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Salon: Peace kooks

"The new antiwar movement is in danger of being hijacked by bizarre extremist groups -- and most protesters don't even know it."
[Originally published as part of Salon Premium on 10/16/02.]

Peace kooks
The new antiwar movement is in danger of being hijacked by bizarre extremist groups -- and most protesters don't even know it.

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By Michelle Goldberg



Oct. 16, 2002 | NEW YORK -- On Oct. 6, an antiwar movement seemed to have blossomed in New York. A sea of people -- newspaper estimates ran from 10,000 to 20,000 -- filled Central Park's East Meadow to protest a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq. And yes, there were the usual suspects, like the girl from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade who donned a kaffiyeh and hurled red-faced imprecations against capitalist tyranny.

But there were many more average people, the kind who don't usually spend their sunny Sunday afternoons demonstrating against government policy -- suburban middle-class families, Muslim women from Brooklyn and Queens in headscarves and sneakers, wry upper West Side yuppies, downtown hipsters, rabbis and angry grandmothers representing their churches. They were matched by smaller demonstrations around the country, in cities including San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and Chicago. And along the meadow's perimeter, volunteers were coordinating rides to the upcoming antiwar march in Washington on Oct. 26, with many people making plans to attend. Momentum seemed to be building.

Yet Todd Gitlin, author of "The Sixties: Years of Hope and Days of Rage" and former president of the '60s antiwar group Students for a Democratic Society, fears the Oct. 26 protest will be "a gigantic ruination for the antiwar movement."

That's because the politics of the group behind it, the International Action Center, are anathema to most Americans -- including the vast majority of people who oppose a U.S. war on Iraq. IAC opposes any action against Saddam, including containment. "It is the position of the International Action Center that Iraq, as part of its self-determination, has the right to a military force sufficient to defend itself," says a 1999 statement. Its Web site is a cornucopia of empty lefty hyperbole that boils down to the notion that, as Richard Becker, IAC's western region co-director writes, "No one in the world ... has a worse human rights record than the United States."

Its call for the "workers movement here in the heartland of imperialism" to rise up is not a message that will stir great numbers of Americans. Neither is the ideology of the group behind the Oct. 6 protest, Not In Our Name, which was started and is being run by founders of a New York-based radical activist group called Refuse & Resist, who are closely tied to the Maoist-inspired Revolutionary Communist Party.

Yet as extreme as these groups are, they remain the two most prominent ones organizing large-scale antiwar protests. Though they've been cagey about the fanatical aspects of their agenda -- most of IAC's Iraq organizing is done through a front group called ANSWER -- Gitlin says, "the capacity of this movement to grow depends on what it has to say," and what these two groups have to say may alienate even people horrified by Bush's war mongering.

The International Action Center and the Revolutionary Communist Party aren't just extremists in the service of a good cause -- they're cheerleaders for some of the most sinister regimes and insurgencies on the planet. Once people realize this, it could easily discredit any nascent antiwar movement, unless a more rational group moves to the forefront.

The IAC, which is particularly active on college campuses, was founded by former attorney general-turned-radical anti-imperialist Ramsey Clark, who, as Gitlin points out, is also a member of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. It's a group that has close links to the Workers World Party (IAC's spokesman, Brian Becker, also churns out communiqués for the party's newspaper) and is a staunch defender of North Korea. An IAC dispatch from Pyongyang reads: "The army-first policy has guaranteed a strong, healthy, well-disciplined fighting force despite several years of arduous conditions for the people of socialist North Korea. It represents a sacrifice the people are proud of, and their respect for those in uniform is unmistakable, as is the élan of the fighting forces ... The land, factories, homes, hotels, parks, schools, hospitals, offices, museums, buses, subways -- everything in [North Korea] belongs to the people as a whole."

Unfortunately, some of the people behind Not In Our Name are as enthralled with tyrants and terrorists as the IAC.

