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International Socialist Review, January-February 1968


American Politics and the 1968 Presidential Campaign


From International Socialist Review, Vol.29 No.1, January-February 1968, pp.19-38.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The continuing and widening war in Vietnam is the central issue in both national and world politics today. The genocidal intervention against the liberation struggle in the south and against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north are direct by-products of the global imperialist aims of the capitalist ruling class of the United States. Every socialist, everyone who stands for democratic rights and national self-determination, is duty bound to oppose and combat this criminal war. Every political tendency in this country is being tested by its response to this challenge.

Washington’s escalation of the war in Vietnam is another “police action” in a long series undertaken by American capitalism since the end of World War II. Their purpose has been to uphold the world capitalist system, to stabilize it and to extend it at the expense of the workers states. It is part of the policy of containing and rolling back the Russian revolution and its extensions in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, North Vietnam and Cuba; of blocking the colonial revolution either by smashing it or diverting it from its tendency to break through the limits of private property. The interlocking network of alliances, including NATO, SEATO, CENTO, and the OAS, are designed to advance the military side of this imperialist foreign policy, constituting part of the preparations for what could be a third and final world war.

This twenty-year period has been marked by two main trends.

The first is displacement by the United States of the older imperialist powers (Britain, France, Holland, Belgium) from their uppermost positions in the colonial world. Among the capitalist countries, the US, with its collossal wealth and nuclear stockpile, has become the chief exploiter and principal military gendarme of the colonial areas.

The second is direct intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, either through CIA operations or open use of troops, whenever capitalist power and property is seriously threatened. Some outstanding examples since Korea have been Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and the Middle East. The mask of liberalism is dropped and the most barbarous terror is used and encouraged whenever the indigenous ruling class proves unequal to the situation.

Despite all these efforts, however, the central goal of the American rulers has eluded them. The past twenty years have been marked not by the stabilization of world capitalism but by extreme political instability.

Governments have been continually upset by forces eluding the control of either the US or the USSR, whose conservative bureaucratic regime favors maintaining the status quo. These forces are constantly set in motion by the very conditions required to perpetuate the world capitalist system. They are under the control of no leader or groups of leaders. Thus the search for capitalist stability, like the search for “peaceful coexistence” between classes and countries with opposing social systems, is in the long run a fundamentally hopeless objective. The Pax Americana sought by Washington is undermined by ever renewed intensification of the class struggle; and the strenuous efforts to contain anti-imperialist and anticapitalist aspirations by harsh police efforts and preventive coups d’état merely defer the settlements and make them more explosive. This can be seen in a whole series of countries, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ghana, Greece and Nigeria constituting outstanding examples.

The imperialist policy has proved most successful on the economic level, reestablishing the war-shattered economies of Western Europe and Japan and paving the way for genuine booms. But the success has not been unalloyed. It has signified far-reaching American financial penetration of the rest of the capitalist world and, along with it, intensification of international monetary instability. What happens to one sector of the world capitalist system now more readily affects the system as a whole. While a recession in one sector may be cushioned by a boom in other sectors, the development of concurrent recessions in the major capitalist nations would have devastating consequences. The fading of the European and Japanese economic “miracles” thus cause the American imperialists to watch the state of health of their own economy with all the greater anxiety.

At the same time, the gap in productivity levels and living conditions between the highly industrialized countries and the colonial world continues to widen. World trade conferences, international monetary agreements and further investments, ballyhooed as a means of lessening the gap, actually serve only to accentuate it.

Imperialism’s incapacity to solve the elementary economic and social needs of the colonial peoples breeds permanent unrest. This results in repeated eruptions seeking to break the imperialist grip. Although the imperialists have managed to beat these back again and again, the colonial masses, inspired by successes such as the Chinese and Cuban revolutions and the great example of the swift rise of the Soviet Union to the second world power, have displayed remarkable capacity to recover from defeat and to renew their struggles. Their tenacity and determination to fight over a long period despite formidable odds, and periodic setbacks reached heroic heights in both Algeria and in Vietnam.

Johnson’s escalation of aggression against the Vietnamese revolution takes place in this context. It is part and parcel of the basic postwar drive of US imperialism toward world domination. Johnson’s “escalation” is a continuation of Truman’s “cold war,” Eisenhower’s “containment,” and Kennedy’s “showdown.” The Republican and Democratic parties share equal responsibility for this foreign policy of blockades, blood and napalm, and flirtation with a nuclear conflagration.

The escalation of US intervention in the Vietnamese civil war unfolded during the favorable domestic economic conjuncture of the first six years of the 1960s. After a slowdown at the close of the Eisenhower administration, the American economy experienced the longest “peacetime” boom in its history. This provided the economic springboard for an aggressive and sustained counter-offensive abroad after the 1959-60 victory of the Cuban revolution. US capitalism has roamed the globe from Western Europe to South Africa seeking out new areas for investment. Between 1960 and 1965 the gross national product in the US increased by 34.2 per cent, corporate profits by 50.3 per cent, and direct foreign investments by 45 per cent. The expansive “New Economics” of the Kennedy-Johnson administrations has been imperialist economics par excellence.

