Fighting the Next War, Not the Last One
by Michael Novick
It has been said that generals are always preparing to fight the last war. In this case, it looks like the generals and spy-masters are way out in front fighting the next one, while it is we on the left and in the peace movement who are fighting the last one. Compared to what we are entering on, the Gulf War or even the Vietnam War were only skirmishes. We are facing a colossal political watershed. Bush, Cheney et al have lied about many things over the past weeks, but they have told one truth — this is going to be a long, total war, and the terrain on which we struggle has been fundamentally changed. It establishes the groundwork for all on-going struggles, in the US, Canada and throughout Bush’s global “coalition” of states.
Nonetheless, if we allow Bush to set the terms and definitions of the struggle — for example, if we attempt to define ourselves reactively and exclusively as a peace movement, or to subsume all our efforts into anti-war “activism” — then I think that we will have lost the battle before we begin it. We would have allowed Bush et al to wipe the slate clean of all our successes and growth in the recent period in taking an initiative against the state and capital, against the empire. This would allow Bush to solidify the temporary “national unity” he has achieved, and to successfully use the brand of “terrorist” to launch a new McCarthyism domestically with even sharper teeth than cold-war anti-communism or COINTELPRO.
Bush has launched a program and campaign comparable in scope to World War II or to the Cold War. The shadowy and malleable nature of the enemy is perfectly suited to his purposes, and the war will be waged domestically as well as throughout the rest of the empire. In response to the mirror image “lines in the sand” drawn by Bush and Bin Laden, we need to declare our opposition to the fascist terror and war of both Bush and Bin Laden, and we need to put forward an analysis and program for dealing with both. We must put forward non-state methods for dealing with fundamentalist terror. This terror is in no way revolutionary. Read Bin Laden’s statements, in which he calls for the American people to put in place a “nationalist” government. Look at Bin Laden’s practice, beginning with his terror assaults on coeducational education in Afghanistan. He is no friend or ally of the world’s people. But we cannot accept imperial war and state terror as an answer or response, nor can we ally or align ourselves as a loyal left wing of Bush’s coalition.
What can we put forward as a revolutionary program against terror?
1. Civilian-based defense domestically against terror. The empire has demonstrated its inability to deter terror attacks on the U.S. (or possibly its complicity in them). War is a guarantee of more terror here, and the precautionary security measures have been self-evidently unresponsive to the threats and possibilities. We need to be involved in active, grass roots community self-defense efforts — if we are not, they will become a province of right wing mass organizing and base-building and for breeding racist paranoia. We must pose this as a clear alternative to the state program, not an adjunct. Such civilian based defense established on a sound basis can also deal with organized racist terror, or police abuse, or with rescue and recovery in the event of disaster.
2. Solidarity with the Afghani people, in particular material aid to RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which has been struggling in clandestinity within Afghanistan and among Afghan refugees for a democratic secular society, providing education and health care. We must pose this as clearly opposed to the US alliance with the reactionaries of the Northern Alliance.
3. Alliances with social revolutionary forces in the Muslim and Arab world. The US and Israel promoted and financed the creation of Islamic fundamentalism as a strategic attempt to divide and divert the Arab masses in Palestine, in the reactionary Arab regimes, and elsewhere in predominantly Muslim societies. This is well-documented. It happened in Palestine with Hamas, in Iran with Khomeini, and in Afghanistan with Bin Laden and the various mujaheddin factions (whether Taliban, Northern Alliance, etc). We must seek out the authentically revolutionary and anti-imperialist forces in those societies, learn from them and build solidarity with them.
4. Opposition to state terror by the U.S. government and its NATO and other allies, such as Israel, Turkey and the reactionary Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia or the emirates; and opposition to racist terror inside the US. This includes identifying and opposing the terror components in all 2-1/2 wars the pentagon is fighting, such as in Colombia.
5. Projecting a global vision of decolonization and human liberation, a redefinition and redistribution of wealth. This involves reasserting all the issues of corporate domination, environmental devastation, and domestic and international (neo-)colonialism that we were raising prior to September 11, and that hold true even more in its wake. Reasserting our people’s globalization movement, in which oppressed and exploited people in all countries began to learn from and about each other and to make common cause. War and international relations are too important to leave to the generals and diplomats. We must create a new grass-roots, non-hierarchical “international.”
6. Developing methods of struggle that sink roots, diversify and integrate our movement with popular resistance, below the radar of state surveillance and disruption. The empire’s drive towards war and a police state will clearly not easily be deterred and we can anticipate that the arena for open, public and legal struggles will be severely curtailed. We have to foster struggles for cultural and political independence and transformation, for dealing with protracted and growing economic deprivation, for sustaining and building movements under conditions of incarceration and intimidation. The class, racial, gender and national contradictions that plagued our society — and our movement — prior to the hijackings and attacks did not vanish; in fact they will be increasingly exacerbated by war and fascism. We have to unite oppressed and exploited people on the basis of solidarity and internationalism and to recognize that white supremacy and identification with the oppressor continue to be central obstacles to such unity.
Such a program is the only valid basis for opposing the imperialist war. There is no problem of the chicken and egg here. We can’t oppose the terror without opposing the war, nor can we effectively oppose the war without opposing the terror. Doing both says we are acting independently of the state and the empire as we must now and in the future. Implementing our program allows us to demarcate ourselves clearly from terrorism, to put forward a politically and morally consistent opposition to all forms of terror, and to avoid the pitfalls of a purely pacifist response that will condemn our movement to ineffectiveness and irrelevance. There is an unease with Bush and his war, but people seriously want to know what else they can do. Unless we speak directly to that need, we will be (rightly) dismissed.
Even more so than under Reagan/Bush and Thatcher, the empire is relying on the concept that There Is No Alternative [TINA] — or perhaps, more pointedly, that terror is the only alternative to the empire state, and that the empire state is the only alternative to terror. Our task centers on breaking through that deadly duopoly.
We can anticipate that the war will not immediately resurrect the economy and that widespread unemployment in the context of the drastically reduced social safety net, and a renewed fiscal crisis — especially for state and local governments — will provide ample opportunities for social, political and economic struggle over housing, education, jobs, prisons, police abuse, health care, etc etc. In this context, we must put forward a fundamental critique of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism as they function both inside and outside the United States, and a vision of creating a sustainable and liberated society in their place.