Movement History

Socialists and the Antiwar Movement

by Gus Horowitz

This is the text of a speech that was printed in The Militant, the newspaper of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, on October 10, 1969, shortly before the massive antiwar demonstrations scheduled to occur in mid-November of that year. Gus Horowitz was the SWP’s national antiwar director during that year and through the first half of 1970. Minor spelling and punctuation changes have been made in the text reprinted here. The introduction was by The Militant.


On Labor Day weekend [September 1969] in New York, the Socialist Workers Party held its national convention. One of the central points on the agenda was a resolution assessing developments within the movement against the Vietnam War and the role of the SWP within that movement. Discussion on the resolution was initiated with a report by Gus Horowitz, a member of the party’s national committee and its representative to the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Gus Horowitz’s report offers an outline of the political development of the antiwar movement. We present it here with the thought that it will illuminate why and how the antiwar movement has been able to make such an enormous impact on us policy — and, equally important, what a vital contribution a revolutionary Marxist force like the SWP can make to the development of such a movement.

Report on Socialists and the Antiwar Movement

The history of the antiwar movement has been not only one of demonstrations, teach-ins, rallies and hundreds of other actions; it has also been a history of continual and turbulent internal struggle over political line — over how and for what purpose to mobilize the mass sentiment against the war in Vietnam. The Communist Party and the liberals have persistently tried to draw the antiwar movement into class-collaborationist politics, to use it as a means of pressure within the Democratic Party. At the same time, various pacifists and ultralefts have tried to divert the movement into ineffectual acts of individual witness and small adventurist actions, which would isolate it from masses of people.

In contrast, the Socialist Workers Party has consistently fought for massive demonstrations, politically independent of the ruling class, which could express the sentiment of the tens of millions of people who are opposed to the war. Within the broader antiwar movement we have built the militant left wing, centered on the demand for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all us troops from Vietnam. Although the antiwar movement has suffered many temporary setbacks in its history, the policy we projected has been able to win decisive influence over the long run. Opposing lines have been strong on occasion, but never strong enough to divert the antiwar movement permanently from its independent axis of mass action.

The basic character of the antiwar movement did not emerge fully developed. It was won in struggle, in large part due to the efforts of the revolutionary party. In this room are seated not only organizers, builders, activists and participants in the antiwar movement, but also — and most important — its conscious political leadership. At each stage in the development of the antiwar movement, it has required the conscious intervention of the revolutionary party to win a course that would indeed deal blows to the imperialists. Although we are small in numbers, our conscious leadership has been required to move the struggle forward, to project each succeeding series of actions and to drive back threats to anti-imperialist mass action as the axis of the struggle. It is this essential continuity of our line and the struggles for it that this report will undertake to describe.

To see how much has been accomplished, we need only contrast the present movement against the Vietnam War to the old peace movement of the early 1960s. The Militant, in April 1963, described a typical Easter peace march in Chicago, where a few students-among them, YSAers [members of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), the youth organization in political solidarity with the SWP] — carried signs against the war in Vietnam: Some self-appointed “officials” tried to have these signs removed. But the Northwestern [University] students insisted on carrying them. One argued, “If you are not against the Vietnam War, you are not for peace.” A leaflet distributed by the Young Socialist Alliance called for nonexclusive picket lines. It also explained the socialist position that capitalism causes war. That was a peace movement in which we had to fight to carry signs against the shooting war in Vietnam. And, excluded from the meetings which planned the demonstrations, we had to argue for political non-exclusion by distributing leaflets to the demonstrators.

The new antiwar movement was born in a break with the policy of the old peace movement. This was most evident in the first national demonstration against the war in Vietnam, the April 17, 1965, mass march on Washington called by SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]. In calling the march, a section of the SDS leadership broke with the League for Industrial Democracy, a social-democratic relic which at that time was the official parent organization of SDS. The march was not for “peace” in the abstract; rather, it was directed against the specific war in Vietnam. In a break with cold-war liberalism, it characterized the Vietnam War as a civil war and called for self-determination for the Vietnamese people. The march was organized on a non-exclusionary basis; in particular, the SWP and YSA were welcomed to participate on the ground floor. And finally, the nature of the action was that of a militant mass demonstration. It was independent and did not support any capitalist politicians.

