Maoists go mainstream
Sarah Ferguson writes for the Village Voice, Oct. 5:
Rallies Today: World Can't Wait—for What?
Call them the popular front to MoveOn.org's dogged efforts to defeat Republicans at the ballot box this November.
Today the anti-Bush campaign World Can't Wait is pledging to bring legions of fellow Bush foes to the streets here in New York and in cities across the country, in a collective manifestation of "resistance" intended to "drive out the Bush regime." Organizers are boasting of more than 200 protests nationwide, with numbers swelling thanks to full-page ads in the New York Times and USA Today and celebrity backing from the likes of Sean Penn and Mark Ruffalo.
The ads, which blare "SILENCE + TORTURE = COMPLICITY," seek to capitalize on Congress's latest craven capitulation: the passage of the Military Commissions Act, which shreds habeas corpus for so-called enemy combatants and gives President Bush the authority to define what is and isn't torture.
Theirs is a compelling pitch: The Democrats can't save us; rise up now or the fascist state is upon us.
And World Can't Wait has managed to draw in an impressive list of endorsers from across the American left, among them Gore Vidal, Cindy Sheehan, Alice Walker, Daniel Ellsberg, Eve Ensler, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jane Fonda, Mark Crispin Miller, Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, and former Voice writer Esther Kaplan, author of With God on Their Side, who will no doubt address the perils of an emergent U.S. theocracy as one of the speakers at today's rally in Union Square.
Other backers include Reverend Al Sharpton, congressmen John Conyers and Major Owens, 1199 SEIU leader Dennis Rivera, New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, and City Council reps Bill Perkins and Rosie Mendez.
But despite this broad support, World Can't Wait is at heart another spin-off of the Revolutionary Communist Party, an ultra-left Maoist group founded in the 1970s and headed by the reclusive Bob Avakian.
The RCP folks have long been good at harnessing star power. They tend to churn out more youthful, less stodgy rallies than the stalwart United for Peace and Justice, going back to the RCP's days organizing Refuse and Resist concerts in the 1980s, which were supposed to deliver us from the perils of the Reagan administration.
More recently, the RCP helped instigate the antiwar coalition, Not In Our Name, which in turn helped kickstart the antiwar movement in 2002.
We bring up the RCP's role not to redbait, but to point to the fundamental contradiction of a movement that rightly lambastes the Bush administration for its use of indefinite detentions and torture abroad, yet relies on the leadership of a group that embraces a mass murderer like Mao, even critically defends Pol Pot, and which currently cheerleads Peru's Shining Path and Nepal's Maoist guerrillas--groups that have been condemned for grave human rights violations of their own.
(Indeed, the Shining Path guerrillas, who have been known to forcibly conscript Indians and brutalize peasants, oppose the very notion of human rights, terming it "bourgeois.")
Beyond the RCP's questionable politics are the shortcomings of World Can't Wait's rather simplistic vanguardist vision: the idea that skipping work or school and rising up in the streets for a day will somehow catalyze a popular revolt against the Bush regime:
Here's an excerpt from the breathless "Call to Action":
"Think of the message that people taking off work and school and marching this Thursday would send to the tens of millions within the U.S. who are already deeply distressed and even outraged over the direction that the Bush regime is dragging the country and the world, but who feel paralyzed . . . The mobilization throughout society would reverberate up to the very top, and back down again. The political dynamic of fascist-type onslaught from forces represented by Bush—and passivity from everyone else—would begin to be seriously reversed."
We're all for political awakenings. Problem is, Bush doesn't much care about street demonstrations, and campaigns like this are very hard to sustain without a clear case of self-interest. We would need far higher gas prices, serious domestic repression, mass unemployment, etc. to have an Orange Revolution in America, let alone the kind of proletarian revolt that RCPers dream of.
That's not to say there aren't reasons to sound the alarm. World Can't Wait has ballooned because of the vacuum created by spineless Democrats, who remain too timid to stand for anything overtly alternative like universal health care, and generally confine themselves to simply criticizing whatever Bush does.
Given the retrograde climate, it's easy to understand why people would want to get in the streets and scream.
But World Can't Wait doesn't say much about what we're supposed to do the day after the demonstrations. There's no strategizing about how to take over school boards and city council seats like the religious right did in the 1980s and '90s; indeed, the RCP folks are against voting.
Instead, this appears to be another exercise in group venting, with the hope that if enough different players with divergent mindsets unite in their opposition to Bush, it will magically "repolarize" the country.
Course, we could be wrong about impact. Here's Mark Ruffalo making the case for World Can't Wait on Democracy Now:
"There's something like 28 protests in 31 of the red states . . . . People are finding a way to sort of voice their discouragement through this thing . . . . None of us really share the same political beliefs, other than that we don't want a theocracy. We don't torture people. We take care of our own, i.e., Katrina. We don't want to be in Iraq for an illegal, unjust war. These are things that everyone in America feels. I'd say 75 percent to 80 percent of the people in American feel this."
If that's not enough, in San Francisco, activists are planning to "jail" a 40-foot effigy of Bush.
Here in New York, the action kicks off at noon at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, followed by a march down Second Avenue to Union Square, where there will be a rally and "People's Tribunal" to indict the Bush administration from 4 to 8 p.m. Speakers include former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney: actor and Green Party gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt, former ambassador Ann Wright, who resigned over the US invasion of Iraq, and Elaine Brower, whose son is a marine based in Fallujah.
See our last post on the politics of the anti-war movement.