Showing posts with label anti- Vietnam War pacifists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anti- Vietnam War pacifists. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Happy Birthday Keith Richards -The Limits of The Pacifist Message- John Lennon Tribute


Come Together, John Lennon Tribute, Yoko Ono Productions, 2001

I am here to rain on this tribute to the work of John Lennon in New York City in early October 2001 on two counts- musically and politically. As to the music. I make no bones about the fact that, as a product of the Generation of ’68, I grew to adulthood with this music, however, in any choice between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, in my book the Stones win hands down. The same applies to comparisons to Lennon as an individual artist. John Lennon could write lyrics with the best of them, no question, but here is the real question- which song, for example, better expresses the sense of working class alienation and, more importantly, what to do about it- Lennon’s Working Class Hero or The Stones’ Street Fighting Man?

That said, even taking comparisons between artists out of consideration John Lennon’s work, as witnessed here, has not aged well. This, despite the profuse trade puffing by host Kevin Stacey and other narrators to the contrary. Part of this is because his works are so personal that they are not easily covered. Recently listening to some covers of the The White Album leads me to believe that this is true, as well, for most Beatles songs. Thus, the tribute, as a whole came off rather muzak-like, with the partial exception of Sean Lennon’s work with Rufus Wainwright on That Boy and Nancy Marchant’s rendition of Nowhere Man.

Now to the politics. Yes, we know that John Lennon, sincerely I believe, stood for ‘giving peace a chance’ and for ‘power to the people, right on’ but frankly, those slogans today, as we are in another titanic struggle against the imperial monsters over Iraq and Afghanistan just seems like some much children’s talk. What the narrators held to be Lennon’s profound wisdom on the peace question are things that seemed embarrassingly childish to me back even when they were first uttered. No, it is not enough to just think good thoughts about peace or have peace in our hearts for that to occur as if by magic. We have to go out and struggle for it against some people who will see us in our graves before they give ‘peace a chance’.

And here my friends is the kicker. This tribute was performed in New York City on October 3, 2001 a few weeks after the criminal actions of a bunch of Islamic fanatics wrecked havoc on that city. Perhaps I would have been more impressed by the tribute if one person- host, performer or from the audience- in the whole one and one half hour program had mentioned peace and the desire for it, not in the great by and by, but by actually mentioning opposition to the war in Afghanistan that was being prepared even as they sang and was only a few days from starting. Maybe, in the light of circumstances that couldn’t be done in New York City during those weeks but I will be damned if I will listen to people spout forth about peace when they were not out in the streets with the few of us who were protesting the Afghan war then. Hell, I too was afraid to go out in the streets and face the redneck reaction that was stirred up then. But that is where ‘peaceniks’, if you will, had to be. What would Mr. Lennon have had to say about that? Mrs. Lennon didn’t have anything to say at all.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Tom Wolfe-Fashionista Of His Own Kind-And A Hell Of A Writer When The Deal Went Down Has Cashed His Check -From The Archives-The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now- Chicago 1968-Norman Mailer's View

Tom Wolfe-Fashionista Of His Own Kind-And A Hell Of A Writer When The Deal Went Down Has Cashed His Check

By Bart Webber

I had been, strangely enough, in La Jolla out in California attending yet another writers’ conference which seems to be the makings of my days these days, attending writers’ conferences that is instead of taking pen to paper or rather fingers to word processor keyboard, when I heard Tom Wolfe had cashed his check. “Cashed his check” a term (along with synonymous “cashed his ticket”) grabbed from memory bank as a term used when I was “on the bum” hanging out in hobo jungle camps and the whole trail of flop houses and Salvation Army digs to signify that a kindred had passed to the great beyond. Was now resting in some better place that a stinking stew-bitten, flea –bitten, foul-aired and foul-person place. No more worries about the next flop, the next jug of cheapjack wine, the next run-in with vicious coppers and railroad bulls, and the next guy who was ready to rip whatever you had off to feed his own sullen addiction.

