NOTE: issue #6 of 8th Route Readers Club had Bromma’s paper “New World, Hard Choices”. Following is an exchange around his paper. To read the original paper by Bromma, click here.
An Exchange on
“New World, Hard Choices” 4/8/03:
I liked your paper. My main concern is the concern that I regularly have with you. I believe that you do not articulate a point of view that aims at developing a strategy for movement building. Your position is a good one–though I felt that it was in some ways condescending toward opponents–but it feels divorced from some of the problems of building a REAL anti-war movement here in the USA.
The sort of distinction I am making is between how we build an anti-imperialist core of the anti-war movement vs. how to build a broad, and popular anti-war movement that can actually affect real politics.
Your position outlines, correctly, many of the dangers that we face, particularly the danger of national chauvinism. Ok, so where do we go from here in terms of building a popular movement? How do we craft a message that will influence people to do the right thing, accepting the fact that they will not be motivated by a Left or anti-imperialist framework right now?
Thus, I wondered whether the objective of your paper was to warn the core, i.e., anti-imperialists, of the inherent dangers in what we are doing (which I think is an important warning) or whether you believe that there is little that can be done to build an anti-war movement on a fairly sound basis.
Hey, thanks for the comments. You raise some good issues, which I’d like to go into in more depth sometime. But for now, just a few reactions: We seem to have a chicken and egg problem here. You want me to look at things from the point of view of how to build the movement. Fair enough. But I’m raising fundamental concerns about the nature of “the movement”; how it’s defined, who’s in it, etc. One of my central arguments is that just because people are struggling against corporate global capitalism doesn’t necessarily mean they are progressive (or part of “the movement”).
My idea of what movement we’re trying to build and what the future holds is not the same as that of most Left activists. I’m not just “warning about inherent dangers,” although that’s one way to look at it. I’m saying that the dominant line on the Left is mistaken right now; that it doesn’t correspond to reality.
So the real question would seem to be, am I right or wrong? Are the class changes I describe accurate or not? Is it true or false that there’s an immense multinational right-wing populist tide on the rise in the world, Am I right or wrong to criticize some anti-war activists for saying that “understanding the horror of the war is more important than anything that divides us”? (What’s her name from United For Peace & Justice). Is it true or false that defending privilege plays a huge role in metropolitan opposition to the war? Is it right or wrong to understand proletarian politics in terms of power for oppressed women and children?
What I’m actually most curious about is whether or not you think they are true. The last thing I claim to have is a developed strategy for building a “real” movement. Hopefully, leftists won’t discount every writing that fails to provide such a formula. Cause it’s gonna be a while before we have that sitting on our desks.
I think these things will mostly have to be worked out by a new generation of proletarian and anti-colonial activists in the Third World, in practice, on terrain marked by heavy repression and clandestine/armed struggle. That’s how it’s always seems to be in the earliest stages of new proletarian movements–which is exactly what we’re looking at. I see preliminary signs of that beginning to happen (RAWA and the Zapatistas, for instance). I hope to recognize more elements of that as they emerge and to make some contribution to them from within my own life. But I’m definitely not a leader or expert here.
In terms of the US anti-war movement, we do have to join in the attack on the US bourgeoisie as a gang of war criminals. I also think that we should agree that this war is part of an assault on the Islamic world; an assault with a definite racist character. But we should understand this in terms of capitalist globalization and geo-strategy, and clearly differentiate ourselves from the rising influence of Islamic and other fundamentalists, whose politics are right-wing, authoritarian, anti-Semitic, anti-Left and anti women.
Doing that is no easy feat, since Islamic conservatives and fundamentalists are the main proponents of the “attack on the Islamic world” line. Practically speaking, they “own” it, claiming hundreds of millions of adherents or supporters of it. Way more than the Left does. Among these hundreds of millions, defense of Islam is being constantly connected, by dedicated, well-rooted and hardened activists, to the subordination of women, anti-semitism, religious war, etc.
