Monday, May 30, 2005

Nicola Bullard Report's from Paris on referendum on EU constitution

I picked this up from the South African Debate e-list. Nicola Bullard is from the Global Focus on the South group associated with Walden Bello.


I just returned from the Bastille where, in spite of the rain, thousands of Parisiens are gathering to celebrate the resounding victory of the "no" vote on the referendum on the proposed European Constitution. This is a great victory against neo-liberalism.

With the highest turnout in a national referendum since the 1962 Evian agreement to end the French occupation of Algeria, more than 70 per cent of France's 42 million voters went to the polls today. The final result - 55 % for the no -- will precipitate a political crisis in the two major French parties, the Socialist Party and President Chirac's UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire). The Socialist Party was split over the vote, with the leadership adopting an aggressive campaign for the "yes" but with a sizeable faction of high profile members campaigning for the no, including former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius who used the referendum to re-start his fading political career. Rising UMP star and the main challenger to President Chirac, Nicholas Sarkozy, was also an passionate campaigner for the yes. Chirac, Sarkozy, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande and former prime minister Lioned Jospin will all be faced with challenges from within their own parties following this massive defeat. The Socialist Party is likely to experience a major crisis and possible split: at the least there will be a shift to the left and the party will be forced to abandon its support for neo-liberal policies. Prime Minister Raffarin, though, is likely to be the first victim of the political crisis: polls show that everyone -- those who voted yes, those who voted no and even those who abstained -- want him to go.

The campaign on the referendum has been characterised by vague promises of a better future and threats of chaos from the yes campaign. The no campaign was far more complex: the extreme right wing National Front was for the no, as were all the leftist parties, the Communist Party, the CGT (the Communist trade union confederation) and the social movements, such as ATTAC and the Confederation Paysanne lead by Jose Bove.

The key campaign message of the left was that a vote for the "no" was not a vote against Europe, but a vote against a financial Europe and for a social Europe. The victory of the no vote today signals a major blow for the neo-liberal model represented by the draft European constitution, which, for example, guaranteed the right o the the free movement of capital but not the right to work.

In the final count, the "no" won by a clear 2 million votes, 55 % from the left (from the Socialist Party and left) and 45 % from the right (including the UMP, the UDF and the National Front). Seventy five per cent of industrial workers and 66% of employees, voted no.

Although commentators, especially those in favour of the pro-constitution, will argue that the vote in France is a vote against Chirac and the state of the economy, the reality is that this vote is a resounding vote against the neo-liberal project.Nicola

Oren Ben-Dor on academic boyvott of certain Israeli Universities

I thought this piece by Oren Ben-Dor (whom I'd never heard of before) is very good. It's a Portfolio item from The Independent (i.e. pay), so I'm posting it in full here. It's a good reminder that the issue shouldn't be allowed to go away.

Driving towards my birthplace of Nahariya in northern Israel, you pass an impressively designed Holocaust memorial, dedicated to 'the fighters of the ghettos'. It is difficult not to be touched by its importance and prominence. Three hundred metres further along the same road, lie the forgotten remains of the Arab village, al-Sumuriya, whose people were among the 750,000 Palestinians displaced in 1947-49 war. The contrast illustrates the way in which, in Israel, the Jewish catastrophe monopolises the national collective memory at the expense of the Other.

The decision last week by UK academics to overturn their boycott of two Israeli universities is a missed opportunity to awaken Israelis, and in turn Palestinians, to the urgent need to engage in a debate about all the skeletons in the cupboard, both Zionist and Palestinian. The Association of University Teachers is instead allowing denial and forgetfulness, on both sides, to work themselves out to a further catastrophe and continuing bloodshed. The vicious circle of victimhood, hatred and self-righteousness can never be transcended until each side allows the other to articulate the inner core of its pain and then sets out to address that trauma.

The withdrawal of the boycott suggests that some members of the AUT were pushed into an act of moral cowardice by the sense of collective guilt for past European anti-Semitism carefully fostered by apologists for Israel in the weeks leading up to the decision. However, it is also probable that some were confused about the purpose of the boycott.

Academic freedom is not some idle abstraction which unconditionally shields academic pursuits, as one might assume from the unhelpful utterances of figures in Britain, including Jonathan Sachs, who opposed the boycott in its name. Its purpose is to provide a means to transcend the publicly- sanctioned limits of debate. Such freedom is precisely what is absent in Israel. The Zionist ideology which stipulates that Israel must retain its Jewish majority is a non-debatable given in the country -- and the bedrock of opposition to allowing the return of Palestinian refugees. The very few intellectuals who dare to question this sacred cow are labelled 'extremists'. But what about asking whether Zionism itself is extremist?

The Israeli Zionist left, the self-styled 'peace activists' who were offended by this boycott, are themselves sophisticated accomplices to the smothering of debate by limiting the issue to 'the 1967 occupation'. The occupation that should be debated, but is not, is the occupation of the whole of Palestine.

Israeli universities have, by and large, been conscripted into the Israeli national consensus. The absence of academic freedom is evident not only in the behaviour of Haifa University towards the politics lecturer Ilan Pappe and those he seeks to defend. It is also evident in the pervasive marginalisation of the debate about the racist nature of the Zionist state, and about the catastrophe which Zionism inflicted on the Palestinian people.

Both debating Zionism and, linked to it, empathising with the victims of the Palestinian catastrophe 'Nakbah', must form part of the mainstream of academic discourse. And external pressure is needed to make Israelis aware of and prepared to reflect on these issues.

Academics should be held accountable for their failure to resist the curbs on academic freedom placed on them by their institutions. Whether they are mathematicians, historians, lawyers, philosophers or economists -- all should demand that their institutions meet the challenge posed by the ideal of academic freedom. In Israel, sadly, they do not.

A boycott to foster real academic freedom in Israel should unite academics all over the world. What is at stake is the primordial freedom to question the racist assumptions that lie at the heart of nationalistic ideology and historiography. Thus, such a boycott is even more important than a general boycott of Israel as a criminal state, to which Israeli academics would be subject like the rest of the Israeli population.

However, we should demand more than a grudging 'grant' of academic freedom to debate Zionism's culpability for the Palestinian catastrophe. To compensate for the disadvantage that has been caused by the long history of Nakbah- denial in Israeli universities, these institutions should now actively facilitate and foster the debate; and allocate specific resources and opportunities.

The academic boycott that I defend is distinct from a comprehensive boycott against Israeli goods, sports, etc, (which I would also defend) for the state's ongoing crimes in the Occupied Territories. Indeed Bar Ilan University, by supporting a college there, is an accomplice to those crimes. No, the boycott I wish to see is a boycott intended to produce academic freedom, something that all AUT members say they hold dear, one which prompts Israeli academics to ask questions that, currently, they dare not ask. It is about freedom of debate in a country that styles itself the 'only democracy in the Middle East' but which restricts debate about the herrenvolk (master race) nature of its democracy.

Although the AUT has stumbled, this issue will return. I urge other academic unions to pick up the baton that the AUT has dropped.

The writer is a law lecturer at Southampton University

Friday, May 27, 2005

Paul Rogers: Iraq Ablaze

Open Democracy's regular columnist on the war in Iraq, Paul Rogers, has again brought together a remarkable synoptic view of the disastrous course taken by the US in UN in Iraq ablaze (26 - 5 - 2005 ): The failure of the United States to rethink its Iraq strategy means endless war in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

The first three weeks of May was one of the worst periods for violence since the Iraq war began over two years ago; and the pattern has continued into the fourth week. By 25 May, sixty United States soldiers had been killed – higher than any of the monthly losses from February to April, even though (as earlier columns in this series have outlined) US troops are less involved in patrols these days and more involved in training Iraqi security forces.

US military injuries have been particularly high – in the six-week period to 17 May, nearly 850 were injured, 244 of them serious. Iraqi casualties have been much higher, in the many hundreds; they include fifty people killed on 23 May alone. The fledgling Iraqi police and army are still the main targets.

Despite the evidence of these figures, there are still claims that the insurgency is being brought under control. George W Bush this week repeated his claim that the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq is simply a measure of the desperation of the insurgents as they fail to make progress. In this strange “inside-out” world, defeats for the Iraqi security forces become victories and the fact that United States military operations stir up a vigorous insurgent response is a measure of insurgent weakness not strength.

The arguments for such optimism include reports that the Jordanian militant and al-Qaida associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was wounded in combat. Whatever the truth of this claim, there are four indicators in Iraq suggesting disturbing trends that neither support the extraordinary perspective of George W Bush nor figure prominently in the western media.

