The after-shocks of 9-11 continue to expose and deepen the instability which underlay "the end of history"– the undisputed US dominance in the 1990s of a world run according to the principles of market economics and bourgeois electoral politics. Bidding for even more direct control of the globe, the white supremacist capitalist class seems to have overreached. The contradiction between US imperialism and the world's peoples is increasingly taking military form, threatening death, destruction and disaster on the broadest scale.
A year ago, the US ruling class looked set to continue dominating the world's economy and politics for years, even decades, to come. Serious rivals – Japan, a German-led Europe, China, a resurgent Russia – could only be raised as theoretical possibilities. Today, it is not rival imperialists, but a series of explosive local contradictions – Palestine, India-Pakistan, Latin American economic crises, African famine – and economic contradictions and business scandals at home that expose and challenge US dominance.
The Bush administration’s first focus after 9-11 was to punish the perpetrators and prevent a recurrence. But they also took the occasion of an open-ended declaration of war on a vast array of potential enemies, extending into the indefinite future, to dust off earlier blueprints for extending US control of global politics. This evolved into a naked assertion of the right of the US to do whatever it wants to remake the world in the interests of US capital.
Yet even the first mission remains unfulfilled – the evildoers uncaptured, the Afghan government at risk of collapse, civilian casualties and resentments mounting. Meanwhile the unintended consequences mount: India and Pakistan veer toward war, rattling nukes. Sharon uses the logic of “war on terrorism” to win full US backing and destroy the possibility of a negotiated Mideast peace. The US imperialists can’t even focus consistently on other global hotspots like Latin America.
With the US seemingly unable to act as a global hegemon, and with no balance of forces among blocs of imperialist powers, disruption and instability and uncertainty are likely to increase. Theocratic forms of Islam are still a powerful current. In Latin America, anti-gringo, anti-Neoliberal populism is rapidly gaining strength. In the Philippines, a socialist-led mass movement and armed struggle confront US-puppet Gloria Arroyo and US plans to re-open military bases. In Europe, no-global activists protest anti-labor legislation, privatizations, free trade policies and US militarism. But there is as yet no liberation-oriented ideology or vision that can bring together the oppressed masses of the Third World and the movements of working and oppressed people within advanced capitalism. Socialism/Marxism contains indispensable analytical tools and elements of such as a vision (as do many of the popular movements described above), but its influence is weak overall.
Fragmentation remains the dominant characteristic of the people’s movements. Perhaps the global justice movement, broadly considered, with its interlinking of peasant/indigenous rebellions and workers’ struggles in the South, and radical students, intellectuals and some displaced workers in the North, is the closest thing to a harbinger of what we need. As yet there is no clear path to bringing about a stability based on justice (reallocation of the world’s resources, self-determination of nations and peoples) on a world scale.
The sands are shifting rapidly and all predictions are risky. This paper is an initial take, meant to stir discussion. It is not a comprehensive analysis, but an attempt to probe some of the deeper historical dynamics that have come to the surface since 9-11, and to search out some openings for building resistance here in the US to our government’s imperialist aggression, national chauvinism and repression.
World Hotspots: The Mideast Achilles’ Heel
The US need to control the oil that fuels its production, its consequent direct military presence in the Mideast region (remember that the US bases in Saudi Arabia were cited by Osama Bin Laden as a source of his rage), and its erection and support of a Mideast client state (Israel) based on driving the Palestinian people off almost 90% of their land in two generations – may be the weak link of the US empire.
Lebanese analyst Gilbert Achcar, author of a forthcoming Monthly Review book The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder, says that
…Sharon’s onslaught against the Palestinians has created such a sharp and bitter resentment against Israel and the US in the whole Arab world that it became by itself a serious impediment facing any resumption of the “peace process.” That this is Sharon’s goal is beyond doubt. The same does not hold true for Bush or Peres however, but both of them share political short-sightedness and lack of intelligence. What they have let Sharon accomplish, with a mixture of connivance and indulgence, might very probably prove to be a historical turning point destroying any prospect of US sponsored Arab-Israeli peace, and causing a destabilization of the whole region highly detrimental to US interests…
On top of this, we have the recent surreal speech in which a President installed by the Supreme Court after losing the popular vote told the Palestinians that they must get rid of the president they elected with 87% of the popular vote in order to get any restoration of basic human rights. Even bourgeois pundits acknowledge that anyone electable would be more radical and anti-US than Arafat. (The US-friendly candidate would require a hard-to-find combination of political-moral spinelessness and physical courage, in the face of the inevitable assassination attempts.)
