Monday, March 06, 2006


So I just found out that SDS is back. No one took the time to tell me. I had to find out about it second hand. Boy, oh, boy. What will happen next.

Below is (1) an announcement, (2) an article from Next Left Notes on SDS today, (3) another article from Next Left Notes which includes a speech on organizing strategy and the world today by Bernardine Dohrn.

All I can say is, "YIPPIE!"

Go to the SDS web site at

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)
Announce Formation of a National Organization

Several chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) announced today, Monday, January 16, 2006, their intent to form a national organization and hold the first SDS national convention since 1969.

"It seemed appropriate to make this announcement today, on the observed Martin Luther King day", said SDS regional organizer Thomas Good. "We have an anti-war movement that is addressing the issue of stopping the bloodletting in Iraq but the civil rights issue remains unaddressed", he added.

The national convention is scheduled for Summer 2006 and will be preceded by a series of regional conferences occurring on the Memorial Day weekend.


SDS: Why Now (Again)?
by Paul Buhle

It is fascinating for me to think about SDS. In fact, it's downright compulsory. I am gathering stories and pictures, trying to weave them into a script for an artist to make into a visual (or comic-book) history, mostly "from the bottom up," i.e., the chapter standpoint. Sometimes the national leaders were good, sometimes they were terrible, but what happened at the base is the vital story, from the historic moment when SDS became a real social movement.

Why SDS then? The arguments are familiar and I won't try to rehearse all of them. The Empire had pushed ever onward and -- as I encountered SDS in the flesh for the first time -- had badly overextended itself in Vietnam. The Old Left had come to a standstill. Liberalism had flopped and had become part of the war machine -- or rather had always been part of the war machine. It could be pulled leftward but not far. Certainly not by young people joining the Campus Democrats, hoping to become powerful politicians and speechwriters someday. To do anything good at all, the Democrats needed a fire to be set under them. And a larger vision to be set out independently, something vastly beyond their compromised and bureaucratic grasp.

Of course, the Port Huron Statement was already on hand, and a splendid document it was. I got my fifty cent copy of the booklet from the same table where I paid my $5 membership and got my card. I was already a Marxist of some sort. But I could see that the PHS offered a vision in a new key, much as Paul Potter had called upon us to "name the system" in the previous spring's Washington demonstration that put SDS on the map.

SDS outstripped the other leftwing organizations on campus and also abandoned its social democratic roots because it presented the empowerment of students IN THEIR OWN NAME, urged them forward, gave them watchwords, rather than directing them only outward, to constituencies off campus. It had never been done effectively before, and has not been done effectively since.

So, why now? The reasons should be pretty obvious. The empire has overextended itself again. The Democrats have never changed much (and, for the most part, didn't really want those idealists brought in with George McGovern and afterward -- at least not to challenge the basic tenets and power centers), certainly not at the top. If individuals can sometimes be brought over to useful positions, on various issues, it will happen only through building a movement not dependent upon them.

That movement has advantages now that none has had since the sixties, and not only in the fact of imperial overreach. To take an obvious example, the movements in Central America of the eighties were drowned in blood, but the new movements percolating out from Venezuela will not so easily be overwhelmed. Nor has the US economy been up to its eyeballs in global debt until our current era.

There are a thousand things going against the prospects of a successful new SDS, of course. Administrators and the majority of professors won't like the new SDSers very much, because "business as usual" is more comfortable and more corporate-friendly. Various existing leftwing organizations will probably resent the competition and gripe, or infiltrate. (No statutory standard can keep them from doing so, in my view, and all efforts to restrict membership will be counterproductive.)

But this is the time. The vacuum is there. The imperial crisis is escalating, without any sign of resolution. Most important, millions of college students have no particular political orientation and little understanding. Some of the best, most effective SDSers grew up as young Republicans, anti-staters who might have been called "libertarians" if the word had been popular, young people from Texas, Oklahoma, rural parts of the Midwest . . . and, of course, joined with them, the descendents of Jewish (as well as other) leftwingers from generations past. Experiences of every background counted. And today, students of all backgrounds can be shown the need to mobilize, to help prevent the ongoing devastation of our world, to help empower the lowly as students learn to empower themselves, and to set out a vision of a really democratic society.

There's the key. The Industrial Workers of the World had it long before. Decentralized democracy, democratic decision-making at all levels, is the most radical idea ever hatched in North America and the only one with real lasting appeal. It makes sense to demand more democracy on campus, including transparency of where the money comes from and what the corporations or government agencies get in return. It makes sense to resist the re-militarization of campus. It makes sense to reach out to a multitude of others, including antiwar GIs, who come from a different place but share a lot of resentments and positive values.

