Sunday, January 20, 2013

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Into Columbia SDS, 1967--Part 8

Another reason why SDS people voted not to join the PL-led anti-CIA sit-in was that the Columbia Administration had vowed to discipline any student involved in stopping recruiting. It seemed foolish to risk being disciplined when our numbers were still so small.

The Columbia SDS dorm lobby meetings that evening and during the next few weeks went well. At the meeting in Furnald Hall’s lobby a good crowd of white liberal and white conservative dorm residents passed in and out of the lobby meeting, during the two hours it lasted, as did about 15 Columbia SDS people. When one liberal Columbia student argued that Viet Nam was an isolated case of U.S. foreign policy immorality, Harvey became angry and replied:

“What about Iran in 1953? What about Guatemala in 1954? It’s not just a question of Viet Nam. It’s a question of the U.S. government’s whole immoral foreign policy. And it’s not a question of free speech when it comes to the CIA being allowed to recruit on campus. The CIA is a criminal organization. Just like the KKK is a criminal organization. It not only has no right to recruit. It has no right to exist!”

Josh and Teddy were also there to argue effectively a New Left political line with much moral fervor and enthusiasm. Josh had been unanimously elected Columbia SDS vice-chairman because he was the only Columbia College senior interested in being Columbia SDS vice-chairman at that time and because he had no political enemies in Columbia leftist circles, as a result of his personable nature and non-rigid political style. John had been unanimously elected Columbia SDS chairman because he was the driving force behind the founding of the chapter, in addition to Dave, and because Dave had already graduated from Columbia College in 1966.

Classes for the second term of my sophomore year started. I ended my 1 ½ year involvement with the Columbia Citizenship Council’s P.A.C.T. because of my conclusion that it was politically ineffectual, too reformist, not radical enough and too white paternalistic. The afternoon and evening time I had devoted to P.A.C.T. work was now free for me to engage in more Columbia SDS organizing activity.

I kept writing new folk songs each month, but I no longer even considered writing plays and short fiction anymore. I was too busy interacting with real people within a large community of leftists, reaching out to new people with my revolutionary message and attempting to actualize my fantasies in real life to spend much time isolated in my room, pumping out a new play or novel. I began to see fictional writing, like reading, as a defense mechanism for really being involved with people and as a poor political substitute for really attempting to change the world by activism.

Three classes I took in Spring 1967 were significant to me because of the independent research they led me to engage in.

For my second term of “Europe 1870 To The Present” course, I wrote a long term paper on the European anti-war movement during World War I, which led me to read about the Second International’s failure to prevent World I and to read about how both pacifists and socialists continued to resist World War I after it began. I studied the Zimmerwald Conference of 1915 and both Rosa Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s writings of the World War I years.

The graduate student-teaching assistant assigned to mark the term paper trashed the paper on both political grounds and stylistic grounds. But my World War I resistance research seemed connected to my anti-war activism and seemed quite relevant to all the issues which were being discussed by 60s activists who wished to stop the Viet Nam war machine.

For my second term of Professor Kesselman’s “Reflections In Politics Since 1914” course, I wrote a long term paper on “The Role of German Universities in Nazi Germany,” in which I examined how German universities acted as “business-as-usual” instruments of Nazi totalitarianism during the Third Reich. I noted in what respects U.S. universities were fulfilling similar ideological and training functions during the Viet Nam War. By 1967, I felt the U.S. military machine’s operation in Viet Nam was comparable to the Nazi military machine’s activities during World War II. I also assumed the U.S. ruling class, like the German ruling class, would tend to drift towards more domestic fascism, in order to stifle mass resistance to its policies. Readings for this course included Behemoth by Franz Neumann, which was a sociological study of Nazi Germany, as well as some of Hitler’s speeches, Bullock’s biography of Hitler and Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism work.

What was also interesting about the Spring 1967 term of Kesselman’s class was that three Columbia SDS activists, in addition to me, had enrolled in the same course: Harvey, Teddy and a sophomore activist named Mark. After attending the first few class sessions, Harvey and Teddy mostly cut classes for the rest of the term. On the few occasions Teddy did appear, he usually walked in about one-half hour late at 11:30 a.m., with a big smile on his face. Mark attended class a few more times than Teddy, but also soon lost interest in the classroom sessions. After I saw that Harvey, Teddy and Mark were no longer coming to class to dominate the discussion in a collective way, challenging Kesselman’s social democratic political line and historical interpretations with arguments that Kesselman couldn’t answer, I also stopped going to class.

On the first day of class, after Kesselman had handed out the reading list, Harvey had raised his hand and asked: “Why isn’t Trotsky’s book on the rise of fascism included on the reading list?”
Kesselman looked uncomfortable and mumbled something about it not being an important work. Harvey then lectured Kesselman in his super-intellectual way, with arguments concisely and clearly laid out in order, for a few minutes. Teddy, Mark and I, and some of the other students, started to giggle, because Harvey appeared to already know more about the course’s subject than Professor Kesselman did. After hearing Harvey talk some more during the rest of the period, it became obvious that he was a more interesting, scholarly and knowledgeable lecturer on the subject than the Columbia professor.

It was in Kesselman’s class that I first noticed Mark as more than just somebody who looked vaguely familiar because he was some sort of a leftist. In early 1967, he had a brownish beard. He was around 6 feet tall and he dressed proletarian and bohemian. He wasn’t especially articulate in class compared to Harvey or Teddy. But Mark liked to talk in class when he showed up and he used his class talking time to bring current political issues into the discussion. In cold weather, Mark usually wore a green coat and a stocking cap.

Before or after Kesselman’s class sessions, Mark and I didn’t speak too much or too deeply. I found Teddy friendlier than Mark. Mark, unlike Teddy, never seemed to speak to people in a non-ambiguous way. He seemed harder to get to know than Teddy. Mark also wasn’t that interested in talking with me about New Left politics.

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