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, an Israel supporter, said Bush’s speech could only mean that the administration has given up on a two-state solution, and now envisions a permanent occupation of Israel over a Palestinian majority, much like South African apartheid. He believes that the ensuing rage will be Israel’s undoing and will eventually inspire someone to get a nuke and “nuke Tel Aviv.” Bush’s speech also gives more credence to Israeli military historian Prof. Martin van Creveld, quoted by left columnist Alexander Cockburn, who believes that Sharon’s near-term goal is expulsion (or “transfer” in the Israeli euphemism) – driving two million Palestinians across the Jordan River using the pretext of a terrorist strike in Israel or a US attack on Iraq. (Sharon has often said that the neighboring country of Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority even now, is the Palestinian state.)
We can’t be sure how this will play out. It is significant that Secretary of State Colin Powell, generally known to favor a less hawkish, less one-sided approach, who the previous week was saying “we must deal with Yassir Arafat as the elected leader of the Palestinian people,” caved in to the dominant administration line. And we still haven’t heard the response of the Arab masses, especially the emerging secular student protesters who pulled off illegal demonstrations of hundreds of thousands in the winter and spring. The growing anger of the Arab masses against Israel and the US will probably make it harder for Mideast client states to control their populations, and may well fuel more attacks within US borders.
Unilateralism: The US will do what it wants, regardless of what anybody else thinks.
Overall, governments allied to the US (with the exception of Tony Blair’s) are increasingly ambivalent about the US endless war, and mass protests are growing in Europe and Asia. Bush seems to be trying to be unilateralist in general, then mollify particular countries when necessary. The unilateralist moves include:
- abrogation of the Kyoto Accords and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty
- refusal to participate in the international criminal court (nullifying an agreement signed by Clinton) being set up to deal with crimes against humanity, and threats to use military force to free any US citizen held by an international court, and to veto any UN peacekeeping mission which might lead to US forces being questioned by such a court
- Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz’s doctrine of limited sovereignty, stating that when a country commits or allows to be committed, terrorist acts against its residents, or allows its territory to be used as a base for attacks on foreigners, then its national sovereignty is thereby limited and the US has the right to attack the country
- With this doctrine comes a preemptive clause for any country that looks to the US like it might do any of these things, or any country that is hostile to the US and has weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological or nuclear). This is the justification given for targeting Iraq, North Korea, etc.
In addition there are two ideological developments that also create international resentment of the US And potentially undermine the stability of the US-led world order:
- the more open justification of empire as a good thing by US pundits and political scientists
- the attempt to normalize nuclear weapons as just another tool in the arsenal and not a disaster to be avoided (which traditional white-led peace forces are beginning to respond to, though not in a very bold or compelling way)
In a similar unilateralist vein, it’s clear that many of Bush’s economic policy stances are motivated by what will win Republican votes in Ohio in the mid-term elections rather than what’s good for US capitalism, much less the world capitalist system. For example, the protectionist bills around US steel and farm products have undermined any moral authority the US may have had with allies around free trade policy. By violating the rules its pushing on other countries, and by throwing out previously-supported agreements that actually are breakthroughs in terms of peaceful coexistence of nations and long-term environmental sustainability of human life, the US is pissing people off around the world. And more people see Bush as stupid.
