antiwar / marxism

the united front and antiwar organizing


Reproduced below is a readers comment from Socialist Worker in reply to Joe Lombardo’s contribution to a discussion of the united front in SW.  This is a very good discussion of how to apply the method of the united front in the current period.

The broadest possible forces

September 11, 2013

I WANT to thank Joe Lombardo for his contribution (“The united front and antiwar struggles“) to this very useful discussion on the united front and SocialistWorker.org for posting this discussion.

Joe makes some good points on the character of the united front and its use in building the antiwar movement in the 1960s. He is correct that the single issue “Out Now!” orientation won’t work in the current situation. Flexibility is critical to the success of a united front formation.

In 1967, Tom Kerry wrote in “Some Comments on Party Policy and Tactics in the Antiwar Movement”:

The antiwar formation is composed of diverse organizations, groups and individuals, always shifting, rarely the same, knit together at moments of action in a temporary coalition for a limited objective. After each major action the centrifugal tendency inherent in so heterogeneous a formation threatens to make it fly apart. The cement that holds it together is common opposition to U.S. administration policy in the Vietnam War. How long it will endure in its present form is anyone’s guess.

But the united front was never simply about single versus multi-issue. The point of the united front of a special type during the Vietnam War was to unite the broadest possible forces against the war. Linked to this was a mass action strategy, which I think still has to be at the center of our considerations. Mass action is not just about thinking that a single demonstration or series of demonstrations will change things in themselves. Mass actions give working people a sense of their potential power and weaken the ability of imperialism to do as it wants.

This runs counter to the ultra-left method, which is based on calls for general strikes to end the wars. But ultra-lefts fail to understand the current level of class consciousness. Trotsky himself said that the united front would be unnecessary if all workers were revolutionary. Above all, the united front addresses the complexities and unevenness of popular consciousness.

Aside from ultra-leftism, there is another danger for revolutionaries in the antiwar movement. In making temporary alliances with reformists, we have to maintain our political independence and resist the temptation to uncritically tail after these forces. Revolutionaries seek to lead struggles, but the trick is not to get swallowed by centrist or reformist tendencies and, at the same time, avoid substitutionism or the left capturing itself in “left” antiwar coalitions.

The past few years have been dog days for the U.S. antiwar movement–mostly due to liberal and reformist leaderships demobilizing the movement to avoid embarrassing Democrats. I would argue that a mass antiwar movement does not exist today, but mainly a layer of already radicalized anti-imperialist activists. However, events in Syria and the popular reaction against the U.S. war drive there point to the possibility of a renewed movement. Time to get to work.
John Kirkland, Philly Against War (personal capacity)

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