Speech at Connecticut Anti-War Conference

by Bill Fletcher, Jr.


Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing the reasons for the U.S. aggression against Iraq. Certainly this has been the subject of numerous articles and speeches, but it includes the U.S. aim at global repositioning; securing oil; protecting Israel; making a statement…all of these were contributing factors.

What I do want to emphasize, however, is that there is a connection between the Iraq war and the so-called war against terrorism, though certainly not for the reasons offered by this Administration. Both the war against terrorism and the invasion of Iraq represent significant steps on the part of the U.S. to ensure its hegemony over the reorganization of global capitalism. Both efforts, clearly summarized in Bush’s original statement that one is either with the U.S. or with the terrorists, emphasize that the U.S. approach toward the reorganization of global capitalism is the approach that must be followed. Failure to stay in line means, as is clear when one reads the September 2002 National Security Strategy doctrine, the potential to be declared a rogue state and enemy of the free world.

Both efforts also share in common the basic notion of crushing resistance. When the Administration is able to declare any one or any organization to be a terrorist, generally without any evidence, this provides a means in order to advance its own agenda. Thus, the characterization of various organizations ranging from those in the global justice movement to the Communist Party of the Philippines, serves to confuse all observers, perpetuate fear, and result in the suppression of political opponents of neo-liberal globalization, irrespective of their political tendency.

My second point to offer this morning concerns the recent November 2nd elections. We must keep in mind a few things: (a) it was 51/48, therefore, it was not a landslide, (b) approximately 25% of the electorate has been identified as hard-core right-wing, thus being effectively unreachable, (c) the issue of “values” was and is a confusing matter since the manner in which it was raised in polls was confusing, and also it was very ill-defined. That said, the right-wing use of “values” gave people who otherwise feel very powerless an opportunity to influence something in their lives, (d) the right-wing out-organized liberals and progressives, and in that sense reaffirmed that the March 1989 decision by Rev. Jesse Jackson to turn the National Rainbow Coalition into his own personal organization eliminated an historic moment to organize toward a progressive political realignment.

Yet there is one aspect of the election that many people mention but do not wish to discuss: the issue of national security. The irony of our situation is that a President was re-elected who is, essentially, unpopular. Yet, millions chose to vote for him in the interest of security.

There are many things odd about this, not the least of which is that 9/11 took place on his watch and the 9/11 Commission demonstrated that his Administration had dropped the ball. It is odd as well because we were sold a bill of goods as to the alleged threat of Iraq to the USA.

What is both important and, unfortunately, not so odd, is that people like the so-called “security moms” made a choice. The choice was to decide that the security that all of us thirst after; a security from terror, can take place at the expense of the rest of the world. In other words, if security means that the U.S. overthrows governments, supports coups, blockades opponents, carries out invasions and assassinations, then these are acceptable if we are guaranteed protection. Security for us; insecurity for the rest of the world. However, this ultimately means insecurity for us.

Thus, a section of the electorate voted for empire. They knew what they were doing, and the people of the world have come to recognize this. While some foreign observers have seen this as indicating the alleged stupidity of the majority of the electorate [the Mirror’s headline: how can 59 million people be so DUMB?], others have seen this as a ratification of aggression, of empire, of duplicity, all in the name of national security.

We have been branded and it is with the letter “A”…for aggressor.

48% of the electorate, or about 55 million people took, for a variety of reasons, a different approach. Nevertheless the letter “A” has been burned into our skins.

The challenge we face is that a significant section of the electorate voted out of fear and allowed the Bush team to push all of the right buttons, thereby ignoring the reality of both the international and national situation. The Bush administration will utilize this vote in order to claim a mandate for empire-building and further aggression.

Before proceeding into a discussion of where do we go from here, I want to take a few moments to discuss where is this all headed, for lack of a better term. I have been doing some studying of fascism for a while, though it increased after 9/11. Through the insight of people like Jay Sekai, David Stock and others, I came to understand Al Qaeda not simply as a representation of so-called political Islam, but more importantly an example of clerical fascism. I came to understand the relationship between right-wing populism, which we have seen rise in many countries of the global north, including our own, and possible fascist movements.

I don’t think that what we are currently facing is fascism, but I think that it is a form of right-wing authoritarianism which is just as dangerous. Fascism is more than simply right-wing authoritarianism. It is more than repression. The Left, however, has used the term “fascism” to describe any and every form of right-wing rule to which we object.

In my humble opinion, and borrowing some from the great theorist Nicos Poulantzas, fascism is a social movement that in many respects is quite radical in that it represents a clearing of the decks within capitalism and the fundamental alteration of the capitalist state in order to advance the interests of a section of the capitalist class. Its base is primarily, though not exclusively, within the middle strata and it arises in the midst of a political crisis in which a section(s) of the capitalist class loses confidence in their political representatives. It does not emerge as a response to the strength of progressive forces; actually it is more the opposite, and in that sense is different from many other forms of counter-revolutionary, repressive regimes.

