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The Role of Protests in Building the Anti-War Movement

Here is the full text of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee leaflet we plan to distribute at today's city-wide student walkout [in Seattle] against the Iraq war and the unwanted presence of U.S. military recruiters on campuses. We welcome your suggestions, comments and criticism.

Four and a half years ago, millions around the world took to the streets in opposition to a U.S. attack on Iraq. To Bush, these millions were merely a "focus group" (Feb. 19, 2003) and the U.S. went to war anyway. Since then, the anti-war movement has gone through many twists and turns and many are coming to the conclusion that protests don't work. But this is a mistake. Protests can play an integral role in laying the foundation for the kind of militant mass movement that is capable of forcing the U.S. out of Iraq.

The Situation Demands Mass Struggle

U.S. imperialism is driven to dominate Iraq and the oil-rich region, just as its rivals are. Thus, despite Bush's strategy turning into a fiasco, the capitalist politicians all support continuing imperialist domination through any means because it's in ruling-class interest to do so.

---Bush's answer to the debacle of the Iraq war was to escalate it by sending an additional 30,000 troops over the summer. Now he's back to the old "stay the course" strategy.

---Clinton, Obama and Edwards' answer was refusal to commit to withdrawal of all troops by 2013 (!), if elected.

---The Congressional Democrats' answer was to pass legislation giving Bush another $124 billion for war, and now they're preparing to give even more.

---The House "progressive" Democrats' answer was to supply enough votes to pass war funding, while a handful made symbolic votes against it. Further, although these "progressives" would prefer that U.S. troops be withdrawn, they want to replace them with NATO or U.N. troops in order to save what can be saved of the U.S. imperial project through war.

This goes to show that continued war and occupation are the bipartisan consensus and relying on the upcoming elections cannot end the ongoing slaughter in Iraq. Instead we must struggle to build a fighting mass movement independent of ruling class politics.

The Role of Protests in U.S. History

There are many examples of sustained movements in this country that repeatedly mounted protests and did lead to progressive change.

The positive effects of these movements are a part of our daily lives. The movements that won rights such as an eight hour work day, universal suffrage, desegregation and many others, all repeatedly organized protests in a process of protracted struggle and mass action over the course of many decades, spanning multiple generations. Workers in the U.S. started striking for reduced hours as early as the 1790s, but the 40-hour work week (covering most industries) was not made into law until 1938. The mass struggle for women's suffrage in this country began in 1848, but was not won until 1920. Organized struggle against racism has been going on since the first Europeans arrived, but it wasn't until the 1960s that serious Civil Rights laws were passed. Did the ruling class and its governing apparatus just spontaneously grow a conscience and decide to grant these rights? Absolutely not! It was the people who brought about these changes through continuous organization and struggle. The people spoke out, went on strike, marched and picketed, rose in rebellion, and defied violent repression from police and military. It was through these efforts that they forced the ruling class to concede many of the rights we exercise today.

Conversely, it was the decline of these mass movements that made it possible for the ruling class to restrict and curtail many of these rights and social gains—and to launch new wars of aggression. Today, many workers must hold several jobs in order to make ends meet, employment-based health care is under assault, reproductive rights and affirmative action laws have been gutted, undocumented immigrants live under a constant threat of detention and deportation, and Congress engages in word-chopping over the definition of torture. The decline in mass struggles and organization over the last decades has only hastened this reactionary class offensive.

The Role of Protests in Forcing the U.S. Out of Vietnam

The anti-war movement of the '60s and '70s also repeatedly mounted protests. These protests enlivened the political atmosphere and they provided a place where new people could connect with the movement. Although this movement fought heroically, the U.S. has launched many new wars of aggression in subsequent years. This only shows that imperialist wars are systemic to "civilized" capitalist countries like the U.S. In fact, it was recognition that imperialism was the problem, first by hundreds, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands of people in the '60s and '70s that impelled them to fight more militantly. This militancy attracted increasing numbers of workers, youth, veterans, and AWOL soldiers into the movement, as well as helping to inspire what became massive resistance inside the military. The ruling class not only hated this movement at home, but also came to fear it because it was actively questioning the entire system and all it represents. Meanwhile, the "mighty" U.S. was being defeated on the battlefield by the national liberation movement in Vietnam (a movement which also organized protest demonstrations). Caught between these two fires, the ruling class, under Republican Nixon, pulled out of Vietnam in what was a historic defeat for U.S. imperialism.

Build the Movement Against Imperialism

Today, U.S. imperialism is once again losing on the battlefield, this time in Iraq. But it continues to send soldiers to kill and be killed because domination of Middle Eastern oil resources is far too valuable a prize to give up. In these conditions, the real question is not whether protests work, but rather how we can use protests to help build the movement. Building this movement requires consistent political work that explains that the Iraq War is an outgrowth of a bipartisan imperialist system. It requires organizing and actively participating in protest demonstrations with politics that target the imperialist system, and all its representatives. These are vital parts of building the kind of movement that can force the U.S. out of Iraq, and ultimately end imperialist war altogether.

Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee
November 16, 2007


homepage: homepage: http://www.seattleaic.org

An integral part 16.Nov.2007 09:19


This is true--peaceful mass demonstrations play an integral part in sustaining a healthy anti-war movement. I think one of the weaknesses of their implementation in 2002-2003 is that almost all anti-war activity was exclusively limited to peaceful mass demonstrations. It's been demonstrated time and again that the unpopularity of the ruling class's decisions doesn't necessarily derail their actions--just look at Turkey, where 90% of the country was opposed to the war, yet the government still took part in the execution of the Iraq War (albeit without providing air space for "coalition" forces). Or look at the US, where a majority is clearly opposed to the war--but has it ended? Is it even close to ending?

Let's recognize the role such marches play in popularizing the movement and building strength, but let's also be willing to diversify tactics when appropriate.

Don't Believe the Black Magicians 16.Nov.2007 12:50

Carlos Castaneda

Those who tell us that protest doesn't matter are agents of the status quo.

If you don't like marches and rallies, then connect with the brave souls fighting the fascists in Olympia, but do something.

Thanks to Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee.