[sixties-l] The Odd and Troubling Origins of Todays Anti-War Movement (fwd)

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Date: Mon Nov 18 2002 - 18:30:04 EST

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    Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2002 15:13:12 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: The Odd and Troubling Origins of Todays Anti-War Movement

    Behind the Placards


    The Odd and Troubling Origins of Today's Anti-War Movement

    by David Corn
    Published in the November 1-7, 2002 issue of LA Weekly

    FREE MUMIA. FREE THE CUBAN 5. FREE JAMIL AL-AMIN (that's H. Rap Brown, the
    former Black Panther convicted in March of killing a sheriff's deputy in
    2000). And free Leonard Peltier. Also, defeat Zionism. And, while we're at
    it, let's bring the capitalist system to a halt.

    When tens of thousands of people gathered near the Vietnam Veterans
    Memorial for an anti-war rally and march in Washington last Saturday, the
    demands hurled by the speakers extended far beyond the call for no war
    against Iraq. Opponents of the war can be heartened by the sight of people
    coming together in Washington and other cities for pre-emptive protests.
    But demonstrations such as these are not necessarily strategic advances,
    for the crowds are still relatively small and, more importantly, the
    message is designed by the far left for consumption by those already in
    their choir.

    In a telling sign of the organizers' priorities, the cause of Mumia
    Abu-Jamal, the taxi driver/radical journalist sentenced to death two
    decades ago for killing a policeman, drew greater attention than the idea
    that revived and unfettered weapons inspections should occur in Iraq before
    George W. Bush launches a war. Few of the dozens of speakers, if any,
    bothered suggesting a policy option regarding Saddam Hussein other than a
    simplistic leave-Iraq-alone. Jesse Jackson may have been the only major
    figure to acknowledge Saddam's brutality, noting that the Iraqi dictator
    "should be held accountable for his crimes." What to do about Iraq? Most
    speakers had nothing to say about that. Instead, the Washington rally was a
    pander fest for the hard left.

    If public-opinion polls are correct, 33 percent to 40 percent of the public
    opposes an Iraq war; even more are against a unilateral action. This means
    the burgeoning anti-war movement has a large recruiting pool, yet the demo
    was not intended to persuade doubters. Nor did it speak to Americans who
    oppose the war but who don't consider the United States a force of
    unequaled imperialist evil and who don't yearn to smash global capitalism.

    This was no accident, for the demonstration was essentially organized by
    the Workers World Party, a small political sect that years ago split from
    the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in
    1956. The party advocates socialist revolution and abolishing private
    property. It is a fan of Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba, and it hails North
    Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il for preserving his country's "socialist
    system," which, according to the party's newspaper, has kept North Korea
    "from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations
    that dictate to most of the world." The WWP has campaigned against the
    war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A recent
    Workers World editorial declared, "Iraq has done absolutely nothing wrong."

    Officially, the organizer of the Washington demonstration was International
    ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). But ANSWER is run by WWP
    activists, to such an extent that it seems fair to dub it a WWP front.
    Several key ANSWER officials ^ including spokesperson Brian Becker ^ are
    WWP members. Many local offices for ANSWER's protest were housed in WWP
    offices. Earlier this year, when ANSWER conducted a press briefing, at
    least five of the 13 speakers were WWP activists. They were each
    identified, though, in other ways, including as members of the
    International Action Center.

    The IAC, another WWP offshoot, was a key partner with ANSWER in promoting
    the protest. It was founded by Ramsey Clark, attorney general for President
    Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. For years, Clark has been on a bizarre
    political odyssey, much of the time in sync with the Workers World Party.
    As an attorney, he has represented Lyndon LaRouche, the leader of a
    political cult. He has defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and
    Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, who was accused of participating in the
    genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Clark is also a member of the International
    Committee To Defend Slobodan Milosevic. The international war-crimes
    tribunal, he explains, "is war by other means" ^ that is, a tool of the
    West to crush those who stand in the way of U.S. imperialism, like
    Milosevic. A critic of the ongoing sanctions against Iraq, Clark has
    appeared on talking-head shows and refused to concede any wrongdoing on
    Saddam's part. There is no reason to send weapons inspectors to Iraq, he
    told CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "After 12 years of brutalization with sanctions
    and bombing they'd like to be a country again. They'd like to have
    sovereignty again. They'd like to be left alone."

