Please comment: What’s up with the peace movement?

(*See comments by David McReynolds at the bottom of my post.)

Kimberly writes:

I would be very interested and grateful for some comments on what you think the peace movement is up to now. Where are people who want to demand our government get out of Iraq and Afghanistan now?

(It is fairly easy to post comments here at wilderside. There are a few words and names that are put into “moderate” based on passed spells of spam attacks or trolling and such. I will go in tonight and check for things caught up.)

Here are some trends I perceive:

-Lack of motivation for the big marches. And, several of my peacenik friends saying they have given up on demonstrations. (Though, I did hear there were possibly 10,000 at the UFPJ march, plus there was the ANSWER march this past weekend. Still, we were up to 500,000 and more a few times.)

-Sense that a whole bunch of people think Obama is basically for peace, and are giving him wide latitude and no pressure to get our troops out.

-Sense that a whole bunch of people don’t care that much that we are in war, now that the party they like is in power.

-A suspicion that a long time ago, the Democratic Party took the reigns of the peace movement, and steered things so that we would die with only a quiet gasp…i.e. changed dialogue from demanding non-violence, to focusing on economics and/or certain, specific wars. So, that our coalitions were skewed, and we were not teaching the deeper values.

-A great sense of hopelessness. I do not see a way out of Iraq or Afghanistan for a long time.

-end Kimberly’s comments

Comments by David McReynolds. When I asked him for feedback on my concerns, David forwarded this post which he had recently written to a list-serve. Used with permission.

From: David McReynolds
To: David McReynolds
Sent: Monday, April 06, 2009 2:15 AM
Subject: Tough political questions to the disarmament list

This goes to the disarmament list – I have a few comments and would welcome your feedback.

I was prodded into this by the note from someone in the Socialist Party about the “National Assembly”, of which more in a moment. [Ie: The National Assembly was a conference held in Cleveland in 2008 which tried to bring peace groups together in a democratic, strategic planning session. Archival article: here.]

The peace movement will be facing serious new issues.

Briefly, barring a sudden outbreak of sectarian violence, it is likely that the US will continue a “draw down” of forces in Iraq. Obama has essentially adopted the Bush time line for withdrawal – which will be a long time in the future, with significant forces left in place “to train” the Iraqis. But (again, barring a surge of sectarian violence) Iraq is not likely to produce the kind of American casualties that can generate once more the kind of massive peace movement we saw two years ago.

At the same time, Obama is committing to more forces in Afghanistan and has continued the policy of US military strikes inside of Pakistan, which are likely to produce greater instability in that country. From my point of view I think the US should cut its losses, withdraw from Afghanistan and end military
interventions in Pakistan. There are a number of analysts who feel Obama is making a terrible mistake, that historically it is difficult to control Afghanistan (we seem to have learned nothing from the Soviet
experience) and our own US national security is not threatened by developments in Afghanistan.

As a pacifist, of course I favor our withdrawal, but I’m speaking at this point in terms of “real politik”. I think Obama has committed himself to a dangerous course. I also think Obama, and those around him aren’t stupid (neither, I remember painfully, were those around JFK), and it is possible his policy
toward Afghanistan is not fixed and can be changed by actions in the US.

I should add that I am not at all happy about the failure of efforts to create a new Afghanistan. I wish that were possible. I find the Taliban a dreadful and oppressive group. That they may emerge triumphant is not something I find a happy solution. But we (the US) cannot solve the problems of the world.

I would add, as this bears on the drug trade in Afghanistan, that thought should be given to the UN buying up all the raw opium at market prices, and storing it (as we warehouse some commodities in the US – butter or grain – to keep up the price), using some of that stored opium for valid medical
needs, that we “medicalize” heroin addiction, and see if, by such actions, we can’t destroy the drug trade.

There is also, fairly obviously, a new development in the Middle East.There are a number of signs that Israel is no longer exempt from criticism, and the Netanyahu government, coming after the clearly criminal actions in Gaza, are isolating Israel internationally. There may be new openings for a shift in US policy and some willingness to take up the idea of ending US military and economic aid to Israel.

