Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bill Evers

Venceremos Disbands; Group Localism Blamed

Published: The Stanford Daily, Volume 164, Issue 5, 28 September 1973. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Venceremos organization, a Bay Area communist revolutionary group active in Stanford and Palo Alto politics for the last two and one-half years, has disbanded.

A state prison officer this summer had called Venceremos “probably the most dangerous group there is in existence right now on the streets.”

The group had been disintegrating at a rapid rate since the late spring, and the last large elements remaining decided over the course of the last ten days to leave the organization. A final issue of the Venceremos newspaper, will be published in a week. It will contain an essay-length attack by the group’s Central Committee on what these leaders consider the too narrowly local, Bay Area-oriented perspective of many of the organization’s members.

There were three waves of exodus from Venceremos during the summer. First came the collectives from the East Bay. Then came the collectives in San Mateo County, concentrated in Redwood City, Menlo Park and South San Francisco. Finally, the collectives in San Francisco and in Palo Alto decided that the organization was too small and no longer viable. So they left too.

No Rancor, Bitterness

The members in San Jose and much of the central leadership stayed until the end. The splitting up of the organization occurred without the rancor and bitterness that often accompanies divisions in left-wing parties. As one member put it, “We are not at each other’s throats.”

The local collectives which left Venceremos during the summer saw the organization’s central leadership as inclined toward quick, ill-considered efforts at merging with other communist groups to form a communist party. These local collective groups desired to re-evaluate the experience of Venceremos in the Bay Area and revamp the organization’s policies before moving on to the formation of a national communist party.

Most of these people believe that they still adhere to the basic political views they shared when they were in the organization. They have not repudiated Venceremos’ unique stress on armed self-defense and on the nationalism of ethnic minorities. But they say they wanted to move ideologically beyond the provisions of Venceremos’ organizational constitution.

They maintain that the organization’s political line was not related to its practice. They add that the content of its political line was not being systematically reviewed and claim that strategic thinking was inadequate. One spoke of the need for a political line that was “more developed, more precise, more concrete.”

The question these people posed to those in the leadership of the organization was, as one put it, “How can we talk about national revolutionary action, when we’re not even talking to the people right around us.” These collectives foresaw months of self-critical analysis of Venceremos’ past activities and months of further work on building more support for Venceremos in the Bay Area before steps toward creating a national party should properly be taken.

Many of these collectives are still on-going entities. Members are talking of putting out a Bay Area newspaper. They describe what they envisage as a “proletarian Berkeley Tribe.”

Group Coordination

Members of these collectives also expect to co-ordinate some of their activities with the work of the radical National Lawyers Guild and with the Chino Defense Committee, which supports defendants charged in connection with an Oct. 1972 ambush-escape in which an unarmed guard was murdered.

In response to the collective groups’ criticism, members of the central leadership such as fired Stanford English Prof. H. Bruce Franklin condemn what they describe as a “disease” of “localism” that was eating away at the work of the organization.

The leadership argued that “you can’t make a revolution in the San Francisco Bay Area.” It spoke of the necessity for one strategy, one political line, throughout the United States on the ground that America is a single society, argued that an organization whose aim was the overthrow of the U.S. government had to be prepared to meet the capitalist class and the government on a nationwide basis.

Narrowness Hit

The majority of the central committee felt that too many members lacked a nationwide perspective. One talked of the development of “an unbelievable narrowing of geographical focus that had been going on over a long period of time.” The result was differing general political lines for San Francisco and San Jose.

One prominent former member of Venceremos, who was active in the Stanford anti-war and anti-ROTC movements and has now joined the new Community Union, left because he came to disagree with the political theory and the practical political work he found in Venceremos.

(The Community Union was formed this month by 60 people as a Midpeninsula vehicle for leftist politics. It publishes The Grapevine.)

He and some others were dissatisfied with the lack of attention in Venceremos to psychological and cultural dimensions of political matters. He was dismayed that Venceremos members were unfamiliar with much of twentieth-century Marxist theory.

’Sterile Quoting’

He cited what he called “sterile quoting of the classics,” including Marx and Engels, rather than study and use of contemporary Marxist thinkers. These weaknesses in theoretical matters, according to this dissident, were combined with an “isolation of the central leadership” from the members and a passive “employee mentality” on the part of many members.

He also spoke of an “ultra-leftist” tendency in the organization, specifically the “heavy emphasis on guns and armed struggle” at a time when this was “not on minds of everyone in the country” and “beating everyone over the head” with race-related matters rather than seriously concerning itself with what were the interests of laborers as a social class.

The central leadership of the organization rejected the Hegelian Marxist political ideas of this member as “bullshit” and “theory that hasn’t worked.” The leadership said it preferred study of Mao, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, and Kim Il-Sung.

Some criticisms of the past activities of the organization seemed to be shared by all elements, including the leadership. The organization’s constitution assigns a majority of the central leadership positions to members of ethnic minorities. Members of all races told the Daily that this quota system had sometimes led to inexperienced people being elevated to leadership roles as “tokens.” One black told of the “white guilt” phenomenon, but said it had been diminishing.

Insufficient Education

Generally there was agreement that both internal and external political education had been insufficient. Dissidents blamed this on the leaders; a leader said he did not know whom to blame, but cited the anti-theoretical proclivites of American culture and the anti-intellectualism of ex-students trying to live down their past.

Organizational malfunctioning in the final days added to disillusionment with the leaders, as necessary directives were not forthcoming from the central committee. The lessening of useful guidance from the center gave further impetus to the already strong centrifugal forces.

Only a few members considered that police repression had been a significant factor in the dissolution. One said, “We definitely were not smashed by the pigs.” The numerous legal cases and intense police infiltration “did not cause the disbanding,” according to another. But all agreed that while the organizations internal political problems were the primary cause, trouble with the police intensified those internal problems.