Port Huron at 50: Still Communist After All These Years

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Before there was Occupy Wall Street and Zuccotti Park there was Students for a Democratic Society and Port Huron. When it was written in 1962, the Port Huron Statement announced the birth of the radical student group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and with it the launch of what would become the so-called New Left. The manifesto’s legacy has since been sullied by the destructive history of SDS, which within a few years splintered into a bevy of revolutionary Marxist and militant organizations – most notoriously the terrorist Weather Underground – that came to embrace the very form of communist totalitarianism the Port Huron Statement professed to reject.

That morally stained history has not prevented SDS veterans, led by the document’s principal author, Tom Hayden, from periodically celebrating the Port Huron Statement as something it never was: a reformist treatise that succeeded in spirit even as it failed to transform America in line with SDS’s radical vision. Hayden has been the leading propagandist of the Port Huron Statement’s supposedly lasting cultural importance, penning and delivering near-annual tributes to the document while divulging little about its troubling history. The latest of these commemorative efforts occurred last week at New York University in New York City, which hosted a two-day conference on the Port Huron Statement to celebrate its 50-year anniversary and to reflect on its historical impact.

Headlined by Hayden, who delivered the keynote address, the conference was a class reunion of sorts of 60-era radicals. The audience was full of aging activists, their nostalgia for the political currents of the sixties betrayed by their graying ponytails, Che Guevara T-shirts, and well-thumbed copies of The Nation. Several said they had been present when the Port Huron Statement was issued in 1962.

Their goal seemed to be to convince themselves that the Port Huron Statement still mattered. Hayden touched on the point directly in his keynote remarks, when he suggested that the document remained historically relevant. “To understand history, you can’t leave it to the historians,” he said. Instead, Hayden left it to himself, and the resulting account was woefully incomplete. Rather than revisit the past, Hayden preferred to rewrite it.

Hayden stressed that the major contribution of the Port Huron Statement was introducing the world to the notion of “participatory democracy.” Hayden described the term in bland terms to mean a call for greater social and economic participation. But as an honest reading of the Port Huron Statement confirms, “participatory democracy” was never a call for democracy at all, but rather a coded prescription for a radical insurrection against established democratic institutions. Thus, it’s not surprising that all of the movements that have embraced “participatory democracy” – from Mexico’s anarcho-communist Zapatista guerillas, to Nicaragua’s communist Sandinistas, to most recently the street thugs and hooligans of Occupy Wall Street – have been unabashedly radical.

Hayden could not bring himself to be more honest about another aspect of the Port Huron Statement, namely it’s opposition to “anti-communism.” As Hayden told it, SDS came under criticism in the 60s for being insufficiently supportive of the Cold War against the Soviet Union. “We were on trial because our views were not anti-communist enough,” Hayden explained ruefully, to sympathetic agreement from the audience.

But that too was a historical whitewash. Not only did the Port Huron Statement reject liberal anti-communism but it embraced its converse, “anti-anti-communism.” The Soviet Union might have been totalitarian and repressive, the authors’ conceded, but it was wrong to “blame only communism” for the Cold War given that the United States, with it’s “monstrous” military structure, its “corporate economy,” and its “imperialist” foreign policy, was not clearly better – and in any case had “done a great deal to foment” Soviet suppression and aggression.

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  • Ken

    I never knew that the town I was born in was a host to such a group of anti-American morons!! Now I know why the state of Michigan is in such a bad state. I really find it interesting that they cannot take responsibility for all the damage and chaos they caused with they vile charter. Kind of sounds like our present leader. Not able to take responsibility for his failed policies. Typical.

    • guest

      yes, you figured it out. Michigan is in a bad state because a a small group of student radicals gathered there 50 years ago for a few days. You are a sharp cookie, you betcha!

  • Jim

    The Communists are atheists and there for under Islamic law must either convert or be beheaded.

    • flyingtiger

      All moslem countries, including Arabia, have an active communist party. The Moslems see communism as a political philosophy that has much in common with Islam and can be useful to advancing the cause of Islam.

  • Robert Pinkerton

    Acknowledged that this is a symptom of a dirty mind, the article suggests to me an intentional misspelling — or revision of the spelling? — namely the ,,Port Urine Statement;" for it is fermented stale urine that makes outhouses truly stink.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ JasonPappas

    It is frightening that these people have a captive audience for four years during the most important part of a person's intellectual development. The fact that the left controls the universities and subjects our children to propaganda is an advantage that is difficult to counter.

