Ten Q&A On Antiwar Organizing
(8) How should we relate to groups doing antiwar work with whom we disagree in significant ways -- the IAC and ANSWER, NION, the war's mainstream opponents? How do we evaluate all these? Should we work with people we have serious differences with, avoid them, or what?
There is no universal rule for how to relate to those with whom we disagree. If we automatically refused to have anything to do with any person or organization with whom we had differences, then we'd be protesting the war in demonstrations of two or three individuals. Obviously, we need to take account of how much disagreement there is and whether working with particular groups allows us to express a shared agreement and further our goals, despite our disagreements, or whether, on the other hand, working with particular groups restricts or undermines our efforts in some significant ways.
One extremely energetic antiwar group is the International Action Center (IAC). It is the leading force in the coalition ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) which is calling the October 26 demonstrations in Washington, DC and elsewhere. (IAC and ANSWER share a New York City phone number and the latter's website features many materials from IAC.) IAC is officially led by Ramsey Clark and is largely the creation of the Workers World Party; many key IAC figures are prominent writers for WWP.
WWP holds many views that we find abhorrent. It considers North Korea "socialist Korea" where the "land, factories, homes, hotels, parks, schools, hospitals, offices, museums, buses, subways, everything in the DPRK belongs to the people as a whole" (Workers World, May 9, 2002), a fantastic distortion of the reality of one of the most rigid dictatorships in the world. IAC expresses its solidarity with Slobodan Milosevic (http://www.iacenter.org/yugo_milosdeligation.htm). There's of course much to criticize in the one-sided Hague war crimes tribunal, but to champion Milosevic is grotesque. The ANSWER website provides an IAC backgrounder on Afghanistan that refers to the dictatorial government that took power in that country in 1978 as "socialist" and says of the Soviet invasion the next year: the "USSR intervened militarily at the behest of the Afghani revolutionary government" (http://www.internationalanswer.org/campaigns/resources/index.html) -- neglecting to mention that Moscow first had to engineer the execution of the Afghan leader to get themselves the invitation to intervene.
In none of IAC's considerable resources on the current Iraq crisis is there a single negative word about Saddam Hussein. There is no mention that he is a ruthless dictator. (This omission is not surprising, given their inability to detect any problem of dictatorship with the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan.) There is no mention that Hussein is responsible for the deaths of many tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites. IAC's position is that any opponent of U.S. imperialism must be championed and never criticized.
How do these views affect antiwar demonstrations organized by IAC or ANSWER? They do so in two primary ways.
First, an important purpose of antiwar demonstrations is to educate the public, so as to be able to build a larger movement. If the message of a demonstration is that opposition to U.S. war means support for brutal regimes, then we are mis-educating the public, and limiting the growth of the movement. To be sure, some true things we say may also alienate some members of the public, and often that is a risk we must take in order to communicate the truth and change awareness. But to tell the public that they have to support either George Bush or Saddam Hussein is not true and is certainly not a way to build a strong movement. People are not wrong to be morally repelled by Saddam Hussein. An antiwar movement that cannot make clear its opposition to the crimes of both Bush and Hussein will of necessity be limited in size.
The second problem with IAC-organized demonstrations is that the day-to-day practice of IAC cadre often shows a lack of commitment to democratic and open behavior. It is not surprising that those who lionize the dictatorial North Korean regime will be somewhat lacking in their appreciation of democratic practice.
Does this mean that people who reject these abhorrent views of the IAC shouldn't attend the October 26 antiwar demonstrations in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and elsewhere? No.
If there were another large demonstration organized by forces more compatible with the kinds of politics espoused by other antiwar activists, including ourselves, then we would urge people to prefer that one. And there is no doubt we should be working to build alternative organizational structures for the antiwar movement that are not dominated by IAC. But at the moment the ANSWER demonstration is the only show in town. And much as we may oppose Saddam Hussein, we also oppose Bush, and the paramount danger today is the war being prepared by the U.S. government.
So we need to consider various questions.
First, are those with antiwar views contrary to the IAC's perspective excluded from speaking? Second, what will be the primary message perceived by those present at the demonstrations and by the wider public?
If past experience is a guide, IAC demonstrations will have programs skewed in the direction of IAC politics, but without excluding alternative voices. In general, the IAC speakers will not be offensive so much for what they say, but for what they don't say. That is, they won't praise Saddam Hussein from the podium, but nor will they utter a critical word about him. However, as long as other speakers can and do express positions with a different point of view, the overall impact of the event will still be positive, particularly in the absence of other options. Most of the people at the demonstration will in fact be unaware of exactly who said what and whether any particular speaker omitted this or that point. What they will experience will be a powerful antiwar protest. And most of the public will see it that way too. (As was the case during the Vietnam War too: few demonstrators knew the specific politics or agendas of demonstration organizers.) Accordingly, and in the absence of any alternative event, it makes sense to help build and to attend the October 26 demonstration, while also registering extreme distaste for the IAC, at least in our view.
Another significant antiwar organization is Not In Our Names. NION has issued a very eloquent and forceful Pledge of Resistance opposing Bush's war on terrorism, signed by prominent individuals and thousands of others. NION organized important demonstrations around the U.S. on October 6 and on June 6.
Significant impetus behind NION comes from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). RCP identifies itself as followers of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Their website (http://rwor.org/) expresses support for Shining Path in Peru (which they say should properly be called the Maoist Communist Party of Peru), an organization with a gruesome record of violently targeting other progressive groups. For the RCP, freedom doesn't include the right of a minority to dissent (this is a bourgeois formulation, they say, pushed by John Stuart Mill and Rosa Luxembourg); the correct view, they say, is that of Mao (the "greatest revolutionary of our time"): "If Marxist Leninists are in control, the rights of the vast majority will be guaranteed."
Despite these views, however, RCP does not push its specific positions on NION to the degree that IAC does on ANSWER. For example, while the ANSWER website offers such things as the IAC backgrounder on Afghanistan cited above, the NION website and its public positions have no connection to the sometimes bizarre views of the RCP.
The case for participating in NION events is stronger than for ANSWER events. It still makes overwhelming sense to build better antiwar coalitions, but in the meantime supporting NION activities promotes an antiwar message that we support, with relatively little compromise of our views.
Another group that may support antiwar activities but with whom we have serious disagreements are liberal politicians. Many of these politicians have totally capitulated to Bush and the right, but a few of them have been strong voices against war. Our diagnosis of and prescription for U.S. warmongering differ substantially from those of antiwar liberals. Should we participate in events where Democratic Party officeholders are leading speakers? Again, the same basic logic applies. Does the presence of the Democrat in some way prevent us from saying what we want to say? (Sure, at an event where Democrat X is speaking, we won't be welcome to give a speech denouncing X as a running-dog lackey of the ruling class. But it is unlikely that this is what we wanted to say in our ten-minute antiwar speech anyway.) And, second, what message does the public come away with? If the whole event is billed as a "Let's Wait A Week for War" demonstration, then no matter what we say our participation will be contributing to a cause we don't support, pursuing war a week from now. But as long as the demonstration has a clear antiwar position, the presence and participation of liberal Democrats should not preclude our participation. Indeed, if we were on the committee choosing speakers, we would support including many speakers who didn't agree with us on many things, but who were clearly antiwar and who could appeal to audiences that we hadn't been as successful in attracting.