The policy of the PC in the antiwar movement had its final result at the Thanksgiving Conference in Washington. Here the party and youth carried on an unprincipled, disruptive and politically reformist struggle against the entire left wing of the antiwar movement. They disrupted the conference around tertiary organizational demands and ended in isolation and national disgrace. They established an indelible and deserved record for political conservatism and dead-end factionalism. They also emerged as the only tendency present able to ignore and snub the civil rights movement.
This episode constitutes a political catastrophe for the SWP of a magnitude never before experienced by American Trotskyism. If immediate steps are not taken to counteract the effect of this performance, the reaction to it will render the party and youth as contemptible among honest militants as was the CP during its worst days. This can be prevented only by an abrupt change of policy and a public repudiation of the course followed by the party and youth in the antiwar movement during the past three months.
The party and the youth entered the conference armed with two “principles”:
1. To imprison the antiwar movement in the U.S. in the single issue of peace in Vietnam.
2. To manufacture a centralized national membership organization of the independent committees on a Peace Only program, to supersede the present united front arrangement.
I contend that such “principles” are alien to revolutionary program and tactically impossible to implement given the actual composition and mood of the living antiwar movement.
I. The Programmatic Problem
1. Can the Peace Movement Stop the War?
The policy of the PC is based upon an unproved and unfounded assumption that the war can be stopped by mass peace pressure on the government. This is an illusion unworthy of revolutionists.
The Militant has been saturated with this line for many weeks. Comrade Halstead’s articles constantly refer to the “millions of lives” which are at stake in the decision of the peace movement on the “single” versus the “multi-issue” question.
The Nov. 29 Militant editorial of “The Antiwar Conference” gives the line fairly clearly. “The war in Vietnam cannot be ended solely by the activities of local committees. A powerful national movement will have to be built.”
This concept is even more emphatically stated in a fantasy called “A Draft Perspective for the Antiwar Movement.” After advocating the single-issue-national-membership-organization policy, the Draft concludes: “We are convinced that an organization can be built in this country on the basis of the program outlined above, that can be the decisive factor in bringing an end to the genocidal war in Vietnam.”
Comrade Britton, in a youth communication, describes this Draft as one “passed by the Washington Heights CEWV, an upper Manhattan community-based committee in collaboration with individuals, mainly our comrades, in the other New York committees listed. It has been circulated in the New York antiwar movement to serve primarily an education function in preparation for the Washington convention....Hopefully, the representatives at the November 18 meeting will approve this statement or a modified version of it....”
The PC, having utterly failed to make a general analysis of the politico-economic conjuncture for the SWP convention, has the totally false impression that the capitalist class has no fundamental stake in this war, and would pull out of it in response to a little more pressure.
While it is true that some of the lackey-columnists close to the administration are assigned to give that impression, it is only a ruse. The ruling class is desperately attempting to create large new investment opportunities and views South Vietnam as a key to the exploitation of East Asia and India. Furthermore, it regards Vietnam as essential to its preparations for an eventual war with China.
This war is fundamental to the economic and political interest of U.S. capitalism. No powerful national “Withdraw the Troops” movement alone can stop this war.
2. How Can the War Be Ended?
The Militant says, “Bring the GIs Home.” But this only raises another question—how? The party and youth line is that an enlarged peace movement can do it by nationally directed pressure and agitation.
In reality, a more tangible and quicker possibility for the withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Vietnam could be accomplished if the National Liberation Front can drive them into the China Sea. This is the active revolutionary solution to the question. But there is no hint of recognition in our literature that this is the most favorable alternative.
The party and youth leave it to others who are bolder to be partisans of the NLF, others who may lack something in program, theory or experience, but make up for it in the revolutionary spirit of solidarity so dismally absent from the pages of the Militant .
It is doubtful that this war can be ended on domestic initiative by anything else than the proletarian revolution. However, short of such a basic explosion, the only force on U.S. soil capable of pressuring the capitalist government out of Vietnam is the proletariat, in the course of its prosecution of the class struggle. To promise and advocate anything else is to sow an opportunist illusion.
The Negro movement represents that section of the proletariat which is presently in motion and has the initiative. The virile youth movement linking up with the Negro movement would together comprise a formidable force, agitating sections of the proletariat into action.
Out of this process will emerge a new fused and regrouped revolutionary party composed of radicals from the socialist, antiwar, and civil rights vanguard organizations. The appearance and maturing of this development—the process of a fused vanguard stimulating the working class into struggle at the point of production—are the only political realities that Johnson & Co. can respect.
No matter how radical the slogans and broad the composition of the peace movement, it will be politically ineffective until it links with the Negro radicals and the working class. To a Trotskyist, under capitalism, “There Is No Peace!”
