Appendix A: The Labor Committee and the Crisis in SDS: From the Original Documents
Pdf file downloadable here
Excerpts from a front page Leif Johnson article "NY SDS to Organize against Transit Fare Increase" in the 2/5/1968 edition of New Left Notes.
During the spring term, people from Columbia, City, Brooklyn, and Queens College SDS and other chapters in the region are undertaking a campaign to block a fare increase on the New York City buses and subways. The fare will probably be increased to a quarter on March 1st, when the Transit Authority is merged into a super-authority embracing local city and commuter transit, or on June 30th, the end of the Transit Authority's fiscal year.
. . . . Public reaction to our first leafleting and demonstrations at the Transit Authority headquarters in December was unusually favorable. We distributed to shoppers in downtown Brooklyn 40,000 leaflets calling for holding the fare and giving the transit workers higher wages. Leaflets were also given out in other parts of the City to both riders and transit employees. The response to this leafleting was also favorable. . . . Fighting in the interests of working people will reflect more credit on the students than the blocking of traffic or banging on the hoods of taxi cabs in a resistance-type demonstration. [This is a reference to SDS's anti-Dean Rusk demo in front of the New York Hilton on 14 November 1967 – HH]
. . . The transit-fare issue will enable SDS people to relate this specific struggle to broader radical struggles of the people against the ruling class. It will demonstrate how the transportation system is a service to employers and commercial interests, bringing their employees and customers to their doors, while the cost of the system is borne by the people. In addition to the real cost of building and maintaining the system, the riders must bear the unnecessary cost of enormous interest payments on the transit debt to New York banks.
Cancellation of this debt is a popular demand and at the same time an extremely radical one. Cancellation of the debt would attack the property relations of capitalism.
Excerpts from "The History of the Labor Committee: Part 1 – The Inside Story of the Columbia Student Strike" by Steve Komm and Tony Papert. From the 12/18/1970 issue of New Solidarity.
The Transit Project
The formal inauguration of the Labor Committee faction occurred at a meeting of Students for a Democratic Society's New York-New Jersey region in Princeton, New Jersey, in late November 1967.
Two Columbia SDS members, Tony Papert and Steve Komm, had come to the meeting independently to present the same proposal: the formation of a New York SDS Transit Project to support a possible subway strike and oppose a possible transit fare increase, both being threatened for January 1968. (Both Komm and Papert recalled the incredible propaganda barrage against the Lindsay-provoked 1966 subway strike, and had observed the beginning of a similar barrage in the New York Times and elsewhere around the then-current wage negotiations.)
The strike-support idea went against the grain of the regional leadership and the meeting's majority, but since SDS's rules had always allowed [SDS members] to organize whatever they pleased, Komm and Papert were [able to] gather the telephone numbers of interested conferees and call a first meeting in New York. The New York SDS Transit Project, with its Columbia branch, the Columbia SDS Labor Committee, was the first form assumed by the Labor Committee faction and was the organization which controlled the Columbia Strike until the end of May. Before describing its constituents, a word about its purpose.
The stated goal of the New York Transit Project was to create an organic united front of student radicals, transit workers, and worker-riders, especially black oppressed, through common-interest struggle. This was the purpose of its elementary propaganda demands: No fare increase; a living wage for transit workers; safe and efficient subway service; taxation of speculative capitalist income, rather than wage-gouging or service cutbacks, to pay for mass transit.
The value of this approach was conclusively demonstrated during the New York transit crisis of 1969-70 when it led to the formation of the broad and successful Transit Crisis Coalition, comprising about thirty radical, ethnic, and neighborhood organizations. . . .
Around the cited immediate and longer-range goals of the SDS Transit Project there coalesced three distinct groupings from within the New York radical movement: first, the Village-Chelsea Committee for Independent Political Action, represented in the early Transit Project by Robert Dillon, an anthropology graduate student at Columbia; second, the future "Fraser-Papert faction" of Progressive Labor, represented by Tony Papert, chairman of Columbia's PLP chapter, or "club"; third, an independent SDS stratum represented by Steve Komm, a Columbia sophomore, and Leif Johnson, an SDS activist since Port Huron.
Excerpts from "Appendix. Origin of the Labor Committee." This appendix appeared in the 4 January 1971 issue of New Solidarity as an appendix to part II of the Komm-Papert history of the Labor Committee.
West Village CIPA was formally constituted as a fraternal supporting organization for the already existing (upper) West Side Committee for Independent Political Action, and for the candidacy of James Weinstein for Congressman from the New York 19th Congressional District on the Independent Socialist Party ballot-designation for the Nov. 1966 election.
This tactic (the formation of the Village-Chelsea Committee) was conceived by two persons best known for their pen-names, "L. Marcus" and "Carol LaRouche," as a means for forming a Marxist-oriented cadre grouping which could intervene to form a larger organization of similar persuasions from among persons active in the so-called "New Left" of that period.
The formation of the cadres of Village CIPA was effected in the following ways. The initial cadres were drawn from participants in a course in Elementary Marxist Economics then being taught by L. Marcus at the (now-defunct) Free School. New cadre were recruited mainly through the work of [Bob] Dillon and others in recruiting individuals known to them to both the Village CIPA and to the Elementary Marxist Economics Course.
The first statement of political principles of Village-CIPA was a mimeographed document entitled: "A Second Front against the Vietnam War," [its full title was "A Second Front against the Vietnam War/Proposal for a City Tax on Landlords' Incomes" – HH] which proposed that the student strata of pro-socialists reach out to "ordinary working people" through campaigns oriented to housing and related issues in place of "single issue" "anti-war" demonstrations and related narrower activities. . . . The task of socialists, it was argued, was to provide working people with a meaningful alternative, through programs of proposed taxation of real estate speculators' and other waste-creating-activity income for the purpose of funding massive housing construction programs and other programs which simultaneously satisfied major material wants while also creating new productive employment.
