Alex Cockburn on the 1960s antiwar movement
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 26 12:14:22 MST 2002
The Antiwar Movement in the 1960s
Not so long ago I decried the effort by Marc Cooper, David Corn, Todd
Gitlin and others to redbait the current antiwar movement, insinuating
that all the demonstrators are dupes of Saddam Hussein, Ramsay Clark and
the Workers World Party. Corn went on the O'Reilly Show to reiterate his
allegation of dupedom.
Someone has to do the organizing, and thus far it's been the Workers
World Party, which doesn't mean that everyone left the recent demos in
DC and the Bay Area with the WWP's secret plan for revolution burned
into their synapses. I pointed out that "It wasn't until 1966 and 1967,
that the left, particularly the Socialist Workers Party, managed to
stage the big anti war rallies that that broke forever the pro-war
consensus, and set the stage for more radical actions. And by then there
was that potent fuel for an antiwar movement, the draft, which prompted
Stop the Draft Week."
This passage elicited some interesting correspondence, starting with a
note from that excellent historian of the left, Stew Albert:
Dear Alexander C. Actually, the first big march against the war took
place in NYC in 1964 on May 2. It was somewhat covertly organized by the
Maoist Progressive Labor Party. Thousands marched from Harlem to the UN.
And a PLP front group, the May 2, Movement was born.
"The next big event. that I recall, was organized in Berkeley in 1965 by
a coalition of New Leftists, CPers, PLers and yes the SWP. The coalition
was called the Vietnam Day Committee and its most prominent member was
Jerry Rubin. The VDC organized a massive teach-in and several very large
marches in BerkeleySDS jumped in organizing a teach-ins in Ann Arbor and
elsewhere and a big protest demo in DC. The SWP began showing itself in
a strong way in the later 60's but as a force more moderate and
experimental than Dave Dellinger's pacifists."
Stew added that my overall point "holds up very well. If Maoists
organized the event it did not create a compulsory Maoism. Same with the
Trotskyists. All these groups helped build the peace movement. Though
the great thing was that a new left developed, that was able to work
with them -and put aside the anti-Red biases of the 50's social democrats."
So Stew was saying is that there were anti-war activities before that,
and some pretty big ones, too. And that there were lots of other
leftists involved. He is right. No doubt. But, as Frank Bardacke points
out in another useful note, "the earlier demonstrations didn't break
'forever the pro-war consensus.' It was the big, peaceful marches
followed by seven-and-a-half hours of speeches which did that. Broke the
cold war consensus, and nearly bored the movement to death in its crib.
Other notes on Sixties history: Jeff Cohen comments that "SDS was big in
the '65 DC event. The Pentagon protest in '67 was more counter-cultural,
Yippie-types, etc. Ed Sanders did the incantation to levitate the
building. In Detroit, SWP was at the center of all mass antiwar rallies."
And from Tim Harding, in a communication relayed by Ed Pearl: "Dear Ed:
The SWP in the US was extremely important in building the anti-war
movement in the 67-71 period. Fred Halstead was one of the most
important leaders at that time in the mobilizations. Alex gives them too
much credit, but they had an excellent principled position and worked
very well in that leadership. This last week on the Lawyers' Guild
program on KPFK they discussed that period in the context of the Red
Baiting of the role of Workers' World in the current movement and gave
credit to the SWP for one national coalition and the CP for another. SDS
were important too but not by any means alone, and mostly in the early
period. As you know, the FSM was a regional development and not a
national organizer group. Fred Halstead's book OUT NOW is a useful history."
And from Mike Klonsky: "Thanks to Alexander Cockburn for the American
Journal piece. The new respectable neocons from the left were never
really that left to begin with. Even in the 60's, one in particular was
hanging out on campus with the respectable Young Democrats while those
scruffy, long-haired SDS students, left-wingers, commies and young
activists were getting arrested at the nearby Van Nuys Air National
Guard base trying to stop the bombers heading for Vietnam and elsewhere
in Southeast Asia.
"By the way, it's should have been noted that it was the Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS) who organized the first massive anti-war
demonstration in Washington, D.C. in 1965."
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