Chris Harman


October 27:
why we are marching

(19 October 1968)

From Socialist Worker, No. 93, 19 October 1968, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE UNITED STATES’ war against the people of Vietnam continues day in and day out with unabated brutality.

Despite the peace talks in Paris, the intensity of the bombing of most of the north is as great as ever before, while there is not even a nominal limitation to burning and napalming of villages in the south.

American politicians may have succeeded in preventing the war being the central question in their elections, but petroleum jelly designed to stick to the skin while it burns is still poured on Vietnamese peasants. The most powerful nation in the world continues to systematically maim and kill those who oppose its rule.

The press, of course, hardly mentions this now. It does not consider genocide to be news.

The real and continuing violence, perpetrated by the US government against the Vietnamese every hour of the day, is ignored. Instead headlines are devoted to devoted to the ‘dangers’ of October 27’s demonstration against the war.

Stories appear that talk with conviction about preparations made by demonstrators to ‘seize centres of power’, stories which have no foundation outside the depraved mind of the hack journalist.

We must ignore such red herrings that are designed to divert us from the real problem of ending the US occupation of Vietnam and the horrors associated with it. What is really important is to ensure that the October 27 demonstration is as large, militant and effective as possible.

For although one demonstration will not end the Vietnam war, or even affect the Wilson government’s support for the Americans, it can be a step forward in the development of a movement that will seriously challenge the system that gives rise to the Vietnam war, as well as providing encouragement for those resisting the US war machine both in Vietnam and in the USA itself.

The demonstration can only perform these functions if it is not misled by the antics of the press. It must display a unity and militancy that makes clear our determined opposition to the society of which the Vietnam war is the most barbaric product.

This means marching as a solid mass. It means occupying the whole width of the street with arms linked.

It means refusing to allow the police to direct and break up the impact of the demonstration. It means a clear solidarity between demonstrators that will prevent the sort of massive arrests we have seen on previous occasions, with a toll of increasing fines and prison sentences designed to keep us off the streets.

But the need for militancy should not be confused with individual punch-ups with the police, or with individual acts of apolitical vandalism (for instance against buses or cars). However sincerely motivated such actions are, they do not carry any political message to those who watch the demonstration or who read about it through distorted press stories the next day.

Nor should militancy be confused with marching to a particular target. The VSC has decided not to march to the US embassy because the physical layout of the area makes it particularly easy for the police to break up the demonstration. Marching into Grosvenor Square is very much like marching into a police barracks.

Many people were beginning to regard going to Grosvenor Square as a twice-yearly ritual. But our enemy is as much the British government as the US one.

The need is to put the finger on Harold Wilson for supporting the war and to make the point to the mass of working-class people that this support is part and parcel with his implementation of capitalist policies at home. For this reason the demonstration is going to Whitehall and the centre of political power in Britain.

This should also define what we mean by militancy on the demonstration. We are going to express our determination and strength.

But we are not going to succeed in overturning British society at the moment, however hard we try. For what stands against us are not merely a few policemen but the fact that the mass of the working class in this country is not involved in the movement. Until they are, the powers that be can effectively ignore us.

This does not signify that we merely wait for the working class to move. Rather it means that our aim must be to begin linking up the movement against the Vietnam war with the developing forms of working-class opposition to the present society.

The need is for those against the Vietnam war to participate in the growing struggles against rent increases, productivity deals, speed-up and wage freeze, to help millions of workers see how Vietnam concerns them.

This will not be achieved just by the. particular form of the October 27 demonstration, although slogans pointing out the connections can be important. What is more to the point is to use the occasion of the demonstration to begin to make, both before and after, a huge scale effort of propaganda and argument to begin this process.

Massive unity, militancy and solidarity can provide the impetus for this.

Last updated on 26 October 2020