The Triumph of Liberalism
By Dave Stratman
November 12, 2004
The electoral campaign has finally crawled to its dreary and foreseeable end: the victory of George W. Bush, anti-"red state" hysteria and despair among Kerry supporters, and the effective end of the antiwar movement.
Those millions of Americans appalled at the continuing carnage in Iraq must step back from the electoral debacle and draw the right lessons from it, beginning by examining the role of the Democratic Party and the liberal agenda in the antiwar movement.
The struggle against the War on Terror, or whatever name we wish to give the policy of pre-emptive wars endorsed by both candidates, is the most important struggle of our lifetimes. To succeed in it, we need now to establish a new antiwar movement on a broader popular basis than the one which chose to self-destruct in the Kerry campaign. To do this we must first step outside the mind-set which dismisses as mere bigotry the moral concerns of Americans who oppose gay marriage and abortion and other items on the liberal agenda such as gun control and affirmative action, but who are also deeply opposed to this criminal war.
The new movement must welcome into the fold people from the right and the left. It must use no liberal litmus test for membership. Opposition to the war must be the only criterion.
The bleak outcome of the electoral campaign shows the enduring effectiveness of liberalism as the key strategy of social control by the US ruling elite. In a nation where people from all walks of life and political philosophies opposed a war based on lies, the organized antiwar movement embraced a narrow liberal agenda which excluded millions of people opposed to the war. Because of the perceived weakness of this self-isolating self-definition, all but a few elements of the antiwar movement then allowed themselves to be corralled into the Democratic Party and to accept as their leader a pro-war candidate.
By its astonishing docility the liberal antiwar movement proclaimed loud and clear to the US corporate elite that it had nothing to fear, that liberals would be loyal and true even to a candidate calling for mass murder and victory in Iraq, as long as he kept reasonably ambivalent about gay marriage and abortion.
The post-election U.S. onslaught on Fallujah should come as no surprise to anyone. It wasn’t Bush’s 51-49% win that made more devastation in Iraq a certainty, but the fact that the antiwar movement allowed the Democratic Party to define the movement’s goals and methods and its relationship to the people. With both candidates promising victory in Iraq, what else could happen once the polls closed, whoever the victor may have been? It was not Bush but the War Party, comprising both Democrats and Republicans, that was unleashed by the electoral campaign.
The Democratic Party and John Kerry performed exactly the task they set out to do and for which they received hundreds of millions in corporate largesse: they wed the antiwar movement to the pro-war Democratic Party, and thereby deprived it of life and purpose–until the movement is organized on a new basis.
Since the days of FDR, the role of the Democratic Party has been to undermine the self-confidence and unity of the working class and lead it away from direct action, like the sit-down strikes that swept the nation and had governors and industrialists in the1930s in fear of impending revolution. In the 2004 campaign it performed its role to perfection. Bush as candidate was vulnerable as few incumbent presidents have been. He had lied his way into a war rejected by most of the American people. He had led an assault on civil liberties alarming to citizens of all stripes. He was the first president since Herbert Hoover to bring American workers a net loss of jobs over his term. He had demolished the greatest federal surplus in history to create the greatest deficit. He had created in No Child Left Behind a federal assault on public schools that engendered unprecedented opposition from parents, teachers, local school boards and state legislators.
But the Kerry campaign refused to mobilize the huge majority of Americans who have been severely harmed by these policies. On the contrary, the campaign demobilized people, sucking the life out of issues that people cared deeply about and leaving them with nothing but "Anybody But Bush" hysteria. Kerry went out of his way to support the war in Iraq and to protect Bush from serious attack. Kerry refused to expose the Patriot Act and its assault on the Constitution. He endorsed the "War on Terror" and said that he would pursue it more vigorously than Bush. Kerry declined to propose measures to reverse the ravages of NAFTA on American working people and the outsourcing of jobs. He failed to criticize the No Child Left Behind atrocity, instead calling for it to be fully funded.
Why did Kerry not lead the way in opposing the war and loss of civil liberties and loss of jobs and the attack on public education? Why did he not further energize a base that was already in motion, already crying out for action on these issues?
The answer is obvious: Kerry did not lead on these issues because he and his party in fact support all these attacks on ordinary Americans. Kerry voted for the war in Iraq (as did the Democratic leadership in Congress) and for the Patriot Act (as did most Democrats) and for NAFTA (engineered by Bill Clinton) and for No Child Left Behind (co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy) because he believes in them and because they represent the interests of the wealthy class he serves. The primary goal of the Democratic Party and Senator Kerry in the campaign, more important even than gaining the presidency, was precisely what they achieved: to demobilize and demoralize working people and split them into hostile camps.
The real problem, of course, is not with people who found themselves voting or working for Kerry but with a political system which has made people feel powerless to take any action themselves beyond voting. Change has never been achieved in the US through voting. It has always taken mass popular action by millions of people in their workplaces, their schools, their communities, their streets to create change. This has always been true in the past–in the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement–and it is true now.
What next for the millions of Americans who remain deeply opposed to this war and to the whole set of anti-democratic policies in which it is enmeshed?
We need to step outside the Democratic Party to form enduring, popularly-controlled, democratic organizations with which we can challenge the direction of our society. The new antiwar movement must find its energy and its power in the ability of millions of people across the country to take concrete action themselves in the communities and workplaces against the War Machine. We need to build a mass movement of refusal to cooperate with Empire, and we need to figure out practical ways to do it. Never again should the antiwar movement line up behind a pro-war candidate because we prefer his Eastern liberal style. Never again should we let our goals be set by capitalist politicians. Never again should we abandon direct action to let politicians act for us.
We have a huge task before us. That task is not to elect
another politician to office–even one who, unlike Kerry, might actually oppose
Empire. Our task is much larger but doable. That task is to dismantle the
Military-Industrial Complex and disarm the War Machine. If we are serious about
this task and stay focused on the issue, we will find ourselves surrounded by
many millions of new allies–new not because they weren’t there before, but new
because we just couldn’t see them.
Dave Stratman edits NewDemocracyWorld.org and is author of We CAN Change The World: The Real Meaning Of Everyday Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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