The Reverend Robert B. Shaw is a candidate for congress, 7th District,
on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket — an ostensibly independent
peace party. This peculiar campaign poses a critical question to
militants in the Washington anti-war movement. The P&FP is a political
formation largely initiated, led and staffed by a coalition of middle-class
white liberals and pacifists and old-timer “progressives.” It is
technically independent but is politically committed to the support of
Democratic Party good guys.
This electoral coalition raises as its key slogan, “Vietnam is the issue; withdraw U.S. Troops now.” A most valid and correct demand. Does this mean that the P&FP should be supported, notwithstanding its nature and basic political orientation?
We think the latter criteria are decisive and we have accordingly declined support to this latest outbreak of the old ailment of class collaboration politico. The P&FP categorically refused to affirm or exhibit independence of capitalist controlled politics. Its general program, despite the validity of its key slogan, reflects this failure to break with the 2-party political system and orient towards a new politics, a new class, and a new programmatic approach to war and peace, poverty and affluence, racism and injustice.
At the September 20th (Primary Day) Nominating Convention of the new party, the organizers and spokesmen clearly indicated their goal intentions: regardless of what resolutions the militants manage to get passed, WE will control the basic policy and publicity. Rev. Shaw, under pressure from anti-war activists, even announced (in a confusing and rather sullen fashion) that the party was to be “independent” and he hoped there would be no more talk of “That!” But it became increasingly evident, as the Convention wore on, that the only revolutionary impact possible for the party was a Semantic Revolution: the concept of independent political action was cynically translated to mean independent-Democrat politics, i.e. “independent” voters in support of Democrats.
The new party gave us a classic taste of Democratic Party politics.
They engaged in a pathetic imitation of the treatment administered by the Democratic Party machine to the radical-progressives who, when the C.P. pulled the rug out from under the Progressive Party back in 1952, were forced to trudge shamefacedly back to the fold of the 100% Big Business twin-party politics.
The enlightened and even radical Resolutions which the People’s World Democrats were able to pass at Democratic conventions in this state have had no influence whatsoever on the program and policy of the Democratic Party; on the contrary, they have served only as liberal covering for the war-mongers. Similarly, at the P&FP Convention, adopted amendments and resolutions that constituted a programmatic foundation for a genuinely independent campaign were blithely ignored and contradicted. Their adoption represented nothing but a token concussion to the militants, which was promptly voided by the policy adopted of capitulation to the party of LBJ.
The leftwing forces proposed to the convention a simple political line to codify the elementary condition of authentic independence: that no spokesman for the party be permitted to support Republican or Democratic candidates. The more rightwing majority of the convention, comprising Democratic liberals, self-styled “realistic” radicals, and even people who glamour themselves as “revolutionaries” (!) refused to support this basic guarantee of independent politics. Their chronic political habit pattern of unprincipled crossing over class lines in politics was too ingrained to change.
Hogenauer: Last to be Hired and First to be Fired
The incredible episode of the short-lived Hogenauer candidacy literally added insult to injury. After two stormy sessions of the 1st District Caucus, two possible candidates, plus a lobby in favor of supporting the Democratic Party, peace candidate, in that District (Alice Franklin Bryant), emerged. The first candidate, Gus Carlson, an industrial worker and longtime radical, declined the nomination on the grounds that he refused to represent a party that in effect was supporting his opponent, Mrs. Bryant. The second candidate, Irwin Hogenauer, a radical pacifist and man of proven personal courage and integrity, accepted the nomination and promised a fighting campaign against war. He implied a programmatic differentiation from Mrs. Bryant (should she win the primaries that day and turn out to be his opponent.)
But the Bryant supporters and campaign managers present could not stand this threat to their adored peace candidate, Mrs. Bryant. They passed a motion nullifying Hogenauer’s candidacy in the event that Mrs. Bryant won the primaries! And the motion, incidentally, was passed with rather blinding speed for one of its kind. As a motion in obvious contradistinction to the adopted preamble and to the line of many of the resolutions and amendments, it was ramrodded through because, said the chairman, he “sensed the wishes of the body.” Indeed he did; he not only sensed them, he had helped mobilize them. Gus Carlson challenged the decision of the chair, and demanded discussion so that the truly independent and uncertain delegates present would have a chance to hear and consider the anti-capitals’ radical viewpoint. His challenge was defeated. Three speakers from each side were them heard, and the vote was taken. It was clear by the time that the Bryant forces and the P&FP majority were identical, revealing the essential People’s Front/liberal-reform character of the new party.