We seem to be facing something that, while having elements of fascism, does not quite fit into that description. There is no actual name for this system, at least to my knowledge, though I think of it as a neo-gilded capitalism or an authoritarian/theocratic capitalism. What we do not see, at least at this moment, is a mass movement that is attempting to end the party-system and end bourgeois democratic capitalism. What we do see, is a highly repressive State that is overseeing massive wealth redistribution from those at the bottom to those at the top, reducing civil liberties, tolerating limited terms of resistance and which is supported by a well-funded and highly organized, reactionary, theocratic movement. This reactionary, theocratic movement is grounded in a form of right-wing populism and as such could probably evolve into fascism, but at this juncture there is no indication that the capitalist class is in the midst of a political crisis that they believe that they cannot resolve through existing means and mechanisms.

This should not make us feel warm and fuzzy. There are a variety of forms of the capitalist state ranging from social democracy in Scandinavia to Pinochet’s military regime in Chile during the ’70s and ’80s. We also have a long history in the USA of extremely reactionary social movements, e.g., the KKK in the South and their counterparts in the Southwest (and actually here in Connecticut, which had a thriving KKK for years!!).

I believe that this developing repressive state corresponds to the needs of U.S. capital in its efforts to remake the world, and specifically, global capitalism as I raised in the beginning of my speech. In other words, the capitalists are not thinking simply in terms of today, but also thinking about what is necessary in order to carry out their global agenda. Internationally there is intense resistance to neo-liberal globalization. In the USA this is true as well, though the resistance is far more dispersed. What is needed in order for the neo-liberal project to succeed is immense confusion among the masses, and the elimination of instruments of resistance, such as left-wing political groupings, labor unions, as well as the independent media. The consolidation of the media and the growing dominance of the loony Right in that field results in the dumbing-down of the U.S. populace and the enhancement of right-wing ideological themes. While fascists, open and crypto, are certainly part of this effort, and fascism may grow within this manure, I do not think that this is what has appeared.

What is particularly dangerous is that this authoritarian/theocratic state is seizing upon the broad insecurities of the population, but particularly the white section of the population. We must keep this in mind since the November elections were not only a victory for political reaction in general, but also for racial politics. The insecurity that much of white America feels is, in my opinion, not simply or solely about terrorism. Terrorism, in some respects, has become the focal point for the societal anxieties felt by white America as their world collapses. The collapse of the American Dream; the collapse of the notion that the lives of our children will improve over our own; the collapse of the bubble of ignorance that has surrounded us and within which we all too often found comfort.

I emphasize here the racial aspect largely because people of color have traditionally lived in terror within the USA. The micro and macro-aggressions that we received…The fear of driving while Black, Brown or Other…The fear that certain neighborhoods were forbidden.

White America has lived through a different experience, one largely divided based on class and gender, but it has not lived through the endless nightmare of racial terror except in one odd respect: the fear of the maroon…the runaway slave…the Mau Mau. That is the fear that those at the bottom of the global ladder would somehow and someday challenge their subordination and emerge out of the darkness.

With 9/11, every fear that white America had about its collapsing world could be channeled into one thing: security. Security could mean both their collapsing domestic world and the fear that the dispossessed were finally out of control! The right-wing has grabbed this and fed this fear. Bush knew exactly the buttons to push. The post- Cold War world has become, in the words of the Egyptian theorist Samir Amin, an empire of chaos, and in such a situation, the cry in much of the United States is for order; not justice…not understanding…not reparations…not dialogue…but order. “Order” in terms of the suppression of dissent; “order” in terms of clarity…the clarity that comes with authority.

Thus, in thinking of the challenges that await us, and the tasks ahead, we must understand that we build an anti-war movement at a moment of uncertainty. We build it at the same time that right-wing populism has become an important current—again—in U.S. life. With this in mind, here are my suggestions:

The anti-war movement must be both an independent movement, but must also insert itself into every progressive social movement: The strength of the anti-Iraq war movement was its rapid rise and massive scale in 2002 – 2003. This same strength was its weakness. While certain movements, such as organized labor, witnessed the growth of an anti-war current [U.S. Labor Against the War], the anti-war movement did not fuse with other movements. In that sense it was very different from the anti-war movement that arose around Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s. In the latter case, anti-war sentiment permeated all parts of society.

I do not raise this as a criticism. I suggest that we have to be patient, but also strategic. We must recognize that anti-war sentiment needs to work itself into every nook and cranny of society and not simply be something which seems to stand outside of and apart from other movements.

