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A Black working class perspective on war and movement building

An excerpt from a presentation at the United National Anti-War Coalition national conference, 24 March 2012.

There is moral currency in an anti-war position that rejects war as an instrument of human relations that degrades and demeans all those who participate in it. People of conscience and faith have called for the abolition of war for centuries. But humans have yet to find a way to avoid this primitive method for solving disputes, advancing claims on territory, avenging assaults on ‘honour or subjugating the ‘other’. War and its terrible realities is an ongoing testament to our darkest sentiments and irrationalities. The elimination of the scourge of war is a laudable goal that should remain a central priority for all of us who believe that human societies can transcend the organised barbarity that has characterised much of human history over the last millennium and especially the last 500 years. Its abolition, therefore, would be an accomplishment that would reflect a level of evolution for collective humanity that in and of itself would suggest that all of the other maladies that cause conflict between nations, states and peoples – economic exploitation, oppression and domination, capitalism, racism, national oppression, neo-colonialism, religious fundamentalism, patriarchy — would also have been effectively and permanently eliminated.

But, unfortunately, in the real world we have inherited, all of the maladies just listed still exist between peoples and states. And for those of us who come from oppressed peoples and nations, we are subjected to various forms of warfare on a continuous basis — from the militarisation of our communities and political repression to direct and open military assaults to contain and suppress our expression of self-determination and liberation. The killing of Trayvon Martin by a member of what is a growing phenomenon in the US – armed paramilitary racists – is just the latest reminder of the precarious situation that Black and oppressed nationalities face in the midst of an economic crisis that is feeding neo-fascist tendencies. Therefore, for oppressed people, a decontextualized, abstract and absolutist anti-war position is a luxury we cannot afford.

Situated within the context of globalised European capitalist/imperialist hegemony, real world balance-of-forces considerations must always influence, if not guide, our political and even moral assessments and practical responses to conflicts and questions of war and peace. From this perspective, which is clearly a political perspective, questions of solidarity and political support must be guided by an assessment of how support either strengthens or weakens the geo-political hegemony of Western imperialism.

For many this may appear to be a crude formulation that is morally suspect, especially in light of the liberal interventionist calls for humanitarian intervention, the ‘right to protect’, and even the activity of the International Criminal Court. But an explicit anti-imperialist position has value not only in relation to extra-territorial questions involving the US, but also for the progressive movement to develop political positions that can take advantage of the current crisis of governance that the white, minority, ruling class is experiencing.

The militarism of neo-liberalism has created irreconcilable ideological contradictions for the Western, white, male, capitalist, minority ruling class. In order to maintain the hegemony of the global 1%, new policies, alliances and transnational structures have been developed to advance and justify imperialism’s right to carry out acts of military aggression and full-blown wars against other countries, oppressed peoples and social movements, while at the same time pretending to support democracy and development in the global South and internally. One example is the US government’s professed concern for activists in Syria, while completely ignoring the plight of activists in Bahrain, and actually supporting the brutal repression by Saudi forces of peaceful protests there. While we are on the topic of Saudi Arabia, how does a government that partially justified the invasion of Afghanistan by saying they were going to liberate women from the burqa, justify having one of its biggest friends (and, coincidentally, biggest customers) be a government that denies women the right to vote or drive?

Capitalist globalisation has exposed the backward and vulgar nature of capitalism and engendered popular resistance world-wide, from the streets of Athens to New York. The so-called ‘Arab spring’ was a reaction not only to the rapacious, comprador ruling classes propped up and maintained by Western imperialism, but also a reaction to imposed neo-liberal economic policies that devastated national economies and pushed millions into poverty. In the US, reactions to economic and social contradictions have resulted in an expansion of the State’s repressive apparatus. Under the guise of the ‘war on drugs’ and then national security, local police forces have been militarised and unleashed on African-American, Latino, Arab and, even still today, indigenous people. Migrant workers are imprisoned in an ever-increasing system of privatised prisons and now over two million black and brown bodies are commodified as generators of profits and a source of jobs in a system of barbaric gulags where 25,000 of those prisoners are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

There are connections between the US state sanctioned violence in the forms of targeted imprisonment, military occupations of black and brown communities and imperialist wars fought primarily against non-white people of the global South. The anti-war and peace movement, along with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, must make those connections and make the ideological and structural expressions of white supremacy a fundamental target of their internal political education and public expressions. Those powerful forces must develop a lens that is able to see how white supremacist ideology is used to obscure the real interests behind wars, domestic policies and the alignment of power that conspires to maintain the colonial and imperialist dominance of people around the world. When those connections are made and internalised, all of us who struggle for human rights and a world without war, violence and oppression will know that we have a movement that can withstand the attempts to divide us internally, and that we can keep the focus where it needs to be – on transforming ourselves and the world.


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* Ajamu Baraka is the former director of the US Human Rights Network and longtime human rights and social justice advocate. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

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