Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael Friedly

League has played little-known role in campus politics

First Published: The Stanford Daily, Volume 197, Issue 63, 23 May 1990.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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A secretive nationwide organization called the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist) has been a little-known factor in student politics at Stanford for several years, a Daily investigation has found.

Through the selective recruitment of Stanford students into its organization, the League has been able to influence aspects of progressive politics on campus by trying to place its members in leadership positions within the ASSU, the communities of color and in staff positions.

The total number of Stanford students and staff members who are League members is apparently fewer than 30, but these individuals are in positions that allow them to shape student government policies, according to a number of sources who said they have either been recruited by the League or have worked with League members in the ASSU or student of color organizations.

The presence of the League has been in part responsible for dramatic effects at Stanford, ranging from divisions within the communities of color to the pressured resignation of an administrator to parts of the planning of last spring’s takeover of University President Donald Kennedy’s office.

However, most students involved in progressive politics, including many leaders of the ASSU and student of color organizations interviewed by The Daily, are unaware of the League’s presence.

The League, based in the Bay Area but with membership across the country, has been able to recruit Stanford students into its organization in a manner secret enough so that students are not initially told they are being recruited by the League, according to several Stanford students who said they were recruited but did not join the League.

Recruitment of individuals by the League is generally conducted over a long period of time, several years in some cases, according to students who were recruited. Students who are successfully recruited by the League are then able to further the League’s goals by running for student offices and helping to determine policies in the ASSU and other student groups.

Three-month investigation

Over the past three months, The Daily has interviewed dozens of students who have some familiarity with the League. These interviews were part of an investigation of the League which included more than 100 interviews with students, administration officials and nationwide experts.

Many students interviewed by The Daily asked not to be identified because they said they are afraid of harassment by League members. Former Asian American Student Association chair Richard Suh said he was heavily recruited by Elsa Tsutaoka, the office manager of the Asian American Activities Center for three years, but eventually decided against joining the League.

Suh sat on the committee that planned the takeover and was himself arrested in the action. In addition, Suh was selected for the search committee that found a new Asian-American dean last spring after the resignation of the outgoing dean.

Suh said he was primarily concerned about the secrecy of the organization. According to Suh, when Tsutaoka asked him to apply for membership in the League, Suh asked her which Stanford students were members of the League. “You shouldn’t ask that question,” was the reply, he said.

Tsutaoka denied having any knowledge of the League or that she had ever recruited for the League.

Because the recruitment process is secretive and individuals refuse to acknowledge that they are members of the League, it is difficult to prove whether anyone is a League member.

League theory

According to League theory, the United States is composed of various “oppressed nations,” such as the Afro-American nation in the South, the Chicano nation in the Southwest and the Asian American nation. The overall goal of the League has been the liberation of these nationalities under a socialist state, according to a 1986 League publication called “Peace, Justice, Equality and Socialism” that explains its goals.

Until it can gain enough support to stage a revolution, the League attempts to “organize, agitate and educate the masses” by working with more mainstream groups, according to the publication. By making mass organizations more radical, the League can gain enough support for its “protracted revolution” in the United States, the publication states.

Unlike the Communist Party USA, which is a predominantly white organization, the League focuses on mass organizations dealing with people of color for its support within student and labor movements. At Stanford, the League has tried to work toward its goals with varying degrees of success in MEChA, a Chicano/Latino student group; AASA; the Black Student Union and the ASSU through the People’s Platform.

Although the League has operated in almost complete secrecy at Stanford, there has been a growing awareness of its presence, in large part because of The Daily’s investigation.

League members at Stanford “are leading progressive politics on campus ... because they are the best and the hardest workers,” Suh said.

Council of Presidents member David Brown and former COP member Stacey Leyton are both believed to be members of the League, according to a number of sources. Brown refused to comment. Leyton denied that she was a member or that she had any knowledge of the League’s membership at Stanford.

Although there is no indication that she joined the League, COP member Ingrid Nava, who was recently re-elected to a second term, was heavily recruited by the League beginning at the end of last summer, according to a number of students. Nava refused to return numerous phone calls.

