Exhanges on SDS, the Antiwar movement and post-60s American Marxism

[HEAD NOTE: When I started this post I honestly intended it to be just a few brief notes on PLP and a 3-line history of SDS. What resulted is still pretty sketchy, and would take several re-workings and expansions to be particularly coherent. But it seems that younger comrades are rather radically split from their own past, so perhaps these jottings will help.]

Andrew, I have had such a shock as your post gave me since that day in the spring of 1958 (my first year as a teaching fellow at the University of Michigan) I was thinking over what I would need to tell my students when I assigned them Auden's *In Memory of W.B. Yeats* -- and it occurred to me, oh shit, they had not even been born when (paraphrasing a popular song of the early 40s) "the lights went out again all over the world." I got a similar shock when I read to what anyone involved in the 60s (as a number of people on this list were) must seem an utterly bizarre statement:

While doing some research for a paper, I've come across some interesting info. - SDS, of which some members "left" to form he now famous "Weather bureau".

You are doing "research," and in fact a bit sloppy research, on material subscribers to this list (including the list owner) lived out day by day "way back then." [Note: They didn't call themselves the "Weather Bureau" but "Weatherman" after Bob Dylan's song, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind's blowing." I still bear a deep grudge against the Weathermen for various reasons, but if you are going to talk about them, get your facts straight. They never left SDS -- but the story of the last hysterical year of SDS, in which it broke up into 3 factions after the National Convention of 1969 is too complicated and both tragic and hilarious to even summarize crudely here. One weatherman who I terribly affronted called a statement I made the stupidest thing he had ever heard in his life. He was a bright young man from a Chicago suburb (one of the rich) ones, and sincerely and hysterically anti-imperialist. When things fell apart, he hanged himself. And I sometimes think I ruined a young woman's life by giving her $50 to go to an SDS conference in Texas the Spring of 69: she rode down with a carload of weather people from the University of Chicago and came back a Weatherman -- i.e. stark raving mad. But I digress.]

The history of those days has never been written up in even minimally decent form -- most of the accounts of the '60s I have read contain less historical truth than the *Dick and Jane* readers (which, incidentally, were a widely used icon of many different things back then).

I'll try to help you a little bit, but mostly I can simply show you that you don't really know anything from your research.

You write:

Anyway, a group of so called Maoists known as the "Progressive Labor Party" joined the SDS in an attempt to hijack the SDS to suit its own needs. Evidently this tactic failed and they got kicked out.

Why do you say "so-called" Maoists? What is the difference between a so-called Maoist and a "real Maoist." "So-called" has no right to exist outside bad freshman themes. (Incidentally one of the stupid things about the "Maoists" who infest the world of the 90s is that if they were real "Maoists" they wouldn't call themselves that-- an official meeting of the CPC in 41 or 48 declared that the *ism* was Marxism-Leninism, and the *thought* was Mao. Hence no such thing as a "MaoIST" who actually honors Mao.) But anyhow, there were for a short time official Party Relations between the PCP and the CPC. The PCP held the "franchise," as Mike Klonsky later boasted of having for CPML when he got his picture in the Peking Review sitting with Mao.

Mike Klonsky incidentally was the a former SDS president with many others (many of them real good people) formed RYM 2 (Revolutionary Youth Movement, from a conference held, I think, In Lansing Michigan, containg both those who later became the Weatherman group and those who formed RYM 2 in the late summer of 69.) They split after the Convention, but had been together at the convention in opposition to the Worker Student Alliance formed by (here we are!) Progressive Labor, but having immense support throughout SDS. They elected their slate of SDS national officers, and RYM (later RYM 2 and WEatherman) walked out under the "leadership" of Bernadine Dohrn (literally-- she was first in line as we walked out of the old Chicago Coliseum on South Van Buren just outside the Loop). We then met in a movie theatre owned by a Chicago character who had been supporting all sorts of leftist activities for decades I guess -- he sometimes called himself Johnny Appleseed, and had more or less anarchist politics. But that's another story.

In that Movie Theatre Weatherman defeated RYM 2, and so we ended the summer with SDS consisting of three fragments: WSA, Weatherman, and RYM2. We had a meeting of Illinois SDS chapters (some RYM 2, some Weatherman, some just bewildered) here at ISU in August, but the whole time was spent with RYM2 leaders and Weatherman leaders seeing who could yell louder. But that's another story too. In any case, if anyone kicked anyone out, PLP did the kicking. It was a fragmentation.

And some PLP people, regardless of what assholes they became later, wrote some really good stuff (by the standards of the time) in New Left Notes and I am still grateful to them in some ways for helping me in my own political education. They introduced Marx to SDS, and hence are part of my history, and my history is me. They were no a mere bit of alphabet soup but a complex set of changing social relations.

[Another digression: one of the reasons that over on LBO I heaped as much contumely as possible, in both polite and impolite language, on a certain shithead who said that ghetto blacks in Philadelphia didn't look to him like they were starving, is that my hatred of racism on the left is only partly based on my knowledge of history and political theory; it is also deeply based on experiencing the way racism in SDS and other white groups in the period (or hysterical anti-racism triggered by left racism) fucked up the politics of that decade so badly.

A little more background now. I at first got acquainted with SDS in two ways, through *The New Republic* (which in the 60s was a pretty fine left-liberal journal), and through consenting to become faculty adviser to the ISU SDS (we soon pressured the school into *not* requiring that a student group have a faculty "adviser," but that is another story), and hence I became acquainted with the SDS publication, *New Left Notes*.

Now, later on PLP became in various ways pretty obnoxious, but that too is another story. And they did join SDS in mass, but were from the beginning pretty up front about it, and PLP members published some very good things in SDS. In f act the best material published in Left Notes was by PLP members their first year in SDS. They performed one rather important service -- they introduced the word "Class" to SDS. Please try to imagine a social context when just *using* the word "class" could have a tremendous political impact.

Incidentally, the Progressive Labor Party had begun life as the Progressive Labor Committee, I believe organized by a coalition of ex-CPU and ex-SWP people, and in their day (very short) they brought a breath of fresh air to U.S. radicalism. (Incidentally, there is one trustworthy historian of the 60s, Paul Buehle. I have been kicking myself for years for never quite getting around to read his substantial work -- but if you want to know something, read Buehle and give up on this pseudo-research of yours.)

One more note on PLP: a copy of their journal contained a wonderful account of the Flint Sit Down Srike at Fisher Body, unfortunately my copy was missing two of the pages so I never did read it all.

=============================

You continue:

My question is this, was Bob Avarkian and other individuals who form or formed the RCP-USA ever members or close to the PL?

You jump several geological eras in the 60s in asking this question.

In one issue of the PLP journal (I forget its title) Bruce Franklin (who was in the Bay Area Revolutionary Unition with Avakian) wrote a fine review of the songs of Dylan and Ochs. But probably BARU and PLP had pretty important differences too. And while I only met Avakian twice, and he was a bit off-putting, BARU was attractive in some ways at the time, I still have immense admiration Franklin (who later split with Avakian in 1970 or so, but that's yet another story), and Avakian, Franklin, and Mary Lou Greenberg all impressed me favorably at the Thanksgiving conference of RYM 2 in Atlanta the fall of 69.

(Incidentally, one of my more pleasant memories from the 60s is Bruce Franklin and me coming so damn close to inciting a riot in the lobby of the Americana Hotel in the MLA Convention of 1968. But that's another matter also.)

I don't recall the exact chronology by which BARU became RU and RU became RCP -- the RU did have some really good people in it back in the early 70s. Jan (my wife) and another member of a local group we had organized here went up to Chicago at the time when Avakian was making his Grand 40 City Tour to whip up enthusiasm for the founding of the RCP, and when they heard Avakian speak, Tom leaned over to Jan and whispered, "Lenin, he's not." They stayed overnight at the home of some RU people in Chicago, and discovered that by that time members of RU were taking an overly worshipful view of "their leader." I think it was all down hill from there for RU/RCP to their current state of quivering idiocy.

As to your question, I suppose the answer is a sort of vague, "I suppose so." In the 60s at different times everyone was close to everyone at one point or another. At the National Convention of the New University Conference in Iowa City in the summer of 1969, just one week before the Chicago Convention of SDS, Bruce Franklin and I were the only two people to attend a discussion of labor, and we sat for an hour arguing with these two strange characters who represented a sort of SDS chapter in New York (state or city?) called the Labor Caucus or something like that. A few years later Jan and I and some others travelled to DAnville ILL to meet with a cluster of radicals there, and one of them was telling about (the details are very vague in my mind) how some former member of their group had joined a group (then called, I believe, the National Labor Committee), which group had threatened to murder her aunt or her mother or something like that if said aunt didn't make a contribution to the group. Then about a year later there began to appear stories in the Guardian about a group that called itself marxist but must be cia plants or something. Anyhow, all these little events were episodes on the development of the group we now know as the Larouchies. Was I close to LaRouche back there in Iowa City?

Actually, the politics of those two I argued with in Iowa City were very much like the politics Withrow is spouting over on lbo now. They were supporters of that good union man Shanker in his setting blacks and teachers at each others throats in NYC.

We all went kind of crazy in the 60s -- it's the penalty of carrying on your political education in public. "The Left" today is hardly in a position to patronize SDS or, even, PLP in the 50s and 60s. I wish I knew more about the original organizing of the Progressive Labor Committee (or perhaps Caucus?) in the 50s. I suspect their early history is rather heroic.

Carrol Cox


In all humility, I would like to suggest at least one recently published book on this period that is more than a dick and jane reader: herewith a review of said book:

Guerrilla USA

A philosophical history of the Weather Underground

The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. By Ron Jacobs. Verso, 216 pages, $15.

By Daniel Burton-Rose

IN THE CRUCIBLE of late-'60s white radicalism, a fomenting militancy pushed an element of Students for a Democratic Society toward a more immediate solidarity with the Vietnamese people, one born of shared repression. As the state reacted with dumb authoritarian brutality to questions it knew were too on-point to answer, a small group of middle-class activists took the steps they felt were necessary to end the U.S. regime once and for all. Revolutionary violence was, as Weather member Bernardine Dohrn put it, "The best thing that we can be doing for ourselves, as well as for the Panthers and the revolutionary black liberation struggle...."

Their efforts are the twisting tale that Ron Jacobs tells in his history of the Weather Underground, The Way the Wind Blew. Jacobs -- a worker at the University of Vermont library and avowed New Leftie -- gives a documentary history that includes photos, posters, and underground comix. The Way the Wind Blew transplants you to a time of widespread domestic government repression and foreign aggression. A time in which change was not just an ideal but an imperative.