The social democrats and sections of the old peace movement waged a bitter struggle against that march on Washington. They exerted all the pressure they could to tone down its political line and impose the old exclusionary anticommunist norms. They demanded complete bureaucratic control over the action and, failing to achieve that, even tried to have it called off. On the eve of the demonstration they issued a public statement denouncing it. But the march occurred. Some 20,000 came to Washington — more than twice as many as had participated in any of the old peace demonstrations — which proved the feasibility of organising militant mass actions against the war.

It was this demonstration that established many of the basic political characteristics of the then new antiwar movement that remain to this day: non-exclusion, self-determination, and mass action. The SWP and YSA played a large part in the struggle for the march on Washington. The issue was settled, not simply in meetings between SDS and the Cold War social democrats, but in battle — in actually building the march on the basis on which it had been conceived. We recognized that this demonstration was a test. It was a means of establishing the new antiwar movement along the lines that we had fought for earlier. And so we plunged into the work of ensuring its success. The YSA endorsed the march. We sent speakers touring the country to build it and distributed literature on a far wider scale than had ever been done before. We took the lead-much more than SDS itself-in establishing non-exclusive, ad hoc committees to build the march, to explain why it was important and to argue for the policy of self-determination for the Vietnamese. By getting the ball rolling, by convincing the activists, it was assured that the march would occur. That was how the issue was ultimately decided. So when Bayard Rustin, the social democrat, demanded that SDS call off the march, they had to answer, in effect: “We can’t. It has wide support. The Trotskyists are going ahead and building it. And they’ll carry it off without us.”

Following the march on Washington, two aspects of the present antiwar movement remained to be established: (1) a national coalition to coordinate the much more massive actions that were to come; (2) popularization of the demand for immediate withdrawal of us troops from Vietnam. The next stage of struggle in the antiwar movement took place over these questions. In 1965, hundreds of teach-ins and antiwar demonstrations occurred all over the country. They were organized primarily by ad hoc, non-exclusive, campus Committees to End the War in Vietnam (CEWVS). High points included a national teach-in in Washington which was broadcast to 100,000 students on more than 100 campuses; a 34-hour marathon teach-in in Berkeley, attended by 15,000; and local demonstrations on the International Days of Protest in October, which involved many tens of thousands. A new challenge was thus posed to all tendencies in the antiwar movement. How would they orient to these action committees to end the war? This really boiled down to the root questions of independent mass action and withdrawal. From the first, the SWP and YSA helped to build these CEWVS in a totally nonsectarian way. We sought to bring together all political tendencies opposed to the war around the single issue of action in the streets. At the same time, we argued for immediate withdrawal and were able to convince many antiwar committees of this perspective. This left wing formed the backbone of the antiwar movement. The leadership of SDS drew back from the antiwar movement almost immediately after the successful march on Washington. And that has remained the policy of SDS nationally to this day. Needless to say, SDS turned its back on the CEWVS and counterposed itself and its line to them.

The Maoist Progressive Labor Party was, in its own way, equally sectarian. Wielding control over a group called the May 2nd Committee, PL proclaimed it to be the exclusive agency through which all antiwar actions must be channeled. This factional, ultimatistic policy did not work. Isolated from the real, rapidly growing antiwar movement, PL dissolved the May 2nd Committee to enter SDS, an SDS that had also abandoned the struggle against the war. Shake-ups occurred in the old peace movement. These groups faced the alternative of cooperating with the CEWVS or standing aloof and trying to organize the old-style peace actions, a perspective that was none too promising, given the temper of the new militants. Under pressure of the mass actions, many groups in the old peace movement felt compelled to align themselves with the new antiwar committees. This laid the basis for the broad mass-action coalitions that were to develop later.

The Communist Party’s basic line was essentially the same then as it is today. The CP supported the mass actions only intermittently and always with the intent of using them as a means to draw antiwar activists into capitalist electoral politics. To avoid collision with liberal capitalist politicians, the CP pushed a negotiations line and opposed withdrawal. The CP persistently counterposed a “respectable,” multi-issue program of social reform and community electoral organizing to nationally coordinated antiwar demonstrations. The mass action and withdrawal perspective of many CEWVS hampered the CP’s ability to implement its popular-front line. Accordingly, the CP took a hostile and sectarian attitude to the antiwar committees and worked mainly through the old, “broader” peace groups which supported negotiations. Among the students, they tried unsuccessfully to counterpose the [W.E.B.] DuBois Clubs to the CEWVS.