A further development during this founding period was the publication of a pamphlet (April 1967), The Third Stage of Imperialism (L. Marcus). This pamphlet was originally an internal education writing of L. Marcus published at the initial insistence of Robert Dillon, who stipulated the need for such a topically-situated statement of our views as a means of drawing other "left" individuals and groups close to our point of view and organization. This pamphlet became an essential founding political statement of the (now) National Caucus of Labor Committees. . . . These two documents were circulated widely, but notably on the Columbia University campus. They provided the Village-CIPA organization with two viable activity-areas which sustained the organization when West Side CIPA and East Side CIPA collapsed during 1967.
These activities were the founding of the "West Side Tenants' Union" and a growing influence on Columbia University campus. They provided the Students for a Democratic Society organization, in which latter organization, Village-CIPA members were drawn into increasing cooperation with the later Papert-Fraser faction of Progressive Labor Party and with other forces within the New York City "New Left."
WEST SIDE TENANTS' UNION
The West Side Tenants' Union (WSTU) was formed in the late summer of 1967 by members of West Village CIPA (including Robert Dillon) and recent graduates from the Columbia School of Social Work (including Ed Spannaus and Tom Karp). The original conception was that of Tom Karp's, developed while he and Spannaus were graduate students at Columbia. Karp's ideas about community organizing were combined with the tax-the-landlords program of West Village CIPA in the Tenant Union project.
Karp's original idea was based on his reading of the history of tenant organizing in New York City, as well as experience he and Spannaus had had while working in the Community Action Program of Local 1199 [of the Hospital Workers' Union – HH] during 1966-67. They (naively) believed that the combination of the tax program, organizing skills, and some fancy gimmicks dreamed up about rent strikes would enable the Tenant Union to put together a city-wide tenant organization within a year and pull off a city-wide rent strike.
The West Side Tenant Union was certainly not successful in its own terms of assembling a large coalition of housing organizers, partly because it did not take cognizance of the fact that at the time it was entering the housing field, most housing organizers were dropping out. But it was important in effecting another level of organizers, with whom (particularly) Spannaus and Dillon had worked in 1966-67; the Tenant Union program was as significant factor in the development of the Fraser-Papert faction in PLP, and was discussed at considerable length in the first version of Economism or Socialism, the Fraser-Papert document presented to PLP.
Excerpts from the Komm-Papert series "History of the Labor Committee – Part II" published in the 4 January 1971 issue of New Solidarity.
Some of the younger Praxis non-students in the "SDS Regional Office" and Mark Rudd, a "loose leader" no longer completely friendly with the Columbia Praxis clique, joined with [John] Jacobs [better known as "JJ" – HH] in November 1967 to plan and organize "marshals" for a "wild-in-the-streets" demonstration against a speech by Dean Rusk at New York's Hilton Hotel. Jeff Jones and other "regional leaders" provided plastic bags of ox blood for demonstrators to throw at the limousines of the bourgeois. Spurred on by the recent example of the Pentagon anti-war march and confrontation, the several thousand demonstrators succeeded in blocking Sixth Avenue intermittently and tying up traffic for several hours before they were dispersed by mounted police.
SDS Pro-working-class Faction
That particular piece of foolishness – and abortive attempts to repeat it – was partly responsible for the "flaking away" of individuals like Steve Komm and Leif Johnson to the PL-pre-Labor Committee pro-working-class faction. The Rusk demonstration was the main issue raised by PL on January 28, 1968, when it brought a majority of fifty to a New York SDS Regional meeting at NYU. After soundly roasting the proto-anarchist leaders for calling an SDS bash without even asking anyone else in SDS about it, the PLP faction voted a virtual censure of the regional office "staff" by setting up an elected "regional committee" to supervise the "staff." Even the combined forces of the anarchists and the Praxis Axis (which was embarrassed because it had also opposed the Rusk bash) could only muster 40 votes so thoroughly had they dissipated SDS's momentum of the previous spring-fall.
It was at and immediately following this regional conference that the worth of the "transit project" proposal as a tactic for winning control of SDS was demonstrated. The transit project was the only positive proposal for regional action raised at the conference (it was voted up almost unanimously, with Leif Johnson and Steve Komm as regional coordinators).
. . . . The Labor Committee's internal development was also reflected in SDS and was key to the faction's growing hegemony over the entire organization. When Praxis had divided the chapter into committees (hoping to sequester "PL" in the Labor Committee and consolidate its own base in the Draft and IDA Committees), Papert and Komm had already recruited for the Labor Committee by circulating internal papers on the upsurge in labor militancy and by bringing Joe Carnegie, head of the (then) Rank and File Caucus of the Transit Workers Union, to speak on the TWU's need for support at an SDS chapter meeting. Over the winter the members of the regional Transit Project had developed theoretically though discussions of papers on the decline in real wages and productive stagnation (by Bob Dillon), the financial history of boondoggles in the transit system and on the labor history of the transit workers, and through discussions of the political economic ramifications of the fall of the British pound and of plans for speculative boondoggles in the ghetto. In February this material began to be brought into Columbia chapter meetings in discussions and formal presentations. (Komm's election speech [for leader of Columbia SDS – HH] included a discussion of political effects of the spring 1968 gold crisis.) Praxis refused to reply in public, but privately circulated rumors that the Labor Committee economics were all wet, that corporations were more important than banks, etc. Further, until Rudd was elected, most of SDS's visible motion – apart from the gym campaign – was Labor Committee propaganda about transit and support work for several Columbia-related strikes, such as a cafeteria boycott to support a student-workers' strike against the firing of two full-time employees.
Excerpts from the series "The History of the Labor Committee – Part III) first published in the 20 January 1971 issue of New Solidarity. (This article was written by Tony Papert alone.)
Within the New York SDS Transit Project, severe differences had arisen between PL and the Labor Committee faction as early as January 1968. The root cause of the difference was that according to PL's conception, revolutionary consciousness would result from the mutually separate organization of even-more-militant struggles among the distinct "constituencies" of radical students, black community-control militants, and "blue-collar" workers. The LC's plan in starting the Transit Project, on the other hand, had been to form an organic united front of representatives of all these groups, based on a common program.
