As a long-time activist and ISR subscriber, I would like to respond to Ashley Smith’s article in the July-August 2008 issue (“Which way forward for the antiwar movement?”). Overall, I agree with most of what is said, but I wish to offer some points that have not been raised. I was part of the Vietnam antiwar movement, and was in D.C. for the mass demonstration in 1970. I have reflected and read a lot about the meaning of the 1960’s activism, and we can learn a lot from it, while adapting to the modern conditions that we face.
I believe that the refusal of the soldiers to fight and the Vietnamese resistance were the two major factors regarding why the U.S. lost in Vietnam. While the mass movement contributed to this, I do not agree that this movement ended the war. I would like to see any documentation that would support Ashley’s assertion. The truth is that demonstrations don’t prevent or stop wars, and this is especially true now, when the marches have been very ineffective in changing policy. Demonstrations are a tactic, not a strategy, and while I support them, we need to do other things.
I would also argue that other reasons why the U.S. left Vietnam were the massive financial drain on the economy, which was really being felt by the early 1970s, and the ruling class moving in other directions, such as the rapprochement with China, and the dreadful ITT-CIA coup against Allende in 1973. In sum, I argue for a much more nuanced approach as to why the U.S. lost in Vietnam. Those who argue today that the marches stopped the war in ‘Nam, therefore let’s do this again now are being overly romantic.
Finally, the anti-war movement back then was but one part of a broad array of social movements which challenged society’s basic values, led to some real change, and opened up a lot of political space, which the ruling class has tried to close down since those days. I maintain that we must go beyond being anti-war, to putting forward a bold manifesto for broad, sweeping changes in how this society operates, so that we meet human needs at home, and stop these wars for empire abroad. This would be a real strategy, as we need to reach out to people, who will want to know what’s in it for them to join us. Marches and mass actions are but one tactic for doing this. We could also be shutting down the cities, and peacefully disrupting business as usual, among many things. Labor needs to wake up as well.
It therefore should be a challenge to all of us to make this happen, and not just do the same things that progressives have always done. Music, poetry, street theater and lots more can help get the job done.
Sincerely, Steve Krevisky