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AT 3:00 on the morning of May 11, a bleary-eyed Harvard Strike Steering Committee passed a statement that summarized the tense four hours of discussion that had gone before. Committee members were haggard and unanimously anxious to go to bed, but we were still in full, rational possession of the anger and sense of displacement induced by the mass meeting we had sponsored earlier in the evening. Muddled and tormented by a defective connecting sound system, the mass meeting stumbled its way through about 5 per cent of the planned agenda to do little more than disqualify the university as a target for strike action.
The committee felt cut adrift. It had interpreted the four demands passed at the original mass meeting, the same meeting that had brought the committee into being, as a sort of ad hoc constitution, the whole reason for its existence. It saw the measures passed at the last mass meeting as shackles that would prevent dealing with the demands in any way but verbal masturbation. So it published its intention to "disregard any directives that undermine our original mandate," i.e., the implementation of the four demands.
The decision to override the sense of the May 10 mass meeting, a purposefully dramatic move that was met with reactions that varied from "it's about time" to pure outrage (someone called us a miniature Committee of Public Safety), rested on a number of assumptions. First and foremost, we conceived of ourselves as the steering committee of the striking community, not of all Harvard. That determined our rule that only strikers could vote at the meetings we called to ask for ongoing mandates for action. Our inability to enforce that rule-all of the hard-core strike opponents who had barged into the end of the second mass meeting (May 7) to overturn its decisions were loudly present on May 10-makes the allegation that we followed the democratic process only so long as it suited our needs more than a little simplistic.
But our statement went further than that, to imply a bold definition of what it really means to strike for the original demands. We concluded that communal lip-service to the four demands didn't create strikers, particularly in view of the fashionability of verbal dissent. One viable strategy for fighting the strike, in fact, was to passively accept the demands while voting down proposals for their implementation.
Then we moved on to hazier ground. Is a student on strike for the four demands if he petitions or leaflets against the war without giving a thought to political repression, university complicity, or the right of striking workers to receive pay? We weren't sure. But we concluded that we had enough evidence of the spectrum of intentions of the so-called striking community to ignore the contradictory legislation of the mass meetings and still consider ourselves a steering committee of those who were determined to fight for the four demands-and "demand" means fight-that were our basis for existence. And since most of the members had been elected from their constituencies after openly espousing their polities, by people active enough in the strike to bother to attend house meetings, the committee felt it still had a very real claim to being representative.
I was one of the 29 who voted for the May 11 statement (one opposed, one abstention). Two nights later, after a flood of feedback from our statement and painfully honest letters from the more "moderate" committee members who wanted to resign, my mind was changed. I decided that a large part of the fury at our statement was based on conscientious political differences. As sure as the majority of the committee was that the four demands directly pointed to a confrontation with the university, our casual decision as to who was and and who wasn't on strike was an elitists mistake. I wanted to dissolve the committee and let individuals put forward their politics in an unofficial capacity. For reasons still unclear to me, the vote for dissolution failed. I felt strongly enough about the growth of our elitism that I resigned from the committee.
SINCE IT no longer leads what remains of the strike, the steering committee's internal machinations are now immaterial. What is crucially important if the strike is to survive in any way that means more than a reprieve from exams is an understanding of the committee's insistence that the refusal to confront the university is antithetical to a fight for the four demands. Even a brief look at each of the demands illustrates that, like it or not, Harvard University and institutions like it are bastions that must be fought if our aspirations for a better country are to come to more than idle bullshit.
The first demand, immediate withdrawal of all U.S. resources from Southeast Asia, can best be left out of this discussion. It is the most popular demand, the focus of most strikers' energy up until now, and thus sheds little light on the strike's main schism. It is in fact a pre-eminently national demand, and the ways in which Harvard is implicated are addressed by the third demand.
The second demand calls for an end to political repression, and, explicitly, freedom for Bobby Seale and the rest of the Black Panther Party. The racism of much of the striking community goes so deep that we often don't even realize how badly we've neglected this demand. But there is another implication of ignoring the second demand. We are apparently unwilling to confront repression when our proximity to it would mean a real fight. It is easy to make a verbal commitment to the Panthers, because fighting for them seems far away. But when it comes to fighting political repression on the Harvard campus, where the situation today calls for a higher level of commitment than rhetoric, many strikers are strangely reticent.
Some people argue that lumping the repression of the Panthers together with repression by the University is a grotesque parody of human values. On one level, that is true. The plight of the middle class activist whom Harvard wants to purge pales in comparison to the very possible judicial murder of Bobby Seale, to the murder of Fred Hampton in his bed, to the generalized national campaign to put the most dynamic Panthers out of circulation. But the difference is quantitative. Bobby Seale and his brothers and sisters are on trial for galvanizing parts of the angry black community (ostensibly for killing Alex Rackley), and they face execution. Carl Offner, John Berg, and Jamie Kilbreth are in jail for galvanizing parts of the angry Harvard community (ostensibly for some weirdly choreographed attack on a dean's elbow), and they have been put away for as long as a year. All of these people are political prisoners, and the second demand says that we are fighting for their freedom. Right now we are in a position to fight more force fully for Offner, Berg, and Kilbreth than for Seale. We have fought for none of them.
