Where’s the anti-war movement?

The Freedom Road Socialist Organization recently posted an analysis of the state of the anti-war movement.  Mike Ely from the Kasama Project has written a criticalWhere's the anti-war movement?response,examining issues around Obama, connecting the anti-war movement to the anti-budget cut movement, and other issues which the FRSO analysis brings up. Given the ongoing bloodshed happening as a result of US imperialism, we are posting this exchange here for  radical and revolutionary minded folk to reflect on why the anti-war movement is the way it is.  Read, examine, critique.

Mike Ely Engaging FRSO:  To Oppose War, We Need To Expose the War-Makers

Let’s start with points of agreement: It is extremely important to build a powerful antiwar movement in the U.S. And it borders on criminal that so many years into these brutal colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there is such a shameful silence here.

And we should welcome the attempt by Dennis O’Neil and Eric See to sum up the recent history and put forward their programmatic plans. (And it should be noted that both of them are tireless antiwar activists and have placed their time and energy into the effort against these wars.)

Their article ends with a simple assertion:

“This isn’t rocket science. We know how to do it. Let’s get going.”

Let’s start our discussion of disagreements there.

To tell the truth: I don’t think that much of the current activist  world has a clue how to end a war or mobilize people. Sincere people are at a loss.

And the problem is not just the long building exhaustion of 60s-style forms and thinking. It is also the fact that parts of the professional antiwar bureaucracies support the war-makers, specifically Obama (while often trying to keep their loyalties and actual thinking hidden). They don’t  support the war policies altogether, but they support this administration and don’t want to weaken it. And I believe it is also that people believe that either the war is ending (Iraq) or that it might be justified  (Afghanistan) — which, not coincidentally, is exactly what the White House wants people to believe.

I think this “After Shock and Awe” article makes a number of important observations about these points– but then seeks to fudge a key problem about the politics of antiwar movement and leadership.

The Obama phenomenon has washed over the left as well as significant sections of the people. Never in our lives have otherwise-progressive people (generally) been so pro-government. Given this, does it surprise anyone that there is no anti-government or anti-war mass movement?

Is it possible to create an antiwar movement without a significant chunk of people (and of the left)breaking with this government (and Obama) on many levels? Is it possible to resist a war without exposing the class motives and global interests of the war makers, and the potent deceits of its current commander?

This article says:

“From 2003-2008, a substantial and growing mass of class forces and social movements formed an objective bloc to the left of the Bush/Cheney administration. It was a broad united front consisting of sections and strata of the people including trade union members, environmentalists, educators, civil libertarians, college students, women’s groups, African Americans, immigrants, veterans, etc.

“We ask: Is there any basis for expecting even a weaker version of a broad united front to coalesce to the left of the Obama administration any time soon, in particular one centered on opposing the wars?… Looking around, the organized anti-war movement found that these developments had downsized it to its hard core: essentially peace people (religious and secular) and the anti-imperialist left.”

I think this borders on being a white wash. Large chunks of this supposedly “hard core” were fully complicit in this alignment with Obama. Or were shamefully neutralized when their own closest allies proved so stubbornly pro-Obama. “If you know what i’m talking about, you know what I mean.” And some of you know who I mean.

Isn’t the actual situation that a great many of these forces were not anti-imperialist — and were instead willing to form a “united front” with the now-dominant sections of the imperialist ruling class?

I was particularly intrigued by this notion of an “objective block” (or I’ve also heard “objective united front”) — meaning that people somehow found themselves in alliance with Obama (in ways different from  a “subjective” united front, and perhaps therefore free of the public responsibility that comes with having and making a choice).

No.  A united front with major imperialist figures is not something that “happens” to you, like some freaky weather event. It is not something that is simply “objective” — it is not something that doesn’t involve your conscious involvement. Those people who entered a “united front” with Obama made their choice to support a political figure who embraces the empire, who openly planned to escalate in Afghanistan, who promised to continue to threaten Iran, who pledge to back Israel…. and more.