Because the transit project's demand to replace wage taxation with taxation of (especially) wasted capitalist income seemed its most bizarre feature from a constituency-organizing point of view, it became the focus of heated disputes. PL leaders argued that it was no concern of theirs who was taxed to meet their demands; to demand taxation of capitalists was "telling them how to run their economy," and hence impermissible.
Against the background of the severe dollar crisis of 1968, some factional arguments blossomed into uneven discussions of theoretical Marxist economics. Jeffrey Gordon, Progressive Labor's student leader and formerly chief zookeeper of its "May Second" third-worldist society, was in regular attendance at transit project meetings until mid-March. Although his mental faculties may have been somewhat dispersed during the "May Second" period, Gordon was no idiot; his carryings-on were a just interpretation of PL's "Maoist" policies.
Thus although strike-leader Papert retained his membership in Progressive Labor, PL policies played no role in the leadership of the Columbia strike. . . . By May, the factional struggle with PL had reached greater clarity. LC and PL members Fraser and Papert had produced a paper, Economism or Socialism, for PL's pre-convention discussion, which contrasted Marxist untied-front methods with PL's parochialism. Progressive Labor chairman Milton Rosen secretly blocked its circulation and had Papert expelled early in June, on the day after the convention. By that time, Fraser and Papert's ten-to-fifteen-man faction were all active in Labor Committees in New York and Philadelphia.
Excerpts from "The History of the Labor Committee Part V – The Philadelphia Story" by Gordon Fels published in the 5 March 1971 issue of New Solidarity. [Origins of the Labor Committee in Philadelphia]
Our history is best begun with the arrival of Steve Fraser in the summer of 1967. Fraser was then a member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) and had come to Philadelphia to organize for that party. His first contacts naturally included five people who had been in touch with the PLP. Fraser and a few other student members of PLP had been for some time critical of the direction of the party, which was narrow and parochialist in terms of organizing various sections of the population separately and in a mutually antagonistic manner. . . .
From the start Fraser functioned in a kind of dual role; organizing for PLP (selling the newspaper, teaching PLP classes, even recruiting one new member), and also attracting around him potential cadre on the basis of his assimilation of those LC ideas embodied in Economism or Socialism and related material published in New York by the fledging pre-LC study group, contact with which had contributed to Fraser's own conceptions about class-for-itself organizing.
Fraser's initial work centered around working with the Consumers Party mayoralty campaign to elect a local black minister (Rev. Smalls). The Smalls campaign was important because of the social composition of the Consumers Party – Consumers Education and Protective Association (CEPA), consisting of poor and lower income working people and (mostly black) unemployed. Their program was focused primarily on consumer needs (protection against unfair business practices, sheriff sales, etc.) but as they were organized relatively independently from anyone's purse strings, Fraser saw the potential for this group to act in the interest of all working people.
The Smalls campaign and work in the CEPA generally were the first things Fraser suggested to other student radicals he met. Several of his PL contacts and some new people he met through local chapters of SDS did work on the campaign. By the end of November 1967, Fraser felt there were enough of these people – about a dozen – to initiate conscious political work based on LC ideas. The first meeting of this study group took place in mid-December 1967 and can be considered the beginning phase of the Philadelphia Labor Committee. . . .It is important to stress Fraser's stated relationship to these ideas, including the theses contained in the Third Stage of Imperialism by L. Marcus, and to the PLP. From the time of his arrival in Philadelphia, he remained in frustrated communication with PLP higher-ups to urge the continuance and expansion of work based on class-wide organizing. Fraser's relationship with PL finally ended in May, 1968, when he and Papert were expelled from the party after Economism or Socialism, presented as a pre-convention document, was dictatorially suppressed by the PLP leadership.
The winter '67-68 study group took on the name of the Philadelphia SDS Labor Committee. A note on the "SDS" name. The New York pre-LC group was functioning, among other areas, as an actual committee of New York SDS, [italics in original] engaged with PLP in fighting a proposed subway fare hike. . . . The birth of an independent SDS LC (the current National Caucus of Labor Committees) would not actually come in New York until May, 1968, during the Columbia strike, in which LCer's played leading roles. Therefore, in Philadelphia the adoption of the name SDS LC and the activity conducted under this name as early as Feb., 1968, actually constituted the first independent LC activity in the country.
. . . . The LC viewed its unique form of intervention as the means whereby larger numbers of working people could assimilate, through practical political experience, the programmatic and organizational conceptions pre-requisite to socialist revolution.
The most sophisticated expression of this policy, in the formative period of Philadelphia LC history, was the group's efforts during the summer of '68 to engage CEPA in programmatic, united front preparation for the Fall elections. The PLC submitted a "Proposal for the Consumers Party Platform," recommending employment, housing, and transportation platforms, together with plans to turn the electoral campaign into an organizing opportunity. The CEPA leadership, suffering its own sectarian parochialism, anxious about "takeovers by outsiders," failed to adopt the proposal. However, the president of the CEPA branch in Chester, Pa., conducted a campaign for the State legislature based on the essentials of the LC proposal.
Naturally, throughout even this initial period of LC existence, the Philadelphia group was forced to contend with those anarchist and anarcho-terrorist currents present or immanent in SDS . . . . Thus, in SDS at the time, the notion of "exemplary action" – desperate forays undertaken by frustrated radicals against some symbol of capitalist authority and often against innocent working people who these action-freaks considered unalterably reactionary – was prevalent and typified the national SDS leadership.
In the summer of 1968, ex-national SDS Secretary, Carl Davidson, came to Philadelphia and was joined by his co-thinker, co-anarcho-syndicalist, Greg Calvert, another ex-National Officer and author of the "Urban Guerrilla Warfare" thesis. Debates with the LC in study groups and at regional SDS meetings compelled both Calvert and Davidson to leave town before mid-summer. Several documents, comprehensive criticisms of the SDS leadership's anti-working class bias, among them papers authored by Fraser, were submitted to New Left Notes for publication but were quashed by the National Office.
From Mark Rudd, .
That fall one of the biggest issues in New York City was the public-school teachers' strike against decentralization of the school board and community control of the schools. In essence the teachers' union, led by former socialist Albert Shanker, was on strike against the parents, especially in the black and Latino neighborhoods, who were demanding a say in their children's education. The union vehemently opposed this perceived loss of teacher power, and the fight took on a strong racial content, since the union was predominantly white.
New York City was openly polarized in a way most of us young people found horrifying: this was, after all, the liberal urban North, not the racist, segregated South. I was particularly upset that many of the white teachers and the union leadership were Jews. During that strike I sadly understood that we were experiencing the end of the Jewish-black liberal coalition that had prevailed since the early civil-rights days. It was also the beginning of a hard right turn for mainstream New York Jews.
Most of the Left, including SDS, supported the parents' demands for community control as part of the larger anti-racist battle. SDSers from Columbia and other chapters would ride a subway out to Brownsville, Brooklyn, very early in the morning to join black parents in keeping a junior high school open against the striking teachers. I myself taught in a strike-breaking liberation school in West Harlem. I vowed at that time that I'd never join Shanker's racist union, the American Federation of Teachers (a vow I would break in 1990 when I helped organize the teachers' union at my community college).
But a small faction of NY SDS – mostly the PL caucus from Columbia who had converted en masse from Maoism to a cult form of Trotskyism led by a quirky old economist named Lyndon LaRouche – put out a leaflet and public statement attacking community control as a Ford Foundation conspiracy that was designed to defeat true working class consciousness, such as the teachers union. Albert Shanker used this statement at one of his press conferences to claim that even SDS supported the teachers' strike. To the rest of us, the so-called Labor Committee's position was a betrayal of our fundamental principles of anti-racism. They were saying, in SDS's name, that black and Latino people did not have the right to control their own schools.
SDS was now a house divided. After much soul-searching, an assembly of NY regional SDS membership expelled the Labor Committee from the organization. Such a move had never happened since 1962, when the Port Huron Statement put forward the twin principles of non-exclusion on the basis of politics and opposition to anti-Communism. In December the SDS National Council upheld the action.
I joined the fight for the expulsion, which I felt was necessary to keep SDS from being mistakenly seen as supporting racism. Six months later we SDS regulars would use the New York precedent to throw the Progressive Labor Party out, and the organization would split irreparably. (124-25)
Excerpts from a 13 November 1968 Spartacist League leaflet entitled "Beware Liberal Union Busters!" (At the time the Spartacist League was active in the "Marcusite"-dominated New York Regional SDS Labor Committee.)
New York City has long been faced with an immense financial crisis. While corporations rake in millions of dollars, the City Government has been unable to "find" the money to provide adequate public services. Liberal Mayor Lindsay has attempted to meet this crisis in part by trying to break the power of the public employee unions. From the Sanitationmen's strike (when Lindsay tried to call in the National Guard as scabs) to the current UFT strike, Lindsay has made it clear that he intends to break the unions. The Lindsay administration has fought a long war to legitimate the Taylor Law, which prohibits strikes by public employees, on the grounds that such strikes endanger the "public interest." The teachers' strike has provided him with his most potent weapon so far, as the growing liberal sentiment against the strike has reinforced the spectre of the self-interested unions as enemies of the general public.
The City's financial crisis has hit the school system this year, a year in which the City has actually made the first cut in the school budget in many years. So all of a sudden Lindsay, whose cops maintain the daily oppression of the black ghetto, suddenly comes out for black "community control" – actually a new experiment in school decentralization funded by such "community-minded" organizations as the Federal Government's Office of Economic Opportunity and the Ford Foundation. The concept of "the community" masks the question of in the community controls the schools, and for what purpose. The real interests of black workers and their children are not geographic or even simply racial, but above all class, and as such are basically counterposed to the destruction of the teachers' union which, if successful, will only strengthen the hand of the bosses and the capitalist politicians who serve them against all unions in the city.
The demand for "community control" lacking a specific class content is even more dangerous in some situations. The same group of people can be radical or reactionary depending on what aspect of their lives they are mobilized for. The same group of "ethnic" white workers who if approached on the job as workers will carry out a militant strike along with their black fellow workers can also, if approached as residents of their community, be capable of firing every black teacher in their district. We must recognize what classless "local control" could mean not only for teachers of "the other" race but also for rebels, radicals and "reds" of every stripe who will find themselves with only a broken union incapable of protecting their jobs in the aftermath of the substantial [George] Wallace vote.
In Ocean Hill-Brownsville, "community control" has meant the appointment of a $30,000-a-year black administrator, Rhody McCoy, who was given a high degree of administrative autonomy, although he had no particular connection with the black population in the district. One of McCoy's first acts was to dismiss without due process a number of union leaders at J.H.S. 271. When 250 teachers walked out in protest, they were "transferred," after which non-union replacements were hired. This sparked the current dispute.
Were it not for the complicating racial factor, the central issue of union busting would be clear. But the City has created a heavy smoke screen by crying: the black ghetto children must be educated, we are helping by encouraging community control, and this racist union stands in the way. Using these arguments and some government-paid "anti-poverty" workers, Lindsay has swept the black community sentiment heavily against the union and has encouraged union-busting, school break-ins, etc.
[After a long section criticizing the UFT leadership's "business union" approach to the struggle the leaflet continues:]
In the liberal arena such figures as Murray Kempton, Jimmy Breslin, the New York Post, the New York Times and CBS News are screaming for the blood of the UFT. The liberal strikebreaking sentiment is not too surprising, since liberals consider the government the primary agent of change and "progress." But even so-called "revolutionary" and "Marxist" groups have been swept along by the liberal "local control" rhetoric. Such groups as Progressive Labor, the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party advocate simply crossing the picket line, and thereby busting the union, in order to break a "racist" strike. Even those groupings opposed to the strike should seriously consider the implications of the position that a worker is justified in scabbing whenever he disagrees with his union or does not want to strike, as it destroys the concept of a union as a body which acts together after determining its policies by a vote of the membership. For radicals to advocate scabbing only encourages any inherent racism and anti-radicalism among pro-union workers.
We ask PL and the SWP how they can now support the strikebreaking and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville administrators who justify the transfers of UFT teachers on the grounds that "we don't want any teachers who turned their backs on our children for six weeks" (to cite a statement made by one of McCoy's assistants over nation-wide television) – i.e., by going out on strike in previous UFT actions which the SWP and PL supported! We ask these organizations how they can ignore the blatant anti-union, anti-strike attitude of McCoy and his supporters. These "Marxists" in the SWP and PL are taking the easy way out by labeling the social-democratic UFT leadership as "racist" and washing their hands of the union instead of fighting in the union against Shanker for the correct policies. Serious radicals must ask themselves what New York City's black population will gain by the destruction of the UFT; by the legitimization of the Taylor Law and the phony, classless rhetoric that strikes are against the "public interest"; by the replacement of UFT teachers by docile, hand-picked teachers who have no weapon of struggle against the Board of Education; by the attempt to direct the anger and frustration of the poor working people of Ocean Hill-Brownsville against the teachers rather than against the system which guarantees the continuation of their oppression.
Militants in the UFT must fight to replace the Shanker leadership and its conservative and dangerous policies of "professionalism," elitism toward other trade union struggles and condescension toward the black working people. The union must recognize the militant parents as their needed allies against the liberal union-busters and must seek a radical alliance of teachers and militant parents and students based on a student-teacher-parent control of the schools.
Excerpts from What is to Be Done? a position paper presented at a meeting of Columbia SDS, 12 September 1968, and written by Mark Rudd, Rob Roth, Jeff Sololow, Lew Cole, et al. Original text reprinted in Immanuel Wallenstein and Paul Starr, The University Crisis Reader, Vol. II Confrontation and Counterattack (New York, Random House, 1971.)
It is obvious that various segments of the working class are already in motion around issues that will become revolutionary. It is not for SDS or for the Labor Committee to put themselves forward as a quasi-vanguard party of the working class. "There is no such thing as a self-bestowed vanguard of the masses. The masses choose their own leaders." Inti Pareto, leader of guerrillas in Bolivia. The Labor Committee does not recognize the spontaneous movement of workers as outlined above.
To say that a problem is economic in origin is not to say how people are oppressed. The Labor Committee's view of the world is highly mechanical: falling rate of profit crisis in underproduction, attack by the government and ruling class on workers' standard of living which a revolutionary program should counterattack. We say that the crisis manifests itself in much more than economic ways, and that we should attack these.
Our development of the issues of racism, imperialism, and social control is a response to the total nature of oppression in this society (both felt and unfelt), war, the draft, racism, closed-off opportunities, alienated labor, meaningless work, and the perpetuation of domination, economic waste amid economic poverty, high taxes, bad schools and housing, rotten class institutions like Columbia and the New York hospitals, etc.
The Labor Committee, on the other hand, wants us to apply a formula about an economic crisis and its economic manifestations to deal with this totality: theirs is a one-dimensional, mechanistic, vulgar-Marxist view of how to make a revolution.
The capitalist system is a system because it is not one-dimensional. . . . The Labor Committee believes, as is manifest in its program, that workers can be organized around a $100/week minimum wage. That's true. Labor unions have been doing that kind of organizing for years. Where is the revolutionary aspect of $100/week? Cafeteria workers at Columbia have already won that.
There is a difference between economist demands, such as the Labor Committee's, and revolutionary demands which develop consciousness of the totality of capitalism – more than just economic attacks. Capitalism can grant all or most of labor's economic demands – it's been doing it for years – including, now, the demands of blacks. But that does not mean that the totality of oppression does not increase or that workers in Third World countries are not exploited even more. We need to develop a revolutionary perspective, not a one-dimensional economist perspective.
. . . . Summary:
Major disagreement with the Labor Committee.
1) Students are neither a revolutionary class within themselves nor simply revolutionary intellectuals, as the Labor Committee would make them; they are a social group whose needs can only be satisfied by a social revolution made in conjunction with other social groups. They can and will act, as students, and set other groups in motion.
2) The totality of oppression – the issues people are concerned with – are more than just economic needs. Further, to put forward only an economic program "for the workers" is to reinforce trade union consciousness, not a revolutionary program. The Labor Committee's view of the world is totally one-dimensional and mechanical.
3) The task of the student movement is to listen to voices of protest that do exist in the working class and to try to act in alliance with these movements of workers wherever they exist. But it is not our intention to impose from the top, from the outside, a "program" to "lead the masses." That method of organizing only shows contempt for people's struggles and for their own ability to choose their own leaders and their own demands. It is only through their own struggles that people come to revolutionary consciousness and not through the isolated formulations of the self-proclaimed "thinkers" of the movement, the Labor Committee.
4) Writing down a "socialist program," standing on street corners with leaflets, occasionally holding a meeting, or attempting to instigate walk-outs, marches, and the mass strike will not lead to revolutionary consciousness on the part of anyone. If the Labor Committee program wins, we will be leafleting garment workers, four million subway riders, anyone we can leaflet, and hopefully leading a mass strike of angry workers armed with the correct leaflets. Also, as an afterthought, we will see that SDS consists of fifteen people and our movement is dead.
Excerpts from Mark Rudd, "Columbia: Notes on the Spring Rebellion," from Carl Oglesby (ed.),The New Left Reader (New York: Grove Press, 1969). Rudd's essay was first published in the March 1969 issue of the West Coast radical journal The Movement.
