On the open letter
to the anti-war movement

by Joseph Green
(CV #33, March 25, 2004 -- the Open Letter also appeared
in this issue of CV).

No class stand to its anti-imperialism
Finding the path of struggle
No class stand in the US
The attitude to anti-war activists and the working class
For anti-imperialist work in the anti-war movement


. On March 20 anti-war demonstrations took place from coast to coast as well as internationally. It was a good time for demonstrations, as the first anniversary of the war in Iraq coincided with a growing political crisis in Iraq and a growing skepticism of American working people towards the occupation. In the run-up to these demonstration, disagreement broke out over slogans, speakers and arrangements for the demonstrations. One question was whether the Palestinian issue would be raised, and how it would be raised. This is addressed in the Open Letter from the Arab-American community and Muslim Community to the US anti-war movement (see page 24). It appeals to especially to anti-imperialist activists, who back the struggle of the Palestinian people, want to oppose US imperialism everywhere, and also oppose multilateral imperialism. As the issues put forward in the Open Letter do not lapse with March 20 and will arise again at other anti-war demonstrations, it is important to look further into them.

. Today the Palestinian struggle is at a dangerous and critical stage. The Sharon government is carrying out repeated murderous raids on the occupied territories, a wall is being put up that cuts the occupied territories into isolated prison camps or bantustans, and there is a crisis of orientation among the Palestinian people. Moreover, the Bush government is pushing a "road map" that is a facade for continuing the oppression of the Palestinian people forever. It is thus particularly important now to render support to the Palestinian people. And the Open Letter calls for this support, and moreover insists on the "right to return" for Palestinian refugees, a fundamental prerequisite for justice and one which both US imperialism and the Israeli government are vehemently opposed to.

. As well, the Open Letter opposes the idea that the occupation of Iraq should be "internationalized". Without saying so in so many words, this presumably denounces the idea of putting a UN fig leaf on the US occupation. And the Letter also opposes the idea of rationalizing the occupation as perhaps bad to begin with, but necessary to democratize the Iraqi people.

. The Letter also connects the anti-war struggle to the struggle against the oppression in the US of the Arab-American and Muslim communities. This is important as the repression carried out in the name of "the war on terrorism" since the Sept. 11 atrocity have fallen most heavily on certain minority communities.

No class stand to its anti-imperialism

. Many groups may have signed this letter simply to support the Palestinian people or other of the anti-imperialist sentiments expressed in the letter. But there's more to the letter than this. The Letter also reflects an approach to the world situation especially championed by Workers World Party. It has no class stand concerning the political conflicts, tyrannies and struggles in the world, except for opposition to the US government. It is an anti-imperialism which ignores the class issues involved.

. The Letter appeals strongly to the anger of progressive people at the trampling of peoples by US imperialism. But it puts forward an old conception of anti-imperialism in which everyone is united against the occupier, and class differences are irrelevant. In reality, the vast anti-colonial wave of the 20th century didn't occur this way. And today, there are various political forces and class trends among the Palestinians and Iraqis. The Iraqi working people, for example, are faced with a struggle against both foreign imperialism and local reactionaries, such as the strong forces of Islamic fundamentalism, the local bourgeoisie, and the remnants of the Baath regime.

. And the working masses of other subordinate and oppressed countries are also faced with a similar two-pronged task. US and Western imperialism are the greatest global oppressors of the working people, but they are far from the only oppressors. It would be a fatal mistake for the working people to take sides between the largest and most powerful imperialisms, such as US imperialism, and smaller reactionary rivals. The working class needs to build up an independent political force, to rally peasants in the countryside and urban non-proletarian working people around it, and to fight for its own rights, not to subordinate itself to the fundamentalists or other would-be imperialists and regional powers.

