Revolutionary Strategy: An Online Textbook

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Toward an Anti-Corporate Strategy for the Peace Movement

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By S.J. D’Arcy (2006)

I. WARS AND ANTI-WAR MOVEMENTS

The first question that we, as anti-war activists, need to ask ourselves is this: what causes wars? Of course, there are long and complicated answers to that question, and answers specific to each individual war. But there is also a short and simple answer, which is quite general. The short and simple answer is that wars are caused by the calculation, on the part of rich and powerful people, that a war policy would offer more benefits and impose fewer costs than would a peace policy.[See end-note 1] The benefits that they expect may include lucrative opportunities for war-profiteering, a convenient pretext to undermine entrenched civil liberties, geo-political advantages in global power politics, electoral gains for a governing party, or a way of enforcing terms of trade more favorable to Western corporations. In each case, the goal is the same: to enhance the wealth and power of the corporate elite and its political representatives.

Something important follows from this. If wars are caused by a cost/benefit calculation by elites, then wars can be stopped by increasing the costs and decreasing the benefits of a war policy. This, then, sets the task of every anti-war movement: to change the context in which elites calculate the advantages and disadvantages of going to war, so that it seems less appealing to them, and more threatening.

But how?

There is little we can do, directly, to stop the war-profiteering, or to affect the terms of trade between Western powers and third world countries, or to shape the geo-political context in which wars unfold. What political resources, then, do we as grassroots activists have access to, that can raise the costs and lower the benefits of war for our society’s elites?

The anti-corporate strategy for the peace movement is intended as an answer to that question.

II. STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES OF THE ANTI-CORPORATE STRATEGY

There are three strategic objectives of the anti-corporate strategy. The first objective is to create a large and growing mass movement of active and vocal opposition to the war, by agitating among workers and students, the poor and the unemployed.  The second objective is to win wider layers of those people to a radical critique of capitalism, or at least of the power of corporations (or the ‘corporate agenda’), as it operates at home and abroad.  And the third objective is to create or intensify divisions within the corporate elite concerning whether the war’s costs to their interests are outweighed by its benefits.

This strategy is based on two assumptions.  The first assumption is that the most powerful sector of our society is the corporate elite, and that therefore the anti-war struggle is ultimately a class struggle: a struggle against a corporate agenda aiming to reap benefits from imperial warfare. The second assumption is that sections of the corporate elite can be led to turn against a war policy if they feel that the opposition to that policy is driving large numbers of workers, students, poor and unemployed people to begin to question, not just the war policy itself, but the corporate power served by that policy.  In short, the strategy flows from the thought that, if opposition to the war can be made to develop into a wider critique of the whole range of policies that serve, not human need but corporate greed, then that opposition can pose a real threat to the corporate elite: a threat great enough to provoke elite defections to the anti-war side.

The corporate elite will never be led to oppose a war on moral grounds, on humanitarian grounds, or by the force of rational arguments. The capacity of activists to influence their decision-making is always indirect: by creating a level of dissent, both wide enough (encompassing masses of people) and deep enough (opposing not just a particular policy, but the whole corporate agenda and the corporate power structure that imposes that agenda), that the corporate elite has grounds to worry that its position of unquestioned privilege and societal ‘hegemony’ or leadership is being placed in jeopardy by the war policy that is fuelling this dissent.

So, the anti-corporate strategy aims, first, to mobilize and politicize masses of workers and students, poor and unemployed people, to speak out and protest against the war.  Second, it seeks to educate and ultimately radicalize those politicizing people by demonstrating to them that the war is rooted in the greed of corporations and the servility of the state in relation to those corporate interests.  And, third, as the movement grows and more people begin to turn against the corporate agenda and develop a willingness to oppose it and demand that governments refuse to serve it, the anti-corporate strategy aims to cause sections of the corporate elite to defect from the pro-war camp, out of fear that their privileges are threatened by the growing and deepening opposition to corporate power being fuelled by anti-war sentiments.

III. TACTICS FAVORED BY THE ANTI-CORPORATE STRATEGY

‘Tactics’ are methods or means by which we pursue strategic objectives. What tactics does the anti-corporate strategy for the peace movement recommend?

The prospects for success of this strategy hinge on being able to build opposition to the war, and the corporate agenda it serves, in a way that tends to grow both wider (drawing in ever more people) and deeper (radicalizing people by leading them to develop a systemic critique of corporate power, imperialism, etc.). This necessitates that two tasks be pursued simultaneously, even though there may often be a tension between them.  On the one hand, there is the task of turning neutrals or supporters of the war policy into opponents of it, expanding the sheer numbers of war opponents, especially active opponents.  On the other hand, there is the task of radicalizing those people, by winning them over to some kind of anti-corporate political project.  The tension arises from the fact that moves toward radicalization within the movement (in pursuit of the second task) tend to narrow the appeal of the movement to neutrals and war supporters, and even to war opponents who are not active participants in the movement.

