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The Canadian Antiwar Movement,

This article appeared in the August 9, 1971, Labor Challenge, just before the first national conference of the Vietnam Mobilization Committee. The "Pentagon Papers" were secret U.S. government documents about the in Vietnam that were published by the New York Times and Washington Post.

Both of authors were members of the LSA/LSO who were prominent leaders of the antiwar movement. "Carl Fleming": was the pen-name of George Addison.

Seven Years of Struggle to End the War

by-Carl Fleming and Joe Young

One of the most important revelations in the Pentagon Papers is the description of how the U.S. government’s escalation plans were hampered at every turn by organized opposition to the war within the United States and throughout the world. Using bombing halts, "peace initiatives," negotiations in Paris and partial troop withdrawals, Washington attempted to undercut the antiwar sentiment. But through the independent actions of the antiwar movement, each new aggression was met with massive opposition.

While very much a part of the international struggle to end the war, the Canadian antiwar movement has a rich history of its own. No simple copy of the U.S. movement, for example, it has gone through many distinct upsurges, lulls, divisions and reunification’s, reflecting the impact on Canada of events in Vietnam and around the world. Today antiwar protest in this country has become a mass movement, but a review of the issues which were posed in the course of the development of the movement provides many instructive lessons for antiwar activists today.

In one form or another, all the debates within the movement centered around the question of the right of the Vietnamese and Indochinese peoples to self-determination.

The revolutionary socialists of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière, who have played a leading and initiating role in the antiwar movement. maintain that self-determination for the Vietnamese means that the U.S. has no right whatsoever to be in Vietnam. Thus the central demand of the antiwar movement must be the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops. This withdrawal position was opposed by the Communist Party and pacifist elements who advocated "negotiations" to end the war. Their position clearly violated the principle of self-determination, that only the Vietnamese have the right to decide their own fate.

Those arguing for the withdrawal position also held that the other main demand of the antiwar movement must be for an end to the complicity of the Canadian government. The CP and pacifists tended to advocate a Canadian peace-keeping role, or at a minimum a neutralist stance by Ottawa — such positions undermined the very raison d’être for an antiwar movement in this country, cutting across the self-determination principle and fostering the illusion that Ottawa was either neutral in the war or could be easily won to such a position.

A related question, which has sparked continual controversy, involved the nature of the antiwar movement that had to be built — was it to be oriented to lobbying the government with friendly advice, or was it to aim to mobilize all those who opposed the war in peaceful mass action, in the streets: and in collaboration with the international antiwar movement, particularly its center inside the United States?

Today the antiwar movement is in a strong position to widen itself out qualitatively, involving broad, new, and decisive layers of the population in its actions.

But the possibilities of this new stage in the struggle can only be fully exploited if the lessons of the experiences and debates of the early antiwar movement are understood.

First Protests

1964-65 saw the first large-scale escalation of the war in Vietnam. A small number of people began organizing actions against the war. The first task was to spread the truth about the aggression. There were a number of teach-ins on university campuses across Canada, following the example of hundreds of teach-ins in the U.S. In July, 1965, a demonstration of 100 delegates to the NDP federal convention marched to the U.S. consulate in Toronto, led by M.P. Bert Herridge.

Following the NDP convention, which passed a resolution opposing the war and calling for negotiations, the Committee of Concerned New Democrats came together in Toronto, forcing the NDP leadership into action. The Ontario NDP organized a public meeting in September, publicized as a "Report from Parliament" at which the featured speaker was Deputy Leader David Lewis. Lewis defended British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s support of the U.S. war, telling the audience that "both sides" were to blame for the conflict, and that the greatest danger to peace in Southeast Asia was China. Lewis was roundly booed at this meeting, and rank and file NDPers saw that they themselves would have to act in opposition to the war.

Antiwar committees founded

Later that same month, antiwar forces came together in Toronto and Vancouver to form independent antiwar committees. Actions were organized in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa on the first International Days of Protest called by the U.S. protest movement.

In November, 1965, Students Against the War in Vietnam (SAWV) was founded, uniting high school students in action against the war. SAWV carried a number of important actions over the years, publishing its own newspaper, organizing petition campaigns for Vietnam assemblies in the schools, and bringing thousands of high school students out to demonstrations.

In February 1966, a conference took place in Toronto, to discuss and plan future antiwar actions. Speakers at the conference were Farley Mowat; Prof. James Steele; Bert Herridge, NDP M.P.; and others. The conference launched the Toronto Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam, (TCCEWV) uniting a wide range of forces including activists from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the New Democratic Youth, the Communist Party, a few church groups, and the League for Socialist Action, among others. The TCCEWV issued a call for a march on Ottawa.

Noticeably absent was the Student Union for Peace Action, a new-left student group which by then had decided not to participate in "single-issue campaigns." SUPA counterposed its strategy of community organizing around a wide variety of demands, to actions directly against the war. The new lefts failed to see the central importance of the Vietnam issue, defaulting also in their responsibility to aid the Vietnamese through building a mass movement in the streets, and open to all. SUPA’s refusal to participate in the antiwar movement was one of the major reasons for its collapse.

Also abstaining from the TCCEWV was the NDP leadership, although a large number of rank and file New Democrats did take part. The NDY co-sponsored with the TCCEWV the March on Ottawa, the first major antiwar action to take place in Ottawa, which occurred on March 26. 1,200 people from Toronto and Southern Ontario travelled by special train to Ottawa to participate in a demonstration of 3,000, while 5,000 demonstrated in Vancouver.

After the March 26 action, representatives from committees across Ontario and Quebec met to discuss future plans. The meeting founded the Canada Vietnam Newsletter, which became the voice of the antiwar forces demanding immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and an end to Canadian complicity. The Newsletter played an important role in winning the antiwar movement to those demands. It sponsored tours, organized antiwar actions, and provided a forum for debates and discussion within the movement: It was published regularly until 1969. The Vietnam Mobilization Committee’s paper, the Mobilizer, plays a similar role today.

Attempts to exclude militants

By the end of the summer of 1966, a deep division had opened up within the antiwar movement. On the programmatic level, the debate was between those advocating "immediate withdrawal" and "end Canada’s complicity," and the advocates of a varied list of other demands — negotiations, halting the bombing, reconstitution of the Geneva conference, etc. Also in question was whether the antiwar movement should seek to achieve the broadest possible unity of all forces by concentrating its fight totally against the war, or whether it should disperse its effectiveness by taking up other questions as well.

The debate was far from academic. The pro-negotiations forces, with the Communist Party and the pacifists at its core, succeeded temporarily in expelling the militant forces from the coordinating committees in Vancouver and Toronto. Unable to carry their position in honest, open debate, they resorted to arbitrary expulsions, which set back the struggle.

But the student and membership committees, which had been founded on the withdrawal demand and were open to all, soon became the main antiwar force.

In November 1966, cross-country student actions demanded immediate withdrawal and an end to Canada’s complicity. The expulsions had failed to stop the militant wing of the movement, which was readmitted back into the TCCEWV at a December conference.

In March of 1967, a cross-country student conference was held in Toronto, open to all students opposed to the war. All decisions were made on a one person, one vote basis. The conference established a new cross-Canada antiwar organization, the Student Association to End the War in Vietnam (SAEWV). SAEWV was committed to the mass action — withdrawal — complicity program.

Accompanying the SAEWV conference was an "Assembly to tell the truth about Vietnam," addressed by Dr. Gustavo Tolentino, a Toronto doctor just returned from North Vietnam where he had spent six weeks investigating U.S. war crimes for the Bertrand Russell International War Crimes Tribunal.

Canadian supporters of the Tribunal established a Canadian Committee for the War Crimes Tribunal.

Cross-country demonstrations occurred again on April 15, 1967. Ontario activists rented buses to go to the action of 500,000 in New York. On July 1, demonstrators from across Canada met in Montreal to "Take Vietnam to Expo." The NDP leadership and the Communist Party did not participate in the protest, because Quebec nationalists were marching under their own banners, calling for a free Vietnam and a free Quebec.

Exclusionism again became a major issue in the movement. At the Oct. 15 mobilization, involving 6,000 people in Toronto, TCCEWV organizers refused to allow Joe Young, chairman of the SAEWV, to address the rally. This incident climaxed a series of battles against the exclusionist policy of the TCCEWV leaders, a policy which led to its collapse.

The deepening of antiwar sentiment stood as a backdrop to this internal struggle. Mass sentiment which had brought out the huge crowd in Toronto was most evident in the Ottawa action where NDP Leader T.C. Douglas addressed a demonstration on Parliament Hill in defiance of a government ban on such marches.

Picks up Steam

With U.S. imperialism steadily expanding the war, and with Canada’s diplomatic and military complicity being brought more and more into public view, the antiwar movement began to pick up steam.

A conference in Toronto in March 1968 established the Spring Mobilization Committee, later to become the Vietnam Mobilization Committee. The conference had been preceded by months of sustained antiwar activity. In December the second SAEWV conference had launched a campaign against the warmakers on campus. There were actions on many campuses against the presence of recruiters from war industries.

The SMC and SAEWV organized a demonstration against the ruling Liberal Party at its leadership convention in Ottawa April 6, demanding that the newly-elected leader — Trudeau — end Canada’s complicity. 1500 demonstrated.

A number of forces refused to support the action, raising a new dispute. This was not unexpected, for the ability of the Canadian antiwar forces to build a movement which was directed not only against the war, but also against the government’s complicity, was crucial. The slogan "End Canada’s Complicity" was attacked from both the right and the left. On the right, the Communist Party, the pacifists and others accepted Trudeau’s claims that the Canadian government could help bring peace to Vietnam, through international peacekeeping, a concept also then current among the reformist leadership of the NDP. On the left, the ultra-lefts, largely influenced by the Maoists, maintained that Canadian complicity was irrelevant. U.S. imperialism was the issue and the main enemy.

Both positions let the Canadian ruling class — which has continued to serve U.S. imperialism in its attempt to halt the Vietnamese revolution — off the hook.

During the following April 25 country-wide demonstrations, the ultra-left forces counterposed demands like "Victory to the NLF" and "Smash U.S. imperialism" to the demand for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Whereas the negotiations position still carried by elements in the antiwar movement would have violated the rights of the Vietnamese, the ultraleft position put forward by groups like "Canadians for the National Liberation Front," would have been equally disastrous, destroying the ability of the antiwar movement to mobilize Canadians in mass action in support of the Vietnamese struggle.

Neither the reformist nor the ultraleft positions succeeded in deflecting the antiwar movement from its principled course. The Vietnam Mobilization Committee initiated a cross-Canada intervention by the antiwar movement in the 1968 Federal elections, calling on Canadians to "Vote Against the War Parties." An October 26, 1968 demonstration organized by the VMC carried a hard-fought campaign for the right to march down Yonge Street in the face of a brutal police attack which resulted in the arrest of antiwar activists.

Lines Tested in Action

The success of the VMC with its non-exclusionist, mass action perspective around the "Immediate withdrawal" and "End Canada’s Complicity" demands meant that the debates were being settled in life, through the experience of the movement. In early 1969 those who previously held the negotiations positions re-entered the VMC which they had previously walked out of. The 10,000-strong demonstration in Toronto was the largest in the history of the antiwar movement.

In Vancouver, a similar test over line took place, this time between the ultra-left wing and the rest of the antiwar movement. The single-issue mass action perspective of the Vietnam Action Committee drew 3,000 persons while the ultra-left action billed as "explicitly" anti-imperialist drew 400.

In the months following these demonstrations, the antiwar movement has succeeded in expanding into new areas across the country, reflecting the upsurge of antiwar sentiment throughout North America. In the Nov. 14-15 actions, 20 Canadian cities and towns were involved.

The antiwar movement zeroed in powerfully on the issue of Canadian complicity. On April 18, 1970, 2,000 demonstrators presented a brief to the Canadian government spelling out exactly what Canadian complicity meant. Trudeau refused to hear the brief. The rally was addressed by David Lewis, as an official representative of the NDP caucus. This time he demanded immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and an end to Canada’s complicity. Lewis’ statement represented an important victory for the antiwar forces which had fought for years for NDP participation in the antiwar movement.

The response to Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia was a strong indication of the growing roots of the antiwar movement. For example, on May 9th in Toronto, 10,000 demonstrated at the U.S. consulate.

The invocation of the War Measures act by Trudeau on Oct. 16, 1970, in the middle of preparations for the October 30-31 mobilization was an important test for the antiwar movement. The VMC called for repeal of the War Measures Act. Despite the repressive atmosphere which reduced the size of the demonstrations, they were held across the country, sharply reasserting Canadians’ basic rights to gather and to demonstrate.

During the last mobilization April 24-25, a sharp rise in antiwar sentiment reflected in the 800,000 that marched in the United States, along with the diminishing impact of the War Measures and Public Order Acts resulted in 8,000 demonstrating in 15 cities across Canada. The NDP Federal convention adjourned to join the Ottawa section of the mobilization.

At this date, after years of struggle against the war, and with important struggles yet ahead, the Canadian antiwar movement has become part of the political fabric of the country. The principled demands of the movement — that the U.S. get out of Vietnam now, and that Ottawa’s complicity be ended — are part of the policy of Canada’s labor party, the NDP. The two-million strong Canadian Labor Congress has spoken out against the war. Through committees across the country the antiwar message can be brought to every university and high school, office and factory. Trudeau hardly goes anywhere in Canada without being confronted by the antiwar movement with his government’s crimes in Vietnam.

The Aug. 6 cross-country antiwar conference reflects this achievement — the first such Canada-wide antiwar conference. The revelations of the Pentagon Papers which show the Canadian government’s conscious and premeditated role supporting the U.S. aggression in Vietnam, underline both the possibilities and the task ahead for the antiwar movement.

The perspective was summed up by the VMC in a recent statement on the revelations. It declared that the VMC:

      "is committed to mobilizing public sentiment in mass peaceful action to get Canada off the International Control Commission; to force the government to open all its files concerning its role in Indochina; to halt arms shipments and war materials to the United States; to end the complicity of Canadian universities in the U.S. war machine; to end Canadian research into chemical and biological warfare and to force a government pledge to refuse to send any so-called 'peacekeeping' troops to Indochina and a government demand for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops — all of them — from South East Asia now."

The organization of mass actions this fall when the U.S. antiwar movement takes to the streets again around this program is the task of antiwar activists. It will mean that the broad response reflected in the sponsorship of the Aug. 6-7 antiwar’ conference will be translated into a mobilization which, can deepen the process of forcing the Canadian ruling class to end its support for U.S. imperialist aggression in Vietnam.

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