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June 21, 2007


Jimmy Higgins

Can't wait for this thread to unfold.

The Iraq Moratorium website is here.

Christopher Day

This is a very important action and I hope and expect everyone here will be participating in it in some capacity or other.

The article is not exactly correct when it claims that efforst to get people into the streets have faltered. There have been HUGE national anti-war demonstrations against this war from the start. The problem is that they aren't matched by the sort of ferment of local actions of every imaginable sort neccesary to really disrupt the crushing sense of normality. Once or twice a year a hundred thousand or a few hundred thousand people have marched, but what they have not done is create that feedback loop of local and national actions that would make the powers that be fear the next national mobilization.

While I'd be interested in peoples thoughts on WHY this has been the case, I'm most struck by the abject failure of the more radical forces out there to constitute a viable alternative to the alternately tepid or tedious style of mass mobilizations preferred by the two major anti-war coalitions. WCW's approach seemed imaginative, but it has not produced the desired/anticipated results.

It seems to me that the element most strikingly missing over the past several years has been students. The revival of SDS shows signs of breaking that dynamic. In any event I am hopeful that the Iraq Moratorium can become a drumbeat of protest and resistance against this war. Its got an impressive group of signers to the call and is already generating some buzz in liberal circles like DailyKos.

I'm not neccesarily as sold on the effectiveness of exclusively on-line forms of protest, but I think the spirit of experimentation implied by them is exactly right.

R. John

Let's take a moment to think through why the antiwar movement hasn't taken off.

And (if it seems a worthwhile question) why WCW hasn't emerged at the pole we've all wanted to see.

I have been trying to think afresh about how large numbers of people shift their stand -- and come into motion. Why it happens (and why it doesn't).

I think part of it has to do with the Democrats (meaning at the ruling class level):
a) their unwillingness to actually oppose the war (or allow the unleashing of this kind of resistance)
b) the inability/unwillingness of large numbers of people to leave that electoral framework.

I think protest politics are seen (these days) as ineffective -- as if the politics WITHIN the government, congress and elections is where the real action is.

I think that the Gore-Bush tie had a profound impact (that has not been discussed enough). For one thing many Nader supporters thought (to their horror) that the election of Bush was "their fault" -- and even larger numbers of people thought the whole episode was proof that
* voting matters
* that protest voting is dangerous
* that there is a major and important difference between the Democrats and Republicans.

In other words, I think that "hanging chad" episode (essentially a Republican coup where their grip on the Supreme Court and Congress allowed them to seize the white house in an electoral tie) -- i think that episode was a massive learning experience for millions that inured them against the call of "extra-parlimentary activity."

When you look at it, it has really proven difficult to wrench large numbers of people out of the "killing embrace" of Democratic Party loyalty (and the political framework imposed by the class nature of that party).

I understand the frustration of a Cindy Sheehan, and I even think there is some truth to the warnings about "Good German" raised by the RCP. But I also think that the tone of guilt-tripping (in the RCP's recent writing) is not particularly helpful (for either the already-active or for those not-yet-active).

I do think some deeper analysis should be made of why it has proven so hard. And how large numbers can be *led* (throughout whatever necessary real world process) to change their stance.

I also think we should prepare ourselves to influence the response of people to large world-shaking events (that may lie ahead): like an Israeli or U.S. air assault on Iran. (Which may "come and go" more quickly than we might generally expect.)

Next thought:

I also think that there is an ongoing problem that "this resistance is not the NLF" (to put it mildly). I.e. the "two outmoded point."

In other words, to many people it looks like the forces opposing the U.S. are awful, and it encourages a profound illusion that "maybe the U.S. can do some good there."

This has always been true regarding the Middle East (and involves more than a little bit of chauvinism and bourgeois democratic illusions) -- but there is a sincere notion among well meaning peole that "we broke it, we can't just leave the Iraqi people to be fucked now."

So lots and lots of very honest people want to know "what will happen if we leave?" and "isn't there a way the U.S. can help?" It means that they perceive the "out now" demand as one that doesn't really address the "what about the possible bloodbath?" question.

People are vulnerable to the Christipher Hitchens argument (once called "White Man's Burden") -- i.e. that compared to the backwardness and viciousness of the leading indigenous political forces, the domination by a liberal western imperialist power seems (to some) as a possible context for progressive change.