The history of Weather is the story of radicals for whom nothing could come too fast. Weather needed to immediately end everything it hated about the U.S. government, and it did not have time to waste on tolerating the unconvinced -- those who could have given it the numbers to realize its goals. Weather denounced the U.S. working class as hopelessly blind to its own oppression, supporting imperialist war and racism. In fits of self-righteousness Weather stomped into working-class communities and berated youth as "pigs," often getting an ass-kicking as their payback. With the Days of Rage in Chicago, Weather whipped up efforts to "tear the motherfucker apart" but experienced only low turnout and unfocused street violence.

Jacobs has written a history of ideas rather than personalities. His book is more instructive than either the flat-out denouncements of paramilitary violence or the uncritical celebrations that have thus far constituted the history of late-'60s and '70s guerrilla movements. Jacobs traces Weather's long ambivalent dance with youth counterculture. At times the group saw youth's lack of a stake in contemporary society as the hope for a new nation, but Weather retained a great "distrust of its own potential base of support." Militant feminist analysis by Weather women made the Weather men realize that the men themselves were also capable of counterrevolutionary thoughts. This epiphany made them acknowledge "that individuals were capable of change, whatever their previous prejudices." It was a step from revolutionary purity to real-world maturity.

As the war in Vietnam escalated, Weather's military actions seemed less extreme to New Left folks. A bomb in the Pentagon in May 1972 was well-received in the antiwar community. Conversely, as the war wound down it became clear that there would be no galvanizing force of comparable strength for the next decade. Weather foundered.

So Jacobs goes on to tell of the flip side of the Jerry Rubin and Eldridge Cleaver-style '80s sellouts -- terribly fractured guerrilla cells trying desperately not to drown in the political tide turning away from an open society. Because of Weather's death in a flurry of acronyms, The Way the Wind Blew seems like a book without a conclusion. For that reason it is somewhat unsatisfying. But at closer look, the tapered anticlimax captures the nature of the period and the feeling of the participants. In the end, both they and you want more.

Jacobs admires Weather Underground members for their dedication and strength. Indeed, he dedicates his book to "those who gave their lives and freedom in the struggle against racism and imperial war." The book explores what Weather got right and what it screwed up. To read it is to understand one of the most fascinating attempts to create revolutionary change in modern American history.

(Daniel Burton-Rose is the editor of The Celling of America.)

--Ron Jacobs


It sounds interesting Ron -- I may buy it and browse in it, perhaps read it. I have a very long lists of books I want to read and haven't yet, and almost as long a list of those I want to reread or re-reread and haven't recently.

My first response to the review you copy is that you are probably too soft on Weatherman. True, they made a very big thing of anti-racism, but their very (unconscious) definition of "the working class" was profoundly racist and sexist-- like Withrow over on lbo-talk, they could not see "THE REAL WORKING CLASS" as anything beyond the white male workers of the AFL-CIO, and they never had any direct contact with even that small fraction of the working class.

[Pause to check bases: one of the leaders of the Weatherman cult was called JJ, which I believe stood for J Jacobs: any relation?]

And does your book touch on a personal trait what not only characterized too large a minority of the Weatherman group but characterizes rather too many of the ex-Weatherpeople I have worked with over the last 10 years. THEY REALLY CANNOT LISTEN TO ANYONE ELSE. If you get a word in edgewise, when they start again (which is always when you've only begun to make your point) they pick up where they left off with not even a hint that they heard what you said. I was convinced at the time that a significant fraction of the leadership of Weatherman operated more out of personal ego than out of politics. (Bernadine Dohrn has done some good things -- more like do-gooder good things -- since she surfaced in Chicago years ago, but I have never heard of her making the slightest apology to the 10s of thousands of anti-war students that she and the movement she represented drove out of the movement, so when Kent State happened in the spring of 1970, activities around the country had to be totally uncoordinated -- we had to depend on the bourgeois press and bourgeois TV to let us in on the secret of what was happening elsewhere.

Of course this is far from the whole story, and I have never believed that sectarianism could be considered as an independent cause of anything, but nevertheless, the Kent and Jackson State events might have had far different results had SDS as a strictly loose confederation of left-liberals, developing communists, pacifists, activist do-gooders hung together at all. And I blame all three leadership factions: WSA, Weatherman, and RYM 2 more or less equally for the smash up.

Carrol Cox


Progressive Labor originated in Buffalo, NY, among CP "colonizers" in GE plants there; I think they were possibly organized as a faction in the mid-fifties during the "Krushchev revelations" crisis in the CP. I don't recall the original name or the group or when they declared themselves a party. Interestingly (maybe Louis Paulsen can confirm this) I think that Workers World Party originated among SWP members in Buffalo at about the same time. Both were very influenced by Maoist theory and practice -- were there any efforts to fuse the two groups or were the old sectarian divisions still too strong, I wonder?

Ian Noyidde


We've had much about both CPUSA and SWP history on this list, but not enough I think about some of the groups, including PLP, that were important for a shorter or longer time in the period after the 20th Congress and up to the dying away of 60s activism. I once knew some of this history as (starting rather late) I was trying to catch up fast on what I was coming to consider my history, but I didn't do that reading systematically enough for it to remain in my head in more than fragments. Are there others on this list who have information specifically on PLP.

Though at the time I rapidly became one of the knee-jerk PLP haters, and though the PLP rapidly multiplied the reasons to hate it, I'm fairly sure that it was influential in many positive ways as well.

