The Antiwar Movement Today
Presentation by Michael Letwin, New York City Labor Against the War
ISO Summer School
June 16, 2007
This is a very strange political moment.
On the one hand, the U.S. can’t win in Iraq, and that’s why, in November, people elected Democrats to end that war.
On the other hand, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the ground and air war has sharply escalated; the U.S. has openly promoted civil war in Palestine; continued to arm the Lebanese state against the Palestinians and Hezbollah; sponsored an invasion of Somalia; and ratcheted-up threats of war on Iran.
Rather than end the war in Iraq, the Democrats have given Bush every penny he’s asked for — without even the pretense of phoney timetables — and signed on to the demand for oil privatization in Iraq. Overall, the leading Democratic presidential contenders are at least as belligerent militarists as the Republicans.
Even Murtha-esque proposals for “speedy withdrawal,” “timetables,” and “redeployment” are designed to more effectively maintain U.S. control over
Iraq. They effectively call for continued U.S. support for the puppet Iraqi regime, including ground offensives, the air war, death squads, or mass detention; they do not even pretend to oppose other fronts of U.S. war in the Middle East, such as Afghanistan and Palestine.
None of this is surprising, since both parties support U.S. domination around the world, particularly over Middle Eastern oil and strategic location.
Despite all this, the U.S. antiwar movement is in crisis. To varying degrees, the
“mainstream” Peaceocracy has compromised opposition to war funding. A few months ago, MoveOn openly supported the Democrats vote for war funding with timetables. UFPJ — whose leadership is dominated primarily by the Communist Party and Committee for Correspondence — disagreed with MoveOn, but watered down its already-weak support for immediate withdrawal.
In fact, UFPJ co-chair Judith LeBlanc recently declared that “the Democrats are using the politics of reality,” and CPUSA publications call not for immediate withdrawal, but for Congress to “Set the Date.” We should expect that UPFJ and Co. will support whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2008, just as it did behind prowar John Kerry in 2004.
Meanwhile, UFPJ and US Labor Against the War are currently sponsoring an “Iraq Labor Tour” that includes a representative from the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, which openly supports the Iraq puppet regime, supports Bush’s “surge,” and opposes immediate withdrawal.
Under pressure from the Arab-Muslim community and parts of the left, UFPJ has felt compelled to say something about Palestine, an example of which was its June 10 event in D.C. But it has absolutely no credibility among Arab Muslims because it keeps Palestine completely segregated from Iraq — which is why there was virtually no reference to the issue at its January 27 mass rally in D.C.
It refused to support ANSWER’s August 2006 protest in D.C. against the Israeli-US invasion of Lebanon. And it defines the “Israeli occupation” as something that dates only to 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan, rather than the all of historic Palestine, which has been occupied since the Israeli apartheid state was created in 1948.
Of course, the antiwar movement is far larger than MoveOn, UFPJ or USLAW.
Thousands of people are involved in grassroots antiwar action, such as that against military recruiters. ANSWER, CAN, Troops Out Now Coalition, New York City Labor Against the War, Al-Awda and other formations are important alternatives. Still, at critical moments the Peaceocracy has enough influence to lead much of the movement rightwards.
In part, this is because UFPJ et al have funding and organization. But it is also because those of us in the antiwar left have not had a clear enough alternative for how to actually end the war.
Discussion of those alternative strategies usually focus on more frequent mass
demonstrations, counter-recruitment, and/or direct action. While these are all valid tactics, the Vietnam antiwar movement suggests that this war will end only when workers — particularly those in uniform – take action.
In fact, recognition of the need for a bottom-up, working class, multi-issue antiwar movement, independent of the Democratic Party, for immediate and unconditional withdrawal, is what defined the position of the International Socialists, the ISO’s predecessor, during the Vietnam war.
And it was largely that perspective which attracted two autonomous Los Angeles-based Marxist groups with close ties and overlapping memberships: the Red Tide, a multiracial high school collective and newspaper that ultimately became the IS youth organization; and the Socialist Collective, which emerged directly from the Black freedom struggle of the 1960s.
