Was an antiwar panel censored at the Socialist Scholars Conference?

BOGDAN DENITCH is a central leader of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the main sponsoring organization of the yearly Socialists Scholars Conference, and a supporter of the NATO aggression. While he takes great pains to represent himself as a defender of democracy against all the nasty Stalinists and nationalists worldwide, he is not above acting undemocratically himself. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the dirty trick played on the organizers of an anti-war panel discussion ("The Truth About Kosovo and NATO Expansion), who discovered that their Saturday 2pm session was scheduled for a classroom already reserved by students with no connection to the conference. Apparently, he pulled the same shit five years ago on a panel discussion opposed to NATO intervention in Bosnia. We congregated in an open space on the fourth floor and held a successful meeting of well over hundred people despite less than favorable acoustics.

Most of the speakers were connected with the International Action Center (IAC), an antiwar group headed by RAMSEY CLARK, who was LBJ's Attorney General during the Vietnam war. The other important component of the IAC is the Workers World Party, a small Marxist-Leninist group that was formed by SAM MARCY in the 1950s, after splitting with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Marcy supported the orientation of the European Trotskyists led by Pablo, the party name of Michel Raptis, of Greek origins. Ernest Mandel was one of the better-known Pabloites.

In the 1980s and 90s, the WWP has become a major player in US left politics, especially through its IAC interventions. Important demonstrations against US wars in Central America and Iraq were held in Washington under the auspices of the IAC or other front groups associated with the WWP prior to the IAC's formation in 1992. Its success is certainly tied to the demise of the SWP and the CPUSA, which had played major roles in organizing antiwar demonstrations during the Vietnam war. The SWP abandoned this type of political work in order to colonize trade unions in basic industry. Despite the fact that no strikes have been led by them and that no workers have joined despite nearly 20 years of proselytizing, they keep plodding away into the next century. The CPUSA went into a tailspin between the rise of Perestroika and the final collapse of the Soviet Union, when nearly half of the organization went on to form Committees of Correspondence, a loose network of radicals from disparate political traditions, including me for a one-year stretch. While the work of the IAC is important, it has limitations which I will address momentarily.

There were two highly informative presentations. GREG ELICH, the author of the excellent expose of the Muslim provocation that led to NATO bombing in Bosnia which I crossposted widely, explained how circumstantial evidence pointed to western imperialism's support for the KLA all along. The type of weaponry that they used indicated support from the CIA and the German military. Greg also dissected the Rambouillet conference, which virtually dictated to Serbia the terms of its surrender of its sovereign territory. For all of the Trotskyist fretting over Kosovo's right to self-determination, there has been very little attention paid to this matter. After all, the right of a nation to defend its borders from outside interference is an expression of self-determination as well.

BARRY LITUCHY spoke on the progressive role of the Serbian people in European history. It is not well-known, but the Serbs were in the vanguard of the struggle against feudalism in southern Europe during the period Hobsbawm characterized as the "Age of Revolution." He also described the deeply anti-fascist convictions of the Serbian people, who were among the fiercest opponents of Nazi occupation in Eastern Europe during WWII.

JOHN RANZ, the chairman of the Survivors of Buchenwald, USA, elaborated on the anti-fascist credentials of the Serbs. Active in the Jewish underground resistance to Hitler, Ranz spoke in a resonant Yiddish accent about how safe Jews felt with Serbs. He said that it was common knowledge that if a Jewish family was on the run, they could always find refuge with Serbian peasants in the mountains, who would put them up in a barn at risk to their own lives.

The work of the International Action Center is valuable. They have an informative webpage at http://www.iacenter.org and have published an indispensable book titled "Nato in the Balkans," with articles by Ilyich and Lituchy, as well as Sean Gervasi, Michel Chossudovsky and the old firebrand himself, Sam Marcy, who died only two years ago. It is by no means an accident that a "Pabloite" group would have the right class instincts on such questions. In the 1950s, this faction of the Fourth International was much less prone to Stalinophobia than their opponents and understood that defense of "democracy" emanating from Washington, DC had to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Unfortunately, this healthy aversion to Stalinophobia occasionally lapsed into apologetics for Kremlin abuses, including support for the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Today this manifests itself as an unwillingness to consider the possibility that Saddem Hussein or Milosevic are not quite the examples of anti-imperialism that the left should identify with.

A more important question, however, relates to the overall mode of functioning of the IAC in the mass movement. Unlike the coalitions of the Vietnam antiwar movement, the IAC makes unilateral decisions as to the time, place and slogans of antiwar demonstrations. During the Vietnam antiwar movement, such decisions were made at open conferences that often had thousands of people in attendance. Various contrary slogans were submitted and voted on in a completely democratic manner. The other important element was the inclusion of mass organizations that while lacking the anti-imperialist outlook of the CP and SWP organizers, had massive social bases. It was essential that such groups, including trade unions and churches, be included in these deliberations. Whatever they lacked in political identification with the Vietnamese people, they more than made up for in sheer muscle. While it took years for the UAW to finally adopt a principled antiwar position and to begin working with the antiwar coalitions, their impact from that point on sharply changed the relationship of forces in the struggle. 50,000 trade unionists marching against the war in Vietnam has the political and social impact of ten times as many students.

It would be impossible for the IAC to modify its stance, since it is deeply imbedded in a certain interpretation of how mass movements are built that go back to the 1920s. It is actually consistent with the style of the Comintern and the CPUSA during its heyday in the 1930s and 40s when a myriad of front groups put forward challenges to the status quo on issues of racial justice, peace and trade union rights. What is important to understand, however, is that while the CP got things done, it was not following the best policy. It produced results because it had 100,000 members and held leadership in a majority of CIO unions and in civil rights groups.It took shortcuts that small Marxist-Leninist groups can not make today, at the risk of isolating themselves from the masses.

We are not living in the 1930s or 40s, however. If the Balkan Wars deepen and involve ground troops, it will be absolutely critical for a mass movement to be built. In such a mass movement, decisions will have to be made democratically and special attention will have to be paid to persuade less-than-radical mass organizations to participate. Since ground troops will undoubtedly be of working-class and minority composition, it will be imperative to involve trade unions and the civil rights movement. While such groups are difficult to engage in struggle, their involvement can determine the difference between a more just and peaceful world on one hand and World War Three on the other.

Louis Proyect