The struggle between these contending political lines reached its first climax at the convention of the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam (NCC) attended by 1500 in November 1965. There the CP and SWP positions met in head-on collision, the first of a series of national political encounters, which were decisive in determining the future course of the antiwar movement and in helping to change the relationship of forces on the left. At the NCC conference, the central battle over mass action and withdrawal took an organizational form. We argued for a national organization of CEWVS based around the withdrawal demand, to be a part of a broader coalition to organize national mass actions. The supporters of negotiations, with the CP in the lead, tried to block this perspective. We were in a minority. The relationship of forces was still unfavorable, and it wasn’t until a year later that these organizational forms would arise. But the vigorous struggle we waged was crucial in preventing the CP’s multi-issue, anti-withdrawal line from dominating the broad movement, even though they held decisive influence over the NCC’s apparatus. Under pressure of the political battle, the CP was reluctant to try to block a call for the next mass actions.

A second International Days of Protest was set for March 1966. In these demonstrations the battle was joined once again. The withdrawal-based NCC convention minority formed a caucus and published the Bring the Troops Home Now Newsletter. This grouping of CEWVS, with our aid and support, took the fight to the ranks of the antiwar movement and waged an intensive and successful educational campaign. By the March demonstrations, the central demand was “Bring the GIs Home Now,” and that has been the norm ever since.

Most of the original opponents of withdrawal have in the meantime changed their position. The NCC’s political perspective, set by the pro-CP elements in its leadership, was not geared to organizing the March mass action. So we threw forces into that task as well. Travelers toured the country to build the action. Literature was published in quantity. In every city the militant CEWVS, mostly student based, spearheaded the action. These CEWVS eventually became a key ingredient in the formation of the Student Mobilization Committee [to End the War in Vietnam — SMC]. Then, as now, the militant, withdrawal-based youth section of the antiwar movement has been the decisive factor in pushing the other sections of the movement along. Thanks to this effort, the NCC was unable to divert the whole movement away from militant mass action. Although some antiwar committees destroyed themselves trying to carry out the NCC line, others switched their course. The majority of the antiwar movement was won to the line we fought for. But the antiwar movement lost precious time because the first attempt at forming a national coalition was aborted. A gap existed between the objective possibilities of the antiwar struggle and the formal organization needed for it.

It was to be a year before the next major action could be mounted, on April 15, 1967. But this action was to be a qualitative leap forward. While the NCC declined in 1966, the process of building antiwar actions led to the creation of broad-based local antiwar coalitions on a fairly permanent basis. The most important of these was the New York Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, which brought hundreds of organizations together for the demonstrations it organized. The Parade Committee was central to uniting the forces that eventually formed the new national antiwar coalition. Smaller demonstrations in August and November 1966 set the stage for the conference which called the huge April 15 demonstrations in New York and San Francisco and formed what was to become the National Mobilization Committee, the national antiwar coalition for the next period.

The Student Mobilization Committee was formed soon after, at a conference which was to be the second round in the series of confrontations between the SWP and CP in the antiwar movement. It was initially a narrow conference called and controlled top to bottom by the CP. But we had won enough support for our line to be able to turn it around and form a united front of students, based on the withdrawal demand. With that, the line we had fought for at the NCC convention a year before had won out. The relationship of forces in the antiwar movement had been reversed.

The political struggles of 1965–1966 were necessary to organize the great mass demonstrations of 1967 and 1968. On April 15, 1967, half a million people marched in the streets of New York and San Francisco. On October 21, 1967, 150,000 marched on Washington in a direct political confrontation with Johnson’s war policy. And on April 26, 1968, the SMC organized a remarkably successful nationwide student strike. With close to a million participants, it was larger than any of the student antiwar strikes of the 1930s. The following day, mass demonstrations were held in cities all over the country, the largest — in New York — some 200,000 strong. These historic actions illustrate the power of the tactic of the united front and its particular application in the form of the antiwar coalitions. No single group acting alone could have organized such large and militant demonstrations. In those united fronts, the left wing, the SMC, was the best builder and the militant spearhead of the actions.

