Whose anti war movement is it, anyway?

(Originally posted and emailed February 5, 2003) [Modifications being made are noted by italicizing additions and striking through deletions.]

I would  support a move to "purge" certain ultra leftist organizations' representatives from the top leadership of the anti war movement, if by purge is understood "contain the influence and visibility" and not "remove".  The presence, let alone the preponderance of some of these figures on the podium at the demonstrations in Washington in November and January has been profoundly disturbing to me.  As Mark Bruzonsky has pointed out, this is the wrong leadership for an effective anti war movement, and even more so for an effective anti Shrubbyist political movement.  He has also noted that these people are "mysteriously well funded", and seem always ready and able to co-opt popular movements against rightist abuses of power.

I have noted how convenient it is for the Shrubbyists and their extreme rightist, neo fascist co conspirators that the most public face of the anti war movement is  extremist and collectivist.  This face is not the face of the broad mass of  people who oppose the Shrubbyist strategy of perpetual war.  This element of anti war movement leadership is as contra enlightenment at its heart as is the Shrubbyist religious right itself.

I emphatically disagree with an article on the "World Socialist Web Site" ("published by the International Committee of the Fourth International"!) which attacks those in the anti war camp who are, belatedly, calling for a careful look at some of these people.  It seems transparently obvious to me that the tainting of anti war and anti Shrubbyist political activism by association with self marginalizing and extremist collectivist leadership groups (such as the WS/ICFI) will do more to "render it politically harmless" than will a move "to purge the anti-war movement of its left-wing elements".   From the article:

"Left apologists for US imperialism red bait the anti-war movement" --by David Walsh and Barry Grey
"The emergence of a broad-based movement of opposition to the Bush administration’s war against Iraq caught the American political and media establishment unawares.  In the response of the various factions of the ruling elite there has been one common theme: the need to purge the anti-war movement of its left-wing elements and render it politically harmless."
The three "offending" authors and their articles are:
“A Smart Peace Movement is MIA,” by Marc Cooper, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times of September 29, 2002;
“Who Will Lead?” by Todd Gitlin (Mother Jones magazine, October 14, 2002); and
“Behind the Placards: The odd and troubling origins of today’s anti-war movement,” by David Corn (LA Weekly,  November 1, 2002).

For a more nuanced and accurate critique of these authors (plus Christopher Hitchins) and their points of view see:

Wm. Mandel has been kind enough to respond to my email and posting of (yesterday) February 5  "Whose anti war movement is it, anyway?"  Bill's e-mail and my response are copied below:

Subject:          Re: Who's anti war movement is it, anyway?
Date:             Thu, 06 Feb 2003 12:59:16 -0800
From:             William Mandel <wmmmandel@earthlink.net>
To:             pivonka571@earthlink.net
CC:             (redacted)

My experience is quite the opposite. When I was an activist kid and then teen-ager and then in my early twenties between the onset of mass unemployment at the very beginning of the Great Depression and the start of World War Two, the Communist Party led the movement for welfare when there was no social safety net whatever (1929-1933). Although it entered that period with less than 10,000 members, primarily foreign-born and speaking poor English, it brought over a million people into the streets to demand welfare and unemployment insurance. Those people were obviously not Communists, any more than the huge outpourings in Washington and San Francisco last month, organized by ANSWER's leftists.  Welfare was won quickly, and unemployment insurance was won under Roosevelt, who came into office in 1933. The original bill was drafted by the Communists and introduced into the Senate by a Farmer-Labor senator from the midwest.

   When Communist leadership resulted in a noticeable upsurge in union membership in the early 30s, President Roosevelt, knowing what the consequence would be in workers' minds, said: "If I were a working man, I would join a labor union." The reaction was: "The President said so! I'll join!" Millions joined. Obviously the vast majority of them were not and never became Communists. But when the Cold War began under Truman, immediately after World War II, and Philip Murray, head of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations, later merged with the AFofL) and of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, had the Communist organizers fired and the unions that refused to accept the Cold War kicked out of the CIO. That was helped along by the Taft-Hartley Act, one of the "Patriot-ACt" type laws passed in the Truman-McCarthy era. Today's labor leadership freely admits that the precipitous decline in union membership and the resulting drop in workers' living standards of subsequent years was greatly assisted by the expulsion of the members and unions that had been the spark-plugs of earlier growth.

   During the Vietnam War, the prime organizers of opposition, the "Mobe" or Mobilization against the war, were members of a tiny Trotskyist party. When the people turned against the war, they followed the leadership of the Mobe, as with the Communists forty years earlier, that was the group that offered leadership, and the war was brought to an end. That done, the Trotskyists remained, and remain, tiny grouplets.