Mass-based fascism with a “revolutionary” stance is a new/old force set loose in the world, partly because of the strategic defeat of the socialist-led anti-colonial upsurge. Part of my argument is that it’s suicidal to try to finesse fascism’s ominous presence with slogans borrowed from a time when virtually all effective resistance to Western corporate capitalism was being led by communists and revolutionary nationalists. Which isn’t true any more.
I think that fighting against racist attacks on Muslims and immigrants in the U.S., as well as against the growth of a repressive apparatus here, is a bottom-line practical necessity. So is support for the Palestinian struggle against occupation. But again, we better ask ourselves whether we’re ready to work with fascists and fundamentalists on these issues, and if so, how. If we don’t decide consciously, we’ll end up working with them anyway, on an opportunistic and probably self-defeating basis.
Because we’re different from the fascists, I think it’s important to fight unapologetically against the politics of metropolitan privilege, to directly, publicly attack fascism and anti-semitism (I’m not talking about Michael Lerner’s publicity stunt; I’m talking about things like the prevalence of hard-core anti-semitism within worldwide anti-war sentiment), and to help promote political-military power for proletarian women within the present conflict zone and elsewhere. This last point, to me, is a sort of political anchor that allows us to begin to sort out confusing developments.
As the discussion paper indicates, I think Marxists should be offering a new no-bullshit class based analysis of what’s changing in the world in order to counter the capitalist and opportunist analyses that seem to me to dominate the anti-war movement now. Doing that might even influence some upset, angry people who are disenchanted with a Left politics that they sense is formulaic and played-out. I honestly believe that that’s an important part of “real” movement building.
I realize you’re busy, as am I. So let me know if you want to get into any of this more; you should assume that I do.
Excellent points, most of which I agree with.
I think that the danger in the global north from right-wing populism (in the main) and neo-fascism (secondarily) is great. In the current anti-war movement in the USA, however, I do not see these as major forces. It may be in Europe.
I believe that the issue of privilege is precisely as you call it.
I think that there are forces on the Left that are attempting to address this. I believe that this must be part of the party-building process (defined very broadly). As I disagreed with you when you departed, I believe that it is important to have an organizational vehicle of some sort, albeit imperfect, in order to advance this sort of discussion.
My “complaint,” however, is that these issues must be worked through in the process of building an anti-war/anti-occupation/pro-global justice movement. This is a treat trick because such a movement is going to be a real hodgepodge of politics. There is no way of getting around it. If the liberal Sierra Club wishes to be involved in the anti-war movement, frankly I do not care what their reasons happen to be. It is my job to try to distinguish the politics of the coalition, my own politics, and the politics of individual components. It obviously gets REALLY tricky when dealing with right-wing populists, e.g., Buchanan, who can often use language very similar to our own to advance some very nasty politics. I agree 100% that we must distinguish ourselves from that.
Again, though, the coalition comes together. I mean this in two respects. One, something that comes together quite formally, and, two, something more objective. There are anti-war forces that we wish to see gel. We wish to have a real-world impact on events, e.g., stopping the war. This necessitates numbers. Those numbers may not all be folks pure of heart. So, what do we do?
In any case, let’s continue the dialogue.
We agree in principle about a lot of things. But our ideas about how they apply in practice seem to differ.
What I see in the current antiwar movement here is that the Left is by and large not telling the truth about the world situation; about why all this is happening and what the possible outcomes are. No visible Left force is discussing the politics of privilege, almost nobody is criticizing pro imperialist anti-war politics directly, almost nobody is discussing the character of the main (right-wing) opponent Western capitalism faces in the Middle East, almost nobody except the anarchists is talking honestly about why fascists and right-wing Republicans oppose the war.
So what’s happening is that the Left, by virtue of its organizing experience, is helping organize a pro-capitalist anti-war movement fueled mainly by defense of privilege. Where the Left leads, it is leading mostly despite its leftism, not because of it.
Nevertheless, much of the Left is making triumphalist claims about how the anti-war movement in the US and abroad marks a tremendous political advance, the opening of a new progressive era, etc. To me this is not only false, but also all part of the illusion that the old global Left can segue smoothly into a new era of powerfully successful activism. There’s a lot of puffery and denial that’s completely at odds with the danger of our situation, not to mention what’s happening in Iraq. In the context of opposing the regime’s assault on Iraq, the anti-war movement is a limited and precious opportunity to talk to masses of people about their future: what does the Left have to say?
The Left, despite its organizational role, is not in a position to dictate who is part of the overall anti-war movement. (Anti-war sentiment wasn’t “built”; it’s mainly an organic upwelling of multiple class politics.) What we can decide is how to relate to the movement(s) and the various elements who are part of it.
Right now, this is all kind of dreamy, because as far as I know the “responsible” Left here isn’t even talking to people about what to do physically about the (relatively few) neofascists who show up at demos. Or publicly criticizing slogans that support “kinder, gentler” imperialism. Or launching a concerted attack on support for Milosevic. Or even launching agitational attacks on Buchanan. That would destroy the feel-good vibe. And that’s the easy stuff! The hard stuff is when you start considering, say, the existence of “anti-war” right-wing Muslims in New York who blame everything on the Jews.
Since we can’t control these things from above, why not start by doing something really radical: telling the whole truth, out in the open, even if it means publicly criticizing some united front components and breaking decisively with others?
Is what unites us in the anti-war movement greater than anything that divides us? Hell no.
We wish to influence events–doesn’t everybody? Today revolutionary socialists are weak, world fascists are stronger, capitalists are strongest. In this situation, our ability to actually utilize contradictions among pro-capitalist forces is extremely slight; it will be nonexistent if we just subsume ourselves practically within pro-capitalist politics; if we don’t start to present a modern viable alternative.
Pretending that revolutionary socialists are not isolated prevents us from doing what we need to do to grow. Is that necessary? It might damage our comfort zone, but I seriously doubt that freely advocating a class analysis of current events and criticizing pro-capitalist politics would weaken overall anti-war sentiment or hurt the interests of the world proletariat. We could use less unity and more truth. If telling the truth makes us unpopular with much of the pro capitalist anti-war movement, then that’s at least something that corresponds to “real-world events.”
As for the right wing: at some point, we are going to have to fight them. Politically, and physically. That’s a big part of what Left leadership is today. If we’re not ready to do that now, we should at least be laying the groundwork for it when talking to people about the war. Instead, we’re letting the fascists figure this stuff out unimpeded (which they are definitely actively doing) while we dim our light in the murky semi-politics of anti-war unity.
Two small examples from life:
1. My friend has been deeply involved in Palestine support work for a long time. She tells me that there is now a steady pressure from both Islamic rightists and “pro-Palestinian” Christian fascists who try to join groups and infiltrate e-mail lists, sometimes advancing anti Semitic arguments. Activists are forced to criticize and try to isolate this sentiment, but it’s complicated. Among the Arab activists, shouldn’t everything be deferred in the interests of Arab unity against the Zionists? And how do white activists function, for instance, in a situation where Islamic rightists and conservatives are claiming political rights as Palestinians or Muslims? The overall situation is forcing left-wing Palestinian activists and their supporters to take more explicit political stances. (They too want to “influence real world events”–defeat Israel- but don’t have the luxury of bathing in broad anti-Israel sentiment.) Sadly, to me, they don’t seem to yet have enough unity or tools they need to do this effectively, including a modern class analysis of the world.
2. Activists have conducted a series of anti-war protests in the Ukraine. According to a report I read on-line:
“The Stalinist Communist Party (CP)– which as little as half a year ago was considered the leader of the anti-war movement–has now withdrawn. The bureaucratic CP leadership made a bloc with pro-imperialist, pro-Western forces within the framework of the right-wing opposition movement. For the last three months, CP members have not participated in any pickets of the U.S. embassy in Kiev.