Part of this is just the "hand we've been dealt" (by the rise of islamic fundamentalism) -- so that the Imperialists aren't being challenged by forces that are visibly progressive.

Part of it involves a number of illusions that many Americans have (about the nature of U.S. imperialism, about its ability to "help" any-fucking-body, about its history and real world actions in countries it dominates). And these are things we can influence by our work. By justifying our stand of "the U.S. CAN"T do any good" with living exposure and agitation.

Final fragmented thought:

One of the problems i have with an "Iraq Moratorium" -- is that i think:
What about the War on Afghanistan?
What about the "War on Terror" more widely?
What about the threats against Iran?

Does the movement we are building have a clear stand on the argument that "We need to withdraw from iraq, in order to have more troops for Afganistan and Western Pakistan, and other demands of the larger War on Terror."

Are we going to take that on, or not?


To paraphrase a talk radio cliche, long time reader, first time poster. Some thoughts about why the antiwar movement hasn't taken off based on my experience in peace activism outside the major metro areas and away from the campuses.

Some very good points from Christopher and R John. One of the key things that I think relates to points both have made has to do with the lack of actual organizing by local peace groups. If you look around the country, by far the dominant form of action is the "vigil". My experience with such groups is that they make no actual effort to reach out and bring new people into their actions.

This has to do, I think, with the composition of the groups and the perspectives those involved in these activities bring.

My experience with these groups is that they are almost entirely older (50 and up), middle class, and highly insular. Most of them are the same people who have been the "local peace group" for 30 years or more. At least as many are religously based activists as those whose politics are secular. There's a lot of practical consequences to that. The religious peace activist is "witnessing for peace". They don't see organizing outreach and grassroots education as their calling, they believe if they stand their with their signs long enough, suddenly the justness of their cause will be revealed, and somehow people beeping at them and giving them thumbs up makes change happen.

Yet change, changing the way they themselves do things, is something they are quite uncomfortable with, and in many cases can't even envision. This is every bit as true of the secular political activists as of the religiouis witnesses for peace. They haven't responded to the actual change in popular attitudes because (a) they don't know how, and (b) it would take them far outside a well-broken in comfort zone. They've become comfortable in thirty plus years of being the local peace group with being marginalized. Being marginalized is easy. Across the years from the late 70s on as the reactionary tide grew, in practical terms there was less and less benefit, and more and more experienced negatives, in attempting to reach out beyond their little groups. So those that at one time did so, mostly among the secular political activists, simply stopped reaching out, and the little groups became very inward-looking and tightly-knit. Even in some of the most progressive areas of the country, they convinced themselves that they were isolated in "our conservative communities". If they had ever known how to do press work, they simply stopped. Connections to other organizations and communities that had existed withered and vanished.

In the past couple of years the larger political environment has changed, but the local peace movement infratructure is frozen in time somewhere at the end of the Reagan years. In very very few places have newer groups emerged on their own; newer activists instead find the existing groups and become involved in their activities, quickly to have any initiative sucked out of them by the resignation to isolation of the cores. Most eventually drift off, leaving again just that little core. At the same time, no national infrastructure exists that has the resources to engage in the massive work of finding, eduating, and developing new leadership, never mind having the staff for mentoring them in such fundamentals as door-knocking. In fact such national peace movement structures that do exist have relationships with the existing local peace groups, and think that thereby they have a meaningful local presence. In reality they don't, and that short-circuits any sort of well-meaning national organizing initiatives that seek to work through these groups.

So that leaves this conundrum, no vibrant local antiwar organizing, and no means of developing the same. I've also seen what happens when the WCW tries to engage these groups. It turns into the WCW rep shouting at the same old same olds that they need to be more militant, but even were the same olds able to muster the energy and enthusiasm to head a las barricadas, there wouldn't be enough of them for a significant barricade.

What R John says about the hold that the Democratic Party has had is also valid, but I think has waned among the general population considerably since November of 2006. Critically, the national organizations that have served to manage the anti-Iraq War sentiments for the Democrats, foremost MoveOn, but also UFPJ, remain more or less tethered to the Democratic mothership. Though again, I'd be surprised if the leadership of UFPJ is as enamoured of that strategy as they were nine months ago. It probably is timely for those who want to see a more radical direction for the antiwar movement not only to take advantage of the disillusionment with the Democrats among the public, but to begin finding means to peel away groups like UFPJ from the tender embraces of Harry, Nancy, Rahm etc. There will never be a better time than now for that.