At the end of last summer, Nava lived briefly at a house on Bryant Street in Palo Alto known sarcastically by some progressive students as the “Revolutionary Hotel,” where recruitment for the League has occurred, according to sources who say they have been recruited.

Tsutaoka and Steven Phillips, a former BSU chair and current Daily multicultural editor who has allegedly recruited for the League, currently live in the house. Phillips recruited Nava beginning in September, according to a student who was also recruited by the League.

Phillips said he had no knowledge of the League’s involvement at Stanford and has not recruited for the organization.

Takeover planning

A steering committee which was comprised of at least two members of the League and several others who were being actively recruited at the time were behind much of the planning for the May 15, 1989, takeover of University President Donald Kennedy’s office. The protest was staged to demand an Asian-American tenured professor position, a fulltime Chicano dean and a director for the African and AfroAmerican Studies Program among other goals. Although these goals were widely accepted in the color communities that sponsored the action, it was the tactics of the takeover planned by the committee that alienated many students.

“It was the tactics and not the goals (of the takeover) that were planned” by members of the League who sat on the committee, according to a student arrested for involvement in the takeover who knew of the League’s influence. “When specific decisions are made about what tactics to use, such as whether or not to do a takeover for example, these people have a lot of influence, because they’re the ones who are leaders.”

Most people involved in the takeover did not know of the League’s influence in the tactical planning of the action. Steve Ostrander, a senior who was arrested in the takeover, said he was “shocked” when he was told in January that some of the people he had worked with on the takeover and other issues were League members.

Ostrander said he felt “manipulated” by the League members because he was not told “where the power was really coming from.”

“I had worked feverishly [in progressive politics] . . . but in the end these people couldn’t tell me what was really going on,” he said. Committee members were selected from the ASSU Committee on Democracy in Education, AASA, MEChA, the Stanford American Indian Organization and the black community. The BSU did not officially approve of the takeover but supported the participation of individuals within the BSU.

The steering committee met in complete secrecy, deciding that a physical takeover of the building would be necessary to achieve its goals. Gina Hernandez from MEChA and Leyton from CODE, who sat on the steering committee, are League members, according to a number of sources who asked not to be identified. Leyton denied having any connections with the League. Hernandez said she had never heard of the League.

Although students allegedly associated with the League comprised much of the leadership of students in the takeover, most students involved in the takeover, and even some of the planners, were not told of their influence, according to sources. Most students involved in the takeover only became aware of the specific action the night before it happened.

“Whenever you take over a building, there has to be a certain degree of secrecy,” Leyton told The Daily last month.

Students allegedly connected to the League from other universities, including San Jose State, UC-Berkeley, UC-Santa Cruz and San Francisco State, were also present at the takeover to show their support for the action.

Administration response

Administration officials said they had some indication that the League was involved in the takeover, but did not attempt to investigate the influences of the League.

Kennedy said he was aware of “outside influences” at the takeover, but said he did not investigate them because that would be interpreted by the students involved as an “effort to disregard the message in favor of finding a messenger to shoot.” Kennedy also said he had little evidence to substantiate the claim of League involvement in the takeover.

“On the other hand, I really am concerned when students, and particularly freshmen, are influenced by people who are working for their own secret agendas. .. . If there was any of that, then I’m troubled by it,” he said.

Assoc. Dean of Student Affairs Michael Jackson said it would be “counterproductive” to investigate outside influences on the takeover. “All I know is that I was dealing with 50-plus students who were occupying the President’s office, and like they hold us accountable for the University, we hold them accountable for what they’re doing (regardless of outside influences),” he said.

Students associated with the League are also in part responsible for last year’s resignation of Juan Yniguez, the former director of El Centro Chicano and dean of Chicano affairs, who was pressured by some MEChA members to resign from his post. Yniguez had been critical of the influence of the League in MEChA before he was pressured to resign. Pressure from within MEChA came from both League and nonLeague people.

Divisive effects

The League has often had divisive effects on the various color communities. Deep ideological divisions within the Stanford Chicano community have been in part the result of the League’s influence within MEChA, according to a number of students and staff members in the Chicano community critical of the League.

League members at Stanford are “good people, political activists, but their tactics cause the most problems in minority communities,” said Rudy Fuentes, a co-founder of Stanford MEChA in 1985 and a former Council of Presidents member who currently attends Boalt Law School at UC Berkeley.

