The Antiwar Movement Is Not Progressive -- And That's a Good Thing

by Dave Stratman
March 18, 2004


The movement against war in Iraq before the war began offers us an unprecedented opportunity to change the direction of American society, but only if we understand who is in this movement and what it stands for.

The movement included the expected voices on the Left, such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, who produced searing indictments of the imminent war. But vocal opposition came also from the Right -- Pat Buchanan, Lew Rockwell, and a host of others.

The mass antiwar movement in the streets reflected a similar breadth. Huge marches took place not only in Washington, D.C. and New York City, but also in towns and cities across the country, and included many people who had never before protested. More than 90 U.S. city councils passed resolutions against the war.

The marchers did not represent the full scope of antiwar feeling. Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the premiere elite policy organization in the United States, after traveling the country in late 2002 to advocate war on Iraq, reported that "I have encountered enormous opposition to my terribly persuasive arguments...80 to 90 percent of audience members were against an invasion." Thomas Friedman, a pro-war New York Times columnist, wrote eighteen days before the invasion, "[D]on't believe the polls. I've been to nearly 20 states recently, and I've found that 95 percent of the country wants to see Iraq dealt with without a war."

The range of antiwar opinion is reflected in the scope of the lies that the administration, with its Republican and Democrat and media allies, felt compelled to deploy to justify war. It is true that, once the invasion began and American troops were in harm's way, antiwar sentiment faltered. But the startling fact remains that, even after twelve years of propaganda calling Saddam Hussein "worse than Hitler," even after the national trauma of 9/11, even after the Bush Administration and the media had created the completely false impression of a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the antiwar movement encompassed a huge majority of the American people.

The movement's amazing breadth developed in spite of the fact that many of the leading antiwar organizations share a "progressive" outlook. The scope of the progressive agenda varies, but it generally includes such programs as gun control, affirmative action, "diversity," abortion rights, feminism, and now gay marriage. While one may agree or disagree with this agenda, it is surely much narrower in its appeal than the antiwar position itself.

The progressive wing of the antiwar movement is now being courted by Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, who will be joined in June by Green Party candidates -- progressives all. We need a much bigger tent for the antiwar movement than these campaigns can possibly provide if we are to bring inside everyone who belongs there.

If the movement gets defined by its progressive agenda, the vast antiwar population which does not share that agenda may well become invisible to the organized movement, if it is not already. The tendency will be to ignore and possibly alienate the "non-progressive" part of the movement.

The ruling class constantly works to divide us on issues from the trivial to the profound. To attempt to fit the antiwar movement with a particular candidate or party with a progressive agenda is to limit its appeal, undermine its power, and fail to realize its democratic potential. We should not impose this strait jacket on so vital a movement. That is why I believe an election boycott is the best way to nurture this movement.

The antiwar movement should focus not on candidates but on the underlying decency of the vast majority of Americans and their moral superiority to the ruling, war-making class. Never again should we allow the war-makers to claim to speak for "the silent majority."

Mass opposition to the war revealed a vast chasm between the ruling elite and the people. This fault line between war and peace, between elite rule and democracy, runs very deep in our society -- far deeper than the myriad issues which usually divide us.

What separates us from the rulers is what binds us together as people: a sense of human values, a sense of decency, a sense of what is right and fitting that led us to cry out against the war and to call on our government to stay its hand.

We should look to our common rejection of the war as the basis for a redemptive movement in America, a movement in which we overcome divisions among people of varying backgrounds and beliefs to focus on the most important division: between the war-makers and the people. Our mass rejection of the war demonstrated conclusively that most Americans at some fundamental level share common values. We should discover in these shared values a new democratic vision, more powerful and more real than the democratic vision on which the nation was founded. In it lies the redemptive vision for a second American revolution.

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