This expansion has been facilitated by the successive, severe setbacks for the world revolution in the Congo, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Algeria, Indonesia, Greece and the Middle East.

The deepening divisions among the workers states, particularly the USSR and China, and their incapacity to join forces at a governmental level for a common defensive effort or counter-thrust, have further encouraged the imperialist offensive.

On the domestic level, the sustained economic prosperity has acted as a damper upon social and political opposition by the organized working class.

Washington’s policy has been to take all possible advantage of the openings provided and to press forward as far as possible. This is seen clearly in Vietnam where the paralysis of Moscow and Peking is most glaring. The net effect has been to greatly heighten the danger of drifting into a nuclear confrontation.

The “East of Suez” role, formerly assumed by the European powers, has been taken over by the US It has installed its own formidable military bases in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries in preparation for widening the war there. Meanwhile the conflict in Vietnam has been more and more Americanized as the forces of Saigon have eroded and near collapse. Unlike the Korean adventure, the Vietnamese war is being waged without military support from the major satellite powers of the US and without the cover of the United Nations flag. Strains in the NATO alliance have been increased because of the widespread popular disapproval in Europe of Johnson’s course.

The escalation of American involvement finds a grim reflection in the war statistics. Casualties among the US troops have increasingly tended to rise above those of the Saigon forces. More US troops have been committed to Vietnam than at the high point of the Korean conflict; and, despite the periodic promises of an early victory, the Pentagon continually presses its demands for more GIs.

As the troops, the costs and the casualties continue to mount, Johnson’s aim of achieving a military victory before the 1968 election is seen to be less and less likely in face of the resistance of the Vietnamese people. At the same time, the effort to break their will by raining more and more napalm and high explosives on them and by stepped up measures to “cut off the avenues of flow of military supplies” increases the risk of a direct military collision with China. The “controlled” escalation tends to become increasingly uncontrolled.

This pattern is ominous but not new. America’s rulers have pushed ahead upon this risky path several times in the postwar period. And each time the American imperialists have been checked and slowed down, not by any incapacity to understand or promote their global interests, but by their recognition of the real relationship of forces between the contending camps on an international scale as verified by repeated reconnoiters.

Each time they were stopped from advancing, and even forced to retreat and postpone their schedule of engaging in a major conflict, because of a combination of factors unfavorable to their designs. The most weighty of these have been:

  1. an upsurge in the colonial revolution;
  2. instability in Europe and Japan;
  3. a strong showing by the Soviet Union as in the swift recovery from the devastation of World War II and the early development of nuclear weaponry; and
  4. anti-war sentiment inside the US

Recent shifts have occurred in these four main areas which the American imperialists must take into consideration in calculating their aggressive moves in the direction of war.

The colonial revolution has undergone a series of defeats which though temporary are substantial and demoralizing. The defeats have served to encourage the strategists of American imperialism.

While the war is unpopular in Europe and Japan the degree of economic and political instability in these areas is not yet so great as to constitute a major deterrent.

The Kremlin’s response to the escalation of the war has been to escalate the diplomacy of “peaceful coexistence.” Far from winning “understanding” from the Johnson administration, this has been taken as an invitation to proceed further along military lines, since the Kremlin’s diplomacy amounts to a virtual guarantee of lowcost victories so far as the hazards of any significant response are concerned. Peking’s policy of rejecting a united front with Moscow in confronting imperialism plays into the hands of the latter day Khrushchevists, assisting them in their policy of avoiding any effective countermeasures to the American military aggression against the Vietnamese workers state. What is now notably significant in the situation is the deep-going resistance inside the United States, unique in the twentieth century. For the first time since 1946, domestic resistance is keeping pace with opposition in other sectors of the world, inspiring and linking up with it. This promises to be a major element in staying the hand of the capitalist rulers and reinforcing the international opposition to them.

On the Domestic Front

In addition to the planned escalation in Vietnam, the US capitalist rulers must be prepared to keep putting down similar uprisings in other places. Fresh upsurges in the colonial wo rid, the prospect of two, three, many Vietnams as heralded by Che Guevara, flows inevitably from the historic crisis in which capitalism finds itself.

The entire coming period will take place under the sign of war and continued militarization of American life. The war budget tends to become an ever greater determinant in the state of the economy.

The Vietnam war will be more and more used to exact and justify “sacrifices” from labor, Afro-Americans and student youth. It will cut into and reverse the promises of the “great society,” the “war on poverty,” social reforms, civil-rights legislation and concessions, the right to strike and the right to dissent.

This will widen awareness of the implications of imperialist war, the class character of the government that pursues it, and increase opposition to it.

Social tensions will grow even if relative economic prosperity is maintained.

Due to mounting costs of the war, it becomes increasingly difficult for the ruling class to grant concessions to labor. The workers are thereby compelled to put up greater resistance in order to maintain their standards of living, job conditions and basic rights. The same holds even more for the black masses in their fight to control their own lives and future and for the -youth in the high schools and colleges who want a society that measures up to their needs and ideals.