The peace movement, broken into its individual “segments” (Peace Action, War Resisters League, the American Friends Service Committee, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, etc.) all have their own staffs, their own programs, and, of course, their own ideologies (and turf). During the Vietnam War they were brought together, along with almost all of the “left” (ie., the Communist Party, the Trotskyists, independent Socialists, academics, labor folks, key segments of the Black community, etc., etc.) into the various “Mobilizations” that some of us took part in and which did play an important role in helping end that war.

In the Iraq situation these groups have come together around United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ).

My hunch is that UFPJ may be having an identity crisis as the original purpose of its formation – the Iraq War – fades, and as domestic issues – the economic crisis – take center stage.

Let’s turn now to the problem of ANSWER and to the matter of the National Assembly, Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC), the International Action Center, etc. These require a quick look at one of the few groups on the left which has been able to play an independent (and in my view fairly destructive) role – the Workers World Party. WWP was set up in 1956 as a split from the old Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, on the issue of whether or not to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary, to put down
the Hungarian Revolution. (WWP supported the Soviets, on the grounds that the Soviet Union may be a “deformed workers’ state”, but it had to be defended from counter-revolution).

This is all a long time ago (!!!) but WWP survived, it never took an active
part in the Vietnam Mobilizations, but when the first Gulf War broke out it made an effort to set up a front group – at that time the International Action Center (which was able to use Ramsey Clark as a key public figure – I love Ramsey, whenever I hear him speak I want to vote for him for
President, and why he ever was willing to front for IAC I don’t know).

“Our” coalition, which held the largest of the demonstrations against that first Gulf War, fell apart when that war ended. Other things occupied our attention – the tragedy of Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, the terrible bloodshed, the NATO intervention, etc.

At this stage, enter George W. Bush, in that “illegal election”, and then the tragedy of 9.11, and the rush by Cheney and Bush to plunge us into the Iraq War. The object of which was, of course, the oil in the Middle East. (And, indirectly, but of importance, the vast fortunes to be made by US firms working on military equipment, and doing business in the Occupation of
Iraq). There was a wide consensus that Bush had to be stopped, and it was at that point that United For Peace and Justice was formed.

And not long after it was formed, the Workers World Party set up another front group, in addition to the International Action Center – this being ANSWER. (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). ANSWER did excellent outreach toward the Muslim communities, spending special energy on the Palestinian question. The political program of ANSWER was not
bad, and in general it seemed more militant, more radical than UFPJ. One problem was that UFPJ really was a coalition of groups which did not all share the same positions (on something such as Israel, for example) and could not reach decisions overnight. ANSWER, because it was pretty much run by Workers World, could reach decisions very quickly. Unlike UFPJ, which has a cumbersome and democratic framework, delegated national conferences, etc., ANSWER did not, to the best of my knowledge, have any such complex framework. It fit the classic definition of a political front group.

There was a long and very bitter history of relations between ANSWER and UFPJ. From what I know of these fights, most of the fault rested with ANSWER (But I concede that blame probably falls on all sides – the catch, in dealing with Trotskyist groups, is that they are determined to control, not merely to participate in coalitions. This is not a unique problem with Trotskyists – the Communist Party behaved in the same way all through
the thirties, forties and fifties. Since then the Communist Party, while still authoritarian, has been humbled by events and has been a much better partner in coalitions – certainly playing an honorable role in the Vietnam period).

In 2004 things were further complicated when Workers World had a split, and the main groups on the West Coast, which had the control of ANSWER, split off to form the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Workers World has tried to set up a group of its own – Troops Out Now Coaliton (TONC) but this hasn’t taken off.

This year matters came to a kind of head, when ANSWER called for the March 21st demonstration in Washington DC, which proved a very weak event, drawing less than 5,000 people. UFPJ called for nation-wide actions on April 4th, the time of King’s assassination, and while the New York demonstration drew several thousand people, neither group proved able to fill the streets. (Remember that on the eve of the war with Iraq – before the US actually began the bombing – over ten thousand people rallied in New York City).

All of the more radical groups – WWP and PSL and, to an extent, ANSWER itself -will begin to shift toward the economic issues.

