From Strike Wave to General Strike

Above photo: Yasmine James (center with microphone), the McDonald’s worker attacked while working at a St. Petersburg restaurant, spoke to a crowd at a worker rally Tuesday. Spectrum News image. Thanks to Popular Resistance.

Also in Counterpunch and Popular Resistance.

The strike wave is here. The strike wave is real.  Can workers take the next steps toward a General Strike?

The current crisis is a rare opportunity for us to build a movement both outside of electoral politics and based on an organizing model. That matters because the biggest shortcoming of the left and the social movements is our lack of organizing.

Organizing can do what good intentions or radical theory or electoral campaigns cannot: turn solidarity from a dream into a living thing. But without some serious solidarity, all our hopes for a General Strike will fail to materialize.

As we build the solidarity infrastructure needed for a General Strike lets not lie to each other. It’s called “class struggle” for a reason. Strikes are painful with workers pitting their sacrifice and suffering up against the bosses’ profits. Strikes are no party.

But, general strikes, while rare, are a good match for the unprecedented interlocking crises we face. There is an answer to our problems. It’s the age-old working-class answer: “solidarity forever.” But, never forget that solidarity is forged in sacrifice too. Solidarity is not simply passing a resolution or staking a claim — it is actions like boycotts or mutual aid efforts or sending money to those at the front lines or going on strike yourself.

The Strike is Back

After a long period of retreat, the strike has returned with a vengeance. In 2018 West Virginia teachers kicked off a strike wave the likes of which we have not seen for decades. And like today’s strikes, the leadership is coming from the rank and file — not union officials.

 

In this moment of pandemic panic strikes and unrest are focused on immediate demands. We want a general strike and that is a great thing but we have to pave the way between the largely defensive strikes that actually exist and the political offensive that is the heart of a general strike.

General strikes contest for power by explicitly raising class consciousness and proposing system-wide reform, economic democracy, maybe even social transformation. The political task is to build the transition between the defensive strike wave and the offensive general strike we need. We can find the path by starting down the trailhead right in front of us.

If we want to engage people we have to listen carefully to what they say and do. The strongest currents of resistance that I see are actions, demands, and tactics around the immediate life and death questions of safety, protection, and survival:

  • Protective equipment, sick benefits, hazard pay.
  • Strike as “sick out” that withholds labor until we break the back of the pandemic. 
  • Strikes, slowdowns, rolling job actions or staying home. Let the workers decide.
  • Increase wages for essential workers.
  • The conversion of production to ventilators or masks or tests.
  • Universal health care  
  • No rent, no evictions, no vacancies
  • Mutual Aid to serve the people

These may be immediate demands but in them we can imagine the possibilities of the General Strike. In these demands, (and in the bosses’ rush to get us back to work) we can see that labor creates all wealth. We can see that workers are essential and bosses are disposable. When workers demand that they switch production to ventilators or masks — the seeds of worker control are taking root. Housing and health care are revealed as demands of direct interest to everyone, not just a moral stand. If the General Strike is the front-line, Mutual Aid is the quartermaster providing aid and comfort to the troops. Mutual Aid shows us what a democratic economy looks like.

Taken together these actions and demands are the beginnings of a struggle for economic, workplace and community democracy. Call it Freedom and Democracy, call it Socialism or Revolution, call it Reason or call it Treason — I don’t care what you call it.

Its Solidarity Forever or General Strike Never

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ― Lilla Watson

Solidarity is not simply good intentions or the fine speeches that politicians sometimes make. Solidarity grows by acting on the principle that “your liberation is bound up with mine.” With solidarity, a new world is possible — without it we surrender to corporate power.

By all means, have your steering committee pass a resolution but real solidarity can only be achieved by organizing and activism. Here are a few possibilities:

  • We need to coordinate strategic boycotts targeting Amazon, Whole Foods and other corporate criminals. We need a huge email list and a website updated daily to select targets and coordinate timing.  Who will take up this work?
  • In 2016 the Sanders campaign proved that a presidential campaign could be crowdfunded by millions of small donations. Can we set up a funding mechanism to funnel money to striking workers trying to last “one day longer” than the boss?
  • Solidarity with strikers means building networks, coalitions, Mutual Aid and communal efforts, and Unemployed Councils.

The Crisis Cannot Be Resolved by Normal Means

When compared with the narrow vision of the electoral arena (with the vast majority of politicians from both major parties still opposing universal healthcare) even these initial spontaneous uprising are full of ideas for redistributing wealth and power. Even in the depths of the crisis, unanimous Congressional action could deliver nothing greater than temporary cash payments so meager as to exaggerate the very wealth inequality that made our world unsustainable in the first place.

These tasty crumbs are welcomed aid to workers but were also a good move by the ruling class to calm things down. Without real resistance, our rulers got away with tossing us the bare minimum necessary to engineer consent so they could gain a far bigger prize: the further consolidation of 40 years of corporate power.

It’s not that progressive Democrats produced nothing. They moved the discourse in important ways. But the unanimous consent to the corporate bailout signals the limits of even well-meaning electoral activity under existing conditions. And that is why the strike wave is so important. Direct action gets the goods. And, the torch is passed back from celebrities and politicians to the unknown everyday people that were always the true leaders of the working-class.   

The left needs Ella Bakers’ vision. Do we have the capacity to “pick up the pieces or put together pieces?” 

What will help the millions move? What will build the capacity for self-organization? We need to learn and quick. Because it is when millions move — then and only then — that we will unleash the enormous creative energies of the people. They will find the way forward.

The people are telling us where to find them. Can we catch up? Its due time for all organizers to engage, listen, learn from and stand with our new leaders. There is no greater solidarity than this.

 

 

 

Posted in Capitalism, Cooperation, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Empire, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Prefigurative politics, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, unions, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia-gate: The Dead But Undead

Attention all Russia-gaters! Under the cover of pandemic, the US finally dropped charges against those dastardly Russian meme-bombers! 

Just in case you think this is yet another conspiracy led by Trump’s DOJ to hide something, the case against the troll farm fell apart 2 years ago when Mueller was still in charge. It’s been in limbo ever since but as the trial approached the DOJ killed the case. In a sane world, this would be the final nail in its coffin but the Russia-gate zombie is useful — so it rises again.

Russia-gate Dies

In May 2018, Concord Management, one of the indicted firms, pleaded innocent and went to court to clear its name. Concord’s lawyers had the audacity to ask for evidence as part of the normal legal procedure of “discovery.” Discovery means that both parties must exchange all the information and facts relating to the case at hand. Otherwise, legal defense is impossible.

Since we have no extradition treaty with Russia, the troll farmers could have safely stayed in Russia. Apparently, Mueller was betting that would be the case. 

Who would be foolish enough to voluntarily come to the US to stand trial for one of the most notorious crimes of the century? Well, Concord Management did; they called Mueller’s bluff.

In a propaganda campaign filled with one “bombshell,” after another, these events were so underreported that many people never heard of them. Why? Well, this bombshell blew up the Russia-gate narrative. And when reported at all it was spun as yet another Russian attempt to weaponize “secret” materials.

Mueller’s double-speak as to why he suspended the case is identical to what the DOJ’s spin is today. Both Mueller and the DOJ are saying that to release the evidence of a threat to national security is itself a breach of national security — a threat that outweighs the alleged Russian meddling. In other words, informed Americans are more dangerous to the security of the state than Russians. This is completely in keeping with Edward Snowdon’s revelations about massive domestic spying.  As quoted in the Guardian Snowdon said:

“Why are we intercepting more American communications than we’re intercepting Russian communications?”

Like the NSA, both Mueller and the DOJ’s actions treat the American public as if we are their targets. Police actions speak louder than police words

We can only conclude that Mueller never intended to prosecute the only example of Russian influence he could come up with.

 

Russia-gate Rises

No weapon as potent as Russia-gate will be put to rest over the lack of a little thing like evidence.

Who does Russia-gate serve? Who does this cover-up serve? It serves the purposes of the state. The intelligence community — of which Mueller is a leader — has seen itself as the gatekeepers of what the public should know and believe since the 1950s. Russia-gate serves the purpose of this once-hidden force that has now become a powerful and independent actor in American politics.

Recent events reveal the increasingly overt meddling and intervention of the secret police forces in domestic affairs. Here are a few choice examples. 

On the eve of the Nevada primary, the Washington Post tells us that the Russians are helping Sanders. Who says so? The police. How are they helping exactly? The police could not say. 

Ever the faithful servants of the state, the New York Times piled on with more Russia connect the dots smears on Sanders. Bloomberg carried the slander into the debates. Hillary Clinton, one of the architects of Russia-gate, smeared Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian asset, who, in a rare act of political courage, sued Clinton and waged a public counter-attack on Russia-gate and the abuses of the intelligence agencies.  

