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Why the Liberal “Left” fiddles around with the Democrats while Bush burns Iraq

by Roy Rollin (jlbeagle [at]
Two years ago millions of people across the US took to the streets in an unprecedented show of opposition to the impending attack on Iraq. Little less than a year later, with the tall tales that the Bush administration used to justify its war, ie, “WMDs” and “Links to Al Queda,” unraveling faster than a roll of toilet paper, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal exploded the lie about going to war to put "Saddam's torture chambers" out of business as well. Yet at the very moment when everything that anti-war activists had said about the war had been proven correct, the anti-war movement was nowhere to been seen or heard from. Had all those who had marched and protested given up and made their peace with the administration and its occupation of Iraq? Hardly. Only the liberal-left leaders of mainstream anti-war groups like United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), who long ago made their peace with the status quo by way of burying themselves within the Democratic party had. And their goal from the get-go was to take as many anti-war activists with them as possible in order to get out the vote for the Democrats in 2004 under the guise of “Anybody but Bush” (ABB). Since that “anybody” turned out to be the pro-war John Kerry, opposing the war and the occupation had to be pushed to the back burner in order to get the “lesser evil” into the White House. While the reformists claimed that this was just a “temporary retreat” and that their “real fight” would began the day after election day, the damage was already done long before November 2nd. The once burgeoning movement was so demoralized, demobilized, disoriented and disorganized that Bush could level Fallujah without so much as a peep from the likes of the UFPJ, who confined themselves to writing letters to their congressmen. Along with the rest of the “progressive” milleau, they were instead still beating the dead horse of recounting votes in Ohio; all in the vain hope that John Kerry might somehow come out on top…in electoral votes. Meanwhile Kerry, whom all the fuss was over, had already thrown in the towel, in order to better get behind Bush’s war.
This is, of course, nothing new for this crowd. Reformists of all stripes have been pushing the politics of “lesser evilism” or “fighting the right” as a matter of faith ever since the Stalinist Communist Party (CP) helped FDR co-opt the labor movement into the Democratic party in the 1930s, cutting off any further radicalization and the formation of an independent union-based labor party in the process. They did the same with the Black and women’s liberation movements of the sixties and seventies as well as with the movement against the Vietnam war. Through thick and thin, class-collaboration and co-optation have been the standard operating procedures of the liberal “left.” While the CP set the stage for this in the thirties, the young radicals of the sixties “New Left,” who started out by rejecting the basic tenets of Marxism (the leading role of the working class) and Leninism (the need for a revolutionary party) ended up embracing their bastardized Stalinist offspring, via Maoism, which eventually put most of them back in the Democratic party with the same liberal-leftists they had written off to begin with. Far from being a bridge from Mao to Lenin, Stalin was a bridge away from Lenin towards John Kerry via Jesse Jackson.

Today there is no hegemonic political party on the left today the way there was when the CP ruled the roost during the thirties and forties. So liberal left ideological orthodoxy is upheld by handful of unelected intellectuals, academics and ideologues, who, like Uncle Joe, are all above criticism from rank and file activists. While some of these superstars appear at times to be more left than liberal (usually when a Democrat is safely ensconced in office), all of them sway to the winds of what’s popular in bourgeois “public opinion.” Needless to day, all of them gave their blessings to the ABB stampede last year. Backing them up on the ground is an army of professional movement bureaucrats and coalition kingpins, most of whom were schooled in either the CP school of class collaboration or the New Left gone old, and all of whom can be counted on to cobble together an unprincipled alliance whenever those to their left appear to be gaining ground on them in the mass movements.