The IS emphasized working class antiwar resistance for the same reason it emphasized working class revolution: only workers have both the objective need and the power to end the war. For what is more powerful than workers in uniform fighting their officers rather than the “enemy,” or civilian workers undermining production? Vietnamese resistance generated these
developments, which ultimately defeated the U.S. war machine.
Indeed, the Vietnam war ended only when Vietnamese resistance and the Black Power movement at home set off a mass working class GI mutiny. Radicalized veterans of all colors brought that experience back home with them, where it was reflected in grassroots revolts in auto plants, ghettos and barrios.
The main antiwar formations were often hostile or indifferent to this movement from below. People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ), dominated by the Communist Party and other liberals, tailed the Democratic Party and opposed the demand for Out Now. The National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC), wholly controlled by the Socialist Workers Party, demanded Out Now, but was similarly top-down and insisted on a single-issue movement that pandered mainly to liberal Democratic politicians and leftwing of the trade union bureaucracy.
But the working class antiwar revolt was not leaderless. In fact, draft resistance began in 1964 when Malcolm X and SNCC urged Black men not to go to Vietnam because white racism, not the Vietnamese liberation movement, was the real enemy. The most famous draft resister was Mohammed Ali. And the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program, launched in 1966, demanded that Black people be exempt from the draft.
More broadly, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) played a critical role in bringing the GI revolt home. In 1970, the Chicano Moratorium in Los Angeles linked racism at home and abroad.
The International Socialists, which was the forerunner of the ISO, and its grassroots allies, argued that the “official” antiwar movement should ally with these forces, by demanding Out Now, while also advocating a bottom up, multi-issue approach, independent of the Democratic Party, with the object of building and supporting working class revolt against the war.
In 1968, the IS forged an electoral alliance between the Peace and Freedom and Black Panther parties. In 1970, the IS and others in Los Angeles organized antiwar support for striking Teamsters by linking the war abroad with racism and other class issues at home.
In May 1971, the IS helped form a caucus within NPAC that included the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and others, which called for lunchtime antiwar rallies at the workplace, pressure on labor leaders to hold antiwar Labor Day marches that connected with domestic issues, and for future antiwar marches to be held in working class communities, along with class-specific antiwar slogans, All of this was intended to lay the basis for antiwar work stoppages. The caucus also proposed independent political action to challenge the pro-war parties.
In July 1972, the IS and others (including the Red Tide and the Socialist Collective, a Black Marxist group) organized a similar caucus at the NPAC convention in Los Angeles.
These efforts had limited success. The IS was relatively small, overwhelmingly white and middle class, and by 1972, the GI revolt had caused the ground war to be largely replaced by the air war. But the IS had nonetheless sought to connect with the mass working class antiwar rebellion from below.
(For more details, see: IS Antiwar Materials 1968-1972, and David Finkel, Anti-War Coalition Sounds Retreat, Workers’ Power #48, p. 6)
This same logic applies today. Resistance in Iraq and throughout the Middle East has brought about overwhelming opposition to the war — at least in Iraq — among U.S. workers, uniformed and civilian, who have unique power to end the war.
How do we build more effective antiwar movement? There are no guarantees of success. But to end the war, we need to argue for:
1. Firm and consistent antiwar positions rooted in independence from Democratic Party.
2. Immediate withdrawal of U.S. empire from entire Middle East: U.S. forces out of Iraq, Afghanistan — No timetable, advisers, redeployment, air war or puppet states.
3. No war on Iran.
4. End all aid to the Israeli apartheid state — Freedom for Palestine means the Right of Return.
5. U.S. hands off the Philippines, Colombia, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba — and the rest of the world.
6. Connect with War at Home.
7. End the attack on Arab/Muslim rights.
8. No human being is “illegal” – Full amnesty for undocumented
immigrants; no guest worker program.
9. Reconstruction and the right of return for Katrina victims.
10. Defend labor rights.
And we must reflect these positions through bottom-up mobilization and alliances, especially among those with the power to end the war: workers.
Our strategy must prominently include:
• Counter-recruitment (CAN).
• GI resistance (IVAW, GI Special).
• Immigrant rights movement.
• Other labor resistance, e.g., TWU strike.