Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Union

VVAW/WSO Steering Committee Meeting – Organization Takes Big Step Forward

First Published: Revolution, Vol, 3, No. 7, August 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The 15th National Steering Committee Meeting (NSCM) of Vietnam Veterans Against the War/Winter Soldier Organization (VVAW/WSO), held in Milwaukee July 3-7, took a big step forward toward building a fighting veterans movement, laying the basis for masses of veterans to direct their struggle squarely at the ruling class and its imperialist system.

Delegates from around the country came to sum up their work and broaden and deepen the national program of VVAW/WSO, a program of action unanimously passed at the last national meeting held in December in St. Louis (see February 1975 Revolution). It has been the struggle over the last six months or so to implement this program and root the work of the organization in the day to day struggles of the masses of veterans that has helped VVAW/WSO make a sharp break with the old period.

As described in the February Revolution, VVAW/ WSO has been involved in a sharp internal struggle over what road the organization must take in the future. The minority line, correctly characterized as “anti-imperialist in the sky,” claimed that VVAW/ WSO should not have a particular focus of work nor take up the struggles of a particular section of the masses such as veterans; that fighting for decent benefits for vets was “vets’ chauvinism” and that these so-called “vets’ privileges” had to be “repudiated.” This line also contended that economic demands are reformist in and of themselves and that vets could and must be organized only around demands like ending the war in Indochina.

Majority Line

The majority line correctly held that economic demands are not reformist struggles in and of themselves, and that the masses begin to understand the nature of the system through their daily struggles to survive under imperialism. This line put forward that VVAW WSO must unite with the struggles that veterans are spontaneously waging for jobs and decent benefits, win concessions when possible from the ruling class around these needs, and through this struggle help move vets’ understanding forward about the real nature of the system.

Through principled struggle and bringing out lessons learned through practice, the majority position of building a fighting veterans movement was adopted at the NSCM in St. Louis by a clear two- thirds vote, and in line with this decision, a program of work around the conditions that vets face was unanimously passed at that meeting. Although this program was not fully developed, it laid a clear basis for going out to the masses of vets, uniting with their struggles, building a fighting movement, and developing vets’ political understanding and consciousness in the process.

At the St. Louis meeting, the holders of the minority line formed themselves into what they called the “anti-imperialist minority caucus.” Since that meeting the real nature of this “caucus” has revealed itself, instead of taking up the decision of the majority, implementing the national program, and then summing up whether it was correct or not based on actual practice, these petty bourgeois opportunists became a clear faction – out to have things their own way or try to destroy VVAW/WSO in the process.

These opportunists had only one real point of unity- opposition to the national program decided upon by the national organization. They used various methods to avoid the program – some said they were implementing it and did nothing, some refused to let members of the chapter actually carry it out, some ignored it completely. And some actively tried to obstruct the building of a vets movement to “prove” their point was correct. They even went so far as to set up their own lines of communication and hold their own national faction meeting last June. In short, the practice of these people effectively meant that they were not part of VVAW/WSO.

True to their petty bourgeois nature, instead of relying on the masses to test their line in the real world, the faction claimed VVAW/WSO’s name as their own and have turned to the “Movement,” using these forces to attack VVAW/WSO. These careerists did not even show at the NSCM in Milwaukee, knowing that the current membership of VVAW/WSO, being mostly vets coming in off the national program, would not tolerate their actions.

At the Milwaukee meeting, this faction was unanimously expelled from VVAW/WSO. The Milwaukee meeting was definitely a stride forward for VVAW/WSO. It was characterized by struggle for clarity around crucial questions, one of the most important of which was, “Is VVAW/WSO an organization of only the advanced, demanding a high level of ideological unity – conscious opposition to the imperialist system, for example – or is it a mass, fighting vets organization uniting vets around a program of action?”

The meeting correctly summed up that the program was the sole basis for uniting vets in the organization. This understanding came through the struggle against “third ideology,” the idea that VVAW/WSO could explain the imperialist system from a classless viewpoint.

This “third ideology” was reflected in the old 10 objectives of VVAW/WSO, a set of general goals attacking major aspects of the capitalist system, but unable to explain the system’s real nature or how it could and will be changed. Only a revolutionary Communist Party can do this, because only the Party has the ability through applying the science of Marxism-Leninism to thoroughly sum up the experience of the working class, analyze the concrete conditions that exist in the real world and the road forward, and bring that understanding to the struggle of the masses to guide them through the many twists and turns of the struggle to complete emancipation.

VVAW/WSO correctly summed up that vets can be united around a program of struggle that aims its blows directly at the ruling class, and that through the struggle to gain concessions from the system, and oppose imperialist aggression and moves towards another imperialist war, vets’ understanding of the nature of imperialism would be broadened and deepened; and that, in particular, the independent role that communists played in the struggle will lead the masses in correctly summing up their experience and applying that understanding to change society through revolution. People agreed that VVAW/WSO cannot have a position such as ideological unity of conscious opposition to the imperialist system as the basis for joining the organization.