. Indeed, one of the most encouraging things about the Iraqi struggle is that in the midst of the terrible unemployment, misery and political oppression of the occupation, the workers of Iraq are trying to assert themselves in their own interest. They have staged workplace actions and rallies of the unemployed, and they have taken part in political events. They are hampered by a lack of political and class organization, but they have made use of the end of Baath oppression to try to assert their class interests. In doing so, they face both the occupation authorities and the local Iraqi bourgeoisie.

Finding the path of struggle

. The Letter refers to the Palestinians and Iraqis as at "the forefront of the global anti-war movement, transforming themselves as a whole as its embodiment". Certainly Iraq and Palestine are among the key points of world political crisis today, and the struggle of the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples deserve the zealous support of progressive people and activists everyone. But there are also struggles elsewhere around the world. Every day brings a flare-up somewhere else. A few days ago, US imperialism began a new intervention in Haiti. The Chechen people continue to bleed, day after day, year after year. The struggle in Colombia, Venezuela, the Philippines, and elsewhere continues. Neo-liberal privatizations strike at the people's livelihood in country after country. There is a global struggle proceeding, taking one form or another around the world.

. The phrase that Iraq and Palestine are "at the forefront" might suggest that these struggles have shown the path forward to the others. But it is no insult to the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples to point out that they are still searching for the path of struggle. Nor is it any aid to them to pretend that they have already found this path and are unified around it. For the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples have their own crises of orientation, and honeyed phrases about their already having found the path forward provide no help to them at all.

. The idea that the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples have "transformed themselves as a whole" into the embodiment of the movement might also suggest that there is a certain political unity among each people. But take a look at Iraq. Despite material hardship and the oppression of the occupation, a variety of political and social trends have come back into the open and pressed their claims on the occasion of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government. Part of this shows the vigor of a people that can't be held down, but it has also laid bare the class and political contradictions in Iraq. There are those who take part in the occupation government, and those who have thrown bombs at anyone associated with it. There are those who are organizing to hunt down the resistance, and those who take part in it. There are those who want a complete sweeping away of the Baath bureaucracy, and there are Baath elements involved in some of the resistance activities. Meanwhile the Kurds want the right to self-determination, and the Iraqi bourgeoisie is opposed and willing to concede autonomy at most. Women want to preserve and extent the social rights they have had, while the fundamentalist clerics want to eliminate secular marriage and impose a number of Islamic restrictions. The workers want to organize and obtain their rights, while the bourgeoisie looks towards a neo-liberal economy, although perhaps one that has some protections for the Iraqi bourgeoisie from the full force of foreign competition.

No class stand in the US

. Nor does the Letter have a class stand in the US. At first, this may seem a surprising statement. Doesn't the Letter oppose various imperialist and racist stands which the bourgeois parties and their representatives put forward?

. But the Letter doesn't itself refer to the bourgeois parties having these stands, nor does it refer to the class differences in the American anti-war movement, or in the minority communities in the US. Nor does it call for the workers as a whole to take up the struggle. Instead it paints a picture of the problem in the anti-war movement being that it takes place in the US. Supposedly "the movement in the US has stood alone" in having differences with respect to the issues of Iraq and Palestine, and on the question of the treatment of "Arab and Muslim voices".

. Is that so? Is there really no other place in the world where some voices say that the "occupation of Iraq must be internationalized" and call for UN intervention? Indeed, isn't the call for UN intervention even heard from some quarters in Iraq itself?

. And is there no other movement in the world where the issue of the treatment of Arab and Muslim minority communities arises? Hasn't a substantial part of the French left shamefully backed conservative President Chirac's ban of the head scarf in French schools? Didn't even some left-wing Iraqis do so? Yet Chirac's real aim is to stir up anti-Islamic bigotry under the banner of defending secularism. Fundamentalism isn't fought by infringing on people's right to religious belief or lack of belief, and Chirac is not really defending secularism but the intolerance of the Christian French bourgeoisie.

