Maoists go mainstream

Sarah Ferguson writes for the Village Voice, Oct. 5:

Rallies Today: World Can’t Wait—for What?

Call them the popular front to MoveOn.org‘s dogged efforts to defeat Republicans at the ballot box this November.

Today the anti-Bush campaign World Can’t Wait is pledging to bring legions of fellow Bush foes to the streets here in New York and in cities across the country, in a collective manifestation of “resistance” intended to “drive out the Bush regime.” Organizers are boasting of more than 200 protests nationwide, with numbers swelling thanks to full-page ads in the New York Times and USA Today and celebrity backing from the likes of Sean Penn and Mark Ruffalo.

The ads, which blare “SILENCE + TORTURE = COMPLICITY,” seek to capitalize on Congress’s latest craven capitulation: the passage of the Military Commissions Act, which shreds habeas corpus for so-called enemy combatants and gives President Bush the authority to define what is and isn’t torture.

Theirs is a compelling pitch: The Democrats can’t save us; rise up now or the fascist state is upon us.

And World Can’t Wait has managed to draw in an impressive list of endorsers from across the American left, among them Gore Vidal, Cindy Sheehan, Alice Walker, Daniel Ellsberg, Eve Ensler, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jane Fonda, Mark Crispin Miller, Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, and former Voice writer Esther Kaplan, author of With God on Their Side, who will no doubt address the perils of an emergent U.S. theocracy as one of the speakers at today’s rally in Union Square.

Other backers include Reverend Al Sharpton, congressmen John Conyers and Major Owens, 1199 SEIU leader Dennis Rivera, New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, and City Council reps Bill Perkins and Rosie Mendez.

But despite this broad support, World Can’t Wait is at heart another spin-off of the Revolutionary Communist Party, an ultra-left Maoist group founded in the 1970s and headed by the reclusive Bob Avakian.

The RCP folks have long been good at harnessing star power. They tend to churn out more youthful, less stodgy rallies than the stalwart United for Peace and Justice, going back to the RCP’s days organizing Refuse and Resist concerts in the 1980s, which were supposed to deliver us from the perils of the Reagan administration.

More recently, the RCP helped instigate the antiwar coalition, Not In Our Name, which in turn helped kickstart the antiwar movement in 2002.

We bring up the RCP’s role not to redbait, but to point to the fundamental contradiction of a movement that rightly lambastes the Bush administration for its use of indefinite detentions and torture abroad, yet relies on the leadership of a group that embraces a mass murderer like Mao, even critically defends Pol Pot, and which currently cheerleads Peru’s Shining Path and Nepal’s Maoist guerrillas–groups that have been condemned for grave human rights violations of their own.

(Indeed, the Shining Path guerrillas, who have been known to forcibly conscript Indians and brutalize peasants, oppose the very notion of human rights, terming it “bourgeois.”)

Beyond the RCP’s questionable politics are the shortcomings of World Can’t Wait’s rather simplistic vanguardist vision: the idea that skipping work or school and rising up in the streets for a day will somehow catalyze a popular revolt against the Bush regime:

Here’s an excerpt from the breathless “Call to Action”:

“Think of the message that people taking off work and school and marching this Thursday would send to the tens of millions within the U.S. who are already deeply distressed and even outraged over the direction that the Bush regime is dragging the country and the world, but who feel paralyzed . . . The mobilization throughout society would reverberate up to the very top, and back down again. The political dynamic of fascist-type onslaught from forces represented by Bush—and passivity from everyone else—would begin to be seriously reversed.”

We’re all for political awakenings. Problem is, Bush doesn’t much care about street demonstrations, and campaigns like this are very hard to sustain without a clear case of self-interest. We would need far higher gas prices, serious domestic repression, mass unemployment, etc. to have an Orange Revolution in America, let alone the kind of proletarian revolt that RCPers dream of.

That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to sound the alarm. World Can’t Wait has ballooned because of the vacuum created by spineless Democrats, who remain too timid to stand for anything overtly alternative like universal health care, and generally confine themselves to simply criticizing whatever Bush does.

