nothing.

The only member of the SDS National Interim Committee (NIC) from the South at this time was Bartee Haile of Dallas. (Haile was a member of the then-united “Revolutionary Youth Movement’ ’ faction of SDS.) Haile concentrated most of his dubious talents in the Texas-Oklahoma region; however, he did attend one or two of the numerous SSOC “conferences,” whereupon he reported to the NIC that SSOC was both bureaucratic and undemocratic. For reasons that have never been made public, the NIC voted agreement with Halle’s anti-SSOC report but also agreed that these criticisms of SSOC would not be made public. The so-called “Revolutionary Youth Movement,” which dominated the leading bodies of SDS in that period (and dominated the NIC overwhelmingly) and which knew full well the political and organizational rottenness of SSOC, chose to maintain a discreet silence for at least three months on this entire question.

There were two other dark spots on the horizon of SSOC: Strong SDS chapters emerged at Florida State University (Tallahassee) and the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa). Tallahassee and to a somewhat lesser extent Tuscaloosa not only demolished their SSOC competitors in their areas but provided a strong inspiration and example to pro-SDS people in other parts of the South. In spite of many internal political shortcomings and often severe repression (phony drug arrests were very common), SDS was slowly gaining a foothold in the deep South.

SSOC, unlike the RYM-dominated National Interim Committee, did not remain silent. The first attacks on SDS appeared: “From guts came rebel yells, redefining the spirit of that place called the South. Arms woven, SSOC created a tight formation, and went wild, consuming the SDS crazies...” (From “Southern Liberation Front Invades D.C.” in The Phoenix, an SSOC newspaper.)

But more important, SSOC continued to aggressively spread their politics throughout the South while national SDS did nothing. Some time ago someone coined the phrase “goulash communism” to describe the revisionism of Khrushchev & Company; if this be so, then the mixture of bourgeois liberalism and Southern nationalism put forward by SSOC in its final months could very well be characterized as “goulash liberalism.”

One of the “clearest” expressions of the “Southern consciousness” was put forward by SSOC’s Steve Wise:

Southern Consciousness is based on an impulse that originates in the very depths of the Southern soul, in the intense and profound feelings for the rootedness of a society, no matter how much corrupted and still corrupt, which possesses certain values of deep meaning to human beings. The South possessed a folk-culture, wrote David Potter, “long after it succumbed to the onslaught of urban-industrial culture everywhere. It was an aspect of this culture that the relation between the land and the people remained more direct and more primal in the South than in other parts of the country... Even in the most exploitative economic situations, this culture retained a personal-ism in the relations of man to man which the industrial culture lacks.” (From “Southern Consciousness” by Steve Wise, in The Great Speckled Bird, an “underground” Atlanta newspaper.)

Yes Sir! The slaves were really better off than Northern Industrial workers; they sure were! Believe it or not, this reactionary, racist and metaphysical viewpoint was actually a sophisticated version of something much more crude:

The (Confederate) Battle flag is, then, an independence flag, a rebel flag, fought for and died for by men–Southern men–many of whom never owned a slave. And as for those blacks who did not rise to help the North, but stayed on the lonely plantations from which the able-bodied white men had left for war: there is strong evidence that they identified with their whites and regarded the U.S. forces not as liberators but as invaders.

... Why is the South so violent... so reactionary? Why does the Klan live on here?... Because the South fought a war on its own soil–fought it with desperate courage under a loved leader, Robert E. Lee, whom both Lincoln and Grant respected and admired–fought a war that millions of Southerners saw, not as a war for “the slavocracy,” but as a war for independence from the United States. And then they lost. They knew what no other Americans have ever known: defeat as a nation, and the humiliation of occupation troops and Yankee carpet-baggers. And the deadly bitterness. And then the decades of grinding poverty because of economic exploitation by the North.

Is it to be supposed that all that’s forgotten in the South? It isn’t.