Soon after, on the eve of Super Tuesday, a joint statement from eight police agencies made yet another fact-free intervention in the election by — you guessed it — warning about election meddling. It seems the intelligence community is more interested in king-making than finding out about the coronavirus. Apparently, subversive thoughts are far more dangerous than pandemics for the security of the state. 

Then comes the Biden endorsement. In what The Washington Post called a “break with tradition” 100 former intelligence agents and other members of the national security state have publicly endorsed Biden. As quoted in the Independent:

“Margaret Henoch, a former CIA officer…agreed that a public endorsement is “absolutely” unheard of for career professionals.”

And leading this unheard-of endorsement is James Clapper. As former Director of National Intelligence, he was boss of all 17 secret police forces. Clapper is an unindicted perjurer that lied to Congress about the massive spying on everyday Americans by the National Security Agency. As reported in the Independent, Clapper repeats the core message of the Biden campaign:

“I just think he would represent if elected, a restoration of normality to the country,” 

Dude knows how to toe the party line and to deceive. Whether its “Normality,” or MAGA any return to the past is simply not in the cards. “Normal” cannot be purchased at any price or with any degree of power. Mother nature will see to that. The pandemic is just a prelude to irreversible climate chaos. Ten years — tick, tick, tick.

Break with Tradition or Abuse of Power?

It is not simply a break with tradition but yet another step in the long history of the abuse of power. The executive branch has grown so large, it has overwhelmed anything even resembling the Constitutional separation of powers or checks and balances. We have the empire to thank for that.

And since 9/11 the power of the intelligence community has grown even greater. The Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act institutionalized police powers to spy on all Americans. In words we could apply to the pandemic crisis, the American Civil Liberties Union states:

“In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks the FBI sought to rid itself of these legal restraints and expand its investigative and intelligence collection capabilities. Acting during a period of fear and uncertainty, Congress, the White House, and the attorney general gave the FBI enhanced investigative and surveillance authorities…Other powers the FBI simply assumed for itself, often secretly, and at times in direct violation of existing laws.

Who and what benefits from Russia-gate? The corporate state and its need to destroy what little remains of our human rights.

Russia-Gate and Movement Strategy

Russia-gate works to distract us from our own problems; divide the progressive movement and set strict limits on dissent. Even Sanders pays tribute to the very weapons used against him by repeating the Russia-gate mantra. For a campaign so focused on completing the mission of the first New Deal, it is a self-inflicted wound. The first New Deal remains unfinished precisely because of Russia-gates’ predecessors: the Cold War and McCarthyism.

The most effective assault on the New Deal was aimed directly at the working class. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which even the Cold Warrior President Truman called the “slave-labor act”) purged the socialists and communists leading 18 CIO unions, banned key tactics and strategies and promoted “right to work” laws.

In the larger context, Taft-Hartley increased the power and rights of management while limiting all forms of workplace and economic democracy. Taft-Hartley was passed despite Truman’s veto by a powerful coalition of Democrats and Republicans. It’s the last major labor law “reform” this country has seen. 

The second New Deal will not be born if we swallow the same poison that killed the first New Deal. 

The collapse of the Russian collusion story also illustrates the total bankruptcy of the choices made by the DNC after 2016. They preferred the high drama and wild accusations of Russia-gate and the New Cold War to healthcare, election reform or positive programs of any kind.

Russia-gate’s aim is to enforce ideological discipline and silence criticism. But without criticism, people failed to learn the lessons of 2016. That failure is clear in the selection of Biden who represents the repetition of the old electoral strategy.

While it’s understandable to cling to a winning strategy it is stupid to cling to a losing one. Even a winning strategy can turn into a losing one if armies fight using the methods of the last war. Winning armies, on the other hand, fight the war they are actually in. And that requires a clear-eyed assessment of the conditions we currently face. 

The war we are actually in will increasingly demand the creation of mass movements, coalitions of all kinds, local communal efforts, mutual aid networks, organizing projects and third parties especially now after the frontal assault on the Democrats and the Presidency seems blocked.

We face uncertainty, risk, and danger. But whatever the outcomes of this unpredictable pandemic and the chaotic, rigged Democratic primary may be — and even if Sanders can defeat the DNC and Trump both — any progressive political agenda will be in jeopardy without massive outside pressure. In any case, we need to outflank the ruling class with a mighty army of activists coordinated with but outside of the electoral arena.

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Electoral Strategy for 2016, Empire, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Red Scare, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, unions, War, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Inside is Connected to the Outside: The Inside/Outside Strategy Revisited

 

The Inside/Outside Strategy (IOS) claims we need to work both inside and outside the dominant order to win. Most critiques of IOS correctly point to the shortcomings and dangers of working within the system. But, this weakness is also a reflection of the lack of powerful outside movements to recruit and discipline inside actors. If the outside isn’t working the inside isn’t working either. That said, far too many hopes, dreams, and dollars have been invested in inside work — elections in particular.

Working inside does not mean climbing the career ladder, joining some political machine, or aiming no higher than mere reform. Inside work, done well, means identifying the conflicts and divisions within the power structure and pushing on them. It means intensifying the struggle, working around obstacles and organizing outside the centers of power. Inside work does not have to mean giving up on revolutionary change. It should mean just the opposite.

But one part of the concrete conditions we cannot ignore is the reality that different people and tendencies will, in fact, work different angles. Some might focus either too far inside or too far outside the existing order for our tastes but we should aim toward greater synergy and coordination between the two. The trick is to learn to keep one foot in each world. Walk the razor’s edge.

For those critical of working within the Democratic Party, for example, our task is to build up our capacity for mass movements, local communal projects, and third parties. Organizing projects are far more important than winning the debate about where to concentrate forces.

 

“Inside” the Academic Labor Movement

The first front –the struggle for adjunct rights and against the two-tiered labor system — was the most important. When I started in 1998, the adjunct movement was coming into its own. I had a movement I could relate to, advocate for and help to organize. Without that outside force, there would have been nothing and no ground for an insider like me to stand on.

The adjunct faculty had been — and still are — dispossessed: unions rarely represent them well and often comply with workplace rules that actually hurt them. Adjuncts work for poverty wages, lack health care and are always fifteen minutes away from total humiliation. Sometimes students are their only true allies.

The second front was confronting management. Higher education managers adopt the ways and means of the corporation. Their arrogance and cruelty are so vicious it’s hard to make sense of.

Management understands what union officials usually don’t; the adjuncts are a crucial source of cheap labor and a wedge to weaken the entire workforce. To the bosses, adjuncts are a class enemy to which they will give no quarter. University management — liberals all — led the race-to-the-bottom replacing good jobs with bad, transferring wealth to the top and saddling generations of students with bad debts and dismal futures.

The last and most challenging front was dealing with conservative union officials that represented a small, influential, but deeply misguided segment of the tenured faculty. With some very notable and very honorable exceptions many of the official types, both elected leaders (many union elections are uncontested) and staff, avoided the issues or dragged their feet — a few were outright sellouts.

Very few union leaders play an effective inside role because they want to control the more radical rank and file rather than leverage their power. Instead, the savvy inside leader tells the boss: “I cannot control these people so if you don’t want a strike you better start throwing concessions our way.” But since control over members is tied to their own power most union officials squander rank and file pressure.

As the percentage of hires off the tenure-line grew year after year — replacing the secure with the vulnerable — a cultural shift eased the faculty’s surrender to the new order. The tenured faculty were all too eager to turn tenure from a right designed to defend academic freedom into a privilege rewarding hard work, intellectual prowess and merit.

What is “merit” other than the morality of the so-called “free market?” And, it has a powerful appeal. Who doesn’t want a merit badge? Why do you think so many academic radicals still believe that the free-market is a description of reality? Once privilege and merit replaced workplace rights the tenured faculty behaved much as other privileged groups do when tempted by the comforts of merit and the delusions of class collaboration.

Three Fronts in a War of Maneuver

Now, don’t take this analogy too far, but back when unions had real power they did not just fight scabs on the picket line. They sent their very best organizers into the shop to talk with and educate the strikebreakers, who were, after all, just workers in desperate need of a decent wage and class consciousness.

Whether its labor unions or the Democratic Party, don’t go “inside” unless you are ready to fight on three fronts and deal with the intense contradictions that struggle requires. Keep the shifting relationships between inside and outside foremost in your mind. If the connections weaken or break, you weaken or break.

Should people work inside or outside?  A good organizer usually encourages people to follow their own political instincts. When moved by the courage of their own convictions, people are more likely to do something — anything — and that activism will always be the best teacher.

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Green Party, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Prefigurative politics, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Inside/Outside Strategy Revisited

What is Strategy?

