Freedom Road – “SDS: Study and struggle, unite and fight!”

The following statement is from the website of Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

SDS: Study and struggle, unite and fight!

By Kati Ketz, Tracy Molm, and Kosta Harlan
for the Student Commission of Freedom Road Socialist Organization

We in Freedom Road Socialist Organization were disappointed to read Rachel Haut’s September 2008 interview with the Platypus project on “the present and future of SDS”. Freedom Road members work very hard to maintain Students for a Democratic Society as a strong, fighting organization that benefits from its ideological plurality while remaining united practically by radical, anti-imperialist activism. Unfortunately Rachel Haut, an SDS organizer in New York, said a few things to give us pause. We would like to take this opportunity to address those points here, because we think the things Rachel says have the potential to undermine some of SDS’s core principles. Mainly, we are concerned with the mistaken notion that FRSO wants to ‘take over’ SDS. We also want to address Rachel’s statement that “Maoism is in opposition to a democratic society” and that “it is inappropriate to have conversations about ideological differences when we still have Maoists in the organization”. Rachel says she will not ‘condone’ FRSO members being in SDS, and is, in effect, calling for all Marxist-Leninists to be purged. We think this sort of sectarianism is and has been a detriment to SDS as a whole. These are big issues, and we can’t deal with them thoroughly here. But we think a conversation is needed and that people in SDS should talk to us about these things, whether they agree or disagree with us. 

What is Freedom Road’s agenda in SDS?

A few people think Freedom Road’s ‘agenda’ in SDS is to ‘take over’ and turn this radical and vibrant student organization into something we direct and control in an undemocratic way. Anybody who has spent any time working with us can see that this is not the case. Members of FRSO have been working in SDS since the first National Convention in Chicago back in 2006. What have we been doing? We have organized militant local chapters. We organized against the war in Iraq, for immigrants’ rights, labor solidarity, in defense of the Jena Six, and more. We are all involved in a lot of local work, and while doing that, we worked hard to build national campaigns. In 2007 and 2008 members of Freedom Road were in the lead of SDS’s work around opposition to the 4th and 5th anniversaries of the U.S. war against Iraq. This led to actions on more than 80 campuses in 2007 and on 90 campuses in 2008, many of which were not associated with SDS before. Through this and other work we’ve brought many new activists and student groups to radical politics and into SDS. We helped organize student contingents in major national marches and we also helped to organize the 2007 and 2008 National Conventions in Detroit and Maryland, and the 2008 SDS Action Camp in Asheville. We have always participated in an honest and straightforward way in SDS’s agreed-upon democratic processes and have never worked to undermine them or to marginalize others in SDS. It is the same for our members who work in the antiwar movement, the trade unions, the immigrants’ rights movement, in the movements of oppressed nationalities, and in the poor people’s movement. We will continue to work in this way.

What then is Freedom Road’s ‘agenda’ in SDS? Our larger strategy is available for all to see on our website – Class in the U.S. and Our Strategy for Revolution. That strategy is the United Front against Monopoly Capitalism. Furthermore, in all the work that we do, we try to keep in mind three revolutionary objectives:

  1. Harm the enemy and win all that can be won for the people.
  2. Raise the level of consciousness, organization, and struggle of the mass organizations we work in.
  3. Win the advanced fighters to Marxism-Leninism and build organization for revolution.

That should be straightforward enough. We believe that all three of those objectives are at the core of how we need to formulate revolutionary tactics.

Furthermore, we think that the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations and peoples is the principle contradiction on a world-scale. We think the Iraq war, where U.S. imperialism is tied down by the armed Iraqi people, is the main front of this contradiction. Put simply, we think the Iraq war is central to the political situation in this country. We see the contradiction between U.S. imperialism and the sovereignty and self-determination of the Iraqi people as playing a determining role in relation to all other contradictions in society. We also believe that, despite all of its shortcomings and problems, the antiwar movement has tremendous potential for SDS. So to that end, much of our work in SDS is centered on the war in Iraq. In that regard, our ‘agenda’ is best expressed in our 2007 statement, The Movement Against the War In Iraq: A New Period and Our Tasks. The core of that ‘agenda’ is keeping the demand for ‘troops out now’ at the forefront of the movement. In addition, we see raising an anti-imperialist pole in the antiwar movement, along with raising the social costs of the war, as tasks of major importance.

We came to these conclusions through a process of practice, summation, analysis, criticism and self-criticism, guided by Marxism-Leninism.

Why we are Marxist-Leninists

Rachel Haut says, “I think it is inappropriate to have conversations about ideological differences when we still have Maoists in the organization.” We see this as an open invitation to have just such a conversation. Therefore, we’re going to take this opportunity to say a few things about Marxism-Leninism and about the contributions of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution.

We see Marxism-Leninism as a science, drawing from and synthesizing the great contributions of political economy, philosophy, and socialism that came before it. In this era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, Marxist-Leninists have made revolutions all around the world. Marxism-Leninism was an inspiration and a weapon in the hands of our predecessors. The same can be said today as it is used as a tool for liberation by working and oppressed people around the world, in Palestine, Colombia, Nepal, the Philippines, and here at home. We use Marxism-Leninism to analyze conditions and formulate strategies and tactics to act and change those conditions.

