Jim Dann and Hari Dillon

The Five Retreats: A History of the Failure of the Progressive Labor Party


On June 10, 1966 the PLP NC held a discussion on the Viet Nam War, then close to the height of the escalation. A report to the NC directed the NC’s attention to what had now clearly become the main contradiction in the U.S. The report discussed the possibility that the Vietnamese would accept the then preferred negotiations with U.S. imperialism but dismissed the possibility as unlikely – “confident” that the Vietnamese people would continue to “carry the banner of world revolution.” The report also claimed that the war in Vietnam would “inevitably” escalate into a war with China and lead to the defeat of U.S. imperialism; thus the war in Viet Nam led to the proposition that “imperialism is going to be destroyed” as a result of the Vietnam war.[8] This last proposition was a continuation of the underestimation of the power of U.S. imperialism that had always been a problem for PL; it was the same ideological weakness that led Milt Rosen in the above-quoted article on Indonesia to completely mis-estimate the fascist coup there.

An argument broke out on this question with several members pointing out that things don’t necessarily move in such an inexorable direction and that U.S. imperialism had considerable maneuverability left despite their grave military losses in Vietnam. (What PL members never understood, because of lack of theoretical training, was Lenin’s dictum that finance capital not military might determines the strength of imperialism and that U.S. imperialism’s strength and maneuverability derived from its hegemony in the financial sphere.) Milt Rosen threw his weight mainly behind the report but tried to gloss over the differences. However, a vote was demanded, and by 17-2 with 3 abstentions the report was accepted,[9] and PLP took the first step (indiscernible at the time) on the retreat from the anti-war movement. The report, with its thesis that the war in Vietnam would inexorably lead to the destruction of U.S. imperialism (but with the discussion on whether or not the Vietnamese would negotiate or not deleted) was published in PL magazine V.5 n.5 (Oct-Nov 1966). “The defeat of U.S. imperialism in Vietnam can be the STALINGRAD of U.S. imperialism. It will be that defeat that will push the U.S. into its last moments,” the article declared confidently.[10]

Late in 1965 the Chinese Communist Party had published an article called “Refutation of the New Leaders of the CPSU on ’United Action’.” This was circulated in pamphlet form during 1966 in the United States. In the articles the CPC declared that the unity of action with the Soviet revisionist ruling clique was impermissible for genuine Marxist-Leninists. This was because the Soviet leaders were in real unity with the U.S. imperialists, “the main enemy of the people of the world,” in order to divide up the world into two spheres of influence and to jointly suppress revolutions and national liberation struggles around the world. The article said Soviet “aid” to Vietnam was a sham and given with “ulterior motives” because “it is far from commensurate with the strength of the Soviet Union.” The small amount of aid given was used to “hoodwink the people at home and abroad, to keep the situation in Viet Nam under their control, to gain a say on the Viet Nam question and to strike a bargain with U.S. imperialism on it.”[11] The article called on revolutionaries the world over to draw a clear line of demarcation between themselves and the revisionists. The cultural revolution which broke out in China about this time and reached an intense fury by late 1966 hammered home this last thesis even more stridently, as the revisionist pro-Soviet elements were dragged out of the leadership of the CPC itself.

This Chinese line had a profound effect within the PLP and led to the publication of the document, “Road to Revolution II” in December, 1966. Whether the CPC intended to criticize the Vietnamese Party for accepting the “Soviet aid” was never made clear, but it could easily be read into their article and certainly read into the actions of some Red Guard formations in China at that time. At any rate PLP was quick to interpret the Chinese article as at least implied criticism of the Vietnamese leadership. Now since just 4 months previously the PLP NC had decided that the Vietnamese would never surrender and U.S. imperialism would inexorably crumble as a result of the war, the implication that Soviet “aid” would cause something less than this to happen led the PL leadership to assume betrayal by the Vietnamese fighters. Perhaps the Vietnamese were not going to create the conditions for a U.S. revolution after all. If Vietnam weren’t to be the “Stalingrad” of U.S. imperialism the fault would lie with the Vietnamese, according to the new thinking in PLP. Thus PLP expected too much from the Vietnam war due to the Party’s underestimation of U.S. imperialism’s strength and then blamed the Vietnamese. Thus a theoretical weakness (inability to understand the mechanism of U.S. imperialism’s strength) combined with an implied criticism by the CPC to move PL to turn on their Vietnamese “comrades” of four months ago and to take a disastrous course in the anti-war movement. The document “Road to Revolution II” indicated PLP’s new thinking on the Vietnam question for the first time.