But students need to speak for themselves, their generation, the world they are already inhabiting and will continue to inhabit. That's the vision that made SDS great and made it most useful to liberation movements elsewhere on earth. With a great deal of cooperation and energetic effort from students of all kinds, SDS can become great again. Building it, growing personally while sharing the project with old friends and those not discovered yet, can be the most rewarding experience imaginable.


From SDS to NCOR:
Socialism, Anarchism and Bernardine Dohrn

By Thomas Good

• SDS •

Growing up during the Sixties and early Seventies I was an admirer of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Participatory democracy as an internal structure for a political organization and as a model for deepening democracy in the United States had tremendous appeal. Despite being a few years too young to participate in SDS I nonetheless felt a part of the Movement and a personal regard for Bernardine Dohrn: "La Pasionara of the Lunatic Left" as she was called by J. Edgar Hoover. She was attractive, flambuoyant and brilliant as the spokesperson for the resistance. I was impressed with her revolutionary fervor and, being an adolescent, smitten as well.

However, SDS fractured in 1969 and in 1970 the leadership (the Weatherman faction) went underground to pursue Armed Propaganda as a means of conveying their revolutionary message. When Vietnam ended in 1975 the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) lost alot of their impetus and the peace movement itself seemed to grind to a halt. Many activists, myself included, joined socialist organizations in order to continue the struggle. Although The War had ended, the Empire was not dismantled and it used various lethal methods to continue State policy by other means. It had to be resisted, even with our depleted numbers.

Over the next two decades the Soviet Union collapsed and many struggles for national liberation faltered, some being impaled on the sword of US imperialism. Things seemed grim and neoliberal aggression continued, unchecked for the most part, both at home and abroad. Then came Seattle. The anti-globalization struggle rocked the complacent corporate rulers of the US and animated the Left. The emergence of a militant opposition to business as usual was not led by the Old Left (the socialist parties) nor by the New Left leaders of the Sixties. The resistance was populated by activists who identified as anarchist.

After the seizure of power by the Bush forces in 2000 and the flagrant violation of international law embodied in the invasion and annexation of Iraq, the Old Left, many New Leftists and the Anarchist Resistance took to the streets. In my own experience, as we all sat together in jail, during the 2004 Republican National Convention, solidarity was very evident. In the grime of Pier 57 sat 70 year old Quakers, middleaged New Leftists, Old Left socialists, and large numbers of young anarchists. In this climate I witnessed the beginnings of a dialogue between the old and new guard.

• NCOR •

Since 1998, American University in Washington, D.C. has been the site of the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR), an event designed to "provide a space for activists to meet each other, have in-depth discussions, analyze our strategies, tactics, beliefs, learn a few new skills, and give everyone a lot to think about". {1}

Myself and one other member of the Direct Action Tendency (a formalized tendency within the Socialist Party USA which is often called the "anarchist wing" of the Party due to our emphasis on non-sectarian, non-hierarchical - read participatory democracy - and activist oriented political mass work) journeyed to the 2005 NCOR. We intended to table there as a means of building our upcoming direct actions. {2} But we were also keenly interested in attending a workshop entitled: "Comparing Radical Traditions: A Democratic Socialist-Anarchist Dialogue. The workshop was being led by Lucas Shapiro, a Young Democratic Socialists leader with an impressive resume. I was personally hopeful that the dialogue I witnessed at Pier 57 could be replicated on a much larger scale...

Sam and I arrived in DC on Saturday morning and found American University without difficulty. We setup our table, did a fair amount of chatting about upcoming actions with passersby and a little shopping for Lefty kitsch before heading off to our "dialogues" workshop.

The workshop was a very big draw, much to the surprise of the presenters. Sitting crosslegged on the floor, my comrade Sam and I listened as the basic arguments of the YDS folks were laid out. Unfortunately the focus appeared to be on the issue of whether the State was essential to the continuation of various basic services (such as sewage disposal etc.) This narrow focus caused some restlessness within the audience, largely young and anarchist. It also was revealing in the sense that the YDS presenters appeared to be unable to conceptualize a social order that was born of a revolutionary change rather than a series of incremental reforms. More significant was the fact that by zeroing in on anti-Statist versus social democratic viewpoints no dialogue on practical matters (joint organizing) occured. This issue was raised as an obviously heartfelt plea by a young anarchist sister who complained of being tired of rehashing the same old divisive arguements and who clearly wanted to know how the Left could work together. I spoke at this point suggesting that the Direct Action Tendency of the SP was very eager to hear what our friends in the anarchist community had to say and that we are extremely interested in working together. I did not expect much in the way of response, as I've been called a "boring old Marxist trying to co-opt direct action" by some (sectarian) anarchists on the NYC Anarchist listserv. To my surprise the response was very positive and several anarchist brothers and sisters requested the url of our website. {4} We left the workshop hopeful that a dialogue between socialists and anarchists is a real possibility. Back at our table we scanned the list of workshops to see what else was of interest and to my shock discovered that Bernardine Dohrn was speaking the following day, giving a report back on the World Social Forum. Having never heard her speak in public I could hardly wait to have that opportunity.