No shortage of recruits in Iraq
The first, briefly mentioned in the news media, is the assassination of Major General Wael Rubaye, a senior Iraqi security official. The background to this incident was remarkable. In its efforts to control the insurgency, Iraq’s ministry of national security recently decided to establish a special operations room to coordinate the counter-insurgency campaign across the country. General Rubaye was commander-in-chief of this core operation, and his personal security was clearly paramount: yet within days it was breached and he was assassinated.

The second indicator is the rapid response of Britain’s ministry of defence (MoD) to an urgent operational requirement (UOR) from regional commanders in Iraq for higher levels of protection for British troops serving in southeast Iraq, around Basra. The additional equipment includes 3,300 sets of improved body armour, helmets and impact protection goggles. According to Defense News (16 May 2005):
“Commanders of Operation Telic, Britain’s mission in Iraq, told the MoD at the end of 2004 that drivers and troops providing top cover while travelling in vehicles are increasingly at risk of attack while on patrol in the south east sector of Iraq, and requested a package of protection improvements.”
The key phrase here is “increasingly at risk of attack”. The southeast of Iraq has been widely represented as being second only to the Kurdish northeast in terms of improving security; yet evidently, whatever has been said in public, the reality is an urgent need for increased troop security in a supposedly peaceful region.

The third indicator is the continuing problem of securing oil exports. The problems facing the northern export pipeline are just one example. This 480-kilometre pipeline runs from Kirkuk to the Ceyhan oil terminal in neighbouring Turkey. It used to have a capacity of 800,000 barrels of oil a day (around a quarter of Iraq’s total export potential).

Today, a 1,500-strong Iraqi security force is dedicated solely to ensuring the integrity of this one pipeline, but it has simply been unable to do so. In April, a bomb killed twelve guards, including the head of the protection team; on 13 May the main pumping station was attacked. Continual assaults have reduced oil transport to no more than 100,000 barrels a day, from one of the key oil export routes for the entire Iraqi oil industry. (IWPR, Iraq Crisis Report 126, 24 May 2005).

The fourth indicator, of which this pipeline problem forms just one part, is the slow pace of reconstruction caused largely by the unremitting insurgency. For the third year running, electricity supplies in the coming hot season will be wholly inadequate to meet the needs of ordinary Iraqis. Much of the $21 billion currently allocated to the programme is being diverted into security in the face of persistent attacks on contractors. Theresa Shope of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office estimates that 295 security contractors have been killed on US projects alone (“Violence in Iraq Cripples $21-Bln Rebuilding Effort”, Reuters, 21 May 2005).

A recent example is the attempt to transport a large turbine and 400 tonnes of equipment to Kirkuk in order to improve generating capacity before the summer heat, which was postponed until September as the route has been declared unsafe. It is significant that Iraqi government officials are not even prepared to allow foreign journalists to visit projects that have been successfully completed, since these are likely to be attacked by insurgents as soon as they are publicised.

No plans to leave Iraq
A new report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) – Strategic Survey 2004-05 – draws a conclusion that echoes recent columns in this series: that Iraq is becoming a magnet for paramilitaries from across the region:
“From al-Qaida’s point of view, Bush’s Iraq policies have arguably produced a confluence of propitious circumstances: a strategically bogged down America, hated by much of the Islamic world, and regarded warily even by its allies”.

The IISS survey says that it will take at least five years before Iraqi forces can impose law and order on their own. This implies that there might then be a United States military withdrawal from the country, a suggestion thrown into doubt by further evidence that permanent US bases across Iraq are being planned (see Michael Howard, “US military to build four giant new bases in Iraq”, Guardian, 23 May 2005). These confirm reports dating back to the immediate post-Saddam period (see “Permanent occupation?”, 24 April 2003) that the United States was planning to have four major bases in the country.

The first of these will be close to Baghdad, but the other sites confirm the importance of Iraq’s oil resources to the US military posture; the second will be in the oil-rich Kurdish north, the third at Tallil near the even larger southern oilfields, and the fourth is expected to be at al-Asad in the west, where huge, untapped new oil reserves are believed to lie.

In early April 2003, two weeks after the start of the Iraq war, a column in this series made the ostensibly rash prediction that this was the start of a conflict lasting potentially three decades (“A thirty-year war”, 4 April 2003). Since the US forces were then closing in on Baghdad and the Saddam Hussein regime was nearing collapse, it seemed an outrageous conclusion; but even then, the war was revealing two unexpected trends: a level of irregular opposition that was causing US forces significant problems, and the lack of any great welcome for the presumed liberators.
That article concluded:
“Gulf oil will be the dominant energy source for the world for upwards of thirty years. If the US neo-conservatives establish a paradigm of clear-cut western control of the region, with Iraq at its centre, then the stage is set for a conflict that lasts just as long … Whether this occurs depends in turn on a key variable: the endurance and success of the Bush administration’s conception of international security, the essential requirement for a New American Century. If this conception does succeed, a thirty-year war is in prospect. If, by contrast, a saner approach to international security develops, the beginnings of a peaceful order could be shaped. What happens in Iraq in the next few months may determine which route is taken.”

Over two years later, it is evident which route has been taken. United States forces have lost over 1,600 killed and 11,000 seriously injured; the Iraqis have lost close to 30,000 killed and tens of thousands injured; yet the war goes on, and on. At particular times there may appear to be short-term gains for one side or the other, but the reality is that this is a deeply embedded and long-term conflict.

Beyond the immediate sequences of events, it has to be remembered that the Iraq war forms just one part of a much bigger picture: control of the world’s key energy resource. Until there is a fundamental rethink about the security of Gulf oil supplies, that war will continue. The re-election of George W Bush in November 2004 means that such a rethink is highly unlikely. The world faces the grim prospect of endless war in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Monday, May 23, 2005

New York Review of Books May 26th 2005

The New York Review of Books (Vol LII, 9, May 26th 2005) contains much of interest. Setting aside John Updike on Max Ernst and Surrealism, there's a new book by William Pfaff (The Bullet's Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia), John Banville on Ian McEwan's Saturday ('a dismayingly bad book'), a biography of J.K.Galbraith, a biography of Andre Malraux, Romeo Dallaire's autobiographical account of his time as UN commander in Rwanda in 1994, a volume on Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoelonic Years and Keith Thomas writing about some of Quentin Skinner many luminous writings. Not enough is available for free.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Weekly Worker #577 May 19th 2005

Weekly Worker#577 (May 19th 2005) has another George Galloway front page, headlined 'George Galloway turns the tables on his accusers' with the accompanying story, 'Imperialism in the dock' on the back-page. WW starts by defending Galloway against the withchunt and pointing to embarrassing revelations about US involvement in evading the UN oil for food programme. WW takes Galloway's victory over the ill-prepared senators as a victory for the entire anti-war movement. The story also refers to Socialist Worker's 'exclusive' demolition of the forgery against Galloway and promises to Continue their critical defense of him against 'imperialist machinations'.

Elsewhere in WW an article on 'End the drugs war' aligns Respect with the other parties in calling for a 'war on drugs' that WW rejects.

In 'It's democracy, stupid' Dave Craig of the RDG unsurprisingly argues that the election shows the his previous perspectives and predictions were right and that we need a republican socialist party. The general outline of his analysis of the election seems pretty sound. Dave (but I keep on wanting to say Steve) focuses on the huge array of left candidates, most of whom did rather pathetically.
"Finally, we have the crisis in the socialist movement. In 2001 the left stood 303 candidates, including 98 for the Socialist Alliance. This time the number fell to 187. Even if we leave aside Respect, there was a huge array of candidates competing for the left vote. These include the Scottish Socialist Party (average vote: 2.01%), Socialist Labour Party (1.15%) Socialist Party (1.57%), Alliance for Green Socialism (1.02%) Democratic SA (0.64%), Socialist Unity (1.01%), Communist Party of Britain (0.55%) and the Workers Revolutionary Party (0.35%). The Independent Working Class Association (2.13%) and the Walsall DLP (2.3%) stood one candidate each. Nobody can disagree with Peter Manson's comments that “what is striking is the decrease in support for the left” (Weekly Worker May 12).

"The one set of results that stands out against abject failure are those scored by Respect. With one MP elected and eight votes above 5%, including 27%, 20%, 19% and 17%, Respect has something to crow about. The Socialist Workers Party's Party notes argues that the main lesson is that Respect is now in a completely different league from anything else the left has produced in this country for 60 years. The party is following this up with 'Winning is just the beginning' branch meetings.

