Questions of War

All across the United States, particularly since the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to back the Bush Administration’s drive to war with Iraq, coalitions have formed, teach-ins conducted and the pavement pounded in opposition to the latest American assertion of power. The nascent movement is a product of the coming together of a number of forces. A small but not insignificant number of young people awakening to political activism for the first time with those who have been reenergized by the brazenness of the government’s current imperial designs. It’s backbone is made up by many of the existing movements, campaigns and organizations of the left. The discourse among the US left has decisively turned to the possible war.

While the labor movement has largely followed the lead of the Democrats, who in their large majority backed the call to war, some notable unions, union locals and regional councils have begun to oppose the war. Still in a minority these unions, if activated in their stated opposition, could lend the critical weight to the anti-war movement allowing it to become truly mass. Along with the many anti-interventionist and “peace” campaigners the “global justice” and Palestine solidarity movements are also attempting, with varying degrees of success, to bring the war into their work and their concerns into the anti-war movement. The relationship of these two struggles along with the labor movement to the burgeoning anti-war movement is an important component to the recomposition of the radical left in the US. It will also play a key role if the anti-war movement is to grow in a mass and anti-imperialist direction.

Questions of war and resistance are often decisive to any political outlook. They have long played profound roles in the growth and, unfortunately, the decline of challenges to the status quo, including the revolutionary opposition to capitalism. It is with this in mind that we should look at some of the questions now put to the movement as it looks to define itself and seeks to build allies.

Among the issues of great importance to the anti-war movement in the US are how to view and relate to the Democratic Party, the United Nations and the Palestinians’ life or death struggle with the Israeli occupation. Brevity allows for only an incomplete appraisal of these questions.

Some have argued for the anti-war campaign to look to and promote Democrats who say they oppose this war, or at least this war as it is being pursued by the White House. They argue that in the context of the recent elections it is essential that we try to shift the balance in Congress among the Democratic Party towards an anti-war stance. To do this we should make Iraq an issue among the Democratic base to influence the candidates as they contend the national elections. In this way, at the very least, the Bush Administration will have a more difficult time pushing forward their agenda.

That is the limit of the vision of “anti-war” wing of the Democratic Party.

This is a false notion on a number of levels. The Democrats as a party have never blocked, or even attempted to block, a Republican administration seeking the power to wage war. Those Democrats like Cynthia McKinney and Earl Hilliard, both black members of Congress form the South who questioned the post-September 11th consensus and America’s blank check to Israel in its war against the Palestinians, were unceremoniously isolated and driven out of office by the Democratic Party leadership. It is an axiom of American politics that on foreign policy (which must be said is a continuation of domestic policy) the two major parties close ranks, meaning that the American ruling class closes ranks. The Democratic Party has held the Presidency for a little over half of the fifty or so US military interventions since World War Two. These include the Korean and Vietnam wars resulting in the death of millions of people.

The Democrats placate their base by saying that they do not rush to war and demand that the administration first convince them of its necessity. Of course, it is always easiest to convince those who wish to be convinced. Yet another testimony to the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party that they were “convinced” by Bush and Company. That is by a virtually illiterate President and the knot of Christian fanatics on their knees and praying for the end-time in the White House that tell him what to say.

It would be a great danger to this movement in formation if it were to cede its voice to those who do not share its commitment to stopping the war. The movement must win allies based on its own strength or we will build the strength of others.

Others wish to make the US accountable to the United Nations as a way to undermine the administration’s “unilateralism”. Citing international law and the opposition of those anti-militarists of long standing; the French ruling class through the medium of Chirac’s government and the blood-soaked Russian oligarchy. They believe that by having the US work through the United Nations it will be forced to moderate its plans. The real concern of these allies and rivals is not the plight of the Iraqi people but their oil.

They’d like to negotiate with the Americans a cut of the vast Iraqi oil money, or at least what Iraq already owes them. The United States has so far been reticent to invite others to feast at the table of a “liberated” Iraq’s resources. Alas, those who wish the US to work through the UN may get what they asked for which will differ little in results from a “unilateral” American war. I am sure that it will be of great consolation to the bereaved families of dead Iraqis that the UN, that mark of civilization, was fully consulted before the US dropped bombs on their homes. The United Nations, despite its pretences, cannot escape the reality of imperialism to which it is indebted for its continued existence and of which it is nearly always a tool.

Do we have no recourse to international law? As the US has sought to make clear recently, international law means nothing unless the United States sees itself as bound to it. Furthermore international law, like all law, is not neutral because the states that enact and enforce those laws are not neutral. They have a class character like all the ruling institutions of society. They reflect the interests of those in power, meaning those with wealth. If the oppressed could hold the oppressor accountable through the forum of international law and the United Nations would the Palestinians, with literally scores of UN resolutions in their favor, still walk the earth a stateless people whose “self-determination” is delineated by the proximity of the nearest Israeli tank?

In the name of “inclusivity” some opposed to the war wish to narrow the focus of the movement exclusively to an American attack on Iraq, but many of the most resolute campaigners against that assault come to the movement with their own concerns. The anti-war struggle has a special responsibility to the Arab population in the US as well as in the Middle East. Any new war will certainly exacerbate the post-September 11th witch-hunt further eroding the civil rights of Arab Americans and immigrants as well heightening the hostility towards all Arabs and muslims, particularly politically active Arabs. Their defense must be made paramount if the movement wishes it’s commitment to human rights to be more than lip service. The Palestinian solidarity campaign in the US has seen dramatic gains since the resumption of the intifada against Israeli occupation. They point to the US’s thorough sponsorship of Israel to the tune of billions of dollars a year. They point out that Israeli soldiers pull the triggers of American guns. That Israeli pilots drop American bombs from American planes. The United States is already engaged in a proxy war with an Arab country- Palestine. Does a movement opposing an American war on the Arab country of Iraq really have nothing to say about the American war on the Arab country of Palestine? This is a great challenge to the anti-war movement. It must face this challenge if it is to become a place that those most effected by American aggression can look too for solidarity. But the anti-war movement must be more than that. It also must be a vehicle through which they can contribute their experiences and perspective. Without the incorporation of those experiences and perspectives the movement will remain too white and whose professed internationalism will be disingenuous at best. These are big questions whose answers cannot be imposed on the movement, but only come to by the movement as it seeks to be increasingly effective. The immediate and urgent tasks remain to organize as broad a layer of people as possible who, for whatever reason, are against the coming war.

Those of us who describe ourselves as socialists and revolutionaries cannot build the movement as we wish it would be but as it is. Though always with an eye to where it must go if it is to fulfill its own stated goal of stopping the war on Iraq. As anti-imperialists in the heart of the most powerful imperialist country the world has seen we have exceptional difficulties and duties before us. What those militants do in other countries whose movements and consciousness are more developed give an education in the possibilities of struggle. We will undoubtedly follow the lead of countries whose battles give immeasurable support to the voices of dissent here in the US. Increasingly political activism is blurring those national boundaries that artificially divide us, our struggles being so connected that their resolution is impossible in national isolation. The United States wishes its empire to extend to every corner of the world. So too must our resistance.

MATT SIEGFRIED writes for the Irish journal Forthwrite. He can be reached at: almata@hotmail.com


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