The Vietnam war has been accompanied by the development of an open schism in the officialdom of the American unions and the beginnings of a new spirit of militancy in the ranks.

Reuther’s description of the AFL-CIO as “arteriosclerotic” is his way of calling attention to the stagnation and erosion of the American labor movement. He, of course, does not acknowledge that this is the result of its subordination to the Democratic Party machine and its support of the reactionary bipartisan foreign policy of the Democrats and Republicans which he has been vigorously upholding. This sad state is the culmination of decades of service which the labor lieutenants have performed for the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. It is the result of their long years of ultrachauvinism, of cold-war-inspired expulsions of “Communists” and the unions influenced by them from the AFL-CIO topped by the ousting of the Teamsters. These moves have gone hand in hand with failure to lead the ranks in struggle against the corporations or to extend the benefits of unionism to the unorganized.

This policy, which has been substituted for any sustained efforts to undertake solving the crucial problems facing American society, has entailed a loss of influence and prestige for both the labor movement and its official leaders and has won them growing contempt from the best militants and the youth within as well as outside the working class. The loss in standing finally induced Reuther, the representative of the social democratic elements in the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, to dissociate himself from Meany’s crudities, although not from the basic class collaborationist policies they hammered out together.

The deepening dissatisfaction in the ranks was evidenced in earlier replacements of entrenched leaderships in the United Steel Workers, the International Union of Electrical Workers, and the United Rubber Workers. The boom of the past few years has brought about a significant influx of youth into basic industry and into the unions. When Reuther says these youth did not build the unions and must be educated, he means they have not been tamed to a point acceptable to the official leadership.

Rank-and-file rejections of contracts negotiated by union leaders is an important sign of the changing mood in the membership. Younger workers don’t want labor “statesmanship” from the leaderships of the International Unions; they want bigger checks and protection against inflation instead of fringe benefit packages. They want concrete gains and are willing to resort to militant action to get them regardless of how this may upset routine negotiations.

With the biggest “peacetime” war budget in US history – more than $70 billion for fiscal 1968 – congressional estimates place the budget deficit in fiscal 1968 at up to $25 billion. This would be the biggest postwar deficit, measured either absolutely or as a percentage of the gross national product.

The restiveness of the workers is heightened by the effects of this mounting war budget. Federal deficits swollen with war costs increase inflation, thereby increasing pressure on real wages while maintaining corporation profits. These inflationary pressures stoked by escalating budget deficits are especially important. Even when a downturn in the business cycle has occurred, such as the one beginning in the middle of 1966, the inflationary spiral continues.

Under inflationary conditions, and with the rising demand for military goods by the ruling class, the Johnson administration must eventually try to impose on the unions, through federal intervention and action, an austerity program designed to transfer more of the costs of the war to the workers. Johnson’s policy is to keep the rise in money wages small enough and the tax level high enough so that in the face of rising prices, real wages can be reduced.

A series of militant strikes which included rank and file insistence on a just settlement before contract approval, began with the New York transit and airline mechanics strikes in 1966. These destroyed Johnson’s wage-price guidelines, the first step by the new administration to hold the line on real wages.

New attempts to undermine the ability of the unions to exercise their independent powers and fresh efforts to prevent the ranks from utilizing their democratic rights is in the offing.

To the corporations, rank-and-file rejection of contracts approved by official union leaders is akin to anarchy. This accounts for demands in Congress and the press to amend the Kennedy-Landrum-Griffin Act to restrict the right of workers to vote on their own contracts. The capitalists see the right of workers to reject recommended settlements as an “abuse” of democracy.

The Johnson administration is preparing to go beyond the use of injunctions to prevent strikes. New legislative proposals will be introduced to more sharply curtail the right to strike. The logical culmination of the structural shift of the economy onto a war basis is some form of wage control and compulsory arbitration.

The Role of Public Workers

Public workers are the fastest growing sector of the labor force. In the last five years they increased in total number by one-third. They are also the fastest growing sector of organized labor. Today there are more than 1,500,000 unionized public workers.

Their rise in militancy can be judged from the following figures. In 1962 they engaged in 28 strikes. In 1965 the figure rose to 42. In 1966 there were 150 strikes; and from January to May of 1967 more than 150 had already occurred.

These strikes have a special character.

First, they are directed against the government as both employer and strikebreaker. Secondly, they have usually been carried out in the face of existing antistrike legislation directed against them in particular. Thirdly, they are faced directly and immediately with the problem of political parties, since these run the government which employs them. The experiences gained and tactics used in these struggles have had a Sharply political edge. They are forerunners of the battles that will face the heavy battalions of American labor as they fight to maintain their living standards.

The public workers’ unions are an important link between labor and the younger generation undergoing increasing radicalization. Young people make up a large portion of this section of the work force, especially among the teachers. It is not only one of the most youthful sectors of the work force, but also includes a high percentage of women. It is an area where many young recruits to socialism are gaining their first union experiences; and it is also an area where the question of the war in Vietnam has first been brought into the unions.

