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12.5.03

(Part 1 of this post, part 2 will be posted above)

A popular criticism of the war is made by asking what we would do if the people of Iraq elected an anti-American regime, possibly even an Islamist theocracy. Based on America's past dealings with socialist democracies and anti-communist dictators, these critics presume that the Bush administration would value a pro-American orientation over democracy. The predicted result is used to point out the hypocrisy of the pro-war camp's claim to be bringing democracy to the world. The implication is that doves, if they found themselves in the position of an occupying power, would respect the true will of the Iraqis even if it conflicted with America's interests.

This argument is, however, somewhat problematic because of the antiwar left's relationship to democratic rhetoric and potential adverse outcomes. I don’t mean here to tar the left as apologists for Stalinist dictatorial practices. The most thriving sector of today’s left is resolutely pro-democratic, employing devices such as decentralized organization and rotating “facilitator” positions in order to forestall the accumulation by one person of disproportionate power. The popular critique of capitalism has shifted from a focus on ends ("it's exploitative an harmful to workers" -- though that point remains) to a focus on means ("the market is undemocratic" -- contrary to the assertions of libertarians) and the development of democratic production institutions like participatory economics.

Yet some on the left seem to suffer from the same sort of mistaken assumption made by optimistic hawks, who assumed that Iraqi gratitude toward the US and the destruction of Saddam's anti-American agitations would make a democratic Iraq necessarily elect a pro-American administration. Many on the left too easily assume that, because "socialism" (however that's defined) is in the interests of the oppressed, the oppressed will necessarily express progressive views once the power of the oppressor is removed. I noticed this when I attended a meeting about establishing a Worcester chapter of IndyMedia. In formulating a mission statement, participants seemed to see no problems with claiming both to represent the voice of those who aren't heard in the mainstream media, and to advance the progressive goals that are stifled by the corporate media.

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