Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Debate within SDS. RYM II vs. Weatherman

Radical Education Project Collective



During the past year struggle m theory and practice has produced great changes in SDS. It is no longer an organization which rather indiscriminately welcomes liberals, anarchists and radicals of all persuasions. SDS has expelled the Progressive Labor Party. After the PLP expulsion, RYM II and Weatherman have emerged as two separate, identifiable factions. It is important to understand the development of these two positions in their own right. It is also important to understand their development within the context of the struggle to defeat PL. What are now different political analyses and strategy were at one point a united group sharing an explicit set of ideas which differed sharply from PL.

PL challenged SDS to develop as a class conscious and explicitly anti-imperialist organization by bringing a class analysis to SDS more clearly than any other individuals or groups had done before. It also formed the Worker Student Alliance caucus within SDS. (See the “Critique of PL” by the Old Mole, published by REP for a summary of PL-WSA politics.) The presence of this well organized group which held to a specific theory and practice pushed the non-WSA part of SDS to realize the value of collective discipline in doing political work. The demands of the growing radical movement and the objective conditions of the U.S. indicate that SDS probably would have adopted a class analysis and a tighter form of organization at some future point, but undoubtedly, the reaction of SDS to PL helped speed this development. This literature packet contains the primary documents which define the body of theory which has provided direction in the continuing) struggle to defeat PL. Moreover, this theory stands by itself as providing direction for on-going political debate and work as reflected in the factions of Weatherman and RYM II.

The first document in the packet is the original Revolutionary Youth Movement resolution which was passed by the December 1968 National Council of SDS. The successful adoption of this resolution was a major expression of the increasing dissatisfaction with PLP. Many people within SDS recognized that PL’s program was unproductive. Although it emphasized working class organizing, its theory and practice was inadequate. A major defeat for PL had already come in October at Boulder, Colorado, when the SDS NC failed to pass the PL-sponsored resolution ”Toward a Worker Student Alliance.” The RYM proposal was an attempt to provide an alternative to PL’s program for radical organizing. It was presented by a group centered in Chicago including Mike Klonsky (then National Secretary of SDS) and Les Coleman, from Chicago Region SDS.

The passage of the resolution came after long and serious debate. During that debate, a unified faction emerged whose main purpose was to defeat and discredit PL by providing sound, relevant alternatives for organizing initiated by SDS. The unity was based on the principles of a struggle for international proletarian unity and the potential for a broad youth movement. This unity also challenged the basis for Worker Student Alliance politics formulated by PL which did not afford any legitimacy to the notion of youth being a critical force in making the revolution.

From December until the Match 1969 National Council meeting in Austin, Texas, mote profound differences, especially on the position of blacks and women, became clear between the unified RYM faction and the PL-WSA caucus within SDS. The PL-sponsored resolution on racism passed at the December NC was essentially reversed with the passage of a resolution which recognized revolutionary (socialist) nationalism as a progressive force in the black liberation movement over the denunciation by PL that all nationalism is “reactionary”. Although no women’s resolution was debated Austin NC, caucuses demonstrated that PL-WSA did not recognize that women are subject to any oppression and exploitation beyond that of the working class as a whole.

At the same time, as the struggle against PL was becoming more clear, differences within the group which had formed around the RYM resolution began to emerge. Divisions were developing over questions of the role of the schools and the general question of the role of the white proletariat in the U.S. People who had been united in December in support of “Revolutionary Youth Movement” found themselves on opposite sides in regards to two proposals: one by Les Coleman, “The Schools Must Serve the People” and one by Marilyn Katz, “Mayday” (which called for mass working class action.) The original authors of RYM supported both these proposals, but many of the people who had been allied with them in the earlier fight with PL opposed these documents.The second and third articles in this packet show that by the time of the national convention in June, differences in RYM were reflected on a more basic theoretical level as well as on the level of tactical proposals as they had been in Austin. Jim Mellen’s article, “More on Youth Movement” was published in May and Coleman’s reply ”Notes or Analysis: Some Implications for the RYM” appeared at the National Convention in Chicago. Two other basic documents circulated at that meeting were: “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows” (NLN [New Left Notes, the SDS newspaper – MIA Note] (Convention issue) and “RYM II” (NLN, July 8, 1969). Although it was clear that these had basically different political thrusts, the people who supported these two different documents came together once again in the struggle with PL.

