Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The press views SDS at its national convention

Published: Guardian, July 12, 1969. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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When SDS squared off against the Progressive Labor party in Chicago three weeks ago, reporters were there–lurking, if they came from the straight press, scribbling furiously if they worked for the radical media. Here are some excerpts from their interpretations of the SDS convention.

Time Magazine: “Despite its wildfire success at campus disruption, SDS has lost any firm sense of direction, if it ever had one. . . . Secure from prying eyes except for the undetermined number of police and press infiltrators dotted throughout the hall, the delegates were free to tear SDS apart–mostly in barely endurable rhetoric larded with phrases like “the right of self-determination for internal colonies.”

The New Republic: “... While the new left theologians are getting older, the [SDS] recruits are getting younger, and many of them are basically motivated by the humanitarian ideals set out in Tom Hayden’s 1962 Port Huron Statement. They are not ideologues. . . . Some have decided not to join anyone. Disgusted with the rhetoric that at times threatened to smother the convention, the ’anarchists, libertarians [and] independent revolutionaries’ retreated to the IWW Hall on North Halstead Street. ’Tired of people throwing red books at each other?’ their flier asked. ’Tired of the old rhetoric? Come breathe a breath of fresh rhetoric!’ They weren’t completely kidding. One man, mocking those still slugging it out in the convention had, said: ’Us anarchists have got to get organized.’”

The New York Times: “The split in the ranks of the Students for a Democratic Society proves that history is not quite so ’irrelevant’ as many campus radicals seem to believe. If they had studied the radical movements of the past they might have learned how sadly probable, if not inevitable, is the progression from total self-righteousness to total intolerance to factional cleavage to total ineffectuality. . . . For most Americans, however, the decline of SDS–if that is what we are seeing–is more than tolerable.... It would clear the way for legitimate dissenters on campuses from Cambridge to California who share many of the SDS ideals but reject its arrogant and coercive ways.”

Newsweek: “. . . .SDS spent the week trying to recover from its convention, where the radical organization publicly split into two competing conventions.. .. The national office faction seemed to emerge from the convention battle in better shape than PL.. . .Nothing voted on at the national convention is binding on the 350 local SDS chapters anyway; the chapters are not likely to lose their fierce independence. ’Welcome,’ said one Berkeley radical as he left Chicago last week, ’to the ad hoc do-your-thing revolution.’”

The Militant: “The organization which was founded nine years ago as a ’new’ experiment in building a political group free from ideology and program, trying to escape the ’sterile political squabbles’ of the ’old left,’ and hoping it had found a way to escape the bureaucratic, undemocratic methods of Stalinism and social democracy–that organization has now come almost full circle.... [The Chicago meeting was] possibly the most bureaucratic, undemocratic and factional youth convention in the history of the radical movement in the U.S.... In its wake, there are now two groups claiming to be the real SDS, each with an essentially factional program, and one of them excluding the other. The steadily radicalizing student movement will gain little from either of the warring groups.”

Hard Times: “PL derives its ideology not from its experience up against the American empire but (it often seems) from a detailed study of late 19th century Europe combined with an analysis of the wall posters in East-is-Red-Square. . .. There is more to fighting the empire than the application of a labor metaphysic and a position on the Sino-Soviet split.”