Need for Independent Antiwar Movement
by David Gilbert , 2004
What a grim time it is politically when the reality of 100,000 Iraqi civilians slaughtered in an illegal war isn’t even a minor issue in U.S. politics and media. The presidential campaign was the gross insult on top of the grievous injury of the invasion of Iraq. While it’s not surprising that Bush won, the size of his popular vote is upsetting. (I don’t know how to evaluate possible issues of computer rigging or how well the actual tabulations correlated with exit polls.) We know that the Dems. didn’t offer a real alternative, the role of $1.2 billion in campaign financing, the way things are defined by the corporate media, the playing on fears of terrorism. Still, it is disturbing that so many people voted for a party that is so blatantly mean-spirited, and galling that “moral values” gave the Republicans the edge. My main first blush reaction to the results is to repeat what I was saying before the election: the crying need is for a strong, independent anti-war movement. It was a shame that, after the good protests in August, the antiwar movement apparently collapsed into waiting for the election results, ”especially given that Kerry’s platform was to wage the war more effectively.
One example of how degraded political discourse is in the U.S. is that 75% of those who voted for Bush believe that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11/01. But how could they, given that the information was out in the open? And why did so many working class people vote for a regime so obviously and slavishly devoted to the super-rich? The basis for understanding this goes back to our core political analysis on the depth of white and male supremacy. We actually have a culture that readily accepts that Bush, who lied to get us into a war that has already resulted in 30 times the 9/11/01 number of civilians killed, is the “moral” candidate because he wants to outlaw gay marriage and abortion. Many voters are willing to accept the way the media frames the issues and vote for the party of the super-rich because of a history, culture and politics that bind them to the benefits of empire at the same time that any fruits from class struggle seem so unattainable as to be completely unreal. It seems that especially when people feel under attack, and when revolutionary alternatives are remote, people will rally around the emperor.
In many ways, Bush is following on a world stage the sinister formula that has worked so well for Ariel Sharon in Israel. Every time there was a danger that “peace would break out” in the Middle East, Sharon initiated a provocation that in turn set off a terrorist retaliation, which then became the basis to rally Israelis behind this “touch on terrorism” leader. You would think that voters, ”even if uncaring about the cruel injustices” would see that Sharon’s approach, while terrific for him, put the average Israeli much more at risk. Similarly, Bush’s war of aggression, with its inherent abuses, has been the greatest
recruiter yet for forces of all stripes who want to attack the U.S., including terrorists who target civilians. That such blatantly counter-productive policies could be widely endorsed is a heavy testament to the weight of the history of identifying with empire in shaping people’s world view.
The situation is far from hopeless, but we have to face the reality rather than wish it away. As we learned in the 1960s, there are historical conditions that make people more likely to raise their class interests above their loyalty to empire. The keys entail a combination of the costs of imperialist war with the clear visibility of more humane (ultimately revolutionary) alternatives. (The set of issues is something I tried to look at in some more detail in my “Looking at the White Working Class Historically.) So that brings us back to where we were before the election: the urgent need for an independent antiwar movement, and one that clearly challenges white and male supremacy, one that offers a loud critique of the immoral and destructive current directions and that shows that a better world is possible. It is certainly not an easy task. But we know that history takes many unpredictable twists and turns. If we sink into despair, we won’t be able to respond to new opportunities; we have to do our utmost now to make humane alternatives palpable.