Finally, as to the issue of does the consciousness extend beyond Iraq, to Afghanistan, Iran, War on Terra etc. In some scattered cases it exists. It's always been true, in every movement politics, that one of the greatest fruits is to broaden the consciousness and sharpen the awareness of the newly activated. I spent quite a bit of time involved in local community organizing, mostly drudgery over very parochial and pedestrian issues, but among the brightest memories I have are of emerging activists starting to put pieces together for themselves, making the larger connections, gaining a more systematic understanding. This is generally true of any serious and sustained political activity. Certainly many who by 1970 were championing class-based anti-imperialist politics hadn't had those views 2 or 3 years previously. Political experience is the best political education.

The problem is how do we get local peace activists the political experience that includes success in building something that they can actually learn from?

I'm actively participating in the Moratorium Day project because it at least potentially addresses one of the prerequisites for changing this, identifying and mobilizing a new grassroots local base for antiwar politics. However, if this is successfully summoned into action, there will be a huge objective need for organizing, training and developing these newly mobilized potential activists if it isn't to subsequently dissipate back into the mainstream, particularly with the presidential election coming in the following year. Who will provide those resources and structures, and what means are there to do it?

Christopher Day

Thanks to both of you for such thoughtful replies. I think both contain a good deal of insight.

The questions of "What about ... Afghanistan? Iran? the War on Terror" are of course of considerable importance. But I tend to agree with Lauritz that folks are much more likely to develop good politics on these questions if they are already in motion on Iraq. The Moratorium is, by design I think, a lowest-common-denominator protest. If you are opposed to the war there is simply no excuse for not getting involved in the Moratorium. Which is part of what makes it so potentially useful in turning around peoples resistance to involvement in "extra-parliamentary" politics, which R. John has correctly identified as a major legacy of the 2000 elections.

There is mass discontent with the Democrats among the netroots liberal activists who poured their hearts and souls into the 2006 elections and some of this is translating into an increased willingness to take to the streets. (Its also translating into increasingly angry calls for impeachment such that WCW might be able to fruitfully bring its arguments to Moratorium events.) They aren't for the most part likely to break with the Dems completely, but they are less and less willing to be reigned in to an exclusively electoral orientation.

The role of the netroots liberals is particularly important I think in light of Lauritz's comments on the degraded skill sets of the "local peace groups." A lot of these liberals have acquired some important skills in canvasssing, media work, using the internets and so on that could potentially break through the impotence of so many local peace groups.

None of this is foreordained of course. This is where what the existing groups choose to do is really going to matter. Political education around the broader issues is central, but so is raising the overall organizational capacity by effectively incorporating new people and developing peoples organizing skills so that they aren't trapped in the ineffectual habits of the existing local peace groups. All of the groups with any capacity in this respect (WCW, UFPJ, ANSWER, Troops Out Now, SDS, CAN, etc...) should be planning now not only for actions on Sept. 21 but for follow-up educational and training activities in the week after that will seek to incorporate the new folks into continuous organizing activity. Is it too early to say how many of these groups are planning to participate in teh Moratorium?

Finally, while we don't possess a crystal ball, I think we should also be anticipating the likliehood that the Dems will take the White House in 2008 and probably make some additional gains in Congress and that this WON'T end the war in Iraq or many of the other things that have so agitated the liberal netroots. There is considerable potential that the disillusionment with the Dems that is already finding expression around their failure to defund the war or make moves to impeach will accelerate after the 2008 elections. Again, the consequences of such disillusionment is not foreordained -- it depends mightily on our capacities to put out a critical, but also acessible, analysis of WHY the Dems behave the way they do AND whether we are able to use the present period to build up more robust mass organizations outside the control of the Dems that will have enough gravity to attract the disillusioned rather than let them just become demoralized.

