Antiwar demonstrations

I was there, Lou, [a comment on L. Proyect's report on the antiwar demonstration in Washington] but without a Chicago banner (such as I had earlier indicated I would be near), for reasons having to do with the fact that there was no Chicago bus. Partly this was because people opted for the $160 plane fare that had been arranged by the Serbian Unity Congress. And some preferred cars, etc. And a lot of people from Chicago are concentrating on the demonstrations here against Clinton (June 12) and Albright (June 18). (We had a coalition meeting this evening.)

On top of that, though, a lot of people from Chicago and elsewhere canceled their plans because they believed - mistakenly, as it turned out - that the war was over. There would have been thousands more there without the confusion around the ultimatum. Of course my position would be that even if the bombing had stopped, a U.S./NATO occupation is not 'peace,' it is imperialist conquest and should be fought without letup. Some of the more conspiracy-minded people opined that the "peace scare" of June 3 and the resumption of full-scale bombing on June 7 were not independent of the June 5 demonstration.

In any case ... it seems that we are likely to be on the stage for a while longer, rather than in the wings.

Louis P: "To our left were a group of four people who seemed to hold simple pacifist beliefs. ... The simple fact of the matter is that if and when a mass antiwar movement comes into existence, it will have to reflect the inchoate pacifist yearnings of millions of young people, who have not been trained in Marxist dialectics on the national question."

This is largely true and challenging, at least with regard to the type of war we are now dealing with - a low-casualty massacre from the air, in a period of economic boom. Of course there eventually will be casualties - if not in this war, then in a future war - and there really are economic costs now - and the boom is temporary, but until these costs really hit home, and being really starts to determine consciousness with respect to the war itself, a large number of the young people who are ready to come and actually organize against it will be young pacifists, motivated by moral fervor.

Furthermore, when we bring people to a demonstration who are really new to anti-war demonstrations, left politics, etc., especially young white people, we do indeed run into the fact that they bring with them all the unchallenged mainstream ideas and prejudices which they have developed throughout their lives up until the day when the educational horror of the war tore away a corner of the veil and shocked them into protest. They may believe in the United Nations, in what they read in the papers, in capitalism, in the goodness of America, in the power of non-violence, in the power of the vote - all sorts of such things. And when they hear the guy from the Committee for the Reunification of Korea blast the U.S. right and left, or Pam Africa (of the Concerned Family and Friends of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal) calling Clinton a racist mother-fucker, they may be shocked, or baffled, or angered. The priest who says that all war is wrong, or the guy from Peace Action who is anti-Milosevic and anti-KLA, is speaking a language they understand much better. (In the case of young people whose politics grows directly out of their own experience of oppression, such as the many of the young participants in the Free Mumia campaign, the situation is rather different,

I was one of these people myself once. My first demonstration was a Christmas 1968 leafleting in downtown Ithaca, New York urging people not to buy war toys. It was a rough demonstration, too!! We got a LOT of opposition. A middle-aged lady came up and demanded, "Why don't you be where you're supposed to be??" A guy asked us "How come you aren't over there fighting for the cause?" Finally some tough guys confiscated our leaflets. This action was organized by a very sincere pacifist campus minister at Cornell. Four months later, I was taking a bus Washington for my first anti-war march. My father told me, "This is a traitorous thing you're doing!" The main reason I went was that this woman who was four years older than me who I sort of had a crush on had gone up the week before for a sit-in at the Pentagon and had gotten arrested, which horrified me at the time. A month later armed members of the Afro-American Student Union took over the student union. Two years later, I was with three carloads of people who were trying to stage a car accident on the approaches to Francis Scott Key bridge as part of the May 4, 1971 attempt to shut down Washington. A year after that, I was reading Marx for the first time.

I guess the point of this reminiscence is that young people grow. They ask questions, they investigate, they go from one group to another, from one ideology to another. They have to break through one shell after another, shatter one illusion after another. Furthermore, speaking for myself, it was often the occasions on which I was shocked, angered, or baffled, which helped me to grow. I remember an anti-war demonstration when we marched around campus and through the cafeterias, and some of the radicals started to break the glassware on the tables. I was completely horrified. But it prepared me for later actions in which we defied other rules for better reasons.

Louis P: "It would be wrong to condemn out of hand those faith-based or pacifist institutions, who do not have the same penetrating analysis as Ramsey Clark. And why? For the simple reason that groups like Women's Strike for Peace or the Fellowship of Reconciliation have connections to a broader social milieu that Clark does not. That milieu was instrumental in making the Vietnam antiwar movement a force to be reckoned with."

Of course I agree that it's wrong to condemn "faith-based or pacifist institutions" out of hand. Naturally they vary in their degrees of radicalism and (non)sectarianism. Some of the best people in Chicago to work with are the pacifists in Voices in the Wilderness, which has done excellent, path-breaking Iraq solidarity work, and the Claretians working in the Eighth Day Center for Justice, which overlaps with Voices, who are very excellent radical nuns and priests, currently active in the anti-war coalition here, in the movement to close the School of the Americas, and other social justice issues. And in their case, it's true about the milieu. Last year there was a going-away party for two women who were going to serve six-month prison sentences for demonstration at the School of the Americas. There were about 200 members of the Catholic pacifist left there. I was amazed. This may sound idiotically ignorant, but I had no idea there were that many in Chicago.

But I guess I want to amend this observation by saying that this 'milieu' is not static, especially in the case of young people. Veteran pacifists can and must be worked with. Young, fresh, new pacifists are quite likely to grow into something else, if we give them the proper encouragement and show the proper example, though the effects of the period itself cannot be ignored.

In fact, looking back on it, I now conclude that my own path toward Marxism was not so much determined, or facilitated, by argument as it was by the personal examples of a succession of "admirable people". There was the admirable minister who said that not everything was right with this wonderful society, the admirable pacifist woman who was arrested at the Pentagon, some other admirable people in the National Committee to Combat Fascism (a Panther support group), an admirable roommate in S.D.S. who mailed back his draft card, an admirable woman in my co-op who was a (non-party) socialist, and, ultimately, some admirable people who were impressively active, knowledgeable, and anti-imperialist, within the anti-wa r movement of Washington D.C. in 1972. I got tear-gassed with them and jailed with them on the Capitol grounds. The afternoon we got out, I dropped by the Community Bookshop and discovered this same group of people about to have a "political education" class, to which they invited me. This particular admirable group turned out to be the D.C./Maryland branch of Workers World and some close friends, and so here I am today! :-)

Writing this last paragraph, by the way, has been a valuable experience for me. Sometimes I think we - well, I, anyway - get seduced by the idea that if we write really good leaflets and articles, do good publicity, and have good demonstrations, rallies, and meetings, this is enough. But looking back on it, I conclude that these impersonal phenomena are not the things which helped me to change - or, at any rate, that these things alone would not have been enough. We need to actually BE "admirable people": patient, knowledgeable, reasonable, sensitive, "motivated by love" in Che Guevara's words. And we need to actually make the time to be with new and young people, leafleting with them, attending meetings with them, traveling with them to and from the demonstration, socializing, and so on, so they can see how admirable we are and what kind of existence we are inviting them to pursue. And now, at this point in our anti-war organizing in Chicago, I have to help figure out how to do just this with a set of people who as of now are only names and e-mail addresses and telephone numbers from our voice-mail! It IS a challenge ... it's much easier when all the people at the demonstration are the same old lefties we've seen a hundred times, but there's not much future in that, is there? :-)

I can't believe it, it's 3:15 a.m. here... this will have to be all for now.

In the struggle,

Lou Paulsen

Today I went on an anti-war demonstration in London. It seemed to be as big as the one a few weeks ago, several thousand people. It was the usual mix of pacifists and left-wingers, but with only a few Yugoslav flags this time. It was a lively if short march, ending up, believe it or not, outside the Imperial War Museum.

Almost all the left was there -- with the exception, it seems, of the Alliance for Workers Liberty, who have gone completely overboard on a pro-KLA binge, seeing self-determination for Kosovo as more important than being against the Nato attacks.

The main contingent was from the Socialist Workers Party, with the other groups numbering only a few dozen from each, if that.

