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, IACęs 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 against 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
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 mobilization 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
Sound-bite 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
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
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.
Oct. 23, 2003
See also " Ramsey Clark: Stalinist Dupe or Ruling Class Spook?", The
HOW THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT IS BLOWING IT: REVISITED
by Bill Weinberg
Well, it's a good thing I meant it when I said I wasn't trying to win any
popularity contests. Even I failed to anticipate the vitriolic reaction to
my essay How the Anti-War Movement is Blowing It, which attempted to call
the movement out for unprincipled alliances (particularly the presence of
Workers World Party cadre in the leadership), unrealistic expectations and
lack of real analysis. Sadly, most of the responses have been
personal attacks on the author, rather than actual replies to my
arguments. In responding to the three most egregious attacks against me, I
will attempt to bring the discussion back to the actual issues.
1. I am Red-Baiting
This one is predictable, but misses the point. I didn't make the standard
liberal critique that Workers World is Communist (as if this were some
brilliant revelation). While I dislike Lenin and despise Stalin, Communism
per se is sort of like Christianity, producing figures as favorable as
Rosa Luxembourg or as unfavorable as Pol Pot depending on the
I am not even opposed to the participation in the anti-war movement of
Marxist-Leninist groups that do not support genocide and do not seek to
dominate coalitions--such as the Socialist Workers Party (from which
Workers World broke off in 1956 because SWP failed to support the Soviet
invasion of Hungary!). I disgree with SWP about almost everything except
opposition to the occupation of Iraq, but I wouldn't call for kicking them
out of a coalition. In fact, I wouldn't even call for banning Workers
World and their front groups from tagging along at demos the way SWP,
anarchists and others do now. (What can we do to stop them, after all?)
But I insist that they have no place in the leadership.
My fundamental opposition is not to Communism, but to fascism--and, like
Stalin between 1939 and 1941, Workers World has made an alliance with
fascism, in one of its contemporary guises (that of Milosevic's violent
Some have also assumed that because I have strong feelings about the
genocide (or near-genocide) in ex-Yugoslavia (some of which was also
carried out by US-backed Croatian neo-fascists, I readily acknowledge),
then I supported the US military strikes against Serbia. This assumption
is really utterly demoralizing. The "ethnic cleansing" of the Bosnian
Muslims and Kosovar Alabanians was wrong for the very same reason that the
US bombardment of Serbia was wrong, and vice versa: because attacks on
civilians are not acceptable. Why is this so hard to understand?
Some also pointed out (in an actual argument, rather than a
shoot-the-messenger attack, to their credit) that since the Democratic
Party largely supported the Yugoslavia and Iraq bombardments, and the Iraq
sanctions, that it is also "genocide-apologist"--and there are Democrats
among the leadership of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the anti-war
coalition which I consider minimally legitmate. Could be, but as far as I
know there are no groups in the UFPJ coalition that are organizationally
linked to the Democratic Party, and no leaders who are full-time party
hacks. Going through the UFPJ member organizations (listed on ther
website), the only parties or party-linked groups I see are local Green
Party chapters and the Young Communist League, USA.
The other major coalition, ANSWER, is led at its core by the International
Action Center, which is an organ of the Workers World Party. Which is why
I oppose the UFPJ-ANSWER alliance. I want an anti-war movement which is
independent of all political parties. We currently don't have that.
2. I am a Government Agent
This accusation borders on the hilarious, given that I have spent the last
several months risking my butt to report on US imperialism's war crimes in
Colombia and elsewhere in the Andes. But unfortunately it is no laughing
matter. People have been killed over such allegations. I invoke the memory
of Roque Dalton, the Salvadoran poet and revolutionary who was
assassinated by his own fellow revolutionaries in 1975 following
completely spurious charges that he was a CIA agent. If anyone has any
evidence that I am a government agent, I'd like to see it. Otherwise, I
will thank them to eat their malodorous canards.
