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HOW THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT IS BLOWING IT

by Bill Weinberg Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 9:27 AM

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.

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 support genocide.

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 "counter-revolutionaries."

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 war."

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 protests.

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.

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red baiting article Provocateur Detector Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 11:31 AM
Provocateur Detector Provocateur Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 11:37 AM
Thank you for this article 000 Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 11:38 AM
How is the anti-war movement blowing it? nonanarchist Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 11:46 AM
HOW THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT IS BLOWING IT it's me, man Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 11:49 AM
More ANSWER Bashing --SO TIRED!!! mediawatcher Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 11:57 AM
Yikes! The Commie Anti-War People Are Protesting! Give me a break! MC Bushkilla Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 12:07 PM
Yes, I am a red baiter 000 Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 12:10 PM
this isn't red baiting more rational Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 1:16 PM
Red-baiting Veteran activist Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 2:43 PM

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