Not In Our Name actually has two distinct parts -- the Not In Our Name Statement and the Not In Our Name Project. The statement is an antiwar manifesto with more than 100 celebrity signatories, including Martin Luther King III, actors Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, novelists Russell Banks and Barbara Kingsolver, playwright Tony Kushner, rabbi and activist Michael Lerner and law professor Kimberly Crenshaw, that was published as an ad in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. The project is the activist arm, involved in putting together actions like the Oct. 6 rally, and is being run by Mary Lou Greenberg, a founder of Refuse & Resist and a spokesperson for the RCP.

The RCP's ideology isn't just harmless campus Marxism. It supports Peru's maniacally brutal Shining Path ("Support the People's War in Peru!" screams the RCP Web site), the communist guerillas who specialized in urban terrorism, and venerates the bloody insurgency in Nepal and lauds the Maoist campaign to "liberate" Tibet. In an article for WorkingForChange.com, Seattle Times journalist Geov Parrish writes about Not in Our Name statement coordinator Clark Kissinger, whom he identifies as a "core member" of the RCP, "I still have vivid memories of Kissinger explaining calmly to me once why, when the RCP took over, it would be necessary to shoot everyone who didn't agree with them." Kissinger is also a founder of Refuse & Resist, whose members organized Not In Our Name and who act as its spokespeople.

Of course, this is not at all evident in the Not In Our Name statement, a beautifully written declaration of conscience whose sentiments would be shared by a great many liberals. "Let it not be said that people in the United States did nothing when their government declared a war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression," it begins, calling on people to "resist the policies and overall political direction that have emerged since Sept. 11, 2001, and which pose grave dangers to the people of the world." Most of the people who signed it have nothing whatsoever to do with Maoism or the RCP.

Kissinger, meanwhile, denies that Refuse & Resist is affiliated with the RCP, and though he acknowledges he's a member of the party and a writer for its newspaper, he says he has no idea who is currently running it.

Questions about the party's role anger him -- he calls such questions a "throwback to the McCarthy period." As to Gitlin's suggestion that associations with hardcore communism might discredit the antiwar movement, Kissinger, who knew Gitlin in SDS, shoots back, "He's trying to find reasons why he's moved so far to the right. When big social events happen, some people step forward and rise to the challenge and other people run along behind criticizing."

Kissinger also says that the statement was specifically kept separate from the Not In Our Name Project so that signatories wouldn't be "endorsing any particular actions."

Tony Kushner notes that money raised for the statement is used only to buy ad space in newspapers -- none of it gets to Refuse & Resist, much less the RCP. "Do I have problems with the RCP? Obviously I do," says Kushner. "I think it's silly. I have nothing but disgust for groups like Shining Path. I think that the people I know who are members of the RCP who have been involved in this organizing effort are incredibly hardworking people who have in certain ways politics I disagree with and in other ways are working towards building a popular movement to oppose Bush's never-ending war."

But many people who signed the statement aren't even aware of the connection between Refuse & Resist and the RCP. Russell Banks, who helped draft it, says he didn't know that Refuse & Resist is affiliated with RCP, "and I don't think that most people know that."

He says he's not particularly troubled by the RCP's role, pointing out that liberals also worked with communists during the Spanish Civil War -- during a time when the latter posed a very real threat. "If you refuse to associate politically with people on specific issues because you don't agree with their whole program, you end up very lonely and harmless," he says, noting that he'd also be willing to march with Patrick Buchanan, another opponent of the war in Iraq whose politics he fiercely disagrees with.

He continues, "I'm not one of the usual suspects. This is not just a movement of old hippie leftists from the '60s. It's a very different kind of coalition. It crosses over into the younger generation, it crosses over into moderate liberal democrats as well. I'm delighted to find myself on the same side as Ted Kennedy, and really, in some ways, as the director of the CIA."

"There's lots I don't agree with Clark Kissinger on," Banks says. "I do agree with him on this issue. He's waiting for the proletariat to rise up. I don't think that's going to happen, but on this issue we certainly can join hands."

