Swans Commentary » swans.com June 6, 2005  



A Plea To The US Antiwar Movement


by Joe Davison






(Swans - June 6, 2005)  George Galloway's recent bravura performance in front of a US Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Investigations in Washington D.C. has been rightly lauded as one of the most inspirational examples of speaking truth to power ever witnessed. The manner in which this fiery Scotsman ripped to shreds Senator Norm Coleman, considered a rising star within the Republican Party up to that point, and more importantly Coleman's weak attempts to pin spurious charges of corruption and graft on Galloway with regard to various alleged violations of the UN oil for food program in Iraq, was astounding in its take-no-prisoners, unapologetic style. Rather than the accused, George Galloway, as he'd announced beforehand, turned accuser, launching a relentless and ruthless attack on both the war and on those who'd initiated that war. Hardly surprising when you consider that George Galloway's entire political life has been devoted to the cause of the oppressed and the dispossessed around the world, no matter the personal and professional cost to himself.

But George Galloway's appearance and performance, whilst inspirational, has also served to reveal the comparative weakness and ineffectiveness of the US antiwar movement and, specifically, the US Left.

Simply put, when the best thing that's happened to a movement after three years is the appearance of a maverick British MP in front of a US Senate Subcommittee, then you know you've got problems.

Now, at this point, in anticipation of being accused of criticising the US Left and antiwar movement unfairly, allow me to explain my reasons. Due to the role of the US ruling class in the world today, perpetuating as they are some of the most heinous crimes in human history with the pouring of immense resources and effort into maintaining and increasing their hegemony, it follows that upon the shoulders of the Left in the United States rests a great and a heavy responsibility to do their utmost within the belly of this beast to attempt to stop it in its tracks.

This, unfortunately, they have clearly failed to do.

The most conscious elements of a heterogeneous movement comprising pacifists, labor activists, faith-based groups, Democratic Party activists, greens, and so on, which arose before the war began, and which has contracted since, have singularly failed to influence this movement and pull it left, where it needs to be if it is to play a role in helping to change the course of history and stop the unremitting suffering and misery of millions of people in Iraq and around the so-called Third World.

We see this failure in the emphasis of each of the two major antiwar coalitions in the U.S. today, namely, United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ), and Act Now To Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER).

On the home page of the UFPJ website, for example, the only prominent slogan you will find is "End the war on Iraq." Nothing on the Palestinian struggle, the Venezuelan struggle, the US domination of Haiti; in fact, no slogan or message linking the war in Iraq to the international project undertaken by the US ruling class to quash any nation or ideology that dares stand in the way of their interests. This in itself reveals an astounding lack of consciousness on the part of a group spearheading a campaign to end an imperialist war.

Because in order to be effective, the movement has to be anti-imperialist, unequivocally on the side of the oppressed in Iraq, Palestine, Haiti, Southeast Asia, everywhere in the world where the US ruling class dominates either militarily or economically. The overweening false patriotism and insidious nationalism which has been cleverly instilled in the mass of the American people can only be countered with a strong anti-imperialist stand on the part of the most conscious elements of the progressive movement. You only have to go back to last year's presidential elections, during which antiwar Democrats coined the slogan "peace is patriotic," to see evidence of this. A weak message, it fell flat and failed to connect with millions of voters, especially in places like West Virginia, where patriotism exerted a strong enough influence to motivate poor whites to vote for Bush even though it was against their own interests -- economic, political, and social -- to do so.

UFPJ, then, for all intents and purposes the right wing of the antiwar movement, lack a strong anti-imperialist message connecting the war on the Iraqi people with the Palestinian struggle, with the Cuban people and their revolution, with the Bolivarian Revolution and the Venezuelan people, and, yes, the right of the Korean people to self determination and an end to the partition of the Korean peninsula. The existence and savagery of economic imperialism should also come under this banner, exposing the role of US controlled institutions like the IMF and World Bank in exploiting the human and natural resources of the developing world on behalf of US transnational corporations.

By focusing on the war as a single issue, which is ludicrous as no struggle can or has ever existed in a vacuum, the leadership of UFPJ makes a fetish of the symptoms of the free market fundamentalism responsible for the war, and for the other struggles previously mentioned.

In contrast, on the left of the antiwar movement sits the ANSWER Coalition. To their credit they do include the war in Iraq as part of this broader international struggle. On the homepage of their website they include strong messages in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle (the litmus test of any international progressive movement); the Haitian people; with Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution unfolding there; and the Cuban Revolution. They've even posted a demand that the U.S. get out of the Philippines.

This comes as no great surprise, as ANSWER have consistently provided an analysis of events leading up to and including the war in Iraq that is cutting edge. It is one that covers the history of the region, the history of the US ruling class in the region, as well as comprehensive histories and analyses of ongoing struggles against the onslaught of US imperialism taking place all over the world.