The document “Road to Revolution II” began with a sharp criticism of the CPUSA, something that had been missing from “Road to Revolution.” It was an excellent critique of how the U.S. CP had had abandoned Marxism. The document then proceeded to show that the Soviet Union had already restored capitalism; the previous formulation had been “is restoring capitalism.” Since the CPC had already published some profound material on this, particularly in Mao’s famous pamphlet “On Khrushchev’s Phony Communism” (1964), PL was on safe grounds here, even if the evidence given in this particular document was only superficial and circumstantial. But since PL based its evidence on clippings from the New York Times, they were unable to come to grips with the fundamental question of capitalist restoration. That is the question of state power. That is why the question “is restoring” vs. “has been restored” was meaningless. If the capitalist elements had seized state power, as was the case in the USSR, the society was then automatically characterized by capitalism, because the state machine would be used for restoration. The complete reversal which is implied when bourgeois elements seize control of a socialist state was never profoundly understood by PLP. This second serious theoretical weakness, while causing no harm to “Road to Revolution II,” led the PL leadership to miss-estimate Soviet imperialism in 1974. (See below.) At this time however, 4 NC members, all older ex-CP functionaries, took their stand on “is restoring” vs. “has already been restored” and bitterly fought Milt Rosen and the majority of the NC. Two of them, Lee Coe of San Francisco and Van Lydegraf of Seattle quit PLP over this question taking a few S.F. members and the whole Seattle organization, as well as the “fraternal” Progressive Workers Movement of Canada, with them.[12] The question of the Soviet Union had a tremendous emotional pull on old CP’ers and many of them couldn’t make the step to call the USSR “capitalists.” It is to Rosen’s credit that he alone of the old ex-CP’ers did not hesitate to call the USSR “capitalist.” The splittees tried to continue to bridge the unbridgeable; the Chinese and Soviet positions were by now irreconcilable. Their position was untenable and they shortly afterwards dropped out of serious politics.

When it came to the question of Viet Nam “Road to Revolution II” tried to be circumspect:

“We recognize that the comrades in Vietnam are on the horns of a serious and complex dilemma. Taking ’aid’ from the revisionists may bring some momentary help in their battle. And it may give the appearance of unity. But the imperialists are not fooled.

“To the extent that people are confused about the real nature of revisionism, revisionism is perpetuated. The cleverer tactics of the Soviet leaders have tended to lull and confuse many honest people. After all, they say, ’whatever way you cut the cake, the Soviet Union is helping the Vietnamese’.”

• • •

“But the essence is the same. You can’t take increasing ’aid’ from the revisionists and fight revisionism at the same time. That is the nub of it.

“The struggle against revisionism and for unity around Marxist-Leninist principles is the responsibility of all true revolutionaries.

• • •

“In the final analysis, the Vietnamese comrades may reject Soviet ’aid’. They may characterize Soviet ’aid’ and its so-called ’unity’ for what it is. This would be a sharp blow to revisionism. It would demonstrate that the road to victory is reliance on the strength of the masses coupled with genuine aid from really revolutionary forces.” (PL V.5, No. 6, p. 22-23)

To PLP the mere acceptance of Soviet “aid” was proof positive that the Vietnamese were renegades. Of course Soviet “aid” was given with the purpose of causing a betrayal, as the CCP had pointed out, but mere acceptance of the “aid” in question does not connote betrayal unless the recipient bows to unprincipled conditions. The history of the International Communist Movement is replete with instances where revolutionaries took aid from a counter-revolutionary source but did not deviate from the revolutionary path because of it. Lenin took “aid” from the German general staff when they offered to transport him to Russia in 1917. The Bolsheviks took U.S. “aid” during the famine of 1921 and accepted U.S., British and German investments in the twenties. Stalin took “aid” from the allied imperialists during World War II. Why then were the Vietnamese forbidden to take Soviet “aid”? Even the CCP, the sworn enemies of the Soviet leadership never argued thus, PLP’s position was childishly ultra-leftist, and in fact hypocritical because even PLP was known to take donations from bourgeois sources without these donations polluting its ultra-left revolutionary principles.

