In our last issue, Third Rail Magazine presented an essay investigating the non-democratic nature of the largest “leftist” organization on college campuses today— the International Socialist Organization. This issue, in Kevin Coogan’s excellent investigative article, the International Action Center, A.N.S.W.E.R. and Workers World are exposed.
On September 29th, 2001, just a few weeks following the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a large peace rally was held in Washington, D.C., to oppose an American military response to the attack. The main organizer of the D.C. rally, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), was officially established shortly after the 9/11 attack. The leading force behind ANSWER’s creation is the International Action Center (IAC), which represents itself as a progressive organization devoted to peace, justice, and human rights issues. The IAC’s organizational clout is considerable: for the past decade it has played a leading role in organizing protest demonstrations against U.S. military actions against both Iraq and Serbia. After the September 11th attack, the IAC decided to turn its long-organized planned protest against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank gathering, scheduled for the 29th, into an action opposing any use of U.S. military power in response to terrorism.
The IAC owes its current success to Ramsey Clark, a former Attorney General during the Johnson Administration, who is listed on the IAC’s website as its founder. Clark’s establishment credentials have caused many in the mass media to accept the IAC’s self-portrayal as a group of disinterested humanitarians appalled by war and poverty who are working to turn American foreign policy towards a more humane course. On its website the IAC says it was “Founded by Ramsey Clark” and then describes its purpose: “Information, Activism, and Resistance to U.S. Militarism, War, and Corporate Greed, Linking with Struggles Against Racism and Oppression within the United States.”
Yet since its inception in 1992, the IAC’s actions have given rise to serious doubts about its bona fides as an organization truly committed to peace and human rights issues. Behind the blue door entrance to the IAC’s headquarters on 14th Street in Manhattan can be found deeper shades of red. When one looks closely at the IAC, it becomes impossible to ignore the overwhelming presence of members of an avowedly Marxist-Leninist sect called the Workers World Party (WWP), whose cadre staff holds virtually all of the IAC’s top positions. Whether or not the IAC is simply a WWP front group remains difficult to say. Nor is there any evidence that Ramsey Clark himself is a WWP member. What does seem undeniable is that without the presence of scores of WWP cadre working inside the IAC, the organization would for all practical purposes cease to exist. Therefore, even if Clark is not a WWP member, he is following a political course that meets with the complete approval of one of the most pro-Stalinist sects ever to emerge from the American far left.
Part One: Ramsey Clark from Attorney General to the IAC
Before analyzing the role of the WWP in both the creation and control of the IAC, it is first necessary to explain just how the IAC managed to link up with Clark, a 74-year old Texas-born lawyer and the IAC’s one big name media star. The son of Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark (himself a Attorney General in the Johnson administration), Ramsey Clark radiates “middle America” with his puppy dog eyes, short hair, jug ears, Texas twang, plain talk, and “aw, shucks” demeanor. Clark backs up his folksy public persona with some dazzling credentials that include serving as the National Chairman of the National Advisory Committee of the ACLU, as well as serving as past president of the Federal Bar Association.
Despite his prominence within the establishment, Clark also maintains close ties to the Left. After he ceased being LBJ’s Attorney General in 1969 when Nixon became President, Clark visited North Vietnam and condemned U.S. bombing policy over the “Voice of Vietnam” radio station. He also served as a lawyer for peace activist Father Phillip Berrigan, and led a committee that investigated the killing of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by local police in collusion with the FBI. At the same time, Clark remained politically active inside the more moderate ranks of the Democratic Party. In 1976, however, his defeat in the New York Democratic primary campaign for Senate ended his political ambitions. From the mid-1970s until today, the Greenwich Village-based Clark has pursued a career as a high-powered defense attorney who specializes in political cases.
