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Some Left Lessons Across Time and Place


There are significant differences of history, culture, and politics (and more) across nations – differences that make it unadvisable for leftists to try to mechanistically and simplistically “plug in” lessons from one nation, place, and time to another nation, place, and time – from, say, Czarist Russia, Mao’s China, or the French Third Republic to the contemporary United States.  Still, the sum total of left-progressive lessons in any one nation and period is hardly gleaned from that nation and time alone. U.S. progressives can garner useful knowledge and cues from other times and/or places in the existentially imperative task of trying to build a relevant left[1]and then a democratic, just, and sustainable society in the U.S.

Soviet Oppression and the Inadequacy of a Two-Class Model

The persistence of class rule and inequality in Soviet Russia long after the originally radical and potentially egalitarian Russian Revolution is a case in point.  Whether one considers the Soviet regime to have been state-capitalist, “bureaucratic-collectivist,” or “a degenerated workers’ state” (I go back and forth between the first and second options), a basic point is that this persistence took place in the absence of a big moneyed bourgeoisie and capitalist property relations in the core means of production and distribution.  In this sense it was a reminder that modern class inequality and the alienation and authoritarianism such inequality generates and reflects are not just about property relations and the power of a capitalist class (a national bourgeoisie): those problems are also about the hierarchical division and specialization of labor, the special power of coordinator- and/or managerial-class elites, and the development and preservation of oligarchies in state and society. The relative if disastrous and shocking ease with which “socialist” Russia was turned –without significant mass protest– into a corrupt capitalist mafia state ruled by a moneyed and propertied bourgeoisie was an indication of how far Russia really was from socialism, thanks in part to the extent to which it was already mired in the savage inequalities imposed by hierarchical divisions of labor and state despotism.[2] The classic “Marxist” two-class model of bourgeoisie and proletariat is inadequate for understanding modern inequality and authoritarianism; we have to also factor in the powerful role and position of privileged coordinators and managers and power structures that include but are hardly limited capitalist property relations and workplaces. The Soviet and post-Soviet experience is highly instructive in that regard. Many earlier U.S. leftists (chiefly those in the U.S. Communist Party) lost credibility with Americans by disastrously over-identifying their notion of radical change and people’s socialism with the authoritarian Soviet system and Stalin’s decrees and "line changes” – a reminder for U.S. leftists not to romanticize seemingly revolutionary developments abroad and not to privilege foreign dreams and dictates over the organic needs and struggles of working people at home.

“At Least They Were Answers”

The rise of Hitler in Depression-era Germany is a great lesson on why it is necessary for an active left to stay visible and engaged. Popular resentment abhors a democratic-progressive vacuum and if there is no viable, visible, and courageous left in place to channel that resentment in a positive way we can be sure that vicious and dodgy forces on the right will pounce to capture and misdirect it in profoundly regressive and reactionary ways. One does not want to over-do the historical analogy, of course, but there are some real parallels between the Nazis in 1930s Germany and the FOX News, right-wing talk radio and “Tea Party” right in the contemporary U.S. As Noam Chomsky noted two February ago:

“Right now, there is a right-wing populist uprising…If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances. And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened …so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want.’ Chomsky said, ‘to know who it is. Well, Rush Limbaugh has answered—‘it’s the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and run the media, and they don’t care about you. They just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.’ …There are historical analogs, which are not exact, but are close enough to be worrisome. There is a whiff of early Nazi Germany. Hitler was appealing to groups with similar grievances, and giving them crazy answers, but at least they were answers; these groups weren’t getting them anywhere else.”3

Of course, it is hardly American leftists’ fault alone that most ordinary people aren’t getting forthright and properly angry answers from them.  Hitler’s Germany clubbed the left into silence. Reagan, Clinton, Bush (x 2: 41 and 43) and Obama’s America marginalizes the left in softer, more “friendly fascist” (Bertram Gross) and “inverted totalitarian” (Sheldon Wolin) ways, including the dominant media’s refusal to cover left actions and arguments in a quantitatively appropriate fashion or in a qualitatively decent and respectful way. Still, far too many American progressives have (however understandably) retreated or fallen into bitterness, privatism, depression, silence, surrender, fruitless conspiracy obsession, and lesser-evilist cowering under the umbrella of the dismal corporate and imperial Democrats.  “Where are the progressives? Sulking,” the liberal columnist E.J. Dionne wrote last September, “is not an alternative…the Tea Party may be pulling a fast one on the country…But if it has more audacity than everyone else, it will, I am sorry to say, get away with it.”4

