We live in difficult times for democracy. We’ve been here before many times. Maybe not as violent as the Civil War between the states but possibly as critical to our collective survival. I was a moderate member of the “movement”, as the mass of youth culture dissidents were known in the Sixties, but there were many who were engaged in a form of actual social and political “revolution.”
Todd Gitlin, a former president of Students for a Democratic Society, wrote that SDS, the most activist wing of the 1960s “new left” movement wanted participatory democracy: “a public committed to making the decisions that affect their own lives, with institutions to make this possible. Its members saw an American citizenry with no influence over the nuclear arms race or, closer to home, authoritarian university administrations. . . . The organization favored direct action to oppose ‘white supremacy’ and ‘imperial war,’ and to achieve civil rights and the radical reconstruction of economic life (i.e., the redistribution of money into the hands of African-Americans in order to fight racism). SDS was increasingly suspicious of established authorities and looked askance at corporate power. But there was no single political doctrine; for most of its existence (1962-69), SDS was an amalgam of left-liberal, socialist, anarchist and increasingly Marxist currents and tendencies.”
During the Sixties SDS was opposed by Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The two radical groups fought an ideological debate through demonstrations and documents. One was against the other for the entrenched power structure that fostered imperialist war, Jim Crow and other dubious policies. Neither represented mainstream values.
This nation always needs a loyal and reasonable opposition to balance the excesses of the extreme fringe. But a radical side nonetheless allows citizens to see exactly where the balance should be. The publications below produced by SDS were designed (in an ad hoc manner) to provide the ideological core of the then “resistance.”