Some of Clark’s current clients, including Shaykh Umar `Abd al-Rahman, the “blind Sheik” who was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term for his involvement in helping to organize follow-up terrorist attacks in New York City after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, are a far cry from Father Berrigan. Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman, of course, deserves legal representation. What makes Clark’s approach noteworthy is that in the case of `Abd al-Rahman (as well as those of Clark’s other political clients), his approach is based more on putting the government on trial for its alleged misdeeds than actually proving the innocence of his clients. While completely ignoring Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman’s pivotal role in the Egyptian-based Islamist terror group al-Jama`a al-Islamiyyah, as well as the central role that the Shaykh’s Jersey City-based mosque played in the first World Trade Center attack, Clark tried to portray the blind Shaykh as a brilliant Islamic scholar and religious thinker who was being persecuted simply as a result of anti-Muslim prejudice on the part of the American government.
Clark appears to be driven by intense rage at what he perceives to be the failures of American foreign policy; a rage so strong that it may well be irrelevant to him whether his clients are actually innocent or guilty as long as he can use them to strike back at the American establishment which once welcomed him with open arms. After losing his 1976 Senate bid, Clark deepened his opposition to American foreign policy. In June 1980, at a time when American hostages were in their eighth month of captivity in Iran, Clark sojourned to Tehran to take part in a conference on the “Crimes of America” sponsored by Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic Islamic regime. According to a story on Clark by John Judis that appeared in the April 22nd, 1991 New Republic, while in Iran Clark publicly characterized the Carter Administration’s failed military attempt to rescue the hostages as a violation of international law. By the time Clark was sipping tea in Tehran, American foreign policy was in shambles. In both Nicaragua and Iran, U.S.-backed dictators had fallen from power. In Europe, the incoming Reagan Administration would soon be faced with a growing neutralist movement that was particularly strong in Germany. Inside the U.S., the anti-nuclear “freeze” movement was then in full swing. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union had deployed massive amounts of troops into a formerly neutral nation for the first time since the end of World War II.
By the mid-1980s, however, the combination of Reagan in America and Margaret Thatcher in England had brought the Left to a screeching halt. Huge sums of covert CIA aid allowed the mujahidin to turn Afghanistan into a cemetery for Russian soldiers, while in Central America the U.S. managed first to destabilize and then to bring down Cuban-allied states like Nicaragua and Grenada. In the Middle East, the U.S. (with help from Israel) successfully encouraged both Iraq and Iran to fight a long bloody war against each other, a war triggered by Saddam Hussein’s attempted invasion of Iran. In 1986 American planes even bombed Libya to punish Colonel Qadhdhafi for backing terrorist groups in the West. As U.S. power began to reassert itself globally, Clark became even more extreme in his opposition to American foreign policy. He first astonished many on the Left when he agreed to defend former Grenada Defense Minister Bernard Coard, leader of the ultra-leftist clique responsible for the assassination of Maurice Bishop. (It was Bishop’s 1983 murder that had supplied the pretext for the U.S. invasion of Grenada.) After the U.S. attack on Libya, Clark journeyed to Tripoli to offer his condolences to Colonel Qadhdhafi. That same year he defended Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders from a legal suit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly retired man in a wheel chair who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists on the Italian cruise ship “Achille Lauro” simply because he was Jewish. Clark even became the lawyer for Nazi collaborator Karl Linnas, who was unsuccessfully fighting deportation to his native Estonia to face war crimes charges.
Clark’s next legal client was equally surprising. In 1989 he became Lyndon Larouche’s lead attorney in Larouche’s attempt to appeal his conviction on federal mail fraud charges. Larouche, who began his political career in the late 1940s as a member of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP), had by the late 1970s embraced the far right, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust denial. Clark claimed that the government was persecuting Larouche solely to suppress his political organizing, and even went so far as to express “amazement” at the personal “vilification” directed at his client! A report from the left-wing watchdog group Political Research Associates suggests that Clark’s fondness for Larouche may have been rooted in Larouche’s aggressive support for Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega, who had been forcibly removed from power by the Bush Administration. Both Larouche and Clark participated in the movement opposed to American military intervention in Panama. Clark even visited Panama in January 1990 as part of an “Independent Commission of Inquiry” to examine American “war crimes.” (Not surprisingly, the Commission found America “guilty.”)
Clark’s willingness to defend political clients so long as he felt he could use their cases to put the American government on trial meant that he was less interested in proving that his clients were saints than in proving that members of his own government were sinners. Clark’s logic now began to extend beyond his choice of legal clients to encompass groups that he was willing to collaborate with who he felt might help advance his political agenda. By 1990, Clark decided he was even willing to ally himself closely with an ultra-left Marxist-Leninist sect called the Workers World Party (WWP).
Clark’s ties to the WWP first became apparent during the 1990-1991 foreign policy crisis in the Middle East that began unfolding after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in an attempt to dominate the Middle East’s oil supplies. During the Winter 1990-91 Mideast crisis, two separate “anti-war” coalitions arose to protest the first Bush Administration’s policies. Before the military attack on Iraq took place in January 1991, the Bush Administration (with support both from Congress and many other nations) imposed an economic embargo on Hussein in an attempt to pressure him to voluntarily withdraw his forces from Iraq and avoid a full-scale war. The embargo policy was strongly endorsed by Democrats in Washington. Although the Russians had long maintained strong ties to Iraq, even Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to persuade Hussein to withdraw his forces or face military defeat.
The Bush Administration made it clear to Hussein that he was on a tight deadline, and that any failure to meet that deadline and withdraw his forces would result in war. The first anti-war coalition, the National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East, strongly opposed the idea of a deadline and advocated the extension of the sanctions policy against Iraq as an alternative to military action. The National Campaign also made it clear that no matter how much it was opposed to a war against Iraq, it also considered Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait to be an undeniable act of aggression. The National Campaign’s stance on the Gulf War was challenged by a rival organization, the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East. The National Coalition bitterly opposed the National Campaign’s support for the extension of sanctions. The Coalition argued that Iraq itself was the victim of “U.S. Oil Imperialism,” which was working in cahoots with reactionary states like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the ruling class of Kuwait itself. The Coalition demanded, instead, that the Left uncritically defend “the Iraqi people” against both continued economic sanctions and direct American military intervention. The divisions inside the Left over this issue became so deep that both groups were forced to hold rival rallies in Washington in January 1991.
The hard Left National Coalition came out of a long-standing Workers World Party front organization known as the People’s Anti-War Mobilization (PAM), which quickly reorganized itself into the National Coalition. The WWP’s prominent role in the National Coalition was made evident by the group’s choice of a leader, a WWP member named Monica Moorhead (the WWP’s candidate for President in the 2000 elections). The Coalition’s office was adjacent to Clark’s Manhattan law office, where another WWP cadre member named Gavriella Gemma (Coalition Coordinator) worked as a legal secretary. The National Coalition (most likely through Gemma) extended an invitation to Clark to serve as its official spokesman. To the astonishment of many, he accepted. Yet Clark and the WWP, at least publicly, had so little in common that as late as 1989 the WWP’s official mouthpiece, Workers World (WW), never even mentioned Clark in a favorable light.
Clark’s decision paved the way for his subsequent involvement in the WWP-allied International Action Center. After the Gulf War ended, Clark established an “International War Crimes Tribunal” to denounce U.S. actions against Iraq. When the Tribunal held its first hearings in New York on May 11th, 1991, the speakers included WWP members Teresa Gutierrez (“co-coordinator” of yet another WWP front, the International Peace for Cuba Appeal), Moorhead, and WWP stalwart Sarah Flounders. One year later, on July 6th, 1992, Workers World announced the creation of a “center for international solidarity” (the IAC) with Clark as its spokesman. Clark told WW that “the international center can become a people’s United Nations based on grass-roots activism and the principles of peace, equality and justice.” With Clark as spokesman and Sarah Flounders as a coordinator, the IAC sheltered a myriad of WWP front groups and allied organizations, including the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East, the Haiti Commission, the Campaign to Stop Settlements in Occupied Palestine, the Commission of Inquiry on the US Invasion of Panama, the Movement for a Peoples Assembly, and the International War Crimes Tribunal.