Strategy is a plan — a proposed course of action. Strategy demands the analysis of current conditions and statements of desired goals. But, the primary focus of strategy is “how.”  How do we work the transition between what is and what ought to be?

An effective strategy proposes how existing consciousness, resources, and capacities can achieve a range of political ends. Strategy tries to answer the hardest questions of all: what to do next and how to do it? While strategic thinking often relies on one political theory or other it is not the same exact thing as theory — its nothing as orderly or elegant as that.

Inside/Outside Strategy (IOS) is an approach to organizing and movement building that emphasizes learning from and coordination with resistance movements that have political positions you do not completely agree with. IOS is an inclusive rather than an exclusive approach. A “both/and” attitude can help us resolve the static binaries and false choices that divide us and waste our energies. IOS is an alternative to the endless arguments and fragmentation that characterize the conventional left-wing pursuit of the “correct line.” IOS is particularly useful in organizing mass movements, coalitions, big-tent political parties, and revolutions.

Effective organizations regularly use a strategic planning process. While there are variations all include an assessment of the various forces in play; yourself, allies and adversaries; a shortlist of goals; the selection of tactics and demands; and most crucially — matching the tactics and tasks to the organizational resources already in hand. In the spirit of experimentation, the results must be evaluated, criticized and the plan revised. But always, we start from where we are — not where we’d like to be or hope to be.

Strategy is permanently provisional. Strategy is a work in progress, an unending discussion open to revision based on practice and the constantly shifting political context. Strategy does not provide certainty but is a guide to action. But the sad fact remains that much activism is simply reactive or willfully avoids strategic work.

The IOS Remains A Coherent Strategic Framework For An Incoherent World

In 2014, when I started writing about IOS, I was hard-pressed to find good sources and examples — the discussion was just getting underway. A lot has changed since then. IOS has become a topic of discussion among strategy-minded activists. 

IOS reaches its greatest potential as an overall strategy for social transformation.  It can be applied to a wide variety of situations and movements. Still, most discussions of IOS focus narrowly on the relationships between social movements or organizing on the one hand and electoral work on the other. 

IOS emphasizes experimentation in practice rather than doctrinal rigor or ideological clarity as a way of rebalancing a movement drunk on polemics and the hangover of analysis paralysis. IOS gives priority to engagement with the millions rather than debates between or within organizations.

Personal experience is the best teacher by far and that is why job #1 is to encourage people to take action. Real change becomes possible when millions act on the stage of history and not before. And when the millions move they will burst every comfortable category the “left” prizes so dearly. Change will not be orderly.

The mixed reaction of the US and French left to the Yellow Vests is just one example of our inability to deal with the contradictions unfolding before us. It reminds me of Lenin’s observations of the 1916 Irish Revolution.

“To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression…against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will he a social revolution!

Lenin continues:

Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.

The socialist revolution…cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible….”

 

Let’s start working on the world as we find it not as we wish it to be.[1] That in no way means we accept the world the way it is. But, it does mean we are working toward a strategy that is far more effective than moral outrage or ideological precision.

It’s not that raising consciousness is a waste of time — it is vitally important. We need to bring the empire into view first and foremost because that is where the crisis cooks the hottest. Yes, we need the ideological struggle but tempered and trained by the complicated political context we find ourselves in. And, there is nothing more full of contradictions than revolution — nothing.

Deal with that or we deal ourselves a losing hand.

 

  1. While the concept of “working with the world the way we find it,” is most often associated with Saul Alinsky it is a really just a practical application of the most useful insight Marx and Engels ever offered: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

 

Posted in American Culture, American Exceptionalism, Capitalism, Cooperation, Corporate Power, History, Labor Movement, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Strategy, union organzing, unions, White Privilege, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement And One Losing Way

Q. What cloaks the empire and turns a mighty movement into a mirage? 

A. Narrow partisan politics.

When anti-war activism plays second-fiddle to “follow the leader” the chosen champion and the opposing villian loom so large that they become the main focus of attention obscuring the empire and dumbing the movement down.

But, build independent peace organizations — of any kind for any project — and we will put the movement on a firm foundation. If history is a guide, the most effective and committed voices for peace will come from an independent position largely outside of electoral activity. Applying stronger “outside” pressure on “inside” politicians and parties is the best recipe.

As Ajamu Baraka details in Black Agenda Report, anti-war activism driven by partisan loyalty is weak and limited. Partisan activism substitutes loyalty to a party for loyalty to our class interests and our political or environmental values — all of which demand peace and dismantling of empire. This is as true for the anti-interventionist conservatives that followed Trump to war as it is for the Democrats that only oppose Republican-led aggression.

Here is the essential history. The 2003 global demonstrations before the Gulf War were the largest peace demonstrations ever. But the size of the movement masked weakness: millions of those protesters lacked a truly political or anti-imperial opposition to war. The moderate tone of the protests failed to deliver either sustained disruption or systemic analysis. Going from weakness to weakness, the inability of even gigantic demonstrations to stop war further discouraged many. And, far too many protested only the outrages of Bush — a Republican President.

Obama, on the other hand, extended Bush’s wars and relied on drones, mercenaries and  “moderate rebels” to lower US casualties and hide the war from the public. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize and made everything seem cool again –including war. As the partisan protesters dropped out — comfortable with a Democrat in the White House — the real anti-war movement struggled just to survive.

Once again hopes ride high that politicians will save us but an anti-war movement with eyes on the prize must avoid a narrow partisan approach.

To state the obvious: the empire is not a mere policy choice of particular politicians or parties. Rather, it is a system of alliances and military bases that enforce a global order. The current US empire is an interlocking structure that merges the corporation and the state  —  the Military-Industrial-Complex being the prototype of that merger. Since WWII both Democrats and Republicans have supported the empire with few exceptions.

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Even still, it’s kind of amazing that the leading Democrats — in the middle of impeachment proceedings — supported the 2020 NDAA giving Trump a green light for war. Huge war budgets, a new Space Force, the elimination of all restrictions on the power of presidential wars and the use of force against Iran and Venezuela handed Trump the keys.

The hawks in control of the Democratic Party must be taken to task. Look here to see who voted for the NDAA in the Senate, who voted against it and who did not vote at all.

This shallow partisan stance will not lead us to anti-imperialism but we can counter with messages that emphasize the cultural and systematic nature of war and empire. The deep culture of war is hate and fear of the “other” contrasted to our own exceptional innocent white moralityWhether you go around stirring up the hate and fear of immigrants, or women, or Blacks — or Iranians, Muslims, Russians, or Chinese — you are stirring the imperial pot.

If we are only against hate and fear when the Republicans do it we are not against war.

May the Sanders and Gabbard campaigns turn us away from war and toward love and compassion. But, this empire has deep roots far beyond the reach of electoral activity. Show me a single example in world history of an empire dismantled in an orderly fashion by an election.

 

What Are Our “Units of Power?”

Let’s help people make the transition beyond the pro-war, pro-corporate consensus that dominates US politics. That transition will be primarily based on personal experience in a poly-centered movement large enough, diverse enough and audacious enough to disrupt the existing order.

If there is a clear formula for scaling up from the hopeful but small movements of today to more massive movements  — I do not know what it is. But for starters, it cannot hurt to connect empire abroad with empire at home,  anti-austerity efforts with opposition to the poverty draft, and the peace movement with the environmental movement. That’s big synergy for sure.

But synergy needs structure. Pick any project you like, of course, but build organizations to seed a larger movement and to tide us over between dramatic moments of protest.

“Recognizing that no army can mobilize and demobilize and remain a fighting unit, we will have to build far-flung workmanlike and experienced organizations.”

“Our most powerful nonviolent weapon is, as would be expected, also our most demanding, that is organization. To produce change people must be organized to work together in units of power” — Martin Luther King

 

There is widespread anti-war sentiment but without “units of power,” these attitudes will not become a mass movement.

The empire is a giant machine cranking out racism, misogyny, poverty and climate chaos. War is coming for your children and your planet. Make the connection between war and your community.

Units of power are best built along the paths to anti-imperialism. The Embassy Protectors;  Women’s March on the Pentagon; the Black Alliance for Peace;  National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth; GI Rights Hotline;  US Labor Against the War; Code Pink and the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign are a few prime examples of how to connect communities to the peace movement.

Digital warriors can get in the loop with Americans for Peace and Human Rights, Berners Against Militarism, Tulsi Gabbard Peace Movement and Stop the War Machine.

Or maybe best of all go totally local. Local chapters of Veterans for Peace are working hard as are community-based groups like St. Pete for Peace, Chelsea Uniting Against the War, NJ Hands Off Venezuala or No F-35 Fighter Jets in Madison.