The League at Stanford has found support over the years in the membership of MEChA, where recruitment of MEChA members into the League is conducted by former MEChA members, according to sources. The League has had more influence in MEChA in past years than it holds now, but its power decreased last year with the graduation of a number of MEChA members allegedly associated with the League. However, the League still influences many decisions of MEChA through its ties with some MEChA members, according to a MEChA member who did not wish to be identified.

More subtle divisions within the BSU and AASA have also resulted because of the League, with only a few members of each group connected to the League.

Little influence in BSU

This year the League has little influence in the BSU because of the actions by the BSU officer corps to reduce the power of students they believe to be League members within the BSU. Last spring, outgoing BSU chair Mary Dillard warned incoming chair Calvin Joel Martin about the power of the League.

BSU officers interviewed by The Daily said there was an internal division in the BSU based on League membership, with more progressive members in one faction and a more moderate faction headed by Martin. But Martin and other BSU officers said they had no solid evidence that individuals within the black community were League members.

“Everybody writes [League members] off as being too radical,” according to former BSU general representative Bacardi Jackson. “It’s not active members of the BSU that they get their respect from.”

The takeover caused a noticeable schism in the BSU officer corps last year, alienating League members from a more moderate faction led by Martin. The BSU officer corps did not officially endorse the takeover and did not even know a takeover was scheduled until the day before it happened, according to Martin.

The takeover was their mistake in the black community, because it created this division, according to one BSU member who was recruited by the League. The student, who participated in the takeover, asked not to be identified.

’Like a lackey’

Stanford’s Asian-American community has several people who are League members, according to Suh, the AASA chair who resigned in October because of the League’s influence.

Although at the time he said publicly that he resigned for “personal reasons,” Suh recently told The Daily he resigned because he was disillusioned with the League. “I decided at some point that I felt like a lackey, because on a theoretical level [League members] were fighting for ... another agenda.”

“I felt that the progressive politics at Stanford were so dominated by this group, that I didn’t feel independent unless I disconnected myself from progressive politics for a while,” he said.

In October, Suh submitted a letter of resignation to AASA members he believed to be members of the League in which he indirectly criticized the presence of the League in the Asian American community.

There is currently a minor split in the Asian-American community, which Suh and others in the community partially attribute to the League. However, others say the split is based primarily on the conflicting personalities of AASA members.

Julie Su, who resigned in March as the co-chair of the AASA issues committee, said she was unaware of the League presence at Stanford, and that “the split is based on personality more than anything else.” She cited frustrations in dealing with more radical officers of AASA as the reason for her resignation.

The AASA officer corps has very little League influence at the top levels, although a few AASA members are alleged to be league members by Suh and other sources.

Tsutaoka is the League leader in the Stanford Asian-American community and also has wide influence in the other color communities, according to Suh and a number of other sources.

Suh said Tsutaoka has an “inordinate amount of power and influence in Asian-American student politics” because she is consulted on many important decisions within AASA, despite no longer being a student. Tsutaoka has also written for Unity newspaper, a League publication.

Writers for Unity newspaper do not necessarily have any connections to the League.

Although Unity newspaper originally called itself the newspaper of the League, it no longer admits its ties to the League. It is published by Getting Together Publications, which prints the Forward Journal of Socialist Thought, the League’s journal, as well as other League publications.

Troubled by secrecy

Kennedy said he was aware of the existence of the League and its presence at Stanford, but said he had no specific knowledge of its activities or membership. “If I’m troubled by anything, it’s the secrecy. It’s that there is an organization that is active and plainly has a political agenda, and that nobody is saying anything about it,” Kennedy said.

“That’s a whole lot less open than the traditions of this community,” he added.

Other administrators said they were also aware of the League but did not know the extent of its influence. Dean of Student Affairs James Lyons said he has known of the existence of the League since “the late 1970s or early 1980s” when he saw Unity newspapers being distributed on campus.

Lyons said he was never particularly concerned with the influence of the League at Stanford because “it smacks to me of the kind of small-group movement oriented political activist groups that have characterized American higher education throughout its history.”