[Marxism] Another [Socialist] Voice on Opposing the Vietnam War

Brian Shannon Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Thu May 26 08:21:51 MDT 2005

How Revolutionary Socialists Opposed the Vietnam War
By Ian Angus
. . .
This presentation focuses on the role played by revolutionary 
socialists, organized in the Socialist Workers Party and Young 
Socialist Alliance in the U.S. and in the League for Socialist Action 
and Young Socialists in Canada, in building and leading the antiwar 
movement. Of course we weren’t alone -- indeed, the most important part 
of our strategy was to build a united movement including the broadest 
possible range of political views and currents -- but no one can deny 
that the influence of the socialist movement was far greater than might 
have been expected from our limited numbers and resources.
- - - - - - -

Here is another excellent review of the history of the North American 
opposition to the Vietnam War. However, as Lance Murdoch pointed out 
yesterday, today's accounts are distillations of the past, which is 
often messier than our best recollections and summaries.

I agree with Angus’s overall account of the historically significant 
role of revolutionary socialists in opposing the Vietnam War. Most 
valuable in this account is his description of how Canadian Marxists 
fought against Canadian patriotism and concentrated on the enemy in 
their own country. It was not just LBJ’s war or Nixon’s war; it was 
also Canada’s war:

“From the very beginning, the revolutionary socialist wing of the 
Canadian antiwar movement argued that it was essential to expose and 
condemn Canada’s complicity in the war. “End Canada’s Complicity,” 
became a key demand in all of the demonstrations. That helped make the 
war and the antiwar movement relevant to Canadians. And it helped 
prevent the antiwar movement here from becoming a nationalist, 
anti-American campaign.”

I don’t fully agree with Angus’s description of what the Communist 
Party was trying to do—this is from a U.S. perspective, of course, on a 
very complicated question. The CPs had little or no influence on ruling 
class politics, despite what Moscow may have wanted. At this point in 
their history support to the lesser evil reinforced their own 
self-importance while pursuing a strategy to win over young militants 
who were hungry for some success, however illusory and meager.

Both then and today, this is a large and significant group: look at 
Tariq Ali’s call for a vote for the Liberal Democrats in the recent 
U.K. election. The argument for this position is particularly important 
in countries like the U.S., U.K., and Canada, which have winner takes 
all elections (also called “first across the line” or plurality system) 
as contrasted with countries that have Proportional Representation 
elections (most of the rest of the world).

“So what to do when peaceful protest by half a million doesn’t budge 
Washington, what next? The correct answer: after a big action, organize 
another big action.”

However, sometimes you simply can’t call another big action and 
sometimes if you do, you can’t expect it to be “all that big.”

Angus himself contradicts this when he points to the flowering of 
antiwar and pro-GI newspapers. While vaguely formulated calls for 
ultraleft actions for the sake of action must be criticized, the 
impulse to do something local, immediately, and personal is a healthy 
one, and hundreds and possibly thousands of these actions were an 
important part of the antiwar movement.

We should not overlook the importance of the so-called “Underground 
Press” of the period. The technological breakthrough in small offset 
web presses combined with proportionally-spaced typewriters (later 
phototypesetting) gave antiwar students and others a focus for their 
antiwar, antiracist, and local organizing: Berkeley Barb, L.A. Free 
Press, and thousands of others.

Likewise, draft resistance itself strikes important blows against war. 
During the early stages of the antiwar movement, it was necessary to 
combat those who saw soldiers simply as baby-killers, etc. This was 
particularly important when it included significant antiwar figures 
like Jerry Rubin, who eventually abandoned this outlook. The argument 
on draft resistance got mixed up with the need to combat those who 
thought they were superior to draftees and young recruits, who were 
mostly from less privileged backgrounds than the official “draft 

We simply did not have the numbers to do work in this movement at the 
same time that we were involved in building mass actions. In this 
sense, draft resistance was peripheral to the more important focus of 
the antiwar movement. On the other hand, the one-day high school 
student strike against the Vietnam War called by the Student 
Mobilization Committee (I’ve forgotten what year) may, by itself, may 
done more to build draft resistance than symbolic draft-card burning. 
There is an interaction here, of course, the later student strikers 
were aware of the earlier draft-card burning as well as of the mass 

Brian Shannon

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