[Marxism] Re: SDS

Brian Shannon brian_shannon at verizon.net
Sun Jan 15 08:16:31 MST 2006

On Jan 15, 2006, at 4:20 AM, Tom O'Lincoln wrote:

> The real issue was not so much what organisational vehicle you used or
> joined, but how the "old left" engaged the "new left" politically. The
> I.S. at Berkeley tried to do this a bit more than the SWP, but our
> somewhat stalinophobic style made it hard relating to semi-Maoists
> bearing Viet Cong flags. The SWP was not attractive to them because it
> placed such heavy emphasis on peaceful, law-abiding actions at a time
> when the SDS types were heavily into confrontation. Had the SWP got
> involved in SDS, I doubt if things would have worked out very
> differently - which I think means I'm in broad agreement with Brian.
> However I had no experience of the movement anywhere but the West  
> Coast.

Much of it had to do with allocation of resources and the fact that  
as Tom points out earlier in his post, we had something better to do,  
particularly during the ERAP stage of SDS. Fighting against the  
Vietnam war in concrete activity appeared the best way that we had to  
win over activists who wanted a channel and a direction.

On the other hand, we might have made some equally important gains  
had we slowed down a little and paid attention to the growing  
radicalization as a whole. However, it would have been difficult to  
keep up the presence that we felt was needed to help the antiwar  
movement continue in the direction of mass action and, at the same  
time, win over others that had a more multi-issue approach.

Multi-issuism wasn't wrong per se; it just wasn't the shaped charge  
of the Vietnam anti-war movement.

A pet idea of mine was to take a more patient approach during our  
election campaigns— particularly during campaigns to get on the  
ballot. These, along with sub drives about which I have a similar  
opinion, were conducted to get the most names on petitions or for  
subs as possible and then get out of there. From an hours per person  
aspect, we may even have spent more time petitioning than we did  
campaigning—at least during the formal public appearances of our  

Since we were on an action footing anyway, why not take more time to  
talk to people when we got them to sign up, find out what they  
thought, hand them a piece of literature. If the discussion went in  
the right direction, sell them an issue of the paper, a subscription,  
get them on our forum mailing list, etc.

Some of us did this of course, but that wasn't the point. The most  
exciting report was to hear that A or B had signed up 300 or 400  
names in a day. Those same individuals were often the ones that would  
have had the greatest impact on those members of the general public  
that signed our lists.

When I was in the service, we had cards that laid out what to do in  
combat. Something like an 8-step program for what to pay attention to  
and what to do when you engage the enemy. I remember that one of them  
was to spread out. Maybe someone on this list can post the old  
version, or a new one. There undoubtedly is one for Iraq.

I thought that we needed something similar. If a person stopped for a  
bunch of socialists who were petitioning, that was one level. If s/he  
signed that was another. Then ask if they wanted a leaflet about our  
campaign or about a forum. From here on one would have to follow  
intuition, but among the elements to be considered was what your  
contact was doing, interested in, what kind of forums they liked. Had  
they met the SWP or other socialist groups before and where?

Would you like to sit down and talk about what we were doing and why  
we ran campaigns, what we did in the antiwar movement, the civil  
rights movement, etc.

Yes, it would have slowed down the petitioning. Instead of getting On  
the Ballot in Only 4 Days! we might have needed 6 or 7. I think that  
we would have learned more about the public, enjoyed it more, and  
possibly have recruited more.


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