Kushner concurs: "Withholding one's energy, one's name at a time of terrible political crisis like this and being overly fastidious about the company one keeps is also a way of being inactive."

Besides, some argue that it's always the zealots who are at the forefront of a nascent movement -- they're the ones with the passion to organize. "It happened in early years of anti-Vietnam war movement," says Banks. "It took a long time before the media came to realize that opposition to the war was much more widespread than they imagined."

But Gitlin says the people behind Refuse & Resist and the IAC are more emblematic of the radicals who destroyed the antiwar movement than those who created it. "As war became less popular, so did the antiwar movement," he says. "People saw the antiwar movement as a scrod of would-be revolutionaries who wanted to tear up everything orderly and promising about America, and they hated it. They didn't hate cops. They didn't want to turn the country upside down. They wanted to end a horrible war." He quotes John Lennon's line from the Beatles' "Revolution": "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/ You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow." "Those people are trying to recruit more people to their banner," Gitlin says. "Other people who have other politics should be doing the equivalent, recruiting people to a banner that looks more like the American banner and doesn't appear to be a slap at patriotism."

After all, most of the people who filled Central Park came because they're scared of unleashing conflagrations across the globe -- not because they hate U.S. imperialism. "I think it's going to lead to World War III," said Leslie Baxter, a Manhattan mother of two, at the time. "I don't believe everyday Americans want this war to occur."

Another attendee, Eric Lazarus, a 41-year-old computer scientist, said he was motivated by "respect for international law. We live reasonably peacefully within the nation because we treat law seriously. The obvious next step is that we need to treat international law extremely seriously." Not quite a cry for worker revolution.

Which is, of course, what many speakers were calling for. "Strike! You must strike! Stop the machinery of war by refusing to work!" shrieked a self-described Wobbly. That's not to say there weren't plenty of sane voices. Martin Sheen read part of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, while Tim Robbins cautioned his fellow activists, "This is not the chickens coming home to roost ... al-Qaida's actions have hurt this burgeoning peace movement more than any other." But there was enough lefty tired hyperbole -- activists insisting that the fate of the nation is inextricable from that of jailed Indian activist Leonard Peltier, or decrying the "global grab for a lockdown world of global capitalism" -- to exasperate all but the most diehard in attendance.

But on that day, the disconnection between the politics of the organizers and the attendees didn't seem to matter much. Except when there was a celebrity on, only a few hundred people stood before the speakers -- everyone else milled about on the grass, had picnics, talked to each other, catching only fragments of the incendiary speeches. Still, Gitlin says the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist rhetoric emanating from the stage has already alienated some liberals who were ready to join a new antiwar movement. He's gotten letters from several people who went the protest, "heard a bit of it and thought No, not only is this not my crowd, this is not my tone. And they fled."

Which is unfortunate, because if the antiwar movement is serious about trying to stop Bush's military juggernaut, it's going to need the silent masses of people who want a secure peace, not a revolution. After all, most Americans remain ambivalent about Bush's plans. A CBS/New York Times poll taken in early October shows that while 67 percent of Americans support a war to depose Saddam, the number drops to 54 percent if there are to be "substantial U.S. military casualties," and to 49 percent if the war would last "months or even years." This suggests that there's a large potential constituency in America for a movement opposing the war on the grounds that it would be costly, bloody and dangerous -- as opposed to simply immoral.

Such a constituency hasn't made itself heard yet, though. Four days after the protest -- and after five people staged a sit-in in Hillary Clinton's office while dozens chanted outside -- both of New York's senators supported a resolution granting George Bush broad authority to wage war in Iraq. Clinton's explanation -- that she was voting to give Bush power to wage unilateral war in the hope that "bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely " -- made her vote look like a nakedly political calculation.

Clearly organizers still have much to do to convince politicians that opposition to war with Iraq is more than a fringe phenomenon.