In fact, we have a problem of a left that is united, in many ways, with the war-makers and thereforefinds itself unable to even start to engage against the war. That is a first problem.

Then we have a second problem of how then to reach sections of the people with an antiwar message and program…. And no one should be naive enough to think that there is a mass antiwar sentiment just waiting to be mobilized. That may happen — especially if U.S. slows its withdrawal from Iraq.

One problem (mentioned by Dennis O’Neil and Eric See) is that both the current  wars are kept well below both the pain and awareness threshold for many people here in the U.S. Another problem (not explored by Dennis and Eric as much) is that many people think Obama is “ending the wars as fast as he can.”

Dennis O’Neil and Eric See makes a proposal that dovetails exactly with the existing “soft on Obama” politics:

“One of the most powerful arguments against the wars right now is the astonishing bill for them. It costs $1 million a year to keep a single soldier in Afghanistan. How much does it cost to keep that person in college?  Your city has a $300 million deficit? Simple–just don’t send 300 people to Afghanistan for a year, problem solved.

“We need to build activity at the local level that’s easy for people to engage in and doesn’t require signing on to a whole stew of anti-imperialist statements. We also need to bring our bodies and signs to the marches and vigils against budget cutbacks in our communities, instead of just waiting for people to show up at an anti-war rally. We need to make the connections in our messages; “Healthcare Not Warfare” at the rallies on the congressional showdown. “Books Not Bombs” when folks march in defense of public education.”

I think this points in the wrong direction in many ways.

It starts with a pointed disrespect for the idea of signing “onto a whole stew of anti-imperialist statements.” Ah, but that isn’t the main problem we suffer from, is it?

The main problem is that a whole spectrum of supposedly antiwar forces (in fact) signed onto “objectively” PRO-imperialist statements (as part of their “objective bloc”) — starting with theProgressives for Obama. And some of those forces are still in close alliance with the leadership of the empire.

An antiwar movement need to avoid jacking  up its level of unity — and certainly we shouldn’t demand that everyone declare  anti-imperialist politics. It needs to have a focus (not a long list of complex “issues”) — and such a focus may prove to be the demand for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

BUT… a revitalized antiwar effort will also require the emergence of a new generation of radicals — who are capable of pushing aside a whole framework and attitude that has helped make the existing movement so passive and self neutralizing.

[The antiwar effort around Vietnam required a new generation of radicals to push aside those social democrats who thought Lyndon Johnson was a dream come true, and pushing hard at those old lefties who thought immediate withdrawal and support for Vietnamese liberation were both ultra-left.]

Instead, this  article proposes a tactical approach that would sidestep any need for accountability, and that seems crafted to minimize the need to call out Obama and the Democrats. It would approach the wars as a budgetary matter — and would argue that the typical Democratic Party social programs are being obstructed by these wars (and presumably by the Republicans).

No, this is not ok.  We need a whole debate over such proposals that would reduce antiwar activity to economic issues  — that we not focus on empire, torture or mass murder. Sure wars waste vast human resources, sure endless foreign wars have contributed to a government debt and bankrupcy. But should we really create a movement that condemns imperialist wars mainly because they supposedly get in the way of student loans and social programs for us? Should the antiwar movement disappearthe Iraqi and Afghani and Pakistan people — the way the news media often does?

If we do that, who will have the high moral ground? Who will be discussing the direction of the planet, while we focus on budgets and costs?

All of this is justified by implying that anti-imperialism is (somehow, by its nature) “ultra-left” and incomprehensible to people. This is untrue — and it is the argument of those who also think opposing Obama is “ultra-left” (and “plays into the hands of the crazy Right.”)

What we are offered here is a plan for building a future antiwar movement — a plan that is squirming to allow-or-continue this half-hidden, often denied, but very very real “objective bloc” with the war-makers and their commander-in-chief.

That just ain’t gonna work.

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