On the large Portland demonstrations (opinion)..................................
Build the movement against imperialism!
On Sunday, November 17, 6000 to7000 people marched against war on Iraq in Portland. This was only 3 weeks after the October 26 march of over 7000, thus making it the second major anti-war demonstration in Portland in less than a month. And given that the city is considerably smaller than Seattle, one has to consider these major demonstrations. (Moreover, something anti-war activists in Seattle should note: it's organizers didn't wait for A.N.S.W.E.R., N.I.O.N., or some other "recognized" national coalition's approval before calling the event.) Besides opposing war against Iraq, demonstrators also raised banners, picket signs and slogans against the war on "terrorism", fascist "Homeland Security", environmental rape, attacks on living standards of the masses of American people, and in support of the Palestinian's struggle for national self-determination (plus many others). Thus the demonstration was another blow to the bourgeois propaganda that "we" U.S. residents "are one" concerning U.S. imperialist policies.
Still, in spite of the numbers of people who have been turning out to rally and march in Portland and many other cities, the movement remains hampered by pacifism, illusions in bourgeois democracy, and illusions in the liberal politicians who foster these and other political ills. Looking a little closer at the Nov. 17 demonstration, however, we find that within the anti-war movement there already exists a trend which identifies imperialist war with capitalism, which wants militancy, and which wants to fight liberal sabotage of the movement. In fact for the first time in the Northwest in many years a radical or ANTI-IMPERIALIST CONTINGENT was organized. The latter had it's own brief rally, militantly marched several blocks to the main rally (with no permit), and then participated in the liberal and pacifist led main march. Although the contingent was fairly small (around 100 people), it could be a significant development, I.e., one representing the BEGINNING of anti-imperialist activists in the Northwest finding their way toward organized struggle against the liberal and pacifist politics we're being smothered with. In Seattle these treacherous politics were not only voiced by the liberal politicians and AFL-CIO bureaucrats invited to speak at the large events on October 6 (N.I.O.N.) and October 26 (A.N.S.W.E.R.), but we're constantly treated to them on the pages of Indymedia, and everywhere in the movement. Let's quickly review them.
As the other major party of big capital, the Democrats are imperialist to the core. Hence Kennedy and Johnson's war in Vietnam, or Clinton-Gore's making the Colombian gov't the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. military aid while waiving human rights requirements, or their 8 years of murderous sanctions against Iraq, or Clinton signing the 1998 resolution calling for a "regime change" in Iraq (not to mention his bombings of Iraq, Sudan and Serbia). But the ruling class knows that its imperialist foreign policy will be challenged at home, and that there is potential for a powerful anti-imperialist movement developing: that is, one that takes on a mass anti-imperialist and revolutionary character (like what STARTED to happen in the late 1960s). So it uses the politicians of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to work against the anti-war movement developing in this direction. How do they do it? A most obvious way is to directly call on people showing they want to get active against war by coming out to demonstrations to become starry-eyed door-bellers for Democratic Party politicians. Thus on October 26 we had Rep. McDermott calling on the crowd to get active behind Larsen's re-election campaign, and explaining how "really important" this was. But more often the liberals rely on NOW, a section of the AFL-CIO bureaucrats, various liberal church organizations, reformist anti-war coalition leaders (really misleaders) to preach the politics of writing letters to representatives (alleging they're "our" reps), signing petitions, passing paper resolutions, having "peace vigils", ad naseum. But the liberals are also crafty enough to shift with the winds. Thus we had Rep. Jim McDermott---who knows that thousands of explicitly anti-imperialist leaflets are distributed in Seattle by the Communist Voice Organization and friends, and others (I.e., he knows the ideas in these leaflets already have a certain popularity and are certain to gain more if we persist)---inferring in his October 26 speech that he too was against imperialism! Problem is that when he and other liberals mouth words "against" imperialism it is only to defend imperialism, albeit a more crafty imperialism. According to them, imperialism is only the result of Bush and the right being in power. It is not the logical product of capitalism itself, rather it's a mere policy of mistaken or evil men. (For more on liberal sabotage of the anti-war movement see the leaflets produced in Seattle and Detroit posted at http://www.communistvoice.org.)
In the days after Nov. 17 several summations of the big demonstration were posted on Portland IMC as letters or comments. Several of them decried the dominating pacifist and liberal politics. But rather than offering any ideas on how to win ordinary demonstrators (not the case-hardened liberal and pacifist leaders) away from these views some of them just hurled mud at the demonstrators. They were allegedly all white, SUV-driving "peaceniks". (Probably these writers don't know that under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations "peacenik" was one of the favorite invectives rained down upon anti-war activists by the imperialist establishment. Thus, in a certain way, it's a badge of honor to be called this.) But the anti-imperialist contingent didn't take this attitude. Through banners, signs, and slogans, it worked to educate the larger crowd as to the source of wars like the one planned against Iraq, and the highlight of the day, in my opinion, was when the contingent marched into the main rally loudly shouting a slogan pointing out that the profit system (capitalism) is the cause of wars it was greeted by great applause and cheering. Moreover, quite a few of its members distributed literature. Me and a friend passed out 800 of a version of one of the leaflets posted at the above web site, for example... to "peaceniks", and to people on the streets. And we could have passed out a lot more had we not ran out!
