The Left’s Failure to Supersede the Democratic Party’s Hegemony over Social Movements

What Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas’ “The Partisan Dynamics of Contention: Demobilization of the Antiwar Movement in the United States, 2007-2009” (Mobilization 16.1; now linked to MRZine) shows is that, in the United States, the anti-war/peace movement is much narrower and more shallow than many believe.  Whereas there remains an enduring core of genuinely dedicated anti-war/peace activists, there is also a much larger and more fickle majority of social actors who fall into the category that the authors call “partisans,” by which they mean dedicated Democrats or dedicated Republicans who act out of a sense of “threat” posed by wars when waged, not by the party with which they identify, but the other party.

Thus the authors point out that “[Act Now to Stop War and End Racism] Coalition leadership inhibits coalition brokerage between the antiwar movement and the Democratic Party. . . .  ANSWER event leadership had a significant, negative effect on the likelihood of Democratic participation in antiwar rallies” (pp. 55-56).  The fundamental reason for this phenomenon is that ANSWER is anti-war, whereas the defectors are something quite different, however they may think about themselves.  Social actors motivated by opposition to war when a Republican occupies the White House, but not when a Democrat does, demobilized first as Democrats achieved majorities in the House and Senate (after November 2006), and then again more dramatically as soon as a Democrat occupied the White House (after November 2008).  Racism also is an important factor, that is, the kind that imputes to Obama’s blackness the false attributes of a liberal or radical president, leading to demobilization for this reason, too.

“While Obama’s election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement,” Heaney and Rojas conclude, “Obama’s election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass” (p. 60).

Much the same damning lesson could be extended to the effect that Obama’s election has had on domestic issues of grave import to the vast majority of U.S. citizens, such as health care (forget single-payer; advance the insurance sector), education (forget public education; advance the elite-serving private system), the environment (forget alternative energy sources or challenging climate-changing practices; advance Big Oil and Nukes), and the financial, insurance, and real estate sectors (forget re-regulation and prosecution; bail out the banks), and the protection of New Deal- and Great Society-type policy innovations (let’s continue to undermine Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; propagandize against the ideas of the social good and public welfare; and so on).

It’s all a very sad and indeed dangerous state of affairs — for life around the world, for life in the United States.  Were someone to carry out a comparable study of the so-called “Left” in the States, as Heaney and Rojas have with respect to the “partisan dynamics” the anti-war/peace movement, I have no doubt that the findings would turn out much the same.

The progressive collapse of the Left in the States these past 20 years on questions of war and peace and imperialism, especially every time somebody waves a “humanitarian” and now “responsibility to protect” banner before their eyes, as witnessed at present in the U.S.-led NATO-bloc war on Libya, is a case in point.

David Peterson is a co-author (with Edward S. Herman) of The Politics of Genocide.  He may be contacted at <>.

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