What Kind of Actions?

June 15 , 2004

By Bill Foster

Have you ever met an anti-war "organizer" who is so preoccupied with participating in one "action" after another -- so busy selling bus tickets to some demonstration -- that he/she has "no time" for political discussion?

In all likelihood, such an individual has been temporarily infected with the fever of "actionitis."

Today the opportunist "left-wing" of the Democratic Party is spreading "actionitis" as a way to divert attention from the pro-war politics of John Kerry. Since Kerry is an extremely tough sell as an anti-war candidate, the opportunists hope that actions can be used as a "safety valve" while keeping people in the fold of the 2-party system and "getting out the vote." Demonstrations are organized so that activists can "let off steam" while the main speakers and organizers (even while using the demonstration to give themselves "militant" credentials) harp on the theme of "the lesser evil."

An even "more militant" posture is taken by those who claim to be "politically neutral" and insist that "street heat" is the way to "educate" all the politicians and "pressure" them to "respond to the demands of their constituents." This argument creates the maximum illusions not only in the Democrats but also in the Republicans and the political status quo. This is simply a rehash of the Big Lie of High School Civics which pretends that the politicians do not base their policies on the interests of the capitalist class but rather are empty vessels who can be educated to "represent the people." Such "pressure politics" confines the people to the subordinate role, unable to aspire to do more than pressure the powers-that-be -- the movers and shakers -- who always remain the decision-makers.

Yet another strain of "actionitis" elevates "mass actions" as the "be-all and end-all" of anti-war strategy while disdaining and abstaining from "partisan politics" altogether. This form of "actionitis" is only a way of sticking one's head in the sand. It fails to wage a concrete struggle against the politics and ideology of the Democratic Party and does nothing to enhance the independent consciousness and organization of the people.

Obviously any movement for political and social changes requires actions. But the issue is: what kind of actions? For example, does a particular mobilization aim at developing the fight against the warmakers and strengthening the people's independent movement? Or is it only used as a "more militant" way to "get out the vote" and create illusions in the warmakers.

In other words, actions cannot be a substitute for politics. On the contrary, they must be developed as part of the people's independent political movement -- in opposition to, and struggle against, the parties of war and imperialism.