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“Peace Activists” with a Secret Agenda? Part Two:

The Cri­sis of the Marx­ist Left and the Rise of the WWP

by Kevin Coogan

Although Ram­sey Clark great­ly con­tributed to the IAC’s cred­i­bil­i­ty with respect to the out­side world, the emer­gence of the WWP inside the Amer­i­can rad­i­cal move­ment essen­tial­ly stems from resis­tance inside the U.S. Left to the rad­i­cal changes in the Sovi­et Union begun by Sovi­et leader Mikhail Gor­bachev.

Gor­bachev’s attempts to reform the Sovi­et sys­tem sent a shock wave through­out the Amer­i­can Left not unlike that which had fol­lowed the par­tial rev­e­la­tions of Stal­in’s crimes in the famous 1956 20th Par­ty Con­gress of the CPSU. Gor­bachev’s new poli­cies bit­ter­ly split the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nist Par­ty (CPUSA), whose aging lead­er­ship clear­ly opposed the new turn. The CPUSA crack-up also had a pro­found­ly dis­ori­ent­ing effect on many of the “peace” fronts long asso­ci­at­ed with the par­ty, as well as on its fel­low trav­el­ers inside the “Rain­bow Coalition”/Jessie Jack­son wing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

Start­ing in the 1960s (when it played a major role in orga­niz­ing anti-Viet­nam peace demon­stra­tions), the CPUSA man­aged to estab­lish coop­er­a­tive rela­tion­ships with left/liberal groups like the Nation­al Com­mis­sion for a Sane Nuclear Pol­i­cy (SANE), the War Resisters League, the Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee, Wom­en’s Strike for Peace, sec­tions of the labor move­ment and the peace, civ­il rights, “social jus­tice” and social gospel groups asso­ci­at­ed with the Nation­al Coun­cil of Church­es; all of whom helped form the base of the “pro­gres­sive” wing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

When deal­ing with Democ­rats and left-lib­er­als along “Pop­u­lar Front” lines, the CPUSA care­ful­ly avoid­ed spout­ing rad­i­cal dog­ma even as its sis­ter par­ties in Moscow and Havana encour­aged Marx­ist-led rev­o­lu­tions in the Third World. While the CP extend­ed its influ­ence into left-lib­er­al cir­cles, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing the Rea­gan years, par­ty “hard­lin­ers” rest­ed con­tent in the knowl­edge that the more clout the CPUSA had inside the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and its allied con­stituent group­ings, the less like­ly the Rea­gan Admin­is­tra­tion would be able to gen­er­ate the polit­i­cal will need­ed to use mil­i­tary force against rev­o­lu­tion­ary regimes and move­ments through­out the Third World. Need­less to say, this “two tier” approach met with Moscow’s full approval.

All that changed with the shift of Sovi­et for­eign pol­i­cy under Gor­bachev. Hard­lin­ers were infu­ri­at­ed with Gor­bachev’s deci­sion to end Russ­ian sup­port to its client states in East­ern Europe. Many of these regimes were run by ide­o­log­i­cal hard­lin­ers will­ing to devote con­sid­er­able resources to encour­ag­ing insur­gent Marx­ist move­ments in the Third World. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, par­ty boss­es in regimes like East Ger­many (whose hold on pow­er was ulti­mate­ly based on Sovi­et mil­i­tary might) now became Gorbachev?s harsh­est crit­ics.

Gor­bachev’s deci­sion to dis­tance the Sovi­et Union from Cuba also dealt a seri­ous blow to Cuban-allied insur­gency move­ments through­out both Cen­tral and Latin Amer­i­ca. Since the roman­ti­ciza­tion of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion, com­bined with Cuban mil­i­tary aid to the San­din­istas and the deploy­ment of Cuban troops to help the gov­ern­ment of Ango­la in its war against Jonas Sav­im­bi’s Union Nacional para a Inde­pen­den­cia Total de Ango­la (UNITA, a bru­tal South African‑, U.S.-, and Chi­nese-backed oppo­si­tion move­ment) had led many Amer­i­can left­ists into the Sovi­et camp in the first place, Gor­bachev’s actions against Cuba came as a par­tic­u­lar­ly bit­ter blow.

The cri­sis inside the Sovi­et-allied Left became even more pro­nounced after Sad­dam Husayn’s inva­sion of Kuwait, when Sovi­et for­eign pol­i­cy began to tilt more towards Wash­ing­ton than Moscow’s long­time ally Bagh­dad.

In the midst of this larg­er cri­sis over Gor­bachev and Iraq, the WWP became the first avowed­ly left sect more or less ide­o­log­i­cal­ly allied with Moscow to offer its uncon­di­tion­al sup­port to Sad­dam Husayn as a vic­tim of “U.S. impe­ri­al­ism,” while it attacked Gor­bachev as “a coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary” (if not a CIA agent).

