The Hands Off Syria Coalition has a strong, apparently dominating, presence in the Boston antiwar movement which is difficult for me to see since I was active in the movement there for over 25 years.
There was an episode in that time worth relating since it involved the political character of the antiwar movement. It was in the 1980s when we were focused on opposing US military intervention against Nicaragua & other Central American countries.
A representative from a guerrilla group opposing a repressive US-backed regime in one of the countries was touring US antiwar groups & came to our coalition in Boston. He was very imperious, distinguished looking, a professor at Berkeley but from that country.
His veiled proposal to antiwar activists was to stop organizing antiwar actions to become a fund-raising apparatus for his group which he of course portrayed in the most romantic terms.
The guy was slick but what he was proposing was that antiwar activists approach the wealthy liberals who finance the antiwar movement to solicit funds for arms & military equipment for his group. But of course that purpose would not be revealed to the donors. This matter of playing liberal donors for fools has come up more than once in my political life. It flows from the reprehensible notion that liberals are politically inferior & do not merit respect or honesty. The principles that prevail are that you never lie to them, never disrespect them politically. That should not require elaboration.
It must have been a three or more hour knock-down, drag-out fight between the guy, myself, & one other activist. Our man had the same disdain for antiwar activists as he did for liberal antiwar donors & thought it would be a walk in the park to convince us to abandon antiwar actions. We hammered him without mercy while he stood over us shaking his fingers in our faces, threatening to throw us out of the antiwar movement, denouncing us. He thought he could throw that kind of weight around but both of us had been activists for years & were not intimidated by his status or hauteur.
Our argument was that he was trying to involve the antiwar movement in a gun-running operation, that it would bring law enforcement down on the movement, & politically corrupt & destroy the movement. Our role was to educate, organize, & mobilize students, trade unions, church & community groups, women’s & civil rights groups, LGBT activists, the Black, Latino, & other communities in antiwar activities. Our role was not to provide arms to guerrilla groups.
Politically the job of the antiwar movement is to stay the hand of militarism–& not just US militarism–so freedom fighters in other countries can settle their accounts with repressive regimes. Our commitments do not include gun running that will bring law enforcement down like a ton of bricks.
He hammered back at us until we pushed him too far & he burst out “We don’t care about your students & your workers & your women & your Blacks. They mean nothing to us. We want money” And with that outburst he sucked the air right out of the room. He stood over us glaring & dumbfounded, knowing his outburst had just cost him the debate. When he returned to demanding the two of us get thrown out of the movement, someone snorted at him “They started the movement.” Which wasn’t true, but it silenced him. The two of us gloated from ear to ear.
The political character of the antiwar movement today has not changed. Our job is not to get arms for the Free Syrian Army but to stay the hand of US, Russian, Iranian, & other military operations, to force their unconditional withdrawal so that the Syrian revolution can settle its accounts with the Assad regime without interference.