I have one anecdote, vaguely remembered, of the days of PLP's final decay into just a name and a ghostly presence. A California friend in the 70s told me of having taken part in an aggressive anti-racist campaign, initiated by PLP people, on his campus. Then the Leader of PLP came to campus to speak. The local people, including the PLP cadre, had focused on it as an anti-racist speech in all their publicity for it.

But he (I wish I could remember his name) used the occasion to declare that anti-racism was reformist and the PLP now stood for immediate revolution or something of that sort. I think some other poster on this thread mentioned that general shift of line. But what a way to announce the repudiation of the central line of the party.

Carrol Cox


My first encounter with the PLP was back in early 1967 when a fellow philosophy student at the New School who I knew from Bard College invited me to an introduction to socialism class given by Jake Rosen. Rosen was a construction worker and leader of the PLP. Along with Milt Rosen, the chairman, and Bill Epton, their leader in Harlem, Jake was one of the best known PL'ers.

We met in his living room and he spoke for an hour about the need for the workers to smash the bosses and set up a dictatorship of the proletariat. I was feeling kind of unruly in those days and I liked what he had to say. The only thing that put me off was that he kept picking lint from between his toes while he spoke to us.

I was also coming around the SWP because the Vietnam war had politicized me and I understood that they were very involved with the mass mobilizations. What PL told me, however, was that you needed to eliminate capitalism if you really wanted to eliminate war. Part of that process was building an anti-imperialist antiwar movement. These sorts of raps had a lot of appeal to me back then since I had no patience for the capitalist system.

The guy who introduced me to the SWP, another grad student at the New School, was bringing me to Militant Labor Forums on Friday night. One night I raised the question of PL's "anti-imperialism" with Dan Styron, a very eloquent party leader. He explained to me that the Vietnam antiwar movement was OBJECTIVELY anti-imperialist. It was much more important to build massive demonstrations that could make it impossible to continue the war than to build small demonstrations with radical slogans. This seemed patently obvious as he explained it to me and I decided to join.

Two years later I transferred up to Boston to shore up a faction in the branch that supported the party line on building mass demonstrations. A minority in the branch had a "workerist" orientation and thought that it was more important to do trade union work than build the antiwar movement. They also were impressed with the PLP and their "worker-student alliance" in SDS. So they all got jobs in hospitals and tailed after the PL'ers who were there also.

The branch organizer was a character named Peter Camejo who was also the leader of the majority faction. The first thing Peter did when he got up to Boston was shore up the party's antiwar activity. He was so good at this that he immediately split the workerist minority faction in half. He persuaded them that it was more in the interest of the world's working class that the Vietnamese revolution succeed than for small groups of radicals to dither away their time in the hospital workers union.

By the middle of 1970, the SWP-led Student Mobilization Committee was attracting more students than the SDS, which was paralyzed by faction fighting. While the PL'ers had the support of most SDS'ers, the old-line new leftists were also fairly strong. They were led by Michael Ansara, who most of you know as the guy who got Ron Carey in trouble with his fishy fund-raising.

The PL'ers were in a panic as the SWP began to grow rapidly. We were recruiting about 20 to 30 antiwar activists a month into the Young Socialist Alliance, our youth group. Camejo used to give these great talks on socialism and invite people to join us. Many did.

PL decided to take matters into its own hands. At a local demonstration in the Boston area, a group of about 30 to 40 PL-SDS'ers tried to storm the stage and stop the "sellout" liberals from speaking. The SWP-led defense guard held them off.

About a month later, we were holding an educational conference at Harvard University when a gang of 4 PL'ers caught one of our leaders, who was well known as a defense marshal at the last demo, in a corridor. They were obviously looking for him and beat him up.

From that point on we tightened our defense measures and guarded our meetings and those of the antiwar movement. This turned out to be absolutely necessary as a national conference was to be held at MIT a month later. The PL'ers were really steamed at this point. We had put out a leaflet on all the campuses with the headline "SDS'ERS BEAT UP PEACE ACTIVIST". It was a shrewd move on our part to identify SDS as the perpetrators since we were interested in building up our presence in the student movement.

On the day of the conference we had a well-organized defense guard. About 3 blocks away 50 to 60 PL-SDS'ers were working themselves into a frenzy chanting, "Down with the Trots" and "People's War is Invincible." They marched in a phalanx to our meeting where our defense guards met them at the door. A brutal fist fight ensued and they were driven off. One of our people, John McCann, a burly construction worker and member of the "workerist" faction, lost the sight in one eye as a result of the fighting.

The final act in this struggle took place in NYC where a national gathering of the antiwar movement took place. The late SWP leader Fred Halstead has a report of the incident in his essential account of the antiwar movement titled "Out Now!: A participant's account of the American movement against the Vietnam War":

"The use of physical means to settle political differences within the movement had become a PL-SDS hallmark since they had succeeded in taking over the stage at the Moratorium rally in New York April 15, 1970, ostensibly on the grounds that prominent liberals had been invited to speak.

"This time their initial rationalization was that Senator Vance Hartke and Victor Reuther, international affairs director of the United Auto Workers, were among those scheduled to address the NPAC preconvention rally. Later they added David Livingston president of District 65 of the Distributive Workers and one of the NPAC-PCPJ mediators, to their forbidden list.

"PL-SDS had held a series of public meetings beforehand in Boston--the group's main base--where they recruited people to go to New York for the express purpose of preventing such invited speakers from being heard at the NPAC convention. One Progressive Labor Party leaflet declared: 'Working people in this country will fight until every creep that NPAC builds, and the NPAC leaders themselves, are either behind bars or buried.'

