[Marxism] Sage advice on Znet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 7 07:54:03 MDT 2004

Kerry Won't Stop the War
But independent action can

by Mark Harris
May 06, 2004


'Anybody But Bush' - You Get What You Pay For

The "Anybody But Bush" vision now has most of the progressive milieu in 
its trance, but it is not a vision as much as it is a paucity of vision. 
Faced with a war sparked by the extremist right-wing politics of the 
Bush Administration, the best so many otherwise articulate and powerful 
voices for justice can muster is an insistence on supporting whoever 
happens to win the Democratic nomination. It's a telling sign now of how 
truly rudderless left-progressive politics is in the United States. It's 
also revealing just how desperate progressives are that a return to the 
Clinton-style politics Kerry embraces is now considered almost a god-send.

In fact, the social policy of the Clinton Administration was the most 
conservative of any administration since the end of World War II, as 
historian Howard Zinn reminds us in the revised edition to his "A 
People's History of the United States." The entire tenure of the Clinton 
Administration was defined by erosion of New Deal social policy, gutting 
welfare and other safety net programs, deregulating industries, union 
and environmental protections, and generally cozying up to the interests 
of silver spoon investors and corporate executives, the principal 
beneficiaries of the era's market prosperity. The campaign slogan of 
1992, "Putting People First," came to mean "putting the bond market" 
first, as Edward Herman, Wharton School professor of finance, remarked a 
few years ago in a Z magazine round-up on the Clinton legacy. In this 
sense, the Clinton Presidency was but a stage-setting prelude to the 
Republicans Gone Wild nightmare of the current administration.

Is the only choice now one of the speed of the retreat from the promise 
of a better, more just society? Unfortunately, if the possibilities for 
political change are viewed only through the lens of Bush versus Kerry 
in November, then that is the sorry reality. But it's a mistake to view 
the election as the be-all and end-all of all our hopes. Let's instead 
get heretical in our thinking and declare that a neo-con Republican in 
power is not inherently less responsive to pressure from "the street" 
than a liberal Democrat. Historically, when has progressive social 
change ever depended more or even mostly on whether a Democrat or 
Republican is in office, rather than on what happens outside the 
corridors of power, in the workplaces, campuses, and neighborhoods, 
among the officially voiceless and disenfranchised or excluded? This is 
the story of the Civil Rights movement, when sit-ins and marches and a 
growing, relentless dissent compelled a bipartisan power structure, long 
comfortable with Jim Crow racism, to finally sit up and take action. 
This is the story of woman's suffrage, too, the Vietnam peace movement, 
and labor's long quest for the eight-hour day, benefits, and such 
civilized ideas like vacations. This is the story of the historical 
movement of democracy itself.

Think about this: In 1970 labor activists helped secure passage of the 
Occupational Safety and Health Act, viewed by many as "the most 
important pro-worker legislation of the last 50 years," as Steven 
Greenhouse noted in a 2002 New York Times profile of veteran labor 
leader Tony Mazzochi. Notably, the OSHA legislation was passed under a 
Republican administration. Those same Nixon years also saw an end to the 
military draft, and legal recognition of a woman's right to choose. 
Again, no thanks to Nixon or even to a "progressive" Supreme Court (it 
didn't exist), but to the popular, organized activism and mobilization 
of public opinion of millions of Americans. In this context, the 
million-plus March for Women's Lives on April 25 did more to secure 
women's reproductive rights than anything that will happen on November 4.

It might similarly be easy to credit President Clinton for passage of 
such legislation as the Family Medical Leave Act, but that leaves out 
the reality that the real impetus came from women's groups and unions, 
who had pushed for such legislation for years. Likewise, the belief that 
Clinton's early health care reform initiative failed because it was too 
liberal or visionary turns reality on its head. The proposal failed 
because whatever reformer's vision it could claim sank in the bog of 
endless reassurances by the Administration to sectors of the insurance 
industry that their profits would remain sacrosanct. But without a 
mobilized public movement, even that was not enough to ensure passage of 
the health care reform. This was not the case in Canada, where 
historically active public support for the independent, union-based New 
Democratic Party helped to eventually win passage of a single payer 
health system.