Two points are made by Rachel Haut regarding Marxism-Leninism: first, Rachel says it is opposed to democracy; second, she says it is irrelevant.

Marxist-Leninists have a particular understanding of democracy and the State and how democracy relates to class structures in society. We understand very well that in capitalist society, ‘democracy’ means that only the rich and powerful get a say. There is a lot of unity in SDS around this view, so we won’t dwell on it. The goal of socialism is at its very core related to this question of class and democracy. We think working people make society run, and should therefore run society. We think this demands revolutionary change. It is as simple as that. We think this is a million times more democratic than the bourgeois ‘democracy’ of the Republicans and Democrats. We hope that Rachel Haut is not being duped by tired old McCarthyite lies about ‘communist totalitarianism’ just because that’s what the ruling class teaches in their high school civics classes. That certainly isn’t what we intend, and we don’t think that accurately characterizes the former Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, or the other socialist countries.

As for its relevance, the track record of Marxism-Leninism speaks for itself. The Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, the Chinese revolution, the Vietnam war of national liberation and the dozens of national liberation movements that ended colonial rule, the hundreds of millions of people who found a way out from the misery imposed on them by imperialism, the establishment of socialism in over a third of the globe – all this did not fall out of the sky, but was in large part thanks to the heroic efforts of communist militants organized into revolutionary parties that creatively applied Marxism to their specific conditions. As for the 21st century, the overthrow of the Nepalese monarchy – a revolution at the roof of the world – was not an accomplishment of bourgeois democrats. This victory was paid for in blood by thousands of Nepalese communists, whose self-sacrifice, perseverance, and correct political practice allowed their small guerrilla movement to empower millions in the overthrow of the oppressor, and who are now moving forward in building a humane society in one of the poorest countries on earth.

In sum, it is the direct opposite of what our modern day anti-communists claim: nothing could be more relevant to the present political situation than Marxism, for as long as imperialism exists, the need for revolution is present, and to make revolution, there must be a communist party that applies Marxism to its particular situation.

On the contributions of Mao Zedong

Because Rachel Haut characterizes us as ‘Maoists’ we feel compelled to dwell on the place of Mao Zedong in all of this. We do not think that Mao Zedong was an infallible genius, nor do we think that he was solely responsible for the successes of the Chinese Revolution. Mainly that victory belongs to the Chinese people, but the communists helped to give form to their demands, and to carry out the revolution in strategic way that ultimately brought about success.

We in Freedom Road draw a great deal from the work of Mao Zedong. He made great contributions to revolutionary strategy and tactics for Third World liberation struggles, in particular his theory of protracted people’s war and New Democratic revolution. We think his formulation of the Mass Line, a method of leadership that involves learning from masses as you move forward, is central to success. We have a document on our website concerning this: Some Points on the Mass Line. Mao also contributed to Marxism-Leninism in his understanding of various contradictions in society, and how they interrelate. These are major issues for all revolutionaries. Finally Mao fought against some of the mistaken ideas that were put forward at various times by others in the socialist camp, including the Soviet Union. He led the fight against modern revisionism, which pretends to ‘revise’ Marxism while in truth undermining Marxism’s basic revolutionary principles. In general the anti-revisionist struggle helped Marxist-Leninists clarify a number of pressing theoretical and practical issues.

Unity and Struggle in SDS

“We are not a vanguard,” Rachel says, regarding SDS. We are in agreement. For some reason that is unclear to us, Rachel Haut seems to think that we want to change this fact. What have we ever said or done to make anyone think that we want to make SDS into a ‘vanguard’, by which we assume she means something like a democratic-centralist, Marxist-Leninist organization? We have never said or done anything that should give her or anyone else that impression. By implying the contrary she is only trying to stir up trouble. FRSO has existed for more than twenty years. All this time we have worked in mass organizations, student groups, trade unions, and so on. We have always worked to strengthen those organizations, help them fight, win victories, and grow stronger. We have always been champions of real democracy, and have never tried to command the masses in a top-down way. Our work in SDS is no different.

We are opposed to ideological purges in SDS. We think SDS benefits from being a ‘big tent’ of different ideological tendencies. To this end Mao once said, “You may ban the expression of wrong ideas, but the ideas will still be there. On the other hand, if correct ideas are pampered in hothouses and never exposed to the elements and immunized against disease, they will not win out against erroneous ones. Therefore, it is only by employing the method of discussion, criticism and reasoning that we can really foster correct ideas and overcome wrong ones, and that we can really settle issues.”

We appreciate our friends and allies in SDS who, though they may not agree with us on everything, have defended us against attacks and have stood up against sectarianism. For that we are thankful. Sectarianism is harmful to SDS. It has created mistrust and provided fertile soil for damaging rumors and flat out lies. It can be used to sow division and undermines real democracy. We have found it damaging on several occasions to the hard work that we all do.