The Justice Department has used its machinery in a national crack-down against the militant parts of the American left. It is equally clear that the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities performs the same function at Harvard. The CRR's one year history is a series of attempts to skim the most influential activists off the top of the radical movement, with little or no regard for an individual's actual involvement in the cited "crime." Four students were expelled last fall for behavior identical to that of forty others who were obstructing Dean May during the painters' helpers struggle. All four were active leaders of SDS. Less than a month later, four active members of NAC received the brunt of the CRR's discipline for "intensely and personally harrassing Dean May," who was speaking through a bullhorn to OBU occupants of University Hall. Scores of lesser-known radicals also took part in that harrassment.
THE HANDLING of OBU during that crisis is also enlightening as the CRR's political nature. Through fear of either the solidarity of the black Harvard community or the possible public relations problems, the CRR chose to practically ignore what was easily the most militant day Harvard has ever seen. OBU members obstructively stopped construction work on Gund Hall, invaded the Faculty Club, and broke into the basement of University Hall to occupy the building. The CRR revealed its interest in undermining radical solidarity (as opposed to treating everyone fairly under its conception of university law) with a new strategy whereby two freshmen received the heaviest sentences (two years suspended suspension) and the regulars were simply warned. Unable to co-opt OBU, the university hoped to isolate it to death by scaring away any potential new members. The CRR's political stance has preserved itself through the current strike. Its decision to disregard the Friday picket line around University Hall and charge the "hard core" who returned on Monday indicates that they are less interested in dealing with the official charges of tactical disruption than they are in singling out those most committed to those tactics.
The manifest biases of CRR have undermined its credibility even among students who believe that Harvard's version of "academic freedom" must be defended. Fifteen hundred undergraduate signatures endorsed an anti-CRR petition in a matter of two hours before the last Faculty meeting. Student members of the CRR keep resigning after their first taste of the committee's handiwork. The CRR may be tottering. But if we stop educating ourselves and others as to what the CRR is really all about, if we diffuse the pressure that we have brought to bear, we will allow Harvard to institutionalize and instrument of respression every bit as real, if not as lethal, as the machinery working to crush the Panthers.
The third demand, the third basic foundation of the strike, deals unambiguously with the university. Any argument that we can ally with Harvard in any way to cancel Harvard's time-honored commitment to the war machine is totally unsupportable. Officer training and recruitment must be fought wherever they are based, because they are essential divisions of the war machine's labor. The academic freedom argument that has been evoked on this issue stems from a shameful egocentricity. The right of an American student to choose his own curriculum or a military career is nothing compared to the right of Southeast Asians to survive. Academic freedom for military purposes should be opposed by anyone who has more than the welfare of Americans in mind when he opposes the war.
The demand for an end to university complicity also circumscribes the CFIA. The lengthy NAC leaflet (available on campus and at the New England Free Press) contains compelling evidence that the Center's programs, particularly the Visiting Fellows and Development Advisory Service, materially contribute to United States imperialism. The Center manufactures not munitions or officers but ideology, which is every bit as essential (if not
more so) to America's role as a global policeman. The Center does not actually repress dissident research; it sponsors precious little. But if it is a "free marketplace of ideas" (an interesting phrase in itself), the men who come to market start from such similar premises on the optimal economic system for all mankind, that their work evolves as little more than a synthesis of ideas on facilitating counter-revolution or inflating Gross National Products. The work of the most influential Harvard ideologues is based on assumptions, reinforced and solidified over a lifetime of Americanism, that are irreconcilable with the changes needed to end U. S. aggression around the world. If we oppose that aggression, we must oppose its agents, whether industrial, military, or academic.
The fourth demand is also inherently directed against the University. At the first mass meeting, we overwhelmingly concluded that Harvard employees should have the right to forego their work to put forward whatever polities they choose. Realizing that the majority of workers were financially shackled to their jobs, we demanded that they be paid without reprisals while they chose to strike. In case after case, from top administrators down to individual supervisors, the employers, who know better than we about their workers' dependency have thwarted this demand. But after the issue of grades was relieved by way of a shaky compromise (which has also begun to be eroded), the bulk of the student body quickly lost interest in the right of campus workers to strike. Obviously, this particular instance of apathy says more about us than that we're reluctant to fight the university.
AS IF TO resolve any doubt as to where it stands in America's growing polarization, the Harvard Corporation re-affirmed its allegiance to corporate oligarchy this week with a firm rejection of the eminently reasonable, eminently liberal Nader movement to Make GM Responsible. Combined with Harvard's ongoing implication in three of the four demands, the position that Harvard is not an appropriate target of the strike is bankrupt. The nation that Harvard can actually be an ally-after all, Pusey went down to Washington to confer with The Man just last week-is positively ludicrous.
If we passed the four demands in a moment of irrational frenzy, if we passed them because they are in vogue or because we saw in them an escape from exams, if we passed them as an unavoidable appendage to the first demand, then we can continue to live with Harvard University in peace and dignity. But if we passed those demands with any kind of conscientious commitment, we have betrayed them. And almost as bad as our inaction is our dishonesty.
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