And there just might be no better way to keep it from dying than an invasion of SDS carpet-baggers... (From S. Vanauken’s “A Position Paper,” in The Agitator #2, May, 1969. The statement appears that “this paper substantially represents the views of the entire Lynchburg College chapter of SSOC”)

Liberalism Aids Imperialism

SSOC’s liberalism also became clearer and more aggressive in its final months:

The Rockefeller election (in Arkansas) has changed little. Perhaps the best hope there is that his election will allow him to make appointive changes in state departments where corruption is rife. As yet, the legislature is the same as it was in the dynasty of Orval Faubus, and it is there that Rockefeller will find tremendous opposition to anything he tries. (From “Plantation Mentality & Arkansas Education,” by Joe Neal of Arkansas SSOC, in SSOC’s New South Student.)

The organizer will have to decide at what point he can no longer use liberal reform issues to help build a broader base of support. He will have to decide whether the interest aroused by a reform movement is necessary to have people listen to his analysis. (From “The Need for Radical Research,” by Al Long of Virginia SSOC in New South Student, January 1969.)

The best synthesis seems to be that of SSOC as a group with a definite identity and a ready cohesiveness for effective action, while also operating in other groups to measure campus feelings and to provide channels for communication and education and new members. We should realize in analyzing our identity that we are working for power for all students, not just a minority. University reform, yes; but also student/faculty power in determining the nature of that reform. (From “UT–That Was the Week that Was,” by Dean Wright and Rick Rohrer of Tennessee SSOC, in SSOC’s Phoenix, Vol. 1, March 1969.)

Eventually in the South, workers will be organized into labor unions and the liberal (as opposed to radical) political coalitions now forming will have greater strength. The emergence of these new groupings will probably serve as somewhat of a buffer between us and the people we are fighting. (From “Community Organizing–What You Can Do ’Bout It,” by Lyn Wells, SSOC Program Secretary, in The Phoenix, Nov., 1968.)

Southerners led the chants, “More pay for cops’”. SSOC sees cops as being victims of the ruling class exploitation. (From “Southern Liberation Front Invades D.C.,” The Phoenix.)

Look carefully over the wealth of bourgeois liberal ideas present in these fairly typical quotations from literature published by SSOC in its final months: (1) Only election of enough liberals like Rockefeller can really change things; (2) Radical organizers can use liberal issues to organize people and radicalize them later on when they’re ready; (3) Radicals should fight for university reform controlled by students and faculty; (4) Labor bureaucrats and other liberal political coalitions will serve as a buffer between radicals and the “far right”; and (5) Since cops are not the real enemy it is unnecessary and even reactionary to fight or resist them.

All of this bourgeois liberal nonsense stems from an even more basic misconception of the nature of liberalism. This misconception is most clearly stated by Vanauken’s “Position Paper” of the Lynchburg (Virginia) chapter of SSOC quoted earlier:

One reason for... (SDS hostility)... for SSOC is that SSOC is liberal, which is untrue, or has on occasion worked with liberals. Although liberals are at least a little left of center, there runs through the Movement a mindless though understandable hatred of liberals. It is understandable because of what establishment liberals, such as Rusk and Johnson, are. It is mindless because it makes no distinctions. It is mindless to put Johnson and Daley in the same bag with Gene McCarthy and the Robert Kennedy who grew so much in his last years–to say nothing of the thousands of sincere liberals on college faculties and elsewhere. There is, of course, no question that liberalism can be a screen of fine words that conceals support for the industrial-military complex and imperialism and exploitation. But isn’t this corrupted liberalism, false liberalism, rather than the thing itself? All through history there have been real liberals, burning with indignation against exploitation and injustice; and there are such liberals today. They may not have gone as deep into analysis of what’s wrong with the nation as the radical left, but they are still men of good will fighting many of the evils that radicals are fighting. It is mindless not to distinguish between different sorts of liberals. It is even more mindless and dangerous not to recognize that the history of radical movements has been the history of left factions hating other left factions while, as in the Germany of the 30’s, the extreme right took over. If the radical Movement in America is to be anything more than sound and fury, like an angry child beating on the wall, we have got to recognize our potential allies as well as what we are really fighting. Heresy hunts... like that of the whole Movement against all liberals, are the surest way to get a Hitler in America... (From The Agitator #2, May, 1969.)

