Forget the Democrats, Build The Mass Movements!
- by Roy Rollin
In the aftermath of the elections, much of the mainstream left remains in a
state of despair or disbelief over Bush's victory. Many are hoping against
hope that some scandal of epic proportions will emerge out of Ohio. Others
contemplate packing their bags and moving to Canada. Not a few of the
liberal literati have taken to writing off most of America's population as a
bunch of religious rednecks who got the government they deserved by not
heeding their enlightened advice on who to vote for. However, the real
tragedy was not the defeat of pro-war and pro-globalization
John Kerry, but the demobilization and demoralization
of the anti-war and global justice movements that the liberal left's
perspective of Anybody But Bush (ABB) was predicated upon.
Early on the
leaders of the anti-war movement decided to go with whichever Democrat was
considered the most acceptable alternative to Bush in the eyes of "swing
state" voters. What that meant was that the "Anybody But Bush" had to be the
anybody most like Bush, i.e., John Kerry. Only the reformists were so
effective in their herding of anti-war activists into the Kerry campaign
and off of the streets, that the Democrats didnıt even see any good reasons
to throw any crumbs their way. After all, who else were they going to vote
for? And since the ABBers did such a good job of taking the wind out of the
anti-war movement's sails, the ruling rich saw no need to employ a Kerry to
do so and chose to stick with Bush instead.
Back in the 1960s, Malcolm X warned activists that when they put the
Democrats first, the Democrats put them last. Ralph Nader, the bete-noir of the
ABBers, more recently reminded radicals that when they get taken for
granted, they get taken. Instead of heeding such sound advice, the left
chose to give Kerry a blank check to spend however he saw fit, just as
he and the other Democrats had given Bush the same free hand when it came
to waging his wars. Rather than mobilizing the masses of anti-war activists
when the warmongers were on the ropes in the wake of Torturegate and the
uprisings last April, the leadership of the main antiwar groups like UFPJ
chose to channel growing discontent against the war into the dead-end of
"lesser evil" politics under the guise of "beating Bush." Thus they built
one large demonstration during the Republican convention, replacing
opposition to the war with opposition to "the Bush agenda."
Likewise they chose to ignore the opportunity of bringing the anti-war
movement closer to the labor movement when they did nothing to build the
Million Worker March, which attempted to unite the struggle against the war
with the struggle for jobs and health care. Instead, UFPJ, which had taken
the trouble to endorse the rally, sent its activists into ³swing states² to
ring doorbells for John Kerry, who was neither against the war nor for jobs
or health care. The AFL-CIO leadership was no better. It sought to sabotage
the march from the get-go as a ³diversion² from the main task of putting a
Democrat in the White House even if that Democrat had supported GATT,
NAFTA, the WTO and the abolition of welfare and was for a $7.00 an hour
minimum wage two years from now! Indeed the AFL-CIO, whose ranks now
account for a paltry 13% of the American workforce, spent far more of its
time, energy and resources upon the Kerry campaign than it has on any recent
organizing drives or strike support, let alone taking on notorious non-union
outfits like Walmart.
In exchange for all this, they got a candidate who promised, every time he
got a chance to do so, to exceed the bumbling Bush in bloodthirstiness when
it came to waging the so-called ³War on Terror.² In case any one other than
the ABBers wasnıt listening, Kerry made sure that he used the word ³kill² in
every one of the debates to drive home the point. The irony of the liberal
leftıs unconditional surrender to the pro-war Democrats was not lost on
conservative commentator even if those of The Nation or the rest of the
³progressive² publications that lined up behind Kerry failed to see it.
Perhaps that was because their vision was blurred by their heads being so
far up the Democrats posteriors.
Thatıs not to say the reformists failed to fight. Like the Democrats they
tailed after, they chose to "beat Bush" by going after the main enemy, Ralph
Nader. Once again building a political party independent of both bossesı
parties got put on the back burner since this was the most "important"
election since Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bob Dole were running.
For their part, the Democrats made it clear that they would rather lose the
election than lose their captive constituencies to Nader. So they spent
millions of dollars, and, more importantly, forced Nader to do the same in
opposing their efforts, in getting the latter knocked off the ballot in as
many states as possible. So desperate were the Democrats to maintain their
vice-like grip on working peopleıs votes that they even went after small fry
socialist candidates in some states.