The militancy of teachers affects the thinking of their students on the character of unionism and labor solidarity when they see their teachers joining unions and striking to get better pay and working conditions.

The struggles of the public workers undermine the idea that the government stands impartially above the boss-worker conflict, thus bringing into question the whole strike-breaking structure constructed and maintained by the ruling class through its government.

Up to now, the struggles engaged in by the American working class have been defensive in character, conducted by traditional union means. They promis to become intensified by inflation and other war pressures and attempts by the government to use the Vietnam war as an excuse to break strikes.

Rising discontent in the ranks, coupled with strike action do not yet amount to a political radicalization of the working class. This will come only as recognition spreads among the most conscious sectors of the workers that the bosses are using the Vietnam war to depress their standard of living in face of large corporate profits and that struggles against management can be won only if the government stays out or is kept out. It is this realization that can lead to going beyond job actions to a broader struggle hi the form of a political offensive.

Present Stage of Black Nationalism

The struggle of the black millions against inequality and racism continues to mount in intensity. Opposition to the imperialist war in Vietnam has accelerated the process of radicalization stemming from the lack of progress in the fight for freedom in America. This radicalism is expressed by the deepening identification with black nationalism.

While the roots of the struggle of Afro-Americans and their radicalization both predate the Vietnam war, the war has added new dimensions to the struggle. Black people are forced by American capitalist society to assume the heaviest burdens in financing and fighting the war. A disproportionate number of black youths, few of whom are able to obtain student or other deferments, are drafted by lilly-white draft boards. Due to increased draft calls and the alteration of qualifications determined by educational opportunities, the draft rate for black people was increased in 1967. The draft is not the only area where Afro-Americans face greater odds. Once in the army, a higher percentage are thrown into combat and killed.

Black people are also hardest hit by the domestic consequences of the war, by rising prices and cutbacks in social welfare programs.

The immediate enemy faced by those fighting for black progress is not an individual boss but the state, the executive agency of the capitalist class. Thus the responsibility for the lack of progress and growing economic inequities is placed by more and more black people squarely on the national government. This, along with the Vietnam war and the repression of black people through the use of antiriot laws and police terror, is helping to pose the question of political action. Fewer and fewer believe that reliance on civil-rights laws and gandhian forms of direct action will substantially or sufficiently change this racist society.

The war and the radicalization of new layers of black people have deepened the schism between the conservative and militant wings of the Afro-American movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) continue to grope for a consistent program and an organizational vehicle which can weld the black masses into a more unified and powerful force. As of now, their radicalism consists of a mood of militant opposition to the “system” and government policies rather than a thought-out and effective alternative to reliance on the government and the two capitalist parties.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League back the government on all important questions. The Johnson administration is turning more and more to leaders like Roy Wilkins and Senator Brooke as shields against criticism in an attempt to give the federal government a “pro-Negro” image.

Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) maintains a vacillating and mediating position between the more militant black radicals and the conservatives of the NAACP and the Urban League. While the SCLC rejects the nationalism and radicalism of the black power tendencies, the pressure of the black masses and the continuation of the Vietnam war pushes its leadership into opposition to the US role in the conflict and toward support for militant mass action. This often puts them at odds with the government and the more conservative organizations and leaders of the black community.

As the focal point of the struggle has shifted from the rural South to the urban ghettos, rebellions following the prototype of the Watts uprising are becoming a permanent feature of black resistance to the economic and social degradation that marks America’s racist society. These explosions have no program or organized leadership. They are elemental explosions against one of the central features of American capitalism – white control of the black community. The mortgage holders and landlords, merchants and bosses, teachers and curriculum, social workers and cops are overwhelmingly white. These are the immediately identifiable agents of the total subordination of the national minority of Afro-Americans.

In the first half of 1967 alone, nine cities experienced major rebellions – Nashville, Jackson, Houston, Cincinnati, Dayton, Boston, Tampa, Atlanta and Buffalo. The youth spearhead and are the main participants in these ghetto revolts. They take the risks and provide the spark, just as they did in the sit-ins and freedom rides of the early 1960s. These youth are the hardest hit by unemployment, the draft and inferior black schools, and face the bleakest outlook for the future.

The ghetto rebellions signify rejection of reliance on moral appeals to the government and “love your enemy as adequate vehicles for changing society. They reflect the belief that racist violence must be resisted and that black people can earn respect and make gains only by defending themselves – aggressively. These ghetto rebellions carry on the finest American traditions of mass struggle by any means necessary, traditions set by the rebels of 1776, the black and white Abolitionists in the struggle against slavery, and the militants who manned the picket lines that built the CIO.

It is noteworthy that the first three explosions of 1967 – Nashville, Houston, and Jackson – were large-scale confrontations between black college students and the police. These battles, provoked by the cops, are indicative of the growing militancy of black students even in the traditionally conservative middleclass Afro-American colleges. They express the shift of politically conscious black students who are today reading Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X more than Albert Camus and Mahatma Gandhi, away from the liberal ideology of the civil-rights movement toward identification with black nationalism and the proletarian masses of the black ghettos.

