BEYOND THE LIES: IRAQ AND BEYOND
Editorial from the current issue of "Turning the Tide: Journal of
Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education"
Volume 16 NUmber 4, Winter 2003-2004
Free sample copy of entire issue available upon request from ARA, PO Box
1055, Culver City CA 90232 (tel 310-495-0299)
The unpredictable course of the war in Iraq proves once again that even the
best-laid plans often go astray. Bush and his brain trust had convinced
themselves that Iraq would be a cakewalk. As invasion turned to occupation,
and determined resistance transforms the occupation into a protracted
counter-guerrilla war, Iraq has proven to me a much thornier and less
hospitable patch of briars than Bush expected. Instead of demonstrating the
invincibility of the US war machine, it has exposed its weaknesses in
staffing and readiness for irregular and "asymmetrical" combat. Bush has
been forced to reduce the readiness level of a record number of troops in
order to re-provision, re-supply and re-train them. Even worse from the
imperialist perspective, nagging resistance within the US to combat
operations overseas has begun to reassert itself. Recruitment, after an
initial patriotic boost, is falling off, and re-enlistment, even more vital
to the strength of the military machine, which still ultimately depends on
the personnel that run it, is dropping precipitously. The real cost of
enlistment in the reserves and National Guard has come vividly home to
potential recruits, with long term consequences. All this bodes well for
the forces of liberation and opposition to empire. But this demonstration
of the failures and weaknesses of imperialist planning does not relieve us
of the responsibility to do some serious planning of our own. They are
planning for the next war. Are we?
Anti-war activists are aware, in retrospect, that the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq have been scripted for several years by ideologues and planners
envisioning a "New American Century." Anti-globalization organizers
understand that the WTO, NAFTA and FTAA are elements of an imperialist
economic blueprint that has been years in the making. Civil liberties
defenders are clear that the USA PATRIOT Act was essentially written long
before 9-11, and that the militarization of the police has been in train
since the 60s. Trade unionists know that corporate employers and their
political representatives have been systematically eroding the base of
organized labor for decades, and are working for its demise.
Yet we seem to think that our own strategic planning extends no further
than scheduling a protest six to eight months in advance. This is a recipe
for continued failure. Bush et al are planning the next several wars,
including one with China. They are planning for the day, nearer than they
admit, when the petroleum on which the current economy is based begins to
dry up. They have plans for controlling the water supplies that are the
planet's even more fundamental life's-blood. What plans do we have for
denying them, for protecting our posterity and life itself?
THE BIGGEST LIE OF ALL
Liberal, and even some radical, media pundits and muckrakers seem content
to pillory Bush for his lies. But all the while, the biggest, most
fundamental lie goes unexamined: the lie that this system can be reformed,
that the U.S. state has ever been something other than a settler-colonial
empire. Until we stop lying to ourselves, our efforts to deal with war,
poverty, injustice and environmental devastation will be fruitless.
Poor, working and oppressed people are perfectly capable of long-range
planning on an individual or familial basis. Every day, people sweat and
sacrifice for their children's education and future, or for the next crop.
Every year, people make their resolutions and often follow through. Teams
figure out what they need to do to win. But we are faced with the
collective responsibility to envision a different world, and more
important, to chart out how we are going to get there in the face of the
determined, murderous opposition of our rulers and exploiters. In response,
we seem to suffer from a collective failure of imagination, or perhaps of
nerve. Because we can't deal with it unless we extricate ourselves from the
Fear of failure or mistrust of authority (and authoritarians) are not
sufficient reasons to avoid the nitty-gritty details of planning,
organization and accountability for follow-through, without which we have
lost before we start. Without a course in mind, mid-course corrections are
impossible. More to point, as Malcolm X used to say, "If you don't stand
for something, you'll stand for anything."
At the dawn of 2004, people worldwide celebrated the tenth anniversary of
the open Zapatista insurgency in Chiapas. Fewer, however, take note that it
also marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the EZLN. The Zapatistas
learned from previous failures of revolutionary struggle and of indigenous
resistance in Mexico. In summing that up, they turned away from failed
models and learned to listen. They spent a decade away from public view or
state surveillance integrating themselves with a deeply rooted culture of
resistance to empire and colonialism, and participating in the development
of a strategy and organization that could move the struggle forward.
