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Julius Falk

CP Youth Licked at Student Conference;
Majority Plans Fight for Campus Rights

(20 March 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 12, 20 March 1950. p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Student Conference on Democracy in Education was held over the weekend of March 11–12. Attending the conference were almost 400 student delegates from dubs on most of the major campuses in the New York area. Each club was entitled to four delegates. From the very beginning the conference was split into two caucuses: the anti-Stalinists on the one side and the Stalinists on the other.

In previous issues of Labor Action the history of the conference has been: presented in detail. The conference was initiated by a group of Stalinist students who planned on drawing in a large number of “innocents" and turning the conference into one of their regular shindigs: a tightly run affair in which they use legitimate issues to make political capital for their own reactionary totalitarian ends.

At the second of these pre-conference planning meetings about eight clubs from the New York Student Federation Against War participated. The federation then convinced other anti-Stalinist groups that they must participate in order not to abandon the fight for academic freedom to the Stalinists. The federation was successful in this and at a subsequent planning meeting the anti-Stalinists had a majority of delegates.

From that point on, the anti-Stalinist caucus had a clear-cut majority in all the planning meetings and at the conference itself. The CP students then resorted to slander in their usual way. Among other things they abused the conference executive committee by charging that nine out of its fifteen members were “ROTTEN WHITE SUPREMACISTS” (emphasis in original leaflet distributed by the Labor Youth League).

But these lies only served to embarrass the Stalinists. The nine students accused of being “rotten white supremacists” were militant liberal and socialist students and few, not even many of the Stalinists, could take such vicious accusations seriously.

At the conference itself the Stalinists were much better organized than at the planning meeting but they were nevertheless at all times in a minority.

The conference was called to order on Saturday afternoon. Following the invocation there were, two excellent keynote speeches one by Roger Baldwin, former executive secretary of the American Civil Liberties Union, the other by Harold Taylor, president of Sarah Lawrence College. The speech by Baldwin was particularly embarrassing to the Stalinists when he attacked the Communist Party for refusing to defend the civil liberties of the Minneapolis Trotskyists convicted under the Smith Act.

President Taylor made a sharp criticism of the American educational system and of the intellectual stagnation in American life. On the academic front he maintained that students, have the right to organize their own clubs without faculty supervision and defended the right of students to hear speakers of their own choosing.

Stalinists Fight on Rules

Following the speeches the conference began to bog down in a parliamentary fight. It took several hours before the rules were adopted, and this was only after a rollcall vote. The Stalinists were opposed to accepting the rules on the ground that the 15 executive members, each of whom are entitled to a vote apart from their club representative, would give some clubs extra representation.

This might have been a legitimate point to raise in the pre-conference planning meetings but to accept it at the conference itself meant disfranchising the leaders of the conference or forcing new elections in all the clubs to which the executive committee member belonged. This would have meant disrupting the conference, which would not have particularly bothered the Stalinists who were in a minority. Even though the Stalinists split their vote (by design) on the question of accepting the rules it was clear that the democratic forces had a 3-to-2 majority.

The next point on the agenda was the credentials report. The Credentials Committee refused to give delegates to six Stalinist clubs on the ground that they were not legitimate student organizations and were actually “ringers.” Most of these charges by the Credentials Committee were undoubtedly true. The Stalinists were demanding delegates for clubs which were non-existent. Nevertheless a number of anti-Stalinists voted to give all the Stalinist clubs their claimed delegates in order to prevent the conference from collapsing at that point and also to prevent the Stalinists from demagogically claiming that they were defeated only because they were denied their “rights.” Consequently a Stalinist motion to grant voting rights to all the disputed clubs was accepted by the majority of delegates.

By this time, however, the conference was many hours behind schedule. It then divided into three panels on academic freedom, discrimination and economic difficulties. The panels were continued the following morning. Resolutions were brought in, discussed and voted upon and minority resolutions prepared for the plenary session.

At two of the panels the Stalinists had a majority or near-majority on Sunday morning, and as a result one or two of the disputed resolutions were carried by them. In the Academic Freedom panel, a resolution which included a condemnation of campus military training in the United States and also in Franco Spain and Russia was amended on a Stalinist motion so that reference to all foreign countries was taken out, 74–68.

At the plenary session which was to decide on all panel resolutions the anti-Stalinists were in a decisive majority. This was made clear in a vote on a motion to include a special point of business on the agenda: a motion that the conference go on record condemning the Stalinists for the publicly issued leaflets which Falsely accused the majority of the Executive Committee of being “rotten white supremacists.” As a special point of business it was necessary to have a two-thirds vote to place the motion on. the agenda. The vote fell about 20 short of two-thirds, but the tally was 184 to 139 in favor. This was a test vote which showed the Stalinists to be in a definite minority.

The plenary session had to be held in a city high school and a strict time limit placed on the duration of the conference until 3 p.m. Midway in the discussion on the first panel the anti-Stalinists pressed for tabling all points on the agenda except the last, which was the question of a Continuations Committee. Unless this was done the conference would have been forced to conclude without electing any instrument to continue its purposes. But this was not an ugly prospect to the Stalinists, who knew that they would not control the Continuations Committee, and they therefore pressed to proceed with the discussion on the panel resolutions.

Looking Ahead to Next Conference

Everybody indeed WANTED to discuss the panel resolutions, but there was no time. To discuss the resolutions would have meant failing to elect a committee to carry on the work of the conference. At this point the Stalinists broke about every rule in the. parliamentary book in order to prevent the majority from completing the conference. However, the majority was not upset by the Stalinist provocations to riot. The panel discussions were tabled and a Continuations Committee elected.

A major lesson to be learned is that the Stalinists can be beaten in the student field, even in conferences which they themselves organize, by a militant anti-Stalinist coalition. For the first time in the history of the New York student movement the Stalinists were beaten in a conference of this nature and size. This is an important POLITICAL event which even many of the liberals do not recognize.

It is true that the conference did not discuss the major political issues before the delegates because of time limitations. The delay in getting through the agenda was due to the parliamentary wrangling, which in turn was inevitable given the large and determined Stalinist minority. But the Continuations Committee, which has a number of militant liberal and socialist students on it, has the authority of the majority of delegates behind it. It must be vigilant in the defense of academic freedom, investigating, violations of student rights and acting on them. It must also think in terms of calling a new conference; one which will be organized sc as to give the delegates the necessary time to discuss the important political questions pertinent to student rights.

A number of important problems which the conference posed the socialists will be discussed in a subsequent issue of L.A.

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