3. Towards Coalition Politics
If a “properly organized” peace movement can stop a war, then we have been erroneously fighting Stalinism and pacifism on this issue for 30 years. And if we were correct then, and are still correct now with the new “tactical” line because times have changed, then the PC is indeed guilty of the old revisionist habit of reversing a principle because of supposed tactical necessity.
This “tactical” excitement is a new shocker in SWP practices. Has the party forgotten that the tenacity with which previous peace movements clung to reformism was rooted in part in the liberal-Stalinist compulsion to isolate war and peace from the other great social problems? And don’t they similarly isolate civil rights from the questions of war and peace, poverty, imperialism?
The upshot of this traditional limitation of the antiwar movement to peace only and the civil rights movement to civil rights only has been the incarceration of both movements inside the Democratic Party, for only the interrelation of all the great social problems makes it possible to identify capitalism as the cause of any of them and lay the groundwork for independent anti-capitalist political action.
Now that for the first time in the modern era, militant antiwar youth and militant southern Negroes are seeking to broaden the concept and scope of both the antiwar and civil rights movements by integrating their aims and directing an appeal to the proletariat, the party and youth claim that such youth are sectarian splitters of the united peace front!
The capitalist class is profoundly fearful of the possibility of the Negro movement identifying itself with the colonial revolution and linking up with the antiwar movement around the issue of Vietnam. Every time a Negro leader opens his mouth on Vietnam or colonialism, the entire capitalist press rakes him over the coals with a line quite similar to that of the party and youth: “It’s all right for Negroes to build their own movement on their own grievances, but you only injure the cause of civil rights by taking positions on other social problems, because that will alienate your supporters.”
What they mean is that a break from the Democratic or Republican parties would be the next logical step and this must be prevented at all costs.
Larry Laughlin, one of the prominent co-chairmen of the militant Berkeley VDC [Vietnam Defense Committee], said in his speech to the Seattle committee three weeks ago: “We are disillusioned with protest. We are going to enter politics. We are going to run radical candidates on the twin issues of war and civil rights. We plan a frontal attack on the Democratic Party which is calculated to break it up. We consider it our duty to shake-up the labor movement to a realization of labor’s responsibilities.”
It is quite true that this is not the whole story, that there is a lot of confusion about what a “frontal attack on the Democratic Party” means, and that for many it includes running candidates in the Democratic primaries. And, to be sure, danger of coalition politics exists. However, the proposed treatment prescribed by the party and youth does nothing to counteract coalition politics.
The party and youth claim that if we permit issues other than peace to enter into the present movement the Stalinists will utilize the circumstances to take the movement into the Democratic Party. This argument not only stands the thing on its head, but fails to grapple with the reality.
In the first place, the antiwar movement is going into politics whether we like it or not, and its only chance to avoid the trap of people’s frontism is not to avoid politics, but precisely to relate the war question to the other social problems and create an over-all anti-capitalist political philosophy.
The newly radicalized elements, many of them politically naive, are still people moving rapidly leftward who desperately require the intervention of revolutionary socialists on the big political questions to aid their development.
In so far as the youth movement is successful in confining the movement to peace only, it will insure a strong development of people’s frontism, because a movement which is orientated exclusively to the peace issue inevitably winds up supporting “peace” Democrats.
II. Tactics and Organization Forms
1. A Radical Peace Movement and a Conservative Youth Movement
The “single” vs “multi-issue” position of the party and youth is not only wrong politically, but tactically blind, revealing a complete lack of knowledge of the actual political condition of the movement, which is far more sophisticated and advanced than the party and youth comprehend.
The party and youth have now been active in this movement for a few months, and in some cases a few weeks. Yet they presume to dictate to the movement a scheme for stopping the war which has no plausible chance for success and which the antiwar militants had two years ago, but have now discarded, realizing that they must integrate the antiwar movement with the colonial revolution, the Negro struggle, economic problems of the working class—in short, make a class-struggle internationalist movement of it. The party and youth demand that they return to their political infancy of two years ago and wait for the masses to catch up.
Those who have led the antiwar movement during the past two years in protest marches and demonstrations are now coming to the realization that the White House and Pentagon are impervious to any amount of protest or public opinion, intend to stay in Vietnam until every square foot of soil has been churned by bombs, every leaf of foliage laid to waste and every man, woman and child murdered, if necessary. The ruling class is clearly prepared to go to any lengths of domestic policing and terror to prevent obstruction of the war. The antiwar militants now understand that something more basic than even powerful single-issue routine protest must be organized.
The Washington Conference represented objectively an attempt by newly radicalized youth to begin reaching general anti-capitalist conclusions derived from the past two years of protest. Even the newest CEWVs [Committee to End the War in Vietnam] are ripe for revolutionary conclusions. The rapid leftward development of large sections of this movement clearly opened up the perspective for the creation of a mass revolutionary youth movement in this country.
The main and only responsibility of the revolutionary socialists at this conference was to attempt to broaden and deepen and generalize the anti-capitalist sentiments—to raise the political level of the movement.