September/October 2005 Vol 5, No. 7
Joint Demo, Sheehan, Moveon, Hayden
By Stan Goff
I normally don’t post ad hoc to the blog, but I feel compelled to between babysitting a grandchild, meeting deadlines, coordinating antiwar Iraq veteran activities, and going to all-day planning meetings. There are three things that occur to me as being related, and I make no promise to describe that relation in any depth…only to suggest some connections and solicit more collective wisdom.
(1) The UFPJ/ANSWER decision to conduct a joint action on September 24th.
(2) The role of Moveon.org in Cindy Sheehan’s action in Crawford, TX.
(3) Tom Hayden’s proposed “exit strategy” from Iraq.
At every public event I have attended for the last two years—all of them being related to opposing the war—I have invariably run into someone speaking with a thoughtful, sensitive, reasonable inflection about the need to “reach out to the other side” and help stop the polarization that is creeping into American society. And I have had to practice my best diplomacy to respond…because if I said what I want to say how I want to say it every time I hear this bullshit, I would look like a bully. People who adopt these “reasonable” tones are often skilled passive-aggressives who could easily make anyone who opposes them look like a bully. I suspect they also often have agendas.
Let me say now with no equivocation, I endorse polarization. Deep, wide, disruptive, knock-down-drag-out polarization. That’s what social upheaval looks like, and upheaval is exactly what we need.
But not the kind that was creating an idiotically divided antiwar demonstration for September 24th. That kind of polarization, where the left organizes a firing squad by forming a circle, is destructive of only one pole. I’m not going to go into any depth here about the respective faults of the two groups—one very broad and administratively unwieldy, with certain leaders that will cling to the pant legs of the Democratic Party until they die, and one agile as only a top-down rule-or-ruin sect-led outfit can be, with leaders who seem unable to resist proposing maximalist programs in every venue in order to woo social sector “franchises.” There…I talked shit about both of them, as they both deserve. Enough. Broad is good. Agile is good. Opportunism, in any guise, is bad.
What is being organized on September 24th is immensely important, far more important than either of the “leading” groups, and their decision to bury the hatchet is an indication that the clamoring of many dedicated leftists who put the needs of the movement before those of some fetishized organization has had an effect. We need a united left, and we do not need any formation out there claiming to be the only true prophets any more than we need social-democratic majoritarians. Otherwise the polarization will be a massively organized, well-funded (and need I point out, well-armed) right-wing, and a fragmented fratricidal left.
The steady degeneration of the Energy War, the growing public disillusion with the serial pronouncements of “progress,” and the catalyst of the Cindy Sheehan drama in Crawford, have thrown a monkey wrench into the propaganda machine, but more importantly, the “radical” position on the war, unilateral and immediate withdrawal, has been legitimized. And it wasn’t accomplished with a policy fight, with lobbying, or even with a “peaceful, legal” demonstration. It was accomplished with civil disobedience.
Cindy’s protest was civil disobedience! She was told not to. She did. She was told to leave. She didn’t. She is also going to refuse to pay her taxes.
When this kind of action captures the public imagination, there is always the threat that people will be awakened to politics as a struggle for social power that can be taken out of the electoral-legislative corral.
Aside from plain opportunism and the whiff of funding oppportunities, Moveon, a thinly-veiled front for the Democratic Party, first conceived in defense of the murderous Bill Clinton, whipped into Crawford with money and media experts to “support Cindy” because there is no entity that has more to fear from her out-of-the-box message than the bourgeois charlatans of the Democratic Leadership Council. To her great credit, Cindy has finessed this very well, using the resources without accepting anyone’s strings to dance around the core message—Bring Them Home Now. Those of us who know her know that Cindy is no “average middle-aged mom.” She is an extremely intelligent woman with the heart of a pro boxer.
The Democrats are already grooming a few 2008 candidates, including the execrable Hillary Rodham Clinton who has already stated her intention to beef up the war against Southwest Asia. Let’s not forget that her husband presided over an Iraqi holocaust that George W. Bush is still trying to match. The Republicans are secure for now with their white nationalist popular base. An active and increasingly militant left is a more immediate threat to the Democrats—who have prospered from Republican reaction for decades now by capturing social bases that feel they have nowhere else to go. That dilemma is real, but it is also predicated on the notion that to “go there” we need to contain ourselves in electoralism and pluralist policy fights that are engineered by corporations and NGOs.
That’s why Sheehan and others who propose the radical option of simply leaving Iraq are now being surrounded by the friendly faces of “progressives” who will try and redirect this newfound mobilization along acceptable paths.
Enter Tom Hayden with his “proposal” for disengagement in Iraq. The logic is: antiwar Congresspeople cannot advance their agenda without an alternative to the fake “exit strategies” of the right. Of course, this is just another Moveon proposal. Nothing unilateral about it, and no demand for immediate withdrawal. Moreover, it depends on actions taken by Iraqis that the U.S. will ultimately have no control over unless it is coercive. This plan is no less racist in its implications than the Republican myth of democracy-implants. It still calls for outsiders (including possibly the CIA!) to broker the withdrawal and oversee the “reconciliation” of those troublesome brown people. Sorry, Tom. This is bullshit. Just because you ask for guarantees of no permanent U.S. bases and no preferential U.S. contracts does not erase the fact that you have taken self-determination off the board and are attempting to redirect the demand (yet unmet!) for a political decision to leave into a policy debate.
Let me just say something about how to withdraw. This is my plan, and it requires nothing of the Iraqis.
The National Command Authority orders all U.S. forces redeployed out of Iraq within one month and out of the theater in two months. Any commander that fails to meet the deadline will be summarily relieved, and replaced with a commander that will thereby be placed on a shorter timeline. I can promise anyone who has no experience of the military that this is perfectly feasible, and that with that kind of command emphasis, the mission can and will be accomplished.
But the movement that will hopefully put hundreds of thousands in the streets of DC in September has not yet achieved the goal of forcing this political decision to be made. Politics as an exercise of popular power will be sidelined if it takes up the issue of how to leave Iraq. It’s a bullshit issue designed to stand us down, and put us back in the box.
At the same time, we have to pay attention to how the right-wing is attacking Cindy Sheehan. Something we have to be very clear about is that these attacks are only commensurate with the threat they perceive her to be. When it is necessary, the reactionaries will be unleashed by the entire dominant class to do whatever is necessary to preserve their power. They will slander us; they will jail us; and they will kill us, if that’s what they believe is necessary. I don’t know why so many people so stubbornly ignore this historically demonstrable fact. The only way to prepare for that is to build a powerful and militant multi-tendency revolutionary left that transcends the NGO politics of the “progressives” on the right and the sectarian (and tactically stupid) maximalism of the ultra-left.
The most important task over the next month—at least from where I am standing—is to use the momentum created by the Cindy Sheehan breakthrough at Crawford to ramp up the largest possible demonstration against the war for September 24th in Washington DC. Psuedo-leftist “exit strategies,” blaming Republicans for the war (instead of the entire dominant class), or trying to turn this into a recruiting opportunity for small leftist sects, are obstacles to this process. Turning this war into a political liability will do more for every form of resistance to imperialism in every location around the world, as well as the internal colonies of the U.S., than all the policy fights or all of the pristinely perfect left-maximalist programs in the world.
Persuasion doesn’t bring down the beast. Bleeding does. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be one of the biggest victories for genuine people’s movements, here and abroad, since the U.S. was forced out of Vietnam.
—Truth Out, August 20, 2005