We too need to be making plans NOW that will carry us successfully into a
multi-generational struggle for liberation over the NEXT decade or two. We
need to learn the dialectic between urgency and patience - we cannot delay
in commencing that effort, nor can we imagine there are any shortcuts or
easy roads to victory.
When Hitler and Mussolini backed the Spanish Falange in overthrowing the
Spanish Republic, there was a worldwide response that included volunteer
brigades from around the globe who joined the battle in Spain. Eurocentrism
and white supremacy made the reaction to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia
and the Japanese Empire's invasion of China less consistent or effective.
In retrospect, the inability to counter or overcome those opening salvos
made the Second World War inevitable, and dreadfully bloody. Today, the
popular responses to the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are even
weaker. It is vital that we make a realistic assessment of ourselves and of
our enemies, if we are to begin to delineate an analysis and strategy of
how to move from a position of weakness to one of strength. What
contradictions in the empire can we exploit? What alliances can we build?
What initiatives can we take that will begin to exercise the people's
capacity to make history? These are the yardsticks by which we must measure
our current efforts. If our strategies and tactics look no further than
Election Day in November 2004, and are predicated on the search for the
"Anybody" that can beat Bush, then they are guaranteed to come up short. We
will condemn ourselves to reacting to the Empire's initiatives, always
playing catch-up, never setting the terms or terrain of struggle to our own
Nor does the answer lie in doctrinaire formulations that rely on the
insights of anarchist or socialist theoreticians of decades, or centuries,
past. Rather, we need to examine the inadequacies of those past doctrines
and organizational guidelines, take what is useful and abandon what was
self-defeating. Indigenous resistance to imperial conquest, colonization
and settlement was broken. The industrial army of labor strategies of 19th
Century socialists and anarchists were euro-centric and were defeated. The
communist revolutionary movements of the early 20th Century advanced the
slogan, "Workers and Oppressed People of the World Unite! You Have a World
They understood that the earlier formula, "Workers of the world unite! You
have nothing to lose but your chains!" was wrong in a couple of key
aspects: First, unity must embrace more than workers, and second, we've all
got something to lose.
But though several of those movements overthrew their states and came to
power, they failed to overcome their own internal contradictions and
ultimately failed. In the later half of the 20th Century, national
liberation movements (mostly predicated on that same Communist belief
system) took the anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist
struggle to a new high water mark.
But they too have proven insufficient to carry out the struggle to end
class society and liberate all of humanity, while enabling us to live in
harmony with the rest of the biosphere. Most of the societies where such
previous revolutionary movements did take power have now substantially
fallen back under capitalist, imperialist domination, giving the empire a
new lease on life as it loots their social capital and recolonizes them.
This record of previous false starts and failures should not discourage us.
It represents a wealth of hard-won knowledge about ourselves, our enemies,
and the true nature of this society. As Malcolm X said, history, of all
studies, merits and rewards our efforts.
What have we learned about ourselves? That we internalize our oppression
and identify with our oppressors, and that even the most oppressed must
proceed toward liberation via self-criticism. That we embody material
contradictions of gender, race, class, colonialism, and proprietorship of
land which divide the working class against itself, and which must and can
be overcome through struggle and conscious solidarity.
What have we learned about our enemies? That the greatest weapon in their
hands is the mind of oppressed. That all their wealth and power is stolen
from the people and the land they exploit and oppress. That their days are
numbered, because every empire in history has crumbled, and that knowing
this, they fear any manifestation of dissent or resistance.
What have we learned about the true nature of this society? That it's a
single seamless empire, "from sea to shining sea" and around the globe.
That there's no amelioration possible in the actions of the empire "at
home" or "abroad" as long as it is an empire, and that its actions do not
constitute a domestic or foreign "policy," but are simply two fronts of the
same struggle for domination or liberation.
Armed with these understandings, we can begin to see how to mulch and
detoxify our own soil, sink roots and bear fruit.
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