We need a new kind of peace movement

June 4, 2010
We need a new kind of peace movement

It is not possible to review the last five years of our work in the antiwar movement in ten minutes. Our collective efforts since 2001 have had a huge impact in strengthening the role of labor and communities of color in coalescing grassroots and national peace coalitions, often through direct representation by members of the Communist Party and Young Communist League (YCL).

The antiwar movement was on a hell of a roll in the past period and figured big in the 2008 elections. So big that an effective bird-dogging effort by peace activists during the New Hampshire primary made GOP Presidential candidate McCain admit that he would support “a hundred years” of occupation in Iraq.

In the past few weeks the Communist Party’s Peace and Solidarity Commission submitted pre-convention discussion contributions and a resolution that pinpoints the priorities for the next steps in our work.

This special report will discuss two points: 1) the need for a new kind of peace movement embedded in the struggles for economic, social and racial justice and nurtured by a proactive Communist Party and YCL and left; and, 2) an assessment of where the Obama administration is at and the tactics needed to have an impact on the administration’s policies.

United States imperialism is in a weakened state: militarily, politically and economically.

US imperialism is weakened by the cumulative effect of two wars, major political shifts domestically and the economic crisis. The Neoconservatives and far-right are frantic because they no longer have an iron-grip hold on the direction of US foreign policy.

There are internal divisions in the Obama administration between “cold warriors” and the representatives of the military industrial complex and those pragmatic realists who see the weakening of the historic imperialist trajectory of the US in the world, politically, economically or militarily.

It is a dangerous as well as an opportune moment for organizing a new kind of peace movement: a militant, grassroots movement not just against this war or that, but against militarism itself.

We need to build a movement that continues to organize for a complete withdrawal of troops and private contractors from Iraq and against the war in Afghanistan.

A new kind of peace movement is needed to cut military spending, close US bases around the world, compel a nuclear weapons convention to eliminate all nuclear weapons and to begin to repair the damage done by US imperialism in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and worldwide.

The antiwar movement is smaller now than during the high tide of the struggle against the war in Iraq. The movement is still in a refining, rebuilding recalibrating phase from the days of mobilizations of hundreds of thousands. But elements of a new peace movement are emerging.

The communists and the left must give strong leadership from grassroots and at the national level to build a movement that fights for a series of reforms that take aim at the systematic nature of wars, military industrial complex and US imperialism.

Demilitarizing the economy, demilitarizing foreign policy is prerequisite for radical reform and socialism. Peace is necessary to meet human needs and sustain life on the planet.

Demilitarizing the economy

Cutting the military budget even by 25 percent as Rep. Barney Frank advocates would be a giant step towards closing the budget deficits and preventing massive local budget cuts. We need to move the money from wars and war planning to our communities!

58 percent of federal discretionary spending is on wars, weapons and war planning. The ever escalating spending on militarism is not sustainable.

Secretary of Defense Gates sees the handwriting on the wall. He recently quoted President Eisenhower on the dangers of the military industrial complex. The “realists” in the military establishment see the crisis in the economy. They are looking for a way to cut spending here and there while maintaining US military hegemony and maximum profits for military industries with a sleight of hand to give the appearance of doing their “fair share” in cutting the deficit.

Without a movement that fights for cutting military spending, ending the occupations and bringing the issue into the 2010 elections, there can be no way to move the money from wars to our communities.

For example, our party is helping to launch groundbreaking initiatives to bring peace, labor, and communities of color together to build the movement for jobs in Chicago. This exciting new idea started as a discussion in the Oak Park club of the Communist Party.

The initiative was launched in the wake of the 2008 elections with a series of forums and discussions and is now united in action under the slogan, “We need a new New Deal.” The movements responded because of the need for united action of the peace movement, labor and social and economic justice movements on urgent issues of the day.

In New York City an economic justice group recently asked a city council woman to introduce a resolution to cut military spending in order to fund the city programs that are on the chopping block. It is not an initiative of the peace movement, but communists in the peace movement are now leading efforts in her district and citywide to bring peace, communities of color, immigrant and faith-based groups together to support a new kind of peace movement.

We need a movement to move the money from wars to our communities. In Congress and at the grassroots, there are several new projects reflecting the reality that militarism is a roadblock to meeting human needs. The door is ajar. The movement either kicks the door open with militant grassroots action to cut the budget or we let it slam closed. We recognize that fighting for reforms paves the way for radical change.

Our party and the YCL must recommit to building a mass peace movement that clarifies tactics, makes the links and ignites grassroots action.

The peace movement and Obama

The tactics to build a new kind of peace movement must be grounded in an accurate estimate of the Obama administration. The peace movement is searching for new tactics that support any small step away from the Neoconservative “endless war” policies while at the same time opposes policies that strengthen militarism. We have to encourage positive steps and criticize negative trends in a productive way.

