These are challenging times for the US peace movement. We are struggling to find our bearings. The people of the US have been subject to a level of propaganda and censorship unprecedented in recent history. How can we respond?
There are some signs of life and a coalition is emerging. CodePink, Black Alliance for Peace, ANSWER, Veterans for Peace, United National Antiwar Coalition, and others are leading the way. Yet, we’re a long way from a mass movement against war. How can we engage the millions? How do we wade through the many conflicting viewpoints?
Follow the Action/Follow the Power
It’s an easy thing to oppose the war of your government’s enemy and stand behind the military might of the US. It is far more challenging to oppose the wars of your own country. The power to do that has yet to be created. But, that is what we must do in order to wield independent political clout.
A peace movement would create an alternative political space — a liberated zone — freeing people to act and think independently of the forces that rule over them. Without that, we remain helpless before the twin catastrophes of perpetual war and climate chaos.
We face a very contradictory struggle. On one hand, we need to know all the dead-ends and traps that will weaken us. On the other hand, we must engage people from all walks of life and political views if we want the peace movement to come into its own.
Do you want to cut through the confusion? Follow the power.
You and What Army?
Whatever your plans or demands they must stand the reality test: How are you going to achieve them? What is the action plan?
To put it simply: You and what army? The only potential “army” we have is the movement and we damn well better get about raising the troops.
Our work should focus on the US provocation of the war, the refusal to negotiate peace, and the broader context of US empire and war making. This is not only for grand political reasons but also for compelling practical reasons that cannot be dismissed. We live in the US. It’s the only place where we can build a movement and do real organizing. That much should be obvious. We have at least a small chance of changing US policy.
Putting Russia, Ukraine, or China at the center of our work ultimately aligns us with forces far beyond our control. Our main solidarity should be with ourselves, as best represented by the anti-war movement and other social movements. The simmering class struggle, the all-important environmental movement, and the movement against the police state are our natural allies. Let’s stand with them.
Since the well-orchestrated and widely felt need to “stand with Ukraine” has influenced millions we must engage.
The massive but short-lived protests in the run-up to the Gulf War warn that the anti-war views typical of Democratic Party loyalists cannot be counted on in the long run. Still, anyone who “Stands with Ukraine” but is also against US/NATO turning Ukraine into a proxy war is a keeper.
All the Democrats place the onus on Russia and avoid any hint that US policy provoked the crisis. Once Russia holds all the blame, the calls for diplomacy are empty gestures since that leaves US/NATO with nothing to bargain. The results? US/NATO has only undermined peace negotiations.
Just take a look at war spending and you’ll know how Democrats answer the question of “you and what army?” Congress is flooding Ukraine with weapons and material support. Many who “Stand with Ukraine” have crossed over to the pro-war camp embracing dangerous “no-fly zones” and escalation. Such policies turn Ukraine into a sacrifice zone.
Then there is the popular “blame both sides” rhetoric. And, yes, Russia bears its share of the blame. There are always alternatives to war. There is plenty of blame to go around — if blame is your game. But, if you want peace then tell me: what is the practical action connected with demonizing Russia apart from support for US/NATO? Why offer people an escape from the responsibility to confront their own government.
Since millions are already conditioned to hate Russia and see America as “the good guys” blaming both sides is an invite to become supporters of the US government or passive spectators in a game controlled by the ruling class. Worse than that, a third of Americans would be willing to risk nuclear war with Russia. Words have consequences. We need to be on high alert against feeding these suicidal attitudes with more hate.
So here is the irony: “blame both sides” often comes draped in left-wing or humanitarian ideology but as a practical matter inhibits the creation of a peace movement. What army? Against Russia, you have the world’s largest. Against US/NATO we have nothing but the peace movement.
A few believe they can defer to Russia or China to oppose NATO in some kind of WWII replay but there is no mass action for this view. They are also missing the real struggle: the US empire’s greatest weaknesses are internal. Political movements in “the belly of the beast” are best positioned for effective anti-imperialist action — but that takes organizing, independence, and practice, practice, practice.
Be wary of slogans, ideas, or analyses that are not connected with an actual plan of action.
Social media lends itself to lofty but empty talk. I hear radicals calling for the Russian or Ukrainian army to lay down their weapons and revolt. Good idea. But who has lifted a finger to support organizing inside the US military?
I hear calls for international proletarian solidarity. Nice army on paper. How many divisions have we got? Not enough to win universal health care, sick days, and other minimum standards for the US working class. Luckily for us, there is a resurgent class struggle bubbling up from the bottom. If we want to figure out how to talk to workers about war then organizing is the place to start.
Without power and without action, any ideology can turn into hopes and prayers, slogans, loose talk, and pious wishes. The organizer’s work is designed to produce action because it is in the tumult of political life that leaders merge, relationships develop, and transformations in consciousness are realized. Practice is primary so let’s practice building the peace movement.
Drill Down to the Underlying Causes: American Exceptionalism
Yes, it’s capitalism, yes it imperialism but in the US, those systems seem a natural and normal part of life because they are woven into our national identity.
The years of propaganda, — starting in a big way with Russiagate — have conditioned millions to hate on Russia and accept the New Cold War. But the propaganda is effective not because Russiagate was proven, (it was not) or because the Russian invasion of Ukraine is any worse than the many wars waged by the US, (it is not). It works so well because it resonates with the national code of honor and historical amnesia we know as “American Exceptionalism.”
Exceptionalism is the master narrative for all American wars. Attempting to alter this cornerstone of national identity is a steep challenge but it is precisely in times of deep crisis that consciousness can be raised.
