No To Politics, Yes To Mass Refusal

By Dave Stratman
September 26, 2003


"The war against Iraq brought out the biggest protests in world history. More than 30 million people worldwide publicly demonstrated against war, and hundreds of millions more silently opposed it. But protest isn't enough. Instead of letting the killing machine disempower and devour us, we must strike back in peace against the killers." (From "Building Tomorrow's House" by Ramzy Kysia., August 22, 2003.)

We're at a pivotal point in the struggle to resist the U.S. war machine. The movement is poised to be deepened by a new sense of power and purpose or derailed into the electoral swamp. We have to decide what we are trying to do and how we are going to do it.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan served as crucial diversions from other historic events. One is the development of the first worldwide anti-capitalist movement not under Communist domination for nearly 100 years, in reaction to the World Trade Organization and "globalization." Another is the unmasking of corporate criminality and popular disillusion with business leaders that have made Enron and WorldCom household names. Another is the eruption of popular unrest around the globe, including two general strikes in Italy, one in Spain, and mass strikes in France. China in spring, 2002 witnessed its largest strikes since the Communist accession to power in 1949. Unrest is sweeping South America, with uprisings in Argentina and Bolivia, general strikes in Chile, massive popular struggles in Venezuela and Brazil. The world capitalist offensive against working people of the last thirty years has lost much of its power to subdue. The bloom is off the capitalist rose.

The U.S. went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq not only for a route to lay a pipeline to the Caspian Basin or to seize the world's second largest oil reserves. It went to war to frighten into submission a world of people who have begun too actively to question and resist the power of capital, too actively to seek an alternative. It went to war to silence them with its awesome and brutal power. The wars may have been about oil, but they were also about social control.

The successes and failures of the antiwar movement and its next steps should be judged in this context. True, the antiwar movement did not stop the attack on Iraq a goal that, in my view, was never really achievable; nothing in history suggests that ordinary citizens, short of revolution, can stop an executive in command of a powerful army from waging war when it is determined to do so. But the world antiwar movement succeeded brilliantly in other, less clearly defined goals. It brought real information to millions about the course of U.S. foreign policy. It assured the many Americans who opposed the war that they were not alone, and it showed the people of other countries that there is a huge and vital movement of ordinary Americans who oppose their government's policies.

Most important, the huge numbers involved in the antiwar movement around the world dramatized the contrast between the values of ordinary people and the values of the war-makers. The war exposed the huge chasm which separates the rulers of the world from ordinary people. This deep divide suggests that the only way to end wars is with real democracy and ordinary people in charge.

The rulers are now trying to hide that chasm from view by suggesting that the war was a function of the policies and personality of George Bush or of the cabal of advisors around him Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Kristol, et al. rather than a strategic move which had the backing of the U.S. ruling elite. In fact there was little or no visible dissent from Democrats or Republicans and almost total media complicity in selling the war and deeply misinforming the population on the motives and realities behind it.

The rulers are using the 2004 presidential campaign to restore the facade of democracy, pretending that voting for Dean or Kerry or Kucinich will change the course of U.S. society and rescue it from a future of permanent war. But, Boston Globe columnist James Carroll writes, "By timidly giving the vague appearance of opposition while assuming the broad necessity of America's ongoing military presence in Iraq, the candidates are Bush's effective collaborators." (9/16/03) The 2004 elections are being used to co-opt the antiwar movement and prevent it from seriously questioning the system from which have sprung this and countless other wars and social wrongs. They are using the elections to get people off the streets and back into the fold, just as Gene McCarthy declared his purpose to be in his antiwar election bid in 1968.

The electoral system is a mechanism of social control designed to suck people into an illusion of democracy to prevent real democracy from ever emerging. It is the last great illusion of American society. We cannot create democratic change in America unless we expose the electoral fraud and liberate people from its control.

I suggest that we call on people to do two things:

Mass refusal to vote in a fraudulent electoral process is the first step to build a movement to collapse the system from within by withdrawing our support from it. We should call on people to hold house parties not for candidates but for discussion among neighbors and friends of what real democracy would look like and what it would take to get it. We should hold teach-ins about war and the attack on working people here at home in all its guises. We should raise money not for candidates but for literature and radio and TV ads calling for Mass Refusal to Vote. We should go to the polls armed with literature calling on people not to vote. We should bring a glaring light to bear on the chasm between the ruling elite and the people and withdraw from the system its political lifeblood. We should expose the electoral system and its role within the capitalist system.

Politicians are front-men for the system. The great theme of our Mass Refusal to Vote should be that we are going not to the politicians but to the people as the source of change. We will not talk to the politicians, we will not support the politicians, we will not plead with the politicians, we will not give them our money or our votes. We will instead talk to our fellow country-men and -women. We will approach our neighbors, our friends, our families, our townspeople to talk about the great issues of war and peace and democracy. We will find in ourselves and our friends and neighbors and co-workers the democratic virtues and strengths and force for change that have lain dormant too long. We will find in our communities the power to move mountains and in our people the vision to create a new world.

From this great refusal to cooperate in a fraud we will move on to build Mass Refusal to cooperate with the system in every area of life that we are able: Mass Refusal to military recruiting; Mass Refusal to military demands from schools for information on draft-age students; Mass Refusal to speed-ups at work, to longer hours and overtime, building eventually to strikes and Mass Refusal to cooperate in any way with the giant corporations that control the government; Mass Refusal to support high stakes testing and other "standards-based" reforms at school; Mass Refusal to permit attacks on pensions and health care.

At the same time we should deepen the antiwar movement and other reform efforts into one revolutionary movement. It's pointless to keep trying to put out one fire after another. Why not deal with the problems at their source? The issues of war and peace, capitalism and revolution, are inseparable, as are other key issues in our society. War is the most perfect expression of capitalist society, competition taken to the point of blowing away other human beings with all the technological might that human ingenuity and endeavor have produced. Peace without revolution is impossible. The same may be said of unemployment, lack of health care, pension insecurity, attacks on the education of our young, and countless other problems: they exist because they serve the needs of the rich and powerful. They exist, in other words, because of the lack of democracy in our society. The only solution is revolution to create a real democracy based on equality and mutual aid. We need to expose the system, de-legitimize it, refuse to co-operate with it, and overthrow it.

It is time that we put the issue of real democracy on the table.


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