Neo-liberalism has led to the economic collapse of Argentina, and although there is no coherent left leadership, masses of people, from the poorest strata to professionals, have been immensely creative in pressuring their government. One Argentinean newspaper reported that a top US diplomat, when asked if the US would do anything to help out Argentina, answered, in effect: No. It’s a lesson to Brazil: Don’t elect Lula. He was referring to Luis Ignacio da Silva, leader of the Brazilian Workers Party, who’s running for president for the 4th time and has a real chance of winning. With the number two electoral showing of Bolivia’s first nationally prominent indigenous politician, Ewo Morales, who calls US drug eradication programs a violation of national sovereignty; the failure of the first attempt to topple the left populist president Hugo Chavez in Venezuela , 4th largest supplier of oil to the US; And the continued armed insurgency in Colombia despite massive military aid to Colombia’s Army and paramilitaries – things aren’t going well for the US imperialists in their own backyard.
Despite allied opposition and the danger of over-reaching militarily, plans and preparations for an attack on Iraq seem to be proceeding. Much as the US rulers would like to make Iraq an object lesson for any uppity country, this does not mean that there are no doubts within ruling class circles, or that an attack is inevitable. Military strategists and policymakers are debating what’s the best way to do it (that’s why they’re leaking to the press the plans they think are flawed) and whether the possible consequences are acceptable. (Though differences on issues and policy questions are visible, it’s hard right now to delineate more stable wings or factions within the ruling class. This is because many of them are as confused as we are by the shifting situation since 9-11, and because many actual owners of capital are distracted by immediate economic problems.)
Attack proponents seem to be looking toward the Arab rulers who hate Iraq (the Saudis and Kuwaitis) to keep the Arab masses in line, but other Mideast rulers who have tried this haven’t been doing so well lately. One example is Musharraf of Pakistan, who gave the US his military intelligence data and staging areas for the attack on Afghanistan, then had to shore up his nationalist credibility by standing up against rival India in the struggle over Kashimir – risking a nuclear exchange. This pissed off the US, who then denied him the economic aid it had promised as reward for support on Afghanistan. He is now much weaker and a laughingstock in his country, called “Busharraf” by the Pakistani masses. When Third World regimes accede to US demands, there are prices to be paid that create other unintended consequences – and often more instability. And there remains the question: just how would the US have Iraq governed should they oust Saddam Hussein? The US isn’t doing so great at governing the considerably smaller Afghanistan, with government officials shooting each other.
If doubts like these continue to grow in the US ruling class, spurred by the disgust of masses of US people over blunders like killing 50 civilians at a wedding in Afghanistan – there may be a chance the attack on Iraq can be stopped. The more resistance we can build here, the more protests in countries whose active or tacit support will be needed to carry out the attack, the better the chance.
The US Economy
British Trotskyist analyst Michael Roberts describes four economic “bubbles”: (1) high-tech investment in dot.com and internet companies, which has burst; (2) the stock market that financed Internet starts-ups, which has burst, with share prices around the world down 30-60% from their peaks in March 2000; (3) the real property market – still expanding but bound to burst some time; (4) paper currencies, especially the dollar – now weakening. Other signs of weakness include the combination of weak investment spending and high consumer spending reminiscent of the 1926-29 US economy; massive corporate debt and consumer debt and bankruptcy; and the fact that while there has been recent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it came from a slower rate of inventory reduction and a big jump in government spending – with defense outlays growing at 20% annually – rather than market investment.
The fact that bubbles have burst doesn’t invalidate the thesis of a third technological revolution – in information/communications – laid out in Freedom Road’s 2000 Main Political Report. Just like with railroads in the 1870s, any massive new field of accumulation will spur some over-investment (to say nothing of outright fraud) and then a weeding out of companies. Nor should we predict catastrophe and collapse, because there still is potential for profitability. But these weaknesses combined with the political instability we’ve outlined will make for a rocky economy and continued high US unemployment (and perhaps stagflation) in the immediately upcoming period. (Stagflation, a term coined in the 70s, means that there is little economic growth and therefore unemployment is high, but there’s also inflation, which further cuts the real wages and living standards of working people.) So far, full-scale economic collapses have been confined by the imperialist regulation structures (IMF, etc.) to developing countries. A shift away from that, though not impossible, would signify a qualitatively much deeper disintegration of the US-led world order.