The point, of course, is that liberalism is the ideology of U.S. monopoly capitalism (imperialism). Fascism might very well become the ideology of U.S. monopoly capitalism at some future date; but even if that happens, it will most likely take the form of today’s liberals (from McCarthy to Johnson) becoming tomorrow’s fascists. Should the monopoly capitalist ruling class, which today favors liberalism, find itself tomorrow threatened by a massive revolutionary movement, that will be the day it chooses fascism rather than yield its state power.

A group like SSOC, which bases its hopes on the victory of the “good liberals” over the “corrupt liberals” and the “extreme right,” is in fact on a road towards defeat and treachery–defeat because so-called good liberals will always sell out their “radical” supporters at an opportune moment; treachery because a group like SSOC is forced by its position to attack all radicals and revolutionaries who insist on an independent and genuinely revolutionary movement as “ultra-leftists,” “adventurists” and “crazies.” Even though it’s probably fairly safe to say that at least some of the leadership of SSOC were conscious agents of liberal imperialists, a great many honest people were misled by SSOC to submit to liberal ideology, to attack SDS and to waste their honest efforts in a hopeless attempt to build a radical movement on ruling class money and ruling class politics.

SDS Under Attack

An SSOC Executive Committee meeting took place in Atlanta over the weekend of March 15, 1969. The verbal accounts of this meeting were rather incredible: There were reports that SDA was wildly attacked, that suggestions were made about lynching prominent SDS organizers in the South, that the general tone of the meeting was that SDS should be told in a polite way (at the forthcoming Spring National Council in Austin) to stay out of the South and should SDS fail to heed such wise words of warning that SDS should be forthwith driven bodily beyond the Mason-Dixon line.

The published (presumably because printable) version was as follows:

The developing SSOC critique would still seethe South’s economic and cultural problems as a manifestation of colonialism; it would continue to build on the consciousness of the positive aspects of a decentralized, personal past of the South’s culture.

While some Northern brothers have evinced a certain confusion and consternation over this part of SSOC’s politics (branding it Southern exceptionallsm), sensitive Southern skins have been pricked by the paternalism of a recent SDS statement which claimed to be revitalizing the South’s movement by holding its National Council in Austin, Texas. SSOC membership seemed of clear consensus on its relation to SDS: While SSOC recognizes that SDS is the national student movement and while it does not differ essentially with SDS’s politics, it nevertheless feels that the South has some particular problems demanding an approach which speaks to the experience of Southerners. To that end, SSOC will ask the Austin NC to accede to its organizational hegemony in the South. (From Jim Gwin’s “The South Moves,” in the Great Speckled Bird, March 31.)

As the word-of-mouth reports of this SSOC Executive Committee meeting spread, the “Revolutionary Youth Movement” leadership of SDS also stirred like some half-awakened bear. SDS National Secretary Mike Klonsky went lumbering off on his first trip “down south.”

When word of SSOC’s intentions reached New Orleans, more than a dozen SDS people from three chapters made preparations to attend the Austin National Council; our main hope at that point was merely to defeat any resolution proposing that SDS should continue to recognize SSOC as “the legitimate vehicle for SDS’s ideas in the South.”

The real credit for carrying the struggle against SSOC through to the end belongs to the brothers and sisters from the Florida State University chapter of SDS, and particularly to Phil Sandford. (Brother Sandford, a native of Australia, was deported early this summer for his efforts to build the FSU SDS chapter in Tallahassee.) Sandford and the other FSU SDS brothers and sisters came prepared to introduce a resolution breaking the “fraternal relations” between SDS and SSOC that had existed since 1965. This proposed resolution would make clear once and for all that SDS rejected bourgeois liberalism as “progressive” in any part of the country. It would declare that SDS rejected the idea of taking aid from the liberal bourgeoisie. It would reject the idea that the South is some kind of colony with special needs for a special kind of movement. Finally, it would state unconditionally that SDS intended to build its movement on its politics throughout the country without exceptions!