One guy that they didnıt go after in the key "swing state" of Florida was
George Bush, where the Republicans filed late and could have been
technically disqualified if they had made a case of it. Of course, they
didnıt make much of case against Bushıs Jim Crowing thousands of Black
people out of their votes there in 2000 either. And as soon as the pundits
had pronounced Bush the winner in Ohio, Kerry rushed to surrender, instead
urging "unity" behind Bush and his assault on Fallujah. Like Gore four years
ago, Kerry had no desire to unleash any popular mobilizations against
electoral fraud, which might get beyond the control of the Democrats and
embarrass American "democracy" in the eyes of the world. After all, that
might jeopardize the legitimacy of the "war on terror," which Kerry, no less
than Bush, sees as the key vehicle for exporting "freedom" (or is it "free"
enterprise) around the world.
Eugene V. Debs once said that heıd rather vote
for something he wanted and not get it. The ABB left, on the other hand,
preferred to vote for something they didnıt want and got it regardless of
which capitalist candidate came out on top. In Star Wars, Yoda told Luke
Skywalker to honor those who fight for what they believe in. The liberal
left prefers to pretend to believe in what others fight for while at the
same time they fight against those who actually do fight, like Nader.
Just as the ABBers accepted Kerry as the only game in town, so too did Kerry
accept Bushıs "war on terror" as the only acceptable parameters to campaign
within. Thus whatever differences there were between the two were over how
to better conduct imperialist aggression around the world and enforce
austerity and repression at home to pay for it. Kerry and Edwards were as
much for the PATRIOT ACT as were Bush and Cheney. Nor were they about to
live up to Bushıs charges that they were tax and spend liberals. All they
promised was trickle down Reaganomics, i.e., more corporate welfare for the
rich, if only the latter would create jobs or health care, since any
increase in government spending on social services was out of the question.
While the more naive amongst the lesser evilists may have hoped that
Kerry was just pulling a fast one by faking to the right, the fact of the
matter is that both sets of capitalismıs candidates have the same program
because they work for the same employer, if only on different sides of the
street. For the past thirty years, Republicans and Democrats have taken
turns in dishing out layoffs and cutbacks at home while waging wars of
imperial aggression abroad as American capitalism looks to maintain itself
as the unchallenged master of the universe. And even though all of
capitalismıs candidates blatantly stated their desire to do more of the
same, the liberal intelligentsia continued to look for a lesser evil. So who
was really stupid then?
For their part, Bush and his buddies havenıt wasted any time in citing their
victory as a "mandate" for more attacks on working people at home and
abroad. No doubt Bush counts on the Democrats rolling over for him for the
next four years the same way they did during the previous four. The real
question is whether or not the left will continue to roll over for the
Democrats. The Bush gang will create many more enemies for itself here when
it attacks workers living standards, just as it is now doing in Iraq with
its attack on Fallujah. In other words, there will be no lack of
opportunities for the left to organize around.
We can start by reviving the anti-war movement in response to the current
carnage in Iraq. There already exists massive anti-war sentiment throughout
the country; at least 50% of the population is opposed to the war and 80% of
those who voted for Kerry did so because they, unlike their candidate, were
against the war. There are thousands of antiwar and global justice activists
out there who, rather than move to Canada, would rather stand and fight
right here. They may have mistakenly believed that putting Kerry in office
was a way to open up space for such a fight, when, in fact, it was a way of
putting off that fight. Now there are no more excuses. The question is what
kind of fight there will be.
Will the left be content to wait until those who betrayed the
anti-war movement to the Democrats put away their Kerry crying towels and do
something, or will we at least try to start something in the here and now
while American GIs and Iraqi civilians are dying in the streets of Fallujah?
And when the big guns of lesser evil liberalism do decide to mobilize,
usually when they see that the left has beaten them to it, will we once
again surrender to them just as they surrendered to the Democrats? Will we allow
the reformists to abandon them out of fear of alienating the Democrats and their "swing state"
voters, or will we
reach out to the most oppressed and exploited as allies by linking their
struggles to the fight against war?
Will we build an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist pole of
attraction within the mass movement that can challenge the reformists for
hegemony so that we wonıt have to repeat the same debacle in 2008 - only with
a Democrat even more right wing than Kerry? That means picking up where
the Nader campaign left off, by building an independent party of, by and for
Roy Rollin attends the College of Staten Island (CUNY)