Sporadic waves of protest, party politics, and appeals to morality will not be enough to reach millions of people. It’s our job — if we truly oppose wars — to build units of power and prove that war and empire are against the economic and political interests of the vast majority of the American people.

Our narrative: the empire is the weapon of the 1%; the engine of austerity; the enforcer of hate and hierarchy; the cause of climate change and the enemy of freedom. Our countermove: organize the unorganized.

 

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Empire, Green Party, History, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change, White Supremacy, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bossing Grown Folks Around: The Open Letter to the Greens

Also in Counterpunch

Before a single primary vote has been tallied a number of big-shot progressive Democrats are already calling for the Green Party to stand down in an “open letter.”

Of all the issues we face, why focus so narrowly on marginal election maneuvers? Of all the movements we need to organize, why try to demobilize a dissident political party? Of all the great debates to be had, why spoil a discussion by faithfully repeating the failed DNC narratives of 2016: Elevate Trump, Lesser of Two Evils, Spoiler, and Vote Blue No Matter Who?

Nina Turner captured the failure of 2016 when she said:

“We should have been speaking to people’s hearts and not trying to shame and boss grown folks around.”

How does this shaming and bossing around work?

First and foremost the letter is only convincing if you accept the existing electoral system as permanent. A far better politics targets the rigged system itself as a starting point for reform. The open letter collapses in the face of a simple reform like Rank Choice Voting.

The strongest three arguments of the open letter are Trump, Trump, Trump. As in 2016, Trump is cast as the avatar of all evil but that role play masks the deep systematic evils of empire. Politics is not a morality play or a Marvel movie filled with superheroes and archvillains. Politics is a power struggle and in that struggle, all voices of real opposition and resistance are necessary — including the Green Party.

As a practical political matter, elevating Trump is designed to rally the party faithful– otherwise its a dud. The DNC elevated Trump in 2016 — failed. The DNC elevated Trump in Russia-Gate — failed. The DNC elevated Trump in impeachment — failed again. Hanging on to a winning strategy is understandable, hanging on to a losing one is not.

If we do not understand the institutional nature of power we will never overcome Trump or the corporate empire he leads. The corporate wing of the Democratic party and the rigged electoral system are part of the problem — not part of the solution. Elevating Trump again cannot hide that.

The real threat to Sanders and Gabbard comes from the DNC itself which will try to protect its own power — even at the cost of nominating lose/lose candidates like Warren or Biden. We lose in the short run if Trump prevails and we lose in the long run if they “win” because corporate politicians refuse to deal with the political crisis that produced Trump.

Again it’s a practical political matter. Since the Reagan revolution realigned elections so-called centrists Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and Hillary Clinton were all losers. Only Bill Clinton wins as a centrist and his main accomplishments achieved longstanding Republican policy objectives. Obama proved himself centrist but won because he ran as an agent of change. The open letter forgets all this: centrists are losers.

Thanks to the war machine and corporate drive for unlimited profit we are 10 years from irreversible climate chaos. There is nothing about Clinton (or the current DNC) to suggest that they would’ve acted in a decisive way had Clinton won. The DNC disarmed its own Green New Deal Committee for starters.

The DNC continues to attack Trump from the right by pushing the New Cold War, the New McCarthyism, the Space Force, and the New Arms Race. Nothing like amping up the existential threats of nuclear war, world war and climate chaos to knock the “lesser” out of the lesser of two evils. And the history is clear: both major parties have been managers of empire and corporate power long before Trump came along.

The timing of the open letter is just so revealing. Since there is no nominee they are calling on us to support anyone that gets it. Even billionaires who buy their way in? Since their arguments do not depend on Sanders or Gabbard winning the nomination this is a preemptive strike pushing us to “vote blue no matter who.” They counsel surrender just as the electoral battle is beginning.

The open letter holds back from promoting Sanders or Gabbard because then the co-signers would have to take aim at the DNC instead of just repeating the DNC’s narratives.

For at least fifty years lesser of two evils voting has been the primary strategy of radical voters. Did it work? We have been conned into giving up our right to be represented by candidates and parties that actually stand for our class interests and political values. 50 years of surrender has enabled both major parties to run hard to the right. When we give up on democracy we get the likes of Clinton and Trump — and in 2016 that meant we got Trump.

 

Predictably, the open letter falls back on “the spoiler.” They talk about vote counts in swing states to give their worn-out arguments the weight of math — but it is not math by a mile. Major elections are complex equations with at least 20 or 30 variables determining the outcome. The spoiler fallacy isolates a single variable — third party votes — and ignores the rest. That won’t get you passed high school algebra, but it will earn you high marks in the arts of scapegoating.

It’s not even good arithmetic as they never add or subtract the millions of non-voters because that would undermine the main assumption of the spoiler fallacy — that there is a scarcity of votes. There are millions of votes for anyone with vision and capacity to motivate them.

These lame arguments have failed for decades and will not work now. If the Democrats have a strong anti-austerity, anti-war and Green New Deal program — like the Green Party does — they can win over independents or the 90+ million US voters that stay home.

In effect, the open letter has already given up on Sanders and Gabbard. Instead, they punch down and punch left on the 1.5 million Green voters. Ganging up on the Green Party is not going to win Sanders the nomination.

Sanders and Gabbard supporters, you already know this to be true: these attacks against the Greens have and will be used against you too.

Worse yet, the authors totally dodge their responsibility to stand for democracy and reform the electoral system. Imagine if the DNC had put all its weight into election reform and ending voter suppression instead of Russia-Gate?

Harvard University’s Election Integrity Project (EIP) evaluated the US as the most dysfunctional electoral system among so-called “western democracies?”

As Global Research reports:

According to the EIP, U.S. elections scored lower than Argentina, South Africa, Tunisia, and Rwanda — and strikingly lower than even Brazil. Specifically compared to Western democracies, U.S. elections scored the lowest, slightly worse than the U.K., while Denmark and Finland topped the list.

The Green Party shooting itself it the foot will not make up for the failure to fight for basic democracy. The authors’ lip service to electoral reform means they have given up their right to condemn the Green Party — or anyone else to their left.

Electoral reform as mild as the “top two” primary in California has already produced credible Green campaigns for Congress in districts where no Republicans are on the ballot. Rodolfo Cortez Barrigan is a visionary candidate who got 24% of the vote in 2018 and will do far better in 2020.

Ranked Choice Voting would totally destroy the entire argument of the close-minded “open letter.” In Maine — where the people forced the politicians to accept Ranked Choice Voting — Green, teacher and activist Lisa Savage is running for Senate. People can vote for their interests and build a multi-party system at the same time — with no spoiler or lesser of two evils.

Imagine a system without voter suppression; without the constant meddling of billionaires and corporate media; without the year-long propaganda primary that gives big money and big media enormous power; without gerrymandering; without electoral fraud; without the electoral college or superdelegates — without the stranglehold of the two-party system.

Instead imagine elections with Rank Choice Voting or other forms of proportional representation, multiple parties, universal registration, automatic recounts, easy ballot access for dissenting parties, paper ballots, public funding only, or real debates. Imagine that.

But alas, the authors of the open letter appear more interested in supporting the establishment and bossing people around than reforming the system.

 

 

 

Posted in Capitalism, Climate Change, electoral strategy, Empire, Green Party, History, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Red Scare, revolutionary strategy, War creates Climate Change, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ten Best Messages for Waging Peace

 

Also in Counterpunch.

The rapid response to US war moves against Iran has been an exciting start toward rebuilding the anti-war movement we so desperately need. Thousands took to the streets in more than 80 cities. It’s a great beginning. But, if we want a movement of millions we are going to have to reach everyday people outside of the existing movement, outside of partisan politics and outside of strictly moral appeals.  

We start by waging peace because the anti-war movement is the main path to anti-imperialist action — or so the history of the Vietnam Era would suggest. If we want to grow from a radical movement of thousands to a disruptive movement of millions our job is to help people discover their own economic and political interests for opposing war and empire. In other words, we have to help people see war not simply as a morality play, or electoral politics, or as a separate “foreign policy” issue but as a power struggle — their struggle.

