Stifling the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign 1970-71

Darce Cassidy wrote the article below to expose those who would stifle action and policy within the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign in 1970-71. It identifies the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) as the main culprit because it used the party’s left history as cover for its right-wing attempt to dampen activists’ spirit and to enhance the parliamentary prospects of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In particular, both parties sought to thwart expressions of opposition to the US Australia Alliance (ANZUS

Bernie Taft, the then president of the Victorian Branch of the CPA, has attempted to answer the gist of Darce’s article in his memoir, Crossing the Party Line., However, his book has confirmed it and has inadvertently exposed how the CPA attempted to suppress the effect that Worker Student Alliance (WSA) and other militant activists had on Moratorium policy.

This article appeared in a four-page broadsheet leaflet called, The Communist Party is Behind the Moratorium – Way Behind. The title article was by Brian Laver and described similar activity by the CPA in Queensland. The article has been scanned and processed through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program and the consequent errors have been corrected. Otherwise, this is a complete copy of the original. Any mistakes are mine. By Nick Butler

The Worker-Student Alliance and the Anti-War Movement By Darce Cassidy

The organization of the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign in Victoria has been marked by long and often bitter debates over the course the campaign should follow.

This debate is neither new to the anti-war movement, nor peculiar to Victoria. The basic differences underlying the debate have existed both here and interstate for many years.

By and large, this debate has been between the Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament (the Association for International Co-operation and Disarmament in Sydney, and the Campaign for Peace in Vietnam in Adelaide) supported by the Communist Party and the ALP., on the one hand; and revolutionary youth and workers on the other.

In this debate two issues continually arise:

1. The issue of naming the aggressor and
2. Concern for the electoral prospects of the ALP.

That these issues continue to be debated both here and interstate is a result of the fundamental ideological differences which divide the two groupings, differences which ultimately boil down to support for revolution as opposed to reform of the existing system.

Naming the Aggressor

We have always rejected the view, put forward by left ALP politicians, that the conflict in Vietnam is a civil war. We reject the view, expressed at a demonstration outside Pentridge gaol last year by Gordon Bryant MHR, that the North Vietnamese and NLF forces are murderers, just as bad as the Americans.[i]

In our view the Vietnamese people are not only fighting a just war for the liberation of their own country, but since their struggle is directed against the common enemy of mankind, United States imperialism, they are fighting in the interests of the oppressed people of all the world.

Silence is Consent

There are those within the peace movement, particularly the so-called Communist Party, who purport to share this view of imperialism as the cause of wars, and in particular the Vietnam war. Why then don’t we hear this analysis put more frequently within the peace movement?

The sad fact is that not only do many of these pseudo-revolutionaries not put forward such a view within the peace movement, but they actively or passively prevent others from raising the issue.

Gagged

It happened only yesterday. At a meeting of the Schools Moratorium Campaign yesterday afternoon a motion was put naming the United States as the cause of the war. The motion was gagged with the argument: “Yes, we agree with you but you shouldn’t say that here. You might scare away the peace parsons.” If ‘silence is consent’, if failure to oppose reactionary ideas amounts to passive acceptance of them does not active suppression of correct ideas amount to collaboration?

If the Communist Party (to take one of the groups opposed to us) agrees that United States imperialism has been responsible for the war in Vietnam why has it always been left to us (the Worker-Student Alliance, Monash Labor Club and others) to oppose the view that war is due to ‘human nature’ or that Vietnam is ‘an aberration of the great American democratic tradition’. Why was it left to the Worker-Student Alliance to oppose Bryant at Pentridge last year when he made his scandalous statement that the NLF were murderers? Why did no one else speak in opposition?

If other groups in the anti-war movement agree that the US is the aggressor why did they stand by and let CICD prevent the Monash Labor Club putting that view on July 4, 1967. Why was Bloomers allowed to get away with stopping the Labor Club from burning an American flag that day? Do they all go along with the ALP policy of support for the American alliance? Is that why they stood by and let that view be suppressed?[ii]

‘We don’t agree with the way Sam runs things. Perhaps he is manipulative sometimes,’ say some members of the CPA. Well why don’t they do some-thing about it instead of attacking the revolutionaries?

