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AS I JOGGED down Pennsylvania Avenue last November 15 to assemble towards the back of the now famous March on Washington. I passed a cluster of tight-lipped demonstrators whose politics were neatly painted on the sign that they carried. The blood-red lettering was as precise as the slogan it spelled out: "THIS IS OUR LAST MARCH, NIXON. . . THE FIRE NEXT TIME."
At the time, the sign struck me as bad politics, if only because it gave the media a juicy tidbit for the Low Frustration Threshold Theory of student unrest (sure enough, it was the only slogan that the New York Times quoted in its coverage). But it didn't surprise me. It merely articulated the grim skepticism I ran up against in October when I tried to sell the Student Mobilization Committee's position to saddened veterans of the peace movement. Come, march once more. I had pleaded. The constellation of events is just right. If this march fails, no march can succeed.
The march failed. The one million people who smilingly crushed each other on the Washington Monument mall were called 250,000 frolicking college kids on the front page of American newspapers. Football devotee Richard Nixon watched a great telecast in the middle of a half-mile circle of bumper-to-bumper buses and shoulder-to-shoulder D. C. cops. After the 250,000 people and 750.000 hallucinations in human form went home, Nixon turned off his television set and offered the country two more Middle American goodies. "Vietnamization." the process whereby those smart, tough G. I.'s teach those sweet, brown children how to fight (or, more probably, why they should), was proof enough of Nixon's good faith. But just to have something to offer everyone. Nixon also trotted out Sir Robert Thompson. "British insurgency expert," who assured us that there was no doubt that America was winning in Vietnam. Six weeks after the March on Washington, Richard Nixon was alternately telling his people that he was a) winning and b) de-escalating the war. Meanwhile. Reuters reports that more G. I.'s than ever before occupy Vietnam and American planes make daily, unadmitted air-strikes north of the DMZ.
I went to the Cleveland anti-war conference last weekend to hear SMC leaders call this state of affairs "a movement victory" and to learn that "Richard Nixon's back is up against the wall." Following the maxim that you can't beat success, the SMC leadership proposed and won majority endorsement for a program that essentially continues the tactics of last fall.
Instead of mobilizing a single demonstration in Washington, the SMC will organize marches in several cities on April 15. And instead of watching a football game. Richard Nixon will be forced to watch a baseball game. For SMC to call its fall anti-war offensive "successful." is as sensible as Nixon's telling the G. I.'s in Vietnam that the war is "America's linest hour."
THERE are two possible explanations for SMC's evaluation of the state of the movement. It could be, as the radical minority at the conference charged, that the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA)-dominated national SMC deviously railroaded its programs through the convention by controlling the chair and thus the flow of debate, a la Richard Daley. "YSA jammed the conference with its local people." one furious RYM woman told me. "and had them rubber-stamp their liberal. Stalinist bullshit." But the chair, as far as I could see, was impeccably fair in its arbitration and magnificently cool in the face of disruptions. And the delegates who comprised the decisive majority were predominantly clean-for-Geners, not YSA hacks.
The other possibility is that the national SMC, with all good intentions, was so stunned by the endless sea of people on the mall that it went temporarily blind. After all. SMC did what they set out to do. Against all odds, defying scare-campaigns from the Justice Department, F. B. I. harassment of charter bus companies, miserable weather, SMC actually brought more people together-the aerial photographs put the number between 0.8 and 1.6 million-than had ever assembled before on American ground.
In the frenzy of achieving their organizational goal, SMC lost track of the progress of the higher goal: ending the war. They showed Nixon, as they said they would, what the American people thought of the war in a way that a picture of a bogus pile of fan mail on the presidential desk could not refute. No one at last week's conference, certainly not YSA, denies that Nixon was shown what the American people think . And yet the SMC program for the spring focuses on more mass demonstrations, more participatory manifestations of what the people are thinking . Though they showed Nixon beyond a shadow of a doubt last fall, they know that they just have to show him again this spring to force his hand.
The SMC says its tactics are based on the non-exclusionary martialling of anti-war sentiment from every segment of American society. They have used the credo "Unity of Action" as an amorphous, all purpose gadget to resolve any contradiction, not unlike Nixon's Silent Majority.
In the interests of this chameleon-like unity, the SMC insists that it must essentially limit itself to the single anti-war demand. In a sense, the constituency of the Cleveland conference vindicated this strategy. "I don't know about all this working-class and racism stuff." a bubbly cheerleader-type from a Piusburgh high school told me. "All I know is that I want the war to end."
