ANSWER’s position on unity in the anti-war movement

Jan 1, 2006

300,000 march in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 24, 2005

On Dec. 12, 2005, the leadership of the United for Peace and Justice coalition announced that it would no longer carry out united actions with the ANSWER Coalition—Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. The following is an abridged version of the response issued by the ANSWER Coalition Steering Committee on Dec. 16, 2005. An unabridged version of the ANSWER statement can be found at:

Ten weeks after the Sept. 24 demonstration brought more than 300,000 people to Washington, D.C. in a massive show of strength by a united anti-war movement, the leadership of the United for Peace and Justice publicly announced its unilateral intention to effect a long-term split in the anti-war movement. This is the second time in seven months that UFPJ has publicly proclaimed its intention to split the movement, coupled with a false and ugly attack on the ANSWER Coalition.

In May 2005, they announced that they would hold a second and separate demonstration in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 24 rather than work in a united front with ANSWER. Fortunately, the progressive movement overcame that splitting effort, which would have seriously weakened the movement at a critical moment.

It is important to understand the political and organizational motivation behind UFPJ’s decision to split the anti-war movement now, as we are becoming increasingly successful. Public opinion has shifted dramatically against the war. More than 100,000 Iraqis have died, thousands upon thousands of U.S. soldiers have either been killed or horribly wounded, and nearly half a trillion dollars has been appropriated for this criminal endeavor. Why then, under these circumstances, would UFPJ’s leadership issue a public declaration that it is determined to split the movement? The justifications cited in their Dec. 12 split declaration are embarrassingly petty and astonishingly trivial for a U.S.-based anti-war movement, especially given the gravity of the war itself and the monumental human suffering in the Middle East. They are also an unfortunate collection of half-truths and outright distortions of facts. UFPJ’s justification for this split serves really to obfuscate rather than clarify the real motivations of UFPJ’s shamefully sectarian decision.

Background to UFPJ’s decision

The UFPJ leadership, from its inception, has been on a relentless path of splitting the movement. In spite of this, there have been three mass united front protests sponsored by ANSWER and UFPJ: the Oct. 25, 2003 march of 100,000 in Washington; the March 20, 2004 march of 100,000 in New York City and the Sept. 24 demonstration of more than 300,000 in Washington, D.C. In each instance the united front was proposed by ANSWER, initially rejected by UFPJ’s leadership and then accepted later by UFPJ’s leadership either because of pressure from the movement or because UFPJ’s leadership recognized the demonstration would be massive with or without their participation. UFPJ has never once proposed a united front with ANSWER.

Seven months ago, UFPJ’s leadership announced a similar decision to split the movement. It was only under significant pressure from the Arab-American and Muslim community, and people throughout the anti-war movement—including key sectors in labor—that UFPJ’s sectarian split scenario was defeated and a hugely successful joint demonstration took place.

The foundational political issue in the controversy between the two coalitions was over the inclusion of Palestine, the centrality of the Arab-American and Muslim community in the leadership of the movement and the occupation of Haiti. At its essence, the issue was one of an anti-imperialist perspective. Another underlying and related issue, usually in the background but very vital to strategic perspective, is UFPJ’s increasing orientation toward and flirtation with the Democratic Party. In the core of UFPJ’s leadership are political parties and organizations that worked tirelessly for John Kerry and the election of Democrats. Their vision of “left-center unity” means supporting the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party leadership and almost all of the politicians in Congress cannot possibly embrace an anti-war movement that openly supports the Palestinian people and their right to return to their homeland. The Democratic and Republican party leadership are both fervently committed to Israel and its ongoing suppression of the Palestinians. According to this orientation, working with ANSWER means it will be impossible to get the Democratic Party or members of Congress “on board.”

Don’t cater to the Democratic leadership

For our part, the ANSWER Coalition considers it harmful to try to tailor the message of the progressive movement to please the long-awaited but fictional support from the politicians. During the Vietnam War, Congress only cut funding for the war in 1974—one year after the last U.S. soldiers left Vietnam. The leadership of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are unflinching supporters of the war machine and they share the strategic designs for U.S. global domination through the agencies of the Pentagon, IMF, World Bank and other auxiliary instruments.

During the first Iraq war of 1990-1991, some of the same leadership forces now in UFPJ chose to create a second anti-war coalition and insisted on marching under the banner “Economic Sanctions Not War” while some of those who are today in the leadership of ANSWER argued that economic sanctions were war—and a weapon of mass destruction at that. We contended that economic sanctions against Iraq would result in a form of genocide against the Iraqi people and that the only correct position for the U.S. anti-war movement was to demand, “No war against Iraq.” Many of the current UFPJ leaders argued then that if the movement refused to call for economic sanctions, it would be smeared as an objective apologist for Saddam Hussein’s government.

