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(en) ONWARD vol. 3 iss. 1 OUT NOW! - Take the A Train. A Column By Howard Ehrlich: On the Way to Peace: Anarchists and the Anti-War Movement

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.onwardnewspaper.org/)
Date Thu, 10 Oct 2002 02:10:08 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

An anti-war movement is not by itself a movement toward
peace. Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is a
process, not an event. It is a mode of organizing and a
way of life. War is an event; it ends with a truce, a
surrender or a defeat. Protesting the war or such activities
as the breach of disarmament treaties, the storage of
nuclear and chemical weaponry, the use of depleted
uranium artillery, sowing land mines, or other forms of
militarism amounts to treating symptoms. It will help in
reducing or preventing much suffering and physical
damage, but it does not necessarily move us forward. In
fact, the side effects of the "war against terrorism" have
already weakened and will continue to weaken the
libertarian strands of the fabric of American society.

An antiwar movement is an activist and oppositional
movement. Its motive force is reformist: to stop the war.
While its tactics may include civil disobedience and direct
action, antiwar coalitions are seldom directed at
fundamental social changes. Large coalitions are often
good at creating spectacles, rallies and demonstrations,
and other transient forms of protest. They tend to be poor
at recruiting since they often have a small, hierarchical
base. People come and go to its activities, sometimes
staying on but more often becoming isolated or burning
out. Generally, they are "staffed" by career activists who
are paid by some larger organization to be politically
involved, by members of small revolutionary groups
which may be coalition members, or by people whose
socioeconomic status allows them the time to do
movement work. They may be students, declassed and
marginal individuals, or people supported by others. Their
common threads are, of course, their revulsion to the war,
their humanitarianism, and their discretionary time.

Antiwar coalitions have no theory of society or social
change. Their "membership" is typically mired in a liberal
capitalism and sometimes a vaguely democratic socialism.
To the extent that they do articulate a theory of change it
is a fuzzy meliorism, that is, a belief that the world is
getting better with the help of good people acting together.
They see electoral politics as the major mechanism for
this betterment.

The "mission statements" of coalitions are righteous,
calling for an end to the war, aid to its victims, opposing
political repression and ethnoviolence, and endorsing a
vaguely articulated demand for social justice. Typically
their demands are not only beyond their own power, but
are often beyond the intellectual grasp or imagination of
those in power.

Coalitions tend to endorse nonviolence in their tactics of
protest, though not necessarily as a philosophical tenet of
their mission statement. Given the philosophical
ambiguity of "violence" and "nonviolence," serious
political disagreements about the meaning of "direct
action" and "civil disobedience," and their relation to
nonviolence, movement organizers often stretch for the
lowest denominator in order to hold a coalition together,
creating an obvious, basic tension in the organizing of

The overarching problem of the peace movement - if not
American politics - is the failure to move beyond what is
to what could be. It is most of all a failure of imagination.
But it is also indicative of an underlying fear of change.

This is a popular war, and most people, including many
who have been generally appalled by war, see this one as
unavoidable if not "just." Its acceptance is built upon the
more sordid dimensions of American national character:
authoritarianism, individualism, anti-intellectualism,
patriarchy and ethnocentrism. It has led to a
closed-mindedness and level of political ignorance that
makes organizing more difficult and weakens any
commitment to democracy.

On the way to peace, we have four critical tasks. We need
to increase the density of symbols of opposition. Through
demonstrations and vigils, handouts and graffiti, through
independent media centers and infoshops, fundraisers and
socials, through wearing buttons and talking it up, by civil
disobedience and direct action - through every means in
redundance - we need to display to people everywhere
that there is a dedicated opposition to the present policies
of war. The challenge in doing so is to not repeat the
same actions again and again, and to not lose sight of our
basic goal of political education.

On the way to peace we need to delegitimize authority.
The glue holding society together is part predictability -
the belief that people and the world in its everyday
operation are understandable and more or less repetitive.
Another part is the belief system that rationalizes the state
as being just. The sense that justice will prevail, that this
is a just society, is critical to the suppression of
revolutionary ideas.

