Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

SLA Action: Some People Jump Under The Bed

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 3, April 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One thing certainly can be said for the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)–it has created considerable debate within the movement, shedding light on some significant differences.

The RU’s position is in the March issue of Revolution, and we only want to summarize it here before going on to discuss some other people’s ideas. One, we don’t give a flying fig for the Hearsts. They are members of the imperialist ruling class and it doesn’t bother us a bit to see them squirm. In fact, we enjoy it.

Two, the ruling class says the kidnapping has caused widespread sympathy for the Hearsts. Within the ruling class, there is certainly widespread sympathy. The people who prey together, stay together. But there is no such widespread sympathy among workers and other oppressed people.

Three, the proletariat engages in many forms of struggle against the imperialists, rejecting no tactic in principle. A tactic is useful if it advances the struggle, not useful if it doesn’t. But no tactic or series of tactics can be raised to the level of a strategy. So it’s necessary to distinguish between terrorist tactics, which are sometimes correct, sometimes incorrect–depending on the concrete situation–and terrorism as a strategy, which is always incorrect.

Four, while we enjoy watching the Hearsts and the entire ruling class get hysterical, we tend to think that the. Hearst kidnapping wasn’t particularly useful because it is an isolated act committed by people who, as far as we know, are themselves isolated from the revolutionary movement. We don’t think that, on the whole, it has helped to build revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary organization, and hasn’t really done the bourgeoisie much harm.

On the other hand, we don’t see how it has done the proletariat and the revolutionary movement any real harm at this time, either. The “Communist Party” USA and the Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party – feigning great concern for the well-being of the movement–have roundly condemned the kidnapping as playing right into the hands of the bourgeoisie and seriously hurting the cause.

Why Others?

But more and more people are understanding each day that groups like these really want to reduce revolutionary struggle to reformism, tying the movement to the tail of the Democratic donkey, and that they are social pacifists who run to hide under the nearest bed every time the ruling class emits a growl.

Such a horizontal position is standard for these groups, but why are certain other forces doing more or less the same thing? For instance, there is the position of the movement newspaper, The Guardian. In its Feb. 27 issue, there is an editorial saying that “there has been a wave of public sympathy for the kidnapped woman,” and that the kidnapping “has given the ruling class ammunition with which to isolate the left from the masses.” The editorial also says that The Guardian is not opposed in principle to such things as kidnappings, that “there may well be times–as there have been in the past–in which abductions or similar actions will be a suitable tactic to employ in the class struggle.”

But a statement like this cannot cover over the fact that the editorial’s main aspect is near-hysterical condemnation, based on supposed public sympathy for the Hearsts and how the ruling class is supposedly making big dividends on the kidnapping by playing it up in a big way. This attitude is brought out even more sharply in the same issue, in an article headlined, “SLA act gets no support,” which says that “reaction to the SLA demand from poor and working people was nearly unanimous in condemnation,” and that the kidnapping ”is clearly giving the government and the monopoly press an opportunity to drive a wedge between the left and the people’s movement.”

And in its issue two weeks later–even after thousands of working and poor people in the Bay Area had lined up to get the free food that the Hearsts were being forced to give out, and it had become clear that the kidnapping in no way engendered widespread sympathy among the masses for the Hearsts, and in no way had driven “a wedge between the left and the people’s movement” – The Guardian writes another article in which it still insists that ”the SLA “had managed to create widespread sympathy for the Hearst family.”

And strangely enough, in that very same article, several San Franciscans are quoted on their feelings about the whole thing: “Food is food. When you have it hard, you take it any way you can get it.” “The rich have plenty. If my son was kidnapped, no one would give a damn.” “The fact is there was free food and we’re hungry.”

In the first article on the kidnapping, in the Feb. 27 issue, apparently to try to prove its point about “widespread sympathy,” The Guardian quotes one welfare woman as saying, “I wouldn’t feed my four children under the circumstances,” and another one saying, “I do not want any benefits at the price that Patricia Hearst is paying.”

Some Questions

We would like to ask the comrades on The Guardian: do you think most working people feel more like the individuals you quote the first time–who say they won’t take the food–or more like the individuals you quote later, who say they are taking the food and the reasons why? We also want to ask which position you think reflects the more progressive sentiments of the people, and what, in your own experience, working people have expressed on the kidnapping?

Are there backward ideas among workers? Yes, there are. But it is wrong for communists to characterize these backward ideas as a general sentiment among workers when in fact they are not. It also must be stressed that a major reason why such backward ideas exist even to the degree that they do is because we communists don’t always put forward and defend the most advanced and correct position ourselves, thereby not playing the consistent leading role communists must play, based on the revolutionary ideology and interests of the proletariat.

In its Feb. 27 editorial, The Guardian says that such things as kidnappings “must grow out of the level of struggle and correspond to the felt consciousness of the masses.” That’s true, and holds true for all forms of struggle. But everything depends on a correct analysis of the level of struggle at each period, and what is the felt consciousness of the masses.

It seems to us that The Guardian’s analysis in this case tends to underestimate the level of struggle and unites with some of the more backward ideas existing among the masses, rather than the more progressive ideas that reflect growing political consciousness and the developing revolutionary movement.

In putting forward our own position on the kidnapping, in the last issue of Revolution, we point out that revisionism and terrorism have a lot in common because neither has any faith in or relies on the masses, neither believes that the masses themselves can make revolution. This is true in the final analysis, but it is also important to determine at every period which tendency represents a greater danger to the revolutionary movement.

For example, it is in his great work, What Is To Be Done? that Lenin explains how economism and terrorism are really two sides of the same coin because neither does rely on the masses. But the book itself is concerned overwhelmingly not with terrorism but with economism–in fact, was written expressly to combat and defeat economism–because that represented the greater danger at that time to the Russian revolutionary movement.

Similarly, in our own movement today, it is revisionism and not terrorism that represents the greater danger. This means that in dealing with terrorist tactics that we think are incorrect or not very useful at a particular time, we must keep a clear head on things, and not inadvertently let the more serious danger presently confronting us-revisionism–slip in through the back door.