Students for a Democratic Society
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was an organization of socialist student activists and was one of the main early groups representing the New Left. Its principles were elaborated by Tom Hayden in the Port Huron Statement of 1962, which adopted the position of "anti-anti-Communism," refusing to support the West in the Cold War. What began as a movement to involve the largest possible number of American students in the democratic processes had become by 1969, as a contemporaneous FBI memo summarizes, "an organization totally dedicated to the destruction of American society...In the span of seven years, the SDS had evolved into a hard line Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organization dedicated to the destruction of Western democratic traditions and ideals."
Several prominent SDS members organized Progressives for Obama in March 2008. Among the organizers are Carl Davidson, Mark Rudd, and Todd Gitlin; while several Klonsky family members are represented, Mike Klonsky is conspicuously absent from the signers.
- 1 Key Highlights
- 2 History
- 3 Factions
- 4 Soviet/CPUSA influence
- 5 Maoist influence
- 6 Cuban collusion
- 7 Maoist influence at the June 1969 SDS National Convention
- 8 Other prominent members
- 9 Legacy
- 10 Family Tree
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
- Many key SDS members were "red-diaper babies," children of parents who were Communist Party members or Communist activists in the 1930s. In 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson abolished student draft deferments, some 300 new SDS chapters were formed. Among the organization's activities were: disrupting ROTC classes, staging draft card burnings, and harassing campus recruiters for the CIA and for firms that conducted research tied in some way to national defense. SDS also occupied buildings at universities such as Columbia and destroyed draft records.
- At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, SDS protesters, organized by Tom Hayden, created a riot in order to destroy the electoral chances of the pro-war liberal Hubert Humphrey, and thereby set the stage for a confrontation with the Nixon Administration over the Vietnam War. Hayden and his cohorts—including Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman and Black Panther Bobby Seale—were arrested and indicted for crossing state lines to incite a riot. They became known as The Chicago Seven. In a celebrated trial (whose guilty verdict was subsequently overturned on a technicality), they were given token sentences.
- In 1969 SDS began imploding into factions. One of them, a group calling itself Weatherman, was elected to SDS leadership and proclaimed that the time had come to launch a race war on behalf of the Third World and against the United States. The new entity dissolved SDS and formed a terrorist cult in its place, which was given the name Weather Underground. 
At the time, SDS was not a newly formed group but rather the renaming of a group that was already together. The idea to rename the group was put forth by Aryeh Neier, who was Director of the group under its prior name, the Student League for Industrial Democracy.
Three major factions, all with a Maoist outlook and character, emerged within SDS competing against each other for control of the organization. The three were,
- Ayers/Dohrn Action Faction, also known as the Weather Underground, led by Bernardine Dohrn, Mark Rudd, Jeff Jones, Bill Ayers, and others.
- Revolutionary Youth Movement II (RYM II) led by Mike Klonsky, Marvin Treiger of the Revolutionary Union (RU), and others.
- Worker Student Alliance (WSA) of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), represented mainly by Jeff Gordon, Jared Israel and Fred Gordon. PLP shunned the counter-culture image of SDS and opposed the latter's calls for student revolution, urging young people instead to avoid doing anything that would alienate fellow students or their communities. By 1968 the PLP abandoned its support for "revolutionary" nationalism and concluded all forms of nationalism are reactionary. As a result, the PLP opposed affirmative action and Black and Latino caucuses which undermined the PLP's relationship with black community organizers. The PLP's connections to the New Left in general were damaged because of its attack on the Black Panther Party (BPP) and black student movement.
SDS was an important subject within the Soviet directed and funded Communist Party USA (CPUSA) in early 1968. The CPUSA decided to fight for Moscow directed ideology within SDS; to include articles on SDS in its publications; and to begin to put many more CP youth (cadre) directly into SDS and into the SDS National Office in order to get direct access to the SDS leadership. The need and possibility for greater CPUSA participation in SDS, and the possibilities for CPUSA recruitment from SDS, were emphasized. Rennie Davis at this time associated with Don Hamerquist of the CPUSA National Committee who was working with New Left organizations to formulate a program for a communist movement in the U.S.
