[Marxism] Berkeley, Bogdan Denitch, YPSL, ISC

Brian Shannon Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Thu Nov 3 10:47:00 MST 2005


 >Bogdan Denitch was in the Independent [not International] Socialist 
League, Shachtman's arch-anti-Stalinist remnant in the 50s. Denitch was 
never attached to the later left split from the ISL, the Independent 
Socialist Clubs which became the International Socialists which begat 
Solidarity and ISO. —ethan young


In the summer of 1961, Bogdan Denitch, a long-time friend of Michael 
Harrington, dominated the Berkeley YPSL, although he was too old to be 
a member. I had already had contact with the Young Socialist Alliance, 
which held its forums at Jim and Betty Petras’s apartment. They didn’t 
have any forums during the summer, but I ran into Jim and Betty, along 
with Jim and Connie Peterson and Ted Mellor on the campus where I had a 
job working for Jerome Cohen, a law professor who had received a grant 
to study Chinese Communist Law. They were all my age or slightly 
younger and were very easy to talk to. In fact, I don’t think that I 
had any disagreements with anything that they said. However, I was 
going to be a lawyer, and I knew that this was different.

YPSL offered classes and some forums. Michael Harrington’s talk was 
built up. I didn’t know anything about him; this was a few years before 
“The Other America” was published. Strangely, his talk was on W.H. 
Auden instead of a socialist related subject. I knew nothing about 
Auden or the references to him, although a couple of his poems must 
have been included at the end of an English Lit course that I took in 
college.

Denitch was a kind of a charmer, but didn’t seem to have any weight to 
his views. I was reading stuff from the SWP and books about the Chinese 
Revolution. At the same time I was doing this editorial work on the 
Chinese Revolution itself. I believe that I joined after Paul Montauk 
talked to me at a Labor Day picnic that the YSA/SWP held in the 
Berkeley hills. The difference between Paul Montauk and Bogdan Denitch 
was significant. Montauk was a long-term worker and socialist organizer 
who had been involved in the 1946 Oakland General Strike. He was 
married to Mary Lou Dobbs, the daughter of Farrell Dobbs and mother of 
three children, whose upbringing he shared. Bogdan Denitch was just 
talk.

This was the year that Max Shachtman gave his infamous talk in the Bay 
Area in which he justified supporting the Bay of Pigs invasion because 
some trade unionists participated in the counterrevolutionary assault.

All hell broke loose within YPSL. Shachtman wasn’t even allowed to give 
his planned talk on the East Side of the Bay. From then on Hal and Ann 
Draper became the adult support to YPSL. Hal Draper had been a 
long-time critic of Shachtman. After a period of confusion, the local 
YPSL dissolved and the Independent Socialist Club was formed. Although 
it did not have the visible impact of the Young Socialist Alliance, it 
was by far the largest public student socialist group at U.C. Berkeley. 
My recollection is that it was mostly graduate students. Mike Parker, 
Joel Geier, later Jim Petras (who probably was still ideologically 
closer to Trotsky’s ideas) and others whose names I have forgotten were 
members.

Despite their size and in spite of student admiration for Hal Draper, 
aside from the Lucky Stores victory, the organization never seemed to 
be able to connect with struggles as they unfolded. What had happened 
in Cuba was good, but not good enough; in fact it wasn’t even a 
socialist revolution. Malcolm X said some good things, but the whole 
Black Nationalism thing made no sense. Even in the Free Speech 
Movement, they were not as connected as other independent “New Left” 
graduate students. They of course knew that the U.S. was obviously 
wrong in Vietnam, but they were afraid to be identified with the 
Vietnamese revolution. And so forth. I believe that there is an article 
on MIA that discusses this from an insider’s point of view.

They are unquestionably doing better now. Their positions, still quite 
similar to the past, are more in harmony with the unfolding events. 
There is no ideological confusion over the Iraq resistance. Obviously, 
the U.S. has to get out, but potential recruits are not identifying 
with the Iraq resistance, except in the most visceral (and hidden) 
sense. Right now, the civil rights struggle doesn’t pose the Black 
Nationalist struggles of the recent past—at least not to their milieu.

The greatest ideological and organization problem that they may have to 
face is the Cuban Question. A military confrontation there, combined 
with a Defense of Cuba movement here, would tear them apart. But for 
now it is hidden. And, in the absence of any ideological confrontation 
with Marxist defenders of the Cuban Revolution, the ISC position that 
calls Cuba a capitalist state and favors the overthrow of the Castro 
leadership remains buried. From time to time, it is even openly 
presented, but since it doesn’t have to face a “material” conflict, it 
is swallowed like a bug in a salad, bothering its members and 
supporters only temporarily.

Brian Shannon




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