Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 11, 2007

Eavesdropping on a phone conference

Filed under: antiwar — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

Rabbi Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner has posted the transcript of a phone conference between major leaders of the mainstream peace movement (himself, Leslie Cagan, Medea Benjamin, et al) and Democratic Congressional “doves” Lynn Woolsey and Jim Moran on his website.

Politic.com explains Lerner’s decision:

A well-known anti-war leader has gone public with the transcript of a private conference call that shows peace activists are exasperated with the Democratic congressional leadership and at a loss for a long-term strategy.

The fact that a UFPJ leader would be in on this phone call is further proof that this coalition is hopelessly wedded to influencing the Democratic Party. In some ways, the war continues because there is not a sufficiently powerful political force inside the US that is seen as a genuine threat by the ruling class parties. No matter how many temper tantrums that Code Pink throws, there will always be the obvious impression that they are trying to influence mommy and daddy. In the 1960s and 70s, the antiwar movement had no interest in cajoling Democratic Party “doves”. It saw its job as raising hell in the streets to the point where both parties would succumb to the pressure. Of course, the antiwar movement of the 1960s tended to be much bigger and more militant because of the military draft. Young people like me saw protesting the war as an act of survival in some ways.

To extend the analogy with trying to get mommy and daddy’s attention, I always felt that becoming radicalized for me was a little bit like discovering that your parents were sexually abusing one of your siblings. Once you make this discovery, you will never see them in the same way. Some children might call the cops; others might take a gun and shoot the offending parent. But you would never sit on their lap again. That’s how I felt about the Democrats after 1967.

Lynne Woolsey kicks off the discussion by defending H.R. 508, a withdrawal plan submitted by her, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee. Showing the fighting spirit that the Democratic Party has made famous, Woolsey admits that a similarly inspired proposal won’t get to first base: “Oh, well, the Senate won’t pass it, so it won’t get to the president.” Clearly, we’ll never see fistfights breaking out in the halls of Congress anytime soon between the two parties.

It seems that Woolsey has become uncomfortable with how some liberals complain about the Democratic Party caving in to Bush all the time. In particular, an ACLU ad depicting Reid and Pelosi as a couple of sheep was “embarrassing” to her. You can see the ad here:

Tim Carpenter of the Progressive Democrats of America says that his group has been working hard. It sent over 9,000 emails to Nancy Pelosi’s office in the last three weeks demanding that she support a peace proposal. If Pelosi is not moved by Code Pink staging a hunger strike on her front door, I doubt that she will be moved by 9,000 emails. I get about that much every day from the widows of Nigerian oil ministers. Woolsey tries to break the news to Tim Carpenter that email might not matter all that much: “Because people aren’t in the streets, because they’re electronically communicating, it’s easier for the Congress or the media to pretend that it isn’t happening, but it isn’t visible.”

Woolsey advises the conferees that they should focus on the moderate Democrats, who are gumming up the works:

Ok, here’s something. I believe that Nancy (Pelosi) is with us, and she’s counting on you guys and Barbara and Maxine and me to push from the Left in the Congress. But the people that need to hear are the moderate Democrats who are holding up the whole thing. They’re the ones who have to know that their people care, that they bring our troops home. They swear they don’t. They swear that they’ll lose their elections if they do the right thing.

This paints a dreary picture, doesn’t it? The blame keeps getting shifted in American bourgeois politics. It is a just like a 3-card Monty game. You can never turn up the right card. The leftwing of the Democratic Party says that the party’s moderates are the problem. And then the Democratic Party as a whole says that it can’t do anything to stop the war because it can’t override Bush’s veto. This, of course, is a lie. All the Democrats need to do is not pass a funding bill of any kind. That will bring the war to an end immediately, just as it did in Vietnam. When they continue to fund the war–crocodile tears and all–they are as complicit as the Republicans.

Leslie Cagan, the most left-leaning conferee, throws up her hands and says, “We don’t know how this war’s going to end. This has been a nightmare for five years—almost five years now, before the war began.” But there’s hope. She says that “September is a critical time, in terms of what Congress can do, what they might do, what they probably won’t do.” And if Congress doesn’t get it done next year, there’s always next year:

Beyond that, we’re beginning to look at 2008, as the country has already been forced to, in the election cycle. Both the Congressional and the Presidential races—not that we will support a particular candidate or political party, we certainly will not do that—but again, how do we begin injecting not only ending this war and occupation, but also preventing a war in Iran, preventing any other military operations like this, and beginning to put forward a much more thorough peace and justice agenda, and how to use the election process to work through that agenda.

In other words, mass demonstrations are just an adjunct to the real game, which is the “election cycle.” For those of you living outside the US, this is a buzzword that is used on Sunday morning talk shows. There are “news cycles” and there are “election cycles”. Within each cycle, you get issues and personalities that rise to the top like scum on a stagnant pond. When the cycle is over, things return to normal. Of course, for people living outside the US, like the beleaguered citizens of Baghdad, the “election cycle” might not mean a whole lot when you have to worry about being victimized by a car bomb, thrown out of your house by ethnic cleansing or picked up by a death squad.

