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Commentary :: Peace & War

Best hope for ending the Iraqi war and occupation: a radical, inclusive movement

Multi-issue is powerful. Integrated politics intensify and mobilize people’s repugnance against the war by tying it to deprivation and repression at home.
At last! Public opinion against the war is becoming mainstream. Anti-war punk rockers even swept the MTV Video Music Awards!

At the same time, heated debates have erupted within the anti-war movement. These were reflected in the specter of two separate demonstrations in Washington, D.C., on September 24 — until détente was recently reached between the movement’s two major forces, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and Racism) and UFPJ (United for Peace and Justice), who finally achieved agreement on a joint march and rally.

Certainly, the breach over actions on September 24 was caused partly by jockeying for organizational control. But political questions played a role, too, and here the differences are clear.

UFPJ represents a classic form of the liberal pacifist wing of an anti-war movement. Its politics are minimalist; it hobnobs with the Democratic Party, whose pro-war stance is barely distinguishable from that of the Republicans; it doesn’t criticize U.S. imperialism. Though many of its leaders are socialists, UFPJ is hostile toward openly socialist perspectives for fear of scaring off “the masses.?

During the last presidential election, UFPJ dropped anti-war work and shifted to campaigning for Kerry. Now back on board, its narrowly defined demands revolve around bringing the troops home. It has consistently refused to incorporate Palestinian rights among its primary demands or to support Iraqi resistance. It claims this single-issue approach enhances unity by avoiding divisive controversies.

ANSWER, for its part, was the first group to organize national anti-war demonstrations soon after 9/11, when the looming invasion of Afghanistan had wide popular approval and many activists were afraid to speak up. (UFPJ didn’t form until later, to oppose the war in Iraq.) ANSWER is the more radical and multi-issue organization, with a program that firmly links the destruction of Iraq to the destruction of rights and living and working conditions at home.

ANSWER’s demands for September 24 include a halt to the occupations of Iraq, Palestine, and Haiti; an end to threats against Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea; and recognition of the Palestinian people’s right of return. Domestically, the group stands for defending civil rights, getting military recruiters out of schools and communities, and stopping racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-labor attacks.

On the other hand, ANSWER is not an open, democratic coalition as UFPJ considers itself. Decisions affecting the whole group, even the whole movement, are made by a small leadership coterie. When ANSWER organizers initially decided to hold an action on September 24, they did so without bothering to consult with other anti-war activists. This type of sectarian behavior (“we don’t care, we don’t have to,? to quote an old Lily Tomlin routine) understandably pisses people off.

Nevertheless, when ANSWER sought the endorsement of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) for its demonstration, we gave it. The multi-issuism expressed in ANSWER’s program is the way to go to build a strong, effective movement capable of ending not only this war, but all wars — and their associated evils at home. In fact, FSP thinks a more inclusive program, incorporating anti-sexist demands, would be even more potent.

Multi-issue is powerful. Integrated politics intensify and mobilize people’s repugnance against the war by tying it to deprivation and repression at home.

Can any link be more graphic than that between the routine abuse of U.S. prisoners and of inmates at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay? Can racism and poverty glare more obscenely than they do by looking at who’s forced to fight America’s wars? Can the system’s misogyny be any more obvious than it appears in the parallels between the Christian right’s attacks on reproductive freedom at home and U.S. approval of an Iraqi constitution that gives anti-female power to rightwing Muslims?

Inhumanity at the hands of U.S. imperialism, whether it’s happening on the streets of the U.S. or Iraq or Palestine or Haiti, integrates its victims, who strengthen any movement they are part of. Minimal-issue organizing repels unity.

For example, Arabs and Middle Easterners and many of their allies planned to boycott the single-focus action in D.C. that UFPJ originally planned because it excluded their causes.

The anti-war movement cannot afford to be one-dimensional. Activists of color, especially leftists from home and abroad, have vast experience organizing against everything from military dictatorships and death squads to white supremacists, police brutality, union-busting and cutbacks in social welfare. The anti-war movement needs them — just as it needs the women, gay and disabled rights advocates, and others who are typically under-represented in most movements, but who bring so much to any struggle. And multi-issue demands attract these kinds of fighters.

Socialist Action goes retro with an appeal for single- issuism. The liberal UFPJ has found radical support for its single-issue stand — namely, from Socialist Action. In a long piece in the June SA newspaper, Jeff Mackler writes, “[T]he larger the number of issues included in the antiwar movement’s political platform, the more difficult it is to organize.?

Quite the contrary! These words sound positively feudalistic to activists who spent decades fighting to strengthen social justice movements and coalitions by connecting related issues and expressing them in multiple demands — a practice that, over time, became commonplace. Socialist Action’s position in favor of a movement organized around only one issue (or maybe two or three) is a reformist retreat.

Socialist Action obsesses over “the power of mass action,? a tendency no doubt inherited from the opportunistic example of its parent organization, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), during the Vietnam War. As Gloria Martin writes for the FSP in Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966- 1976, “The SWP was not out to radicalize masses but to perpetrate a naked grab for instant organizational control.... These dreams of glory were shattered by the get-rich-quick tactics which left the SWP resented, disgraced and the object of virtually universal contempt among revolutionaries, feminists, minorities and radical workers.?

If the SWP’s tactic of single-issuism had been correct in the 1970s, the building of a socialist United States could be underway today. Instead, people are fighting to end yet another of the government’s imperialist wars. And the SWP has devolved into a politically sterile publication empire.

SA also showed its conservative SWP hangover in respect to a defense mobilization at a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco in July. In the August SA paper, Rebecca Doran chastises FSPers, Radical Women members, and others for their militancy in counter-picketing the rightwing Crusade for Life. In a breathtaking rewrite of history, Doran says “clinic defense? means escort service — and only that!

SA should be ashamed of tail-ending the cautious, “respectable? politics of Planned Parenthood and UFPJ. Socialists in the movements are not just foot soldiers, and SA shouldn’t act like they are. It is the job of Marxists to promote wide radicalization.

Fighting with tomorrow in mind. Massive numbers of people, liberals included, are joining the anti-war movement. This is, of course, heartening and ultimately crucial. But unless those masses come to an understanding of the causes of war, their connection to domestic social ills, and therefore the importance of revolutionary change, they will disperse, just as they did after Vietnam.

And thus the empire’s course of destruction will go on unchecked.

Here and now, multi-issue-minded activists can make a difference. Attend anti-war meetings in your city and speak up! Press for a variety of demands and a diversity of speakers at rallies. Go to coordinating meetings and raise questions, pose solutions, insist on upfront debate, and demand democratic decision-making — i.e., votes!

Widespread public awareness of this country’s sinister war goals is growing. For radicals, the most important task now is to deepen this awareness to the recognition that stopping U.S. wars abroad can only be achieved by shutting down capitalism at home. Working people have proven wonderfully capable of reaching revolutionary conclusions before, and will again.

Freedom Socialist Party

Liberation News

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