Until 1988 Sam Mar­cy, the WWP’s three-decades long undis­put­ed leader and the­o­ret­i­cal guru, had tak­en a rel­a­tive­ly benign view of Gor­bachev, glas­nost and per­e­stroi­ka.

By the fall of 1988, how­ev­er, Mar­cy had decid­ed that Gor­bachev’s deci­sion to embrace both mar­ket reforms and polit­i­cal accom­mo­da­tion with the West was an unmit­i­gat­ed dis­as­ter. In a Feb­ru­ary 10th, 1989 forum on Sovi­et pol­i­cy that includ­ed a spokesman from the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, the Sovi­et UN Mis­sion, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA), the African Nation­al Con­gress, and the now-defunct Line of March group­ing, WWP spokesman Lar­ry Holmes con­fessed to being “wor­ried by per­e­stroi­ka” and oth­er ideas advanced “to jus­ti­fy poli­cies that seem to be alien to social­ism.”

On Sep­tem­ber 29th, 1989, the WWP con­vened an “emer­gency con­fer­ence” (enti­tled “In Defense of Social­ism”) to uni­fy the par­ty around the new anti-Gor­bachev line. A few weeks lat­er, in late Octo­ber 1989, the WWP Nation­al Com­mit­tee met to dis­cuss Sovi­et For­eign Min­is­ter Eduard She­vard­nadze’s Octo­ber 23rd speech to the Supreme Sovi­et, in which She­vard­nadze announced that the Sovi­et Union had decid­ed to dis­en­gage from East­ern Europe.

The meet­ing end­ed with the WWP send­ing out “mes­sages of sol­i­dar­i­ty” to the Com­mu­nist Par­ties of East Ger­many and Czecho­slo­va­kia, accord­ing to a report in the Novem­ber 9th, 1989 WW. Nor did the WWP shy away from pub­licly defend­ing Roma­ni­a’s Drac­u­la-like dic­ta­tor Nicholae Ceaus­es­cu, whom the WWP worked vig­or­ous­ly (but with lit­tle suc­cess) to turn from mon­ster to men­sch inside the pages of Work­ers World.

The WWP was equal­ly con­sis­tent when it came to Asia. The sect even applaud­ed the bru­tal Chi­nese repres­sion of pro-democ­ra­cy stu­dents and work­ers at Tianan­men Square. In the April 12th, 1990 WW, Sara Floun­ders (cur­rent­ly a leader of the “human rights” orga­ni­za­tion IAC), wrote: “Now the sig­nif­i­cance of the sup­pres­sion of the right-wing move­ment in Tianan­men Square” could be seen from a “clear­er per­spec­tive”; name­ly, that Chi­na had “smashed the plot of inter­na­tion­al anti-Chi­na forces to sub­vert the legal gov­ern­ment and the social­ist sys­tem of Chi­na.”

How did Floun­ders know this to be true? Because Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Peng said so in a March 20th speech to the Nation­al Peo­ples Con­gress in Bei­jing.

The WWP’s pub­lic oppo­si­tion to Gor­bachev made it a poten­tial vehi­cle for hard Left ele­ments then try­ing to con­struct their own line inde­pen­dent of Moscow. Left stars like famed rad­i­cal lawyer William Kun­stler open­ly endorsed the WWP line on Gor­bachev in blurbs for Sam Mar­cy’s April 1990 book Per­e­stroi­ka: A Marx­ist Cri­tique (essen­tial­ly a com­pi­la­tion of his arti­cles writ­ten for WW). Spurred on by the favor­able response, the WWP inten­si­fied its attack. A Sep­tem­ber 8th, 1991 WW edi­to­r­i­al even claimed that the intro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ism into East­ern Europe “has been a tyran­ny as bad as any ter­ror.” On Sep­tem­ber 28–29th, 1991, the WWP held an “emer­gency con­fer­ence” in New York “in response to the Gor­bachev-Yeltsin takeover” in Rus­sia.

Accord­ing to an arti­cle in the Octo­ber 10th, 1991 WW, “over 45 com­rades” spoke on an open micro­phone at the con­fer­ence about the “coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary” events in Rus­sia and — sur­prise, sur­prise — “not one of them found cause to oppose the par­ty’s analy­sis.”

One WWP’er even expressed plea­sure about the way that Chi­na had “stopped in Tianan­men Square” the “so-called democ­ra­cy move­ment,” while anoth­er praised the for­mer East Ger­many as “a haven for gay lib­er­a­tion”!