Archive for the ‘Vietnam & Vietnam War’ Category

“A gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror.” – New York Times

by Don Franks

In the present climate it’s easy to forget the fact, but United States history is extremely rich in democratic and radical traditions. Along with giant landmarks such as the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war movement and Stonewall there’s the legacy of a radical US labour movement. The heroism of the IWW, where countless organisers were hounded and several of them tortured to death and the struggles of farmworkers, rail workers, miners, eruptions like the Great Flint sit down strike of the 1930s.

In terms of selfless devotion to other human beings, many thousands of working class Americans have a record second to none.

Today, our constant image of the United States is of a deranged people mindlessly and viciously at war with each other.

It has been sixteen years since the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the US government has maintained a   (more…)

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Barbara Gregorich and Phil Passen were members of the US Socialist Workers Party from 1965-72, and key figures in the Proletarian Orientation tendency within the SWP and then in the Class Struggle League 1972-74.  While maintaining their anti-capitalist views, Barbara became a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and Phil  is a musician on the hammered dulcimer.  In the interview below they talk about growing up in 1950s America, the winds of change of the 1960s, their politicisation and activity in that era, their involvement in the US SWP an how and why they began questioning its politics and organisational methods, how they came to a parting of the ways with it, their subsequent political activity, the decline of the left and the fate of the original new social movements of that era, and their assessment of politics in the United States today.

Philip Ferguson: Could you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?  What was it like growing up in the States in the 1950s and early 1960s?

Barbara Gregorich: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My mother and father worked in my uncle’s bar as bar tenders until I was ten, then my father worked as a millwright in a steel mill and my mother worked at home. One of my uncles had a dairy farm less than half a mile from our house, and I spent much of my time there, with my cousins. I loved being outdoors and helping with milking and other farm chores. After I graduated from high school I attended Kent State University, which was maybe 35 miles away. I graduated with a degree in American Literature and also one in American History. I received an MA degree from the University of Wisconsin, in Literature, and I did post graduate work at Harvard, in the History of American Civilization.

I worked as an Instructor of English at Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College while living in Cleveland, Ohio. Then Phil and I moved to Boston and I worked as a typesetter, first for a small job shop, then at the Boston Globe. We moved to Chicago, Illinois, and I worked as a typesetter for the Chicago Tribune, then as a postal letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office. I had always wanted to be either a baseball player or a writer. Baseball is closed to women, so I became a writer. In 1979 I went freelance,  which I’ve been to this day.

download (3)What it was like growing up in the States during the 1950s and 1960s is an interesting question, because of course one doesn’t think, “I’m growing up in the ’50s . . . and now I’ve transitioned to the ’60s!” But a person is definitely aware of the characteristics of the decade he/she grows up in, if not at the moment, then in retrospect, or in contrast to the next decade. Living in the 1950s, I was aware that I didn’t like many things about society. I hated fashion, especially as it applied to girls and women. I hated petticoats and crinolines, the latter “required” for the felted poodle skirts fashion of my junior-high years. I hated popcorn socks and pencil skirts and I refused to put my hair in curlers: torture!

What I wanted to wear was t-shirts and jeans, clothes I could function in. I also wondered why my fellow students flocked to and embraced each fashion that came along.  I can’t say that I was aware of politics when in junior and senior high, but standing in the early 1960s and looking back on the 1950s, I felt that it was a very conservative, unquestioning decade, and I was glad to be out of it.

Compared to the ’50s, the 1960s were a blast a fresh air, with people my age questioning what was right and wrong in society, and acting to make changes.

download (2)Phil Passen: I grew up in a small town in Michigan. My father, whose father had been a bricklayer who died from a fall on the job, owned a children’s clothing store in Monroe, Michigan, a small town between Detroit and Toledo. My mother’s parents had died when she was an infant, and she was raised by an aunt and uncle. I don’t know what their class background was, but I assume skilled workers or lower petty-bourgeois. My parents declared bankruptcy in 1960, and lost the store and our house primarily because of medical expenses for my mom’s various illnesses. I remember that this was the first time I thought about anything political, even though I didn’t realize at the time that it was a political question. But I wondered how medical expenses could be so great that they could cost people something they had worked so very hard for. My father was an Eisenhower Republican, and my mother was a Stevenson Democrat, and none of that made any sense to me.

passncon2I remember a palpable difference between the ’50s and ’60s. At some point early in the ’60s I realized that the stodgy, uninteresting, unexciting coat-and -tie atmosphere of the ’50s was gone — replaced by rock and roll, the Beatles and Stones, Bob Dylan, beats, greasers, art films, and an air of excitement. Hard to explain, but I remember feeling the change very strongly. And in the background, at least for me, but something I was very conscious of, was the Civil Rights Movement. I knew something was different.

Phil F: What made you first begin to question the existing state of things?

Phil P: Unquestionably, (more…)

The Black Power slogan of the 1960s was replaced with empowerment for the black American middle class and burgeoning capitalist layers

The Black Power slogan of the 1960s was replaced with empowerment for the black American middle class and burgeoning capitalist layers

The reign of the first black president in the United States is coming to an end.  Obama, or O’Bomber as he is known to chunks of the US left, has been very much a capitalist manager.  In that sense he is also a representative of the upwardly mobile black middle class, a class which owes its openings in American society in no small measure to the liberation movement of the 1960s.  While the black middle class is happy to have aspects of black history taught in schools and universities, it says that the ‘bad old days’ are basically over so 60s-style militancy – not to mention opposition  to capitalism – is no longer needed, is in fact counter-productive.  The following article was produced by an American Marxist group, The Spark, back in 1987, towards the end of the Reagan period.  The black movement had already ended by this time and one after another black radical was being either incorporated into mainstream capitalist politics or giving up in despair, with a few notable exceptions.  There were no new Malcolm Xs or Martin Luther Kings, no new Black Panthers or SNCCs or Freedom Now parties.

The article looks at the strengths and gains of the 1960s movement and its weaknesses, arguing that it never went outside capitalist limits and this, ultimately, we what destroyed it.  While this underestimates Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and their political direction at the time of their assassination, there is much in the article that is useful in understanding what happened in the United States and also what happened to radical Maori and Pacific Island politics here in roughly the same period.

by The Spark

The movement of black people, which was so dominant a part of American political life for the better part of thirty years, has receded to the point that we are now marking its last important anniversaries as historic events. The prison revolt at Attica, which attested to the potential the black movement had to pull after it the poor, Hispanics, all the oppressed was also an announcement of the beginning of the end of that movement. Attica was 1971, more than fifteen years ago.

By the time of Attica, this black movement had accomplished what might have seemed impossible in 1947, when returning veterans of World War II were lynched because they no longer had the acquiescent manner demanded of black people in the South. Such a movement would have seemed impossible even as late as 1955, when a black man was lynched in Mississippi because he had registered to vote and 21 others were killed by racists in that same state. Within a few years the black struggle had torn down the legal recognition of segregation in the South and the worst aspects of its more insidious, institutionalized version in the North. Black people showed that when the rulers of this society fear a social movement sufficiently, they can be brought to overturn long-standing social ills, to change the face of society.

The impact the struggle of black people had on their own place in this society can be measured in stark terms. The number of black people (more…)

images (1)We were saddened to hear that Richard Levins died on January 19.  An outstanding scientist and veteran Marxist, Richard would have been 86 in June this year.  We were delighted to notice some time back that Richard sometimes looked at material on Redline and even commented on a couple of articles.  Below we reprint a short tribute to him and his life well-lived that appeared on facebook.

by Rob Wallace

imagesRichard Levins, the dialectical biologist extraordinaire, has passed. He revolutionized population biology multiple times, making foundational contributions to modeling evolution in changing environments, the theory of biological control, the philosophy of biology, modeling complex systems, mathematical biology, disease ecology, public health, and agroecology. He coined the term “metapopulation”.

His thinking remains profound enough to keep us busy for many decades to come. So much so, I think, that he reads like a traveler from another timeline. Imagine a working class Charles Darwin showing up in King Arthur’s court. He collaborated with evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin to develop, via a series of beautifully written essays, a modern-day dialectical (more…)

downloadby Philip Ferguson

I’ve been involved in the left for a long time. I went on my first political protest when I was 14 and that same weekend or very shortly afterwards I attended the founding meeting of CUSS (Canterbury Union of Secondary Students) which tried to organise high school students to fight for their rights – for more democratic schools, for education about racism and sexism, for the right not to wear uniforms and be subjected to all kinds of petty discipline. Then I joined High School Students Against the War in Vietnam. I generally hung out with radical students, a imagesfew young radical workers and, in general, people older than myself and my pre-politics and non-politics mates.

I think it was in that time that I first started thinking about the choices people make in life, including in politics. It is a subject that impresses itself on my thinking at regular intervals, most recently over the past few weeks.

To be political or not

I guess the first two types of choices I used to think about way back then in my early teens were why really nice people often went into relationships with pretty awful people (as a teenager I thought, of course, a lot about sex and relationships). The other thing was why so many of my friends at school, most of whom were nice, pleasant, thoughtful young people, were so uninterested in what was going in the world. Vietnam was the massive political issue at the time and protests and organising activities went on continually. Around big national demos me and my one semi-political friend at school would manage to sell badges and get a few of our schoolmates to turn out, but it was very limited. Why, I wondered, would my friends choose not to be interested in Vietnam and doing something about the fact that the western imperialists were engaged in a brutal invasion accompanied by mass murder, all being carried out in our name. How could they just look the other way.

A very early protest I attended was against the world surf lifesaving championships which were held at Brighton Beach in Christchurch. I went to Aranui High and some of my schoolmates lived along Brighton Beach and surfed. A few of them were (more…)

The massive French worker-student upsurge of May-June 1968 reverberated around the world; even in New Zealand

The massive French worker-student upsurge of May-June 1968 reverberated around the world; even in New Zealand

In the article below this one, “Revolution in New Zealand (1969)”, Hugh Fyson mentions the June 26, 1968 demo at parliament – a watershed moment really as it represented the beginning of a new student and youth radicalisation and the renewal of class conflict after 17 years of quiescence following the defeat of the watersiders and their allies in 1951.  This article looks in more depth at that particular protest – or convergence of protests.

by Toby Boraman

Hot on the heels of events in France in May-June 1968, a worker-student protest of several thousand people converged on parliament [Wellington, New Zealand] on June 26 1968.1  Students held ‘Students and Workers Unite’, ‘Student-worker Solidarity’ and ‘Bursaries and wages must be increased’ banners.2  Some also carried ‘billowing red and black flags’,3 a symbol of the French revolt. It has been claimed that the protest nearly ended in the storming of parliament.4  The Dominion exclaimed that the allegedly violent protest ended in a near riot.5  An editorial in the Evening Post sternly remarked that it ‘will be long remembered with shame as one of the most discreditable affairs in the history of this land.’6

Given these assertions, it is puzzling that this protest has received little attention.7  I’ll attempt to shed some light on this event, and discuss whether or not it was violent.  I’ll also look at whether the one-day stoppage on the day of this ‘riot’ can be called a Wellington general strike.

What was the June 26 1968 protest all about?

It was a very broad protest at the opening of Parliament. According to various press reports, from 3,000 to 7,000 attended. 8 A multitude of causes were (more…)

Protest of workers, students and anti-Vietnam War activists at parliament, Wellington, June 26, 1068

Protest of workers, students and anti-Vietnam War activists at parliament, Wellington, June 26, 1968

The article below first appeared in 1969 in the very first issue of the journal Red Spark, publication of the Victoria University of Wellington’s Socialist Club. The VUWSC was one of the first organisations that emerged as part of the youth radicalisation in New Zealand that began in the late 1960s and continued into the early 1970s. VUWSC activists were particularly influenced by the Cuban revolution, the May-June 1968 worker-student upsurge in France and the 1968 Prague Spring, but the issue that most moved them was the struggle of the Vietnamese masses against US imperialism and its allies (including NZ imperialism). (And 1968 was also the year of the Tet Offensive.)

A core of young VUWSC activists, including the author of this article, went on later in 1969 to found the Socialist Action League with a layer of activists who left the Progressive Youth Movement (PYM) in Christchurch. The author was a member of the SAL’s original central leadership and for a while the editor of its fortnightly paper; he dropped out of politics in the late 1970s.

The article gives a flavour of the youth radicalisation – and the general optimism – of that period. Its author would have been in his very early 20s, which also gives an indication of the relatively high political level of the young radicals of that era. It’s also interesting to compare trends between then and now in NZ (and, indeed, global) capitalism. Hugh rightly critiques the sociological notion that the new layers of white collar workers were part of the middle class and, instead, suggests that whatever their consciousness might be at that particular point in time – ie not seeing themselves as workers – they were indeed part of an ongoing process of proletarianisation. That analysis has long since been borne out – indeed, as we show elsewhere on Redline, these same layers today, far from being privileged, are often in precarious employment with poor pay and conditions. (See, for instance, here and here.)

by M.H. Fyson

The momentous events in France last year sent out a fresh ripple of revolutionary enthusiasm that spread across the world; it even contributed to the spirit of the demonstration we had here in Parliament Grounds, June 26.1 And not only some students, but even the bourgeois press – the Evening Post and the Dominion – began to speculate on the possibility of there being “another Paris” here. But as soon as it was all over, the students’ premature optimism and the papers’ premature fears melted away, and ‘normality’ returned.

We have already included two articles on the French events in this magazine, for not merely academic interest. But because of their significance for left-wing activists here in New Zealand. The basic lesson for us is this: that under capitalism, no matter how much the government intervenes in the economy, whether or not it makes an attempt to appease or ‘buy off’ the workers, the (more…)