Thursday, February 8, 2007

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

Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (x)

Around this time, other leftist students became involved with Columbia SDS who formed the hard-core of its “praxis-axis” faction. “Praxis” was a political term used by National SDS people to describe political theorizing and strategizing which related to daily radical activism.

Evansohn was a graduate student in sociology at Columbia of average height who dressed straight, not bohemian. He looked like a future academic, not like an activist, artist or hippie. He was beardless and had no mustache. His hair was not super-long, although it was longer than most Columbia professors.

Evansohn attended Columbia SDS steering committee meetings fairly regularly during Spring 1967. He saw himself as more of an academic, Marxist theoretician than as an organizer-activist or Movement shitworker. Evansohn rarely volunteered to either write leaflets, type-up stencils, run the mimeograph machine, post leaflets, make phone calls, hand out leaflets, sit at Columbia SDS recruiting tables or walk around with petitions. He was apparently from upper-middle-class wealth and had studied at SUNY-Binghamton before entering Columbia graduate school.

Evansohn’s basic political argument was that Columbia, like the University of California at Berkeley, was no more than a vocational training school and research instrument for the corporations and U.S. corporate capitalism. And that the education we were all receiving inside Columbia’s classrooms was “bourgeois” mis-education and little more than the transferring of “bourgeois ideology and culture” to a new generation of captive students.

“Students have to be shown that the corporate interests served by the Columbia Administration are antagonistic to their own student interests. And that to insure that Columbia serves their own interests, they must struggle to take power over the institution from the Administration,” Evansohn argued at one meeting.

Columbia SDS’s New Left faction accepted the truth of Evansohn’s theoretical argument at this time. His basic notion about the Columbia Administration’s true relationship to U.S. capitalism and U.S. corporate interests, and the bourgeois ideological bias of its class course content, seemed to reflect the reality of the late 1960s situation at Columbia.

Peter Schneider was another key praxis-axis theoretical leader who became active around this time. Like Evansohn, Schneider was very intellectual, academic and non-bohemian. He was a philosophy major and was already married to an equally politically-involved Barnard student named Linda Schneider. The Schneiders lived in a high-rise, middle-class apartment building on La Salle Street, a few blocks north of Columbia’s campus.

The Schneiders, unlike Evansohn, were willing to volunteer their time writing leaflets after meetings. But neither one of the Schneiders ever seemed willing to do much dorm canvassing, perhaps because of Peter Schneider’s increasingly elitist, frivolous and non-passionate approach to radical politics. Although Peter Schneider was only a Columbia College junior in Spring 1967, he seemed, on an emotional level, prematurely old, like a 21-year-old with a middle-aged heart. Like Evansohn, Peter Schneider thought that Columbia and Barnard students could be radicalized purely by “education alone.” Linda Schneider was a bit more emotionally involved in her radical political commitment, but she pretty much followed her husband’s political approach to radical politics.

Then there was Halliwell, a Russian History graduate student at Columbia. Halliwell dressed in a bohemian-proletarian way and worked with National SDS organizers and New York Regional SDS Office people. He liked to attend National SDS conferences and international student radical conferences. But he was too elitist to do any Columbia SDS organizing at his own school, except to chair an SDS general assembly meeting once or twice. Despite his ties to National and Regional SDS, he never once went into a Columbia dormitory to canvass Columbia students and speak to dormitory residents about New Left politics or about why they should join SDS. (By the 1990s, Halliwell was an executive at Citibank).

Despite their political elitism and political weaknesses, however, Evansohn, the Schneiders and Halliwell were all pleasant people, personally. They also all seemed to have far more integrity and more of a commitment to the politics of liberation than either the non-Columbia SDS people around campus or the faculty members of Columbia.