    It is not redbaiting to note the WWP's not-too-hidden hand in the nascent
    anti-war movement. It explains the tone and message of Saturday's rally.
    Take the question of inspections. According to Workers World, at a party
    conference in September, Sara Flounders, a WWP activist, reported war
    opponents were using the slogan "inspections, not war." Flounders, the
    paper says, "pointed out that 'inspections ARE war' in another form," and
    that she had "prepared party activists to struggle within the movement on
    this question." Translation: The WWP would do whatever it could to smother
    the "inspections, not war" cry. Inspections-before-invasion is an effective
    argument against the dash to war. But it conflicts with WWP support for
    opponents of U.S. imperialism. At the Washington event, the WWP succeeded
    in blocking out that line ^ while promoting anti-war messages more
    simpatico with its dogma.

    WWP shaped the demonstration's content by loading the speakers' list with
    its own people. None, though, were identified as belonging to the WWP.
    Larry Holmes, who emceed much of the rally from a stage dominated by ANSWER
    posters, was introduced as a representative of the ANSWER Steering
    Committee and the International Action Center. The audience was not told
    that he is also a member of the secretariat of the Workers World Party.
    When Leslie Feinberg spoke and accused Bush of concocting a war to cover up
    "the capitalist economic crisis," she informed the crowd that she is "a
    Jewish revolutionary" dedicated to the "fight against Zionism." When I
    asked her what groups she worked with, she replied that she was a
    "lesbian-gay-bi-transgender movement activist." Yet a May issue of Workers
    World describes Feinberg as a "lesbian and transgendered communist and a
    managing editor of Workers World." The WWP's Sara Flounders, who urged the
    crowd to resist "colonial subjugation," was presented as an IAC rep.
    Shortly after she spoke, Holmes introduced one of the event's big-name
    speakers: Ramsey Clark. He declared that the Bush administration aims to
    "end the idea of individual freedom."

    Most of the protesters, I assume, were oblivious to the WWP's role in the
    event. They merely wanted to gather with other foes of the war and express
    their collective opposition. They waved signs ("We need an Axis of Sanity,"
    "Draft Perle," "Collateral Damage = Civilian Deaths," "Fuck Bush"). They
    cheered on rappers who sang, "No blood for oil." They laughed when Medea
    Benjamin, the head of Global Exchange, said, "We need to stop the
    testosterone-poisoning of our globe." They filled red ANSWER donation
    buckets with coins and bills. But how might they have reacted if Holmes and
    his comrades had asked them to stand with Saddam, Milosevic and Kim? Or to
    oppose further inspections in Iraq?

    One man in the crowd was wise to the behind-the-scenes politics. When Brian
    Becker, a WWP member introduced (of course) as an ANSWER activist, hit the
    stage, Paul Donahue, a middle-aged fellow who works with the Thomas Merton
    Peace and Social Justice Center in Pittsburgh, shouted, "Stalinist!"
    Donahue and his colleagues at the Merton Center, upset that WWP activists
    were in charge of this demonstration, had debated whether to attend. "Some
    of us tried to convince others to come," Donahue recalled. "We figured we
    could dilute the [WWP] part of the message. But in the end most didn't
    come. People were saying, 'They're Maoists.' But they're the only game in
    town, and I've got to admit they're good organizers. They remembered
    everything but the Porta-Johns." Rock singer Patti Smith, though, was not
    troubled by the organizers. "My main concern now is the anti-war movement,"
    she said before playing for the crowd. "I'm for a nonpartisan, globalist
    movement. I don't care who it is as long as they feel the same."