Where they do fall down, however, is in their neglect of the struggle taking place in the United States itself, thus signifying a failure to understand that any system of imperialism abroad rests upon a foundation of social and economic injustice at home, and that it is only by attacking and destroying this foundation at home that you stand any chance of ending that imperialism and imperialist wars like the war in Iraq. Think globally but act locally is all. In real terms this means that rather than focusing solely on prisoner abuse in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the focus should also be on the prisoner abuse which takes place inside San Quentin and Lompoc, inside every American prison on a daily basis. It means that rather than focusing solely on the occupation of Iraq, there should also be focus on the occupation of oppressed communities in every city across the United States by the institutionalised poverty enforced by various organs of the state apparatus -- police, judiciary, penal system, etc. -- as part of an unremitting class war being waged by a conscious ruling class on an unconscious working and underclass.

Neither of the two major antiwar coalitions have any presence in any oppressed community, in any working class community, anywhere in the United States, which is precisely where that presence should be. It is not enough to have a movement comprised mainly of activists and adherents involved as a result of moral choice, important as that involvement is. At a certain stage a strong, determined, and coherent movement requires people who are involved as a result of material necessity. And arriving at this point, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that such a movement must be led by and be rooted in the oppressed African communities. For it is there that the class struggle in the United States is at its most acute; there that the ruling class reveals the true nature of their barbarity with the implementation of a prison and a military-industrial complex quite unique in its racist and reactionary philosophical foundations.

Young black males growing up, say, in South Central Los Angeles, are given a choice. They can choose between becoming cannon fodder for the military, providing minimum wage labor for some corporate chain, or rebel, join a gang and either kill or be killed by other members of their class in an internecine conflict exacerbated by the state. If they survive this gang violence, which is no mean feat in itself, they do so only to join the 2 million and counting swallowed up inside the rapidly expanding American gulag system of slave labor.

But, in an ideal world, rather than any of the aforementioned, they would also have the choice of joining a militant, conscious, coherent movement fighting back against the very social and economic injustice that blights their lives and their communities, one linking the class war at home to the war in Iraq and imperialism abroad.

As of now no such movement exists.

Sad, because such a movement would change the entire dynamic of what would then become the antiwar component of a much broader struggle. It would stop this ridiculous pandering to the troops, this fear of criticising them for taking part in an illegal and immoral war. Now they would be told clearly that by joining the military they betray their class, albeit unconsciously. It would call for the troops in the field to disobey their officers, go AWOL, rebel, and if they do not then it would rightly and properly vilify them. It is not enough to appeal to a morality that does not exist in young men who've been brutalised, first by the system, then by the military, especially when such brutalisation is fed by the patriotism and metaphoric backslapping they receive from both pro-war and antiwar advocates alike. Winning them to our side requires that they become class conscious. But before that process can begin a catalyst is needed. And that catalyst is demoralisation. Withdraw support for them, support presently given automatically despite the fact they are killing civilians and occupying another country in violation of international law and, even more importantly, in violation of all norms of human decency, and combined with the continued resistance of the Iraqi people their demoralisation will hasten.

It simply must be done. In fact, it has been done. During the Vietnam War the left wing of the US antiwar movement succeeded in pulling the entire movement left, supporting unequivocally the National Liberation Front (NLF) and successfully linking the war with the black struggle that was raging at home. This reached and permeated the ranks of the troops, which along with the tenacity of the NLF led to their demoralisation and the near disintegration of military discipline and effectiveness towards the war's end.

Of course, this won't be achieved overnight. It may even take years. But now surely is the time to begin the process of turning the antiwar struggle into a class struggle and thus helping the Iraqi people in their desperate resistance to a brutal occupation.

So far, despite facing overwhelming odds, their resistance grows. Two years after the project to occupy and control Iraq and her natural resources was initiated by American plutocrats in Washington D.C., the next project on the list should have been underway. Given the now publicised aims of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) drawn up by neocons back in the early 1990s, we should now be protesting about US troops occupying Syria, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, even North Korea.

But, no, none of that, no other invasions or occupations have taken place. Why? Simply because of the tenacity, bravery and determination of the Iraqi people.

For, unwittingly perhaps, at this point in history they are holding the line against a new age of imperialism unleashed by a dominant superpower which, since the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991, has steadily moved towards a position of complete and irresistible global hegemony.

Never since the dark days of the Roman Empire have the troops of one nation been present in so many different parts of the world. Today there are US military bases in Central Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South and Central America, and Africa. US warships and aircraft carriers patrol the seven seas in self contained battle groups, ready to deploy at a moment's notice enough destructive firepower to level a nation of their own volition.

With this in mind it then follows that the Iraqi people are resisting, not only in their own interests but by extension in the interests of working, oppressed and poor people everywhere, including the United States. As such it is high time that the US antiwar movement came to their aid with more than the usual tired round of permitted marches and demos which offer little except a temporary palliative to the consciences of those taking part.

Put simply, in the U.S., antiwar must be turned into class war.

No less than the future and fate of the world depends on it.

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About the Author

Joe Davison, recently returned to his native Scotland, after spending five years in Los Angeles, California. There, his original objective of carving out a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter gave way to unpaid work as an organizer within the antiwar movement. He was also active within the Workers World Party, a Marxist-Leninist organization, in addition to being a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. In Scotland, he currently alternates between writing, political activism, and putting food on the table.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published June 6, 2005