Saturday, March 10, 2007

"We Don't Have Time for a Movement"

When I spoke recently at a pro-impeachment event, two people simultaneously said in response to something I said: "We don't have time for a movement."

It's true that the hour's late and it's true that our government has already put in place mechanisms (e.g., the Warner Act and the Military Commissions Act) to carry out draconian repression domestically. It's true that we face an implacable enemy. But saying that we don't have time for a movement is like showing up for a demonstration and forgetting to bring any signs. It's like going into a war and neglecting to bring any ammunition. It's like having a banquet but not putting out any food. A movement is the one and only hope that we have. And this should not be a source of despair.

People mean different things when they say we don't have time for a movement. In some cases, it's an expression of frustration that more people haven't yet stepped forward into active political life and they worry that sufficient numbers won't step forward. And in the alternative therefore they think that we must rely on something more ready-at-hand like, perhaps, convincing the existing political leadership to alter their ways or using constitutional attorneys to sue the government for war crimes. When you look at history, as Howard Zinn has eloquently pointed out in the body of his entire work (and in the Introduction to ITP), it's been movements, not condescending saviors, that have given us any of the really valuable and good things. It's only been through movements' collective power that FDR or JFK or LBJ or the Warren Court or, for goodness sake, even Nixon (who ended the Vietnam War because he had to or face worse consequences) have done anything worthwhile.

This "we don't have time for a movement" phrase was also uttered by Dave Lindorff on a KPFA show that he, Peter Phillips, and I were on on September 28, 2006 - the Living Room, hosted by Kris Welan. The thrust of Lindorff's point was that the impeachment movement had to back Democrats.

Lindorff is co-author with Barbara Olshansky of The Case for Impeachment. He and I were jousting on the air over what most needed to happen - this was several weeks before the November 2006 elections. I was saying that we needed to first and foremost put our energy into building a powerful mass movement to fundamentally and dramatically alter the overall political atmosphere in this country. Lindorff argued that electing Democrats was our only hope.

I said that breaking the GOP's stranglehold over Congress would be a good thing, but that we couldn't put all our eggs in that basket - regardless of who was in charge of Congress, we had to rely principally upon an irrepressible popular upsurge to create the conditions in which Congress felt it had no choice but to proceed with impeachment and conviction. I also pointed out that the electoral path was treacherous: the last two presidential elections (and a few key Congressional and gubernatorial races) had been stolen. Lindorff had either never heard the evidence for this or was unconvinced. See my "No Paper Trail Left Behind: the Theft of the 2004 Presidential Election" posted in August 2005. See also, for a more thorough analysis with additional evidence, my Chapter Two in ITP: "Never Elected, Not Once: the Immaculate Deception and the Road Ahead.")

As we all know, of course, the Democrats did get back the majority in Congress in November 2006. The electorate resoundingly repudiated the GOP. But a funny thing happened on the way to the majority: the Democrats continue to refuse to impeach (having made no secret prior to the election that they did not intend to impeach if they won). They also haven't stopped funding the Iraq war and are co-operating with the GOP and Bush/Cheney in threatening Iran with an attack.

Lindorff wrote in frustration a piece on BuzzFlash and CounterPunch entitled "Only the People Can Save Us Now: Sell-Out Democrats Have Walked into a Bush Trap on Iraq," on 12/20/2006 (these are excerpts from his piece, with boldfacing mine):

"They [the Democrats] could have initiated efforts to halt funding for further war and foreign occupation. Of course, taking such stands and actions would have opened them to charges of being 'soft on terror,' but the public clearly isn't buying that crap any more. With a little courage and leadership they could have handled it, and come out winners.

"Instead, they took what they thought was the easy road, condemning not the criminal policies themselves, but only the administration's handling of the wars. This led some to call not for an end to the wars, but for more troops.

"And what are the Democrats in Congress going to do? Devoid of any principles, their chance to demand an end to reckless imperialist military adventures squandered, they are likely to fall in line and vote to fund both an escalation of the Iraq War and an expansion of the military.

"While the hour is late, there is yet a slim chance for the public to rescue the Democrats from this course of political suicide and the nation from disaster.

"I realize counting on Democrats to do the right thing, even in their own self-interest, is a thin reed on which to rest hopes for a return to national sanity, but we need to grasp it."

Lindorff and Olshansky's book is an excellent presentation of some of the grounds for impeachment. Their book and ours (ITP) and the others are all important contributors to the impeachment movement. But there are some key points in The Case for Impeachment with which I strongly disagree and that I believe leads people down the wrong path. This is particularly true around their view of the Democrats and desire to "return" to the days when separation of powers held true. As Zinn points out in his Introduction to ITP, separation of powers has never really operated all that much, and when it comes to foreign policy, not hardly at all.