Mike Klonsky's Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM II) faction, along with the Ayers/Dohrn Action Faction Weather Underground later were to purge all CPUSA elements from SDS leadership positions in favor of the Beijing directed Maoist strain of violent revolutionary communism. CPUSA elements accused Maoists of the Marxist capital crime of deviationism, as Maoists likewise accused Moscow directed operatives of the same heresy.
By 1974 Maoism had supplanted the Soviet ideological doctrine guiding many New Left groups willing to use violence to achieve socialist revolution. In Prairie Fire, Ayers, Dohrn and Jeff Jones identified the WUO primary strategy on the side of Maoist thought in the following way,
|“||The Chinese Revolution is a wonderful development in the advance of humanity. Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communist Party have made many important breakthroughs in developing revolutionary strategy in the semi-feudal, semi-colonial world. The thought common to Mao and Ho Chi-minh - that the central revolutionary force of our time is the oppressed nations and peoples of the world leading the liberation struggle against imperialism - is the guiding strategic principle of this era.||”|
The first known trip of significance to Cuba occurred in January, 1968 when Carl Davidson, Todd Gitlin, Gerry Long, Susan Sutheim and Tom Hayden traveled to Cuba to attend the International Cultural Congress. Long and Sutheim were to become Weathermen, Davidson, Gitlin and Hayden later joined Progressives for Obama. David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee (NMC) also attended this conference, as did many communists and revolutionaries from around the world. The announced purpose of this conference was to obtain unity of action in Cuban anti-imperialism fights and to spread revolution and hatred of the U.S. The theme was the "Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism." At this conference delegates condemned the U.S. for what the communists alleged was U.S. aggression, and support was pledged to North Vietnam. The delegates also pledged to promote violence against the United States whenever it was deemed necessary. The attendees also met with representatives of Maoist China, North Korea and North Vietnam and visited the Viet Cong’s National Liberation Front (NLF) Mission in Havana. During this three and one half week trip, Davidson finalized arrangements for a visit of twenty SDS members to travel to Cuba.
Thereafter, in February, 1968, a group of approximately twenty-two people including future Weatherman Mark Rudd and approximately nineteen other SDS/Weatherman members, and two Cuban Government officials with diplomatic status traveled to Cuba via Mexico City at the request of the Cuban Government, which paid all of the expenses. One of the Cuban Government officials in the group was the former First Secretary at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN) who was also a Cuban Intelligence Officer. While in Mexico City, the group stayed at the Cuban Consulate. Several of the SDS members had previously traveled to other foreign countries friendly to Cuba. The group was destined to the Instituto Cubano para Amistad entre los Pueblos (ICAP-Cuban Institute for Friendship between Peoples) although the ICAP operated as a cultural exchange organization on the surface, it was in fact the Cuban Government's School for Ideological Indoctrination and their chief instrumentality for providing training to foreign radicals in revolutionary and guerilla tactics. Rudd and others visited the ICAP on this trip. During their four-week visit, SDS members also talked with representatives of the NLF (the political arm of the Viet Cong) and with individuals from North Korea.
Mark Rudd and the Columbia strike
Upon his return from Cuba, Mark Rudd was elected Chairman of the SDS Chapter at Columbia University and became a leader of violent disturbances. It was believed by the FBI that such disturbances were planned in Cuba and that the visitors to Cuba received specific instruction from Cuban officials in regard to the demonstrations. At Columbia, Rudd led the largest student strike in the United States. Although there had been various demonstrations in prior years, the main feature of the spring 1968 strike that distinguished it from earlier demonstrations was Rudd's brand of confrontation politics which involved physical confrontation, including the take over of buildings and the ransacking of offices. By the end of April, 1968, 700 to 1000 students had taken over five university buildings and eventually had to be removed by a force of 1000 policemen. In addition to Rudd, a number of others involved in the leadership of the Columbia strike later played prominent roles in the Weathermen and Progressives for Obama. Rudd was later interviewed about the Columbia riots by the Cuban publication, Prensa Latina.
