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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Damn Near Seven Years of Failure: The Phoenix Anti-War Movement and the Ritual Cult of Defeat

In the process of getting ready to write something new about the anti-war movement here in Phoenix, I re-read my past writings on the topic. Looking them over, I realized, why bother? Nothing has changed. Ritual and ineffectiveness still dominate the movement, as do activists who need the war to justify their management of others (to get votes, to build organizations or just to massage their own egos). A fear of shaking things up and a conservative attitude towards tactics prevails.

Failure, rather than success, has become the benchmark for the movement. To continue losing, to continue to stand impotent before the forces of the elite war machine, has in fact become a sort of measure of success in its own right. We're still here, and we're still against the war, seems to be the message, ignoring the fact that as long as that's true, the war must also still churn mercilessly on, devouring both American and Iraqi alike (although one in substantially greater proportion than the other). After all, you can't be against a war once it's over.

Heavy on symbol and low on substance, the movement in Phoenix has become a candle-holding caricature of itself, at war with imagination and as a result completely unable to conceive of any action other than to repeat its own failed mistakes of the past. Nearly seven bloody years of war have passed and still the local liberal anti-war movement has yet to claim anything remotely approaching a victory, having instead allowed itself to be diverted into dead ends like electoralism, petitioning and moral witness.

Literally, the movement here has engaged in the exact same protest almost since the day American bombs started pummeling Iraq: show up at Senator McCain's office, hold some signs and deliver a petition. The movement's success is judged in terms of honking horns rather than concrete results. Initially, there were street protests and some enthusiastic energy, but those days are long gone. The vampires of the liberal left have sucked all the blood from the movement, leaving behind a lifeless, mindless corpse incapable of creative action.

And why not? This was a predictable result of allowing these liberal ghouls to get their cold hands on the movement in the first place. Squash and marginalize the militants, that was their first goal, then manage the rest. And so the fire of the anti-globalization movement went away and the candles of the anti-war movement came out. It was predicted at the time, by anarchists and other radicals in town, who argued against liberal leadership of the movement. And so it has now come to pass and what we're left with is an anti-war leadership morally and organizationally invested in the continuation of the war. To varying degrees they have been duped or acted as enthusiastic movement-slayers but either way, they offer no solutions to our predicament. And how could they? They caused it.

And yet support for the war dwindles along with the attendance, even here in conservative Arizona. This sheer fact alone, that the population is much more anti-war now than ever before while at the same time the numbers showing up at anti-war rallies has generally and noticeably moved in the opposite direction, should give everyone pause. Unsurprisingly, the increasingly marginal rallies and boring tactics have not worked, nor have they inspired new blood to join the movement with fresh ideas. If the goal is to stop the various imperialist wars waged on the world by the United States, then the Phoenix anti-war movement has been a colossal failure. This fact must be faced up to.

My advice now is the same it has been for the last seven years. Either way, at some point we need to start evaluating whether we want an anti-war movement to end the war or just to sooth our consciences. One is based on solidarity with other people and the other is an exercise in First World privilege at best or default imperialism at worst. One empowers people and the other empowers politicians and the other slimy managers of social change. One shakes the halls of power and imposes change on the criminal ruling class, emboldening ourselves in the process, while the other slinks in on all fours and begs for a hearing, further empowering the parasitic liberal activists and their political allies.

So, if you want a good look at the anti-war movement today, have a look at my piece from last year, entitled "So Many Candles, So Little Fire: The Sad State of the Phoenix Anti-War Movement". Truthfully, you could go back and read any of the many articles I wrote or the fliers I handed out on the topic over the past many years and get the same points, because nothing has changed since then either. If anything, the anti-war movement has become even more entrenched in bad habits and bad thinking, its leaders even more managerial and its ideas even more bankrupt.

Further, its analysis has regressed, no longer recognizing the central interests of Capital behind the elite's desperate aggressions abroad. This failure has allowed capitalist politicos like those in the Democratic Party to infuse themselves and exploit and neutralize the movement. Lifestylist, thinly veiled calls for what amounts to a liberal interventionist green empire free of fossil fuels have replaced demands for the dismantlement of the empire.

The gains of the anti-globalization movement, which inspired so many of us not leastwise because it had settled so many of the issues that now bog down the anti-war movement, have faded into the past, both in terms of tactics and analysis. Unlike the anti-globalization movement, the anti-war movement lacks contact with other domestic movements, and as a result it has withered on the vine intellectually, cannibalizing itself and squandering its potential. The truth is, the anti-war movement has become a reactionary force, recuperating past militant movements, neutralizing them and purging them from the collective memory.

Indeed, the obsession of the liberal anti-war movement elite with the coming attack on Iran betrays it's own impotence, as they religiously consult the bones over breaking news of impending attacks, belying their own failure to create a movement capable of stopping them before they begin. The anti-war elites fret over the machinations of their political adversaries and openly plot to replace them. Indeed, if the anti-war movement managers are not able to stop the attack on Iran, it will be hard to come to any other conclusion than to declare the national anti-war movement dead on arrival.

Where are the blockades and destruction of war-related property? Phoenix has plenty of war profiteers. Where is the call for shutting down the whole of elite society until troops are withdrawn (not redeployed) and guarantees for Iran's people are issued? Indeed, where is the generally white and affluent anti-war left when other movements here in town ask for solidarity? Where is the anti-war left when migrants and immigrants take the streets in defense of basic human freedoms? Where was the anti-war left in Jena, Louisiana, not to mention in downtown Phoenix on Mayday 2006?

Further the movement is still mired in infantile anti-Bush and anti-Republican thinking, forgetting the right's many willing accomplices on the left. There are clear reasons why the liberal left prefers to frame things this way, but we have to ask ourselves if it really represents reality and if it's a strategy for stopping America's ongoing war against the world. Indeed, the tendency of the anti-war left to ignore the situation in Afghanistan almost entirely, marking time instead by the invasion of Iraq, betrays the pro-imperialist logic of this mindset by setting Iraq into a special category - a war somehow gone wrong or for the wrong reasons - rather than a continuation of imperial global strategy.

But in the end, if we can't evaluate the anti-war movement on it's ability to hamper or end the war, just what measure should we use? Useless votes? Lip service from politicians? The elevation of local anti-war leaders to elected office, like Kyrsten Sinema, who managed to ride the early anti-war wave for her own personal political gain? Politicos like this can't help us make the kind of radical changes that are necessary to stop the Iraq and other wars. The activists, politicians and other professional managers of social change (after all, whither the anti-war activist without the war?) have had their time. Militance and direct action are the watchwords of the day now.

There is no argument they can make against us. They can't say now is not the time, because it's been damn near seven years and there have been more than a million deaths in that time. They can't say wait for the next election, because we've given them three national shots at the ballot box ('02, '04, '06), including going on two years with liberal control of Congress. They can't say we must persuade more people because more than half the American population want out NOW, not later. It's time for the movement to wake up and realize that when the activists urge passivity, it's not because it's a successful tactic, but because it does not disturb their own positions in the movement. And, in the end, what's the difference between that and supporting the slaughter themselves?

If we have one advantage here in Phoenix, it is the total lack of an organized communist left. Many, many hours of very hard work, often including direct action at their meetings and rallies, consciously directed by anarchists militants, has kept the Valley free of authoritarians of the leftist variety, and we are all better for it. In other cities, authoritarian communists and socialists destroy movements in ways similar to liberals, with common front tactics and marginalization of militant, critical voices and often direct collaboration with the police. Often, however, their organizing is more insidious because their language is seductive to folks looking for something more radical than what the liberals have to offer. Local anti-war militants should take advantage of this fact and act to make irrelevant, through our own creative action, the liberal anti-war leaders in town.

