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Why Strike?

The following represents the opinion of a minority of Crimson editors.

By Gregg J. Kilday

THE ENTHUSIASTIC strike chants that brought down the curtain on Thursday night's anti-war meeting in Sanders Theater would seem to suggest that once again Harvard's students, however fired by idealism and resolve, are out to play revolution for the hell of it. While we are asked "to suspend all our normal activities," the assembly refused to explain how one can "strike" despite rather than against the University. A proposal stipulating that the strike energy not be dissipated in picketing classes and coercing those who chose to attend them was prevented from even being brought to a vote. The confusion surrounding the "strike's" definition is proof enough that the body assembled was determined to appropriate the heady images that accompany the word--the chants, the t-shirts, the student-as-worker masquerade--without facing up to its moral and political implications. But a "strike"--even if it is a "strike" in name only--is a dangerous rhetorical device, the danger being that the two goals which the meeting endorsed--an end to the United States involvement in Vietnam and Harvard divestitute of its Gulf stock--will be lost in the midst of revolutionary romanticism.

In endorsing a wide-ranging collection of antiwar protests--today's march in New York, Monday's non-violent civil disobedience, continuing educational activities, participation in the campaigns of antiwar candidates--the meeting took the necessary first step in directing the revived outrage against Nixon's recalcitrant war policies. The establishment of a central coordinating committee ensures the development and continuation of massive student response and should result in an atmosphere of national crisis that could give Nixon pause in his pursuit of his mad adventures. But since Harvard students are hardly averse to cutting classes, none of the above activities necessitate the call for a strike. For--if past scenarios have anything to teach us--such defiance only results in a parochial war of attrition between those who could better spend their time on more concrete forms of antiwar work and threatened college officials. This year's "strikers" assure us that this time they're out to stop bombs instead of lectures, but there is no guarantee that a response phrased in such terms can hope to do otherwise.

THE CASE OF THE PALC and Afro takeover of Massachusetts Hall and their accompanying demands--that Harvard divest itself of Gulf, that it reinvest the money in the Cambridge community, and that the protestors be granted amnesty--is equally endangered by prevailing rhetoric. The Corporation's begrudging and long-overdo response to PALC's requests has been needlessly antagonistic and its statement that it is "not morally wrong" to invest in companies which deal in "repressive and in humane" actions is itself morally repulsive. Furthermore, Harvard's purported hope that it can initiate reform of Gulf policy by demanding further information of its activities is about as realistic as the notion that ITT would be willing to paste together its shredded memos should the Senate Judiciary Committee so request.

Nonetheless, President Bok's belated expression of the moral relativism inherent in University investment is far from beside the point. Given the fact that there is hardly a "pure" corporation around, there is no way that Harvard can hope to divest itself of all companies involved in imperialist ventures. While it is certainly preferable that Harvard rid itself of the worst of them, it can at least act as a positive nuisance in the affairs of the rest.

Let's not deceive ourselves, though. Gulf, in underwriting the Portuguese regime, is a major offendor in this area; if only for embattled moral reasons. Harvard should divest itself of Gulf stock, regardless of the precedent it will set. But, similarly, let's not pretend that in disposing of its relatively meagre shares Harvard can expect to save black Angolese lives any more than, in 1969, Harvard's expulsion of ROTC failed to undermine the nationwide ROTC program.

For the PALC-Afro demands--endorsed by the Thursday meeting in its enthusiasm--do not reflect the complexity of the present situation. Harvard can not promise to avoid "racist imperialist economic ventures in the future"--it can only hope to forego the worst of them. Similarly, while the occupiers are right to demand that Harvard reinvest in the community, until specific, income-producing instances are cited (after all, there are still those teaching fellows to feed) the sentiment remains Quixotic.

How then to end the stalemate? Through their seizure of Massachusetts Hall, Afro and PALC prevented a premature end to the investment question. They can now best continue the struggle by abandoning the building--or else risk diverting: campus debate to subsidiary issues like administration response and amnesty. No one can reasonably expect that a prolonged takeover will force Bok's crisis handlers to return to the Corporation for a recount. Despite its short-term attractiveness, a game of chicken between the protestors and the Administration is a deadend.

Instead, pressure must now be applied to those other areas where the Corporation is vulnerable. Systematic exposition of Harvard's policies, lobbying and-or disrupting alumni gatherings, and eventual tuition strikes offer the most fruitful forms of real escalation.

To equate Nixon's administration with Bok's--as was done Thursday night by some of the speakers--is to be seduced by the exaggerations of the moment. Both are, in certain vital respects, unresponsive, but the two can not be convicted of identical crimes. If that is the assumption on which this hydra-headed strike proceeds we may as well resign ourselves to playing the game this Spring and next Spring and --who knows?--maybe even the Spring after that.

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