BUT to blast the war as "wrong" outside of the context of American imperialism or, if one prefers, the global confrontation between American business interests and the people of the Third World, is to do more than espouse fragmented politics. It is to miscalculate the nature of the opposition. This error partially explains SMC's confusion over why the administration is ignoring what America thinks of the war. Richard Nixon knows how rotten the war is and probably wants it over as fervently as SMC. All this hassle, dissension, and international embarrassment is certainly too high a price to pay for the rubber and oil profits that rebounded to U. S. companies in the pre-Viet Minh days. But the victory of an indigenous, non-white guerrilla army over the United States military machine would establish a precedent that could be disastrous for American corporations around the world. Richard Nixon's meticulous understanding of the power dynamics of American politics inclines him to please the gentlemen interested in these corporations well before the American public.
The radical minority at the conference rightfully pointed out that the dilute, artificially isolated, one plank platform ignores the only pocket of anti-war sentiment with the practical power to end the war. The unrest of industrial labor has done much more to threaten the war effort than the cumulative activity of the movement. The war can be prosecuted against the wishes of the people and the militant mobilization of the least economically integrated stratum, i. e., the students. But it cannot continue without the munitions, medicine, food, clothing, machines, and transportation facilities that are made and serviced by the working people of America.
The potential effect of the workers on the war is just beginning to suggest itself. The wildcat refusal of the San Francisco Longshoreman's local to load American freighters bound for Vietnam last year caused a supply shortage that was felt by the war-planners. During the G. E. strike, a truly ominous one in many ways for the producers of war related goods. the manager of G. E.'s Schenectady, N. Y. plant brought a Defense Department representative to the picket lines to talk to the workers. Hearing that the strike was directly handicapping the war effort, that it was aiding and abetting Russia's conspiracy for world conquest, the workers chanted, "Fuck the war!"
Most working people, contrary to popular opinion, are not Pavlovian morons who salivate at the word "Communism." Red-baiting is no longer enough to justify a raging inflation that undercuts each paycheck more than the one before it. The domino theory doesn't soften the blow of being laid off, as 12,000 Boeing workers on the west coast were last month, by the routinization of war production.
IT IS THE sons, brothers, and husbands of the working class that are dying to "fulfill our commitment." and the explanations are wearing thin. The animosity many workers direct towards students proceeds not from rabid anti-Communism, but from the perception of students as, in the words of a St. Paul machinist at the Cleveland conference, "a bunch of rich kids with long hair who say 'I will be your leader.' When asked what the students could do to close the gap. the man replied with more cogency than any speaker at the conference could muster. "Well." he said, "if you guys don't come up with some constructive programs to help us out pretty quick. I can tell you one thing you damn well better do run for cover."
But solidarity with the working class smacks ungently of socialism, which is not at all what the McCoverns, McCarthys, and Goodells have in mind. When the Independent Radical Caucus asked that a student hand be outstretched to the only disaffected sector with the power to demand anything, SMC criticized them for trying to drag sectarian politics into the coalition.
A Labor Committee spokesman implored the SMC leadership to take some stand on the issue of reconverting the economy from war production to domestic construction without eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs. "When a worker tells me." he said. "Sure, I'll help you end the goddamn war, if you'll just tell me where I'll find work when it's over, what am I supposed to say to him?" Carol Lipman, executive secretary of SMC. advocate of mass actions, answered without batting an eye. "That's not our concern. The SMC can only demand an end to the war in Vietnam."
SMC pulled out its big gun. Boston organizer Peter Camejo, to fan the heat of debate. With a gyrating, explosive demagoguery that would have done justice to a Baptist revival minister, Camejo attacked the radical minority's counterproposal, which added strike-support tactics and anti-imperialist teach-ins to the scheduled April march, as "partisan rhetoric." He then took three minutes to say, very movingly, nothing, making sure that every other sentence ended with an orgasmic, fist-shaking "We want our men home from Vietnam, and we want them out now!"
Peter Camejo and his friends are not about to have that desire satisfied. They have divorced the war from the political context that bred it, held it up as an independent, unbearable monstrosity, and have asked all those who agree to come out once again in April to say so. They have willingly cast aside the only group with the power to do more than march off their hatred for the war.
WHEN the SMC comes around to ask me to march to the Commons, or wherever, on April 15. I suppose I'll go, unless I have a class or some other amusement that afternoon. I can meet some friendly people without, even having to go all the way to Washington, and it will be fun to hear Spiro Agnew tell what he thinks of 150,000 (read 1,500,000) Americans demonstrating in the streets. But when it comes to manifesting my opposition to the war where it could mean something. I think I'll do my business with someone other than SMC in the future.
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