Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Editorial: Venceremos In Retrospect

Published: The Stanford Daily, Volume 164, Issue 11, 5 October 1973. 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The demise of Venceremos, first reported in these pages last week, marks the passing from the Stanford political scene of an organization whose impact and influence were, to say the least, profound. Few – even on the Left – will mourn.

The communist revolutionary group was among the prime movers in the leftist upheavals here from 1969 to the fading of the antiwar movement in 1972. It is surprising, now, to reflect how short its history really was.

The dissolution came only after a long period of slow disintegration. Formed in December, 1970, from a faction of the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, Venceremos had already split once – in summer, 1971 – and was no longer active on campus. The end came in the midst of the internal disputes over the basic character of the organization; but those had been preceded by many setbacks, including the firing of Assoc. English Prof. H. Bruce Franklin and the prosecution and conviction of Benton and Andrea Holman Burt.

It is difficult to eulogize Venceremos. Anti-liberal from the beginning, it moved beyond mere intolerance to a reliance on physical intimidation and occasional terrorism to stifle apposing viewpoints. It deliberately staged street lights with police, and may have been behind any of bombings. Systematic window-breaking or “trashing,” in the parlance of the time – became its favorite tactic in demonstrations, and never mind that the tactic’s usefulness was always unclear.

The group held a single-minded devotion to the principle of armed struggle; Mao’s aphorism that “All political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” was its catchword. Indeed, its praxis was based so much on the Nietzschean notion that “practice is primary” that apparent ideological inconsistencies cropped up. In the 1972 efforts to unionize University employees, for example, Venceremos first worked closely with, and later openly supported, the Teamsters Union – hardly a revolutionary organization. Its theory, in short, was weak.

Ironically, the group was always suspected by police of far more crimes and heinous acts than it could plausibly have committed. A peculiar form of ’revolutionary egotism’ may have been a contributing factor: Venceremos leaders had a tendency to applaud almost any terrorist action, a policy that may have alienated as many followers and potential supporters as it attracted prosecutors. Venceremos’ willingness to act never quite matched its inflammatory rhetoric – although it came close enough for discomfort.

Nevertheless, Venceremos played a major role in the political evolution and education of the Stanford community – if only by example.

Its militant efforts against the Indochina war – which it saw as part of an essentially imperialist American policy maintained by a military-industrial-academic complex of which the University was an integral part – revealed much about the realities of our involvement in Southeast Asia.

The University’s reaction to Venceremos’ tactics – the creation of a whole apparatus of police, photographers, videotapes, and judicial machinery that is with us still – chipped away at the old image of a wise, temperate, and liberal academy. The treatment accorded to faculty members who associated with Venceremos – by their colleagues who claimed to uphold the sanctity of the ’free exchange of ideas’ – was illiberal at best. And the fact that, after direct and protracted attack from Venceremos, the University still stands and is as secure as ever serves as testimony that this great institution may not be as fragile a flower as it claimed when it threw all those Venceremos members out on their ear.

The organization has disbanded; but its members remain committed to their causes, and will apparently continue to work in various radical groups in the Bay Area. If the dissolution reflects the members’ rejection of a dogmatism that proved untenable, Venceremos’ loss may be the larger left’s gain. So much the better for us all.