From 1991 until today, the IAC/WWP has led repeated delegations to Iraq with Clark at their head to meet with Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi officials. The close ties between the IAC and Hussein have led other critics of U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq, such as former UN inspector Scott Ritter (who, like the IAC, opposes the continuation of sanctions as being far more harmful to the Iraqi people than to Hussein), to distance himself from any association with the IAC. Ironically enough, a few years before the Gulf War broke out, the WWP had no qualms about labeling Saddam Hussein as a genocidal war criminal. In a September 22nd, 1988 WW article entitled “Iraq launches genocidal attack on Kurdish people,” WWP cadre (and current IAC honcho) Brian Becker denounced Iraq’s “horrific chemical weapons attacks on Kurdish villages,” citing “ample evidence” from Kurdish sources and “independent observers” that “mustard gas, cyanide and other outlawed chemical weapons have been used in a massive fashion” not just against the Kurds but also against “thousands of rebelling Iraqi forces who deserted from the army in 1984 during the Iran-Iraq war, and took refuge in the marshland areas in southern Iraq.” Becker then noted that the Iraqi attempt to crush the Kurds “by a combination of terror and systematic depopulation” has been “the hallmark of the government’s policy for the last several years.”
More recently both Clark and the IAC have played a leading role in uncritically defending former Serbian leader Slobodon Milosevic’s brutal attempts to dominate both Bosnia and Kosovo. (Clark even defended Radovan Karadzic, the notorious Bosnian Serb warlord allied with Milosevic, against a civil suit brought against him for the atrocities carried out by his forces.) While accusing NATO of committing war crimes against Serbia, neither the IAC nor the WWP criticized Serbia’s notorious record of terror against civilians, one which includes both the infamous massacre at Srebrenica and the displacement of a million Muslim refuges from Kosovo. The Clark/IAC War Crimes Tribunal’s hatred of American policy, which comes coated in legal jargon, borders on the comic as well as the megalomaniacal. One IAC “legal brief,” for example, accuses President Clinton, the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and “U.S. personnel directly involved in designating targets, flight crews and deck crews of the U.S. military bombers and assault aircraft, U.S. military personnel directly involved in targeting, preparing and launching missiles at Yugoslavia” with war crimes. Nor does the IAC indictment ignore the political and military leadership of England, Germany, and “every NATO country,” not to mention the governments of Turkey and Hungary. It then charges NATO with “inflicting, inciting and enhancing violence between Muslims and Slavs,” using the media “to demonize Yugoslavia, Slavs, Serbs and Muslims as genocidal murderers,” and “attempting to destroy the Sovereignty, right to self determination, democracy and culture of the Slavic, Muslim, Christian and other people of Yugoslavia.” The Alice in Wonderland quality of the “war crimes indictment” is further highlighted by its demand for “the abolition of NATO”!
No matter how surreal the IAC’s actions sound, there can be little doubt that they are well-funded, since IAC/WWP cadres regularly fly to Europe and the Middle East to attend conferences and political meetings. Through a 501(c) 3 organization called the People’s Rights Fund, a wealthy Serbian-American who may even have business connections to Belgrade can freely donate to both the IAC and its related media propaganda arm, the Peoples Video Network. Nor are foreign diplomats terribly shy about being publicly associated with IAC events. Iraq’s UN Ambassador, Dr. Sa`id Hasan, for example, even spoke at the IAC’s “First Hearing of the Independent Commission of Inquiry to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia,” held in New York City on July 31st, 1999. One foreign official who will not be attending any IAC conferences in the near future, however, is former Yugoslav leader Slobodon Milosevic, who is currently on trial for war crimes in the Hague.
Part Two: The Crisis of the Marxist Left and the Rise of the WWP
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 Hussein’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 Hussein 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”!