The problem was that even at this early stage PLP was unable to analyze dialectically a political problem. The early analysis that Vietnam was to be the ”Stalingrad” of U.S. imperialism was clearly not true. But instead of studying the mechanism of imperialism, particularly the role of finance capital, in order to see why this is so, the PL leadership caught on to the Vietnamese accepting “aid” from the USSR, made a mountain out of a molehill, came up with a new analysis which lay the blame for the survival of U.S. imperialism on the Vietnamese instead of on the faulty PL analysis of U.S imperialism. “Out of the frying pan into the fire.” But this new analysis only landed PLP into the swamp, and instead of turning back, PL obstinately pushed deeper and deeper into the swamp until they had made the aid question and later the negotiations questions primary rather than the question of U.S. aggression in Vietnam. When PL’s attacks on the Vietnamese freedom fighters became more strident than their attacks on the U.S. imperialist aggressors, PLP ceased to be part of the anti-war movement and slipped into social patriotism.

In “Road to Revolution II” the PLP leadership had tried mightily to suppress their feelings about the Vietnamese “betrayal” and to give the Vietnamese leaders the benefit of their rapidly increasing doubts. But the National Steering Committee (The NSC was the collective responsible for the line as it developed in Challenge, PL magazine and the internal bulletins. The NSC consisted of Milt Rosen, Wally Linder and two other New York leaders. In the first period (to 1970) Bill Epton and Jeff Gordon rounded out the NSC; in the second period (1971-1975) it was Bob Leonhardt and Janet Foley. In practice, however, Rosen invited whomever he wanted to the NSC meetings, which were fairly informal) (NSC)’s patience with the Vietnamese wore thin in short order. Milt Rosen declared in a letter to the California District Committee of PL on January 25, 1967 that “Of late, a number of important developments have occurred which have unfortunately shown the wisdom of the NC statement.” He referred to the visit of a ruling class journalist, Harrison Salisbury, to Hanoi.[13] Mort Scheer who had opposed “Road to Revolution II” now reversed himself in the face of these startling “developments” and declared that the document was “completely on the beam.”[14]

Armed with this new certainty in their “wisdom” the PLP NC escalated the verbal war with Hanoi in step to Johnson’s escalation of the real war with Vietnam:

“The Vietnamese people would be better off without Soviet ’aid.’ The Vietnamese people need Salisbury and his ilk in their country like they need a hole in the head... They (the revisionists) simply used the Vietnamese to advance their collusion with imperialism.” Challenge, February 1967

“To focus on the bombing, as the revisionist and imperialist enemies of the Vietnamese people do, is to surrender to the aggression. It is to say, ’All right, I’ll grant you the right to intervene in my country if you stop bombing me.’ In other words the revisionists are demanding the Vietnamese surrender in negotiations what the imperialists have not been able to win on the battlefield.

“And they justify this position to good-hearted people everywhere by an unimaginably cynical ’concern’ for the sufferings of their ’friends’ the ’poor Vietnamese.’ What unspeakable treachery!

“Of course the Vietnamese, who are in a difficult position, lend themselves to this by continuing to accept Soviet ’aid.’ This gives respectability to every faker who parrots the Kosygin-Brezhnev line. In fact, it is the only thing that allows Kosygin and Brezhnev to play their game.

“That this slogan ’Stop the bombing and negotiate’ is the path of surrender to U.S. imperialism was proven beyond doubt this last month. (What can the north offer in negotiations except undermining the struggle in the south?) But after the north Vietnamese made clear that they were ready to negotiate, and even de-emphasized the importance of their famous four points as their response to Johnson’s bombing pause, Johnson answered them by saying, ’Fine, but also first stop fighting.’ And from London Kosygin pressured Hanoi, ’Show more good faith’ – stop helping the south.’...

“The lesson is clear: you can’t play the revisionists’ game without giving in to imperialism. ’Negotiations’ is the cry of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Challenge, March 1967

“The April 15th anti-war mobilization is being organized around the false issues of ’stop the bombing and negotiate.’ This maneuver is a worldwide tactic growing out of the collusion between Washington and Moscow – the new anti-revolutionary axis. Washington and Moscow want to betray and crush the revolution in Vietnam now. The demonstrations and their demands are being organized against the real sentiments of militant anti-war forces.

