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March 2003 • Vol 3, No. 3 •

Strategy and Tactics in the Antiwar Movement

By the Editors

As in the case of the Vietnam War, there are widely divergent positions in today’s antiwar movement over the stance it should take toward such things as Democratic and Republican critics of U.S. foreign policy. There also is the matter of the stance to be taken toward the role of international institutions on the plane of world politics, such as the United Nations. Also to be considered is one’s attitude to the role of the inspectors it has assigned to ferret out and destroy the alleged “illegal” weapons of mass destruction.

A dispute recently emerged within the four coalitions that united to more effectively mobilize the largest possible demonstration on February 16th in San Francisco. Such disputes are inevitable, healthy and need not disrupt the unity in action of all parts of the antiwar movement. Democracy in this or any other mass movement is a vital component of any useful and progressive social relation among human beings; and it should be defended and extended wherever people come together to fight for social, economic or political justice.

That the turnout on that weekend exceeded the expectations of many antiwar activists, testifies to the importance of maintaining a united antiwar movement. And the differences over this question did not and should not undermine unity in action of all those opposed to the impending war on Iraq. So long as the movement remains democratic, mistakes—which are inevitable—can be corrected after events have proven them wrong.

One of these controversies over policy was in regard to the question of whether or not to invite members of Congress who voted for the funds to finance the war on Iraq to speak at the February 16th antiwar rally in San Francisco.

One of the four coalitions that came together for that action, Bay Area United Against War (BAUAW), had adopted a position against inviting those particular politicians to speak at the rally. There was a full democratic discussion and a large majority of this coalition approved it. The motion was made so that BAUAW’s representatives on the joint steering committee that was responsible for organizing the action and the selection of speakers could properly represent the views of their coalition on this matter.

At the joint steering committee where the decision was made on which speakers to invite, only one of BAUAW’s representatives voted in line with their coalition’s decision. The other three were apparently convinced by the arguments of the other members of the steering committee and all representatives of the four coalitions voted in favor of including the Congress persons in question, with the one exception.

No one challenges the right of the other BAUAW representatives on the joint steering committee to make a decision according to how they judged the counterposed arguments on the substantial matter in dispute.

So the matter of who voted which way is not in dispute. But Carole Seligman, the BAUAW delegate who voted against approval of the disputed speakers, who happens also to be an editor and contributor to Socialist Viewpoint magazine, was publicly berated by one of the delegates to the joint steering committee for what he characterized as a sectarian action harmful to the cause of building a powerful movement to stop this war before it begins.

Since an honest and clear discussion of the substantive question will be educational and contribute to the democratic and effective functioning of the antiwar movement—and to the importance of the question of democracy in general—we will state our opinion on this question.

War and Peace and the Two Capitalist Parties

The first thing to be said is that there is no principle that rules out inviting supporters of capitalism or their political representatives from speaking out in opposition to imperialist wars. Neither is there any question but that we should welcome those members of the capitalist establishment that take a stand against this and other such wars looming ahead in the Persian Gulf, Korea, the Philippines, and other places around the world.

After all, the presence on speaker’s platforms of the many courageous public figures from the arts, sciences and sports—who have now and in the past tended to be among the first to speak out against war—and elected politicians as well, encourages many who otherwise might not attend or be influenced by antiwar rallies. The presence of capitalist politicians and other prominent personalities, therefore, serves as an important force increasing the size and therefore the power of mass mobilizations against war, and they certainly should be encouraged to be among the speakers.

It’s well known that until just recently, few if any capitalist politicians have clamored to be represented at antiwar rallies. But lately, as professional vote-seeking politicians, they saw it as opportune to at least appear on the platform as speakers and be listed on leaflets when it became apparent that the marches and rallies scheduled to take place in San Francisco and Washington on January 18th were going to be massive.

As it turned out, the January 18 actions equaled in size the largest antiwar actions that had occurred only after tens of thousands began attending antiwar marches and rallies at the height of the Vietnam War. In other words, it was only when the movement had already become a force that these few establishment politicians began to take a stand.

Then, when another demonstration in San Francisco and New York was announced for the following month in support of the European antiwar movement’s call for a global antiwar demonstration on February 15th, the momentum behind the antiwar movement began to mount.

That’s when a rush by a handful or two of Democratic Party politicians eagerly sought to appear on an antiwar speakers’ platform. As expected, the turnouts in New York on March 15th, and in San Francisco on Sunday the 16th were more massive than any that had occurred at the height of the Vietnam War. Those mass actions, some 30-odd years earlier, remember, came only after years of war and after tens of thousands of America’s sons had been shipped home in body bags, and the Vietnamese had suffered millions of casualties and the destruction of their country.