Likewise, a large contingent of representatives in Congress voted in favor of economic sanctions rather than war. Ultimately, Congress voted for war and sanctions that deprived people of clean drinking water, food and access to medicine. The economic sanctions ultimately took the lives of more than 1 million Iraqis.

The question for the anti-war movement is this: Are we building a movement that comprehensively challenges imperialism, or are we opposed only to certain tactics employed by imperialism such as overt, unilateral military invasion? And, are people and communities most affected by imperial wars mere objects for this movement, or are they real partners in it?

What is the message we are bringing to the people of the United States? This is critical in our opinion, because we believe that the people alone are the source of change. The politicians are in the back pocket of Corporate America and the Military-Industrial Complex. Building genuine solidarity with Iraqi, Palestinian and Arab people—the central targets of the current war for Empire—is not simply an exercise for the already radicalized community. It is rather a life and death need of the movement to win the population away from the xenophobia, national chauvinism and racism that is promoted by the government. These are the central methods they employ to rally support for their war for empire.

Inside the UFPJ leadership and in its publications there is great excitement about John Murtha’s disaffection with the war. We too welcome it as a sign that there is a small but increasing division in the camp of the war makers. The split, however, is over tactics and not over the strategic goal of U.S. domination over the Middle East and its peoples.

UFPJ’s leadership sent out a sample letter to the anti-war movement that calls on people to write a letter to Congress that reads: “Instead of scorn, Murtha deserves praise and support for his courageous leadership. Isn’t that what we want from our elected officials?” Remember this for a man who stated, “I supported Reagan all through the Central American thing.” Two hundred thousand Guatemalans, 40,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Salvadorans died during Reagan’s “Central America thing.”

So what is Murtha actually proposing as he breaks ranks with Bush over the war that he previously supported? Murtha wants to “redeploy U.S. troops,” “create a quick reaction force in the region” and “an over-the-horizon presence of Marines.”

Murtha has not adopted an anti-war position. He wants to redeploy militarily to strengthen the hand of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East because the current path is not working. If the slogan “Bring the Troops Home” ends up meaning redeployment and more surgical bombing and strikes against the people of the Middle East, it loses its anti-war meaning entirely.

Murtha’s redeployment call is on par with Ariel Sharon’s removal of troops and settlers from Gaza. It is fundamentally a military action to strengthen the military and political position of the occupiers, in response to the pressures of the resistance.

A people’s united front

Why is it that UFPJ’s leadership can build a gushing “united front” with imperialist politicians but not with the ANSWER Coalition, which has organized hundreds of thousands of people to promote genuine peace and self-determination for all peoples in the Arab world and the Middle East?

We believe that the anti-war movement should take advantage of splits within the camp of the war makers and also solicit the support of progressive elected officials to support the program of the anti-war movement, but it would be destructive if the progressive forces delete its own anti-imperialist or anti-racist politics so that the movement becomes “acceptable” to imperialist decision-makers.

The ANSWER Coalition regards the Sept. 24 united front that was formed, at its initiative, to have been remarkably successful. It was a powerful showing of a growing movement. The success of the day is not measured by the inconvenience or unpleasantness of having to work with those who do not share the same political views or particularities of personality. The success of the day is based on the ability to do what is necessary to bring together the largest and most inclusive showing possible of anti-war sentiment on a principled basis.

We are also confident that the many hundreds of thousands of anti-war activists in the country will choose the path of unity—to stand together regardless of whether a small leadership grouping directs people to be divided. There will be spring demonstrations against war and racism, including the March 18-20 Days of Action. We still believe that unity is the best way to proceed, and that the most important work is to bring as many forces as possible together based on the inclusion, not exclusion, of targeted communities.

Articles may be reprinted with credit to Socialism and Liberation magazine.
Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

In celebration of International Workers Day or May Day Liberation School is republishing "Socialism an integral part of U.S. history" by Eugene Puryear. Originally published in 2010 as a response to the mobilization of anti-communist propaganda against Obama to paint...

Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

In celebration of International Workers Day or May Day Liberation School is republishing "Socialism an integral part of U.S. history" by Eugene Puryear. Originally published in 2010 as a response to the mobilization of anti-communist propaganda against Obama to paint...