These actions also helped solidify the international antiwar movement, which also developed independently of the Stalinist and social democratic parties and to the left of them. This had been a key factor in developing a renewed spirit of internationalism, militancy and anticapitalist consciousness, especially among the youth. This shakeup and realignment of class forces has in turn opened expanded opportunities for building the Fourth International.

But the struggle for our antiwar line was far from over. The most recent period has seen the continuation of the struggle in slightly different form and under slightly different conditions, but showing the same basic characteristics. These struggles arose out of the need for the antiwar movement to mount an effective response to the tactical maneuvers of the ruling class. American imperialism faces a dilemma in Vietnam. Its central strategic objectives remain the same. It still aims to crush the national liberation struggle in South Vietnam and deal a major setback to the socialist revolution in Southeast Asia.

For the imperialists to withdraw from Vietnam in defeat would contradict this strategic goal. The struggle of the Vietnamese has already given great impetus to revolutionary developments in other countries. A definitive revolutionary victory would magnify that impact manifold. But two factors have caused the American ruling class to adjust its tactics. The first is the fact that the US has so far been unable to win an outright military victory in Vietnam despite a massive effort. Though imperialism has by no means been totally defeated, its inability to win a victory is in itself a tremendous setback.

The second factor compelling a tactical shift by the U.S. ruling class is the growth of the worldwide opposition to the war, in particular the mounting protests in the U.S. itself. For, to carry on the war in Vietnam, the American ruling class needs social peace at home. Unable to win wide support for the war, it needs at the very least a disoriented and disarmed opposition. For this reason, the mass mobilizations strike blows at the ability of the ruling class to wage the war. The capitalists face the threat of an intolerable growth of class conflict as the mood of protest and opposition spills over and exacerbates social tensions on all fronts.

In 1968, Washington responded to this threat with a major diplomatic and propaganda offensive. First, the talks were set up in Paris. Washington’s aim in these negotiations is at a minimum a Korea-type settlement that would mean the derailment of the Vietnamese revolution. As we know, the Paris talks did not signal a significant slowdown of the war or a genuine move towards peace. While there was a pause in the bombing of the North, the same high level of bombing continues, all of it now concentrated in the South. Orders to the Pentagon called for bringing maximum military pressure on the liberation fighters, and the level of fighting stays high as they try to force the Vietnamese to capitulate.

At the same time a slick propaganda offensive was mounted to dissipate the antiwar sentiment of the American masses. The Paris talks and the pause in the bombing of the North were demagogically portrayed as steps towards a speedy peace. The token troop withdrawals are just the latest such maneuver. The hated President Johnson withdrew as a candidate for reelection. Nixon, portraying himself as an alternative, won a temporary respite from the wrath of millions of people. This was all compounded in 1968, when the [Democratic Party Senator Eugene] McCarthy campaign was mounted with the stated goal of getting the antiwar movement off the streets.

But although the mass antiwar sentiment was temporarily diverted and confused, the ruling class had also paid a price. All the talk about de-escalation raised the anticipation and desire of the mass of people for a quick end to the war. Antiwar sentiment grew considerably. It was only a matter of time before there would be another wave of indignation and hundreds of thousand would once again take to the streets and tear away the faηade of lies and illusions.

The propaganda maneuvers of the ruling class posed another major test for all tendencies in the antiwar movement. How to respond? American imperialism was in deep trouble, and the situation cried out for keeping on the course that had put it there. The class collaborationists, full of illusions about the Paris talks, abandoned mass action. They turned to the elections, with the aim of using their influence in the antiwar movement to drum up support for McCarthy and the pro-capitalist peace candidates.

As a result of these defections, many of the local antiwar coalitions tended to fall apart. On a national level, National Mobe [the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam] lost its broad coalition character. The old Mobe’s apparatus came to be dominated by frustrated ultralefts who saw no future in mass action. And in the spring of 1968, the Communist Party and pacifists in the Student Mobilization Committee split from the organisation, in retreat from mass antiwar action.

In contrast to every other political tendency, the SWP and YSA put forward a line that encouraged the independence of the antiwar movement from the capitalist parties in the elections. It was a line designed to maintain the perspective of reaching out and drawing larger numbers into action. It was designed to maintain the position of immediate withdrawal and to puncture the illusions about the Paris talks. And it was designed to lay the groundwork for building even larger mass mobilizations than those which had already occurred. That is what we argued for, and-most important-that is what we were able to carry out in action.