We think it is a good thing that anarchists, social-democrats, Marxists, and other radical Leftist ideological tendencies can coexist in SDS. We think this gives SDS its vibrancy and energy. We have gained valuable lessons and experience from working alongside of so many different political views in one organization. We think that as SDSers we have far more to unite us than divide us, and that at the core of our unity is practical struggle. Because despite our differences almost all of us can unite around this fact: we are out to fundamentally transform the social relations that exist in this country – to overthrow capitalism and empower oppressed and working people.

This is an enormous task and will require decades of hard work, sacrifice and perseverance. We recognize that building a national student movement is one step along the way to this goal. But we would like to emphasize that this movement cannot have sectarianism as one of its pillars. That is something we have always opposed and will continue to struggle against.

For our part, we will continue our work of building up militant local chapters, building national campaigns that help SDS grow and expand its reach, bringing students into the struggle against the war on Iraq, and dedicating our time, energy and resources to construct a national student movement. It is our sincere desire to reach out and learn from, work with, and unite any and all student activists – regardless of ideological orientation – along the way.

In unity and struggle,

Kati Ketz
Tracy Molm
Kosta Harlan
For the FRSO Student Commission

28 responses to “Freedom Road – “SDS: Study and struggle, unite and fight!”

  1. zack (philly sds)

    This is an awesome essay, I am super impressed! That said I definitely didn’t have any doubts about your awesome contributions to our organization.

    I learned a lot about why yall are in SDS – but it’s also what I suspected. You are all great organizers who have contributed a TON on the local + national level.

    I’m so proud to struggle for justice with you three!!! Don’t doubt my support for ya :D

    <3
    Zack
    phillysds

  2. I’m happy to work with anyone in SDS who work within the organization in a way that is in line with the values of SDS. It is the strength of SDS that we can bring together people from a wide variety of ideological position to unite on actions we can agree on. That being said, I disagree with a lot of this response.

    This article continually says that Rachel Haut criticized Marxism-Leninism. But search her original essay. She never once even uses the terms “Marxism”, “Leninism”, “Marx”, or “Lenin”. What she criticizes is Maoism, and, I think, in particular FRSO’s interpretation of Maoism.

    “As for its relevance, the track record of Marxism-Leninism speaks for itself. The Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, the Chinese revolution . . .” This is the defense of FRSO’s position? To point to undemocratic, oppressive, exploitative societies and and say they speak for themselves? You’re not going to win over a lot of people that way.

  3. Two points.

    On ‘Maoism’ and Marxism-Leninism:

    ‘Maoism’ is Rachel’s term for FRSO’s ideology, whereas Marxism-Leninism is FRSO’s term for its own ideology. I would expect an FRSO statement to respond to what Rachel says, but also to discuss its ideology in its own terms. Nothing unusual there. Certainly FRSO sees Mao Zedong’s contributions as central to Marxism-Leninism. Why one term would be preferable over another as far as Maoism and Marxism-Leninism goes is actually a rather obscure debate. But for more on FRSO’s basic understanding of Marxism-Leninism and what it means practically, please see the FRSO Unity Statement.

    As for what you say about “undemocratic, oppressive, exploitative societies”, I think there is fundamental disagreement there, but I don’t think it is the main issue either. The main point of the statement seems to say that our practical unity is more important than all of that, that its worth keeping. Clearly different ideological viewpoints sum up those experiences in different ways, and that’s fine because it really doesn’t have that much to do with SDS and our work. We probably won’t get very far arguing about it, and we can’t base our unity on it. But as far as it goes, the statement says, “We hope that Rachel Haut is not being duped by tired old McCarthyite lies about ‘communist totalitarianism’ just because that’s what the ruling class teaches in their high school civics classes. That certainly isn’t what we intend, and we don’t think that accurately characterizes the former Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, or the other socialist countries.” Anyone interested in a more thorough overview of Freedom Road’s summation of the international communist movement should see the 1999 Declaration of the International Communist Movement.

    Eric, you say, “I’m happy to work with anyone in SDS who work within the organization in a way that is in line with the values of SDS.” I think that’s a fair position to take and echoes the sentiments expressed in this statement, which is arguing that FRSO has actually worked consistently in SDS in line with the values of SDS.

    Will and Zach (and other friends and allies of FRSO), your support is very much appreciated.

  4. neverforgetclassstruggle

    Since it is a FRSO statement, there isn’t going to be complete 100% agreement about everything. In defending our right to be in SDS, we also wanting to expound upon our own politics, which might have been previously unclear to some.

    What we should try to find unity and agree upon is that we do need a better society, that we need to change things, and that we need to build a vibrant and loud student anti-war movement that can really shake things up.

    Echoing Josh, ya’lls support is nice to have :)

    -Kati

  5. Your attack on Rachael for stating an obvious and important truth is almost as disturbing as your defending of a twisted murderous and oppressive ideology.

