Sunday, September 25, 2005

Marc Cooper on the failure of the anti-war march

Marc Cooper points out that despite an estimated 200,ooo turnout at the various rallies, the anti-war movement has been a political failure. As long as the peace movement fails to stand up to the neo-Stalinists of ANSWER and fails to positively reach out to mainstream Americans, the left will, sadly, deserve to fail.

No question that there is a growing frustration and even dread about where the war in Iraq is leading – if anywhere. Or if it has been worth the bloodshed until now. And the demonstrations were a good opportunity to manifest that mounting discomfort.

That said, there are only two ways the anti-war movement can achieve its goals. Either through what the Europeans calls “extra-parliamentary” methods i.e. the disruption of business-as-usual and rendering the country ungovernable. Or through a political strategy by which there is a strategic shift in The Establishment.

Yes, yes, I’ve heard all the facile rhetoric many times before about an “inside/outside” – "suites and the streets” strategy that would combine both approaches. But in the end, it’s really one or the other. Either you overthrow the government, or you force it to change its policies.

That, in turn, means that at least a significant, if not a majority, slice of the Democratic Party has to be on board. Unfortunate, but true. That means including not only those who sign on to the 'Out Now' mantra of the current movement, but also those who have a less drastic view -- but still oppose the current course. The war issue could be “nationalized” in next November’s congressional election if that movement were broadened sufficiently. A Democratic upset in the mid-terms could force the Bush administration to change course and/or could lead to a Democratic victory and a change in war policy in ’08.

Yet, not a single top Democratic official publicly associated him or herself with Saturday’s street protests (sorry, Reps. Conyers and McKinney don't qualify as "top" officials). Not just Mister Kerry and Madame Clinton were missing. But equally AWOL were outspoken critics of the war like Howard Dean and Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy – just to mention the better-known.

This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but only a bit. Much can be said about the timidity of the Democrats when it comes to staking out a position – any position—on the war. And I have not flinched from saying so, rather repeatedly.

Indeed, one of the reasons that the peace movement’s organizational logistics remain in the hands of fringe groups like ANSWER, is because they eagerly fill a gaping void left by more moderate forces. Democrats and liberals have not stepped forward – so they get trampled by the few dozen fervent comrades from the glorious Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Fundamentalist-Leninist grouplet that runs ANSWER.

There is another coalition that helps organize the peace rallies – United For Peace and Justice. Somewhat more moderate than ANSWER, UFPJ nevertheless has few and only tenuous links with mainstream political forces. At various times over the last few years UFPJ has threatened to resist getting bullied by the cultish members of ANSWER, but in the end it always capitulates in the name of “unity.” Such was the case with this past weekend activities in which ANSWER once again set the themes and the tone of the protests.

There's an odd and defeating dynamic that pervades these activist groups -- a dynamic that often leads young critical thinkers to abandon them after a short infatuation. The inner circle, the feverish full-timer activists are often members of tiny, Marxist groups, "vanguard parties" or their "mass organizations." These devoted militants dedicate all of their time, all of their energy and all of their lives to "building" these miniscule sects. Some of the more entrepreneurial among them even figure out a way to make a living out of their politics.

Their relentless, round-the-clock energy allows them to easily dominate the tedious, mind-numbing meetings and planning sessions that go into organizing large-scale protests. Who else but a humourless party-builder could survive those marathon "consensus" sessions. But God Forbid anyone should actually criticize any of them or the 'line' they impose on the demos. Anyone who dares to challenge them is immediately called out as a McCarthyite -- as if joining one of these sects offers some implied warranty of immunity from criticism. When confronted with this cheap blackmail of being branded as "red-baiters," the more reasonable liberals and "progressives" almost inevitably fold and the cycle repeats itself. And then people actually wonder why the peace movement can't attract more mainstream political support?

Post a Comment