STUDENT ACTIVIST AND HIS SUBCULTURES
This was published in College and University Business, August
1968, p. 42-44. The article had several sections, none of whose
authors were identified. Reproduced here is the section on "The
New Left," which is the only one written by Jo.
STUDENT POWER: THE NEW LEFT IS UNITED BY SENSE OF OUTRAGE
New Left is one part of what its adherents call "the Movement"
- a melange of people and organizations bound together by a common
spirit, style and outrage at American society but with little agreement
on what to do about it. Those of the New Left, however, do agree
that nothing short of a radical change in the basic institutions
and social relationships will suffice.
the organized core of the New Left (dues-paying members of organizations
amount to fewer than 15,000) has been expanding, the unaffiliated
supporters who will work or turn out for demonstrations have expanded
even more. Students for a Democratic Society, the largest organization
of the New Left, went from 25 chapters, 1,000 members, and not too
many more supporters in 1964 to almost 300 chapters, 6,500 dues-paying
members, and 35,000 nonpaying members in 1968.
is just one of many student and partially student organizations
that have appeared on the campus in the last eight years. Others
include civil rights groups such as Friends of S.N.C.C., campus
C.O.R.E. chapters, and an occasional N.A.A.C.P. affiliate; a plethora
of student peace organizations, many of which are linked by an umbrella
organization, the Student Mobilization Committee, which is based
in New York, and such groups as S.S.O.C. (Southern Students Organizing
Committee) and S.C.A.L. (Student Committee on Agricultural Labor).
central themes of the New Left have remained fairly constant. At
the core of these is the feeling that the individual should "share
in those social decisions determining the quality and direction
of his life." Activists admit that these values are primarily
an extension of the humanistic ideals they inherited from their
parents but say they feel compelled to reject the social institutions
which they feel have substituted empty rhetoric for significant
content. As one student put it, "When we went to college, we
discovered it was all a sham. We woke up from the American Dream
to face the nightmare of reality."
A strong dislike of what appears to be arbitrary decision-making
leads New Leftists to want "to do it themselves." Coupled
with this is apprehension of leadership of any kind. Leadership
means organization. It connotes bureaucracy and impersonality. S.D.S.
national officers rarely run for re-election, and at the most recent
convention it was difficult to find anyone to run for the major
In part borrowed from the hippies, the quest for self-expression
is often articulated as the need to be "liberated." Style
is seen as being as important as content, or the way one does a
thing as important as what one does. Romanticism is the optimistic
side of a very cynical attitude toward the potential of being "free"
in today's society, and a rejection of traditional professions,
careers and life-styles.
PURITY: Reacting to the complexity of modern society, everything
is seen as either right or wrong, correct or incorrect. The greatest
evil is to compromise one's principles or sell out.
Society could be "humanized" if relationships could be
made personal, direct and simple. Full-time movement organizers
generally try to live in communal arrangements which stress intimacy
As succeeding generations of students began to regard the multiversity
as it tool of the Establishment, they developed a strong strain
of anti-intellectualism. Many made a virtue of their refusal or
inability to articulate ideas and analyze coherently, preferring
to "talk from the, gut," and deliberately adopted a style
that was the antithesis of what they heard from their professors.
the Movement spreads, the hardcore activists remain an elite group
concentrated in the nonvocational disciplines of the humanities
and social sciences. Studies by sociologist Richard Flacks and others
show that activists have higher than average intelligence and academic
achievements and that they come from upper-middle class families
"which are urban, highly educated, professional and affluent."
Yet these students identified their relationship to society as similar
to that of the rural, poorly educated, lower-class Negro.
southern Negro put in effort without achievement and the northern
white student had achievement without effort. Both found in direct
action, at times merely for its own sake, an existential means of
creating a direct relationship between what they did and what happened
to them. Action substituted for ideology.
the Movement but not considered part of the New Left are a set of
student groups which do not share the New Left's distaste for ideology.
most influential of these groups has been the W.E.B. DuBois Clubs
and the Progressive Labor Party. The W.E.B. DuBois Clubs came out
of a series of education groups formed in San Francisco in 1961.
They are close to but not directly controlled by the Communist Party,
and, while they agree with the party line favoring coalition with
the progressive forces inside the Democratic Party and other liberal
institutions, they are not responsive to its discipline.
split off from the old Communist Party at the time of the Sino-Soviet
dispute to support the Chinese position. Initially composed of young
people within the Party, by the time it reorganized itself in April
1965, it had attracted many students possessed by the same desire
for action that compelled others to join S.N.C.C. and S.D.S. P.L.P.
called for "Revolution Now!" and made its appeal to the
"millions of working men and women as well as those students,
artists and intellectuals who will join with the working class to
end the profit system . . . ."
and less prestigious are the democratic socialist Young People's
Socialist League, the Socialist Party's youth organization, and
the Young Socialist Alliance, youth arm of the Trotskyist Socialist
S.D.S. contains only a fraction of those who consider themselves
New Leftists, it is the New Left's main organizational expression.
It was organized in 1960 by the League for Industrial Democracy,
a Socialist Party front group, in an attempt to put some life into
its moribund student sector. By 1962, when its manifesto, the Port
Union Statement, was drafted, it was already having serious disagreements
with its anxious parent. These were triggered by its refusal to
take a strong anti-Communist position or exclude Communists from
feeling that the Communist question is irrelevant has alienated
many left and liberal organizations who still feel the scars of
the 30s and the McCarthy era. One S.N.C.C. organizer spoke for many
of the New Left when, answering accusations of Communist infiltration
of the civil rights movement, he declared, "I don't care what
be believes, if he's willing to put his body on the line he's welcome.
The Communists aren't subverting us, we're subverting them."
S.D.S. is having its problems with a highly disciplined P.L.P. faction
within the organization which is seeking to push its "line"
of an alliance between students and the industrial working class.
At the June convention at Michigan State University, a sizeable
caucus controlled by P.L.P. kept the organization in turmoil.
the main objection to P.L.P's actions and proposals was that they
were reactionary. The New Left Majority Caucus, its they called
themselves, feels that the overwhelming majority of Americans are
members of the working class, not just blue collar workers, and
organizing projects must be set up which will appeal to diverse
is illustrative of the increasing radicalization of S.D.S. and the
students that has occurred in the last eight years. American society
is seen as so grossly defective that nothing short of a violent
disruption can restructure it.
S.D.S. a kind of despair has manifested itself in a verbal exhibitionism
with many members declaring that they are "revolutionary communists"
(communist is used with a small "c" in the original sense
of being a professional revolutionary who transcends class lines).
of S.D.S.. the newest generation of student activists has yet to
feel the full impact of this despair. This generation is comprised
of those who have been stirred to political participation by the
campaigns of Kennedy and McCarthy and while their faith is currently
held by the traditional democratic (or Democratic) processes, they
are very volatile.
the country the young campaigners have expressed privately their
feeling that "this is the system's last chance." As one
Movement activist put it: "These kids have worked so hard and
put so much of themselves into this campaign to show the party hacks
that the people want a change that when the Democratic Party tells
them to go to hell they're not going to meekly obey. They're going
to be so disillusioned they'll make the S.D.S. radicals look like
a bunch of practical politicians."
this is not the end. While who are preparing to return to, the campus
next fall with their by-now-professional political skills and possible
strong disenchantment with traditional political channels, the generation
of activists to follow them is already being trained.
next group won't enter college as naive freshmen ready to be proselyted
by the range of student groups. New Left organizers have reached
into the high schools to form S.D.S. chapters, resistance groups,
student power alliances, and underground newspapers.