How can we promote both aims – radicalizing the activists, while drawing the non-activists into oppositional activity – at the same time? Again, there are long and complicated answers, which ultimately vary from individual to individual.  But there is also a simple, general answer.  The simple and general point here is that we need different tactics to appeal to different people, to start where individuals or groups of people are “at” right now, and to help them take the next step in their political development, to draw them into a more active opposition to the war, and help them draw more radical conclusions about the war and its roots in the corporate agenda.

For some people, the best way for them to find an entry-point into the anti-war movement will be attending a political film-showing, organized by anti-war activists. There, they can begin to hear arguments missing from the mainstream debate, including anti-corporate arguments, and arguments about the racist and sexist nature of our society and its foreign policy. There, too, they can learn about what other people are doing, locally, nationally, internationally, to oppose the war along with other forms of social injustice. This can be the first step in a process that culminates in their radicalization.

For other people, the best entry-point will be more “action-oriented”: a mass demonstration. Participation in mass action may help them to break out of their isolation and sense of helplessness. They may come to feel that there is something they can do, that they can work with others to publicly voice their opposition. This might feel empowering to them, and inspire them to make a deeper commitment to building the movement.

For still others, mass demonstrations may seem too limited. They may feel that civil disobedience is necessary, and that they are willing and able to engage in it. They may want to occupy the constituency office of an M.P., or block traffic, or disrupt efforts to recruit people into the military.[See note 2]

For others, writing an anti-war article may be one of the contributions they feel they can make, or a letter to the editor, or putting on some ‘guerrilla’ street theatre, or whatever.

Clearly, any and all of these tactics can help to draw more people into the movement, and set in motion a radicalization process through which their dissent spreads from opposition to the war policy into a newly developed opposition to the broader corporate agenda, and ultimately to the corporate power structure inherent in capitalism itself.

This process of radicalization will be greatly facilitated by a vocal and visible presence, in every sector of the movement, of radical anti-racist and feminist politics, both as a source of radical analysis of the effects of the war on women and people of colour, and as a source of critical perspectives on how anti-war organizing could be more effective by broadening its perspective so that feminism and anti-racism are systematically integrated into the analysis, the strategy, and the tactics of the movement at all times.

From the point of view of the anti-corporate strategy, what is crucial is that all of the many tactics at its disposal should be deployed with the strategic objectives of the anti-corporate strategy in mind.

IV. WHAT ABOUT THE ELECTORAL PROCESS?

Some people will object to the anti-corporate strategy on the grounds that it ignores the electoral process. What about finding an anti-war political party, and voting it into office? A related strategy looks to influence public opinion: if public opinion can be led to oppose the war, political parties that now support the war will be led to oppose it, and when they are elected the war will be ended.

The problem with this thinking is that it exaggerates the responsiveness of governing parties to public opinion, and underestimates their responsiveness to corporate power.  To be sure, protest parties – parties with little immediate prospect of governing – can be led to come out against a war even if it is supported by a unified corporate elite. But will governing parties – by which I mean parties that have a realistic chance of forming a government in the next election – oppose a war, out of deference to public opinion, even when the corporate elite is united behind that war?  Usually, it seems, they will not. Think of Vietnam: both U.S. parties continued to support it, even when public opinion turned against it.  And what about the U.S. occupation of Iraq today: both parties support it still, and debates are mainly confined to disputes about troop levels, or about military or political tactics. To the extent that mainstream political parties in the U.S. are entertaining the idea of coming out against the war altogether, this reflects the very kind of considerations that the anti-corporate strategy highlights: it is a matter of the parties responding to defections within the corporate elite, as some sectors of the investor class begin to fear that the mass opposition to the war threatens one of their primary interests, namely the political viability of the assertive pro-business foreign policy they favor, which is detailed in the notorious document, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, by the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century[see note 3], and which is sold to the people under the misleading label, ‘War on Terrorism.’

V. CONCLUSION

The anti-corporate strategy adopts as its starting-point an analysis of contemporary war as an expression of corporate interests and a reflection of corporate hegemony or dominance in our society. For this reason, it attacks war by creating a threat to that corporate dominance. By encouraging masses of people to turn against corporate power, it threatens to destabilize the willingness of people to acquiesce in or accept that power. In this way, the anti-corporate strategy aims to increase the costs and to decrease the benefits of war, from the point of view of the economic and political elites who now favor a war policy, and to encourage more and more of them to defect and come out against the war policy, until that policy becomes politically unsustainable.


END NOTES:

[1] On this point, and for a detailed elaboration of a strategic orientation very similar to that of the anti-corporate strategy, see Michael Albert, “Ten Q & A on Anti-war Organizing,” http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=2527

[2] See, Matt (Hartford S.D.S.), “Toward a Direct Action Anti-War Strategy,” http://studentsforademocraticsociety.org/organizer/opinion-and-commentary/toward-a-direct-action-antiwar-strategy/18

[3] http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

Written by revolutionarystrategy

19 June 2009 at 11:00 pm

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