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What's ahead for the antiwar movement?

November 22, 2002 | Page 3

"ONE WAY or another, Iraq will be disarmed." That's how George W. Bush's man at the United Nations (UN), John Negroponte, put it after the unanimous Security Council vote requiring new weapons inspections of Iraq. The Bush gang was delighted by the resolution--which sets the stage for the U.S. to carry out its invasion under the cloak of UN "legitimacy."

Already, the media have begun filling the airwaves with breathless accounts of how the U.S. onslaught will be carried out--stripped, as usual, of the human catastrophe that the Iraqi people will endure.

But what stands out against official Washington's war hysteria is the growing opposition to the war drive. The nationwide protests on October 26 were only the latest sign of an antiwar movement that has grown quickly.

Though you would never know it from the corporate media, opinion polls show that close to a majority of people are opposed to war under any conditions. And even as a minority, the doubters feel more strongly about their opposition than war supporters.

When the U.S. starts bombing, the Bush gang will likely benefit from a surge of patriotism that often accompanies the beginning of military action. But opposition can resurface quickly--and the huge protests this fall have shown the potential for a real challenge that can shake the war makers.

While the antiwar movement has taken root most deeply on campuses, it has reached throughout U.S. society--from local communities around the country, to the labor movement, where an unprecedented number of union bodies have passed antiwar resolutions. This is testament not only to the potential for the movement to grow--but also to the range of ideas that people will bring to it.

Most people who turned out October 26 would probably describe themselves as no more radical than the left wing of the Democratic Party. It's important that activists who are impatient for a mass antiwar opposition to develop recognize this.

Antiwar groups have to be open to anyone who opposes the Bush war drive--including to people who disagree on issues that veteran activists have made up their minds about, such as UN weapons inspections or even the U.S. war on Afghanistan. Otherwise, the movement will close itself off. Activity has to be geared to actions that the largest number of opponents of the war are prepared to take.

On many political questions, there will be disagreements between the core of committed activists who have been the main organizers of the movement so far and the much wider layer of people who have come to demonstrations. For example, many people new to the movement accept that activists have to support UN weapons inspections as an alternative to Bush's war. Yet this position accepts the Bush administration's lie that Iraq is a "threat"--a claim that the White House hasn't managed to back up with anything other than scare-mongering. What's more, the inspections resolution passed by the Security Council gives the U.S. plenty of pretexts for launching their war.

Issues like these need to be discussed in every antiwar group--with activists taking the time to learn the historical and political background to these questions, so that they are better prepared to answer them. No group should make "unity" an excuse for avoiding debates that will benefit everyone involved--and help prepare the movement to take its next steps forward.

Among the questions that the movement needs to take up is how the movement should organize itself. International ANSWER--the left-wing group associated with the International Action Center (IAC) that called the October 26 demonstrations--has come under fire in liberal magazines like the Nation. Much of the Nation's criticisms comes down to red-baiting--and they should be rejected.

But ANSWER and the IAC have a history of acting undemocratically and attempting to impose leadership on different movements. Such control from above can't genuinely reflect the activity of the forces involved.

Other self-proclaimed "national" organizations--such as Not in Our Name and United for Peace--have emerged more recently, each claiming to speak for the antiwar movement. But grassroots struggles are built from the bottom up, not the top down. The strength and political character of the antiwar movement nationally will be determined by its strength and character in each locality and on every campus.

Leadership in a movement can only be genuine if it represents forces on the ground. We support national coalitions that reflect the full spectrum of organizations and politics of the movement--rather than the maneuvering of "generals without armies."

The real tests lie ahead. The most important question today is what antiwar activists can do locally to broaden the active opposition to the Bush war drive--while bringing political clarity on key political questions through democratic discussion.

This focus will prepare the antiwar movement to withstand any initial surge of patriotism--and build among the wide layers of people who will continue to oppose this war.

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