Is the US Anti-War Movement Pro-Resistance?
By Amer Jubran
February 4, 2004
At this point, it is a waste of time to discuss the perfidy of the US government. It is established beyond doubt that Bush, like presidents before him, represents the interests of a prosperous war industry. What is worth researching, though, is the methods by which the US managed to achieve its vast criminal empire. Such research needs not focus on the well-known economic and military machinery and its political consequences, but rather on the unconventional and secret strategies employed by the US to encircle and strangle its prospective targets. These strategies include client regimes, large-scale media propaganda, and co-opting opponents of the system. One such opponent is the United States "antiwar movement."
As one administration after another wages war with impunity, culminating with Bush ignoring 10 million antiwar protesters on February 15, 2003, any hope one might have that this movement could bring change has become wishful thinking. In order to bring the US war machine to a halt, insights are needed into why the antiwar movement has not been effective. This must include an examination of the leadership, culture, theoretical and practical goals, mission, and strategies of the movement as it stands today.
During the Vietnam era, the US government spent a great deal of resources on researching the movement and its impact. It responded to the movement with imprisonment, harassment, and assassination of leaders. An entire system of social rewards was developed to buy people off. The government's most effective strategy, however, was its choosing to contain the opposition rather than attempt to eradicate it. It was by this means that a "loyal opposition" was created - an opposition which the government could manipulate and control, allowing it enough power to reach a large segment of the population, and to disseminate a message of change, but withholding the power necessary for such change to be in any way implemented.
In the Vietnam era many realized the government could not be trusted. The pretense of a democracy in which two parties struggled against each other to keep the USA honest would no longer work. Elite planners understood that non-governmental organizations could do what the Democrats had formerly done. That is, they could push for reform of policies set by Republicans, and their free expression of political frustration could be promoted and used as a sign of a healthy, confident democracy. Such organizations could thus continue work vital to the government's longevity, absorbing the opposition in the name of reform, and the Democrats and Republicans could more openly merge forces.
After thirty years under this system the movement has established its right to freedom of expression, and not much else. The focus has changed from demands for changes in government policy to just having the right to express those demands.
Unlike the 60's, when antiwar protesters were attacked by dogs, sticks, and water hoses, protesters today are accompanied by police motorcades. The government issues rally permits, marching permits, sound permits, and vending permits. Some consider it a victory just to obtain a permit to protest. This reflects how demoralized the antiwar movement has become. Of course, once a protest is permitted, it will then be subjected to massive police supervision, as we have all seen.
For some whites and excluded minorities such as Natives, Blacks, Arabs, Latinos, and others whose political tone was too radical, the US developed more serious measures. The strategy was to hit these groups hard, away from public view. A large number of those who could leave choose to do so, and work within the system. Some whites saw the double standard and this made them sensitive about their privilege but paralyzed in their ability to take initiatives. Naturally, the minorities reacted with contempt toward whites. Part of the antiwar movement was thus divided, and thus conquered
"Give Peace A Chance"
Today in the US, there are many groupings in the movement. The biggest two differ in their political positions and tone, but are comparable in their behavior. One takes the position of reforming the system by appealing to the president, government, Congress, and voters. During the Gulf War of 1991, this group demanded the US "let the sanctions work." Similarly, leading up to the occupation of Iraq in 2003, it said, "let the inspections work." No matter what the outrage, this bloc's song is "Give peace a chance."
The moral base for this bloc is "peace" - an abstract goal that no one disagrees with but which lacks critical definition. It does not seek to address root causes - the fundamental need for justice as a requisite for peace, and the immediate necessity of stopping the US war machine in order to obtain that justice. Instead, it claims to be objective, to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and blames bad leaders on both sides - a US president and a third world tyrant, Bush and Saddam, Sharon and Arafat - as if both sides were equal.
The dominant philosophy in this bloc is pacifism - at any cost. Not only does this ensure zero risk to themselves in confrontations with the
authorities, it leads them to condemn the resistance even of those being oppressed. Only if the victims of the US are purely oppressed and do not fight back does this bloc advocate for them. It joins with the US government in labeling resistance movements as "terrorist."