    Your stubborn clinging to Leninism, Maoism and all their sickening offspring is unsettling to say the least, both in theory and in historical practice. Not to mention completely alienating the vast majority of people struggling for social justice, participatory democracy and human rights.

    It is not a choice between brutal Capitalism and brutal Marxist/Leninism, that is a false dichotomy set up to reinforce your belief in central planning and party dictatorship.

    I would encourage sdsers to use their incredible imaginations and creativity to look beyond these two oppressive systems and push for other anti-capitalist and more democratic, participatory and human ways of organizing society.

    Congrats to Rachael for standing up and speaking out!

    PS: Anyone interested more on exactly why and how Leninism is an fundamentally unjust and undemocratic ideology, check out the book “What Is To Be Un-Done”. Its a great deconstruction, though thankfully the Leninist theory and the man behind it are, as Rachael pointed out, irrelevant at this time in human history.

  6. Jonathan,

    Just to be clear, this is not an “attack” on Rachel as a person. To try to make it into something personal just clouds the issue of the underlying politics. It is not personal. This is an attempt from the people in FRSO to say their piece in response to some questions she raised and some comments she made about FRSO by name which were put on the web and circulated in SDS. These comments and their implications were a bit problematic, to say the least. It is an attempt to set a few things straight. I think that’s perfectly clear. If you want to try to make it something that it clearly is not then I think that says a lot more about you than it does about Freedom Road.

    As to the anti-communist rant, well, again, we don’t agree. I’m not going to argue with you about it though because this isn’t about who’s ideology is better. It is about sectarianism. It is certainly not the ‘authoritarians’ who are trying to impose one ideological viewpoint on the whole of SDS here. It is not the ‘Maoists’ who are tying to prevent or silence discussion of ideology and politics. In fact, I think it is actually really sad that some people in SDS only want to drive others out and create divisions when we have much bigger issues to deal with right now. Talk about alienating.

  7. Hey Jonathan,

    Thanks for your response. I think what you argue, however, is a part of the problem of sectarianism. Making blanket statements such as “your defending of a twisted murderous and oppressive ideology” is not a particularly useful criticism. Maybe this isn’t the place to discuss Marxism-Leninism, but what makes it “murderous and oppressive?” What makes it so “brutal?” Frankly, I have a really hard time listening to very pointed criticisms that offer no evidence whatsoever. I think that in itself contributes to sectarianism. I think we can have a more intelligent conversation about things besides superficial name-calling of each others ideologies.

    I don’t think this statement is setting up what you pose as a false dichotomy between the choice of Marxism-Leninism or capitalism. The statement itself talks about the need for a multi-tendency group, including “anarchists, social-democrats, Marxists, and other radical Leftist ideological tendencies”. You’re right that there are many choices and roads to take, and that’s a good thing. We also should be open to each other about these roads and create constructive, or even polemical, dialogue about them rather than openly exclude or degrade other Leftists.

    On SDSers using their “incredible imaginations” to find something beyond Marxism-Leninism. I would argue, as someone who has an imagination, that Marxism-Leninism is, and has been, far more creative and democratic than the average person would think. Again, I don’t want to diverge too much from what this statement is saying, but I’d love to have a conversation about this, and flesh out solid evidence behind this claim, with anyone who is genuinely interested in envisioning a more democratic and creative society.

  8. Remember what happened when the CIO started purging communists (real and fake)? It got weaker. When AFL started taking over union organizing in Alabama when the CPUSA stopped doing it? Workers unity was destroyed. Over and over again when the left does purges against communists in order to please the political elite that said organization normally gets weaker and the elite use it as an example, “See, told you they were taken over by Reds.” Etc.

    SDS rank and file better fight this shit or else it’ll just blow up like it did in the 60s.

  9. Love me love me I'm a liberal

    The record of self-righteous anti-communist “progressives” siding with imperialism against popular movements for change is long and terrible. Jack mentions one example, of “progressive” trade unionists purging the very unions who were courageously leading the fight for biracial unionism in the South while the “liberals” were upholding segregation and collaborating with big business. There are more violent examples, like the German Social Democrats siding with the military government in Germany in supporting Germany’s imperialist adventures and siding with the brutal slaughter of Communists in 1919, crushing social revolution. More recent examples are “progressive” trade unionists supporting imperialism in Latin America through the National Endowment for Democracy, aiding brutal thugs like the Contras against peasant rebellions (oh but they were REDS).

    The purgers take their ideological cues from these same collaborators with fascism, imperialism, and capitalism. Yet they have the audacity to act like their hands are clean and they are morally pure.

    And sure, Marxism-Leninism is “irrelevant” in this world. Just ask the people of Nepal, Colombia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. I’m sure in all of those cases, these “progressives” side with imperialism as well.

  10. It’s a little troubling that there are young radicals in the 21st century that still subscribe to the “scientific” socialism of the 19th and 20th centuries. But what really gets me is when I hear a young person toe the party line on the oh so revolutionary movements in Colombia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba, to name a few.

    To add to my dismay, I’ve had conversations with FRSO members in which I was sincerely told that Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution were fascist collaborators, and that the repression of revolting sailors at Kronstadt was necessary to protect “the revolution.”

