Where is the Movement?
By Tom Suber
The third annual UNITED FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY in June 2007 is a textbook example of what not to do if you want to build a real anti-war movement that challenges U.S. hegemony and imperialism.
The war against Iraq began with world wide mass demonstrations exceeding in size and scope any that took place during the Vietnam War. This evidenced a larger number of people opposing the American war against the Iraqi population than ever opposed the Vietnam War even at its end.
Yet, where is the movement giving rise to a mass uprising of committed people in confrontation with the fascism of the Bush administration? Where are heroic acts of civil disobedience? Where is the daily resistance to war and fascism?
The 3rd National Assembly, in Chicago, of the largest peace coalition drew less than 300 people due both to tactical and strategic blunders exposing the fundamental weaknesses of what is a coalition without effective leaders or organization. And in any fundamental sense is not even a movement.
It is tempting to begin an analysis with the immediate tactical blunders but logic forces first a review of strategy.
A review of our most immediate history of mass movement for social change will benefit those who did not have the privilege of having participated in the 1960's Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. Historically, the gains of the Civil rights and Anti-Vietnam War movement were not won by appealingly to liberal/democratic political leaders. Instead, it is was a movement that bought masses of people in conflict with what we, initially, called the “system”. Further, we sought to put ourselves in opposition to the system through confrontation, civil disobedience, mass action and otherwise throwing ourselves tactically and strategically within the cogs of the machinery of the“system”.
Eventually, real movement leaders came to realize that war and racism were institutional and that the “system” we opposed was called capitalism. And that the struggle against capitalism necessarily involved a struggle of those that have not against those that have. We learned that this was called class struggle and constituted the strategy for opposing capitalism.
Having identified the system as capitalism and the strategy of opposition as class struggle, lets apply this analysis to and examine the dominant ideology of the UFPJ.
The dominant political force within the UFPJ is the former CPUSA and its progeny the Committees of Correspondence. An organization that endorsed John Kerry for President in 2004. Building the supposedly liberal wing of the democratic party does not bring fundamental political change nor is it anti-war. These folks all supported and voted for the war.
The war will be brought to and end, in spite of, not because of these elements. The war will end because it is based upon untenable ideological considerations flying in the face of reality, is too costly, and because of the resistance of the Iraqi people. No where is an American anti-war movement playing a significant role in these events.
The repeated calls by the UFPJ to contact my representative in Congress are pathetic. The last time I thought that those responsible for war would end it when the errors of their ways were just brought to their attention was when I was 17 years old and I wrote to Lyndon Johnson. My repeated attendance at and arrests for anti-war demonstrations including those for a draft board sit-in, draft refusal and assaulting federal agents just began to get their attention and helped build a movement giving people the experience and tools to wage a fight for social change. But supporting Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, or some other Democratic Party political hack will never be the answer nor will it ever build a movement or even get their attention.
Sometimes, it is illustrative to examine a part under a microscope to understand the whole. To this end let us examine with some specificity the politics of Madea Benjamin, a prototypical advocate of the majority political tendency of the UFPJ who served on the steering committee of the UFPJ until this assembly where she relinquished her seat to Dana Balicki with whom she co-founded the organization CODEPINK.
Benjamin favors “fair trade” having been supposedly appalled by the actions of the United States and capitalism overseas while employed by the United Nations and the WHO abroad. To this end she and her husband founded Global Exchange to press for “fair trade”. “Fair Trade” seeks to reform capitalism by putting a more human face upon it by making capitalism “fair”. This ignores that racism, war, and exploitation are inherent in the system called capitalism. Putting a human face upon capitalism, which Marx called wage slavery, is akin to arguing that one can reform chattel slavery by making it “fair”. Benjamin's 1860's counterpart would have argued that if the slaves were treated “fairly” and provided with food and shelter there would be no need for abolitionists and their revolutionary doctrines. And Benjamin is a consistent descendant of her 1860's political antecedents who claimed that abolitionism was a radical taking of property. Benjamin's remarks during the 1999's anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle suggested that "anarchists" were wrong and should have been arrested by the police when and because they engaged in property destruction.
Explaining why she supported "Anybody But Bush" in 2004 , Benjamin said in regard to her support for Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election:
“ ...maybe it's time for the people who voted for Bush in 2000, the people who didn't vote at all in 2000, and yes, people like myself who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, to admit our mistakes. I'll say mine -- I had no idea that George Bush would be such a disastrous president. Had I known then what I know now, and had I lived in a swing state, I would have voted for Gore instead of Ralph Nader."
Instead of drawing from the disastrous policies of George Bush that there was a need for a movement seeking fundamental change Madea Benjamin moves to the right and supports John Kerry for President just like her friends in the CPUSA/ Committees of Correspondence.
My only hope for a genuine anti-war movement is that this wrong headed political tendency is replaced by one that adopts a strategic analysis based upon class struggle and develops the tactics appropriate for this analysis.
While class struggle or not is the overwhelming strategic concern, I cannot help but wonder if the logistics of the UFPJ assembly were not a deliberately planned tactic to exclude mass participation.
The UFPJ assembly was planned for all day on a Friday workday and half a day Saturday at a fancy suburban hotel.
It was a telling statement that this meeting was not planned for a college campus given the fact that students played a dominant role in both the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. Indeed, the composition of the assembly resembled more an AARP meeting than a movement organization. Perhaps, the UFPJ thought that college auditoriums and dorm rooms were too plebeian for them. I remember sleeping on church floors in the 1960's.
In addition, the organization thought nothing of charging a fee to distribute literature. I do not ever remember having to pay money to distribute literature at any Civil rights or Anti-Vietnam War meeting.
The total irrelevance of the UFPJ is that the Chicago Metropolitan area has a population of 9 million with 3 million in the City of Chicago alone. Yet barely 300 hundred people could be bothered to attend.
We had more people in attendance by a factor of 10 in 1964 at the very first Teach-In against the Vietnam War at the University of Michigan before there barely existed an anti-war movement and certainly not the broadly held opposition that exists today.
The agenda today should not be where goes the anti-war movement but where is the movement.