Icing on the Dead Armadillo
A Note to the Historians Against the War Steering Committee
Sorry to be slow on this but other matters intervened. In hopes of flailing that dead armadillo in middle of the road to death some more.....
Caps in the response to a blurb I wrote suggesting that UFPJ is a funnel for the Democrats (it is--indeed per one post it appears that UFPJ activity is snared by the US tax code, maybe more potent than snoops), that exploitation is at the heart of violence and this war (it is), and future wars? Geeze. A suggestion that I am a Camajoite? Yikes.
Has the left really reached the point that it is "ultra-leftist," "sectarian," and arriving with an "agenda," to say, further, that this is imperialism, capital's twin, and that class consciousness is at the heart of the project to overcome the very real promise of perpetual war?
Maybe that is why there really is no antiwar movement that is able to influence national policy in the US.
Let me come at this from another angle.
Historians in HAW are also educators, not just thoughtful writers of good books, but activists in the construction of, not only what people know, but how they come to know it. That interaction is significant. More: all history is not merely a reflection of the past written from a given standpoint in the present, but in at least its method of analysis, it is also a call to action for the future. So, we should wonder: What is the pedagogical project here? What do we want people to learn? And do? Toward what end?
I don't think HAW exists to merely make people more thoughtful. It should be action oriented, and it is. The steering committee should lead HAW, not trail behind the lowest common denominator of what the membership happens to like today.
As we can see from Marv's capitalized passion, and Van's delayed ricochet, how people come to know something addresses substance and affect. Agreed, standing on a box howling, "pacificism is revisionism!" is probably not a good method of instruction (though it did look pretty funny when I saw it done in LA two years ago), but neither is the fear of discussing the workings of capital.
Sectarianism and opportunism are folds in a cloth. One arrives with no people, the other arrives with people who cannot unravel why things are as they are, people looking for someone to tell them what to do. One focuses only on grand strategy, the other only on tactics, Neither has strategy, neither really investigates the terrain, the opposition, nor our own side, neither educates people how to do it---and thus we have the phony antiwar movement today.
Sectarians and opportunists alike have no use for masses of people who can see what is up, and figure out what to do about it, on their own. It is a remarkable success of US education that few people now even believe they can understand and transform the world. It’s also a failure of the left.
What I want people to come to know is that we are all actors in the creation of our own histories, if not our birthrights, that we are responsible for our actions, that nobody is going to save us but us, and in that context we need to recognize that if we wish to reach into a time when people can lead reasonably free, caring, creative, communal lives where truth and beauty arch over personal aggrandizement, then we must recognize that the main barrier to our goals is exploitation in the realm of economics, in knowledge, and in sensuality/aesthetics.
It is not sectarian to say exploitation is wrong. Perhaps the old antiwar movement failed to demonstrate that reality enough, and that is why the present pretense of an antiwar movement is bogged down.
I don't think it is sectarian (nor ultra-left, nor whatever) to say that capitalism, imperialism, and exploitation are at the base of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and the very real promise for perpetual war, though I surely recognize the history of these epithets. Nor do I think it is sectarian (ultra-left, uncomradely, premature, etc) to say that we now witness intense international class struggle and that in every nation the government acts as an executive committee, and weapon, of the rich. Holy cow. Marx was right on that.
How people come to know, and really understand all of that is clearly a big problem as we can see in the wreckage of socialism in the USSR, China, and the rise of caudillo leaders, again, in Latin America--to the cheering of most of the US left.
What is at the heart of electoral work as a means to resolve these problems, and the very real emergence of fascism around the world? The continued search for someone else to think and do for us---like church.
I understand that many people who see themselves on the left, and who have sacrificed for their views, think that people have to go through a series of stages to conclude that capitalism, exploitation, are central to the crises at hand, that people must be put in motion, or information withheld from them, in order to prepare them to hear the harsh news. There is no evidence people learn that way. Tell them.
Others on the left belong to organizations which have large underground sections, preparing for the arrival of fascism. They think these sections are indeed secret and that the underground cadre must conceal their views. Nonsense. The police have been all over these groups for years. The upshot of this thinking, in the immediate sense, is that the police know the secret, while the masses of people do not. Moreover, the long term reality of underground sections is that they form, over time, reactionary splits inside the secretive parties. Those in secret cells sell out. One of our best weapon is openness and given our current circumstances, we do not have time to bury smart people in secrecy.
The alternative to lobbying Democrats or Republicans is direct action, resistance on the job, in communities, in schools, and on military installations—the kind of action that propelled the civil rights and anti-war movements. The hard grinding of organizing should aim at that, not the wink of a politician.
Where should I look in order to define UFPJ, if not at its history? In 2004 the CP and Greens both, by pushing, “Anybody But Bush,” served as funnels for the Democratic Party, as the CP has for decades, even on the local level. Clearly, Green and CP leadership have a lot to do with running UFPJ. And, given its recent meeting, I doubt UFPJ will behave much differently in the coming months.
I made no commitment to support the reactionary policies and anti-marxist outlook of the CP when I signed on to HAW. The CP’s claim on its web site that a call to “vote against Bush on November 2nd,” coupled with a claim that this was not an endorsement for Kerry is predictably disingenuous. The claim that defeating Bush would open the floodgates to “social progress,” is ancient lesser evil work, endorsing evil. It’s class rule, not good guys and bad guys.
The Rouge Forum (www.rougeforum.org) sent experienced activists to the UFPJ conference. The San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice did the same. I play only a small role in SDCPJ. The people from the two groups did not know each other, never met. The people from both those groups who went to the UFPJ conference returned saying they would not go again, not merely because they saw UFPJ as a Democratic Party gambit, but because they saw UFPJ as a good example of sectarianism and opportunism (opportunist in practice, sacrificing the good of the many, our class, for the good of the few, Democratic Party and other electoral elites and UFPJ leaders; and sectarian in form in that a real exchange of ideas and programs was shut down).
SDCPJ people and RF people both participated in what passed for pre-conference strategic planning but, on arrival, they found most of the first day's agenda taken up by Tom Hayden, of the "Progressive Democrats." The rest of the time was spent, they felt, ensuring the prearranged agenda of the conference planners was met. Their ideas were excluded.
So, UFPJ managed to combine opportunism (let's not say Class Struggle) and sectarianism (the convention practice) and wound up with---nothing much. Both most of the SDCPJ and all of the RF people reported, "UFPJ is a funnel for the Democratic Party." Here is a draft report from Tom Suber, arrested at age seventeen at the first anti-draft sit-in, in Ann Arbor, and jailed repeatedly for antiwar/ justice work ever since: http://www.richgibson.com/wheremovement.htm
Apparently, UFPJ leaders rushed on to the World Social Forum, which all seem to report was a lot of fun, but concluded with no plan whatsoever. We cannot do our own things along the lines of our own identity-based groupings and expect to overcome a ruthless, technologically superior opposition with a central command.
Part of coming to know anything is through close personal ties, affect. I have not met most of the people on this list and know most of the people from reading their work, which I have used, again and again, in my classes. I respect the contributions that people on this list made over the years and understand how, for many of us, the passage of time also means we sometimes write, "1984," when we mean, "2004." Mutual respect, it seems to me, needs to recognize that we have all been wrong about important things, that we have all sacrificed in the struggle for justice, and that we all can bring something to creating the kind of analysis that will help fashion a better world. I am aware that I could be wrong.
I can understand why leaders of HAW would want to continue to be part of the UFPJ coalition, if simply to be hopeful and connected, but I see no reason to follow UFPJ leadership, nor fund them.
Meanwhile, I think I will try to organize a “100 Professors Go To Jail Against the War,” demonstration, to continue to disrupt military recruiting and high-stakes exams on campuses, and to work in friendly fashion when I can in HAW. Help appreciated and thanks to those who wrote off-list.
There are many many things HAW members can do, right on the campuses of members. Drive off the recruiters and ROTC. Expose the CIA/intelligence recruiters who are professors on campuses. Attack the racism endemic on campuses in every aspect of campus life like anti-working class high stakes exams. Write readable texts, accessible to early middle schoolers (which is the reading level of most high school students) about Vietnam, about the Paris Commune, the Flint Strike, sds, etc. Messages? The government lies about nearly everything important. It is Their government, not Ours. It’s class rule.
The San Diego Peace and Justice Coalition, which includes the Rouge Forum, Project Yano, Christian’s groups, pacifists, Iraq and Vietnam Vets against the war(s), radicals, revolutionaries, anarchists, Middle Eastern groups, etc. is in the process of strategic planning, a real struggle to find common ground for action. I’d be happy to share notes and materials with people online. Here is one http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~rgibson/strategicplanningSD.htm
Fabulous Reality of the Day: As I wrote this, the mountain near my home in San Diego was ablaze, burning up. It’s the biggest mountain in the city. I can see it out my window. Fire helicopters were dumping water, firefighters in red all over the mountain, and a plane was dumping retardant. Above them flew a prop plane, trailing a huge beer ad. Capitalism thrives on destruction. And I am fun.