Bureaucracy is the organizational form for masking
injustice; the mass media of education and entertainment
are the primary forms for the idealization of the society as
just; and the spectacle of caring leaders and the deserving
rich puts a human face on breeches of the predictable and
the just. Institutional religion soothes the victims of
injustice and deflects their needs through ritual and the
pursuit of an afterlife. These are our targets, that is, the
authorities and representatives of these institutions of
pacification. Their mission, in this war on terrorism, is to
convince the public that the war is just, that the sacrifice
of civil liberties is part of that pursuit of justice, and that
we can trust them to do what is in our best interest. Our
mission is to deflate their authority by convincing the
public that they are not honest or competent, and that
their motivations are directed to the accumulation of
wealth for the wealthy and power for the powerful.

On the way to peace, we need to oppose capitalism. As a
political economic system, capitalism requires the
concentration of power to protect itself and its markets. It
requires, too, the constant expansion of its markets and
its profits. Capitalism protects itself through the
co-optation of alternatives and through violence.

The battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda is in no small
part a struggle for control of the oil and gas reserves
around the Caspian Sea basin. This battle for resources
also entails a battle for the maintenance and expansion of
U.S. bases in Central Asia and the Middle East to protect
the flow of oil and to maintain military dominance. It is
also a war, like all wars, that enriches the military and
defense contractors and those who profit from the
weapons trade. An anticapitalist program for the peace
movement would include: ending the arms trade, halting
the new Star Wars program, agreeing to the elimination of
nuclear weapons and chemical-biological weapons, the
end to land mine production, and the conversion of war
industries to production which met human needs.

Finally, the anticapitalist peace movement must have a
clear economic program. This would include the building
of alternative institutions such as food co-ops, infoshops,
local exchange and trading systems, co-housing and
communal housing arrangements. A peace movement
must also be a movement for worker-community
ownership and control. This is a central direction for a
noncapitalist economics.

On the way to peace, we need to reinvent anarchy. The
anarchist moment exists within antiwar coalitions
particularly with regard to decision-making and group
process. The components of that process include diffusing
the concentration of power within the group; maximizing
individual participation; decision-making by consensus or
other non-hierarchical process; deflating elitism - sexism,
racism, ageism and all other forms of authoritarianism;
and a program of education.

Anarchists share much in common with Marxists and
Liberals with regard to a critique of this war and the
institutions of society. One serious point of departure,
which is central to a peace movement and absent from the
antiwar movements, is the utopianism in anarchist
thought. The antiwar movement calls for an end to the
barbarism and for the beginning of a new society.

Building a movement requires, particularly, that there be
attainable goals. The peace movement needs to have a
sketch of a peaceable society. Without it, it is just an
oppositional movement with no necessary life beyond its
points of opposition. A sketch is a sketch, but it does give
us a sense of direction. We need to ask ourselves what a
good society would look like. What would it take to move
from here to there?

There is, of course, a next step - a leap. And here we
separate many, certainly the utopians from the "realists."
It is a step from sketch to performance. Is what we are
doing now leading us to a good society? Do we have the
courage and the imagination to act as if we were engaged
in that new society? If we do, we will discover that there is
no way to peace. As radical activist A.J. Muste put it,
"peace is the way."

Howard J. Ehrlich is the editor of Social Anarchism and
can be reached at sociala@nothingness.org
ent auUnderlying all of these points, of course, is a
difference in attitude towards the state. Part of a gradualist
approach is a comfort with utilizing a democratic state as
a mechanism for creating common goods. Anarchists and
socialists have been arguing about the nature of the state
for over a century, and I will not attempt to add anything
new to the theoretical debate here. Instead, I wish to
make a fairly U.S.-specific argument on the dangers of
over-prioritizing a critique of the state, particularly the
federal government. Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr,
(D-Chicago), often speaks about what he sees as the
underlying conflict in the U.S. political system. According
to Jackson, it is not fundamentally a liberal-conservative
fight, nor is it always a struggle between Democrats and
Republicans. It is a war, he says, that has lingered,
unresolved, for more than one hundred years: the war
between State's Rights and Unionism.

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