Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Leonard Siegel

Guest Column: SDS Position Clarified

Published: The Stanford Daily, Volume 156, Issue 4, 1 October 1969. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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(Leonard Siegel is a suspended student in physics and active member of the local SDS chapter. He attempts here to present the differences in philosophy that sprung up during the SDS summer convention.)

The Students for a Democratic Society has been, for the past few years, the largest organization of the radical American Left. SDS, which built itself through opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft, and by pressing for student power and university reform, emerged last year as a serious socialist, revolutionary organization, with concerns beyond the college campuses on which it developed. This development was recognized by the American ruling class, which escalated its attack, both verbal and “legal,” on SDS.

It appears now, though, that SDS is experiencing the clumsiness of the teenage movement that grew too fast. The splits and sectarianism in SDS, as well as rampant disregard of reality in many sectors, have just about destroyed SDS’s development as a national organization. But the enemies of SDS should not take heart. The Movement is much bigger than any set of initials or organization. The splits in SDS which crystallized this summer are not simple, and are closely tied to the development of the movement. Stanford SDS, and the radical movement at Stanford, has been relatively free of the divisions which have plagued the organization elsewhere. I will attempt here to characterize the different positions in SDS. The reader should be warned that the divisions are not left vs. right, in the traditional sense, and that in fact, most of the factions claim to be the left-wing of SDS. PL-WSA the Progressive Labor Party considers itself a Marxist-Leninist Party. It dominates the Worker-Student Alliance caucus in SDS. It contends that the primary contradiction in the World today is between the capitalist ruling class and the working class. Racial oppression and national subjugation, according to the PL-WSA analysis, are subordinates. Its strategy for building a revolutionary movement is summed up in “build a worker-student alliance,” using the growing student movement as cadre to organize amongst the American working class.

Disciplined Cadre

For the past several years PL has operated as a disciplined external cadre within SDS, with members making decisions in caucuses. PL’s emphasis on the working class led to the development of “working-class politics” in most of SDS, but it dogmatism has always been resented. The last straw, for many SDS members, came when PL put forward its position on revolutionary nationalism. PL’s theoretical magazine said “All nationalism is reactionary.” PL denounced the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam for being an alliance of nationalist forces without a Communist program, and said that NLF leadership was selling out its people by negotiating in Paris. PL condemned the Black Panther Party for putting forward concepts of black community control. And, after supporting the SF State Strike and similar struggles for months, PL condemned demands for open admission for Blacks, and for Black studies. Such demands, according to PL, are reverse racist and nationalist. And in Berkeley, PL opposed the People’s Park struggle, although it actively opposed the military invasion of Berkeley. Such positions are an extreme extension of PL’s interpretation of building a worker-student alliance. PL opposes activities which it thinks will turn off large numbers of White workers.


In Chicago this summer, the WSA caucus composed the largest bloc of voting delegates. PL had chartered planes (!) to bring its people to Chicago. Factional anger grew to the point at which the formal national leaders of SDS led a walk-out. At the assembly of the delegates who left, a vote was taken to “expel” PL and WSA which do compose a minority in SDS, but were well-represented at the convention. The walk-out group maintained control of the national SDS office and facilities in Chicago, so a shadow SDS office was set up by WSA and a few allies in Boston. Both groups claim to be the real SDS.


Early this summer a paper entitled “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows” was circulated within SDS. This paper, which drew a lot of support, posited that “The primary contradiction in the World today is between the oppressed nation and the oppressor nation.” America’s internal colonies are considered nations. The “revolutionary” strategy which has evolved considers students and white workers adjuncts of black and Third World revolutionary movements, with the prime task of supporting the blacks and Third World liberation movements. Weatherman expects an American revolution soon, it appears, for it has abandoned most of its mass organizing. What organizing it does do, is based around the American tradition of violence. Weatherman rejects programs which purport to “serve the people” as reformist, although these programs often fit into a revolutionary strategy.

Politics and Actions

Strangely enough, Weatherman’s politics and actions (such as running through high school shouting “Jailbreak!”) has drawn criticism from all sectors of the left, including the black organizations whose leadership they claim to expect to follow in an imminent revolution. Weatherman spokesmen have recently begun to rest on dogmatism and sectarianism. Everyone in SDS who criticizes “the correct politics of Weatherman” is labeled a “running dog.”

At the National Convention members of Weatherman collectives were elected as National Officers of the group that walked out. The officers have since disowned any responsibility to the membership of SDS. Their responsibility is to the “Weather Bureau”–the Weatherman collectives.


The Revolutionary Youth Movement II (Weatherman was originally known as RYM I) was the third largest group at the National Convention. Unlike PL-WSA and Weatherman, RYM II enjoys some popularity amongst the Stanford chapter, primarily from members of the Bay Area Revolutionary Union. RYM II combines some of the major ideological elements of the former two factions.

II views imperialism as the “major contradiction today,” but unlike Weatherman, it does not conceive of revolution without working class leadership–black and white. The RYM II strategy of “United Front Against Imperialism” means that the Movement should do mass work with white workers, to tie their struggles to the struggles of their class allies, the American blacks and the Vietnamese. The Richmond Oil Strike best exemplifies this strategy. The supposedly “racist” oil and chemical workers by a 2 to 1 margin endorsed the Third World strikes at San Francisco State and Berkeley, for they learned that the same people were fighting the same enemy in Richmond and on the campuses. In fact, the union sent official delegations to walk the campus strike picket lines.

No Legitimacy

RYM II believes that a revolutionary movement has no legitimacy, and cannot succeed, unless it “serves the people.” In other words, the movement must offer programs which will meet the needs of oppressed people, and relate those needs to a long-range strategy.

RYM II is perhaps the closest adherent of traditional Marxism-Leninism within SDS. RYM II feels centralism is necessary for a revolutionary movement, but wants to avoid the development of a bureaucratic authoritarian state (Russia). RYM II sees the Chinese cultural revolution as a model for returning power to the people.

New Left

The strength of the preceeding three factions at the National Convention rests primarily on the importance, as they see it, of dominating a national organization. Perhaps the largest group in SDS (easily such at Stanford), un-organized and without any clear written statement of principles, grows out of the New Left tradition which has considered local activity the basis of SDS. This tradition de-emphasizes structured theory, and is relatively new. However, “New Leftists” like myself are beginning to understand the necessity of putting forward coherent theoretical politics, and may soon begin to do so.

RYM II urges the formation of disciplined collectives, and believes that a revolutionary movement should be structured around “democratic centralism,” which means that the organizational (party) membership is subordinate to an elected central committee. The New Leftists, on the other hand, believe in participatory democracy and representative democracy, with less stress on discipline. When possible, according to this philosophy, people should be able to participate in the decisions which affect them. When not, their representatives should attempt to represent their views. The New Left position often allows for individual rejection of collective decisions.

* * *

The results of the splits in SDS are unclear. Stanford SDS is unaffected by the nationwide divisions. The Stanford chapter is now participating in a Northern California SDS Regional Organization, made up of RYM II, New Left, and “uncommitted” sentiments. Personally, I expect this Northern California Region to build a new multi-tendency mass organization. Regardless, at this point SDS nationally has little meaning to the large Bay Area movement.

In this article I have not explained the deep analysis which has convinced most SDS’ers to become revolutionaries. It would be impossible to accurately represent the thought behind these conclusions here. Rather, I suggest that people participate in SDS programs and projects this year.