Why were there so many Jews in SDS?

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Mark Rudd explains why there were so many Jews in Students for a Democratic Society:

I got to Columbia University as a freshman, age 18, in September, 1965, a few months after the United States attacked Vietnam with main force troops. There I found a small but vibrant anti-war movement. In my first semester I was recruited by David Gilbert, a senior who had written a pamphlet on imperialism for national SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. David was one of the founders of the Columbia SDS chapter, along with John Fuerst, the chapter Chairman. Both were Jewish, of course, as were my mentors and friends, Michael Josefowicz, Harvey Blume, Michael Neumann, and John Jacobs. Ted Kaptchuk and Ted Gold were Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Columbia SDS the year before I was elected Chairman, along with my Vice-Chairman, Nick Freudenberg. All of us were Jewish. It’s hard to remember the names of non-Jewish Columbia SDS’ers; it was as much a Jewish fraternity as Sammie. There were probably a greater proportion of gentile women than guys in SDS, and of course I got to know them.

Out of all the uncountable hours of discussion in SDS meetings, at the West End Bar over beer, and in our dorm rooms and apartments over joints, I don’t remember one single conversation in which we discussed the fact that so many of us were Jewish. This glaring lack alone might serve as a clue to what we were up to: by being radicals we thought we could escape our Jewishness. Left-wing radicalism was internationalist, not narrow nationalist; it favored the oppressed and the workers, not the privileged and elites, which our families were striving toward. Moreover, we were New Leftists, having rejected the sectarianism and cant of the Old Left, which, of course was dominated by Jews.

My friends in SDS taught me, quite correctly, that the world was in revolt against U.S. domination. That was why the Vietnamese were fighting so hard. I learned to admire the Vietnamese and the Cubans and the Chinese and the Russian peasants who had stood up to make a new society. Identifying with the oppressed seemed to me at Columbia and since a natural Jewish value, though one we never spoke of as being Jewish. We were socialists and internationalists first. I myself joined the cult of Che Guevara, putting posters of him on my apartment wall and aching to be a revolutionary hero like him. He wasn’t very Jewish, incidentally.

But World War II and the holocaust were our fixed reference points. This was only twenty years after the end of the war. We often talked about the moral imperative to not be Good Germans. Many of my older comrades had mobilized for the civil rights movement; we were all anti-racists. We saw American racism as akin to German racism toward the Jews. As we learned more about the war, we discovered that killing Vietnamese en masse was of no moral consequence to American war planners. So we started describing the war as racist genocide, reflecting the genocide of the holocaust. American imperialist goals around the world were to us little different from the Nazi goal of global conquest. If you really didn’t like somebody — and we loathed President Lyndon B. Johnson — you might call him a fascist.

Columbia SDS adopted an intelligent strategy of protesting the war by opposing the university’s involvement with it. Over a three year period we exposed the University’s claims of being “value-neutral” by pointing to Columbia’s Naval ROTC program, its allowing Marine and CIA and Dow Chemical recruiting, and, finally, the defense-oriented research work of the Institute for Defense Analysis consortium, of which Columbia was a leading — and secret — member. Support for the anti-war position among students and faculty gradually grew as the war escalated and as the SDS chapter engaged in continual educational activities and confrontations. The conflict with the university over the war and racism came to a head in the massive rebellion and strike of April-May, 1968.

What outraged me and my comrades so much about Columbia, along with its hypocrisy, was the air of genteel civility. Or should I say gentile? Despite the presence of so many Jews in the faculty and among the students — geographical distribution in the admissions process had not been effective at filtering us out, our SAT’s and class-rank being so high — the place was dripping with goyishness. When I got there freshmen still wore blue blazers and ties and drank sherry at afternoon socials with the deans. At the top of the Columbia heap sat President Grayson Kirk and Vice-President David Truman, two consummate liberal WASP’s who privately claimed to oppose the war but maintained the institution’s support of it.

