In Defense of the SWP/anti-war mov't

David Walters dwalters at igc.apc.org
Sun Oct 13 09:00:29 MDT 1996


In Defense of the SWP perspectives during the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Several people on this list, most notably North American Bob Maleki, now
living in political exile in Sweden, have, in the most flippant ways,
condemned the SWP and it anti-war initiatives.

I have many criticism of the politics of the SWP, which I left after its
sectarian attacks on the Workers World Party initiated anti-war
demonstration of May 3, 1980 (I left for a large variety of reasons,
too), most of which deal with what the Party could of done, IN ADDITION,
to its fine work in mobilizing American people in defense of
self-determination for the Vietnamese people.

There are two issues, as I see it, around the anti-war movement. One was
what was the issue confronting the people of the world during this war
and the other was what to do about it.

The SWP's position started from the viewpoint that the Vietnamese
revolution was under attack by US imperialism. That defense of this
revolution was paramount and the only way to accomplish the victory of
the revolution in Vietnam was to end US intervention there.

The only way to accomplish this, then, was to mobilize the largest
number of people possible to make it difficult politically for the
imperialists to carry out their aims unencumbered by opposition...as had
happened to the equally brutal Korean War which enjoyed at least the
passive support of the majority of the US working class at the time.

To accomplish this aim the SWP initiated several united fronts, most
notably the National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC) and the affiliated
Student Mobilization Committee (SMC). The organizing slogan of the
NPAC/SMC struck at the heart of US imperialist intervention: US Out Now!

Opposition to this strategy came from two sources, one to the "left"  of
the SWP and one to the "right" of the SWP. In the former camp was the
People's Coalition for Peace & Justice (PCPJ), second to NPAC in size
and support, and initiated by the Communist Party USA. PCPJ usually
adopted as a slogan or organizing tool what ever the Vietnamese were
raising at the time: "Negotiate Now!" then "Adopt the 10 point peace
program" (of the NLF/PRG) "Adopt the 8 point peace program," etc.
Slogans would change with the winds of international Stalinism. The PCPJ
approach never really was able to appeal to most Americans and certainly
didn't mobilize many people, at least in comparison the demands of NPAC:
US Out Now! ... which was certainly more to the point.  Most of the big
demonstrations in NY / Washington DC / San Francisco that united NPAC
and PCPJ were under the slogans raised by NPAC, not PCPJ.

On the left was a wide variety of critics of NPAC and the SWP. For the
Maoists, this meant fighting with the police at every or many
opportunities, raising the slogan "Victory to the Vietnamese" (a feel
good slogan with no punch what-so-ever) and waving red or NLF flags at
demonstrations organized by NPAC. To be fair, the Maoists and almost
Maoists did do a fair share of their own demonstrations but on a far
smaller scale and with seemingly no impact on the world around them.
Another important point is that the Maoists, more than any other group
on the left, recruited the most out of the radicalization of the 60s and
70s. I'd say they recruited 10 students for every 1 the YSA (SWP youth
group) recruited.

In addition the Sparts and other "Trotskyoid" groups did no mobilizing
beyond their own membership and usually around slogans like the Sparts
favorite one "All Vietnam Must Go Communist" which was my absolute
favorite for silly things to put on a banner (yes it must, so
what?...the other was a Maoist one I saw at a big demo in NY which read
'Workers and Peasants Unite!'...and I thought, 'what, in Brooklyn
perhaps?).

NPAC never let the anti-war movement get captured by the Stalinists of
PCPJ who wanted to turn the movement into a "multi-issue" grouping,
tailored for Democratic Party politicians. Yes, NPAC allowed, nay
invited, popular Democratic (and some anti-war Republicans) politicians
to share the stage at rallies and marches it organized. These
politicians NEVER dominated the speakers platform nor did they set the
tone for the politics of the demonstrations. They did legitimize, in the
eyes of many Americans, the movements appeal, although this was rejected
by the "pro-NLF" Maoists and other so-called "anti-imperialists" who saw
this as a capitulation to the Democrats.  But this goes, in large part,
to the heart of the issues raised by the critics of the SWP: they, the
critics, did not want to appeal or mobilize the nascent anti-war
sentiment of the American people! They didn't care one iota. They only
cared about feeling good about their revolutionary credentials, their
red flags and so-called "anti-imperialist" slogans.

We in the SWP cared about mobilizing the greatest number of people in
demanding the US get out now from Vietnam. We cared about mobilizing
unions and the labor movement to use their economic/political clout to
mobilize against George Meany's pro-war stance. There is not enough room
on the Internet to go over every group who criticized of the SWPs.
But...as I used to say to ultra-lefts in my high school in NY: "Notice
that you come to our demonstrations but we never go to yours, why...?
because yours are small, pathetic and inconsequential to the class
struggle going on in Vietnam and the US. If your orientation is correct,
go out and organize hundreds of thousands of people around you 'slogans'
and effect change in imperialism's relationship of forces with the
Vietnamese."

Of course the rest is history. These "leftists" never did squat.

I will depart from SWP orthodoxy on somethings. I think some of the
civil disobediance, taken together with the mass movement organized by
us, was important. Certainly the destroying of draft records, arrests
made at draft centers and other smaller actions did help, the movement
as a whole. Our arguement at the time with these people (and many were
involved with NPAC) was that they elevated these tactics to a strategy
and often did so by misleading people at large and peaceful
demonstration into conflict with the cops...but I do think there was a
place for these actions as a tactic.

David Walters







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