Opposing Obama’s War: Let’s Be Real
Posted by Mike E on December 2, 2009
Most readers know the details: Obama has now announced that he will expand the U.S. war of conquest in Afghanistan — sending tens of thousands of more troops.
His plan is to have new deployment create a window — for bullying-and-bribing Pashtun tribal leaders until they abandon the Taliban and help kill Osama Bin Laden.
Most readers understand this war is not about “defending the American people” — but establishing a stable U.S. domination over a highly strategic arc reaching from Iran (west of Afghanistan) to Pakistan (east of Afghanistan).
Let’s discuss where we don’t have any common understanding. I read the following comments (by JAK) in another forum:
“I did not vote for Obama so he could send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan… To be honest, he did run on expanding the US role in Afghanistan instead of Iraq and I voted for him anyway. So I am not surprised, but it is still some bullshit… Yeah, he didn’t fake it. But I was hoping he’d be more accountable to the people who put him in office.”
I think this pained comment raises important questions:
Why exactly is Obama not “more accountable to the people who put him in office”?
Why does he not represent the core social base of the Democratic Party? Or even the broader spectrum of people who voted for him?
Is it that the poor and unorganized working people are less able to “exert pressure” in Washington than corporate lobbyists, the military and national security establishments? Should we listen to those who urge the people to organize themselves (electorally and non-electorally) to better push this government to the left?
Why do elected Democratic politicians (especially at the presidential level) so unfailing uphold imperialist interests — instead of the interests and desires of their own base? Is it that (by electoral logic) they simply think “where is our base going to go — to the Republicans?” and so “take them for granted”?
Or is all this much more profoundly structural — arising from the inherent functioning of this capitalist class society and the nature of its political system?
Is it that this state and its government serve the imperialist ruling class (through complex historically-evolved institutions and mediations) — and not the popular sentiment of “voters”? And is it that in the absence of huge upheavals, that ruling class has little need to take the desires of the people too seriously into account?
Is there a profound chasm running through the Democratic Party — a fracture line ultimately rooted in class — separating the quite consciously imperialist interests of its establishment and the profoundly different interests of its base? And is that division inherent — especially when it comes to matters of war and empire?
Why is it that many thoughtful and progressive people (like the commentator above) have been so caught up in ” but I was hoping…”?
Why are so many confused and demoralized by these developments? We knew all along that Obama called for “defending U.S. national interests” — in the Persian Gulf, in Afghanistan, in the world as a whole.
Some said they supported Obama because a Black president was historic, and because they felt they were voting against the white racist backlash. Ok, but given that, why are still so many still saying “but I was hoping….”?
Is it because large sections of the people have objective interests in maintaining the empire, or because they don’t clearly understand their own interests and how this system works?
Is it because “nothing else seems possible” — in a non-conjunctural moment without a significant socialist pole in the world? Is it because more radical forces have been unable to articulate an alternative? (What’s the chicken, what’s the egg?)
How do revolutionaries act in this situation?
What will it take to rip people out of these terrible political moorings? And what can we do to accelerate that — while preparing forces capable of forming a revolutionary movement?
* * * * * *
Here are some of my own thoughts:
1) We need to have a clear understanding that this war is unjust and unsupportable. It is a war for consolidating U.S. domination in large parts of the world. We should oppose it, and we should expose and denounce those imperialists pursuing that war — including, obviously, the Obama White House.
And as part of that understanding — we need to invent creative new ways to speak to those who don’t agree with us. Far too many progressive people still think this is the “supportable” war — because “we were attacked first” (on 9/11), because of the ugliness of the Taliban and its “foreign fighter” allies, because they hope the U.S. occupation might “do some good,” and because they are concerned about new terrorist attacks on civilians in the U.S.
We need to be able to explain the actual purposes behind the U.S. ongoing war — and the reactionary impact of a U.S. victory in this war (both in the U.S. and in that region).
We need to develop ways to speak to people about the danger of new 9/11-like attacks on the U.S. — including discussing how supporting U.S. domination around the world does not make anyone “safer.”
We need to answer the endless (nauseating) propaganda that the U.S. military “keeps us all free and safe” and expose what this military actually does. And we need an understanding of why Obama represents (defends and justifies) an oppressive form of society (and here too we need non-stereotyped ways of engaging the many people who don’t agree.
We do not yet have these arguments at hand — and far too many people have adopted the liberal Democrat view that the war is simply “too expensive” — a butter-not-guns politics that precisely ignores the whole question of imperialism and the class nature of the U.S. military and “national interests.”