By the way this is not Thomas Wolfe of You Can’t Go Home Again, Look Homeward, Angels, etc. but the writer, maybe journalist is a better way to put the matter of tons of interesting stuff from acid trips in the 1960s hanging with Ken Kesey and his various tribes of merry pranksters, the Hell’s Angels, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters, to marveled space flights in the 1970s to Wall Street in the reckless 1980 and back who had cashed his check. The strange part of the “strangely enough” mentioned above was that on Monday May 14th 2018, the day he died, I was walking along La Jolla Cove and commenting to my companion without knowing his fate that Tom Wolfe had made the La Jolla surfing scene in the early 1960s come alive with his tale of the Pump House Gang and related stories about the restless California tribes, you know those Hell’s Angels, Valley hot-rod freaks and the like who parents had migrated west from dustbowl Okies and Arkies to start a new life out in Eden. These next generation though lost in a thousand angsts and alienation not having to fight for every breath of fresh air (with the exception of the Angels who might as well have stayed in the Okies and McAllister Prison which would have been their fate.   

I don’t know how Tom Wolfe did at the end as a writer, or toward the end, when things seemed to glaze over and became very homogenized, lacked the verve of hard ass 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s times. Although I do note that he did a very although I note he did an interesting take on the cultural life at the Army base at Fort Bragg down in North Carolina in a book of essays around the theme of hooking up. That hooking up angle a sign that social cohesiveness in the age of the Internet was creating some strange rituals. Know this those pound for pound in his prime he along with Hunter Thompson could write the sociology of the land with simple flair and kept this guy, me, flipping the pages in the wee hours of the morning. RIP, Tom Wolfe, RIP.  

From The Archives-The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now- Chicago 1968-The Late Norman Mailer's View

Commentary/Book Review (2008)

This year, also a presidential election year, marks the 40th anniversary of the bloodbath in the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention. I have reposted Norman Mailer’s work Miami and the Siege of Chicago originally posted on this site in September 2007 that recounts many of the incidents that occurred during that week. Mailer’s work is as good example as any that I have read from a journalist’s perspective so can stand here, as well.

Parts of the review also detail my own political positions during that period. Readers can get the gist of those positions below. I would only add that during this particular week I was in Boston manning the phones while others in the Humphrey campaign had gone to Chicago. In retrospect, the most painful detail of that week was the necessity of answering many irate calls from Gene McCarthy supporters and others about the police riot in Chicago. Even stranger was being denounced as a “hawk” for supporting Humphrey’s Vietnam position. Oddly, my own position at the time- for immediate withdrawal- was actually far to the left of what the irate callers were arguing for. Such is the price of my youthful opportunism though.

The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now



As I recently noted in this space while reviewing the late Norman Mailer’s The Presidential Papers at one time, as with Ernest Hemingway, I tried to get my hands on everything that he wrote. In his prime he held out promise to match Hemingway as the preeminent male American prose writer of the 20th century. Mailer certainly has the ambition, ego and skill to do so. Although he wrote several good novels in his time like The Deer Park I believe that his journalistic work, as he himself might partially admit, especially his political, social and philosophical musings are what will insure his place in the literary pantheon.

With that in mind I recently re-read his work on the 1968 political campaign Miami and the Siege of Chicago -the one that pitted Lyndon Johnson, oops, Hubert Humphrey against Richard M. Nixon. This work is exponentially better than his scatter shot approach in the Presidential Papers and only confirms what I mentioned above as his proper place in the literary scheme of things. Theodore White may have won his spurs breaking down the mechanics of the campaign and made a niche for himself with The Making of a President, 1960 and his later incarnations on that same theme but Mailer in his pithy manner gives an overview of the personalities and the stakes involved for the America in that hell-bent election. I would note that for Mailer as for many of us, not always correctly as in my own case, this 1968 presidential campaign season and those conventions evolved in a year that saw a breakdown of the bourgeois electoral political process that had not been seen in this country since the 1850’s just prior to the Civil War.

The pure number of unsettling events of that year was a portent that this would be a watershed year for good or evil. Out of the heat, killing and destruction in Vietnam came the North Vietnamese/National Liberation Front Tet offensive that broke the back of the lying reports that American/South Vietnamese success was just around the corner. Today’s Iraq War supporters might well take note. In the aftermath of that decisive event insurgent anti-war Democratic presidential hopeful Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy’s seemingly quixotic campaign against a sitting president jumped off the ground. In the end that Tet offensive also forced Lyndon Johnson from office. And drove Robert Kennedy to enter the fray. The seemingly forgotten LBJ spear carrier Hubert Humphrey also got a new lease on life. I will have more to say about this below. Then, seemingly on a dime, in a tick we started to lose ground. The assassination of Martin Luther King and the burning down of the ghettos of major cities in its aftermath and later in the spring of Robert Kennedy at a moment of victory placed everything on hold.

