TO ANYONE who witnessed the bricks, riot sticks tear gas, and terror of last Wednesday night, the drawbacks of streetfighting as a tactic of dissent are evident. Some of the costs were immediate and obvious: the injuries to bystanders, demonstrators, and police: the destruction of property without a clear purpose: the rising tolerance for violence which such episodes bring.
Beyond these immediate casualties, the action may also bring detrimental long-range political effects. The theory behind the streetfighting was to raise the cost of continuing the war in Vietnam. At the same time, radicals are trying to force liberal politicians out of their passive assent to war policies and into active opposition. But instead of setting up anti-war electoral campaigns. Wednesday's action will probably undercut liberal opposition to suppression of the radical movement. The further notion of the demonstration's leaders, that massing people in the streets will spring Bobby Scale from jail is hardly realistic. It is doubtful that even the widespread streetfighting predicted for coming weeks can affect his fate.
In condemning the action, however, one must recognize the legitimate frustration that caused it. To an endless war has recently been added the legalized persecution of Panther leaders. The Nixon Administration's acts of repression are reaching such depths that the Panthers feel compelled to threaten race war in the absence of effective succor from white radicals. One cannot be surprised that radicals are fighting the government with whatever tactics come to hand. After years of futile reliance on mass marches, militant street actions must look good.
But it is precisely the seriousness of the growing political repression that compels one to oppose demonstrations like last Wednesday's. Even those who want a revolution in this country should see that it can come only through long-term organizing. Political action exclusively forcused on shortterm goals will prevent its success. Though street demonstrations could conceivably frighten a jury into releasing Bobby, they will also alienate potential support in Americans at large. This support is the only real safeguard against wholesale political repression. If the New Left should have learned anything in its short history. it is not to rely on liberal politicians to accomplish its ends. Without a general improvement of Americans political consciousness, politicians will continue to use unrest to their own ends. Small groups using pressure tactics to end the war are engaging in the same sort of power play that today's politicians use.
The tactics of Wednesday's streetfighters were elitist. Limiting themselves to attacks on banks and ritzy clothing stores, they failed to attempt the most elementary educational work, explaining the action to the people of Cambridge. To them these attacks must have seemed simple lunacy. The demonstration did not touch the forms of exploitation that workers experience directly.
Organizing kids into street gangs is not a sufficient political strategy. Older workers, more seriously exploited materially and psychologically, must be made the objects of a long-term organizing effort. In the short run their support is the best guarantee against the government's obliteration of radical polities, and the most persuasive lever on elective officials to bring the War to an end. In the long term it is they who should shape the social changes that will benefit them.
It's true that no existing working-class movement will prevent the murder of Bobby Seale. The Panthers have mentioned a race war as its consequence. But white radicals show a real disregard for their survival when they say, We'll pick up guns and fight on your side. The Panthers need more support than radicals alone can give them; otherwise they would not have tried to set up a United Front Against Fascism.
Seale may be martyred; but he is in danger because he has worked for a revolution in the living conditions of black people. In his own life Seale has set that end above his survival. For him to die in vain, because white radicals aren't responsible enough to find and use an effective political strategy, would be the most monstrous failure of all.