Carl Davidson meets with Castro
SDS member Carl Davidson again visited Cuba in March. He and others had a three-hour discussion with Fidel Castro, and reportedly met with representatives of North Korea, North Vietnam and the People's Republic of China. During the militant Labor Forum, held in April, Davidson reported on his meeting with Castro, stating that Castro now believed that a socialist revolution was possible in the United States. Davidson later was to become active in Progressives for Obama.
During April, SDS activist Steven Halliwell visited North Vietnam; Ken Cloke later to become a Weatherman and Revolutionary Union (RU) member also met with a North Vietnamese delegation during this time in Sweden.
At the 1968 June SDS National Convention meeting it was decided that SDS should align itself with students from other countries. The convention adopted resolutions of solidarity with the students of Germany and France and with the Iranian Student Association. The resolution dealing with Iran stated in part:
- "To be sent by telegram to the Iranian Student Association. SDS expresses its solidarity with your continuing fight against the dictatorship which oppresses your homeland. . . . Your fight against the Shah, the fight of German SDS against Kiesinger, of the French against deGaulle, of the Japanese against Sato — these are a few of the current fronts of a single war. We are your allies and brothers."
Wald, Klonsky & Dohrn
Members of the CPUSA, the WEB Dubois Club (DCA), the Progressive Labor Part (PLP), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the SWP youth group Young Student Alliance (YSA) attended the 1968 SDS National Convention. Karen Wald also attended and was working at the SDS National Office as of this time. Wald was also a member of the editorial group of The Movement, and previously associated with the YSA. A year earlier, Wald had traveled to Cuba. Bernardine Dohrn was elected Inter-Organizational Secretary, and stated that she considered herself a revolutionary communist. Mike Klonsky, elected SDS National Secretary, also publicly identified himself as a revolutionary communist. Klonsky's father was the former Organizational Secretary of the Eastern Pennsylvania-Delaware District of the CPUSA. His mother was also a former CPUSA member.
At the convention, a workshop on sabotage and explosives was held. Earlier in the year, a pamphlet bearing the inscription An Argument for Sabotage as the Next Logical Step Toward Obstruction and Disruption of the U.S. War Machine was mailed from Toronto, Canada to over 300 antiwar groups throughout the U.S. The document urged the use of incendiary devices and included detailed instructions and diagrams.
The illegal and clandestine nature of such violent activity was emphasized. Also, it was during this convention that Naomi Jaffe, later to become a Weatherman, claimed to have shot down an American fighter plane with an anti-aircraft gun and to have assisted in the capture of an American pilot during her earlier trip to Hanoi.
1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention
Near the end of the Democratic National Convention, Tom Hayden reportedly went around to the various leaders including Rennie Davis and Bobby Seale and asked that when they returned to their home states they continue what began in Chicago. The FBI summarized the activity at the Democratic National Convention as follows:
|“||... Rarely has any city been threatened all at one time with an invasion of 100 to 200 -thousand dissidents- plots to assassinate governmental dignitaries and prominent individuals; intentions to instigate major riots in varied ways, widespread sabotage of communication, transportation and electrical systems- proposals to pour hallucinogenic drugs into the water supply; clandestine shipments of arms and ammunition into the city for use in sniper activities-and myriad forms of guerrilla warfare." ...||”|
Maoist influence at the June 1969 SDS National Convention
The following year all factions present at the SDS National Convention held in Chicago on June 18–22, 1969 adhered to the general over-all line of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese world view that attributed the source of global conflict from tension between the colonial and former colonial peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America on the one hand, and the forces of imperialism led by the United States on the other. The unfolding of the conflict between the national liberation movement of the Viet Cong and "forces of United States imperialism" and its "puppet regime in Saigon" would provide an example for peoples of the Third World to unite in the defeat of US imperialism and the establishment of a "world socialist order."