"I don't know that anything is really going to stop [the war]," says Jeremy Pikser, a Hollywood screenwriter ("Bullworth") who helped draft the Not In Our Name statement. "It would take masses of people really turning out. Instead of 40 people [protesting] outside Hillary Clinton's office, if there had been 15,000 she might have changed her vote."

Many groups continue to pop up, opposing a strike on Iraq -- and without the taint of the extreme fringe. Several prominent groups have taken out full-page ads in major newspapers to voice their fears about Bush's policies. While the Not In Our Name statement has received a lot of attention, more surprising, and perhaps more convincing, was the Sept. 26 ad taken out by 33 international relations scholars, leaders in their fields, who argued that "War With Iraq Is Not In America's National Interest." On Monday, the group Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities took out an ad whose signers included Dee Hock, the founder of Visa International, and Frank A. Butler, the retired president of Eastman (Kodak) Gelantine Corp. Its wording was harsh: "They're Selling War. We're Not Buying."

But these aren't groups the average concerned citizen can join. And finding one that offers an alternative to the hard left will be complicated. "It's much easier to promote a bumper sticker than complexity," Gitlin acknowledges. Besides, he says, "the liberals are disorganized and lack confidence. They're opposed to the war but genuinely frightened of weapons of mass destruction. I think we should go through the Security Council. I'm not inclined to go to a rally that seems to oversimplify."

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal Tikkun magazine, signed the Not In Our Name statement, but agrees that a serious movement can't be built on its organizers' ideology. "Any antiwar movement that's going to be successful is going to have to acknowledge the evil in Saddam Hussein and the legitimate fears people have about his misuse of weapons of war," he says. "Otherwise you're going to have just the lunatic fringe, people who hate America so much that they are unable to communicate with rest of the American population. That antiwar movement would be a sideshow."

As a step toward articulating that vision, Gitlin suggests a return to an original tool of the '60s activists -- the teach-in. "In recent years people have come to call a teach-in what is essentially a rally," he says. "The original teach-ins were predicated on a divergence of opinions. It wasn't just a matter of soapbox orating. The State Department was challenged to send people to debates, and they did. Defenders of the war were invited in. They weren't marginal left-wing operations." Instead of just regurgitating lefty boilerplate, he says, campus groups should be engaged in a serious discussion that includes people who may fear war -- but also fear the threat of Saddam. "Let the 'no blood for oil' people make their cases and let the realists make their case," he says.

The Central Park rally drew this kind of diverse crowd, which included Dennis Lockwood, a 57-year-old systems designer from Connecticut who works in "conservative corporate America." Lockwood's argument isn't radical -- he believes that Bush's plan to attack Iraq is an "irrational" response to Sept. 11 and that America should be "setting an example of rational action." Similarly, most of the thousands and thousands of people likely to flock to D.C. at the end of the month aren't going because they endorse the agenda of the International Action Center. They're going because they believe Bush is making the world a more dangerous place than it has to be.

Yet that simple point may be considerably overwhelmed at the Oct. 26 rally, just as it was in Central Park. That is, unless ordinary people can make themselves heard above the din of revolutionaries blind to all evil that doesn't emanate from here.



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About the writer
Michelle Goldberg is a staff writer for Salon based in New York.

Copyright 2002 Salon.com

homepage: homepage: http://www.poxamericana.us/

sure the RCP are this and that 16.Oct.2002 00:48

wondering again!

Sure the RCP tend to be controlling and I don't agree with them at all on many fronts - but whats so wrong with letting a government have the ability to defend itself? Isn't that what the US has?
And the US HAS been nailed in some of the biggest atrocities in this century (and it won't take long for the erstwhile protestors to scratch the surface and look under the covers,
start asking questions that is)

Just wanted to point out that a few little discrepencies and
flaw in logic presented. Otherwise, yes the RCP have some problems but that shouldnt kill off the peace movement.
I think the people who are protesting also have an agenda that remains focused on the immediate intent of whatever march or cause they happen to be in.