Ten anti-war messages in no special order:

  1. “We should never have been there in the first place.” By the end of the Vietnam War, this straightforward idea was popular anti-imperialism and it challenged the US role as cops of the world. It was stock wisdom among millions of everyday anti-war Americans. We should have never been in the Middle East, or anywhere else, in the first place.
  2. Empire abroad means empire at home. War and empire do not defend democracy but destroys it. It was the empire that undermined what little remained of representative democracy once the Executive Branch took over all war-making powers and everyone else fell into line. When the Military-Industrial-Complex and the secret police became major players in the government and media, democracy gave up its last ghost. Proof? We have not had a constitutional declaration of war since WWII. If the highest law of the land is routinely violated for 70 years — so much for the rule of law.  
  3. Stop the Poverty Draft! The lack of decent wages, universal health care, and free higher education are the main recruiters for the poverty draft. The 1.2 trillion we spend annually for war enforces austerity at home by diverting funds and resources. Only the 1% get rich on war. The war machine thrives on and creates poverty.
  4. Hate and fear of the “other” is the culture of war. Hate and violence abroad and the culture of hate and violence at home exist in a vicious feedback loop. It’s not a coincidence that the hate demanded by the wars inflicted upon black and brown people abroad find a direct domestic parallel in the militarized penal system aimed at black, brown and poor and the attacks on immigrants of color.
  5. And make no mistakes, its war that drives climate change. Not only is the military the largest consumer of fossil fuels, its the enforcer of an oil empire. War captures resources and forces countries to submit to a global regime where the US dollar is the only acceptable currency for trading fossil fuels. Stand outside of the oil empire –refuse to pay imperial tribute —  and its regime change time for you.  
  6. Defend democracy and national sovereignty. Not only does the US routinely violate the national sovereignty of other countries but also attack legally elected governments. This is not debatable but plain fact — know the history.
  7. “We are sick of being lied to.” We have decades of proof that the war-makers lie — the Afghanistan Papers being the most recent. Every claim made by every political official should be judged in that light. The public record is clear — war is based on lies and deception. Remember: “In War Truth is the First Casualty.”
  8. Listen to anti-war soldiers and veterans. The greatest challenge to war is anti-war soldiers and veterans because they completely upset the empire’s narratives and are the most effective of all protestors. The peace movement from within the military’s ranks is a bridge between some hard-won, down and dirty knowledge about war and millions of people who do not currently define themselves as anti-war.  Support About Face, Vets for Peace and Veteran’s Power.  
  9. Empires rise and empires fall — without exception. American Exceptionalism has conditioned us to see the US as a moral force outside of history. Exceptionalism is a master narrative of war that blinds us to the dangers of an empire in decline. The liberal aspects of Exceptionalism are the hardest to see but they encourage us to understand war as a morality play with the US acting as a force for good in the world.  
  10. Imperial wars are unwinnable wars. Eighteen years in Afghanistan and over 25 years of on-again-off-again war with Iraq prove that these wars are unwinnable. Unwinnable wars are just permanent military occupations — the hallmark of empire. Sooner or later the facts become obvious to the people under US control and they want their countries back.

What should be our most important anti-war narratives? Let’s start out right with the goal of bringing the US empire into view as a target for political action. We need stories that help reveal to millions of people the true nature of empire. We need stories that can help us organize actual constraints on the war machine. We need stories that help us to find the beginnings of freedom in the end of empire. 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, American Exceptionalism, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, Empire, History, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Empire Is Running Out of War Stories. Or is it? Will American Exceptionalism Rise Again?

The First American War Stories Are Still With US

American Exceptionalism remains one of the innermost ideas shaping our national identity and still lies behind all of the war stories used to justify US foreign policy. Exceptionalism has been a part of American culture since the very first European settlers landed. At its core, exceptionalism places America outside of history into a category of its own. For example, a historical view of empire is that all empires rise and fall and the US will be no different. An exceptionalist view of the US empire is: “empire what empire? We’re simply defending democracy.” The initial “escape” from history followed two interrelated tracks: one was the religious radicalism of the Puritans, the other was the frontier experience. Both paths were the warpath.[1]  

The early settlers believed that they were “chosen” — blessed by a special relationship to their God. They viewed their “errand in the wilderness” as a holy mission destined to bring a new and better way of life to the world. God’s judgment on their progress was revealed in the bounty of a harvest or the outcome of a war.  

iu-57American Progress (1872) by John Gast. An allegorical figure representing America’s “civilizing mission” brings light, white settlers and modern technology to the dark west as natives and the bison retreat.

Exceptionalism was not a free-floating idea but was forged into a lasting culture by the frontier wars aimed at the elimination or assimilation of native people and the conquest of land. America’s frontier mythology popularized empire and white settler culture while cloaking their many contradictions.

I know it is hard to believe that the Puritans are still camped out in our minds. The old religious radicalism has taken modern form in the liberal-sounding belief that the US military is a “force for good (read god) in the world.” The double-edged sword of exceptionalism traps us into repeating history: our high moral standards and special role in the world gives us license for wars and aggressions. It is the liberal elements of exceptionalism that are most seductive, most difficult to wrap our heads around, and the most effective at winning our consent to war.

Exceptionalism Wins Our Consent to War

On the one hand, we have the “hard” exceptionalism like that of the Cold War (New and Old) and the War on Terrorism. These war stories revolve around a rigid binary of good and evil. After 9/11, in scores of speeches, George W. Bush repeated the mantra that there were “no gray areas” in the struggle between good and evil.

On the other hand, “soft” exceptionalism takes a slightly different tack by appealing to the liberal in us. Stories of rescue, protection, democracy and humanitarian efforts assure us of our goodness. Obama mastered this narrative by claiming the US had a “duty to protect” the weak and vulnerable in places like Libya.

These two strains of war stories are the narrative one-two punch, winning our consent to war and empire.

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.

The Myth of “Nation-Building” Meets the American War in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, and the resistance to it, profoundly challenged all existing war stories but especially the idea of “nation-building.” The idea that the US could create a new democratic nation — South Vietnam — was an utter illusion that no amount of fire-power could overcome. In truth, the US selected a series of petty tyrants to rule that could never win the allegiance of the Vietnamese people because they were the transparent puppets of American interests. Following the defeat of US forces, the elites shifted gears. The ruling class learned a lesson that forced them to abandon the liberal veneer of “nation-building.”

At the heart of this disruption was the soldier’s revolt. Thousands of US soldiers and veterans came to oppose the very war they fought in. An anti-war movement inside the military was totally unprecedented in US history. The war-makers have been scrambling to repair the damage ever since.

The Next Generation of War Stories: From “Noble Cause” to “Humanitarian War.” 

Ronald Reagan tried to repair the damaged narratives by recasting the Vietnam War as a “Noble Cause.” The Noble Cause appealed to people hurt and confused by the US defeat,  as well as the unrepentant war-makers, because it attempted to restore the old good vs. evil narrative of exceptionalism. For Regan, America needed to rediscover its original mission as a “city on a hill” — a shining example to the world. Every single President since has repeated that faith.

The Noble Cause narrative was reproduced in numerous bad movies and dubious academic studies that tried to refight the war (and win this time!). Its primary function was to restore exceptionalism in the minds of the American people. While Regan succeeded to a considerable degree — as we can see in the pro-war policy of both corporate parties  — “nation-building” never recovered its power as a military strategy or war story.

The next facade was Clinton’s “humanitarian war.” Humanitarian war attempted to relight the liberal beacon by replacing the unsolvable problems of nation-building with the paternalistic do-gooding of a superior culture and country. In effect, the imperialists recycled the 19th Century war story of “Manifest Destiny” or “White Man’s Burden.” That “burden” was the supposed duty of white people to lift lesser people up to the standards of western civilization — even if that required a lot of killing.

The_White_Man's_Burden_Judge_1899John Bull (Great Britain) and Uncle Sam (U.S.) bear “The White Man’s Burden…by delivering the colored peoples of the world to civilization. (Victor Gillam, Judge magazine, 1 April 1899)

This kind of racist thinking legitimized the US overseas empire at its birth. Maybe it would work again in empires’ old age?

From the “War on Terrorism” to the “Responsibility to Protect.”  

After the shock of 9/11 the narrative shifted again. Bush’s “global war on terrorism” reactivated the good vs. evil framing of the Cold War. The “war on terror” was an incoherent military or political strategy except for its promise of forever wars. Just as the Cold War was a “long twilight struggle” against an elusive but ruthless communist enemy, terrorists might be anywhere and everywhere and do anything. And, like the fight against communism, the war on terrorism would require the US to wage aggressive wars, launch preemptive strikes, use covert activities and dodge both international law and the US Constitution.

9/11 also tapped into deeply-rooted nationalistic and patriotic desires among everyday people to protect and serve their country. The first attack on US soil in modern memory powerfully restored the old exceptionalist binary: when faced with unspeakable evil, the US military became a “force for good in the world.” It’s easy to forget just how potent the combination is and how it led us into the War in Iraq.  According to The Washington Post:

Nearing the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, seven in 10 Americans continue to believe that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks, even though the Bush administration and congressional investigators say they have no evidence of this.