Mandela, Obama, and the Limits of Skin-Deep Change

The savagery with which mass poverty and inequality not only survived but deepened after the overthrow of apartheid and white political rule in South Africa is another great lesson – this one on the limits of identity politics and the need for radical social transformation beneath and beyond skin-level changes in nominally ruling personnel. “When Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994,” the South African author and educator Ashwin Desai noted in 2002, “freedom-loving people around the world hailed a victory over racial domination. The end of apartheid did not change the basic conditions of the oppressed majority, however. Material inequality has deepened and new forms of solidarity and resistance have emerged in communities that have forged new and dynamic political identities.”[5] The formal structures of apartheid may have been dismantled and the outwardly governing offices handed over to black parties and leaders in South Africa, but the underlying structures of national and global capitalism in the neoliberal era consigned most black South Africans to lives of economic misery – in some ways worse than what existed under open Afrikaner rule.

“The black revolution,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in a 1968 essay titled “A Testament of Hope,” is “exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society.  It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that the radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” The changes we needed to avert catastrophe and build a human civilization, King felt, could not be limited to the periodic re-shuffling of the names and faces and parties in nominal power. It had to go deeper than replacing one brand or shape or color of corporate- and military-captive office-holders with another such brand once every two, four or eight years.  This is part of why he repeatedly rejected efforts by left-liberal politicos to get him to run for president.

The corporate-imperial outcomes of the election of the United States’ first black president, Barack Obama [6] whose presidency has coincided with (and done nothing to correct) the deepening misery of America’s hyper-segregated black ghettoes, are certainly a great object lesson in how insufficient race-identity changes in the nominally ruling personnel are when it comes to real social change. There were earlier warnings in U.S. history like Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice.  But post-apartheid South Africa – where something like a popular revolution quite dramatically overthrew formal white supremacy in the early 1990s – is perhaps even better on this score.  It might have been usefully consulted by those who wanted to see the election of a technically black president with a Muslim sounding name as something like a great transformation in the U.S.

Latin America, The U.S. and Electoral Politics vs. Social Movements

Another and related example comes from Latin America in recent years.  The left there is much less impressed with candidates, political personalities, and elections as such than is what passes for a left in the United States. South American progressives have long understood that it isn’t about politicians and elected officials at the end of the day; it’s about the people joining together in solidaristic social movements to discipline and educate the politicians and policymakers from the bottom up. For example, mid-February of 2011 brought a nationwide general strike during a popular rebellion against food price hikes in Bolivia. All of Bolivia’s major cities—La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Oruro—were paralyzed as “workers marched in city centers and blockaded roads and highways to demand that the government increase wages and take measures to combat rising prices and food shortages…Long lines of workers marched through Cochabamba in a steady downpour, while thousands of factory workers, teachers, and health care workers, other public employees and students took over the center of the capital of La Paz, punctuating their chanting of demands with explosions of dynamite.”7

So what if Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is left-leaning and indigenous? The nation’s popular forces expect him to respect the power of their social movements and their determination to resist the drastically increased cost of food and fuel imposed by capitalist elites. When my wife Janet and I spent two weeks visiting our son in Ecuador exactly one year ago, we were struck by the fact that indigenous and labor activists there were far from content to merely have helped elect a left-of-center president (Rafael Correa).  They continued to hold significant popular demonstrations and otherwise exercise grassroots pressure in defense of cultural rights, livable ecology and popular control of water (and other) resources.  Like their counterparts in Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America, the social movements in Ecuador do not simply take orders from party leaders of the official and electoral left. They see candidates and elections as only one aspect of a deeper, many-sided popular struggle and grasp the necessity for organization and action beneath and beyond political campaigns and the machinations of political elites. They understand that the significant leftward direction that politics and policy have taken in early 21st century Latin America reflects the success of durable and popular social movements in changing the game of national and regional power from the bottom up and the top down.8