This change has favorably influenced the relationship of forces in the leadership of the anti-war movement. We have seen the formation of a democratic “Stop the war!” coalition and Revolutionary Communist Youth Ukraine (RCYU) has joined the coordinating council. We were pleased that the representative of our organization, Anna Lysova, was elected as the coordinator of the coalition. We have since succeeded in repulsing an attack by pro-Russian chauvinist and conservative forces, which wanted to intervene in the anti-war movement under conservative, xenophobic and protectionist slogans.” [Right on! I wonder how they did the “repulsing”?]
Meanwhile, in the anti-war movement here in the heart of darkness, where the biggest war crimes are planned and launched, a self-congratulatory tone is heard. Look at all the people! We’re back in the saddle! But there is little honest discussion about what it really means, and still less proletarian street politics.
Fascinating. I have to consider what you are raising before replying too much. I think that I have to say that I disagree with your observations in the 2nd paragraph. In general I find it difficult to disagree with most of your propositions. Over the last few years, I have come to learn and appreciate much more about neo-fascism.
Let’s start with some serious agreements. I think that you are absolutely correct, though I believe that you overstate it, that there needs to be a distinction between imperialist aggression against states like Hussein’s Iraq, vs those interventions of 20-40 years ago. I say that you overstate it because the main perpetrators of the politics you criticize are actually forces like Workers’ World, who are a minority in the anti-war movement.
I think that the broader movement, and certainly the Left, has not fully come to grips, though, with the changes that have taken place. Thus, the apparent collapse of Hussein’s regime and the manner of its collapse should not have come as any great surprise. Nevertheless, for many people it seems that it has been very unsettling.
I think that your point about anti-Zionist rightists is also a good point, though I have found most folks prepared to take that on with one notable exception. In general US progressives seem unsettled when dealing with clerical fascists of the Muslim type. The rhetorical anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism of these forces destabilizes many US leftists and progressives and sometimes leads them to–liberally–remain silent. Your point on this is well taken.
Your description of the anti-war movement as being pro-capitalist seems a bit rhetorical. If you mean that the movement is not anti-capitalist, that is correct and is no surprise. We are simply not there. But there is a difference between saying that a movement is not anti-capitalist and saying that it is PRO capitalist. The movement is not advocating capitalism. It is not advocating socialism. It has a level of unity that is or has been anti-war. The challenge for us on the Left is to transform that movement in directions that you advocate. Central to that, in my opinion, is the development of an anti-imperialist core to that movement. In some respects our job has been made easier by the ruling class in its open willingness to promote “empire” and “imperialism,” albeit with a ‘human face.’
Your point about folks like Buchanan is good and on the money. This was one of the things that really got to me in the China/WTO debates, i.e., Buchanan speaking at a Teamster rally. I believe that the issue of right-wing populism, particularly though not exclusively among white workers and white petty bourgeoisie, will become a growing problem. Buchanan speaks to their anxieties in ways that liberals and the Left often do not. He also has the advantage of being anti-corporate but not anti-capitalist. He also appeals to the evil, racist side of people. In any case, I have not seen the anti-war movement embrace such folks.
Part of my disagreement with you is that I am never quite sure who is the target of your critique. The anti-war movement is a big thing and fairly amorphous. If you are criticizing Win Without War, for example, that would not necessarily be accurate for United for Peace and Justice or International ANSWER. I would suggest that you specify your target. It would help the reader get a better grasp of the problem and its real world manifestations.
Final point: as I said earlier, there is the real-world issue of coalition building. Yes, I can agree with you that there will be moments–important moments–where there will be a parting of the way within a coalition. What I ask is about the gelling of coalitions. Under the present circumstances what mass-level unity should we be attempting to build?
In any case, that’s it for now. Take care.
( To Be Continued)