To add or delete addresses from the ZNet Free Update list, please use
the top page of ZNet -- www.zmag.org/weluser.htm
Even just since the last update, we have added much new content. Please
As you all know, a round of antiwar demonstrations is planned for this
coming weekend, in Washington, San Francisco, and many other cities too.
These demonstrations are obviously profoundly important, and we have
been receiving many messages asking questions about the events as well
as about the broader logic of antiwar activism, its methods, prospects,
Stephen Shalom and I have prepared another of our Question and Answer
essays, this time trying to deal with the organizing concerns people are
raising. It is now online at the site, at the following url in case you
want to go direct.
The questions and answers try to provide activists with information and
formulations useful for organizing. They deal in turn with: why oppose
the war, how does our activism impact policy, how can we get enough
people opposed to war, single issue versus multi-issue organizing,
connections between war and other focuses, single versus multi-tactic
organizing, judging tactics, relating to groups whose politics we don't
like, avoiding sectarianism, and presenting alternatives to war.
The question and answer that we include below to give this update more
substance, though many of the other questions and answers are far more
fundamental in our view, is the one that seems to be on so many people's
minds right now, due to its timely relevance to this weekend. It is the
eighth in the sequence.
(8) How should we relate to groups doing antiwar work with whom we
disagree in significant ways -- the IAC and ANSWER, NION, and the war's
mainstream opponents? How do we evaluate all these? Should we work with
people we have serious differences with, avoid them, or what?
There is no universal rule for how to relate to those with whom we
disagree. If we automatically refused to have anything to do with any
person or organization with whom we had differences, then we'd be
protesting the war in demonstrations of two or three individuals.
Obviously, we need to take account of how much disagreement there is and
whether working with particular groups allows us to express a shared
agreement and further our goals, despite our disagreements, or whether,
on the other hand, working with particular groups restricts or
undermines our efforts in some significant ways.
One extremely energetic antiwar group is the International Action Center
(IAC). It is the leading force in the coalition ANSWER (Act Now to Stop
War & End Racism) which is calling the October 26 demonstrations in
Washington, DC and elsewhere. (IAC and ANSWER share a New York City
phone number and the latter's website features many materials from IAC.)
IAC is officially led by Ramsey Clark and is largely the creation of the
Workers World Party; and many key IAC figures are prominent writers for
WWP holds many views that we find abhorrent. It considers North Korea
"socialist Korea" where the "land, factories, homes, hotels, parks,
schools, hospitals, offices, museums, buses, subways, everything in the
DPRK belongs to the people as a whole" (Workers World, May 9, 2002), a
fantastic distortion of the reality of one of the most rigid
dictatorships in the world. IAC expresses its solidarity with Slobodan
Milosevic (http://www.iacenter.org/yugo_milosdeligation.htm). There's of
course much to criticize in the one-sided Hague war crimes tribunal, but
to champion Milosevic is grotesque. The ANSWER website provides an IAC
backgrounder on Afghanistan that refers to the dictatorial government
that took power in that country in 1978 as "socialist" and says of the
Soviet invasion the next year: the "USSR intervened militarily at the
behest of the Afghani revolutionary government"
neglecting to mention that Moscow first had to engineer the execution of
the Afghan leader to get themselves the invitation to intervene.
In none of IAC's considerable resources on the current Iraq crisis is
there a single negative word about Saddam Hussein. There is no mention
that he is a ruthless dictator. (This omission is not surprising, given
their inability to detect any problem of dictatorship with the
Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan.) There is no mention that Hussein
is responsible for the deaths of many tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds
and Shi'ites. IAC's position is that any opponent of U.S. imperialism
must be championed and never criticized.
How do these views affect antiwar demonstrations organized by IAC or
ANSWER? They do so in two primary ways.
First, an important purpose of antiwar demonstrations is to educate the
public, so as to be able to build a larger movement. If the message of a
demonstration is that opposition to U.S. war means support for brutal
regimes, then we are mis-educating the public, and limiting the growth
of the movement. To be sure, some true things we say may also alienate
some members of the public, and often that is a risk we must take in
order to communicate the truth and change awareness. But to tell the
public that they have to support either George Bush or Saddam Hussein is
not true and is certainly not a way to build a strong movement. People
are not wrong to be morally repelled by Saddam Hussein. An antiwar
movement that cannot make clear its opposition to the crimes of both
Bush and Hussein will of necessity be limited in size.
The second problem with IAC-organized demonstrations is that the
day-to-day practice of IAC cadre often shows a lack of commitment to
democratic and open behavior. It is not surprising that those who
lionize the dictatorial North Korean regime will be somewhat lacking in
their appreciation of democratic practice.
Does this mean that people who reject these abhorrent views of the IAC
shouldn't attend the October 26 antiwar demonstrations in Washington,
DC, San Francisco, and elsewhere? No.
If there were another large demonstration organized by forces more
compatible with the kinds of politics espoused by other antiwar
activists, including ourselves, then we would urge people to prefer that
one. And there is no doubt we should be working to build alternative
organizational structures for the antiwar movement that are not
dominated by IAC. But at the moment the ANSWER demonstration is the only
show in town. And much as we may oppose Saddam Hussein, we also oppose
Bush, and the paramount danger today is the war being prepared by the
So we need to consider various questions.
First, are those with antiwar views contrary to the IAC's perspective
excluded from speaking? Second, what will be the primary message
perceived by those present at the demonstrations and by the wider
If past experience is a guide, IAC demonstrations will have programs
skewed in the direction of IAC politics, but without excluding
alternative voices. In general, the IAC speakers will not be offensive
so much for what they say, but for what they don't say. That is, they
won't praise Saddam Hussein from the podium, but nor will they utter a
critical word about him. However, as long as other speakers can and do
express positions with a different point of view, the overall impact of
the event will still be positive, particularly in the absence of other
options. Most of the people at the demonstration will in fact be unaware
of exactly who said what and whether any particular speaker omitted this
or that point. What they will experience will be a powerful antiwar
protest. And most of the public will see it that way too. (As was the
case during the Vietnam War too: few demonstrators knew the specific
politics or agendas of demonstration organizers.) Accordingly, and in
the absence of any alternative event, it makes sense to help build and
to attend the October 26 demonstration, while also registering extreme
distaste for the IAC, at least in our view.
Another significant antiwar organization is Not In Our Names. NION has
issued a very eloquent and forceful Pledge of Resistance opposing Bush's
war on terrorism, signed by prominent individuals and thousands of
others. NION organized important demonstrations around the U.S. on
October 6 and on June 6.
Significant impetus behind NION comes from the Revolutionary Communist
Party (RCP). RCP identifies itself as followers of
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Their website (http://rwor.org/) expresses
support for Shining Path in Peru (which they say should properly be
called the Maoist Communist Party of Peru), an organization with a
gruesome record of violently targeting other progressive groups. For the
RCP, freedom doesn't include the right of a minority to dissent (this is
a bourgeois formulation, they say, pushed by John Stuart Mill and Rosa
Luxembourg); the correct view, they say, is that of Mao (the "greatest
revolutionary of our time"): "If Marxist Leninists are in control, the
rights of the vast majority will be guaranteed."
Despite these views, however, RCP does not push its specific positions
on NION to the degree that IAC does on ANSWER. For example, while the
ANSWER website offers such things as the IAC backgrounder on Afghanistan
cited above, the NION website and its public positions have no
connection to the sometimes bizarre views of the RCP.
The case for participating in NION events is stronger than for ANSWER
events. It still makes overwhelming sense to build better antiwar
coalitions, but in the meantime supporting NION activities promotes an
antiwar message that we support, with relatively little compromise of
Another group that may support antiwar activities but with whom we have
serious disagreements are liberal politicians. Many of these politicians
have totally capitulated to Bush and the right, but a few of them have
been strong voices against war. Our diagnosis of and prescription for
U.S. warmongering differ substantially from those of antiwar liberals.
Should we participate in events where Democratic Party officeholders are
leading speakers? Again, the same basic logic applies. Does the presence
of the Democrat in some way prevent us from saying what we want to say?
(Sure, at an event where Democrat X is speaking, we won't be welcome to
give a speech denouncing X as a running-dog lackey of the ruling class.
But it is unlikely that this is what we wanted to say in our ten-minute
antiwar speech anyway.) And, second, what message does the public come
away with? If the whole event is billed as a "Let's Wait A Week for War"
demonstration, then no matter what we say our participation will be
contributing to a cause we don't support, pursuing war a week from now.
But as long as the demonstration has a clear antiwar position, the
presence and participation of liberal Democrats should not preclude our
participation. Indeed, if we were on the committee choosing speakers, we
would support including many speakers who didn't agree with us on many
things, but who were clearly antiwar and who could convey an antiwar
message to audiences that we hadn't been as successful in attracting.
Z Magazine / ZNet
This message has been brought to you by ZNet (http://www.zmag.org). Visit our site for