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imperialism & war

Reflections on J18: How the peace movement is failing and how it can succeed

The mainline anti-war movement will be setting itself up for its own failure if it distances itself from radical politics and dives headfirst into mainstream culture. This is not a point-by-point critique or plan, but rather a simple conceptual framework. It's also nothing new, but it still hasn't sunk in with enough people, so here goes again. I hope ya like the pictures!
I went to the radical feeder march on January 18. The single speech, short-and-sweet, that preceded the march told me that I was in the right place.

Speaker: "Today we're here because, Yes, we're opposed to Bush's unilateral war on Iraq and, Yes, we're opposed to the racist rounding up of immigrants, and, Yes, we want a just settlement to the war in Palestine -- but we also realize that these things are not bad policies of the government; these things are not even the result of a bad president under the unelected president of the U.S., George W. Bush.

"These things are the result of a bad system.

"These things are the result of a socio-economic system. Call it capitalism, imperialism, whatever you want to call it. I don't think the words are important. What is important is that we are in opposition to this entire socio-economic order, which is at its core racist and exploitive [not only] of the vast majority of people in the so-called third world, but of the vast majority of people in this country, who are getting screwed over by this government and this war effort....

"The priorites of this entire system are wrong and benefit an ecomomic elite at the expense of the rest of us. And we are here to point that out and we are here to say No More. Down with imperialism Down with capitalism!"

And then we were off
"radical" comes from the Latin word for "root" (radix), from which we also get "radish".

To "get radical", then, is simply to get at the root of things.

To be anti-war by being anti-system is radical because the system is indeed at the root of war.

This goes beyond the truism that "all wars are economic".

The Romans (who would've known), said: Radix omnium malorum est cupiditas -- "The root of all evil is greed". ("cupiditas" is often translated as "the love of money". Interesting that we get the word "cupid" -- as in "cupid's arrow" -- from the same word, isn't it?)

To stop war, then, means to end greed.

The best place to start with that is with yourself, of course. For most conscious people on that road, it is an ongoing process. This road -- the path to enlightenment -- is one whose end few humans ever glimpse. Since reaching that end is virtually impossible, it is not even important if you do -- if you "win" or "lose". What's important is that you make your absolute very best effort, and work as hard as you can at all times to stay on that road. There can be no break from it for indulgence or luxury; such things merely feed the cupiditas you need to stop; but then, if you're striving right, it will feel so good you won't want to stray.

A good laugh along the way helps!

My mother saw this picture and said, "I especially like the one of the upside down flag. That says it all." Indeed.

It was surprising to me to hear these words from my mother. She is what many people would consider "mainstream". But she is very unhappy with this president and this war. And, she was not "alienated" by the burning flag; quite the opposite. She picked out that photo as the one she liked "especially".

I think this offers a lesson to the organizers of the main event on Jan. 18, who are definitely concerned about what they refer to as "reaching out" to the mainstream -- an effort that all too often seems to translate into "watering down" the message.

If this anti-war movement continues this strategy it will suffer the same fate as the movements that surfaced during the Gulf War and the Vietnam War. That is, it will fail.

Did the anti-war movement help end Vietnam? Perhaps. Did it end war? No. Did it address -- significantly -- any of the other problems of The System, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, before it withered away with the U.S. withdrawl from Southeast Asia? Some people who were there will tell you that feminism, for example, flowered into a movement in part because of the sexism of the anti-war movement, and the lack of a place in it for women.

To be truly successful, an anti-war movement must take on the root of war -- call it "capitalism", "imperialism", cupiditas, or whatever you want.

The U.S. flag has become a symbol of the whole rotten system that makes war, and torching one is an appropriate symbolic gesture. Symbols work. That is, symbols honestly inspire. Flags are not just cloth, their colors and shapes not just patterns. They represent. And not only concepts but realities.

People respect honesty. Honesty is radical. So is truth. Speak it, and they will listen. Politic and promote and you might get a big crowd for one day, but it won't last, and it won't make a difference.

