Peace and Global Justice? Or War and Empire?

Struggles of U.S. Social Movements

(Remarks for Panel at World Social Forum, January 17, 2004)

by Paul Le Blanc


The panel is sponsored by Global Exchange, American Friends Service Committee, Center for Changes (Solidarity), and Center for Economic Research and Social Change (International Socialist Organization). Other scheduled speakers at the panel include the following:

Medea Benjamin (Global Exchange & United for Peace and Justice)

Dennis Brutus (Pittsburgh Social Forum)

Joseph Gerson (American Friends Service Committee)

Jessica Marshall (National Youth and Student Peace Coalition)

Rev. Calvin Morris (Jobs with Justice)

Njoki Njehu (50 Years Is Enough)

Ahmed Shawki (International Socialist Review)

Those of us active in the movements for peace and global justice in the United States have long been animated by the understanding that we have a special responsibility in the global struggle, given the dominant role of the wealthy and powerful elite of the United States in a worldwide system of oppression and violence.

In that worldwide system, it is the case that 1% of the population possess roughly 40% of the wealth, and the top 20% possess roughly 80% of the wealth. This means that 80% of the world’s people are left with only 20% of the wealth. It is also the case that in the United States itself the same general statistics of inequality apply. The majority of the American people have more in common with the majority of the world’s people than with the multinational corporations that exploit and oppress all of us.

There are differences that we must not lose sight of. Things are very bad for many people in our country, but they are often worse for people in other countries. Of the 40,000 children who die of hunger and hunger-related causes every day (40,000 children every single day), very few are from the United States. But most of us in the United States also have nothing in common with the world’s 225 richest people (many of whom live in our country) who together own as much wealth ($1 trillion) as the world’s 2.5 billion poorest people. And as the murderous violence of September 11, 2001, and the murderous violence since then unleashed on Afghanistan and Iraq, have demonstrated, without global justice, there are not the conditions for world peace, and the oppressive suffering of others will impact disastrously on all of us.

The organization to which I belong, Solidarity, recognizes, along with a broad range of other progressive organizations in the United States, the intimate interconnection of various forms of oppression and violence. As Martin Luther King, Jr., who was leading intertwined struggles at the end of his life, explained so clearly: “The problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together.”  These “triple evils…are interrelated,” he emphasized, and they must be overcome if the United States of America is to be “born again.”

Of central importance in the United States is the struggle against the racism that serves to pit us against each other, that singles out certain sections of the population (because they don’t have so-called “white” skin) for exclusion and special oppression. Another form of division and special oppression has traditionally been utilized against women, and the struggle for women’s rights has also been of central importance throughout the last two centuries and into our own. But unifying the great majority of people of both sexes and from all racial and ethnic backgrounds is the fact that it is our labor that must be exploited in order to create the profits of the wealthy few, and this has made it absolutely necessary to build a labor movement (trade unions and more) to defend the working-class majority.

Also unifying this richly diverse working-class majority is the violence against us that has been necessary to maintain the economic exploitation that benefits the wealthy and powerful elite—the subtle and not-so-subtle violence to our daily lives on the job, the violence to our communities with cutbacks and deteriorating conditions, the violence to the natural environment, the violence of our commercialized and profit-oriented culture, and the violence of militarism and war to expand and deepen and defend the global quest for empire that is driven by the multinational corporations dominating our economy.

As we know, the combined political elites of the Republican and Democratic parties have recently allocated $87 billion—not to help overcome the problems that afflict our country and the world—but to advance the so-called “peaceful” consolidation of empire on which they had spent many more billions of dollars through the war in Iraq. Their real priorities are thrown into bold relief when we note that $9 million of this so-called “peaceful construction” money was explicitly designated for “security”—not in Iraq, but in Miami (!), in order to deploy the repressive forces used against tens of thousands of global justice demonstrators who were protesting there last November. This money was used to contain and put down people from the labor movement, from the antiwar movement, from the antiracist movements, from the feminist movement, from the environmental movement, and other struggles.

We have moved into a presidential election year in the United States. All of us on this panel have been in uncompromising opposition to the current president, George W. Bush. It is too early to call the results of that election: Bush may win, or he may lose. But the problems that have drawn us into struggle are incredibly deep and have grown enormously under both Republicans and Democrats over the past century and more. They will not be resolved by this year’s elections.

Genuine gains have been made, in the history of the United States, by those struggling for economic justice, for racial justice, for labor rights, for women¹s rights, for human rights, and even for peace. But such gains have only been made, and can only be made, by independent mass movements struggling for such goals—independent of all the Democratic and Republican politicians, putting powerful and intensifying pressure on all of the politicians. That is the only way it has ever been done.

This is a reason why my own organization, Solidarity, along with others, has been so seriously involved in the antiwar movement, in antiracist struggles, in feminist organizations, and (utilizing the excellent publication Labor Notes) in trade unions. In these efforts we are strengthened (as are other fine activists in some of the other progressive groups) by the vision of the martyred Rosa Luxemburg, who told us: “Unrelenting revolutionary activity coupled with boundless humanity—that alone is the real life-giving force of socialism.”

We need a real alternative to the present world system. For Luxemburg and for many of us, socialism does not mean control of the economy by some bureaucratic tyranny (that’s no better than our present-day capitalist reality). Instead it means that the resources of the earth would be utilized under the democratic control of the great majority of the people, of laboring humanity, for the benefit of all.

Animated by this vision, we feel that it is necessary to join with many other activists having a variety of political perspectives. We must work together, and learn from each other, to struggle around the various issues that are so closely interlinked. We must work together to form broad alliances around the various efforts for global justice and for peace, connecting local problems with global problems and global campaigns, helping to build movements, and consciousness, and struggles for a better world.

That is what the World Social Forum is about, and it brings me to my last point.

A priority must be to involve more and more people and organizations, growing sectors of various progressive movements, with the World Social Forum. A major step forward for us will be the development of a North American Social Forum in the year 2005. The process of building and participating in a North American Social Forum will greatly advance the development of a unified social movement that will be capable, as Martin Luther King put it, of helping our country and our world to be “born again.”