First Open U.S. National Antiwar Conference

First Open U.S. National Antiwar Conference:
The Challenge Before the U.S. Antiwar Movement

by Jeff Mackler

The U.S. war and occupation of Iraq is the central issue in world politics today. The war exposes in bold relief the fundamental contradictions in U.S. and world capitalism. It is, simultaneously, an imperialist war of conquest and a geopolitical war for U.S. hegemony in the region against its imperialist competitors.

Furthermore, it is a war for control of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil—the single resource whose continued use as the world’s primary energy source carries with it the message that U.S. capitalism stands in absolute disdain for the ecological future of the earth and human life itself. And it is a war that exposes the deepening economic crisis of the world capitalist order, with its disastrous consequences for the vast numbers of workers, peasants, and the poor everywhere.

Stopping this war by forcing the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and military bases from Iraq is an objective that requires the mobilization of mass forces in the U.S. and worldwide. It requires a level of unity and consciousness among these forces that has been largely absent as we approach the war’s fifth anniversary. It requires an all-out effort to unite and engage the U.S. working class, its allies among all the oppressed and exploited, the youth, and every progressive social movement in a major confrontation with the American imperialist ruling class and its twin Republican and Democratic parties.

The stakes for U.S. capitalism in stabilizing Iraq and extracting its resources are high. The U.S. is more dependent on oil than any other nation and, facing unprecedented worldwide competition with respect to virtually every product produced for the global marketplace, will not be easily dislodged. It will never be dislodged through the replacement of a Republican administration with one headed by the equally responsible and inherently war-making Democrats.

The crisis-ridden ruling class today has no choice but to deepen and extend its wars of intervention abroad while eliminating more and more of the hard-won past gains of working people at home. This is the central explanation for the assaults of every kind on working people over the past 30-40 years.

Thus, a victory in forcing the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq would pave the way to building a fightback against the unceasing encroachments of capital against the labor movement and against wages, pensions, and health care.

Similarly, a victory in the fight to stop the war in Iraq would inspire and energize the fight to democratize and rebuild the trade unions; to reverse the unprecedented attacks on the environment; and to protect and extend immigrant rights and democratic rights for all.

Without the direct involvement of mass-organized and consciously led social forces, nothing is possible. With a working class in motion fighting for its rights and for all other victims of the wars at home and abroad, a new world is within reach.

The stakes are higher than ever and the task of building a united movement to win, to engage the American people in the fight for their future and to free the Iraqi people from the clutches of the U.S.-perpetrated horror is monumental.

Few have any illusions that such a fight will be easy, or that there is a single simple solution to successfully challenging the world’s foremost military power. But the battle must begin at home with the forces presently at hand, as dispersed, disunited, and politically disoriented as they are.

It is in this context that we must judge the capacities of every political tendency on the left and every social force that stands in opposition to the war. Those who can find a way to building a united movement, a movement that is open to and inclusive of all those who are victims of capitalism’s mounting attacks, those who increasingly suffer racist abuse and social exclusion—as is the case with 12 million immigrants—and to engaging this movement in powerful mobilizations against the war, will emerge as the present and future leaders of even more powerful struggles that challenge capitalist rule itself in the years to come.

Mass action in the streets, independent of the warmakers’ parties, is far from an end in itself. It is, however, a decisive first step in empowering the majority; of visibly convincing this still hesitant and questioning majority that they do have the power to change their lives and indeed the course of world events.

Independent and united mass mobilizations expose the government’s war parties for the minority that they are. They lay the basis for future struggles in every arena, from fighting the boss at the point of production to standing in solidarity with all who are oppressed and exploited. Mass action can bring working people onto the stage of history, increase their confidence and unity, and clarify in their consciousness that real power lies in their hands.

June 28-29 Cleveland conference

What does a united American antiwar movement to “Bring the Troops Home Now” look like today? Is it possible to bring activists and leaders representing the diverse forces in U.S. society that oppose the Iraq War and U.S. occupation into the same hall to plan and prepare for unprecedented united mass mobilizations against the war?

Can such a united movement bridge the gap between the 70 percent who oppose the war and the still limited numbers that have come into the streets to demand “Out Now”? Can an inclusive, democratic, politically independent and united front-type antiwar movement be constructed today? What are the most effective forms of struggle for this movement at the present juncture? These are among the central questions that will be discussed and debated at the first “Open U.S. National Antiwar Conference,” sponsored by the newly formed National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation. The conference is set for June 28-29, 2008, at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio.

The initial conference endorser’s list of over 350 organizations and prominent individuals indicates that this important and bold initiative is off to a running start. The breadth and geographic spread of conference supporters ranges from the Cleveland area AFL-CIO central labor council and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, to local and regional antiwar groups and coalitions across the country, to the National Lawyers Guild, U.S. Labor Against the War, and Veterans for Peace. It includes prominent antiwar fighters and social activists such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Cuban Five attorney Leonard Weinglass, Howard Zinn, Cindy Sheehan, and Lynne Stewart.