"An SDS leaflet stated:

"'Hartke and Reuther shouldn't be allowed to speak at all. These guys will scream 'freedom of speech' but there should be no freedom to speak for people who ride the anti-war movement for their own personal gain.'

"I had not been involved in the convention preparations and expected to have no particular assignment there. At that time I was living in Chicago working on a job at my regular trade as a cutter in a garment factory. The preconvention rally took place Friday night. I flew to New York after a full day's work and arrived at the Hunter College auditorium after the rally had begun. I planned to get accommodations at the housing table, listen to a speech or two, and leave early for a night's sleep. But the PL-SDS disruption was under way when I arrived.

"Over a hundred of their followers were standing up in the audience making threats and shouting 'Dump liberal politicians' and 'Dump union bureaucrats!' Explanations from the chair that PL and SDS were welcome to present their ideas at the convention for discussion and vote were to no avail. One of the speakers was Bob Mueller, an antiwar Vietnam vet in a wheelchair. He managed to restore order temporarily by suggesting a vote on whether the scheduled speakers should be heard. A spokesperson was allowed to motivate the group's opposition. vote was overwhelmingly in favor of hearing the scheduled speakers. But the disrupters were not dissuaded.

"A representative of the presiding committee sought me out and told me that if it got so bad that the program could not proceed, disrupters would be removed. It would be no easy task to remoye over a hundred people determined to fight, without destroying the meeting, which is just what PL counted on. The removal would be directed by the chair, but the presiding committee wanted me to be prepared to make the first move on a signal from them. [Fred Halstead was 6'6" tall and 350 pounds.] The object was to get the disrupters out without getting hurt or a free-for-all developing.

"When Hartke spoke, PLers used electrically amplified bullhorns to drown him out. We removed the bullhorns in a brief scuffle and he finished his speech over the PL-SDS shouts and curses. When Reuther was introduced, the disrupters' frenzy reached a pitch and the committee gave me the signal. I selected a disrupter near the back of the group, put a nonpunishing hold on and started ushering him out toward the rear of the hall. A dozen of his cohorts rushed me, literally tearing off my jacket as grabbed and punched. They also knocked off my glasses. But in going for me, they attracted their forces toward the back, away from the platform. NPAC and union marshals, assisted by much of the audience, just kept them going in the same direction.

"The scuffling was over in about ten minutes with the hundred hard-core disrupters on the street and the meeting back in session."

After this meeting, the PLP went into a steep decline, SDS broke apart and the SWP seemed invincible. When the antiwar movement came to end, however, the SWP went into a deep crisis itself and never recovered.

Louis Proyect


WWP was formed in 1959 by SWP members based mainly in Buffalo, but they had been functioning as a coherent tendency from before 1956. The issues which defined the Marcy/Copeland/Ballan... tendency included the question of the Henry Wallace campaign of 1948 (our comrades favored supporting it), the Chinese revolution (our comrades recognized that a workers' state had been created in 1949, which the SWP came around to a few years later), the Korean War (our comrades supported the DPRK), Soviet intervention in Hungary (our comrades supported it against counterrevolution), and the Khrushchev turn (our comrades saw it as a turn to the right, not the left).

So it's not really correct to say that the tendency was influenced by Maoism as an ideology, current, etc. at the beginning. However, it was much influenced by the FACT of the Chinese revolution. And it was subsequently very receptive to and supportive of China's split from the revisionist camp after 1958.

I have heard, though I do not necessarily confirm, that there was talk of merging the parties around 1967 when we were both supporting the Cultural Revolution. But PL's "anti-nationalist" turn of 1968 put an end to that.

Lou Paulsen member, Workers World Party, Chicago


In my earlier post (s?) I let alliteration triumph over accurate memory. I kept referring to the "Mobilization" when what I meant was the *Moratorium*. The latter emerged from the former, but they were distinct, and it is possible Lou's April 70 date is correct, for the Mobilization (as some sort of center, variously embodied locally) probably continued after the Moratoriums had petered out. So Lou's April 70 date is probably correct for the Mobilization (I believe at the time it was called "The Mobe," and had at least two incarnations, but perhaps Louis and others could enlighten us further on that. Was not Dave Dellinger important in "The Mobe"?

Now the November 1969 Moratorium in Washington D.C. was, I believe, rather successful, and organizing locally was successful enough that I invested $1000.00 in a van in which some people from here could go to Washington. The movement here began to disintegrate shortly after. In a November meeting I had argued strongly for it to incorporate anti-racism and solidarity against FBI etc. repression in the black community (especially the Panthers). No go. On December 4 the Chicago States Attorney office murdered Fred Hampton, and things were down hill from there on locally. (This is just a small part of the background from which I get rather, shall we say, edgy, at the stubborn insistence of so many on LBO at least to resist making anti-racism a core concern of the movement.)

