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Behind the Placards 

The odd and troubling origins of today’s anti-war movement

Wednesday, Oct 30 2002
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Free Mumia. Free the Cuban 5. Free Jamil Al-Amin (that‘s H. Rap Brown, the former Black Panther convicted in March of killing a sheriff’s deputy in 2000). And free Leonard Peltier. Also, defeat Zionism. And, while we‘re at it, let’s bring the capitalist system to a halt.

When tens of thousands of people gathered near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for an anti-war rally and march in Washington last Saturday, the demands hurled by the speakers extended far beyond the call for no war against Iraq. Opponents of the war can be heartened by the sight of people coming together in Washington and other cities for pre-emptive protests. But demonstrations such as these are not necessarily strategic advances, for the crowds are still relatively small and, more importantly, the message is designed by the far left for consumption by those already in their choir.

In a telling sign of the organizers‘ priorities, the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the taxi driverradical journalist sentenced to death two decades ago for killing a policeman, drew greater attention than the idea that revived and unfettered weapons inspections should occur in Iraq before George W. Bush launches a war. Few of the dozens of speakers, if any, bothered suggesting a policy option regarding Saddam Hussein other than a simplistic leave-Iraq-alone. Jesse Jackson may have been the only major figure to acknowledge Saddam’s brutality, noting that the Iraqi dictator ”should be held accountable for his crimes.“ What to do about Iraq? Most speakers had nothing to say about that. Instead, the Washington rally was a pander fest for the hard left.

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If public-opinion polls are correct, 33 percent to 40 percent of the public opposes an Iraq war; even more are against a unilateral action. This means the burgeoning anti-war movement has a large recruiting pool, yet the demo was not intended to persuade doubters. Nor did it speak to Americans who oppose the war but who don‘t consider the United States a force of unequaled imperialist evil and who don’t yearn to smash global capitalism.

This was no accident, for the demonstration was essentially organized by the Workers World Party, a small political sect that years ago split from the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The party advocates socialist revolution and abolishing private property. It is a fan of Fidel Castro‘s regime in Cuba, and it hails North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il for preserving his country’s ”socialist system,“ which, according to the party‘s newspaper, has kept North Korea ”from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world.“ The WWP has campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A recent Workers World editorial declared, ”Iraq has done absolutely nothing wrong.“

Officially, the organizer of the Washington demonstration was International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). But ANSWER is run by WWP activists, to such an extent that it seems fair to dub it a WWP front. Several key ANSWER officials -- including spokesperson Brian Becker -- are WWP members. Many local offices for ANSWER’s protest were housed in WWP offices. Earlier this year, when ANSWER conducted a press briefing, at least five of the 13 speakers were WWP activists. They were each identified, though, in other ways, including as members of the International Action Center.

The IAC, another WWP offshoot, was a key partner with ANSWER in promoting the protest. It was founded by Ramsey Clark, attorney general for President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. For years, Clark has been on a bizarre political odyssey, much of the time in sync with the Workers World Party. As an attorney, he has represented Lyndon LaRouche, the leader of a political cult. He has defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, who was accused of participating in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Clark is also a member of the International Committee To Defend Slobodan Milosevic. The international war-crimes tribunal, he explains, ”is war by other means“ -- that is, a tool of the West to crush those who stand in the way of U.S. imperialism, like Milosevic. A critic of the ongoing sanctions against Iraq, Clark has appeared on talking-head shows and refused to concede any wrongdoing on Saddam‘s part. There is no reason to send weapons inspectors to Iraq, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: ”After 12 years of brutalization with sanctions and bombing they‘d like to be a country again. They’d like to have sovereignty again. They‘d like to be left alone.“

It is not redbaiting to note the WWP’s not-too-hidden hand in the nascent anti-war movement. It explains the tone and message of Saturday‘s rally. Take the question of inspections. According to Workers World, at a party conference in September, Sara Flounders, a WWP activist, reported war opponents were using the slogan ”inspections, not war.“ Flounders, the paper says, ”pointed out that ’inspections ARE war‘ in another form,“ and that she had ”prepared party activists to struggle within the movement on this question.“ Translation: The WWP would do whatever it could to smother the ”inspections, not war“ cry. Inspections-before-invasion is an effective argument against the dash to war. But it conflicts with WWP support for opponents of U.S. imperialism. At the Washington event, the WWP succeeded in blocking out that line -- while promoting anti-war messages more simpatico with its dogma.

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