[Marxism] FW: [SUS] [Fwd: 'Carefully study the Situation': Building an Anti-War Movement]

David McDonald dbmcdonald at comcast.net
Wed Aug 10 08:33:15 MDT 2005

I have the sense that the article below, which was posted to a local site in
Seattle by Marxmailer Doug Nielson, is not quite accurate in describing the
antiwar situation in the US in 1968-69, but I have no personal knowledge of
the events in question. I wonder if someone on the list would care to

It seems obvious to me that this is at least partially an attempt to comment
on the disunity of the antiwar movement. I cannot quite tell if the author
knows of, or approves of, what UfPJ is doing in the antiwar movement, if he
is urging them on or if he is chiding them for forgetting the second part of
what the author calls the Vietnamese two-pronged strategy. There is also no
mention whatsoever of "Negotiate Now" which I had thought was the position
of the then-Communist Party and its friends.

David McDonald

      Subject:  'Carefully study the Situation': Building an Anti-War
      Date:  Sun, 7 Aug 2005 23:01:47 -0400 (EDT)
      From:  moderator at portside.org
      Reply-To:  portside at portside.org
      To:  portside at lists.portside.org

"'Carefully study the Situation': Vietnam's Advice for
the Building of an American Anti-War Movement in the

David Barber

[Submitted to Portside by the author, who writes,
"Attached is a paper I recently presented at the
'Thinking Through Action Conference' in Vancouver BC."
I believe the paper contains insights into debates
currently roiling today's antiwar movement.]

>From the summer of 1967 to the summer of 1969
representatives of the South Vietnam¹s National
Liberation Front (NLF) and then its Provisional
Revolutionary Government (PRG) and North Vietnam¹s
government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV)
met close to a dozen times with anti-war activists from
the United States. In all these meetings the Vietnamese
sought to convey three essential points to their US
antiwar counterparts. First, they strove to impart an
accurate sense of Vietnam¹s military situation. By
highlighting what seemed incomprehensible ­ the world¹s
most powerful nation bogged down in, and losing a war
to a small technologically backward people ­ they
sought to convey a second point: the overall
imperialist character of America¹s war and the nature
of the society prosecuting that war. Finally, the
Vietnamese stressed the need for greater unity in the
anti-war movement, for more visible large-scale
actions, and more public education on the nature of the

In all meetings, the Vietnamese emphasized that the
United States was failing militarily in Vietnam.
Following her meeting with the Vietnamese in Cambodia,
for example, SDS National Office member Cathy Wilkerson
emphasized the critical import of understanding the
war¹s true on-the-ground character. "[A]bove all"
insisted Wilkerson, New Leftists had to more thoroughly
understand "the details of the war in Vietnam and the
situation in all of Southeast Asia," if they wanted to
"understand the most effective means to combat" the

Insights garnered by activists in these meetings
positioned activists to understand the war far better
than other Americans, American leaders included.
Indeed, two weeks prior to the 1968 Tet Offensive, at a
time when US military and political leaders were still
taking in America¹s people with their claims that the
National Liberation Front was finished, Wilkerson
reported back to SDS that "no one can win the war in
Vietnam except the Vietnamese, and they have won the
war in many ways already." Wilkerson then substantiated
her assertion with a detailed account of Vietnam¹s
military situation. Despite massive troop deployments
-- US troops, South Vietnamese troops and the troops of
US allies --, despite massive aerial bombardments, the
US offensive position had steadily deteriorated, she
reported. By the 1967-68 dry season, the third dry
season since the US had opted for "local war," ­ i.e.,
committing its own troops to play the dominant military
role in Vietnam ­ the US was unable to mount any
offensives in any of South Vietnam¹s military zones. In
contrast, NLF forces were on the offensive in all the

What did this failure mean? What did it represent? Here
was the second point the Vietnamese sought to convey:
the political implications of the military situation.
On the one hand, the brutality of a war that the US
claimed was being fought for the benefit of Vietnam¹s
people enlightened ever-greater numbers of US troops,
said Wilkerson. US propaganda efforts were losing their
credibility, and US troops were becoming demoralized
and revolting against their leadership more and more
frequently. On a larger scale, it was clear, Wilkerson
argued, that "the U.S. cannot continue with its current
strategy of 'localized war¹... The only other direction
in which they can intensify their military efforts is
the development of new kinds of weapons -- In this way
-- the U.S. could in fact completely destroy the entire
country. However there are also certain restraints,
such as world opinion, that could serve to curtail this
sort of expansion." On the other hand, Wilkerson
explained, Vietnam¹s people were struggling for
independence and that desire grew out of a long
history. Each and every Vietnamese fighter "has
himself, or among his family and friends suffered very
deeply at the hands of foreign imperialists," Wilkerson
affirmed; "each has experienced the deep anger which
becomes determination, each has understood the vision
of an independent country which sustains the struggle."

In short, the US was losing in Vietnam because the war
it waged was an unjust war and because it was fighting
people who were unrelentingly fighting for their
rights. This was a prime lesson the Vietnamese sought
to convey to New Leftists, and through them, to the
larger American society.

Steve Halliwell, a Columbia SDSer, drew this very same
lesson from his discussions with the Vietnamese at
Bratislava. On the one hand, "the incredible brutality"
of America¹s war revealed both the failure and the
underpinnings of that war. Said Halliwell: "Since the
military is faced with a society in revolt, all it can
do is go out and shoot some of the people or better yet
(safer) bomb them to death from planes. If women and
children from 15 years of age are carrying guns, then
women and children must be killed. And since the only
possible 'victory¹ for the American government would
come from a winning-over of the populace, the greater
and greater brutality of the military indicates how
badly the American effort is failing." Halliwell took
back from Bratislava the same understanding Wilkerson
had arrived at in Cambodia: "Against a society
demanding freedom and independence from an imperialist
force, there is no weapon save destruction of every
individual in revolt that will bring about any end
other than victory for the liberation forces."

On the other hand, according to Halliwell, the
Vietnamese also saw that the US¹s intensifying
brutality was itself certain evidence of "how badly the
American effort is failing." Indeed, only by winning
over the population could the US really prevent
Vietnam¹s domino from falling; that the US was
resorting to increasingly barbaric methods indicated
that the US was growing ever more frustrated in its

While the Vietnamese were extremely cautious in their
efforts at providing guidance to New Leftists, their
emphasis, as reflected in the reports that issued from
virtually every meeting, leaves little doubt about what
they were seeking from the anti-war movement. First, of
course, they wanted the American activists to broadly
disseminate the Vietnamese perspective on the war -- on
its character, on the balance of forces between the two
sides, and on the war¹s political implications. Second,
the Vietnamese were knowledgeable about the state of
the US¹s anti-war movement and pressed their US
counterparts on ways of more effectively uniting the
movement and creating larger, more visible
demonstrations. Sue Munaker, a Chicago SDSer, reported
back from the Stockholm Conference that the "first
question" raised by the Vietnamese to the US delegation
"revealed their concern with the fragmentation of our
movement" Similarly, Cathy Wilkerson revealed that
although the Vietnamese with whom she met had not made
any specific recommendations to the SDS delegation,
nevertheless, they were "all enthusiastic about large
actions which receive a lot of international publicity,
such as Oct. 21 [the Pentagon demonstration] and
[Oakland/ Berkeley¹s] Stop the Draft Week."

In a special meeting that the Vietnamese called with
the antiwar movement¹s most radical sector for Havana
in July 1969, Vietnam¹s revolutionaries deemed it
necessary to provide some still more explicit guidance
on overall US anti-war strategy. On the first day of
the conference, for example, head of the DRV
delegation, Nguyen Van Trong, urged the New Leftists to
consider the Vietnamese experience during the 1946-1954
war against French colonialism. In notes that she took
at the conference, SDS Weatherman faction leader
Bernardine Dohrn recorded Van Trong¹s observations.
Apparently, the Vietnamese believed that it had been
essential to make the French people "understand true
nature of war -- imperialism always tries to beautify
its wars; ... organizers must go deep into the masses;
many diff forms of organizations; if we put forward a
slogan which is too high for people, will not have
broadest possibility of unity; must carefully study the

Of course, these were the tasks that the Vietnamese had
been encouraging US anti-war activists to take up.
Nguyen Van Trong and the other Vietnamese delegates
then reinforced their perspective on developing the US
anti-war movement by addressing a series of questions
to the US delegates: did the American people know about
and understand Nixon¹s "De-Americanization" strategy in
Vietnam? Did they know about and understand the PRG¹s
10 point peace program, or of the existence and
significance of the PRG? What did the "ruling circles"
think of the PRG¹s peace program and the formation and
significance of the PRG? What about American women,
especially those with sons and husbands in Vietnam:
what were they doing and thinking? What was the
capacity of the US government to continue the draft?