    Our only hope lies in the internet. The internet will be to our revolution what the printing press was to the Protestant Reformation. That is one of the reasons I support this venue and "Discover the Networks". Great work David, Jamie, Jacob, etc.

  • clarespark

    One of the less trumpeted achievements of the anti-anticommunist New Left was its interest in and support for China's communist dictatorship. HBO will air a film on the marriage of Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway next week that will include the supposed "spy mission" to China in 1941. Here is the review essay I wrote about present-day support for Chinese Communism: http://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-…. It has four segments, and includes some pictures, for instance of Hemingway with Fidel Castro.

  • H&R_ Barack

    Ever since the left wing captured the universities and media, putative conservatives desiring media favor and intellectual respectability have been apologizing for conservatism's most popular and effective figures.

    Democratic Society and Port Huron – http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/11/conservati

    Beginnings of another Radical.

  • kasandra

    Yeah, the SDS was pro-democracy. I guess that's why in 1967, my college roomate and SDS'er had a picture of Leon Trotsky taped to the ceiling above his bed.

  • isabelle

    Tom Hayden lives in the 90049 zip code of Los Angeles…one of the richest area's of Los Angeles, with the most expensive real estate in the country.
    Hayden is a two faced, phony.

  • idealart

    I'm a little surprised at the line that the country rejected radicalism and Port Huron. The US has moved far to the left since 1962. Part of mind-bending by the entertainment software industry (media, political, sports, etc.) is to pretend the US is "right-center." But if the goalposts are constantly moved left naturally most people will be right-center. The Democratic Party IS Port Huron.

    • Jacob

      That's a good point, and certainly arguable. By reject I meant in the narrower sense that the New Left's vision of a participatory democracy — i.e., communism — never gained any real purchase and indeed that rejection was one reason why SDS ultimately became more radical. Having convinced themselves that the country wouldn't listen to reason, they figured bombs would do the trick. I think it's true that the Democratic Party has drifted to the left, but then it's also true that the Republican Party has moved right, and the country is broadly right-of-center, so I don't know that the goal posts have been moved all that far. At any rate, the New Left doesn't think so. At the conference, Hayden said voting for Obama would be the least bad option but that seemed to be an unrepresentative take; most of the audience seemed to favor a pox on both their houses view of the two parties. In their judgement, at least, the modern Democratic Party was nowhere near what the Port Huron statement had in mind.

      • http://www.themadjewess.wordpress.com MAD JEWESS

        the GOP has NOT 'moved right'
        Mitt Romney is proof.

  • tagalog

    From the photo at the head of this article, Tom Hayden is sure one depressed-looking shlub. I guess that comes from having been a leftie in America and married to Jane Fonda. Some things money can't fix, I guess.

    • Questions

      Well, he's in his 70s now. That might have something to do with it.

  • Bill Befort

    Didja know that the radical left of 1962 was all in favor of nuclear energy? Have a look at the Port Huron Statement, where it figures as the low-cost energy source for SDS's reorganized society of the future:

    "Our monster cities, based historically on the need for mass labor, might now be humanized, broken into smaller communities, powered by nuclear energy, arranged according to community decision. These are but a fraction of the opportunities of the new era: serious study and deliberate experimentation, rooted in a desire for human fraternity, may now result in blueprints of civic paradise."

    When the PHS was written in 1962, popular environmentalism as we know it now scarcely existed. Left politics didn't adopt Green camouflage till much later; when it did, support for nuclear power was dropped. I think this illustrates the arbitrary and accidental nature of some of the political labels we assign to various technologies.

  • Ronald Johnston

    Why does our country allow these people to exist here!!! They are preaching subversion, treason and sedition. We have laws which provide severe penalties for this kind of behavior!!!!

    • http://www.themadjewess.wordpress.com MAD JEWESS

      Well, you are a man! Do something!

    • Questions

      Dissent, however much I may disagree with it, is still legal in the U.S. the last time I checked.

      • JakeTobias

        But what is it they are dissenting from?

        Would you have a problem if the Nazi party took over our universities?

        Or if the MSM made excuses for Hitler? (wait. some of them do) How about if "Mein Kampf," was taught to children as a great vision of the future?

        If only more of us had realized sooner, those are the exact comparisons, we wouldn't be in this mess.