Arguing as Lindorff does in the "Only the People Can Save Us Now..." piece (by the way, it's always been only the people who could save us) that the Democrats should show some courage and leadership and that they would then come out winners, that they are on a politically suicidal course, that the Democrats need to be rescued and that it's in the Democrats' self-interest to do the right thing are all premised on an incorrect view of who the Democrats really are. The Democrats know exactly what they're doing. They aren't mixed up about what's in their best interest.

It is true that the Democrats could cut off the funding for the war right now, could oppose the steps towards war with Iran, could initiate impeachment proceedings immediately and that doing these things would deliver to the Democrats the gratitude of the nation and utterly destroy the GOP's chances of winning any offices for the next several election cycles at the very least. (For those who say that there aren't sufficient votes to impeach and convict in Congress now, note that upon initiation of actual investigatory hearings on this regime's actions, the overwhelming evidence of malfeasance, wrong-doing, illegality and criminality would come spilling out like the maggots you see when you open the lid on a trashbin that's been holding rotten food for months. This would shock the nation, deliver to the Democrats a windfall that would render the GOP a mere cipher for a long time to come, and make voting for the White House political suicide).

The reason why the Democrats haven't done these things and are actively and publicly declaring that they will not do these things is not because they are just too goddamn stupid to realize what's in their best interest and can't see what is patently obvious to the vast majority of people in this country right now. They don't do these obvious - and morally and legally proper - things because they aren't mainly partisan rivals of the GOP who are going to do what they can to take seats away from their rivals. Instead, the Democrats are best understood as the other major representative of big capital in the US. Because they appeal to different social bases, the GOP and Democrats frame their agendas in somewhat different language. But they share fundamental agreements on the fundamental matters. They recognize that the whirlwind that might ensue in an impeachment process, the Pandora's Box that would be opened, would create a situation that could very well sweep them aside as well as the GOP because the masses of people could be sprung into political life and then all bets are off about what would emerge from this. It is task of the people and our duty in the face of the abdication of leadership by the political leadership and the mass media in this country to create that very whirlwind. And we can do this!

As I wrote in ITP:

"The key figures in this new economic and political order are transnational corporations that dwarf most of the world’s national economies. As of 2000, of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, 51 of them were transnational corporations. Wal-Mart was larger than 182 countries. The 200 largest corporations’ combined sales were larger than all of the world’s countries’ economies less the top 10 countries in economic size! Moreover, this concentration of wealth and power is accelerating. The dominance of these giant conglomerates and their allies in government means that we can expect ever-rising levels of job and social insecurity since this is the fundamental logic driving globalization. The Democrats are not going to stand up to these transnationals; they have not, nor are they capable of it. Hoping and praying that electing Democrats in 2006 will somehow turn this around is a losing strategy. The main problem isn’t that the Democrats are spineless or that they can’t get their act together. The main problem is that both major parties are the political representatives of big capital and of globalization.

"It’s important to further recognize that this isn’t just because the Democrats are beholden to big campaign contributors, resolvable through campaign reform legislation, although that is obviously part of the picture. The essence of the problem is that this situation is precisely what we should expect. When you’re talking about economies on a world scale in which the major players are monstrously large and the stakes involved are gigantic, there is no reason to expect that the people who run in these kind of circles, whether they are CEOs or public officials, are going to truly subject their fantastic power and wealth to the whims of an electorate in which everyone rich and poor alike has one vote. Would you, if you had their level of power and wealth and their ideology? If you had more power than 182 countries and you were one corporation, would you let the electorate decide they were going to, for example, nationalize you? Would you put the fate of your extremely concentrated power and wealth in the hands of 'the people?'

"Both major parties in this country are in agreement that this new economic order of globalization, this security state, is the right thing. They differ somewhat over some particular policies, with some sectors, for example, more based in science and more concerned about the environment (e.g., Gore), but they don’t differ on the fundamentals. The media are themselves fully embedded within this new economic order; they are themselves major corporations. The Democrats aren’t the leading political representatives of this new order because in their highest and best expression, the Democrats are FDR New Dealers, and the material basis for that stance has been getting wiped out systematically over the last thirty years. That is why the Democrats appear to be so hapless and so feeble against the GOP’s cutthroat viciousness, for the GOP represents the most aggressive, most in your face cutting edge of the ascendant neoliberal state." (pp. 43-44)

Put another way, there has been a momentous sea change in the political economy in the US (and the world) over the last approximately thirty years. The gigantic disparities in wealth and the behemoth dimensions of transnationals brought into being by globalization and the collapse of the socialist camp (thus producing an international situation in which the US imperialist empire has no real rivals and therefore no real motivation to compromise with anyone or make any concessions to labor or progressive demands) cannot help but produce a fundamental situation that both major political parties in this country will reflect. To cite another example of this: in order to have a minimally viable presidential candidacy during the nomination's process, a candidate must raise at least $250,000/day. A quarter million dollars a day for well over a year! Who are you going to get this money from, who must you mainly rely upon, and who are you therefore beholden to?

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