The mythology is so deep that at first the people, soldiers especially, just had to believe there was a good reason to attack Iraq. So we fell back on exceptionalism despite the total absence of evidence. Of course Bush made no attempt to correct this misinformation. The myth served him too well — as did the official propaganda campaign claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

But in due course, some of the faithful became doubters. A peace movement of global proportions took shape. But in the US far too much of what appeared as resistance was driven by narrow partisan opposition to Republicans rather than principled opposition to war and empire.

But fear not war-makers — Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton to the rescue! As they continued Bush’s wars in the Middle East and expanded the war zone to include Libya, Syria and then all of Africa, they sweetened “humanitarian war” with a heaping dose of cool-coated “Responsibility to Protect.” Once again, American goodness and innocence made the medicine go down and our wars raged on.

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Obama restored legitimacy to the empire so effectively that it took years for the illegal, immoral, racist and “unwinnable” wars to reveal themselves to the public. I was told by one of the leaders of About Face: Veterans Against War that they almost had to close shop after Obama was elected because their donor base dried up. Obama’s hope was our dope. Just as the daze was finally lifting, Trump started to take the mask off.

Is The Mask Off?

Today’s we face an empire with the mask half off. Trump’s doctrine — “We are not nation-building again, we are killing terrorists.” — is a revealing take on military trends that began with the first US – Afgan War (1978-1992). US leaders gave up nation-building and opted for failed states and political chaos instead of the strong states that nation-building, or its illusion, required. The US military began to rely on mercenaries and terrorists to replace the American citizen-soldier. The soldier revolt of the Vietnam Era already proved that everyday Americans were an unreliable force to achieve imperial ambitions.

Trump is now waging a naked war for oil. Nothing rips the mask off of the humanitarian justifications better than the actual experience of combat in a war for oil and power — so the war managers tried to reduce combat exposure to a few. And they succeeded. The number of official US troops abroad reached a 60-year low by 2017. Even still a new resistance movement of veterans is gathering steam. Can the mask be put back on? It’s hard to say, because as The Nation reports, Americans from a wide spectrum of political positions are tired of perpetual war.

Can the “Green New Military” Put The Mask Back On? 

The recycled imperial justifications of the past are losing their power: Manifest Destiny, White Mans’ Burden, leader of the free world, nation-building, humanitarian war, war against terrorism, responsibility to protect — what’s next? If only the military could be seen as saviors once again.

A last-ditch effort to postpone the collapse of the liberal versions of war stories might just be the “Green New Military.” Elizabeth Warren’s policy claims, “Our military can help lead the fight in combating climate change.” It’s a wild claim that contradicts all evidence unless she is also calling for an end to regime-change wars, the New Cold War and the scaling down of our foreign bases. Instead, Warren is all about combat readiness. She did not invent this — the Pentagon had already embraced the new rhetoric. Given that the Working Families Party and some influential progressives have already signaled their willingness to accept Warren as a candidate, she might just silence dissent as effectively as Obama once did.

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But, the lie is paper-thin: “There is no such thing as a Green War.” You can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time but you cannot fool mother nature one little bit. War and climate change are deeply connected and ultimately there is no way to hide that.

The New Cold War and More of The Same Old Wars

So far the New Cold War against Russia and China has recycled the anti-communist conspiracy of the old Cold War into the xenophobic conspiracy theory of Russia-gate. Even a trusted tool like Mueller could not make it work as a coherent narrative but no matter — the US did not skip a beat in building up military bases on Russia’s borders.

The media and political attacks on Russia or China or immigrants, or Iran are likely to continue because propagandists cannot activate the exceptionalist code without an evil enemy. Still, it takes more than evil. An effective war story for the US ruling class must project the liberal ideas of helping, protection, saving and the spread of democracy in order to engineer mass consent to war. Hence the need for “Humanitarian War,” “Duty to Protect” or maybe the”Green New Military.”

Let anyone propose a retreat from any battlefield and the “humanitarian” war cry will rally the empire’s pawns and saviors-types. If we take our exceptionalism religiously — and religion it is — then the US empire will never ever pull back from any war at any time. There is always someone for the empire to “protect and save:” from the “Noble Savages” and innocent white settlers of the frontier, to the Vietnamese Catholics, to the women of Afghanistan, to the Kurds of Syria.

We so want to see our wars as a morality play, just as the Puritans did, but the empire is all about power and profit.

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“Politics and War” By MilesLand on DeviantArt

“War is the Continuation of Politics by Other Means.” — Carl von Clausewitz

All the Big Brass study Clausewitz because he is the founder of western military science — but they are so blinded by the dilemmas of empire that they make a mess of his central teaching: War is politics.

None of the war narratives and none of the wars can solve the most important question of politics: governance. Who will govern the colonies? The overwhelming verdict of history is this: colonies cannot be democratically or humanely governed as long as they are colonies. Until the empire retreats its heavy hand will rule in places like Afghanistan.

The empire is reaching the limits of exceptionalism as both war narrative and national mythology. This is why our rulers are forced to desperate measures: perpetual war, occupation, intense propaganda campaigns like Russia-gate, the reliance on mercenaries and terrorists and the abuse and betrayal of their own soldiers.

Just as damning to the war machine is the collapse of conventional ideas about victory and defeat. The US military can no longer “win.” The question of victory is important on a deep cultural level. According to the original mythology, the outcome of wars waged by “the chosen people” are an indication of God’s favor or disfavor. In modern terms, defeat delegitimizes the state. Endless war is no substitute for “victory.”

But it’s not military victory we want. Our victory will be in ending war, dismantling the empire, abolishing the vast militarized penal system and stopping irreparable climate chaos. Our resistance will create a new narrative but it can only be written when millions of people become the authors of their own history.

The empire is slipping into decline and chaos – one way or another. Will we be actors deciding the fate of the American Empire or will it’s collapse dictate our fate? But these wars will, sooner or later, become the graveyard of empire — or else America is truly exceptional and we really are God’s chosen people.

 

1/ Check out these two important recent works that discuss both the history and  contemporary forms of  American Exceptionalism: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich and American Exceptionalism and American Innocence by Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong

 

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Soldiers and Veterans are Anti-War Leaders. Could This Be The Peace Movement of Our Time?

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“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: My own government.”  — Martin Luther King

If you want to stop the wars, challenge the empire and deal with climate crisis then support our anti-war soldiers and veterans. Soldiers and veterans carry special knowledge. Sometimes that knowledge starts with the gut-wrenching realization that they have fought, suffered, killed and died in vain — or worse. It’s hard not to hear the echoes of anti-war Vietnam veterans in the words of today’s war veterans. High-stakes betrayal teaches some mighty hard lessons.

“We were lied to, and… we were betrayed…. This really wasn’t about going after Al-Qaeda. This wasn’t about fulfilling that mission of protecting the American people at all. It was a regime change war that was launched under the guise of national security, under the guise of humanitarianism, and, “Look at all these atrocities that this brutal dictator has done to his own people,” and done really for the benefit of corporate interests and oil.” — Tulsi Gabbard [1]

But always they have seen first-hand the horror and futility of war. What we understand as endless war, occupation and empire they know through personal experience. And that personal experience of America’s wars has forced many of the anti-war leaders to undergo a personal and political transformation — from warriors to peacemakers — from waging war to waging peace.

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This shift is embodied by the leadership of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, (VVAW) About Face: Veterans Against War, Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and Veteran Power. These organizations are the leading edge of a much broader disenchantment with war. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of US veterans do not support the regime-change wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Empire Abroad, Empire at Home

Sharp-sighted, the anti-war vets see militarism everywhere they look.  About Face puts it this way.

We are Post-9/11 service members and veterans organizing to end a foreign policy of permanent war and the use of military weapons, tactics, and values in communities across the country. As people intimately familiar with the inner workings of the world’s largest military, we use our knowledge and experiences to expose the truth about these conflicts overseas and the growing militarization in the United States.

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What happens “over there” happens right here at home to the poor, black and brown. But some of the first casualties are the soldiers and veterans themselves. 

Today’s soldiers and veterans have been treated worse by the US government than any generation of soldiers in well over a century, maybe ever. In an effort to hide war from the public, the war managers put heavy combat duty on approximately 0.5% of the American population. That .5% sees far more combat than soldiers did in WWII, or Vietnam or Korea. So far, 225,000 soldiers have been deployed three times or more and over 28,000 have deployed a soul-crushing five times or more.

The consequences in PTSD, moral injury, suicides and casualties are more than tragic — the empire is eating its own. But, that is what empires do, intentionally or not, and that is also why they collapse. And the enormous burdens veterans carry makes it a real challenge for them to mount resistance to the war machine without a civilian movement to stand beside them. 

