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SDS: A Revolutionary Model? May 25, 2003 by RedStar2000


As you might imagine, with all my "negative" views, I am frequently challenged to provide a "positive alternative." Sometimes, I do offer suggestions that I think of as positive...but it is much easier to say what should not be done than it is to say what should be done. Most of our historical experience as revolutionaries has been negative.

But here, for your consideration, is a "positive model", or at least the bare bones of one. It is based on my own experiences as an active member of the Students for a Democratic Society from 1962 to 1970. I saw it when it was tiny and weak, I saw it when it became moderately powerful (perhaps 100,000 members), and I saw it shatter and disintegrate. Now, 30 years later, I still think we were on to something.

What were the characteristics of SDS that so impressed me that I still think of it as a revolutionary model? Well, for one thing SDS was "ultra-democratic". Political questions were decided at large and raucus national conventions held four times a year; and even so, implementation depended solely on the will of the local chapter. Officers were rotated out on an annual basis and there was very little in the way of a national bureaucracy.

For another thing, political discussion and debate was not something that just "the leaders" did; it was something we all did, constantly! For some reason, there was never a "mystique" of so-called "revolutionary leadership" in SDS. In spite of numerous appeals to Leninist rectitude, SDS remained confirmed in sin through most of its existence. When it finally tried to be Leninist (1969-70), it crashed and burned.

Could a new communist movement be built along such lines? I do not know. But looking back over the 20th century, good models are pretty scarce. I think we could do worse; so many have!


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