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Commentary :: Politics
In the name of "ABB:" Liberal left "fights the right" by chasing after it …
30 Jan 2006
No one, in his or her right mind, would assert that the main contradiction in American politics today is between Republicans and Democrats. Rather it is between the bi-partisan war party and a majority of Americans who oppose the war but lack a political outlet to express their opposition to it. The politics of "lesser evilism" pursued by the mainstream liberal left under the guise of "Anybody But Bush" (ABB) bears no small share of the responsibility for this for this sad state of affairs. Because the liberal left has helped co-opt any and every mass movement into the dead-end of Democratic Party politics, the antiwar movement, which put millions of people into the streets, doesn't have a single representative in any elected body in the U.S. and is dependent on the whims of pro-war politicians and the "swing state" voters that supposedly support them.
Albert Einstein once defined "insanity (as) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result" each time. Karl Marx, who many of today’s liberal left leaders once claimed as a mentor, back in their younger, more radical days, was even more on the money when he wrote about history repeating itself...first as "tragedy," and then, later, as "farce." Only Marx was thinking about something reoccurring twice, not as any many times as “Star Trek” or “Honeymooners” reruns do. For the liberal left has been pushing the politics of “lesser evilism” under the guise of “fighting the right” as a matter of faith ever since the Stalinist Communist Party (CP) helped FDR co-opt the CIO into the Democratic party in the 1930s. This not only cut off any further labor radicalization at the time but prevented the formation of an independent union-based labor party as well, a price that labor and the left has been paying for ever since. They did the same thing with the struggles of the sixties and seventies; from the movement against the Vietnam war to those for Black and women’s liberation. And as we all know, only too well, they co-opted the antiwar movement into the Democratic party's 2004 presidential campaign even though the "anybody" but Bush was John Kerry, who, taking the support of the liberal left for granted, was anxious to appear even more pro-war than Bush was.

Through thick and thin, class-collaboration and co-optation have remained the standard operating procedures of the liberal left. The CP set the stage for this in the thirties and forties during the "Popular Front." In response, the young radicals of the sixties “New Left” started out by rejecting many of the basic tenets of Marxism (the leading role of the working class in the struggle for social change) and Leninism (the need for a revolutionary, as opposed to a reformist, party to help lead those struggles) since they identified them with this stodgy sellout style of Stalinism. But they ended up by embracing their bastardized offspring, via Maoism. This eventually put most of them back in the Democratic party with the same liberal-leftists they had written off to begin with. Far from being a bridge from Mao to Lenin, as some participants in the process would later claim, Stalin was a bridge away from Lenin towards John Kerry via Jesse Jackson.

Today their shared reformism has only further cemented this unity. Within the left they form a general staff of coalition kingpins and an army of professional movement bureaucrats. Schooled either in classical CP-style class collaboration or the New Left gone old, they can all be counted on to cobble together unprincipled alliances whenever those to their left appear to be gaining ground on them in the mass movements. Hence the creation of UFPJ when it appeared that ANSWER and NION were on the verge of leading the anti-war movement away from the dead-end of Democratic party politics on the eve of the 2004 elections. In order to orient the anti-war movement in that direction, they argued, from the start, that the movement needed to become more “mainstream,” ie, even more white and middle-class. For these are the people that the Democratic party politicians, who are at the center of the liberal, left political universe, supposedly pay attention to. Never mind that the politicians of both bosses' parties pay, or rather get paid, to devote far more attention to Wall Street than Main Street. Linking the struggle against the war and occupation to the fight against racism and opposition to the death penalty, the growing movement in defense of gay marriage, let alone to the anti-capitalism of the global justice movement, was seen as scarring “swing state” voters away.

The liberal left high command argues that the long "laundry list" of demands that groups like ANSWER have traditionally been associated with alienates potential participants who are solely concerned with opposing the war. However the only group that Leslie Cagan and Co. really fear alienating are the Democrats in Congress. So any too high profile connections with anti-war Muslims, on the other hand, are taboo. Israel, after all, is an important ally of US imperialism, and, as such, is even more staunchly supported by the Democrats than by the Republicans, who are at least willing to take their share of the Saudi royals' revenues. And if it comes down to a choice between hundreds of thousands of Muslims attending anti-war rallies or a handful of Democrats addressing them, it's a far-gone conclusion which group the leadership of the UFPJ is going to chose. The only problem with this is that the Democrats support the war and occupation as much as Bush does.

