Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael Klonsky

Looking Back and Looking Ahead at Revolutionary Youth Movement

First Published: in Revolutionary Youth Movement, a pamphlet issued by the Radical Education Project, n.d. [1969]
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The road to unity within the youth movement is an attack on class privilege.

Although the concept is still young it is important that we step back for a minute and re-examine the basic principles of the Revolutionary Youth Movement which we came together on in Ann Arbor. If you travel around the country, visiting various regions and chapters, you will find that the RYM means all things to all people. “Yeah, you know Klonsky is right, youth really is a class.”

Of course we must do some self-criticism for the much heralded “lack of clarity” for which PL so quickly pounced upon the RYM paper. At the same time, we must also recognize that in the past six months or so, across the country, a new dynamic is being created. The repression that SDS presently faces stems directly from the transition of our movement from a student movement into a class-conscious youth movement. Despite the Guardian’s concern that this would just be “another resolution passed” and their hope that we would (“for a change”) put the RYM into practice, in practically, every region in the country a youth movement is developing, moving off the big, rich kids’ schools, reaching out to working class youth by fighting in the interests of the class as a whole and not “student power.” I think it is safe to say that “student power” has lost whatever degree of legitimacy it may have had in our movement a year ago. The whole notion of the university as the last “liberated territory” under capitalism, a la Marcuse, has been pretty well destroyed us youth at Columbia, Kent State, etc. exposed the university as the brain-center of world imperialism and racism.

Since the university was the enemy of the people, revolutionaries couldn’t very well hide behind its wall, lest they be hiding from the oppressed and exploited people who might be a threat to some student privilege. It became clear to revolutionary youth, once they began to “destudentize” and relate to the day to day oppression of working people, that the only reason working people threatened the student movement was that the student movement didn’t serve anyone except students, and the university carefully denied its access to these very same people it oppressed, the people on whose backs its institutions were built.

The RYM demanded that the schools serve the people or else we would shut them down. The first step in that fight was to open the schools up to the very people they oppressed. At McCormick Seminary in Chicago (a slum landlord extraordinaire) a vanguard action took place as the Young Lords Organization, a Puerto Rican youth liberation organization led poor people from the northside community into the administration building, occupying it for a week and winning demands for money for the people, a child-care center, an end to racist expansion into the community, etc. . . . without large numbers of students being ready to move on the school. At S.F. State, hundreds of working people joined the strikers who were attacking the class nature of the school (also because students went to the Standard Oil strike and helped workers fight the pigs).

The basic principle of RYM was that youth suffer a special fern of oppression under imperialism and that this oppressor hits hardest on working-class youth, especially black and brown youth. This is the basis upon which a youth movement could come together. The road to unity within the youth movement is on attack on class privilege. This means accepting black leadership and raising demands and fighting struggles in the interest of the most oppressed sectors. An attack on white supremacy and rejection of white-skin privilege is the key to that struggle. In other words, even though students are oppressed in the schools, by socialization, brain-washing, pigs in the schools, etc., the schools attack the people outside its walls the hardest. At Columbia, revolutionary youth demanded an end to racist expansion into Harlem and an end to IDA which planned attacks on the peoples’ liberation struggles in Vietnam and throughout the third world. At Michigan State and Kent State they chased the Oakland pigs off the campus relating to the brutality of the ghetto occupation force against the black colony but even more relating to the vanguard force within that liberation struggle, the Black Panther Party.

Some people in the organization refused to fight to open the schools up to the people (PL and Worker-Student Alliance Caucus). They claimed that if working class people had access to the schools they would be “co-opted” by the liberalism of the ruling class (unlike us graceful Harvard students). The youth movement paper made our position clear:

A fight should be waged for the admission of black students and brown students to help wage a fight against racism on the campus. Blacks are carrying on the most militant fights both on and off the campus, and more black admissions means a more militant campus movement.

Since the Ann Arbor NC, there have been more than 200 campus rebellions attacking racism and imperialism and most of these have been led by black students. Of course this should not surprise anyone. Black students in Greensboro, North Carolina started the student movement which gave birth to SDS, and anyone who believes that a colonized ’ people can be “co-opted” into the system of capitalism within the mother country is simply denying our history.