These ideas passed through several drafts in the course of meetings (caucuses) of Southern SDS people present at the Austin NC. A final version entitled “Build SDS in the South” signed by 16 SDS members from Florida, Louisiana and Alabama was circulated to the NC delegates on the morning of March 29, 1969. (The resolution was also signed by Fred Gordon, Internal Education Secretary of SDS, who was to his credit the first national officer of SDS to take the tasks of building SDS in the South seriously; he attended a Louisiana SDS conference as early as February of 1969.)

Klonsky Deserts the Ship

On March 30th a meeting of the Southern SDS delegates, who were sponsoring the “Build SDS in the South” resolution, took place with Secretary Klonsky. Lyn Wells from SSOC was also present. Secretary Klonsky presented substantially the following views to the Southern SDS delegates: (1) The views stated in the draft resolution “Build SDS in the South” are essentially correct; (2) However, these views overlook the emergence of a “left-wing” of SSOC determined to fundamentally change the nature of that organization; (3) This new “left wing of SSOC,” led by Lyn Wells, David Simpson and others, are even now drafting a new position paper that will be self-critical of SSOC’s past politics and programs while putting forward a new, genuinely anti-imperialist program for SSOC; (4) But they need time, time until the next SSOC membership conference to build their new left into a dominant force within SSOC; and (5) Therefore, you all (the Southern SDS delegates) should withdraw or agree to table your resolution until the SDS National Convention meets in June.

Secretary Klonsky overlooked one small detail: the “Position Paper on SSOC” put forward by the “new left wing of SSOC.” Led by Fred Lacey of New Orleans MDS and the Progressive Labor Party, the Southern SDS delegates attacked the paper very sharply. Where was the self-criticism for selling out Southern students to Reuther-type bureaucrats in the North Carolina textile struggle? Where was the self-criticism for sabotaging the Southern Labor Action Movement and the Blue Ridge strike? Where was the self-criticism for riding high on ruling class foundation money? Where was the self-criticism for student power politics? For sucking up to all kinds of Southern liberals and moderates? For advocating pacifism? For advocating racist Southern exceptionalism?

With the tide clearly turning against SSOC, Klonsky and his rightwing RYM faction played the old operaters game and decided now to “oppose” SSOC. This was just another unexplained opportunist turnaround that SDS’ers had come to expect from the RYM leadership.

The resolution came upon the floor of the Austin National Council in the late afternoon of March 30th, its passage already virtually assured. The resolution was ably introduced by Fred Lacey and supported by Dick Reavis of Austin SDS, Phil Sandford of Florida State University SDS, and the writer of this article. Secretary Klonsky also “supported” the resolution by saying the South “was too important to be left to Progressive Labor.” Wells and Simpson went through the motions of defending SSOC, but neither was enthusiastic about the task. Two members of the “Communist” party also spoke in defense of SSOC; they were almost laughed off the floor. The vote was approximately 175 to 8 in favor of the “Build SDS in the South” resolution.

A resolution, even a resolution of the National Council of SDS, is, after all, only words on paper. Dissolving fraternal relations with SSOC immediately meant very little; no one could organize SDS in the South to the level of SDS in other parts of the country overnight. We who participated in the struggle against SSOC anticipated that further struggles on the local level might take several years before SSOC was thoroughly defeated. Much to our surprise, this was not to be the case at all.

Initially, much of the SSOC leadership reacted predictably, branding the NC resolution as “arrogant,” “a PL plot,” etc. Some blamed the passage of the NC resolution on the fact that Klonsky & Company had privately promised to support SSOC “against PL” and then had had the colossal nerve to sell out SSOC; others accused some of SSOC’s own leaders of selling out SSOC for positions of influence in national SDS and the future SDS chapters that would be organized in the South.

Much more interesting were the reactions of the so-called “left wing” of SSOC, led by Lyn Wells and David Simpson. The “Position Paper on SSOC” distributed at the SDS NC in Austin was self-critical in form but far from that in content. Now, almost overnight, the “left wing” of SSOC became critical so as to be in a better position to abandon the sinking ship. With SSOC thoroughly exposed a new vehicle was needed; they therefore now urged the dissolution of SSOC.