"However, as has been noted, 17 Respect candidates got below 5%, including 12 below 2%. This unevenness is quite startling. In these areas Respect is doing no better and sometimes worse that the Socialist Alliance scored in 2001. The factor that seems to explain this result is the concentration of muslim voters in certain constituencies. Bethnal Green and Bow provides an obvious example. Janet Alder's 6.4% in Tottenham was the exception because it did not rely on a muslim vote."

Steve goes on say that Respect isn't a longer-term project that can unite the left, but a 'castle built on sand - possibly quicksand' as the possibility of Galloway doing a Livingstone and returning to Labour is raised. I'm not convinced by this: the distance between Galloway and the Labour Party establishment is too enormous and too bitter. Anyway the argument continues:
"The conclusion from this is that socialists should not put all their eggs in the Respect basket. Socialists must organism independently of Respect. But at the same time Respect cannot be ignored, nor should socialists fall back on a sectarian attitude of dismissing it. Nothing could be more blinkered. Respect has established itself and will no doubt gain credibility from its undoubted achievements. It is not a matter of making nit-picking criticism. We have to develop a criticism of Respect’s overall strategy.

"The left is now divided into a Respect and a non-Respect left. This is how the Weekly Worker presents its analysis in speaking of the 'dismal results of the non-Respect left' (May 12). What should the non-Respect left do? The first thing is to unite in creating a socialist alternative to Respect. The SWP views the non-Respect left as hopeless, inveterate sectarians who are incapable of unity. In so far as that is true, the non-Respect left might as well give up and close down."


But there is a ray of light, so long as the rest of the non-Respect left agrees with the RDG!
"Certainly the non-Respect left is not in a position to launch a new mass workers' party. But it is in a position to build a pro-party alliance. There is only one candidate for this and that is the Socialist Alliance. This can become the vehicle for uniting the non-Respect left. The SA still represents the most advanced socialist unity initiative over the last decade. We need a new Socialist Alliance, not a repeat of the old SA, closed on February 5. We need to learn lessons from the failure of the SA. We need a republican SA which is capable of relating its politics to the crisis of democracy."

Other things.
In a typically mega-long centrespread on 'Secularism, what it is and why we fight for it' Jack Conrad goes on and on about secularism, mostly in order to have another go at the 'opportunist' errors of the SWP and Respect, finding differences between Chris Bambery and Alex Callinicos.

Another long piece is devoted (again, what's going on?) to republican socialist criticisms of the current course of Sinn Fein and the IRA. The title, 'Ideologically wrong, tactically stupid' is taken from Bernadette McAliskey (

There's a report on 'Left unity in NZ' by Phil Duncan, talking about the 'Anti-Capitalist Alliance'.

And finally in 'Spontaneity and consciousness' Alan Stevens continues a debate with the miniscule forces of the International Socialist League about the United Socialist Party.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Tomgram May 15th Mark Danner on British Smoking-Gun Memo

Don't miss the Tomgram for May 15th. It carries a piece by Mark Danner on the British Smoking-Gun Memo which is going to be in the June 9th New York Review of Books (which is also carrying the document leaked to the Sunday Times on May 1st.

It was October 16, 2002, and the United States Congress had just voted to authorize the President to go to war against Iraq. When George W. Bush came before members of his Cabinet and Congress gathered in the East Room of the White House and addressed the American people, he was in a somber mood befitting a leader speaking frankly to free citizens about the gravest decision their country could make.

The 107th Congress, the President said, had just become "one of the few called by history to authorize military action to defend our country and the cause of peace." But, he hastened to add, no one should assume that war was inevitable. Though "Congress has now authorized the use of force," the President said emphatically, "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary." The President went on:
"Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action. Yet, if Iraq is to avoid military action by the international community, it has the obligation to prove compliance with all the world's demands. It's the obligation of Iraq."

Iraq, the President said, still had the power to prevent war by "declaring and destroying all its weapons of mass destruction" -- but if Iraq did not declare and destroy those weapons, the President warned, the United States would "go into battle, as a last resort."

It is safe to say that, at the time, it surprised almost no one when the Iraqis answered the President's demand by repeating their claim that in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction. As we now know, the Iraqis had in fact destroyed these weapons, probably years before George W. Bush's ultimatum: "the Iraqis" -- in the words of chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kaye -- "were telling the truth."

As Americans watch their young men and women fighting in the third year of a bloody counterinsurgency war in Iraq -- a war that has now killed more than 1,600 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis -- they are left to ponder "the unanswered question" of what would have happened if the United Nations weapons inspectors had been allowed -- as all the major powers except the United Kingdom had urged they should be -- to complete their work. What would have happened if the UN weapons inspectors had been allowed to prove, before the U.S. went "into battle," what David Kaye and his colleagues finally proved afterward?

Thanks to a formerly secret memorandum published by the London Sunday Times on May 1, during the run-up to the British elections, we now have a partial answer to that question. The memo, which records the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair's senior foreign policy and security officials, shows that even as President Bush told Americans in October 2002 that he "hope[d] the use of force will not become necessary" -- that such a decision depended on whether or not the Iraqis complied with his demands to rid themselves of their weapons of mass destruction -- the President had in fact already definitively decided, at least three months before, to choose this "last resort" of going "into battle" with Iraq. Whatever the Iraqis chose to do or not do, the President's decision to go to war had long since been made.

On July 23, 2002, eight months before American and British forces invaded, senior British officials met with Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss Iraq. The gathering, similar to an American "principals meeting," brought together Geoffrey Hoon, the defense secretary; Jack Straw, the foreign secretary; Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general; John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises the prime minister; Sir Richard Dearlove, also known as "C," the head of MI6 (the equivalent of the CIA); David Manning, the equivalent of the national security adviser; Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of the Defense Staff (or CDS, equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs); Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff; Alastair Campbell, director of strategy (Blair's communications and political adviser); and Sally Morgan, director of government relations.

After John Scarlett began the meeting with a summary of intelligence on Iraq -- notably, that "the regime was tough and based on extreme fear" and that thus the "only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action," "C" offered a report on his visit to Washington, where he had conducted talks with George Tenet, his counterpart at the CIA, and other high officials. This passage is worth quoting in full:
"C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

Seen from today's perspective this short paragraph is a strikingly clear template for the future, establishing these points:
1. By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq.
2. Bush had decided to "justify" the war "by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."
3. Already "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
4. Many at the top of the administration did not want to seek approval from the United Nations (going "the UN route").
5. Few in Washington seemed much interested in the aftermath of the war.

We have long known, thanks to Bob Woodward and others, that military planning for the Iraq war began as early as November 21, 2001, after the President ordered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to look at "what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to," and that Secretary Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, who headed Central Command, were briefing American senior officials on the progress of military planning during the late spring and summer of 2002; indeed, a few days after the meeting in London leaks about specific plans for a possible Iraq war appeared on the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

What the Downing Street memo confirms for the first time is that President Bush had decided, no later than July 2002, to "remove Saddam, through military action," that war with Iraq was "inevitable" -- and that what remained was simply to establish and develop the modalities of justification; that is, to come up with a means of "justifying" the war and "fixing" the "intelligence and facts...around the policy." The great value of the discussion recounted in the memo, then, is to show, for the governments of both countries, a clear hierarchy of decision-making. By July 2002 at the latest, war had been decided on; the question at issue now was how to justify it -- how to "fix," as it were, what Blair will later call "the political context." Specifically, though by this point in July the President had decided to go to war, he had not yet decided to go to the United Nations and demand inspectors; indeed, as "C" points out, those on the National Security Council -- the senior security officials of the U.S. government -- "had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record." This would later change, largely as a result of the political concerns of these very people gathered together at 10 Downing Street.

After Admiral Boyce offered a brief discussion of the war plans then on the table and the defense secretary said a word or two about timing -- "the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections" -- Foreign Secretary Jack Straw got to the heart of the matter: not whether or not to invade Iraq but how to justify such an invasion:
"The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss [the timing of the war] with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

Given that Saddam was not threatening to attack his neighbors and that his weapons of mass destruction program was less extensive than those of a number of other countries, how does one justify attacking? Foreign Secretary Straw had an idea: "We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force."

The British realized they needed "help with the legal justification for the use of force" because, as the attorney general pointed out, rather dryly, "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action." Which is to say, the simple desire to overthrow the leadership of a given sovereign country does not make it legal to invade that country; on the contrary. And, said the attorney general, of the "three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or [United Nations Security Council] authorization," the first two "could not be the base in this case." In other words, Iraq was not attacking the United States or the United Kingdom, so the leaders could not claim to be acting in self-defense; nor was Iraq's leadership in the process of committing genocide, so the United States and the United Kingdom could not claim to be invading for humanitarian reasons.[1] This left Security Council authorization as the only conceivable legal justification for war. But how to get it?