Shock Absorber Democrats

Failure to share and act on a similar understanding of the proper relationship between autonomous popular movement activity and the electoral politics of elites has plagued the U.S. progressive community for more than a century. As Lance Selfa showed in his valuable book The Democrats: A Critical History (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008), many U.S. progressives have long been snookered into helping the state-capitalist Democratic Party define the leftmost parameters of acceptable political debate and shut down the durable sort of radical social movement activity that alone can move government policy off the business-friendly center and right. For the last century plus the Democrat have faced all too little progressive resistance as they have played  "the role of shock absorber, trying to head off and co-opt restive segments of the electorate" (Selfa) and citizenry (a very different entity than an electorate) by posing as "the party of the people." The Democrats performed this critical system-preserving, change-maintaining function in relation to the agrarian populist insurgency of the 1890s, the working-class rebellion of the 1930s and 1940s, and the antiwar, civil rights, anti-poverty, ecology, and feminist movements during and since the 1960s and early 1970s (including the gay rights movement today). Besides preventing social movements from undertaking independent political activity, Selfa notes, the Democrats have been adept at killing social movements altogether. They have done – and continue to do – this in four key ways: (i) inducing "progressive" movement activists (e.g. the leaders of Moveon.org and United for Peace and Justice in recent years) to focus scarce resources on electing and defending capitalist politicians who are certain to betray peaceful- and populist-sounding campaign promises upon the attainment of power; (ii) pressuring activists to "rein in their movements, thereby undercutting the potential for struggle from below;" (iii) using material and social (status) incentives to buy off social movement leaders; (iv) feeding a pervasive sense of futility regarding activity against the dominant social and political order, with its business party duopoly.

The last three years have been richly consistent with Selfa’s analysis. Elected with a promise to his elite backers to prick, drain, contain, “calibrate” (to use a term from candidate Obama’s foreign policy advisor, the Harvard academician and “humanitarian” interventionist Samantha Power[9]) and otherwise manage popular hopes and expectations sparked by the crimes and passing of the arch-plutocratic and messianic-militarist George W. Bush administration, the deeply conservative Barack Obama and his center-right administration have played the shock-absorber role to perfection.  They have done so with no small help from U.S. progressives, many of whom have seemed oddly incapable of mustering anger and resistance when evil policies are conducted by Democrats. Last summer when then White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s called for “drug testing” for the “professional left,” I proposed an “ObamaLaid test.” My examination would have been applied all those supposedly left and liberal Americans who opposed criminal wiretappings, immoral and illegal wars, plutocratic bankers’ bailouts and other vile policies when they were implemented in the name of a white Republican moron from West Texas but who became all too strangely silent when those same policies were enacted under the portrait of an eloquent black Democrat from Chicago.  As Cindy Sheehan had earlier noted, thinking of all the liberals she could no longer interest in opposing Washington’s imperial policies, “Wars that were wrong under Bush become acceptable under Obama.” She could have made much the same point in relation to numerous Orwellian police state policies, to bankers’ bailouts, to U.S. enablement of criminal right wing coups in Latin America, and to much more that is documented at length in my book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power(Paradigm, 2010).

“A Demobilizing Force on the Antiwar Movement”

Consistent with Sheehan’s complaint and my own voluminous warnings on what Tariq Ali calls “the Obama syndrome,” a recent major study by University of Michigan political scientist Michael Heany and his colleague Fabio Rojas of Indiana University finds that the antiwar movement in the United States demobilized as Democrats withdrew from antiwar protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success, first with Congress in 2006 and then with the presidency in 2008. Democrats had been sparked to participate in antiwar activities when the war (the invasion and occupation of Iraq) they purported to oppose was being conducted by a Republican president. "As president,” Heany notes, “Obama has maintained the occupation of Iraq and escalated the war in Afghanistan…The antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama's 'betrayal' and reinvigorated its protest activity. Instead, attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources available to the movement have dissipated. The election of Obama appeared to be a demobilizing force on the antiwar movement, even in the face of his pro-war decisions." 10