. The differences in the American anti-war movement don't occur just because this movement is in the US. They are a reflection of class differences that take place all over the world, and they are also a reflection of the ongoing crisis of orientation in the revolutionary and working class movements around the world. This results in differences and controversies in "the global movement for justice" everywhere. The answer to these differences is to strengthen working class participation in the movement, and to build an anti-imperialist section of the movement based on work among the working class, students, and progressive activists.

. Indeed, class and political differences appear in the minority communities as well. It is important for the anti-war movement, and for the working class movement in general, to deal with the concerns of the minority communities. This is essential to develop class-wide unity. But the movement will have to deal with differing ideas in the minority communities, as it does among working people in general. Just as among the working class in general, the minority communities and even minority workers are split on their attitude to the bourgeois parties, and on the orientation for struggle. The Arab-American and Muslim communities are not united, for example, on the demands for the Palestinian people. The Letter calls for the right of return. But are the signers in favor for a two-state solution for the Palestinian struggle, or do they envision a single, secular state comprising the territory of today's Israel and occupied territories, a single state in which everyone will be an equal citizen? Probably they don't agree on this. More generally, what attitude does the Letter have to the struggle of Arab and Muslim working people against the spread of fundamentalism? It is silent on these issues, probably because there is disagreement among its signers.

The attitude to anti-war activists and the working class.

. The Open Letter also seems to call anyone who disagrees with it a racist. It does not distinguish between the confused ideas of the working people, who will eventually come over to the side of the class struggle and who will form the bastion against imperialism, and the deeply ingrained imperialism of the liberal bourgeoisie and pro-capitalist politicians, who may object to a bungled intervention, but for the sake of having more skillful and successful ones.

. The Open Letter calls for expelling various unnamed organizations and movements from "the global justice movement". It demands that "any organization or movement that finds it acceptable to minimize or disregard for political expediency the struggle of any people" should be thrown out. But wait a minute! This isn't a reference to enemies of the struggle, but to those who "minimize" the struggle for reasons of expediency. One wouldn't say, for example, that Sharon massacres Palestinians out of mere expediency. It is his goal to suppress the Palestinian people. The charge of abandoning one's beliefs for the sake of expediency would presumably be raised against certain organizations that claim to support the Palestinians. So the Letter's is actually talking about organizations or movements that disagree on what are the appropriate or "politically expedient" slogans at anti-war demonstrations.

. Moreover, it is hardly likely that the authors of the Open Letter really wanted to expel a whole series of organizations from the demonstration coalitions. Indeed everyone knows that WWP and ANSWER, which have promoted the Open Letter, are anxious to draw in as many liberal personalities and organizations as possible. The Letter is simply being used to pressure other organizations to agree with some slogans by labeling them racist and threatening to throw them out of the movement. Once these organizations agree on slogans, they will be embraced again. Their racism and/or zionism will be forgiven.

. Thus the problem with the Open Letter isn't that it is too strong against racism, but that it plays with the charge of racism. This brings its own problems. It distracts from a more serious struggle against racism, and from explicitly targeting the racism and imperialism of the Democratic and Republican parties and the American bourgeoisie. And it might inculcate a bullying attitude to the masses. In practice, it is not just in coalition planning meetings, but among the working class and anti-war demonstrators, that there are questions concerning the Letter's demands. There will be resistance to various of the wrong views in the Letter. But there will also be questions raised concerning the Palestinian question, how to struggle against Bush, the various forces in the occupation, and the issue of multilateral intervention. Not everyone is already an anti-imperialist. This raises the issue: how should anti-imperialist activists approach working people who are upset about the war but unclear about anti-imperialism?

. It is necessary to go among the working masses and use the present political and economic crisis to win them to the positions of class struggle and anti-imperialism. One has to seek to build class-wide unity by continually seeking to develop support both of the workers of other lands that are under attack by imperialism and of the Arab-American, Muslim and other minority communities here. One has to search for what will help move the masses forward.

. In this regard, it isn't simply an annoyance that there are different views among the demonstrators. This reflects the situation among the working class and even radical activists. And it shows that the anti-war movement is bringing people into motion, and helping bring working people into contact with anti-imperialists and communists. This gives activists a chance to help move people forward.