At this point in the meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair weighed in. He had heard his foreign minister's suggestion about drafting an ultimatum demanding that Saddam let back in the United Nations inspectors. Such an ultimatum could be politically critical, said Blair -- but only if the Iraqi leader turned it down:
"The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD.... If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work."

Here the inspectors were introduced, but as a means to create the missing casus belli. If the UN could be made to agree on an ultimatum that Saddam accept inspectors, and if Saddam then refused to accept them, the Americans and the British would be well on their way to having a legal justification to go to war (the attorney general's third alternative of UN Security Council authorization).

Thus, the idea of UN inspectors was introduced not as a means to avoid war, as President Bush repeatedly assured Americans, but as a means to make war possible. War had been decided on; the problem under discussion here was how to make, in the prime minister's words, "the political context ...right." The "political strategy" -- at the center of which, as with the Americans, was weapons of mass destruction, for "it was the regime that was producing the WMD" -- must be strong enough to give "the military plan the space to work." Which is to say, once the allies were victorious the war would justify itself. The demand that Iraq accept UN inspectors, especially if refused, could form the political bridge by which the allies could reach their goal: "regime change" through "military action."

But there was a problem: as the foreign secretary pointed out, "on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences." While the British considered legal justification for going to war critical -- they, unlike the Americans, were members of the International Criminal Court -- the Americans did not. Mr. Straw suggested that given "US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum." The defense secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, was more blunt, arguing "that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the U.S. did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush." The key negotiation in view at this point, in other words, was not with Saddam over letting in the United Nations inspectors -- both parties hoped he would refuse to admit them, and thus provide the justification for invading. The key negotiation would be between the Americans, who had shown "resistance" to the idea of involving the United Nations at all, and the British, who were more concerned than their American cousins about having some kind of legal fig leaf for attacking Iraq. Three weeks later, Foreign Secretary Straw arrived in the Hamptons to "discreetly explore the ultimatum" with Secretary of State Powell, perhaps the only senior American official who shared some of the British concerns; as Straw told the secretary, in Bob Woodward's account, "If you are really thinking about war and you want us Brits to be a player, we cannot be unless you go to the United Nations." [2]

Britain's strong support for the "UN route" that most American officials so distrusted was critical in helping Powell in the bureaucratic battle over going to the United Nations. As late as August 26, Vice President Dick Cheney had appeared before a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and publicly denounced "the UN route." Asserting that "simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction [and] there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us," Cheney advanced the view that going to the United Nations would itself be dangerous:
"A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions. On the contrary, there is great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow 'back in the box.'"

Cheney, like other administration "hard-liners," feared "the UN route" not because it might fail but because it might succeed and thereby prevent a war that they were convinced had to be fought.

As Woodward recounts, it would finally take a personal visit by Blair on September 7 to persuade President Bush to go to the United Nations:
"For Blair the immediate question was, Would the United Nations be used? He was keenly aware that in Britain the question was, Does Blair believe in the UN? It was critical domestically for the prime minister to show his own Labour Party, a pacifist party at heart, opposed to war in principle, that he had gone the UN route. Public opinion in the UK favored trying to make international institutions work before resorting to force. Going through the UN would be a large and much-needed plus."[3]

The President now told Blair that he had decided "to go to the UN" and the prime minister, according to Woodward, "was relieved." After the session with Blair, Bush later recounts to Woodward, he walked into a conference room and told the British officials gathered there that "your man has got cojones." ("And of course these Brits don't know what cojones are," Bush tells Woodward.) Henceforth this particular conference with Blair would be known, Bush declares, as "the cojones meeting."

That September the attempt to sell the war began in earnest, for, as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had told the New York Times in an unusually candid moment, "You don't roll out a new product in August." At the heart of the sales campaign was the United Nations. Thanks in substantial part to Blair's prodding, George W. Bush would come before the UN General Assembly on September 12 and, after denouncing the Iraqi regime, announce that "we will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions." The main phase of public diplomacy -- giving the war a "political context," in Blair's phrase -- had begun. Though "the UN route" would be styled as an attempt to avoid war, its essence, as the Downing Street memo makes clear, was a strategy to make the war possible, partly by making it politically palatable.
As it turned out, however -- and as Cheney and others had feared -- the "UN route" to war was by no means smooth, or direct. Though Powell managed the considerable feat of securing unanimous approval for Security Council Resolution 1441, winning even Syria's support, the allies differed on the key question of whether or not the resolution gave United Nations approval for the use of force against Saddam, as the Americans contended, or whether a second resolution would be required, as the majority of the council, and even the British, conceded it would. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, put this position bluntly on November 8, the day Resolution 1441 was passed:
"We heard loud and clear during the negotiations about 'automaticity' and 'hidden triggers' -- the concerns that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action.... Let me be equally clear.... There is no 'automaticity' in this Resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required.... We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities."

Vice President Cheney could have expected no worse. Having decided to travel down "the UN route," the Americans and British would now need a second resolution to gain the necessary approval to attack Iraq. Worse, Saddam frustrated British and American hopes, as articulated by Blair in the July 23 meeting, that he would simply refuse to admit the inspectors and thereby offer the allies an immediate casus belli. Instead, hundreds of inspectors entered Iraq, began to search, and found...nothing. January, which Defence Secretary Hoon had suggested was the "most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin," came and went, and the inspectors went on searching.

On the Security Council, a majority -- led by France, Germany, and Russia -- would push for the inspections to run their course. President Jacques Chirac of France later put this argument succinctly in an interview with CBS and CNN just as the war was about to begin:
"France is not pacifist. We are not anti-American either. We are not just going to use our veto to nag and annoy the US. But we just feel that there is another option, another way, another more normal way, a less dramatic way than war, and that we have to go through that path. And we should pursue it until we've come [to] a dead end, but that isn't the case."[4]

Where would this "dead end" be found, however, and who would determine that it had been found? Would it be the French, or the Americans? The logical flaw that threatened the administration's policy now began to become clear. Had the inspectors found weapons, or had they been presented with them by Saddam Hussein, many who had supported the resolution would argue that the inspections regime it established had indeed begun to work -- that by multilateral action the world was succeeding, peacefully, in "disarming Iraq." As long as the inspectors found no weapons, however, many would argue that the inspectors "must be given time to do their work" -- until, in Chirac's words, they "came to a dead end." However that point might be determined, it is likely that, long before it was reached, the failure to find weapons would have undermined the administration's central argument for going to war -- "the conjunction," as ‘C' had put it that morning in July, "of terrorism and WMD." And as we now know, the inspectors would never have found weapons of mass destruction.

Vice President Cheney had anticipated this problem, as he had explained frankly to Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, during an October 30 meeting in the White House. Cheney, according to Blix,
"stated the position that inspections, if they do not give results, cannot go on forever, and said the U.S. was 'ready to discredit inspections in favor of disarmament.' A pretty straight way, I thought, of saying that if we did not soon find the weapons of mass destruction that the US was convinced Iraq possessed (though they did not know where), the US would be ready to say that the inspectors were useless and embark on disarmament by other means."[5]

Indeed, the inspectors' failure to find any evidence of weapons came in the wake of a very large effort launched by the administration to put before the world evidence of Saddam's arsenal, an effort spearheaded by George W. Bush's speech in Cincinnati on October 7, and followed by a series of increasingly lurid disclosures to the press that reached a crescendo with Colin Powell's multimedia presentation to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. Throughout the fall and winter, the administration had "rolled out the product," in Card's phrase, with great skill, making use of television, radio, and all the print press to get its message out about the imminent threat of Saddam's arsenal. ("Think of the press," advised Josef Goebbels, "as a great keyboard on which the government can play.")

As the gap between administration rhetoric about enormous arsenals -- "we know where they are," asserted Donald Rumsfeld -- and the inspectors' empty hands grew wider, that gap, as Cheney had predicted, had the effect in many quarters of undermining the credibility of the United Nations process itself. The inspectors' failure to find weapons in Iraq was taken to discredit the worth of the inspections, rather than to cast doubt on the administration's contention that Saddam possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Oddly enough, Saddam's only effective strategy to prevent war at this point might have been to reveal and yield up some weapons, thus demonstrating to the world that the inspections were working. As we now know, however, he had no weapons to yield up. As Blix remarks, "It occurred to me [on March 7] that the Iraqis would be in greater difficulty if...there truly were no weapons of which they could ‘yield possession.'" The fact that, in Blix's words, "the UN and the world had succeeded in disarming Iraq without knowing it" -- that the UN process had been successful --meant, in effect, that the inspectors would be discredited and the United States would go to war.

