Millions believe Barack Obama is the anti-war/anti-Bush candidate. In reality, Obama is proving to be the candidate most effective at getting all-too-many “leaders” of the anti-war movement to shut up and even urge others to go along with wars for empire.
In the name of getting Obama elected, the anti-war movement is being demobilized, and firm opposition to the so-called “war on terror” is being silenced.
In May, Chicago anti-war activists brought Scott Ritter, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Kinzer, and Doug Cassel to speak at a town hall style City Council meeting and everyone expected the City Council to pass a resolution against an attack on Iran the next day. But before this could happen, Mayor Daley objected, saying, “Passing a resolution like that puts a lot of burden upon [Obama’s] candidacy and injects something that should not be injected” into the presidential campaign. Since then, the resolution has been sidelined by City Council aldermen and some of the activists who claim to personally support the bill but have accepted Daley’s logic.
And now, as the Democratic National Convention approaches at the end of August in Denver, people like Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice are working to pour cold water on attempts to bring forward meaningful political protest. Recently she suggested that the anti-war movement just “drop the idea of a big march on Sunday, August 24th” and has insisted that “while there is plenty to be critical about in terms of the Democratic Party leadership we would NOT want [people] to see this as an anti-Democratic Party protest.”
But is it true that toning down anti-war criticism and protest in order to elect Democrats can lead to good results?How the Logic Plays Out: 2006
It is worth it to recall how a similar logic played out in 2006.
In October of 2006, just weeks before the mid-term election, the Democrats joined Republicans in Congress to pass Bush’s Military Commissions Act. Even though this bill shredded habeas corpus and legalized torture, many “progressives” excused the Democrats, arguing they had to go along in order not to appear “weak on terror” and thereby lose the elections. At the same time, there was a growing movement for impeachment based on iron-clad evidence of the Bush regime’s illegal wire-tapping and the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Iraq. Still, when Nancy Pelosi—and not long after, John Conyers—insisted that impeachment was “off the table” many anti-war leaders curbed their criticisms. Again, the argument was made that such “compromises” were necessary in order to get the Democrats elected.
Remember how jubilant people across the country felt when the Democrats did win? Then, remember how, once they had more “reasonable” people in Congress these “anti-war leaders” pulled out all the stops—calling nation-wide walk-outs, street protests, and major town hall meetings—to apply their much-touted “pressure”? And how after that, how the Democrats immediately cut the funding for the occupation of Iraq and started shipping the troops home, while at the same time they opened investigations and tried for war crimes the high-ranking officials who had LIED to launch that war?
Oh wait. That’s not how it went down. As soon as the election results were in, Nancy Pelosi began reinterpreting what people had voted for. Over and over she repeated the lie that, “The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington D.C.”
And then the new Democratically-controlled Congress, including Obama, approved every single Iraq war spending bill. This “more willing to listen” Democratically-controlled Congress, including Obama, legalized Bush’s warrantless wire-tapping. This Democratically-controlled Congress secretly granted Bush approval to conduct Special Operations—including the use of deadly force—within Iran’s sovereign borders.
All along the way, these “anti-war leaders” weren’t calling people into the streets to apply their oh-so-promised “pressure.” Instead, they’ve been busy doing their part to keep people’s energies focused on the longest-ever presidential race. Outrage after outrage, they push building real opposition into the never-never future, rendering people passive and accepting as torture and war crimes are furthered.
Instead of “moving the Democrats to the left” this strategy resulted in moving the anti-war movement to increasingly accept the monstrous “politics of the possible” and—despite a growing anti-war sentiment in the country—become less and less visible and less and less effective. You couldn’t get a more vivid demonstration of what Bob Avakian was cautioning against when he wrote, “If you fall into the orientation of trying to make the Democrats be what they are not, and never will be, you will end up becoming more like what the Democrats actually are.”Why The Democrats Act the Way They Do
Why is this so? Most fundamentally it is because the essence of this country is not democracy, but capitalist dictatorship. Political power is monopolized by a ruling class of capitalists that sits at the top of a whole global network of exploitation and plunder. It is this class that controls the armies and sends them to carry out wars for resources and geo-strategic advantage against rivals. It is this class that controls the elections and it is this class that the major political parties—both the Democrats and the Republicans—are representatives of. When those parties differ, sometimes quite sharply, it is over how to pursue the interests of their system in a high stakes and increasingly volatile world.
This is the case with Obama’s criticisms of the Iraq war, of the Bush presidency, and of his opponent, John McCain. From his very first “anti-war” speech until today, Obama has made clear that his objections to the Iraq war flow from his belief that it has weakened the military, economic, and political strength of the U.S. And he wants to withdraw some troops from Iraq in order to escalate the war on Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he promises his willingness to act forcefully—including potentially using nuclear weapons—against Iran and that he is willing to launch military operations inside Pakistan. None of these positions are crafted in order to reflect the interests of the majority. They are part of his attempt to convince the ruling class that he would be the bestcommander-in-chief for American imperialist interests.
The ruling class uses elections not as a means through which basic decisions are made, but primarily for the purpose of legitimizing their system and their politics and their decisions. Then, the elections allow whoever wins to claim a “popular mandate.” But remember 2006, and note this lesson well: they will tell you what your vote, and their supposed mandate, means. And just as we saw in ’06, and as we are seeing repeated now with Obama, elections are a way this system and its representatives channel and confine the political activity of the people into a meaningless dead-end.
To bring about the kind of change humanity needs, people have to step outside of—and in opposition to—the whole framework of official politics in this country. Most fundamentally this means making revolution—getting beyond a system that is rooted in the most brutal and degrading forms of oppression, reactionary violence, and exploitation here and all over the world and throughout its history, and completely breaking free of the terms and elections that this system uses as part of how it governs.