The Obama administration approaches the many foreign policy flash points created by the Bush Doctrine and the war on terror with the same pragmatic realism the President approaches most things. They recognize that the US position in the world is weakened on every front. They intend to employ a different path to ensure US domination.

The administration’s realism is reflected Obama’s move to quickly set a date certain for troop withdrawals from Iraq. He and others in the ruling class realized that there is no military solution in Iraq, that the war and occupation is destabilizing the region, that the costs are too high, and that the military is overstretched with two wars and depleted reserves.

At the same time an emboldened “cold warrior” military industrial complex buffets the administration’s “pragmatic realism.” Whenever the Obama administration takes a small step in the opposite direction of the Neocon “endless war” first-strike policy they push back big time. On a range of foreign policy issues the still powerful ultra-right and military industrial complex pummels the administration’s small steps resulting in compromises and setbacks. It is a big tactical challenge for the peace movement. How do you build a movement to support small steps and at same time expose dangers of the concessions?

The administration’s approach to nuclear disarmament is the most recent example of the tactical conundrum we face. The recent Nuclear Posture Review, which is issued by every administration in the first month in office to outline their stance on nuclear weapons, was delayed several times, finally issued in April just before the signing of the START treaty with Russia.

Within the administration there was quite a contentious struggle between old “cold warriors” and the military industrial complex on the one hand and the realists (which include almost all of the former Secretaries of State and a majority of Secretaries of Defense who support steps towards the abolition of weapons) on the other. No doubt Obama is the first president personally supportive of nuclear abolition and was the first ever to say the US has a moral responsibility to take steps towards abolition because we are the only country in the world to drop the bomb (though he qualified the statement by saying “probably not in his lifetime”).

Back in the day we use to say, “It’s not the man, it’s the plan!” It’s not about Obama, it is about building a movement that can intervene in the splits among the ruling classes and policy elites.

The START treaty was critiqued by the right because, in Sarah Palin’s words, Obama acted like a “kid in a school yard, being slapped and not fighting back.” At the same time some in the disarmament movement said START’s not enough and the loopholes are so big you could drive a truck through them.

They are both right in a way.

The Obama administration’s steps toward nuclear disarmament are a calculated risk that may backfire. The administration proposed a huge increase in funding for the nuclear weapons laboratories to modernize existing stockpiles in hopes winning agreement for a quick, less contentious Senate ratification of the START Treaty.

Following eight years of the Bush administration’s sabotaging nuclear disarmament, it is a strategic necessity for the US and Russia – who together have the vast majority of all nuclear weapons in the world – to be at the table negotiating again with pledges to continue after this treaty is ratified. Without Russia and the US negotiating, there is no real possibility to deal with proliferation. The START treaty opens the political space for the nuclear abolition movement to continue to press forward and allows the majority of countries around the world who support real steps towards abolition to play their role in the struggle.

Communists and the left must ask, do we side with some in the disarmament movement who are objectively taking the same position as the rightwing: Demanding “No to START?”

Or do we give leadership and help the peace and disarmament movement devise tactics that dramatize the dangers inherent in modernizing nuclear weapons? Do we snipe or do we expose the huge costs as well as how modernizing actually diverts from the administration’s stated goal of abolition of nuclear weapons? Tactics, tactics, tactics!

In order to empower every day people to take action, we must support any step away from the historic imperialist trajectory of US foreign policy be it with Congressional lobbying, at the polls during the 2010 elections or in grassroots action.

There is a good recent example of how important tactics are in building a new kind of peace movement today in Vermont. Community activists and the peace movement there asked a state legislator to introduce a resolution in the Vermont legislature to call on President Obama to launch good faith multilateral negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention, basically to move beyond bilateral treaties and rocky senate ratification struggles. It passed in both houses unanimously. A peace and community coalition used a bold tactic to send a strong message to the administration: The US needs to go beyond START and get the abolition job done.

To paraphrase Sam in his report to the Convention, the real measure of an upsurge is its ability to sustain itself and its expanding reach. Nothing replaces grassroots mobilization and participation. Strong communist leadership is needed to get it going!

In the long term, socialism in the US requires a fundamental change in US foreign policy to end. Imperialism is not a policy; it is capitalism itself at this stage of development. We cannot end the wars, curb the power of the military industrial complex nor eventually end US imperialism without a militant insurgent peace movement that employs nuanced tactics.

Short-term, radical, far-reaching reforms are not possible without demilitarizing the economy. Not achievable. Therefore the struggle for peace and ending militarism are essential elements of today’s class struggle.

Let us commit to what Sam has called “long, persistent work” to build a new kind of peace movement coupled with renewed efforts to increase the Party’s membership and multiply the readers of our online publications. Let’s heed the wisdom of the NYC lottery ad that says, “We’ve got to be in it to win it.”


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