The anti-war movement must have at its core an anti-empire framework: By this I mean that while the broad anti-war movement is united around opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq—and this is a correct point of unity which should not be violated—the core must understand that Iraq was in many ways not extraordinary, but represented a certain consistency in U.S. foreign policy. The core of the anti-war movement, through education and debate must help to move the anti-war movement as a whole in the direction of this analysis. This does NOT mean, however, the sort of sectarian, arrogant antics that we have seen where groups raise the level of unity of the movement unilaterally in order to satisfy some competitive desire. Our overall approach should always be to unite the many to defeat the few, which means that at different times coalitions and alliances will shift. Some who agree with us on Iraq will not agree on Palestine or Venezuela. This does not mean that we ignore them. It means that we recognize the limitations of the existing alliance while we do what we can to change it.

We must keep foreign policy alive as an electoral/political issue: The anti-war movement needs to take up this question of “security” which consumed many voters, and link security to foreign policy. As I have said many times, the anti-war movement needs to advance a comprehensive view of the need for a democratic foreign policy.  A democratic foreign policy is NOT an anti-imperialist foreign policy, but one that recognizes that we have a weak Left in the USA and no coherent anti-imperialist movement. But we can demand a foreign policy that rejects the prerogatives of empire and strives for cooperation with other countries and abstains from aggression. This is the sort of demand that a genuine reform movement in U.S. politics would make, and it is consistent with the message that was articulated in the 1980s through the Presidential campaigns of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the National Rainbow Coalition. One cannot wait till the election year mania arises in order to raise these issues. I would also suggest that much of this can be raised by non-profits that are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity. This is the real education work that is necessary at the base.

Taking up this question of a democratic foreign policy is also a means for anti-war activists to directly address many of the fears felt and held by the people, but doing it in such a way that we propose answers rather than talking past the concerns of the people.

We must build local anti-war coalitions that have a long-term plan: One of the difficulties that we face is that so much seems to happen at the national level. We have these national anti-war coalitions that call national demonstrations. Sometimes these are great; other times they are a drag. In either case, people are often exhausted by them.

We must encourage more local activity. Local coalitions or ad hoc groupings can play an important role in building the movement. Target certain districts for educational canvassing; host educational events in central locations and work those neighborhoods; train speakers who can attend meetings; visit shop stewards meetings in local unions; host cultural programs that have anti-war themes; do anti-military counseling, discussing with young people non-military career options; fund raise!

I believe that all of this is eminently doable, but it must flow from both an analysis as well as a plan of work. I believe that United for Peace & Justice, as well as many other anti-war forces are attempting to embrace such a framework.

******

Let me end by shifting gears, somewhat dramatically. We must understand that genuine peace will never come to the Middle East, and there will never be anything approaching national security, as long as the plight of the Palestinian people and national movement is not settled justly.

When the Darfur crisis arose in the western Sudan, TransAfrica Forum and many other groups spoke out directly and immediately in opposition to the ethnic cleansing that we were witnessing. In fact, there was a world-wide outcry in response to the monstrous actions of the Bashir clique in Khartoum, as well as their allies in the Arab militias.

Yet what disturbed me was that the Western press was and is highly selective as to which disasters they cover. We were successful in raising attention on Darfur, however, few people know that 3.5 – 4 million people have died since 1997 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of a civil war that is often referenced as Africa’s “first world war.” Few people are aware of the massacres that have taken place in Burundi. Few people follow the Colombian civil war and the ethnic cleansing being carried out by right-wing death squads against Afro-Colombians.

AND few people treat the Palestinians as if they have an ounce of humanity. Each day the Palestinians are subjected to humiliating abuse; assassinations; home destructions; and countless other injustices, while we treat this as if it is normal, or in some cases, treat it as if it is justified.

The Palestinian movement does not have a very well organized constituency in the USA to support its cause. The formation, a few years ago, of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation of Palestine was an important step. Actually, if there is anything for which I am critical of the Palestinian movement it is that it did not put enough attention on the development of an international solidarity movement AND anti-occupation movement analogous to the work of the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress in South Africa.

Part of what the anti-war movement must do over time is to push the envelope on Palestine. No, I do not mean proclamations or resolutions. I mean that we have to build strong, organized sentiment in the U.S. which supports justice for the Palestinian people. Opinion polls, interestingly enough, seem to indicate that a majority of the U.S. believes that the Bush administration is far too biased in favor of Israel, a poll result I truly did not expect. Yet this poll result does NOT mean that people are prepared to make the Palestinian cause a priority issue…certainly not at election time.

Thus, the anti-war movement has a critical challenge. Particularly since the invasion of Iraq has been justified by the charlatans in the White House as being, among other things, for the security of Israel, the anti-war movement can and must discuss this issue of security for Israel, but we must flip the script. We must look at security and justice for the Palestinian people and the means through which a just and equitable peace can be secured for Palestinians, Israelis, and, indeed, for other peoples of the so-called Middle East.

No justice for Palestinians and we will instead find ourselves in the state of perpetual war…indeed apocalyptic war…that sections of the U.S. political Right actually dream of as being the goal of their activities.

Thank you.

November 20, 2004