During the early years of the Vietnam War Bruce Dancis refused to be conscripted into the army. For this principled stand he was incarcerated for 19 months — one of 3,000 resisters who were imprisoned at the time.
Dancis was a young socialist from the Bronx, a working class district of New York. He was active in the civil rights movement, campaigned against bad housing, and was a founder member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) while at Cornell University.
His memoir, Resister, is a well written and interesting account of his experiences during some of the most turbulent years in US history. Ironically he was helped in his research by the FBI who compiled a huge file on his activities. The FBI used informers and the level of surveillance was monumental.
The influence of the US left was widespread when the focus was on the war and civil rights.
But the dominant politics of the movement, with some exceptions, did not see the working class as the agent for change.
Instead many of them looked to Mao’s China or to the guerrilla struggles of the Global South, considering US workers to have been “bought off” by the post-war boom.
The 1960s were a time of massive radicalisation in the US. Those of us who were part of that generation thought real change was coming.
Huge changes did take place, including civil rights, civil liberties and a feeling of greater freedom. But struggle never stays at the same levels; it goes up and it goes down and is sometimes hidden.
When Dancis came out of prison the various groups he had been involved in had split and split again.
There was no significant political organisation or trend that could hold fragmenting movements together.
Dancis writes about those on the left who have recanted, such as former SDS leader Chip Marshall, and those who renounced radical politics and now argue that they were wrong to oppose the Vietnam War.
He had his doubts about the effectiveness of draft resistance, but now firmly believes they were effective and were right to organise against the war.