Not to mention progressive allies like MoveOn.org, who shill for these same Democrats, regardless of their support for the war, that awful border fence, etc.

Given the retrograde climate, it’s easy to understand why people would want to get in the streets and scream.

But World Can’t Wait doesn’t say much about what we’re supposed to do the day after the demonstrations. There’s no strategizing about how to take over school boards and city council seats like the religious right did in the 1980s and ’90s; indeed, the RCP folks are against voting.

Instead, this appears to be another exercise in group venting, with the hope that if enough different players with divergent mindsets unite in their opposition to Bush, it will magically “repolarize” the country.

Course, we could be wrong about impact. Here’s Mark Ruffalo making the case for World Can’t Wait on Democracy Now:

“There’s something like 28 protests in 31 of the red states . . . . People are finding a way to sort of voice their discouragement through this thing . . . . None of us really share the same political beliefs, other than that we don’t want a theocracy. We don’t torture people. We take care of our own, i.e., Katrina. We don’t want to be in Iraq for an illegal, unjust war. These are things that everyone in America feels. I’d say 75 percent to 80 percent of the people in American feel this.”

If that’s not enough, in San Francisco, activists are planning to “jail” a 40-foot effigy of Bush.

Here in New York, the action kicks off at noon at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, followed by a march down Second Avenue to Union Square, where there will be a rally and “People’s Tribunal” to indict the Bush administration from 4 to 8 p.m. Speakers include former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney: actor and Green Party gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt, former ambassador Ann Wright, who resigned over the US invasion of Iraq, and Elaine Brower, whose son is a marine based in Fallujah.

See our last post on the politics of the anti-war movement.

  1. “More meaningless slogans!!!”
    Excellent if depressing article.

    >here’s no strategizing about how to take over school boards and city council seats like the religious right did in the 1980s and ’90s; indeed, the RCP folks are against voting.

    With the US Military infiltrated by right wing ‘Christians’ and gang members, and a pre-polarized well armed militia contingent in fly over country, a bunch of lefties calling for a non-legal regeme change is naive at best and suspect at worst.

    It’s also very well timed to blur the Republican pedophile Instant Message scandal right before the election and remind the far right voting base that the hippies, negros and gays are trying to seize control of the government.

    While the argument can be made that the voting process is hopelessly compromised until there is a viable state by state alternative to the dishwater Democrats yet another street demo is, at best, “another exercise in group venting”.

    1. Fair, if critical report
      Bill — this is a fair/critical assessment of the World Can’t Wait effort.

      A couple of quick responses.

      1) The RCP is not WCW. It initiated it, but it has a life of its own — which you’d surely know if you were at the rally.

      2) The RCP does not support “mass murder.” It does not “critically support” Pol Pot. That’s just not true. They’ve written about it and basically take a similar position to Chomsky on what happened there with some additional information about the non-Maoist character of the Khmer Rouge.

      3) You write:

      “World Can’t Wait doesn’t say much about what we’re supposed to do the day after the demonstrations. There’s no strategizing about how to take over school boards and city council seats like the religious right did in the 1980s and ’90s; indeed, the RCP folks are against voting.

      “Instead, this appears to be another exercise in group venting, with the hope that if enough different players with divergent mindsets unite in their opposition to Bush, it will magically “repolarize” the country.”

      There are actually a number of different takes on what to do the “day after.” That’s what it means to NOT be a front group. There is no intention to stuff all resistance into the same box. Instead, WCW’s position is to encourage broad social resistance from as many sources as possible so that political facts on the ground obstruct the right-wing offensive.

      ———

      Regarding WCW’s relationship with independent activists of various stripes, Jed Brandt in New York City wrote an open letter days before the protest that was sent around. It’s right to the point, and it bears mention in a post where Fergeson’s hatchet-job (with no live quotes and no coverage beyond Googling up some dish) is given the lead.

      http://www.worldcantwait.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3024&Itemid=223

      This letter is a personal appeal for your active involvement with World Can’t Wait, on your own terms, starting now.