• Bernardine Dohrn •

Sunday morning, after some tabling and conversation with other activists Sam and I located the lecture room where Bernardine was speaking. We got there early (for once) and secured seats in the second row.

Bernardine was introduced as a former SDS/WUO leader, a professor of law at Northwestern University and child's rights activist, a mother of three and lastly, a grandmother - at which point she smiled and raised both fists in the air in celebration. She began her talk with some obviously sincere praise for the activists in the room: "You're doing great! We are hoping to join you (in the struggle)". Although the presentation was meant to be a report back from the recent World Social Forum in Brazil it covered alot more ground that this and started with a question: "We are living with a permanent war...and a...national security state. How do we go towards building a radical movement?", she asked. "Today the US spends as much (on the military) as all of the other countries of the world combined. Why? There are three reasons: to control the world's resources; to police unfriendly or terrorist regimes (and); to dominate markets".

Addressing how to identify the key issues around which to build a radical movement, Dohrn urged the audience to read the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Not the pablum Dr. King, but the radical... read the speeches of the last two years of his life...he argued that the three greatest dangers are racism, militarism and consumerism." "We should add one", Dohrn said, "Importation of religious language into politics. It justifies everything". She added that it reduced complex issues into a fantasy good v. evil polarity in order to obscure the real issues including the insatiable US lust for oil: "If the rest of the world consumed oil at the rate the US does all of the world's oil would be depleted in 19 days."

Dohrn spoke about the World Social Forum where the idea that the US and it's ideology of consumerism, it's belief that "this is the only game in town, that this is the dominant ideology" was effectively challenged. Bernardine urged the activists present to reject this ideology and to work to overcome the geographic illiteracy that afflicts all Americans, and to overcome the memory loss this illiteracy facilitates: "We have a kind of amnesia about the rest of the world". Dohrn spoke about her own ignorance regarding what had gone on in Rwanda, or even where it was on a map, until one of her students proposed going there. After a class outing to Rwanda and digestion of ten books on the genocide that had occured there Bernardine and her students felt they knew "a little" about the subject...but still felt as Americans they needed to learn more. Dohrn put a question to the audience: "Can you name the six nations that border Iraq?" No one activist could do it but working together the audience was able to name these countries. Dohrn saluted this...and spoke about the Iraq invasion: "This incredible, illegal, immoral war in Iraq (has produced) over 1100 US dead". Returning to US amnesia and ignorance of other cultures Dohrn spoke about the fact that the Vietnam and Iraq wars, despite many differences, "in some ways are eerily similar". Both nations are "countries with an ancient civilization". Iraq she added, "is the cradle of civilization", a fact completely devalued and ignored by the US. This myopia has lethal consequences: "the bombing and devastation in Fallujah is the Guernica of our time", Dohrn said. This cannot stand, she argued, urging a redefinition of 'terrorism' from a "humanist" point of view: Terrorism is systemic violence against civilians." Further strippng away any mystification, Dohrn noted that, from the US point of view: "Terrorism means any opposition to the US government."

Turning to what is going on internally, Bernardine noted that the unlawful detention of political prisoners of Arab descent in the US has produced "show trials of Arabs (which) have produced nothing". Yet no one here speaks up, none question these arrests either in the US or in the "little puppy dog of the United States, England". Alluding to a solution to this dilemma Dohrn urged the crowd to recognize the power of a few dedicated people to change the world. She listed the two ingredients that produce a dialectic of change: "the synthesis of civil rights and anti-war" struggle produced the sixties. "But it really happened in the seventies", she noted, laughing.

Bernardine, apparently somewhat constrained by the podium between her and the activist audience, hugged the lecturn, leaning forward, gripping the small microphone. "We need to know what is happening in Mosul, in San Quention, Attica..." she intoned. She spoke about struggling to free political prisoners who had challenged US ideology and been jailed for it. She spoke of the plight of all political prisoners and prisoners of (class) war here in the US who have been "excluded, marginalized". "In prison we have the modern day equivalent of slavery", she noted. She urged intensifying efforts to free some prominent political prisoners like Leonard Peltier and David Gilbert.

