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Nov 2001 • Vol 1, No. 6 •

Don’t be Shocked:
There Are Socialists in the Antiwar Movement

by Carole Seligman

A vibrant new anti-war movement is forming. Several important mass demonstrations have taken place around the world, including in the United States. The demonstrations took place both as the US was announcing its plan to bomb countries that harbor terrorists, and more took place after the government started to bomb Afghanistan.

San Francisco, California, already the site of a massive antiwar demonstration on September 29th, was the site of a second mass march and rally on October 20th. According to the S.F. Chronicle 5000 people marched through the center of downtown San Francisco, up Market Street, and rallied in front of City Hall to protest the bombing of Afghanistan, the racist attacks on Muslims, Arabs and other immigrants, and to defend civil liberties.

The October 20th demonstration was organized by the Town Hall Committee Against War and Hate, a new ad hoc coalition composed of socialist groups, organized liberals, and politically independent people. Meeting on a weekly basis since just after President Bush threatened war in response to the September 11 terror attacks, this antiwar group attracts upwards of 100 activists to its meetings. This heterogeneous mix of people, who are strongly committed to a unified response against the war, racism, and for civil liberties, hold widely divergent opinions on other issues and even some issues that directly relate to the current war. What holds the diverse group together is a commitment to unify a massive antiwar movement.

Debates in the anti-war movement

The antiwar movement is embroiled in a debate central to its role of building a massive opposition movement to the imperialist war. That debate is over whether or not to add the demand, “U.S. Out of the Middle East and Afghanistan!” Socialists in the coalition are to be found on both sides of this debate. Some of us are making the argument that the actual war the U.S. is waging at this time includes several components. It includes the bombing of Afghanistan; the sanctions and bombing of Iraq; and the daily war waged on the Palestinian population as a whole by the Israeli state acting as proxy for U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East and Central Asian regions.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Israel massively escalated its attacks on Palestinians including killing several children, shooting into hospitals, homes, and places of worship, invading and occupying Palestinian villages. Much of the weaponry used in these acts of war including F-16 fighter planes, Apache and Cobra attack helicopters, naval and tank artillery, rockets, hell-fire missiles, rocket and grenade launchers, anti-personnel cluster bombs, and more, is supplied and paid for the United States. The United States Senate just approved a $2.76 billion aid package for Israel, more than it gives to any other country in the world. The vote was 96 to 2.

Actual war not confined to Afghanistan

In other words, this war is not confined to the U.S. bombing and invasion of Afghanistan. It includes the attacks on the Palestinian people and the Iraqis. All these acts of aggression against peoples in the Middle East and Central Asia are related to the U.S. government’s need to exploit the oil resources that are found or must travel through these regions. All are directed against the peoples of these regions controlling their own lands and resources.

Why do peace activists have difficulty recognizing these facts about this war? Unfortunately, support for Israel goes well beyond the government and the corporations that the government represents. The Zionist movement has cynically utilized the holocaust suffered by the Jewish people as justification for expelling the indigenous people of Palestine from their homeland and “creating” a Jewish theocratic state—Israel—in occupied Palestine.

In settling the desperate European refugees in Palestinian lands, world imperialism, led by the United States, created, armed, and financed the Israeli Zionist settler state. Israel was created to serve as imperialism’s proxy policemen for its main goal in the region. That goal is to ensure the steady flow of oil from its Middle Eastern and Central Asian neo-colonial sources primarily to fuel U.S. industry.

Reactionary role of Israel

Many liberals in the peace movement refuse to recognize the facts about the reactionary role played by the state of Israel because they cannot see how an oppressed people—the Jews—could subject another oppressed people—the Palestinians—to the same kinds of oppression they themselves suffered under imperialist Germany’s Hitler. Unfortunately, the history of class society is full of such examples, especially U.S. history, where poor peoples joined the campaign to wipe out the indigenous population in the most brutal manner and where poor white sharecroppers participated in the brutal oppression of African slaves.

