brian_shannon at verizon.net
Sat Jan 14 19:14:44 MST 2006
On Jan 14, 2006, at 8:21 PM, Philip Ferguson wrote:
> Yes, I can imagine the kind of questioning and debate that went on in
> SDS was not something the SWP leadership would have liked much, even
> before Barnes turned it into a totally monolithic cult.
Prior to the experience that I had with Peter Buch, I can't
personally speak about SDS in the mid-west and east coast. It was
more a concept than an organization in Berkeley. We may have been
larger than they even in 1965 and 1966. Certainly the Independent
Socialist Club and probably the DuBois clubs were. So was Progressive
Labor. At that period—Flax Hermes and I moved to NYC in August of 1967
—for all intents and purpose they didn't exist.
Look at what else was going on. The antiwar movement was very dynamic
in the Bay Area. Camejo played a big role in it beginning in late
1965. Jerry Rubin was still the leader of the Vietnam Day Committee;
Bettina Aptheker was active in the antiwar movement and as a leader
of the DuBois clubs. The Scheer for Congress campaign drew many
activists, including the yet-to-be Maoist Bob Avakian. All these were
much more significant than SDS, which I don't remember having any
presence at all, although I was aware of individual members. PL had
an outward face in the Bay Area; I don't think that they were
involved internally in SDS, whatever they may have been doing
> Brian S wrote:
>> One final point for Phil. I don't believe that there was summing up
> over the decision not to get involved in SDS. However, there was a
> general agreement that had we joined in, what happened to SDS would
> not only not have helped us, it would have set us back. The
> donnybrook that took place would simply have put us in the mix with
> PL and the Weatherpeople. Lots of pain and no gain.
> I can't agree with this assessment. Surely SDS in the student milieu
> was roughly comparable to the Muste organisation and the left of
> the SP
> in the industrial sphere in the 1930s.
> I would've thought a healthy revolutionary Marxist organisation would
> have wanted to intersect with the best elements of SDS in a similar
> Admittedly, I wasn't there so all I can have is impressions but it
> to me that the SWP-YSA attitude to SDS was part of the whole "We
> Are It"
> mentality which was adopted after the SWP was set up.
I have heard that at one time there was some thought about going into
SDS. It was our experience with them in the early years and an
assessment of the potential for our movement that made us conclude
that the problems were greater than any rewards, which at that point
were very questionable.
A difference of which you must be aware was that the Muste
organization had many workers and even its middle class majority was
oriented towards the unemployed and working class. The question of
the fusion with the Muste organization was one of programmatic
agreement and tactics. There was a genuine fusion with an
organization that was already going in the same direction that we
were going in. It was also a question of whether we would gain some
excellent people as members or whether they would go in the direction
of the SP and CP. However, they were already committed socialist
working-class partisans doing serious work.
With SDS it was a question of the early stages of middle-class
individuals. The best elements in SDS, with the exception of a few
individuals, were well below the best elements in Progressive Labor,
which of course had already corralled them. With all of these people,
it may have been better to be outside of them on at least friendly
terms than inside conducting a fight. It is not as though we didn't
have any contact at all.
When SDS announced its Washington Vietnam action, the YSA responded
in a very dynamic manner. For all our present criticisms of him, when
there was a clear program and an open tactical field, Barnes was a
very good organizer and leader. Our support to the SDS march gave
Jack a lot of credibility within our generation of revolutionists
Considerable resources were used to free up 3 travelers (I don't
recall all of them, but Doug Jenness was one) who spent several
months on the road building the action. Although our impact may not
have been as great, we probably worked as hard as SDS to build that
demonstration. We were in contact with their national leaders and
actually helped SDS chapters build it as well.
The turn away from Vietnam into ERAP's community organizing, despite
the success of Washington, meant that as an organization we were not
able to do very much.
Again, don't be misled by the excellent verbalizing of a few
intellectuals who drew up their program or statements much of which
was based on lots of other peoples programs.
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