Jon Flanders' comments on January 18 demonstration

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at
Fri Jan 3 16:17:11 MST 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jon Flanders" <Jon_Flanders at>
To: <marxism at>

>   But on one central contention Lou makes I would strongly disagree.
> That is the argument that the timing of actions should be primarily
> driven by the notion of stopping the war "BEFORE BAGHDAD IS
>   This is wrong on at least two counts.
>   First, we are not at a stage where the working class in the United
> States is ready to massively move to stop this war.  [etc.]  ..

>   So to me, the central criteria for anti-war organizing should be what
> would be most effective in involving more people in anti-war actions,
> ie, getting them to take the first steps. Right now, I think that local
> MLK events provide that opportunity, particularly when you consider that
> they have consistently  been built by the civil rights forces which
> should be considered natural allies by the anti-war movement. Organizing
> a national action on the MLK weekend tends to counterpose anti-war
> action to the those of the black community.

It only would tend to do that if we were stupid about it and failed to do
some obvious things, which, however we ARE doing, such as pointing out that
MLK was an anti-war figure; putting MLK's picture and quotes on our
literature; emphasizing the continuity between MLK's opposition to the Viet
Nam War and our opposition to the Iraq War; seeking out anti-war speakers
and endorsers and organizers from the African-American community; making the
links between the war abroad, racism at home, and the economic crisis; and
organizing within the African-American community of DC (note that the march
route goes through the community).  Furthermore you write as if the
organizers for ANSWER and the other endorsing organizations are separate
from the Black community.  "Civil rights forces" and the "anti-war movement"
are often the same people, with MLK being the most obvious example.  Many of
the organizers and organizations ARE in the Black community.  Many of the
rest of us have a long history of working with organizers and organizations
in the Black community and "civil rights forces".

In practice, we are going out there saying that the best way to honor MLK is
to participate in the Jan. 18 demonstration and protest against war and
racism as he did, and so far I have not heard one single grumble or
complaint from the African-American community about this.

>   Secondly, it is wrong to think that the US intends to "OBLITERATE

All right, I will substitute the word "DECIMATE".  So then what?

>   Therefore, rather than making unrealistic assessments of what we can
> STOP in the short term, we should always be thinking of what the most
> effective next step will be building an anti-war movement, a step that
> will lead to the next, and the next, until it DOES involve millions of
> working people.

I think this is a really bad attitude, Jon.  Basically you have written off
Iraq.  You have concluded that we can't stop the war, and that Iraq is as
good as conquered now, so there is no sense in "unrealistically" acting as
if we could do anything about it; we should just go on about our business of
movement-building, and plan ahead for the days of occupation.  I venture to
say that if we were all to adopt this attitude of detached calculation, we
would NEVER build an anti-war movement of millions of working people.  Has
it escaped your attention that the people who want to come to these
demonstrations are people who -care- about whether thousands of Iraqis get
killed in bombing raids in late January and early February?  Who
passionately want to stop that from happening?  How far do you think you
will get in inspiring and arousing people if you write off struggles as lost
and pointless before they are even fought?  I suppose the logical conclusion
of your argument is that the people of Iraq ought to surrender to the U.S.
right this minute and not spill their blood in a hopeless conflict.  We
aren't even talking about spilling our blood, we are talking about a bus
trip!!  Sorry to be blunt, but: what a non-struggle attitude!

Furthermore, you don't know that Iraq can be written off.  You don't know
what will happen, because this is war and forces are in struggle and it is a
chaotic system and anything can happen, and I'm talking not only about the
forces in the U.S. but also (as La Sainte points out) forces throughout the
globe.  I admit that the chances of holding off the U.S. onslaught are not
high, and if I were a betting man I would want long odds, but I'm NOT a
betting man, and we don't have the -option- of whether to have this
particular struggle or not.  The Iraqis at any rate have no such option.

Did you ever see the movie "Dead Calm"?  There is a lot of silly stuff in it
with an unstoppable killer etc., but there is one very powerful scene.
There is a guy who is trapped in the hold of a boat which is slowly sinking.
He can't get out onto the deck.  The hold is filling with water.  He finds a
pipe which leads up onto the deck, and is eventually completely submerged,
breathing through this pipe, holding on to life, breath by breath, hoping
that 'something will happen' in the next few minutes before the open end of
the pipe gets submerged.  His chances are pretty lousy, but what is he
supposed to do?  Die?  No, he wants to live!  He will do anything for the
barest chance of living!  That is what it is like for Iraq right now, I
think.  They are clinging to their survival and their independence one
breath at a time.  They are hoping that something will happen.  And our job
is to do whatever we can to make that something happen.  I admit that it
doesn't look likely right now that we could stop the war -ourselves-, but we
are participating in a global life-and-death struggle, so we do what we can.
We might encourage someone who does something that will embolden someone
else who does something that disrupts the war plan for a week, and then
something else might happen.

On the other hand, if we communists, here, in the United States itself, with
the eyes of the entire world upon us, including Iraqi eyes, Arab eyes,
Muslim eyes, and the eyes of all the oppressed, were to fail to treat this
war as if it were aimed directly at ourselves, our own children, our own
sisters and brothers, our own co-workers and acquaintances, but distance
ourselves from it and pursue our own organizational strategies, that would
teach a lesson too.  It would teach the lesson that communist international
solidarity is a lie.  That Arab lives, Muslim lives, don't really matter all
that much to us.  That 'east is east and west is west', in Kipling's words.
That Osama bin Laden is right when he argues that the only salvation for the
Muslim world is to organize as the 'Ummah, because there is no hope for true
solidarity from non-Muslim U.S. workers who will always feel themselves
different, separate, detached, above the fray.  The triumph of that kind of
thinking is not the outcome you want, I bet.

Lou Paulsen

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