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Tim Wohlforth

Periodicals in Review

(Summer 1960)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.3, Summer 1960, pp.66 & 95.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The past few months have witnessed numerous articles on youth in the liberal, radical and conservative press. These articles have been a reflection of – and in rare cases an attempt to deal with analytically – the change of mood on the American campus.

The new mood has produced a series of actions in widely different fields, all of which are aimed against the status quo. These include the sit-in campaign of Southern Negro Students; the supporting picket lines that have spread to every important campus in the North; widespread opposition to compulsory ROTC which has reached even colleges without a political past such as Lehigh University. New York City has been the scene of anti-civil defense protests involving several thousand high school and college students. San Francisco Bay Area students engaged in protest demonstrations against the execution of Caryl Chessman, in the course of which they marched across the Golden Gate Bridge, conducted an all-night vigil at San Quentin and a trek to Sacramento to picket the Governor’s mansion. Next they turned out in even greater numbers to protest the school probe of the witchhunting House Un-American Activities Committee in San Francisco and stood their ground against a brutal police attack.

While there had been sentiment on all these issues prior to this spring, the widespread nature of the recent actions is without precedent since the era of the cold-war “silent generation” began. For instance, a year ago less than twenty-five persons defied civil defense regulations in New York. This year thousands turned out. Previous witchhunt hearings in San Francisco have met with protest, but never with such massive student demonstrations. Isolated campuses in the South have been involved in integration battles, but never before has the movement swept through virtually every Negro college in the whole South. Northern students have supported integration struggles in the past, particularly in the Youth March on Washington movement, but never on a national scale and never drawing in so many “non-political” campuses.

Many of the demonstrations appear to arise out of issues particular to a specific area. Thus the particularly intense witch-hunting traditions in San Francisco made it a more natural locale for its type of demonstration, though the area had not mobilized support for the picket-Woolworth campaign or for the anti-civil defense demonstrations on any comparable level.

The fact that there exists in New York City a rather large milieu of high school and college students with some previous radical contact and with strong feelings on the peace issue undoubtedly contributed to the extent of the resistance to the civil defense tests.

Certainly the direct discrimination felt by Southern Negro Students made action on the integration issue more meaningful for them than action on any other issue.

But despite these individual peculiarities there exists a general pattern of protest to be found in the demonstrations when viewed as a whole. Many of the same individuals took part in several of these different actions feeling almost equally attracted to the different issues involved. All the actions illustrated that there is a new responsiveness on the campus to political and social issues of our times.

* * *

The reaction of the liberal press has been generally favorable, recognizing, even if superficially, that the initiative in this country has passed to the youth because of the default of the elders – including the liberal elders. The New York Post, while occasionally scolding the youth for “going too far,” as in the case of the sit-in conducted by the New York Youth Committee for Integration, has generally reported favorably the actions of the students.

Much of the same mood of sympathy can be seen in the Nation and the New Republic. The general sparcity of their reportage of student actions, however, shows a certain isolation of the older generation of liberal intellectuals and professionals from the new generation on the campus.

* * *

The Nation has produced a very fine on-the-spot story May 7 on the Southern struggle, Eye of the Storm, by Dan Wakefield. This article tends to confirm the thesis of James Lambrecht in the Young Socialist in the May and Summer 1960 issues that the leadership of the sit-in movement in the South is in the hands of a group of student leaders who have come to the fore in the struggle itself and is not dependent on any of the old organizations like CORE, NAACP or Rev. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In fact these youth are not only separate from the adult Negro leadership but tend to distrust it.

Wakefield says, “The question of the role of adults in the student movement was a ticklish one for in a sense the movement is a protest not only against segregation practices, but against the older Negro leaders.”

The factual basis of this view is also supported by Mike Walzer in his article, A Cup of Coffee and a Seat, in Dissent (Summer 1960). Even the Southern “liberal,” Hodding Carter, adds to his description of the movement in the N.Y. Times Magazine a note of alarm at this division between the younger and older generations, an alarm quite appropriate to someone committed to the status quo. (For further discussions on this question see articles by Myra Tanner Weiss in the Militant, May 2 and 16 and Bert Deck in this issue of ISR.)

* * *

There has been little in the way of analysis of the new student mood in the liberal or, for that matter the radical press. The Nation in its editorial May 7 goes little beyond a recognition of its existence and the same can be said of the New York Post’s editorial on the San Francisco demonstrations.

The Communist party press has generally tailed the developments, echoing in its own jargon the sentiments of the liberals. For instance, the March Political Affairs publishes the latest CP resolution on The Youth Question. The resolution, noting among other things that the Young Democrats are “entering the struggle for a progressive platform,” goes on to urge more concern with juvenile delinquency by “all peoples organizations.” The resolution from beginning to end confounds a social worker’s treatment of juvenile delinquency with the actual political struggles of students and youth themselves and the organization of a radical youth group. Such a mixture gives the resolu-ion the unmistakable flavor of a document written by adults about youth; adults moreover who are separated not only by age but by their very spirit from the young generation of radical and even liberal youth.

* * *

The summer issue of Dissent features a large section titled, The Young. Most of it is old hat and not of any real interest (outside of Mike Walzer’s good reportage of the sit-ins). But there is one article which demands comment, Arthur Mitzman’s The Campus Radical in 1960. This article at least attempts to analyze the new situation and in so doing offers some useful insights.

Mitzman notes that the new campus mood is marked by a desire to act, and a concomitant lack of interest in programmatic questions and disputes. As he puts it, “The area of vision is different, and the organ of response has shifted from the brain to the intestines.”

