Bill Simpich and the antiwar movement


Posted to on May 18, 2006


There's an article on today's Counterpunch by Bill Simpich titled "Lessons from the 1970 Student Strike: Building a Movement that will be Stronger After the US is Out of Iraq". ( It rehashes the old "single issue versus multi-issue" debate of the 1960s and 70s that many of us, including me as an SWP veteran, lived through. That debate still goes on in one fashion or another as last year's controversy over ANSWER's insisting that the Palestinian right of return become a litmus test for the movement. I have no idea who Simpich is, but he seems fairly knowledgeable about the debate that took place in the 1960s even though he is mostly wrong if not mischievous.


Simpich views the May 9, 1970 Washington demonstration called by "the radicals and pacifists of what would become the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ), who believed in multi-issue organizing and the need to leaven mass mobilizations with civil disobedience" as a kind of acid test for the antiwar movement.


The PCPJ was a rival to the coalition led by the SWP. Simpich neglects to mention that the CP was instrumental to the formation of the PCPJ since it saw "multi-issue" campaigns as complementary to its own orientation to DP liberals, while the SWP fought to keep the antiwar movement independent of peace candidates. The CP had natural allies in some of the campus radicals who had hadn't made a clean break with bourgeois politics. As an "outside agitator", I took part in a debate at Harvard involving Jamie Galbraith who wanted the Student Mobilization Committee to endorse some liberal running against the war.


Simpich does indirectly refer to the tensions between the SWP and the CP, but in his eyes it appears to have more to do with government "dirty tricks" rather than politics:


A key "dirty tricks" tactic of the FBI involved "exploiting the hostility" between other sectors of the left and the SWP. Like the CPUSA, the Trotskyist SWP (aka "Trots") was plagued with infiltrators during this period - a working estimate is that every third member was actually a government informant. James Kirkpatrick Davis, Spying on America: The FBI's Domestic Counteintelligence Program. (New York; Praeger, 1992), P. 137.


As far as Davis is concerned, this one-third figure is utterly laughable. About 2 years ago I challenged Chip Berlet, who made a similarly wild claim on Doug Henwood's list to back it up. He could not. Most SWP'ers came out of the student movement at this time. The idea that an 18 year old antiwar activist from our bases at the University of Illinois or Wisconsin would go on the FBI payroll to snoop on the SWP is just ridiculous.


Simpich takes Dave Dellinger's side in a fight that took place that day whether civil disobedience would be permitted. It is literally impossible to make sense out of his version of the events that day since they involve only the word of people who were bitterly opposed to the SWP and to single-issue mass actions. He quotes Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, the authors of "Who Spoke Out", as follows: "So the marshals (who had been trained by Bradford Lyttle and the Socialist Workers Party's Fred Halstead) labeled CD as violent."


This is a really crude distortion of the SWP's views. The SWP did not regard CD's as violent per se but it fought all efforts to foist such actions on a peaceful mass action like cherries on a sundae. My experience with people like Dave Dellinger is that they had a tough time generating momentum for an independent civil disobedience but were always looking for ways to include as part of a more mainstream and massive protest, just the way that anarchists do today. The simple fact that these folks refuse to understand is that the average worker or student prefers not to get smacked in the head with a billy club.


From his rather obscure references to the May 9th protests of 36 years ago, Simpich veers off into a condemnation of efforts by the Movement for a New Congress, the of its day, to push for electing peace candidates. What this has to do with opposition to Dellinger's views on May 9th, I am not sure since Dellinger never met a peace candidate he didn't like. Simpich does complain that "The Princeton Plan failed in changing the complexion of Congress, while the few authentic antiwar firebrands such as Democrat Al Lowenstein and Republican Charles Goodell were targeted by the Nixon Administration for defeat." I had to rub my eyes at this. Whatever Al Lowenstein was, "firebrand" hardly describes it.


During his days in Congress, Rumsfeld struck up a close friendship with Allard Lowenstein–another example of Rumsfeld's eagerness to embrace, up to a point, someone bright from an opposing camp. Rumsfeld and Lowenstein met in the mid-1960s when Rumsfeld was a congressman and Lowenstein was a left-leaning activist and a backer of Robert Kennedy. "He almost lived with us," recalls Joyce. They debated politics until late into the night, with Lowenstein sometimes sleeping on their sofa. They grew so close Lowenstein was with the Rumsfelds when their son, Nick, was born in 1967. The following year, Rumsfeld stood beside Lowenstein when he won his House seat from Long Island. Both wrestlers, they frequented the House gym. When Lowenstein ran for re-election in 1970, Rumsfeld–now at the OEO–publicly refuted charges by Lowenstein's Republican opponent that Lowenstein was a dangerous radical. But then Rumsfeld endorsed that very opponent. He knew that his boss, President Nixon, expected him to. "That's when you cease to be an independent operator," Rumsfeld explained. Lowenstein lost and–unlike others who felt betrayed by Rumsfeld–never forgave him. (Lowenstein was murdered in 1980 by a disturbed former disciple.)