The early anti-war debate on Seattle Indymedia


Should activists denounce the opportunist misleadership of the anti-war movement, or should they, as Krakpotkin says in one of the links below, "get out of the way" and "stay outside" of the "middle-class mass orgs"? Is it tactically not smart to raise political issues while we materially lack the forces to overthrow capitalism? Must the anti-war movement remain dominated by forces which cultivate illusions in the system which gives rise to war after war? Several people wondered about these things in the period leading up to the Afghan war, when the local 911 "Peace" Coalition was holding meetings of up to 300 energetic people wanting to start building the anti-war movement, and these questions remain on peoples' minds to this day, long after liberal support of this moderate organization has vanished and it has effectively collapsed. Is it true that public denunciations of the phony "anti-war" liberals "simply weakens us at a critical time"? We don't think so. We think it is the weak politics of these "kinder, gentler" imperialists that hinders mass anti-war sentiment from bursting forth. After all, who wouldn't have been overcome with despair after viewing or reading one of G-Dumbya's chauvinist, blood-hungry speeches, and then going to one of the main "Peace" websites and reading that "it's important" to "send the message" that "we in Seattle and elsewhere want justice" to the likes of...GEORGE W. BUSH, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW!!! It's plain to see that 911's advocacy of this type of "activism" is an attempt to shepherd anti-war sentiment into the most impotent, "pacific" channels [1]. Their promotion of this na´vetÚ (along with their passivity in the face of the continuing reactionary onslaught of the time) was a major setback to the movement in the period leading up to the Afghan war.

Reformism and demonstrations

Demonstrations have a different significance in different political environments. For instance, the popular struggles which brought forth the massive Argentine demonstrations actually forced the resignation of several capitalist politicians (although they didn't bring down the government, as some claim), and The Battle of Seattle really frightened the ruling class (its politicians and media still try to belittle it). Among other things, these kinds of demonstrations provide the masses with valuable experience battling the authorities in the street. (Of course, this experience can only be put to real use in times of extreme revolutionary crisis, when it will have to be much more tactically diverse and systematic). But the smaller ones we've seen here are also important for piercing the pacifying political climate, for linking up, and as a vehicle for agitation, both living and written. And there is the obvious fact that we have to start somewhere.

Many local activists think that if the capitalist media doesn't cover something, then it's not worth doing, that there's no other way to get the message out, etc. Then when the media does provide their usual distorted coverage, there is much "outrage" at this, as if sober-minded revolutionaries should expect any different. Much of the movement finds itself in catch-22's like this, and it's an example of the crippling influence of the reformists.

In general, reformists see demonstrations (and all political activity) as a way to pressure the establishment to change "this" policy, to stop "this" war, etc. Hence their concern with numbers (which they often exaggerate) and with the effects of legislation (which they...well, you know). It's not that reforms are "bad", but the reformists take up the various causes for the definite purpose of re-establishing the legitimacy of the establishment in the eyes of the masses, and leaving it there to wreak havoc on them another day. Hence when a new crisis arises the reformists are back at square-one, back in the position of trying to prove to the masses why a certain policy is wrong enough for them to go out into the streets or call up a politician. And the masses, too, are back at square-one (though, much to the chagrin of the reformists, a bit more cynical about political opportunism), even when reforms occur. For example, the Bush administration, as part of its "war on terror", recently used the so-called "PATRIOT Act" to attack the gains of a decades-long struggle for civil rights; and this was just a few months after coming to power through organizing a subversion of the anti-racist Voters' Rights Act.

Unlike the reformists, we strive to show the masses why these hated policies are an inevitable product of an economic system whose mortality can be demonstrated by science, and whose death is destined to be dealt by a future incarnation of the class we belong to-the class whose modern struggle we advocate. We aren't against the government's "war on terror" merely because we think it's right to be against it (which we do), but because the revolutionary anti-imperialist critique teaches that every intervention by a capitalist power is essentially reactionary.

Returning to the subject of demonstrations, even such things as Argentina's thrilling "jornadas revolucionarias" show us the limited potential of even the largest demonstrations, for the masses there still face a grueling future caged in capitalist society. To make a real change, the working masses must not merely demonstrate their power, they must exert it. They must continually (including right now) work to achieve a state of independent political organization that endures (in different forms) through the highs and lows of the movement and prepares itself for the inescapable task of smashing the armed forces of the bourgeois state and simultaneously taking up societal administration (seizing power). But it's only through heating up and welding together the current struggles occurring on many seemingly unconnected fronts that these forms of organization and the methods of struggle expressed through them can be found. True, our eyes are, in a sense, trained on a far-off goal (revolution). But this allows us to realize the vital importance of the things we must do today to move toward this goal, such as improving our understanding of what imperialism is and learning how to oppose it, and helping the people become conscious of their colossal task. In this way we can help to lay the basis for the unification of the future revolutionary forces that will pulverize US imperialism, and smash up its war machine once and for all.