President Bush would do so, of course, having failed to get the "second resolution" so desired by his friend and ally, Tony Blair. Blair had predicted, that July morning on Downing Street, that the "two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work." He seems to have been proved right in this. In the end his political strategy only half worked: the Security Council's refusal to vote a second resolution approving the use of force left "the UN route" discussed that day incomplete, and Blair found himself forced to follow the United States without the protection of international approval. Had the military plan "worked" -- had the war been short and decisive rather than long, bloody, and inconclusive -- Blair would perhaps have escaped the political damage the war has caused him. A week after the Downing Street memo was published in the Sunday Times, Tony Blair was reelected, but his majority in Parliament was reduced, from 161 to 67. The Iraq war, and the damage it had done to his reputation for probity, was widely believed to have been a principal cause.

In the United States, on the other hand, the Downing Street memorandum has attracted little attention. As I write, no American newspaper has published it and few writers have bothered to comment on it. The war continues, and Americans have grown weary of it; few seem much interested now in discussing how it began, and why their country came to fight a war in the cause of destroying weapons that turned out not to exist. For those who want answers, the Bush administration has followed a simple and heretofore largely successful policy: blame the intelligence agencies. Since "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" as early as July 2002 (as "C," the head of British intelligence, reported upon his return from Washington), it seems a matter of remarkable hubris, even for this administration, that its officials now explain their misjudgments in going to war by blaming them on "intelligence failures" -- that is, on the intelligence that they themselves politicized. Still, for the most part, Congress has cooperated. Though the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the failures of the CIA and other agencies before the war, a promised second report that was to take up the administration's political use of intelligence -- which is, after all, the critical issue -- was postponed until after the 2004 elections, then quietly abandoned.

In the end, the Downing Street memo, and Americans' lack of interest in what it shows, has to do with a certain attitude about facts, or rather about where the line should be drawn between facts and political opinion. It calls to mind an interesting observation that an unnamed "senior advisor" to President Bush made to a New York Times Magazine reporter last fall:
"The aide said that guys like me [i.e., reporters and commentators] were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

Though this seems on its face to be a disquisition on religion and faith, it is of course an argument about power, and its influence on truth. Power, the argument runs, can shape truth: power, in the end, can determine reality, or at least the reality that most people accept -- a critical point, for the administration has been singularly effective in its recognition that what is most politically important is not what readers of the New York Times believe but what most Americans are willing to believe. The last century's most innovative authority on power and truth, Joseph Goebbels, made the same point but rather more directly:
"There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyway always yield to the stronger, and this will always be 'the man in the street.' Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology."

I thought of this quotation when I first read the Downing Street memorandum; but I had first looked it up several months earlier, on December 14, 2004, after I had seen the images of the newly reelected President George W. Bush awarding the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the United States can bestow, to George Tenet, the former director of central intelligence; L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; and General (ret.) Tommy Franks, the commander who had led American forces during the first phase of the Iraq war. Tenet, of course, would be known to history as the intelligence director who had failed to detect and prevent the attacks of September 11 and the man who had assured President Bush that the case for Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Franks had allowed the looting of Baghdad and had generally done little to prepare for what would come after the taking of Baghdad. ("There was little discussion in Washington," as "C" told the Prime Minister on July 23, "of the aftermath after military action.") Bremer had dissolved the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and thereby created 400,000 or so available recruits for the insurgency. One might debate their ultimate responsibility for these grave errors, but it is difficult to argue that these officials merited the highest recognition the country could offer.

Of course truth, as the master propagandist said, is "unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology." He of course would have instantly grasped the psychological tactic embodied in that White House ceremony, which was one more effort to reassure Americans that the war the administration launched against Iraq has been a success and was worth fighting. That barely four Americans in ten are still willing to believe this suggests that as time goes on and the gap grows between what Americans see and what they are told, membership in the "reality-based community" may grow along with it. We will see. Still, for those interested in the question of how our leaders persuaded the country to become embroiled in a counterinsurgency war in Iraq, the Downing Street memorandum offers one more confirmation of the truth. For those, that is, who want to hear
--May 12, 2005

1. The latter charge might have been given as a reason for intervention in 1988, for example, when the Iraqi regime was carrying out its Anfal campaign against the Kurds; at that time, though, the Reagan administration -- comprising many of the same officials who would later lead the invasion of Iraq -- was supporting Saddam in his war against Iran and kept largely silent. The second major killing campaign of the Saddam regime came in 1991, when Iraqi troops attacked Shiites in the south who had rebelled against the regime in the wake of Saddam's defeat in the Gulf War; the first Bush administration, despite President George H.W. Bush's urging Iraqis to "rise up against the dictator, Saddam Hussein," and despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of American troops within miles of the killing, stood by and did nothing. See Ken Roth, "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention" (Human Rights Watch, January 2004).
2. See Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (Simon and Schuster, 2004), p. 162.
3. See Woodward, Plan of Attack, pp. 177–178.
4. See "Chirac Makes His Case on Iraq," an interview with Christiane Amanpour, CBS News, March 16, 2003.
5. See Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (Pantheon, 2004), p. 86.

Mark Danner, a longtime New Yorker Staff writer, is Professor of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and Henry R. Luce Professor at Bard College. His most recent book is Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, which collects his pieces on torture and Iraq that first appeared in the New York Review of Books. His work can be found at
This article appears in the June 9th issue of The New York Review of Books

ISO perspectives 2004

Links 26 (2004)
How are revolutionary parties built?
This document was submitted by the US International Socialist Organization Steering Committee to the organisation's convention in Chicago, February 68, 2004. A report along these lines was presented by International Socialist Review editor Ahmed Shawki, and the perspectives were adopted by the convention.

1. The entire history of revolutionary movements proves conclusively—more often in the negative than the positive—that unless revolutionary parties are built prior to the advent of a revolutionary situation, success is not possible. "[D]uring a revolution, i.e. when events move more swiftly, a weak party can quickly grow into a mighty one provided it lucidly understands the course of the revolution and possesses staunch cadres that do not become intoxicated with phrases and are not terrorised by persecution", wrote Trotsky. "But such a party must be available prior to the revolution inasmuch as the process of educating the cadres requires a considerable period of time and the revolution does not afford this time."

Waiting to build such an organisation until it can arise "organically", i.e. in the heat of mass struggle, invites a level of inexperience and immaturity that can doom that organisation to fatal errors and lead to defeat. That is certainly the experience of the German revolutionary upsurge between 1918 and 1921. Prior to the first world war, German revolutionaries did not even organise a left faction inside German Social Democracy. "Not even later Communist historians looking hard for traces of emerging leftwing organization before the war", writes Rosa Luxemburg's biographer J.P. Nettle, "were able to make any case for the existence of an organized radical group". The results are well known—the defeat of the German revolution as a result of a series of mistaken tactical turns by the new, inexperienced Communist Party at key turning points of the class struggle. Conversely, the Bolshevik experience shows the benefits of recruiting and training an organised revolutionary cadre through a more or less lengthy period of class struggle, through various advances and retreats under wideranging political and economic conditions, between 1903 and 1917.

2. Building a revolutionary organisation in nonrevolutionary periods, however, carries with it the twin dangers of sectarian isolation and/or political adaptation. The problem is that very often the left has historically posed the question as if the choice was between these two poles—either you adapt to the current struggle as it is or you build a revolutionary sect. Most have chosen the former—adaptation to the "possible". This idea is reinforced by what we must admit were less than successful attempts, by virtually every tendency on the 1960s left (i.e., from Maoism to Trotskyism), to build revolutionary parties after 1968. Many on the left have concluded that such efforts at "party-building" are necessarily sectarian and fruitless. As a result of these failures, the "anti-partyism" that influences a whole layer of newly radicalising people is not solely driven by hatred of the existing bourgeois and reformist parties.

There is no general formula for how a revolutionary party is created. But it must involve the organised activity of conscious revolutionaries and not their renunciation of the task on the grounds that conditions are not yet "ripe"—that would be bowing to conditions as they are without an active orientation toward how to move beyond them. As Lenin noted in his debate with the Economists, who argued that the tasks of socialists was to "assist" the workers' movement and not "overstep" the level of consciousness in the class by attempting to give it any lead,

To say … that ideologists (i.e., politically conscious leaders) cannot divert the movement from the path determined by the interaction of environment and elements is to ignore the simple truth that the conscious element participates in this interaction and in the determination of the path.

Revolutionary organisations of sufficient size and influence, organised properly, can have a tremendous impact on the shape and course of the struggle, so long as they strive to unite and strengthen the chances of success of each struggle, and utilise each struggle to advance the general cause of socialism. Our watchword remains that of Marx in the Communist Manifesto:

The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.

