Between the two Soldiers' Field meetings, a massive student defection from the SDS position took place. In part, the call to discontinue the strike sprang from weariness and the fear of academic abortion that haunts all of us. Yet it is important to realize that there was a definite element of political rationality in the act: most people simply allowed themselves to be convinced that the Faculty was proposing "meaningful" action on the ROTC demand.
Since then the situation has changed. Now that the Corporation has said it will interpret the Faculty resolution in such a way as not to reduce the number of officers supplied by Harvard to the military, it is becoming apparent that the Faculty resolution, in effect, thwarts the will of the nearly two-thirds majority of students which voted last week to abolish ROTC. The crucial emphasis of this week's radical activity should therefore be on arguing this position with students, to show them that there is good reason for continuing the fight.
Instead of which SDS seems to have chosen the tactic of taking action on its own, leaving the mass of students to puzzle out for itself the rationale behind SDS's moves. It is true, as SDS has found in the last week, that the vast majority of students will not itself actually take any action in support of the demands (not even as minimal a one as joining a picket line). The only people SDS can rely on to do anything are the 400 or so who make up the radical hard core. But it is wrong to thing, because of this, that the continuing effort to gain and hold massive student support on the issues can be dispensed with.
When SDS commands extensive latent support in the student body it is enabled to take successful militant action. In fact the more latent support exists the less militant the action need be. On the other hand, to take militant action in a context of latent non-support (shading into latent hostility) is clearly foolish. Thus, until a determined effort has been made to correct the misconception on the part of most students that the Faculty is near meeting the student demands, it would seem to be a mistake for SDS to make any seriously disruptive moves. Otherwise, lacking mass support, there can be no guarantee that, say, a tiny minority of right-wingers may not feel bold enough to get violent.
The SDS concept that one can build student support by first taking a building smacks of Debrayism since it seems to boil down to the rule that when confronted with an environment of latent hostility all you have to do is make you presence felt and that will automatically create letent, and even active tactics were suicidal.
The original University Hall action did not backfire precisely because the long debate on ROTC that had been going on all year had effectively created latent support for the SDS position, which very quickly became active support once the cops had been and gone. The long period of fruitless knocking at the doors of established channels that SDS had to go through all fall turned out to have been absolutely necessary. We all knew that political education was a slow process but it seems, surprisingly, that time is the crucial input. That this is so is shown by the fact that the three expansion demands never did get accepted by the mass of students. This was mainly because these demands were sprung quite unexpectedly and people had not had a chance to think about them enough. These particular demands were not backed up, as the ROTC demands were, by the long period of dissemniation and absorption and constant political agitation which by some mysterious process of osmosis does create a true consciousness. The main need always is for explicit political organizing.
In the last week, particularly, SDS has blatantly neglected this part of its role. There just has not been enough routine organizing activity in the Houses, and this seems to reflect SDS' growing turn inward.
The impression one gets from SDS gatherings is that its members feel a rising sense of desperation, a growing isolation from the rest of the student body and therefore a rising willingness to take unilateral action. If this is so then it is also clear that this is a defeatist mood which SDS is bringing upon itself for no good reason. There is absolutely no justification for SDS to maintain this posture of defensive, though dignified, elitism. SDS should not adopt the attitude that it is going to do its thing no matter what and the rest of the student body will have to figure out a response as best it can. Rather the emphasis should obviously be on going to the students and attempting to win them over.
The whole SDS attitude towards the two mass meetings in Soldiers' Field is typically disturbing. By choosing not to participate in the meetings in any concerted form, by choosing not to make a clear defense of its demands and by not fighting to get the demands accepted by the meeting SDS implied that essentially it bore a strong mistrust of the large mass of the student body. This breaks the first article of faith of Maoist thought since contradictions within the student body are non-antagonistic. As it turned out the CRSR demands were overwhelmingly accepted at the first meeting. SDS is to be strongly blamed for having allowed a powerless and unorganized group such as that one to usurp the leadership of the student movement for however short a time.
SDS clearly feared that it would not be listened to or understood by the soldiers' Field crowd (which was possible) but that was not sufficient reason for SDS to abdicate from he responsibility of directing its attention to the vaguely uncommitted masses of students. SDS was bale to ignore the people in the Stadium in this way because such aloofness seems to have become an inherent part of the functioning of the organization, as if its coherence and identity is dependent on its remaining a relatively small splinter pressure group.
In House after House last week important political discussions were carried out under the auspices of puzzled moderate groups, who attempted to put some position together in response to SDS's actions. No wonder that the positions that came out of the Houses were so often fuzzy and inadequate. In too few instances did House meetings turn into forums in which SDS members presented their case to the members of the House at large.
The Dunster House newspaper lamented, "What the second week showed was that many Dunster men were prepared to spend long hours discussing the issues in nearly nightly meetings. It also showed that SDS members in the House were attending their own meetings elsewhere."
The point is that as long as SDS thinks of itself as mainly a pressure group whose task is to force situations to which the rest of the student body has to come to terms independently, it is perfectly proper for its members to spend most of their time deciding what SDS should do as a centrally organized, closed group. I am arguing for a shift in priorities so that SDS comes to think of itself as a group dedicated to giving a semblance of leadership and guidance to the whole student body. SDS must take its role of organizing the community and building a wide base of support much more seriously than it does at present.
As long as SDS thinks of itself as a group that exists so that people who are interested can seek it out we will continue to have fiascos such as the Radcliffe situation in which the whole college is left totally unorganized because the vast majority of its girls have not taken the initiative in political activity. It is SDS that must take the initiative and seek to explain itself and its positions to the students, not the reverse.
Similarly it is clear that the question of restructuring the University did strike a responsive chord in the University community. As Herb Gintis and Jon Supak point out in their leaflet, it is clear that restructuring can be approached in a constructive and radical fashion as much as it can be used as a smoke screen to erode radical stands. In view of the student interest that the issue kindled, SDS ought to have taken care to put forward its own position on the matter and attempted to work on the problem. The worst possible tactic, the one that was followed by SDS, was to treat the restructuring issue with steely and stubborn indifference. And yet, as long as SDS does look on itself as an insulated and pure force, relatively unconcerned with the number of people supporting, it, and not interested in actively making an effort to get man support, such an attitude of unconcern over the issue of restructuring is at least consistent, if not justified.
Since such indifference and passive waiting for support to accrue is no longer justified on SDS' part and since this present struggle must be won SDS ought to do two things. 1) Drop the three expansion demands for the time being. The issue has been raised and it ought to reappear after more research and study has been done and after much more political education has been carried out in the Houses on the matter; and 2) the machinery for setting up political brigades should be re-vitalized (or vitalized) and mass support built up in the Houses for the three ROTC demands, the demand for amnesty and the demand on Black Studies. After such a base has been established, and only then, militant action can be taken with confidence and prevail. This is the only way to fight and win