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Revolutionary Student Brigade: Iowa City National Convention in 1974

From Marxists Internet Archive

National Convention – Iowa City, Iowa

June 15th through 17th in Iowa City marked the first National Convention of the Brigade and the consolidation of it as a national revolutionary student organization. The convention, which was characterized by enthusiasm, spirited struggle, and unity, was attended by students from nearly 30 states and over 80 colleges and universities. Throughout the convention, both in the workshops and in the floor discussions, people drew from their experiences to sum up the present situation on the campuses and the potential for building a powerful student movement. The Brigade heard speeches from representatives of organizations involved in the revolutionary struggle – the Revolutionary Union, Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, Zimbabwe African National Union, and Attica defendant Herbert X. Blyden. Solidarity statements of support were given by Federacion Universidad Estudiantes Puerto Rican, Mouvement Revolutionnaire des Etudiants du Quebec, and the Iranian Students Association. Also attending and participating were Harambe, a black anti-Imperialist group in New Jersey, Wei Mein, an Asian-American anti-imperialist group from the Bay area, arid MECHA, a Chicano student organization in the West. One of the highlights of the convention was a speech by Clark Kissinger, national secretary of SDS in the mid 60’s, who spoke on the development of the student movement during that period, the tremendous strength it added to the revolutionary movement, and the mistakes and errors that were made back then (the Brigade is reprinting this speech in a future pamphlet). The convention also voted in a new national leadership body and set up a national office in Chicago, Illinois. It also politically endorsed support for two important upcoming rallies: the July 4th demonstration in Washington as called by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War-Winter Soldier Organization, and the October 27th rally in Madison Square Garden calling for complete independence to the colony of Puerto Rico. Great spirit and enthusiasm was added to the convention by numerous cultural performances – notably Prairie Fire, a revolutionary folk group from the Bay area, and Hammer and Steel, a revolutionary workers’ rock group. Numerous Brigade chapters also made different cultural presentations, whether singing or political theater.

The discussions on the floor of the convention brought out important political struggles and lessons. The main issues of struggle unfolded around the questions of the new national campaign (the steering committee of the Brigade will decide on the campaign in late summer), building multi-national unity, and the changing of our name to Revolutionary Student Brigade.

The struggle around building the Brigade as a multi-national organization first came to the fore around the functioning of a Third World caucus. The caucus had been proposed by some Third World students who felt that it was important that Third World students from across the country meet separately to discuss the problems that they face as well as how to develop the Brigade into a stronger multinational organization. The Revolutionary Union took a position in a prepared statement that, while not opposing the existence of a caucus, they did not feel it was necessary at this convention. Multi-national unity can only be built if everyone in the Brigade takes up the struggle against national oppression. The Brigade had laid the basis to struggle against national oppression as an organization because of its consistent work fighting against national oppression and its consistent stand on building a multi-national organization. The caucus, they claimed, leaves the struggle against national oppression to Third World students only – and isolates them from broader political questions, leaving them to the white students. The caucus itself struggled over these positions, and while there was no consolidated unity in the Brigade whether there was a need for the caucus, the issue provided important political struggle and everyone agreed that the struggle against national oppression must be taken up by the entire Brigade.

Around proposals for a national campaign there were two views as to which issue would be the best to nationally mobilize people to fight, and weaken and expose the imperialist system – “Throw the Bum Out – Organize to Fight” or “Fight Repression”.

Those who proposed ”Throw the Bum Out” stated that the Brigade must continue to take tactical advantage of the present splits and confusion in the ruling class. They felt that the fight around Nixon would be coming to the fore in the fall (unless he was already gotten rid of), and that the ruling class will try and use the ”historical” impeachment proceedings to make Nixon a scapegoat for the whole crisis and decay of their system, as well as “living proof” that there is justice in the land of the dollar. Therefore, it was proposed that we continue to build off the advances we had made in this struggle over the last year to throw Nixon out, while exposing the whole ruling class in the process – throwing them into greater turmoil and confusion as their system’s crisis deepens!

On Building Multi-National Unity

Those who opposed this proposal gave examples of the six murdered Chicano activists in Colorado and the murder of Tyrone Guyton as examples of why fighting repression was a key issue. In addition, they pointed out, these issues dealt with fighting discrimination and national oppression, and that this is the only way to build multi-national unity, for Black, Brown, Yellow and Red students will only get involved in the fight against Imperialism through the struggle against national oppression. Opposition quickly arose to this position by those who stated that this view actually separated Third World people from the overall struggle against Imperialism by limiting their role in the struggle to fighting discrimination and national oppression. While it was important to build the struggle against national oppression among Third World as well as white students, Third World people would also certainly join the fight against imperialism around issues other than national oppression. They were confident that students of all nationalities were capable of seeing that national oppression stemmed from the rotten imperialist system run by one ruling class, and all students could be united in struggle around a campaign that would attack that ruling class.

After long and intense struggle, there was near full unity – as marked by the near unanimous vote – that the crucial issue to recommend as a national campaign was “Throw the Bum Out – Organize to Fight”; this was an issue that we could and must unite people of all nationalities around.

The Brigade, at the same time, also resolved that it must systematically take up the fight against national oppression as an integral part of the overall fight against the Imperialist system. Whether this be through political defense for Ruchelle Magee or the Attica Brothers, fighting against the racist teachings of Shockley, or struggling against ethnic study program attacks.

Anti-Imperialists Are Revolutionaries

The other major struggle centered around the question of the name. While many had been proud to bear the name of the courageous Attica rebellion, we all agreed the name “Attica Brigade” was too vague and often misleading for a national student organization consciously fighting the rule of monopoly capital. The name ”Revolutionary Student Brigade” was proposed and two days of heated struggle developed. Some stated that “revolutionary” marked a higher level of unity for the Brigade than the past “anti-imperialist level.” That this would isolate us from many students who would be turned off by the word “revolutionary”. Others countered by stating that this was a false and dangerous division between the political unity of anti-imperialism and revolutionary; that the essence of the Brigade is that they promote and build revolutionary struggles, rely on the people, weaken and expose the system, and teach the people how to fight it. They went on to say that, as revolutionaries we must show the people in the course of struggle, that until this Imperialist system is crushed, there will continue to be crises, attacks, and battles with the ruling class. Otherwise, we will be militant reformists, spreading illusions about monopoly capitalism and disarming the people from future attacks. After two days of struggle the Brigade came to near full unity around the second position and had a 95% “pro” vote for changing the name to Revolutionary Student Brigade.

The first National Convention of the Brigade was a success in consolidating the Brigade as a national revolutionary student organization. Off of it, numerous active political groups and individuals in the South and in the West, linked up to help form the RSB. It also saw many important political questions clarified and struggled over. However, what will really mark whether the convention was successful or not will be our work in the future. As Bob Avakian of the Revolutionary Union noted in his speech to the convention…“the key thing is not whether there are 450 students at this convention struggling and summing up their experience, but whether you take what you’ve learned and go out among the students, fight for the people, and build the revolutionary movement.”

We, in the Brigade, are determined to do just that; take the lessons that we learned at the convention out to the students and build the revolutionary struggle of the people, and thus, help make significant contributions to building a powerful student movement that will be able to play an important part in the overall offensive and struggle against the robbing rulers who run this country!

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