Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 2 4 March 1970
George Fyson writes about — Protest in America
George Fyson writes about
Protest in America
In the United Stales, as in most Western countries today, we see a new radicalisation among certain sectors of the population Explosions in the black ghettoes, students occupations of campus buildings, and massive anti-war marches are the must outstanding examples of this, contrasting with the quiescence' of the fifties, — the era of the Cold War, of Joe McCarthy, and of the near-disappearance of left-wing politics to the U.S. This vacation I visited the United States and spoke to participant: in the various struggles across the country By attending the national convention of the Young Socialist Alliance, a revolutionary socialist youth organisation. I got s very dear picture of the direction in which these struggles are heading.
Without a doubt, the radical upsurge has been greatest among students, but already deep inroads have been made into other groups, such as the Afro-American and Mexican-American populations, and soldiers in the American forces — both draftees and lifers —who oppose the Vietnam War in significant numbers The movement against the War and the struggle of blacks and others for certain rights are at the heart of the whole upsurge.
The Black Liberation Struggle
The Black struggle has come a long way from the days of sit-ins at segregated restaurants and Martin Luther King's pacifism Undoubtedly the symbol of today's struggle is Malcolm X, who was developing a revolutionary nationalist perspective just before he was murdered in February 1965. After a wave of ghetto uprisings, usually sparked by some excess on the part of police against black people. 1969 saw the opportunities for the struggle for black liberation mushroom.
Politically, there is s real crisis of leadership in these struggles In default of nationalist leaders the vacuum is filled by conservative and reformist elements such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Democratic Party.
The Black Panther Parry, which s year ago seemed to be on the point of achieving massive support from the black community, has dwindled everywhere. This is due to incredible pressure on and persecution of its leaders, notably Huey Newton, who has been in jail since mid-1968 an s trumped-up charge. Id response to this, the Panthers have failed to build adequate defence movements, and their programme seems to have degenerated in practice to rhetoric about "picking up the gun" and "offing the pigs" (that is, killing cops). There is now a greater gulf than ever before between the Pan then and the masses of exploited Blacks.
The Black struggle has in recent months been supplemented by a very active and fast-growing movement among Chicanos (Mexican-Americans) for self-determination. There are probably as many as 15 million Mexican-Americans, Irving mainly in the West and Southwest, but also occupying their own ethnic communities in the bigger northern industrial cities Brutally suppressed by whites in the days of the early settlers, the Chicanos today have a greater number of frontline troops in Vietnam in proportion to their population than even the Blacks.
The Anti-War Movement
The movement is regrouping its forces after its greatest successes ever the November 15th demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco in which one million marched demanding an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Vietnam, and the October 15th actions in which several times that number participated in demonstrations all over the country.
The Vietnam Moratorium Committee, mainly responsible for the October 15th actions, is planning to throw its support behind 'peace' candidates in the coming state elections, which means they no longer intend mass actions like the one they just built. The leadership of the New Mobilisation Committee. Largely responsible for November 15th, have turned New Mobe into a 'multi-issue radical' organisation, so that it will only mobilise a fraction of the support it formerly had as a single issue coalition. A key component of New Mobe, the Student Mobilisation Committee, is the only on-going nationwide antiwar group pressing for continuance of mass actions calling for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam The SMC is the only one of the three anti-War coalitions which calls national conferences to ensure democratic decision-making by the anti-War activities. The only New Mobe national conference led to November 15th, and the majority of the leadership does not want a repetition of that.
The leaders of the antiwar movement are more often than not interested only in pushing then own political line, and not in building the independent mass antiwar movement. They may want small 'confrontationist' actions (for example, SDS has not participated in a mass antiwar action since the first one they built in 1965). Or they may want to do something moral' — for example the pacifists who want to mobilise people to engage in civil disobedience to bum draft cards, or to refuse to pay extra taxes for the war, or their phone bills. Some want to turn the movement into a multi-issue one, especially after a big success which they think can be used to build a new parry — like the Progressive Parties of the twenties and forties. Or they want to channel the movement into support of the Democratic Party or a phony 'peace' candidate from the Democrats, such as McCarthy —who consciously tried to bring the masses away from independent action in the streets, and succeeded. The pro-Moscow Communist Party, one of the most powerful forces in the anti-War movement, is always pressuring for support for the Democrats, as opposed to mass action. As is obvious, the thrust of all these movements is away from drawing masses into the anti-War movement One million demonstrators still represent only a tiny proportion of the population of the United Stares and there is a base for antiwar sentiment (about 50% of the population) which the movement should aim to mobilise.