Part Three: Stealth Trotskyism and the Mystery of the WWP
One of the many ironies of the IAC/WWP story is that a group now aligned with some of the most dogmatic elements in what’s left of the Left is itself most likely run by secret Trotskyists. Given the hermit-like quality of the WWP, it’s hard to know for sure. Even accurate estimates of the group’s members are hard to come by. In the 1980s most conventional estimates were that it had somewhere between three and four hundred followers. Thanks to the IAC in particular, the WWP’s recruiting efforts over the past decade have met with some success, especially in New York and San Francisco. If both actual WWP members and fellow travelers are counted, the group may now deploy up to a thousand cadres, if not more.
Insofar as the WWP has had difficulty in recruiting, it may be due in part to the extremely closed and clannish nature of its leadership. Nowhere is this fact more evident then when it comes to discussing the group’s origin. For some reason the WWP exercises great circumspection when it comes to acknowledging its origins as a faction inside the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The WWP’s leaders even obscure their background to their own members. In the May 6th, 1986 WW, for example, the paper began a lengthy four-part series ostensibly dedicated to explaining the WWP’s history. Not once in the entire series was it ever mentioned that the WWP first emerged out of the Socialist Workers Party or that the group’s founders had spent over a decade as a faction inside the SWP. Yet the WWP’s analysis of the Soviet Union strongly suggests that the sect never abandoned the worldview that its founding leaders first acquired while still inside the SWP. This issue, however, remains so sensitive that following the death of WWP founder Sam Marcy on February 1st, 1998, not one WWP memorial speech mentioned that Marcy had ever been in the SWP, much less a former member of the party’s National Committee. The bizarre nature of the WWP’s attempt to conceal its origins is only heightened by the fact that virtually everything written about the group by outside commentators notes its beginnings inside the SWP. One of the rare academic discussions of the WWP’s history comes in a survey book by Robert Alexander which is aptly titled International Trotskyism.
The mystery of the WWP begins with Sam Marcy, who dominated the organization from its official inception in 1959 until his death at age 86 in 1998. Born in 1911 in Russia into an extremely poor Jewish family, “Comrade Sam” grew up in Brooklyn. After spending time in the CPUSA’s Young Communist League (YCL), Marcy joined the SWP in either the late 1930s or 1940s. Trained as a lawyer, he served as a legal counsel and organizational secretary for a local United Paper Workers Union. During this time he met his wife Dorothy Ballan, who also came from an immigrant Russian-Jewish family. Although Ballan (who died in 1992) graduated from Hunter College with a degree in education, she joined the United Paper Workers to spread the Marxist gospel. Following traditional Left “industrial colonization” tactics, Marcy and Ballan next moved to Buffalo and began recruiting workers in industrial plants there into the SWP. By the late 1940s, however, the anti-communist backlash that would culminate in McCarthyism made their work inside the trade union movement virtually impossible.
Despite these political setbacks, Marcy and his fellow Buffalo SWP comrades (most notably Vince Copeland) became increasingly convinced that the world had entered a new period of revolutionary class struggle, particularly following the Chinese Revolution. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 hastened the emergence of what was known in the SWP as the Marcy/Copeland “Global Class War” tendency. The Buffalo-based “global class warriors” called on the SWP to downplay its differences with Stalinist regimes and forge a joint front against “U.S. Imperialism.” Global Class War’s fundamental point was that the geopolitical defense of “really existing socialism” took priority over the Trotskyist argument that put a premium on promoting class struggles inside the Soviet bloc against the dominant Stalinist bureaucracy. Marcy and Copeland’s position might be best described as “semi-entrist” because although they very much wanted to court the Stalinist states, they rejected any argument that called on Trotskyists to enter the CPUSA en masse.