The struggle against war is primarily a spiritual one. As such, materialism is a barrier.

If the anti-war movement continues to water itself down to the mainstream culture of materialism, then it will fail to attract mainstream people who will stay and work for the long term. The anti-war movement must take the righteous path, and do so openly. Then, and only then, will people from the mainstream come to the movement and swell its ranks. Only then will there be numbers to take on the entire system that makes war; that's because there'll be fewer people supporting the system in the first place.

In the cycle of death and life endless possibilities exist, and there are many paths to the light; there are, however, many barriers too, and currently the mainstream anti-war movement is stuck behind several to many of them. The radicals don't have all the answers of course, but its communities are on the right track in many ways (communal housing, dumpstering, sustainable living). Yet, we are often demonized, made to feel unwelcome, and rejected when we try to cooperate. I'm telling you now, though -- reject radical politics and dive into mainstream materialism at your own peril. You're likely to drown. It's better to get out and stay out. When you express the joy of liberation you feel, others will flock to you. People know they're trapped and they're sick of it. The anti-war movement can either join people in the cage and die in there with them (which is what it's doing now), or stand up bravely outside (even though it's not as safe) and invite everyone to come out too.

This was my favorite sign at the rally. I'll admit that this issue is somewhat of a litmus test for me when I meet people. I can't work with someone who won't believe The System is that bad. Because it is. It is that bad. Actually, it's quite worse.

And the only way to stop it is by getting radical.

same as the old boss 21.Jan.2003 08:52


Good stuff but some if it sounds like another kind of fundamentalism to me. I'm sure it gets you up in the morning. 99% of our citizens need more than well phrased theory to rise. I sometimes feel like there are a group of people who are like Husker Du fans that are upset when Husker Du actually gets radio play because the original fans feel like they were the ones who discovered Husker Du, and how dare the masses appreciate Husker Du in a less pure way. There must be more than one way to live. Let's cast a wide net and not excoriate ourselves for making mistakes and finding our way slowly. (I know. We are impatient! We are Americans and we hate to wait in lines!) If we are against violence in all forms then change will be slow, but when it happens, it will be real and lasting, not the fitful, forced change of aggression, like our leaders wish to impose on the rest of the world. The admirable changes you'd like to see in the world will not happen all at once, they will not happen even in our lifetimes, perhaps. But luckily we know how to plug away and affect change in smaller concrete ways that do lead towards that vision of a just world. No, it's not as satisfying nor glorious and the world continues to suffer all the while, but feeding, housing, and caring for people is more radical than the theories of radicalism themselves.

(Here is where I fail the litmus test, if I haven't already.) And if we obsess on things like "Bush knew about 9-11" we completely lose focus and become just another absurd variety of media consumers.

Very Good Article 21.Jan.2003 10:08

Number 9

And a good response as well. The problems that I see with the original article were pointed out by the first comment. Namely, if radical change is forced upon people, it is easily dismissed. If it is not initially dismissed, the effect is susceptible to backlash. If the methods used to promote radical change are too aggressive, or even too violent, the message is easily dismissed as a different flavor of fundamentalist ideology. Besides, the widespread violence advocating community is greatly outclassed by the US war machine, and is in substantial danger from agent provocateurs, and/or set-up. (I do realize that the story did not advocate violence, just noting that some folks do.)

To the first responder, the foreknowledge of 9-11 IS, and must be a primary focus. Even if you are not convinced of the foreknowledge, the looming questions and the willingness of our representatives to ignore and sidestep these questions, should be enough to cause anyone who is paying attention to wonder. For a good presentation of some of the 9-11 issues, listen to the following audio:


Fooling the American people into committing murder and suicide is a longstanding government tradition. It happened with Pearl Harbor, was planned in Operation Northwoods in the early 60's, and it happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, among others. This tactic MUST be exposed and de-legitimized. These actions are acts of treason and should be used as grounds to impeach, and imprison Bush as a war criminal if proven, and to disband intelligence agencies such as the CIA and the FBI, that perceive themselves as being above the law, and consistently conduct illegal terrorist operations that are paid for with American lives and, more often, the lives of innocent non-Americans.

