Anti-War Movement at Critical Juncture
Sept. 24th and the struggle between ANSWER and UFPJ
Anti-war movement at critical juncture
Into the streets or into the Democratic Party?
What has caused President George W. Bush's approval ratings to plummet to new lows?
Certainly his numerous anti-worker and generally anti-people policies—such as the proposed privatization of Social Security—have generated growing popular opposition.
But without a doubt, the main cause of the deepening sense of crisis in Washington is the resistance to U.S. occupation in Iraq. In the 27 months since the invasion of Iraq, the world's most powerful military has failed to defeat the armed opposition to occupation. In fact, the resistance forces appear to be more numerous, organized and capable than ever.
As the casualty figures continue to rise, a number of secret documents like the "Downing Street Memo" have emerged that prove the Bush administration fabricated the justifications for attacking Iraq. The recently leaked "Memo" contains the secret minutes of a British government meeting in July 2002. It reveals that the Bush administration decided in advance to attack Iraq and that subsequently "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Many military analysts, including some inside the Pentagon, have expressed the view that the resistance cannot be defeated militarily. This does not mean the U.S. commanders have reversed their course. The occupation troops—the real "foreign fighters" in Iraq—have intensified sharply the repressive and brutal violence carried out against Iraqis in recent weeks. The increasingly indiscriminate violence of their counter-insurgency operations, however, has failed to halt or even slow the accelerating tempo of resistance attacks. The number of casualties suffered by the U.S. military and the Iraqi puppet army has risen dramatically over the past three months.
Fissures at the top
The failures of the occupation forces have generated mass discontent over the war, and also opened fissures within the ruling establishment. Had the occupation been the "cakewalk" predicted by top U.S. officials, we would not hear the criticisms now articulated by some Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress.
These changes in the U.S. political landscape present the anti-war and progressive movement with great opportunities. They also sharply pose the question: should the movement become the tail to the kite of ruling class politicians or should it instead try to develop into an independent anti-imperialist movement? The two principal anti-war coalitions in the United States take dramatically different positions on this issue.
The movement has the opportunity to reach out to millions of people who have never demonstrated—or even imagined themselves protesting—against the government. As living standards erode and health care costs soar, more working people have become angered by the war's human and financial costs.
The ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition wants to develop the power of this incipient movement as an independent political force. By contrast, the leadership of United for Peace and Justice seeks to subjugate it to the capitalist politicians who speak out against the war. This could potentially render the movement harmless and ineffective, no matter the size of the anti-war demonstration.
Pitfalls of looking to the Democrats
It is essential for the anti-war movement to make an objective and sober assessment of the various forces in the struggle.
Since the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, most Democrats and Republicans have supported the war and occupation—and they still do. Just a few weeks ago, the Senate voted 99-0 in favor of the new $82 billion "supplementary" appropriations bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the House of Representatives, Democrat Lynn Woolsey recently called for Bush to submit a plan within 60 days for the withdrawal of U.S. troops at an unnamed future date. Woolsey's plan also called for the United States to turn over the occupation to the United Nations, an organization dominated by the U.S. government, which administered the genocidal sanctions against Iraq for 13 years.
Another recent Democratic proposal called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops to begin by October 2006. A resolution introduced by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for Bush to simply establish "criteria" for troop withdrawal.
Although both proposals were defeated, UFPJ was ecstatic about the congressional "opposition" to the war. Neither of these proposals set a timetable for complete withdrawal. This is no coincidence.
In reality, Democrats have no more intention of leaving Iraq than Republicans. There is near unanimity within the U.S. capitalist ruling class—and therefore also among its political representatives—about the importance of retaining control over Iraq and the entire Middle East. Such domination is only achievable by military means.
But even if substantial numbers of U.S. troops were withdrawn, the U.S. plans to establish 14 U.S. military bases in Iraq. The Pentagon hopes to build a proxy Iraqi military force to take the place of U.S. troops and thus reduce the political cost incurred by continued U.S. casualties. They hope that having Iraqis kill Iraqis will also obscure the anti-occupation character of the resistance.
In the Vietnam War, the U.S. government employed a similar tactic of "Vietnamization," which aimed to build up the puppet army of south Vietnam in order to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The tactic failed in Vietnam and has not been successful in Iraq. No military officials have expressed great confidence in the U.S.-created Iraqi army and police, which the resistance has repeatedly targeted, infiltrated and disrupted.
Bipartisan agreement on global domination
Despite a tiny handful of dissenters in Washington—none of whom are in the leadership of either party—Democrats and Republicans are both committed to the continued occupation of Iraq, just as they are to the continued occupation of Palestine, and the control of the entire region. Both support the Bush administration's hostility toward Syria and Iran, and the occupation of Afghanistan.
Their bipartisan consensus is not just limited to the Middle East. Whether it's Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba in Latin America, North Korea and the Philippines in Asia, or Sudan and Zimbabwe in Africa, the Democrats and Republican stand together, committed to aggression and intervention in pursuit of global hegemony. They disagree only on tactics—on how to best achieve their shared objective.
This understanding is an essential element of the anti-imperialist outlook of the ANSWER Coalition. ANSWER believes that it is critically important for the developing anti-war movement—particularly inside the United States—to consciously stand against imperialism and in solidarity with those who are resisting U.S. domination. Without this understanding, the movement will be constantly subjected to manipulation by the liberal and conservative factions of the ruling establishment.
