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If Imperialism is the Cause, Shouldn’t the US Anti-War Movement be Anti-Imperialist?

 

Burlington, Vermont

If the comments I hear at public events or in private conversations (vocal and via email) about the current state of the “antiwar” movement are any indication, groups like the US organization UFPJ are in real trouble. This trouble does not come from a lack of antiwar sentiment, nor does it come from apathy. Instead, it comes from a growing sense that the leadership of this organization (and others like them) are attempting to lead those of us who attend their demonstrations into the arms of the dead-end process known as mainstream politics. By this, I mean that the UFPJ leadership wants to lobby Congress to end the war. While this is certainly a noble thought, it has about as much possibility of success as me turning into a frog.
History as recent as the history of the movement against the war in Vietnam proves that the only way one can pressure Congress to stop funding a war that it loves is by creating a situation in the daily life of the nation that makes business as usual difficult to conduct. This is what happened in the late 1960s and the 1970s-the US war on Vietnam became a big hindrance to the way Congress and its corporate paymasters conducted business. Even in its hallowed halls there were people who stood with the protestors. Money was not being made at the appropriate rate and eventually corporate America bowed to the pressure that the constant rallies, direct actions, and riots put on their profit making. Only after years of this type of pressure did Congress stop funding the war.

A converse of this constant street action occurred during the US wars on the people of Central America in the 1980s. Although certain regions of the country organized direct actions and protests, much of the movement against these wars was focused on lobbying Congress. This lobbying did help get the Boland Amendment banning aid to the US counterinsurgency forces known as the Contras but, as any one who was involved in this movement remembers, Ronnie Reagan just had his secret team fund and support the contras through illegal drug sales and arms smuggling. All of this work was done out of George Bush the First’s office. Then, when the men and women involved were indicted and convicted, George Bush the First pardoned them all.

Underlying the desire to organize (or lobby) Congress instead of organizing people to get in the streets and make life miserable for the warmongers is a belief that Congress’s agenda is somehow different from the agenda of the Pentagon or the White House. This belief is not only naïve; if one really wants to end the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan it is downright foolhardy. Congress shares the same agenda as the rest of the US government. Even those (few) members who disagree on individual issues like Social Security, education, and labor issues share an underlying assumption that the US had only the best intentions in its attack on Iraq. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the legislators in Washington share the administration’s assumption that it is essential for the United States to maintain its imperial army and that it should not hesitate to use it when the interests of corporate America are threatened.

Given this, there is no way that Congress is going to be lobbied to end the US occupation of Iraq. Furthermore, unless those of us in the antiwar movement who understand this organize around this understanding, the movement against the war and occupation will be relegated to the role similar to that of Jiminy Cricket in the tale of Pinocchio. We may be right, but it doesn’t matter because we can be ignored as easily as a small insect.

So, what do we need to do? I don’t claim to have any of the answers, but, if we look once again at history, we can find some very helpful clues. The most important one being that we must understand that the war in Iraq and the “war on terror” are imperial wars. In other words, they are part and parcel of Washington’s and Wall Street’s need to maintain, control, and expand their markets. That means the movement against these wars must be an anti-imperialist movement. This, in turn, means that we must understand that no organ of the imperial governments involved in these wars is going to help us because we have convinced them that they are wrong. After all, this is their livelihood. They do not believe that what they are doing is wrong, because their economic and political situation demands that these wars and occupations must occur. The governments that Washington has put in place in Baghdad and Kabul are representing the interests of the imperial powers, not the interests of those capitals’ respective peoples. Let me repeat, the governments occupying Iraq and Afghanistan need to undertake these military actions in order to maintain their dominance in the world’s political and economic dynamic. The only way they will let go of these military actions is when the political and economic cost of those actions is greater than the benefits. The resistance groups in Iraq and Afghanistan understand this, even with their internal differences and disparate motives. The movement against the war in the countries of the occupiers needs to also understand it.

Our job is to create the situation where that understanding becomes the case and is acted upon. Are the current antiwar organizations (UFPJ and ANSWER in the US, Stop the War Coalition in the UK) the proper vehicles for creating this situation? I can’t speak for the UK organization or any organization in other countries outside of the US. However, when it comes to the US organizations, I believe the answer is no, not as they are currently operating. UFPJ has failed to put forward an anti-imperialist analysis of the war and occupation: a fact that is perhaps best displayed by their tacit support of war party member John Kerry via the Anybody But Bush electoral movement in 2004. ANSWER seems to have too much baggage associated with its founding organization (Worker’s World Party-WWP) to be able to reach very far beyond its current constituency. This is too bad for ANSWER, especially considering their work against the sanctions and ongoing war on Iraq for more than a decade and their support amongst the communities of color in the United States.

I would like to state here that this is not meant to be a call to disband either of these organizations. After all, they have played (and will continue to play) an important role in the antiwar movement. It is instead, a call on those who consider themselves to be non-WWP anti-imperialists to stop trying to change the nature of UFPJ and ANSWER and form our own antiwar grouping(s). There is a need for a broad anti-imperialist coalition to oppose the designs of Washington and London. There is also a need to take that opposition to the streets, the schools, the workplace, the military, and wherever else we can. The time is getting late. Who will make the first step towards building this organization?

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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