3. The ISO's "Where We Stand" states: "To achieve socialism, the most militant workers must be organised into a revolutionary socialist party to provide political leadership and organisation. The activities of the ISO are directed at taking the initial steps to building such a party." The ISO, since its inception, has understood that it is not a revolutionary party (let alone the revolutionary party)—it has not the sufficient size, working-class membership or influence in the class struggle to claim the title. No organisation does, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the low level of class struggle and the historically weak political traditions among workers that is still to be overcome.

A revolutionary party in the US will not be created solely by the addition of members to the ISO until we are of a sufficient size and influence to declare ourselves a party. It will likely be built through a process of splits, fusions and regroupment of forces as the struggle thrusts up new forces and new configurations. The current radicalisation which has begun to take shape requires therefore that

the ISO now pay much more attention to our role in building a broader left and our relationship to other organisations and forces on the left.

This is not to downplay our accomplishments. The ISO took those "initial steps" in a period of left retreat. When the rest of the left was rapidly moving away from revolutionary organisation —and into the Democratic Party, trade union bureaucracies, solidarity committees or simply dropping out of politics—the ISO maintained that it was not only possible, but necessary, to maintain, however modestly, a revolutionary organisation based upon the ideas of genuine Marxism. Coming out of a period in which the distortions of Marxism, in the form of Stalinism, Maoism and to a lesser extent orthodox Trotskyism, had a tremendously negative impact on the building of a revolutionary alternative, we placed a premium on a correct understanding of the capitalist nature of the USSR, the centrality of the working class and reintroducing a "sane" sense of perspective and a noncaricatured presentation of the real Bolshevik and international socialist tradition, while always keeping an eye on opportunities for engaging in struggle.

Our orientation to new forces rather than the decomposing left may have to some degree isolated us from the rest of the left, but it had a singular advantage in that it allowed us to build up a cadre of activists oriented to the real world, political but not inward-looking.

4. Historically speaking, revolutionary parties have formed, depending on the circumstances, through fusions, splits and regroupings of various parties, organisations and tendencies in periods of social polarisation. This was the case in the formation of Communist parties after the Russian revolution. In a number of cases, Communist parties were formed when the revolutionary wings of various reformist social democratic parties split away after these parties put their support behind their "own" countries' imperialist war effort. This is what happened in Italy and Germany, for example. But in Britain, the Communist Party formed out of the amalgamation of several national and regional organisations: the British Socialist Party; the Shop Stewards' and Workers' Committee Movement, the Socialist Labour Party (centred mainly in Scotland), Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers Socialist Federation based in London, and the South Wales Socialist Society. Later in Germany, the leftwing Spartakusbund (which had earlier split with the Social Democratic Party—SPD) merged with the left wing of the United Socialist Party (the USP, a very confused centrist party which had been expelled from the SPD) to form the Communist Party. In Russia, the Bolshevik Party fused with an organisation in Petrograd of several thousand workers and intellectuals, the Interdistrict Committee, after Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks. And in 1917 the Bolshevik Party ended up working closely with the left wing of the Social Revolutionary Party.

The point is that any period of rising class struggle throws up new groupings and organisations among workers and the oppressed, locally and nationally, as well as radicalising sections of existing organisations. The general leftward turn creates the possibility of building united fronts, common organisations and, in some cases, fusions of different forces that are moving toward common political aims but which have different origins. It would be sectarian for a revolutionary organisation to wall itself off from these developments. But a proper orientation to them requires a method and an approach.

First and foremost, regroupment must take place in the context of a forward movement, and on the assessment that its outcome will be larger revolutionary forces acting in unison. Such a regroupment can take many forms—the absorption of one group by another; the merging of two organisations and a division of positions in its leading bodies and editorial boards; the recruitment en masse of a locally emerging workers' or students group.

If we have trained and experienced cadre, well versed in our politics and tradition, then merging and regrouping with other forces can help to advance our movement rather than "dilute" it.

The classic example is the merger of Trotsky's Interdistrict Committee and the Bolsheviks mentioned above. This merger flowed from the Bolsheviks' longterm effort to consolidate a cadre with roots in the mass struggle into a united revolutionary party capable of acting with unity and decisiveness. That is why there was no contradiction between the slow, individual accumulation of cadre 1903-1905 and again in 1907-1912 and the fusion with Trotsky's group. During these difficult periods, building revolutionary organisation often took the form of serial recruitment of individuals won over time through common work, and socialist propaganda. Yet eventually, the development of the revolutionary workers' movement itself clarified many of the issues that had divided revolutionary socialist groups in previous years: the working-class character of the Russian Revolution, the bourgeois nature of the Provisional Government, and the imperialist character of the First World War, to name a few. The dynamics of the struggle created a context in which Trotsky's group could join the Bolsheviks en masse and strengthen the revolutionary party.

5. Often a period of political ferment throws up organisations that vacillate between reform and revolution, or at least blur the distinction (such as the USP mentioned above). Such organisations at certain times can act as a lightning rod for activists who are moving left but have not yet broken with reformism. Trotsky, writing in the mid-1930s, defined the phenomenon:

Under conditions when the traditional mass organisations are in the process of collapse and decomposition, centrism represents in many cases an inevitable transitional stage—even for progressive working class groupings. Marxists must be able to find access to all such tendencies, in order by example and propaganda to speed their passage to the revolutionary road.

Such organisations are by definition unstable, liable to break up under the pressures of outside events that force upon them sharp decisions. "Centrist" formations can flare up and become mass organisations in periods of class ferment and revolutionary crisis—but they reflect a temporary convergence of heterogeneous forces moving in different directions. Such parties, as Trotsky pointed out, can be very positive because they bring into their ranks workers and activists who have been awakened to struggle and are moving leftward.

Our criterion for evaluating centrist formations and parties is whether or not they advance the process of radicalisation—are they a product of, and a help to, shifting working class, student and radical activists to the left? That is why, for example, we rejected the regroupment perspective in the 1980s—in a period of defeat, regroupment projects tended to act as stepping-stones for leftists on their way out of revolutionary politics, not conduits for those moving toward it.

6. The growth of the global justice movement, the reemergence of class struggle (albeit defensive) and the adaptation of the main reformist parties in Europe to the neoliberal model have created a political space on the left to bring together old and new forces into new political formations (partially electoral and partially movementoriented) which are to the left of social democracy and give political expression to the new period.

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is one example. The LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) in France plans to organise a joint electoral platform with lo (Workers' Fight), and has also put out a call for the formation in France of a new "anticapitalist" party:

The LCR addresses itself to all those who want a left alternative that breaks with all the policies conducted by the socialliberal left as well as by the right. We want to say to them that we are ready to unite as of now with all those who are willing to, of course to develop struggles and mobilisations, but also to build a new broad, pluralist political force, radically anticapitalist and resolutely democratic.

In Greece, a coalition of forces around an initiative formed in 2001, "The Space for Dialogue and Common Action of the Left", has also issued a call, "Declaration of the Initiative for the Regroupment of the Left", which brings together Synaspismos, a leftward moving, reformist electoral party that won just over three percent of the vote in 2000 and gained six parliamentary seats, the cp and left groups that split from the cp, along with radical green and far left organisations like our sister group dea (International Workers' Left), as well as groups with Maoist roots.

Murray Smith, a former member of SSP and now a member of LCR, outlines the political justification for new parties:

The forces for a new party will come out of the really existing workers'movement in all its fragmentation, recomposition/decomposition, mixing elements of the old and of the new: militants of the traditional parties, trade unionists, militants of the new social movements, of the antiglobalisation movement, of the far left.

Smith argues that the necessity of building new parties

is the transformation of social democracy (and in Italy of the PCI [Communist Party]) into parties that openly defend capitalism in theory and practice, by turning against their own social base, with the resulting disaffection of activists and of their electoral base. The surviving CPs are caught up in a spiral of decline, torn between tailending social democracy and falling back on a sterile sectarianism. That is new and that's what allows us to speak of a crisis of the political representation of the working class.

We can question the categorical way in which Smith outlines the trajectory of these developments, for the precise character of how these new parties, coalitions and organisations form is still unresolved. Differences in levels of struggle and peculiarities of organisations and parties in different countries will create different combinations and possibilities. What we can say is that these are positive developments, creating opportunities to build a stronger left united around a rejection of neoliberal capitalism. Revolutionaries would be cutting themselves off from newly radicalising forces if they did not participate in them.

