Socialist Worker

Who should we back for president?

Leading left activists in the US give their views on the election and the tasks for the movement

Issue No. 1916

Protest will erupt in New York this week on a scale not seen since the great demonstrations on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

At least 100,000 people are expected to participate in a broad spectrum of protests at the Republican convention.

They will have to fight for the right to be seen and heard. Michael Bloomberg, New York’s billionaire Republican mayor, has banned protesters from Central Park and neighbourhoods near the convention.

Likewise, the US Justice Department has been conducting a sinister nationwide campaign of innuendo and FBI surveillance against activists.

The spectre of Chicago 1968 looms, when police unleashed a brutal assault on anti Vietnam War protesters at the Democratic convention. If that is what the Republicans are planning, they have picked the wrong city.

All polls show that the great majority of ordinary New Yorkers, from Irish-American firefighters to Puerto Rican high school kids, are mad as hell against Bush and Bloomberg.

The anti-Bush demonstrations look set to manisfest the “spirit of Seattle”—that vast and enduring potential for building a mass left in the belly of the beast.

Yet this dream of a “next American left” can only be realised if activists maintain their independence in the face of hysterical pressures to fall in line behind “anybody but Bush”.

Certainly every demonstrator in the streets of New York this week agrees that we must defeat Bush’s policies at any cost.

We stare starkly at the nightmare future defined by Fahrenheit 9/11, where working class Americans will all be stocking shelves in Wal-Mart, festering in jail or killing other poor people around the world for oil.

What so deeply divides activists, however, is the intolerable force of a simple logical argument. This argument has two premises. The first is the urgency of opposing Bush’s policies—above all the war in Iraq. The second is the recognition that the Democrats support most of the core Bush agenda.

John Kerry, the Democrat presidential candidate, backs the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He backs the Patriot Act and the war on terror.

Aristotle would be amused by the tortuous attempts to deduce from these premises that the anti-war movement must support Kerry. No sleight of hand can disguise the Democrats’ complicity with atrocities in Iraq. Any moral distinction between the war policies of the two main parties is untenable.

Most on the US left recognise that the new American Empire is a bipartisan effort. But some claim a Kerry administration would offer better terrain for anti-imperialist opposition.

The Democrats would certainly differ from the present regime in nuance and detail. Kerry, after all, has embraced even more reactionary postures than Bush on Palestine and Cuba. He is also committed to larger expenditures on special forces and homeland security.

But these differences are not qualitatively greater than those that already exist in the Bush White House between, say, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney.

Moreover, to an unemployed kid recruited by the Marines on the mean streets of Detroit—or his counterpart in the slums of Sadr City—it makes no difference whether the Iraq war is managed by “neo-conservatives” or “neo-realists”. There is no lesser evil.

There remains the argument that a Kerry victory is essential to stop the closure of democratic space for protest and opposition.

Yet to “rescue” civil liberties from Ashcroft and Bush, the Democrats have resorted to every Nixonite dirty trick imaginable to keep Ralph Nader off state ballots.

The real Democrat agenda is to intimidate, absorb and suffocate all independent dissent from the Clinton-Kerry program of “normal imperialism” and corporate globalisation.

This logic all points towards an inescapable conclusion. The only way to defeat Bush and Kerry’s war is to preserve the militant independence of the movement in the streets.

And only Nader boldly stands for the true politics of that movement, starting with immediate withdrawal from Iraq and repeal of the Patriot Act.

Mike Davis is a socialist writer and activist. He is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. Mike’s latest book is Dead Cities and Other Tales.

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