Their long march to accommodation with capitalism was cemented by the Reagan years and the collapse of “really existing socialism,” ie, Stalinism, in the Soviet bloc, which was supposed to have proved once and for all that “there was no alternative” to capitalism. While the “Battle of Seattle” and the global justice movement that came in its wake spawned a new generation of radical activists committed to a bold vision that “another world is possible,” few bothered to figure out just what that world was or how to get there. The ruling rich, however, had no such problems and backed Bush and the neo-cons in using “9/11” to usher in their own version of “another world,” further disorienting the left in the process. Naïve notions that the nation-state no longer mattered in an age of global capitalism held sway until George Bush made it clear that America’s armed forces existed to make the world safe for American corporations...not just at the expense of Afghanistan or Iraq but at the expense of their imperialist rivals as well. However, the right wing of the global justice movement attempted to distance the struggle against globalization from the struggle against war, separating economics from politics the same way the more traditional reformists have always done. Not surprisingly both came together behind the banner of “ABB.” So even though the Democrats were virtually indistinguishable from the Republicans, having backed Bush’s war from day one and having, in fact, pioneered his economic agenda under Clinton, the left, from “lesser-evil” liberals to “another world is possible” anarchists got on board their bandwagon and dragged the mass movements on board with them, without so much as a question asked or a demand raised.

In order to orient the anti-war movement in that direction, liberals argued from the start that the movement needed to become more “mainstream,” ie, even more white and middle-class, since these are the people whom the Democratic party politicians that are the center of their political universe, pay attention to. Michael Moore summed up the mindset of this milleau when he went so far as to not only endorse General Wesley Clark, a Clinton era war criminal, for the Democratic party presidential nomination in order to show “swing state” voters that “progressives” could “kick ass” in the “war on terror” but declare Mumia Abu-Jamal guilty in order to snare the redneck vote as well. Linking the struggle against war and occupation to the fight against racism and opposition to the death penalty or to then growing movement for gay marriage, let alone to the anti-capitalism of the global justice movement, was seen as scarring “swing state” voters away. Never mind the fact that connecting those issues to the war was a way to reach trade unionists, Blacks and other working class people who have the social weight and power to bring the system to it’s knees through industrial action, ie, strikes. Only that’s the last thing any of the Democrats want to hear about. After all they all lined up behind then Mayor Rudy Giuliani when he went after NYC transit workers in 1999, making even talk of a strike a crime, as well as behind Bush and Ashcroft when they cracked down on West Coast dock workers in 2002. Challenging attacks on workers’ living standards is also taboo for them, since under Clinton, economic inequality reached levels not seen since the “Great Depression.” Hence the “Million Worker March,” which aimed at linking the anti-war movement to the trade unions, was not only sandbagged by the dye-in-the wool Democratic party loyalists in the AFL-CIO hierarchy, but by the UFPJ, whose members were off ringing doorbells for John Kerry in Pennsylvania that day, as well.

If the liberal left defines salvaging the Democratic party as the limits of what is “possible” that’s because they accept the eternal existence of capitalism as unquestionable and limit their goals to fixing, rather than nixing it. That’s why they refer to themselves as “progressives” rather than as “radicals,” let alone “revolutionaries,” the way many anti-war activists did in the sixties when they came to realize that the Vietnam war was not only the liberals’ baby but part and parcel of a global system of imperialist injustice that liberal Democrats like LBJ upheld every bit as much as conservative Republicans like Richard Nixon did. Having “matured” and gotten “knee-jerk” anti-imperialism out of their systems, today’s “progressives” have gone back to following the lead of the Democrats the way they did during the hey-day of the anti-communist “Cold War” and are far more concerned with opposing America’s “enemies” than they are in opposing the American ruling classes’ wars. When they do so, it’s within the framework of “peace is patriotic” nationalism, ie, trying to out-do the right in flag waving. This is par for the course since the CP of thirties, when the left could be both patriotic and progressive, is seen as the model to be emulated, minus mean old Uncle Joe and the Soviet connection, of course. Only this is a game that the “left” can never win at, as the CP, which defined “Communism as 20th Century Americanism” during the hey-day of the “Popular Front” found out during the witch-hunts that the Democrats they had subordinated themselves to initiated in the aftermath of World War II. Not surprisingly accepting the logic of the ruling class includes red-bating and anti-communism as well. Those groups on the left of the antiwar movement who took uncompromising stands against all forms of imperialist intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, were seen by the reformists as dangerous because they stood in the way of herding the movement into the respectable arena of Democratic party politics and lesser-evil liberalism just as during the election Ralph Nader was seen as the main enemy for threatening to lead the movement away from that dead-end and towards independent political action.