Yet that does not mean we are for the liquidation of revolutionary forces into these broader organisations. Relating to these developments is a question of strategy and tactics, and does not mean abandonment of revolutionary socialist organisation. We cannot and should not fall into the argument that the question of organisational and political delimitation between reformist and revolutionary organisation is no longer relevant. Smith, for example, acknowledges that the SSP is "strategically nondelimited", but that it is "artificial" to "make a distinction between the radical left and the revolutionary left". He argues that the concept of "centrism" is no longer valid because there is no sharp polarisation today, as in the revolutionary period of the Communist International, between reformist and revolutionary wings of the movement. "A new party must be different from the traditional organisations of the far left", argues Smith, "by its functioning and its relationship with the masses, not by its practical program". Ironically, Smith's own deprecation of political program and his denial of the importance of the distinction between reform and revolution is itself centrist.

We can enthusiastically involve ourselves in these new political formations without, as Smith does here, blurring the crucial distinction between reform and revolution, even though this distinction is as of yet (since the movements are young) still not sharply defined.

7. These new developments on the left are not as far along in the US. But the approach we take should be the same, which is essentially applying consistently the method of the United Front—joint work and collaboration to strengthen struggles, push things leftward and, within that, build a far-left pole of attraction. The class struggle remains at a low ebb, though there are important signs of life. The global justice movement is only beginning to revive after the disaster of September 11. And the impressive antiwar movement went into a lull, yet did not collapse, after the Iraq invasion ended its first phase, set to rebuild as the occupation falters amid growing Iraqi resistance. Unlike elsewhere, the left remains hampered by its support for an openly bourgeois party, a factor which has contributed to the slowness of the North American Social Forum from getting off the ground, for example. Nevertheless, we are clearly in the midst of a new radicalisation. In this context, we are interested in building both the ISO as well as the broader left—in the context of the emerging movements. This involves two kinds of developments, one far broader and one "narrower".

Our work in building antiwar committees and coalitions, as well as building the North American Social Forum and the local social forum events that are emerging in the US, constitute a few examples of the broad left developments that we are participating in and should continue to involve ourselves in. We are also taking part in discussions and exploring the possibility of collaboration in various ways with left organisations more narrowly defined. For example, we talked with leaders of Solidarity a few months ago about the possibility of collaborating with them around the elections, since both organisations reject the Democratic Party (though nothing has yet come of this), and in Los Angeles ISO and Solidarity members in the teachers union have collaborated. We have also cooperated with other left organisations and groupings as part of a left caucus in United for Peace and Justice.

On the West Coast, our comrades are involved in the Socialist Unity Network (in San Diego and the Bay Area), which at this stage involves Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (COC), Democratic Socialists of America, the ISO, the Socialist Party and Solidarity (the Peace and Freedom Party is also involved, but is not formally affiliated). Initiated by COC in May, the network has sponsored three forums on budget cuts, antiwar and one hosting Mike Davis in the Bay Area. These have been primarily forums for left discussion.

It is far too early to tell what will emerge (if anything) from any of these initiatives and discussions among left organisations. But we lose nothing by participating in them. Indeed, we gain by encouraging an atmosphere that promotes healthy collaboration on the left without underplaying the importance of political debate and clarity.

What is important in all of this is that we get the approach right. As Antonis Davanellos wrote in a recent International Socialist Review:
The revolutionary left ought to undertake a double duty. On the one hand, it should accept the challenge to participate and organize a broad current of political resistance to imperialism, neoliberalism and racism. To refuse or underestimate this duty is plain sectarianism. On the other hand, it should not forget for an instant that such a current of anticapitalist resistance cannot be built unless there exists it its heart a stronger and better organized revolutionary left. The period is full of challenges for us to assume significant political roles. We have to do it, knowing very well that this is not a substitute, but the best way to build strong revolutionary organizations.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Critique of Naomi Klein's 'How to end the war'

Counterpunch May 10, 2005
Ain't But One Way Out: Naomi Klein's "Courage"
Naomi Klein, in a recent article posted on In These Times, tells us "How to end the war". She says we need to know the reasons for it, that these are exposed by the US' pursuit of military bases and Iraqi oil wealth. She says that we should struggle for what the Iraqis themselves want, meaningful self-determination and real democracy, buttressed by respect of international law. Her essay pretty well collects in one place everything that is wrong with so much left-wing thinking right now.

What's wrong?
First, to end the war, we do not need to know the real reasons for it. That's historical research, not political planning. It's like saying that, for the allies to win World War II, they needed to know Hitler's real reasons for making it. These reasons are still debated-- A.J.P.Taylor introduced major competition to the naked aggression thesis-- yet the war is long won. This is not nit-picking; it exemplifies the left's obsession with pointless, endless, fruitless analysis.
Second, Klein's claims about what counts as evidence for what are feeble. Of course, when one country invades another on a shoestring budget--and the whole point of Rumsfeld's policies was to make war on the cheap--then its first priorities will be to:
(1) make the place safe for your own forces, so that the political and economic cost of the war doesn't spiral out of control, and
(2) use the country's assets--in this case oil--to pay your way. So the invasion's activities were dictated by the invasion's budget, and are no indication of any ultimate objectives.(*) As for making the place safe for foreign investment, that is a third, more long-term priority along the same lines: get the private sector to do the reconstruction, which would otherwise cost far more than the US could ever afford. This is classic creepy-Republican wishful thinking and again has nothing to do with any ultimate objectives.

Third, Klein makes much of the insincerity of US democracy-rhetoric about Iraq. Well, duh. What has this to do with anything? Everyone but some few Americans know this, and those few Americans are either too steeped in their prejudices to be moved, or don't really give a damn whether the US is out to make Iraq into a democracy. They are far more concerned about kicking terrorist butt and generally showing the world that America is boss. Their motives are pure 9-11 reaction.

Fourth, Klein tells us we should have the courage to be serious, and then recommends what might as well be frivolity. She tells us that "the core fight is over respect for international law". Nope, international law is a non-starter, because there is no overriding, neutral sovereign to enforce it. What Klein is asking us to respect is in reality no more than a bunch of sentences expressing good wishes, articulated by courts and lawyers without the slightest authority because, in the real world, authority rests on naked power. No, the core fight is to get the US out of Iraq, isn't it? Which would be preferable: the US leaving Iraq tomorrow, and remaining completely contemptuous of international law, or leaving in five years, imbued with the deepest respect for international law? Klein's priorities are just a case of political ADD.

Fifth, Klein's position is drawn and quartered by the tug-of-war between her wish to avoid Bush's nation-building and her embrace of that very doctrine. First she says: "The future of the anti-war movement requires that it become a pro-democracy movement. Our marching orders have been given to us by the people of Iraq... We need to take our direction from them."

Then she says: "We need to support the people of Iraq and their clear demands for an end to both military and corporate occupation. ...It doesn't mean blindly cheerleading for "the resistance." Because there isn't just one resistance in Iraq... Not everyone fighting the U.S. occupation is fighting for the freedom of all Iraqis; some are fighting for their own elite power. That's why we need to stay focused on supporting the demands for self-determination, not cheering any setback for U.S. empire."

Then she says: "Anybody who says Iraqis don't want democracy should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Iraqis are clamoring for democracy and had risked their lives for it long before this invasion-in the 1991 uprising against Saddam, for example, when they were left to be slaughtered. The elections in January took place only because of tremendous pressure from Iraqi Shia communities that insisted on getting the freedom they were promised."

It's confusing, but I get it: getting the US out of Iraq is not really our first priority. It's getting the US out of Iraq *on our terms*. Who's 'we'? Well, 'we' support democracy, which means supporting, not all Iraqis, but the Iraqis who support democracy. The other Iraqis are bad: they just want to support 'their own [now conspicuously absent] élite power.' Worse, "Some elements of the armed resistance are targeting Iraqi civilians as they pray in Shia mosques-barbaric acts that serve the interests of the Bush administration by feeding the perception that the country is on the brink of civil war and therefore U.S. forces must remain in Iraq." So we support the people who want democracy, and who don't attack the Shia. We support the people who really want democracy, namely the nice Shia (not any nasty ones who want a theocracy) and, though she does not mention them, the Kurds. In other words, we support exactly the elements of the population Bush supports, and whatever other nice people we can find. It's all very well for Klein to talk of a 'responsible agenda' for withdrawal and even reparations, but if she's really committed to democracy in Iraq, she is committed to large parts of the US government's current policies.

This is pure bone-headed American ideology all over again. Of course the Shia communities wanted elections--wouldn't you, if that was your gateway to power? Sure they revolted in 1991--we are told they wanted Saddam Hussein off their backs, and thought they saw their chance. None of this shows that Iraqis have the American left's infantile commitment to a system of government which, in America itself, has been a miserable failure. Democracy, if it works anywhere, seems to work best in very settled, very prosperous countries--like those of Western Europe, at least before it got riled up about its immigrants. Iraq is no such place.

There's more. If Klein were not as arrogant as Bush, she would be the first to stress that she knows nothing about Iraq or what the Iraqis want, rather than trumpeting her great certainty on that subject. She would not produce embarrassing nonsense like "Now Iraqis are struggling for the tools that will make self-determination meaningful...". For one thing, 'self-determination' is comical: do the Iraqi Kurds want it in the same sense that the other Iraqis do? It is like the joke (yes, joke) that Kant reports: Two kings, Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, both want Milan. Francis proclaims a harmonious convergence of interest: "what my brother Charles wants, I want too." For another thing, in our ignorance of Iraq, shouldn't we tend to go with the obvious? Savage resistance to an invasion is usually taken to mean that the resisters want the invaders out of there. It is usually taken, not as a struggle to make self-determination meaningful, but as a struggle for self-determination.

Quite possibly Iraqis do want what Klein apparently considers the prerequisites of meaningfulness: "freedom from debt for Iraq, a total abandonment of Bremer's illegal economic laws, full Iraqi control over the reconstruction budget". Quite possibly they want many other things. But haven't quite a few Iraqis been telling and showing us that, first and foremost, they want the Americans out, period, not only if the departure is meaningful? Doesn't their first priority seem to be, not some search for meaning, but the killing of America's soldiers and lackeys? Is there something unclear about this message, or something I missed? Have the Iraqis expressed passionate longings for the American left to pick and choose among the factions in their country?

Throughout, Klein lacks precisely what she says we should have: the courage to be serious. What sort of courage does it take to demonstrate for True Democracy? Klein has not even asked the hard question. If she wants democracy so much--because, just like Bush and Blair, she absolutely knows those pitiful little Iraqis are pining for democracy--just when and how should the US withdraw its troops? Presumably the answer must be: once they have made Iraq safe for democracy. This would mean withdrawing once the 'democratic Iraqis' are strong enough to prevail over the undemocratic Iraqis, who seem to be quite powerful and well-organized. This would certainly require US military assistance, perhaps for years, or the introduction of other military forces to do the same thing, e.g. getting the UN or NATO to spell off the American invaders. (If Klein thinks that, somewhere in the universe, there are decorous, respectful, virtually nonviolent troops ready to somehow neutralize Klein's and Bush's 'bad guys'; this is another fantasy.) So Klein's courage consists in asking for pretty much what Bush is giving her.
Yes, Klein is sincere, she wants real democracy, she supports the truly democratic elements, and Bush is insincere. But in the end it is a difference that makes no difference. If you insist on bringing democracy to Iraq--always protesting that this is what the Iraqis themselves want--you will have to beat the anti-democratic elements you both deplore, and this will mean US bases and American soldiers shedding Iraqi blood. Any sincerity infusing these policies, and their ultimate objectives, is so much posturing over the same vicious meddling.

Getting Serious
The courage to be serious would mean something quite different. It would mean, not this bloodless, venti-decaf-latte substitute for passion, but real hatred of America's actions and single-minded, furious determination to get every last 'coalition' soldier off Iraqi soil, as soon as possible, by any means necessary. No ifs ands or buts about democracy, just get them out. Anyone who really believed in the Iraqis' right to their own damn country would not be fussing about whether their projected form of government or mode of self-determination matched American leftist ideals. This in none of our business, not least because it is mere insolence to presume that we know what the Iraqis want or how they should get it. It takes years to know a country, and, if one doesn't live there, at least long study, bolstered by fluency in the country's language. Only American yahoos, of all political stripes, would think otherwise.

"How to end the war?" Neither I nor Klein know how, but trying involves real, angry, nasty opposition, something a government might be concerned about. It cannot be built on a demand for withdrawal hedged with cherrypicking among which Iraqis 'give us our marching orders'. Real opposition requires something beyond reasoned persuasion; the utter impotence of the utterly reasonable left has shown as much. It is not a matter of discovering what documents which neocon produced in 1990. It is not a matter of billions and billions of emails, insulating us from the world like so much pink fiberglass. It is not a matter of blandly 'building constituencies', but of using the constituency that we already have, that we are. It is a couse of action which demonstrates that this war disgusts us, that we will stop at nothing to end it, and that we couldn't care less if it tears our country apart. The US should just leave, now, and we should all just shut up about democracy in Iraq. Decisions about policing belong to Iraqis and perhaps international agencies, whether or not these agencies have the slightest commitment to a democracy, and not to Americans of any political stripe. That's a clear message on which clear, resolute, all-out opposition can be built.

The courage to be serious also means not 'supporting our troops'. This support really has become obnoxious. We have just been treated to dozens of Vietnam commemorative pieces. The best of them make some mention of the three million Vietnamese we killed, and perhaps the Vietnamese children who, thanks to Agent Orange, must live some sort of life in hideous deformity. But on the left as on the right, it is all too common for the piece to be built around some loveable Vietnam vet. A recent Nation article for instance, we meet
"Mike Sulsona, a former Marine... just back from his first trip to Vietnam since the war. He was excited because he surprised himself by liking it there this time and because he was pleased with the research he did for a play he wants to write about an Army tank driver."
We learn that
'Back in Ho Chi Minh City, the old Saigon, Sulsona was rolling his chair down a crowded sidewalk before his return to New York. He almost collided with a Vietnamese man, also in a wheelchair, rolling in the opposite direction, trying to sell lottery tickets. Recognizing each other by their differentness from everyone else and similarity to each other, the two paraplegics stopped rolling. The Vietnam veteran and the Vietnamese veteran wheeled their chairs to face each other as they might once have done with weapons.
'Neither knew many words in the other's language, but they spoke briefly, haltingly, enough for Sulsona to determine the other man had also been in the war. "Suddenly, we began laughing," Sulsona said. "Heavy belly laughs. I have no idea if he was in the South Vietnamese Army fighting for our side, or in the Viet Cong, or had come down with the North Vietnamese Army... Does it make a difference? We were laughing and laughing and couldn't stop, couldn't help ourselves, just a couple of guys who got fucked up in the war. ...Neither of us could stop laughing. I mean, what was all that about, anyway?"'

Heck, that sure is a nice send-off for bathing a country in fire and poison: let's pause and reflect on how gosh-darn crazy war is. It's exactly the slimy, war-is-hell-and-we're-just-human cop-out that endears so many to the Korean-war wackiness of M*A*S*H, which first aired three years before the fall of Saigon.

This is not compassion; it is cowardice. Unless you are a third force, with decisive power to affect the world situation, in a war you must take one side or the other. The left is no such third force. We are for the American invasion of Iraq, and the troops that effect it, or we are against it. To be serious is to acknowledge that one can't always pick and choose. We could not have seriously said, "we support the war against Hitler, but oppose Stalin", because that, taken seriously, would have been silly. Are you going to fight Stalin? Then you help Hitler. Are you not going to fight Stalin? Then who gives a damn what you 'oppose'?

If we support the troops, that means we don't want them to be killed, and we support their efforts to protect themselves, at least until such time--months, years?--as they can withdraw. In other words, we are against the Iraqis who attack them. We are for the deaths of the attackers, and anyone else who gets caught in crossfire as American troops fight back. If not, how is our support 'meaningful'?

We make patronizing excuses for 'our' soldiers: they are poor, ignorant, oppressed, deceived by recruiters, they are canon-fodder, they are everything that has formed the backbone of evil armies since the dawn of history. They are everything, that is, but adults, responsible for their decisions. As a consequence of these decisions, they have come thousands of miles to kill and mutilate people who did them no harm. If we--to use Klein's idiom--'meaningfully' support 'our' troops, we 'meaningfully' support the rape of Iraq, however much we bleat about the right and proper, partisan and time-consuming way to bring the boys home. The courage to be serious means the courage to make hard choices. Do we have it?
* * *
(*) Yes, some of the bases look permanent. Sure, the US government would like to have them forever, who wouldn't? Countries like to be powerful, and seize on the opportunity to extend their power. But it is quite a stretch to suppose that the US invaded Iraq for these bases when, at far less cost of every kind, they could have built them elsewhere in the region.

antiwar movement debate in US Socialist Worker May 13th 2005

I don't usually see the print edition of the American Socialist Worker, but there's still a lot of evidence from the website to suggest that it has moved away from a simple sectarianism. Of course, you need to be on the ground to judge. But here's a published debate with a different voice in the anti-war movement. Is this Carl Davidson the famous '60s movement activist?

A debate in the antiwar movement: Are the Democrats our allies? May 13, 2005
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