That spring also witnessed turmoil on the campuses of the United States exemplified by the Columbia University shut down and internationally by the student –ignited French General Strike. These and other events held both promise and defeat that year but when I reflect on 1968 almost forty years later I am struck by the fact that in the end one political retread, Richard Milhous Nixon, was on top and the front of an almost forty year bourgeois political counter revolution had began. Not a pretty picture but certainly a cautionary tale of sorts. The ‘of sorts’ of the tale is that if you are going to try to make fundamental changes in this society you better not play around with it and better not let the enemy off the hook when you have him cornered. That now seems like the beginning of wisdom.

I have written elsewhere (see archives, Confessions of An Old Militant- A Cautionary Tale, October 2006) that while all hell was breaking loose in American society in 1968 my essentially left liberal parliamentary cretinist response was to play ‘lesser evil’ bourgeois electoral politics. My main concern, a not unworthy but nevertheless far from adequate one, was the defeat of one Richard Nixon who was making some very depressing gains toward both the Republican nomination and the presidency. As noted in the above-mentioned commentary I was willing to go half the way with LBJ in 1968 and ultimately all the way with HHH in order to cut Nixon off at the knees.

I have spent a good part of the last forty years etching the lessons of that mistake in my brain and that of others. But as I also pointed out in that commentary I was much more equivocal at the time, as Mailer was, about the effect of Robert Kennedy the candidate of my heart and my real candidate in 1968. I have mentioned before and will do so again here that if one bourgeois candidate could have held me in democratic parliamentary politics it would have been Robert Kennedy. Not John, although as pointed out in my review of The Presidential Papers, in my early youth I was fired up by his rhetoric but there was something about Robert that was different. Maybe it was our common deep Irish sense of fatalism, maybe our shared sense of the tragic in life or maybe in the end it was our ability to rub shoulders with the ‘wicked’ of this world to get a little bit of human progress. But enough of nostalgia. If you want to look seriously inside the political conventions of 1968 and what they meant in the scheme of American politics from a reasonably objective progressive partisan then Mailer is your guide here. This is the model, not Theodore White’s more mechanical model of coverage, that Hunter Thompson tapped into in his ‘gonzo’ journalistic approach in latter conventions- an insightful witness to the hypocrisy and balderdash of those processes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

***The Road Less Traveled- With A Tip Of The Hat To Poet Robert Frost

***The Road Less Traveled- With A Tip Of The Hat To Poet Robert Frost

Markin comment:

I am not a big fan of Robert Frost's poetry (although his public readings were very interesting) but this one every once in a while "speaks" to me when there are two (or more) choices to make in life.

Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

1. The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20
Sergeant John Prescott, “Johnny P.” to his pals gathered around a small table, drinking sodas and coffee, in the next room was a quiet, unassuming guy, a guy with just that barebones patriotism that animated many working class kids to “do their duty” and join up when America was in danger, no questions asked. Not quite “my country, right or wrong” but pretty close when all was said and done. And as the early 1960s, the time of high school fun and frolic and for ace football star Johnny P, fun and frolic with one fetching Chrissie O’Shea and their flaming romance that was the talk of the Class of 1964 at old North Adamsville High, turned to mid-1960s and clarion calls that the country was in danger in some place called red-infested Vietnam Johnny, and not just Johnny, answered the call. And here, gathered around a small table, in early May 1968 his old corner boys from in front of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor “up the downs” were chatting away like mad.

Suddenly, Frank Riley, fabled Frankie, the king of the be-bop Salducci’s night in those fresher days, yelled to no one in particular but they all knew what he meant, “Remember that night after graduation when Tonio threw us that party at the pizza parlor.” And all the other five gathered at the table became silence with their own memories of that night. See, Tonio was the king hell owner and zen master pizza maker at Salducci’s and a guy who treated Frankie (and therefore most of Frankie’s friends) like a son. So Tonio put out a big deal party right on the premises, closed to all but Frankie, his friends and hangers-on (and girls of course). Tonio, at least this is what he said at the time, appreciated that Frankie brought so much business his way what with his corner boys, their corner boys, and the, ah, girls that gathered round them and who endlessly fed the juke box that he had to show his appreciation in such a way. And everybody had a great time that night, with the closed door wine, Tonio-provided wine, flowing like crazy and nobody, no authorities or parents the wiser for it.