Freedom Road’s 2000 Main Political Report also pointed out that while even the economic boom of the 90s did not raise the real wages of non-college educated workers, many working people believed the myth that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and the relative prosperity would last and benefit everybody. This belief has now been shaken by the melt down of mergermania, the failures of privatization in education and health care and most recently, the delegitimizing effects of scandals involving Enron, Arthur Anderson accountants, Tyco, Martha Stewart (already bitterly resented by millions of women for all the unpaid work she tells them they should be doing) etc. So it’s more plausible now to believe that those who run the country and the economy are robbing us blind while trying to pretend they’re helping us. And all this occurs as the safety net in the United States continues to be eroded. The right wing fights attempts to restore Medicaid and food stamp programs for immigrants. As the welfare bill, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) comes up for re-authorization, they want to increase work requirements, push more struggling families off the rolls and force women into heterosexual marriage.
In these conditions, the scandals can help to build a healthy class hatred. They also pose for socialists the task of affirming not only that something is wrong with the system – rather than just individuals who abuse it – but that some other form of organizing economy and society is possible. Michael Moore’s best-selling book, Stupid White Men, and his and Ralph Nader’s drawing hundreds of thousands of people to lectures are evidence of the openness to a left populist line, and we should think about how to build on that.
To understand why there is so much scandal and corruption in this period, we should heed the insights of Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci, that between hegemony (rule by the consent of the governed) and coercion, lie corruption and fraud. When ruling classes (or sections of ruling classes) can’t get the results they want through the system’s normal operations of manufacturing consent, they don’t always do a head-on direct repressive attack as the first response, they resort to corruption and fraud and hope nobody will notice: hence Bush’s “election” and the various economic scandals.
Along with hegemony, white supremacist US capitalism has always relied on some direct repression – targeted mainly at oppressed nationalities, liberation fighters, communists and revolutionaries – to maintain its rule. This reliance has increased significantly. In the current period the USA Patriot Act and the opening of the Department of Homeland Security have intensified surveillance and detentions – without due process and the traditional Constitutional guarantees – targeted mainly at immigrants. With several thousand detentions, there has been only one indictment.
In a widening of the net, a US Citizen, Abdullah Al Muhajir (Jose Padilla) has been detained on the same basis as immigrants, by executive order and without any hearing before a magistrate independent of the US military. In many cities, more activists and participants in anti-war groups are being picked up. In the last couple of months, foreign-born but US-raised college students and other young people of Arab, Muslim and South Asian descent who are active in global justice causes have been particularly a target for harassment and detention. While the first mass detentions and deportations were mostly South Asian, Arab or Muslim men, the first group of Filipino nationals (many fathers and older men) were detained and then deported in June. There are also secondary repressive effects like the firings of non-citizen workers in airports.
Many US citizens have so far accepted these anti-democratic measures because they fear for their safety since 9-11 (more on this later), and because they buy into the demonization of immigrants. Yet there are hopeful signs in the resolutions passed by the Amherst and Cambridge, Massachusetts and Riverside, California city councils condemning the Office of Homeland Security and recent legislative measures as unpatriotic. Despite the general cave-in of the Democrats, Bush’s attempts to create a parallel government within of the Executive branch are bound to meet with turf-based Congressional objections when they go too far. Still, the increased repression can very negatively affect the overall terrain of struggle by making people too scared to dissent. It’s crucial to build the broadest united front against repression: right-wing libertarians, civil liberties advocates in the professions, immigrant nationality-based merchant associations, immigrant communities that may be overall rather conservative but have family members affected, and others who don’t oppose the US Endless war but will stand against the detentions.
More Deeply into the Mood at Home
Since September 11, US people fear for their personal safety in a qualitatively new way – and they have some reason to. This has already led to a substantial decrease in foreign travel (increasing people’s objective isolation) – but most significantly people are afraid here at home. This is probably most intense in NYC and Washington DC but not confined there. Moreover, the instability of the world order described above makes it likely that there will be more violent incidents here in the US in the coming period, most likely in other cities and regions. And while this fear may take somewhat different forms along racial boundaries, experiences with traumatized public schools students indicate that it would be incorrect to dismiss it as merely a phenomenon of privileged white people who have never faced physical violence or intimidation before. (Also there are gender differences in expression: generally women will more easily admit to fear, whereas men may express it only as concern for their kids’ safety.)
The problematic of this fear is encapsulated in a New York Times quote from a New Yorker walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a spring day where terrorist threats to NYC bridges and harbors were announced. The woman said, “I am an American, and I feel that I am entitled to feel safe wherever I go.” This quote exemplifies the wounded narcissism of empire that we are dealing with in this period. She’s not saying that human beings have the right to feel safe (though clearly there’s an opening to raise that question), but that Americans have that right – wherever they go, whether or not their presence is wanted. By implication, other peoples don’t have that right. And she has no self-consciousness about saying that.
While this imperialist arrogance is not new, it is closer to the surface in domestic discourse, and in combination with a new sense of direct personal vulnerability (which is also a new feeling for many progressive activists in the US) it can lead to some incredibly paranoid, self-righteous and reactionary stances. The Republicans are getting smarter about manipulating it too. They’ve refined their pitch away from announcements of inevitable terrorist strikes and specific warnings that don’t pan out (which begin to sound like Chicken Little’s “The sky is falling”) to arresting supposed would-be terrorists (like Abdullah Al Muhajir, formerly Jose Padilla) and claiming that the heightened security is pre-empting terrorist acts, thus building consensus around their repressive program.
Intertwined with this sense of vulnerability is a trend toward isolationism among the masses. Whereas after 9-11, US people asked “Why do they hate us?”, today the feeling is more like “Well, if they hate us, then fuck ’em!” in many sections of the masses. Many people (with the notable exception of college students) just don’t want to talk about international issues. With Israel and Palestine, there’s a common sentiment that both sides are crazy and we have no dog in this fight, so who gives a fuck.
It is possible that what looks like an organic isolationism is really the first, denial stage in dealing with difficult realities. And sometimes, this isolationist mood will be something we can unite with in anti-intervention and global justice activities: Yes, it would be better if we stayed out of other countries’ business, and nobody’s national sovereignty should be restricted by capitalist free trade. But it also leads pretty easily to Pat Buchanan-style anti-immigrant rants and campaigns, and refusal to abide by more pro-people international agreements, such as human rights norms.
One important way of uniting with people’s safety concerns while challenging Bush policies of war and repression is to show that for the US government and corporations, greed and profit-making far outweigh any concerns about the safety of ordinary people, even here in the US In his lectures, Michael Moore talks about wondering why you can’t bring nail clippers or scissors or nail files on a plane but you can bring matches and lighters – since they can obviously start fires or light explosives, and a lighter was almost used to set off explosives in a sneaker on a flight in England. After one lecture a young man came up to him and said he had worked as a researcher for one of the Congresspeople involved in drafting that safety legislation. Lighters and matches were originally on the list, but were taken off after tobacco lobbyists brained out about how smokers need to light up right away once they get off a plane. The corporations’ need to maintain people’s profit-and disease-generating addictions trumps everything else!
Now, to look at some particular sections of the people and social movements:
Despite six years of work by John Sweeney and the New Voices leadership to focus AFL-CIO resources on organizing, the percentage of the workforce represented by the AFL-CIO and independent unions has shrunk from 14.9% in 1995 to 13.5% in 2001. Since September 11, 2001, the labor movement has been further set back and won’t risk looking unpatriotic even by pushing economic demands too hard. Yet it’s still getting hammered under the guise of national security. The new proposal for the Office of Homeland Security will take tens of thousands of federal workers out of their current civil service jobs and deprive them of union membership, on the grounds that it would threaten national security. Whistle-blower protections are weakened for the same reason. And the militant West Coast longshore workers have been threatened with sanctions for violating national security if they strike and close down ports to protect their health benefits.
In its relations with other social movements, the AFL-CIO leadership has withdrawn from its promising alliance with the global justice movement and has also retreated from the amnesty for immigrants demand. However, there may be local base areas where labor leadership fights more aggressively for immigrants’ rights, e.g. the Bay Area Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), etc., and it will be important for nationality ,and community-based forces to unite with them. Similarly with global justice issues, there are some local labor leaders still active, especially in locals whose jobs are being exported or privatized.