The debate over “global capitalism”

“I am not a socialist” said one of the activists at the Town Hall Committee meeting of October 23. She was speaking against a proposal to add the demand, “Oppose Global Capitalism,” to the basic demands of the coalition. I am a socialist and my goal is to build a mass revolutionary workers movement for a world socialist society free of all forms of economic, social, and political oppression endemic to global capitalism. But I am against adding “Oppose Global Capitalism” to the points of unity of the anti-war movement. The main reason why this is not a good demand for an action-based coalition is that not even a substantial minority of the American people is ready to demonstrate against global capitalism. Thus, rather than building larger demonstrations against the “war on terrorism,” such a demand would tend to keep antiwar people from joining a demonstration aimed against global capitalism.

Neither would it contribute to the building of the socialist movement. People join the socialist movement because it has demonstrated how to fight effectively for workers’ needs. Thousands of young people joined the socialist movement in the 1960s and 70s because of the role socialists played in the Vietnam antiwar movement.

The Socialist Workers Party, the party that won me to socialism, supported the Vietnamese revolution wholeheartedly. But the demand they raised in the antiwar movement was to “Bring our boys home now!” They explained that that was the best way to build a movement massive enough to stop American imperialism from overturning the socialist revolution in Vietnam. That slogan helped the antiwar movement to reach out to the American people by showing that we wanted the American soldiers brought home. The movement was able to demonstrate that the interests of the Vietnamese people (for self-determination) and the American people (not to die in imperialist wars) were the same. Some socialists tried to win the antiwar movement over to the slogan of “Victory to the Vietnamese Revolution!” That demand was not capable of mobilizing very many people and therefore was not useful to the antiwar or the socialist movement.

The goal of the Town Hall Committee should be to build a massive antiwar movement that can mount significant demonstrations opposing U.S. war moves against Afghanistan and any other country the U.S. attacks as part of this new “war on terrorism.” Given the conditions that make building such a movement very difficult at this time—the public relations campaign to whip up patriotic support for anything the US government does, the new repressive legislation, and the opposition to and fear of the terror attacks themselves—it is extremely important that the antiwar movement focus all its energy on building opposition to the war.

The demand “Oppose Global Capitalism,” is not an action demand that the Town Hall Committee and other antiwar groups could bring about. Nor can the new antiwar movement, by adopting a particular slogan, jump into the breach created when most of the anti-globalization organizations cancelled their demonstrations in Washington, D.C. in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks. Even though there is a big overlap among the forces of the antiwar movement and the anti-globalization movement, there is a distinction between them.

The anti-globalization movement

The U.S. anti-globalization movement was faced with an important test in the wake of September 11. They fell short in that test. They couldn’t recognize that the U.S. response to the September 11 events was the ultimate expression of capitalist globalization. In other words, the U.S. will use any means at its disposal, including bombing civilian populations, to ensure their global dominance of resources and wealth. It’s a sterile political exercise to talk about reforming the trade relationship between the wealthy and poor nations of the world without addressing the most naked expression of that relationship—war, a war that represents imperialist domination by any means necessary.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s contradictory votes

Unfortunately, some in the peace movement are actually conscious supporters of a section of the U.S. government whom they consider to be more peace loving than President Bush and his party. For example, Congresswoman Barbara Lee has become a symbol for the liberal wing of the anti-war movement for her vote against giving Bush a blank check for his “war on terrorism.” However, Congresswoman Lee gave her support to Bush by voting for the $40 billion Bush requested in actual appropriations to finance a war supported by unanimous vote of both houses of Congress!

On October 21, some 3000 supporters of Congresswoman Lee rallied in Oakland, including the actor Danny Glover and the writer Alice Walker. Medea Benjamin, a leader of Global Exchange and former Green party candidate for U.S. Senator from California, used her speech at the October 20 antiwar rally to promote the event for Barbara Lee. It is damaging for the peace movement when important components of it use their clout to promote the militantly pro-war Democratic Party through its most liberal spokespersons, like Barbara Lee. It is very important that the antiwar movement remain independent of all capitalist parties and candidates.