If Ralph Nader, an early endorser of the small Labor Party group founded 
by the late union organizer Tony Mazzochi, was actually running a 
campaign advocating Mazzochi's idea of truly independent, working-class 
campaigns for office, in opposition to the corporate-dominated two 
parties, it could at the very least set an example of the direction 
grass-roots organizing needs to go if independent political action is 
ever going to gain momentum in this country.

Unfortunately, that is not what Nader is doing. The Nader campaign seeks 
to oppose the Democratic Party while ostensibly trying to boost the 
party, hoping to pressure Kerry from the grass-roots left to take better 
positions on a host of issues. Accordingly, Nader thinks he can pull 
large blocs of disillusioned nonvoters, independents, and even 
Republicans into voting booths, blocs otherwise beyond Kerry's reach, 
who, the thinking goes, will then invariably translate part of their 
presence in the voting booth into backing for various progressive 
Democrats running for local and state offices. It's a confused, 
ambiguous strategy and it makes about as much sense as Michael Moore's 
endorsement of General Wesley Clark, who led NATO in bombing civilian 
targets in Belgrade in 1998, as a "peace" candidate for the Democratic 

While Nader at least advocates getting out of Iraq (but in six months), 
the problem now with all the elite debates about the future of Iraq is 
the thorny problem of the Iraqi insurgency, which in one way or another, 
is likely to continue growing. Of course, it's possible the U.S. 
military may perpetrate a repression so thorough and bloody that it 
effectively puts down the rebellion. For now. But with weapons you can 
never obliterate the spirit of human resistance. They also cannot kill 
everyone. The spirit of nationalism is such that the Iraqi people will 
in the long run never countenance the ongoing occupation of their 
country, puppet government or not, especially with the current 
atrocities and killings becoming part of their collective memory. They 
will one way or another be the final arbiter of the future of Iraq.

More Protest, More Demonstrations

As a labor organizer, Tony Mazzochi understood that the type of 
progressive social change that endures always originates and grows from 
the grass roots, from the cellar floor, challenging the existing status 
quo as well as whatever conventional wisdom tells us about the limits of 
what is "practical" to achieve. Social change rather happens when the 
dissent in the air gets organized and visible and takes to the streets 
as well as the ballot box. And getting organized has never depended upon 
"lesser-evils" or benevolent elites. Our battle now is not just against 
a military occupation, but against militarism itself.

Undoubtedly, last year's antiwar protests lost some of their urgency 
following the quick military victory by U.S and British forces over 
Saddam Hussein's government. Yet mainstream American politics is as much 
a creature of paradox as it is mostly an exercise in sound bites and 
personality contests. It was thus perhaps at the moment of President 
Bush's most triumphal war posturing, when he paraded macho style in full 
flight uniform on the flight deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, 
celebrating "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, that a sense of the seismic 
credibility chasm the Administration was about to plunge into began to 
edge into fuller view.

The chasm has opened. What is unfolding now in Iraq is a political 
disaster for the United States. As reports surface from Fallujah of 
Marine snipers who shoot at ambulances, or civilians who step out of 
their houses, or of American soldiers who sadistically abuse Iraqi 
prisoners in the very prison Hussein once used for his own tortures, the 
evidence mounts of the utter moral collapse this war represents for the 
government of the United States.

What our political leaders have done is criminal. Under the guise of a 
phantom weapons threat, the United States government started a war that 
after one year of "liberation" has led not to dancing in the streets but 
street combat. The beginnings of a classic nationalist rebellion against 
occupation by a foreign power are now underway. Think Vietnam. Think 
Algeria. With the infrastructure still in crisis, electricity spotty, 
hospitals in disrepair, cities under siege, unemployment over 50 
percent, union rights denied under the same Hussein-era laws, and world 
opinion largely in square opposition to U.S. policy, the corporate 
CEO-think that defines the Bush mind-set has proven its profound 
inability to lead. At least if political leadership still has anything 
to do with social justice, peace, and prosperity in the world. The 
Democratic front-runner John Kerry equally shows no signs of a 
fundamentally different mind-set.

The antiwar marches before the war and most recently on March 20 sent a 
vibrant, defiant message that international and domestic opposition to 
the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq runs deep. They must continue. Now 
more than ever. Louder than ever. Bigger than ever. No matter who is in 
office. The killing must stop.

Think Out Now. Bring the troops home now.

full: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=5469


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