In subsequent days the Vietnamese would reiterate these
questions and add others of a similar nature to the US
list: How many organizations opposed the war? What kind
of coordination existed between these organizations?
What kind of women¹s organizations existed and what was
their relationship to the anti-war movement? Why did
different social strata entertain different attitudes
toward the war? What relationship existed between the
mass anti-war movement and conflicts and contradictions
within the ruling classes?

For the most part American anti-war leaders had never
systematically explored these kinds of questions, much
less acted on the basis of answers to those questions.
But this was precisely what the Vietnamese were asking
the New Leftists to do, to "carefully study the

Former SDS vice-president, Carl Davidson, brought back
from Havana an important sense of what the Vietnamese
were saying. On the one hand, the Vietnamese delegation
affirmed that they had defeated the United States in
Vietnam, Davidson observed; on the other, the PRG
believed that the anti-war movement in the US could be
playing a crucial role in bringing the US troops home
and bringing an early end to the war -- but was not
doing that. Of course, the Vietnamese acknowledged, the
liberal and radical anti-war activists had different
perspectives. But why, the Vietnamese wanted to know,
could they not unite around the demand for immediate
withdrawal? According to Davidson, then, "the message
was clear: Now, more than ever, Vietnam must be a
central issue taken to the American people. Hundreds of
thousands, even millions must be moved to understand
and act in solidarity with the Vietnamese people."

The Vietnamese were asking the anti-war movement¹s
radical wing to unify the antiwar movement, bringing
all those with any opposition to the war together under
a slogan of immediate US withdrawal from Vietnam.
Second, they were asking the radicals to take
responsibility for deepening the understanding of the
tens of millions of white Americans who, only after Tet
1968, began to question the war, began to realize that
their government was lying to them; and for the
millions more who opposed the war, but saw it as an
unfortunate mistake, as "Johnson¹s War," or "Nixon¹s
War," rather than as an imperialist war. They were also
asking that these millions not be shunted aside as
backward by the movement¹s left wing; that instead,
they be educated and mobilized, first in opposition to
the war, and then in solidarity with the Vietnamese
struggle. The Vietnamese wanted the anti-war movement
to use the war to understand and expose the nature of
US society, abroad and at home, to understand and
educate America¹s people on the real imperial and class
nature of the society in which they lived. In the long
term, actually transforming US society was the best
guarantee of Vietnam¹s self-determination. Admittedly,
this was a tremendous task, and a task that antiwar
radicals would ultimately reject.

The Vietnamese were demanding two things of the
American activists. Taken separately, each position
reinforced empire: to unite the anti-war movement
behind the "immediate withdrawal" demand without
discussing the nature of US society might help end a
contest potentially damaging to the United States¹s
long-term imperial interests; and it would certainly
allow the empire¹s defenders to write Vietnam off in
the liberal manner as a "mistake." But the grounds
would be left unchanged for future interventions
elsewhere in the world. On the other side, it might be
possible to rail against empire, without educating or
bringing any new people into opposition to that empire.
The trick, as Vietnam¹s revolutionaries understood, was
to tackle both tasks simultaneously: to foster and use
broad opposition to the war as a gateway to fostering a
deepened sense of the nature of American society. This
job the anti-war activists in the 1960s largely


portside (the left side in nautical parlance) is a news,
discussion and debate service of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It aims to
provide varied material of interest to people on the

For answers to frequently asked questions:

To subscribe, unsubscribe or change settings:

To submit material, paste into an email and send to:
<moderator at portside.org> (postings are moderated)

For assistance with your account:
<support at portside.org>

To search the portside archive:

More information about the Marxism mailing list