The Demise of the SDS
The most important (and to some the most surprising) development in the student movement as a shole in 1969 was the complete breakdown of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Formerly its leaders had claimed up to 30,000 members. Now SDS consists of three warring factions, none larger than a few hundred members. Having no formal structure, the national organisation consisted of a few 'stars' who would command sufficient respect to remain at the top. SDS conferences were attended by those who could get there — 'participator' democracy' was the rule. The SDS experience shows that this very quickly turns into its opposite control by a small irresponsible clique. Parallel to this development, the SDS adopted more and more 'militant' and super-revolutionary phraseology and action. By its final conference in 1969, at which the old leadership (a minority) expelled the majority 'Worker-Student Alliance caucus (which is led by the Maoist Progressive Labour Party), the various factions were vying with one another as to which could be the most 'revolutionary' of all. Each group calls the others "enemies of the people" However, each remaining faction of SDS regards Stalin as some sort of hern. This is surprising when one considers the fact that the reasons for then rejection of Marxism was through identification of Stalin's crimes with Marxism.
The Weatherman faction provides an example of a group going far 'left' anough to border on insanity Recently they held four days of rage' in Chicago in which they were going to "kick the ass of the ruling class" A few hundred Weathermen with helmets and sticks charged down a street in the business area smashing cars and windows.
Over Christmas the Weathermen held a national convention, called a 'war council', attended by about 400 people. One top Weatherman, Ted Gold, stated that the U.S. would have to be run by an "agency of the people of the world" after the revolution, as white Americans had forfeited this right. To Weathermen, white workers are reactionary and impossible to organise and the revolution must be started now "without them".
Bernadine Dohrn, Weatherman leader, opened the Council with a call for armed struggle, a pan of which is terrorism. Political assassination and any kind of violence that is considered anti-social were put forward as legitimate forms of armed struggle "We were in an airplane." Dohrn said, "and we went up and down the aisle borrowing food from peoples' plates. They didn't know we were Weathermen, they just knew we were crazy. That's what we're about, being crazy motherfuckers and scaring the shit out of hanky America."
The Weather Bureau (the leaders) digs Charles Manson (accused murderer of Sharon Tate and others) not only for his understanding of white America —Manson allegedly wrote 'pig' in blood on the wall after murders but also because he's a "bad motherfucker". "Dig it — first they killed those pigs, then they are dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim's stomach! Wild!" said Bernadine Dohrn.
The Women's Liberation Movement
Women's Liberation is the newest stream in the radical upsurge in the U.S. today, and it is spreading like wildfire. In New York City alone there are over 100 Women's Liberation groups already Women's Liberation as a whole is still developing its theory, but its starring page 12 point is the subjection of women to the domination of man in the family, to the drudgery of housework, to lower pay for the same work as men, to loss of freedom through responsibility for children and lack of control over their own bodies. The simple democratic demands of the Movement — for free child-care nurseries, or the legalisation of abortion, for free access to contraception, for equal pay for equal work — all have revolutionary implications in the context of present American society. A huge demonstration against the New York State abortion laws is planned for March. Full-time organisers have been working on it since the beginning of January. In the U.S., thousands of women die every year from unhygienic or amateur abortions, and one in four American women have an abortion at some time in their lives.
The American radical scene, then, is characterised by a major contradiction: at a period of the greatest upsurge for many years, the leadership of the three main streams, Antiwar, Black and Student struggles, are in deep crisis. In fact, all left-wing organisations except one are faced with crises of one sort or another at this point. The Panthers and the SDS have fragmented, Moratorium and New Mobe are bent on suicidal courses, the Communist Party is still scratching its head to find a way of launching a 'youth movement', the Maoists have split into several groups. What then are the aims of the only healthy group?
The Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) Convention which I attended grought together nearly one thousand activists from all over the country. Now larger than any faction of SDS, YSA leaders confidently expect the Alliance to more than double its membership in the next two years, largely among students. Recently several SDS branch leaders — and even whole chapters — joined the YSA en bloc, and more are expected to do so. The YSA magazine Young Socialist, already sells more copies than Monthly Review (an international left-wing journal of long standing) The Socialist Workers Party's Militant has surpassed the well-known Guardian's circulation. Nevertheless, there still remains a base for an old-style SDS — a loose radical formation — among America's seven million university students, and it is only a matter of time before something of this sort emerges.
YSA aims for mass action, democratic decision making, and non-exclusion in the anti-War movement; for control by blacks of their own communities and for the formation of a black political party; for support and participation in Chicano and Women's Liberation struggles; for defence of the Cuban Revolution, the Arab Revolution and the movement for Socialist Democracy in Eastern Europe; and support for the election campaigns of the Socialist Workers Party.
SWP/YSA's strategy is based on the analysis that the American working class, which has not engaged in militant action on a large scale since the mid-forties, will eventually be pressured by economic cutbacks into action again. They hope to be in the right places at the right moments to be large enough to take the lead in those struggles when they emerge and to build them into a mass revolutionary movement which can topple capitalist rule in America. This task is the most crucial in the history of the human race.