This contrasted sharply with the traditional orthodox view of Moscow which relied heavily on a dialectical "force of history" that would inevitably bring about the "objective conditions" necessary for a proletarian revolution to succeed. Traditional Soviet theoreticians regarded any concept that skipped stages of historic development as dangerous and "counter revolutionary."
The main point of contention centered on the role of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in the revolutionary process in the United States. Many held the view that a Vietnam style war with the Black Panthers assuming the role similar to the Viet Cong as the vanguard Marxist armed national liberation movement within the United States against "the white imperialist super-structure." Many were fond of quoting Chairman Mao who wrote, "In the final analysis a national struggle is a class struggle." There was a great deal of competition among the warring factions to portray themselves as the main purveyors of Mao Zedong Thought in the United States revolutionary movement.
The PLP was pushing as a strategy the Worker Student Alliance (WSA) which postulated that students should unite with the traditional Marxist revolutionary power in the U.S., 'the workers,' to make revolution. The Ayers/Dohrn faction and RYM II, according to Mark Rudd, considered the fixation on 'the workers' as "racist in that the the PLP didn't want to see non-white people as the revolutionary agents." The Black Panthers demanded that SDS expel the PLP "for its racism in not supporting national liberation."
The Dohrn/Ayers group called for a program of confrontation and action by white students in the style of Castroite guerillas in a supportive role to black revolution without regard to the white working class. Ayers and Dohrn felt armed struggle of blacks for self-determination would result in the victory of socialism in the United States without any reliance on white workers. They saw their role as supportive of the black liberation struggle and one which involved direct confrontation with the authority of the capitalist state.
Klonsky's faction held the view that black self-determination, the establishment of a black nation-state in the South called the Republic of New Africa, would constitute the first stage followed by a white working class alliance which together would complete the second stage of the socialist revolution.
After the election of officers, Bernardine Dohrn declared that the National Office of the SDS was responsible for development of a correct Marxist–Leninist line and called for "the future exclusion of deviationist forces such as the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) and the CPUSA from the SDS." The debate within SDS leadership between the Klonsky and Dohrn factions, however, was far from over. Both factions were committed to a socialist revolution through armed struggle, their differences centered on strategy and tactics.
|“||Dear Comrade: Our Ninth Convention of SDS was highly honored to hear greetings from our best-loved revolutionary writer and champion of People's China, and the thought of Mao Tse Tung. With help and inspiration of our black and brown brothers and sisters, we have succeeded at this convention in overthrowing the counter-revolutionary PLP forces, who had attempted to seize power. Long live our comrade Anna Louise Strong. Long live People's China. Long live Comrade Mao Tse Tung. Victory to the peoples of the U.S. Victory to the peoples of the entire world.||”|
Other prominent members
Other prominent members of SDS were Linda Evans and Dianna Oughton who served along with Bill Ayers on the Ann Arbor Michigan Regional Staff. Evans traveled to North Vietnam in August 1969 and was involved in the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee which bombed the U.S. Capitol building in 1983 and the May 19th Communist Organization. Evans was convicted for her role in the holdup of a Brinks armored truck in Nyack, NY, in November 1981 that resulted in the murder of two policemen and a security guard and was later among several terrorists whose sentences were commuted by President Bill Clinton. Dianna Oughton traveled with Dohrn to Cuba in July 1969 to meet with Cuban and North Vietnamese officials and in 1970 was killed when an underground terrorist bomb factory accidentally blew up.
Kathy Boudin, Judy Clark, David Gilbert, Cathy Wilkerson, Terry Robbins, and Ted Gold were also prominent organizers. Robbins and Gold were killed in the bomb factory blast, Wilkerson and Boudin survived. Wilkerson, along with Dohrn, was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List and later convicted of illegal possession of dynamite. Her father owned the building in which the blast occurred. Robbins was Ayers girlfriend at the time she was killed. Judy Clark was convicted of three counts of felony murder and sentenced to 75 years to life for her role in the Brinks armored truck robbery.