      Momentum is building for the Oct. 5 protests, but many activists have yet to step up — or even investigate for themselves the scope of this effort. The lull in the protest movement since the start of the war, exactly as the population has turned against this disaster is more confusing than it should be and, I’d argue, related to a passive orientation towards the elections.

      Let’s stop waiting. Let’s stop pretending like Bush will change his mind or the Democrats will “grow a spine.” They have backbone, but they don’t as a party represent us. After literally years of this same wishing game, we have to learn the lessons that are there in plain sight. That’s right. I’m using the imperative “we have to.” We have to act consciously, resist, and stop politically pussyfooting around.

      Too many of us have been involved in day-to-day activism that isn’t taking into consideration the political root of the current situation. Massive popular revulsion at the legalization of torture, surveillance without warrant — and Bush’s recent legislation exempting himself and his cabinet from war crimes prosecution must be galvanized, mobilized, given tangible expression. This requires experienced activists, media workers, community-based organizers. It requires that we put distrust aside, and work like what we do matters.

      If you are not now involved, please question why. What is holding “radical” movements from radical action? It certainly isn’t that people aren’t ready to move. Hardly. The problem as I see it is in the habits of the organized left and its refusal to get with the times, leave comfort zones and challenge all the orthodoxies of political passivity.

      We cannot be afraid of leading, of breaking consensus, challenging ineffective if comfortable habits. We can’t just reduce every political initiative to a “been there, done that” when too many of us haven’t been here and haven’t done this. Talking about “it” isn’t doing it, and by “it” I mean taking resistance out to millions of people when 70% of the country is moving against the Bush agenda.

      For many long-time activists, involved in community-based activity and institution-building, this ongoing hard-press by the Bush regime is seen as just a little more of the same old shit. It is not. It is a fundamental change in the structure of the state — and much worse is threatened. Many folks who have never been involved in “the left,” or called themselves “activists” are stepping up, without the cynicism and turf mindsets we’ve come to know as the pathology of our own movements. We have to rise above this; and this requires a conscious decision.

      While there are hopes that there will be a change in Congress during the upcoming mid-term elections, this is like praying for change without backing it up. Watching Democracy Now on Friday, Amy Goodman confronted a Democratic Party senator over the fact that Democrats provided the crucial votes in the Senate for a law which allows Bush to arrest any person anywhere on earth on the merest claim that they are “enemy combatants.” Habeus Corpus, one of the most basic rights of American law, has been “shattered,” according to Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

      Now. Not later, not some later worst-case scenario. This is it, here we are: and what are we now going to do about it? Let them withdraw from Iraq through Tehran? Hoping Hillary Clinton will end this war (that she supports) and stop the repression (that she votes for)? That’s not politics, that’s faith-based organizing. I’m a part of the reality-based community, and we need to change reality — the very choices people think they have. And if you already know all that, then what are you doing now to back it up?

      Without a massive, ongoing demonstration of resistance to this far right-wing program, we will continue to be rolled over. We will continue to lose one “constituency” fight after another. We will continue to “oppose” what we refuse to resist. We will be governed by our very enemies down a dangerous path.

      The Democratic Party’s leadership has allowed this new legislation to pass without effective or even theatrical resistance. The incoming Supreme Court will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, already in tatters, and uphold every repressive piece of legislation Bush and Congress have put forward. They are not slowing down.

      Here is an option. Here is a way to take up the frontal fight over the direction of this country.
      Many of the people I’m sending this email to will vote, some will work on the mid-term campaigns. Some of you are active, some are rarely, a few of you have yet to volunteer in any capacity. We all have a way to engage this whole assault. World Can’t Wait wants and expects participation on your own terms, with your own politics and culture, in agreement with the initiating call. Period. Anyone who says otherwise would rather you stayed home than took up this fight. We’ve seen where this kind of cynical passivity leads: to more to the same and worse.

      Participation has spread far beyond the initiating group, and this is as they want it to be. I can say this, but coming to the forum tonight at Cooper Union is the best way to see who is actually involved, not the rumors and half-baked shit-talking that passes for debate too often. We can’t let a fear of our movements’ most radical (and honest) participants justify apathy, despair and disengagement. You can’t let it.

