The Antiwar Movement An Editorial Opinion

By Carole Seligman

A critical time for the antiwar movement arrived several months ago, around the summer of 2006, when the tide of U.S. public opinion turned against the war on Iraq. The majority of the American people joined with the rest of humanity in opposing the war and they started to weigh the various proposals on how to end it. This opposition and open-mindedness continues to grow. It was reflected in the gigantic antiwar mobilization in Washington, D.C., at the antiwar march sponsored by United for Peace and Justice on January 27th.

The turn in massive war opposition signaled to the organized, independent, antiwar movement that the time for unity in action against the war was of critical importance. It also meant that there was a great need to get our proposal for how to stop the killing and end the war out on the table for the people to consider. The diverse organizations of the antiwar movement all agree on how to end the war. They address these demands to the government: Bring the troops home now! Stop funding the war!

These are the means by which the antiwar movement champions the cause of self-determination for the people of Iraq by ending U.S. war and occupation. At the same time, these demands on the government meet the needs of American workers not to be put in harms way, not to kill, and not to die in an unjust war on behalf of the big oil corporations and other private businesses who are raking in the profits as war contractors.

These demands put this antiwar movement way ahead of the Vietnam antiwar movement in some respects. It took many years for the whole movement against the Vietnam War to adopt the “Out Now!” demand. There were a few years of debate and division within the movement between the “Out Now!” wing of the movement and the liberals who called for negotiations (between the United States and Vietnam’s National Liberation Front) as a solution for ending that war. At that time, in the 1960s, only the conscious left wing of the movement, the socialists and the radical pacifists, understood that the U.S. had no right to negotiate anything in Vietnam, and that only unconditional withdrawal of the U.S. from Vietnam could end the war.

Now, the debate on how to end the war is between the whole organized antiwar movement on the one hand, and on the other, the various factions of the government, whose views range from ending the war through total U.S. military victory (Bush administration and some Congressional supporters of both parties), to mild non-binding resolutions criticizing the latest troop escalation, to liberals in Congress who call for withdrawal within six months, or by the end of 2007, or later, or some other formula which allows the U.S. to keep troops and bases there for some time to come.

So, why, if the national antiwar groups and coalitions agree that the war must end, and they agree on how to end it, why can’t they manage to put aside other differences of opinion in order to get the most massive protest demonstrations of people in the streets on the same day and the same locations? For example: Why can’t the UFPJ whole-heartedly support and build the March 17th, 4 year anniversary of the war March on the Pentagon initiated by the Act Now To Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) Coalition?

The sticking point for the leadership of the biggest national antiwar coalition seems to be an overly (and foolishly, I would argue) optimistic hope that the new Democratic Party majority in Congress will actually move to end the war. Some sections of the antiwar movement are tempted to try to form an alliance with the Democratic Party “liberals” who advocate gradual withdrawal (Woolsey, Lee, Waters), phased withdrawal (Obama), or even re-deployment outside of Iraqi borders, but continue to encircle the region with bases and warships (Murtha, Clinton).

Unfortunately, most of this Democratic Party majority is tainted with its votes for the war budget, for the military, and even, in many cases, for authorizing the war on Iraq. Even the most peace-talking Democrats in Congress fail to put forward the sensible demands of complete and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and the immediate cessation of all funding for the war and occupation!

In San Francisco, for example, some sections of the antiwar movement put great efforts into building a public meeting for Democratic Party presidential hopeful, Dennis Kucinich, who talks a lot about peace, instead of efforts to build a massive demonstration in San Francisco. Despite this partial abstention, the S.F. demonstration on January 27th mobilized about 10,000 people for “Out Now!” It was a case of the unorganized people having a more developed consciousness about how to end the war than several of the antiwar organizations.

There seems to be a welling up of antiwar sentiment among the people. The internet and Pacifica radio (and even National Public Radio, to some extent) have daily reports on a wide range of actions of all kinds of protests against the war—speak-outs, die-ins, sit-ins, civil disobedience, pickets, marches, rallies, lobbying of Congresspersons, coordinated meetings in localities, petitions, town meetings, referendums, to name only a few. But the gigantic turnout on January 27 (half a million was the reported size of the Washington, D.C. demonstration!) shows that masses want to unite and express their opposition to the war in the most massive numbers possible because in unity there is strength. And in massive numbers, there is power. And the activists know that the potential for mobilizing on a more massive scale than ever is now possible with the new antiwar majority and the growing number of Iraq war veterans and active duty soldiers who are marching and speaking out against the war. This phenomenon, of active duty soldiers going into opposition to the war at a time when there is no draft, is unprecedented.

The real reason for the hostility of UFPJ to the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which sponsored most of the big national antiwar demonstrations to date, is the Democratic Party’s absolute hostility to any criticism of U.S. imperialism’s best ally in the Middle East—Israel. Even the most “liberal” antiwar Democrats are supporters of Israeli apartheid and have endorsed full funding for the Israeli regime’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people indigenous to the land now claimed by Israel. Opposition to the war on Iraq cannot be artificially separated from the cause of Palestine’s struggle against Israeli oppression and occupation. Israel and the United States carry out their oppressive policies in collaboration. With the U.S. backed Israeli attack on Lebanon, its bombing of nuclear plants, and its development of nuclear weapons, Israel and the United States are in active collusion in planning an attack on Iran.

During the Vietnam War, when the U.S. spread its air strikes (the heaviest tonnage dropped until that date in the history of air war) to Laos and Cambodia, the U.S. antiwar movement responded accordingly, demanding that the U.S. stop all the bombing and get out of all of Southeast Asia. In the same way, the antiwar movement today must demand an end to all U.S. funding of Israel, whose violent acts of war against the Palestinians allow their land (the Israeli state) to be used as a base of U.S. imperialism in the whole Middle East.

Even if the antiwar movement cannot reach an agreement on the need for the U.S. to stop funding Israel, there should be an agreement to unite in massive demonstrations to get the U.S. out of Iraq and let people who have different views on Palestine bring their own signs and slogans and placards to a unified march. The Democratic Party should not set the agenda for the antiwar movement and dictate who is welcome and who is not. Letting the Democratic Party operatives play any role in determining the degree of unity in the antiwar movement is akin to allowing the Democrats to divide the movement. That’s what happened in the very early days of the Vietnam antiwar movement. It was a conscious effort on the part of a section of the ruling class to keep the peace movement within respectable (and harmless) bounds of opposing war in general, but not actively opposing the specific Vietnam War of U.S. imperialism!

War is the most basic prerogative that the class in power reserves for itself. And the development of a massive antiwar movement that challenges that prerogative—that opposes killing people in other countries—has within it the seeds of profound social change. Without the ability to make war, the ruling class, the capitalists who profit financially from war (and an economy based on production for war), can lose their ability to rule over the workers at home. Workers who begin to see that we have more in common with workers and farmers in foreign lands than with our own ruling class at home are ready to rule society in our own name and for our own interests. That is a potential revolutionary development, whose seeds are germinating within class society right now.