Like “Both Sides,” demonizing Putin comes with unintended consequences. Whatever small advantage anyone thinks is gained by equating Putin to Hitler, Stalin, Czar, or madman that is far outweighed by the exceptionalism it encourages.
There is a far better way: reasoned critiques based on evidence and history. A comparative analysis of the US war machine and the Russian war machine would be useful and revealing. But, demonization is counterproductive — unless war is your idea of productivity.
And that is because exceptionalism is founded on binaries.
“Here is how war propaganda works: if authority figures in government and media denounce foreign leaders or countries or immigrants as an evil threat and repeat it thousands of times, they do not even have to say, “We are the chosen people destined to bring light to the world.” They know that millions of Americans will unconsciously refer to the exceptionalist code by default because it’s so deeply embedded in our culture. Once made brave by our exceptional character and sense of superiority, the next moves are war, violence and white supremacy.” 
War offers us intense but corrupted spiritualism. War is a myth-making drama based on life lived at the extremes of human experience. America has always been susceptible to this kind of religious fervor particularly when we need to forget all our deep internal divisions and our failure to address even the most elementary social problems. We have pushed the uneasy memory of our own war crimes into the deep recesses of our souls but we still long for absolution. There is nothing like a really nasty enemy to induce amnesia and restore a sense of our own high moral character. Of course, the thrill of this spiritual revival is usually experienced from the comforts of home far from the blood, guts, and gore.
Build the Peace Movement*
The best way to show solidarity with our own people, as well as the Russian peace movement, is in our own streets following the Russian people’s example of protesting the wars of their own ruling class.
We cannot build a peace movement based just on hopes and prayers. Peace is not a morality play; a senior seminar; a talk show. The movement is not a global central committee sitting in judgment of every county in the world.
Peace is a power struggle and our job is to build it. When you engage people online or in person, ask yourself some simple questions. Does this help the peace movement? Am I unifying people around opposition to war and empire? Will this information I’m sharing help inform and move people?
Knocking on doors, talking with co-workers and neighbors is hard work but it’s the shortest and quickest route to peace and power. All of our demands and hopes shrivel before our failure to build organizations. It’s difficult work but when crisis flares up — and crisis is now a permeant feature of our lives — then at least we are not just talking to ourselves.
Here is the vision:
And finally, for all nations to move their war dollars into an emergency Green New Deal. This would defuse one threat to human survival – the nuclear one – – while tackling the other – – the climate collapse that is spinning-out-of-control as we speak. — Jill Stein
Here is the action plan:
- Start your own local peace center.
- Build CODEPINK: more chapters are needed.
- If you are a veteran or supporter: Veterans for Peace or About Face. Veterans know how to talk with soldiers. I am a monthly contributor. You should be too.
- Support Matthew Hoh. Matt is the Green Party candidate running for Senate in North Carolina. He is an anti-war veteran of the highest caliber and one of our most articulate voices for peace. Matt takes no corporate funds so fund him.
- Care about kids? Join the crucial but under appreciated work of counter-recruitment. Find all the resources you need at National Network Oppose to the Militarization of Youth or the American Friends Service Committee
- Black Alliance for Peace is rebuilding the Black radical tradition against war. Become a member or monthly sustainer. I am.
- If you are a union member circulate this statement from the founders of US Labor Against the War or the resolution from Labor Against Racism and War.
- Protest. The 1969 Moratorium is a model. It mobilized over 2 million by working on local events as well as national demonstrations.
- GI Rights Hotline is one of the few groups involved in sustained work with soldiers.
- Plan a teach-in or study group on American exceptionalism. Knowing ourselves is the first condition for victory.
- Support the Civil Liberties Center. They provide free legal support for direct action movements.
- The War Resisters League is the oldest secular pacifist organization in the US.
If you’re more interested in workers’ movements, environmental action or BLM style opposition against police brutality — dig in — it’s all connected.
This is the “army” we need to wage peace. Is it your army?
1/Richard Moser, American Exceptionalism, War and Empire.
*If you sign up for monthly donations — no matter how small — your donations count more because the organizers can count on a stable source of funding.
ARMY?!!! This is what you call people interested in peace? You’ve just perfectly illustrated why the so called “peace-movement” fails to inspire/lead the people you are trying to organize. Where do traditional pacifist organizations fit into your scheme? FOR/AFSC/Catholic Worker/War Resisters League & more? We (you) have not learned the lessons on how to build a strong coalition! Joanne in New Jersey
Joanne, I am sorry about leaving out your groups. I have always had high regard for War Resisters League and AFSC and will include them in my blog version. It’s too late for the version submitted to Counterpunch, sorry. The rest of your comment speaks to the lack of any coherent and successful approach by the peace movement. We have failed to prevent the New Cold War or any of the many wars waged by the US over the last few decades. I think a little humility is called for. In my view, no one has the answer or else we would not be here. My use of the term “Army” like the term “Wage Peace” is not random. I studied and authored a book about GI and veteran dissent during the Vietnam War and found it to be a story of transformation including the transformation of military terms. I doubt we will ever be effective until we find the moral equivalent of war. My use of “army” was a way to delve into the political issues that plague us and to repurpose the militarism we all live with. We have high moral claims with no way to enforce them. It’s fine for you to disagree but it is way past time for us to experiment with different approaches since the current ones seem to have failed us.
Unfortunately the same is true of climate, labor, community organizing groups — all of which have common interests across categories as well as among groups in the same category. We’re missing a major “we are many” opp that way.
good point. this is something we must get better at.
Many thanks for your post. Of course most of what goes in the Ukraine today is about money and control. Thus it ever was. Much of this is controlled via the USA.
But then there are other groups at work, perhaps less obvious.