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A Hard Rain Fell

A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why it Failed

David Barber
Copyright Date: 2008
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    A Hard Rain Fell
    Book Description:

    By the spring of 1969, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had reached its zenith as the largest, most radical movement of white youth in American history-a genuine New Left. Yet less than a year later, SDS splintered into warring factions and ceased to exist.

    SDS\'s development and its dissolution grew directly out of the organization\'s relations with the black freedom movement, the movement against the Vietnam War, and the newly emerging struggle for women\'s liberation. For a moment, young white people could comprehend their world in new and revolutionary ways. But New Leftists did not respond as a tabula rasa. On the contrary, these young people\'s consciousnesses, their culture, their identities had arisen out of a history which, for hundreds of years, had privileged white over black, men over wo-men, and America over the rest of the world. Such a history could not help but distort the vision and practice of these activists, good intentions notwithstanding.

    A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why It Failed traces these activists in their relation to other movements and demonstrates that the New Left\'s dissolution flowed directly from SDS\'s failure to break with traditional American notions of race, sex, and empire.

    David Barber is assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Martin. His work has appeared in Journal of Social History, Left History, and Race Traitor.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-305-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
    David Barber
  4. Introduction Why the New Left Failed
    (pp. 3-15)

    I begin this book at the end of my story.

    May 4, 1970. After exchanging rock, bottle, and tear gas volleys with student antiwar protesters, a contingent of eighty Ohio National Guardsmen on the campus of Kent State University turned their backs on demonstrators and began moving away from the charged scene. To the students, spread out over a field and parking lot, the Guardsmen appeared to be retreating as they marched away, up “Blanket Hill.” When the Guardsmen reached the crest of the hill, however, about twenty of them spun on their heels, lowered their M1 carbines, and began...

  5. Chapter One The New Left and the Black Movement, 1965–1968
    (pp. 16-51)

    Until mid-1965, the black-led civil rights movement operated within a fundamentally liberal framework: racism was an aberration; it was something particular to the South; and it was untrue to the foundation and principles upon which Americans had constructed their freedom. Through nonviolent moral suasion, civil rights activists would touch the hearts of their opponents and win a place for themselves in the great American system.¹ Its liberal ideological foundation notwithstanding, the civil rights movement was an activist movement, and that activism had two important consequences: first, civil rights movement activism broke the Joseph McCarthy era–imposed years of quiet. In...

  6. Chapter Two The New Left and the American Empire, 1962–1968
    (pp. 52-94)

    By 1965—the year that the Lyndon Johnson administration decisively escalated the United States’ war against Vietnam—SDS leaders were beginning to conceive of the United States as an empire. More than anything, the United States’ brutality in Vietnam would push increasing numbers of young white activists to this understanding. But a whole host of events and struggles stood behind Vietnam and provided the indispensable context within which activists could comprehend this American empire. In the first place, the black struggle made anti-imperial struggles comprehensible to New Leftists. Africa’s anticolonial revolutions, especially, resonated with New Leftists schooled in the civil...

  7. Chapter Three The New Left and Feminism, 1965–1969
    (pp. 95-144)

    If by mid-1968 SDS had not yet risen to the black movement’s challenge, had not grasped how “white” it was, still less did it recognize how “male” was its worldview, its strategy, tactics, values, and identity. Indeed, if the era’s unprecedented black social movement could not compel SDSers to throw off their white racial blinders, the feminist critique of SDS—arising largely from women in SDS itself and not from a movement of the size or scope of the black movement—stood even less of a chance of deeply affecting the New Left’s self-understandings. Moreover, while young white women activists...

  8. Chapter Four The New Left Starts to Disintegrate
    (pp. 145-187)

    Even as late as mid-1968, SDS was unable to break with its historic ambivalence toward the black freedom movement. Eldridge Cleaver’s repeated appeals to SDS to secure Carl Oglesby’s participation as Cleaver’s vice presidential candidate, and SDS’s repeated dismissal of these appeals, here stands as the prime evidence. A number of factors went into SDS’s ability to reject Cleaver’s overtures. First, from the moment the Black Panther Party was founded, police subjected the Panthers to a campaign of harassment, arrest, and killings. This campaign weakened the Panthers’ ability to lend guidance to the New Left. The Panthers not only had...

  9. Chapter Five Reasserting the Centrality of White Radicals
    (pp. 188-225)

    One month after the massive October 15, 1969, Moratorium against the war in Vietnam, still larger demonstrations against the war rumbled across the United States. In San Francisco, over 100,000 people marched through the city to Golden Gate Park on November 15. On the same day in Washington, D.C., more than 250,000 people—some said it was as high as 750,000—marched across the nation’s capital to protest the war. Smaller marches, involving hundreds or thousands of people each, occurred in dozens of other communities across the country. With the Republican Richard Nixon as president, larger numbers of Democratic Party...

  10. Conclusion The Price of the Liberation
    (pp. 226-234)

    SDS failed. The white New Left failed.

    America’s fundamental social, cultural, political, and economic structures were not destroyed and replaced with something better, the goal the New Left ultimately set for itself. Those structures were altered, and, assuredly, the movements of the 1960s had something to do with that. But the passage of time has revealed just how little they were altered.

    Yes, we no longer have a rigid legal system of segregation anywhere in the United States. Yes, the nation now occasionally allows a person of color to sit at the American banquet table—the more so if that...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 235-258)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-270)
  13. Index
    (pp. 271-286)