First, because of the intensive and all-pervading racism in the United States, white radicals are sometimes unwilling to follow black leadership. This was the situation during the recent United Federation of Teachers boycott of the New York City schools over the issue of community control. Both the Progressive Labor Party and their arch-enemy, The Labor Committee, manifested their racism by refusing to support community control on the grounds that it was a cooptive plan designed by the ruling class to split the working class (both racist teachers and black parents are "workers" primarily, according to PL). Neither grouplet saw the class nature of a united black community fighting for better schools against the racist ruling-class school board and racist teachers' union. The implications of this blind spot on the part of PL: black parents and white teachers unite to fight for better education (a position which ignores both the racism of many white teachers and the fact that blacks already are fighting for better schools). SDS, because of its internal factional warfare, lost numerous opportunities to support the black struggle and also to begin educating the white community about its own racism, both of which are absolutely necessary.
. . . Of course there are many reasons why the Movement waned this fall, an analysis of which should be done separately when enough people have discussed the subject. Included in this discussion should be the effects of the baseless [Columbia Summer] Liberation School, the repression playing on fear of further arrest and being thrown out of school, the escalation in rhetoric by SDS, the rise of an elite leadership in SDS, the insane sectarian faction fighting forced on the chapter by first the Labor Committee sectarians and then by Progressive Labor Party members who moved into Columbia (there was one member over the summer).
NY Labor Committee 11 March 1969 Press Release.
Press Release: Goons Disrupt Meeting to Oppose State Office Building.
N.Y. SDS Labor Committee
March 11, 1969.
Mark Rudd tonight led about twenty goons collected from around the NY Regional SDS office in an unsuccessful effort to physically disrupt a Columbia campus meeting convened to organize around demands for a high school and housing in Harlem.
The meeting was held by the NY SDS Labor Committee, which has been conducting a petition and organizing campaign among high school and college students and trade unionists.
This campaign has demanded:
1. That Rockefeller stop the State Office Building and that he build a new high school and low-rent housing on the site at 125thSt. and 7th Ave.
2. That Lindsay build 23 new high schools.
3. A college education or a job with $100 a week minimum wage for every high school student.
4 That the money for this come from taxing landlords and banks, not working people.
Rudd's goon squad assembled in the corridor during the first address of the meeting. Then they marched-in in a body, lining themselves against two walls of the meeting room, heckling and working themselves up to the point of physical assaults on members of the audience.
After the audience expelled Rudd and his squad, the 75-person meeting continued with its addresses, discussion and work session.
Acting on a motion presented by a George Washington High student, the meeting constituted an organization with the name "People for Tomorrow."
The FBI's COINTELPRO leaflet "The Mouse Crap Revolution" sent by the NY FBI Office on 31 March 1969 to Hoover and approved for release by Washington on 24 April 1969.
THE MOUSE CRAP REVOLUTION
It ain't very big yet, schoolmates, but the Mouse Crap Revolution (MCR, for short) , has arrived on our fair Columbia campus. Chief Mouse Crapper is our old friend Tony Papert— lately of SDS and Progressive Labor and worshipper at the feet of Chairman Mao—who is trying to screw SDS into the ground. He and his-fellow mice, including cheeze eaters Paul Milkman, Leif Johnson, Peter Wilcox, Jeff Malter and lovable Bob Dillon, have assume the name of the NY SDS Labor Committee as the vehicle for their treachery. To this the NY Region of SDS says loud and clear: THE LABOR COMMITTEE THEY RUN IS NOT IN ANY WAY CONNECTED OR ASSOCIATED WITH
These finks still have the absolute gall to pass themselves off as official representatives of SDS and have sucked legitimate Black organizations into their rather stupid demonstrations or symposiums. Our Black friends will be surprised to know that Paper and the NY Labor Committee the Teacher's Union against Ocean Hill-Brownsville during the last strike! The UFT owns Papert and his crew. Tony has accused Mark Rudd of busting up his meetings,-stomping-on his demonstrations and pissing on his social reforms. Mouse crap! The fact is that Mark effectively creamed the Labor Committee's little tea party on March llth to expose Papert's mice for what they are. That, meeting, by the way, blessed-itself with the balls-up title of "People for Tomorrow". Wow!
Tony, baby, we suggest you take your Mouse Crap elsewhere. Go swap spit with your hero, Albert Shanker of the UFT. Go back to burning joss sticks before the alter of Mao. As for the rest of the so-called NY SDS Labor Committee, we say . . .
LOOK OUT !
Excerpts from Rick Rhoads' October 1968 article "Len Marcus: Guru of Non-Struggle" in PL's theoretical magazine Progressive Labor:
Marcus's assertion that the state is to "use its powers to tax into extinction any business activity not in the public interest" can only mean that in his view the state is not a weapon in the hands of the capitalist class, but stands above classes, subject to pressure from both sides. This is classical revisionism, as put forward by the Communist Party USA and other phony so-called Marxists. Hi demands are an economic version of the CP-SWP slogan in the anti-war movement: "Bring the troops home from Vietnam; send them to Mississippi." Economic or political, such demands can only build illusions about the nature and uses of capitalist state power.
. . . Far from systematically imbuing anyone with the need for violent revolution, Marcus pushes his one-sided view of the mass strike as a replacement for the armed struggle for state power. This is appealing to those students and intellectuals who want to be very "revolutionary," but feel a little faint at the idea of actually taking on the ruling class. Now, there is nothing wrong with feeling frightened at the prospect of facing the state power of the U.S. ruling class; it has its frightening aspects. Only in the course of working collectively to build a base for revolution can this fear be overcome. But when you turn it into a theory that you can make a socialist revolution in the United States without smashing the armed might of the ruling class, then you only turn yourself into an obstacle to the revolution.
. . . Ghetto rebellions, strikes, militant anti-war demonstrations and similar "bourgeois activity" is to be directed toward some concocted "artificial forms" of struggle featuring agitation around some miraculous programs.