The drive toward war and domination is built into the capitalist system. It is not a mere option that can be chosen by some presidents and legislators and rejected by others. Moreover, all U.S. leaders assume that the United States has a natural right to be the world's dominant power. All of them, regardless of party affiliation, vote annually for a Pentagon budget that is larger than the combined military budgets of all other countries on the planet.
The already monstrous military-industrial-banking-oil complex grows regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans hold the majority in Congress, or control the White House. That war machine demands ever-greater markets for capital and goods, and occupies an increasingly central role in the U.S. economy. Without its massive war sector, the U.S. capitalist economy would be in far deeper crisis than it is today.
Likewise, regardless of which capitalist party is holding sway, the drive to maximize profits marches on—cutting workers' wages, benefits and social programs, busting unions, degrading the environment and diminishing civil rights and liberties.
Placing the leadership of the people's movement in the hands of the Democrats can only lead to demoralization and disorientation. Although Republicans are commonly associated with barefaced exploitative policies, the Democratic Party has played a special role in preserving the same exploitative political and economic system.
The Republicans are openly the party of big capital and business, which thrives off a voter base that is comprised of the most reactionary, racist, sexist, anti-labor, homophobic and national chauvinist elements in society.
Similar financial and corporate interests control the Democrats, who nonetheless promote themselves as the party of the "common people." The Democrats perform a key function in the U.S. political system—absorbing millions of activists from progressive and radical movements. Historically, they have drained away resources and activists from militant movements, rendering them relatively harmless to the system.
1968: 'Get clean for Gene'
The year 1968 provides a dramatic example of this phenomenon. The anti-war movement experienced qualitative growth in 1967, with huge demonstrations in the spring and fall. At the end of January 1968 came the dramatic Tet Offensive, a turning point in the war. The conditions existed for a wide broadening of the movement.
At that time, Eugene McCarthy, Democratic senator from Minnesota, running on a mildly anti-war program that called for "negotiations" rather than withdrawal, launched his primary campaign against the incumbent Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson.
Thousands of newly activated youth rallied to the call to "Get Clean for Gene." Getting "clean" wasn't just about grooming habits; it was about playing down radicalism to be more appealing to so-called "middle-of-the-road voters."
McCarthy's strong showing in the 1968 New Hampshire primary and Johnson's decision to quit the race proved that opposition to the Vietnam War was on the rise, and could have spurred the movement's most massive popular outpourings yet.
Instead, tens of thousands of activists were drawn into the McCarthy campaign, and even larger numbers to Robert F. Kennedy's bid for the presidency. Kennedy's position on the war was similar to McCarthy's. These campaigns were both short-lived.
On June 5, 1968, Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary. McCarthy's campaign had already lost momentum by that point, and the Democratic nominee became a pro-war candidate, Hubert Humphrey, who lost in the general election to Nixon.
Due to the election campaigns of the mildly anti-war Democrats, there were no nationally planned mass anti-war marches in 1968, unlike 1967 and 1969. There were many independent, local and increasingly radical anti-war actions in 1968, but the main anti-war coalition did not initiate national actions. The largest anti-war protest in 1968 took place in July, outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. On the orders of the Chicago's Democratic mayor, Richard J. Daley, Chicago cops viciously attacked, beat and jailed the demonstrators. Many of the same young people who a year earlier had marched in the streets alongside those beaten outside, watched it all take place from inside the convention center.
Once the election was over, the anti-war movement was able to regain its momentum. Huge protests took place in the following years. But 1972 was in many ways a repetition of 1968, as large numbers of anti-war and other progressive activists entered McGovern's presidential campaign. While there were many militant protests in 1972, there were no mass anti-war marches that year, as there were in both 1971 and 1973.
September 24 and the anti-war movement
By early May 2005, it was apparent that the rising level of resistance in Iraq, and the growing popular opposition to the war and the Bush administration's policies had again created the potential for large-scale protests.
On May 12, the ANSWER Coalition called for a mass, unified anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. to take place on Sept. 24. ANSWER's call is clearly anti-imperialist, with a central slogan of "Stop the War in Iraq—End Colonial Occupation from Iraq to Palestine to Haiti." It also raises demands related to U.S. intervention and threats against a number of other countries being targeted by Washington, and links the international struggle to the fight against the racist, anti-immigrant, anti-labor offensive and attack on people's rights in the United States.
Eleven days later, UFPJ leaders issued their own call for a Washington demonstration on the same date, focused almost exclusively on the Iraq war and its impact at home. In its first statement regarding Sept. 24, UFPJ announced that under no circumstances would it agree to hold a united demonstration with ANSWER.
Since that time, it has become apparent that the UFPJ leadership is veering to the right. On the UFPJ website, graphics of an American flag, the Statue of Liberty and the Capitol building, mix with rapturous praise of members of Congress.
The UFPJ leaders are preparing their coalition and anyone else they can bring along for the 2006 elections, when their cry will be "Take Back Congress"—i.e., regain Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. This orientation is as fatal for the progressive movement now as it was in 1968.
The only way to end the occupation and radically change the political climate inside the United States is to build a united mass movement independent of bourgeois political parties and their anti-working class policies.
Articles may be reprinted with credit to Socialism and Liberation magazine.
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