It seems clear that the lesson of Vietnam is what has heavily contributed to the momentum of today’s antiwar movement. Masses of people around the world are not only opposed to the thousands of casualties likely to occur in the first few weeks after the bombing and invasion of Iraq begins, but also because everyone is wondering who will be the next to benefit from American imperialist “nation building” after Afghanistan has been, and Iraq will have been so blessed.

Now, one of the arguments raised against Carole and the BAUAW coalition was based on the fact that the Vietnam antiwar movement did indeed invite Democrats who had voted for the war to speak at antiwar rallies. That decision then, in fact, was absolutely correct. The editors of Socialist Viewpoint are proud to say that we and the organization we were part of at the time had participated in the decision-making process at most of the Vietnam antiwar actions, and we supported the decisions to invite capitalist politicians to speak at these rallies, including those who had voted for the Vietnam War.

But while the circumstances that had prevailed then were similar in some essentials to those prevailing today, there are some important differences between the two. We will make the case that the differences make a big difference.

In the first place, those Congressional Democrats that had voted for the Bay of Tonkin Resolution (that served as a “declaration of war” against North Vietnam) repudiated their vote, in effect, by speaking out against the Vietnam War after it had been going full blast for several years and thousands of what would ultimately become some 58,000 of America’s sons had already being shipped home in body bags.

When the current crop of “antiwar” Democrats spoke at antiwar rallies in January and February, however, though the war seemed imminent, the Rubicon had not yet been crossed.

At the present time the Democrats we speak of have not yet repudiated their vote for the war. They have not yet said they are against the war on Iraq. Rather they argue for giving the UN inspectors more time to disarm Iraq! And they have made it crystal clear that they will support the war on Iraq if the UN Security Council sanctions it. That happens to be the position toward which the Democratic Party as a whole is moving.

There is a world of difference between the capitalist politicians that spoke out against the Vietnam War after that war was formally and fully under way and those today who have been calling for continued inspections long enough for the inspectors to finish their job, and then have indicated support for the war if the UN approves.

Neither have these “antiwar” Democrats said what they intend to do if the U.S. and Britain go ahead with their stated plans for war on Iraq even if the UN does not sanction a war on Iraq. But knowing their history and the history of all bourgeois opponents of imperialist war before they start, we can expect that, in line with the pattern established by their predecessors, they will be inclined to jump on the pro-war bandwagon once the bombs start dropping on Baghdad.

Isn’t that similar to what these “antiwar” Democrats did when they did not utter a word of protest when President Bush let loose his weapons of mass destruction on Afghanistan? In fact, moreover, didn’t they applaud Bush’s War on Terrorism speech a dozen or so times? (If they were there, they did, because every single member of the two houses of Congress that was present certainly did.)

But if these alleged antiwar capitalist politicians are not really against the rapidly approaching war on Iraq, why do they want to appear as though they are indeed opposed to this war?

It’s fair to ask the obvious question: what’s in it for them? The simplest part of the answer, it would appear, is that they know that a large majority in this country is opposed to this war, therefore, they know it might not be prudent when election time comes around to be in support of a war that their constituents oppose. And I would venture the guess that the politicians we are discussing know that while their constituents are strongly opposed to the war, those who contribute most to finance the campaigns of all capitalist politicians are supporters of the war. And in the final analysis, as the saying goes: he who pays the piper calls the tune.

But what harm does inviting such speakers do to the cause of stopping this war before it starts and continuing to work to stop it as quickly as we can if the war begins despite the millions of people who have voted against the war with their marching feet?

The first harmful acts of these “antiwar” capitalist politicians was to accept and promote all the basic premises advanced by the Bush administration—parroted repeatedly 24-hours a day in the mass media—justifying the need to disarm Iraq, remove Saddam Hussein from power and behind the scenes replace him and his government with creatures of their own choosing. That has already disoriented many and has softened up their opposition to an unjust war.

To be sure, the government of Iraq is an oppressive one. But there are very many regimes around today that are no less oppressive and dictatorial than the Saddam Hussein regime. Most regimes in the neocolonial world do not rule with the consent of the people, they rule by force of arms, control over the wealth of the nation and by whatever degree of oppression is necessary to hold on to power.

But why does Bush, the bipartisan Congress and corporate America want to remove the one in Iraq, and why now? Because it’s got a whole lot of oil and the U.S.-dominated global economy is going down the tubes—that’s why.





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