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Wed, 4 Aug 2010 22:56:26 -0400
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Why Is the Antiwar Movement Stalled?

In Two Words: The Left

by Justin Raimondo 
July 28, 2010

A recent gathering of the remnants of the antiwar
movement, sponsored by something calling itself the
United National Antiwar Conference, underscores the
reasons why there is almost no effective organized
opposition to the present administration's occupation
of Iraq and Afghanistan. One has only to look at the
conference program to see why the antiwar movement
remains marginal, at best: a keynote address by
perennial leftist icon Noam Chomsky, who was paired
with Donna Dewitt, a left-wing labor official, and also
featuring workshops ­ reflecting some of their primary
concerns ­ on "Health Care is a Human Right,"
"Deepening the Base & Building Bridges between the
Climate Change, Peace & Economic Justice Movements,"
and ­ most telling of all ­ "The Rise of Right Wing
Populism & the Tea Party: Do We Need a Right-Left

That this question is in dispute tells us how
misguided, and out of it, these people are. It also
shows how immoral and narcissistic they are: while
Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis are being blown to
bits, they are wondering whether we ought to be
building a broad-based movement that transcends their
petty sectarian concerns, or whether what passes for
the antiwar movement should be their own personal

The panelists were Medea Benjamin of Code Pink; Kevin
Zeese, co-founder of Voters for Peace; Chris Gauvreau
of Connecticut United Against the War and the National
Assembly to End U.S. Wars and Occupations; and Glen
Ford, representing Black Agenda.

Now, I did not attend this conference, and have no idea
what the upshot of the discussion was; however,
Benjamin and Zeese have expressed their support for
such a coalition (the former somewhat tentatively, and
the latter with more conviction). On the other hand,
one can easily imagine that Ford, who has called the
Ron Paul movement and the tea partiers "racists," and
advocates of "white nationalism," and Gauvreau, a
leftist who spent much of this speech mouthing all the
expected slogans, see a left-right coalition as a
deadly threat to "their" movement. What's interesting,
to me at least, is that the cited Gauvreau speech, made
at an antiwar demonstration last year, opens with the
speaker bemoaning the fact that "It has been difficult
to build this demonstration." The reason, he averred,
is because the media keeps telling us the war in Iraq
is winding down or over ­ but surely this excuse
doesn't hold true for the war in Afghanistan, with
casualties increasing daily and the carnage making
headlines. Yet he tries to put a brave face on it:

"Without a militant and independent movement in the
streets, exposing each and every escalation of this
war, we can expect only more and more desperate
military acts in the service of corporate America. That
is why this demonstration, though smaller than some
held in the past, is a victory."

Earth to Gauvreau: A couple of dozen protesters
standing around dispiritedly listening to a speaker
declare that the smallness of their demonstration isn't
their fault ­ and certainly isn't his fault ­ is a
defeat, and there's no two ways about it. Any bystander
who happened upon this mini-mobilization would have to
conclude, regardless of his own opinion of US foreign
policy, that opponents of US intervention are an
isolated and somewhat eccentric minority, with no
chance of actually having an effect on the course of

After long and bitter experience in the leftist-
dominated "peace movement," I'm convinced that this is
exactly how the left sectarians who invariably dominate
such gatherings like it. In a real mass movement
against interventionism, their influence would be
considerably reduced, and their ability to use it as a
recruiting ground to advance their organizational
ambitions would be very close to nil.

The sectarians of "Socialist Action," a minuscule
Trotskyist grouplet which has been very visible on the
West Coast at "peace actions," admit as much in a 2000-
word polemic published in their plonky little
newspaper, and on their equally plonky web site
(Marxists don't do the internet, and when they do, the
results are laughable). The piece starts out by
averring that the model cited by Zeese is the old
America First Committee, which opposed US intervention
in World War II, as well as the Anti-Imperialist
League, which, earlier, led the opposition to the US
occupation of the Philippines. Without going into any
detail about the latter example, the author goes into a
long disquisition contrasting the Trotskyists'
opposition to US entry into WWII with the AFC's,
hailing the "militant" labor "sit downs" as exemplary,
in spite of the fact that they had nothing to do with
antiwar activism. As the climax of the Trotskyists'
glorious record, Socialist Action avers:

        "During the war, the Socialist Workers Party
	organized to aid fraternization among working-
	class soldiers of all nations, and they opposed
	the attempts of the government to prohibit
	strikes for better wages and working conditions
	and to brand actions by the labor movement as
	aiding the 'enemy.' Their militant opposition
	to the war and wartime assaults on the rights
	of workers to defend their standard of living
	led the government to indict leaders of the
	Socialist Workers Party and the Minneapolis
	Teamsters under the Alien Registration, or
	Smith Act."

So, the Trots wound up in jail, to the cheers of the
Stalinists and the pro-war "liberals" ­ that looks like
a defeat to me.

Their account of the America First movement repeats all
the old Stalinist canards about the biggest peace
movement in American history: it was run by big
businessmen, it was "anti-Semitic," it wasn't really
for peace, just pro-Hitler. The article cites the
considered opinion of James P. Cannon, the Trotskyist
leader at the time, as saying "the 'isolationists' in
elite circles merely held a tactical difference with
those of their peers who were for sending U.S.
armaments to Britain." Their real goal, he thought, was
to consolidate their control over the Western
hemisphere in preparation for intervening in Europe.