The liberal left defines salvaging the Democratic party as the limits of what is “possible” because they accept the eternal existence of capitalism as unquestionable and limit their goals to fixing, rather than nixing, it. This was only re-enforced by Bush's re-election. Many of them expressed bitter disappointment and disbelief in the American people for their having chosen Bush over Bush-lite. Others, kept up the ABB act by insisting that the Democrats really won and refused to make a peep in protest as Bush, with the full support of Kerry, flattened Falujah. In spite of the deep dive taken by Bush in the polls of late, profound pessimism, disguised as reformist "realism" remains the dominant view of the mainstream left. That’s why they refer to themselves as “progressives,” rather than as “radicals,” let alone “revolutionaries,” the way many anti-war activists did in the sixties. Not only was the Vietnam war the liberals’ baby, but it was part and parcel of a global system of imperialist injustice that liberal Democrats like JFK and LBJ upheld every bit as much as conservative Republicans like Richard Nixon did. Many global justice activists drew much the same conclusion with Bill Clinton and Al Gore vis-a-vis "globalization," and flocked to the Green Party and the Nader campaign, as a step in the direction of independent political action. Now that the movement is in retreat, many Green Party activists are retreating with it, back into the Democratic party.

Having “matured” and gotten “knee-jerk” anti-imperialism out of their systems, today’s “progressives” have gone back to following the lead of the Democrats, the way they did during the hey-day of the anti-communist “Cold War.” So in order to "broaden" their appeal, they try to appear even more concerned with opposing America’s “enemies” than the reactionary right is. When they find themselves opposing America's wars, it’s almost always within the framework of “peace is patriotic” nationalism, ie, trying to out-do the right in flag waving. Hence the outrage amongst this milleau over Bush's outing of a CIA agent; an act usually associated with the spy agency's critics on the left, not its employers on the right. All this, however, is par for the course. For the CP of the '30s and '40s, when the left could be both patriotic and progressive, is seen as the model to be emulated. Minus mean old Uncle Joe and the Soviet connection, of course. Only this is a game that the left can never win at. The CP, which defined “Communism as 20th Century Americanism” during the hey-day of the “Popular Front” and WWII, found this out the hard way during the "cold war" red scare that followed, when they were witch-hunted by the same Democratic party politicians and trade union bureaucrats whom they had subordinated themselves to in the first place.

As part of the CP's quest for respectability, their leader at the time, Earl Browder, offered his hand in friendship not only to "New Deal" Democrats like FDR, but even to right wingers and reactionaries, if only they would unite with them against reactionaries who were even more right wing. A no strike pledge, abandoning the fight against Jim Crow, even liquidating the Communist "party;" nothing was too high a price to pay for "anti-fascist" unity. Today the same mentality governs the behavior of the liberal left in its quest to "bring down Bush." Now any and every right-wing dissenter and defector from within the ranks of the ruling class, be they FBI or even CIA agents, high ranking military men or career diplomats, whose only "opposition" to the Bush regime is its "mishandling" of the war in Iraq, find themselves being embraced with the same abandon that was once exclusively bestowed upon liberal Democrats. Perhaps that's because the latter have become increasingly hard to find these days. After all, only three of all the "progressives" in the hallowed halls of Congress could summon up the guts to vote for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

The dissident right, whose writings now fill the pages of legions of "progressive" publications and websites and whose talking heads dominate nearly every Bush-bashing documentary, are no-less pro-war than the ABB Democrats, like John Kerry or Howard Dean. For their sake, the liberal left dismantled the anti-war movement in 2004 and will probably do so again in order to "take back" Congress this fall. Like the Dems, whose only objections to the war was that it was an act of "uni-lateral," rather than "multi-lateral" aggression, the right wingers currently opposing Bush, only oppose his "bungling" of it. For this threatens to harm the interests of the empire, which they both serve. Rather than advocating that the US gets out of Iraq ASAP, which is clearly the goal of the majority of anti-war activists, and more and more of the same American population that the liberal left leadership wrote off after the presidential elections, these dissident right wingers propose all sorts of fix-it schemes to better wage the war and keep the US military ship shape, so that it can engage in other acts of aggression elsewhere.