And make no mistake about it: the government hides war from us by increasing their reliance on mercenaries and terrorists to do the dirty work. Many quietly accept or even deny our use of “moderate rebels” or soldiers of fortune or that US troops have been brutally sacrificed. That is the price of our “American privilege.” Imperial privilege is one of the most widely internalized if little understood form of privilege — inviting us to go about our days oblivious to what is done in our name. As long as the bombs are not falling on us it’s all cool, right? Except now we know that war and climate change are inextricably linked and militarization abroad leads to militarization at home. The empire has become a threat to our rights, our lives, our planet.

Soldiers and veterans need our help but also have so much to teach us: they know the military and they know how to organize. Their training can teach us the kinds of dedication and discipline we need to build a mass movement with real power to disrupt the war machine. With a little help from their friends, soldiers and veterans can once again be leaders in a new anti-war movement. Here are just a few of the past and present projects of the Veterans for Peace, About Face, and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

  • Drop The MIC Campaign: Raising consciousness about the Military-Industrial Complex and militarism at home.
  • Winter Soldier: More than 200 U.S. veterans and soldiers, as well as Iraqi and Afghani civilians, told of their war experiences. The event was inspired by the VVAW’s Winter Soldier Investigation of 1971.
  • Deported Veterans Advocacy Project: Assistance and support for veterans facing deportation.
  • Veteran Peace Teams: “act as an unarmed, nonviolent presence standing with peaceful protesters, taking a front line if necessary, confronting, documenting, and opposing any and all use of force by police, national guard, regular military, or private contractors against peaceful protesters exercising their right to assemble and seek redress of grievances. Veterans Peace Teams have deployed domestically with the Occupy movement, Standing Rock and Ferguson. Internationally the Veterans Peace Teams have also traveled to Palestine, Okinawa, and Jeju Island, South Korea.”
  • Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops focuses on ending the practice of deploying service members suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
  • VVAW Archive Project. The VVAW is where it all started and they have become our teachers preserving their anti-war legacy.

 

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Gabbard is a Peace Candidate 

The presidential campaign of Tulsi Gabbard shines a national spotlight on what seems to many an anomaly: a two-tour combat veteran is the most articulate and focused opponent of regime-change wars and the new Cold War. Gabbard defies easy categorization and is causing heads to explode — left and right. But the bottom line is that Gabbard’s campaign is calling on soldiers and civilians alike to end the wars that have caused nearly eight million Muslim casualties since the early 1980s.

We will not disrupt the war machine if we cannot disrupt the war narratives. Gabbard is teaching us a powerful truth by her example: it is urgent and honorable for soldiers and veterans to oppose the kind of wars we now fight. In fact, it is their duty — and our duty — to resist. Anti-war warriors are our secret weapon against the machine. No wonder the pro-war forces hate and smear her.

There is evidence that Gabbard will support popular movements. She went to Standing Rock along with many other veterans and visited the rebellion in Puerto Rico. When a group of activists from the Veterans for Peace, Green Party and Poor Peoples Army occupied the Venezuelan embassy, Gabbard called them “Peace Warriors.” Gabbard is the only major party candidate to defend Assange, Snowden and Manning for their courageous resistance — a stance that protects freedom of speech and press for all of us.

Legislation introduced by Gabbard shows that her campaign is addressing the systematic causes of war. Gabbard’s “End Presidential Wars” legislation would reclaim Congress’s constitutional power to declare war and make wars waged by presidential order “high crimes and misdemeanors” — impeachable offenses.

Since 1950 or so the executive branch has overwhelmed all Constitution limits by becoming the “imperial presidency” — command center of the war and spy machine. Congress has surrendered its power to declare war just as we have surrendered our rights. To the best of my knowledge, Gabbard is the first presidential candidate in US history to demand the reduction of executive powers. That is really big news.

Gabbard’s Stop Arming Terrorists Act draws attention to one of the main strategies the US uses to reduce their reliance on the US troops they fear are unreliable. The empire’s capacity to wage war would be severely curtailed if we stopped arming and supporting terrorists, “moderate rebels” and informal militias. Bar the use of mercenaries too and the machine will grind to a halt.

Gabbard’s 2017 “Off Fossil Fuels Act” was described by Food and Water Watch as “the strongest, most ambitious climate and energy legislation ever introduced.” It’s not just that the military is the world’s largest polluter — although that is true enough. The US empire is the headquarters of a global corporate order based, in large part, on fossil fuels. Drain the oil out of the “oil empire” and what is left?

War is climate change and we can only win by struggling against both.

I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves. — Che Guevara

Gabbard is contradictory for sure: that’s actually part of her popular appeal. But most criticism misses the point — no politician or celebrity will save us and the sooner we give up that illusion the better. Since the social movements are far more effective in creating rapid political and cultural change, the real question is: how do we liberate ourselves? How can the Gabbard or Sanders or Gravel campaign help us to build an anti-war movement? No engagement, no find out. But, the 2016 Green Party campaign points us in the right direction.

Ajamu Baraka sets a high standard for how political figures can relate to the peace movement. A veteran himself, Baraka went from being a long-time human rights activist to the Green Party candidate for Vice President in 2016 — returning to the movement as a lead organizer of  The Black Alliance for Peace. This is ideal. Baraka’s seamless (but hardly effortless) transition back and forth between electoral and movement work is a prime example of what the Green Party might become: the electoral wing of the social movements.

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Are we ready to engage anti-war people wherever we find them? If we can look beyond our electoral obsessions or rigid categories and set our sights on organizing and movement building we might see that Sander’s, Gabbard’s, Williamson’s and Gravel’s base of supporters represent what is quite possibly the largest contingent of new anti-war activists in the US. There are many thousands of good people that want to stop climate change and end war. We should make the most of it.

Are we going to keep surrendering ground by failing to reach out to them? Is the peace movement so powerful that we can afford the luxury of turning people away because we don’t like their politics or the candidate they support? We should reflect on this:  

“What blows are you striking against empire? And, what are your connections to systemic murder and oppression? Tell me that while you judge someone who did bad things at some point in their lives but now are needed in a struggle to undo systematic oppression the world over.” Bob Witanek

The new peace movement faces many problems that can only be addressed in the field — through the struggle and risk that is the hallmark of organizing and activism.

Leave ideological comfort zones behind and learn to ride the wild wind.

Soldiers are Workers but Workers are Soldiers Too.

And, if you think we can confront the military without confronting the problems of the working class consider the fact that armies throughout history have relied on the poor. Workers and peasants have always done the bulk of the fighting.[2] Think on these facts:

  • The majority (60% or so) of the military is white but overwhelming working-class.
  • Overall, 15% of DOD active-duty military personnel are women. 56% of women are Hispanic or a racial “minority.”
  • Racial and ethnic groups made up 40% of the Defense Department active-duty military in 2015, up from 25% in 1990.
  • In 2015 blacks made up 17% of the DOD active-duty military – somewhat higher than their share of the U.S. population ages 18 to 44 (13%).
  • In 2015, 12% of all active-duty personnel were Hispanic, three times the share in 1980.
  • Natives serve in the US military in greater proportion to their population than any other group and have for many decades.
  • The Williams Institute estimated in 2010 that 70,000 members of the U.S. military were lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
  • In 2014, the Williams Institute also concluded that about 15,500 transgender Americans currently serve in the armed forces.

Is this the enemy? Can we dismiss them all as brainwashed or hopelessly colonized? Or are these allies in the making? We have the very populations that today’s social movement grew out of inside the military. So much depends on how we engage.

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The working class joins the military for many reasons. At present, the government does not need a formal draft because an “austerity draft” is in full swing. A country without minimum standards for health care, decent wages and higher education is tracking the poor into the military. Austerity is a favorite weapon of corporate power for many reasons.

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Family and community traditions of service are powerful recruiters as well.

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And somewhere in the mix is the belief that the US military is “a force for good in the world.” Can we blame people for believing in American Exceptionalism or other ideas central to dominant culture?[3] Can we blame them for doing as their elders have done?

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And remember many have their first contact with military recruiters while still children. Help stop this horrid child abuse by supporting counter-recruitment efforts.

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Whatever We Do We Cannot Stay At Home

Let’s not slip into what I call “stay at home knowledge,” or what used to be called “analysis paralysis.” A prime example of stay at home knowledge is the widespread belief that because there is no draft that it’s impossible to organize a peace movement. That piece of knowledge leads to retreat and surrender. That is why it’s important to know that there is a draft: it’s a class-based austerity draft that tracks the poor into war. Fight austerity to fight the draft. And remember too that the military resistance during the Vietnam era was often led by people who volunteered — not by reluctant draftees. Same as now.

Our job is to engage — not blame people that have simply grown up in America. Condemnation is easy but it is no way to build the movement.