The labor bureaucracy’s habit is to support US foreign policy and they even have some real pressure from below to do so. Yet it’s hopeful that, as labor left folks point out, even though crushing minority views is also a habit, the labor bureaucracy hasn’t absolutely set out to destroy New York City Labor against the War. (NYCLAW is a group of local leaders and rank-and-file unionists that formed right after 9-11 and issued a powerful antiwar statement read around the world.)
Though it is extremely difficult and often cannot be done in a head-on way, it is a crucial responsibility for socialists and anti-imperialists to raise international and antiwar issues in the labor movement. At this time the major opening for this is via Colombia – the only foreign policy issue on which the AFL-CIO leadership has a progressive stance opposing US government policy. The fact that US aid goes to fund armed forces and para-militaries who murder labor union leaders lets progressives raise the question more generally of who the US government supports and attacks, and why, and who’s really the enemy of US working people. Since April 20, there is a national labor network dedicated to solidarity with Colombian trade unionists, over 200 of whom were assassinated last year. The network is sponsoring a demonstration against Coca Cola (big violator of labor rights in Colombia) and organizing conference in Atlanta, home of Coke’s headquarters, in July, 2002.
Only a couple of aspects of oppressed nationality politics can be touched on here. There is no broad upsurge in the movements, compared to the response to the English only and anti-affirmative action initiatives throughout California a few years ago, or the more recent wave of protests across the country against racial profiling in traffic stops. (Protests against police brutality, such as the savage police beating of an unarmed teenager in Engelwood, California in July, tend to be sparked and defined by specific local conditions.) How much the reparations demand, for example, catches fire with the Black masses remains to be seen.
The Reparations Movement has reached a new stage of struggle in the aftermath of the World Conference on Racism. After years of steady and important work, but within a limited framework, the publishing of the “Debt” by Randall Robinson in 2001, and the emerging involvement of lawyers and legal scholars moved the discussion to another level. The WCAR in Durban laid the basis for another level when it was declared that the “Atlantic Slave Trade was a crime against humanity.” This language, the struggle to achieve it by NGO’s, mass organizations and finally, governments, has set the stage for the current level of discussion and mobilization. The movement is international engaging the African Diaspora. Temporarily thwarted by September 11th and it’s immediate repercussions, the movement has filed lawsuits against corporations that profited from the horrors of human bondage and is building for an important March on August 17 to raise the demand to the US government in full view of the world. Although it is not a broad mass movement at this juncture, it is an issue that is not only being considered by Black Liberation organizations, but civil rights and other community groups and institutions. The Millions for Reparations March, on the 115th birthday of Marcus Garvey is likely to broaden the discussion and heighten the level of struggle. Many activist forces, including the Black Radical Congress see the Reparations issue as an integral part of the struggle against war, racism and repression.
Two Black women – Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney – stand out as courageous exceptions to the quiescence of mainstream left-liberal forces in the face of Bush’s war. With little pressure from the masses below, middle forces (politicians, clergy, nationality media, non-governmental organizations like the Urban League) are taking few risks here (assuming they even have doubts that they’re not raising) but perhaps basking in the greater willingness of the white establishment to include them as partners in the imperialist project, and angling for material rewards to their communities. Even Essence magazine, which led off in the first issue after 9-11 with several short, personal, antiwar reflections by Black women authors, recently featured a puff piece on Condoleeza Rice – without one critical letter to the editor being printed in subsequent issues. (The NAACP tried to split the difference by giving awards to Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder and to Condoleeza Rice and got some protests against the Rice award.)
