"Left" apologists for US imperialism red-bait the anti-war movement
by David Walsh and Barry Grey, World Socialist Web Site, 5 February 2003
The Worker's World Party (WWP) itself has just put out a long email along the same lines as this one, claiming that all criticism of its "leadership" and "building" of the anti-war movement must be a form of "McCarthyism" and "red-baiting". It is easy enough to knock down Corn, Cooper and Gitlin, whose analysis is just as easily directed against "conspiracy-theorists" when necessary, and they clearly have bourgeoise leanings and apologist tendencies. WWP claims that all those attacking them have failed to bring even one person to an anti-war rally.
My response to this is that it is pre-emptive rationalization and defensiveness against legitimate progressive criticism of the role that WWP is playing and its opportunist and unprincipled behavior, as well as its hostility to the existing peace movement in general.
The first and most blatant example of this was a national response to 9/11 planned by them on September 29, 2001 at Freedom Plaza in DC. The Washington Peace Center and about 15 other local groups, along with many elements of the IMF/World Bank protestors from Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ) (who had decided to cancel their own demonstrations that weekend in light of 9/11), planned a day-long local gathering in Malcolm X Park and a community walk through Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in DC, calling for no war in Afghanistan.
Immediately, elements of the WWP and supporters inside MGJ's ranks tried to force that group to support only the ANSWER event on the 29th, in the name of "unity". We did not encourage anyone to choose between events, assuming that many would attend both, but we knew there were people who had no interest in going to the ANSWER event, and we had our own long history of bad relations with International Action Committee (a WWP-led precursor of ANSWER) due to similar unprincipled and manipulative behavior in local anti-war coalitions.
In any case, the event on the 29th got C-SPAN coverage for a long string of radical speeches, which got the early anti-war effort the epithet of "Blame America Firsters" since it proposed no alternatives to war and basically asserted that America had it coming so should just sit there and take it. In the planning of our event, other vanguardists from the International Socialist Organization, which had completely penetrated MGJ but are now invisible in it, and who were busy colonizing our offices as well until I became aware of it, took the position that no alternative (such as an international ad-hoc tribunal to deal with 9/11 as a crime against humanity) could be offered or tolerated. Our event, which brought out over 3,000 people, got almost no press coverage but galvanized the community and was very visible and well received by people here in DC.
This pattern emerged again in the organizing of April 20th in DC, an event planned for and called by both the National Coalition for Peace and Justice and the Student and Youth Coalition for the same. 60,000 people came out as a result of those efforts to Sylvan Theatre on the National Mall and the proceedings were sent out live over Pacifica.
Getting wind of this event, WWP via ANSWER, which they clearly lead and dominate despite a range of groups that are involved, leapt to change the date of their own Palestinian solidarity march scheduled on April 27 to coincide with the April 20 event. No agreement was reached on this in their negotiations with the A20 organizers but they sent out a completely false and self-serving email anyway saying that the events had been merged and unity achieved. This is exactly the type of false "unity" which is used by them to absorb the rest of the movement under their rhetoric.
ANSWER worked through the Palestinian and Arab communities to bring out 40,000 people on April 20 to crticize Israel and support Palestinian liberation, a large segment of whom were carrying Palestinian national flags and Israeli flags with swastikas painted on them. I engaged one of the latter flag-carriers to ask whether he knew that was offensive to progressive anti-war Jewish protestors at the event since it was a symbol of the holocaust of millions of Jews and other ethnic and political or religious groups. He asked me whether I knew that was a myth and it had never happened. I asked him if he had a political affiliation and he said he did not.
The women leading the A20 peace event were not welcome on the Palestinian/ANSWER stage at the east end of the Mall that we marched to. The press ran off to cover the ANSWER rally, which included one person talking about driving the Jews into the sea, and ignored the message at Sylvan theatre that made a critique of Bush's planned response to 9/11 in Afghanistan as well as of the domestic repression of the PATRIOT Act. One press reporter smirked at me and said "I guess your message is getting lost" and I replied, "Not if you cover it."
ANSWER then took the lead in the last two national demonstrations in DC against the war on Iraq. I do fault elements of the peace movement for not being prepared to take that task on when it was critical, but I have even more criticism for the way ANSWER has handled the messaging from these demonstrations. They do not want to work in honest coalitions that they cannot dominate because their bottom line is to control the political message and build their party. They cannot organize around that line in any open way, so they follow in the footsteps of so many such "parties" by rushing any genuine grass-roots issue-based movement for change or to oppose war policies. C-SPAN is all too eager to cover them, but I have found they consistently will not cover most events led by progressive anti-war groups.
I do not, as some do, give ANSWER credit for the turnout at these events. I know a great deal about the plethora of grass roots organizing going on across the country by established peace organizations and centers as well as new ad hoc community and youth groups. There is a broad groundswell of opposition to this war, and it is not being generated by the politics of ANSWER.
I would contend that anyone willing to do the logistics of throwing this party would pack the place or the streets as we have done in DC since (for example a march from Dupont Circle to Cheney's house led by the Peace Center, Peace Action and church groups brought out 5,000 mostly local folks on September 30 this year). In fact, what I saw on both October 26 and January 18 was a very diverse crowd of people, many colors and very mainstream, from groups and cities all over the country, and both young and old, many out for the first time to a demonstration.
In other words, we have a whole new congregation, but ANSWER up on the stage is still preaching to the old, miniscule crowd, and losing the masses and the message. Right now, we could have members of Congress, the head of the National Council of Churches and other inter-faith organizations, famous writers, celebrities, and nationally known and respected speakers up on the stage of a large rally like that against this war. Instead of marginalizing the movement in the way that ANSWER does with its dogmatism and "more radical than thou" egotism, we could be inclusive and supportive to a broad range of people who are ready to oppose the war or have serious doubts by having credible voices up front that would legitimize their feelings without alienating so many.
That would be "unity". As I told the organizers of the original September 29 DC event when they formed a working group to create "principles of unity" (unprincipled disunity as it turned out to be in practice), it made no sense to try to determine what principles of unity the organizers could agree on since we were all against the war. Any really useful principle of unity would have to unify us with those not in the room already. That would mean addressing basic values and themes (Violence Begets Violence, Justice Begets Peace, Rule of Law Not Rule of Force, etc.) instead of coming up with a list of the usual "tenets of faith" expressed as "we oppose" or "we condemn", etc, without any alternative offered save criticism. And stated with their "we," they also create an immediate dichotomy between the dissenters and those who do not agree with their "religious" beliefs, required to be one of "us".
At some point, critique without hope or alternatives, and an agenda of endless demonstration without program for change becomes a sort of petulance and also useless. Unless one somehow thinks that if enough people come out to demonstrate behind the ANSWER banner that the government will just step down, or be overthrown somehow, and WWP will guide us into the glorious socialist future run by them, of course.
In the final analysis, I have always believed that the interests of a political party are inimical to the interests of a grass roots movement, because one is centralized and the other decentralized, and also because the party puts power back into the hands of a few and alienates the many. If you want to red-white-and-blue bait me for criticizing ANSWER and WWP's unprincipled opportunism you can. But you cannot accuse me of supporting imperialsm, capitulating to a comfortable lifestyle, apologizing for fascism or capitalism, or failing to organize anyone into actions against war. Being a socialist does not make you into a sacred cow. In my view the "leadership" of ANSWER in this movement is taking it down a dead-end ally at a time in history when we can ill afford not to organize the largest progressive possible response under a broader banner of peace and justice as well as opposing war and repression.