The Vietnam war has deepened this student radicalism and strengthened the internationalist aspect of black nationalism. The nationalist students and radicals are the most vehement opponents of the war. They are acutely aware of the racist overtones of American imperialism’s inhuman brutalization of non-white peoples. They more and more speak of the common bond between black people and the Vietnamese in their parallel struggles for self-determination. Jim Crow was institutionalized during the rise of American imperialism and it, in turn, was subtly used to justify the dehumanization of colonial exploitation. The heroic struggles and victories of the colonial masses, non-white in their overwhelming majority, are sources of pride and self-confidence for black nationalists.

Black students are starting to organize on the basis of their new nationalist consciousness by forming Afro-American campus organizations many of which are opposed to the war and the draft, as well as by organizing in black communities where their colleges are located. From their ranks will come new cadres to give sorely needed leadership for the struggle.

As long as no alternative to the capitalist parties exists, reformist alternatives such as a “third force” within the capitalist framework and black Democratic Party politicians will sap and disorient the radicalism of the black masses. The political vacuum also gives undue room for “undergroundism” and other ultra-left substitutes for the open propaganda and education required in the long and hard task of gathering together the cadres and organizers of an independent black political party. Tactics of frustrated ultra-left groups lead to demoralization or victimization by police provocation, not to black control of the black community.

The organization and unification of black people and the development of a leadership have lagged behind the increase in number of people ready to fight back against the racism of American capitalism. The next stage of the struggle of Afro-Americans to control their own destiny demands a leadership and a program to develop a black political party which can organize and lead the struggle in all areas, including the electoral arena, and by any means necessary.

Student Radicalization and the Vietnam War

Anti-war sentiment is at present expressed more among the youth than in any other sector of the population. The student milieu was already sensitized by a previous radicalization that began to develop around the end of the 1950s in response to certain aspects of the colonial revolution and the Afro-American struggle in the US This earlier radicalization was expressed in support to the sit-ins, the freedom rides, in solidarity with the Cuban revolution, the formation of the now defunct Student Peace Union and demonstrations for campus reforms. Opposition to US involvement in Vietnam brought into political activity a wave of new and previously unaffected students many times the number of existing radical youth.

This student radicalization has special features and limits. Although it originated in response to events in the class struggle, it has not unfolded along class lines or developed a socialist or Marxist understanding of the world conflicts in progress. Developing in a period of relative quiescence of the labor movement and in the absence of a mass or influential socialist party, it has remained primarily a movement of militant moral protest in reaction to the hypocrisy and brutality of world capitalism.

The student radicals challenge the entire fabric of the present social system, questioning the truthfulness of its rulers and the legitimacy of their policies on issues ranging from the explanation of the Kennedy assassination to war crimes in Vietnam.

The character and conduct of the war cut across all the liberal bourgeois values which democratic-minded and idealistic youth have been taught to believe in. The government betrayals and lies, the genocidal aspects of the war and the crimes committed there under the Johnson administration have incited the strongest reactions. Most of those over twenty-one, who tried to vote for peace by supporting Johnson against Goldwater in the 1964 elections, felt they had been betrayed by the bombing of North Vietnam early in 1965. The moral revulsion and the political level of the student radicals is voiced in the popular chant: “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today”?

While there has been a growing shift towards political sympathy with the struggles of the workers and peasants around the world, moral indignation remains the central element around which these students mobilize and around which new waves of reinforcements for the anti-war movement are won.

The New Anti-war Movement

The new movement based on the anitwar sentiment of broad sectors of the population grew directly out of student circles and is still marked by these origins. It was initiated early in the spring of 1965 with the organization of the April March on Washington called by the Students for a Democratic Society, coinciding with the chain of campus-based teach-ins across the country.

During the period of organizing for the 1965 March on Washington the nonexclusive character of the anti-war coalition was established in a fight with some leaders of the Socialist Party and League for Industrial Democracy. Since that time the Social Democrats and their allies have played a minor and peripheral role in the anti-war movement. This first big action not only cut across the stifling legacy of the past two decades of red baiting but set the example for periodic large-scale local and national street actions. These periodic actions have been the kind of independent political action in opposition to the imperialists in Washington that can be utilized by a massive but diversified milieu, not led by any dominant party or established mass organization.

Many of the features and resulting tactical problems of the anti-war movement have been unprecedented.

For the first time in American history a visible and vocal mass opposition expanded and was intensified during the opening stages of an imperialist war. The struggle involving this opposition has been conducted and hundreds of thousands have been mobilized for action without the existence of a mass labor or socialist party and outside the existing mass organizations.

The entire anti-war movement has developed and grown prior to a general labor radicalization. It has seen a split in the ranks of the pacifists that resulted in the emergence of a radical wing that has consistently opposed an imperialist war, not only before it broke out, but even more militantly while it is being fought.