Probably the most important aspect of the RYM was the notion of the youth movement as a critical force. The crisis in the development of imperialism has created a situation here within the heart of the monster where class contradictions are growing sharper. Although young people in the schools, on the streets, in the military and in the factories represent the interests of all the different classes and come from different class backgrounds, they join the class struggle because they are all hit sharply by the contradictions in imperialism. Young-people are the ones who must go and fight imperialist wars against the people in Vietnam, struggling for self-determination. Young people are among the least organized in the factories with the least amount of seniority and the least training, and therefore they are the last hired and the first fired. Unemployment among black youths (under 30) is over the 50% mark. Young people who feel imperialism’s foot on their necks in the courts, jails and on the streets were the first to join the anti-imperialist ?movement. Youth have always been the bearers of revolutionary ideas despite attempts to socialize them (buy them off with promises of the “good life” or turn them into flower children). The notion of the youth movement as a critical force came out of the experiences of Columbia and S.F. State where the actions of SDS and black students had a marked effect on the struggles of working people in the community and on the job.

For example, I remember passing through Topeka Kansas soon after the Columbia revolt just in time to see hospital workers seize the-wing of the state hospital demanding a union, better conditions and an end to racist practices.

When I speak of youth as a critical force, I am not just talking about exemplary action or tactics. We understand that in order to-bring about conscious revolutionary struggles on the part of working people and get past economist trade-unionism, anti-imperialist consciousness will have to be injected into that movement by outside forces. The barriers to class unity and revolutionary struggle on the part of industrial workers have been racism, national chauvinism, male chauvinism, and anti-Communism. These are the main targets at the present time of the youth movement and actions by the youth movement which drive these issues into the factories, into the army, etc. can bring a higher level of consciousness to the primary agency of revolutionary change and socialist reorganization, in the same way that the black peoples’ struggle for national liberation has had its effect on the masses of working people by leading the fight against white supremacy and domestic imperialism.

“We understand that in order to bring about conscious revolutionary struggles on the part of working people and get past economist trade-unionism, anti-imperialist consciousness will have to be injected into that movement by outside forces.”

There are many who think that the crisis in imperialism isn’t being felt around the point of production. This is bullshit. The wildcat strikes developing all around the country on the part of black and while workers reflect the general squeeze they feel which is related directly to the crisis. Cutbacks in safety, skyrocketing taxes, the falling of real wages and the sharpening of the contradictions around racism all reflect the same crisis that is being felt in the schools, hospitals, in the army, etc. The RYM can and must bring an anti-imperialist consciousness to the masses of people through sharp struggles and “missionary zeal.”

The youth movement must develop into a fighting force which serves the people. This necessity has been clearly illustrated through the recent struggles in the streets of Berkeley. As young people organized and put theory into practice in their fight to make the “People’s Park” land serve the needs of the people, instead of the few rich people who have stolen it from the people, they were fired upon by pigs, national guard and state troopers. As of this writing, more than 75 people have been shot, one dead, one blind, as shotguns and .38’s were turned on the people, as they have been turned on oppressed people for years. White youth must come to the understanding that they must reject the white-skin privilege as they join the struggle. They will no longer be able to hide behind their whiteness. This means that we not only have the right but the responsibility to defend the movement and the people by any means necessary. We must recognize that our fight for socialism necessitates armed struggle.

The world view of the RYM is that the primary aspect of the contradiction between classes in the world today is between oppressed and oppressor nations.

We must also be clear about the necessity to accept black leadership which will arise and has already, due to the fact that the struggle in the colony is far advanced of the struggle for socialism in the mother country. Building black leadership into the youth movement is the key to revolutionary unity. This is why an attack on white supremacy and rejection of class privilege is our primary task. The only way to deal with the question of class privilege adequately is to first begin to develop-an analysis of classes in America (as separate from the colony) and develop strategic methods of winning all sectors of all classes possible to the fight against imperialism. The world view of the RYM is that the primary aspect of the contradiction between classes in the world today is between oppressed and oppressor nations. U.S. imperialism is the main enemy of the people of the world and therefore ours. To defeat imperialism, we must build unity with all those it oppresses. Our friends end our enemies must be determined by those who can or cannot be won to this fight. This doesn’t mean that we make up some new kind of class analysis to meet our own needs (all youth are working class, youth is a class, etc.). It does mean that we analyze the class role of all sectors of youth scientifically and win them all to the class struggle.