First a mea culpa. I was one of those who, on this site, urged leftists, once John Kerry had won the Democratic nomination, to support his candidacy, albeit from an outspokenly critical stance. It was a stomach-churning exercise, and I'm still on a regimen of Tums trying to recover, but there it is.
My reasoning was that we are witnessing a threat to the country’s democratic system and traditional civil liberties--in the form of revocation of much of the Bill of Rights, manipulation and fraud in elections, and packing of the federal courts, as well as a general expansion of police state activity--that is so profound that even a waffling, sell-out conservative tool of corporate interests like Kerry would be better than continuation of the Bush neo-con cabal in the White House. In making this argument, I had in mind the historical failure of the left in Germany to unite in opposition to the rise of fascism there during the waning years of the Weimar Republic.
I still believe this is the correct analysis, that the danger of a neo-fascist America is real, and that the third-party approach of wholly rejecting the Democratic Party, advocated by some on the left, is incorrect. At the same time, I agree with Sharon Smith, who yesterday in Counterpunch criticized most of the anti-war movement for its passivity during the final months of the campaign, in the interest of electing the avowedly pro-war Kerry.
I never argued that the left and the anti-war movement should give Kerry a free pass (it was incredible that during the huge protest march in New York City against the RNC and the war on Aug. 29 last year, there was no organized criticism of Kerry and his pro-war views). Rather, I said he should be hammered all the way to Election Day for his reactionary positions--particularly his preposterous support of the war. That is what the peace movement, for the most part, failed to do, and it is why Kerry never had to move away from his pathetic, illogical and self-defeating call for even more troops in Iraq.
Now that the election is over, I agree with Smith all the more that the peace movement needs to adopt a more militant oppositional stance against not just the Iraq War but against the whole neocon imperialist adventure. I would go further and say that the left needs to take an independent, protest-based stance on all the major issues--Social Security, health care, labor rights, free trade, education, etc.
There is a tremendous, largely unexpressed and under-appreciated anti-corporate, anti-war sentiment in the country that has nowhere to turn politically, because of the cowardice and compromising of the Democratic Party, and the only way to tap into and develop that base is through militant organizing outside of that party.
After all, there was no opposition party with an anti-war position during the early years of the Indochina War. The Democrats were the War Party and controlled both the White House and the Congress, and the Republicans, then the opposition party in Congress, were also pro-war. The opposition at that time was all in the street. As that opposition grew, elements within the Democratic Party turned to it for support, leading first to the Eugene McCarthy campaign in 1968 and eventually to the presidential candidacy of George McGovern in 1972.
Looking towards the off-year congressional elections of 2006, I would argue that the peace movement, as well as the rest of the progressive, left movement, should unite in supporting, and even putting forward, primary candidates to challenge those Democrats facing re-election who are failing to oppose the war, or who are colluding with Republicans and the president in putting forward a reactionary domestic agenda.
No Democrats who are pro-war should get the support of the left in the general election in 2006, and in fact, at the level of congressional campaigns, third-party candidates should be supported when they are running against reactionary Democrats. At the same time, the left should be ready to support those Democratic candidates who are solidly anti-war, or who are solidly progressive on other key issues. (After all, even that brilliant revolutionary Mao Zedong, in the first essay in his Collected Works penned in 1926, begins by posing the rhetorical question, "Who are our enemies and who are our friends? This is the most important of revolutionary questions.")
Meanwhile, while determining who those friends and enemies are, the left should be unabashedly and unrelentingly organizing in the streets to develop the mass resistance movement that is still waiting to emerge.
For the rest of this column, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .