Port Huron at 50: Still Communist After All These Years

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Just how far Hayden’s radical generation has succeeded in this transformative mission was illustrated by a conference panel on the “reorganization of knowledge” at NYU in the decades since the sixties. The academic expertise of the panel’s speakers demonstrated the point: they included professors of women’s and feminist studies, Africana studies and “post-colonial drama,” Asian Pacific studies, and “alternative learning.” All were united in seeing political activism as an important function of their instruction.

Daniel Walkowitz, a former SDS radical and now a professor of “social and cultural analysis” at NYU, enthused that since the sixties a “bottom up” perspective had come to replace the history of “dead white males.” David Moore, a professor at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, noted that while of course the content of his school’s courses was “progressive,” with students regularly interacting with labor unions and community activist groups, a special feature of the Gallantin school was that it allowed students to form their own majors. One student, Moore said, had majored in “Order in Chaos.”

The extent to which radical ideology had advanced in academia was tellingly if inadvertently illustrated by Carol Sternhell, a feminist writer and an associate professor of journalism at NYU. Sternhell explained that feminism had come a long way since the sixties. When she first became interested in feminist politics as a student, she was driven by the idea “that the fact that I’m a woman shouldn’t limit my opportunities.” But she revealed that decades of feminist theory – including the feminist dogma that gender, rather than a biological fact, is “socially constructed” – had changed the consciousness of her students. Now, she said, her students come to her with a different concern: “The fact that I have a vagina doesn’t mean that I’m a woman.” The audience nodded approvingly.

Not only were none of the professors self-conscious about bringing political activism into the classroom, but they reveled in that goal. Jack Tchen, whose faculty biography describes him as a “facilitator, teacher, historian, curator, re-organizer, and dumpster diver,” admitted frankly that he sees his role as a professor and a political activist as one and the same. To that end, he said, his current focus is on creating a “counter-knowledge” that challenges what he called Americans’ “paranoia” about the rise of China. Tchen’s main concern was about the challenges of cultivating this “counter-knowledge” in a “neoliberal” and “corporatized” university structure.

Despite the seemingly free rein that these professors have to treat their classroom as an extension of their political activities, the common complaint among the academic panel was that even politically inspired fields of study do not go far enough to promote political causes. Julie Reuben, a professor at Harvard’s School of Education, lamented that even fields like Black Studies have become too focused on academic discipline and not enough on political activism. Today’s courses just weren’t doing enough to “disrupt society,” she said. Those wondering why so many of the OWS rank-and-file are unemployed university students might consider the political priorities of their professors.

The professors’ complaints notwithstanding, it’s telling that even a major university like NYU deems it appropriate to sponsor a conference romanticizing a document as radical and destructive as the Port Huron Statement. Contrary to apologists like Hayden, it was never a reformist statement but a reactionary one, dressing up a revival of communist totalitarianism in a cloak of democratic and populist sounding rhetoric. And if the Port Huron Statement is seen as anything other than a sinister artifact of the sixties, it is only because the left-wing activists’ capture of the universities allows them to take seriously what the country rejected long ago.

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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.