At the convention it became clear to many people that it was necessary to expel PL in order for SDS to become better able to do real organizing outside of a solely student constituency. It was clear that SDS had to change from the amorphous umbrella-type of group it had been. It was also clear that so long as PL was part of SDS, constructive relations with the black liberation movement would not be possible. Important black groups with an explicit class analysis such as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, had been repeatedly attacked by PL. PL did not support black proletarian organizing and in several campus struggles had undermined the work of black groups by organizing against open admissions demands and black studies programs. Expelling PL from SDS did not mean expulsion of PL from the left, although it is clear now that not everyone who worked to expel PL held to that opinion.

The expulsion of PL was, in many ways, done in an unprincipled manner. An alliance was formed of people who opposed PL – but different groups had different reasons for wanting PL out. This was due to the fact that the major groups, Weatherman and RYM II, had different political analyses – each in itself different from PL but basically different from each other. Due to the pressures of the struggle at the convention, the differences between the group supporting the “Weatherman” proposal and those who comprised a very loose “RYM II” caucus were not debated fully. Much of the debate that did take place centered around discussions of PL’s practice, and often people seemed to steer away from any political discussion which would raise some of the differences that existed in the anti-PL alliance. (See the articles by Carl Davidson in The Guardian in June 1969 for a good description of the expulsion of PL.)

We believe expelling PL from SDS was consistent with the unity-criticism-unity model described in the last section of this paper. For unity, in this sense, does not mean simply “joining” two groups together; it does not mean an agreement on organizational unity. It does require a basic understanding of different political tendencies, criticism of different positions, and the formation of new positions and winning of the people to those. It is possible to begin a meaningful stage of criticism now that political differences are emerging and can be clarified. This was not possible while Pl was in the organization. During the previous year PL’s practice had proven that they did not engage in “unity-criticism-unity.” Instead, PL. pursued the course of all criticism and no unity. It deliberately worked to prevent the execution of ideas which is necessary to maintain a strong and principled political organization. It can be said that PL was, in a sense, responsible for the formation of the two main tendencies in SDS now, for both RYM II and Weatherman developed out of opposition to PL. At the same time, it is clear that the struggle with PL kept those (and other) tendencies from becoming distinct forces in their own right. This latter reason is why people who had opposed each other in May unite in June, with little political discussion, to expel PL from the organization.

It is clear that in some ways the lack of discussion was deliberate. Supporters of the “Weatherman” proposal had a great deal of strength at the Convention, but needed some temporary allies in the fight against PL. Thus, they were required to work with supporters of “RYM II” for a short while, but were not willing to debate the differences between the two groups. Supporters of RYM II also allowed this to happen by withdrawing the five principles of unity they had proposed (as reasons for expelling PL), rather than spending a great deal of time debating them in the group.

Weatherman has been elected to control of the National Office of SDS. After PL was expelled, Weatherman ran candidates for all the national offices and made little attempt (at that point) to gloss over their differences with RYM II. In the months since the Convention Weatherman has consolidated its position in the organization.


The proletarian line in SDS has been forged through a dialectical development of theory and practice. This development has been dialectical in that the original unity – and the emergent tendencies – has been transformed as the organization proceeds from unity to contradiction to unity. On the level of practice, the operation of the Progressive Labor Party and, more recently, Weatherman has convinced many people of the need for disciplined implementation of politics and has forced many to confront the anti-communism implicit in ultra-democratic objections (over-adherence to the surface forms of democracy, with no consideration of the need for discipline) to disciplined factions. On the level of theory, the challenge for the student movement to relate to the working class developed in response to the consistent and fundamental character of the Worker-Student Alliance strategy pushed by the PLP within SDS. Because of their concept of a “Worker-Student Alliance,” PLP and WSA opposed the Revolutionary Youth Movement proposal which barely passed the December 1968 National Council. The unity that surrounded the passing of this document began to break down during the next six months and the two tendencies within RYM (Weatherman and RYM II) began to emerge.