The peace movement should, in my view, take advantage of this crisis (we are talking about tent cities springing up, people unable to keep their homes, the middle class waking up and finding their life savings gone). We should not only demand drastic cuts in military spending, but focus on obvious targets – the US has several hundred military bases around the world, not needed for US security, and chewing up billions of dollars we need here. Military aid to Israel (and to some of the Arab states) is something we simply can’t afford. We can’t afford Afghanistan.

Where UFPJ will go in this period I don’t know. I haven’t been on the staff of War Resisters for a decade, I am not in the kind of close contact with the range of peace groups which I was when I was on staff. I think there needs to be some “stock taking” of the various peace groups as to what is needed.

This, finally, brings us to the National Assembly. I gave their web site at the start of this, and folks can look it over. My take on it is that some former Trotskyists play the key role (the administrative body of 13 people has two people from this tendency – Jerry Gordon and Jeff Mackler – but no one from other “organized” political groups such as DSA, SP, CCDS, CP, etc.)

I do not question the depth of concern of any of these people – the National Assembly was formed on the grounds that somehow it could bring together all the peace groups (primarily to bring together ANSWER and UFPJ). But I do not see any names on the Administrative Body (check the website) who really carry authority in AFSC, UFPJ, FOR, WRL, etc. etc. I see some impressive names and affiliations but the meeting of the National Assembly in New York after they were formed in Cleveland were very small. At the demonstration here on Saturday there were a large number of UFPJ
signs but very few people carrying National Assembly posters (I saw several people trying to hand these out to people, but not many takers – most of the marchers were old familar peace folks I’d known over the years, not members of any “left group”, but just peace folks who had come in for the demo).

If I’m wrong, and there are key forces in AFSC that support the National Assembly, please let me know. I see individuals from WILPF listed, but I doubt WILPF is involved at a national level and I fear that the National Assembly may be a diversion from whatever re-thinking the peace movement needs to do.

So . . . I send this out for background, and to ask what you know at a local level. I know that on the West Coast ANSWER has been able to sink roots into the peace community probably better than here on the East Coast. I don’t think the National Assembly has real roots anywhere. And I suspect the “hard political players” – Workers World, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, etc., will all be asking what they should be doing about the most pressing issue, which is the economic crisis.

David McReynolds

3 Responses

  1. Kimberly, it’s a good question to ask right now. I think all of the trends you point out are basically the same trend: the Democrats co-opted the message and momentum of the anti-war movement (which, ironically, was organized to a great extent by actual socialists), and now with the Obama administration it is clear that many Democrats were only anxious about the fact that it was a Republican who was running the war rather than their guy (Kerry, for instance, didn’t run against the war, but against Bush’s manner of executing it, and the same can be said for Obama with respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan). My own sense is that now is the time to hammer home the fact, to both liberals and conservatives, that the two party system is a one party system, the party of global warfare and corporate welfare, while continuing with everyday third party activism and organizing.

  2. Many thanks for the input. Yes, an important direction is to show that both major parties support war.

    Hurrah, third parties!


  3. Socialism fails and milton friedman was right. His DVD series is wonderful and shows exactly why 2.0 unemployment, under socialism, is still miserable.

    The economy is the exchange of goods and services. And the economy accelerates when people really want to exchange goods and services. When you have rewards to creating something that others want, as in capitalism, you get motive to innovate new products through creativity and technology. If you have a bunch of people doing this, you exchange these goods and services and create jobs and wealth.

    Under socialism, people stay complacent in their situation. there is relatively any motivation to create products that other people want, and this creates a domino effect. (you can motivate others to produce cool products if they want other peoples’ cool products). however, high taxes eliminates the motivation for many. And for this reason, most of the good products come out of capitalists countries.

    There is not a set amount of wealth in this world. It can be created and people can join in by creating something that people want. Obama’s policies seek to make everyone equal by stifling competition and innovation — trickle up poverty.

    So everyone is equal financially, and unemployment is very low — but everyone is just above poverty. Cuba has low unemployment, but there are no mansions and nothing to shoot for.

    Furthermore, people stop progressing. People stop learning from failures.

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