Today many global justice activists refer to themselves as “anti-capitalist” much in the same way sixties’ “radicals” considered themselves “anti-imperialists.” They correctly connect imperialist war with economic “globalization,” seeing it as “globalization with a gun” and rallied behind the slogan of “no blood for oil.” Not so the liberal left, which believes that US imperialism can use its DU and cluster bombs, in a “humanitarian” way, of course, to bring “democracy” to places like Bosnia and Kosovo, when it’s a Bill Clinton or a Wesley Clark that’s doing the killing. They were upset over the movement’s appearing to be “unbalanced,” ie, not accepting the framework of Bush’s war drive; that Iraq just might be linked to “terrorists” or possess “WMDs.” Indeed many of the liberals, like their hero John Kerry, support the “war on terrorism” and see the focus on Iraq as a “diversion” from it! Thus the UN or “multi-lateralism” in general and “weapons inspection” in particular were pushed by them as an “alternative” to war. Illusions in international imperialist institutions like the UN go hand-in-hand with illusions in the Democrats.

In other words, like the Democratic party politicians that they tail after, the reformists had only tactical differences with Bush over how to deal with Iraq. They wanted to “Win Without War;” that is, steal the Arabs’ oil, the real objectives of the administration, without a single white American having to pay for it. Only if one accepts the rules as laid down by the imperialists, one has to play the game by them. If the war really is about “WMDs,” “terrorism” or “freedom and democracy,” and the government “proves” its case or bribes or bully’s the UN into backing them up, then maybe war is an “unavoidable” option after all. That’s exactly what happened in Oil War One in 1991, when “liberating” Kuwait, rather than its oil, was the rationale provided by the first Bush administration, which got the UN to give them their seal of approval. The right-wing of the anti-war movement saw things through the same lenses and supported sanctions in order to appeal more to “mainstream” America. Only sanctions wound up killing more Iraqis than all of Bush’s bombing did! And since “democracy,” ie, bourgeois democracy is about as good as good gets for the your garden variety “progressive,” not a few of them have taken Bush’s sucker bait about “free elections” in Iraq as good coin, even though the later are little more than window dressing for continuing the imperialist occupation of Iraq ...which not a few of them support under the guise of preventing a “descent into anarchy” or “civil war” if the unruly natives ever get back into the saddle. Sort of like the “bloodbath” that was going to take place in Vietnam if the US got out “prematurely.” Never mind the fact that it is US imperialism that is responsible for the mess in the first place. Seems that picking up the “white man’s burden” is part of the price “progressives” paid for discarding “knee-jerk” anti-imperialism!

In the sixties, “radicals” had a saying for people like today’s “progressives:” if they’re not part of the solution, then they’re part of the problem. The problem is not just that their reformist, ie, pro-capitalist politics, disarms and disorients anti-war and global justice activists as to who their real enemies are and what actions need to be taken against them. As bad as that is, it can be overcome in the course of common action against the common enemy, providing that revolutionaries actively intervene in the process. The problem is that they prevent, in practice, any kind of common action to begin with. In other words, it is the sectarianism of the pro-capitalist elements within the “left” that creates the biggest obstacle to building the broadest possible mass movements, or, for that matter, any movement that threatens to go beyond the parameters of Democratic party politics. Those who are adversely affected by Bush’s attacks, at home and abroad, be it the ongoing occupation of Iraq, the impending attack on Iran or the attempt to privatize Social Security, need to come together to actively oppose them...with or without “leaders” who have a vested interest in the preservation of the status quo and regardless of what political differences they may have on other issues or even on how to oppose them. Such differences can be debated on within the movement so that all concerned can see for themselves which strategy is the most effective. Only those who have little, or no, confidence in their own political perspectives fear such a democratic discussion of them taking place. Those who want to go “half the way with the USA” when it comes to war and stay within the good graces of the Democrats at all costs need to make up their minds. Either oppose the occupation with the rest of us or get out of our way, pack up and join their pals like Christopher Hitchens and Todd Gitlen aboard the Bush warwagon.