Who else has been trying to do this? The ruling class and its direct representatives in the movement. Their "Poor People's Campaign" and their McCarthy campaign are the equivalent to Marcus's "class line transitional programs" in their attempt to divert Black people and students from sharp struggles to activity acceptable to the bourgeoisie. They and Marcus want to take what is revolutionary out of the people's struggles and divert them to reformism.
Such is the depth of Marcus' contempt for the people's strivings that in putting forward his "transitional program" to tax the landlords, he writes, "the advancement of such a tax program is therefore worth more than anti-war protest demonstrations numbering in the millions."
. . . The Marcusites say that, "we are all leftists," all out for the "same thing," and that we should therefore talk over our differences in a friendly manner (while actually they hate real communists like the plague). We see through this line when it is put forward by LBJ, the Soviet Union or the CPUSA. We have to see through it with respect to Marcus too. If we are serious about defeating the enemy, we have to defeat his ideas within the movement.
Although Marcusites have recently begun to work inside SDS, they are no different in their efforts to sidetrack and set back the student movement than the revisionist DuBois clubs or the YSA. Naturally, there are some people who agree with all or part of the Marcus line who are honest, and not purposely trying to mislead others. But the only way these people will see the reactionary nature of Marcusism is by subjecting it to the sharpest possible attack and exposure. This will be done partly through theoretical arguments but primarily in the course of the practical struggle in which people will see that Marcusism is out to stop the struggles against the imperialists and mislead honest workers and students into sectarian by-ways where the revisionists, Trotskyites, Marcusites and other intellectual goons of the system push schemes to reform capitalist society.
Press Release issued December 16 by the NY Labor Committee. Reprinted in the 12/18/1968 edition of New Left Notes.
1) Merger of SDS with CP dissidents, National Mobilization Committee
1) Expulsion of Progressive Labor Party members from SDS
The continuing factional dispute inside of Students for a Democratic Society has taken an incredible turn. The anarchist-National Office staff coalition plans to merge SDS with the most right wing parts of the movement, the National Mobilization Committee and the so-called left caucus of the Communist Party. The merged organization will have as its purpose the organization of "youth-as-a-class."
The merger plans an SDS-Mobilization committee joint demonstration in Washington at Nixon's inauguration, another bloody and senseless confrontation with the police. Several members of the National Interim Council of SDS, including Jeff Jones of N.Y.C., have been publicly backing this demonstration with Mobilization and the CP caucus, ostensibly to "defend the movement" (the National Lawyers Guild will serve as a front for the merger), at the December 27-31 SDS National Council meeting in Ann Arbor. Complete merger of the three groups is projected for the June, 1969, convention.
These merger plans have not been brought before the SDS membership, largely because of the deserved unpopularity of the Mobilization and the CP in the movement. Both are sell-out reformist organizations. The Mobilization, for example, invited Mayor Lindsay to address their anti-war picnic in April, at the very time his cops were beating student strikers at Columbia.
The biggest obstacle to the three-way merger is the influence of the Progressive Labor Party in SDS, and such allies as Fred Gordon, SDS National Education Secretary. Gordon has been held captive in his office for being mildly sympathetic with PL. New Left Notes, a paper he supposedly edits, has been forcibly prevented from printing any material besides that which represents the opinions of the National Office-anarchist clique.
Attempts to oust PL have been going on since Progressive Labor Party united with the anarchists to throw out the NY SDS Labor Committee several weeks ago.
The Labor Committee maintains that any expulsion of PL members, like the expulsion of the Labor Committee, violates the anti-expulsionary clause of SDS and is not binding on anyone.
The Labor Committee defends PL's rights within SDS despite the fact that PL joined the anarchists in the futile attempt to silence the Labor Committee. We are forced to defend PL without the aid of Progressive Labor itself, because PL members refuse to make an open battle within SDS, but instead are seeking to win themselves support within SDS by launching further attacks upon the Labor Committee.
The Labor Committee reaffirms its position on the recent teachers' strike: that the community control movement is being organized by the shrewdest forces in national and municipal government, including Mayor Lindsay, McGeorge Bundy and his Ford Foundation, in order to sidetrack the struggles of blacks for jobs, housing, schools, etc., into a struggle against teachers and then other predominantly white working class unions. It maintains that community control is a fraud, and that the solution to the problems facing the people of N.Y.C. can only come about by a class-wide attack on these problems. The majority of SDS is falling into the trap carefully laid by the government in supporting the sabotage of the Ford Foundation and the Office of Economic Opportunity against working people, black and white, in the city.
The Progressive Labor Party, while it took the position of condemning the defense of the teachers' union against government attack, at least understands that community control is a diversion from the real fight of the ghetto. But in attempting to win the favor of some members of SDS, PL has refused to commit the SDS Labor Project [Student Labor Action Project or SLAP – HH], an organization it now leads, to the anti-community control perspective it allegedly holds.
If SDS is to be stopped from becoming an organization of NO politics and continued senseless confrontation, then all those within it who oppose this direction must openly fight the National Office attempt to gag all opposition to it within SDS. It is incumbent upon the Progressive Labor Party to act in the principled manner of the NY SDS Labor Committee in refusing to recognize and in fighting all such exclusionary procedures.
N.Y. Students for a Democratic Society
Bernardine Dohrn's reply from the 12/18/1968 edition of New Left Notes.
Labor Committee statement: pure and simple trash
By Bernardine Dohrn
SDS Inter-Organizational Secretary
Immediately before this National Council meeting, frenzied accusations of conspiracies and alleged purges – classic red-baiting tactics – are spread throughout the movement. But seldom does this tactic take the form of a public press release full of lies about the organization's political differences. The Man himself could not have done better.
The Labor Committee is an organization formed by former members of West Side CIPA in NYC and recently expelled members of PLP. They began last spring around the issue of the transit fare, leafleting every day to raise general consciousness about the inadequate organization of society under capitalism.