To elevate the conversation somewhat, Rabbi Michael Lerner tries to interject some political theory:

Because we know that many people who oppose the war are nevertheless unsure about how the US can get out without making the situation worse and without abandoning its role in the world, we are trying to encourage a national conversation about the fundamentally flawed idea that lies behind the war in Iraq, which is what we call “the Strategy of Domination.” The core bad idea is this: that the world is full of hurtful people who will hurt us unless we hurt them first, that they will dominate us unless we dominate them and so we have no choice but to take strong aggressive action lest they come to our very homeland and attack us. And of course, that could happen, but it will happen because we’ve been acting on that fear for decades, and attempting to dominate the world, in the course of which we’ve spread a great deal of pain and hence generated a great deal of anger.

Silly me. I always thought that war’s take place because the US is interested in protecting its overseas investments and expanding into new areas for super-exploitation. I guess I should go home and burn my Lenin and begin reading transformational psychology textbooks, or whatever fount of wisdom Lerner plucks his platitudes from.

But let’s not assume that Lerner is all pie in the sky. He has concrete proposals:

Specifically, that leads us to advocate for a Global Marshall Plan, and our call to dedicate between 1 and 2 percent of the GDP each year for the next twenty, for the purpose of eliminating global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and inadequate healthcare, both domestically and abroad.

1 to 2 percent of the GDP can do that. But the specific Global Marshall Plan only makes sense in the context of a general assault on the underlying ideology that makes this war and every other war seem plausible.

Actually, he has it ass backwards. It is global GDP inequality that leads to ideological differentiation. When there was slavery, a system of ideology had to be produced to rationalize racial inequality–like Black people being closer to the apes, etc. When you have the US controlling something like 75 percent of the world’s resources, you need an ideology to legitimize this. It used to be the need to uphold democracy against Communism. Now it is the need to defeat “Islamofascism”. If there was equality among the world’s population, there would be no need for violence, or philosophical explanations for the status quo.



  1. […] to Lou Proyect for pointing this out. His comments are at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/eavesdropping-on-a-phone-conference/. The original transcript is at […]

    Pingback by Doug Henwood Talks » Blog Archive » Michael Lerner tattles: the state of the antiwar movement — September 11, 2007 @ 7:09 pm

  2. The height of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over again expecting different results every single time.

    Welcome to the world of CodePink, UFPJ, and Rollover.org.

    Comment by Binh — September 11, 2007 @ 7:11 pm

  3. […] more grounded sense of the truth.  Old school Marxist Louis Proyect uses his regular blog to dissect Lerner’s nonsense and the Dimocrats’ fallacy: This paints a dreary picture, doesn’t it? The blame keeps […]

    Pingback by The SmackDog Chronicles » Blog Archive » The Hollow Center of Liberal Activism In The US (Or, Why The Dimocrats Will NEVER Beat Bush) — September 11, 2007 @ 8:38 pm

  4. […] family members, anti-war, student and community leaders! In the 1960s and 70s, the antiwar movement had no interest in cajoling Democratic Party “doves”. It saw its job as raising hell in the streets to the point where both parties […]

    Pingback by Politics in the Zeros » Sept. 15 March on D.C. this Saturday — September 13, 2007 @ 4:19 am

  5. Lynn Woolsey is my congressperson. I used to think she was well-intentioned, though not bright; now I think she has a grandiose self-image, and not bright. She refers to herself, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee as “The Triad” – in image, like the “Four Horseman” of football, she apparently believes will strike fear into opponents’ hearts.

    I heard today that Obama said in a speech “you will not attack Iran without Congressional approval.” It made my heart flutter.

    Comment by Plato's cave — September 13, 2007 @ 4:39 am

  6. The struggle to “pressure” the “democrats” also amazes me because none of the people who believe they are going to do so take any cognizance of the actual transformations that have gone on within the body of that organization itself, the different factions of the ruling class that it is composed of, etc. Neither the “Democrats” or the “Republicans” are at all the same organizations they were even when I was a body, stuffing envelopes for the North Star Borough Democrats in Alaska in the early 1970s. I doubt seriously people like Frank Church or Mike Gravel would find much support in the Democratic party of now, and forget Republicans like Edward Brooke, Hugh Scott, or Jacob Javits. Contrast the sensibilities of a George Romney to his son Mitt, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I’m not saying they’re not all boojwah politicians, mind you. But the layers of cynicism that have grown in both parties to me are symptomatic of the overwhelming bankruptcy of late capitalism, which has been greatly accelerated since the Reaganoid era began. So the idea of taking over either party, as Pieface Benjamin and others believe they will do, puts me in mind of nothing so much as Malcolm’s apt phrase that “entering American society is like trying to get yourself integrated into a burning house”.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux Perez — September 13, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

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