Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966

Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (ix)

The final course I took during the second term of my sophomore year that was significant to me was entitled “American Foreign Policy II.” It was taught by Professor of Government Schilling, a “balance of power man” who supported the U.S. military escalation in Viet Nam. He was anti-communist, anti-radical and anti-Soviet in his views. On an intellectual level, though, he found it entertaining to debate foreign policy issues in his class with leftist anti-war students like me.

The course met in a classroom at Columbia’s Law School, not inside Hamilton Hall like my other government courses did. After attending a few class sessions, participating in a few class discussions and learning how pro-Pentagon Professor Schilling was in his politics, I started to cut most of the remaining classes. But to pass Schilling’s course, I was expected to write a term paper on a foreign policy-related issue. In late February 1967, I chose the topic of my term paper: “The Military-Industrial Complex’s Role In Determining U.S. Foreign Policy.”

After the PL-led students stopped CIA recruiting in early February, political activity on campus remained at a high level. Tony and his PL followers came to the next Columbia SDS general assembly meeting with a proposal for Columbia SDS to begin an anti-ranking petition campaign at Columbia.

In early 1967, the Columbia Administration was mailing the class ranks of each of its 2S-deferred Columbia students to local draft boards in order to help the U.S. war machine determine, by means of class ranking, which students should be drafted first in case LBJ declared a “national emergency.” Students whose class ranking showed them to be less efficient than higher-ranking students would be more likely to be denied deferments by the U.S. Selective Service System [SSS], as a result of the Columbia Administration’s complicity with the SSS.

After PL proposed a spring term campaign to demand that the Columbia Administration stop sending class ranking information to U.S. draft boards, the New Left faction within Columbia SDS started to panic. PL—not Columbia and Barnard New Leftists—seemed to be the ones who were setting the spring agenda for Columbia SDS, and PL people were starting to dominate Columbia SDS general assembly meeting debates, in a way that made students feel that SDS wasn’t really a New Leftist political entity.

John, Harvey and Josh decided to hold a meeting at Teddy’s conveniently-located West 115th St. and Amsterdam Ave. apartment for non-PL people who were most active in Columbia SDS to attend. At the meeting, which Harvey and John dominated, we all attempted to define, more clearly, in what ways our approach to politics was different than PL’s approach to politics.

We concluded that, yes, PL’s idea for beginning a campaign to end class-ranking at Columbia was politically sound, but not just because ending class-ranking was morally justified or a good way to fight the U.S. war machine while on campus. An anti-class-ranking campaign was also seen by New Left activists within SDS as a vehicle for raising mass radical consciousness about the “true nature of the U.S. university” and their “real state of unfreedom” and “political powerlessness” and to turn people on to a New Left lifestyle and political orientation. At the meeting, Teddy also argued that PL’s conception of Revolution was “fundamentally Old Left, not New Left” and that our caucus represented people who were committed to a “life-style revolution,” unlike PL, which was only interested in obtaining political power for an authoritarian sect, by manipulation.

The New Left faction of Columbia SDS started to meet publicly every Friday afternoon in Earl Hall as a steering committee group which was open to all SDS members, including PL people. When necessary, though, informal meetings between SDS general assembly meetings would be held at Teddy’s apartment or someone else’s apartment. This was done in order to avoid the disruptive presence of PL fraction people. PL people at this time would often tie-up SDS general assembly meetings in long, irrelevant, non-productive, sectarian debates which tended to undercut SDS’s capacity to effectively engage in mass campus organizing.