    The WWP does have the shock troops and talent needed to construct a quasi
    mass demonstration. But the bodies have to come from elsewhere. So WWPers
    create fronts and trim their message, and anti-war Americans, who
    presumably don't share WWP sentiments, have an opportunity to assemble and
    register their stand against the war. At the same time, WWP activists,
    hiding their true colors, gain a forum where thousands of people listen to
    their exhortations. Is this a good deal ^ or a dangerous one? Who's using whom?

    "Organizing against the silence is important," Bob Borosage, executive
    director of Campaign for America's Future, a leading progressive policy
    shop in Washington, said backstage at the rally: "This [rally] is easy to
    dismiss as the radical fringe, but it holds the potential for a larger
    movement down the road." Borosage did add that the WWP "puts a slant on the
    speakers and that limits the appeal to others. But history shows that
    protests are organized first by militant, radical fringe parties and then
    get taken over by more centrist voices as the movement grows. They provide
    a vessel for people who want to protest."

    That's the vessel-half-filled view. The other argument is that WWP's
    involvement will prevent the anti-war movement from growing. Sure, the
    commies can rent buses and obtain parade permits, but if they have a say in
    the message, as they have had, the anti-war movement is going to have a
    tough time signing up non-lefties. When the organizers tried and failed to
    play a recorded message from Al-Amin, Lorena Stackpole, a 20-year-old New
    York University student, said, "This is not what I came for." And an
    organizer for a non-revolutionary peace group that participated in the
    event remarked, "The rhetoric here is not useful if we want to expand."
    After all, how does urging the release of Cubans accused of committing
    espionage in the United States ^ a pet project of the WWP ^ help draw more
    people into the anti-war movement? (In a similar reds-take-control
    situation, the "Not in My Name" campaign ^ which pushes an anti-war
    statement signed by scores of prominent and celebrity lefties, including
    Jane Fonda, Martin Luther King III, Marisa Tomei, Kurt Vonnegut and Oliver
    Stone ^ has been directed, in part, by C. Clark Kissinger, a longtime
    Maoist activist and member of the Revolutionary Communist Party.)

    Let's be real: A Washington demonstration involving tens of thousands of
    people will not yield much political impact ^ especially when held while
    Congress is out of town and the relevant legislation has already been
    rubber-stamped. (The organizers claimed 200,000 showed, but that seemed a
    pumped-up guesstimate, perhaps three or four times the real number.) The
    anti-war movement won't have a chance of applying pressure on the political
    system unless it becomes much larger and able to squeeze elected officials
    at home and in Washington.

    To reach that stage, the new peace movement will need the involvement of
    labor unions and churches. That's where the troops are ^ in the pews, in
    the union halls. How probable is it, though, that mainstream churches and
    unions will join a coalition led by the we-love-North-Korea set? Moreover,
    is it appropriate for groups and churches that care about human rights and
    worker rights abroad and at home to make common cause with those who
    champion socialist tyrants?

    At the rally, speaker after speaker declared, "We are the real Americans."
    But most "real Americans" do not see a direct connection between Mumia, the
    Cuban Five and the war against Iraq. Jackson, for one, exclaimed, "This
    time the silent majority is on our side." If the goal is to bring the
    silent majority into the anti-war movement, it's not going to be achieved
    by people carrying pictures of Kim Jong-Il ^ even if they keep them hidden
    in their wallets.

    As yet another WWP-in-disguise speaker addressed the crowd, Steve Cobble, a
    progressive political consultant, gazed out at the swarm of protesters and
    observed, "People are looking for something to do." Good for them. But they
    ought to also look at the leaders they are following and wonder if those
    individuals will guide them toward a broader, more effective movement or
    toward the fringe irrelevance the WWPers know so well.
    Jonathan H. Miller contributed to this report.

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