Revolution #138, August 3, 2008

The Dangerous Logic of Blocking Protests in the Name of Electing Obama

Millions believe Barack Obama is the anti-war/anti-Bush candidate. In reality, Obama is proving to be the candidate most effective at getting all-too-many “leaders” of the anti-war movement to shut up and even urge others to go along with wars for empire.

In the name of getting Obama elected, the anti-war movement is being demobilized, and firm opposition to the so-called “war on terror” is being silenced.

In May, Chicago anti-war activists brought Scott Ritter, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Kinzer, and Doug Cassel to speak at a town hall style City Council meeting and everyone expected the City Council to pass a resolution against an attack on Iran the next day. But before this could happen, Mayor Daley objected, saying, “Passing a resolution like that puts a lot of burden upon [Obama’s] candidacy and injects something that should not be injected” into the presidential campaign. Since then, the resolution has been sidelined by City Council aldermen and some of the activists who claim to personally support the bill but have accepted Daley’s logic.

And now, as the Democratic National Convention approaches at the end of August in Denver, people like Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice are working to pour cold water on attempts to bring forward meaningful political protest. Recently she suggested that the anti-war movement just “drop the idea of a big march on Sunday, August 24th” and has insisted that “while there is plenty to be critical about in terms of the Democratic Party leadership we would NOT want [people] to see this as an anti-Democratic Party protest.”

But is it true that toning down anti-war criticism and protest in order to elect Democrats can lead to good results?

How the Logic Plays Out: 2006

It is worth it to recall how a similar logic played out in 2006.

In October of 2006, just weeks before the mid-term election, the Democrats joined Republicans in Congress to pass Bush’s Military Commissions Act. Even though this bill shredded habeas corpus and legalized torture, many “progressives” excused the Democrats, arguing they had to go along in order not to appear “weak on terror” and thereby lose the elections. At the same time, there was a growing movement for impeachment based on iron-clad evidence of the Bush regime’s illegal wire-tapping and the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Iraq. Still, when Nancy Pelosi—and not long after, John Conyers—insisted that impeachment was “off the table” many anti-war leaders curbed their criticisms. Again, the argument was made that such “compromises” were necessary in order to get the Democrats elected.

Remember how jubilant people across the country felt when the Democrats did win? Then, remember how, once they had more “reasonable” people in Congress these “anti-war leaders” pulled out all the stops—calling nation-wide walk-outs, street protests, and major town hall meetings—to apply their much-touted “pressure”? And how after that, how the Democrats immediately cut the funding for the occupation of Iraq and started shipping the troops home, while at the same time they opened investigations and tried for war crimes the high-ranking officials who had LIED to launch that war?

Oh wait. That’s not how it went down. As soon as the election results were in, Nancy Pelosi began reinterpreting what people had voted for. Over and over she repeated the lie that, “The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington  D.C.”

And then the new Democratically-controlled Congress, including Obama, approved every single Iraq war spending bill. This “more willing to listen” Democratically-controlled Congress, including Obama, legalized Bush’s warrantless wire-tapping. This Democratically-controlled Congress secretly granted Bush approval to conduct Special Operations—including the use of deadly force—within Iran’s sovereign borders.

All along the way, these “anti-war leaders” weren’t calling people into the streets to apply their oh-so-promised “pressure.” Instead, they’ve been busy doing their part to keep people’s energies focused on the longest-ever presidential race. Outrage after outrage, they push building real opposition into the never-never future, rendering people passive and accepting as torture and war crimes are furthered.

Instead of “moving the Democrats to the left” this strategy resulted in moving the anti-war movement to increasingly accept the monstrous “politics of the possible” and—despite a growing anti-war sentiment in the country—become less and less visible and less and less effective. You couldn’t get a more vivid demonstration of what Bob Avakian was cautioning against when he wrote, “If you fall into the orientation of trying to make the Democrats be what they are not, and never will be, you will end up becoming more like what the Democrats actually are.”

Why The Democrats
Act the Way They Do

Why is this so? Most fundamentally it is because the essence of this country is not democracy, but capitalist dictatorship. Political power is monopolized by a ruling class of capitalists that sits at the top of a whole global network of exploitation and plunder. It is this class that controls the armies and sends them to carry out wars for resources and geo-strategic advantage against rivals. It is this class that controls the elections and it is this class that the major political parties—both the Democrats and the Republicans—are representatives of. When those parties differ, sometimes quite sharply, it is over how to pursue the interests of their system in a high stakes and increasingly volatile world.

This is the case with Obama’s criticisms of the Iraq war, of the Bush presidency, and of his opponent, John McCain. From his very first “anti-war” speech until today, Obama has made clear that his objections to the Iraq war flow from his belief that it has weakened the military, economic, and political strength of the U.S. And he wants to withdraw some troops from Iraq in order to escalate the war on Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he promises his willingness to act forcefully—including potentially using nuclear weapons—against Iran and that he is willing to launch military operations inside Pakistan. None of these positions are crafted in order to reflect the interests of the majority. They are part of his attempt to convince the ruling class that he would be the bestcommander-in-chief for American imperialist interests.

The ruling class uses elections not as a means through which basic decisions are made, but primarily for the purpose of legitimizing their system and their politics and their decisions. Then, the elections allow whoever wins to claim a “popular mandate.” But remember 2006, and note this lesson well: they will tell you what your vote, and their supposed mandate, means. And just as we saw in ’06, and as we are seeing repeated now with Obama, elections are a way this system and its representatives channel and confine the political activity of the people into a meaningless dead-end.

To bring about the kind of change humanity needs, people have to step outside of—and in opposition to—the whole framework of official politics in this country. Most fundamentally this means making revolution—getting beyond a system that is rooted in the most brutal and degrading forms of oppression, reactionary violence, and exploitation here and all over the world and throughout its history, and completely breaking free of the terms and elections that this system uses as part of how it governs.

Movement “leaders” not only fall into this election trap—cycle after cycle—they lead others into it, and they try to silence those who do try to mount actual protest. Whatever they may personally believe or understand, these forces portray the Bush crimes as a betrayal of American ideals rather than an extension—albeit an extreme, and in many ways unprecedented, extension—of what this country has always been about, founded as it was in slavery and genocide, and soaked in the blood of people from Latin America to South Africa butchered by repressive regimes backed by the U.S. Flowing from their desire to “perfect”—not overthrow or even disrupt—the system of American democracy, they repeatedly act to cool out anything that would step outside official channels.

Realism…and Revolution

But there are also others—who do see something rotten at the core of the United States system, and yet still insist that even revolutionaries must support Obama. In a recent email exchange one such friend of mine insisted that he “agreed [that] Obama is part of the system. And, I agree, we need revolution. But unless that is around the corner—we have to be realistic and support Obama.”

This is also wrong.

No one can promise that a revolutionary situation is around the corner. But what can be said with certainty is that very often in history revolutionary openings have emerged all of sudden and seemingly out of nowhere. Such openings mainly come about owing fundamentally to the nature and working of the system itself—to the ways in which the underlying social and political “faultlines” can suddenly split open. But what revolutionaries do in the whole period leading up to that has a lot to do how the situation does present itself. And if revolutionaries are not working every day towards—and measuring everything they do up against—hastening the emergence of a revolutionary situation and bringing about a revolutionary people . . . if they are not “preparing minds and organizing forces” for just such a rare opening. . . then they won’t even be able to recognize, let alone seize on, a revolutionary situation when it does arise.

Revolution is not just an idea to “believe in” in the abstract and then put aside as we putter around in the world as it is. It must be actively striven for through a whole ensemble of revolutionary activity—fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution. A key aspect of this is confronting—and telling others the truth about, not covering over—the true nature of bourgeois elections as a vehicle for exercising and obscuring bourgeois dictatorship and that what humanity really needs is communist revolution and a whole different system. And this also means building massive political resistance to the main ways in which, at any given time, the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system gets focused up in policies and actions of the ruling class and its agencies. Right now this includes coming out at the Democratic National Convention and demonstrating against the wars, the repression, and the other key elements of the agenda that need to be opposed, and defeated.

You see, it is NOT the case that short of revolution—or that for those who don’t agree with the need for or desirability of revolution—there is nothing we can do but accept the “lesser of two evils.” The choice we face is not really between Obama and McCain. Our choice is between accepting the ruling class spectrum of Obama to McCain as the limits of what is possible—or—rejecting this whole framework and instead waging meaningful mass political resistance to the whole fascist direction they are dragging things in.

When people did break loose in massive political protest in 2002 and 2003 in the run up to the Iraq war, it mattered. It gave the whole world hope in the knowledge that the people of this country opposed what their government was doing and were acting to stop it. These protests, which were then joined by millions of people across the globe, stripped Bush of legitimacy as he launched that war anyway. Then, as the war began to go badly, the challenge that had been put before people by those protests continued to influence the thinking of people broadly as more and more turned against the war and the President.

Who would even know, to the extent that people do, about the war crimes and torture carried out in this war, if it weren’t for acts of courage and defiance of the people? It was not the Democrats, but the anti-war soldiers and veterans who stepped forward to expose the war crimes in Iraq. It was not the elected officials making compromises in order to get elected, but the officials who answered their consciences and forfeited careers who blew the whistle on torture. It was not by campaigning, but by sitting down and refusing to be moved, that the parents who lost children in this illegal war captured the hearts of and moved millions.

Since the time of those world record size protests, the outrage and disgust at the Bush program and its wars has only grown deeper and more widespread. But now, what will become of this outrage? Allowing it, or helping it, to be channeled into supporting Obama when he is busy telling you he wants to better prosecute America’s wars is the most unrealistic idea there is!

Yes, millions will vote for Obama believing, or at least telling themselves, that he will bring the change they want to see. But as the policies of a murderous empire advance, in one form or another under the next administration (assuming the Bush cabal allows the elections to go forward), will these people be demoralized and demobilized, or will they become radicalized and energized?

The answer to that question has a LOT to do with what the anti-war movement does now. Whether we tone the message down so, as Leslie Cagan put it, it’s not seen “as an anti-Democratic Party protest,” and we don’t offend the delegates—or plant a pole of real opposition right up against the misplaced hopes that will be projected onto the Democratic National Convention?

At a time when the tens of millions of people who have the potential strength to stop this war are being pacified and corralled into a dead-end, what meaning does it have to call oneself “anti-war” if you are not protesting outside the convention? Anyone serious about stopping this whole direction of unjust war, torture and fascist repression should be in the streets.

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