Now, on The Moratorium. The most successful local mobilization for that was in Los Angeles, it was dominated there by Latinos, and they gave themselves the name of the Latino Moratorium and then, later the August 29 Movement (ATM). (Something big happened there on that date, I think a large demo, but I don't remember exactly.) At about the same time or a little later, a black organization, headed by Amiri Baraka developed: They called themselves the League for Revolutionary Struggle, or LRS. Also in the late 60s or early 70s another organization developed (I think centered in San Francisco) calling itself I Wor Kuen (sp?), or IWK. Its membership was primarily Asian-American (I think wholly so to begin with). At some later date (probably by 1975 but I have no hard knowledge of chronology here), those three organizations, ATM, LRS, and IWK merged, keeping the name of Baraka's group, the LRS. Baraka himself quit LRS just before the Democratic Convention in 1988. LRS had thrown all of its resources into the Jackson campaign, and chose to continue supporting the dems even after Jackson no longer had a chance for the nomination. Baraka's opinion was that they should demand that Jackson split from the DP, and when LRS would not go along with that, he quit and (as I understand it) constituted himself as a one-man demonstration outside the Convention denouncing everyone. (Frankly, I think he was right, but I also think it was right, up to that point, to engage in the Jackson campaign. Jan and I personally made a lot of new and lasting connections through that campaign.)

After that LRS became more and more tied up in electoral campaigns (e.g., Dinkins, in NYC, various possibilities in Chicago), eventually reducing itself to the pitiful stand of trying to see Daley as representing the "progressive bourgeoisie" in Chicago. They supported Clinton in 1992. I have no idea what they have or haven't done since.

One further note on LRS: I strongly suspect that the battle over LRS in MECHA originated mostly in vicious red-baiting by would-be Latino Yuppies, and LRS should not be blamed.

Carrol Cox


 Martin Schreader wrote, "Maybe it's my age. But I really get annoyed with the preoccupation (obsession) so many older "Marxists" have with their role in the Vietnam antiwar movement. Vietnam was almost 30 years ago! Get over it! It's time to figure out what is necessary today. Younger people will not be attracted to the fight for socialist revolution by grey-haired "Marxist intellectuals" waxing nostalgic about the "good old days" of NPAC, "the Mobe" or the actions of the !@#$%^& Progressive Labor Party in 1969."

Martin, it's not about rewaging the antiwar struggle of fighting the good fight all over again, like trying to wear the same clothes to the reunion as one wore to the prom.

Times like those which gave birth to the anti-war movement were very creative periods for the left generally in the USA and worldwide. Many of the left's organizations were boirn then or are descendants of them, many of the practices of the left were devised then, and many people cut their political teeth on the Vietnam War. There are lessons to be learned from such periods, and history that needs to be passed on. It's not mere nostalgia.

I cut my teeth on the El Salvador solidarity movbement and the anti-nuke/peace movement of the 1980s. The lessons I learned there served me in the anti-apartheid struggle at the University of California later on, and in FMLN support work after Nov. 1989. Whenever I can I try to pass on ideas and information about what we did then to younger activists. The need for this continuity was pressed home when in 1992 or 1993 Latino students decided to stage a sit-in at the University Library foyer which also adjoins the chancellor's office at University of California at Santa Cruz. These young men and women had no idea that a previous anti-apartheid sit-in had taken place there, they did not know that it went on for 64 consecutive days and nights, and they did not have any idea of using the available resources until I talked to them as the only person left on campus who had participated back then. And back then, we got our ideas from people who had taken part in the antinuclear actions at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and Vandernberg Air Force Base in California and Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire, a few years before. Some of those people got their tactics and ideas from people who had been at Greenham Common, in the UK, and from the US anti-Vietnam war movement (there it is again!). Moreover, by knowing parties' histories, we were forewarned against the tactics of the RCP and were able to stave off their having too much influence in the sit-in which would have undone all the careful PR work we had been doing of the kind which enabled us to pull over 300 people at a moment's notice to save us from police eviction and arrest on two occasions.

So, Martin, it's not about reminiscing, but about passing on crucial knowledge.

But, yes, it is also about reminiscing. Many of us made friends in the parties and movements in which we participated, so why not reminisce?

Juan Fajardo


For me, discussions of Vietnam and the anti-war struggle are important links to my past. My father and mother were civil rights workers in the early 1960s (my father was a Southern preacher and involved in non-violent resistance) and both anti-war protesters. I was a small boy in the 1960s and remember all the chaos, but could not understand it. Most of my uncles were in Nam. I remember when they came home, picking them up at the bus station, or welcoming them home at big dinners in my Grandmother's backyard. Some of them had no place to live, and so they stayed with us in the preacher's house. I remember looking at them sleeping on my couch in the early morning. They were so cool, I thought. Except for my father, they have all left the past behind and moved on to conservative politics; some of them are reactionaries. So reading these posts and seeing how there are comrades who still have their backs up over injustice, and who keep alive the memory of the past, knowledge so vital to our present and future, fills a real void in my soul. And I really learn a lot from it.

How can you know where you are going if you don't know where you have been?

Andy Austin


Erik Toren wrote:

By the time LRS had left (or told to leave) MEChA, it was about 1989 and was barely back in college and my involvement w/ them was two years away. Still, I suspect (based on the compas in MEChA that I talked to) that battle was between the strict definition of "nationalism" and the goals of MEChA as espoused by the "Nacionalistas" versus that espoused by LRS (which by the way if anyone can clarify that position?) was among the points of contention. Of course, much has changed since then and the debate is between "Nacionalistas" and "Indigenists".

I suspect that part of what got fought out inside MECHA was actually echoes of what got fought out outside, in the streets, in the communities, and in the workplaces. An example of what I have in mind is the case of the Watsonville, California, cannery strike of 1986 (I think that was the year). Watsonville, is a working class town in California's central coast region, not far from Salinas, and about half-way between Monterey and Santa Cruz. If you have ever read John Steinbeck's novel _Indubious Battle_ about a strike in the apple orchards of the "Torgas Valley" you've basically read a fictionalized history of Watsonville. In fact, it is so thinly fictionalized that anyone familiar with the area will immediately recognize Watsonville as the setting of the story.

Well, the apple orchards are still there, but strawberries and mushrooms have been added to the cities agriculture. These crops provide a means of employment for many Latino, primarily Mexican and Mexican-American, workers, many of them migrants. In fact, you are more likely to hear Spanish in Watsonville and nearby Pajaro than English. Agriculture and its related canning and packing industry are the mainstays of Watsonville's and the rest of the Pajaro valley's economy. So, when a strike broke out at the packing houses it was a big, very big, deal, and a struggle in which almost the entire community had a stake.

In the middle of the heated and bitter battle, a fraction of the union broke ranks and aimed took aim not at the bosses, but at the union bureaucracy. This group, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), garnered a lot of support from Latino students at nearby universities and colleges with its calls for democratizing the Teamsters, who already had a bad reputation with Latinos over their opposition and violence against the United Farm Workers in the 1970s. The LRS, which was locally influential under the leadership of a woman named Cruz, was an integral part of TDU. The TDU tactic put the whole struggle at risk and prolonged the strike, leading to poor cannery workers accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in strike-related fines, and the strikers having to settle for much less than they had been fighting for.

Can you think of any similar events down your way, Erik?

Juan Fajardo


I have greatly enjoyed reading this expanding thread on the history of marxist movements in the US. I first come across the PLP in an article in that mighty mouthpiece of the international proletariat, Spartacist Britain (now lovingly renamed Workers Hammer). The Sparts described them as Stalinists with a frontal lobotomy. From what has been written here, the Sparts got it right for once.

It is practically impossible to judge what these groups are really like from this side of the Atlantic. Prior to this discussion, I had never even heard of the LRS. And yet from what Juan has written, they have local areas where they have or had a strong influence on real struggles, even if this influence is negative in his view.

The situation here is very different. Outside of the SWP and Militant (now the Socialist Party), I doubt that any group has any influence beyond their own ranks. Of course, every groups has an outstanding comrade or two, and where they are involved in union organising or in solidarity work, then these people do have influence, despite rather than because of their parties.

For example, there is a small group called the Revolutionary Communist Group, which has one good industrial comrade in the north-west of England, who has been victimised and has built strong-looking support around him. Workers Power had some influence during the NHS actions because of one or two strong people in the nurses union. The Militant/Socialist Party ran a successful sit-in strike in Glasgow recently. The SWP is involved in a lot of white collar state sector stuff (Militant/SP, too). The NCP used to have someone at British Aerospace with influence, but that is closed down now. And so on.

My point is this: it is possible to write an anecdotal history of the movement in Britain, which refers to these cases, and give someone from the States, say, the impression that the revolutionary left has a real mass base. But it does not.

I said that the influence of these individual militants is despite, not because of their parties. This is a damning indictment of the revolutionary left. What we need is a party which is built up of precisely these kinds of militants: a party which is *their* party. The would-be Lenins have managed to keep the militants apart, and so have helped to isolate them - whatever the conscious intentions may have been. What a legacy!

Lenin engaged in many a hard ideological fight within the RSDLP, and even within the Bolsheviks. The would-be Lenins genuinely believe they are following in his footsteps when they carry out their polemics today. But they are not. Lenin's underlying aim was to separate those who were serious about taking the revolution to victory and doing what was necessary, from those who were not. Only a fool would think that the polemics between the International Bolshevik Tendency and the Spartacists' International Communist League are about that, to take a pretty obvious example.

Because I am English, I have always blamed these kind of splittist tactics on the Trotskyists, because here it was almost always them who did it. Maoism never caught on here after the 60s, and not very much prior to that. From what has been said, in the states the Maoists were as bad as anybody. And yet still, from the anecdotes, I get the impression that these groups were bigger, more militant, and more serious that their Trotskyist counterparts in Britain. I am almost certainly wrong, I know, but when Juan tells me of Cruz from the LRS who was influential in the packers strike, I want to meet here in a way that I have never wanted to meet Ted Grant (though like everyone else on the left here I *have* met the old fellow)..

To help get things in perspective, what are the figures we are dealing with here?

How big is the LRS now? How big was it at its height? PLP? SWP?

And so on.

For communism

Jom Hillier


I just wanted to jump in here as another "young" marxist - cause I agree with both Louis and Martin's positions to some degree or another.

I have to say, organising events like the 60th anniversary of the On to Ottawa Trek and taking part in the Ginger Goodwin Memorial have brought me into contact with some pretty amazing old timers who fought the struggles of the 1930's for better or for worse and drew a lot of interesting and informative lessons from those struggles. These are lessons that I have taken to heart and incorporated into my practice in the daily struggles with which I am involved.

However, if I go to one more demo where some 1960's hack maoist tells me how much better they were at organising, I'm going to scream! It really is frustrating, disheartening, annoying etc. to be cut down constantly by people who were "there" in the sixties. I mean, I agree that there are lessons to be learned, but groups like the CPCML (Communist Party of Canada Marxist-Leninist) usually stand at the sidelines and tell us what morons us young people are. Not only that, but "young people today have it alot easier than we did organising back then" - the state apparently was much more repressive in the sixties (try telling that to the hundreds of APEC protesters who were gassed by the Canadian government only a few months ago).

