Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Into Columbia SDS, 1967--Part 11

Around this same time, a regional SDS conference was held in Princeton, New Jersey one weekend. Eliezer and I took a bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 40th St. and Eighth Ave. late Friday afternoon. We arrived on Princeton University’s dead, deserted campus by early evening. In the large lecture room where the SDS conference was being held I noticed other Columbia SDS people, who had come to Princeton by car. SDS people from other New York City area chapters were also there, reminding me that SDS was more than what happened at Columbia.

At this Princeton conference, Dave read “The Port Authority Statement,” which he had written with Bob Gottlieb and Gerry Tenney. "The Port Authority Statement" was intended to be an updated equivalent of the "Port Huron Statement" of early National SDS. Its basic argument was that “the new working-class” of technocrats, technicians and middle-class professionals was going to be the agent of Revolution in the United States, instead of the traditional industrial working-class—which was declining in numbers and social power because of technological change.

After Dave read his "Port Authority Statement", an elderly editor or former editor of some Old Left publication looked perturbed and unimpressed. In a dogmatic, Old Left-chauvinist, intellectually elitist way, he argued that the New Left of the 1960s was “wrong to write off the industrial working-class under capitalism” and that “the new working-class theory” was “non-Marxist” and “made no sense.”

Yet in 1967, given the general political passivity of U.S. industrial workers in relationship to the U.S. war machine, and given the growing enthusiasm of white middle-class, pre-professional college students for radical politics, Dave’s “New Working-Class Theory” seemed to explain reality. New Leftists around Columbia were guided by New Working-Class theory political conceptions when they organized during the next year.

The Old Left editor’s argument against the New Working-Class theory was snickered at by most of the younger generation SDS people. Not just because of our ageism in relationship to Old Leftists of the older generation, but also because his description of the U.S. industrial working-class in the 1960s seemed inaccurate. The Old Left editor’s picture of the industrial working-class seemed like a result of wishful thinking and not a picture that was based on concrete investigation, observation and interaction with 60s industrial workers on the factory shop floor.

I can’t recall anything else about the Princeton conference meeting. Ted and Harvey were going back to New York City after the Friday night meeting and there was extra room in the car they were traveling in. Because the conference seemed boring, unproductive and irrelevant to mass organizing at Columbia, I was glad to get a lift back in the same car in which Ted, Harvey and Ted’s woman friend Judith were leaving early in. Eliezer stayed longer in Princeton and traveled back to New York City on a bus alone.

On the drive back from Princeton, Harvey sat next to me in the backseat and we talked about our lives, while rock music played over the car radio and other people in the crowded car engaged in other conversation.

“I was in Brooklyn CORE in the early 60s. And it amazed me to learn how racist the System was. And I used to play some guitar and write poetry. But it’s not enough just to be an artist. The point of life is to be a revolutionary and a communist, Bob. Marxist-Leninism, not C. Wright Mills, does explain the world. It really does explain how to end not only the Viet Nam War, but all future wars,” Harvey earnestly said at one point. In the crowded car, Harvey sounded so intellectually certain of his values, of his political ideology and of his purpose in life—and so morally motivated—that I really felt that Columbia SDS could, in fact, not only organize the whole Columbia and Barnard student body into the radical movement, but also the whole United States.

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