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Julius Falk

Youth and Student Corner

[Decline in Self-Assurance]

(20 June 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 25, 20 June 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There is a perceptible decline in the self-assurance of today’s college student. The reports in the press about the growing list of unemployed have had their effect on his psychology. There is an uneasiness on the campus which does not resemble the insecurity of the ’30s but which is nevertheless having corrosive effect on the easy attitudes of the ambitious collegiate.

A recent survey conducted among some of the nation’s leading industrial firms indicates that the downward trend in unemployment will hit hard at the new crop of college graduates. These firms reported a declining market for college grads and a pessimism concerning the likelihood that this trend will reverse itself in the near future.

Although the student remains apathetic to politics, there is every reason to believe that this growing insecurity on the job front, when mixed with the present drive on academic freedom and the increasing pressures of a developing war economy, will shock the American student back into the political world. This revived interest in social problems will not be on an academic level. It can be expected that students will actively participate in organizations and actions.

But in what organizations will these disillusioned students find a political home for themselves? The Communist Party will, no doubt, put in a heavy bid. And they stand a good chance of gaining considerably (witness the Student for Wallace movement before the elections) unless there is another genuinely militant organization to oppose and expose the Stalinists. Otherwise the CP, through its various front organizations, will be able to recruit large numbers of members and much support on the basis of its current “radical” anti-capitalist line. They will never be able to approach their strength of the �0s, but their influence will surely grow several times its present size unless a student movement develops which is genuinely anti-war – i.e., a Third Camp student organization.

Based on Anti-War Program of Third Camp

A significant step was made last month towards the development of this needed Third Camp on campus with the formation of the New York Student Federation Against War.

This New York federation begins as an anti-war student movement in name and in program. This is quite different from the manner in which militant student organizations were initiated in the ’30s. The National Student League, for example, was originally organized around local campus issues such as free text books and academic freedom cases. The program of the National Student League was not of a primarily anti-war nature.

However, this is to a large extent a formal difference when compared to the recently organized N.Y. federation. The National Student League’s character was determined in life, not in written program. It developed the reputation as a militant anti-war student movement and this reputation set the organization’s character and gave to it attractiveness and dynamism. The anti-war strikes, the taking of the Oxford Pledge, the meetings and rallies on war issues – all of these activities sponsored by the NSL set the political level of the organization considerably deeper than its concern with the price of textbooks (which was an important issue in the ’30s).

One important reason why the NSL could develop this anti-war popularity without narrowing itself programatically was that it began in New York with hundreds of active members of the Young Communist League on campus, and the YCL, in turn, had the sympathy of wide sections of the student body.

The New York Student Federation Against War was formed under different conditions. It began with the support of seven or eight student clubs, each of which is relatively small in numbers and influences. In order to make itself felt as an anti-war force, the Federation had no alternative except to develop along narrower political lines than was the case with the NSL. It cannot hope to hope to earn for itself the reputation as an anti-war force through strikes, demonstrations and similar forms of agitation and protest.

Will Publish Quarterly Student Magazine

The only way that it can establish itself as a Third Camp force on campus is through its program and propaganda. Therefore, the program of the Federation is weighted in the anti-war direction and anti-war political requirements for affiliation are provided in its constitution.

It must also be remembered that there are any number of student organizations today which would resemble the New York Federation if that Federation were not of ah anti-war character. If the Federation were without its present political program it could not distinguish itself sufficiently from other organizations (such as the Students for Democratic Action and the Student World Federalists) despite its more radical membership.

Here too, the small size of the Federation is the drawback. The Federation would not have to worry about formally duplicating the other student organizations if it were large enough to make itself felt in action as a fighter for student rights and an opponent of war preparations, thereby permitting it to retain a broader political foundation.

As a propaganda force (which does not mean abstaining from political action) the Federation plans to establish itself through its projected quarterly magazine and meetings on a local and city-wide level. The Federation will also be invaluable in the moral and political strengthening it can give its affiliates.

The Federation is counting heavily on its ability to publish a magazine. This magazine would not only present the opinions of the Federation but is designed to become in part a literary forum on campus in which conflicting points of view can be expressed from within and without the Federation.

A successful magazine will virtually assure the success of the Federation in the coming period. And a successful Federation in the coming period will open up the possibility of re-creating a broad student movement against war which will make itself felt on campus and in American life in general.

Wallace Circus Comes to Berkeley

BERKELEY, Cal. – On Wednesday, May 11, the Wallace troupe showed up at the University of California. The group which spoke under Young Progressive auspices included the following: Mrs. Paul Robeson; Michele Giua, a “left wing” (i.e., pro-Stalinist) socialist senator from Italy; H. Lester Hutchinson, member of the British Parliament; and, of course, the Common Man himself.

The main theme of the meeting was the usual whitewash and eulogy of the Russian totalitarian system. The present drive towards war was analyzed as being the SOLE responsibility of the “American-imperialist-Vatican-fascist bloc.” The solution to the cold war as envisaged by the speakers was equally ludicrous: “make the United Nations work” was the cure which these apologists for totalitarianism offered.

This “make the UN work” line of the meeting was followed by the announcement of the formation on campus of a new Stalinist front group for Peace Through the UN. The mood of the vast majority of the several thousand who attended the meeting was apathetic. There were at the most, one hundred students close to the speakers�platform who clapped and cheered at the “appropriate” moments and a similar number of students scattered through the audience who booed and heckled. Several fraternity boys showed up wearing red hats adorned with hammers and sickles and carrying a sign which read: “We want to be liberated like Czechoslovakia.”

The meeting revealed the utter bankruptcy of the Wallace movement. Politically, it proved itself once again to be a thinly disguised mask for the Communist Party. Organizationally, despite the large attendance, the apathy of the audience and the sparseness of Wallace supporters indicated the steep decline of the Wallace movement on campus.

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