December 13, 2004
(Swans - December 13, 2004)
Just thinking about this year makes me tired. From fighting
the Bush agenda in the media and in the streets at every
turn, to working with the broad democratic movement to fight
unsuccessfully his return for another four years, 2004 may
have been, at the risk of overstating its significance, the
most important year of my life. Now as the winter approaches
and time drags into another period of dread and impending
fascism, I just want to sleep.
Again risking a bit of self-indulgence, the year began at a high level of confidence -- in the prospects of social progress as well as in my personal affairs. I had become more comfortable in a job I was, and still am, growing to love. My oldest son's apparent health problems had just been cleared up as anomalies with no major long-term impact on his well-being. The baby was healthy and strong and loving -- knock on wood. Physically, I undertook a regimen of exercise and eating that dramatically increased my energy level and brought me into better physical shape than I have been in years. On the social scene, it was clear that the people's movement was mobilizing rapidly and vocally against the Bush administration. He was again on his heels, poorly defending his decision to go to war, badly pushing his domestic agenda in Congress, and facing mounting international criticism and opposition.
With friends and comrades, I was able to participate in a number of activities. We registered new voters on college campuses. We went door-to-door talking about issues like the war, taxes, jobs, and other pressing issues with people who almost to the person signaled a powerful discontent with the Bush administration. They were talking about imperialism and class warfare in ways that were surprisingly articulate and filled with a fighting spirit. Working people supposedly don't care much for the world in which they live or the politics of our country -- that is, if you believe the TV on these matters.
Most important of all, the people where I live were doing things together. Religious people were mixing it up with labor union members. Peace organizations were conscientious about buying print materials, buttons, bumper stickers, signs, etc., that have union labels. There was a greater openness among whites in this new movement to thinking about and addressing racial justice issues in a way previously sidelined. Economically-secure middle class people wanted to talk about jobs, living wages, unemployment, poverty and welfare, health insurance, and protections from class exploitation in unexpectedly new and fresh ways. There were limits to this utopian image I have painted, but the seeds of an extraordinary broad unity of people -- a multi-class, multi-national, multi-sector unity of people who wanted to put on their walking shoes and change the world they live in.
I'm sure the desire for change came from the heightened proximity to exploitation, violence, oppression, and imperialism brought on by Bush's war, combined with a sense of the failure of the supposed good guys to whom we had handed the reigns of power some decades back thinking they would deliver on their promises of peace and justice. To make good on those old promises sparked many people to move on their own. I'm sure of it. And despite well-grounded fears that this energy and unity was co-opted by the Democratic Party machine for its own benefit, I don't think that has been the case.
I think the Democrats did benefit from the new movement, but they didn't make it nor did they control it. It has been an "inside-out" movement in the best tradition of Marxism-Leninism...without the single vanguard party concept. It has been a collection of independent working class and democratic forces that used the Democratic Party to pursue its own goals.
For some people it is unfortunate that a new political party didn't emerge from this particular moment. They even use this fact to say that this new movement has failed. I disagree. A new party isn't the measure of a movement's success. Hell, we have lots of third parties. Many of the writers of this online journal are attached to one or another in some way. Nor is the Democratic Party's domination by sections of the capitalist class ultimately that important. Fighting for organization, unity and against the anti-democratic and extremist forces that control the Republicans is more crucial to the long-term strength of the progressive movement and left than who has the final say in the Democratic Party.
So what is the measure of success? Defeating Bush would have been, but that didn't happen. Perhaps our victory can be measured by the razor thin margin of Bush's victory that is being daily challenged by election activists seeking recounts in different states. Perhaps, but I think the measure of success of this new movement is something a bit more abstract and more long-term. Success lies in the opportunity to continue fighting even though we are tired and disappointed. New broad people's coalitions are in place to keep up the work. Let's stay with them. Bush isn't going to give in. Despite his lame-duck status, he plans to get his way and regardless of how we stood on this particular election, we are going to have to do whatever it takes to take a fight to his door.
The democratic struggle and the peace movement are going to have to become even broader and deeper. "Broad" doesn't mean paper coalitions dominated by leftists with the proper political credentials and ideological direction that exclude much larger sections of the population who may lack the proper credentials, line, or goals on certain issues. "Deeper" doesn't mean more self-absorbed or obsessed with single issues that don't move millions of people at this moment. Egalitarian and socialist principles, if you will indulge me here, call for their adherents to fight at all times for the most oppressed and exploited. This has never been truer than today, but real victory (not just abstract, symbolic, and self-satisfying platitudinous claims of victory) means millions of people are going to have to fight back. So what are millions of people willing to do now?
I suspect that most of the mass of people who stood together against Bush on November 2 are willing to fight on. But they understand that our biggest battles will be defensive on some things (protecting social security, blocking extremist appointments, turning privatization efforts back) and offensive on others (a national health program). Most of them understand, I suspect, that it isn't time to crawl back into our holes and figurative cubicles and wait for a more opportune time to get what we want. Nor is it time to abandon the quotidian for loftier goals that haven't a realistic chance for success. Too many billions of people don't have the privilege of dropping out. Too many billions of people still need us to put up some resistance to this Bush regime and its agenda of war, greed, domination, violence, and hate.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
US Elections & Democracy on Swans
Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs, a monthly magazine of ideology, politics, and culture, and a member of UAW Local 1981 (national writers union) who has written for numerous publications. He also writes and maintains ClassWarNotes.
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