The dead end of liberalism

December 6, 2012

THANKS FOR the article exposing the weaknesses of the "good Democrats" ("What about the 'good' Democrats?").

It is important to point out the role of even the most left-sounding Democratic politicians who win support to the mainstream of the Democratic Party. As the article discusses, Dennis Kucinich is probably the most notorious practitioner of this art--stressing a broad tent to reel in radicals. His abandonment of his supposed antiwar principles to support Kerry in 2004 should have been a wake-up call to anyone who thought fundamental change could come through the Democratic Party.

Often, people who vote for Democrats as a lesser evil to the Republicans wish and hope that the Democrats could be made into a consistently liberal party. They feel that the problem is conservative or moderate Democrats who dominate the party. However, this view is an illusion. Even a completely liberal Democratic Party would still be pro-imperialist.

Unfortunately, while being clearly in opposition to the Democratic Party, the article leaves some room for inadvertent support for those illusory sentiments. It talks about Senator Baldwin's "holes in her impeccable liberal credentials" referring to her support of China bashing and Iran bashing. Later it says, "The CHEATS Act isn't the only issue where Baldwin has been far from liberal." This implies that liberalism is antiwar or is at least consistently less aggressive than conservatism.

In fact, liberalism is a resolutely pro-imperialist ideology. Liberals dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war in Vietnam was prosecuted by the Kennedy liberals. From the 1950s through the 1980s, "Cold War liberalism" dominated. The most admired liberal president, Franklin Roosevelt, established the basis of U.S. dominance through the Second World War. Obama increased U.S. troops in Afghanistan and drone attacks over what George W. Bush did!

As Sharon Smith wrote in the International Socialist Review:

[L]iberalism in the U.S. has never forged a principled opposition to U.S. imperialism, given its fealty to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, like its Republican counterpart, is a prowar party. The Democrats have never wavered from principled support for the aims of U.S. imperialism--whatever weak-kneed rhetoric they offer to the contrary. Indeed, most of the United States' 20th century wars were initiated by Democrats, not Republicans.

THE PROBLEM is not just the Democratic Party, but the political philosophy of liberalism. That is why even ex-Democrats like Rocky Anderson, running as the Justice Party candidate for president, cannot break with U.S. imperialism, though they might have tactical differences on certain issues.

Of course, many or most antiwar activists consider themselves liberals. In some cases, they may actually be adherents of liberalism. But in many cases, they are much more anti-imperialist than the liberal establishment will ever be. Due to ruling-class propaganda, they identify antiwar sentiment with liberalism, and that is why they see themselves as liberals. The article seems to accept this self-identification of antiwar activists as liberals.

However, part of the role of socialists is to show the limitations not just of the Democratic Party, but of liberalism as a ruling class political philosophy. When we encourage people to refuse political support to the Democrats, we should also argue for a break with all pro-capitalist ideologies, including liberalism.

Any new party that could hope to have a really progressive impact would have to be based on the interests of workers and the poor, not on any variety of even seemingly softer ruling class ideology and interests.

None of this implies refusal to work with people who don't share our analysis. Of course, we should unite against specific instances of U.S. aggression with anyone who is also in opposition--no matter what their political philosophy. However, in the course of those movements, we should try to convince people that the problem is not just the Democratic Party, but liberalism in general.

Otherwise, people may go off to try to form a more purely "liberal" party which will only end up disappointing them, and be another support for the ruling class.
Steve Leigh, Seattle

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