[lbo-talk] Dealing with PSL/ANSWER

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sat Jun 19 13:37:49 PDT 2010

Jim Farmelant wrote:
> Isn't that the problem with most vanguardist parties?
> It seems to me that Workers World (before the
> split) and ANSWER had done a reasonably
> credible job in organizing antiwar protests
> during the run-up to the Iraq War. Eventually
> though, they hit a ceiling, and they seem to
> have been unable and/or unwilling to do
> what would have been required to expland
> these protests into a mass movement on
> the scale of the antiwar movements of
> forty years ago because that would
> have meant sharing control with people
> not affiliated with WW/ANSWER,
> and like most vanguardist groups, that
> was something that they were loathe to do.

This is only partly corre t. First, I don't think it was ever a possibility that the current anti-war movment could have grown to anything like the '60s movement, and that was because that earlier movement was an 'off-shoot' as it were of a much larger movement, that of Black Liberation. (And, of course, the two movements, even without formal cooperation, did enhance each othr's power.) SDS had _begun_ independently of the Black movement, but its rise in membership and activity after '64 or so was at least partly due to the impeturs that the ongoing Black Movement gave to all other activity.,

And in this context, 'strategies' such as you describe simply could not dominate. The SWP "single-issue" strategy was _intended_ to exercise this sort of control over the anti-war movement. The idea was that no political development independent of the SWP would take place, since the anit-war demos would have no political content beyond the Bring the Troops Home theme. Then the SWP could guide the political development of those attracted by that theme. But it didn't work. SDS, the CPUSA and its fronts, and the pacifist organizations were simply too strong, and the political climate was too invigorating, for the SWP to get away with it. This time, there was no SDS, no BLM, no Panthers, the only counterweight, UFPJ, simply did not have the the political muscle that the CP & its fronts had had before, and there was no orgaized pacificst movment. Liberation magazine was gone, and the AFSC never really got involved. The climate was wrong, and the mere capacity to plan a demo carried much more weitht than it had in the '60s.

I thinnk in some recent post I used some such phrase as "energizing issue." It is the rise of such issues." That was in part intended to be a basis for criticism of voluntarist thinking, the kind of thinking that insists that if only "the left" were smart enough it could force a movement into existence. And that voluntarist mindset is what empowers stupid criticism of past movements (e.g. Platypus referring to the "defeat" of the movements of the '30s and '60s), as well as equally stupid criticisms of "The (non-existent) Left" of the present. During periods of normality (i.e. of absolute dominance of capitalist power) as the present, nothing I think is a greater barrier to clear leftists thought than various forms of voluntarism.


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