Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Why SDS Expelled PL

Published: Guardian, July 5, 1969. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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For all its sound and fury and attendant confusion, the historic significance of the 1969 SDS national convention should not be lost, in the ranks of the radical movement.

For the first time since 1866, a predominantly white radical organization split over the issue of white supremacy and support for the black liberation struggle. The only similar occurrence in U.S. radical history was the split in the 1866 convention of the Southern loyalists after the Civil War, where whites from the Deep South supported the demands of freed slaves for full political rights, opposed by radical whites from border states.

The rest of U.S. radical history has been, in the main, the story of insurgent white workers and revolutionaries copping out and scabbing on the liberation struggle of black people.

When all is said and done, this was the main issue at the SDS convention, and the main culprit, in the eyes of most of SDS, was the Progressive Labor party.

Recognition of Split

The expulsion of PL and its supporters from national SDS was, in one sense, simply the official recognition of a de facto split that has existed in several SDS chapters for the past six months. On the local level, most SDS members and chapters have recognized and supported the leading role and revolutionary significance of the struggles of black students on the campuses and of black working-class youth.

This has not been the case with PL and most persons it has organized into “worker-student alliance” caucuses.

On the campuses, PL now opposes most black student struggles, including demands for increased black admissions and black studies programs. An article in the August issue of PL magazine went as far as stating, “.. . although masses of black students are obviously willing to fight racism and imperialism, the basic character of the black student movement is reactionary.”

Preferential Hiring

One resolution put forward by the PL-WSA group at the convention particularly enraged many SDSers. While PL opposed open admissions, the resolution called for preferential hiring of black and brown nonacademic campus employees. Persons attacking the resolution renamed it – the “out of the classroom, into the kitchen” proposal, since, in effect, it called for more black maids and janitors to clean up after white students while opposing struggles of the children of those workers against racist admissions policies.

Many people also thought it incredible that PL could call for preferential hiring in job categories where black and brown workers were already “preferentially” hired, while, in effect, opposing the access of black and brown workers into predominantly white sectors of the working class requiring a college degree. The fact that most PL-WSA members couldn’t see anything wrong with this was convincing evidence of their affliction with the “white blindspot” of white national chauvinism and white supremacy.

Opposition to Panthers

In addition to refusing to support in practice the struggles of the black student movement, PL has led an unprincipled attack on the Black Panther party and the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

For example, an article in the issue of PL magazine sold at the SDS convention stated, “The goal of both groups [the Panthers and the League] is the same: a piece of the profit pie for a small number of black ’leaders.’... Despite continuing reference to Mao Tse-tung, the Panthers increasingly put forward a line that sounds more and more like Martin Luther King or John Kennedy.”

This statement is complemented by one in the February issue of PL: “Despite the frequent waving of “The Quotations of Mao Tse-tung” (the red book), it is quite apparent that the Panthers have no class outlook and believe they are out to fight a war against white people in general.”

PL also commented on the Panthers’ breakfast for children program: “We feel this program doesn’t deal with the problems of the black community. And we feel it isn’t a forward step but a backward one.”

The Black Panther party and many SDS members across the country saw remarks like these not as comradely criticism, but as vicious attacks and slanders that served only the interests of imperialism.

PL’s venom was directed not only at the struggle of the black liberation movement in the U.S.; the August issue of PL also slandered the Cubans and the Vietnamese: “Because there is not a real Marxist-Leninist party and leaders in Cuba, Castro & Co. are busy screwing up revolutions in Cuba and all over Latin America.”

Attack on NLF

The same issue contains this gem: “NLF-type liberation programs will take radicals right to the graveyard.” PL has attacked the National Liberation Front and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as being part of a “Washington-Moscow-Hanoi Axis” designed to attack China, of “selling out” to imperialism, specifically naming Ho Chi Minh a “traitor.”

PL has also attacked the NLF for fighting a new democratic revolution and calling for a new democratic state. According to PL, the NLF should skip this stage and fight directly for socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

PL uses China as an example. From the August PL magazine: ’The Chinese revolution proved you could skip stages, that socialism could triumph in a country without a significant industrial base.” Mao Tse-tung had a somewhat different view of the Chinese revolution:

“If the capitalist road of bourgeois dictatorship is out of the question, then is it possible to take the socialist road of proletarian dictatorship? No, that is not possible either.

“Without a doubt, the present [Chinese) revolution is the first step, which will develop into the second step, that of socialism, at a later date.... Having determined on their policy [collaborators with the Japanese] they have lost no time in hiring some ’metaphysicsmongers’ plus a few Trotskyists who, brandishing their pens like lances, are tilting in all directions and creating bedlam. Hence the whole bag of tricks for deceiving those who do not know what is going on in the world around them.. .. The ’theory of a single revolution’ is simply a theory of no revolution at all, and that is the heart of the matter.” (“On New Democracy.”)

NLF responds

PL has been attacked many times for its position on Vietnam. An NLF representative in Sweden, Le Phuong, wrote in a letter published in the April 5, 1969 Guardian: “They [PL] defame the political program of the NLF and slander it. Far from supporting the political program of the NLF, they defame it flagrantly. While progressive people throughout the world support the NLF and its political program, these people wrongly criticize the political program. While the U.S. imperialists slander our front, they slander our front too. That is, aiming at deceiving public opinion including American public opinion. That is, aiming at harming the ant-war movement in the U.S.”

During the SDS convention panel on imperialism, Bob Avakian from the Bay Area Revolutionary Union nailed PL for “self-righteously and arrogantly considering themselves, wiser than Chairman Mao and more revolutionary than the NLF.” He noted that at the same time that PL was branding Ho Chi Minh a “traitor” and the NLF ”sellouts” the Chinese had something different to say:

“We are deeply convinced that under the leadership of their great leader Ho Chi Minh and persevering in protracted people’s war, the 31 million Vietnam people will surely drive out all the U.S. aggressors from Vietnam.” (Lin Piao, Peking Review, Feb. 21, 1969.)

“On the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the founding of the South Vietnam National Front for Liberation we, on behalf of the Chinese people, Communist party of China and government of the People’s Republic China, extend the warmest greetings the people of South Vietnam and South Vietnam National Front Liberation who are standing at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism.” (Mao Tse-tung, Peking Review, Dec. 27, 1968.)

SDS arrived at the conclusion that it could no longer haw a double standard, making major political demands (such as support for the NLF) outside its ranks which were not only not supported, but attacked by persons within its ranks. The existence of that contradiction within has hamstrung the organization for almost a year. While the battle remains to be fought out on local campuses across the country, the organization should now be able to move forward in the fight against imperialism.