---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 05 Feb 2003 11:33:23 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Left apologists for US imperialism red-bait the anti-war movement
Left apologists for US imperialism red-bait the anti-war movement
By David Walsh and Barry Grey
5 February 2003
The emergence of a broad-based movement of opposition to the Bush
administration's war against Iraq caught the American political and media
establishment unawares. In the response of the various factions of the
ruling elite there has been one common theme: the need to purge the anti-war
movement of its left-wing elements and render it politically harmless.
The instinctive response of the extreme right is to red-bait, denouncing the
demonstrations as the organizational work of "communists" and other outside
agitators. The establishment "liberals" of the New York Times variety
intervene more subtly in an effort to isolate and discredit socialist
tendencies and bring the protests under the control of a section of the
Both factions have singled out for attack the Workers World Party, which
plays a leading role in ANSWER, a coalition of anti-war groups that has
organized large demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere.
These efforts are aided and abetted by another group-ex-radicals and former
anti-war liberals centered around the Nation magazine. Three articles in
particular, appearing at about the time of the first significant US
protests, held last October, marked the beginning of this group's
intervention. The articles are: "A Smart Peace Movement is MIA," by Marc
Cooper, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times of September 29, 2002; "Who
Will Lead?" by Todd Gitlin (Mother Jones magazine, October 14, 2002); and
"Behind the Placards: The odd and troubling origins of today's anti-war
movement," by David Corn (LA Weekly, November 1, 2002).
Cooper, a contributing editor of the Nation, went to Chile in 1971 to
volunteer his services to the Salvador Allende Popular Front regime and was
serving as Allende's translator at the time of the military coup. Gitlin was
the president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1963-64. After
16 years at the University of California at Berkeley, he now is a professor
of journalism and sociology at Columbia University in New York. Corn, the
Washington editor of the Nation, formerly worked for Ralph Nader's Center
for Study of Responsive Law.
The three pieces in question constitute a type of "left" gutter journalism.
Their authors are unable to muster serious arguments, resorting instead to
distortions, amalgams and ad hominem attacks.
In their attacks on left-wing elements, they echo the professional
red-baiters. One telling episode speaks volumes about the political and
moral character of this political layer. On November 19, David Corn appeared
on the "O'Reilly Factor"-a talk-show on Fox News hosted by the extreme-right
demagogue Bill O'Reilly. Corn carried out his assignment for O'Reilly,
witch-hunting the Workers World group and smearing the anti-war movement.
O'Reilly introduced Corn by saying, "And you say that the Workers World
Party, a hardcore communist organization in the USA, is putting together
these peace rallies, is that true?" Corn replied, "To call them an
organization is perhaps giving them too much credit. I doubt they have
enough people to fill a telephone booth. They're a very small sectarian
political outfit based in New York City."
O'Reilly, a figure in the tradition of Joseph McCarthy, aptly characterized
Corn's appearance, saying, "[Y]ou finger a guy who is on the board of ANSWER
... you finger him as being really the driver behind all this, right?"
Gitlin and Cooper belong to the generation of former anti-war protesters and
radicals who have undergone a dramatic transformation over the past two
decades, shifting further and further to the right. They long ago made their
peace with the existing social order and seek at every critical moment to
demonstrate their loyalty to the powers that be.
This social layer never accepted the Marxist analysis that imperialist wars
such as the Vietnam conflict were rooted in the contradictions of capitalism
and were inevitable products of that system. Their skepticism about the
revolutionary capacities of the working class has only deepened over the
past quarter century. More than a few of the "generation of 1968" have found
lucrative positions within the media, academia, liberal think tanks, unions
and assorted institutions.
A watershed in the evolution of this layer was the civil war in Yugoslavia
in the early 1990s and the US-led bombing campaign against Serbia in 1998. A
host of former leftists became enthusiastic supporters of imperialist
intervention and uncritically accepted the war propaganda doled out by the
media, which portrayed the NATO war as a crusade against "ethnic cleansing."
The Yugoslav tragedy, including its dismemberment in 1991 and the ensuing
communalist strife in Bosnia and Kosovo, was the product of a concerted
campaign of destabilization carried out by the US and the European powers.
The ex-radicals ignored this process and lent their "left" credentials to
the demonization of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Stalinist turned Serb
nationalist. Marxists, notwithstanding their opposition to the Milosevic
regime and its treatment of the Albanian Kosovars, recognized that the
US-NATO assault on Serbia was an imperialist war and the prelude to greater,
Given this background, it is noteworthy that in all three above-cited
articles, the authors make great play of the presence of former US attorney
general Ramsey Clark (a leading spokesman for ANSWER) on the International
Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. Corn observes that the "WWP [Workers
World Party] has campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav
President Slobodan Milosevic" and that Clark has called the tribunal "a tool
of the West to crush those who stand in the way of US imperialism."
Corn, Gitlin and Cooper all take for granted that only an ultra-left fanatic
could hold such a position. That the Milosevic tribunal is a politically
motivated travesty of justice, staged in large part to justify the US-NATO
aggression against Yugoslavia, is now widely acknowledged. The former
Serbian president has been able to turn the tables on his accusers and
expose numerous distortions, exaggerations and fabrications.
For our three authors, support for the US-NATO war against Serbia was only
the beginning of a new political career: that of "left" defender of US
militarism. All three embraced the Bush administration's "war on terror" and
the US invasion of Afghanistan. Cooper writes in his LA Times piece that "a
proportionate American military response to Al Qaeda was not only justified
but absolutely necessary" and paints the present abysmal situation in
Afghanistan in glowing colors.
Now, however, Cooper, Gitlin and Corn claim to be opponents of a war against
Iraq. Why they choose to oppose this particular war, while defending its
precursors, they do not explain. In fact, as we shall see, they do not
really oppose war against Iraq.
On the contrary, they accept uncritically all of the basic premises of the
American establishment, echoing the line of the New York Times, which has
criticized Bush's anti-Iraq war drive on purely tactical, rather than
The hallmark of all three is a lack of any serious analysis-historical,
political or social. In their haste to smear socialist and anti-imperialist
critics of Bush's war policy, they cannot be bothered with such matters as
the driving forces of the coming war, the history of US intervention in the
Persian Gulf and the Middle East, the policies and political character of
the Bush administration, the social situation in the US, or the economic
context within which the war drive is unfolding.
Significantly, the word "oil" does not appear in any of these articles.
All three writers presume to speak as political authorities offering the
benefit of their insight to "save" the anti-war movement from
self-destruction. But even apart from the reactionary content of their
politics, the dearth of substantive analysis brands them as charlatans and i
The "good" side of US imperialism
Cooper, in his article, denounces the "knee-jerk faction of the left" who
opposed the US war on Afghanistan: "Steeped in four decades' worth of a
crude anti-Americanism, it believed that the use of any American military
power was and would always be immoral." Returning to this theme later in his
article, Cooper calls on what he refers to as "more mature segments of the
left" to "step into the forefront of the peace movement and displace those
who can only see evil in America."
Cooper's modus operandi is that of all demagogues: setting up a straw man
"who can only see evil in America" in order to knock it down. Socialists do
not see "only evil" in America. They make a fundamental distinction between
the ruling elite, its political representatives and military command, on the
one hand, and its working population, on the other.
In any event, Cooper is not defending the American people from crude
attempts to lump them together with the US ruling elite. He is defending
American imperialism against those who fail to see its "positive" side.
Cooper goes on to argue that "the full dimensions of the standoff with Iraq
must be honestly acknowledged." He writes: "Yes, Bush is exploiting war
fever for domestic political purposes. But it's also true that Hussein is a
bloody tyrant and that the Iraqi people would be much better off without
him; he has violated many UN resolutions; he continues to try to develop
horrific weapons of mass destruction; he cynically manipulated the UN
weapons inspection program and might again attempt to do so if its is
These are accusations taken directly from the stockpile of US war
propaganda, repeated as if they were indisputably true. Cooper has no more
proof of Iraq's "horrific weapons of mass destruction" than George Bush,
Donald Rumsfeld or Colin Powell.
His parroting of the US line on Iraq raises the obvious question: if the US
military is capable of waging "just" wars for democracy and human rights, as
in Kosovo and Afghanistan, why not support its latest humanitarian effort?
In reality, Cooper does not oppose a military strike on Iraq, he merely
opposes "the administration's rush to war." (Gitlin repeats the same phrase
in his piece, calling on the "left" to weigh in "usefully ... against the
rush to war.")
Cooper asks rhetorically, "If the left is for containment instead of
invasion, then isn't it the US armed forces that must do the containing?...
If, at the end of the day, Hussein does foil weapons inspections, what is to
be done then? What are the responsibilities of the international community
in countenancing or confronting a long-standing and dangerous dictator like
Hussein?" Cooper chooses not to reply to his own question. He doesn't have
to. His answer is obvious.
Cooper speaks for a section of the ruling elite that seeks a more prudent
and deliberate buildup to war, fearing that Bush's recklessness might have
politically disastrous consequences. His argument that "The fight against
Bin Laden's gang is necessary, and going to war against Iraq can only
detract from it," is the line of a section of the Congressional Democrats,
some of whom voted to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq.
Gitlin: the "patriotic anti-warrior"
Gitlin postures as a friend to anti-war protesters, someone who wishes the
movement only the best. In his piece he calls the emergence of protest "an
overdue fact and a necessary one." He quickly turns his fire, however, on
the "leadership of the current antiwar movement"-presumably Workers
World-which is "building a firebreak around itself, turning the movement
toward the bitter-end orthodoxy of the Old Left and away from the millions
of Americans whose honest concerns and ambivalence might fuel it."
What this "bitter-end orthodoxy" might be is never spelled out. Its essence,
however, is clear: opposition to capitalism. The "unorthodox" Gitlin long
ago made his peace with the existing social order and has enjoyed a
comfortable academic life as a result.