The Labor Committee sees itself as the intellectual vanguard which will bring ideas to the working class; not as a movement which will ally with the working class, nor as a movement which is and is becoming a conscious working class movement.
Intellectual Vanguard Must Seize Power
They oppose constituency organizing; it leads to fascism. The role of the student movement is to show how things could work better. "Transitional programs" such as "Tax the Landlords, not the people" and "Fight higher transit fares" will quickly show all the strata of the working population that the left has the ideas which can organize production and distribution better than the present rulers. They predict that the economic crisis within advanced capitalism will abruptly produce a crisis where the rulers are unable to continue – and that mass consciousness and the intellectual vanguard must be prepared to seize power (not repeat France).
The Labor Committee rejects a dynamic and dialectical analysis of political struggle. They reject the revolutionary potential of the student movement by assigning it the role of elitist carrier of ideas. They do not see racism as a fundamental contradiction, and support the racist NY teachers' union. They accuse opponents of bring on fascism while they leaflet America until a crisis "comes" which will open the possibility of seizing state power. They reject the inter-relationship [of] Third World struggles (the war in Vietnam is not a major issue) and the fight within advanced capitalism.
SDS Disclaims Pro-Strike Position
This fall the Labor Committee issued leaflets in the name of SDS supporting the teachers' union in the NY schools crisis. Columbia SDS and the NY regional assembly had condemned the racist teachers' strike and demanded that the Labor Committee not continue to produce pro-teachers' union leaflets in the name of SDS, contrary to the position taken by the membership.
When the leaflets continued, the Columbia chapter "expelled" the Labor Committee to publicly disclaim leaflets claiming to represent the position of SDS. Neither individual members nor the ideas of the Labor Committee were ousted from participation in SDS. The "expulsion" was to discredit the Labor Committee as spokesman for SDS.
Labor Committee Still Using SDS Name
Later, a NY regional assembly dissolved the NY SDS regional labor committee – which had become the organization called the Labor Committee – and set up a new regional organization on labor.
As can be seen from the Labor Committee's press release, they are still using the name SDS Labor Committee.
Opportunistic Lies, Opportunistic Repudiation
The so-called merger (referred to in the press release) and the projected "expulsion" of the Progressive Labor Party are both pure and simple trash. Fred Gordon stated this position first in the organization – at the NIC in November and since in public meetings during his travels around the country. That the New York Labor Committee should repeat those lies ought not to come as a surprise. A partial repudiation of the Committee's restatement of these lies now is opportunistic as the lies themselves.
Gordon comments. From the 12/18/68 edition of New Left Notes. (Note that Fred Gordon should not be confused with PL's Jeff Gordon.)
By Fred Gordon
SDS Internal Education Secretary
The press release of the "New York Labor Committee" (which continues to use the name "SDS" although it has been dissolved as an SDS committee) is an example of obnoxious opportunism. The censuring of this group by Columbia and New York SDS is justified. The "Marcusites," as they call themselves, supported the racist New York teachers' "strike" in the name of SDS – although SDS at Columbia and in the regional conference voted to oppose the "strike" and finally censured the committee for continuing to use SDS's name in support of it. Shanker, leader of the racist "strike," went on TV praising SDS because of the Labor Committee's stand!
What the Marcusites say about the "national collective" and its relationship to me is distorted. Of course, a "national collective" does exist. Containing most of the elected national leadership, its politics are defined most clearly by its anti-communism. Furthermore, I have met political suppression in trying to represent worker-student alliance views in the literature program. In particular, Mike Klonsky and Bernadine Dohrn and the NIC have exercised political censorship over the printing of an excellent Work-In pamphlet, although the Work-In was an official SDS project, passed at an NC. It also seems likely that they will prevent the printing of a pamphlet that I have written. But to say that I am "held captive in the National Office" is absurd. In fact, political censorship by the "national collective" was soundly voted down at the New England Regional Conference and will, I am sure, be opposed sharply at the December NC.
The Trotskyist manner of operation by the New York Labor Committee could be used by the "national collective" to try to suppress the discussion of key questions which the Marcusites in a distorted way touch upon: an alliance with the Mobe; the concept of "legal defense"; and the question of whether the "national collective" will be allowed to suppress ideological struggle from the top. We should guard against this possibility.
Excerpts from 12/29/1968 New York Times article by Bernard Weinraub on the SDS Ann Arbor Convention. In the report, Weinraub touches on the proposal to link SDS to the National Mobe demonstrations at the Nixon inauguration as well as the debate over the attempt to "throw out" the N.Y. SDS Labor Committee which he discusses in the last paragraph of the article.
Ann Arbor, Mich., Dec. 28
Students for a Democratic Society has converged on this deserted rain-swept campus for a national convention marked by factionalism, angry disputes, and threats that the radical organization will splinter apart.
At the heart of the furious debating within the group are a series of conflicts that pit the national leaders against several local chapters, aggressively militant revolutionaries against rank and file radicals, students who seek to confront and disrupt against students who now view confrontation as aimless, dissidents from within the Movement – from Maoists to a New York group that opposes community control and supported the teachers in their recent strike – against the hostile majority.
. . . . Standing outside the swarming convention hall . . . a 25-year-old local radical, Eric Chester observed: "The process now is increasingly fractionalization and intolerance of other people's views. They're engaged in a mishmash of the worst type of positions. Anyone who has some coherent politics is a threat because the politics they have is extremely manipulative and anti-democratic."
. . . The four-day convention of the national council, which began yesterday, has attracted more than 700 students and revolutionaries to Ann Arbor . . . . A key issue to be discussed and decided by the convention is the proposal by a group of eight national leaders – including Mark Rudd . . . – for demonstrations at the inauguration of President-elect Richard M. Nixon on Jan. 20. . . .
Another issue at the convention – dealing also with democracy within S.D.S. – is an effort by the New York S.D.S. to throw out the New York Labor Committee of the Students for a Democratic Society for ideological differences.