The fact that no existing strong mass organization has become part of the anti-war struggle has reinforced the concept of the majority of anti-war radicals that no significant mass forces will move in an anti-capitalist direction. This has led to confusion over perspectives, especially the perspective for a mass alternative to the capitalist political parties and capitalist rule and to a groping search for effective tactics and forms of opposition to the war. The problem of widening and deepening the opposition to the war has to be seen within this context.

The students have strengthened the left wing of the anti-war forces and continually pressured the conservative wing into more radical actions. Unlike the left-bourgeois liberals, the students by and large are not inclined to be patient or halfway critics of imperialist policies. The students pressed for a non-exclusive united front of all tendencies and organizations, which was actually constituted around periodic national protests and which has been the main organizational vehicle of the anti-war movement.

They played the central role in the fight to win the anti-war movement over to what has become the pivotal political demand: “Withdraw the US troops.”

Most importantly, the students from the first originated and pushed for mass mobilizations as the main mode of action against the imperialist warmakers. They were the key element both in terms of their own numbers and the work done to organize others. These mass demonstrations are the principal form of independent political action available to the anti-war movement in the absence of a mass working-class political party that might open up another line of action.

The anti-war movement has been the arena of continual struggle between the thrust of the student radicals and their revolutionary allies toward actions and organization independent of the capitalist political parties, and the class-collaborationist forces headed by the Communist Party and the bourgeois liberals who want to keep the anti-war movement tied to and ultimately used as a pressure group within the Democratic Party.

Organized into local and national coalitions, the anti-war “movemenf is an ever-shifting sum of political tendencies, organizations and individuals. The components are widely differentiated so that the anti-war movement as such has no general political program. Each tendency and aggregation of tendencies has to be judged separately and on its own account.

The actions in the streets, which have been carried on by these broad united fronts, are wholly progressive and objectively anti-imperialist in character. That is why the issue of mass action has been the central dividing line in the movement. Opposition from the liberals, the Social Democrats and often the leaders of the Communist Party has had to be overridden before the anti-war movement could call for and carry out mass mobilizations against the belligerency of the Johnson administration in Vietnam. It has taken unremitting efforts to prevent class-collaborationist politics or impatient adventurist projects from being substituted for or diverting these mass actions.

The two-year series of mass mobilizations culminated on April 15, 1967, when the largest anti-war demonstrations in US history were organized in New York and San Francisco right in the midst of an imperialist war. The success of the April 15 mobilization in drawing in new forces from the organizations of the black community and even a few trade-union figures, and the growth of the trade union division of SANE indicate the openings that are becoming available to the anti-war movement to reach broader layers of the population.

The few reformist leaders who have been brought into the anti-war movement and those that can be expected to follow them play a dual and contradictory role. While they add weight to the right wing, they at the same time open up new possibilities for reaching out with anti-war propaganda and agitation to greater components of the mass movement. This advantage outweighs the danger represented by their moderating influence, provided the movement continues to expand and to engage in mass confrontations.

As the anti-war sentiment grows among the people, it will be increasingly difficult for leaders of mass organizations to stand aloof from anti-war protests. In adapting demagogically to the anti-war sentiment they will counterpose anew the issue of withdrawal versus the “negotiations” line which they espouse; they will attempt to reverse the non-exclusion policy of the anti-war movement in order to isolate the most militant sectors and the “Communists,” and they will attempt to channel the movement behind pro-capitalist “peace” candidates.

At the same time they cannot avoid providing new and important openings in the labor movement and black community for anti-war appeals. Some young anti-war activists make the mistake of thinking that the mass of the working-class Americans will respond to nothing but “bread and butter” questions. They do initially express their lack of support to the war indirectly and when they act in large numbers they do so through their existing mass organizations. However, many of the same reactions and responses that move the student youth into action occur among the working people, black and white. Mothers and fathers, wives and friends, see their sons and men of their generation drafted and sent abroad to fight and die in a dirty colonial war. Johnson’s course in Vietnam and the opposition to it are bound to further advance the politicalization of the labor movement and black community. The major contribution of the anti-war movement has been to make visible to the entire population the active presence of opposition to this war. This has helped create an atmosphere in which the mass movement itself can carry on struggles for gains in spite of the war.

Over the past two and a half years, the anti-war movement has provided a first-rate arena for training young militants. Those coming to socialism in the sixties have been given their first opportunity to learn how to do revolutionary work within a mass movement. They are learning through concrete experience how to withstand opportunist pressures as well as avoid the formalism and ultimatism of the ultra-left sectarians. The anti-war movement has been a school for applying the concepts of a transitional program designed to meet the issues as they exist while promoting anticapitalist consciousness and an anti-capitalist program and leadership.

The anti-war movement has also provided fresh object lessons on the power of cadres of the revolutionary party within a situation developing in a radical direction. The progress of a mass movement, it has been shown once again comes in no small measure from the conscious intervention of the ideas and proposals of the Marxist vanguard.

The struggle for decisive influence among the anti-war forces is an essential part of the preparation for leadership of future mass movements on a much broader and more highly advanced political basis, especially in competition with the line of “peaceful coexistence” with capitalism promoted by the Communist Party.