Finally, this brings us to the looming question of the 2008 elections and the likliehood that they will suck all the oxygen out of independent extra-parliamentary activity. Again this is not foreordained. 1968 was an election year as well. But I don't think we are dealing yet with that sort of conjuncture. The earlier and foreshortened primary schedule will create a longer period between the end of the primaries and the party conventions that we should be thinking about how to use more effectively. The party conventions themselves are important opportunities as well. Obviously the Republican convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul will attract significant protests. I think, in light of the betrayal many liberals feel, that there is much more potential for mass actions at the Democratic Convention in Denver than there was in 2004 and that making the case for participation in such actions specifically targetting the Dems will be an important task over the coming year. Again the orientation of the major national groups here will be critical. On this last point the question of UFPJ's stance, and whether they are willing to act more independently of the Dems than they have in the past, is important and needs to be getting argued out now.


UFPJ will never, ever, not in a million years or for any reason break with the Democrats.

They support Democrats who are openly threatening to nuke Iran, and leading members have argued for more of that.

It's the CP. They've had this position for over 50 years, including in 1968, and nothing will move them from that position.

When the Dems go to the right, they'll go right along with them. I think they believe their job is to convince everyday people to get in line. I do not believe they give a damn about the war, but are a leftish bureaucracy intent on maintaining their position and nothing else.

Maybe that sounds cynical. I don't know. How else can you read the tea leaves except by noting the dregs?

I'm of course not talking about every member group and participant. I'm talking very specifically about the CPUSA, its hangers-on and enablers.

Chris – I've been thinking about the upcoming conventions quite a bit, and I think the action should be at the DNC in Denver, not the RNC. While I respect all efforts to obstruct/remove the Bush Administration, the underlying structural politics have got to be focused on, and not just the particular set of failing policies associated with Bush/Cheney.

We ought to be doing this not to be "right" or smart, or whatever. But because that's how people are going to learn!

That's why this moratorium idea is so good. The date is a common denomenator, but what is low or high about it is up to us. It allows for and encourages a (necessary) diversity of tactics, and has the capacity to become a major mobilizing tool without sapping people of their creativity.

While we can hope the major national initiatives (at this point mainly UFPJ, ANSWER, TONC, WCW and to a less tangible degree the perenially dissatisfied "netroots") throw into this...

But let's not sleep on the possibility (and need) for new, original, local projects to spring up around an OPEN date.

We don't need an anti-antiwar movement, that lobbies and carps on the inadequacies of what is. Criticize and understand, sure. But it's a big world, people – and all the flags we need are not on the field.

Big ups to the Moratorium. It is an excellent plan that can add alot, without taking much at all.

Christopher Day

While I agree with your characterization of the CP, I am not neccesarily persuaded that this determines in every instance what happens with UFPJ. I know that members of the CP and the Committees of Correspondence play leading roles in UFPJ, but I think we should be careful in assuming there is no play involved. The CPs views on the need to cleave to the Dems prevailed in 2004 not just because the CP sent out orders to chill so that Kerry could get elected, but because that was the instinctive orientation of much of the anti-war movement irrespective of any direct or indirect influence by the CP. The CP and CoC can afford to work in a looser and more open sort of coalition like UFPJ precisely because their politics correspond with those of a huge swathe of activists. Some of this can be chalked up to the accumulated inheritance of all the CPs activity over decades such that they have shaped the "common sense" of the larger progressive milieu, but I would argue that even if the CP evaporated tomorrow these politics would still predominate absent an effective alternative. They are in this sense default politics.

Another point here is that the CP is profoundly pragmatic. If the anti-war movement becomes more hostile towards the Dems they will try to blunt this, but they will also try to keep themselves relevant and depending on how things play out this may mean retreating from a position of outright obstruction of demonstrations at the Democratic Convention to, say, fights over the wording of demands. I'm not enough in the mix these days to know how loose or tight UFPJ is, so maybe this is pure fantasy on my part, but it seems that if there is an actual groundswell to go to Denver that the CP and CoC will go along with it rather than risk splitting their coalition or dealing with defections.

That said, there is nothing at all certain about such a groundswell. The idea that this war belongs PRIMARILY to the Republicans and that therefore they are the right target of protest, combined with the illusion that the Dems are going to end it, these are not likely to be sufficiently shaken by this time next year that folks will just spontaneously chose to go to Denver. The case will need to be made over and over again betwen now and then (and the Moratorium offers a space in which that can occur). But I still think most of the fruits of such efforts will only become available AFTER the election. You or I or whoever may think "the action" should be in Denver, but in point of fact there will be some sort of action in both places and I would be surprised if the bigger ones were in Denver. Thats not a reason not to build the Denver actions its just a caution concering expectations.


