Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Members of the Revolutionary Student Brigade

Opinion: Revolutionary Students

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume 2, Number 8, July 18, 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.

450 students from all corners of the United States descended upon Iowa City in June for the first National Convention of the Attica Brigade. As it turned out, this was also to be the last National Convention of the Attica Brigade, which changed its name to Revolutionary Student Brigade on the convention’s final day.

But, more on the reasons for that change later. Undoubtably, the most pressing question now on your mind is: “Why Iowa City?” Well, Iowa City is in the center of the country, give or take 500 miles. And with people coming from Los Angeles, Seattle, Gainesville, Birmingham, and Boston, Iowa City was the logical choice.

In 1973 and 74 the campuses were a lot quieter, and the mass media and the university presidents, not to mention the Nixon administration, needed no encouragement to pick up on it. Over and over again we heard on TV and read in the papers about how students were now “apolitical” and “didn’t care about the outside world,” about how we’re into streaking now instead. The student movement had reached what was perhaps a low point in activity in 1973, and everybody from H.R. “Bob” Haldeman to W.J. “Bill” McGill was trying to take credit for quieting us down. Actually, there were several reasons for the decline in student activism:

1) There was no longer a single, omnipresent issue, like the war in the late sixties or the Civil Rights struggle in the earlier part of the decade. Imperialism was manifesting itself on different fronts–a coup in Chile, wars spontaneously unite to fight around. It’s a crisis a day nowadays, and we have to learn to build a consistent ongoing movement around these conditions.

2) There was more and more pressure on students for good grades. Jobs, especially in fields like teaching, became almost nonexistent. In order to secure a more certain future, many more students turned to highly competitive fields of study such as pre-med or pre-law. Heavy grubbing often left little time for political activism.

3) There was often a considerable amount of anti-radical feeling that built up on college campuses. The media rewrote the history of the sixties for us, saying that all the activism didn’t really accomplish anything. All the gains that were made, they said, came about because nice-guy liberals like Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern put pressure on the government by deciding to run for office. Never mind all those people out in the streets –they didn’t have anything to do with ending the war, or freeing the Panther 21, or winning Open Admissions at City University. It was liberal politicians and New York Times editorials that did it.

4) Anti-radical feeling also logically stemmed from the actions of some self-proclaimed leftists, which often seemed designed to do nothing more than alienate the average student. Even last year, the Columbia campus was plagued by the neo-fascist (not to mention thoroughly obnoxious) National Caucus of Labor Committees.

But 1974 saw the student movement start to pick up again. It wasn’t given too much press –the media was too obsessed with their “quiet on the campuses” articles to notice –but there were big demonstrations and-or strikes at SUNY New Paltz, University of Connecticut and Ohio University this past spring. And at Berkeley, where the administration was trying to destroy the Criminology school (it had become a haven for Marxist professors who were saying that crime originated in the oppression of the capitalist system), there was more movement on the campus than at any time since 1970. Two building takeovers in one week, a demonstration of 5,000 people –all after the Berkeley campus had been almost perfectly quiet for four years.

And along with the rebirth of the student movement, the Attica Brigade has grown, too. Starting two years ago in New York City with three chapters, the Brigade spread all across the country. Going into the convention it had over 60 chapters and 600 members. The convention was called because the Attica Brigade felt that we had come to an important point in our development, and in the development of the movement. We felt it was time for anti-imperialist students on campuses throughout the country, from the Brigade, other organizations, and people who were independent of any organization, to get together and sum up our work and the state of the movement. And, importantly, act to further the growth of the new student movement by forming a truly national anti-imperialist student organization, the first since the demise of SDS.

One of the most important speeches of the convention was given the first day by Clark Kissenger. Kissenger was National Secretary of SDS in 1964-1965, when it was just starting to gain widespread popularity on the campuses. He went over the growth and death of SDS, and spelled out the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Many of us are aware of SDS’ strengths. At its height it had 100,000 members and chapters on over 300 college campuses. It initiated the first mass anti-war march, in 1965. It made Americans aware that Vietnam was an imperialistic war. It built important support among white people, especially youth, for the Black liberation struggle. In one of its national campaigns, it wiped ROTC off of campus after campus (at Columbia, they used to drill on College Walk every spring). It led the Columbia strike in 1968.

But in rebuilding the student movement, we can learn just as much from SDS’ weaknesses as from its strengths. Kissinger outlined two of these in particular. The first was that SDS was almost all white. While a successful student movement must be one that is truly multinational, this doesn’t just mean that white, Latin, Black and Asian students participate.

SDS’ second weakness was that it was not consciously anti-imperialist. That is, it never clearly saw the enemy as the imperialist system itself, and thus its analysis was often garbled and its actions inconsistent. The Attica Brigade has always been a consciously anti-imperialist organization. Our actions flow from this understanding. The change in name to Revolutionary Students Brigade reaffirms this understanding.

People came away from Iowa City with new friends, new remedies for hangovers (3 aspirin and a Doctor Pepper is really popular in San Jose), and a lot of good feelings. The convention was tangible evidence of the growth of the student movement, and of its unity.