The most troubling area in this bloc's politics is its position on Palestine -- its complete failure to understand the long history of racism, killing, displacement, and torture used against Palestinians, and to understand the Palestinians' commonality with other people around the world who have been invaded and dispossessed. Its position on Palestine is not very far from the official public position of the United States, Israel, and the Arab client regimes. The leadership of this bloc accepts only "good Palestinians" as activists in their movement. A good Palestinian is one who accepts their vision of peace between what it contends are two populations -- Israelis and Palestinians -- competing for equal rights. History is thus erased. The oppressor is put on an equal footing with the oppressed. Worse, the Israeli aggressor is treated as the victim.
This bloc's leadership is composed mainly of white liberals, and is heavily infiltrated by Zionists. It draws its constituencies from left democrats, churches, academics, and some students. Normally, the constituencies are loyal. Members are steady in their numbers and contributions.
"Bring the Troops Home Now"
Criticism of the second bloc is more important than of the first. The first practically announces itself as a loyal opposition. The second does not -- its opposition is more formidable.
The second bloc takes a strong stand against US imperialism but does so on the basis of the material self-interest of another abstraction-the working class. With this group, the needs of working people at home take priority over support for resistance in countries under US attack. Instead of spending money on war, this group says, money should be spent on providing jobs, education, and health care. Their priority demand, "Bring the troops home now," comes close to the mainstream's "Support the troops," and is a betrayal of those people in other nations whom "the troops" are busy shooting at, bombing, and colonizing.
This group rightly points out the existence of an "economic draft" but does not grapple with the fact that poor and minority people who have been taken in by the economic draft are capable of moral choice, did not have to join, and are just as guilty of the crimes of imperialism as George Bush if they pull the trigger. Also not recognized is that many of the "troops" bring with them the prevalent US diseases of ignorance and racism, and fight because they believe in what they are doing. A significant number are not minorities. Some come from military families. The best reason for wanting these particular soldiers to come "home" is to stop them from killing people. To appeal for their return on the basis of an injustice done to them twists both logic and morality. Yet more ink will be spent on one GI resister in this bloc's newspapers and leaflets than on a thousand Iraqi resisters who gave their lives confronting Uncle Sam. Indeed, more ink will be spent on the need for domestic health care and education and decent jobs in the relatively wealthy US than on the right of Iraqis or Palestinians just to live.
It is important for any movement's leadership to take a position on issues. Constituencies need clear analysis in order to understand world events and mobilize in response to them. However, clear, strong positions are of no use if an organization's main goal is to build numbers. Building numbers means slogans with broad appeal and minimum controversy which generate the largest possible protests. The goal becomes flexing political muscle and self- promotion which, in turn, establish the power of an organization, and give it credibility in negotiations. The negotiations are carried out on two tracks.
The first track is with the US government
When concerns about permits, collecting funds, and event promotion become more important than changing a brutal system, the movement is in trouble. After the dramatic protests of Seattle and Quebec City, the government became more serious about granting permits to protest. It asserted its right to control when, how, and where protesting could take place. Lengthy negotiations with protest organizers became necessary. Concessions were required. The result was a long stream of non-violent, peaceful, and inconsequential protests in several years of some of the most blatant military and economic violence the world has ever seen.
The protest against the World Economic Forum in New York City in the winter of 2002 provides an example. The authorities cleared all protests from twenty city blocks around where the forum was taking place, except for the area of the official protest. Protesters who wanted to get to the designated area were allowed to do so only through numerous and arbitrary police barricades. They were then corralled into narrow pens along the street, block after block, standing for hours in miserable, cold weather. The only action was speeches and chanting. If anyone wished to break away and march to the Waldorf Astoria, where the forum was being held, they had to go through the security marshals
of the protest organizers before getting to the police lines. At the end of the day, the statement came from the stage: "Go home in small groups; we have won today by showing the ruling class that the movement is strong and present." In fact, the ruling class only learned that the movement is willing to sit in pens and police itself all day long, and mount no challenge whatsoever to the fat capitalists assembled in the forum.
The second track of negotiations is with the liberal "peace" bloc of the antiwar movement.
Using slogans to recruit and build numbers is an act of sectarianism. Sectarian attitudes focus on recognition. Milder politics lead to greater
numbers and resources. The second bloc wants to tap into these resources, but also wants to be recognized as dominant in the movement. An ideal strategy is building a principled position and allowing people time to discover its consistency and clarity. But overcoming differences in political opinions with the other bloc requires a compromise. At this point, language is made to serve both sides of an issue. For example, demands like "Free Palestine . . Victory to Palestine . . . Long live the Intifada" and "Stop US Imperialism" become "End the Occupation" and "Support the troops--bring them home."
