Lessons From the Vietnam Anti-War Movement
Over the past few months, a massive anti-war movement has emerged in the heart of the world’s only remaining superpower. This movement is the largest preemptive anti-war movement in US history, coalescing before the government has dropped the first bomb or fired the first shot.
Yet Bush, Congress, and the corporate media have repeatedly ignored the concerns of people here in the US and all over the world. Following the massive February 15 anti-war demonstrations, Bush contemptuously dismissed the protests saying “Size of protest – it’s like deciding, well, I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group.” (New York Times, 2/19/03)
This shows how undemocratic our society really is, where Congress signed the president a blank check to go to war while ignoring the massive opposition of the ordinary Americans that they claim to represent. In spite of the hundreds of thousands of protesters and the growing unpopularity of his war plans and his administration, Bush has continued to mobilize military forces in preparation for war.
Under some conditions it is possible for a mass movement to check the war plans of the ruling class – at least temporarily. However, where the vital strategic and economic interests of capitalism, or those judged to be so by ruling class or its “executive,” are involved this is not sufficient. Under such conditions, mass mobilizations, strikes and general strikes leading to the overthrow of the government are necessary.
Lessons of Vietnam
By examining the Vietnam anti-war movement we can see that while students and young people played the key role in initiating the movement, it was most powerful when the majority of American workers began to oppose the war.
The war became overwhelmingly unpopular among working class communities as US casualties surged and workers began to see that they were being forced to pay for the war, and suffer the effects of the inflation and worsening social conditions it caused. A wave of wildcat strikes (strikes without the approval of the union leadership) flared up across the country. This – along with the revolt of working class whites, African Americans and Latinos in the armed forces – rendered the most powerful military in the world useless.
The social upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s displayed the power of the US working class as a force to change society. Workers at home and rank and file, working class soldiers were a critical variable in stopping the Vietnam War. Today, workers are also the key force that can ultimately stop the war.
A good example of workers using their power to tie up the war machine occurred in January, when rail workers in Scotland refused to move a train full of arms intended for British forces heading to the Persian Gulf. Workers in the US can follow this example and paralyze Bush’s war machine. It is workers who built this country and who make it run. Through our determined action, we can also shut it down.
Another key reason the Vietnam anti-war movement was successful was that it began to threaten the entire capitalist system. The anti-war, civil rights, and women’s liberation movements, and the protests and outrage at the Watergate scandal, threatened the very foundations of US capitalism. In an attempt to end the massive social explosions at home, the ruling class finally decided to cut its losses and end the war.
Today, we must apply the lessons of the anti-Vietnam war movement, and link the current anti-war movement to other struggles and issues facing the working class. One advantage we have today over the anti-Vietnam war movement is that during Vietnam it took the movement several years before it became as large as the current anti-war movement is today. We must continue to build a mass anti-war movement by uniting with the movements against Bush, budget cuts, corporate globalization, and the labor movement. Armed with an anti-capitalist program and a strategy, the anti-war movement can defeat Bush and his war plans.
Justice #33, February 2003