What the Global Class War argument meant in practice became clear during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The SWP majority supported the uprising as a student and worker-led revolt against Stalinist oppression. The Global Class War faction, however, completely disagreed. A Trotskyist named Fred Mazelis recalled Marcy telling him in 1959 that “the Hungarian workers were hopeless counterrevolutionaries and that we should support the Stalinists in their crushing of the Hungarian workers councils.” According to another former SWP’er named Tim Wohlforth, “Marcy had decided that the Hungarian Revolution was basically a Fascist uprising and that as defenders of the Soviet Union, Trotskyists had a duty to support Soviet intervention.” The WWP’s 1959 founding statement (reprinted in a 1959 issue of WW under the heading “Proletarian Left Wing of SWP Splits, Calls for Return to Road of Lenin and Trotsky”) explained that while it was OK to support demands for “proletarian democracy,” once the Hungarians began demanding “bourgeois political democracy,” the correct Trotskyist policy was to support “the final intervention of the Red Army which saved Hungary from the capitalist counterrevolution.” In other words, if 99.9% of the Hungarian people wanted to overthrow Russian domination and prevent Hungary from being a satrapy of Moscow, introduce a democratic parliamentary system, and adopt an economic system that worked, they were morally wrong; in contrast, the Soviet troops who shot down unarmed Hungarian student and worker protesters were morally right.
In its founding statement, the WWP also denounced the SWP’s attempts to engage in coalition electoral campaigns with a group of former CP’ers (known as the “Gates faction” after its leader, John Gates) who had broken from the CPUSA after the 20th Soviet Party Congress’ partial revelations about Stalin’s massive crimes. According to WW, however, the real “rightwing” trend inside the Soviet Union actually began after Stalin’s death with the rise of Khrushchev! The WWP’s founding statement further noted that while Stalinism “may be theoretically as wrong as social democracy,” social democrats were “considered friendly to American imperialism and the Stalinists are considered hostile.” Ergo, Stalinism was better than social democracy. After breaking with the SWP, the tiny WWP sought to ally itself with pro-Stalinist and anti-Khrushchev elements still inside the CPUSA who were angry about American CP leader William Foster’s refusal to openly criticize the Khrushchev “revisionists.” Around the time that the WWP was created, a splinter group called the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute a Marxist-Leninist Party in the United States (POC) – better known as the “Vanguard” group – split from the CPUSA and embraced China’s anti-Khrushchev, “anti-revisionist” line. Although the WWP supported the Chinese position, the Vanguard group refused all of its political overtures because they viewed the WWP as treasonous “Trotskyites”! Not long thereafter, the WWP began removing Trotsky’s picture along with any references to him in party publications. Now thoroughly isolated from the rest of the Left, Marcy led his little group with a strong hand. Tim Wohlforth met Marcy in 1959 at an SWP convention held at a New Jersey summer camp shortly before the Global Class War clique broke with the SWP. As Wohlforth later recalled in his memoir, The Prophet’s Children, while at the camp he had come upon a small mass of people “moving like a swarm of bees” and deeply engaged in conversation. In the middle of the mass “was a little animated man talking nonstop” who had a “high-pitched voice” and “spoke in a completely hysterical manner.” Yet Marcy’s devoted followers seemed “enthralled by his performance. . .It was my first experience with true political cult followers.”
From its inception, the WWP attacked any and all liberalization tendencies in Communist Bloc nations and scrambled to be first in line to applaud crackdowns on dissident movements. The April 1959 issue of WW even ran an editorial praising the brutal Chinese suppression of Tibet’s independence movement. As for the Soviet Union, the WWP regularly attacked the entire spectrum of dissident thinkers from Solzhenitsyn to Sakharov. The WWP line was that the dissidents really reflected broader “rightwing forces” percolating inside the Soviet CP itself. In a February 22nd, 1974 essay, Marcy noted that Khrushchev’s “so called democratization” had “opened up a Pandora’s box of bourgeois reaction, not only in the Soviet Union but even more virulently in Eastern Europe.” The WWP fully supported the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, when Russian tanks crushed the Dubcek Regime and with it “Prague Spring.” Needless to say, it also fiercely opposed the Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s. The WWP’s true love throughout the 1960s was Maoist China, with North Korea a close second. The WWP even opposed the signing of the 1963 U.S.-Soviet Test Ban Treaty because it would bar China from acquiring nuclear weapons! When the Chinese exploded their first H-bomb in 1967, WW declared it to be “a major victory for socialism.” The party was particularly enthusiastic about China’s disastrous “Cultural Revolution,” so much so that as late as the WWP’s 1986 party conference, Mao’s wife Chang Ching (a Cultural Revolution enthusiast and “Gang of Four” leader) was singled out for special praise.