Part of that great time, the part the guys around the 1968 table were remembering just then, the part of that great gun-ho 1964 time occurred late that night when, plenty of wine under their belts, Frankie and the corner boys, talked “heroic” talk. Talked about their military service obligations that was coming up right on them. And this was no abstract talk, no this night, for not only was this a party put on by Tonio to show his gratitude but a kind of going away party for ace football player and part-time corner boy (the other part, the more and more part, with one fetching Chrissie O’Shea), Johnny Prescott, who signed up right after graduation and was getting ready to leave for “boot camp” at Fort Dix, New Jersey in a few days. So everybody was piling on the bravery talk to Johnny about “killing commies” somewhere, maybe Vietnam, maybe Germany, hell, maybe Russia or China. And Johnny, not any rum-brave kind Johnny, not any blah blah-ing about bravery, football or war, Johnny just kind of sat there and let the noise go by him. His thoughts then were of Chrissie and doing everything he could to get back to her in one piece.

Of course heaping up pile after pile on the bravery formula was one Frankie Riley, ever the politician and well as keenly acknowledgement corner boy king, who had so just happened to have landed, through a very curious connection with the Kennedy clan, a coveted slot in a National Guard unit. So, Frankie, ever Frankie, could be formally brave that night in the knowledge that he would be far away from any real fighting. His rejoinder was that his unit “might” be called up. The others kidded him about it, about his “week-end warrior status, but just a little because after all he would be serving one way or another. Also kind of silent that night was Fritz Taylor just then ready to “do his duty” after having had a heavy-duty fight with his mother about his future, or lack of a future, and her “hadn’t he better go in the service and learn a trade” talk.

Most vociferous that night was Timmy Kiley. Yes, Timmy, the younger brother of the legendary North Adamsville and later State U. football player “Thunder Tommy” Kiley. He was ready to catch every red under every bed and do what, when and where to any he caught. Timmy later joined the Navy to “see the world” and saw much of some dreary scow in some dry-dock down in Charleston, South Carolina. Even Peter Paul Markin, Frankie’s right-hand man, self-described scribe, and publicly kind of the pacifist of the group, who usually got mercilessly “fag”-baited for his pale peace comments was up in arms about the need to keep the “free world” free. But that was just the way he talked, kind of a studied hysterical two-thousand facts diatribe. Markin, student deferred, at that 1968 table had just gotten notice from his friendly neighbors at the North Adamsville Draft Board that upon graduation he was to be drafted. And he was ready, kicking and screaming about some graduate school project that the world really needed to know about, to go. That was the way it was in the neighborhood. Go or be out. Frank Ricco, the so-called token Eye-talian, of the Irish-laden Salducci’s corner boy night (and a kid that Tonio actually hated, some kind of Mafioso, omerta thing with his father) also displayed super-human brave talk that night but he was credited , not so many months later of not only going in the Marines but of seeing some heavy-duty action in jungle-infested Kontum, and some other exotic and mainly unpronounceable place farther south in the water-logged rice paddles of the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

Quiet, quieter than Johnny Prescott thinking of Chrissie, or Fritz, sullenly furious at his mother or at his hard-scrabble fate, or both, was Johnny Callahan. Johnny no stranger to corner boy controversy, no stranger to patriotic sentiments, at least publicly to keep in step with his boys, secretly hated war, the idea of this war coming up and was seriously hung up on the Catholic “just war” theory that had been around since at least Saint Augustine, maybe earlier. See Johnny had a grandmother (and also a mother, but less so) who was an ardent Catholic Worker reader and adherent to their social philosophy. You know, Dorothy Day and that crowd of rebel Catholics wanting to go back to the old, old days, the Roman persecution days, of the social gospel and the like. And grandmother had the “just war” theory down pat. She was the greatest knitter of socks for “the boys” during World War II that the world may have ever known. But on Vietnam she was strictly “no-go, no-go, no way” and she was drilling that in Johnny’s head every chance she got (which was a lot since Johnny, having, well let’s call it “friction” with his mother sought refuge over at grandma’s). Now grandma was pressing Johnny to apply for conscientious objector status (CO) but Johnny knew that as a Catholic, a lapsing Catholic but still a Catholic, the formal “just war” theory of that church would not qualify him for CO status. He wanted to, expected to, just refuse induction. So that rounded out that party that night. Hell, maybe in retrospect it wasn’t such a great party, although blame the times not Tonio for that.