Most people in reformist-dominated movements have no idea of what imperialism is, and hence even though they can see that the WTC attacks were a type of reaction against the US's politico-economic domination of the Middle East, they can't see that this domination itself has been a permanent product of capitalist production for about a century, and that the global market operates through relations of domination and subordination. So these folks are prone to being fooled when the 911PC and similar organizations call for a "reassessment" or a "change in priorities" of US foreign policy, and not for raising up an absolute struggle to overthrow the imperialist system which generates predatory foreign policies. The opportunism of the 911PC's leaders is why it withered after the bombing started, while anti-imperialists started working even harder to build the movement. Through it's hindrance of the progressive movements even as it seems to lead them forward, reformism (even at it's most militant [2]) is in the final analysis imperialism's last and best line of defense, the last and best defender of each link in its bloody chain of wars, and the most subtle advocate of the present "war on terror".

While no one on the radical left denies the significance of things like "The Battle of Seattle", many activists wonder about the significance of the small demonstrations such as we've had recently. They lament that "the same 20-50 activists" show up again and again, etc. But through their veil of tears they can't see the practical import of this. They can't see that the fact of the small protests in a period of ruling-class reaction that is without recent precedent shows that the established forces on the left are doing something very, very wrong (the recent anti-WEF protest, the largest and best organized of recent times, was mainly the effort of the Anti-War Project, which is a new group). And the 911PC's downfall with the falling bombs, even after 300+ people had shown up to some of its meetings wanting to organize against the (then) coming war, shows that its reformist politics did damage to us in the movement, as well as to the drought-stricken innocents in Afghanistan unable to escape the rain of bombs, unable to "in all seriousness" dial up "our President" in the White House and ask for a "peaceful, measured response", like our "realistic" pacifists and progressives do. We, the "nobodies" in the streets, need to get to the political roots of these betrayals, and pull them out with our own hands. The SAIA has taken some steps in this direction by neither evading the criticism of reformism (and showing how it hurts the movement in practice), nor staying outside of the middle-class orgs "on principle" (which would be sectarian).

Revolution is the spine of the anti-war movement

In the discussion of the Feb. 2 anti-WEF protest, some activists bemoaned the relatively small size of the protest compared with others in the world, and said we should give up and go home, while others said that we should be happy to bang trashcan lids, have fun, feel good about ourselves, etc. Both viewpoints represent the same myopia about the aims of the movement: the former decries its present disarrayed state in order to throw up its hands, while the latter overlooks this state in order to revel in euphoric escapism. It's not by hewing a path between these two evils that the movement can advance, but by developing a concrete analysis of the political situation, and on the basis of this, determining what is essential for building the movement at this historical moment. In striving to do this, the allies of the SAIA have concluded that a more durable, politically-focused anti-imperialist backbone is what is needed to counter the spinelessness of the leftish liberals and clerics. We won't bend to the will of the left-wing Democrats, but we bend over backwards to rally opposition to the "war on terror" in all its aspects. The failure of 911 caused a section of activists to realize that a more realistic approach was needed to rally opposition to the war: an approach oriented towards developing a revolutionary anti-war analysis and taking it directly to the working masses and encouraging them to carry it into the streets & workplaces.

The links below are to some exchanges comrade Frank had in late October with people on Seattle Indymedia. We think they deal with issues that are important to the anti-war movement. "It's time for militant street demonstrations" was the call that rallied the handful of activists that went on to form the SAIA. "Too much concern with capitalist media coverage" advocates that the anti-war movement break its fixation on the bourgeois media. "On 'feeling better'" criticizes (among other things) the argument, given by many defenders (not to mention detractors who seek to paint us in the progressive movement as a bunch of self-righteous Don Quixotes) of street demonstrations, that the whole point of demonstrations is to feel better about ourselves.


[1] These days the 911PC is a dead horse, but we've seen the same politics continued by some "more leftist" parties, who function as essentially the radical tails of the Democrats. "Radical Women" and "The Freedom Socialist Party", for instance, are still busy "urging" the Washington State legislature to "reject all anti-terrorist legislation" even though the democratic rights attacked in this legislation have already been stripped at the federal level. Indeed, the bourgeois trend toward repression of political democracy is universal these days, and there is no reason to believe that our brave Washington legislators are going to meaningfully take a stand against it. Still RW and the FSP write their "urgent" letters to these folks.

[2] These days around here reformism mainly preaches legalism and pacifism, or at most civil disobedience. But it can support anything from monkey-wrenching to terrorism--always from the perspective of getting the rulers to change particular policies while retaining power, though.

--Jeff, March '02

* * *

  • It's time for militant street demonstrations, Oct. 20, '01

  • Too much concern with capitalist media coverage, Oct. 23, '01

  • On "feeling better", Oct. 25, '01

  • For open discussion in the anti-war movement, Nov.3, '01
  • Changed on 3-15-02