Representative John Murtha, who was hailed as a hero by many leading liberal leftists, was quite clear that his motivation in calling for "re-deployment" of US forces, rather than "withdrawal," was to prevent a Vietnam-style meltdown of discipline and morale amongst the troops. The latter would prevent effective imperialist intervention in other areas that he and his Pentagon pals see as more important to Washington and Wall Street's interests. Murtha made sure to emphasize, that he was all for continuing, if not escalating, the air-war as part of a Nixon-like "Iraqification" of the occupation. Being a decorated Vietnam vet and a close confident of the high command, who supported not only the Iraq war, but every other act of imperialist aggression since Vietnam, Murtha is only the most visible and outspoken representative of a growing dissident wing of the ruling rich. In no way, shape or form do they fundamentally differ from Bush and the neo-cons when it comes to the ends being pursued, ie, the global hegemony of US imperialism, but only the means being used to achieve it. Indeed, their only real problem with the war in Iraq is that they think Bush is losing it. Nevertheless the leadership of the more mainstream anti-war outfits were as quick to deep-six their brief "united front" with the anti-imperialists of ANSWER in order to better pursue Murtha and his ilk as they were to quash the movement altogether for John Kerry in 2004. And as the US gets deeper and deeper into the Iraqi quicksand and more and more dissent amongst the elite emerges in response, the liberal left's quest for respectability as the road to ending the war in particular and in "broadening" the movement in general will grow with it

Now one may object that this opening to the right will help broaden the movement by gaining a hearing for it amongst those who would otherwise be off limits to anti-war activists. The problem is that Murtha and the former spooks and diplomats now in revolt against the neo-cons speak for the interests of the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department and not those of the "middle America" that the mainstream left is so desperate to reach. Of course, there's nothing wrong, in and of itself, with making temporary alliances, blocs, "united fronts," or whatever else you want to call them, with any and every opponent of the war and occupation, right or left, if doing so actually furthers the struggle and helps build the mass movement. Having people like Chalmers Johnson, William Blum or Scott Ritter, who can expose the lies and machinations of the government from the inside, around is clearly an asset, not a debit, for the movement. The problem is, that in order to entice the recent crop of those on the right, who are, in no, way, shape or form, opposed to the war, the movement has to move even further to the right in order to accommodate them. This, of course, is the same exact thing that they do when wooing the Democrats. In other words, the left has to further domesticate itself, and in the process, alienate or ignore those who should be the natural constituencies for a movement that's supposed to stand for "peace and justice," not Bush-lite or Bush-smart imperialism with a human face..

Of course, one could also object that just being against the war should be more then enough to qualify for participation in, what is, after all, an anti-war movement. Fair enough; even Lenin and Trotsky spoke of a "united front" as meaning that different forces march separately but strike together against a common foe. But they also saw this as a tactic by which revolutionaries could win hegemony within the mass movement by exposing, in practice, the short-comings of those they were marching with. The liberal left, however, has no intention of waging any such struggle because they don't believe that "another world is possible" to begin with. Thus they have no desire to use the anti-war movement as a means to building an even bigger and more broad-based movement for social change that goes beyond the issues of war and peace, let alone counterposing a socialist alternative to imperialist capitalism. ABB is as good as good is going to get. Only the war being the dominant issue in American politics that it is today, almost every issue of substance relates in some way, shape or form to it, from the police state repression and racist round-ups of "racial profiling" needed to enforce it on the judicial front to the economic austerity that comes out of the need to pay for it at the expense of social welfare measures.

Uncritically adapting to either the cowardly Democrats or the revolting right means that key questions are not only not answered but not even asked. This means that disorientation, demoralization and demobilization will set in, especially if demonstrations just lead to more demonstrations and Bush goes on with the war while the Democrats, who the liberal left hedges all its bets on, keep voting him more money to do so. Is the war and the occupation an aberration as both the liberals and the dissident reactionaries contend; a blemish marring an otherwise pristine record on the part of the US. Or is it part and parcel of a system that wages war on workers at home as well as abroad in the interests of the same ruling class? Is bringing "democracy" to the Middle East on the points of bayonets a good policy gone wrong? Or could it be that oil and empire, and not "democracy," what's really behind the war? Was the rush to war the result of the politicians being "deceived" by "faulty" intelligence, or did the government get exactly what intelligence it asked for in order to justify its war, i.e., did it consciously deceive the American people … with the aid of its alleged opponents in the Democratic party? The same holds true when it comes to the torture and spying being carried out by the Bush administration. Is it an exception to the rule or has it always been the rule, both at home and abroad. Only you can't say that if you want those who were actively engaged in carrying it out before George Bush Jr. started signing their paychecks to adorn your platforms or publications.

Thus both liberals and dissident reactionaries may oppose, what John Kerry called "fucking up" the war in Iraq, but they have no problems with the occupation of Afghanistan or Haiti and would rather be dealing with Iran or North Korea, which they deem to be "real threats" to the interests of the empire, than with Iraq. They see the latter as a "diversion" from the so-called "war on terror," which they support, rather than as a key component of it. And if they see the "war on terror," like the "war on drugs" and the anti-communist "Cold War" that preceded it, as legitimate, it's because they have the interests of America's ruling rich for world domination at heart. Those interests can only be advanced by manufacturing imaginary enemies and threats in order to better bamboozle the majority of Americans, who gain nothing and stand to lose everything from them, into supporting these imperial adventures. That's why "bringing down Bush," a more militant version of "ABB," is not enough; bi-partisan "Bushism" will remain the order of the day, with or without George W.

The initial growth of the anti-war movement was partly due to the fact that after a brief delay in the wake of "9/11," it picked up where the anti "globalization" movement left off. Participants in the latter made the connection between the two, seeing imperialist war as "globalization with guns." Millions more ordinary Americans soon joined them. They had nothing to do with the mass movements that followed in the wake of "the Battle of Seattle," but they saw through the Bush regime's lies. Not only did they refuse to fall for the government's weapons of mass deception, but they made the connection between them and the wave of corporate corruption that was clearly linked to the Bush White House. If many fell into line after the war started, it was more out of a desire to "support the troops," rather than to support the war, especially with the mainstream liberal left willing to go half of the way with the USA under the guise of "peace is patriotic." But once the war was exposed as being based on lies and torture and more GIs started coming home in body bags as a result, a growing amount of Americans again opposed it. Only the anti-war movement was nowhere to be seen since the ABBers had liquidated it into the Kerry campaign.

Now as the Bush regime finds itself further and further discredited, it is more necessary than ever to rebuild a mass movement that connects the struggle against war and occupation abroad to the fight against racism (including its anti-Arab component), attacks on workers living standards, women's rights and democratic rights at home. Or as the Troops Out Now Coalition put it, "the best way to facilitate the active participation of working and poor people is for us to find meaningful ways of solidarising the anti-war movement with their daily struggles." The task of a “left” worthy of its name is to promote that kind of struggle and to create a political alternative for activists, not stampede them back into the dead-end of the Democratic party, the graveyard of every mass movement. Without the construction of an ongoing ideological and political alternative based on revolutionary working class politics, ie, a political party that challenges both bosses’ parties at any and every level of struggle, the reformism and liberalism that “progressive” politics embody will continue to dominate those movements. As Mumia Abu Jamal put it at the time of the 2000 elections, “it’s past time to build a people’s movement, a worker’s movement, a radical and revolutionary movement that changes this sad state of affairs. Let us begin. Now … the solution ain't voting for some loser to betray you after election day; it's to organize, to rebuild unions, and make them truly international entities, to protect the interests of labor — globally!” Or as Frederick Douglas once said, “without struggle, there is no progress.” Sticking with the Democrats and their liberal left apologists only ensures that there will be neither!

This work is in the public domain
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