With this understanding, the meeting took up the central task of broadening and deepening the national program, the program by which masses of vets could be united n struggle in a revolutionary way – that is, a struggle against the system. For the last six months or so, even though there has been intense internal struggle, the majority of the chapters have been implementing the program that had been passed in St. Louis. This program, although having its weaknesses, was a leap forward in building a fighting vets movement, providing a sound foundation by which to unite the masses of vets and begin to sum up work.

Three Areas of Attack and Struggle

This program correctly sees that the crisis of imperialism is coming down hard on vets, and that these attacks by the ruling class are coming down in three areas, giving rise to three main areas of struggle. The first area are the cutbacks and attacks on the benefits vets receive through the Veterans Administration (VA). VVAW/WSO’s program sees that the VA is also a front for the ruling class to act as a buffer to diffuse the anger and militance of vets, while denying them benefits. Cutbacks in services, reductions in pensions and disability payments, an inadequate Gl Bill and late checks, are the main attacks coming down through the VA, and it is against these attacks that vets must aim their fight back.

Closely related to the attacks by the VA is the rising unemployment that all working people are facing. Vets are especially hard hit by layoffs, as many lost seniority and training by being in the military. VVAW/WSO raises the demand “Jobs Or Income For All,” not seeing jobs as a special demand for vets, but as part of the working class’ struggle for jobs, or income.

The third area is the special role that VVAW/WSO has in exposing and struggling against the preparations that the superpowers are making for another imperialist war. Because of the experience of veterans in having been cannon fodder for the bourgeoisie in the Indochina war and having served in the imperialist military, VVAW/WSO as an organization has a special understanding that must be brought to the working class and the masses as a whole, that imperialist war is not in the interests of the American people.

By taking up these day to day struggles for survival under capitalism, VVAW/WSO has begun to sink roots among the masses of vets. The main weakness of the national program, as summed up by the NSCM in Milwaukee, was the tendency to “compartmentalize,” or separate, the demands of the three major areas of the program – “Decent Benefits For All Vets,” “Jobs Or Income For All,” and “We Won’t Fight Another Rich Man’s War.”

This meant that in practice, the demands appeared to be isolated from one another. Chapters doing work around “Decent Benefits” in some cases did not unfold the other demands around this. This error does not unite with the understanding that the masses of vets have – that vets who are laid off need benefits, and when they go to the VA they don’t see this as an alternative to getting a job, but part of the same struggle for a better life.

When work was done correctly, chapters were able to unfold the other demands and show how they are all inter-related. In doing this, vets could see that it is the system of imperialism that is the target of these demands, and that it is necessary to-direct the struggle more squarely at the ruling class and its system.

Other Incorrect Tendencies

Another incorrect tendency was to see the program as a series of demonstrations held mechanically on dates put forward in the program, and not actions that flowed out of the campaigns being built in each particular area of the country. Chapters tended to just build these actions and not really unite with the struggles of the vets in their area.

At the same time, there was also the tendency not to link the local work with what’s going on in the rest of the country, isolating the vets’ struggle to just local conditions and not pointing out how a vets movement is growing around the country and being linked up with the overall working class movement. Overall, though, the understanding of how to build a fighting vets movement, and the work done in the last six months to build that movement, has taken great strides. Because of that work, the National Office of VVAW/WSO was able to put forward a draft program to the NSCM in Milwaukee. This draft, after being discussed and struggled over in detail in various workshops, is the basis on which VVAW/WSO will unite masses of vets in a revolutionary way. This program reflects what VVAW/WSO is and, as put forward at the meeting, “Our program IS our organization!”

Of particular importance for the immediate future was the discussion of the postal workers’ struggle and what role VVAW/WSO could play in supporting their fight for a good contract. Many postal workers are vets – hired under special federal programs. Also, the importance of how to reach out to the National Guard and Reserves to show them how the ruling class works to use them as strikebreakers, was discussed. Vets can play a special role in reaching the Guard and Reserves, since they can speak from a common experience.

The meeting correctly summed up that VVAW/WSO cannot lead the postal Workers, but that the organization should work closely with the National Committee for a Good Contract and help build the struggle of the PO workers. The NSCM wrote a leaflet directed to the National Guard and Reserve, speaking to them as a fighting vets organization and bringing out how acting as strikebreakers was not in the interests of the GIs, but only in the interest of the ruling class. This leaflet was recently passed out to the Guard and Reserve nationwide.

By breaking with the old period, VVAW/WSO is boldly out to build a fighting vets organization, linking up with the revolutionary workers movement and dealing increasingly sharper blows to the imperialists. The 15th National Steering Committee Meeting of WAW/WSO, by laying the foundation for bringing the particular experience of veterans to the struggle of the working class, and by directing the blows of veterans at the ruling class and its system, has firmly pointed the organization towards the new period. As put forward by one of the new members at the meeting who had come into the organization through the national program, “I came to build a fighting vets’ movement, so let’s get it on!”