HOW THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT IS BLOWING IT
by Bill Weinberg
Raining on a parade--or, in this case, an anti-war march--isn't likely
to win one popularity contests. But somebody has got to raise the
alarm. The upcoming Oct. 25 march in Washington DC is being billed as
a revitalization of the movement which made history with coordinated
worldwide protests against the looming US-led assualt on Iraq Feb. 15.
But the new mobilization actually represents a dangerous step
backwards for the anti-war forces in the US.
This effort displays more sanctimony than analysis, and the sloppy
thinking in evidence is unlikely to do more than further marginalize
opposition to the occupation of Iraq. The new campaign is failing on
three broad imperatives that are essential for an effective movement.
Without principled alliances and moral consistency we have no
authority to criticize Bush's policies. Without a realistic sense of
our own power we are dooming ourselves to a cycle of empty (if
self-righteous) enthusiasm followed by burn-out and demoralization.
And without asking the tough questions we stand zero chance of ever
coming up with meaningful answers.
1. Principled Alliances and Moral Consistency
One of the reasons Feb. 15 represented such an important step forward
for anti-war organizing in the United States was the emergence of the
new coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), which coordinated
the protests nationally. Prior to this, most national anti-war
organizing fell under the auspices of International ANSWER. The dirty
open secret on the American left--universally, but rarely openly,
acknowledged--is that ANSWER is led at its core by an outfit called
the International Action Center (IAC), which is itself a front group
for the reactionary and Stalin-nostalgist Workers World Party. What
nobody wants to say out loud is clearly evident: IAC and Workers World
IAC's frontman, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, is a founding
member of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic,
and IAC routinely dismissed accounts of the atrocities against Bosnian
Muslims and Kosovar Albanians as imperialist "lies." Even now, IAC
supports Milosevic almost without reservation, portraying him as a
defender of socialism. During the worst of the Bosnia bloodshed, IAC4s
Clark travelled to Bosnia to meet with Serb strongman Radovan Karadzic
(now indicted on war crimes charges) and offer his support.
Workers World also supported Deng Xiaoping in the Tiananmen Square
massacre in 1989, portraying the protesters as
In 1991, Workers World split the movement aganst Desert Storm by
refusing to condemn Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. In the
ensuing years, Clark and IAC dismissed human rights allegations
against Saddam as more imperialist propaganda.
Workers World Party--whose cadre such as Brian Becker are ANSWER's
most visible spokespersons--is a vigorous apologist of mass murder.
The progress that was made in the Feb. 15 mobilization towards
bringing legitimate leadership to the anti-war movement has now been
reversed, as UFPJ and ANSWER have joined forces for the Oct. 25 rally.
The movement has squandered its moral credibility by accepting
ANSWER's leadership. We have no authority to oppose US occupation and
aggression in Iraq when we are literally rallying around leaders who
actively supported occupation and aggression in Bosnia and
elsewhere--even in Iraq, where Workers World has asserted that
Saddam's gassing of the Kurds was just another imperialist lie.
The frequent response to this criticism is that nobody will notice
that our movement is led by genocide-apologists, and it is more
important to oppose the occupation of Iraq. This cowardly and
hypocritical position undercuts our effectiveness by giving our
enemies an iron-clad accusation of double standards to use against us.
Moreover, the willingness to throw principles to the wind makes us
look desperate--like what, in fact, we have largely become: a movement
with no real faith in its own power.
2. A Realistic Sense of Our Own Power
The cynicism which has led to the tactically and ethically disastrous
alliance with ANSWER is, paradoxically, the flipside of a naive
utopianism. "People marched and demonstrated a whole lot to try to
stop the war, and we weren't able to," UFPJ's Leslie Cagan was quoted
in the Washington Post Oct. 19. "That had, I think, for some segments
of the activist community, a little bit of a demoralizing effect."
The notion that the Feb. 15 mobilization was going to "stop the war"
is a simple denial of political reality. Equally so is the notion that
the mobilization was not worthwhile because it failed to "stop the
Millions worldwide in the streets clearly would not deter Bush, but it
almost certainly helped sway others in positions of power to rein in
the worst excesses of what Bush had planned. The "shock and awe"
bombardment of Baghdad was to have dwarfed the massive aerial
bombardment of 1991's Operation Desert Storm, with Pentagon officials
actually calling it a "21st Century Blitzkrieg." In the actual fact,
far fewer missiles fell on Baghdad in 2003 than in 1991. The London
Times reported May 2 that the Pentagon cut the planned bombing
campaign in half after the commander of British forces in the Persian
Gulf argued that it would have disastrous political consequences. Many
factors doubtless played into this thinking, including the threat of
unrest in the Middle East, the risk of defection or destabilization of
pro-West Arab regimes--and, we can safely assume, the global wave of
The Feb. 15 mobilizaiton probably saved countless Iraqi lives. And--if
we could build on the progress intelligently--it would put us in a
stronger position to oppose the current occupation.
By setting up unrealistic expectations, we assure our own
demoralization and burn-out. We have to accept that the struggle
against US imperialism will probably persist for generations, and we
are in it for the long haul. This means resisting the temptations of
self-delusion and easy answers.
3. Asking the Tough Questions
Soundbite pseudo-analysis is an inherent danger of activism, which
must be guarded against at all times. Slogans like "Bring the troops
home" and "US out of Iraq" are handy for fitting on a placard, but
they inevitably dodge the really tough questions. Having now plunged
Iraq into social entropy, destroyed the country's infrastructure and
brought to a boil myriad ethnic and religious conflicts which had been
simmering under the Saddam dictatorship, it might be the height of
irresponsibility for the US to just unilaterally withdraw. It would,
in fact, be a violation of the responsibilities of an occupying power
under international law.
We must be clear that US imperialism will never act in the interests
of the Iraqi people, whatever rhetoric about "freedom" and "democracy"
is cynically employed. Empires act in the interests of empire: they
always have and always will. But a unilateral withdrawal which allows
genuinely freedom-hating jihadis to take power would not be in the
interests of the Iraqi people either. "US out of Iraq" only works as a
demand if we have some kind alternative to offer.
We are not going to arrive at answers to such difficult questions
merely by thinking about them--and we have largely failed to do even
that. We can only begin to find alternatives to support in Iraq by
opening a dialogue with pro-democracy, anti-occupation Iraqis, either
on the ground in Iraq or in exile. The work of the San Francisco-based
Open World Conference of Workers to seek out and support dissident
unionists in Iraq is a step in this direction. So is the Independent
Media Center network's effort to support a Baghdad IMC. But the
mainstream anti-war movement has dodged its responsibility on this
front, the leaders being apparently too pre-occupied with maintaining
and strengthening their own position of leadership.
Whatever happened to CARDRI, the Committee Against Repression and for
Democratic Rights in Iraq, the progressive London-based exile group
that opposed both the Saddam dictatorship and US imperialist designs
in the 1980s? Does CARDRI still exist? Are any of its members still
vocal and active? It is from such voices that we must seek
leadership--not from the self-appointed cadre of Workers World, or
even the comparatively innocuous Leslie Cagan.
I offer that the alliance with ANSWER may actually make the Oct. 25
mobilization more counter-productive than worthwhile, but I am aware
that many dedicated and sincere activists will be attending despite
misgivings. At a minimum, I hope I have provided some fodder for
serious discussion on the bus ride to Washington.