Just then, as each member at the table, thought his thoughts started by Frankie’s remembrance someone from the other room called out, “pall-bearers, get ready.”

Postscript: Sergeant, E-5, John Phillip Prescott made the national news that 1968 year, that 1968 year of Tet, made the Life magazine photo montage of those killed in service in Vietnam on any given week. Johnny P.’s week was heavy with casualties so there were many photos, many looks of mainly working class enlisted youth that kind of blurred together despite the efforts to recognize each individually. And, of course, Johnny P.’s name is etched in black marble down in Washington, D.C. John Patrick Callahan served his two year “tour of duty” as federal prisoner 122204, at the Federal Correctional Institution, Allentown, Pennsylvania. The road less traveled, indeed.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

From The Archives Of The Spartacist League (U.S.)- The Struggle Against Class Collaboration In The Anti-War Movement- New York Peace Parade Statement (1965)

Click on the headline to link to a Zimmerwald Conference website online copy of the Zimmerwald Manifesto, a document that heads in the right direction against pacifistic class collaboration in the anti-war movement discussed below.

Markin comment:

Earlier this month I started what I anticipate will be an on-going series, From The Archives Of The Socialist Workers Party (America), starting date October 2, 2010, where I will place documents from, and make comments on, various aspects of the early days of the James P. Cannon-led Socialist Worker Party in America. As I noted in the introduction to that series Marxism, no less than other political traditions, and perhaps more than most, places great emphasis on roots, the building blocks of current society and its political organizations. Nowhere is the notion of roots more prevalent in the Marxist movement that in the tracing of organizational and political links back to the founders, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Communist Manifesto, and the Communist League.

After mentioning the thread of international linkage through various organizations from the First to the Fourth International I also noted that on the national terrain in the Trotskyist movement, and here I was speaking of America where the Marxist roots are much more attenuated than elsewhere, we look to Daniel DeLeon’s Socialist Labor League, Eugene V. Deb’s Socialist Party( mainly its left-wing, not its socialism for dentists wing), the Wobblies (IWW, Industrial Workers Of The World), the early Bolshevik-influenced Communist Party and the various formations that led up to the Socialist Workers Party, the section that Leon Trotsky’s relied on most while he was alive. Further, I noted that beyond the SWP that there were several directions to go in but that those earlier lines were the bedrock of revolutionary Marxist continuity, at least through the 1960s.

Today I am starting what I also anticipate will be an on-going series about one of those strands past the 1960s when the SWP lost it revolutionary appetite, what was then the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) and what is now the Spartacist League (SL/U.S.), the U.S. section of the International Communist League (ICL). I intend to post materials from other strands but there are several reasons for starting with the SL/U.S. A main one, as the document below will make clear, is that the origin core of that organization fought, unsuccessfully in the end, to struggle from the inside (an important point) to turn the SWP back on a revolutionary course, as they saw it. Moreover, a number of the other organizations that I will cover later trace their origins to the SL, including the very helpful source for posting this material, the International Bolshevik Tendency.

However as I noted in posting a document from Spartacist, the theoretical journal of ICL posted via the International Bolshevik Tendency website that is not the main reason I am starting with the SL/U.S. Although I am not a political supporter of either organization in the accepted Leninist sense of that term, more often than not, and at times and on certain questions very much more often than not, my own political views and those of the International Communist League coincide. I am also, and I make no bones about it, a fervent supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, a social and legal defense organization linked to the ICL and committed, in the traditions of the IWW, the early International Labor Defense-legal defense arm of the Communist International, and the early defense work of the American Socialist Workers Party, to the struggles for freedom of all class-war prisoners and defense of other related social struggles.


Markin comment on the peace and/or anti-war question:

If I was asked to name the number one political cause that I have fought for in my life, and I thought about it for a few moments, the answer would have to be the peace, or put a better way, the anti-war question. I will just quickly draw a distinction between the two terms for purposes of this commentary. Of course, everybody and their brother and sister wants peace, talks about peace, would love to see in their lifetimes, and so on. By this they mean, usually, no wars, or at least just little ones, or may an occasional civil war or something like that. Mainly though, truth to tell, no wars to intrude on their daily lives, and certainly nothing that they have to take up arms about, or worst, sent their children with those selfsame arms to fight. Sunday speech peace is what this attitude boils down to. We have heard that noise from politicians, high and low, for an eternity. And for a fair part of my political youth, truth to tell, that kind of peace, that kind of striving for peace as a political activist, if not quite put in that hard-boiled a manner had great appeal.