2) I think we should understand, clearly, the strategic importance of a fatal de-legitimization of the Democratic Party. During the election campaign, I wrote:
” If you conceive of a revolutionary united front capable of seizing and holding power in the U.S. — and you imagine the demographic support you would need…. you get (more or less) the social forces who now make up the Democratic party base. (Plus, one might hope a chunk of farmers — who are largely trapped these days in some version of republican politics… or worse.)
“And to imagine a revolution in the U.S., that Democratic party has to shatter, lose its base and become profoundly de-legitimized as the alternative to the ugliest, racist, uber-capitalist right.
“Forgive my history-geek reference: but i personally see an analogy (in American history) in the way the status-quo Whig party shattered on the eve of the Civil War, and a new (more radical and ultimately revolutionary) Republican Party emerged on the basis of opposing the dominance of the slaveocracy.
“In some ways, that kind of repolarization has to happen in the U.S. — where the social base of the Democrats simply abandon them, and re-congeal in a number of other movements, which in turn need to be unified around a revolutionary program of transitional demands in the midst of a profound social crisis.
That’s what the pre-history of a revolution looks like in a future America.”
3) We urgently need a mass antiwar movement — with broad participation and a clear confident indignation. We need demonstrations now, and people speaking out in many ways. We should of course support actions that are called.
It is not as if a mass movement can simply be willed into being — or generated simply by accelerating our own mass activity. Mao opposing wishful thinking by saying: “You can’t just pull on a sprout to make it grow.”
Even worse would be conceiving of our response to Obama’s war-making as persevering in the tired forms of routinized activism of the usual players– responding to new events with protest-as-usual.
The work that confronts us is far more challenging — it involves fighting through strategic debates, developing new creative ways of speaking to the unconvinced, and developing tactical forms that aren’t predictable and boring.
A mass antiwar movement is possible, and we need to step up with our responsibility — including thinking and struggling deeply over how to do this.
We need to have our eyes on the high school and college students, not on rather impotent and compromised left. And we need to speak candidly about some deep political problems.
4) There needs to be an accounting with lines within the left.
Jed Brandt recently wrote:
“Obama finally fulfills a campaign promise: expands war AGAIN in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thanks, liberal bullshit artists. Your efforts are being rewarded.”
Jed specifically mentions people leading the United for Peace and Justice antiwar colaition, the Communist Party’s Peace and Solidarity Commission, the CCDS (Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism).and “Progressives for Obama.”
The issue here is line: a politics that has kept the atrocities of Afghanistan and Gaza in the shadows, and helped demobilize resistance generally — in the name of helping Obama win. It is a politics that subordinates mass movements and protests to whatever is acceptable to the liberal wing of the ruling class — confining demands and actions to what is acceptable to the establishment liberals, to what doesn’t disrupt their liberal (read: imperialist) strategies (for gaining and wielding power).
Calling for an accounting does not mean that making that accounting is easy. The “Progressives for Obama” are far from the root cause of leftwing political paralysis or the general lack of resistance. But they have advocated a particular course — and a particular response to the current situation.
And this moment (as Obama steps to the fore as a war maker) is a good one to examine that course, understand it more deeply. And (I hope) more of us can repudiate it.
5) We need to understand that this period will not be some repeat of the LBJ/government isolation during the Vietnam war. In the 1960s, the fact that an unpopular and losing war was pursued by liberal Democrats opened up a major space for the radical left to embody the discontent among the people.
There are obviously many similarities now to the Vietnam war escalation.
There is, however, important differences that we need to understand: Among them, Obama has a special relationship to the Black community. A split could develop — where many more radical and progressive people will (for obvious reasons) come to oppose the Obama administration, while the Black community will remain much more stubborn in their commitment to Obama. Given the strategic importance of Black people for any serious revolutionary movement, and given the obvious historic reasons for Obama’s support among Black people — this is a contradiction that requies attention and serious thought.
6) We are at a moment where the right has emerged as the side of radical critique, and the left has associated itself with the government. The situation demands a regroupment among revolutionaries.There can be no healthy regroupment process without a serious deep-going reconception (and promotion) of revolutionary theory. That goes against the grain (including the general all-American “just do it” mentality.)
Our goals cannot be served by the cynical merger of exhausted groupings — who all justify themselves with the urgency of “doing something.” The previous left has shown itself to be remarkably sterile — unable to engage the actual discussion of society, and largely unable to break with the system’s own politics and policies.
We need our own song. And writing such a song requires a period of time where we make space for ongoing theoretical investigation and debate — even while we all continue (in experimental ways) to speak, connect and organize with a fiercely radical and revolutionary politics.