First Published: Guardian, September 13, 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Reading New Left Notes in the last few weeks, hearing reports from various conferences around the country and trying to argue with SDS “Weatherman” adherents, has led most of the movement to wonder whether or not the current SDS leading faction has finally flipped its wig.
The current controversy is centering around SDS plans for national antiwar actions scheduled for Oct. 8-11 in Chicago. An action was called in a resolution passed at the SDS convention in in June.
The resolution was seen as a step forward for SDS, ending a national policy of abstention from major national antiwar actions. But as the planning for the action has developed, most movement organizations, including many people in SDS, are having serious doubts.
The original plan for the action had four objectives: (1) to build a broad-based attack against imperialism; (2) to expand the anti-imperialist movement into the working class and to fight for working-class leadership of the movement; (3) to raise the level of militancy as a response to repression and (4) to make the demand “immediate withdrawal from Vietnam” operative rather than agitational.
At this point, the Weatherman faction, which controls the national office and the planning operations for the national actions, seems to have scrapped all these objectives except the third–increased militancy.
At present, the plan calls for four days of activity, beginning with a rally in memory of Che Guevara and Nguyen Van Troi (the martyred Vietnamese hero), a rock concert and a women’s action. Two days are set aside for an attack on the schools and the courts and the final day calls for a big march.
Most controversial are the actions planned around the courts and the schools. The Weathermen plan to descend on certain Chicago high schools, break in and race around the halls, yelling “Jailbreak!” This is intended to inspire high school students to rise up and join the Weathermen in the streets.
The court action is supposedly related to the trial of the Conspiracy–the eight antiwar leaders indicted for last year’s Chicago demonstrations. The Weathermen are planning to “tear up the fascist courts” and “stop the trial.” The action has little support, at this point, from the Conspiracy.
The mass march to be held on Oct. 11 has no support at this moment from any other organization in the movement, with the sole exception of the Yippies.
This is mainly the result of how the Weathermen have handled the march, since they are opposed to the tactic of building a united front. The action has also suffered from being billed around the country as a “kick-ass” demonstration, with the mass slogan “Bring the war home.”
Detroit Weathermen have gone so far as to claim that “SDS is recruiting an army right now, man, a people’s army, under black leadership, that’s gonna fight against the pigs and win!” This statement has been defended by the Weathermen in SDS’s Chicago national office as only “slightly incorrect.”
The Fifth Estate, a political underground newspaper in Detroit, made the first public attack on the action, saying in an open letter to SDS that the main focus of the Weathermen was only militancy, while the original anti-imperialist politics of the action had become a side issue. On the high school action, they commented, “This idea of the revolutionaries substituting themselves for the people is adventurism of the worst kind.”
When criticized for adventurism, Bill Ayers, SDS educational secretary, replied that “there’s no such thing as fighting too hard against imperialism.” Since adventurism is seen, mistakenly, by the Weathermen as “fighting too hard,” they are led to the position that there is no such thing as adventurism.
Criticism of the Weatherman has come from within SDS as well. In New York City, the Liberation News Service and SDS regional print shops went on a joint strike refusing to print Weatherman national action material until the national office met three demands: (1) the march on the last day must be reorganized as a mass united front action, (2) the national officers issue a statement saying they have no intention of attacking the people in Chicago, only the ruling class and (3) that clear anti-imperialist targets be chosen, rather than generalized attacks on the schools.
The “attack on the people” charge has been the most serious directed at the Weathermen. This comes from the fact that Weathermen have organized preliminary actions, mainly in Detroit, where they have used karate against those who disagreed with them. When asked at a meeting to discuss the action in New York if this was an example of what they meant by “militancy,” they said that it was.
The action also came under fire from SDS national officer Mike Klonsky in a New Left Notes article. Klonsky said the Weathermen, as a result of “sectarianism and adventurism” had “broken from the program put forth at the convention.” Klonsky was originally on the national committee to plan the action, but resigned in opposition to the Weathermen’s refusal to build a united front action that related to the needs and struggles of working people.
SDS national secretary Mark Rudd and Chicago coordinator Terry Robbins, both Weathermen, said, in reply, “It is true that this action will not build a ’united front against imperialism.’” They characterized the “united front, serve the people strategy” as “errors.”
At this point, the Weatherman faction, which is becoming more isolated every day, is still firmly in control of the action and recalcitrant about making political changes. The other major faction in SDS, known as RYM II, is still supporting and building for the action, but is urgently organizing SDS members and other organizations to gather enough force to change the character of what happens in Chicago.