Blah Blah 16.Oct.2002 01:09

Blah

That is a stupid article. A few generally decent points, but still a stupid article

Liberals Try to Neuter the Movement 16.Oct.2002 03:57

fuck phony progressives

This is a feeble attempt by Salon to domesticate (and weed out) any radical politics from the antiwar movement. The whole RCP issue is a thinly disguised piece of "red-baiting" designed to discourage people from challenging American aggression against IRaq in any militant fashion and instead follow the leadership of Establishment sanctioned Misleaders like Todd Gitlin or the "progressive media."

What Salon wants is a nice ineffectual antiwar movement which relies upon "writing your congressman," waving your American flag, proclaiming "Peace is Patriotic," and, most importantly, NOT QUESTIONING fundamental LIES about why America wants to colonize Iraq in the first place (i.e. geostrategic control of Iraqi oil).

If you check the quotes from people like Todd Gitlin and Michael Lerner, they consistently demand that the antiwar movement pander to "American Patriotism"--never mind the fact that it is precisely this American patriotism which feeds and spawns America's warmongering nationalism to begin with.

Moreover, this Salon article breezily dismisses talk about anti-capitalism or anti-imperialism as "lefty tired hyperbole" but carefully fails to ackwoledge the fact that the issue of American Neo-imperialism is increasing being called out and exposed even by the mainstream media in England, Europe, and elsewhere.

Ultimately, the spindoctors at Salon are performing the function that the Liberal Liars have always performed: act as a gatekeeper and guardian of what it the outermost limit of acceptable Left political discourse and organizing.

Anything which goes beyond or falls outside what the Liberal Commissars like Salon deem to be "respectable" is demonized as being "extremist." The same Liberals at Salon who target the RCP will also target the anarchists and other anti-capitalists in the anti-globalization movement as well for the same tired reasons about being too "extreme."

Finally, people like Todd Gitlin have no credibility whatsoever. Gitlin, for example, SUPPORTED the attack on Afghanistan--not to mention the bombing of Yugoslavia a few years ago. Now all of sudden, he has decided to become an antiwar protestor. I wonder what has caused this sudden change in attitude.

Worst of all, Gitlin rewrites the history of the anti-Vietnam war protests by suggesting that the more respectable "Patriotic" wing of this movement was responsible for ending the war, when he knows very well that it was wave of militancy and urban rebellions which swept across the country that truly ended the war--along, of course, with the ferocious resistance of the Vietnamese people themselves.

The bottom line is this: the Liberal wing of the American political establishment is deathly afraid the antiwar movement might fall outside their control and develop into a radical movement that creates serious problems for their rule, as happened during the 1960s.

That is why, media hacks like Salon and Liberal misleaders like Todd Gitlin and Michael Lerner are essentially calling for a political purge of the more "extremist" (i.e. radical) elements of the antiwar movement--as if they "OWN" the movement to begin with.

If these Liberals don't like the RCP or other radicals, no one is stopping them from organizing their OWN protests and marches. Let's see who is more sucessful in stopping this war.


Fuck Liberals 16.Oct.2002 09:57

anarchobikepunk

Oooohhh! I hate liberals. You'll never change anything by following the rules. Those liberals want to domesticate us. Live free, die young! Obey your desire, follow your thirst! Fuck liberals, they try to tame everything. Look at Critical Mass, look at KBOO those damn liberals fuck everything up. Ooooohhh!

see, here's the problem... 16.Oct.2002 09:57

The One True b!X

Finally, people like Todd Gitlin have no credibility whatsoever. Gitlin, for example, SUPPORTED the attack on Afghanistan--not to mention the bombing of Yugoslavia a few years ago. Now all of sudden, he has decided to become an antiwar protestor. I wonder what has caused this sudden change in attitude.

There a many people out there who believe in the Afghanistan action, or believed in the Yugoslavia action, but don't believe in war on Iraq. And when it comes to mass demonstrations against the war on Iraq, where the single most important thing is the sheer numbers of people seen on the streets, it needs to be their march, too.