Looking at Heany and Rojas’ study the other day, I was reminded of my futile counsel to the local campus antiwar group in Iowa City (the now defunct University of Iowa Antiwar Committee) in the summer of 2008: “protest at the [Obama-nominating] Democratic national convention in Denver, Colorado, not the [McCain-nominating] Republican national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Obama,” I told disbelieving “activists,” is “the next president, the empire’s next and new clothes.  He will continue the war on Iraq and expand the one in Afghanistan.” There is no longer an antiwar movement in Iowa City, thanks to the departure of the best activists, the nefarious activities of an FBI informant, internal squabbles over personalities and Israel, and – last but not least – the significant demobilizing impact of a Democratic president who deceptively ran as an antiwar candidate.

Put Down Those Protest Posters and Pick Up Those Democratic Party Clipboards

It was exciting to see how Wisconsin’s messianic right-wing maximalist governor Scott Walker’s Koch brother-backed assault on public sector unions sparked a massive outpouring of popular resistance in February and March of 2011. One of the really neat things about this rebellion was the extent to which it seemed to have broken with the false of promise of change coming from the top down – from the latest corporate imperial politician to be installed in the White House. Providing some of the answer to E.J. Dionne’s question (“where are the progressives?”), the real energy in the Wisconsin public worker rebellion and its state-level offshoots came from the bottom up. As Wisconsin State Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller rightly noted when the Wall Street Journal queried him on Obama’s role: “Really the people of our state, and the people of our country, have been able to find their voice in this battle.  The voices of the people [not Obama] are the voices the governor needs to listen to.”

The Tea Party right insisted that their great, supposedly socialist nemesis Obama – the corporate-friendly savior of Wall Street – intervened decisively on workers’ side in, and even sparked the recent and ongoing state-level uprisings. The charge was absurd. As Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman noted last February in an article titled “Obama Sits Out State Fights,” Obama stepped back from the state-level battles after initially seeming to support labor in Wisconsin. Top Democratic officials told Weisman that this was because Obama was “eager to occupy the political center…to help him try to forge a bipartisan deal on the nation’s long-term finances that could strengthen his position heading into the 2012 election.” 11

“Sitting out” did not do justice to Obama’s conservatism in relation to the public worker struggle within and beyond Wisconsin. National New York Times correspondent Jackie Calmes reported that the White House actually intervened against the national Democratic Party’s initial efforts to support the Wisconsin labor protests, which administration officials saw as contrary to their happy and neoliberal message. “When West Wing officials discovered that the Democratic National Committee had mobilized Mr. Obama’s national network to support the protests,” Calmes wrote, “they angrily reined in the staff at the party headquarters…Administration officials said they saw the events beyond Washington as distractions from the optimistic ‘win the future’ message that Mr. Obama introduced in his State of the Union address.”[12] Obama responded to the rank-and-file labor rebellion in the American heartland in much the same way as he responded to the right-wing coup in Honduras in June of 2009 and to the rise of the Egyptian revolution in January and February 2011: with initial statements of seeming support for popular-democratic forces followed by conservative equivocation and caution meant to identify himself with democratic change without severing his accommodation to dominant hierarchies and elites.

With tens of thousands of them circling the Capitol Rotunda in Madison and thousands occupying the structure itself, it seemed as Wisconsin’s public workers and their supporters were channeling the wisdom of the late great radical American historian Howard Zinn in 2009: “There's hardly anything more important that people can learn than the fact that the really critical thing isn't who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens. It is becoming clearer and clearer to many, after the first year of Obama’s presidency, that it is going to require independent action from below to achieve real change.”[13] On February 22,  the Madison-based 97-union South Central Labor Federation (representing 45,000 public and private sector union members in southern and central Wisconsin)  passed a resolution in support of considering a general strike (technically illegal under the nation’s draconian labor laws).  The federation appointed a coordinating committee to contact European unions with experience conducting general strikes.