Since the November 1965 convention in Washington called by the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the debate and struggle over policies within the anti-war movement has underscored and reinforced all these lessons. At that convention the NCC sought to impose class-collaborationist policies on the anti-war movement. As against this, the most militant sector of the left wing advanced the slogan of withdraw the troops and the line of building a broad united front to initiate mass actions. The successful outcome of this struggle turned out to be the major determining factor in the subsequent evolution of the anti-war movement.

Since its formation in December 1966, the Student Mobilization Committee, has been the most advanced expression of student radicalism in the anti-war movement. One of the initiators of the April 15 mass actions in New York and San Francisco, its program has three central planks – Bring the Troops Home Now, Abolish the Draft, and No Campus Complicity with the War Effort. As it draws into its ranks a significant number of the thousands of students who demonstrate a-round these very demands it will become the largest and most influential wing of the anti-war movement. It will also be a bulwark, as the 1968 elections approach, against the anti-war movement’s substituting various class-collaborationist schemes around the Democratic Party for militant and mass actions against the war.

The 1968 Presidential Elections

Between the 1964 presidential elections and the 1966 congressional elections, the most important development in American politics was the erosion of the “consensus” around the Johnson-Humphrey ticket. Part of this process was the rapid crumbling of pro-Johnson sentiment on his left flank.

The new stage of escalation of the Vietnam conflict generated splits over this issue not only in the labor movement and among the major organizations of the black community but also within the ruling class. These disagreements at the top are not fundamental; none of them yet propose to get out of Vietnam. But spokesmen for the contending groupings clash over how best to promote the imperialist interests of the United States under the given conditions.

On one side these openly expressed differences within the ruling class have facilitated the development of the anti-war movement while that division in turn has been deepened as the anti-war mobilizations have grown and clearly represent a vast sentiment. This could be seen when congressional critics of the war reacted sharply after April 15 against McCarthy-like attacks on the anti-war movement and those in the bourgeois camp opposing further escalation of the war. They responded to General Westmoreland’s verbal tirade against the anti-war movement by defending the right to dissent, particularly their own. At the same time, these “doves” joined the “hawks” in approving the biggest war budget in US “peacetime” history.

The differences that have appeared and are growing in the ruling class over tactics in Vietnam are reflected in the jockeying around prospective candidates for the 1968 presidential campaign. This campaign will rapidly become the focal center for the debate over Vietnam. In this sense the 1968 presidential campaign was off to an early start for the ruling class, the anti-war movement, the mass organizations and the radical vanguard.

The strategy and tactics of those in the two capitalist parties who are hesitant about the war will be worked out with two possibilities in mind:

  1. blocking Johnson’s renomination by the Democratic Party;
  2. nominating a Republican “peace” candidate.

Neither alternative seems likely.

The Communist Party is faced with a serious problem. After working for three decades in the Democratic Party it is difficult for them to shift over to support of a “lesser evil” Republican, should the Democrats renominate Johnson. Thus they incline to favor a national campaign in 1968 on the model of Wallace’s Progressive Party in 1948. But conditions are very different today. They can scarcely aspire to setting up even a third peace ticket under their own steam with any semblance of broadness. But they do look yearningly to a “third ticket” coming out of the “peace movement” which would give them an anti-Johnson cover and yet permit continued political activities in the Democratic Party.

Under the impact of the Vietnam war, bids have been made to organize some kind of electoral activity to the left of the Democratic Party on the issues of war, racism and inflation. To a certain degree these reflect praiseworthy attempts by the more advanced sectors of the American people to break the capitalist monopoly in the electoral field. However, formations like the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP), under an inveterate reformist leadership, seek to exploit this sentiment and deliberately channel it towards class-collaborationist politics. Their initial attempt to field a “third peace ticker ended in an utter fiasco at the NCNP September 1967 Chicago convention. The majority of the delegates, many of them young activists from the student movement, rejected by a narrow majority the formation of a national presidential slate. This set back the timetable of the Communist Party especially, which was banking on an NCNP decision to field a peace ticket.

The gamut of tactics now under consideration by these “new politicians” includes the election of “anti-LBJ” delegates to the Democratic convention, a third “peace and freedom” ticket, the defeat of LBJ in at least one presidential primary, local grassroots organizing for both Democratic primaries and independent campaigns, and support for those “dove” Democratic and Republican congressmen who have been marked out for defeat by right-wing forces.

1968 SWP Presidential Campaign

To whatever form of class-collaborationist politics that emerges from pseudo-independent political circles, “new” or “old,” the Socialist Workers Party will counterpose its class-struggle national election campaign.

The 1968 campaign takes place within the context of a continuing radicalization. It is important to note the specific characteristics of this radicalization which differs from that of the 1944-46 period both in its initial form and in its prospective political evolution.

In 1944-46, labor took the lead, pulling the movement for civil rights and the middle class along. Today the radicalized students and the anti-war and black freedom movements are in the vanguard with labor lagging far behind. During the freeze of the cold war, general prosperity and political reaction, all labor radicalization was shut off and cut off. The civil rights movement was contained by illusory hopes in legal reforms like the 1954 school desegregation decision and the student movement remained relatively passive throughout the fifties. Today a thaw has begun.

