The New Politics Convention

There was a growing tone of frustration in the antiwar movement. We were going through a transition. The war would not be settled for at least five more years. It was obvious that the political leadership of the country was cynically willing to destroy a third-world country and the lives of thousands of young Americans to satisfy their own political ambitions, to prolong the fighting when they acknowledged to themselves that they had already lost the war politically, they had been beaten by the Vietnamese people, and anyway there had never been a strategic reason for them to be in it in the first place.
With Nixon’s election and the end of the draft, mass pressure would diminish and the movements would turn ugly and crazy, in reaction to the insanity of the war. By 67 or 68 this hopeful movement had taken on an irrational tinge because it had not connected with a mass movement and had not put forward a program that could unite the majority. It had not developed the socialist vision that could unite a majority section of the society. Any movement that doesn’t have a majoritarian perspective for social change is not going to win in America. The only way for a minority to play a decisive role is to project a program that the majority can support.
I thought such a thing might be emerging when a group of antiwar groups called for a New Politics conference in late 1967. An assortment of white liberals, including some establishment politicians, had lent their names to the thing. All sorts of well-meaning and independent radicals were involved too. Dr. King had said he would address the convention, and there were faint hopes out there that he would use the occasion to declare an independent candidacy for president, with the antiwar children’s doctor Benjamin Spock as his running mate.
There was also a large contingent of stool pigeons and street hustlers there, to take advantage of the white guiIt that was all over the floor. Their presence reflected the disintegration and the disheartenment that was overtaking the black community. And its alienation from white society, including white radicalism.
The antiwar movement was officially not there. SDS was boycotting it, either because they were against electoral activity, or because their own agenda required supporting an antiwar democrat, or both. Nobody ever claimed SDS was internally consistent. The SWP chose to boycott because it did not fit with what they thought was the real antiwar movement. And they were running a candidate of their own. Either way, in the end, they were lucky they weren’t there.

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