• • •

“This entire shameful development has gotten a big boost, recently, by the backsliding of leaders in Hanoi. Under the pounding influence of the Soviet leaders, Hanoi has retreated from its original and correct four-point program, whose essential point is that there is nothing to confer about until the U.S. invaders get out. The Johnson administration, encouraged by back-tracking, has increased bombings of Vietnam and is pouring in more firepower in a greater effort to compel the Hanoi leaders to surrender. Here is a prime object lesson: Retreat in the face of imperialism only encourages its appetite for more. The Guam conference was organized to step up the war and plan the invasion of north Vietnam if they will not surrender/negotiate.

“In a move which can only weaken and confuse the anti-war movement around the world, and undermine their own position, Vietnamese leaders are hailing RFK and Co.” Challenge, April 1967

“The Soviets are relying on some weak elements in Vietnam to help pull off the big deal. . . Within our country negotiations would confuse and weaken the growing anti-imperialist movement. The revisionists and imperialists would be strengthened by the obvious implication that if there are negotiations this would be what the Vietnamese leaders favor. This would be extremely difficult for revolutionary and anti-imperialist forces to challenge.” PL, Nov-Dec 1967

The essence of all this is that the Vietnamese betrayed PLP’s position in the anti-war movement by negotiating with U.S. imperialism and not making Vietnam the “Stalingrad” of U.S. imperialism. What the Vietnamese communists betrayed was the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but they never betrayed the struggle for independence and national liberation. This is an important distinction if a serious Marxist-Leninist critique of the Vietnam Workers Party were to be made. But PL’s criticism was way off. The Vietnamese held fast to their goals of independence, self-determination and reunification through 21 years of war, negotiations and more war and they eventually accomplished these goals. The Vietnam war was the most serious defeat U.S. imperialism ever suffered. Neither Soviet “aid” nor negotiations affected at all the outcome of their struggle: it was not, however, possible in Vietnam alone to destroy U.S. imperialism altogether, a far stronger beast than PL imagined.

The Vietnam question was a complex one for revolutionaries in the U.S. to grasp and beyond PLP’s power to deal with. On the one hand it was increasingly obvious that the Vietnamese Workers Party had abandoned the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They neither called for its establishment in the South then nor in the future. They never referred to their own state in the North as the dictatorship of the proletariat nor gave any indication that the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” would at some point in the future be transformed into a dictatorship of the proletariat. This was a significant departure from Marxism-Leninism. Marx had stated that the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is what distinguishes his scientific socialism from the bourgeois theories of class struggle (letter to Wedemeyer, March 5, 1852). Lenin called the concept the “touchstone” between Marxism and Revisionism. (State and Revolution). In addition the Vietnamese Party performed unnecessary service to Soviet revisionists by lending them credence. At a time when the CCP and the Albanian Party of Labor had exposed the Soviet regime before the revolutionaries of the world to withering and many-sided criticism, the Vietnamese muddied the waters (if not engaged in a purposeful cover-up) by hailing the Soviet leaders as “communists” and “revolutionaries” and invariably and repeatedly referred to the imperialist USSR as “socialist.” They even went so far as to congratulate the Soviet imperialists on their brutal 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Thus the Vietnamese were outside the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist camp, headed by the CCP. On the other hand they were leading a national liberation war against U.S. imperialism. It was a successful people’s war, a progressive war. The Vietnamese leadership was uncompromising in their aims and goals. They fought for 30 years against the most powerful imperialist power in the world and in the end dealt the U.S. government the most thorough and ignominious defeat it had suffered in its 200 year history. The goal of liberating Vietnam and wiping out the U.S. occupation forces and local puppets was always in the forefront of Vietnamese strategy, even when they negotiated, even when they signed the Geneva agreements. Their persistence and implacable determination to liberate their nation from imperialism has few parallels in history.

What then were the duties of the U.S. revolutionary communist party in regards to the Vietnam question, which was the main contradiction in the U.S. at the time. The primary duty was to support wholeheartedly, unreservedly in words and deeds the war of national liberation in Vietnam. The secondary duty was to expose Vietnamese deviations from Marxism-Leninism.

Communists are duty-bound in general to support national liberation struggles of oppressed people even if they do not lead to socialism. This is because: (1) History has shown that the victory of the national liberation movement leads to an important dramatic improvement in the living conditions of the working people. All reports from Vietnam today show a tremendous improvement in the material conditions and moral environment compared with the period of U.S. occupation. To refuse to recognize the raft of important reforms national liberation makes in the lives of the people is to adopt an anarchist, non-materialist point of view. (2) The victory of the national liberation war occurs at the expense of imperialism and deals a body blow to the oppressor. The Vietnam war seriously weakened U.S. imperialism, militarily and financially. From a weakened U.S. imperialism it is easier to wrest further gains (It was no coincidence that the biggest gains Black people made in the U.S. was during the Vietnam War,) and to eventually defeat altogether. To refuse to support the national liberation war means objectively to support imperialism and the racism of the oppressor nation as the lesser evils compared with revisionism and nationalism.

In the particular situation of the time there was the contradiction of the U.S. War of Aggression Against Vietnam and all the suffering this imposed on the Vietnamese and U.S. working classes. The resolving of this contradiction in favor of the Vietnamese would immensely weaken U.S. imperialism thus making more gains possible to the U.S. working class and would cause a big improvement in the living conditions of the Vietnamese workers. The contradiction, in which the Vietnamese aided Soviet revisionism was clearly secondary. Therefore the duty of U.S. revolutionaries was to concentrate every effort to defeat U.S. imperialism and support the People’s War in Vietnam and only secondarily and in this context to criticize Vietnamese “revisionism.” PLP took the opposite approach, but worse, for until June, 1968 (PL V.6, n.4) PLP never even noticed Vietnamese “revisionism” with regards to the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat nor with regards to covering for Soviet revisionism. Even in that editorial Vietnamese “revisionism” was brought in as an afterthought to the main theme of “Ugly Negotiations.” The PLP editorials for 18 months had previously focused instead on the “betrayal” (that the Vietnamese did not destroy U.S. imperialism for them,) or had lambasted them for accepting Soviet “aid” or had complained that the negotiations weakened PLP’s hand in the antiwar movement. Thus PLP put criticizing the Vietnamese (not even correct criticism, in the main) as its number one priority instead of working for the defeat of U.S. imperialism and victory for the war of national liberation.

With this line it is not surprising that PLP left the anti-war committees. This was a real crime because they were just then becoming mass in character. The April 1967 demonstrations in San Francisco and New York involved 500,000. It is true that the actions of the Vietnamese leaders tended to strengthen the hand of CP, SWP (the leading social democratic Trotskyite group), and liberal-pacifist leaderships of the anti-war committees, but the left forces and anti-imperialist forces were growing too. More and more people in the anti-war movement were adopting an anti-imperialist outlook. This was in part due to PL’s good work, in larger part due to the effects of the Chinese polemics against revisionism and in major part due to the deeds of the heroic NLF in Vietnam. At any rate to walk out on the anti-war committees was to condemn them to be permanently led by anti-working class, non-revolutionary forces; it was to condemn a movement involving 1,000,000 to forever have bad leadership. PLP did not even contest these forces for leadership in the anti-war committees. They just walked out. Suppose the Bolsheviks had walked out of the Soviets in early 1917 when they were under Menshevik-SR leadership. As we know the Bolsheviks stayed and struggled, eventually won a majority in the Soviets, and then organized the Soviets to seize power. But PLP, faced with an analogous situation just walked out.

In this the PLP leadership demonstrated its paralyzing fear of revisionism. The revisionists were so “powerful” that PLP had to run as far away from them as possible even if it meant abandoning a million-strong movement – a movement PL helped to build. Instead of fighting the revisionists PL ran away from them.

In this walk-away from the mass movement PLP demonstrated a hopelessly sectarian approach that eventually became self-destructive. Better a “glorious” isolation than lend PL’s “hallowed” name to a revisionist-dominated committee. How Lenin scorned such infantile psuedo-left tactics in his work Left-Wing Communism! When the Chinese CP. called for drawing a clear line of distinction between Marxist-Leninists and revisionists they meant a battle line, a line based on struggle. The anti-war committees that PLP abandoned were excellent forums for such a struggle, for drawing such a line. But PLP just walked out.

Moreover, they walked out quietly. There was no sharp struggle followed by a split with the bad leaders that might have taken the anti-imperialist elements into at least a political walk-out. No, in the course of the spring of 1967 PL members and leaders of the various anti-war committees just stopped showing up to meetings, leaving the anti-imperialist members, who had previously looked to PL for leadership, under the leadership of the SWP (who now came to play the role of “Left” opposition.)[15] In PLP’s eyes the anti-war committees were equivalent to Soviet revisionists and PLP had to break with them, but PLP in 1967 still felt itself part of the antiwar movement.

Self-isolated from the mainstream of the movement PLP did not at this time (1967) abandon the anti-war movement altogether. PLP retreated from the anti-war movement in a 2 year process and at this point PLP staked out a claim to lead the “independent left” forces, the majority of the anti-imperialist forces, since unity with these forces did not imply unity with pro-Soviet revisionists. The movement was so large at this time that there were large forces outside the anti-war committees (the Mobe or mobilization as they came to be called) that held for a left “U.S. Get Out Now” position as opposed to the official Mobe slogan of “Stop the Bombing, and Negotiate.” These left organizations included War Resisters’ League, Resistance Committees, Vietnam Day Committees on West Coast campuses, the Black Panther Party, a number of Black organizations, some independent electoral campaigns, and most significantly SDS, which PLP had joined in force in the spring of 1966 and which since the August 1966 convention was set on an anti-imperialist course. PLP now built united front anti-war action with these left forces around the slogan “U.S. Get Out of Vietnam Now” and ignored the far larger Mobe. But in 1967 PLP still vigorously pursued anti-war actions which were of serious and growing significance.

• In April PLP in New York formed a Black United Action Front which marched 1500 people through Harlem to then join with the main march led by the Mobe. In this action PLP united with a diverse range of forces including Stokeley Carmichel, CORE, the Mau Mau Society and leading personages in the militant wing of the Black Liberation Movement.(The Mobe’s main speaker was Martin Luther King, who was embarrassed when most Black marchers came under the leadership of anti-Mobe forces)[16]

• On June 23, 1967 President Johnson came to Century City, Los Angeles to speak. The Mobe got permission to march past his hotel without stopping. PLP, SDS, the War Resisters’ League and other left forces determined to stop in front of the hotel. Leadership of the march of 20,000 was wrested from the hands of the Mobe’s marshals by the PL-led militants.[17] A 4 hour bloody battle ensued after the police attacked the march, with injuries on both sides and -a partial victory for the anti-war movement because LBJ never dared speak in public again.[18]

• PLP organized a “Vietnam work-in” in the summer of 1967 sending students into factories to try to mobilize workers to oppose the war. It had little success and was a reaction to the MOBE summer project directed toward the community which reached many more people.

• In October a PL and SDS attempt to stop a Navy recruiter at Brooklyn College led to an even broader United Front after PL student leader, Jeff Gordon, was arrested. The campus was completely shut down in a 3-day strike.

• Beginning in the late spring PL anti-draft action grew throughout the summer in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Black Anti-draft Unions were formed in New York and Los Angeles by PLP and induction centers disrupted on numerous occasions in Oakland, Los Angeles and New York.

The growing anti-draft militancy culminated in “Stop the Draft Week” in Oakland, October 17-20. The night before, 15,000 students gathered at UC Berkeley, and early in the morning 3,500 gathered at the Oakland induction center determined to prevent any more inductions into the Army. An all out street battle followed against 2,000 cops that day and again on October 20. The demonstrators used mobile tactics and fought back physically against the cops. The induction center was shut down for a total of 7 hours, but more importantly the Bay Area anti-war movement felt its power in a close quarters battle with the police lasting several days.[19]

A broad-base coalition of forces to the left of the Mobe organized the action. PLP participated in all levels. Afterwards Milt Rosen flew to the Bay Area from New York to pointedly tell the Bay Area Party leadership that in New York the Party did not participate in “Stop the Draft week;” he questioned the wisdom of having participated in the Oakland action.[20] PLP was now preparing in the late fall of 1967 to isolate itself from even the anti-imperialist wing of the anti-war movement.

