Beware the monster at the party: protests with ANSWER and the WWP

In my area there’s a website called IndyBay. It’s part of a media apparatus that emerged in the aftermath of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests- something the activist left routinely refers to as the Battle of Seattle. The traditional media reaction to the protest, including a damaging accusation by the New York Times that protesters had used Molotov cocktails (which they had to retract) led to a shadow media devoted to organizing and defending activism.

There is a calendar where people can put up vigils, marches, or lectures. Some are important and straightforward- the Berkeley UU congregations post up their events, for instance.

But there’s a less colorful side of it. There are marches ostensibly to protest various injustices; a year ago I went to a march in Oakland in the aftermath of the Treyvon Martin shooting. However, they’re an illusion of sorts- the issues draw a diverse group of people in, but the event is actually more of a seminar for a political party.

The march I went to was organized and run by the Revolutionary Communist Party. They’re a tiny Maoist sect devoted to aggressively pushing the ideas of its founding, Bob Avakian. Avakian had some time in the spotlight a few years ago, when a large group of activists and intellectuals signed a full page ad in the New York Review of Books demanding the government stop oppressing him. As the linked editorial shows, he’s not actually oppressed- he’s not a public figure because his ideas are fringe and irrelevant. However, the RCP runs a LOT of events in the East Bay, many of whom are not promoted as such. Having a kid about my age tell me with a megaphone that “it’s time for the revolution!” and citing Avakian’s books chapter and verse isn’t left-wing activism. It’s an infomercial.

Several upcoming protests all across the nation- regarding both drone warfare and the tensions with North Korea, are being organized by the awkwardly-named Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) coalition. These protests have many sponsors, including Unitarian Universalists for Peace- SF.

Here’s the issue with that.

Outlined in a long piece about the post-9/11 left, Bill Weinberg (writer and former WBAI host) talks about how ANSWER is not a regular peace group. Rather it is one of many front groups for a group of anti-revisionist communists called the Workers World Party (WWP). As he says the WWP “has a history of seeking to dominate coalitions, and has some embarrassing ultra-hardline positions.” Their overall philosophy is summed up by radical Iranian exile Mahmood Ketabchi “ANSWER is part of a long tradition of supporting anyone who picks up a gun and shoots at an American soldier, regardless of their politics,”

If you read ANSWER material on North Korea, you’ll notice it omits any mention of North Korea’s foreign policy or domestic totalitarianism. The focus is on how evil the imperialist West is, and how people should march against the US trying to instigate a Second Korean War.

Here’s where I think people have been duped. ANSWER is not defending North Korea because of imperialist oppression, it’s defending North Korea because the WWP actually supports the North Korean leadership and system. From a 2002 piece by a member in Pyongyang for the late Kim il-Sung’s 90th birthday:

The theme of this great pageant was the unity of the Korean people behind Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. It was a celebration of national pride at having defeated the efforts of two imperialisms to reduce their country to colonial slavery. And it was a reaffirmation of the DPRK’s socialist system, which has kept it from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world.

When I showed up in Oakland to protest racially-motivated shootings, I got an advertisement for Maoist politics. The groups that buttress ANSWER, known for dividing the left via wedge issues and absolutism, are defending the indefensible. These groups want to buttress their fringe beliefs through gaming more sensible people into marching with them. You can protest against US imperialism in Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, and on the Korean Peninsula, but if you’re with ANSWER you’re promoting their hidden agenda- legitimizing totalitarian states and proclaiming their rulers noble for standing up to the West.

Author: Andrew Mackay

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist seminarian (joint MDiv/MSW starting Fall 2020).

One thought on “Beware the monster at the party: protests with ANSWER and the WWP”

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