The main difference between the union-led militancy of the 1944-46 period and today’s emerging radicalization will be its tendency to move onto a political level. This gives exceptional importance to the 1968 presidential campaign of the Socialist Workers Party. Since there is no immediate prospect for a labor party based on the unions, the class character of the incipient political radicalization can be expressed in 1968 only through a socialist campaign on a national level. The single available electoral avenue for identifying with the perspective of working-class struggle against capitalism is through support of the candidates and platform of the vanguard of the working class, the Socialist Workers Party. This in turn should hold out increased possibilities for direct recruitment to the American Trotskyist movement.

The political weakness of today’s student radicals is not due simply to their numbers nor to their middleclass background. In fact they are much more numerous than previous generations of students and a far higher and growing percentage come from working class families. Their political weakness is primarily due to the fact that they are familiar with only an uncombative labor movement and see in practice no working class alternative to the ruling class parties. They are deterred from accepting a Marxist outlook by the numerical weakness of American socialism, the repellent legacy of Stalinism, and the small size of the revolutionary party. These circumstances lead them to reject the concept of the working class as the prime agent of social change. Groping for answers and possible alternatives, they are highly susceptible to political formulas that offer seemingly plausible substitutes such as “independent” formations and militant “third forces” that stand above the classes.

The labor movement is inherently capable of building a labor party just as the black community is inherently capable of building a black party. But the students and middleclass radicals do not themselves constitute a social base upon which can be built a viable student or “new leff party. To fight effectively against capitalism, they must be won over politically to the working class. At this stage that means support to the program of its revolutionary party. This program offers the alternative of independent working-class political action and support for an independent political party of Afro-Americans, differentiated from all forms of class-collaborationist “independent” new politics.

If both the openings and the limitations are kept in mind, the 1968 presidential campaign offers the Socialist Workers Party its most favorable opportunity in two decades to recruit new members and to increase the influence of its class struggle program in opposition to the class-collaborationist lines of other radical groupings, particularly the Communist Party with its Khrushchevist orientation of “peaceful coexistence.” For all members of the Socialist Workers Party this campaign must be the central focus of activity from now through November 1968.

To the American people the following message will be urgently conveyed:

“This is not your war. The Democratic and Republican Parties are not your parties. Your enemy is not the people of Vietnam but the capitalist rulers in Washington. Stop the war; abolish the capitalist draft; release all draftees; bring the troops home now!”

The Socialist Workers candidates and campaigners will be leading activists in the actions of the anti-war movement – from the referenda campaigns to the mass street demonstrations. The battle for correct political leadership within the anti-war movement will be carried to a higher level as the Socialist Workers Party explains and expounds its electoral platform. The anti-war militants will be urged to organize and reach out to the mass movement, to the trade unions, the black people, the GIs and the youth, thereby broadening and deepening the opposition to the war and multiplying their effectiveness.

The only uncompromising and principled “peace ticket” in the field will be the slate nominated by the Socialist Workers Party. The Socialist Workers Party will solicit support, contributions and aid on the basis of its clear anti-war stand.

The Socialist Workers Party will campaign to popularize a program of uncompromising and independent struggle by the mass of Americans for their basic needs. It is a program that points toward a complete break from collaboration with the capitalist rulers, in everything from day-to-day struggles to electoral action. When black people, and workers as a whole, cease supporting the Democratic and Republican Parties and organize parties of their own, a gigantic step forward will have been taken in the struggle against capitalism.

The Socialist Workers Party will campaign to:

Support the black people’s fight for freedom, justice, and equality through black power:

Support labor’s fight against inflation and government control:

Support the demands of America’s youth:

For a planned, democratic socialist America:

A socialist America will be an America of peace and prosperity, without poverty or slums or unemployment, and without wars like that in Vietnam. It will forever end the threat of imperialist war with its nightmare specter of a nuclear conflagration. It will put an end to racism and, for the first time after over 400 years of oppression, guarantee unconditionally, the right of self-determination for black Americans. It will signal an unparalleled growth in culture, freedom and in the development of the individual.

* * *

The Socialist Workers Party expects a number of direct gains from the 1968 presidential campaign.

Foremost will be the recruitment of young militants opposed to the war on one or another ground. The extent and the quality of this recruitment will provide a fresh guage of the point reached in the process of radicalization underway in the United States as well as a measure of the timeliness and correctness of the program of the Socialist Workers Party and its capacity to swing into action.

Beyond this, the campaign will bring the voice of revolutionary socialism to hundreds of thousands of people who will be influenced to one degree or another. It will see the dissemination of socialist literature on a broad scale at a time when political attention is turned receptively toward the electoral arena.

Finally, the Socialist Workers Party will stand out with greater prominence as a revolutionary socialist grouping noted for its principled program, its capacity for struggle and sacrifice, its ability to renew its ranks, and its unyielding devotion to the struggle for a socialist America in a socialist world.

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Last updated on 19 June 2009