      I will be at Cooper Union tonight (10/2) to talk with anyone, go over any specific concerns and help you find a way to get involved as an individual, collective or organization.

      Again, the genuine breadth of this movement is near unprecedented.

      Cindy Sheehan, Jonathan Kozol, Suheir Hammad, Michael Eric Dyson, Alice Walker, Howard Zinn. From inside the system, Democratic lightning rods like Al Sharpton, congressional representatives such as Cynthia McKinney, John Conyers, and Major Owens have joined radicals like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Ward Churchill and Sunsara Taylor. Ralph Nader is urging people to come out. Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Medea Benjamin of CodePink have urged everyone to get involved, and to make this their own. The very army general who ran Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has joined, as did the first State Department official to resign over Iraq and career CIA man Ray McGovern helped disrupt a Rumsfeld presentation on national TV alongside WCW activists.

      Prominent signatories are one thing. The infrastructure of a successful movement is another.

      Speaking directly, the range of signatories to the World Can’t Wait call is broad, diverse and speaks to the unfolding moment we are in. Specifically among activists, including many receiving this email, there is considerable skepticism regarding communist involvement.

      The role of the Revolutionary Communist Party is not a secret — but despite claims to the contrary, World Can’t Wait is not a “front group.” This kind of accusation is not “telling uncomfortable truths” — it is a distortion. This crude, dishonest and unprincipled red-baiting aims to convince honest activists (read: you) that they will be “secretly” controlled by some shadowy group. Nothing could be further from the truth. This kind of argument-by-slur aims to hinder participation without principled discussion by using fear instead of engagement. It’s time to retire these vapid Karl Rove-style attacks within the left. Reject it, or at least don’t accept it as the end of the discussion.

      In my experience, those who urge “caution” or rely on crude political stereotypes to end discussion are arguing for passivity in the face of open horror. If you are not engaged in this fight to stop Bush’s agenda in an ongoing, explicit way — what are you waiting for?

      Investigate World Can’t Wait for yourself and make informed choices about involvement. If you are in NYC or SF, come to tonight’s rallies and the Oct. 5 protests. See with your own eyes who is really involved — and make your choices for the coming week (and months) accordingly. No one is trying to control anyone in this movement. It is about putting some new facts on the ground, refusing to accept the “new normal” and kicking Bush when he is down through the power of the people.

      REGARDLESS, we must be in the streets — and you must find a way not to just “get behind” the WCW banner, but to take up this campaign on your own terms.

      Specifically: You have the space to operate as direct action activists, anti-authoritarians and community/labor-based organizers. This is a straight-up political pitch. It is not about signing up for any man behind the curtain. What you see really is what you get.

      If you can’t make the meeting tonight at Cooper Union, check out this list of local groups around the country and take initiative. Forward this email, or write your own. But seize the day, friend. Make history, and put that little cynic in the back of your head out of its misery.

      In struggle,
      Jed Brandt

  2. An amusing ditty
    From Reason magazine’s right-libertarian Hit & Run blog:

    You Don’t Need a Weatherman To Know This Blows

    My friend Sarah Ferguson of The Village Voice looks at the links between today’s World Can’t Wait rallies and the Revolutionary Communist Party, “not to redbait, but to point to the fundamental contradiction of a movement that rightly lambastes the Bush administration for its use of indefinite detentions and torture abroad, yet relies on the leadership of a group that embraces a mass murderer like Mao, even critically defends Pol Pot, and which currently cheerleads Peru’s Shining Path and Nepal’s Maoist guerrillas — groups that have been condemned for grave human rights violations of their own.”