Whatever some members of the CPA say in private the public stand of others like Taft Jr. and Carmichael is a very different one. They publicly accuse the Worker Student Alliance and the Vietnam Co-Ordinating Committee of manipulation. They do this knowing that militants were deliberately excluded from the initial meetings of the Moratorium, that organizations not informed of the initial meetings include the Monash Labor Club, the Worker-Student Alliance and the Vietnam Co-ordinating Committee in Melbourne, Resistance in Sydney and the Revolutionary Socialist Alliance in Brisbane. In private certain members concede the manipulation but in public they say nothing.

Plaintively the CPA writes: ‘It seems some people can’t or don’t want to be convinced about the good will of the Communist Party.’

If the past ten years of work in the peace movement has taught us nothing then the past ten weeks of the Moratorium has made things crystal clear.

The heavy hand of the numbers game has made debate organizationally irrelevant. That same hand has cast motions carried at both general and executive meetings to the rubbish heap of history.

Revision

In vain a meeting of several hundred people at Richmond Town Hall carried a motion to occupy the streets of Melbourne. In vain, because those with “the numbers” on the executive revised the meaning of “occupy”. It simply means to be in the city, it was claimed. According to this argument someone riding down Collins Street in a tram was `occupying’ the city. Given our own opposition to this interpretation that revision could not have gone through without at least the passive support of the so called Communists.

Numbers Game

Having failed to have identifying the aggressor adopted as one of the minimum slogans of the campaign a compromise motion was passed directing that all propaganda issued centrally by the VMC name the Americans as the aggressors in Vietnam.

Looking at the literature and publicity issued centrally however it is clear that the motion was pretty well a waste of time. With the exception of one of the four official posters and the broadsheet (which at least made the point in the fine print) it is difficult to see where the Moratorium publicity has branded the United States as the aggressor.

Now what happened when this fact was pointed out in relation to the four posters issued centrally? There was no doubt that the people responsible for the posters had completely disregarded the motion. They failed in their job. A motion of no confidence was the proper course. Well what happened to that motion? After minimum debate it was gagged and then defeated. The heavy hand of the numbers game once again.

Is there any wonder that we are not convinced of the goodwill of the people who gagged that debate? Is there any wonder that we are suspicious of people who either disregard motions moved or condone such action?

The A.L.P.

No one is particularly surprised when people like Gordon Bryant make the kind of statements they do. Betrayals such as this are of the sort that are forced upon even sincere people by the nature of the parliamentary system in our society. Such conduct is understandable if not forgivable.

It is not immediately apparent however why people who are not directly tied to reformist parliamentary politics should condone and passively support such action.

One theory as to why they have in this case suggests that they do so because of their isolation from, and lack of confidence in, the working people.

A long history of working through the institutions of capitalism (like parliament, the press and the union hierarchy) rather than among the people has isolated them from real mass contact. Thus the view that `we can’t offend the Labor Party’ or ‘the union bureaucrats won’t come at that’ or ‘that will scare the peace parsons’. As if they were the peace movement!

Working Class

The working class is essential to the anti war movement, but the working class is not union bureaucrats and it is most emphatically not Labor parliamentarians. The working class are the people that we work side by side with, it is up to us to go among them and win them to a position of opposition to the war in Vietnam. They must be persuaded that imperialism is the cause of war and that the best way to fight war is to fight its cause, to smash imperialism. That this aim will not be achieved overnight, nor in defiance of objective conditions, ought not to deter us from that aim.

Our Attitude to Other Groups in the Peace Movement

We believe that there is a place for a broad peace movement including many different points of view. Such a movement should in the present circumstances include all those who wish to see the war in Indo-China ended in the interests of the people there, and of justice generally. Within such a broad peace movement there should be free debate to enable differences to be ironed out and a higher degree of unity, based on the give and take of argument, reached. There should be no place for manipulation, the numbers game and the gag.

Unity should be achieved at the highest possible level and not the lowest. Socialists should continually strive through debate, discussion and practical action to raise that level.

At this stage the great majority of the peace movement believes that the United States government is to blame for the Indo-China war. At this stage opposition to US intervention and the branding of the US as the aggressor ought to be policy which we unite on.

Given that policy as the lowest common denominator we should work within the peace movement to convince those who do not already agree that wars of national liberation, and in particular that in Indo-China, ought to be supported.

Furthermore, the idea ought to be raised and debated within the peace movement that Imperialism is the cause of war and that it ‘is our duty, as opponents of war, to fight imperialism wherever it is.

By Darce Cassidy


[i] Gordon Bryant was the Labor MHR for the electorate of Wills.

[ii] “Bloomers” and “Sam” were the same person: Sam Goldbloom who acted as the chair of the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign.