Workers Vanguard No. 981
27 May 2011
Captain Renault announced that he was “shocked, shocked” to see gambling in Rick’s café in the 1942 film Casablanca, as he pocketed his winnings for the evening. It was about as shocking to learn that the reformist-led “antiwar movement,” which was premised on “Anybody but Bush” politics, plummeted following the Democratic Party’s gains in the 2006 midterm elections and Obama’s victory in 2008. Such were the conclusions of a recent study by Michael Heaney of the University of Michigan and Fabio Rojas of Indiana University titled, “The Partisan Dynamics of Contention: Demobilization of the Antiwar Movement in the United States, 2007-2009.”
The authors conclude that the antiwar movement was essentially a movement of the Democratic Party and was dissolved once the Democrats won office. To readers of Workers Vanguard, these conclusions are hardly news. But at least they’re now documented with numerous tables and graphs, packaged in excruciating acadamese.
Where once hundreds of thousands could be mobilized in protest against “Bush’s war” in Iraq, today it takes a microscope to spot any opposition in the streets. In evaporating such opposition, the Democrats had the help of the reformist left, which promoted the lie that the imperialist rulers can be pressured to make their system more humane, peaceful and democratic. In fact, the bloodthirsty depredations of U.S. imperialism continue apace across the world under the Obama administration. U.S. troops still occupy Iraq; an intensified U.S./NATO war rages against the peoples of Afghanistan; U.S. drone strikes and special operations have escalated in Pakistan; the U.S. and NATO are bombing Libya on behalf of a pro-imperialist “opposition.”
The data used in the Heaney/Rojas study were gleaned from Listservs managed by the now-defunct United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the ANSWER Coalition, Code Pink, the World Can’t Wait, MoveOn.org and the Washington Peace Center. The researchers maintained “personal relationships with leading activists,” conducted interviews with some of them and surveyed attendees at some 27 events nationally. The study notes early on that “Obama maintained the occupation of Iraq and escalated the war in Afghanistan” and that the “antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama’s ‘betrayal’ and reinvigorated its protest activity. Instead, attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources available to the movement dissipated.” The paper’s conclusion reads in part:
“The Democrats and the antiwar movement struck a useful alliance from 2003 to 2006. The antiwar movement helped to demonstrate grassroots support for a key party issue and the party helped to provide activists, resources, and legitimacy for the movement. By early 2009, however, it was abundantly clear that Democrats were no longer interested in this alliance.”
The alliance certainly was useful for the Democrats. But then the authors continue: “Abandonment by the Democrats gave the movement the independence it desired, but also stripped it of its capacity for political influence. While Obama’s election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement, Obama’s election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass.” This greatly prettifies the liberal and reformist left—the UFPJ; the ANSWER Coalition (once sponsored by the Workers World Party and now by its split organization, the Party for Socialism and Liberation); the World Can’t Wait outfit, sponsored by the Revolutionary Communist Party; the International Socialist Organization, which participated in any number of such coalitions. These organizations never desired “independence” from the Democratic Party, whose fortunes they promoted.
Obama did not “betray” the reformist left. Rather, it was the reformists who betrayed the interests of the proletariat by chaining opponents of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations to the capitalist Democratic Party, the other party of exploitation, oppression and war. From the outset, the Spartacist League/Spartacus Youth Clubs called for the military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against U.S. imperialism and fought for class struggle at home against America’s capitalist rulers. The bankruptcy of the reformist left was succinctly captured by then-Trotskyist James Burnham in his 1936 piece, “War and the Workers”: “No one can uphold capitalism—whether directly, as an open adherent of the capitalists, or indirectly, from any shade of liberal or reformist position—and fight against war, because capitalism means war.”