But look how quickly the masses who poured into the streets were de-mobilized by union officials eager to bid down the price of public sectors’ labor power as long as the Republican governor could be forced to relent in his assault on the labor bureaucrats’ right to enjoy comfortable coordinator class salaries on the basis of the automatic union dues check-off. Labor “leadership” succeeded in squelching talk of a general strike, getting workers back on the job, and encouraging union members and their supporters to focus their anger and energies on the effort to recall Walker and return the other state-capitalist austerity party (the Democrats, whose top official Obama actually opposed the Wisconsin protests) to nominal power. “Put down your posters and pick up a clipboard” was the actual command issued by one state Democrat speaking to tens of thousands of workers and their supporters outside the Madison Capitol Rotunda last March 12th. Taking orders from one wing of the unelected money dictatorship (the far right Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation and other of the hard right business class ilk) at the top, the G/Tea.O.P. governor Walker has been counting on other expressions of that dictatorship – capitalist media’s limited toleration for labor rebellion and the cash credit, and employment-based health care dependency of working people, many of whom live one paycheck to the next – to combine with the moral weakness and corruption of union leadership to tamp down the Wisconsin protests. Meanwhile, the Republican governor and legislature of Ohio passed an even more vicious assault on public sector union power that affects considerably more workers without meeting one tenth the poplar protest seen in Wisconsin. Democratic governors across the nation have joined their Republican counterparts in trying to balance state budgets on the backs of the poor and working class and failing to try to make the rich and powerful continue pay an adequate share. The struggle against the U.S.-backed post-Mubarak military dictatorship has continued in the streets and factories of Egypt even as the Wisconsin struggle has been significantly channeled safely back into that timeworn “coffin of class consciousness” (to quote the late radical American historian Alan Dawley) the American two party ballot box.  Along with the suppression of popular democracy movements against U.S-supported authoritarian regimes across the Middle East (most notably in Bahrain and Yemen) and the horrors of nuclear power epitomized by the ongoing disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant, both the ongoing Egyptian revolution and the Wisconsin workers' struggle were all too easily  booted off prime time media coverage by Obama and NATO’s imperial adventure in Libya and the kabuki theater of imminent and averted “government shutdown” in Washington.

A more Latin American orientation is recommended here!

Election Madness

Also recommended, however, is a sense of how big progressive change has taken place in the past in the United States itself.  Zinn said it very well in March of 2008, making his case against the “election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society, including the left” with special intensity in the year of Obama’s nomination for the presidency:

 “The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us.”

“And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike…I'm not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.”

“I'm talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes – the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.”

“But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

“Let's remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore…..Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.”

“They offer no radical change from the status quo. They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure. They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.”

“None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties.”14

Wise words, crafted from a lifetime of critical, many-sided struggle and reflection on popular resistance past and present and at home and abroad.

Selected Notes

1 I agree with the Hungarian left Marxist Istvan Meszaros, who (thinking of the ecological apocalypse being created by what he calls “the capital system”) writes that “the uncomfortable truth of the matter is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself." Nowhere is such a movement more urgently required than in the world’s only Superpower, the leading source of global pollution and violence and the great global defender of the social system that is ruining the chance for a sustainable human future. Istvan Meszaros, Socialism or Barbarism: From The "American Century" to the Crossroads (New York: Monthly Review, 2001), 80. On incipient ecological crisis, see (among many possible sources) Herve Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green. 2007).

2 An important reflection along these lines was the East German dissident Marxist Rudolf Bahro’s book The Alternative in Eastern Europe (New York: Routledge, 1978)

3 Noam Chomsky and Diane Krauthamer, “Worker Occupations and the Future of Radical Labor: An Interview with Noam Chomsky,” Z Magazine, February 2010, 22. While I agree with the broad outlines of Chomsky’s argument and obviously find it useful to cite and quote here, my own research – with Anthony DiMaggio- on the 2009-2010 Tea Party phenomenon questions the widely disseminated notion that “the Tea Party” (itself a problematic term) is “populist,” a “movement,” and/or an “uprising.” DiMaggio and I also do not find “the Tea Party’s” membership and support base to be particularly working class. See Paul Street and Anthony DiMaggio, Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, May 2011), order at http://www.amazon.com/Crashing-Tea-Party-Campaign-American/dp/1594519455/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304624665&sr=1-3

4 E.J. Dionne, “The Tea Party Movement is a Scam,” RealClearPolitics (September 23, 2010).

5 Ashwin Desai, We Are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa (New York: Monthly Review, 2002).

6 See Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); Tariq Ali, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad (Verso, 2010); Roger Hodge, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (HarperCollins, 2010).

7 Bill Van Auken, “Bolivia ’s Morales Faces General Strike Over Food Prices,” World Socialist Web Site (February 22, 2011)at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/feb2011/boli-f22.shtml

8 See Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (Chicago: Haymarket, 2010), 213-14, for instructive reflections on Latin American versus dominant U.S. understandings of democracy.

9 For details and sources, see Paul Street, “‘Calibrating’ Hope in the Effort to ‘Patrol the Commons’: Samantha Power and the Hidden Imperial Reality of Barack Obama,” ZNet (February 25, 2008)

10 Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas, “The Partisan Dynamics of Contention: Demobilization of the Antiwar Movement in the United States, 2007-2009,” Mobilization: An International Journal, 2011, 16 (1): 45-64, read at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mheaney/Partisan_Dynamics_of_Contention.pdf. As the University of Michigan press release explains: “Heaney and Rojas analyzed the demobilization of the antiwar movement by using surveys of 5,400 demonstrators at 27 protests mostly in Washington, D.C., New York,Chicago and San Francisco from January 2007 to December 2009. The surveys asked questions on basic demographics, partisan affiliations, organizational affiliations, reasons for attending the events, histories of political participation, and attitudes toward the movement, war and the political system…. In addition, the researchers observed smaller, more informal events at which antiwar activists gathered, including Capitol Hill lobby days, candlelight vigils, fundraisers, small protests, planning meetings, training sessions, parties, the National Assembly of United for Peace and Justice and the U.S. Social Forum. They also interviewed 40 antiwar leaders about their personal backgrounds, the inner workings of the antiwar movement, political leaders and the Democratic Party…Their study found that the withdrawal of Democratic activists changed the character of the antiwar movement by undermining broad coalitions in the movement and encouraging the formation of smaller, more radical coalitions….After Obama's election as president, Democratic participation in antiwar activities plunged, falling from 37 percent in January 2009 to a low of 19 percent in November 2009, Heaney and Rojas say. In contrast, members of third parties became proportionately more prevalent in the movement, rising from 16 percent in January 2009 to a high of 34 percent in November 2009….’Since Democrats are more numerous in the population at large than are members of third parties, the withdrawal of Democrats from the movement in 2009 appears to be a significant explanation for the falling size of antiwar protests,’ Heaney said. ‘Thus, we have identified the kernel of the linkage between Democratic partisanship and the demobilization of the antiwar movement.’…Using statistical analysis, the researchers found that holding anti-Republican attitudes had a significant, positive effect on the likelihood that Democrats attended antiwar rallies. The results also show that Democrats increasingly abandoned the movement over time, perhaps to channel their activism into other causes such as health care reform or simply to decrease their overall level of political involvement.  ‘Overall, our results convincingly demonstrate a strong relationship between partisanship and the dynamics of the antiwar movement. While Obama's election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement, Obama's election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass.’"

11 Jonathan Weisman, “Obama Sits Out State Fights,” Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2011.

12 Jackie Calmes, “Less Drama in White House After Staff Changes,” New York Times, March 3, 2011 at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/us/politics/04staff.html?_r=3.

13 Quoted in “The Legacy of Howard Zinn,” SocialistWorker.org (November 2, 2010) at http://socialistworker.org/blog/critical-reading/2010/11/02/legacy-howard-zinn.

14 Howard Zinn, “Election Madness,” The Progressive (March 2008). 

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