Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Randy Furst, Guardian staff correspondent

The ’worker student alliance’

Published: Guardian, June 28, 1969. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“Power to the workers!” resounded through the dusty Coliseum annex here as hundreds of members of the worker-student alliance chanted, their faces grim, their fists slicing the air.

“Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!” came the response in equal volume from SDS, fists also raised, a decision made, expulsion of the Progressive Labor Party announced. SDS was marching out.

Having gradually emerged as the largest voting bloc at the convention, a possible majority, the WSA was suddenly stripped of its SDS credentials with one day left in the national convention of SDS; the organization was determined to rid what it termed counterrevolutionary politics from its ranks.

Progressive Labor was expelled, carrying with it the WSA, which followed PL’s position in vote after vote.

Unknown a year ago, the WSA has developed rapidly on numerous campuses under the leadership and guidance of PL. At the convention here, WSA was reported to have some 600 members in its caucuses which met just before the convention officially opened. According to one member, 129 WSAers were flown into Chicago from the Bay Area at a cost of $4000. Some members claim the organization paid for transportation; others say individual members paid for themselves.

Other WSA strongholds include Cambridge, Mass. and some support in Chicago and New York. WSA caucuses have developed in SDS chapters where PL cadres have dug in, organizing intensively around the need for a worker-student alliance, anti-imperialism and antiracism and opposition to “anticommunism within SDS” (i.e., anti-PL stances). These three criteria are apparently the only requirements for joining.

Membership in the WSA has swelled as friction between PLP–a disciplined self-proclaimed revolutionary vanguard party–and SDS –a loose confederation of radicals and communists-has intensified in the last year. The WSA reportedly formalized itself in December 1968 at the SDS national council meeting in Ann Arbor, Mich., but various members give different dates.

As the SDS line hardened in support of the right of self-determination of black Americans, differences with PL were clarified. PL, viewing all nationalism as reactionary, condemned the Black Panther party.

Jeff Gordon of PL asserts that SDS had been planning expulsion of PL for a long time. “Everybody knew it,” he said, following the pronouncement banning PL from SDS.

PL sponsored WSA caucuses in at least three regions prior to the Chicago convention, according to sources in those regions. At the caucuses, PL and WSA began to draw up resolutions and second-guess the strategy of the national office staff, which PL pictured as the demon behind the scene.

Minimal politics

The politics of the WSA were minimal, requiring no spoken adherence to communism, to revolution, to the PL position in opposition to the right of self-determination for black Americans, to the PL position that the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam has sold out.

All that appeared necessary for WSA membership was to raise one’s hand at the correct moment in support of the PL position on a vote. WSAers infrequently spoke on the convention floor and never in opposition to PL politics.

Although many WSAers admitted some disagreement or doubt about PL positions in private conversations, differences evaporated in balloting. WSA dependence on PL (which initiated the auxiliary group) was considerable, with WSA tracts largely written by PL members, and most WSA stances those taken by PL leaders.

PL managed to parlay opposition to the SDS national office into support for itself on the campus. A 20-year-old student at the University of Chicago said he found himself isolated from SDS by a local leadership that distrusted him, and gave him only the most menial tasks. He recalled sitting in a coffee house, seeing some SDS leaders talking politics: “I started to come over and they started talking much lower and giving me dirty looks and wanting me to leave.”

He said local WSAers were much more interested in canvassing, “and that’s how I got to them.” He added that WSA views the American people “as good people that should be freed rather than fascists and racists that should be overthrown.” SDS leaders “would just substitute one dictatorship for another dictatorship,” he said.

One theme pervades most PL stances: numerous radical entities are “selling out,” from the NLF, to the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, to the “right-wing national (SDS) office,” to black students, to the Black Panthers. Purity lies with the PL sect; everyone else is making deals.

The WSA is a curious grouping with a minority of members actually in PL. Some have come out of hippie drug culture and now reject that life as bourgeois. Many are extremely young, having never held a job in their lives. Some of them came to Chicago having’ been in the WSA for several months, and SDSers found no problem in persuading some out of their positions. Throughout the meeting hall, during the day before PL was expelled, SDSers moved among WSAers, attempting to buttonhole them.

It is unclear whether or not the expulsion will help WSA-PL. PL members freely admit that factional debates build the WSA. PL members vow “to carry the struggle back to the campuses” in what might be a knock-down drag-out contest for winning allegiance of SDS chapter members.