 

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Remember Standing Rock

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Given an opportunity to stand up for the kind of values and ideals that they really wanted to fight for, a new GI and veteran movement is ready to spring to life. We saw that movement come alive when thousands of veterans supported native leaders at Standing Rock in what was the largest demonstration of radical veterans since the Vietnam era. 

Not only did they stand with water protectors but in a ceremony of political responsibility and spiritual reconciliation offered heartfelt sorrow for our role in attacking native people and stealing their land.

When soldiers revolt their actions have direct consequences on the military’s ability to maintain the war machine. When a working-class peace movement takes shape it will take the shape of soldier and veteran dissent. Reach out to soldiers and veterans, build a peace movement to support them, and when struggles like Standing Rock break out veterans will answer the call.

The question is: will we? 

 

1/. Tulsi Gabbard as quoted by Matt Taibbi in Whose Afraid of Tulsi Gabbard?

2/. For material in the bulleted list see Pew Research.

3/ For more see:  American Exceptionalism and American Innocence by Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong.

Posted in American Culture, Climate Change, Empire, Green Party, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Different​ War Story: The Soldier and Veteran Resistance Against the War in Vietnam

The battle over American war stories began during the peak of the last revolution. Millions of Americans and tens of thousands of veterans and soldiers opposed the war in Vietnam. In the war’s moral outrages, crimes and betrayals, many saw the US empire for the first time.[1] For the last 40 years, the ruling class has been running away from the problems revealed by the Vietnam War.

The war-makers have lots of money and weapons but their stories — and the politics behind them — no longer make sense. The empire is running out of maneuvering room as its war narratives grow weaker and less convincing.

The disruptions caused by the Vietnam Era anti-war movement are part of an unfinished revolution that still begs questions. How can a nation that does not practice democracy — or a government that attacks the Bill of Rights at home — convincingly claim it is “a force for good in the world?” How can a military that drives climate change and guarantees the global interests of bankers and oil companies claim to protect or defend anything at all? How can an empire, as large and militaristic as ours, co-exist with democratic rule at home?

American exceptionalism — the idea that we are a chosen people, inherently good, and outside of the normal constraints and contradictions of history —  is one of the founding ideas of American culture. But, when the empire lurches from crisis to crisis even culture as deeply rooted as exceptionalism can be dragged into consciousness and challenged.

As long-time Vietnam Veterans Against the War leader and former Vets for Peace President Dave Cline once told me, “”Vietnam is where all that history changed.”

The Vietnam Legacy They Do Not Want You To Think About

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US Involvement in South East Asia began as an effort to restore the French and British Empire in Asia. But neither imperial power could weather the storm of WWII or defeat the national liberation struggles that followed.  Soon enough the empire was ours — all ours — and so were the wars. Anti-communism and the Cold War positioned the US as “leader of the free world” and insisted that the Vietnam War was the moral equivalent of WWII. The enchanting idea of “nation-building” cast the war effort as benign, high-minded and helpful. But the Vietnamese victory over US forces and the peace movement broke the spell and momentarily revealed the empire for what it truly was.

What cannot be honestly explained must be hidden. Because of its revolutionary implications — and its contradictory nature — the history of the soldier and veteran anti-war movements have been largely forgotten. It’s way past time to remember.

Since the Vietnam War the media has censored war news by listing it low on their agenda, omitting it altogether, or, today, marginalizing anti-war social media sites. The government stopped the formal draft and reduced their reliance on US troops to a mere .5% of the population making soldiers and veterans and war casualties less visible.

In order to keep the numbers down, the military brass cynically abused and wounded their own soldiers by forcing them into multiple tours with far too much exposure to combat. Those that endured the ordeal had some serious survival issues returning to “normal” life. Over twenty soldiers and veterans commit suicide each day. It’s hard to fudge that data.

The military had to attack its own soldiers to avoid the reemergence of a Vietnam era style anti-war movement. It was then that a massive peace movement — in the context of the civil rights/black power, student and women’s movement — became not just a movement against the war and — for millions of Americans at least– against empire itself.

By the early 1970s, the political heart of this wide-ranging peace movement was soldier and veteran dissent. Their power came from two sources. First was the fact that soldier resistance was a real material constraint on military operations and — second to the bloody sacrifices of the Vietnamese people themselves — was a major factor limiting the military’s ability to wage war.

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Just as important, the soldiers and veterans had the cultural and political credibility to help working-class Americans question and challenge the war and, in some cases, the existing order itself.

“The most common charge leveled against the antiwar movement is that it was composed of cowards and draft dodgers. To have in it people who had served in the military…who were in fact patriots by the prowar folks own definition was a tremendous thing. VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) in 1970 and 1971 was unlike almost anything I’d seen in terms of its impact on the public…We took away more and more of the symbolic and rhetorical tools available to the prowar folks–just gradually squeezed them into a corner…we took away little by little the reasons people had not to listen to the antiwar movement.”[2]

“We took away more and more of the symbolic and rhetorical tools available to the prowar folks.” This is the transformative dynamic at the heart of military resistance which made it both revolutionary, deeply contradictory and hard for people to understand. Ideals like the “citizen-solder” were claimed by the military because they motivated soldiers with high moral appeals. But under the conditions of the period, such ideals were transformed, refashioned and repurposed into a new service ideal that would wage — not war — but peace. They rocked the foundation of military culture not simply by criticizing it or repudiating it — that’s easy — but by transforming it — that’s the hardest thing in the world. Transformation is what revolutions are made of.

The Vietnam legacy reveals the importance of supporting anti-war soldiers and veterans because they have power far beyond their numbers. This argument is not idle speculation. Although I am not a veteran, I was nearly drafted into the Army in 1971-2. It made me rethink my life. Then I got involved as a young activist and organizer in the anti-war and radical movements of the period. Inspired by a few anti-war veterans I knew, I spent a decade researching the soldier and veteran anti-war movement and wrote New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era. 

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Here is the shortest possible summary of a movement that came to speak for half of all soldiers and veterans of the time:

During the American War in Vietnam, soldiers refused to go into combat and resisted commands of all kinds. The lowly foot soldier demanded democracy inside their combat units by insisted on discussing actions rather than simply following orders. They marched in protest and sent tens of thousands of letters to Congress opposing the war. In desperation, they attacked reckless officers — their own officers. An international underground newspaper network spread the word. Thousands resisted the war effort in ways large and small. 

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Massive prison riots of US soldiers in American military jails in Vietnam — like the uprising at Long Binh Jail — disrupted military command. Over 600 cases of combat refusal rose to the level of a court-martial, some involving entire units. US soldiers violently attacked US officers over a thousand times. Urban rebellions at home and the assassination of Martin Luther King had a profound impact pushing black troops toward war resistance.

1*BAZUaLpWf-AAdLq6z2H-JwAfrican American soldiers in Vietnam observe the birthday of late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1971. (Bettmann via Getty Images)

The military brass lost their ability to enforce discipline and wage war. In 1971 Colonel Robert D. Heinl claimed: 

“The morale, discipline, and battle-worthiness of the US armed forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.”

From the bottom up, US troops replaced “search and destroy” missions with “search and avoid” missions. In some areas of Vietnam “search and avoid” became a way of life. A US Army Colonel recalls:

“I had influence over an entire province. I put my men to work helping with the harvest…Once the NVA understood what I was doing they eased up. I am talking to you about a defacto truce you understand. The war stopped in most of the province. It’s the kind of history that doesn’t get recorded. Few people even know it happened and no one will ever admit that it happened.”[3]

Anti-war soldiers were simultaneously on the front lines of war and the front lines of the anti-war movement.[4]

When they came home veterans became the leading protestors. Black veterans joined civil rights groups or revolutionary organizations such as the Black Panthers that connected peace and internationalism with local community service. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) had at least 25,000 members — 80% were combat veterans –and the VVAW became leaders in the anti-war movement in the early 1970’s.

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The VVAW kicked off some of the largest civil disobedience protests against the war. In one of the most stirring moments of the entire peace movement veterans returned their medals on the steps of the US capital. 

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This was the most important working-class peace movement in American history. Since those days there has been an unbroken tradition of opposition to war from service members, veterans and their families. Today the tradition is carried on by the Veterans For Peace, About Face: Veterans Against War, Military Families Speak Out. The VVAW remains the only peace group founded during the Vietnam resistance still in existence today.

Soldier and veteran resistance was a blow against the empire. Can it become one again?

1/ See, New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam War.

2/ Ben Chitty is quoted in, New Winter Soldiers, p.130

3/ Moser, p. 132

4/ See a new collection of essays Waging Peace in Vietnam, Edited by Ron Carver, David Cortright and Barbara Doherty

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Empire, History, Martin Luther King, Masculinity, organizing, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment