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A debate in the antiwar movement
Are the Democrats our allies?

May 13, 2005 | Page 4

Carl Davidson

SOME OF Elizabeth Schulte's "Why 'inside-outside' is getting nowhere" (April 22) is just silly. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

For instance, Schulte criticizes United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) thusly: "For example, the national antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice voted at its recent convention for a focus on lobbying Congress--read Democrats--to take more antiwar positions." Goodness, this is a shocking betrayal? So what should we be pushing Congress to do, pray tell? Take pro-war positions? Remain neutral? Evaporate into the ether?

Why lobby Democrats? Everyone knows the Democrats are split on the war. The Democratic Leadership Committee (DLC) bigwigs are pro-war, while most of the delegates at the convention were antiwar, and a small but growing group in Congress introduced an immediate withdrawal resolution and voted "no" to $82 billion in war funding.

So do we want this antiwar bloc to shrink or grow? Or do you think it doesn't matter? Maybe we show how left and radical we are by just ignoring Congress?

What kind of antiwar movement thinks that pushing Congress in any way is a waste--that it doesn't matter if Congress is pro-war, antiwar, or split down the middle? Only one that is so blinded by its own "anti-imperialist, more-radical-than-thou" rhetoric that it can't think straight, develop a strategy, deploy tactics or even get its facts right.

For instance, Schulte says: "So in the months surrounding the 2004 election, there were no national protests against the war." How about 500,000 in New York City at the Republican National Convention? That doesn't count? But then, that event wouldn't fit with the "left" critique of UFPJ, so I guess we're supposed to ignore it.

An effective and all-sided antiwar movement sees that wars are ended by a combination of factors. Foremost are setbacks on the battlefield or areas of occupation, over which we have no direct control. But there's also three additional factors or arenas where we do have some control: one, mass protests or disorder in the streets and workplaces; two, soldiers who become demoralized and rebellious, and refuse to fight; and three, a Congressional majority that refuses to pay the bills for the war.

My argument, and UFPJ's, is that we should work to build all three of these at once. At best, Schulte's argument seems to be that we should only do one and two, and avoid three because of its potential for corruption of the antiwar forces with parliamentary illusions. In other words, voluntarily concede the legislative arena to the pro-war forces in favor of a classic anarcho-syndicalist or ultra-left deviation.

Do the antiwar folks in the Democratic Party have illusions about being able to take it over from the DLC and turn it around? Undoubtedly. The DLC would rather split it first. But as long as they're in the party and fighting, should we want them to win more Democrats to oppose the war? For that matter, shouldn't we want Pat Buchanan to get more Republicans to oppose the war?

Thanks, but no thanks, Ms. Schulte. You can move further "left" if you want, but most of the folks we have to win to oppose the war and then take action against it, are to the center and right of where the antiwar movement is, and I'll spend my energies trying to find ways to reach, organize and mobilize them--and leave the "left" posturing to others.
Carl Davidson, Co-chair, Chicagoans Against War and Injustice, Chicago

Elizabeth Schulte

A SERIOUS discussion of how to build a stronger antiwar movement is needed. And an important part of that debate is the relationship of activists to the Democratic Party--whether, for instance, they should work on the "inside" or the "outside." I believe these were serious questions during the 2004 presidential campaign and still are today--even if Carl Davidson, in his flip response to my piece "Why 'inside-outside' is getting nowhere," doesn't.

Davidson avoids the debate by accusing me of ignoring Congress because I don't promote the antiwar movement's efforts toward lobbying.

There are several ways to oppose the war in Iraq, he argues, and lobbying is one. As my article made clear, I'm in favor of any organizing that forces those sitting in Congress to pay attention to our demands. But I don't think lobbying does that. And I think the 2004 election--in which Democrats from across the political spectrum took the antiwar movement's support for granted and tried to out-Republican the Republicans on national security issues--is abject proof of what happens when activists put their hope in Democrats, rather than rely on grassroots organizing to pressure both wings of the political establishment.

Whether members of Congress "do the right thing" isn't a question of whether a lobbyist has given them enough information. If that were the case, why did every Democrat in the Senate vote "yes" on the recent $82 billion emergency funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations?

As Davidson points out, there was one major antiwar demonstration during the months surrounding the election--at the Republican National Convention. But leaders of the movement and most of the demonstrators viewed this demonstration as against only one of the two main pro-war candidates--George Bush, rather than John Kerry.

In addition, several events took place during the same period of time that should have been cause for mobilizing antiwar forces to protest--such as exposure of the U.S. military's torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But no major protests were called during the campaign season.

Kerry didn't even have to pretend to be on the antiwar side--because he knew early on that he had the support of antiwar forces all stitched up. Indeed, Kerry could count on a crew of left-wingers, like Davidson, to tell anyone who didn't like the Democrats' pathetic choice that Bush had to be ousted at all costs, even if that meant supporting a pro-war candidate. For some "progressives," this meant going all out to vilify the independent candidates Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo--who opposed the war.

The main point of my article was that antiwar activists who try to work inside the Democratic Party to transform it will find themselves silenced--or transformed themselves. By building a movement that is independent of the Democratic Party, we can tell the Kerrys, the Clintons and the Deans that we won't be ignored. This will mean building up antiwar forces wherever we can--not just in national demonstrations, but actions in our schools, our neighborhoods and the military itself.

We need an activist movement that doesn't compromise its antiwar positions in the name of defeating the greater of two evils--a movement that none of the politicians in Washington, Democrat or Republican, can ignore. On a larger scale, this is what is needed to shift the political climate in this country--where voices against war take their rightful place within the mainstream political debate.
Elizabeth Schulte, Socialist Worker

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