Supporting the resistance?
Source Louis Proyect
Date 05/04/23/03:28

Back in 1967 I was being courted by both the Trotskyist SWP and the Maoist
Progressive Labor Party (PLP), groups I had been introduced to by New
School for Social Research graduate school classmates. The SWP was heavily
involved with the mass demonstrations against the war, while PLP was deeply
imbedded in Students for Democratic Society (SDS).

My Maoist classmate kept harping on the need for the anti-war movement to
become "anti-imperialist". Since I was newly radicalizing (but not yet
familiar with the Marxist methodology), this argument had much appeal. What
good was it to oppose the specific war in Vietnam when the system would
generate other wars down the road? Furthermore, since SDS had just begun to
identify itself with the NLF and other guerrilla groups worldwide, the
temptation to embrace slogans that specifically supported the insurgency
were strong. In contrast, the SWP appeared tame if not "moderate" by
limiting itself to slogans like immediate withdrawal.

One Friday night at SWP headquarters, where a public forum was about to
begin, I repeated the PLP objections to my Trotskyist classmate. He then
walked me over to a party member named Dan Styron who patiently explained
to me what was wrong with those arguments. He said that the antiwar
movement was objectively anti-imperialist. By maximizing the number of
people in the streets, we begin to draw in elements of the population who
have the social power to stop the war--like GI's and workers. If the
antiwar movement can help to force the US to withdraw from Vietnam, it will
encourage revolutionary struggles everywhere. In effect, Dan was expressing
the spirit of Karl Marx's observation that "Every step of real movement is
more important than a dozen programmes." Shortly afterwards I joined the
Trotskyist movement and kept Dan's words at the back of my mind all these
years. (Dan committed suicide in the late 1970s.)

They come to mind once again after reading Alan Maas's article titled "What
Kind of Movement Do We Need? Attempts to Limit Debate Only Weaken Antiwar
Organizing" in the ISO newspaper
and which also appears on Although Alan makes
useful points about the need to stand up to attempts to reduce the Iraqi
resistance to Baathist thuggery or Islamic fundamentalism, he does not
really seem aware of the bigger problems facing the antiwar movement.
Fundamentally, the debate about how to characterize the resistance is a
diversion from a much more urgent task--namely, how to achieve maximum
unity around the demand for immediate withdrawal. Even Alan acknowledges:

"Most antiwar organizations today do agree on an all-important demand, at
least on paper -- immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. This is a
solid basis for united action -- one that can be embraced by both activists
who have taken the lead in challenging the occupation and people only
getting started in activism."

It should also be noted that at the debate between fellow ISO member
Anthony Arnove and Tariq Ali on one side and Joanne Landy and Stephen
Shalom on the other at the Left Forum conference, *all* of the debaters
supported immediate withdrawal. Instead, the debate was about how to
characterize the armed resistance, with the nominally "left" position
amounting to open support for it. This, in my opinion, is not really
critical for defending those who are fighting for the freedom of their
country. What is much more important is building a powerful movement that
can appeal to GI's and working people and draw them into action in
ever-increasing numbers. In other words, we have the same task we had in
the 1960s.

Although I have a lot of respect for the ISO and am happy that they are a
growing force on the American left, there is still an element PLP/SDS type
ultraleftism that gets in the way of their becoming even more influential.
It is also of some concern that a group that has the numbers that can
effect the future direction of the antiwar movement lacks the political
clarity to make a difference. In an article by Geoff Bailey that appeared
in the September-October 2003 International Socialist Review titled "The
making of a new left: The rise and fall of SDS," we read:

"The strength of the Stalinist currents in SDS was increased by the
weakness of the Trotskyist tradition. The largest Trotskyist organization
in the U.S., the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), played a central role in
the various national coordinating committees that organized the semi-annual
mass antiwar demonstrations in Washington as well as in the youth wing, the
Student Mobilization Committee (SMC). But the SWP always looked at the
antiwar movement as a single-issue movement and reacted with outright
hostility to any attempt to inject more radical, anti-imperialist politics
into it. It dismissed SDS as a petty-bourgeois, semi-anarchist group, and
while it had a large presence in the SMC, it made no attempt to influence
the debates inside SDS. Instead of playing the role of the revolutionary
left-wing of the antiwar movement, the SWP gave a left cover to the
pacifists and liberals who dominated the coordinating committees."


I am afraid that this paragraph is a guide to the poorly thought-out role
that the ISO has assigned for itself in the antiwar movement today. I would
argue that instead of aspiring to the "the revolutionary left-wing of the
antiwar movement," the ISO should be focusing on what steps are necessary
to unite everybody who is *for* immediate withdrawal in effective mass
actions. Instead of "left brain" exercises calculated to show how Naomi
Klein gets failing grades in an anti-imperialist final exam, the comrades
should be assessing the US left and broader formations such as the church,
the trade unions, etc. to figure out how to move the struggle forward.
Unity, not anti-imperialist litmus tests are what is needed. This takes an
entirely different set of skills than are required to "expose" Joanne
Landy. In fact, she exposes herself every time she opens her mouth.

Now that I am in the final pages of Barry Sheppard's memoir (available from
Haymarket Books, the ISO publishing arm--I hope they read it), I am more
convinced than ever of the need to build an *objectively* anti-imperialist
movement. This means figuring out how to tap the raw energy of high school
and college students who despise this war and who are fearful of an
impending draft. But it also means figuring out how to speak to the trade
unions that are in the orbit of UFJP, most of whom are solidly against the
war but are susceptible to pressures during election years. Now that the
elections are behind us, it is extremely urgent for the most far-sighted
elements of the mass movement to put forward action proposals that address
the powerful and deep opposition to the war in this country and
internationally. That is the true revolutionary task of our age.

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