The Antiwar Movement Isn’t Where You Think It Is

By Dave Stratman,

November 21, 2005


On October 29 of this year there was an antiwar rally on Boston Common. My wife and I and our daughter and two young granddaughters took part. After a few speakers one of the rally organizers announced to loud cheers that a contingent of antiwar demonstrators had gone to join gay activists who had been since 8 a.m. two blocks away outside the Tremont Temple Baptist Church. Later many other antiwar demonstrators plus the rally sound truck reportedly joined the gay activists outside the Temple, screaming and chanting their anger at what was going on within. The focus of their rage? A conference entitled "Love Won Out," organized by Focus on the Family, on recovering from homosexuality.

Whatever else they did that day, the antiwar rally organizers certainly made clear who is welcome in their antiwar movement, and it doesn’t include anyone who is unenthusiastic about homosexuality or gay marriage.

The curse of the real antiwar movement is that it is largely invisible. It may show glimpses of itself in polls or in heartfelt letters from military families or interviews with bereaved mothers like Cindy Sheehan. But for the most part the profound antiwar sentiment of the majority of Americans is more likely to register only as a few words exchanged between friends at a local bakery or dry cleaner or a conversation over coffee at a diner. The real antiwar movement is not on the radar screen of the corporate media and appears to be just as invisible to the official Left-wing antiwar movement–the one that organizes periodic demonstrations in Washington, DC and which organized the demonstration on Boston Common–and also to its Libertarian Right-wing counterpart on the Internet.

The invisibility of the real antiwar movement to those involved in the visible ones struck me once again when reading a new article by John Walsh, "A Fractured Antiwar Movement," posted on Counterpunch and Walsh proposes that the Left and Right wings of the antiwar movement unite. It seems to me, however, that he has completely missed the real problem of the visible wings of the antiwar movement and has thereby come up with a strategy that has no chance of working.

The American people are overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq and want an immediate end to it, and yet these millions of ordinary people remain invisible and unwelcome to the Left wing of the antiwar movement, represented by such organizations as United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R). Whatever their conflicting views of the Democratic Party and the timing of withdrawal, the Left organizations are united in their contempt for people who do not pass the Left’s litmus tests of civic virtue: support for gay marriage, gun control, affirmative action, and unlimited abortion rights. The Left wing of the antiwar movement remains united in the conscious exclusion from its movement of the great majority of Americans who oppose the war.

Unfortunately ordinary Americans are also absent from Walsh’s article. While Walsh acknowledges the overwhelming antiwar sentiment among Americans, he doesn’t propose that the Left overcome its contemptuous and exclusionary approach to ordinary people. Instead he proposes that two self-isolated groups come together: the gay-marriage-loving Left should unite with the unfettered-capitalism-loving, Social-Security-and-Medicare-hating Libertarian Right. Surely that will solve the problem.

Walsh apparently believes a powerful antiwar movement can be built by wrenching the war free from its social context, thereby allowing Left and Right to bury their disagreements–as if these two puny groups have the power to overcome the Great American War-Making Machine without engaging and effectively mobilizing the majority of Americans against it. This is sheer fantasy.

The war in Iraq is part of the class war being waged not only against Iraqis but also against American working people and workers everywhere, and it can be successfully opposed only on this basis. The war in Iraq and the war on terror are meant to frighten us and drive us into the arms of our leaders while they steal our pensions, cut our wages, out-source our jobs, test our children into despair at school, and construct a police state around us. As Steve Lopez wrote in the "There’s a dirty secret [behind this war] no one has told you, and here it is: This war is not about changing Iraq, it’s about changing America....The whole idea is to train you to expect less and to feel patriotic about it."

Ordinary American workers–the people who build our cars, teach our children, nurse our sick, build our houses, harvest our crops, keep our offices and hospitals and airlines running–are under attack as never before. They are opposed to this war–it is, after all, their sons and daughters who are being "poverty-drafted" or "stop-lossed" to fight it–but the sheer ferocity of the assault on them at work and their children at school and their elderly parents in their homes is distracting and debilitating. People are under assault from so many different directions that they find it hard just to keep running in place.

The only strategy to oppose the war-makers that can succeed is one that makes the connections between the many-sided corporate and government assaults on people’s lives and the savage assault of the war-makers on the people of Iraq. Our analysis of the war and our strategy for mobilizing against it must be firmly rooted in the class war. The strategy must have as its goal not merely to stop this war or even to dismantle the war-making machine. The strategy must have as its goal the overthrow of the class of war-makers and exploiters here and abroad–the capitalist (and, in China, communist) ruling elite, the Wall Street financiers, the masters of great wealth–and the rebuilding of society on a new and democratic basis.

The only people who can accomplish these things are working people who, for the most part, fail the litmus tests of Left and Right. They largely oppose gay marriage and gun control, and they support Social Security and Medicare and reject any attempt to dismantle them. And yet they are deeply opposed to the war.

What needs to be done is not to join marginal Left and Right groups together in splendid isolation but to organize the movement on a new and revolutionary basis, rooted in the lives and decency of ordinary working Americans. This movement should reach out to the silent majority of people who oppose the war and help them find their voice. It should have as its goal to win the class war.

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