Write us!

December 2002 • Vol 2, No. 11 •

Defending the Antiwar Movement

By Rod Holt

“Do we have an antiwar movement?”

With this question, Alexander Cockburn, co-editor of Counterpunch, opened his article in the Nation (Dec. 2, 2002) defending the antiwar movement. He continued, “We’re getting there. We must be, because we’re catching flak from the anti-antiwar movement, Light Infantry Division, staffed by Marc Cooper, Todd Gitlin, David Corn and Christopher Hitchens.” (These writers regularly appear in the Nation.)

Writing in reply to these authors of attacks on the antiwar movement, Cockburn defends the movement’s right to pick its own leaders, raise its own slogans and be as heterogeneous as it likes. Justifying the involvement of socialist radicals, he raises the example of the Vietnam antiwar movement when much of the leadership during its crucial years was provided by the Socialist Workers Party. No one questions the success of that movement.

Left liberals are increasingly embarrassed by the growing size and breadth of the demonstrations against the looming U.S. war on Iraq, by the support for the Palestinian cause and others. These professional journalists never tire of explaining that the world’s problems are due to the bad guys and, if only you and your friends would vote for the good guys, Justice and Freedom would prevail. The Nation is the prime dispenser of this syrup and specializes in providing left cover for the Democratic Party.

However, not only is the Democratic Party solidly behind the war but without a murmur it supports the dramatic resurgence of the arms industry and the planned moves toward a police state—and everybody knows it. The left liberal journalists know it too. It will be difficult if not impossible for them to steer the antiwar movement into the electoral trap and so they have decided to “help” the antiwar movement into the grave with good advice.

Two chief “helpers” of the antiwar movement named by Cockburn are Cooper and Corn, prominent writers and editors of the Nation. Marc Cooper is a Nation contributing editor and the host and executive producer of the Nation’s syndicated weekly radio show, RadioNation. David Corn is the Washington editor and his articles have appeared also in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Mother Jones, and other nationally distributed newspapers and magazines.

These two are part of the comfortable, common sense left, and by pretending now to be authorities on this antiwar movement, they offer “good advice.” In recent articles, Cooper and Corn both volunteer their “advice” in scurrilous red-baiting attacks on the antiwar movement.

Marc Cooper’s article is “Antiwar Labor Pains,” and appearing in the Nation, November 21, 2002. He tells us that there is some movement in the official labor movement toward an antiwar stance of some sort. Cooper has a cautious view of the chances for labor officialdom joining in against the war on Iraq, allowing only that, “The [AFL-CIO] federation was openly shifting away from its markedly pro-war stance after September 11 and offering at least some cover for militant action by antiwar elements in its ranks.” Despite the hesitation of the top leaders, he observes, “…the small peace circle within labor continues to expand as the threat of war with Iraq persists.”

Marc Cooper zeros in on the one thing he sees holding back labor’s entry into the antiwar movement: the current movement leaders are reds—you know; commies, socialists, people like that. He conveniently has at hand the words of “a politically progressive AFL official close to John Sweeney.” He quotes this anonymous official as saying that the Iraq situation is very different from Afghanistan, and there is a lot more visible and vocal discomfort with and opposition to the White House’s overseas plans. “Also, the elections are now over,” says the federation official. “And if the Democrats take a harder line against the war than they have so far, labor will be more willing to do the same. But that leaves open the question of just what peace movement we are comfortable being part of.”

There are three points: 1. there is a real potential for labor involvement; 2. the involvement is conditional on having a “comfortable” peace movement; and 3. the Democrats will have to take a harder line against the war. This is what Cooper’s wise AFL official says.

Cooper writes:

That’s a reference to discomfort with those currently orchestrating some of the highest-profile antiwar protests. [i.e., the reds] While demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco brought out scores of thousands with an eclectic range of politics, the protests were organized and the podium dominated by a small, sectarian Stalinist group, the Workers World Party. Consequently, while much of the demonstration rhetoric was against the war, it was also tinged with an anti-Americanism and loaded down with ancillary issues ranging from support for convicted murderers Mumia Abu-Jamal and H. Rap Brown to sometimes paranoid condemnations of Zionism that in no way resonate with the bulk of organized labor. No doubt the rally crowds were peppered with hundreds, if not thousands, of union members and activists, but there was no institutional representation of Big Labor, as there has been at numerous anti-globalization events of the past few years.

Cooper concludes his article by quoting his anonymous AFL official once more:

It’s not at all unthinkable that in the weeks to come we will see Sweeney speaking out more against the war. But you can be sure he isn’t going to be speaking from the same stage as the Workers World Party.

As far as Marc Cooper is concerned, associating with the Workers World Party is sure defeat and he recommends preparing for Sweeney to appear after the Democrats take a hard line against the war. Excuse me, but I would rather organize to bring all the bombers and rockets home now, as in “right now!”

Aside from the other implied slanders, Cooper’s words tell what his prejudices are. He says, “… ancillary issues ranging from support for convicted murderers Mumia Abu-Jamal and H. Rap Brown to sometimes paranoid condemnations of Zionism …” “Murders?” Not in this camp. He uses the phrase “sometimes paranoid” just because it sounds bad; it has no other real meaning.

The Nation’s top gun takes aim

David Corn does his part with a crude hatchet job on the Workers World Party. In his reply, Cockburn simply dismisses Corn, “[who] has now taken to issuing cop-style intelligence reports, reminiscent of FBI field advisories to J. Edgar Hoover, on the Workers World Party, stigmatizing the WWP for its nefarious role in the Washington and Bay Area antiwar demonstrations.”

Cockburn’s description of Corn’s article is, if anything, generous. Corn’s style comes from the most lurid tabloids. The demonstrations, he says, are the work of fronts created by the WWP, revolutionary socialists whose real politics are hidden. Corn quickly connects the WWP with the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 (bad), Castro’s Cuba (very bad), North Korea (very, very bad), and the Serb dictator Milosevic (just awful) to show that it is a bizarre far-left sect accompanied by an equally bizarre Ramsey Clark.

Assuming the reader knows how subversive movements are supposed to behave, Corn relates that the WWP controls from behind the scenes. “WWP shaped the demonstration’s content by loading the speakers’ list with its own people. None, though, were identified as belonging to the WWP.” Further, “Most of the protesters, I assume, were oblivious to the WWP’s role in the event.” In contrast, he, David Corn is an honest man: “It is not red-baiting to note the WWP’s not-too-hidden hand in the nascent anti-war movement.”

It’s not?

Leaving no red stone unturned. Corn notes parenthetically, “In a similar reds-take-control situation, the ‘Not In Our Name’ campaign—which pushes an anti-war statement signed by scores of prominent and celebrity lefties, including Jane Fonda, Martin Luther King III, Marisa Tomei, Kurt Vonnegut and Oliver Stone—has been directed, in part, by C. Clark Kissinger, a longtime Maoist activist and member of the Revolutionary Communist Party.” Corn forgets to tell us what the petition says.

David Corn has to make a living, I suppose, and so he and the Nation have a job to do. So he and the Nation set about to transform the antiwar movement into a harmless, docile mass by smearing its leaders and then pushing harmless slogans. Corn repeatedly states, “Inspections-before-invasion is an effective argument against the dash to war.” The Republicrats and the UN have long agreed but (not to our surprise) Corn’s slogan has not slowed the push towards war one bit.

He believes (or says he believes) that Mumia’s case, Zionism, and imperialism raise irrelevant and divisive issues, and that the WWP drags them in only for its own purposes. That is what he thinks; I’m glad no one else does.

If you read Cooper and Corn, you will notice that they say not one word about the rampant violations of civil rights and liberties following 9/11 and the Afghanistan war. They remain silent about the already infamous Department of Homeland Security. Do you think that they had foreknowledge of the 90-to-9 vote in the Senate approving the Bush-Ashcroft measures? Last April, David Corn wrote a piece for Mother Jones excoriating the Republican Attorney-General Ashcroft. Do you think he was embarrassed by his Democrats when they overwhelmingly approved everything Ashcroft asked for? I do not think so. He is well-practiced in ignoring the turnabouts of his magazine’s patrons.

Democrats go all the way

The Democratic Party has voted with both hands for a war to conquer Iraq; they have approved an enormous budget for war, they have endorsed the policies of war both at home and anywhere else they choose. The Democrats, indistinguishable from the Republicans, both have and consistently do support the Zionists. So at this time, the Democrats seriously need some patches for their left-liberal disguise if they hope to contain dissent.

The September and October demonstrations saw hundreds of thousands, who, by stepping into the street, threaten to step out of the two-party electoral funhouse of mirrors. Every person who joins a demonstration represents dozens who would be there but were not able to for some reason, and every one of those in turn influences dozens more. Every demonstrator echoes a hundred others and all politicians know this just as they know that nine/tenths of the iceberg is unseen below water.

Hundreds of thousands in the streets means millions are circumventing the parliamentary system whether they are conscious of this or not. They are taking their demands directly to the offices of the government. They show they no longer believe in the peculiar electoral process where one can vote with no effect; where there is no connection between the government’s acts and the wishes of the people.

The demonstration not only raises the spirits of the frustrated, it raises the sense of power, the power of collective action. When the demonstrators look around and see their fellows, feel their strength and watch the parliamentarians quake, the awareness becomes part of class consciousness. The ruling class fears this process more than anything else; it is as uncontrollable as it is unpredictable.

An example of the deep seated fear of the ruling class occurred in November, 1969, when a coalition of the Vietnam antiwar groups assembled one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. In Washington, just a fraction of the demonstrators arrived in 4,000 chartered busses carrying about 200,000 people. Advance crowd estimates conservatively figured over half a million would show up.

Remarkably, Senators McCarthy, McGovern and Goodell, showed up to speak! Imagine that. Three of the topmost Democrats in the country spoke against the war along with speakers from the Socialist Workers Party and many other socialist and liberal organizations. To hopefully paper over the Democratic Party’s part in the war, somebody other than the organizers suggested to these senators that they be there to represent the two party system. They were there.

Democratic Party apologists like Corn and Cooper are adamant against bringing in political questions which they say are extraneous, arguing that doing this will just narrow the movement. They could not be more wrong.

In the Vietnam war era, the movement encompassed almost all the causes of the time: Feminist and women’s liberation movements, the gay and lesbian movements, the anti-draft and pacifist movements, humanists, movements for civil and constitutional rights for GIs and veterans, and many more. Not surprisingly, many people both then as now have more than one grievance and, in any case, people are really interested in learning about the connections between causes and solutions of social problems.

The antiwar movement has existed as a non-exclusive coalition of groups for more than 40 years. As long as the antiwar movement functions in a democratic manner, all of us will welcome support from the full spectrum of society and we will listen carefully when its representatives take the microphone at demonstrations.

Who would have it otherwise but the Donkeys and Elephants?





Write us