Elections, the Anti-War Movement, and the Left:
Musings of a "Refoundationist"
- By Adam Levenstein
With the occupation of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein, the 2004 elections continue to resonate throughout the Left and the anti-war movement. George "Dubya" Bush, a main instigator of the war, is an easy target for many of us; he has lied, he has killed, and in all likelihood he will continue to do so. It is therefore natural that a prominent feeling towards the elections is to vote for the Democratic Party candidate, whoever it may be.
Shocking to many who hold this position, some activists-including this author-hold that a vote for a Democratic Party candidate does nothing to substantially move the struggle forward and advocate political action independently of the two-party system.
Recently, I found myself engaging in a discussion on a Marxist listserv regarding the 2004 elections. The principle defender of the "anyone but Bush" position kindly informed me that, because I didn't share his position, I was "ultraleft" and "sectarian." While I certainly didn't appreciate this rather condescending attitude (and surely none who truly hold ultra-left positions would count me among their number!), I couldn't help but feel that this individual had completely missed the point.
Debate and political differences are healthy, and serve to strengthen our movement and give us different perspectives on common struggles. More important, however, is what we have in common; how we can struggle together, organize together, and work together to truly build a better world.
Let us take stock of what the anti-war movement has accomplished:
- We have built the largest anti-war movement in history
- We have built new bridges between activists in the US and our comrades around the world
- We have worked together to overcome political differences and build alliances between groups such as United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, and Not In Our Name (NION)
- We forced Bush to delay, rethink, and-trite as this may sound-fabricate new lies before going to war
- We had a distinct impact on the Democratic Party; many of those Democratic politicians who initially cheered Bush's war drive were later forced to question and even oppose his push for war
All worthy accomplishments; we have reason to be proud. But where does the anti-war movement stand now?
Our current activities are minimal. Many now focus on building a springtime march on Washington; and this is positive, this should be where we're focused. Others, however, are beginning to lose focus on building the movement farther and are paying more attention to the upcoming Presidential elections.
The most disastrous course of action the anti-war movement can take is to take a position on the 2004 elections. We need to recognize and respect the differences we have on this issue and continue to build the movement independently of the elections. Many of us advocate voting for the Democratic candidate, whoever he will be; others push for an independent anti-war candidate. Forcing the movement to adopt a position on this will merely serve to divide us, and will have little effect on the election in any event.
What is universal among us, however, is the desire to build this movement no matter who wins the election; I seriously doubt any in the anti-war movement believes that our movement will be successful if Howard Dean becomes President. We need to continue to build our movement, to pressure whichever regime we face for the next four years, to get people involved, educated, and active. We have too much real work to do; we will have to continue to build the movement no matter who is elected.
This radical new theory-that of building a movement rather than trying to divide it-applies to the anti-capitalist Left as well. We are faced with a decimated Left; where we used to have mass movements of working people, we now have tiny authoritarian sects competing to see who sells the most newspapers. This Left is incapable of building any sort of substantial socialist movement, let alone a revolution to transform society.
Therefore, we can apply the same philosophy; let us work together, instead of sniping at each other. Let us build bridges, rather than borders. Let us build a mass Left capable of working together despite the differences we may have over bourgeois elections, the Cuban Revolution, or the exact length of Leon Trotsky's mustache.
To my knowledge, none of the anti-capitalists who advocate a Democratic vote do so because they feel the Democrats are the way to overthrow capitalism; they do so out of tactics, out of the desire to move the struggle forward when there is no substantial push for an independent party. I disagree-I believe the only way we can build a party by and for working people is to expose the Democratic Party for what it is; a virtual clone of the Republican Party, a rich man's party that pretends to be nicer to working people.
But the focus should not be that we disagree, but how to work together despite the fact that we disagree. How can we work together in the anti-war movement? How can we work together in the unions, or better, work to organize more people into unions? How can we work to build the Palestine solidarity movement? We all share a vision of a society based on human solidarity and justice; with so much in common, why focus on our differences?
Which is not to say groups or organizations shouldn't take positions; Solidarity, a socialist organization I belong to, is firmly against supporting the Democrats. I agree with that position; it is one reason I am a member. However, we work with many other organizations and individuals who don't hold that position. We have those within the organization who don't necessarily share it. Where we focus our efforts, however, is trying to build relations and find new ways to work with our fellow socialists-whether they share our position or not.
Some call this philosophy "refoundation." Others call it "regroupment." Whatever word you use, the concept remains the same. Left Hook was set up for this purpose; let us discuss how to move the struggle forward, how to unite people, and not how to further divide us.