[Marxism] SDS

Brian Shannon 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  
> way.
> Admittedly, I wasn't there so all I can have is impressions but it  
> seems
> 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.
> Phil

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.

Brian Shannon

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