The time is now for militant action. Pick a target and shut it down. Build solidarity and fight for and with others. Link the war to other local struggles and leave room in your organizing to support them unselfishly. Militants must challenge the dominant cadre in the movement and seek to broaden the space for resistance. Politicians and activists must be driven from the movement (they had their chance) and our actions must develop strict criteria for evaluating our success. Let's take the power into our own hands. The time is now.

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Anonymous Jimmie Higgins said...

Although I empathize with your impatience I think frustration and blaming everyone else for the state of the movement is not going to help build the movement.

It's true, liberal politics dominate the the anti-war movement, but guess what - liberal bourgie politics dominate EVERYWHERE!

The goal of radicals should be to win the liberals who are winnable and to expose the emptiness of liberal politics in the government as well as liberal tactics in the movement.

This can't happen through sectarianism or only participating in activities which are "pure". The grassroots liberal activist will become the future radical because of two things:
1. Confronting the establishment - although the average anti-war protest attendee may be coming from a liberal perspective (that the government can be convinced to "do good" or we can elect "good Democrats"; or that even the police or the military could be used to "help people") are coming up against the realities of the capitalist system by engaging in any activity. Even a peaceful protest will often draw a disproportionate amount of cops (in S.F. the ANSWER protest of a few thousand was also watched over by hundreds of riot-cops and several city-buses converted into paddy-wagons). The reaction of the pigs means that those liberals will be much more open to a political discussion about the role of cops in society.

2. the last point brings me to the other thing that's necessary for radicalization of people in the movement: radicals need to talk with non-radicals.

With the early anti-war movement, liberals said "end the war before it starts" and then when the war started, the same liberal forces said "we tried, but now we have to support our troops". Without radical voices being strong enough to present a counter-argument at that time, many of the liberal protesters became confused and felt-let down and the protests became much smaller even as anti-war sentiment rose.

The same thing happened with the mid-term elections and will happen if Clinton or Obama are elected this time unless radicals can begin making the case that no matter who wins, the war will continue because it is the interest of the US empire, not this or that party.

Liberals waiting for a Democratic Pres. to be their "savior" are going to be much more open to left politics and discussions about why the Democrats aren't really the "friends of the people" because of these elections. But this won't happen if we stay in our own circles and shout to liberals that they are stupid and dupes and tools of the system. They are, but they don't know that -- more importantly, they don't have to be tools of the system if we can make reasonable arguments to them about why the democrats are a dead-end and have the same interest in protecting the status-quo as the Republicans do.

Fri Mar 21, 08:51:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Phoenix Insurgent said...

I don't think I advocate for pure movements here. What I advocate is an aggressive rather than a submissive approach to the liberals in the movement. They are not to be coddled and convinced, they are to be confronted. Liberal politics is the problem so what must be done is to attack the middle ground, expose it and the role of those who support it, and to make that philosophical territory untenable. Liquidate the middle and take aggressive action at the extremes. I think this is a strategy that is much more likely to have success.

Tue Mar 25, 03:16:00 PM 2008  
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Sun Apr 06, 04:36:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hadn't thought of the liberal aspect. I just kinda thought we were all pathetic lazy arizonans that couldn't manage to get anything done.

However, I would also like to say that due to the fact that metropolitan phoenix is so very spread out, I think that even 'non-radical' people as well as people who might be radical given the chance ;) might have trouble finding out about any organized protests or whatnot that will be happening.

I mean, I realize this is the internet age and all, but I have yet to come across the 'there will be a protest tomorrow' website. Where is the outreach? Why is it that when someone is really looking for this stuff they still can't find it? What about the people that don't have tons of time to attend regular meetings (I realize this is an impediment to the more radical actions) but could make room to attend an action one day?

Anyways, this is my call for better advertising. Love your blog.

Thu May 08, 01:40:00 PM 2008  

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