With horror, Gitlin reports on speaking to a rally outside the UN and
glimpsing placards that read "NO SANCTIONS, NO BOMBING." Fairly frothing,
Gitlin denounces this slogan as "emblematic of a refusal to face a grotesque
world." He rebukes the "left-wing sectarians who promote 'NO SANCTIONS, NO
BOMBING' for "a near-total unwillingness to rebuke Saddam Hussein" and
"rejection of any conceivable rationale for using force."
This hysterical reaction to the most elementary demands places Gitlin,
politically speaking, squarely within the ranks of the Congressional
Democrats, Clinton, and the rest of the "liberal" establishment that has
played a decisive role in facilitating the Bush administration's war drive.
Describing left-wing opponents of the administration's war policy as
"morally tainted," Gitlin asserts that "Liberal-left anti-warriors need to
be out-front patriots if they expect to draw the attention and the support
of Americans at large." Here the former Vietnam War protester projects his
own cowardice and prostration before US imperialism onto the broad mass of
working people. As with all his ilk, he can only conceive of the American
working class as a reactionary force.
The irony is that Gitlin's frenzy is a fearful reaction to signs of a
radicalization within the working class, reflected in the first instance in
the emergence of a broad-based anti-war movement.
Gitlin asks rhetorically: "Doesn't Saddam Hussein bear some responsibility
for the disaster? Must that not be noted?" This insistence on the
culpability of the Hussein regime and the crimes committed by the various
regimes targeted by the US, some of which are real, some exaggerated, is a
common feature of the three writers' articles.
It becomes the pretext for justifying imperialist intervention and painting
it in democratic and humanitarian colors. Here, as in everything else,
Gitlin and company are merely parroting the ruling elite itself.
For Marxists, the depredations of these regimes are, at bottom, expressions
of their class character: they are regimes of the national bourgeoisie.
Their essentially reactionary character is bound up with their inability to
establish any genuine independence from imperialism. Indeed, at one time or
another, all of them, including that of Saddam Hussein, have enjoyed the
sponsorship of the US or some other imperialist power.
The liberation of the people from such regimes is the task of the working
masses themselves, and is inseparably bound up with the anti-imperialist and
anti-capitalist struggles of the international working class.
Corn begins his article by referring scornfully to issues raised at the
October 26 rally in Washington: "Free Mumia [Abu-Jamal]. 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."
Corn's sarcasm is directed against any conception that a connection exists
between the Bush administration's warmongering abroad and its policies of
repression and social reaction at home, as well as its support for the
Sharon regime in Israel. This brings to the fore the second thread that runs
throughout the arguments of Cooper, Gitlin and Corn.
In addition to isolating and purging left-wing elements from the anti-war
movement, they seek to separate the issue of war from the social and
political issues (social inequality, the attack on democratic rights, the
disenfranchisement of the working class within the two-party system) with
which it is organically linked. These two themes are driven by the same
political motivation: to prevent the emergence of a popular movement against
war based on the working class and animated by a socialist perspective.
In any event, like Cooper and Gitlin, Corn is not really opposed to war
against Iraq. He merely differs with the Bush administration's tactics,
writing: "In a telling sign of the organizers' priorities, the cause of
Mumia Abu-Jamal ... drew greater attention than the idea that revived and
unfettered weapons inspections should occur in Iraq before George W. Bush
launches a war."
An "anti-war" movement dedicated to "revived and unfettered weapons
inspections" as the prelude to possible military aggression! Such is Doctor
Corn's prescription.With such friends, genuine opponents of the Iraq war
have no need of enemies.
Corn is the most explicit red-baiter and anticommunist of the three, as his
appearance on the O'Reilly program demonstrated. He denies, in one passage,
that it is "red-baiting to note the WWP's [Workers World Party's]
not-too-hidden hand" in the anti-war movement, and then writes a few
paragraphs later: "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."
Not accidentally, Corn is also the most explicit advocate of the AFL-CIO
trade union bureaucracy. The Washington editor of the Nation writes: "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."
This would mean, in practice, an anti-war movement subordinate to the union
bureaucracy and the Democratic Party. Corn demands to know, moreover,
whether it is "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?" referring to the Workers World Party's
support for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Calling Kim a "socialist" is a gross distortion of reality, but then so too
is the reference to the AFL-CIO as a fighter for worker rights "abroad and
home." The US trade union apparatus has for years been a conduit of CIA
funds and vehicle for American imperialist operations throughout Latin
America, Africa and Asia. "At home" it has collaborated directly over the
past 20 years in the destruction of living standards, jobs, working
conditions and pensions.
Cooper, Gitlin and Corn are hardened and conscious enemies of any mass
movement opposed to American capitalism. This makes it impossible for them
to oppose the war on Iraq, which it rooted in the imperialist world system
and its contradictions. The frenzied character of the attacks by these three
and others of their ilk on radical elements in the anti-war movement is the
product of the objective situation itself, their resulting fear of a
radicalized population and their own sense of isolation.
Events, meanwhile, are brilliantly confirming the Marxist critique of
imperialism, which is reemerging politically and militarily in its purest
and most violent form. The more this critique is vindicated, the more these
essentially right-wing elements scramble to lend "their own" imperialist
power a democratic and progressive coloration. The pathetic and transparent
character of their sweatings is a measure of the impossibility of their
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