Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Lincoln Webster Sheffield

Thoughts on the SDS convention

Published: Daily World, [newspaper of the CPUSA] June 28, 1969. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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As I was sitting among delegates screaming at each other and waving copies of “quotations of Mao Tse-tung” during the SDS (Students for Democratic Society) convention last weekend, Clark Kissinger, an old acquaintance from the New Left, approached me and said, “you look like a fish out of water in here.”

I nodded, and said to myself, “I feel like a fish swimming in acid.” Unfortunately, I found myself at a convention of over 2,000 people, most of whom claimed to be revolutionaries, all of whom were coming close to exchanging blows with each other.

At first it seemed so completely irrational that I was almost moved to leave for friendlier territory in my Near North Side neighborhood, among the familiar faces of the Young Lords, Young Patriots and other working class people. But after some consideration I decided to stay and try to “dig” what was happening.

It finally became clearer as I became acutely aware of the depth of the passion for revolution among these youth. Coming mainly from the middle class they were deeply moved by the example of the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and similar groups, who proudly proclaim that revolution is their goal.

As I began to talk to the delegates more, I could see that it was this frantic desire to identify with the oppressed, and to shed the guilt they have been taught to bear that moves them to view any revolutionary-looking person or movement without criticism.

And as I talked with them, I began to understand, even if I could not agree. I began to identify myself with the profound spirit of revolutionary humanism that these youth exhibited, so far removed from the nihilistic hippies of a few years ago.

But as I learned to understand the convention and the moving forces behind it, I also became acutely aware of the tragedy inflicted upon the emerging revolutionary movement in the U.S. by the differences in the world Communist movement, by the class-conscious collaborationist trade union leaders in the U.S., and especially by the leadership of Mao.

For here was a vivid example of a case where line determines everything.

With the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) putting forward such slogans as “all nationalism is reactionary” and “no deals in Vietnam,” and the other side campaigning on the slogan “repudiate white skin privilege,” it became clear how far off the road of mass struggle this organization of 70,000 members was in danger of veering.

These slogans and concepts stem directly from this idea that the national struggle either means everything or nothing, depending on whom you ask and when. The inability to see the need for international workingclass solidarity, with the Soviet Union and all the socialist nations at the center of that unity, necessarily reduces all struggles to simple class struggles within our borders or simple struggles for national liberation outside. One faction even reduced all struggles both within and without the country to national liberation struggles.

It is too early yet to know what will happen. Both the PLP and the regular SDS organizations claim to be elated over the split, and claim that they will soon win the entire organization to their side.

The regulars have more going for them, for their understanding of the national question within the U.S. is closer to the truth and their activist spirit will carry them among the masses of students. But what will undoubtedly develop will be a bitter struggle that will drive many away from SDS.

SDS can recover from this convention. The expulsion of PLP can in the long run strengthen the organization. But a new youth organization, firmly based on principles of internationalism and class struggle, may well be the necessary ingredient on the outside for this recovery.

I am convinced that the leadership of SDS. split into two or three factions itself, cannot give the kind of consistent class-conscious leadership needed for the continued building of the student movement. But a new organization, based mainly among the young workers, can provide an example and can be an ideological beacon in what may otherwise be the dissolution of the most powerful radical student movement our nation has ever seen.