Boudin and Gilbert were also convicted in the Brinks armored truck robbery. Their son, Chesa Boudin, was raised by Ayers and Dohrn. Chesa Boudin co-authored a book entitled, The Venezuelan Revolution sympathetic to the brand of communism promoted by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. In 2005 Ayers delivered a talk at the "World Education Forum" in Venezuela that was translated by Chesa Boudin. Ayers told the group:
|“||This is my fourth visit to Venezuela, each time at the invitation of my comrade and friend Luis Bonilla, a brilliant educator and inspiring fighter for justice. Luis has taught me a great deal about the Bolivarian Revolution and about the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution, and I've come to appreciate Luis as a major asset in both the Venezuelan and the international struggle — I look forward to seeing how he and all of you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane."||”|
Chesa Boudin is an editor of Letters From Young Activists, a 2005 book about a new "movement" for "progressive social change" that includes a preface from Bernardine Dohrn, who praises the "young militants" for trying to change the world. The book includes an endorsement from convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal and gives thanks to "lifelong activist and educator Bill Ayers."
Helen Shiller became a member of the Chicago City Council and served there for six terms.
Intercollegiate Socialist Society
↳ League for Industrial Democracy → → →
↳ Student League for Industrial Democracy (1932) → American Student Union
↳ Student League for Industrial Democracy (1945) → Students for a Democratic Society
↳ Weather Underground
- SDS, Discoverthenetworks.org
- Foreign Influence - Weather Underground Organization (WUO). FBI Chicago Field Office Report, August 20, 1976. Section I. Ideology D. Influence of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought, Page 56 in original (p. 19 pdf).
- Progressives for Obama, By Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher Jr., Danny Glover & Barbara Ehrenreich, The Nation, March 24, 2008.
- Foreign Influence - Weather Underground Organization (WUO). FBI Chicago Field Office Report, August 20, 1976. Section I. Ideology D. Influence of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought, Page 58 in original (p. 21 pdf).
- The birth of the "New Left"?, email discussion March 2000.
- SDS Founder, Veteran Activist Tom Hayden on Participatory Democracy from Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street. Democracy Now (April 13, 2012).
- SDS founder hopes for new revival on campus. Michigan Daily (February 11, 2004).
- Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), Retrieved from Discoverthenetworks.org, March 8, 2010. "The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) is the premier Maoist party in the United States. Its earliest roots can be traced to June 1, 1962, when, in the immediate aftermath of that year's Sino-Soviet split, approximately fifty members and ex-members of the U.S. Communist Party met at the Hotel Diplomat in New York. Favoring the Chinese brand of Communism over its Russian counterpart, these radicals founded the Progressive Labor Movement (PLM) to promote their political views. By 1966, the several-hundred-strong PLM renamed itself the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), which, at its first convention, decided to join forces with the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). But PLP shunned the counter-culture image of SDS and opposed the latter's calls for student revolution -- urging young people instead to avoid doing anything that would alienate fellow students or their communities. PLP tried unsuccessfully to take over SDS's National Office, thereby pushing SDS even further to the political left -- toward hard-line Maoism. Opposition to PLP tactics led to the formation of yet another Maoist group, the Revolutionary Youth Movement, which eventually split into two factions -- one becoming the notorious terrorist group Weatherman; the other spawning a 1969 splinter group called the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (co-founded by H. Bruce Franklin, Robert Avakian, and Charles Hamilton), which would become the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1974."
- Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution, Robin D.G. Kelley and Betsy Esche, Souls Volume 1, Number 4 Fall 1999, pp. 11-12 in original (pp. 6-7 pdf).
- In 1967, while CPUSA veteran Victor Rabinowitz served as the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) national president, Ken Cloke was hired as NLG national executive secretary at the sametime Bernardine Dohrn was hired as national student organizer. 
