The rest of November and December was filled with meetings with other newly-recruited Columbia SDS people. The meetings took place in Earl Hall or in lounges in John Jay Hall. At these Columbia SDS organizational meetings, I started to talk at length for the first time with many Columbia and Barnard leftists who I hadn’t met before.
The junior, senior and graduate student male white radicals tended to dominate the discussion at these informal SDS organizational meetings. At one meeting in the basement lounge of John Jay Hall, definite political differences appeared between a non-Marxist-Leninist named Peter Friedland and most of the other white radicals, who all called themselves Marxist-Leninists.
Initially, I felt that Friedland made some good points about the need for Columbia SDS to be “New Left” and not “Old Left” in style and politics. He felt it was useless to try to build a radical student movement at Columbia using “Marxist-Leninist jargon and Marxist-Leninist crap,” which would confuse people about the sincerity of the SDS desire to establish a participatory democracy in the U.S. I also felt that if Columbia SDS turned into just another Marxist-Leninist sect, like the Progressive Labor Party, it would go nowhere politically. So my personal position in December 1966 was “let’s just unite around specific issues and actions we all support, and not get bogged down in questions of exact ideology.”
As I got to know the Marxist-Leninists in Columbia SDS more, however, I tended to move politically into their faction. They seemed to be the most dedicated, most intellectual and most politically experienced and knowledgeable white people on Columbia’s campus. Ted, for instance, saw himself as a Marxist-Leninist and always seemed to make the most sense politically at Columbia during this period.
John had read about Guatemalan guerrillas. We followed their example in our initial Columbia SDS organizational meetings. According to John, when a Guatemalan guerrilla band is formed, each individual volunteer tells the other guerrillas about his or her life and the reasons why he or she decided to join the liberation movement. By the time every guerrilla volunteer has spoken, everyone realizes how similar their lives of oppression have been and how the source of their individual suffering is, therefore, sociological, not individual or psychological. Given this reality, the guerrilla band immediately realizes that since individual oppression is collectively shared by others, the collective oppression can be ended only by collective resistance and collective, not individual, action. Feminist consciousness-raising groups later also utilized the Guatemalan guerrilla group model to recruit women into the late 1960s women’s liberation movement.
New Columbia SDS recruits quickly learned that we all shared a sense of political powerlessness, anti-war and anti-draft rage and a militant anti-racist and anti-capitalist value-structure. We also all wanted to build a radically new world and new social order.
James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles
10 years ago