    I’m not comfortable with this talk of purges within SDS, but how am I to shake the uneasy feeling I get when reminded of how accommodating Marxist-Leninists are towards divergent points of view once they find themselves in positions of power?

    To be fair, FRSO folks seem to be dedicated and sincere activists. Their politics just creep me the fuck out. A whole lot. I mean, it’s pretty fucked up when I have to work together with someone who just five minutes prior, during what I thought was going to be a innocent discussion of history, expressed their support for military actions against people I would gladly embrace as comrades.

  11. Your criticism goes both ways.

    In both of those cases, anarchists were taking action against people I, too, would gladly embrace as comrades. It is terrible that that happened, and of course it wasn’t good for the revolution. I don’t think whoever it was you were talking to was saying that what happend was a good thing, and I just don’t think it is fair to lay the blame for it at the feet of the communists.

    As far as Colombia, Vietnam, Cuba, and China (“to name a few”), did it occur to you that maybe a great number of people actually think these revolutions stand for progress, and are equally as ‘offended’ when anarchists talk about the need for their overthrow?

    Again, all of this illustrates two points rather well: that sectarianism is undesirable and that SDS needs to have more constructive discussions and a lot less name calling and talk of expulsion.

  12. Love me love me I'm a liberal

    Anarchists should also be concerned about those who want purges since they have been listed as “undesirable” by the purgers as well. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more outrage that Rachel and others want to ban certain “extreme” Anarchists from SDS.

  13. I write this for those sdsers that are opposed to the oppression of Leninism/Maoism in theory and in practice. To those who are struggling with the question of what to do about those that do advocate such terrifying politics inside sds. I have little hope that any argument with the dogma of the keepers of this blog will be fruitful. Thankfully there are so few that still advocate Leninism or Maoism that its not a significant threat to our movements.

    I find it interesting that the only defense Leninist/Maoists seem to have here is to raise the specter of “sectarianism” in an effot to complicate a simple issue and point fingures at people rightly concerned about members that openly advocate oppressive politics.

    In any effective organization it is important to choose members that uphold the core beliefs and principles of that group and conversely it is important to distance from people who do not hold those beliefs and principles. This should be uncontroversial. Or to put it another way along with the right of association comes the right of disassociation. Again uncontroversial. This is not “sectarianism” rather this is building an effective and organization and movement with like minded people working for social justice and participatory democracy.

    So the question really comes down to this: Who does sds include as its members? Does it embrace people that proudly and openly advocate racist, sexist, capitalist or homophobic ideology? No, of course not, it excludes them, while at the same trying to end those oppression across the society. In the same way, we must ask should sds embrace members that openly advocate and push for an oppressive political, social and economic system like those coming from Leninism or Maoism?

    Ultimately sds, this time around, is built on the idea of doing more than fighting against destructive things in our society. Its built on the notion that we should actively work towards new and better political, social and economic system as well. This is refreshing in an age of movements that are often forced into crises mode and into spending their time trying to stop or delay injustice rather than build justice.

    Certainly groups from all parts of the political spectrum can be “united” against the war, or against sexism or against deportation or against torture or against empire. That is possible and maybe even desirable. We can be united about what we are against, that’s relatively easy, but its another matter altogether to be united in what we are for, to be united in what we want to replace this horrible system we are currently living under. That is why many groups can work in a coalitions together while having drastically differing ideologies.

    In this process of envisioning, and working towards a new society – does sds want to be allied with people and groups whose ideas of a future society are based on horrific undemocratic political and economic structures? on one party rule? on dictatorship? on re-education camps, central planning, authoritarian control and murder on a grand scale? These things are historical facts about the sad legacy of Leninist/Maoist ideology. (I’m not sure if its hilarious or sad that members FRSO have somehow magically convinced themselves that the above legacy is not true, not important or even worse necessary.)

    On the other hand does sds have fundamentally differing ideas about what out future world will look like? As for me, my vision is one based on human rights, social justice and participatory democracy both political and economic which is totally incompatible with Leninism/Maoism in theory and in practice.

  14. neverforgetclassstruggle

    Skeet –

    I remember that conversation we had at the SE SDS convention last winter. And I remember what I said – it’s depressing that there had to be so much fighting between progressive forces at a time when fascism was rearing its ugly head. But I agree with Josh, that both anarchists and socialists died in these struggles, and while we interpret the history and the reasons differently, I don’t think anybody here would say that it was a good thing that any of those people died.

    How does this relate to organizing within SDS? Because, now we have a great opportunity to organize with each other, together, for a better society and against war, racism, etc. Now more than ever we need to unite to fight. To destroy that kind of organizational unity because you find somebody’s ideology “creepy” isn’t just unfair to those of us who are ‘creepy’ and who want to organize, but it’s detrimental to the movement as a whole.

