First Published: Guardian, January 18, 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Students for a Democratic Society has taken a new direction, outlined in the “Toward a revolutionary youth movement” resolution published on page 7. SDS sees its main task as that of overcoming the limitations of a student movement and expanding its base beyond the college campuses.
This has been a concern of the new left for some time. The narrowness of student-power demands and the isolation of many street confrontations have become clear to most activists in the last year. The problem has not been whether, but how the movement should expand its base. The resolution adopted by the SDS national council represents a step toward answering that question.
SDS has identified the working class as the crucial agency in the revolutionary transformation of capitalist society. In order to reach workers, SDS has set out to change itself from an anti-imperialist student movement into an anticapitalist youth movement. While continuing to expand its base on traditional college campuses, SDS organizers will increase their efforts in high schools, the military, community colleges and trade schools, and especially among young workers in factories and among the unemployed.
SDS sees important reasons for a movement to be formed along these lines. First, capitalism oppresses young people particularly in several ways: the repressive integration process of prejob training in the schools, extended unemployment and pre-employment periods, forced service in an imperialist army, and repression by the police and the courts. All these form a basis for common anticapitalist struggle among different social strata of young people.
SDS also hopes that bringing young working people into the new left would change the “middle-class” character of the movement. This expanded and more class-conscious youth movement could then be a critical political force, not only on the campus but in community and trade union struggles as well. In this way, SDS would be able to form an organic link with insurgent movements within the working class.
These reasons, as well as the statement itself, are basically sound, with exciting possibilities for the radical movement. But there are many problems and pitfalls, some of which were mentioned in the resolution itself.
Many young people in the country and some in the new left understand their oppression in terms of age differences. This perspective, termed “youth-as-a-class” obscures the class aspects of youth oppression and does not lead to anticapitalist struggle. Along with the uncritical celebration of the new “youth culture,” this tendency is detrimental.
Another problem a revolutionary youth movement will have to face is what the left has traditionally termed “left adventurism.” With the increasing militancy of young people coupled with a move off the campus, many can be led into clashes with the police without a clear strategy and base of support. While confrontation tactics will continue to be an important part of our struggle, ill-conceived “street actions” only serve to demoralize and further isolate the movement. Cracked heads can often lead to more unconsciousness than class consciousness.
The great strength of the new left has come from its ability to change course when the demands of political struggle indicate change. We view the present transition in that light. One great weakness of the new left, however, has often been the failure to implement theoretical developments in practice. We hope the youth movement resolution will produce more than a new level of rhetoric.