   The same thing is occurring today. ANSWER quite literally provided the answer to dissatisfaction with the drive toward war on Iraq. It is still doing so. If the war is prevented, the examples cited in the past indicate that ANSWER will disappear from the scene unless the times bring an upsurge in popular opposition to racism, which is what the "R" in that acronym represents.

    At all events, trying to expel the leftists will only damage the movement, as that expulsion from organized labor in the late 40s continues to be reflected in the sluggishness and lack of initiative of most union "organizers" today.

    Although the foregoing was written from memory, I was able to do so only because of the research recently required to fill out the recollections of my personal participation, and constitutes a summary of several chapters in my autobiography.
                                       William Mandel


My autobiography, SAYING NO TO POWER (Introduction by Howard Zinn), includes 200 pages on the Truman-McCarthy era, 1946-1960. I was called before all three witch hunt committees. Those pages describe how we nullified the laws of that day corresponding to the PATRIOT ACT and HOMELAND SECURITY operations today. You may hear/see my testimony before the witch hunters (used in six films and a play) on my website, http://www.billmandel.net
 The book is available through all normal sources. For an autographed copy, send me $24 at 4466 View Pl.,#106, Oakland, CA. 94611

Subject:      Re: Who's anti war movement is it, anyway?
Date:         Thu, 06 Feb 2003 15:56:38 -0800
From:         Jim Pivonka <pivonka571@earthlink.net>
To:            wmmmandel@earthlink.net

Bill, thank you very much for your response to my email.

The tension between what I see as mainstream progressive activity  and more marginal groups exists not only with respect to 'collectivist' leftist groups, but also frequently with respect to 'populist' groups like those supporting William Jennings Bryan, Father Coughlin, Sockless Jerry Simpson, and Huey Long - though I have not much confidence in placing Huey in with the other two.   Both tendencies have contributed to political and social reforms in this country.

It is a useful tension, I think, and the passions of the more extreme groups clearly do provide energies and impetus that is important to the growth of a mass movement.  And not only progressive movements.   We are, in fact, in the grip of a mass movement, the 'Bush base' that has been and is still driven by rightist extremists like Fallwell, Robertson, Perle, and many more extremist religious right and social/economic fascist agitators.

The question of when and how a movement shifts from a narrowly based to a broad and popularily supported one is difficult to answer.  The 'civil war' between the rightist and leftist popular movements of Columbia, which tore at that nation for most of a century, are a caution to me though, about the need to temper, eventually, the character of political action.

It is clearly not appropriate to "purge" the members and adherents of the radical leftist organizations from the movement fighting against Bush's perpetual war strategy. It may be appropriate to de-emphasize some of the issues not directly related to that fight, so as  to focus more squarely on anti war organizing.

It does NOT seem appropriate to me to have the fight against the 'perpetual war' strategy converted into, or to seem to be strongly associated with other objectives - especially collectivist economic objectives - of the most radical of these leftist organizations.    I can imagine that the members and leadership of these organizations  see an opportunity to educate, and even radicalize many of those who are facing up to the Bush regime's character and plans.  I think they must be modest in their goals and in the actions they take to achieve them, however.

Your point about racism, its place in the structure of the problem that has led us to the point we are in, and the need to raise it strongly as an issue for future activist focus is unanswerable.   Yet, if I had my druthers, as I do not, dealing with racism and with the need for action to reverse the effects of centuries of racist policies and oppression would not be presented as requiring or justifying collectivist economic organization.

(A point of clarification:  I use the term 'collectivist' to make space for a discrimination between Marxist analytical tools and collectivist solutions to economic problems.  I don't think useful analysis of economic issues is possible if not informed by Marx's insights, and those of people after him who built on his work.  But I am personally persuaded that the collectivist solutions which seem to flow so inexorably from Marxist analysis in many minds do not in fact do so, and are a instead a snare and a delusion.  I know not now I came to be such a hardshell pluralist, but there you have it.)

With all respect and gratitude for your lifetime of work and dedication to justice, freedom, and liberty for all people, my best wishes to you.

Jim Pivonka

Summation:  February 9, 2003.  My sense of Bill Mandel's caution to me is that I over estimate any possible 'drag' on the building of an effective anti war movement which might result from the presence and even leadership of these groups and individuals, and under estimate the value that their commitment and energy contribute.  He has significant historical basis on which to base his cautionary note - and I know from my own experience that I am cautious and over sensitive to the judgements and imprecations of those who will never be converted anyway.  So, I feel my way along between these possibilities, absolutely fierce in my attachment to moderation.

Originated February 5-9, 2003
Revised 0