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Ron Radosh

Tom Hayden: A Man Who Gives ‘Opportunism’ a Bad Name

April 12th, 2012 - 10:03 am

When Hayden turns his attention to SDS, he tries to present its original program as a vague call for economic democracy, far removed from the irrelevant bureaucratic forms of Marxism that plagued the Old Left. He acknowledges that many of the early SDS members “were shaped and informed in part by Marxist traditions,” but argues that they did not favor any “revival ceremony for Marxism.” Those who came from the Old Left and were children of Communists, he argues, “had concluded that moral values and democracy were more important than any ideological renovation of Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, or anarchism.”

If this was true, how does Hayden explain the sudden adoption of just these old sectarian paths by so many in SDS? He accomplishes the neat trick by leaving out of his account the well-known fight at the Port Huron meeting in 1962 between his side and the labor movement backers, including the Reuther brothers, who gave both money and the site of the meeting to SDS, and the leaders of The Young People’s Socialist League, including Don Slaiman, Michael Harrington, and their supporters. The issue dividing the group was the demand of young CPUSA members to be admitted to SDS. The YPSL contingent, whose titular head was the vociferous anti-Communist Max Schachtman, then close to AFL-CIO chief George Meany, argued that Communists were opposed to democracy in principle, and should be excluded from membership in or participation with SDS. Hayden and his supporters — many of them children of  Communists — voted to accept Communists into SDS. Before long, the followers of Harrington pulled out and openly criticized SDS for its blindness.

Next, Hayden brings up a strategy called “political realignment,” which he describes as ending the “organized stalemate” in Washington and that would “open the possibility of a more progressive party.” He accurately writes that the strategy was “embraced by King, Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington,” but does not let his readers know that he and SDS had broken with Rustin and Harrington, and in essence, were not supporting their tactical efforts. The strategy was in fact the one proposed by Shachtman and the YPSL group, and was meant to force the white Southern Democrats out of the Democratic Party,so that it would be a reform group that would commit itself to end segregation in the South and develop an alliance with mainstream conservative organized labor, led by George Meany and his associates.

It was definitely not meant by these people to be what Hayden actually favored: the ousting of the Meany labor group from the Democratic Party and the subsequent conquest by the left-wing forces, including radical feminists, the new young radicals, and elite intellectual groups in the universities. This group ardently supported the new McGovern rules which handed over power to these new elements and led to the McGovernization of the Democratic Party in 1972, a development heralded by Hayden and opposed by all those who had created the original realignment strategy.

What Hayden favored was attacking what he calls a “cold war mentality,” by which he means opposition to the bipartisan policy of opposing Soviet expansionism, and which most mainstream political leaders realized was a necessary fight against the Eastern totalitarian bloc. Again, he reveals his true feelings by noting his firm opposition to the social-democrats who wisely carried out a campaign against Soviet-style communism, which they recognized was the enemy not only of the United States but of a free labor movement. In a remarkable passage, he just about accuses the late Tom Kahn of being a CIA agent. Kahn was, in fact, a social-democrat who developed a program to fund labor unions in authoritarian states like South Vietnam, all of which Hayden disparages as part of CIA “covert operations”  which he falsely asserts were run “through the AFL-CIO’s international affairs department.” In essence, even today, Hayden repeats the Soviet disinformation about Meany’s work used by the Communists at the time to fight anti-Communist labor unions.

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