Students for a Democratic Society

In the 1960s--in the context of the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the war in Vietnam, the legacy of McCarthyite repression, and a massive expansion of higher education--students turned into a group with real social and political weight. During that decade, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was the largest student organization in the US. In the years since the organization’s 1969 collapse, there has been a widespread tendency, often by former members, to see the story of SDS as one in which the choices made by students determined the movement’s path. But understanding SDS requires more than understanding students. It requires understanding the dilemmas the American left more broadly faced in the 1960s. In these years, a new radicalization, driven above all by opposition to the slaughter in Vietnam, found itself wholly isolated from a labor movement itself defanged of radicalism by anticommunist purges. The result was a radicalization unmoored from the social forces capable of realizing its ideas. As a result, those ideas themselves were thrown into flux, as SDSers substituted one social force after another for the working class, moving from students to Third World guerrillas. This talk goes into how SDS went from building a mass movement to embracing the politics of self-destruction.

| More