  15. I guess following this great debate I have a question for Jonathan, what is your answer. Marxists are standing up and are saying this is what we believe,what about you? I don’t here you putting forth any theory.
    Marxist have freed oppressed workers through out history. I have found the ones who complain the most about Marxism are not coming from the working class. Marxist- Leninism represents hope to millions in this world that someday they won’t be slaves to landlords or corporations, instead they will be free.

  16. Jonathan wrote:

    “I would encourage sdsers to use their incredible imaginations and creativity to look beyond these two oppressive systems and push for other anti-capitalist and more democratic, participatory and human ways of organizing society.”

    This to me this is the diamond in the rough of his comments, even though there is still some sectarian phrasing. I too fight for this type of theorizing within sds, a ‘look beyond’ . But where Jonathan and I differ is that I feel that my own ideas can stand up to and in part be shaped by ideological tests that debate between me and others (be they MLs or anarchists or liberals) partake in and come out better than ever. A call for purging in a group like sds is an admission of failure of your own ideas or a complete lack of belief in them. I attempt to find the balanced position that avoids apologist or sectarian rants.

    In the words of Mao: “Let a thousand flowers bloom”
    and let those flowers share pollen (ideas) and recognize that we have similar roots and that our many shapes and colors only add to the beauty of the meadow of leftist politics.

  17. I think in these kinds of conversations (and the dialogs which inevitably surround them) insults and unqualified statements tend to get tossed around like rice in Hollywood weddings. I’m in agreement with many people across ideological divides who have commented here and expressed an opposition to purges and sectarianism, but I also think that in many ways sectarianism is being used to avoid talking about an important and perhaps jarringly difficult issue.

    As Skeet pointed out, uniting as leftist students is easy when we are reactionary, when we are lashing back at institutions of oppression or wars of aggression. Whatever one might say of the histories of marxism, leninism, maoism, anarchism, etc. these ideologies (at least in theory) define themselves in opposition to the kinds of forgein policy decisions made by the US in recent years and often too often) in the many years of this countries history before our births as well as certain divisions of power (I will not detail here the ways in which all these ideological camps have often failed or activly trivialized struggles based around gender and sexuality).

    But SDS seems to want more than that, seems to want to craft another world, another kind of power, and another kind of association between individuals and nations. We are not a group based in affinity politics. We do not seem to want to come together and step away when our politics and visions warrant it, instead we speak about unity. That’s a tricky and dangerous word in the hands of the empowered, but also in the hands of radicals. We should be careful when peaking about our unity, careful about who and how it excludes, careful about what we’re uniting against and in this context most importantly what we are uniting for. is SDS really just after and end to the war, if so why take the name SDS at all, and moreover what will happen to us when this war ends, what will happen to the hope of a truly democratic society which I hope we are all seeking in our diverse approaches?

    We have begun (especially after the drafting of a governing structure) to define what we are fighting for rather than against. And now more than ever divisions, rivalries, talk of purges etc. will abound. I am not trivializing the impropriety of a call for purges etc. I am simply pointing out that many people in SDS are not united in our visions of what a better world would look like. We must avoid false unity, we must avoid the notion that the left is one, we are splintered and we cannot simply wish those divisions away, we must cope with them.

    And we must cope with the reality that we are failing. SDS is shrinking not growing. If you look at the list of chapters online you realize that not just many, but most no longer exist. And the structure we passed is activly driving out more and more people. We need to talk about these issues, we need to be adults (If any of you are familiar with other conversations on this subject you will know I have failed pretty miserably to do so thus far…I am trying), and we need to recognize that it will be hard, perhaps it will be our end as well. But in building our future our vision we may yet strike on something new, some courageous experiment, I hope we will, and I believe we must if we hope to remain or become…im not sure which…relevant, revolutionary, and worthy of whatever histories we connect to politically.

  18. There is a lot to agree with in what has been said by Ryan and Richard here in these last two comments. Two points stand out to me as particularly important: Ryan’s point about the “hundred flowers blooming” and Richard’s point about building real unity.

    I think, taken together, these points are the hope of SDS. Richard is certainly correct to say that false unity won’t get us very far, and I think Ryan hits on how to get past it. And the statement here talks about this some too.

    We have the chance to build something new and creative and really learn from one another, but we really have to be a little more humble about it, a little less preachy. We have to be willing to discover new forms of mass politics together that fit our conditions and our needs. Different ideologies in SDS are here because we are all interested not only in ending the war, though that’s certainly a big one. We also want to build a better world. We don’t just oppose capitalism and imperialism, we are for participatory democracy. We may define this differently and have different historical reference points, but that also means we have an opportunity to learn from each other and to think a little outside of our comfort zones.

    Now, I’m no pareconomist, but I remember after the 2007 convention in Detroit, Michael Albert gave a rap about the difference between the new SDS and the old SDS from his point of view as a participant in the old and an observer of the new. One point he made is that the ideological differences in the old SDS tore it apart. In Marxist-Leninist terms, in the old SDS they engaged in debate in terms of “ruthless struggle and merciless blows” rather than in the style of “unity-struggle-unity.” Michael Albert said he thought we had a desire to avoid repeating that old sectarian mistake. Now, in my opinon, there are certainly two ways to deal with something like that. One is organizational: expulsion. This would in effect turn SDS into just the sort of ‘vanguard’ that nobody wants it to be, in so much as that would mean it would have a much higher level of unity than the broader masses and would seek to lead, in a way, from outside of the millions it takes to accomplish radical, revolutionary change. The other way is political, that is, to come to understand each other through constructive discussion and debate, based on our existing unity and with an eye toward a new unity.