As much as the WWP admired China, it despised Israel. WWP cadre proudly carried signs in support of al-Fath that read “Israel = Tool of Wall Street Rule” and “Hitler-Dayan, Both the Same.” A June 24th, 1967 WW editorial following the Six Day War stated that Israel “is not the state of the Jewish nation,” but a state “that oppresses Jewish workers as well as Arabs.” The fact that Israel was largely created by Socialist Zionists and in 1967 was led by Labor Party Premier Golda Meir (a woman – something unthinkable in the Arab world), whose political base was the Social Democratic Israeli trade union movement, did not matter. Nor did it matter that every Arab state that opposed Israel had systematically crushed all independent labor unions or that “progressive” Arab governments like Jamal `Abd al-Nasr’s Egypt had a long record of employing Nazis both to train its military and security forces and to spread anti-Semitic hate propaganda throughout the Middle East. As the WW editorial explained, “The fact that many of the Arab states are still ruled by conservative or even reactionary regimes does not materially affect this position” of support, because the Arabs “are struggling against imperialism, which is the main enemy of human progress,” whereas Israel “is on the side of the oppressors.” This same editorial went on to assert that “When the bosses on a world scale – i.e., the imperialists – go to war with the oppressed colonial and semi-colonial nations, it makes little difference who fires the first shot, as far as the rights and wrongs of the matter are concerned. . .Naturally, the imperialists were the original aggressors in every case.” Some two decades later, the WWP would use virtually identical arguments to justify supporting Saddam Hussein. The WWP’s remarkable capacity for Orwellian “double think” was by no means limited to the issue of the Soviet Union or Israel. Take gay liberation, for example. Starting in the early 1970s the WWP actively recruited many gay and lesbian followers, since paradoxically enough the group had a fairly advanced position on this issue. The sect’s recruitment successes in this area came about in part because most of the other ultra-left groups competing with the WWP were orthodox Maoists who endorsed the Stalinist/Maoist line that homosexuality was a sexual perversion caused by decadent capitalism that would be swiftly cured come the revolution. Yet even though WWP cadres frequently promoted themselves as gay or lesbian, the WWP refused to criticize the notoriously repressive practices directed against homosexuals in China, North Korea, and Cuba, much less in Serbia or Iraq.
Perhaps the ultimate absurdity of the WWP, however, is that the stealth Trotskyism of its leadership actually saved the sect from collapse in the late 1970s. In the 1960s the WWP, primarily through two key front groups, Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF) and the American Servicemen’s Union (ASU), managed to recruit a fair amount of new members who were drawn to the group less by its theories than by the extreme militancy of its street actions. Indeed, YAWF’s one notable contribution to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was that it was the only group which supported the Weatherman at the disastrous SDS convention in Chicago in the summer of 1969. YAWF also participated in the Weatherman-organized “Days of Rage” protest that same autumn. With the end of the Vietnam War, however, the entire American Left began to suffer an enormous downturn, and the WWP was no exception to the rule. The cadre-based Left was further weakened by the rise of new social movements like women’s liberation, gay liberation, and the anti-nuclear and ecology movements, all of which operated organizationally and ideologically outside the traditional framework of orthodox Marxism, much less that of authoritarian Marxist-Leninist sects.
Faced with the challenge of widespread de-radicalization, as well as the growth of new social movements, the WWP (like many other Marxist sects) took an “industrial turn” and ordered its followers back into the labor movement. The WWP even created the Centers for United Labor Action (CULA) to help coordinate these efforts. Yet ironically, what ultimately gave the WWP a second lease on life was the death of Mao and the subsequent ideological crisis inside post-Mao China that finally resulted in the defeat of the “Gang of Four.” The WWP’s competitors in orthodox Maoist grouplets like the October League rapidly ran out of ideological steam as the new post-Mao Chinese leadership moved even closer to the United States. After China began aiding American and South African-backed movements like UNITA, and Chinese troops tried to invade Vietnam, orthodox Maoism became even harder to rationalize. Thanks to the WWP’s stealth Trotskyism, however, the group managed to escape political oblivion by reorienting itself away from China and toward the Soviet Bloc with relative ease.