In these conditions, those who are coming forward to oppose the war can be easily marginalized. They include more radical networks like the Black Radical Congress (there is no equivalent in the Chicano community) and groups of younger activists, like STORM (now defunct) in the Bay Area and, or Third World Within (initiated by CAAAV-Organizing Asian Communities) in NYC, and groups fighting police brutality. The New York United BRC’s commemoration of the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech against the Vietnam War in the nave of Riverside Church, featuring tenant leaders, progressive elected officials, Vietnamese Mission representatives, a speaker from Jews against the Occupation, and historians of the pan-Africans tradition set a model for the type of tone that can be rooted in Black tradition and broadly appealing, but has not yet reached beyond the converted. Yet the potential is there. When Trans-Africa Forum president Bill Fletcher spoke recently before the Connecticut NAACP, he detailed some of the US government’s violations of other peoples’ sovereignty over the past century in the context of 9-11 and explained how other nations would keep resenting us if we kept silent about our own government’s atrocities. Concerned about what the response would be and whether he was alienating his listeners, he was surprised by a thunderous standing ovation.
Also important are neighborhood coalitions, often mixes of Arab and Muslim immigrant families and business and professional associations with white, middle-class boomers, that call for the civil rights of detained immigrants but take no formal position on the war issue due to the vulnerability of immigrant communities.
In Chicano, Latino and Black communities, there is some sympathy for Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrants who are being profiled. However there is also some resentment of these immigrants who often own small groceries, newspaper stands, smoke shops and other stores within Black and Latino neighborhoods, and some relief that somebody else is now a major target of profiling. Within the Black community, one opening for bringing people into motion is anger against the right-wing and well-funded attacks on Black elected officials like Congresswoman Lee of Oakland, who voted against the endless war, and Congresswoman McKinney of Decatur, Georgia, who has raised questions about what Bush knew and when. McKinney has also called for inquiry into the 1967 Israeli attack on a US ship, the USS Liberty, in international waters – an attack in which 85% of the crew was killed or wounded (34 killed, 132 wounded). Since then the Israel lobby has been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund her opponent in the upcoming primary. It may be impossible to avoid being labeled anti-Semitic by Israel apologists when we stand firmly against US support of Israel and Israel’s abuses, but it is crucial to try and make the distinction between criticizing Israel and being anti-Jewish.
One event very much worth building is the Black March for Peace, scheduled for April 26, 2003. Initiated by Washington DC activist Damu Smith of Black Voices for Peace, this march promises to be strongly rooted in the Black community and broad in its outreach, embracing other peoples of color and even whites who oppose the war, and sending out a strong human rights message.
Hopeful signs which remain to be followed up are Muslim and Palestinian mosque-goers coming out to support Palestine on April 20 and the greater role played by young, second-generation Muslims, South Asians and Palestinians in students groups, both multi-national and religion- or nationality-specific.
Students, who are generally the first sector to move on international issues, still seem to be the one social sector where there is an organic mass base for antiwar politics, and real polarization and contention (e.g. between pro-Sharon and Palestinian rights activists on campuses). According to one long-time mentor to student activists, even though there’s greater repression and surveillance, more students are interested in international questions and moving more quickly to an anti-imperialist and revolutionary perspective. Often students will appropriately have their own organizations and coalitions, but whenever possible, older activists should try to build bridges, enter into respectful dialogue with students, and synergize with their motion to build multi-sectoral, large protests. The April 20 antiwar demo, where veteran activists correctly took the lead from students’ initiative, is one positive example of this.
Global Justice/Anti-Capitalist Networks and Coalitions
Increasingly, the radical, direct action street fighters who re-energized the US left in Seattle and who’ve been protesting the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other capitalist summits identify themselves as “anti-capitalists.” While this movement has been more vital in Europe in the recent months (where they’re called “no-globals”), in the US the increased repression has made direct action extremely hard to carry out. It has scared away both the non-government organizations (NGO’s) who funneled resources from foundations, and the labor unions, who were key allies and funders. In an attempt to draw back these allies, some anti-capitalist activists (now mainly students, post-students and some more seasoned anarchists and other radicals) have tried to avoid the war issue and focus solely on corporate and IMF and World Bank abuses. But rebuilding the united front without addressing the war won’t work.
