Monday, July 19, 2004

A Postmortem: The Anti-War Movement, September 2001-March 2004

While activists continue to soldier on, organizing vigils, rallies, and forums against the wars and occupation of Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and so on in their own cities, towns, and villages, it is safe to say that the anti-war movement that emerged in response to the anticipated reaction of the US power elite to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 has all but disappeared on the national level. March 20, 2004, the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, was the last date when a relatively large-scale national mobilization against the wars and occupations took place, even though more Iraqis -- including Shiites -- have begun to resist the occupation and deadly torture of Iraqis, Afghans, and others has been revealed to the worldwide media since then. A postmortem of the anti-war movement is therefore in order.

The dissolution of the anti-war movement as a collective political actor that seeks to impact national politics has been caused by an effective reconstitution of the hegemony of the Democratic Party, to which many organizers and activists of the anti-war left have consented -- a paradoxical outcome because the gap between the Democratic Party leaders' plan for continuing the occupation of Iraq and rank-and-file Democrats' (as well as others') yearning for immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has never been so wide.

Why has the Democratic Party been able to reabsorb activists and organizers so adroitly, when their deepest convictions are so at odds with the agenda of its presidential candidate? In part because of the absence of historical memory.

It's as though the struggle against the Vietnam War had never happened for most liberals and a large section of leftists in the USA, to say nothing of those who do not identify themselves as either, the only collective historical legacy from the era being a considerable degree of sentiments against the draft across the political spectrum -- the sentiments held for various reasons.

The absence of historical memory is mainly due to objective conditions, but, at least to a small extent, decisions made by leftists of the era probably contributed to it:
[Kwame Ture evaluated] " . . . The SWP [Socialist Workers Party] had only ca. 400 members in the early 60s. The party understood that it had to work with antiwar Democrats, pacifists, Stalinists and union bureaucrats if it was to build a movement with the numbers required to stop the war."

While it criticized antiwar Democrats in its weekly, which few outside its ranks read, its peace group, the National Peace Action Coalition, never did. In the interest of unity, NPAC went no further than making sure that the giant demos didn't adapt to the liberals' Democratic electoral orientation. (Lenni Brenner, "When Cattle Unite, Lions Go Hungry: Whatever Happened to the Last Radical in Berkeley to Take Off His Tie?" CounterPunch, July 17/18, 2004)
To a large extent, the Workers World Party replicated the function played by the SWP in the anti-Vietnam War movement, at least from the time of the movement against the Gulf War till recently. Not surprisingly, the WWP fell apart this year, the split caused by its failure to educate its own members and others who attended its events as to the nature of the Democratic Party (if I may trust a few reports on the WWP's split published here and there).

To be fair to the SWP and the WWP, it is not clear whether any other political organization could have done any better than them, but we need to recognize and learn from failures in the past -- including the very recent past -- if we do not want to doom ourselves to repeating the same political cycle -- a wave of protests, a turn to the Democratic Party, and the next wave of protests -- again and again.

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