The WWP’s great advantage in the post-1977 period was that throughout its entire history it only concealed – but never abandoned – its basic Trotskyist ideology. Orthodox Maoism, it should be recalled, maintained that with the death of Stalin the Soviet Union had ceased to be socialist state. Maoists even went so far as to claim that, thanks to “Khrushchevite revisionism,” the USSR had been transformed into “a social-imperialist state” not unlike Tsarist Russia. The WWP, however, completely rejected this view even while it was busily glorifying ultra-Maoist groups like China’s “Gang of Four” for their revolutionary zeal. In a May 1976 WW article, for example, Marcy reasserted the Trotskyist position (naturally without identifying it as such) against the standard Maoist argument. More specifically, he rejected the idea “that there is a new exploiting class in the Soviet Union,” and that there had been a “return to the bourgeoisie to power there.” The reality was that the USSR still remained “a workers’ state” whose “underlying social system. . .is infinitely superior to that of the most developed, the most ‘glorious’ and the most ‘democratic’ of the imperialist states.” At the same time (again following Trotsky) he admitted that Russia had undergone “a severe strain, deterioration, and erosion of revolutionary principles, and [was] moreover headed by a privileged and absolutist bureaucracy.” Marcy’s later rejection of Gorbachev as a “capitalist restorationist” in the late 1980s was not all that dissimilar to Trotsky’s attack on Bukharin – not Stalin – in books like The Revolution Betrayed as the main threat to socialism in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
The WWP’s brand of covert Trotskyism would prove crucial to its future growth. In the late 1970s, its ideology allowed the sect to attach itself like a pilot fish to Soviet and Cuban-allied organizations and avoid political annihilation either from the atrophy of its membership or from a devastating political schism. The WWP’s switch from Mao’s China to Brezhnev’s Russia was so remarkable that in 1984 the sect, which not long before was singing the praises of the Gang of Four, now publicly endorsed Jesse Jackson for President! Finally, when the CPUSA itself split into pieces in the late 1980s, the WWP was in a position to exploit the new situation for maximum political profit.
Given the WWP’s worldview, the notion that a group as closely linked to the WWP as the International Action Center could ever be taken seriously, either as a “human rights” or “peace” organization, seems comical as well as grotesque. The all too “resistible rise” of the IAC/ WWP, however, only makes sense when it is viewed in the context of the broader collapse of Soviet-style Marxism and all of its ideological variants. Left to its own devices, the WWP would have remained on the political margin as a quirky Left sect whose weirdly messianic ideology combined the worst aspects of Trotskyism, Maoism, and Stalinism into a unique and utterly foul brew. That a bizarre outfit like the WWP could become a serious player in American left-wing radicalism in the year 2001 is above all a testament to the existing ideological, intellectual, and moral bankruptcy of the broader Left, which still insists on living in a decrepit fantasy world where criminals are good, the police are evil, blacks are noble, whites are all racist, heterosexual men are sexist, all women are victims, Israel is always 100% wrong, the Palestinians are always 100% right, America is ”objectively” reactionary, and America’s enemies are “objectively” progressive and therefore worth defending. If this were not the case, the IAC never could or would have emerged as a serious force.
There is no reason, at least in theory, why a new movement from the Left could not both support a U.S.-led war against Islamist fanatics and fight to preserve civil liberties and social justice, both at home and abroad. The entrenched knee-jerk anti-American mindset of so many on the Left, however, makes such a development highly unlikely. At the very least, however, the rational elements within the Left should be willing to critically examine the propagandistic claims emanating from a variety of self-styled “human rights” and “anti-war” groups that are as politically compromised and morally dubious as the IAC, ANSWER, and the WWP. While the future role of the Left after 9/11 may not be clear, surely that much ought to be obvious.