Before suggesting the main issues surrounding this new struggle, it is important to mention the progressive aspects of the original unity that later branched into the Weatherman and the RYM II positions. The progressive aspects may be found in the documents presented in this packet, and in REP’s topical literature packet on the Revolutionary Youth Movement (#4). They may be found in both the Weatherman and the RYM II proposals. They include: the desire to concretize politics through practice and to develop cadre (see particularly “Hot Town” in REP packet #4, which was supported by the original RYM alliance); a recognition of the potential role of youth as a “critical force” in the revolutionary process (see RYM proposal, Mellen); an internationalist perspective of support for wars of national liberation against U.S. imperialism (see RYM, Weatherman, RYM II); an acknowledgement of the anti-colonial aspect of black oppression in the U.S. as well as the fact that white-skin privilege has been important in the division of the U. S. working class (see Weatherman, RYM II); a recognition that the student movement is limited by its class base and that it must be broadened (see RYM, Hot Town, RYM II); realization (as of the December 1968 National Council) that women’s oppression derives from superstructure (male supremacy) as well as from direct economic oppression (best articulated in the December 1968 NC resolution on women’s liberation, presented by Noel Ignatin and supported in a struggle with PL by the same alliance that supported the RYM proposal); and a willingness to engage in organizing in the community rather than confining organizing to the point of production (see RYM, Hot Town). All these positions were important advances beyond both the eclectic politics of earlier days of SDS and of the dogmatic errors of the PL line (see “A Critique of PLP” by the Old Mole, published by REP).

In recognizing these advances we should also reject opportunist criticism which various individuals and groups have levelled against, particularly, the Weatherman tendency. All criticism of tactics which neglects the political thinking behind tactics, all criticism of militancy per se, all criticism which feeds anti-communist reflexes by making accusations of “Stalinism” without precisely defining the word, all such unprincipled criticism must be rejected and attacked. The formation of organizational alliances on the basis of such thinking must be discouraged.

What, then, are the political principles behind the new debate within SDS, following the split with PLP? The struggle has developed over a few basic but weighty questions. What is the US proletariat? What intermediate classes exist between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and what are their importance? What is the role of the US proletariat in the socialist revolution in this country? What is the relationship between the black (and brown) section of the proletariat, subject to colonial oppression as well as purely economic exploitation, and white workers? What is the relationship between the struggle of the US proletariat and that of the proletariat of oppressed nations under imperialism – i.e., what is the significance of nationalism and wars of national liberation for the proletariat of the oppressor nation? What is the nature of women’s oppression and how does this relate, in practice, to colonial and class oppression? What is the character of the class struggle within the oppressor nation under imperialism... i.e., can other classes in the US be brought into a united front under proletarian leadership against US imperialism? Is the US in a revolutionary or a pre-revolutionary stage at this time? These are questions to bear in mind while reading the following papers. In addition, the reader should ask what is the class line put forth in each of these selections.

We will not outline here the different ways Weatherman and RYM II answer these questions. However, to make clear our perspective and the reasons for publishing this packet, we shall briefly outline the REP collective’s position and what we believe to be the main issues surrounding this new struggle. We believe that if socialism is to be built in the US, it will be the result of a proletarian revolution. We understand that the proletariat includes those who work for wages in production, transportation, communication and service industries. It specifically does not include students qua students, though some students are members of this class. We do not believe youth is a class; we do believe that the special oppression of youth – of all classes – makes possible their role as a critical force in the revolutionary process. As with the black and brown, and the women’s movements, it is vital also for the youth movement to follow proletarian leadership. We recognize the oppression of blacks and browns in our country as a dual oppression – encompassing oppression as workers at the point of production and colonial oppression as nations. We support the right of self-determination for the black and brown nations, recognizing also the crucial position of their national liberation struggle: in the overall struggle to liberate the entire working class and build socialism in the US. We understand that the socialist revolution in this country must proceed under proletarian leadership and that, in order for united proletarian lead; ship to develop, the treacherous nature of white-skin privilege must be recognized and repudiated by the white section of the proletariat. We believe that women are oppressed through their role in the family in addition to the explanation faced by working women. Their oppression comes not only from the economic base, which oppresses all the proletariat (black and brown women especially) but also from the superstructure, from male supremacy. Women must be organized to fight against their own oppression, and this at times will mean the existence of separate women’s organizations. The struggle for women’s liberation is part of the struggle against imperialism and one which must have proletarian leadership. We Understand that the structure of the US imperialist involvement in the world demands that proletarian internationalism be developed within the US working class,, Specifically, this means that the US working class must brought to a position of support for the applied internationalism of wars of national liberation against US imperialism Following from a class analysis which recognizes more than two classes in US society and which perceives that, as a class, it is mainly the ruling bourgeoisie which profits from imperialism, we understand that classes other than the proletariat must be brought into a united front under proletarian leadership against US imperialism. Finally, we understand that the US is at present in a pre-revolutionary stage. We find the best expression of our politics in the RYM and RYM II documents, which we support.


The debate between RYM II and Weatherman has at its base some of the most crucial problems facing the movement, should not, however, allow this struggle to blind us to other important political questions being tested through struggle and practice both within SDS and in other sectors of the movement. Neither should we let the intensity of this struggle become the basis for a cynicism toward political struggle and its importance to the growth of the movement.