Despite the enthusiasm I've expressed for the anti-imperialist contingent I think that the tendency it represented had political tendencies within it which work against development of a larger and ideologically firm anti-imperialist movement. Some examples:
The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) sent members to march with the contingent, but they were actually official sponsors of the Nov. 17 march, along with a host of liberal groups. Do these so-called socialists (really Trotskyists) publicly warn the masses of the ways in which the liberals treacherously defend imperialism? No, their coalition building with the liberal bourgeoisie comes first. And last fall in Washington State they became a cheering squad for the Democrats in the State Legislature when it debated "anti-terrorist" legislation. You can't really be building a movement to fight imperialism while at the same time fostering illusions in the liberal imperialists and prettifying them.
Anarcho-syndicalism (represented by the IWW) raised the slogan "General strike against war" (and various anarchists support this slogan too). If this were meant as a call for a general strike against Bush's war against Iraq, or against the "war against terrorism" it would be ridiculously empty. There are not going to be general strikes against war in the U.S. for a very long time. The ideological and organizational conditions don't yet exist (and the task of revolutionaries is to work to prepare them). But if it's meant as an educative slogan I think it's wrong on two counts: (1) It focuses attention and energy toward building a grand event someday in the future while skipping over the complex of live political tasks we face at present. (2) It can give the impression that a general strike in itself would end all wars, I.e., that an insurrection to overthrow the capitalist-imperialist system is not needed.
To elaborate more on the first count: I, for example think we need to work to overthrow U.S. imperialism is a socialist revolution. But I don't favor raising "Overthrow U.S. imperialism!" or "Overthrow capitalism!" on banners at demonstrations (although I certainly support the sentiments of many activists who make such banners). The issue we face is to find ways to bring out and build on the best ideas and sentiments of the workers and youth, and to raise their political consciousness in a stepwise fashion (a real art). Hence, I think we want our main banners at demonstrations to focus on the main issue: Bush's current war-drive and the reasons for it (oil-profits and empire, or imperialism). This is meeting the best among the masses of people half way, while also undermining the politics of the Democratic Party. (Even the most liberal of the latter would have us focusing on Bush's unilateralist approach, which implies we should support multilateral imperialist wars. They don't like talk about oil-profits or imperialism being behind U.S. Iraqi policy.) This is not to say that I advocate not talking about the necessity of overthrowing the imperialist system. In fact (for example) myself, another Seattle member of the Communist Voice Organization, and friends have distributed many, many thousands of leaflets in the past year with the message that to end imperialist war after imperialist war the capitalist system has to be overthrown. But this only after presenting an analysis which logically leads to this conclusion. [In some leaflets, however, we don't directly state this conclusion, although what we say (we hope) helps the reader take some concrete step toward making this conclusion a reality. Moreover, in some of the latter leaflets we are often most concerned with the issue that for the anti-war movement to really develop workers and young people have to increasingly take matters into their own hands. But if they have illusions in the liberals or other "saviors", then they won't see the necessity of this, and may even waste their energies "getting out the vote" for some slick liberal huckster. Hence the stress in our leaflets against the anti-war posturing of the liberal Democrats. These leaflets will be successful over time. They speak truths which new activists will inevitably see with their own eyes. And when they are successful we will have the makings of a much more profound movement, one that is getting out of the control of the bourgeois political forces and rightfully hates them all, one that is becoming politically independent, and one that is eagerly looking into revolutionary theory and history. (And of course, on leaflets which do not draw the conclusion that to end imperialist war monopoly capitalism must be overthrown the CVO web site is provided for those wanting to look more into its general views on this and other subjects)]
Anarchists were also part of the anti-imperialist contingent. Like anarcho-sindicalism, as a political trend anarchism too skips over the necessity of doing careful and detailed political work in the mass movements on the issues they are coming up around. The tendency is to be satisfied with raising the slogan "Smash the state!", or "Smash capitalism!", and organizing affinity groups for direct actions which will excite others into action. (In its extreme form anarchism shares the view of the bourgeoisie that the working people are incapable of conscious political thought and action. Following from this is the idea of "stirring up" the masses through heroic actions of small handfuls of people, or even "heroic" postures.) The question of revolutionaries concentrating on bringing political light into the existing mass movements, helping the masses better see what needs to be done now, I.e., actually beginning now to raise the political army of millions needed to overthrow capitalism gets short-shrift.
So what should Northwest anti-imperialists do now that Nov. 17 is over? Well, for sure attend and agitate in the N30 demonstration in Seattle (now scheduled for 1 o'clock at the Westlake Center). But I think the realities of the human-devouring imperialist system force us to want to do more, and to take the path of doing things we've never done before, I.e., building the Nov. 17 contingent was something new (in recent times, at least). One of these is to establish better communications among ourselves. (I, for example, would never have made the anti-imperialist march had not a friend looked at Portland Indymedia.) Real anti-imperialists are a small minority, even in the anti-war movement. We're branded as "ultra-leftist", "sectarian", and worse by the dominant leaders (who at the same time kiss up to the liberals, AFL-CIO bureaucrats, preachers and other "good" people). So one would think anti-imperialists would be working hard to link up to build a counter trend. But the bitter truth is there is a big problem of small groups (and all our groups are very small, mine in particular) or individuals going their own way to do their separate things, at least in Seattle (which I'm most familiar with). This is not the way to curl separate fingers into the powerful fist we need. We need to be writing each other, talking about our work, talking about the possibilities of joint efforts for more contingents, and our own joint demonstrations and actions. (We can't depend on the present anti-war leaders to keep calling demonstrations, especially when the liberals cave in to the "support our troops" campaign the bourgeoisie is sure to mount when the blood-letting begins.) It's time to begin tearing down the walls between us. Let each have her/his say on the problems confronting us is establishing a strong anti-imperialist trend.
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