Red baiting

Unfortunately, red baiting has reared its ugly head again in the anti-war movement. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the organizations that acted blindly at its behest, red baiting against various socialist components of the new anti-war movement has erupted. During the war in Vietnam, red baiting was used by the government to smear the anti-war movement and try to scare off independents who were beginning to oppose the U.S. war. Some forces within the movement used red baiting to attack the Trotskyists and others whose politics they disagreed with. The Socialist Workers Party, which was consistently in the left wing of the Vietnam antiwar movement was constantly red baited in order to make it more difficult for them to convince the movement of the need to adopt the slogan “Bring Our Troops Home Now” as the way to end the war.

Today, anonymous red baiting attacks against the Workers World Party and the International Socialist Organization have appeared on the Internet. Both of these organizations have played an active, leadership role in the new anti-war movement. While this writer has important disagreements with the politics of both of these organizations, the red baiting attacks on them are harmful to the movement as a whole, as well as unworthy of those who favor democratic norms, because they have a chilling effect on the expression of actual differences of opinion.

Rob Morse, a liberal columnist for the S.F. Chronicle devoted a whole column to attacking the Workers World Party in a barely hidden polemic against the antiwar movement. The movement needs to jealously guard its open character against such attacks. And where we disagree, we should hold open debates.

Such a debate over whether or not to add the demand “U.S. Out of the Middle East” has just concluded, for the time being, in the Town Hall Committee. Care must be taken in such debates to debate the differences respectfully and on the substantial questions in dispute. It is important that all sides declare in advance that no matter who wins, we will all continue to build the anti-war movement. My organization, the Socialist Workers Organization, makes this declaration.

Socialists and the anti-war movement

Historically, socialists have played a key role in the struggle against war. Socialists consider war to be a product of the capitalist system itself. We think the struggle against war is integral to the fight to end the capitalist system of exploitation. Socialists have played a prominent role in every anti-war movement in American history until that role was blemished by the Stalinist Communist party in supporting U.S. imperialism in World War II because of its alliance with the Soviet Union. The world socialist movement’s historic opposition to capitalist wars was completely subverted during World War II by the misleadership of the labor movement and both the American Socialist and Communist Parties. They even supported anti-labor no-strike pledges for the duration of the war.

The development of the Vietnam antiwar movement allowed the critical examination of the U.S. role in World War II by masses of American people active in that movement. During that period the massive terrorist bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was re-examined in the light of the terrorist actions the U.S. was known to be carrying out in Vietnam. Peace activists from Japan toured the U.S. and educated the movement about what had happened to them. Scholars were able to unearth the information that the U.S. administration knew that Japan was trying to surrender before the U.S. bombed two civilian centers of population. The news leaked out that the U.S. nuclear-bombed Japan in order to send a message to the Soviet Union and the world not to support the revolutionary uprisings that were expected in the wake of the war.

The Vietnam War also revealed the lie of U.S. propaganda justifying that imperialist World War—that it was a war for freedom and democracy, against fascism. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States was exposed for its support to all manner of brutal dictatorships and its own wars against self-determination of oppressed colonial peoples.

Preparing to become a majority movement

The lie that this war, only about a month old at this writing, is a war against terrorism is already being exposed. People in the antiwar movement are loudly asking how there could even be a war against terrorism. The United States’ use of cluster bombs (meant to kill people) and the triple bombing of the Red Cross food storage and distribution facilities in Afghanistan are exposing the real nature of the war. The movement should not expect to be a minority movement for too long. Everything we do should be to prepare us to become a massive majority movement, because we well know that our aspirations for peace and justice and human rights are going to win over the American people eventually, maybe sooner than we now think.





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