With the current rate of resource depletion and degradation, I sure as hell hope we are able to realize a MAJOR change in how things are done within my lifetime, because it does not appear likely that the human race will survive much beyond that, if it's not already too late.

Opposition means standing in the way 21.Jan.2003 15:41

I want to do it for real

Well, I like the article, 'cept that it makes radicalism sound too much like a fashion statement, a choice of some symbols (commodities) over others.
To me radicalism means that you actually stand in the way of the destructive system and PHYSICALLY prevent the system from doing it's dirty work. That's the reason the anti-war movement is failing right this second, despite it's admirable size: because for all of our marching and flag-burning and window-breaking even (which at least has a minor economic drain, but is still a largely symbolic action), we have still done nearly nothing to disrupt, block, interrupt, (in other words "stop") the war.

Listen: we now have hundreds of thousands of people getting active against the war and less than a month before all the troops are deployed for the initial invasion. I'll leave it to the reader to put two and two together as to what I'm getting at.

not forcing change 21.Jan.2003 15:44

one of the black hoodies

in response to the two commenters above:

i am not at all in favor of "forcing change" on people, and i did not argue for that in the essay above. what i am talking about is living a good life, outside the prison system that is The System, and attracting other people to liberate themselves from the system too when they see how much better it is outside. this is the opposite of forcing anyone to do anything.

people are not happy with the current system. they feel trapped. they want out. what's needed is folks who will live outside of it as examples. that's one thing i try to do 24/7. it works. when people see how free you are, they start to ask questions, and see that it's not impossible for them. of course i'm not all the way out of the system, but i'm out enough that i'm breathing fresh air most of the time, and it feels great.

i used to live in minneapolis, so the comment about husker du made me chuckle. i know exactly what you're talking about, and i'm not talking about that, either. i'll try to make a metaphor from the example, but it will be awkward. i'm talking about a change in which everyone sees what a great album Zen Arcade is, and goes out and buys it, and all the folks who were already into it are like, Hell Yeah! okay, so that metaphor sucked. i tried. :)

as for the timing or pace of change, i believe we should all stop underestimating life. that means we shouldn't underestimate people and their capacity for change of a radical type. like i said, and like you know, people are unhappy. if the moment is right and the options feel good, they'll bail. who is to say that a mass number of people won't bail at once? not you or me. we don't know. but life is a big enough thing that it is indeed possible and we should not discount it as a possibility.

nor should we underestimate "mainstream" people and water down our message as if they are too stupid to understand it. they're not. i'll use chomsky's example here: looks at what's involved in following Baseball or other professional sports (but especially baseball, with its RBIs, averages, and other statistics). that's a world in which millions of people are able, through a daily injection of info from media, to keep track of a complex set of relationships and array of information to the point that they can talk about it for hours, theorize on it, make fantasy leagues from it, and get all emotional, too. politics are much simpler than Baseball.

so it's a matter of being Honest and being Yourself, and doing so with a growing community of others doing the same thing, and expressing yourselves Publically for all to see. it might not always come across well on TV, but that's why we've got to a) reach the people in front of us, in many different places, not just at rallies, and b) make our own media that expresses the beauty of our revolution honestly. (and that doesn't mean positively all the time. debate is important, and people respect it.)