Cannon's view is nonsensical, as anyone who has read
the writings of America First leader and top activist
John T. Flynn would readily understand: Flynn was a
principled opponent of US intervention abroad, because
he understood what turn of the century liberal Randolph
Bourne meant when he said "War is the health of the
State." Flynn and his co-thinkers wanted to limit the
power of the American state ­ a goal not shared by
Trotsky's disciples.

In any case, what the Socialist Actioneers fail to
note, in their endless polemic, is that the America
First Committee mobilized millions against the war: it
had 800,000 members (dues-paying members, I might add),
and a Washington lobby that very nearly sunk
Roosevelt's ever-accelerating drive to drag us into war
in Europe. Massive rallies conducted on a nationwide
scale kept the Roosevelt administration in check, right
up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The War
Party had to take the "back door to war," as one
historian put it, in order to get us in.

So, faced with these two examples ­ the isolated (and
jailed) Trotskyists, and the massive America First
movement ­ which would any normal person consider a
role model?

But we aren't dealing with normal people here: we're
dealing with sectarian ideologues, who fail to see the
implications of their own example. The rest of the
article is denunciation of the politics of Ron Paul,
and traditional conservatives who oppose imperialism:
why, just look, they don't support nationalized health
care! They are against open borders! They oppose Social
Security! Horrors! They conclude:

        "To involve the great majority of the working
	people of the United States today, the antiwar
	movement must be a safe place for the most
	militant and combative components of the unions
	and of community struggles. It must seem
	relevant to those whose first waking thought is
	how to find a job or keep their house. It must
	be welcoming to the 200,000 LGBT activists who
	recently marched on DC.

        "A united front with the anti-interventionist
	far right, on the other hand, would require
	that our movement drop its demand for "Money
	for Jobs, Not War!' ? It would naturally draw
	in the openly racist Tea Party elements. Such a
	'united front' would make the antiwar movement
	uninhabitable by those most crucial to its

Translation: a left-right coalition would make the
antiwar movement uninhabitable by the inveterate
sectarians of the ultra-left, whose only concern is to
recruit naïve young people into their dying little
sects. Trotskyism, today, is about as relevant as
phrenology, and about as useful when it comes to
building a mass political movement of any kind ­ and
the sectarians know it. They are essentially parasites
who converge on any "peace" movement that arises and
suck the juice out of it until they've had their fill:
then they feast on the bones.

"The unity that we need in the antiwar movement today,"
the Trots proclaim at the end of their piece, "is the
kind of unity exemplified by the United National
Antiwar Conference to be held in Albany, NY, on July
23, 2010."

No. What is needed is not another leftist-dominated
"coalition," which puts on conferences that address the
faithful, reasserts their well-worn dogmas, and
sponsors marches of a few thousand (at most). You'll
note that these marches nearly always take place on the
coasts ­ especially San Francisco, that bastion of the
left's past glories ­ but never penetrate into the
American heartland. Until and unless they do, the
antiwar movement, as an organized force in American
politics, will literally remain a fringe phenomenon.

The irony here is that it was the Trotskyists in the
1960s who really understood how to build a mass antiwar
movement: the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) had a
really effective strategy and that was to make the
antiwar movement during the Vietnam era a single issue
movement. The idea was to unite all who could be united
around a simple axiomatic principle: Get the US out of
Vietnam. Period. The SWPers were among the most
energetic and effective antiwar organizers because they
knew the difference between building a mass movement
around the issue of war and peace and building a
political party: the former had to be broad and all-
inclusive, as opposed to the latter, which, by
definition, has a more comprehensive (and self-
limiting) character.

Further irony: the cadres of Socialist Action were once
members of the SWP. They were thrown out in the purges
of the 1980s, when the SWP ditched Trotskyism for the
"wisdom" of Fidel Castro. In trying to recapture their
glory days, Socialist Action is ignoring the lessons of
their own history.

But this isn't about Socialist Action ­ a group with
about 30 members nationwide. It's about the widespread
attitude on the Left ­ or, rather, what's left of the
Left ­ that they'd rather reign in Hell than serve in
Heaven. And more: it's about the whole "left-right"
paradigm that divides the oppressed and plays into the
"mainstream" media narrative that red is red, blue is
blue, right is "reactionary" and left is "progressive'
­ and never the twain shall meet. We see this on cable
news shows: both Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh profit
from this, but the rest of us lose big time. We lose
because, although we may agree on a vitally important
issue ­ the futility and downright evil of a foreign
policy premised on perpetual war ­ we are prevented
from uniting to fight it because of outmoded ways of

As long as the organized antiwar movement remains a
leftist sandbox, where sectarians get to pontificate ­
and do little else ­ it will stay a sideshow. Once we
get beyond all that nonsense, however, there are no
limits to what we can do: just look at the polls. The
American people are with us ­ and they're ready to join
us in our fight. Indeed, they've never been readier.
The question is: are we ready to receive them, and lead

Right now, the answer is no: I'm hoping that ­ someday
soon ­ the answer will be an emphatic yes.


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