    We don’t need to stifle these discussion until everyone who disagrees with us is gone, be they “extreme anarchists” or “Maoists” or whatever else. That isn’t going to be productive. On the contrary, these are just the sort of disucussions we need to be having.

    This is the essense of the quote from Mao that is in the statement:

    “You may ban the expression of wrong ideas, but the ideas will still be there. On the other hand, if correct ideas are pampered in hothouses and never exposed to the elements and immunized against disease, they will not win out against erroneous ones. Therefore, it is only by employing the method of discussion, criticism and reasoning that we can really foster correct ideas and overcome wrong ones, and that we can really settle issues.”

  19. Buenaventura Durruti

    As an anarcho-communist myself, I don’t particularly care for the ideology of FRSO, to say the least. Now, I don’t work with them in my chapter, but I have to admit that they have done a lot of the thankless and behind-the-scenes work that is necessary to have viable, student led, anti-oppression, antiwar network that can actually accomplish something in this country. I can’t really say the same for Rachel and company, although it seems they have all the time and energy in the world to dis us “crazy” [e.g., real] anarchists, along with folks of every other political stripe that they might see as an obstacle to their rampant authoritarianism. So what the fuck ever. We should judge people on what they do, not on what is gossiped about them.

  20. I speak for myself as a member of the Freedom Road at FreedomRoad.org (not the one ML’ist is a member of and speaking on behalf of at this blog). I am lingering over the question of whether to write my own summation of this brouhaha.

    There are a couple strains in the comments section that I believe I should address here. I’ll split them into questions of the past versus questions of the present, how to look at them.

    Questions of the past: let’s look askew at a fairly common ideological stance — somewhere along the line, various revolutions “fucked up” and that our duty is to trash everything that went along with them and start from scratch.

    The superficial appeal is one of apparent novelty — but is this so? Taking the long view, I would argue, no — in fact, this is one of the oldest rackets of conservative house ideologues of the ruling class. It happened with the French Revolution (the Brits had their ideologues saying, “See, that’s why it don’t get any better than liberal democracy!”; Napoleon’s ideologues saying, “See, that’s why you need Napoleon!”) It happened with the Paris Commune; the Russian Revolution; the Spanish Revolution; the Irish War of Independence; the Chinese Revolution — ad nauseam.

    If we wanted to get a little more familiar, could we not say that the Jim Crow era had the same message with regard to the Civil War and Reconstruction (the message: “See, that’s why we need to fly Confederate flags and uphold white supremacy!”)?

    When revolutions collapse, the task for revolutionaries isn’t to throw their hands into the air and act as if the whole enterprise is dead (that, in my view, is the true basis of revisionism). It is to re-examine the failures and attempt to start with the wisdom that comes from that examination — being careful to separate the flower of revolution from the weeds which choke it.

    Thus, in response to Jonathan’s millionth recitation of the crimes of revolution in the 20th Century — let’s look at the dead end that it gives us. Even if you uphold what he claims as true (some are, and some are not) — what does it tell you?

    I’m always struck by the presentation that such things “just happened”, as if societies were simply subjected to some divine wrath for the sins of committing a revolution, akin to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire.

    Well, that makes for great scripture; it makes shit history, and even worse politics. One wonders whether, in Jonathan’s tiny world whether Mao managed to destroy China with his bare hands, or if anybody in China other than Mao even has a name.

    And they say we have a personality cult!

    Let us transition to the present moment:
    A case in point on the need to separate the flower from the weeds, Nepal.

    The Nepalese Maoists, whom I think people can really learn from whatever their particular political stripe, concentrated a lot of their effort picking apart various revolutions, thinking through their mistakes and resolving to learn from them. Their phrase for this has been ,”Taking a clue from the 20th Century.”

    All history is a history from the point of view of the present. That’s a no-brainer — that’s why history books no longer do things as laughable as call the American Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression.”

    For the Nepalese, it meant that they looked at a number of historical problems in the revolutionary current. In the end, they came to conclusions — if I may struggle a wee bit here — that some folks in the U.S. would consider heretical: namely, they cited more than a few technical problems with the Stalin era Soviet Union, but rather deeper political ones; they in turn rehabilitated the role of Rosa Luxemburg from simply Lenin’s critic to someone who did in fact have quite a bit to contribute to current day practice.

    As a result, the Nepalsese managed to figure out how NOT to engage in things like purges — a split that could have been disastrous not only for the Maoists but for the country was avoided.