With time, the importance of such issues as Palestinian and Iraqi resistance could be brought to the weaker bloc, but such effort would meet with decisive opposition from Zionists both within and outside the movement who are in a position to dictate the political agenda. To maintain numbers, popularity, power, and financial backing, the anti-imperialist bloc is forced to sacrifice principles and make deals. Sometimes, these deals require dropping an issue or, worse, presenting it diluted. The blood and suffering of victims of US imperialism are thus used to serve the purposes of power politics.
Another critical problem is this bloc's readiness to adjust its agenda to its sources of funding, making such decisions without the knowledge of its wider constituency. For example, funding from the Muslim clergy shifted the focus of the April 2002 demonstration to Palestine, a focus which was certainly correct, but which should not have depended on money. On October 25, 2003, funding from the liberal donors of the Vanguard organization resulted in Palestine being dropped from a large west coast antiwar protest. Because of funds pouring in
from Vanguard, key organizers who had once been in support of Palestine attempted to veto a speaker for the Palestinian resistance from addressing the San Francisco audience. However, they did allow the Democrats to speak on the stage that day.
Although this bloc is a coalition, decisions on strategy and events are made by only a few individuals. A central committee selects people it deems appropriate to represent various causes. These people are often limited to describing first hand how the US government made their lives miserable, leaving political analysis to the central leadership. Furthermore, if the representative criticizes a stand, or how an event is handled, regardless if it was right or wrong, this individual will be iced. Instead of healthy debate, critics are condemned.
The second bloc has difficulty maintaining loyal members and allies. That is why it doesn't grow. Unlike the pacifists and reformists of the first bloc, the constituency of the second bloc is made up of radicals angry at injustice. These people possess the best qualities of revolutionaries -- bravery, political sophistication, and a willingness to sacrifice. Sadly, they find themselves sucked in by something that talks revolution, but doesn't deliver. As a result, radicals either lose interest or disperse into smaller groups with smaller resources and try to avoid sectarian conflict with the larger bloc. They are miles ahead of the first bloc in seeking to resist, but they are halted and slowed down.
Both blocs differ in their politics, but have like strategies. During a crisis, they both call for a stand and make plans for a massive protest. Inevitably, that protest falls on a Saturday. A protest in a public park on a Saturday in Washington, D.C. might maximize the numbers of those who attend, but it does nothing to interfere with business as usual. The government is away for the weekend. Why can't a day be chosen when someone is there to listen, or when the White House or Congress is about to decide on a matter important to the movement? When Turkey's Parliament was deciding if it should join the US in invading Iraq, hundreds of thousands opposing the war surrounded the building and threatened violence if the resolution passed. The result was defeat of the resolution and Turkey staying out of the war.
Both blocs of the antiwar movement take protest only so far as political rallies with a stage and speakers, followed by a permitted "march." Would the coalition proceed if a permit were rejected? Anarchists' who protest without permits and who do interrupt business as usual, are denounced by some in the antiwar movement. Instead of being viewed as a wing in the movement that counters the inertia of the pacifists, they are left to deal with police brutality alone. This makes them distrust the rest of the antiwar movement. Is there anyone in the US antiwar movement who resists the US government as fighters in Vietnam, Columbia, Iraq, and Palestine have done? Is there an underground that has recognized the futility of peaceful protest and mobilized to directly stop US war and aggression? In the current movement, anarchists have gone further along these lines than anyone else, but no one has gone far.
Both blocs are reactive to whatever the US government does. They wait for Washington to make the decisions. A clear strategy of taking initiatives and putting the government on the defensive is absent.
Every movement likes to brag about its victories and achievements. Here is a short list of what the US has done since Vietnam:
As well, the US continues to maintain Israeli oppression of Palestine, it continues to wage war against Colombia using a phony war on drugs as a pretext, it continues to defy international treaties regarding war crimes, it continues to refuse to submit to an international court of law, it continues to steal oil from the Arab world, and it continues to support the dictatorships of its many client regimes. At home it has created the police- state Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, the Border Security Act, and the world's largest prison population.
Where is the list of achievements and victories of the antiwar movement?