Tying together the threads of working for change and working to free political prisoners, Dohrn argued forcefully for a world view based on compassion: "A world of reciprocal recognition is at the heart of humanism". Returning to the idea that a few dedicated people can change the world, she jokingly referred to the "non-existent sixties" wherein no one really felt they were making a difference. "We went to Ann Arbor...they said: we're so disorganized, it's not happening here, it's happening in Columbia. We went to Columbia... they said: we're so disorganized it's not happening here, it's happening in France..." Laughing with the audience Dohrn continued: "It was always true throughout the Sixties that we were small and marginalized." Arguing that since we had put to rest the myth of the "nonexistent Sixties" and that the corporate media had declared it legally dead: "now it really is, let's bury it!" And just as the myth of the Sixties implied an irresistable force so, Dohrn argues, the myth of Empire posits itself as the only thing possible. "But that notion is obviously completely wrong. There is nothing invincible about Imperialism...they resort to force AS THE FIRST OPTION", demonstrating their weakness. She spoke about Bush, comparing his re-election to that of Nixon: "After his second election, Nixon was out within a year."

Speaking about the need for unity and reconciliation within the Left, Dohrn pointed out that one glaring failure of the Sixties was the ostracizing of veterans. She noted that Black vets in particular had alot to offer in terms of educating those youth who might be lured into military service.

Turning to alternative models of development in the world, Dohrn spoke about Venezuela as a counterpoint to US cultural hegemony. In Venezuela she pointed out a "Democratic, Peaceful, Bolivarian, Revolutionary" government is feeding the people and providing healthcare, thanks to the presence of Cuban doctors. Noting that we must all struggle together towards this and other anti-imperialist, anti-consumerist models of development Dohrn stated that "under one big tent" is how we must carry the struggle forward. We must remember that "the Black freedom movement" is the cornerstone of our struggle, she insisted. With Her revolutionary passion still intact after years of struggle, her charm and natural manner still readily apparent, she revealed the source of her strength: "We need our humor!" Humor is an essential ingredient for staying power. She also noted that "we need three things: organizing, activism and education". All three must be present for us to be effective she added.

Concluding her remarks, Bernardine emphasized that the young are the hope and expressed gratitude that the Sixties generation might be allowed to play a role in the struggle by "riding on your coattails". Dohrn mentioned a tidal wave of change that will yet bring about a better world. She leaned forward and said: "You're part of that tidal wave, I thank you!"

In a quiet tone Dohrn mentioned that her own interest in the youth and "children's rights is due to having three sons" and that her ability to see the world in terms of its children causes her to frame the struggle in terms of providing a better world for these children.

After sustained applause and a word from the moderator, Dohrn returned to the microphone to take questions. Responding to a question about the nature of US imperialism and how to combat it she replied: "The US invented modern day terrorism...for me nonviolence isn't a worldview, it's a tactic."

A committed radical and revolutionary at 63, Dohrn offered this insight: "The difference between reform and revolutionary struggles is linking the issues..." Addressing the entire audience she offered an apology: "I'm deeply sorry, we never thought we'd leave you this world." Offering one last bit of advice on how to rectify the current state of affairs Bernardine said: "Be certain enough to act and to doubt simultaneously".

Regarding the current situation she said at least twice: "I'm extremely hopeful".

After the talk ended Bernardine remained at the podium to talk one on one with activists. I approached her and mentioned our work on the March 19th direct actions. She asked to confirm the date and then said "great!" when I emphasized that the actions would be at recruiting centers. As a parting gift from an old admirer I gave her a Direct Action Tendency button, pointing out that the logo is based on the old SDS Days of Rage raised fist. She looked at the button, laughed and pinned it to her jacket. It was a very special moment for this New Leftist.

• Aftermath •

Journeying home, Sam and I discussed our direct actions upcoming and also the need to continue the dialogue between socialists and anarchists. Thinking about Bernardine's advice on the subject we made a note to incorporate equal parts humanism and humor in our organizing and to remember to thank our young anarchist brothers and sisters for allowing us to be a part of the struggle for their future.


{1} (NCOR home page)

{2} (Counter-recruitment actions taking place on the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion).

{3} Direct Action Tendency


Next Left Notes
(c) 2004,2006 Thomas Good

Verbatim copying and distribution of entire articles is permitted
without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.

No comments: