Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Which Side are you on?

First Published: The Guardian, April 17, 1974.
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.

“One thing certainly can be said for the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army,” states the April issue of Revolution, “it has created considerable debate within the movement, shedding light on some significant differences.”

The editorial in the Revolutionary Union’s newspaper then goes on to add its voice to the ultra-“left” criticism of the Guardian’s stand against the SLA. The Guardian’s main problem, says the RU, is that it unites with the more backward ideas of the masses on the question–sympathy for Patty Hearst’s plight–while making the main focus of its Viewpoints on the SLA none other than. . .the SLA. As a result, it is doing “more or less the same thing” as the revisionists, Trotskyists and other “social-pacifists who run to hide under the nearest bed every time the ruling class emits a growl.”

Guardian readers can, of course, themselves determine whether or not Revolution’s summary is a fair one. Here it need only be said that the Guardian has had two concerns on this issue. The first is to show that the SLA is “left in form, right in essence” by pointing out the unity of reformism and terrorism. The second is to combat the surprising amount of liberalism expressed in relation to the SLA that still exists in some parts of the Revolutionary movement.

Take the RU for instance. Unraveling their rhetoric to find their position on the SLA is like peeling an onion. Once you get to the heart of it there’s nothing there.

In the two editorials Revolution has written on the issue one first finds an account of the Hearst’s family’s history since 1608, detailing why the name “Hearst” is synonymous with “reactionary.” (At least, that is, until the SLA began to put a “human face” on it.)


Next the RU correctly criticizes the social-pacifism of the Communist party and the Socialist Worker’s party for tailing the reformism of the bourgeoisie. But even here it could have done a better job of showing how their opposition to terrorism is tied to a general line of “peaceful transition.”

Then comes the RU’s stand on terrorism in general. It makes the correct point that communists repudiate terrorism as a strategy but that as a matter of tactics, the working class repudiates no weapon in its arsenal as a matter of principle, but only on the grounds of expediency. In other words, if a given tactic moves a particular struggle forward to its strategic aim, it is correct. If it doesn’t, then it is incorrect. The RU also notes that “in the final analysis” it is true that “revisionism and terrorism have a lot in common because neither has any faith in nor relies on the masses.”

But what about right now? Here are some real live terrorists, the SLA, operating in the Bay Area, a place where the RU should have some knowledge of both objective conditions and the outlook of the masses. Since Revolution’s editorial writers have touched all the theoretical bases, exposed monopoly capital, directed the main blow at the right, criticized the centrists and spelled out the guidelines, one would expect that they would take a firm proletarian stand on the very question that started the whole discussion in the first place.

But it is precisely here, on the particularity of the question, that Marxism stops and liberalism takes over.


“Was the Hearst kidnapping, then,” asks Revolution, “a correct tactic?” The answer: “Probably not.” Probably? Does this mean maybe it was alright? Or maybe since all the “facts” aren’t in yet, after months, that it’s too soon to tell? Or the central committee is divided? Or what?

“The Hearst kidnapping,” says Revolution, “appears to be” an “isolated action.” Appears to be? What is it actually, in essence? Is the RU so isolated from the movement that it can’t tell whether the SLA is isolated? Or do some of its members think that behind the appearance the SLA is, in essence, not isolated? Or can’t the RU decide whether this SLA action was carried out by the same SLA that claimed credit for assassinating the Oakland school official?

“We tend to think,” says Revolution, “that the Hearst kidnapping wasn’t particularly useful.” Tend to think? People tend to think a lot of things, even contradictory things at the same time. But what the people want to know from the communists is–where do you stand? After the investigation is done, after all side; have been taken into account, after principal questions have been separated from secondary questions and everything has been summed up with the guidance of theory–are you for it or against it?

“We don’t think,” says Revolution, “that, on the whole, it has helped to build Revolutionary consciousness and Revolutionary organization.” On the whole? Does this mean that “in part” the SLA has helped build Revolutionary organization? If so, is it by negative or positive example?


The SLA action, says Revolution, “hasn’t really done the bourgeoisie much harm. On the other hand, we don’t see how it has done the proletariat and the Revolutionary movement any real harm at this time, either.” Is this supposed to mean the SLA has done the bourgeoisie “some” harm and thus, in turn, has done the working class “some” good? Has that “good” counteracted the tons of reactionary propaganda that the mass media has run a mile with, linking the SLA with China, the Filipino struggle, the Puerto Rican Socialist party and even the RU itself. Or is the RU so isolated that it doesn’t know what a political attack on the working class is when it sees it?

The RU tries to make something of the fact that thousands of people have turned out to take Hearst’s free food, as if this narrow question is supposed to express people’s attitudes–backward, middle or advanced– toward the SLA or Hearst. Ward-heelers often pass out groceries at Christmas time, too, and people line up to take it. The only thing it proves is that there are hungry people under capitalism, a fact well-known to the working class long before the SLA showed up.

The RU is absolutely right on one point. The debate around the SLA has been revealing. It shows that the RU is having a hard time breaking with the politics of bowing to spontaneity. Rather than titling its editorial, “SLA Action: Some People Jump Under the Bed,” a more accurate summary of the RU’s own vacillations would have been, “SLA Action: Some People Sit on the Fence.”