The following statement was issued by the LRP on April 19, 2004. It is included in Proletarian Revolution No. 71 (Summer 2004).
When John Kerry made a campaign stop at the City College of New York (CCNY) on April 14, LRPer Walter Daum made the national news for his face-to-face confrontation with the Democratic Party candidate over Iraq. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), like the LRP, has supporters at CCNY, and now they want to share the notoriety.
So after several people had posted congratulations for Walter’s intervention on CCNY and City University e-mail bulletin boards, Shaun Harkin of the ISO wrote back, saying: “Members of the CCNY International Socialist Organization and the CCNY Campus Antiwar Network also protested Kerry’s visit to CCNY. Our members handed out flyers to people intending to attend Kerry’s speech and they also unfurled a banner inside the hall when Kerry was speaking saying: ‘Kerry Take A Stand: Bring the Troops Home Now!’ The banner was visible on NY1 and CNN.”
Sadly, Shaun is not telling the truth. The ISO did not protest against candidate Kerry. Instead, willfully ignoring Kerry’s repeated support for the invasion of Iraq and for sending more troops to crush the Iraqi anti-occupation struggle, the ISO joined with others and hopelessly appealed to Kerry to back withdrawing the troops.
Here are the facts: In the lead-up to the Kerry meeting, the LRP appealed to the ISO, SLAM and other anti-war activists to join us in a united protest against Kerry. But the ISO chose not to. Instead they handed out a flyer to people going into the meeting which featured a number of softball “Questions for Sen. Kerry.” On Iraq, these included, “Why are you calling for more troops to be sent to Iraq instead of bringing the troops home and giving Iraqis back control over their own country?” “Do you support prolonging the occupation because you think Iraqis are not capable of governing their own country?” and “Why do you think the U.S. is occupying Iraq and why do you think we should stay there?” And inside the meeting, they held up their banner.
Some protest! First, the ISO encouraged people to question Kerry instead of calling on them to denounce Kerry as an imperialist hack. The only conclusion that could be drawn from the ISO’s flyer is that while Kerry may have some incorrect positions, he is at least someone you can have a discussion with. After all, can you imagine the ISO asking such questions of George W. Bush? Of course not. The ISO gave Kerry kid-glove treatment.
In contrast to this mild-mannered approach to Kerry, and in the absence of the united protest we wanted, LRPers outside the meeting presented the hard truth, not “questions.” We hawked our magazine, Proletarian Revolution, with its headline, “Democrats No Answer to Bush,” and loudly called out our slogans: “A vote for Kerry is a vote for war and occupation,” and “Democrats and Republicans – two parties of imperialist war and occupation.”
Second, it was good that ISO supporters and other members of the Campus AntiWar Network smuggled a banner into the meeting, but its message was in the same spirit as their question sheet. While Walter Daum was blasting Kerry for his blatant pro-occupation position, labeling it imperialist and criminal, they unfurled their slogan: “Kerry Take A Stand: Troops Out Now.” As if Kerry hadn’t already taken a clear stand, both in favor of the war and for sending more troops to Iraq!
This banner actually implied that if Kerry would take the stand they called for, the ISO would support him. We don’t think the ISO as an organization is yet ready to endorse a Democrat, but they are ready to accommodate their slogans to those who endorse “Anybody but Bush.” This is not how genuine revolutionaries fight imperialist criminals who support massacres in Iraq and Palestine.
What’s behind the ISO’s soft-pedaling on Kerry and Shaun’s little fib?
The ISO’s opportunist leaders adapt their politics to the prevailing moods among radical college students in order to win the maximum number of new recruits – even if those recruits don’t fully understand or really agree with the ISO’s views. Thus during the 2000 presidential election they supported Ralph Nader because he was popular among their target audience, in spite of his pro-capitalist, nationalist and racist views. This year the ISO has decided that their best hope for recruitment is to appeal to left-liberal students who have illusions in the Democrats and Kerry. Thus they welcome new members who will vote for Kerry instead of honestly trying to convince them of their mistaken views up front. To attract such recruits, the ISO styles its public campaigning and Socialist Worker newspaper headlines in a consciously anti-Republican fashion – “Bush’s Iron Fist” (April 14, sold outside the City College meeting), “Bush’s War Lies” (March 26), “Bush’s This”, “Bush’s That,” etc. – downplaying the bi-partisan nature of the U.S.’s bloody colonialist oppression. The fact that the Democrats are competing with the Republicans over who wants to be toughest in Iraq is conveniently buried in other articles.
It was hard enough for the ISO to appear revolutionary in 2000 when they endorsed Nader, who supported the war on Afghanistan and didn’t want immigrants to get jobs other than cleaning toilets. (For specifics, see our pamphlet The Nader Hoax.) It’s even more difficult when they’re softballing the Democrats this time around. So when a genuine revolutionary group (which the ISO likes to belittle as sectarian), after publicly appealing for a united protest, goes it alone against Kerry and gets widespread media attention and praise from activists for exposing him, it’s time for damage control ... and Shaun’s little fib.
We who want to fight U.S. imperialism might well hoist a banner of our own: “ISO Take a Stand: Out Kerry Now!” It’s time to stop all the “Bush’s This” and “Bush’s That” headlines that peddle illusions in Kerry. Tell the world – out loud – that the Republicans and Democrats are both parties of murderous imperialism. Anything less only weakens the struggle.