You may not like it, you may believe that you know better than they are, or that they are hypocrites, or that the march should be about opposing all use of U.S. force anywhere anytime, but you're never going to stop this particular war (or any war) that way.

If you want to stop the war against Iraq, all the other agendas are going to have to sit on the sidelines for the moment, otherwise, there will never be the sheer force of numbers required to be a movement mass enough to make a difference.


movements 16.Oct.2002 16:08

speculat0r

'unless ordinary people can make themselves heard above the din of revolutionaries'

--who are these "ordinary people" you speak of? i'm not affiliated w/ anyone (officially speaking) but i do offer "a body" for certain simple causes and actions, like taking to the streets to protest police (state) abuses, or to simply say "no war". it's really simple, i'm with whoever wants such things as "no more war" (anywhere), even though such people may have extra views that i don't agree with.

'If you want to stop the war against Iraq, all the other agendas are going to have to sit on the sidelines for the moment, otherwise, there will never be the sheer force of numbers required to be a movement mass enough to make a difference.'


--maybe there should just be 2 general categories describing types of movements relative to their overall intent or goals: good and bad. all that is needed in this case is to make sure 'good' and 'bad' are explicitly defined...

maybe the good movements are the simple ones, like the ones where the people are striving for "world peace" not necessarily by the employment of some campaigning strategy, but maybe by just walking around with a sign saying "world peace now". maybe bad types of world peace movements are ones where people go around killing violent people (huh?).

and what kind of movement would a "ordinary" person belong to? (what is an ordinary person and is this to be considered a good or bad thing?)

maybe some people in certain movements are moved in different ways by the movements cause; maybe they should have movements defined in terms of degree of movedness. maybe there could be "lukewarm, "friendly" anarchist" as well as "try to control me and I-will-put-you-6-feet-under anarchists", something like that. if anybody starts feeling more or less moved then they just move to the appropriate facet of the movement.
i would hope that those in movements caught up in infighting find a way to have calm dialogue while continuing to fight the good fight and do the good deed. arguing apples and oranges--in terms of movement philosophies--is such a waste when the world that the movements want to save continues to crumble around them. let's get it together, simply, effectively (what truly does it take?).

Sitting on the sidelines 17.Oct.2002 10:18

David B.

If you want to stop the war against Iraq, all the other agendas are going to have to sit on the sidelines for the moment, otherwise, there will never be the sheer force of numbers required to be a movement mass enough to make a difference.

Speaking as someone who's somewhere in between mainstream liberals and Maoists, I'm not so sure about the "sitting on the sidelines" part. But I do agree that we need anti-war demonstrations that are limited to being anti-war, simply because we're gonna need to get Middle America on board in order to defeat this thing (and if we don't defeat it, the consequences might be so awful that issues like socialism or anarchism become irrelevant).

Actually, the very concept that the government can be so wrong on foreign policy might serve as a consciousness-raising tool which will cause some of Middle America to start taking a new look at the world.

That said, I do agree with the poster that there was something of a red-baiting tone to the whole article. So what if some of the organizers of a rally are Maoists -- that doesn't mean that everyone concerned about the issue is one.

Perhaps the best way to deal with that "problem" is to stop thinking of it as a problem at all. Find out if the mike is really open, and have more mainsteam voices use it as well. If it's not open, have a more mainstream contingent take its own sound system and have an alternate speaker's platform. Or organize alternate demos where everyone is free to speak.

Nowhere is it written that only Maoists may organize demonstrations, or that if you go to a demo organized by Maoists, you must stay and listen to their propaganda speeches.


Portland, OR

Of course the Salon article is red-baiting 17.Oct.2002 18:03

p.b. sherman

The implication is that you can't be anti-imperialist without being a Marxist. Please.

How can we struggle against an imperialist war without being anti-imperialist?

Todd Gitlin has made a career out of being a "former '60s radical". I don't give a shit what he has to say.