Wells and Simpson had not only opted for SDS, they had in fact fully allied themselves with the “Revolutionary Youth Movement” faction of SDS. Their defection from SSOC sealed its fate.

The formal end came at a final SSOC membership conference held outside of Edwards, Mississippi, in early June. The attendance at this final conference provided some ironic footnotes to the end of SSOC. Almost all of the SSOC members there were staff or ex-staff members. Almost no rank-and-file members of SSOC (assuming there still were any) cared enough for the future of SSOC to show up and defend it.

A delegation of half-a-dozen or so people showed up calling themselves the Wisconsin Communist Party. These people actually led the rear-guard efforts to hold off the end of SSOC. They were assisted by a small SSOC grouping led by Jim Baines of Alabama SSOC, Gene Guerrero of Georgia SSOC and one of its founders, and Ed Hamlett, also one of the founders of SSOC. Carl Braden of SCEF was present and while he generally voted with the pro-SSOC camp did not speak in favor of SSOC.

A two-part resolution was prepared by the anti-SSOC caucus at the conference. The Workers-Student Alliance people considered the implementation portion of the resolution (that actually dissolved SSOC) to be the main task of the conference. The RYM, particularly Klonsky and Lyn Wells, saw the resolution as an opportunity to push their own factional politics as the politics of “a South-wide conference.” This is exactly what they did.

After a nearly unanimous vote the implementation portion of the resolution was passed and SSOC was dissolved. Most people left at that point; the RYM people who remained went ahead and passed their RYM “analysis section.”

The end of SSOC went almost unnoticed, primarily because it took place in the shadow of the RYM’s attempt to split and destroy SDS only a week after the Mississippi conference. Nevertheless, the Southern movement may very well never be the same again.

The attempt of the right-wing RYM factions to destroy SDS by “expelling” members of the Progressive Labor Party, the Worker-Student Alliance caucus, and all others who refuse to submit to their dictates or acknowledge their leadership has had serious consequences in the Southern movement.

Most of the SDS chapters in the South are still very new; the bitter internal struggles that are bound to follow RYM’s divisive maneuvers will take their toll among new SDS members.

Still, the lessons of more than two years of struggle against the bureaucratic liberalism of SSOC are clear: Only the sharpest political and organizational struggle will suffice to destroy bourgeois ideology and practice within the movement. And unless this struggle takes place, the movement is stillborn, regardless of its crowded conventions, its flocks of full-time staff, its volumes of newspapers and pamphlets, its fleets of autos.

The overt bourgeois liberalism of SSOC has been defeated. But that is only the beginning. We now must face the problems of more subtle forms of bourgeois ideology: opportunism and revisionism. They will not be so easy to defeat, as our brothers and sisters in the rest of the country already know.

Because of their newness and inexperience, the SDS chapters in the South still lack a real base on Southern campuses or real ties with Southern white and black workers. The forthcoming internal political struggles combined with the pressing necessity to build a solid base for SDS in the South will put our revolutionary politics to a severe test. The RYM groups, the “Communist” Party and other pseudo-revolutionaries will be on the sidelines cheering our failures and eagerly grasping every opportunity to divert and mislead the young Southern movement into their own opportunist and revisionist blind alleys. The price of failure will be a heavy one.

Yet we are convinced that because it must be done that it can be done; a revolutionary movement led by the Marxist-Leninist party–the Progressive Labor Party–must and will be built in the South, united with and an integral part of the national and international revolutionary movement.

In the words of the SDS National Council resolution “Build SDS in the South”: “There remains a pressing need for a revolutionary movement in the South; we can never make a revolution with only three-quarters of a country. We who have built the first SDS chapters in the deep South have discovered that the same political ideas and organizing techniques that have built movements in the North and West will, if carried out consistently on a long-range basis, build rooted movements in the South... We are in the South to stay and so are our politics.”