There were some strange sights, especially with two decomposition bits of the old Healyite organisation, one totally pro-Belgrade, the other totally pro-KLA, separated by only a few yards. I didn't see if they resorted to fisticuffs as they have done before. The Sparts were collecting for money to help rebuild a Yugoslav motor factory that had been bombed. The war has woken up the remnants of the dissolved Revolutionary Communist Party, some of them were there selling LM magazine, which has for two issues actually had some politics in it.

Talking to people, there is no general feeling about what will happen, all sorts of views are expressed -- that Nato will find an excuse to keep bombing, that Nato will find some other cause to fight a war elsewhere, how will Nato deal with the KLA, etc, etc. Everyone agreed that Blair and his liberal bombers seem especially annoyed that Clinton has robbed them of their desperately wanted ground war.

Paul Flewers

Please note that in my report on the London demonstration on 5 June, I misrepresented the position of Workers Liberty on the Yugoslav war. WL does not support the KLA, but supports the rights of the Kosovars.

Paul Flewers

I'm not sure why I bother, as they never print my letters these days, but here's a response to a columnist in the Guardian who reckoned that Bomber Blair & Co actually managed to influence US policy in the war against Yugoslavia. Blair's groupies really think that he has superpowers, the very idea of the White House, State Department, Pentagon, etc, would act on advice from a subordinate like Blair when that advice goes against their interests is absurd.


To the Editor

Dear Sir

It is absurd for Ewen MacAskill ('Hawkish Blair may be the war's big winner', 12 June) to see Tony Blair exerting any influence upon US policy in the war over Kosovo. It is true that he acted as a drummer-boy for Bill Clinton, whipping up support for the war amongst the less enthusiastic Nato members, but there was no way that Clinton, whose main concern in this whole affair was the dual task of spreading the influence and maintaining the coherence of Nato, was going to let Blair railroad him into a ground war that would have caused major problems within Nato. If anything, Blair's self-projected image of a combination of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Bob Geldorf, desperate for a ground war, became an embarrassment to Clinton, who, after all, was in command of the whole show, and would not allow a subordinate partner to determine his policies.

Yours faithfully

Paul Flewers

Another wasted effort, no doubt, but here's another letter I've sent to the Guardian.

Paul F


To the Editor

Dear Sir

Tony Blair's insistence upon the Serbs being punished as a whole for the repressive actions of the Yugoslav government ('Blair Clashes With G8 over Aid to Serbia', 21 June) smacks of the idea of national guilt that was promoted during the Second World War by Robert Vansittart, who led a campaign to blame all Germans for Hitler's crimes, and more recently by Robert Goldhagen, who has not only revived Vansittartism, but has extended the concept in your very own pages to the Serbs. It is a sad sign of the times that a theory that is usually the property of national chauvinists, and which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Hitlerite racial stereotyping, is being promoted by a New Labour Prime Minister.

Yours faithfully

Paul Flewers

Activists in Columbus, Ohio will continue our anti-NATO actions, which include, among other things:

* protest the occupation of Yugoslavia on the first and the third Tuesday.

* hold a Saturday demonstration on June 26th, 1999 at the OSU location to coincide with national protests.

* publicize the environmental destruction caused by the NATO bombings + seek to make better connections with local environmentalist orgs + hold a press conference entitled Ecocide Day.

* raise funds for relief efforts for people in Yugoslavia.

What are you guys planning to do in your town?

Yoshie Furuhashi

belated response, above wound up in that pesky stored file that I always forget to open...

Wed. evening meetings/discussions of Orlando, FL area folks who came together and held weekly demos against US/NATO war in Yugoslavia continue...some sentiment exists for affiliating with a national org in order to provide sense of on-going connection to activists elsewhere...while we realize the importance of local efforts, our present numbers are small and some people think that we might develop permanence and stability (and maybe a bit of legitimacy?) through such association...War Resisters League (we used to have a local some years ago), PeaceAction, and Fellowship of Reconciliation are among groups being considered...any lister thoughts on taking this step and/or suggested groups with which to affiliate?... Michael Hoover