by Michael Albert
Even the New York Times was forced to admit it, after the mammoth Feb. 15-16 demonstrations: “there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” But as all activists and indeed all people of good will justifiably celebrate this weekend’s tumultuous successes, we must also begin the next round of the struggle.
On one side we have governments and corporate elites. Their shared agenda is what it has always been. They universally seek to protect and enlarge their advantages over the overwhelming majority of the world’s population. Their shared means are two-fold. First, they want to rewrite the rules of international exchange to tilt even more toward their own aggrandizement. This is called corporate globalization. Second, they want to steadily erode popular protections and rights won in long-standing struggle around the globe. They want to assault affirmative action, immigrant rights, welfare programs, and broader social spending. They want to entrench new methods of repression. They call all this patriotism. Beyond this broad consensus, however, elites are split.
Since 9/11 the most central and powerful elite sector has felt that it could dramatically enlarge its control by concocting a war on terrorism. This overwhelmingly U.S.-based contingent of the world’s elites is seeking to scare and cajole publics all over the planet, hoping to propel all kinds of otherwise impossible redistribution and repression. Bush Blair and Co. now seem to think that turning the clock back a hundred years to reinstate brute force in international relations promises them even more control and power. Bombing Iraq to bones and then colonially occupying it is not the climax of their intentions but instead only a stepping stone to more war and colonization to come. Next stop Iran, Syria, Korea, Venezuela – especially Venezuela — Colombia, and perhaps even China. They intend perpetual war in pursuit of perpetual power. They seek a spiral of violence whose very logic will propel those who control most of the world’s weapons into ruling most of the world. Bush becomes Caesar.
Others at the top of the pile of detritus that rules the planet are perfectly content with business as it had been the past couple of decades. They want some tweaks here and there, but they think that seeking overt empire risks too great a dissident reaction and/or they fear that too much of the benefit may accrue to a too narrow a sector at the top. They worry Washington will benefit, but not Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. Thus French, German, and Russian elites rail against war in Iraq – but Chirac is not simultaneously rushing to reverse his racist assaults on immigrants, Schroeder is not calling off his incursions against German social supports for the poor, and Putin is not denouncing his war in Chechnya–much less will any of them sincerely advocate justice plus equitable redistribution at home, now or anytime soon.
Against the haves who want more wealth and power but who aren’t quite sure of the best path to pursue it, stands our growing world-spanning movement of movements. The shared agenda of our movements is no war in Iraq, reverse corporate globalization, and more justice for all. Our shared means are to utilize a wide range of disobedience extending from day to day organizing to teach-ins and rallies, to disseminating information by drama and media, to marching, to civil disobedience, and beyond. But our side of the great struggle also has divisions. Among us there are different ways of understanding what we are doing, as well as differences in approach.
Regarding understanding, the big variation is that some of us think we are only trying to win various proximate gains such as preventing war in Iraq or blocking some new trade agreement. Others of us think instead that we are doing that, of course, but that we are also trying to ensure that these victories persist and grow by challenging and ultimately replacing the underlying institutions that create the injustices we oppose. At the level of understanding, therefore, the division in our ranks is ultimately one between reform and revolution.
At the level of methods and tactics, there is also a major divide. Are we mostly trying to make a statement and manifest the feelings that we ourselves have percolating through our nervous systems at any given moment – or are we trying to build a movement aimed at winning massive change over the longer haul?
In the first case, as situations unfold we make decisions about what to do by consulting primarily our own feelings: how angry are we, how much do we wish to do this or that action based on our mood and desires and in light of what is called for from us and how we will look and feel in the aftermath?
In the second case, we make decisions instead by primarily consulting our best judgment as to what will enlarge our movements and best increase our insight and commitment. The second approach also has to pay attention to how we feel and what we are capable of, to be sure, but it prioritizes what is needed to win and not just to feel fine. It may sound harsh, but I do think this is a real and serious difference, even if it appears here in words a bit more stark than it often appears in practice.
In short, are we building an activist community that preserves itself against incursions from without, creating an identity for ourselves as dissidents which we protect from dissolving, sometimes even becoming more concerned about persisting unchanged in all our formulations and processes than we are concerned about growing and diversifying? Or are we developing a movement whose intention is to constantly grow and alter, and in which we must constantly adapt our personal proclivities as we attract new constituencies and incorporate new agendas? Are we eager to empower others thereby reducing our own level of power and our own impact on how things proceed, though seeing the overall power of the movement enlarge?
(1) Success is not a single “all or nothing