Yesterday I was guest speaker at the Penzance Peace Festival. It was World Peace Day, although few in the media noticed. It was a drizzly, grey-weather day. Despite the clouds, people were buoyed-up following a strong Climate March through the City centre the day before, and some very excellent live music all afternoon. Energy and enthusiasm for building a fresh anti-war movement was everywhere, including renewing the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament across Cornwall.
CND, 63-years old Peace movement with the emblematic symbol that spans the world, has built a strong alliance with Extinction Rebellion nationally. Indeed, the synthesis between global heating and nuclear proliferation is extremely obvious. Well before the widespread catastrophe at the hands of climate change, there will be widespread war. War over water access, war related to climate migration, and war once again over oil. And the military-industrial complex, both armies in peacetime and war, are extraordinarily prolific emitters of global warming gases. The arms industry is profoundly profitable so long as there are wars to be replenished.
The current troop deployment by the USA to strengthen Saudi Arabia alongside the counter-statements of preparations for war made by Iran stands testament to the volatility in the Middle East, not withstanding the continued horror and barbarism in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Palestine. And the USA’s withdrawal from nuclear treaties, building a new generation of “tactical nuclear weapons”, shows Trump to be gagging to show to the world the “supremacy” achieved by the mass destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 74 years ago.
Today, Europe’s fortified borders condemn migrants fleeing both climate droughts and war, and small but courageous groups protest against the totalitarian torturers in Egypt. And there is little space here to mention Trump’s alliance with Colombia and Bolsonaro’s Brazil against Venezuela. Of course, this general drive to global warfare is also exemplified by the currently cold economic tensions between the USA and China.
The general global economic outlook is downwards towards recession. Some in the environment movements welcome this as helpful to our push for a no-growth carbon-neutral economy. On the contrary, the destabilisation caused by economic crisis will not result in the Capitalist System embracing zero-growth – the system that requires competition for accumulation will ensure survival of the fittest through a process of conflict. In such a situation, we must learn lessons from history.
The first victim of any drive to war is Truth. And our protests to prevent global heating, especially the push for “System Change not Climate Change”, will be in the way of the nationalism required for warfare. War requires a unification between the ruling class and working class at home against the “common enemy” abroad. Extinction Rebellion, pin-pointing the political and corporate classes as the drivers of catastrophe will not be acceptable to those driving warfare. We will undoubtedly be condemned as traitors.
Any research into the history of the Vietnam War, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the late ‘60s anti-War Movement or the 1980s Blair Government’s propaganda about the invasion of Iraq proves one thing. The Capitalist Governments will conjoin to demonise, isolate and break apart protest at home. This applies right now to the student strikes and environment movement just as certainly as night follows day. If the Establishment cannot combine to coerce and incorporate the Movement, soon it will seek to destroy us.
So how do we win? By numbers. The 3.5 percent that XR originally contrived to be the critical mass needed to win real political change, as suggested by Erica Chenoweth, has been proven as way below what is actually need. 3.5% of the UK population is over 2 million protesters. We had that in 2003 but it didn’t stop the war (although it did dent the subsequent imperialist aspirations of the US and UK governments). We need at least 5 times that amount.
In my lifetime there have been serious attempts to have far smaller numbers drive major social change through the take-up of arms. It certainly always represented a frustration with the tiny size of revolutionary opposition, and often an elitist disbelief in the ability of the masses to rise-up. For them, instead of revolution fro below, the idea of redistribution of wealth and power by armed insurrection was an answer.
In the late 1960’s, as the Vietnam War became intolerably barbaric to both the civilians of Vietnam and the army grunts of the USA, small groups took-up arms inside the USA against “The Man”. They called themselves “The Weathermen” in reference to the Bod Dylan song. Undoubtedly, seeking to overthrow the most weaponised, nationalistic as well as imperialist State in the history of human society by force of arms was infantile as a strategy.
Their 100’s of bombings of public buildings across the USA in 1969-70 led to a splitting of the anti-war movement, not a strengthening. It offered President Nixon to warn of anarchy and mindless destruction. In May 1970 the Police shot one dead at Berkeley University’s Peace Park during mass protests. Then the National Guard shot 4 students dead and wounded 9 more at Kent State University.
College students continued to protest, closing 448 campuses. At Jackson State, an overwhelmingly Black University campus, the militia shot 14, killing two. The racist liar, Nixon, and his Generals called the Peace Protesters “the worst type of people inside the country” and the Establishment gained in popularity. 58% of the country supported the killings, standing together against “The Enemy Within”.
Whilst the protests continued, and gave rise to the Black Panther Movement which powerfully exposed the racial and class discrimination and oppression in Capitalist society, the State won through. Of course, Nixon was ousted, just as in the UK the Poll Tax riots played a part in the fall of Margaret Thatcher, but the System stayed intact and grew stronger, better educated and updated in how to quell revolt.
So how do we win? In all these uprisings of mass protest, the element under-used and least mobilised, and once again so obviously missing from the 2003 anti-war movement, was a sufficiency of numbers of trade union and organised workers downing-tools and walking out of work, stopping production and the profits of the bosses responsible for waging the warfare and environmental destruction.
This has to be the lesson for today’s climate movement. That is why many of us are trying to build mass support inside the trade union movement for strike action to force the change needed to prevent climate catastrophe. When workers down-tools, leave their offices, workplaces and factories and congregate en masse all together, there are not enough tanks and guns to drive us down again. We place roses in the barrels of our fellow workers-in-uniform, and seize the forces of production to shut down the emissions and those who profit from destruction. The history of all protest proves that ultimate power lies in the workplace. But for it to work, we need huge numbers, everywhere.
Sunday 22nd September 2019