This “coolness towards program,” Mitzman feels, can be at least partially blamed on the shortcomings of the “old campus radicals.” To prove this Mitzman draws on his own rather narrow experience with the “old left” as a member of a two-man faction in the Young Socialist League, now extinct. He describes an incident which occurred a few years back when a YSL-influenced left wing in the Students for Democratic Action, a liberal group, won a majority in the national organization only to voluntarily relinquish it for fear of a split between SDA and ADA (Americans for Democratic Action). He then puts his finger on a highly important political trend – the spread of the disease of opportunism – which not only affected the old YSL but is today epidemic in such current groups as the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation, its youth organization, the YPSL and the Communist party. Keeping this in mind one can substitute SP-SDF-YPSL or CP for “Shachtmanites” as we quote from Mitzman:

“In the complex string of relations between the Shachtmanites and the SDA, SDA and ADA, ADA and the liberal Democrats, and the liberal Democrats and the Democratic party, one common factor emerges. Each group on the left side of a pair was firmly convinced that the agent of historical progress, lay in its partner to the right. The Shachtmanites, with their Marxist analysis, saw a future in a labor party, but had not the slightest confidence in their powers to produce such a thing; they counted on an amalgam of the labor movement and the ADA to bring it into being. Getting control of SDA was a step toward this objective.

“The ADA, in turn, accepted the same kind of relationship to the ‘left wing’ of the Democratic party. ADA could not dream of embarking on an independent political venture, but could only hope that the Democratic liberals might finally break from the Southern Democrats and form a genuinely liberal party. But of course the Democratic liberals had no intention of ruining their presidential chances by sending the South over to the Republicans. In short, each party of principle, realizing its impotence, played the game of realpolitik by supporting, while hoping to convert, the larger group to the right, until the chain reached the Democratic party – all realpolitik and no principle – which by this system received, with little expense, the support of everyone to its left.”

Mitzman ends his article with an appeal, which has become a cliche in publications as varied (and yet sharing many similar prejudices) as Dissent, Monthly Review and the defunct American Socialist. Having rejected the “old left” for its deplorable realpolitik and noting that “perhaps the trouble now is that the students in the anti-bomb movement and in such groups as SANE have failed to be sufficiently ideological,” he goes on to call for “a new radical theory.”

In so doing Mitzman shows that he is made of the same sad stuff as the liberals who preach down to the new youth movement. He is showing that, in reality, he too is part of the opportunist “old left” and in fact one of its more worn-out and demoralized byproducts – the beat radical. Actually it is Mitzman who seeks a “new theory” – an illusive will o’ the wisp he and others around Dissent were seeking long before the student movement experienced its resurgence. The youth movement now offers, he hopes, a place to dump his disenchantment with Marxism, his disillusionment with the radical movement of the past, and his vague musings about “mass society” which pass for a theory and a program in Dissent circles.

It is true that the new generation of radical youth have little use for opportunism, for realpolitik and maneuvers within the Democratic party. Many of them may not as yet reject such maneuvers from principled political considerations; they may find discussions of political theory boring and alien to their immediate needs for expressing protest. In their own way, however, they see far more clearly than those elders who use Marxist terms to rationalize the betrayal of socialism and are intent on peddling their unprincipled politics to the youth.

An increasing number of the new generation of young radicals are finding ideological expression for their rebellion in the body of principles of revolutionary socialism. This explains the growth in the recent period of the Young Socialist Alliance and its paper the Young Socialist, the only radical youth paper in the country.

* * *

Murray Kempton in his New York Post column May 6 wrote a rather pathetic political “feeler” item. He reported that the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation had decided “to wait for the conventions of the major parties before deciding whether simple decency dictates the tender of an alternative.” He said,

“They will probably not run a candidate this time if the Democrats nominate either Stevenson or Humphrey. But if the Democrats run Stuart Symington, the Socialists feel that they must offer an alternative ...”

The projected SP ticket, Kempton said, “would be Norman Thomas for President and A. Philip Randolph for Vice President.”

Thomas was “not over anxious but dutiful” Kempton reported, and Thomas seemed to feel “there is a certain duty to the very young” particularly “with the possibility that the American left may be stirring again.”

In the May 11 Post, New York Organizer of the Socialist Workers party, Richard Garza, says in a letter replying to Kempton,

“The Socialist Workers party has already placed the names of Farrell Dobbs for President and Myra Tanner Weiss for Vice President on the ballot in Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The SWP is now preparing to qualify for other state ballots, including New York’s. Its platform provides a means of registering protest against the continuation of nuclear tests and in favor of peace. It also provides means of registering condemnation of the racism which Southern Democrats uphold.”

The Spring 1960 issue of the Socialist Call, received in the mail at the end of May, carries an article by Norman Thomas. Thomas writes,

“Emphatically there is no moral imperative laid on Socialists to abstain from electoral action unless they can nominate their own candidates. Rather the contrary. Certainly there are better ways to invest time and money in advancing socialism than by vying with dogmatic sectarian Socialists of other parties for a pitiful handful of votes ... We can work harder and more intelligently as Socialists within labor’s ranks, and possibly in some states in the primaries of the old parties. We can organize teams to heckle candidates of old parties ...”

A fresh generation of youth moves to the left and the worn out generation of radical opportunists moves to the right.

* * *

The National Guardian which was also reported to be waiting for the capitalist party conventions before deciding, in Kempton’s phrase, “whether simple decency dictates the tender of an alternative,” has also jumped the gun on its own timetable. We find in the May 30 editorial:

“The Guardian, to the best of its ability in our years on the political scene, has advocated a strong independent third party as the best leverage on the old parties to produce programs and candidates reflecting the people’s real concerns. Lacking such an instrument, the people can exert leverage on national policy only through the existing political machinery. The crisis resulting from the collapse of the Summit Conference – a collapse clearly engineered by an administration which hoped to keep its design covered up but could not – has now produced conditions making possible the forcing of the peace issue on a reluctant Democratic party.”

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