In an infamous rabble-rousing speech I made in the course of one the confrontations on campus, I referred to President Grayson Kirk as “that shithead.” Certainly I reveled in my role of head barbarian within the gates. But also I wanted to de-throne the President of Columbia University in the minds of my fellow students. It worked.

More than twenty years ago I read a book called, “The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss and the Jewish Struggle With Modernity.” The author, an Irish-American sociologist named John Murray Cuddihy, advances a fascinating theory on the origins of Marxism and Freudianism. Jews were newly emancipated, that is, given legal and political rights, in Western Europe in the mid to late nineteenth century. But even bourgeois Jews were still excluded from civil society by customs and especially by manners. As Jewish (or formerly Jewish) outsiders ostensibly allowed in, but not really, Marx and Freud brought critical eyes to European bourgeois society. Marx said, in effect, “You think you’ve got yourself a fine little democracy here, well let me tell you about the class exploitation and misery that’s underlying it.” Similarly, Freud exposed the seamy, sexuality-driven motives, the up-raised penises controlling the unconscious minds of civilized, well-mannered bourgeois society.

We Jews at Columbia — and I would guess at colleges throughout the country — brought the same outsider view to the campuses we had been allowed into. We were peasant children right out of the shtetls of New Jersey and Queens screaming, “You want to know the truth about Columbia University, they’re a bunch of liberal imperialists! They claim to be value-neutral but when we asked them to stop their research for the Vietnam War and their racist expansion into the Harlem community, they not only ignored us, but they called out the cops to beat us up and arrest us. Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stickup!” Morally and emotionally we could not fit into the civilized world of the racist, defense-oriented modern university. Such was our ordeal of civility.


  1. Rollory says:

    “a few months after the United States attacked Vietnam with main force troops”

    I didn’t read any of the rest. If he’s going to start lying that fast the rest of it is worthless.

  2. Adar says:

    “I myself joined the cult of Che Guevara, putting posters of him on my apartment wall and aching to be a revolutionary hero like him. He wasn’t very Jewish, incidentally.”

    Ernest Lynch. An Irishman with a slight bit of Spanish inside of him.

  3. Kgaard says:

    This is fabulous. I just bought Cuddihy’s book a couple weeks ago. Great to see this guy putting the pieces together about his own personal history.

  4. Wang Weilin says:

    Criticizing racism by emphasizing race. Hypocrisy much?

  5. Searpea says:

    Wow, did they get the reason for the Vietnamese fighting wrong. totally wrong. That this guy still believes that the Vietnamese were fighting due to “revolt against U.S. domination” is quite pathetic.

  6. Brooklyn says:

    This was a pretty long winded way on his part to say that his middle-class, God-free, lox-and-bagels-only, ethnic background wasn’t satisfying enough and that he (and everyone else he refers to in his speech) simply converted to a religion that he felt was much more compelling.

  7. Graham says:

    His explication of Cuddihy’s thesis regarding Marx and Freud was interesting. I had considered those Jewish thinkers within the context of the general European encounter with modernity, and even as specifically Jewish takes on that encounter, but not really as aspects of a specifically Jewish struggle with modernity. If anything, that doesn’t go far enough into the actual 19c struggles within the Jewish religion as it confronted population growth, wildly different group experiences in the various European countries with Jewish populations [German versus Russian Jews, etc.], and the transformation from mainly Orthodox religiosity and closed community to competing forms of the religion, assimilationist trends, and the rise of secular ideological belief systems competing for Jewish allegiance. Usually fronted by Jews.

    But I digress. I was actually touched by Rudd’s unreconstructed mid-century faith that Freud was peddling very much beyond his own neuroses. I mean, insight up to some useful points, but he went off the rails fast.

  8. Sam J. says:

    Clearly a Jewish mentality. Rail against the Goyish schools, never giving one single thought that if they didn’t like it there was no one stopping them from making their own as the WASP did. No, they have to take over and destroy the Goys’ school.

    Notice that now we’re fighting for the Jews instead of US interest, all this killing is a fine thing.

Leave a Reply