[Marxism] Tactics in the anti-war movement

Carlos A. Rivera cerejota at optonline.net
Sun May 8 16:04:59 MDT 2005

I've been to busy to write, but have followed the whole re-birth of the
discussion on anti-imperialism vis a vis the anti-war movement.

Now, one of the things that I find lacking in this whole discussion is the
lack of study of previous experiences. It sometimes approaches this point
when discussing the anti-war movement of the 1960s, yet it usually becomes a
"s/he said-s/he said" sectarian excercise. Its smacks of a lack of honesty
in approaching what was good and what was bad of that experience, and also
smacks of ideological excercises on the part of people who claim to be
approaching the question tactically, not ideologically.

For what is worth, I want to engage in such an excercise based upon the
recent anti-imperialist victory in Puerto Rico, which was the closing of the
Vieques Navy base, which led in a domino effect to the closing of the
Roosvelt Roads Navy base, the largest Atlantic fleet base outside of the
USA, and hence has significantly reduced the existence of the US military in
Puerto Rico, weakining the imperialist criteria to a continued strangle hold
over Puerto Rico. Granted, there are still a lot to struggle forward, even
in Vieques there still remains a ROTH radar installation, and of course the
majority of Puerto Ricans still see annexation to the USA as a way out of
Colonialism, but this was a major blow against imperialism.

I will try to remain balanced, but I can't claim to be detached. Yet I do
ask you to concentrate your criticism not on my views on the Vieques
struggle, but on the lessons I think it teaches. Lets try to keep off the
tangents that taint discussions here.

In practical terms, this was achived by four main opposition currents, which
at times required the tactical unity of the four, but for the most part
meant these four currents remained tactically separate:

1) Government "Civil rights" policy. The pro-statehood movement in Puerto
Rico saw as a way to emphasize on the "second-class" nature of Puerto Rican
citizenship the fact that the civil rights of Puerto Rican US citizens where
being violated by the Navy practices in Vieques. In practice this led to
fudning of government studies, paid lobbying in Congress, and the Puerto
Rican governor at the time, Pedro Rosello, going to congress and telling a
congressman "don't push it", in what has to be the first example of a
colonial governor disrespecting a representative of the US Congress. This
government based pressure had the effect of creating a view that a huge
majority of Puerto Ricans opposed the Navy.

2) The "Peaceful Civil Disobidience" movement. This was led by a coalition
of the pro-commonwealth party and the non-PIP pro-independence left. This
movement concentrated its efforts on mass marches and "symbolic" CD usually
on the part of celebrities such as Al Sharpton, Edward James Olmos, and
local hig-powered political figures. Their strategy was to give a point of
pressure to the government policy above.

3) "First Vieques, then Puerto Rico" Pro-Independece Party (PIP). This was
the left of the mainstream movement. The PIP organized massive (100+) CD
actions of their members (The bulk of the arrests where of PIP activists)
and mobilized their resources for a PR campaing around the issue of Vieques
being an issue of independence. They were key in national movilizations, as
they provided local leadership to the hundreds from the other parties whose
local leaders didn't agree with the national leadership's position on

4) Anti-imperialist militancy. Led mainly by the Socialist Front and the
Nationalist Party, with the small ISO as fellow travellers. This included
support for the PIP and PCD tactics , but also a less popular support for
intervention in mainland military bases, recruitment centers, etc. My
organization (MST), as part of the SF, also advocated what we called
"People's Resistance" which included stronger forms of CD and direct action.

I could get into details, in particular about the more radical wing of the
movement (of which I was a youth leader), things such as the aborted attempt
to take over the main army base in which a dozen cops where injured and none
of us where (we used shields and roman turtle tactics), and the criticism by
other less militant sectors. I could also speak about snitches and cowards
and all that. But it would be shibboleth stuff.

In my opinion this are the main lessons:

1) You need mainstream politicians to support the simple slogan and to
defend and repreat as mantra. Be careful, you need a George Galloway, not a
John Kerry. Without this, you are doomed.

2) You need SEVERAL coalitions willing to *tolerate* each other. If you
attempt hegemony in the movement, the end result will be a constant power
struggle in the top of the movement instead of actually figthing for the
real goal, this struggle in the top demoralizes the bases.

In fact this has *already* happened. The anti-war forces have been 
demoralized by the fight between all the attemps at coalitions.

This also points to what was succesful of our experience:

The smaller coalitions or forces must be humble enough to accept
playing the second fiddle in mobilizations, the bigger coalition must be
magnanimous enough to allow self-identified contingents to exist with their
own propaganda and banners within the big mobilization. We didn't realize
this at the begining, when there actually was a lot of problem at the top,
and the more sectarian of us kept bickering in the press about "reformists"
or "radicals", but in strategy/leadership meetings and in mass
mobilizations, things always went smooth because we realized we could at
least tolerate each other. This tolerance increased the mediatic power not 
just of the liberal and weak sections of the struggle, but of the 
subjectively anti-imperialist movement. For example, we (actually including 
myself) gave press interviews and participated in radio talkshows as an open 
socialist, whit not a single shocked utterance on the part of the more 
mainstream Vieques. My organization as a matter of fact opened up one of our 
Vieques safehouses to the press to show how we did our particular form of 
CD. It increased our prestige when people saw night-vision googles, GPS 
trackers and satellite maps.

3) In mass mobilizations, reduce the number of orators to a bare minimum and
concentrate on 2 or 3 messages and a musical program. Have an ecumenical
speaker lead a prayer. This kept everyone happy, while radical paper sellers
engaged the masses in micro-meetings and lit tables. We found out we were
more effective under this situations, in particular when we didn't agree
with the orator (we even led "boooh" chants a couple-three times) in making
our views known than when our orators where buried deep in a 20 speaker
platform that lasted 4 hours.

4) Use the liberal's liberalism against them. We succesfully navigated up
and down the lake because the predominant mantra of the liberal wing was
"there are different tactics and different strategies all part of the
movement. We don't agree with all of them, but it is not for us to attack
them". WHen you are able to reach this point of understanding, then all hell
can break loose.

5) Do CD. Civil Disobedience is the only way to win people over to your 
struggle and to create a massive political problem to desicion makers. If 
there is no CD strategy, no matter how weak or strong the slogan is, there 
is no movement, only idle protest. While it is true that 200,000 people 
marching under "Out now" is more effective than 5,000 chanting "Victory to 
the resistance" both are less effective than a 100,000 marching together 
with 1,000 people doing CD in front of, say,  Fort Bragg.

I do have some comments on the actual ongoing debate (besides those on how 
the Vieques experience applies), but those are for a
later time.


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