We are living in exceedingly dangerous times. A decade ago, few of us expected this turn of events. With the end of the nuclear standoff between the United States and Soviet Union, millions of people felt enormous relief, believing that the nuclear arms race was giving way to a new era of peace.
A liberating and comforting thought at the time, but subsequent events showed it to be wishful thinking.
How did so many get it so wrong?
The end of the Cold War was marked by the collapse of only one – the Soviet Union – of the two “superpowers,” which had dominated world politics for nearly half a century. The other “superpower” – the United States – of course remained, and morphed overnight into the “Big Dog.”
For the first time in a half-century, policy makers in Washington looked across the oceans and saw no single state or even combination of states that could effectively balance its power or deter its actions.
This basic alteration in the structure of power set the stage for a dangerous new turn in the world, but what was of decisive importance in bringing this about was the ascendancy of the most right-wing sections of transnational capital in American political life over the past decade. Had the extreme right wing not grabbed all the main levers of power, culminating with the theft of the White House in 2000, it is extremely doubtful that our government would be pursuing such a dangerous foreign policy.
And since Sept. 11, the “Big Dog” in the White House has turned into a pit bull. Its teeth are bared and the blood of innocents has been spilled – first in Afghanistan and more recently in Iraq. And it’s thirsting for more.
Might doesn’t make right
The grossly lopsided war against Iraq was illegal, unjust, and unnecessary. Had diplomatic means been pursued, no blood would have been spilled; no lives would have been needlessly lost. And we should not give an inch on this point for Bush would like to turn his preemptive strike into a legitimate and universally accepted norm of inter-state relations in this century.
In fact, with the U.S. military coming up empty in their efforts to find weapons of mass destruction, sensible people are asking: Was the war based on a lie? So far it seems as if it was.
New terrain of struggle
The terrain and conditions of the struggle for peace have shifted now. Regrouping among the peace forces is understandably taking place and new tasks are coming to the fore.
Of immediate importance is the struggle against the U.S. occupation. With each passing day, the self-proclaimed liberators are showing themselves as colonizers and empire builders.
Shooting protesters, maneuvering its puppets into positions of political and economic power, handing over multi-billion dollar contracts to corporations in its political orbit, securing control over Iraqi oil, turning temporary military bases into permanent ones, and elbowing out the United Nations in the post war construction process are symptomatic of an occupation that is getting nasty and coercive.
What is more, it tells us that the Bush administration is not going to champion democracy in Iraq. Why would an administration that is so quick to severely restrict democratic rights in our own country do any less in Iraq?
This increasingly volatile situation should compel the American people to say: End the occupation, bring out the troops and bring in the UN, and no reprisals against the democratic forces in Iraq, including the communists.
Another task for the peace movement is to prevent any further U.S. aggression against sovereign states. While threats against Syria have toned down, the most important question isn’t: Will Bush order an attack on another country? Instead, the main questions are: Who will be the next target? When will it happen? And will it “accidentally” coincide with Bush’s election campaign?
It is entirely plausible that the drumbeats of war will sound loudest as we get closer to the November elections next year, especially if the economy continues to weaken.
In any event, Bush’s policy of unending war makes imperative that the congressional bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that prohibits pre-emptive strikes receives the most vigorous support.
It would be naive to suggest that the passage of this bill will be easy. Bush and his team will fight it ferociously. They are well aware that congressional law carries substantially more force than international law and world public opinion in the present scheme of things. Nevertheless this is a winnable struggle. In a recent public opinion poll more than half of the respondents opposed the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes.
Another obvious task is to organize against the mounting costs of war and their negative impact on the people’s needs and U.S. economy. One economist said that the occupation alone could cost $500 billion dollars. And to this you have to add billions more for new weaponry and the stationing of troops in more than a hundred bases around the world.
And when you combine all that with the tax cut of $550 billion you have to conclude that the war abroad has as its domestic counterpart in a war at home. One writer said that Bush administration is trying to rollback the 20th century. And he’s right.
Where does Bush stand on nutritional programs for 10 million children? Against. On constitutional rights – against. On the right to organize into unions – against. On affirmative action – against. On prohibitions to racial profiling – against. On measures to eliminate poverty which is growing among Black children – against. On environmental protections – against. On extending unemployment benefits – against. On protecting pension plans – against. On immigrant rights – against. On abortion rights – against. On universal health care – against. On Medicare and Medicaid – against. On gay and disabled rights – against. On low income housing – against. On aid to our cities and rural communities – against. And on funding public education – against.
Never have we witnessed such a brutal offensive against peace and people’s needs, but growing all people’s unity opens up new avenues to build a majority movement for peace and progress.