Political currents that have endorsed the conference include several local and state-wide Green Party groups (and Green Party activist and former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney), the national Progressive Democrats of America—as well as Progressive Action, which is a coalition of the Duluth Central Labor Body, Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, and the Duluth Area Green Party. A number of socialist organizations have also endorsed—including Socialist Action, Socialist Organizer, the International Socialist Organization, Freedom Socialist Party, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Viewpoint, the Workers International League, and several Socialist Party affiliates.

Important endorsers also include the 45,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles, the San Mateo, Calif., and the Troy, N.Y., central labor councils and a host of antiwar, immigrant rights, civil and human rights groups, Middle East solidarity committees, faith-based organizations and leading social activists across the country.

The leadership of the present and often competing national antiwar coalitions, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Troops Out Now Coalition, World Can’t Wait, and others have been extended formal invitations to endorse and participate. Conference organizers are hopeful that they will accept and play leading roles. There is not a single sound reason why they should not.

The time has come for the endless turf wars and subordinate political issues and manufactured differences that stand in the way of a united movement to end.

Such unity in action, of course, would not imply or require the dissolution of the present coalitions and their unification in a common organization. Indeed, these coalitions have every right to function independently to advance their separate agendas. This has never been question.

The National Assembly conference call is clear on this critical issue. It concludes with the statement, “Everyone is welcome. The objective is to place on the agenda of the entire U.S. antiwar movement a proposal for the largest possible united mass mobilization(s) in the future to stop the war and end the occupation.”

The above-named coalitions, to varying degrees, are based on relatively narrow forces headed by one or two political currents. They are hardly representative of the qualitatively larger forces that can constitute what is sorely needed today—a united front, an action front, representative of all the broad forces opposed to the war.

The present divisions and their associated turf wars weigh heavily on the antiwar movement’s current malaise, including its collective default in failing to call any mass mobilization to mark the fifth anniversary of the war. Indeed, Cindy Sheehan’s recent effort to initiate such a united mobilization was essentially thwarted because of the present factionalism that permeates the movement.

What IS realistic today is an agreement between these “coalitions,” and many other forces, to collectively mobilize against the war in periodic mass demonstrations that seek to progressively involve ever widening constituencies. The essence of the classic united front strategy and tactic is unity in action based on agreement on a limited number of critical demands raised against the U.S. government.

Those who participate and build the united front to end the war now will distinguish themselves by their deeds. Those who criticize and remain outside will face isolation and eventual degeneration and irrelevance. That was the case with the successful fight against the Vietnam War and that is the case today.

To date affiliates and supporters of all the present coalitions have enthusiastically endorsed the Cleveland conference, a fact that will hopefully influence their “parent” organizations to follow. The conference call explains that everyone, every group and individual, is welcome with an equal voice.

Operating on the principle of “one person, one vote,” the conference Coordinating Committee has announced that action proposals from all quarters will get an equal and fair hearing. A democratic process to sort through and distinguish between proposals with broad support, as opposed to others with little, will be employed—with time for adequate discussion, debate, and voting to determine the best way forward to achieve an antiwar movement united in action.

While most of the two-day conference will be devoted to these open plenary sessions, an important block of time is scheduled for 16 simultaneous workshops or breakout groups, where the war’s relationship to a broad range of social issues will be discussed.

Workshops are planned that deal with the war’s relation to the labor and environmental movement; to soldiers, veterans, military families and military recruitment; to youth, immigrants, civil liberties, racism, social priorities; and to the economic crisis. The conference will begin with welcoming remarks from Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the Cleveland area AFL-CIO. Keynote speakers include Gold Star Families for Peace activist Cindy Sheehan; Greg Coleridge, leader of the Northeast Ohio Antiwar Coalition and program director, American Friends Service Committee; and Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO.

Keynote speaker at the working luncheon session will be Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, author of “Antiwar Soldier” and a co-founder of Appeal for Redress.

The conference is designed to address and move toward a resolution of the crisis of leadership that currently plagues the antiwar movement. In a real sense, it is an experiment or probe to test whether further steps can be taken on the road to building the mass movement necessary to end the war.

The National Assembly comes at a difficult time for antiwar fighters, a time when the false hopes generated by the corporate media in the electoral shell game weighs heavily against those who seek to break out of this straight jacket. It also follows a virtually uninterrupted, decades-long series of working-class defeats.

But the conference also takes place in the context of a growing mass awareness that, despite the brazen claims of spokespeople for the two-party corporate system, the possibility of an economic recovery and a return to “prosperity” is not in the offing today. Likewise, more and more people have become aware that the government lied about the Iraq War, that it manufactured a war for oil, and that it offers no hope for increasing millions who are its victims in Iraq and in the U.S. This growing consciousness serves as a counterweight to the feelings of disillusionment that earlier defeats might have caused.

The success of this first effort in Cleveland can in significant measure determine the future of the antiwar movement and more. All out for Cleveland, June 28-29! Bring the Troops Home Now! End the Occupation!

For further information on the National Assembly to End the Iraq War: call (216) 736-4704. Website: natassembly.org Send contributions to: P.O. Box 21008, Cleveland, OH 44121.