By David Sole
Antiwar activists have always sought ways to get our message out to wider audiences hoping to develop a movement powerful enough to slow down or stop the imperialist war drive that is part and parcel of the advanced stage of capitalism.
Of course the broad masses of the population inside the United States cannot help but be swayed by the mass media that caters to the economic, racist and imperialist propaganda that supports the Wall Street banks and corporations as well as the Pentagon.
Persuasive writings and speeches by antiwar organizers cannot alone build a truly mass movement. It often takes the brutal reality of war that contradicts the false “official stories” that can shake peoples’ beliefs and gets them into the streets.
The protest movement in the United States against the Vietnam War grew slowly from the first protest in 1962 until 1969, when there was a decisive shift against the war among the public. The lies of the Pentagon, the State Department and President Lyndon Johnson that the war was being won and “there was light at the end of the tunnel” were shattered with the massive 1968 Tet Offensive, where the Vietnamese liberation forces swept across south Vietnam, even overrunning the U.S. Embassy in Saigon itself.
The death toll of U.S. soldiers kept rising into the tens of thousands. All the while organizers kept educating and agitating across the nation. But even then there were differences in how to frame the big national protests. Some wanted to keep the demonstrations to a “single issue.” For instance they refused to bring in any mention of the Palestinian struggle against the settler state of Israel even though Israel conducted long-term proxy wars in support of U.S. imperialism’s fight to control Middle East oil resources.
Another issue important to a large segment of the U.S. population was, and is, racism and national oppression. Organizing including these issues did occur, but it was relegated to smaller groups who steadfastly worked on the ground to include demands such as “Stop the War Against Black America.”
Economic exploitation right here in the U.S. was also brought in, such as support for the national postal strike where U.S. troops were brought in as strikebreakers.
Of course in the end it was the heroic sacrifices of the Vietnamese people that secured their victory over U.S. imperialism.
Only in May 1981, years after the end of the Vietnam War, did a hundred thousand national anti-imperialist demonstrators march on the Pentagon with a broad list of demands. It was organized by the People’s Antiwar Mobilization in the first year of the Reagan administration.
The U.S. government has been behind many coup d’etats, covert actions and wars around the world since then. But it has avoided as much as possible putting “boots on the ground”, wary of provoking a deep-seated “Vietnam Syndrome” of opposition here at home.
The struggle over how to organize a progressive movement inside the United States has continued in other arenas. On the electoral front progressive sentiment converged around the Jesse Jackson for President 1984 and 1988 primary campaigns inside the Democratic Party. Jackson surprised many with his successes, not only among the African American community. He scored an impressive primary victory in Michigan where he won almost every county across the state. Twenty years earlier the racist George Wallace won the Democratic primary in Michigan. Jackson’s victory reflected the deep problems faced by minorities, small farmers and workers, victims of plant closings and layoffs.
The U.S. ruling class mobilized to destroy Jesse Jackson’s campaign. He was not a dependable candidate with a long history of allegiance to the capitalist system.They succeeded, using a powerful mass media slander offensive. Jackson had a rare opportunity to break with the Democratic Party and launch an independent campaign of workers and oppressed people in a third party bid. He refused to do it and thus served the capitalist system by bringing young people, minorities, women, LGBTQ+ people and workers into the Democratic Party fold and giving up their independent role as agents of change.
The same thing happened years later when Bernie Sanders ran inside the Democratic Party for president in 2016. The Democratic establishment worked tirelessly to undermine and derail Sanders, fearful that he was drawing many millions of young and disillusioned voters under his banner. When they succeeded in stopping him, he also refused to go to the masses with his progressive program under a third party fight.
A new phenomenon is appearing today with the call for a “Left-Right Coalition” to oppose the Ukraine war. On February 19, such a formation united the People’s Party (led by former Sanders organizers) and the right-wing Libertarian Party in a demonstration of 1000 people in Washington, D.C. The formation of this coalition has provoked intense debate among left and progressive forces as to the advisability of such a union.
It has been correctly pointed out that the February 19 demands, while centered on stopping the U.S./NATO proxy war in Ukraine and massive military spending, did not address the totality of capitalist outrages. The organizers failed to address racism and police terror, refused to include other victims of U.S. imperialism such as Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, etc., and left out the U.S. political, economic and military targeting of China. Economic relief for the masses of people from coast to coast also were absent.
Of course the right-wing forces of this coalition are unalterably opposed to all of these demands and would never participate in any coalition including them.
Why then would left and progressive forces drop these issues? It is because they are profoundly pessimistic in the face of the current strength of the right wing Republican Party following the Trump years.
Instead of laying out a progressive program of national and international issues, they feel powerless to approach the masses of workers and oppressed people. Looking for short term gains, the proponents of “Left-Right Coalition” politics have no confidence in the possibility of winning over the vast majority of oppressed people and workers. They certainly do not understand that even the Trump forces including many white workers and middle class elements, currently under the influence of white-supremacy, might ultimately understand that their own interests and concerns cannot be solved by racism, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women, anti-union prejudices.
The left section of the “Left-Right Coalition” are approaching the struggle under the influence of defeatism. Experienced organizers, however, understand the class nature of the capitalist system and have an understanding of the ebbs and flows of history. Only by putting forward a clear overall program, patiently explaining it to the masses and slowly building organizations combining the enthusiasm of youth with the experience of seasoned revolutionaries, can the current period be weathered and a powerful new movement arise to challenge the crushing domination of Wall Street banks and corporations and their politicians and Pentagon servants.
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