Abolition of weapons of mass destruction
Another task of the peace movement is to call for the abolition of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. In the 20th century, the world was lucky to avoid a nuclear war engulfing all of humanity. In this century we may not be so lucky. The Non-Proliferation treaty never intended to institutionalize a two-tier system whereby a few powers possess huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons and the rest either disarm or never acquire them. For disarmament to be a force for peace and stability it has to be enforceable and universal.
For those who say it is unrealistic, we reply that there is no alternative, that the elimination of weapons of mass destruction is necessary for humankind’s survival.
A final task facing peace activists is to connect the struggle for a peaceful world to the defeat of Bush and his right wing Congressional counterparts in the 2004 elections. For peace forces in our country to distance themselves from this struggle would be a fundamental mistake. Instead, they have to bring the issue of peace into every phase of the election process, beginning with the Democratic Party primaries.
Soundly thrashing Bush and the extreme right is the main way – and maybe the only way – to put brakes on the perilous direction in which the world is moving. As I said earlier, there is no counterweight on the global level to the power of U.S. imperialism. In fact, never in human history has there been such lopsidedness in the distribution of power among the major states.
In these circumstances the role of the American people grows exponentially. Never before has the fate of the world rested so heavily on the American people and the outcome of next year’s elections. Not in 1940, not in 1968, not in 1984.
All of this is a tall order for the peace movement. It could easily feel overwhelming. But we should remind ourselves that a movement has been born – worldwide in scope, spontaneous in character, and inclined towards action.
Despite the ebbing of mass protest actions, the mass sentiment that drove those marches hasn’t dissipated. It cuts across nearly every sector of our society, and especially the labor movement and the movements of the racially and nationally oppressed. Even sections of the ruling class – and we should not underestimate the importance of this – are at loggerheads with the Bush doctrine.
Now someone might be thinking: What about the public opinion polls? Bush’s ratings spiked some, but they reflect short-term moods and obscure deeper and contradictory thought patterns among the people. They don’t tell us how enthusiastic and invested people are in Bush’s war policies.
Peace is a deeply felt need among the American people. And it continues to amaze me how this sentiment bubbles to the surface despite the relentless demagoguery, lies and fear mongering, orchestrated by the Bush administration and media.
It provides the grounds on which to win wider sections of the people to struggle against the Bush doctrine, including many who supported the war.
To put it another way, turning people and politicians’ attitude to the Iraq war into a litmus test determining whom we can and can’t coalesce with as millions address new tasks in appreciably different conditions is counterproductive. The peace movement has to give both people and their elected representatives space to move into the peace camp where they belong.
Einstein once said “Imagination is more important than intelligence.” The peace movement needs imagination in three directions. In one direction it has to visualize what the possible consequences and likely scenarios are if the world continues on its present course, including the possibility of nuclear war.
A second direction is to envision what rules, norms, institutions and alterations in the structures of power are necessary to preserve the peace. We are against Bush’s form of global governance, which is heavy on preemption, regime change, an unending arms race, and U.S. hegemony over every region and continent. It is a prescription for war, economic crisis, inequality, denial of democratic rights, terror attacks, more division in the world, and national insecurity.
But what is the alternative? Communists favor socialism – a society that would eliminate the economic and political pressures that generate exploitation, inequality, aggression, terror, and war – while at the same time creating the conditions for deepening democracy and extending the boundaries of human freedom.
But we are also realistic enough to know that socialism isn’t on the people’s agenda at this moment. So what is the people’s alternative to the Bush doctrine? This we have to answer and it will take political imagination.
A final challenge is to construct a mental picture of the class and social forces that have to be assembled in our country in order to reverse the present direction that we are moving in. In our view, it is a broad all people’s coalition at the core of which is labor, racially oppressed peoples and women. But it also extends it reach to every possible social grouping that is negatively affected by Bush’s policies.
Anything less will not have the muscle to out muscle Bush and his transnational corporate backers.
Our country is at a crossroads and we the people have to decide what road our nation takes, knowing full well that it could make all the difference in the world.
The choices are clear:
Will it be preemptive strikes or the non-use of force to settle differences?
Will it be regime change or respect for national sovereignty rights?
Will it be American military superiority or universal disarmament?
Will it be world domination or an equal place in the world community of nations with no special privileges?
Will it be narrowing of the boundaries of freedom and democracy or the expansion of them?
Will it be growing class, racial, and gender inequality or the empowering of the exploited and oppressed in every area of life?
Will it be harboring ill will, even hatred, for our neighbors or a deep belief that that every life is precious in this fragile and interdependent world?
Those of us in this room – and millions in our country and worldwide – have made our choices, but the verdict is still out as to where humanity will go.
But I am convinced that the people will do the right thing.
Sam Webb is the national chairman of the Communist Party USA. The following is excerpted from his speech given at the People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo May Day banquet in New York City. To read the whole text go to www.cpusa.org