The demise of Street Fighting Man: Reply to David Schanoes

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Fri Jul 25 08:09:29 MDT 2003

David Schanoes wrote:

I haven't seen anyone of the BTTHN group explain why the anti-war movement
died after 1972 while the war raged on.
Oh, that's a sectarian question?


No, it is a jolly good question. The truth is that on December 24, 1972 Bob
Hope gave his 9th and last Xmas show to U.S. servicemen in Vietnam, in
Saigon to be precise. The peace movement was unable to withstand this, and
fainted en masse.

Seriously though, on December 28, 1972, the North Vietnamese announced that
they would return to Paris if Richard Nixon ended the bombing. The bombing
campaign was halted, and the negotiators met during the first week of
January, 1973; on January 23, 1973 the United States, South Vietnam, and
North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accords, officially ending America's
role in the war. The U.S. military draft ended as well. A cease-fire went
into effect 5 days later, and by March 29, 1973 the last U.S. combat troops
left Vietnam. I was 14 years old at the time, and rejoiced after reading
about it in the newspaper after school. I had enrolled in a rifle-shooting
club just in case, for the winter sports.

The American coalitions opposing the Vietnam War had arisen originally
mainly outside the traditional political institutions of the Left as a loose
"social movement", since the traditional institutions refused to take up the
issue and run with it, even although, in many cases, groups were in due
course formed as "front organisations" by the communists, socialists and
Trotskyists. Many "New Left" social movements had their origin in the fact
that traditional trade unions, community organisations and communists woud
not take up their demands, and poisoned intelligent political discussion
with dreary monolithic Marxist-Leninist or bureaucratic cant. That aside,
the Marxist-Leninists had some reputation for being manipulative, seeking to
insinuate their influence organisationally without an open and transparent
political policy, but rather on the basis of the Central Committee's
monopoly over political truth. The idea of "front organisations" had
developed in the 1930s with the "united front policy" against fascism,
communists being frequently officially barred from social democratic and
union organisations, and this tactic had metamorphosed during the Cold War,
when a witch-hunt was conducted against the communists, who could therefore
not operate openly anyhow. An open, transparent political policy developed
in free dialogue with all concerned did not exist.

Because the movement against the Vietnam War was overwhelmingly a
"single-issue movement", when the Peace Accords were signed and the troops
pulled out, the raison d'etre of the movement collapsed. Neither the Old
Left nor the New Left were able to generalise the anti-militarist sentiment
and consolidate it into a continuing, broader anti-capitalist or
anti-establishment movement, and both in fact concentrated on organising
their supporters further through building or rebuilding "Leninist Parties".
The organisational regimes operated in these parties were however so bad,
and the conditions for adherence so strict and programmatically tightly
defined, that they were unable to attract any large following. The general
tendency was for the Marxists to present themselves as though they had all
the ideas, the programme, the tradition and the answers already, and that
activists had to be "educated" and "moulded" into this, a political culture
which just did not appeal to most leftwing thinking people.

The language used by the new would-be Leninists was ironically itself
military: supporters had to be "recruited", "cadres" had to shaped up,
"discipine" had to be imposed, "centralism" had to be obeyed, the
"programme" had to be executed and so on - and most people who had
campaigned against militarism were turned off by this sectarian Leftist
military culture, they did not want to be Marxist-Lennist footsoldiers in
the proletarian army, and the "worker-bolshevik" ethos mimicked by the
aspirant Leninists did not jell well with their own personality, feelings
and psyche. Another factor that played a role, was the onset of the first
serious post-war recession, which shifted the focus to job opportunities and
incomes - the idealism of the New Left was fine and good, but one had to
make a living. But precisely because the New Left had originated outside the
traditional labour movement, it had no substantial influence in trade unions
or economic affairs. Most adherents were young and had no solid working
lives behind them, nevermind experience in building stable political
organisations from scratch.

It would be a grave idealist error, however, to blame the collapse of the
movement against the Vietnam war on faulty slogans or faulty education. A
whole lot of different factors played a role, to which I have alluded, but
the main thing was that the central objective of the anti-war movement had
been achieved.

You further wrote:

We have had remarks made about "kicks in the head" "shots to the head,"
deliberate distortions of postings, snide remarks about "read Marx, please"
and more snide remarks about reading Marx as a religious exercise, although
that doesn't apply its seems when someone wants to bring out that holy of
holies, Lenin's Left Wing Communism.

I think you need to apply some intellectual honesty here. You had said on 18
July: "We are dutibound to defend the interests of a class and show how
those interests represent the way forward for everyone who wants a future
free of oppression.  There is no real substance to the ideologies of
"national sovereignty," and no real substance to the notion of "people."
And I replied to this: "Try telling the people of Iraq that "There is no
real substance to the ideologies of "national sovereignty," and
no real substance to the notion of "people." You are liable to get your head
shot off." I moreover mentioned that I wished the debate to be conducted in
a civil way, and that if people stooped to abuse, disrespect and inanities,
they would be a likely to get a swift kick in the head from me, that was my
attitude. Of course I cannot give anybody a swift kick in the head through
an email, I am not that organised yet; I was merely conveying my general
attitude in this instance. I referred to a "kick in the head" in another
context, namely in debate with Mark Lause, when I referred to the black belt
karate qualifications of my flatmate, who remarked that words could hurt
more than physical violence.

You, on the other hand, want to have it both ways. You want to be able to
rant about the failures of the Left, general notions of class and the need
for instant revolution, and then also to complain if people do not treat you
kindly and civilly, or stoop to respond to your complaints. You want to
unleash revolutionary class battles against the plutocracy, but at the
slightest threat to your person from people who object to you trying to take
the piss out of them, you cringe and complain about "attitudes". This shows
a lack of a wellformed political culture, a sort of infantilism. You
insinuate that physical threats are being made against you, when no physical
threats are being made against you. You seek to discredit the arguments of
others, without giving any serious and thoughtful reply. You scratch around
here and there, to find some dirt to stir list members up with, rather than
build a substantive argument.

But this is not conducive to an intelligent, serious, civil debate. If you
want that sort of the debate, then you ought to express yourself in a way
that promotes it, rather than feign surprise at soliciting adverse reactions
to drivel.


More information about the Marxism mailing list