Answer, whose name stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, was formed a few days after Sept. 11, 2001, by activists who had already begun coming together to protest policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Some of the group's chief organizers are active in the Workers World Party, a radical Socialist group with roots in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. The party has taken positions that include defense of the Iraqi and North Korean governments and support for Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugolav president being tried on war crimes charges.
The positions of some of Answer's members have caused rifts in past antiwar movements as well. In January 1991, at the onset of the Persian Gulf war, two coalitions of protesters marched separately, on consecutive weekends, because one refused to align itself with the other, whose members included current Answer officers who would not criticize the Iraqi government or support economic sanctions against it.
In an interview today, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a spokeswoman for Answer, said questions raised about the group's role were "classic McCarthy-era Red-baiting."
It's not McCarthyism to call people who are communists, communists. Communists, as devoted followers of murderous totalitarianism, deserve to be called to account every bit as much as their Nazi colleagues. And in the 21st century, they can hardly pretend to be ignorant of their ideology's true nature.
I think it's interesting, though, that today's antiwar movement hasn't maintained the separation from the communists that it maintained before. Some people are catching on, though:
The next national rally is scheduled for Feb. 15 in New York, and it is being sponsored by United for Peace, a coalition of more than 120 groups, most of them less radical than Answer.
It's pretty hard to be more radical than a group whose key members think that the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre, are both just fine. These guys don't seem to have gotten the word, though.
UPDATE: Ed Driscoll notes that the Times story has proved James Lileks right: "McCarthyism" today doesn't mean false accusations of communism; it apparently means calling self-identified communists by their proper name.
ANOTHER UPDATE: David Adesnik criticizes my blanket condemnation of communism, and there's an interesting debate going on over on Oxblog. Nelson Ascher, who informed me of the debate, sends this answer to Adesnik:
A communist in America today who in his way endorses the Gulag is every bit as much an apologist for totalitarianism and genocide as any rightwing nut who denies the Holocaust. In a way, we could say he/she is even worse, because there is no Nazi extermination camp in activity anywhere, but there are Gulags in places like Cuba, North Korea or China. Thus, while a German neo-Nazi, for instance, is directly responsible at most for some immigrants killed in Europe, a communist is backing exisiting regimes that keep exterminating hundreds of thousands as we discuss.
Then, his idea that they or some of them may have been justified because of "their passionate commitment to social justice" is rather hard to defend. We could even say that at least the Nazis were sincere (though nobody would take them at their word in time) while the communists gave even hypocrisy a bad name. Murdering in the name of lofty ideals is, for me, an extra perversion once, besides the human corpses, they littered the discourse with the corpses of the ideas and ideals they've instrumentalised and debased. That, by the way, is exactly what many in the left are doing nowadays when they use terms like "peace" and "human rights" to promote Saddam's dictatorship or the cold blooded massacre of Israelis. And what was exactly the kind of social justice they actually preached? Hunger for all, except for party members.
It's because there are people trying to show that, well, the worst the left did wasn't as bad as the worst the right did, that our European friends keep denying that leftist synagogue burning is anti-Semitic. What's the next step? Looking for the righteous roots of Islamicist anger? The Muslims too have their own ideas about social justice, right?
When, during the Russian civil war, the Finnish whites were threatening to intervene against the Bolsheviks, Lenin warned Mannenheim that the distance from Henlsinki to Petrograd was the same as the distance from Petrograd to Helsinki. Thus, "the gulf that separates America from Europe" because of "simplistic" American anti-Communism isn't smaller than the gulf that separates Europe from America because of simplistic European apology of communist crimes.
The Western European communists backed their Eastern European, Cuban, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese counterparts until the bitter end and even after that. For God's sake: the Trotskyites nowadays do back lunatic Stalinist/Maoist regimes such as that in North Korea! They've also backed the fascistic military in Argentine during the Falklands war as well as the Talibans.
Yes, the only unifying thread I can find is opposition to America if possible, and, failing that, opposition to Western ideas of freedom. To call such an ideology evil is no exaggeration. To defend it is to defend, well, evil.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Meryl Yourish responds to the defenders of A.N.S.W.E.R.'s role in the protests.