SDS developed from the Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID), the youth branch of a socialist educational organization known as the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). LID descended from the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, started in 1905. Early in 1960, SLID decided to change its name into SDS. The phrase “industrial democracy” sounded too narrow and too labor oriented, making it more difficult to recruit students. Moreover, because the LID's leadership did not correspond to the expectations and the mood on the campuses, the SLID felt the need to dissociate itself from its parent organization. SDS held its first meeting in 1960 on the University of Michigan campus at Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Alan Haber was elected president. Its political manifesto, known as the Port Huron Statement, was adopted at the organization's first convention in 1962, based on an earlier draft by staff member Tom Hayden.
The Port Huron Statement criticized the political system of the United States for failing to achieve international peace and critiqued Cold War foreign policy, the threat of nuclear war, and the arms race. In domestic matters, it criticized racial discrimination, economic inequality, big businesses, trade unions and political parties. In addition to its critique and analysis of the American system, the manifesto also suggested a series of reforms: it proclaimed a need to reshape into two genuine political parties to attain greater democracy, for stronger power for individuals through citizen's lobbies, for more substantial involvement by workers in business management, and for an enlarged public sector with increased government welfare, including a "program against poverty." The manifesto provided ideas of what and how to work for and to improve, and also advocated nonviolent civil disobedience as the means by which student youth could bring forth a "participatory democracy." Kirkpatrick Sale described the manifesto as "nothing less than an ideology, however raw and imperfect and however much would have resisted this word."
The manifesto also presented SDS's break with the left-wing policies of the postwar years. Firstly, it was written with the same overall vision all along the document and reflected their view that all problems in every area were linked to each other and their willingness not to lead single-issue struggles but a broad struggle on all fronts at the same time. Then, it expressed SDS's willingness to work with groups whatever may be their political inclination and announced their rejection of anti-communism, a definitely new radical view contrasting with much of the American Left which had always developed a policy of anti-communism. Without being Marxist or pro-communism, they denounced anti-communism as being a social problem and an obstruction to democracy. They also criticized the United States for their exaggerated paranoia and exclusive condemnation of the Soviet Union and blamed this for being a reason of failing to achieve disarmament and to assure peace.
The Port Huron Convention opened with a symbol of this break with the policy of the past years: the delegate of the Communist Progressive Youth Organizing Committee asked to attend the conference as an observer. The people from the Young People's Socialist League objected while most of the SDSers insisted on letting him sit. He eventually sat. Later in the meeting, Michael Harrington, an LID member, became agitated over the manifesto because he found the stand they took toward the Soviet Union and authoritarian regimes in general was insufficiently critical, and because, according to him, they deliberately wrote sections to pique the liberals. Surprisingly, Roger Hagan, a liberal, defended the SDS and its policy. After lively debates between the two, the draft finally remained more or less unchanged. Some two weeks later, a meeting between the LID and SDS was held where the LID expressed its discontent about the manifesto. As a result, Haber and Hayden, at this time respectively the National secretary and the new President of the organization, were summoned to a hearing on the 6 July 1962. There, Hayden clashed with Michael Harrington (as he later would with Irving Howe) over the perceived potential for totalitarianism among other things. Harrington denounced the seating of the PYOC member, SDS’s tolerance for communism and their lack of clarity in their condemnation of communist totalitarianism and authoritarianism, and he reproached SDS for providing only a mild critique of the Soviet Union and for blaming the cold war mostly on the United States. Hayden then asked him to read the manifesto more carefully, especially the section on values. Hayden later wrote:
"While the draft Port Huron Statement included a strong denunciation of the Soviet Union, it wasn't enough for LID leaders like Michael Harrington. They wanted absolute clarity, for example, that the United States was blameless for the nuclear arms race...In truth, they seemed threatened by the independence of the new wave of student activism..."
The tension between SDS and the LID was greatly increased when SDS called for a national demonstration to take place during the spring of 1965. The LID was very concerned about "Communist" participation but SDS refused to restrict who could attend and what signs they could use. The rift opened even further when, at the 1965 SDS National Convention,the clause excluding communists from membership was deleted from the SDS constitution. During the summer of 1965 delegates from SDS and the LID met in Chicago and New York. The League for Industrial Democracy, SDS's sponsoring organization, objected to the removal of the exclusion clause in the SDS constitution, as SDS was with LID's non-profit status which excluded political activity. By mutual agreement the relationship was severed October 4, 1965.
Read more about this topic: Students For A Democratic Society
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