In saying all of this, I am not trying to devalue the important work and lessons that came out of the sixties. But it is true that a lot of this reminiscing does take the form of sniping and attacks on young socialists who are organising now. I know because I have heard many of these same arguments, no matter what city I have been in over the years.

My advice to those socialists who were "there" in the sixties is - while we do want to learn the lessons of the past, we do not want to be reigned in and told what to do any more than you did when you were in your twenties. If we organise differently, it doesn't make it wrong. The youth milieu is different today than it was thirty years ago. Finding socialism among young people today is extremely rare (as I'm sure you're all aware) - and it is really hard to encourage young people to look at Marxist ideas when their first exposure is to people that are genuinely unfriendly and derisive of them.

I really don't want to offend anyone on this list - but I am tired of hearing how we young people "have" to care about what went on over 30 years ago. I do care, but only a finite amount.

In solidarity, Megan Adam


Carrol Cox wrote:

This is seeing history as a Dick and Jane (or perhaps a McGuffey) reader, little static stories that are boring or interesting, useless or useful lessons, etc.

But history is not a static set of dramas from which we learn "lessons." History of this sort has no lessons, and to speak of "learning lessons from history" is, in fact, to be ahistorical.

Certainly reportage from the participants is in any case less useful than syntheses reached by historians (who may also be activists or participants, but the abstraction must always be made) who can place isolated events in some context.

But Megan's misunderstanding of history is *exactly* the same misunderstanding that (if her report is accurate) the "Maoists" etc. she objects to make, that is to replace concrete analysis with dry abstractions (such as Megan's dry abstractions about "youth" -- these are the oldest cliches around, and we were drowned with them in the 60s). What mere reportage (which is what those remembering the 60s on this list have offered), whether of past or present, can do is provide MATERIALS FOR ANALYSIS, not a replacement for thinking.

I have to disagree with Carrol's thesis that "learning lessons from history" is an ahistorical concept. I am not at all convinced that "synthesis reached by historians" is more useful than first hand accounts -- I think that you are asking your historian to do something that they are poorly equipped to do: think for you.

For example, I would argue that reading John Reed's first-hand (and participatory) account of the October Revolution in Russia ("Ten Days That Shook The World"), or even Trotsky's first-hand (and participatory) auto-biography ("My Life"), can lead to a greater understanding of the events of the Revolution than any "synthesis" put together by an "historian". Similarly, the oral interviews which I conducted a decade ago with participants in the Cape Breton coal mine strikes of the 1920's and early 1930's were much more valuable as history than anything I had seen written by "historians" about the period (although David Frank, an historian from the University of New Brunswick, did some interesting work on JB MacLaughlan, the communist organizer in those same coal mines).

Although I guard against an anti-academic bias which I know to exist within myself, I would suggest that it is quite proper to take history out of the strict domain of the historians.

However, to go back to Megan's original post: I would suggest that what she is pointing out is a very common problem on the left... the tendency of many who have went through struggles to wax poetically about "the good old days" without offering much in the way of assistance in organizing today. While I personally enjoy listening to endless stories of the student and anti-Vietnam War organizing in the sixties (and labour organizing in the thirties), and take every opportunity to have such enjoyable chats when I can, I have seen the type of sniping which she refers to quite often. Generally speaking, this comes from "armchair marxists" -- people who would say that they were active in the sixties (or whenever) but have since moved on to more laudible academic pursuits (ie. having finally obtained tenure).

{however, in response to Megan's remark about the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) -- or CPCML -- which she said "usually stand at the sidelines and tell us what morons us young people are" --- I would say that this is a definite improvement from the early to mid-eighties, when the CPCML didn't just snipe from the sidelines but rather ran straight through our demonstrations waving 2 x 4's at the participants, forcing many of us to adhere to a new fashion trend of wearing steel-toed boots at every political event -- their decline from an invocation of violence against the rest of the left simply indicates their own demoralization at their inability to effect even that much change in society... with the recent death of their cult leader, Hardial Bains, they have faded to obscurity, luckily for everyone within swinging distance of them}

Anyway... at the risk of dry abstractions and cliche's, I would agree with Megan's contention that Marxism & Socialism are not popular currents amongst "youth" these days... whereas the SDS broke down into a variety of factions which adhered to specific currents of Marxism (whether that was a varient of Maoism or some other current), it is more likely that the student movement of today would break down into different strains of anarchism / anarcho-syndicalism and environmentalism. I know that the debates within the Canadian student movement (and especially the leftish national student body, the Canadian Federation of Students) is generally along the lines of ultra-left anarcho-syndicalists versus tree-hugging anti-workerist hippie-environmentalists versus fairly right-wing and opportunist social democrats. No Marxist current is apparent (not to say that there aren't a few individual socialists within that movement). Until we, as Marxists, can address the day to day issues of people (even the small, petty issues like the porcelain plates that Megan referred to in her subsequent email), we will find that young people will continue to be recruited into individualistic-oriented lifestyle politics (punkish anarchism and/or hippie environmentalism) and young socialists will become more and more scarce.

Just a few thoughts...

Tony Tracy

PS: having had the opportunity to sit through (and, occassionally, endure) long study groups over the years led by Megan Adam on the topic of the pamplet State & Revolution and other marxist texts (she's a real Gramsci fan), I found Carrol's comments about her need to read basic works within the Marxist tradition to be rather humourous. I then tried to imagine her as a "footsoldier ordered about by either real or plastic leaders" and got an even bigger chuckle... thanks for giving me a good laugh while my boss was extracting my surplus labour, Carrol!