- The Revolutionary Union (RU), later to become the Revolutionary Communist Party (PCP), was a "Maoist offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society which sought a united front with other left-wing groups and had been infiltrating VVAW chapters around the country." Hanoi John: Kerry and the Antiwar Movement’s Communist Connections, October 12, 2004. Retrieved from archive-news.net, March 2, 2010. The Revolutionary Union was an affiliate sponsor of Vietnam Veterans Against the War-Winter Soldier Organization demonstrations. FBI Memo, “Demonstration Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War/Winter Soldier Organization (VVAW/WSO) at Washington, D.C., July 1–4, 1974,” FBI HQ 100-448092, Section 63, FBI HQ 100-448092 Section 63, pp. 72-74 (pdf). Full index online at www.wintersolider.com,
- Foreign Influence - Weather Underground Organization (WUO). FBI Chicago Field Office Report, August 20, 1976. Section I. Ideology D. Influence of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought, Pages 56-57 in original (pp. 19-20 pdf).
- The Death of SDS, Mark Rudd. Retieved from markrudd.com, March 6, 2010.
- Purge the Ranks! Clarify the Program! Pamphlet distributed at the 1969 SDS Convention in Chicago, June 18, 1969. Retrieved from Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line, Marxist Internet Archive, March 16, 2010.
- Foreign Influence - Weather Underground Organization (WUO). FBI Chicago Field Office Report, August 20, 1976, Mao Tse-tung Influence on SDS Factions at the June 1969 National Convention, Page 58-62 in original (pp. 21-25 pdf).
- Foreign Influence - Weather Underground Organization (WUO). FBI Chicago Field Office Report, August 20, 1976, Influence of China, Pages 144-145 in original (pp. 32-33 pdf).
- "Armed Resistance Unit Bombs US Capitol", Death to the Klan, Winter, 1984, No.3.
- John George and Laird Wilcox, Nazis, Communists, Klansmen and Others on the Fringe, Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1992, pg. 158.
- truTV - Crime Library: Terrorists, The Weather Underground & Black Liberation Army
- Kathy Boudin. Retrieved from Everything2.com February 18, 2010.
- The way the wind blew: a history of the Weather Underground By Ron Jacobs. googlebooks. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
- SDS/WUO: Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground, David Gilbert. Retrieved from the Prison Activist Resource Center website, February 18, 2010.
- Weather Underground Member Cathy Wilkerson, Youtube. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
- “Let’s Have a Meeting:” Cathy Wilkerson on SDS Organizing, Interviewed by Ron Grele 2/17/85, Columbia University Oral History Collection.
- An Infamous Explosion, and the Smoldering Memory of Radicalism, Jim Dwyer, New York Times, November 14, 2007.
- Pacifica Radio Archives available at the Internet Archives. Retrieved February 18, 2010.
- Ron Radosh, Shame on The New Yorker. November 6th, 2008. Retrieved from Pajamasmedia,com, February 20, 2010.
- Foreign Influence - Weather Underground Organization (WUO). FBI Chicago Field Office Report, August 20, 1976. Section IV. Individuals. Page 215 in original (p. 30 pdf).
- About Judith Clark's Case & Appeal. Retrieved from judithclark.org, February 20, 2010.
- A review of Chesa Boudin's Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America, states that not until the September 11, 2001 attacks did he begin to understand "the antipathy many of these Americans have for the country he left behind. As stockbrokers grab one another's hand and jump from the 90th floor of the World Trade Center, Boudin's Chilean roommates celebrate the United States' comeuppance at the hands of Osama bin Laden." 
- World Education Forum, Centro Interncional Miranda, Caracas, November 2006. Retrieved from http://billayers.wordpress.com/2006/11/ February 21, 2010.
- Communism in Chicago and the Obama Connection, Cliff Kincaid and Herbert Romerstein, usasurvival.org , pp. 8-9.
- SHILLER GUARDS AGAINST UPTOWN PROGRESS
- The New SDS. The Nation (April 16, 2007).
- Bill Ayers and the Subversion of Education. American Thinker (April 25, 2008). “He is still a subversive, but does his work behind the scenes and with a broader canvass to draw upon. He no longer leads small gangs of bombers but is reaching and shaping a much larger number of people that capitalism is not only bad, but should be fought.”
- Students for a Democratic Society - by Discover the Networks