Yes, but I am a big boy now, and have been for quite awhile. Thus, sweet Sunday speech peace preachments leave nothing but a bitter taste in my mouth. First of all, as a historical materialist by political inclination I know that there are some wars, like the class struggle wars that I don not want to be peaceful about, at least if the bourgeoisies of the world get in our way as they usually do. Or certain wars for national self-determination by oppressed nations, like the Vietnam War that caused me to re-evaluate my “peace” principles on more than one occasion back in the 1960s. Or wars fought by progressive, or at least smaller sized and helpless entities against bigger, bullying ones. So no, in the year 2010, I do not want to fight for “peace at any price.” And while I am no inveterate war-monger by any means thems the facts. As to the anti-war part of the question I think that I can stand on that position a little better, a little more truthfully, by opposing the wars that world imperialism, and in the first instance American imperialism, constantly throw at us, including today’s Iraq and Afghan occupations for starters.

That said, let me go back to that Vietnam War anti-war experience or rather experiences for they will be illustrative of the transformation of my search for “peace” to that of class justice in this wicked old world. Early on in that war, before the massive escalations of the mid-1960s, I would characterize my position as pacifistic in the universal sense reflecting a Catholic Worker-type position tinged with not a little unkempt social-patriotism toward the American government. As the bombs kept endlessly falling on that benighted country and I studied and learned more about the historic struggle of the Vietnamese against foreign oppression I came to support their struggles under the rubric of a war of national liberation. As I moved further left I held quasi-positions (quasi in the sense of ill-formed, or not fully worked out in those hectic times when one could not move fast enough leftward, and as importantly, theoretically leftward) that the anti-war movement should act as an active “second front” in the Vietnamese national liberation struggle by “bringing the war home” (and rather passive toward what ultimately needed to be done to the American government). Finally, finally I came closer to Bolshevik positions on the war question, the need to defend a workers state (in whatever condition, that too evolved over time), the need to do with and in the American military to bring the war to an end the Bolshevik way.

That said, this particular series of entries from the archives of the Spartacist League would have made life infinitely easier if I had had access to them in those days as expressions of a clear way forward for the anti-war movement that I (and not I alone) was getting increasingly frustrated with as it got mired into bourgeois defeatism, and then into oblivion as that war wound down. Unfortunately I did not initially read this material until some time in the mid-1970s. I will make additional individual comments on each entry.

Markin comment on Spartacist statement

In many ways 1965 was a watershed year in the struggle against the Kennedy-Johnson Vietnam War. Not only was there a grievous escalation of troop levels and bombing attacks based on the usual frame-up set-up (the Gulf of Tonkin incident) that seem to be conveniently available when the tom-toms of war get beating but the fledgling anti-war movement (at least in the East) was getting organized in more than a token manner. Thus, on the serious matter of which way forward for that movement to drive it to victory those New York meetings, the epicenter of the East Coast opposition, described in the document below take on added meaning both for the immediate struggle against the war and the long term prospects for a real anti-imperialist opposition. And, maybe, more.

Listen, in 1965, I was at the height of my Catholic Worker/ Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)-tinged left liberal pacifistic political views. Although not philosophically absolutely committed to non-violence or to working totally within the parliamentary system I was no embryonic Bolshevik ready to raise all kind of hell. I still believed that “sweet” reason could be brought into play in bourgeois politics and the “better angels of our nature” (a term that I was fond of even then) would prevail. I was in no way hostile to communists, of whatever tendency, but merely saw them as another set of partners in the struggle against war. In short, I held a very popular frontist attitude to use a term of art in our communist movement that I was not familiar with then.

All of the above is by way of saying that had I been at the New York anti-war meetings, as I had been at various Boston meetings with the same kind of groups, including SANE (a group that I had worked with on their nuclear disarmament campaigns in the very early 1960s) which drove anti-war efforts around here in those days, I would have been nonplussed by the Spartacist League withdrawal statement. Whatever their reasons. Now, of course, long after the fact, I can see that the commitment of the vast majority of anti-war groups to “sweet” reason toward Johnson Administration war policy and a commitment to an essentially pacifist, parliamentary opposition that could easily be pieced off was doomed to failure. Failure, if the object, as it was for me to stop the bloody bastards.