Using these kinds of bullying and dishonest tactics to suppress dissent is
typical of the very totalitarian bent that I decried in my essay. The fact
that these accusations came from several people (not just a lone crank)
makes me even more convinced that the anti-war movement has become an
3. I am a Neo-Interventionist
I acknowledge that I gave my opponents easy fodder by playing Devil's
Advocate in an effort to make people think. Perhaps my words
were (uncharacteristically, I hope) ill-considered in failing to make
sufficiently clear that that's what I was doing. I thought that the
subhead "Asking the Tough Questions" would make clear that I was not
putting forth actual positions, and the context of the rest of the piece
would make clear that I am anti-occupation. But some people whose
intentions I trust (and who agree with me about Workers World)
misinterpreted me, so I guess I was wrong.
So to clarify: The disaster in Iraq is largely a creation of US imperial
machinations (including a decade of support for the Saddam dictatorship),
and I always say you can't sober up by drinking martinis. It is also a
fundamental principle that nobody (least of all an illegitimate president)
has the right to send economic conscripts from the Bronx, East Oakland and
Appalachia into harm's way halfway across the planet. If I supported the
occupation, why would I give a shit that the anti-war movement is blowing
it? Nuff said? My lack of clarity is the only thing I apologize for. I
have called upon others to eat their ill-considered words; I now do so
myself. (See? It isn't that difficult.)
What was I trying to say? The first, and lesser, point, is that if we
don't grapple with the arguments of the interventionists, we aren't going
to come up with convincing counter-arguments. Not everybody who "supports
the troops" supports Bush and is a war-monger. Relying on sanctimony and
dogmatism instead of argument will only further isolate us.
The more important (and related) point is this: Iraq is destroyed--by the
Saddam dictatorship, by the long war with Iran, by the economic sanctions,
and, most significantly, by two huge US-led military assaults. The power
stations, water treatment plants, irrigation systems and other
infrastructure are all in a shambles, and depleted uranium has been spewed
all over the place. Leaving the Iraqis to deal with this mess on their
own, with practically no resources to do so, is obviously unacceptable.
Simply advocating that the US pull out doesn't address this situation. Yet
any US-led reconstruction effort will only be imperialist colonization (as
I acknowledged). Should the UN assume this responsibility? The UN is now
actually reducing its committment in Iraq following the suicide attack on
its Baghdad headquarters (carried out by the same probable jihadis that
some of my critics glorify as the Iraqi "resistance").
These dilemmas are what make it a tough question. And we need to hear what
progressive Iraqis have to say about it. Is the leadership of the anti-war
movement making any effort to find them? Did a single Iraqi or
Iraqi-American even speak from the stage on Oct. 25? (It's an honest
question--obviously, I wasn't there, so I don't know.) Although for the
past several months I have been concentrating on finding pro-autonomy,
anti-militarist elements for us to support in Colombia, I pledge to make a
similar effort on Iraq in the months to come (although I don't have the
budget to go there), lest I be accused of complaining without being
willing to do any work.
Opposing the occupation necessarily implies finding Iraqis we can offer
some concrete solidarity to, and hearing what they propose for rebuilding
their country. Iraqi Kurdistan--where the ethnic interests of Kurds, Arabs
and Turkmen have been cynically exploited by the US, Saddam and
Turkey--could become the next Bosnia. In central Iraq, the power of the
jihadis is undoubtedly fed by the presence of US troops--but the threat
they represent is real. It is sadly ironic that the same American lefties
who apologized for the Saddam dictatorship by pointing out that it had
granted some elementary rights to women are now denying the reality of (if
not actually cheering on) forces who would dramatically repeal those
rights if they acheived power. A Sunni-Shiite civil war for control of
southern Iraq is also a possibility.
"US out of Iraq" is, once again, handy for fitting on a placard, and is an
essential starting point. But, alone, it offers little solidarity to Iraqi
women, progressives, ethnic and religious minorities, etc. We need to find
those in Iraq who can try to move things towards some kind of grassroots
democracy and multiculturalism instead of the orgy of ethno-religious
violence that looks increasingly inevitable, and find some way to support
them. This work is no less important than demanding an end to the
occupation--and it is our responsibility precisely because the US holds
the greatest responsibility for the mess that Iraq is today.
I would like to live to see a movement which is based on consistent
anti-imperialist principles and analysis, not a mere Oedipus complex
against Big Daddy US Imperialism. If my cranky little essay has helped
spark the long-overdue debate that can help move things in that direction,
then it is worth all the abuse I am taking.