[Marxism] On the US antiwar movement.

David McDonald dbmcdonald at comcast.net
Sat Oct 6 15:58:26 MDT 2007


Pat Costello:

UFPJ takes the tact that good media coverage
is the key to everything and for that reason puts
movie stars and politicians on the speakers platform.
That is one of the reasons that Cindy Sheehan, Iraq
Veterans Against the War and Gold Star Families have
left UFPJ and joined ANSWER.

David McDonald responds:

Pat, you are fighting the wrong battle. Everything about your post 
indicates that you think people should just compare ANSWER and UfPJ and 
ANSWER's obvious political superiority will emerge. In other posts you 
have commented that UfPJ has done bad things, that it has done icky 
things to ANSWER in particular and to the antiwar movement as a whole.

This is certainly true, and it is also completely beside the point. OF 
COURSE UfPJ does bad things--they represent the Democratic Party inside 
the antiwar movement and seek to derail the movement from taking steps 
that, in their view, will harm the chances of the Democrats electing 
Hillary, solidifying their hold on Congress, creating a 60-person 
supermajority in the US Senate, yada yada yada. As Rosanne Rosannadanna 
used to say, "It's always something." The point is not to fashion a 
"better" coalition, with "better" politics, more anti-imperialist, more 
truthful about the world, etc. The point is to deny the Democrats the 
ability to dominate the antiwar movement and prevent it from becoming 
politically independent, to keep the antiwar movement from becoming just 
another wing of the Democratic Party apparatus.

If merely espousing politics that reflect the actual world situation 
were sufficient to wrest control of the antiwar movement away from the 
Democrats, we would be there now and actually would have been there 
years ago. But clearly, just being "correct" is the abstract produces 
nothing of value.

Let's review the history of the antiwar movement against the war in Iraq 
briefly. Try to stay with me on this. Before the war began there were a 
series of continually escalating actions around the country and even the 
world. In all truthfulness, I do not believe it mattered much who led 
the demos. I say this because I participated in several in Seattle, one 
led by Not in Our Name and another by the International Action Center, 
i.e. one by a mass organization associated with the RCP and the second, 
a mere two or three weeks later, by a group associated with WWP. Both 
actions had anti-imperialist politics and both drew about 10,000 people. 
These are enormous numbers for Seattle. The money, which I know about 
because I generally organize the collections at Seattle demonstrations 
through no fault of my own, flowed like water.

The Democrats struck back. Nationally they formed UfPJ, Win Without War 
and I believe a third coalition whose name I cannot recall; they all had 
the same point: deny the left leadership of the antiwar movement. What 
had been a open field for what I think of as the ultraleft became 
formidably contested, with predictable results. The numbers have trended 
inexorably toward larger UfPJ actions and smaller ultraleft actions. 
Imagine that.

In Seattle this culminated in a weird configuration of the February 15th 
forces. There were five groups that came together to form the February 
15th coalition, which included both the RCP and WWP, primarily because 
the RCP had done some excellent immigrant rights work the previous fall 
(2002) and had made important friends with immigrant rights leaders. The 
UfPJ forces consciously decided to work with the ultralefts ONE TIME 
ONLY because they could not exclude them without offending  people in 
the immigrant rights movement and betraying themselves as the sectarians 
they are. This was stated explicitly to me by one of the main UfPJ 
operatives, whose major slogan was "Never Again" and who worked 
tirelessly to prejudice the entire coalition against the members of NION 
and ANSWER.

In a sense this was all inevitable. IT is just a fact that the left, and 
in particular WWP and the RCP do not have the allegiance of even a tiny 
portion of the people. Their early victories were accidental, pretty 
much a question of being there at the right time with an orientation 
toward mass actions when the masses were feeling like acting.

All that changed when the actual invasion of Iraq happened, but the 
ultralefts didn't get it.
The hope that people had had that with their bodies they could actually 
influence the course of world affairs were dashed, and responses to 
calls for mass actions plummeted. But the fact that the Democrats did 
not simply go home and stay there expresses another important fact that 
I believe you undervalue: there are lots of Democrats who oppose the 
war. In fact, there are probably hundreds of Democrats if not thousands 
who oppose the war for every one of us on the left. So it turns out that 
their demonstrations are far larger than those organized by the left.

And, left to themselves, as they were in 2004 and have been ever since, 
the Democrats will organize demonstrations that do not challenge the 
dominant politics, like "Down with the Bush Agenda," a worthless slogan 
if ever I heard one.

So the point for us has to be not to leave them to themselves, but to 
engage them in a battle for the politics of the actions that are called. 
That means we have to work in coalitions with them and combat their 
attempts to keep the movement well within the lines of what is 
acceptable to whatever Democrat is trying to keep the war going, which 
we all agree is the actual program of the leadership of the Democratic 
Party, the positive sentiments of its ranks notwithstanding.

In the SWP we called this flanking tactics. The idea of flanking is that 
when you cannot smash your enemy in a head-on fight, you must engage 
them on the flanks, which, hopefully, are unprotected or at least 
partially unprotected. This does not mean that you are capitulating to 
their party, that you like them, or anything else. It simply means that 
you accept the given relationship of forces in the real world and 
attempt to change it. It is far better than taking your few battalions 
and marching them around an otherwise empty battlefield.

So, what is important right now, really important, in the antiwar 
movement? In my view, it is to advance the idea that the war must be 
ended now. This is MORE important than all the other slogans and 
demands; it is ALSO a slogan that UfPJ feels compelled to support. If 
you want to look at it cynically, you might argue that otherwise UfPJ 
would risk the loss of all the honest Democrats who are white hot with 
their party's betrayal of the massive antiwar vote that delivered a 
congressional majority to them last November. To simply blend in with 
the leading Democrats' various formulations for continuing the war 
forever risked losing everything they had garnered. They had, in other 
words, to respond to the masses' genuine revulsion at the war and their 
growing sense of outrage as they realized their leadership was not about 
to do anything real to actually stop or even slow down the war. To 
merely parrot Hilary, Obama, or  Edwards would risk casting the antiwar 
movement adrift, allowing it to become POLITICALLY independent of the 
Democrats.

This created an opening for genuine revolutionary forces to work with 
UfPJ on the stated basis of their actions, i.e. End the War Now. Thank 
goodness that ANSWER has learned for now to leave their other, really 
r-r-revolutionary slogans behind for the moment. Why is this important? 
Because they are the Democrats, with millions of members, and we are 
tiny, minuscule forces. 

It is important to understand that the slogan End the War Now is, at 
this moment, a call for independence from the Democratic Party and from 
its real line of march. It is this contradiction between the leadership 
of the Democratic Party and the necessary obfuscations of its agents 
within the antiwar movement that we must exploit. For ANSWER to slough 
off all the r-r-revolutionary rhetoric is an historic step forward and 
an engagement in the real battle.

Naturally, all this assumes that an orientation to mass action is a 
legitimate component of trying to stop the war and PART of what will 
ultimately stop it, not the ENTIRE answer in and of itself.




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