Fortunately the North Vietnamese army and the National Liberation Front took matters into their own hands and saved the day by beating the American imperialist forces and ending the war. No one can say truthfully that the American anti-war movement was minimal in that effort but it was, in the end, hardly decisive as some would have it. Those famous pictures of the United States Embassy in Saigon being evaluated by helicopter from the rooftops graphically make the point for those who want to argue otherwise.

History is full of little twists and turns, and maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from studying it. Here is the lesson that we can use today. The next time that you are in an anti-war planning meeting and someone argues for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all troops and mercenaries from (name the current imperial adventure) as a central slogan for the demonstration vote for that proposal with both hands (and feet if you have to). That, in effect, is today’s anti-war version of those 1965 events.

NY Peace Parade
Press Release:
Spartacist Breaks with New York Parade Committee
—from Spartacist No. 5, November-December 1965

The following statement was read by a Spartacist representative at the 29 September 1965 meeting of the New York Peace Parade Committee, an anti-war coalition dominated by right-wing pacifists and liberals. Among the "individuals" in the committee were members of Progressive Labor Party, the Socialist Party, Workers World, ACFL (predecessor of the Workers League), the Communist Party, the liberal New York SANE and the Committee for Non-Violent Action. Previous meetings had decided in favor of a single, liberal slogan ("Stop the War in Vietnam Now") for the October 16 anti-war parade and a speakers list at the rally featuring the liberal Dr. Benjamin Spock, among others. The committee's grossly social-patriotic "Call" objected to in the Spartacist statement said that the "war in Vietnam is not necessary for national security," since the "United Slates is the richest, most powerful...nation in the world," and the war "cannot enhance the honor of the American people." After reading its statement the Spartacist delegation withdrew from the committee.

At the last meeting on September 22, we raised serious objections to the "one slogan" policy and the political composition of the Rally speakers list.

Had we been invited to the first meeting on September 15 where the substantial issue of non-exclusion was discussed and decided, we would have made our views known then. We objected to the concept that this is a committee of "individuals" rather than organizations.

But of course votes are taken on the basis of organization and not individuals since that is the reality. In an attempt to obscure the exclusion taking place, speakers for the rally were chosen on the basis of artificial "representative" categories: Women. Art. Negroes. Puerto Ricans. Students, Marxist-anti-lmperialists. etc.. with one speaker from each category. But our objections are not simply petty organizational grievances they are political ones.

Since the last meeting we have carefully considered these issues as well as the line of the Call that has been issued and have decided that we can no longer participate in this committee on a principled political basis. Therefore we announce our withdrawal and request that our name be removed from the list of sponsors of the demonstration.

Stop WHOSE War in Vietnam?
The slogan "Stop the War in Vietnam Now" can mean many things to many people. But given the composition of this Committee, the fact that it is dominated by right-wing pacifists and "liberals," i.e., pro-capitalist and pro-LBJ, it is clear that the slogan is deliberately ambiguous in order to avoid facing the duty to advance the only demand that has any meaning: "For the Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal of All U.S. Troops from Vietnam!" Instead of this, the Call demands that "all foreign troops" be removed from Vietnam. This is only an endorsement of the position of the U.S. Government. Further, we are not simply for stopping the war, but rather for the victory of the social revolution that is taking place in Vietnam. It is absurd, and against the interest of the revolution, to call simply for disengagement of forces, and implies a confidence in the integrity of U.S. Imperialism to keep such a bargain. You have completely obscured what we think is the most important character of the Vietnam war -that this is a naked, ruthless intervention by U.S. Imperialism to interrupt and drive back a social revolution in Vietnam, a revolution that is the only road to freedom for the Vietnamese working masses. We are not neutral in this. What is involved is not simply a matter of self-determination or moral indignation or national security or the honor and reputation of the American people as the Call indicates. The best defense of the Vietnamese revolution in this country is to build a militant antiwar movement strong enough to compel the United States to get out of Vietnam!

For Real United Action!
There are many people in this committee with whom we share a number of positions on a range of issues including Vietnam. As in the past, we stand ready to work fully and loyally with you on the basis of political agreement. But we cannot be a party to this committee as it is presently constituted, containing forces that in a class sense are simply not compatible.