. This work among the masses must include giving them an accurate picture about what is going on in the world. But look what happened with respect to the March 20th demonstrations. Two of the coalitions involved in organizing for March 20th did agree on joint demonstrations and on including a slogan for Palestine. But the flyers for these demonstrations put out by the WWP/ANSWER just had a few slogans and no explanation or elaboration. This isn't real anti-imperialist work. And this superficial approach isn't something that was forced on WWP and ANSWER. No one stopped them from having some content in their flyers, but that's not their way. They prefer to avoid content in order to facilitate their alliances with liberal bourgeois figures, fundamentalists, and other political trends. This shows a conception of the movement where the masses are simply supposed to be a passive cheering-squad, while the real politics is reserved for the leaders of WWP/ANSWER and other groups, who rig up their alliances at the top with the same groups that the Open Letter seems to denounce as racist.

For anti-imperialist work in the anti-war movement

. What is needed is for activists to work to build up a serious anti-imperialist pole in the anti-war movement. The present large national coalitions are dominated by liberal bourgeois trends. This will not be changed simply by adopting the five general slogans from the Open Letter. There has to be the development of consciousness among activists about the different class stands in the movement, and there has to be protracted work to bring the working class into the struggle.

. The Open Letter seems to suggest that if only certain very general slogans are adopted, there will be a militant, global united front in favor of anti-imperialist stands. This isn't realistic. It's not an accident that there are different class and political trends in the movement. And far from glossing over this, anti-imperialist work should bring consciousness of this to the masses. There will be a protracted struggle in the movement between anti-imperialism and liberal imperialism. Victory will be measured not by how far one can get some liberal representatives to give vague left slogans, but by winning the support of workers and youth for the position of class struggle and anti-imperialism. There has to be direct discussion of the role of the Democratic Party in the movement, of the nature of imperialist multilateralism, and so forth.

. Activists don't need to wait until some major coalition agrees to take up some good slogan, if ever. The anti-imperialist section of activists, even if modest in number, should join together in every locality. They should continue to take part in demonstrations called by broader groupings, or in broad anti-war groups, but they should have their own organization as well, and their own activities, demonstrations, and contingents at broader demonstrations. Otherwise they will be waiting forever for the national coalitions, or those local coalitions under the influence of the pro-Democratic Party or pro-opportunist trends, to agree to do serious work. Anti-imperialist activists can circulate their own leaflets at demonstrations, workplaces, communities and schools. They should decide themselves what is important to say, and not be bound by what is acceptable to the leadership of the broad coalitions.

. The only solid base for anti-imperialism is the mass of workers and minorities. Every effort should be made to bring the workers into the anti-war struggle, as well as to extend solidarity to the specific struggles of workers in Iraq and elsewhere. The anti-imperialists will have to build up their own base among workers, rather than rely on the present leadership of the unions, as they are led today by a pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy, which is closely tied to imperialism.

. It isn't just the liberal Democrats and reformists who oppose an anti-imperialist and class stand. Non-class anti-imperialism, while it may sound militant, leads to a dead-end. Thus the "anti-imperialism" of the WWP also leads nowhere. The WWP seeks a quiet alliance with fundamentalism, and it has also quietly backed various tyrants, such as Saddam Hussein, when they were in struggle with US imperialism. But far from this showing how independent WWP is from the American bourgeoisie, in fact WWP is notorious for chasing and promoting liberal bourgeois figures.

. The Open Letter may appear on the surface to be a step towards anti-imperialism. And that's why various activists may have signed it. They may see in it only such things as support for the Palestinian struggle, denunciation of an internationalized occupation of Iraq, and a call for struggle against racist organizations. But in fact, the Letter provides a poor orientation for its signers and for all those looking for real anti-imperialism. Serious support for the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples and the minority communities here must include a class stand. <>

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