this is not about forcing ourselves on people. it's not about being resentful that other people have joined up. in the case of jan. 18, those 15-20,000 people had *not* joined up with the radicals (had not purchased "Zen Arcade" to bring that metaphor back) and taken their message and coopted it. no, they were there under different pretenses, set up by the mainstream organizers. those organizers are not united in purpose and many are not interested in tossing out the system that creates war. they just want their own place in that system. as for the people who were there, who knows why and what they got out of it, and whether they'll come to such an event again. you'd have to talk to them to find out. but i for one saw many of the people in the main march finding joy when the radical march, with its different (more lively) energy joined up. i also saw a lot of people having fun with chalk, and i saw some very mainstream people at one of the radical flag burnings, not having a problem with it At All.

so let's keep ourselves open to the possibility that radical change can indeed happen. it IS possible. if you're just saying it's going to take time because you yourself don't want to change that fast, then please do some reflection and change your phrasing. if you're just speaking *about* yourself then just speak *for* yourself.

please note, everyone, that nowhere in my essay did i advocate for violence. to the first commenter, who brought it in, i'd like to say that i resent that you did that. i am advocating for radical -- that is, "root level" -- change, at the systemic level. the process i describe herein is one of "live by example", which is an old concept.

thanks for the comments.

liberate yourselves!

thanks, number 9 21.Jan.2003 15:44

black hoodie, again

thanks for adding the bit about 9/11. the issue really is central. i'm not sure if people can fully understand the evil of the current system if they are unable to accept the possibility that the government did it.

My opinion: Bush knew!


Husker Du rules! 21.Jan.2003 17:13

GRINGO STARS gringo_stars@attbi.com

The article is a good one. There is a difference between fighting the decision to wage each individual war versus fighting the system that makes endless wars of economic expansion inevitable. This is not necessarily a question of fashion or class but is a question of livability and sustainability and morality.

Violence is how the ruling elite obtains, then stays in, power. Violence is how the US givernment rules its people as well as the world. Love and goodwill and nonviolence are actively encouraged by the ruling elite - because they want your activism to be ineffective.

The Indian revolt united by Gandhi was galvanised by periodic outbursts of violence, without which it would never have happened (despite what Hollywood propaganda would have you believe). Without the fraggings that led to soldier revolts in the US Army during the Vietnam War, it might have continued much longer. There is a difference between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. I believe it's ok to do violence someone if that person is about to kill you. That's not immoral. I consider someone trying to kill you for reasons other than self-defense as an immoral act. Self-defense is not immoral. Of course, these are just my personal morality/immorality beliefs, and do not apply to everyone. But thats my two cents.

9-11 was an inside job:

Gandhi and the politics of nonviolence:

Vietnam; the soldiers' revolt:

Pacifism & War:

Well.... 22.Jan.2003 08:14


"which is at its core racist and exploitive [not only] of the vast majority of people in the so-called third world, but of the vast majority of people in this country, who are getting screwed over by this government and this war effort...."

And hey, look at your march! A bunch of white people! I think I spotted one non-white person in all of those pictures...

Pot, kettle, black.

white people think protests actually work? 22.Jan.2003 10:12

GRINGO STARS gringo_stars@attbi.com

White people think in a colonialist type of way concerning activism. As if they know best how to solve problems. How duped can you get? Black people know the pwoer of violence - they have suffered greatly udner it ever since they were enslaved. They know that riots, not meek marches, is what got them their civil rights. People only negotiate you with you AS AN EQUAL if they think you can do as much harm to them as they can do to you. The many race riots of the US's history are proof that violence is MANDATORY for real social change. Marching around with signs does nothing and they know it. Black people aren't indoctrinated to think that the system is fair and will work for you and only needs to be reminded to be just - they know that power is only used for justice in FAIRY TALES and in the CORPORATE MEDIA. Black people aren't so duped that they think your stupid march is going to do a damn thing because they have a better, more mature understanding of how power REALLY works. Marching around with signs is like begging for peace - it is acting from a position of powerlessness. Black people think of the government as the problem, and they are right.

Listen to the lyrics written by Joe Strummer of The Clash and contemplate them:

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Black people gotta lot a problems
But they don't mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick

And everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
And nobody wants
To go to jail!

All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it

Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?