This split might have been avoided by a policy of genuine non-exclusion, where all political viewpoints could be expressed. This would have meant, of course, that SANE and some others would have left the committee as they have threatened to do. Instead, in the name of "unity," you have combined with these right-wing elements and chosen to frustrate this alternative and suppress all but the most "respectable" political views. The Socialist Workers Party has deliberately acted as a broker to cement this unprincipled alliance. Well, we for one value our political viewpoints more than we do such a fake "unity."

All those who recognize the truth of what I have said should seriously reconsider their continued participation in this committee and act accordingly.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From "The Rag Blog"-Paul Krassner : Kent State Anniversary Blues- A Guest Commentary-And Jackson State Too

Click on the headline to link to a "The Rag Blog" entry by Paul Krassner, well- known radical figure from the 1960s, on the events at Kent State in Ohio in 1970. I would add also down at Jackson State in Mississippi, as well

Markin comment:

Kent State/Jackson State- Never Forget- Never Forgive!

Neil Young » Ohio Lyrics

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Friday, September 12, 2008

*From The Marxist Archives- The Anti-Vietnam War Struggle, The Struggle Within, Warts And All- A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to a "Workers Vanguard" article, dated September 12, 2008, concerning the internal struggle to create a real anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist anti-Vietnam war movement.

Markin comment:

This blog has spend many postings trying pose the lessons on how to fight to build an effective anti-Iraq and Afghan wars movement in light of the old anti-Vietnam war experiences. If you want to learn how NOT to create such movements then read this article about the Socialist Workers Party's (U.S.) and American Communist Party's struggle for organization control of their respective popular front operations. Oh, the struggle to defend the Vietnamese Revolution here in a America. Don't be silly. That was secondary to the organizational manipulations. Believe me, I was there. Fortunately the Vietnamese took matters into their own hands. Defend the Vietnamese Revolution!

In Defense Of John Lennon


The U.S. vs. John Lennon, directed by David Leaf, 2006

In a recent DVD review of A Tribute to John Lennon, a film that chronicled a concert held in New York City in early October, 2001 in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, I started the review with the following paragraph:

“I am here to rain on this tribute to the work of John Lennon in New York City in early October 2001 on two counts- musically and politically. As to the music. I make no bones about the fact that, as a product of the Generation of ’68, I grew to adulthood with this music, however, in any choice between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, in my book The Stones win hands down. The same applies to comparisons to Lennon as an individual artist. John Lennon could write lyrics with the best of them, no question, but here is the real question- which song, for example, better expresses the sense of working class alienation and, more importantly, what to do about it- Lennon’s Working Class Hero or The Stones’ Street Fighting Man?"

I then went on to detail my militant leftist political differences with Lennon’s essentially pacific, almost childishly na├»ve politics. I stand by those remarks here. Nevertheless, as my headline indicates, in this documentary we are dealing with a different issue that traces the American government’s (with who knows what other governments’complicity) nefarious persecution of Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono for their brand of radical political activities. In their efforts to avoid deportation all our sympathies are with the Lennons (as they would be for anyone in that situation, cultural icon or not). We do not have to agree on Lennon’s “music is the revolution” ideas or anything else to know this simple fact- Against one Richard M. Nixon and his cohorts (as represented here by J. Edgar Hoover, various INS officials and, seemingly, G. Gordon Liddy) we are comrades in arms.

This somewhat choppily-segmented documentary that is moreover top heavy with ‘talking heads’ nevertheless does a good job of presenting the progress of John Lennon from the moppet Beatle to somewhat angry working class youth to a Gandhi-like prophet to something like America’s Public Enemy Number something as opposition to the Vietnam war escalated. And the American government reacted to Lennon, as it to others, in its pathological fear of anything left of Billy Graham in the spiritual field (or any field for that matter). This film traces the illegal harassment of the Lennons and their co-workers, their forthright long drawn out legal fight with immigration authorities to avoid deportation and their vindication after several years with the award of permanent resident status.

Along the way we get a glimpse back at the various be-in activities conducted by the Lennons, their various attempts at making political connections with other well-known political radicals and their essential political retreat in the face of the American governmental onslaught over their visa status. Add in an all-star cast of those, mainly repentant, radicals on both sides of the Atlantic like Tariq Ali and John Sinclair and you indeed have a trip down memory lane. But here is the kicker- yes, remember John Lennon’s visa fight- yes, remember when you take on the American state be ready for any madness, and I mean any madness and, no- do not for a minute believe "music is the revolution” or other notions presented here. That is the lesson we ultimately learn from this film.