HOW COMMUNISTS VIEWED JOHN KERRY IN 1971
by Steve Beren, September 30, 2004
From 1968 to 1990, I was a radical antiwar protester, an opponent of the U.S. government, and a revolutionary socialist activist – a supporter of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP, which still exists today, was a New York-based pro-Castro communist faction.
Since I left the SWP in 1990, I have become a Christian, a patriot, and a supporter of the U.S.-led war against terrorism. I have a special insight into the motivations of the current antiwar movement, the fallacies of their arguments, and the role of far left extremists behind the scenes. I was a member of SWP until 1990, and was directly involved in the Vietnam antiwar movement as a member of the SWP in the 1960s and 1970s.
When I attended City College of New York (CCNY) from 1968 to 1970, I was a member of the Young Socialist Alliance (youth group of the SWP) and was active in the campus chapter of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. During two decades of radical activity, I organized protests against the war in Vietnam; publicized socialist election campaigns; and defended the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, Cuban communists, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. One of my first activities was to work on the 1968 presidential campaign of Fred Halstead, the Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate – but more about Halstead later.
During the antiwar movement, the SWP played a significant role in establishing antiwar committees on the campuses, and in organizing major antiwar demonstrations, such as the April 24, 1971 protest march on Washington. John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate in 1971 took place only days before the April 24 protest, and was part of the drama and publicity for the march, which attracted perhaps a million people.
From the point of view of the communists in the SWP, antiwar activity in the 1960s and 1970s was seen as part of a broader radicalization of sections of the American population, especially young people. The antiwar movement was seen as potentially playing a pivotal role in society and politics, helping to deepen the radicalization, providing opportunities to win people over to socialist ideas, and eventually to turn America from a “capitalist, imperialist power” to a revolutionized “workers state” that would pursue socialist policies.
The SWP considered it vitally important to attract trade union officials, liberal congressmen, ministers – and best of all – returning Vietnam vets who opposed the war. Such people, put forward as public leaders of the antiwar movement, were seen as effective in winning people over to the antiwar movement. Although such forces did not favor the communist goals of the SWP and other radical groups, the SWP felt that anything that built the antiwar movement directly aided our fellow communists in Vietnam and Cambodia, increasing the chances that they could be victorious.
Some of these liberal forces sometimes clashed with the SWP over antiwar movement policy. For example, while the SWP favored unconditional, immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, most liberal antiwar activists and leaders favored a phased, gradual withdrawal over a period of time. This was the debate between “out now!” and “set the date for withdrawal.” The SWP, where possible sought to promote those antiwar groups and individuals who favored immediate withdrawal.
During the Vietnam war, both the Johnson administration and the Nixon administration tried to bring to light the atrocities being committed by the communists, and warned that a communist victory would lead to a bloodbath. Today, of course, there can be no doubt that a bloodbath indeed took place with the victory of the communists in Vietnam and Cambodia. But during the war, the antiwar movement countered this by successfully promoting the idea that it was the American forces that were committing atrocities. We in the SWP labeled predictions of a “communist bloodbath” as just “imperialist propaganda,” and tried to bolster those antiwar activists who were susceptible to the counter-argument. That took some heat off our Vietnamese communist buddies, making their struggle that much easier.
At the time of the 1971 protests, Intercontinental Press (IP) was a weekly magazine published in New York and edited by Joseph Hansen, like Fred Halstead a central leader of the SWP. IP had a small circulation, perhaps numbering no more than a few thousand worldwide, primarily revolutionary activists and supporters in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
In its May 3, 1971 issue, IP carried an article by Allen Myers entitled “800,000 Say, ‘Out Now!’ – April 24 Shows Growing Power of Antiwar Forces.” Myers made special mention of the role of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and John Kerry:
The enormous mass of demonstrators marched in full awareness that they were acting as representatives of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the American people….
In a more emotional way, it was expressed by five days of demonstrations in Washington April 19-23 carried out by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). In testimony before congressional committees, in street demonstrations, and in a ceremony at the Capitol in which they discarded their medals, the veterans dramatized the message that GIs, like other sectors of the population, want the war ended now.
The protests of the veterans, some of whom had lost limbs in the war, were an obvious embarrassment for the Nixon administration….
John Kerry, chairman of VVAW, was loudly applauded at the April 24 rally when he denounced ‘a government more worried about the legality of where we sleep than the legality of where we drop bombs’. -- pages 395-396, Intercontinental Press, May 3, 1971
The mention of “the legality of where we sleep” referred to the fact that some Nixon administration officials had objected to the VVAW protestors camping out on the White House mall the night before the rally.
The eventual withdrawal of the U.S. from Vietnam was seen by the SWP as a great defeat for “U.S. imperialism,” and SWP members took some pride in their role in this “success.” Fred Halstead, who was (as I mentioned before) the SWP 1968 presidential candidate, was also the central leader of the SWP’s antiwar work. After the victory of the Vietnamese communists in 1975, Halstead began to write a book chronicling the Vietnam protest movement from the point of view of the effort by communists to build and influence it.
The 759-page volume was finally published in 1978 (and still available from Amazon!), and while Halstead probably overstates the influence of the SWP, the book is noteworthy and interesting in many respects – not the least of which are the passages in Halstead’s book referring to John Kerry’s 1971 Senate testimony:
Some of the vets testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bitterly denouncing the war and the atrocities being committed by American forces. The televised hearing was memorable for the impassioned testimony of VVAW member John Kerry, a former navy lieutenant, who said the men did not want Vietnam to be just “a filthy obscene memory” but “mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.” Kerry also answered the proponents of setting some distant date for withdrawal by pointing out that Vietnamese and U.S. GIs were being killed every day: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” -- page 606, “Out Now: A Participant’s Account of the Movement in the United States Against the Vietnam War,” by Fred Halstead, Monad Press (1978)
And Kerry was no mere “messenger,” simply gathering and reporting the accounts of others. He was a central leader and strategist. As Halstead notes on page 610 of his book, Kerry was the “best-known figure” in the VVAW.
While I supported Halstead for president in the 1968 presidential elections, I stopped voting for the SWP presidential candidates after the 1988 election. In the 2004 presidential campaign, I took my time in making an official public endorsement. Finally, as a guest on the Barry Farber Show on July 4, I publicly endorsed Bush. Here's why:
I feel that the U.S.-led war against terrorism is vitally important - in fact it is the central issue of world politics right now. Defeating the Islamic fascists is necessary, urgent, and possible. A major aspect of the war on terrorism is confronting, disrupting, and overthrowing pro-terrorist outlaw regimes such as the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and the Taliban. In particular, I want a President who is fully committed to a military victory, and who does not straddle the fence. This is a life or death matter – for Western civilization. The war against terrorism is primarily military, and my own views of the war are expressed in the articles on my website.
I especially want a President who will not hesitate to disrupt the Iranian dictatorship's war drive, their support of terrorism, and their effort to obtain nuclear weapons. I have severe doubts about Senator Kerry's willingness to confront and effectively challenge Iran, Syria, and North Korea. I realize Kerry is seeking the votes of both those who support and oppose the war, but most of his supporters here in Seattle make it clear they favor his election as a way to achieve withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
I definitely want a president who will not allow the "Islamic Republic of Iran" to obtain nuclear weapons and technology. The security of the entire world would be severely endangered if the fundamentalist, anti-American, anti-democracy, anti-woman Iranian mullahs succeed in their war drive and weapons quest.
The war against terrorism, including standing up to outlaw pro-terrorist regime is the main issue in this year's election. There are other issues, of course, but all these issues -- important as they are -- would be rendered moot if the terrorists win their war against freedom and democracy and modernity.
The Islamic fascists hate Britain and America and Israel and the west in general. They seek world conquest -- please don't doubt it for a moment, and please don't underestimate it. They have lost their pro-terrorist state allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they seek to gain a foothold elsewhere – whether it is in Chechnya or Palestine or Syria. Most ominously, the terrorists seek to crush the budding democracy in Iraq – they struggle for defeat of the U.S.-led coalition and withdrawal of coalition troops. In particular, they seek to destroy the Jewish people, and they seek to oppress women. Sometimes it is said that the terrorists hate the West because it supports Israel, but just the opposite is the case: the terrorists hate Israel because Israel supports and represents Western values: democracy, diversity, women's equality, elections, and modernity.
To those who are considering voting for Senator Kerry, I ask:
Why should people who support the U.S.-led war against terrorism, who seek victory in the Iraq war, and who favor strong action against pro-terrorist regimes, even consider voting for John Kerry?