In November Rosen wrote a major article for Challenge which basically attacked the actions at Oakland and other places as “putchist.”[21] The resistance tactics could be distorted into an anarchist, anti-working class strategy. This was more obvious at a November 14 New York demonstration, or at the October 21st Pentagon March led by the pacifists. It was good for Rosen to criticize potential anarchist tendencies and to call for unity with the working class. But the way to change bad or potentially bad leadership is to fight from within the anti-war movement as PL did in Oakland. (The Berkeley PLP Club took strong exception to Rosen’s article and wrote a protest letter that Rosen never answered.) That’s one reason why the Oakland actions were on the whole less anarchistic and more pro-working class than the New York action, from which PLP largely abstained. Rosen’s editorial was by and large a call to abstain from further anti-war actions. The attacks on the practical and ideological leaders of the anti-imperialist wing of the anti-war movement for being anti-working class and prone to violent anarchist tactics now matched in stridency the attacks on the Mobe and PL members were given no further encouragement to help lead anti-war actions.

In the same period it became clear that negotiations between the U.S. and Vietnam were becoming inevitable and PLP escalated its verbal abuse of the Vietnamese leaders to a fever pitch.

“Incorporated in the babble over the semantics of ’could’ to ’will’ in the latest North Vietnamese peace offer is the ominous fact that this does represent a further retreat...” PL, March-April 1968

The “retreating” Vietnamese, shortly after this was written, launched the brilliant Tet Offensive that handed U.S. imperialism its worst military defeat ever. This only took PL aback temporarily. When they gained their bearings PLP made the claim that Tet was all just a show for negotiations.

“U.S. imperialism with the cooperation of the Soviet Union and the North Vietnamese leaders, will use negotiations to achieve its goal of keeping a troop concentration based in Vietnam.” Challenge, April 1968

“Unfortunately the North Vietnamese and many Americans are still duped by bourgeois elections.” Challenge, August 1968 (Note how all North Vietnamese but only ’many’ Americans are “duped.”)

Finally the PL National Office issued a leaflet mentioning “the Washington-Moscow-Hanoi anti-revolutionary axis.”[22] Thus from comradely criticism in December 1966 PLP was comparing the Vietnamese to the fascist Axis powers 18 months later. With the PL line “developed” to this point it was natural to see why the NSC attacked “Stop the Draft Week.” Why risk your cadre in so potentially dangerous and violent a movement when heads or tails you support the “axis”? Thus further participation in the anti-war movement became close to impossible. Moreover, in 1967-8 PL members were told by the leadership that the war was about to end in a matter of months anyway so we might as well get the jump on the revisionists and get involved in other issues.[23] The retreat ended; PLP left the anti-war movement behind and moved on the other things.

Meanwhile in late 1968 there were still 600,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam dying at the rate of 500 per week, killing thousands of Vietnamese every week; big pitched battles were being fought up and down the country. Anti-war demonstrations involved tens of millions world-wide. In the U.S. the election of 1968 galvanized millions to anti-war activity on at least some level, but PLP was isolated from all this. Four years previously, PLP had launched the anti-war movement, now it abandoned it altogether. The “vanguard” Party of the working class totally abandoned the biggest mass movement in thirty years. Contrast this with Lenin:

“In our time only a party that will organize really nationwide exposures can become the vanguard of the revolutionary forces... the all-round political agitation will be conducted by a party which unites into one inseparable whole the assault on the government in the name of the entire people... ” Lenin, What is to Be Done


Abbreviations Used in Endnotes

EA: Eyewitness Account: Some 30 former members of PLP contributed to these accounts, including seven former NC members, at least one of whom was present at all NC meetings between April, 1965 and March, 1977. Whenever this citation is used the account has been carefully crosschecked with other witnesses.

CD: Challenge-Desafio, PL’s national newspaper.

PL: PL magazine, PL’s national theoretical magazine.

IB: PL internal bulletin.

CW: Collected works.

• • •

[8] IB, “Progressive Labor Party National Committee Meeting” June 10, 1966

[9] Ibid.

[10] PL, V. 5, No. 5, October-November, 1966, p. 16.

[11] “Refutation of the New Leaders of the CPSU on United Action,” Peking, 1965.

[12] EA, IB, “Combat Revisionism” February 8, 1967, IB, untitled report by Milt Rosen evaluating leadership of PL for 1968 Convention (undated).

[13] IB, “Combat Revisionism” Op. Cit.

[14] Ibid.

[15] EA

[16] C-D, V. 4, No. 2, May, 1967.

[17] CD, V. 4, No. 6, September, 1967.

[18] EA

[19] Spark (PL's West Coast Newspaper) December, 1967.

[20] EA

[21] CD, V. 4, No. 8-9, November-December, 1967.

[22] EA

[23] EA