[Marxism] Summary of Early Anti-Vietnam War Movement

James Zarichny zarichny at yahoo.com
Wed May 25 22:03:18 MDT 2005


Nowadays, some people view the 1962 convention near Port Huron as the founding convention of SDS. At the time, nobody saw it that way. It was seen as the final breaking of the linkage to the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). A linkage which had been tenuous for more than a year.

The original name of SDS was Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID). Formed before World War I, it eventually represented the right wing of the socialist movement. By 1947 or1948, Doug Kelley, at Michigan State University was using the name SDS locally. At a national level, the official name was not changed, I think, until 1959.

I think it important to document the confluence of forces that shaped SDS in the period prior to Port Huron. Probably the place to start is the article, YSA How It Began, by Guy Williams (probably a pseudonym for Tim Wohlforth)

http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/YSA.html 

Guy has a section on Steve Max who was a vice president of YSA as well as a member of the editorial board of their newspaper, the Young Socialist. Guy says that on May 18, 1958, Steve resigned.

A week or so earlier, Steve had attended a study group at my apartment in Manhattan. The people in the study group had very little in common other than all had come to New York from Michigan and all had been in or near the Communist Party in Michigan, and all were out of it.

The purpose of the study group was to do a detailed study of the various social movements in American history. How did they function within the framework of American culture and legal forms? Individuals were to research a topic and lead one or more discussions on the topic. Among topics planned were the American revolution, the struggle for universal adult male suffrage, We wanted to give especial attention to the abolitionist movement, in particular, to the competing visions of James Gillespie Birney and William Lloyd Garrison. Also we planned a heavy emphasis on the Civil War, reconstruction and its defeat. Other topics were women’s suffrage, Populist Party, labor unions, the Socialist Party of Debs, etc. There was even a session on Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

No readings were assigned, but every body was expected to find something on the topic of the evening. We looked for the forms that radicalism assumed on American soil.

We started out with about 20 people that Steve had brought from YSA when he left that organization. But attrition set in and we were down to a steady seven or eight people. Included was Marty Wilner, who we later learned had been assigned by the FBI to monitor our group. I had never imagined that the FBI would assign an informant to a small study group that had no ties to any organization whatsoever.

This was the period when A Philip Randolph, Jackie Robinson, and Harry Belafonte were organizing the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington D.C. on October 25, 1958. Steve Max and Jim Brook worked enthusiastically to promote the march, and in the process, made many contacts among leaders of the African American community. The march was successful. It drew about 10,000 students.

In Washington, Jim and Steve met three girls from New York who were looking for an organization. The girls had also met Rachelle Horowitz, a leader of YPSL. (This is the Rachelle Horowitz who later married Thomas Donahue, who was national secretary treasurer of the AF of L CIO from 1979 to 1995). The three girls could not decide which way to go. They proposed an informal debate between representatives of the study group and YPSL. The debate was Steve and myself vs., Rachelle, with only the three girls as audience. They chose our study group.

The girls brought their friends, who in turn brought friends. Soon it became clear that my apartment was much too small. But among the newcomers were some wealthy kids whose living room could easily hold 80 people. The people wanted a more formal organization and chose the name Tom Paine Club. They also wanted more formal speakers and began inviting guest speakers. Especially popular were speakers from the magazine Monthly Review.

In February 1960, some Black students sat in at the lunch counters of the Woolworth store in Greensboro North Carolina asking for service. The Black ministers wanted demonstrations at every Woolworth store in New York. They asked the Tom Paine Club to coordinate picketing at the three Woolworth stores in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But one of the members protested that she had joined what was billed as a discussion group. She had not joined an action group. Steve hastily called a meeting where a new organization called the FDR Four Freedoms Club was formed. This group coordinated the picketing at the three Woolworth stores. The picketing was impressive. As a result, when Martin Luther King came to speak at the armory in New York, the Black ministers who were organizing the rally asked the FDR Four Freedoms Club to furnish half of the ushers for seating and for the collection.

Shortly afterwards, Tom Hayden and Al Haber got in touch with Steve Max. They wanted the FDR Four Freedoms Club to affiliate to SDS. A number of months earlier, they had gotten the leadership of SLID. They immediately changed the name to SDS. After discussion, the FDR-Four Freedoms Club decided to affiliate to SDS. At the time, national SDS only had 120 members, and the FDR Four Freedoms Club had 80. But the affiliation produced a minor crisis. The existing New York chapter of SDS had about 15 members. Under the leadership of Joanne Landy, and her then husband, Sy Landy they vigorously opposed the merger and when their opposition failed, all 15 resigned from SDS. As a result, the FDR Four Freedoms contingent was almost as large as the original SDS contingent. The Landys called the FDR Four Freedoms Club people Stalinoid. At least a quarter of the people, and possibly much more, came from families that had earlier been in the Communist Party. But as far as I know, by 1960, Jim Hawley
 was the only supporter of the CP in the Four Freedoms Club. Because he was working constructively, no one felt like challenging his membership. But in 1962, the national LID leadership made him the central issue at the Port Huron meeting. The refusal to expel Jim became the central issue in the break with LID.

A couple of years earlier, when we first joined SDS, Steve became national traveller for SDS. Former members of the FDR-Four Freedoms club were transferring to universities all over the northeast and mid west. Steve would visit their campus and help to set up a local SDS chapter. Membership grew at an impressive rate. One estimate was that by the time of the April march against the Viet Nam war, membership had risen to 4000.

The April, 1965, march was planned at the National Council meeting in Manhattan held between Christmas and December 30, 1964. Because I had to work, I was not able to attend all of the sessions. Jim Brook presented the motion to organize the march on , I think, December 28. It immediately encountered enormous opposition from people close to Tom Hayden. Jim Brook had solid support from most people of the FDR-Four Freedoms tradition. The debate raged on Dec 28th, 29th, and 30th. The opposition felt such a march would take resources away from other SDS projects. I was not able to be present for the vote, but I have been told by people I regard as reliable that the majority of people from the FDR-Four Freedoms group voted yes on the march. A majority of people from Tom Hayden’s group voted against the march.. The march was approved by a very narrow margin. 

Jim Zarichny


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