Friday, April 6, 2007

Port Huron Statement and infighting in the Left

This most recent section of James Miller's book describes the creation of the Port Huron Statement by the SDS and the subsequent fight over its content (and the independence of SDS from its parent organization the League for Industrial Democracy, an old school bastion of the left that had cut its teeth fighting to create a political left that was not corrupted by Communism and Stalinism.

In the Port Huron Statement, the SDS reflected a spreading political feeling of the time - that Communist Russia was not as insane and malevolent as the previous generation of politicians and activists had thought. Dis-armament and Detente might be possible, and the left no longer needed to be so rabid about its anti-communism. But the LID's leadership wouldn't have it, and many of its leaders tried to condemn and even destroy the SDS for its unwillingness to completely shut out anyone remotely associated with the Communist Party. This infighting within the left almost (and perhaps indirectly did) destroyed the nascent student movement.

I've noticed that a lot at conferences and meetings, both on the left and at non-partisan gatherings (I'm underexposed to deliberations of the right, but I bet the same problems exist). In-fighting is a terrible danger.

Now we shouldn't stop arguing with each other. Disagreements are the lifeblood of an organization. Of any relationship, really, even romantic ones. So we shouldn't try to eliminate disagreements. What we need are norms and practices for dealing with them effectively. We need to learn to USE disagreement - make it fun, make disagreement an expected and normal PART of the experience of being in a community.

We have a tendency to think that disagreement is a sign of weakness within a group (international relations and everywhere else). But its not. What is important is how we deal with disagreement in such a way that everyone still feels a stake in the community whether they get their way or not.

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