Over the past few years, millions of workers and youth around the world have already found out that capitalism, which places power, privilege and profit for a few over and above anything and everything else is the problem. War is endemic to such a system, which must expand or die; imperialist war is the continuation of globalization by other means. Many anti-war activists, who are not professional “movement” bureaucrats or perrenial “coalition” kingpins, are asking themselves how this can be if the vast majority of people in almost every country that claims to be a “democracy” oppose war. Only this is the kind of “democracy” where the will the millionaires, not that of the millions, counts. The real decisions under capitalism are not openly decided on through democratic debates and decisions anymore than the bosses’ decisions on how to operate their industries are. Workers don’t get to vote on whether or not they get a raise or get laid off and the “citizens” don’t vote on whether or not to have a war. They are made by the few in the interests of the even fewer. In other words, the system is as undemocratic when it comes to politics as it is when it comes to economics. And when it comes to the latter, capitalism is showing its true colors just as it did when it bombed and starved civilians in Iraq. Tax cuts for the rich, the minority, just plain cuts for the poor, the majority. This is what “democracy” looks like under capitalism!

Rebuilding a mass movement that connects the struggle against war and occupation abroad to the fight against attacks on workers living standards at home remains a burning need as Bush prepares to widen the war in the Middle East and attack Social Security as well. The task of a “left” worthy of its name is to continue to promote that kind of struggle and to create a political alternative for activists, not stampede them back into the dead-end of the Democratic party, the graveyard of every mass movement. For without the construction of an ongoing ideological and political alternative based on revolutionary working class politics, ie, a political party that challenges both bosses’ parties at any and every level of struggle, the reformism and liberalism that “progressive” politics embody will continue to dominate those movements. As Mumia Abu Jamal put it at the time of the 2000 elections, “it’s past time to build a people’s movement, a worker’s movement, a radical and revolutionary movement that changes this sad state of affairs. Let us begin. Now.” Unlike the “progressives” desperately seeking Democrats, Mumia, still on death row, has stood his ground and remained firm in his beliefs, recently writing that “the solution ain't voting for some loser to betray you after election day; it's to organize, to rebuild unions, and make them truly international entities, to protect the interests of labor — globally!” Or as Frederick Douglas once said, “without struggle, there is no progress.” Sticking with the Democrats and their liberal left apologists only ensures that there will be neither!
by Mike (stepbystepfarm <a>
In describing the events of the 30's the author of this article demonstrates a lack of understanding about fundamental political reality. There is no point blaming the CP of that day for ALLOWING the splitting up (and absorption of some of the components by the Democrats) of the coaliton of left interests.

It is not avoidable. Very important to understand that in order to understand our possible strategies for today. If you have an "out" coalition of interests A, B, C, and D and if at some point the support behind this coaltion begins to threaten the dominant coalitons (in this case the Democrat coaliton and the Republican coaliton) then the dominant factions can ALWAYS decide to rearrange their coalitons to make room for one or more of the interests A, B, C, D, etc. Do you understand what I just said? The decision is THEIRS and there is nothing those who would prefer to keep the outside coaliton together can do about. It will be the circumstances (what benefits their interest most) which will determine that IF an offer is made "come into our tent" whether A, B, C, or D's best interests are served by at that point abandoning the "out" coalition (betraying the coalition partners).

It is only under the circumstances that neither of the dominant coalitions is willing or able to rearrange thier coalition, only under the circumstances that it doesn't help them to do so, that it would be possible to keep a "left" coalition together. It's not our choice but theirs. If you want to go this route (build a strong third faction that cannot be split up) then you need to carefully consider just which interests to attempt to include based upon the difficullty either major faction would have in rearranging their coalition profitably to split off and absorb a chunk of yours. What you mustn't do is blame your coaltion partners for deserting you if somebody else is offering them a better deal than you are.
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