    And that is something that I think SDS can learn from in this whole fiasco. I’ve been adamant throughout this affair that Rachel’s talk of kicking me out — read very carefully, and I think there were a number of allusions to me personally — that none of that made for ANY justification for a call for Rachel to be kicked out in kind. None. I think I spoke quite clearly that Rachel had every right to even defame me — but that I would reserve the right to hold that up to scrutiny.

    And in the end, is that not the lesson here? Are things so bad that we are involved in a zero sum game for a few crumbs? Does anyone gain anything out of anyone else getting kicked out of this organization? Or does such talk of purges and kicking people out not the most smug and arrogant thing?

    I believe the Manifesto ends with a famous phrase. It’s not that the workers have a petty argument to win. It’s that we have a WORLD to win.

  21. I think this article makes it clear what FRSO’s intentions are. If these intentions change, it would clearly be a break in the ideology. Thank you for this statement.

  22. Anti-communism is not welcome in SDS. People advocating it are a small minority. FRSO does not have to apologize for the supposed crimes of socialism. But maybe we should give the anti-communists a chance. If they can convincingly explain away the 1 million Iraqi deaths since 2003, colonialism, the 14 hour workday, child labor, slavery, world war 1, fascism, mustard gas, the armenian and jewish holocaust, the massacre of nanking, the bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki, the vietnam war, the importation of crack cocaine into the ghetto, the mafia, thalidomide, the absolute mundane-ness of thousands of starvation deaths every day, every week, every year for CENTURIES, apartheid, organized crime, the destruction of the rainforest, the Bhopal disaster, the Exxon Valdez disaster, Hurricane Katrina, capital punishment, malt liquor, union busting, the Haymarket massacre and the millions of communists killed by imperialist-backed right wing dictatorships in the 100 years — then maybe folks in SDS can begin to discuss the “crimes” of socialism. Assuming we in SDS aren’t too busy building the movement for a world that would end such travesties forever.

    But I am sure that it is not forthcoming. In short, it is pretty clear that the small amount of anti-communists in SDS are trying to defend the indefensible. If they really can’t handle rubbing shoulders with communists, maybe they’d be more at home in a “Youth for McCain” campus group. They should look into it.

  23. Well this is an interesting discussion.

    While not a Maoist, I think the hypocrisy shown by the anti-communist liberals is merely a tool for them to fall back on, their reformist capitalist ideology is possibly the worst horror a man could have ever endured in our history. Case in point the support for proto-nazi dictators like Hernandez Martinez who murdered 40,000 native americans, forbid blacks to enter el salvador and supported by such “progressives” as Franklin Delano Roosevelt a hero of “progressives” and Obama-maniacs, no hypocrisy there, and we very do love the corporatist democracy you have given Salvadoran people! The rabid anti-communist rantings which border on something between CIA shill Robert Conquest and Josef Goebbels are merely that, rants. What should be interesting is how these petty-bourgeois student reformists can actually disprove the theories of Marxism-Leninism rather than ranting against it. They cannot, Marxism-Leninism is a reality and their petty-bourgeois academic utopia is a fantasy.

  24. “In fact, I think it is actually really sad that some people in SDS only want to drive others out and create divisions when we have much bigger issues to deal with right now.”

    Right on. Rachel Plaut and her cohorts were of course among the chief instigators of the campaign to keep older people out of New SDS, though the organization back at the beginning of ’06 was envisoned as multi-generational. It’s not surprising that their exclusionist virus lives on, this time in the form of a despicable anti-communism.

  25. This looks like a move by those who support Obama and the Democratic Party to turn SDS into their youth organization. Keep in mind that Paul Buhle endorsed Obama early in his campaign as did some other SDS/MDS ‘leaders.

    I have never been a Maoist but have found most Maoists easy to work with on the day to day activist level.

    Les Evenchick
    SDS since 1964

  26. to act as though no marxist/leninist/maoist group in recent history has infiltrated, co-opted, and ultimately destroyed a legitimate, effective organizing group is ridiculously dishonest.

    i have experienced — on many occasions — people claiming to be marxists absolutely sabotage really constructive events, meetings, and organizations (including new SDS functions!).
    it is absolutely not uncommon for people claiming that background to want to dominate and control organizations (sorry, but i’ve had far fewer experiences with anarchists trying to tell me what to do).

    this does not mean that i hold marxism accountable for such a-holes. i think we all put our hats in the workers’ ring. however, the FRSO folks (at least one of whom i can personally vouch for) should acknowledge the co-opting tendencies among their (proclaimed) ilk in an honest way. this doesn’t mean they accountable; it just means that they should not act like such criticisms are completely unfounded.

    with that said, i think it is totally valid for FRSO folks to defend themselves and clarify their objectives (very refreshing to see some consoling/reassuring comments rather than merely defensive).
    however, the whole “what you learned in high school” bit was really condescending. and, from posting folks, pulling the “pro-obama, bourgeois” bit is absurd.

    i think it’s really important that SDS allow for a diversity of approaches to solving what we all recognize as the problems. however, it would also be nice to hear someone comment every now and then that they don’t think that their fellow organizers should “be the first against the wall” for their ideological differences.

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