We advocate an active ideological struggle, because it is the weapon for achieving solidarity within the Party and the revolutionary organizations and making them fit to fight. Every Communist and revolutionary should take up this weapon. (Mao Tse-tung, Combat Liberalism, 1937)

The context for ideological struggle must be understood. Our movement needs to develop in practice a way of handling inter-movement differences. We at REP believe an excellent formulation for the proper context of such struggle has been put forward in the “unity-criticism-unity” model. We believe it is necessary to strive for a new unity on a nee basis. This is not easy, but it must be a guiding principle:

In 1942 we worked out the formula “unity-criticism-unity” to describe this democratic method of resolving contradictions among the people. To elaborate, this means to start off with a desire for unity and resolve contradictions through criticism or struggle so as to achieve a new unity on a new basis. Our experience shows that this is a proper method of resolving contradictions among the people. In 1942 we used this method to resolve contradictions inside the Communist Party, namely, contradictions between the doctrinaires and the rank-and-file membership, between doctrinairism and Marxism. At one time in waging inner-Party struggle, the ”left” doctrinaires used the method of “ruthless struggle and merciless blows.” This method was wrong. In place of it, in criticizing “left” doctrinairism, we used a new one: to start from a desire for unity, and thrash out questions of right and wrong through criticism or argument, and so achieve a new unity on a new basis. This was the method used in the “rectification campaign” of 1942. A few years later in 1945 when the Chinese Communist Party held its Seventh National Congress, unity was thus achieved throughout the Party and the great victory of the people’s revolution was assured. The essential thing is to start with a desire for unity. Without this subjective desire for unity, once the struggle starts it is liable to get out of hand. Wouldn’t this then be the same as “ruthless struggle and merciless blows”? Would there be any Party unity left to speak of? If was this experience that led us to the formula: ”unity-criticism-unity”. (Mao Tse-tung, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, 1957)

Practice within SDS – particularly Weatherman practice – often errs by mistaking “contradictions among the people” for “contradictions with the enemy.” Errors have also been made by depending upon coercion or force in the mistaken belief that this is proper struggle. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China represented one of the most intense struggles (on several levels) experienced anywhere in the history of the socialist movement. We should bear in mind their view on how the struggle should take place:

Correctly Handle Contradictions Among the People

A strict distinction must be made between the two different types of contradictions: those among the people and those between ourselves and the enemy. Contradictions among the people must not be made into contradictions between ourselves and the enemy; nor must contradictions between ourselves and the enemy be regarded as contradictions among the people.

It is normal for the masses to hold different views. Contention between different views is unavoidable, necessary and beneficial. In the course of normal and full debate, the masses will affirm what is right, correct what is wrong and gradually reach unanimity.

The method to be used in debates is to present the facts, reason things out, and persuade through reasoning. Any method of forcing a minority holding different views to submit is impermissible. The minority should be protected, because sometimes the truth is with the minority. Even if the minority is wrong, they should still be allowed to argue their case and reserve their views.

When there is a debate, it should be conducted by reasoning, not by coercion or force.

In the course of debate, every revolutionary should be good at thinking things out for himself and should develop the communist spirit of daring to think, daring to speak and daring to act. On the premise that they have the same general orientation, revolutionary comrades should, for the sake of strengthening unity, avoid endless debate over side issues. (Point #6, Decision of the Central Committee, CPC, Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 8 August, 1966)

Ideological struggle within SDS during the past year has often erred in regard to such principles. Debate at the June Convention and the previous National Council meetings often did not “present the facts, reason things out, and persuade through reasoning”. Often it did. However, the trend of the past year has been toward the form of “ruthless struggle and merciless blows.” PL’s adoption of these practices made it impossible (among other reasons) to work with them in the same organization. Weatherman’s similar errors present similar problems. From the perspective of the REP collective, RYM II’s errors in this direction are necessary topics of self-criticism.

The Chinese people, in conducting their Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, were hardly anti-struggle. They adopted the policy of “unity-criticism-unity” for handling contradictions among the people, and the policy of “criticism-struggle-transformation” for dealing with class enemies. We at REP do not believe the struggle within the movement is a struggle with class enemies (although bourgeois views and practices are reflected in certain positions). We do not believe it appropriate to use the methods of “ruthless struggle and merciless blows” (or to “kick-ass”) to deal with such differences. We will “kick-ass” when dealing with class enemies. We will struggle to achieve a new unity on a new basis when dealing with differences (and they are deep) within the movement.

September, 1969