Letter to the Antiwar Movement

Redbaiters Oppose Our Unconditional “No” to War

by Fred Feldman

The following letter, edited for Labor Standard, was sent to a wide range of antiwar lists and individuals on Jan. 25, 2003. The author is active in the New York City coalition against the war on Iraq.

The redbaiting of our movement is taking the form of attacks on the ANSWER coalition that initiated and largely organized the October 26 and January 18 protests, which the whole movement eventually supported and helped turn into truly massive antiwar protests. The redbaiting is taking place in a coordinated, nationwide way. I have received reports about it from Seattle and the Vancouver area, and I am sure it is going on in many more places.

The publicists carry on about the Workers World Party’s position on Yugoslavia or Hungary. (If Workers World has ever held an unusual opinion about the Ottoman Empire or the Easter Island statues, I expect to be fully informed of it soon.)

But it is becoming ever clearer that the target of the attack is not a position on this or that “other issue” but the stance on Iraq that our whole movement is increasingly united around—unconditional opposition to the U.S. war. The redbaiters insist that the movement should be fighting for the U.S. to wage the right kind of war against Iraq with the right combination of international support at the right time. To oppose the war outright—that’s extremism! That needs to be driven out of “legitimate” antiwar protests, say the redbaiters.

Those of us who say no to an invasion of Iraq regardless of whose backing Washington gets, regardless of what Hans Blix reports [Blix is in charge of UN weapons inspections in Iraq], and regardless of how the UN Security Council votes—the overwhelming majority of the participants in the protests and the coalitions today—are supposed to back off when the ANSWER label is pinned to us. The demonization of the ANSWER coalition and the Workers World Party (which is the most prominent political party in ANSWER) is aimed at all of us, and we must all publicly and loudly reject it shoulder to shoulder with the ANSWER coalition and Workers World.

Jose Pérez, an antiwar activist from Atlanta, reports in a letter I received yesterday that “Terry Gross of National Public Radio’s program ‘Fresh Air’ gave half an hour of air time yesterday to one Todd Gitlin, who was described as having been president of SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] in 1963–1964 and is now a college professor.” Gitlin devoted much of his talk to presenting the supposedly horrific litany of the political positions of the Workers World Party, and arguing that for this reason they should be barred from playing a leading role in the antiwar struggle.

“The most significant thing to note about Gitlin and his ilk,” Pérez points out, “is that they are not against a war with Iraq.”

Pérez continues: “Typical is his column dated October 14, published on Mother Jones magazine’s web site.

Two weeks before the big antiwar march, was he building it? Of course not!!! He was running it down.

“He came out strongly against people who carried placards at an earlier protest at the United Nations with slogans like ‘NO SANCTIONS! NO BOMBINGS!’ ” Pérez notes. Gitlin called them “cynics of the hard left” and identified these positions accurately with the ANSWER coalition and Workers World.

But hold on, that’s my position. That’s Leslie Cagan’s position. That’s David McReynolds’ position. (All are active in the antiwar coalition.) In fact, I would lay a bet that was the position of just about every (and maybe literally every) single one of the 160 people who attended the New York City meeting Thursday [Jan. 23] called by United For Peace to build the February 15 action. We’re all “cynics of the hard left” who oppose the bombings and sanctions that have killed a million people in Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War.

“Now,” Gitlin continued, “those same cynics of the hard left have moved to the front of the current anti-war movement.” And he proclaimed, “This will not play in Peoria. It does not deserve to play in Washington.” This was shortly before the October 26 demonstration.

Pérez points out: “Much to Mr. Gitlin’s displeasure, I’m sure, it did play in Peoria, and in Washington, and even more massively all over the country in the protests just held a week ago.

“So yesterday Mr. Gitlin was back on the attack, urging a ‘nuanced’ view that opposes only ‘unilateral’ war, but devoting most of his time to deriding the antiwar movement and people participating in it.” ANSWER’s steering committee, he claimed, is made up of “very far left-wing factions that probably total 100 members in America.’ ” An utter falsehood, of course.

“Behind Gitlin’s redbaiting is support to the U.S. war against Iraq, albeit with some doleful grimaces,” Pérez concludes.

Pérez quotes Gitlin as saying, “The international sanctions against Iraq have been a humanitarian disaster for the country’s civilians.” Gitlin admits this in his October column, laying out the sucker-bait. “But,” Gitlin adds, “doesn’t Saddam Hussein bear some responsibility for that disaster?” Saddam has done many things I disagree with, but he did not impose the criminal sanctions on Iraq, or order them continued, or use naval fleets to enforce them. Unlike Gitlin, Saddam has been unconditionally opposed to the sanctions from the beginning. You have to give him that.

Gitlin also apologizes for the current U.S. bombing of Iraq: “The bombing—US and UK attacks in the no-fly zones of northern and southern Iraq—are taking place under the auspices of a mission to protect Iraqi Kurds in the north and Iraqi Shiites in the south.” (What a prettification of Washington’s policy!—FF)

Gitlin continues: “Again, the Iraqi leader bears responsibility; Washington and London have made a credible case for the no-fly-zone sorties because and only because Saddam Hussein has trampled these long-suffering people in more ways than there is room to describe in this space.”

Does anyone in this movement today believe that the U.S. bombings are helping the Iraqi people, that they are better off because U.S. bombings are devastating large parts of their country? Todd Gitlin, who portrays himself as an opponent only of ANSWER, does.

(By the way, does Gitlin believe that the U.S should have the right to bomb any country where parts or even most of the population are oppressed? What about Spain, where the Basque nation is still oppressed? Or the United Kingdom, which still occupies part of Ireland—well, I guess Blair might not go along with the bombing in that instance. What about Canada, where the Québécois are still striving for independence? What about Israel? Not to mention scores of other countries on every continent.)

Gitlin’s singling out of the ANSWER coalition and Workers World may be clever tactics, but only if we are all much stupider than my experience with people in this movement has led me to believe.

“So when you get right down to it,” Pérez argues, correctly in my opinion, “Gitlin ‘supports’ the sanctions, ‘supports’ the bombing, and—although he is too clever or embarrassed to say so openly on ‘Fresh Air,’ laying it instead between the lines, he ‘supports’ the war against Iraq, and his differences with Bush are strictly tactical over how to wage that war, not whether to do so.”

So don’t be conned by the ANSWER baiters! They are baiting you and me and, of course, the ANSWER coalition and Workers World, too, as part of us. We have to fight back with a united, unyielding, public and visible defense of the whole movement, including the ANSWER coalition as an important component of our increasingly united movement.