The SWP’s approach to the 1968 elections differed from the class collaborationists in two important ways. First, we ran our own candidates. We did not abandon the field to the pro-capitalist candidates, but counterposed our revolutionary socialist program to them. By waging an all-out campaign effort, we were able to win considerable support from antiwar militants. But that was only one side of our approach.

Our policy in the antiwar movement was completely nonsectarian. The supporters of Halstead and Boutelle [the SWP candidates in the 1968 election] continued building demonstrations during the election period. We did not make the mistake of withdrawing from the antiwar movement in the illusion that we could then allot added forces to make greater gains for our [election] campaign. On the contrary, revolutionaries always gain when the mass movement is built effectively.

One of the precedents that we had fought for previously — in particular, during the 1966 elections — was that the antiwar movement, as a movement, should not get involved in electoral politics, but should rather continue to unite everyone possible, regardless of divergent political views, for antiwar actions during the election periods. That precedent made it exceedingly difficult for the class collaborationists to scuttle the antiwar movement in 1968. And we stuck to that policy.

Even in those antiwar organizations where our campaign had considerable support, we resisted attempts to put them on record for the Halstead-Boutelle campaign. There were many antiwar activists who did not agree with the program of the SWP, but wanted to engage in antiwar actions, as we did. It would have narrowed the scope of the antiwar movement to make agreement with any full political program the basis for antiwar action.

The antiwar movement did suffer a setback in the 1968 election period and immediately afterwards. But it was a temporary setback. The movement was not scuttled. A series of demonstrations — even though they were generally smaller than before — continued the mass-action perspective that we had fought for.

In that period ultraleftist adventurism also exerted considerable influence over many antiwar militants. Frustrated because the war continues despite the mass opposition to it, the ultralefts aim at shortcuts through the isolated acts and adventures of a few, which renders impossible the arduous but solely effective path of winning over the masses of the people. The actions of the old National Mobe, SDS and some smaller groups tended to project this disorienting line.

In recent months the ultralefts have had less influence, but they continue to pose a problem for the antiwar movement. Some of them have even degenerated to the extent of introducing hooligan methods into the movement. The low point was reached in New York, when a small group was able to take over the rally platform on August 9.

The key to combating ultraleft adventures lies in the scope of the actions themselves. In the recent past, smaller antiwar mobilizations gave the hardened ultralefts the opportunity to exert disproportionate influence over impatient and inexperienced activists. Now, however, the possibility exists to mobilize hundreds of thousands. A political line geared to involve such numbers of people will be the single greatest deterrent to isolated adventures. They tend to become simply lost in the crowd. In addition, we must wage an educational campaign in the antiwar movement to explain the need for preventing hooligan disruption of the demonstrations. It will then be possible to organize adequate marshalling to ensure that the decisions of the antiwar coalitions are carried out.

This is particularly important because of the GIs. Once Washington launched its propaganda offensive, with its continual talk of peace, the average GI naturally questioned the need to risk his life, especially in a war which he was most likely opposed to or had serious doubts about. As a result, there has been a big increase in GI antiwar activity, and this will be a permanent feature of the antiwar movement from now on.

The importance of, and potential for, reaching GIs is something we have long emphasized. We pointed to the powerful social weight that the GIs would bring into the antiwar movement. Our basic Marxist approach has always stressed reaching the socially decisive sectors of society.

In 1965 we published our pamphlet on the Bring the Troops Home Movement of World War II. In 1966, we went on a campaign to defend the Fort Hood Three [soldiers prosecuted for antiwar activity] and publicize the case to the movement. In 1967, Howard Petrick [an SWP member conscripted into the army] was an important model in the fight for GI rights. In 1968 and 1969, the vindication of our line was apparent in the wide circulation of GI papers, the big jump in GI participation in the demonstrations, and in the unprecedented fights for GI rights, particularly those of GIs United at Forts Jackson and Bragg.

It is not surprising that the political differences that exist in the antiwar movement extend to its GI sector. Most other tendencies project a line which would be ineffective or lead to defeats. Such proposals include individual “acts of conscience,” such as draft resistance or desertion; underground organizing; and GI union organizing which emphasizes issues other than the war in Vietnam.