This approach may also reflect a belief, which we believe to be incorrect, that corporations and supra-national institutions are the enemy and that nation-states are irrelevant – at a time when the world’s most powerful nation state is on a military rampage which threatens humanity’s survival and should be the focus of national mobilizations for justice or peace. Within the global justice/anti-capitalist movement, whose next major mobilization targets the IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, from Sept. 28 through October 2, it’s important to have dialogue around this strategic question and encourage a focus against the US war drive. It’s also important to recognize and honor the leading role played by anti-capitalist activists in rebuilding a Palestine solidarity movement here, and putting their bodies on the line in the Occupied Territories.
Many of the city-based antiwar coalitions that formed immediately after September 11 are weak or defunct – often because it’s hard to find a successful strategy and tactics in this period, and activists tend to blame each other and get into bad personal dynamics when the mass response to their outreach is weak. In the cities the coalitions have consisted of the traditional white-led peace groups, faith-based activists, the socialist left, radical organizations of color, global justice activists, Vietnam veterans and unaffiliated progressives. Often there are several coalitions: a young people of color coalition, an International Action Center grouping, the traditional peace sector, etc.
Another component and phenomenon of this period are the multiple solidarity movements (Philippines, Palestine, etc.) They often play key roles in bringing more sections of the masses out to demos, in an era when many many forces who tend to identify themselves as the peace movement, have difficulty in finding a focus or target, and in linking the general antiwar stance with specific demands.
There are objective conditions that tend to make united action and coalition maintenance difficult. One is the reality that people have different experiences, differentiated by race and nationality especially, and therefore are drawn into opposition through different paths and linkages of issues. In New York’s December antiwar protest, for example, some older white activists cringed when young people of color at the front of the march began chanting “Bush, Bush, we know you. Your father was a killer too.” But peddlers, retail workers and shoppers in NYC’s midtown, predominantly Black and Latino, howled in agreement and grabbed leaflets out of protesters’ hands. An approach that may be ultra-left or just off in one place hits just the right note in another. Too often white activists haven’t internalized the reality that many cities are predominantly people of color, so going broad means making connections with concerns and issues of racism, denial of democratic rights, etc.
Sometimes the white blindspots are just astounding, as when peace groups talk about the heightened danger of nuclear war without ever mentioning India or Pakistan, or inviting participation of the South Asian immigrant-based groups that are organizing peace rallies (such as the Taxi Workers Alliance in NYC). This is especially tragic because the older peace groups have the full-time staffs, buildings and publication capacity that could be so valuable in providing resources and coordination to a nascent movement. Perhaps the best approach for the immediate period is to have groups or networks that gear their organizing to a specific community or constituency, and coalitions encompassing a diverse array of organizations who come together only for the specific projects or purposes that really require multi-sectoral participation.
Some city coalitions are grappling with how to combine some local issues with international ones, to have broader appeal. Now, there is some regrouping and positive energy around doing peace-oriented anniversary events around September 11. A platform of speakers that includes WTC or Pentagon victims’ family members who oppose the war, antiwar veterans, and clergy seem a good way to get the message heard.
Broader coalitions almost seem to work better in smaller cities or towns where the few or few dozen progressives know that they really need each other, than in the big cities with organizations’ national headquarters and more opportunity for cliques and differences. A positive lesson is that when even a small core of activists put out an antiwar message that is clearly reasoned, based on universal human rights principles, connected with historical figures that people look up to, and not rhetorical or arbitrarily insulting to symbols, there is often a positive response. One example is the “Greensboro Peace Coalition–Not in Our Name” float, with pictures of Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King Jr. in the local 4th of July Parade, which got a few hecklers, much applause and, most surprisingly, the award for “Best Interpretation of Theme” in the parade.
On a national scale, the most consistent antiwar network, the 9-11 Emergency National Network, is calling for an independent 9-11 truth commission, to spur mass dialogue and questioning of the government’s integrity. One important new resource is War Times newspaper which has received major positive feedback from many people who’ve used it in their mass work, and is in touch with cores of activists all over the country.
The difficulty of building consistent coalitions certainly underlines the need for a larger, stronger, more unified organized left presence in the movement. Figuring out how to draw masses of people in our communities and workplaces into questioning and standing up against the US endless war is a challenge posed to all who want to help build a vital socialist left and should be a focus for joint strategizing, organizing and summing up in the left refoundation project.