I think this is a great idea. But I think it should start sooner

what we agree on

This is the best idea the antiwar movement has produced in a long time.

One day a month, we all act in ways big and small, diversity of tactics and message, but on point.

This is going to fly. I've been hearing chatter about it among all sorts of activists. It will take on a life of its own, that's what is so genius about it.

Sign me up.

Christopher Day

I've been getting the same vibe from my discussions of the Moratorium with people. Its a sufficiently blank canvas that people feel free to project their own visions on to it. Sometimes its important to fight for the most advanced basis of unity possible around a mass action and sometimes its not. It really depends on the circumstances. I think the antipathy towards extra-parliamentary politics discussed above makes it more important in this moment to figure out precisely how to get the largest numbers of people into the streets on the most elementary basis of unity and right now that is an end to the war and occupation in Iraq.

r. john

Chris: "Sometimes its important to fight for the most advanced basis of unity possible around a mass action and sometimes its not. It really depends on the circumstances. I think the antipathy towards extra-parliamentary politics discussed above makes it more important in this moment to figure out precisely how to get the largest numbers of people into the streets on the most elementary basis of unity and right now that is an end to the war and occupation in Iraq."

There is a contradiction involved here that we need to treat as a contradiction:

We need a genuine broad basis of unity that brings large and growing numbers of people into motion and struggle over the crucial issues (and crimes) of our times.

But that is not ALL we need. We also need a communist movement that is growing, and that is known broadly to people (even people who for the forseeable future will not actually embrace its politics).

If we had only one form of organization... i.e. if we were "movementists" who saw no further than the coalitions.... Then the only issue for us would be "what is the basis of unity for the coalition?" And over and over, i suspect, the argument for "the broadest unity on the broadest basis" would carry. And so crucial tasks (forming radical mass organization among youth, forming communist organization, exposing U.S. imperialism, discussion the need for socialist revolution against this system.) would be acknowledged... but functionally de-prioritized.

So there is a contradiction. The need to bring broad numbers of people into motion and the need to build the influence of more politically conscious and revolutionary forces.

I would make two points:

1) We need to operate on different levels (difficult though that might be). We need to both build broad mobilization, and struggle (powerfully, visibly, convincingly, creatively) for revolutionary politics.

2) We can't always and simply assume that "in the absence of broad movement, the overwhelming priority is simply building broad movement." There is a "theory of stages" that is deadly: that sees various (unspecified or arbitrary) levels of mass involvement as being a PRE-REQUISITE for anything higher or more radical. "First we get the truck moving, then we try to steer it.") It is the idea that you can't talk about communist organization until a largely unfocused mass movement and debate has "created the space" for a new dialogue.

There will be a moment (and it may come relatively soon, i.e. within the next years or decade) when mass turmoil DOES create a significant new "space" for a new generation to grapple with "what kind of society do we want."

But if we have not worked on many levels (theoretical, programmatically, communist organizational, agitational, building real links of coalition and aliance...) then that moment will belong to other forces Perhaps something which (like the more anti-communist wings of the 60s "New Left") truly packages old reformist illusions and ideas in new bottles for a new generation.

In other words, (and I assume we have agreement on this to some degree) I think it is dangerous to assume "we can only do one thing at a time, and so lets identify the single level of unity and organization we will now strive for." This is a method, and an assumption, that will rule out (over and over) responsibility to "represent the future within the present" (as marx put it). Which after all is the definition (mine at least) of "vanguard" politics.

Second point: Chris, you write that we should seek "the most elementary basis of unity and right now that is an end to the war and occupation in iraq."

There are sharp difference on how to "end the war" -- slippery "bait and switch" politics is played (by those who say "withdraw our troops from combat, but maintain U.S. control of Iraq.") There is the murtha plan where "withdrawal" means "take troops out of ocmbat and withdraw them 'over the horizon' to Qatar and Bahrain, where they can threaten to return or threaten Iran."

So yes, let's have a broad basis of unity -- but thought needs to be given about how much "opening" gets allowed for truly misleading Democratic party tricks that disguise tactical imperialist military adjustments for "antiwar" politics.

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