Eli on UFPJ and Oct. 25

Jose G. Perez jgperez at netzero.net
Fri Aug 22 10:20:31 MDT 2003


>>The obstacle to unity is, so far, the passive boycott of the October
25 action by UFPJ, Win Without War, US Labor Against the War, and others
who are attracted toward the Anybody But Bush electoral camp.<<

I think Fred's appreciation of this is one-sided. 

I don't think it is right to view UfPJ as a whole or US LAW as a whole
as "attracted toward the Anybody But Bush Camp" and therefore hostile to
mass action. There is a wing, a minority, true, that isn't into "anybody
but...", and in addition, there is a big chunk of the "anybody but"
people who still favor having large public protests.

Part of what seems like a protracted boycott is in fact not that, but
rather the result of the confusion and demoralization resulting from the
conclusion of the first stage of the Iraq War. Remember, there was this
whole guessing game going on about which would be the next Iraq --
Syria, Iran, North Korea or even possibly Cuba. After a while it became
clear that the next Iraq was ... Iraq, and actually its not the next
Iraq (imperialist blitzkrieg) but the new Vietnam (endless quagmire). It
has taken time for people to absorb that, and I'm not sure that process
is complete.

This has been aggravated by ANSWER's pronounced tendency towards
unilateralism, adopting a date like October 25 at their conference
without consulting with anyone else, and then beginning a campaign to
basically force everyone else to come on board on terms that others feel
exaggerates ANSWER's real weight and influence.

They, to give them credit, understood better, saw more clearly, what was
coming than others. A *proposal* by them which they would take into
discussions with others would have allowed them to help these other
forces also advance their understanding of what we really face. They
missed an opportunity for some good  discussions thinking matters
through. Discussing the big picture together with UfPJ leaders and
others would have laid an excellent basis for collaboration on the
practical projects.

Instead, their unilateralism made it easy for those forces not in favor
of mass protests in general, or not in favor of one like this at this
time, to hide behind complaints about ANSWER's bad manners. And it even
causes doubts and hesitation among some forces that would otherwise
favor or go along with this action.

ANSWER takes pretty much the same stance the mass action wing of the
antiwar movement took in the 60's and early 70's, "gee, it was decided
at an open, democratic conference that anyone could come to."

This is disingenuous.

We all know from experience that a disciplined cadre organization will
have a tremendously disproportionate impact on such a conference, and
that the presence of two such formations with counterposed perspectives
is going to lead to a bruising all-out brawl that isn't in the best
interests of the movement. 

When push comes to shove, what is needed is real, substantive, practical
agreement between different organized tendencies as well as other forces
in the movement, which may not be organizes as groups but must
nevertheless be taken into account. Given that, a conference can be a
wonderful thing. Without it, a majority vote at a conference
--especially one held unilaterally by one wing of the movement-- settles
absolutely nothing, and can even become an obstacle to unity by
hardening positions on specific dates and modalities of the protest that
would otherwise serve as vehicles for coming to agreement, for example,
a group like ANSWER could make the "concession" to agree to the action
being moved one or two weeks later or earlier, another group could seize
on it as a face-saving compromise or just as a gesture by ANSWER that
they don't want to dominate but collaborate, making agreement possible. 

Moreover, I don't think ANSWER as a coalition is nearly as broad as the
old ones were during the Vietnam days, either in absolute terms or
relative to the movement as a whole, not is its character the same, so
the argument that "gee, it was decided at an open, democratic
conference" is even less compelling.

The justification for just pressing ahead as a tactic is that presenting
them with a fait accompli is the best way to "force" recalcitrant
elements in the movement who want to divert it into electoralism and so
on. This has a certain validity, *provided* you have prepared the ground
work, i.e., engaged in fruitless negotiations, proposed a variety of
scenarios, widely publicized these in the relevant circles, so that
everyone understand you went ahead with an actual call unilaterally only
because of the unwillingness of the others to get to an agreement. 

This is necessary, not so much to "expose" the other side, but to unite
your own side. You want everyone, or nearly so, on the pro-mass-action
side of the debate to agree with that call. (Obviously I mean "everyone"
in the leading circles of the various forces involved and actively
participating in the debate).

If ANSWER did this, I somehow missed it. I don't think they did. I think
the movement would have been better served if ANSWER has adopted the
date as a proposal to the rest of the movement, and immediately pressed
for negotiations with the others. 

This would have been especially appropriate because ANSWER is not and
does not pretend to be a coalition open to all antiwar forces, or all
pro-mass-protest antiwar forces. Yet by unilaterally projecting major
national actions like this, they act as if they had a franchise to speak
for the movement as a whole, or at least that wing of it. This is
obviously going to be irritating to people, and the more you disagree
with ANSWER on other things, the more irritating it is going to be. 

Then there are nitty-gritty practicalities. ANSWER has the apparatus in
Washington. UfPJ, as I understand it, functions out of New York. ANSWER
isn't a really broad, open coalition. (The de facto coalitions around
the protests it has initiated, however, have been broad). The points
ANSWER has been formed around are much more extensive than just the ones
being raised by this march. It makes creation of an office around the
specific march, or the temporary, ad-hoc transformation of ANSWER's
offices into those of a much broader formation, much more complicated.
Without either a common organizing center, or two closely cooperating
ones in D.C., practical cooperation on the effort becomes fraught with
difficulties.

Now early on ANSWER proposed unity negotiations. And they may have been
willing then to change dates, routes, all sorts of things, but if so
they should have broadcast THAT more broadly in the movement, that their
call was in effect a proposal subject to negotiation. 

For their part UfPJ, partly because of some forces that aren't really
supportive of a mass action approach, partly because of disorganization,
the "post war" confusion I referred to earlier, partly due to
organizational rivalry, put off responding to ANSWER's proposals and
eventually its response was in the form of initiating a conference call
meeting between 8 or so national antiwar groups, and its proposal was
essentially that all the  groups on an equal basis take on a national
demonstration. 

This, too, was a bit of game playing. Most of those groups aren't nearly
comparable to UfPJ or even ANSWER. To say some youth coalition which is
the YCL and YPSL should have as much say as ANSWER which is doing most
of the heavy lifting in organizing the Washington end of the demo and
probably will wind up doing as much to build it on a national scale as
anyone else isn't going to be an attractive proposal to ANSWER.

To me, a range of practical compromise solutions seem fairly obvious.
You can think of any number, including, although this is far from an
ideal arrangement, some sort of variation on ANSWER's "50-50" proposal.
But what this requires is a real desire on the part of BOTH sides for a
fruitful, productive collaboration. On the UfPJ side, it is clear that a
substantial wing wants this, but whether it is really the dominant wing
remains to be seen. 

On ANSWER's side, to take a charitable interpretation which may not be
far from the truth, seeing that it is not clear that a genuine desire
for fruitful collaboration in mounting a mass action campaign is
dominant in UfPJ, they want extra organizational guarantees to preserve
the character of the action. They also feel they're entitled to star
billing, that they've earned it. They're willing to share it with UfPJ,
but not dilute it to where it becomes meaningless. They don't want to be
squeezed out or relegated to being the waterboys for what becomes
someone else's project. This may not sound very noble, but it is
entirely understandable, to a certain extent legitimate, but mostly it
has got to be accepted as a fact of life. If we want the DC demo this
fall, TODAY that means having ANSWER taking major organizational
responsibility in DC, and this other stuff is automatically included. In
June other arrangements may have been possible, not now.

Ironically, if ANSWER were broader and stronger, they wouldn't need as
many guarantees, on the one hand, and they would have a much easier time
getting them anyways, on the other.

The whole thing is quite complicated because, basically, the
pro-mass-action wing of the movement is divided in different formations,
part of it is in ANSWER, part of it is a current in UfPJ that isn't
organized as such, stronger in the local coalitions, I suspect, than in
the national staffs of the various organizations, especially the
non-profits, which is I suspect what is behind a ton of the wrangling
that's gone on in recent months about UfPJ's structures. 

This places a responsibility on ANSWER, I believe, to shape its tactics
to make it easy for the pro-mass action forces outside its own
relatively narrow framework to coalesce with it around specific
projects. Their "unilateralism", seen in this light, is particularly
unhelpful.

Going forward, I believe it would be useful if some of the forces in
UfPJ that favor a mass action perspective also joined ANSWER (provided
that is done in such a way as to have effective participation and at
least some influence on the moves it makes, i.e., as part of its
steering committee or some equivalent to that). People say the way
ANSWER is you're not going to win a vote against the supporters of
Workers World. That isn't the point. The point is to try to persuade
them to adjust their tactics in the inter-coalition wrestling to be less
abrasive and more effective in promoting unity. 

I think this would find an echo among other forces in ANSWER, and as a
practical matter, with a direct collaboration with a group or groups in
the pro-mass action wing of UfPJ, the people who think through tactical
proposals for ANSWER may feel less uptight and that they are in a
position to be more flexible, for example by projecting the next day of
nationally coordinated protests at least initially as a proposal for
discussion rather than a fait accompli.
 
José





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