Some Should Do One, Others the Other

A friend writes:

In August 1968 I was on an SDS trip to Cuba, one of about 30 student activists from around the US. One day we went to the mission of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam in Havana (it had been called the National Liberation Front but had recently taken on a new name). We decided to see if the NLF, as we called them, could settle some debates in the US antiwar movement. After exchanging pleasantries with the representative of the PRG/NLF, we had the following exchange.

SDS students: We have a debate in the antiwar movement. Some of us think we should organize militant, obstructive demonstrations that are openly in support of victory for the NLF. Others argue we should organize much larger, peaceful, legal demonstrations around the demand of immediate US withdrawal from Vietnam. Which should we do?

PRG/NLF rep: Some of you should do one, and others should do the other.

SDS students: We have another debate in the antiwar movement. When a male antiwar activist gets a draft induction notice, some of us think he should refuse to serve, either going to jail or going to Canada. Others of us argue that he should quietly go into the military to organize among the soldiers for an end to the war. Which should we do?

PRG/NLF rep: Some of you should do one, and others should do the other. And when an antiwar activist goes into the military and ends up in Vietnam, there are ways to arrange contact between the activist and the local NLF fighters.

After that exchange, I began to see why the NLF was so successful in their struggle to force the US out of Vietnam.

Here is a parable for the Left! How many pointless debates about tactics could be avoided if someone just said, “Some of you should do one, and others should do the other.” Except in the case of a specific, finite resource, and a decision-making body able to allocate it, the merits of one approach aren’t an argument against another.

Peaceful demonstrations, or direct action? Challenge foreclosures in court, or block them in the street? Work within the Democrats, or build a third party? Support organizing and contract fights by AFL-CIO unions, or help build rank-and-file insurgencies? Try to shift the Obama administration from the inside, or pressure it from the outside? Debate the economics mainstream, or build a heterodox alternative? Nationalize the banks, or shoot the bankers? Fight for women’s access to male-dominated professions, or for greater social recognition of traditionally female activities? Well-funded public universities, or an end to credentialism? Green capitalism, or cooperatives? Theory, or practice? Recycle, reuse, or reduce? Some of us should do one. And others should do the other.