The threefold approach to GI work which we have supported has proved most effective. It may be summarized: (1) for collective action, rather than isolated individual acts of conscience; (2) emphasis on the legal rights of GIs as citizen-soldiers; (3) opposition to the Vietnam War as the central issue of concern to GIs and around which they are utilizing their civil liberties.

The past period, to repeat, posed a major challenge to the antiwar movement. To counter the maneuvers of the ruling class required the conscious leadership of the revolutionary party. We were the ones who fought for continuing on a course of effective action that could mobilize masses in independent antiwar struggle.

The key to this fight was the Student Mobilization Committee. It was the militant, withdrawal-based student wing of the antiwar movement that backed the perspective of mass antiwar mobilizations. As always, it took a political struggle, and there was a major fight in the SMC over this perspective. The CP and pacifist section walked out. In so doing, they tried to brand the SMC as an impotent, paper organization, containing no one besides the SWP and YSA. They were proven dead wrong. We had-and have no interest in paper organizations or in capturing ourselves. To the contrary, our approach has always been one of building broad united fronts for mass action. Those who quit the SMC were splitting from this line, from what the SMC had stood for all along, and from what it stands for now. The needs of the antiwar movement required the maintenance of the perspective of mass action. The SMC stood for that, and we backed it to the hilt.

The SMC called for antiwar demonstrations in August 1968, and October 1968, and it initiated the conference that called the demonstrations on April 5 and 6, 1969. These demonstrations laid the groundwork for remobilizing the entire antiwar movement. Even though there were considerable difficulties in convincing others to act in that period, we avoided any temptation to go it alone by substituting the vanguard of the struggle for the movement as a whole. We sought to find every conceivable way to involve other groups in united fronts for the mass actions. The payoff came with the April 5–6 demonstrations.

The second Tet offensive in Vietnam and the high rate of battle casualties began to destroy the illusion that the war was coming to an end. There was a shift in mass consciousness. The April 5–6 demonstrations, organized by united fronts, were able to mobilize tens of thousands across the country — 100,000 in New York alone — with a larger turnout of GIs than ever before. The SMC seized the opportunity offered by April 5–6 to emerge as the authoritative national organizer of the antiwar youth. In many local areas, the April 5–6 demonstrations also enabled us to rebuild the antiwar coalitions. This set the stage for calling the next national demonstration, one with a potential of being more massive than any previous one, at a time when that is of central political importance. All that was needed was the conference to call it and a new national coalition to organize it. And that occurred on July 4 in Cleveland, when the national antiwar conference called the November 15 march on Washington. Here again, the SWP and YSA played a central role in ensuring that the antiwar movement would take the next necessary steps forward. It took a political struggle to win the conference, and it took a political struggle at the conference to win the call to the demonstration.

The key again was the SMC. The SMC took the call to the conference and publicized it far and wide. The SMC pushed and prodded others to come along (and more than a few came somewhat reluctantly at first). The SMC made the conference a representative gathering of the antiwar movement with the authority to call the march on Washington. After a thorough political debate, there was a highly favorable response to the idea of November 15, and a new national coalition was set up to organize it. The next day, an SMC conference called for a student strike on November 14, which can involve hundreds of thousands and build wide support for the march on Washington.

We must see the importance of the November 15 demonstration in the context of the overall political situation. American imperialism is in deep trouble in Vietnam. It hasn’t been able to win. And its strategic goals make it shy away from withdrawing in defeat. It hopes to force the Vietnamese to capitulate in Paris. But that is a questionable proposition at best. And it needs time for that anyway. It needs time above all. But the U.S. is running out of time.

The crux of the matter is this: The strategic objectives of American imperialism do not allow it to scale down the fighting to any significant degree. Their Achilles heel is that as the war continues, the death toll mounts. More and more people will see through their lies and duplicity, be outraged and demand a halt. And now is the time that they can be brought to Washington to say, “No! Stop It! Bring all of the GIs home now!” All indications, including the polls, show that there is deep and growing impatience with Nixon’s war in Vietnam. The demonstration on November 15 can be both massive in size and devastating in its political impact.

The antiwar movement must set itself the task of preventing American imperialism from gaining the time for maneuver that it so desperately needs. The November 15 demonstration must aim to involve new sectors of the population. Last April 5–6, significant number of GIs and high school students demonstrated. Their numbers can be increased.

Now, there are new opportunities to draw in sections of the trade-union and Black and Brown movements. Every effort must be taken to make this a political reality. Make no mistake about it. The main spokesmen for the ruling class are worried. Just listen to what James Reston had to say in his New York Times column on August 27, shortly after the protests by the GIs of Company A, who refused to obey battle orders: For the more the President says he’s for peace, the more troops he withdraws from Vietnam and Thailand, the more he concedes that Southeast Asia is not really vital to the security of the United States, the harder it is to ask for the lives of the men of Company A. They may not be typical, but they are a symbol of his coming dilemma. He wants out on the installment plan, but the weekly installments are the lives of one or two hundred American soldiers, and he cannot get away from the insistent question: Why? To what purpose? The breaking point comes in politics as it came to Company A, and it is not far off.

Finally, if there is one point that should be emphasized, it is the importance of the Student Mobilization Committee. This fall, through its November 14 student strike, the SMC will be the central organizer of the student antiwar upsurge that will surely take place. The objective situation on the college campuses has never been more favorable. Antiwar sentiment is no mere majority view. It is overwhelming.

The wave of protests against ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] and campus complicity that shook the campuses last spring is but a preview to the action this fall. The same holds true in the high schools. All indications point to a highly favorable objective situation, one in which the SMC has already registered impressive gains.

One of the most important features of the SMC’s approach on the campuses will be its efforts to build united fronts to wage the most effective and militant struggles. This is particularly important in offering an alternative to SDS’s political line and methods of organizing. Last spring, SDS’s sectarianism, exclusion, ultraleft formulations and adventurist tactics led to many a setback. But this fall, the faction-ridden SDS, continuing on its course of political degeneration, will find it increasingly difficult to win antiwar students to its insane adventures, and increasingly difficult to organize anything at all. The SMC has a unique opportunity to win over, not only non-SDS antiwar activists, but also the many SDS members who are fed up with the SDS national office — either one. It can involve them in the student strike, in November 15 and in all related antiwar actions.

Our perspective, in short, is one of expanded and powerful mass antiwar action. The march on Washington on November 15 will deal another major blow to American imperialism’s war in Vietnam. Our role in the antiwar movement is a powerful example of what even a small party can do in taking our revolutionary program and applying it in life, in being able to gauge accurately the objective situation and pose the next necessary steps forward for the mass movement. In the process we have grown, and the struggle for the international socialist revolution has taken steps forward. As the resolution before this convention states: “Our central tasks in the antiwar movement are to continue to build the mass mobilizations that are dealing hammer blows to American imperialism and to recruit from the growing numbers that have begun to move in a radical direction as a result.”

Postscript: I hope that today’s readers will not be too critical of the heavy dose of jargon in the speech, although I think that it suffers less from this fault than many other documents of the time. Bear in mind that the speech was delivered to a political convention of like-minded party activists rather than to a general audience. Readers today may find the speech of interest because it offers a fairly thorough presentation of the SWP’s political approach to the antiwar movement, as we saw it. I hope that readers today will also find the speech of some merit as a shorthand history of the anti–Vietnam War movement up to that time. The best full-length history, in my view, still remains Fred Halstead’s book Out Now!, first published in 1978.

The speech was printed only a couple of weeks before the tremendous October 15, 1969 Vietnam Moratorium demonstrations held in many cities throughout the country. These demonstrations are not mentioned in the speech, which was delivered in the first week of September, before the size and scope of the upcoming Moratorium had become apparent. But by the time the speech was printed, the SWP was on a campaign footing to build both the Moratorium and the November march on Washington and San Francisco.

The period from October 1969 through April 1971 marked the high point of the antiwar movement, gathering the largest numbers of people in any protest demonstrations known until that time. The marches in Washington and San Francisco in November 1969 and in April 1971 each involved about a million people, concentrated in two gathering spots. The Moratorium in October 1969 had a comparably large turnout, and the student upsurge in May 1970, after the invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard killing of four students at Kent State University, involved even larger numbers in total, but these actions took place throughout the country.

— March, 2003