Rev. Shaw’s campaign itself has to date been a weak and mild one. Mrs. Bryant did win in the primaries, and is busily mending her ideological fences to win greater acceptance from the Democratic Party middle. The Shaw campaign, while it does focus attention on the war and raises the correct slogan of withdrawal of Troops, ignores the meaty and dynamic sections of the adopted program and has not one word to say about independence, basic social change, or the 2-party system. The Convention itself refused to endorse the decisive and dramatic anti-war position of SNCC, CORE, MFDP, and The Black Panther Party, because these formations were not “non-violent!” The Convention refused to take a stand on civil liberties, and would offer no support to the harassed labor movement.
It is obvious that the P&FP is merely exploiting the formality and technicality of independence in order to advocate third-party reforms, enhance its bargaining power in the Democratic Party and to lure authentic rebels away from the principled politics and away from the urgent task of constituting a broad and compelling radical leadership in this area which would inspire and mobilize for peace on a meaningful, honest and educational basis.
The unfortunate aborted thrust toward truly independent politics on the part of the anti-war movement activists grew out of the dawning recognition that the Vietnamese war is a basic socio-economic process which can be stopped only by far more fundamental and far-reaching action than picket lines and demonstrations.
The failure of the movement to achieve ideological independence in its first attempt at united-effort politics must be studied, for the failure stems from the severe limitations of a movement that is predominantly white intellectual and middle-class. Only a complete and open severance of ideological and political ties with the Democratic Party could have laid the basis for overcoming the weakness of the anti-war movement.
In stark and happy contrast to the uninspired and historically retrogressive P&FP in Washington stands a genuinely independent campaign that emerged from the anti-war movement in New York — the Independent Party campaign of Leslie Silberman for Congress. Mrs. Silberman’s militant program, demanding immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam, and dealing boldly with the issue of unemployment, radical discrimination and police brutality, concludes with the following statement on political independence
“My campaign represents a radical alternative to the Democratic and Republican Parties. These parties are responsible for the war in Vietnam. These parties have done nothing to solve the pressing social problems at home. They have not ended unemployment, they have not increased real wages, they have failed to provide good schools and decent housing; and they have stood by while minority groups have been brutally persecuted.
“I look forward to the formation of the Labor Party which will truly represent the interests of the majority of the American people. The Democratic and Republican parties will foll the people no longer.”
This campaign and others like it in the East, which grew out of the anti-war forces and which have already won some support from the Negro Freedom movement, or are seriously making an attempt, are the wave of the future, anticipating and preparing the giant historical surge of working-class politics and revolutionary mass actions to come.
Will the real local anti-war leaders please step forward and LEAD a political breakaway from the discredited old parties — a breakaway that is a breakthrough to revolutionary new political frontiers. Unless this occurs, the anti-war movement itself will wither away. The issue of war is the issue of political power; U.S. imperialism’s compulsion to smash the colonial revolution can be meat head-on and halted only by the counter compulsion to take the power out of their bloody hands.
And now — the commercial.
We in the FSP originally planned to field a socialist slate of candidates this campaign. At the same time, we were publicly urging the anti-war movement to create its own political arm and launch independent anti-war, anti-capitalist party that would objectively analyze the interrelations between the war, poverty, labor, civil rights, civil liberties, etc.
When Rev. Shaw announced his plans for a new party and invited participation in shaping it, we decided to cooperate, on the basis of his professed intention to form an independent party.
We knew that much of the basic policy was already worked out, and the prognosis for achieving a principled and militant program geared toward the Negro freedom struggle and the working class was very dim. Still, we felt it was our responsibility to try to prevent this new formation from drowning in the tired old clichés and fatal swamps of yesteryear. Surely, we believed, the newer and youthful elements in the anti-war movement would be suspicious of reform politics because of its basic dishonesty and the flagrant opportunism, and they would be open to frankly radical politics and a program of telling it like it is.
So for over 6 weeks, we attended meetings and committees and subcommittees, presented written and oral proposals, and generally propagandized loudly and often for independence, principle, and integrity. We undoubtedly made some enemies, but we definitely encountered a whole new host of friends. And, most important to us, we demonstrated the ability of our brand new party to simultaneously “go where the people are” and still hang tough on principle.
At the risk of sounding immodest — may we suggest that we are the ONLY formation in this area with the stance, style, habit, program, and practice of revolutionaries. Oh, we have some faults, but who’s perfect? We would never dream of inviting anybody into an illusory Utopia, but we feel perfectly free and objectively vindicated in inviting you to join with us in the exciting process of helping to bring about socialism in our time.