    As long as we’re talking about creepy Stalinists, I thought I’d pass along something I found while researching an article for another publication. It’s a song parody that was circulated at the Weather Underground’s “war council” in 1969. It’s supposed to be sung to the tune of “Maria” from West Side Story:

    The most beautiful sound I ever heard
    Kim II Sung
    Kim II Sung, Kim II Sung, Kim II Sung
    The most beautiful sound in all the world
    Kim II Sung
    Kim II Sung, Kim II Sung, Kim II Sung
    Kim II Sung, Kim II Sung, Kim II Sung
    I’ve just met a Marxist-Leninist named Kim II Sung
    And suddenly his line
    Seems so correct and fine
    To me
    Kim II Sung
    Say it soft and there’s rice fields flowing
    Say it loud and there’s people’s war growing
    Kim II Sung
    I’ll never stop saying Kim II Sung
    And surely now Korea
    Will forever more be a
    Socialist country
    Korea
    Say it sneaky and the Pueblo is taken
    Say it bold and the imperialists are quakin’
    Korea
    I’ll never stop saying Korea

    No word on whether that ever made it into one of Kim Jong Il’s operas.

    1. that’s a really funny anecdote…
      …and has nothing to do with World Can’t Wait, it’s positions or participants.

      Regarding guilt by association, one of Weinberg’s favorite pastimes, it’s not even accurate in regards to the RCP’s positions on Korea. In fact, refusing to “tow the line” has been something of a defining characteristic of the RCP. Bob Avakian discusses Korea in his memoir, in relation to Eldridge Cleaver who was promoting North Korea for weird, opportunistic reasons. Avakian’s courage to argue with one of the most important leaders of the Panthers over that kind of opportunism and dishonesty(regarding the DPRK) is one of the reasons he managed to build a party and an international political trend.

      So, Bill, good to see you never let a chance to let red-baiting pass — and it’s funny that you still never manage to get it right. You’ll pass on any duplicitious BS and act like you have principles.

      1. Quit already, willya?
        I said that was an “amusing ditty,” not an astute analysis, and I said it was from a “right-libertarian” blog, so it obviously doesn’t represent my politics, or even politics that I particularly trust. My criticisms have nothing to do with “guilt by association.” There was nothing to add to Sarah’s observation that the RCP vigorously waves pom-poms for Shining Path, a group which prescribes to the totalitarian notion that human rights are a “bourgeois” construct. And yes they do critically support Pol Pot, as the below story from their theoretical journal A World To Win makes clear—an attempt to determine “what went wrong,” while still refering to the Khmer Rouge as “liberation forces” and dismissing “Western imperialist media reports about ‘genocide’ in Cambodia”. Go clutter up someone else’s blog with your vile noise.

        http://www.awtw.org/back_issues/1999-25/PolPot_eng25.htm

        1. Ghosts and Specters
          A World To Win is not an organ of the RCP, USA, but a trend journal of Maoist parties in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement – with a diversity of opinion. I know this kind of distinction is bothersome to you, what with the reading of the masthead required. Needless to say, those who’ve been on the other end of high-altitude saturation bombing have a different assessment of the key issues involved.

          In any case, this piece is highly critical of the Khmer Rouge, if anyone bothers to read it. The still-existing Khmer Rouge is not only NOT a participant in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, they worked actively with US connivance after all the bloodshed spilled by both of them. Forgive a critic of them that draws on the actual history instead of “amusing ditties” and politics-by-pejorative.

          “[The Khmer Rouge] was not adapting Marxism’s lessons (based on historical and world-wide experience) to Cambodia’s specific and unique conditions but instead proceeding from ‘a stand completely different from that of the world revolution….'”

          The RCP’s position on what happened in Cambodia is here:

          http://revcom.us/a/v19/910-19/918/polpot.htm

          Put that in your scrapbook.

          Last word: I don’t need the RCP to observe that the Declaration of the Rights of Man or the Bill of Rights were “bourgeois” constructions. Of course they are. That doesn’t mean they are wrong, but it does situate them historically and to this day. That you have been among those advocating “humanitarian intervention” on more than one occassion shows what a profound distinction we have on real political issues. In other words, there’s no “human right” not to be bombed to dust by NATO – that guarantee of “human rights” under European-American imperial hegemony.

          But since we are discussing rights, I am paying attention to who is standing up for my right not to be spied on, my right to democratically assemble, my right not to be tortured and my right to live in a country that isn’t at war with the world forever. My right not to hand over all my money to landlords and utilities monopolies.

          For all your talk about my “vile” words – I’m arguing for an active movement based among millions to resist the Bush regime, not for a “totalitarian” society of any kind. Just so that fundamental fact doesn’t get lost in the “amusing ditty” mix.

          And from what I can see, your blog isn’t exactly getting “cluttered” with comments from any source, Bill.

        2. One other germaine quote to a totally tangential discussion
          From the A World To Win critique of the Khmer Rouge:


          We are out to overthrow “common knowledge” on this question. Unlike others who falsely claim they have no particular viewpoint from which they judge, our basic stand is explicit: as Mao said, “It’s right to rebel against reaction.” In other words, here our starting point is that the war waged by the three Indochinese peoples (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) against imperialism was just. No matter how critical our conclusions on the Pol Pot regime, the fact is that they had to deal with the horror that the US created. If anyone should be on trial for genocide in Southeast Asia, it should be the US ruling class. The charges of genocide the rulers of the US want to press against former CPK leaders are an attempt to reverse right and wrong.”

          This, in a nutshell, is the orientation you hate Bill. It then proceeds to say what was wrong with the Khmer Rouge – from the perspective of those fighting imperialism aiming to replace it with socialism, not some theocracy or horrorshow. How do WE avoid the errors similar people have made in the past without surrendering to our own immiseration. And noting the whole use and abuse of what happened in Indochina:

          “Whenever Pol Pot is mentioned (often, considering that it has been two decades since the demise of his Democratic Kampuchea regime), the conclusion is always the same: revolution is worse than the social ills it claims to cure.”

          Much of this analysis come straight from Noam Chomsky, as you are no doubt aware. Funny that you don’t join the right in distorting HIS position as well.

          1. Argue honestly or get lost
            It “proceeds to say what was wrong with the Khmer Rouge” while completely dodging the central issue of GENOCIDE. How disingenuous can you get? And there is no need to “distort” Chomsky’s position. It is quite sufficiently repugnant without any distortion.

            You’ve got your own blog, don’t you, “friend of a friend”? Why don’t you spew your totalitarian apologias there and leave us alone?

          2. uh, that is what the comment feature is for
            and you have personally filtered each of these comments.

            Honestly, the Khmer Rouge has as much to do with Maoism as the Lord’s Resistance Army has to do with the Quakers. They both say they’re Christians, but there’s no copyright on the word.

            Your argument is really with Chomsky and Herman.

            But in the meantime, it’s sure handy to tar your self-selected opponents with associations they do not have and distort the one’s they do.

            Heaven forbid the work of evil commies leafletting high schools about OUR government get confused with GENOCIDE committed before they were born by organizations they have no affinity with.

            So yeah. Argue honestly or get lost.

          3. No it isn’t
            The comment feature on this blog is for honest and intelligent comments, not propagandistic shilling for totalitarian cults. I have already let you spew far too much.

            If the Khmer Rouge has nothing to do with Maoism, how funny that Mao and his successors backed them, first against the US-backed Lon Nol government, and then against the Soviet-backed Vietnamese. (And note that this was before the “revisionist coup” of 1979–don’t try to foist the blame on to the “capitalist roaders.”) How strange that World to Win essentially absolves them of genocide.

            As for atrocities committed (and ongoing) in more recent times, when you and your buds in the RCP cheer on the Shining Path (without even the lukewarm reservations you display towards Pol Pot) you are giving your more principled opponents all the propaganda ammo they need. The only signifiant difference between Sendero Luminoso and the Khmer Rouge is that they never acheived power (thank goodness), and were therefore never able to take their program to genocidal levels. We have noted that in the areas they still control in the Peruvian Amazon, they are holding the indigenous peoples, particularly the Ashaninka, in conditions of slavery. The Quechua Network reports:

            Between 1989 and 1993, 15,000 Ashaninka and Nomatsiguenga Indians were forced to flee their land in the south-central region of Junín, while 5,000 were captured by Sendero and held in conditions of slavery to provide forced labour. In addition, many children from these two indigenous groups were forcibly recruited into the ranks of the insurgents.

            But of course you wouldn’t know about this, getting all of your “information” (read: lies) from the RCP. OK, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you are arguing honestly–from a position of total ignorance.

            You can get lost in either case, thank you.